The Video Nasties #56 – Street Killers (1977, Sergio Grieco)

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‘Don’t worry…there will be no bloodshed.’

Street Killers is part of a genre of Italian crime films known as the poliziotteschi, and you’re damn right I had to Google that spelling. The genre is known for it’s crazy stunts, great scores and tough cops and even tougher robbers. Street Killers boasts none of those things, though it’s not a total dud.

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It starts strongly with a high speed car chase and the only cool stunt of the film – a man leaping from a moving car. Helmut Berger and his band of crooks have escaped from prison, with Richard Harrison’s useless cop hot on their trail. The chase keeps threatening to get exciting, but director Grieco’s action chops are sorely lacking throughout. At least early on there’s some unintentional humour to carry you through. When a cop car blows up, Berger comments, ‘That was a nice sight…a well done dick!’ Shortly after, the gang stops at a gas station where the employee seems to be dressed as an Oompa-Loompa. They beat his son up, demanding to know where the loot is. Considering there’s only one building for miles around, it’s no surprise to discover it’s hidden in the station…

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I was ready to sit back and enjoy the silly carnage unfolding, but here the film kinda stops dead. The cop has a great chance to arrest Berger, but bungles it and he gets away. Berger basically spends the rest of the film just swanning around doing what he likes – there’s no stakes, no sense of a ticking clock, no excitement, just a really slow moving game of cat and mouse with Harrison. It’s not helped by the music, of which there appears to only be three pieces, repeated ad nauseam. Eventually a fourth piece appears, over the film’s best scene, a slo-mo staredown between Berger and two cops, which looks like it’s building to something, but then abruptly ends when Berger just pulls out a gun and shoots them and drives off. Ho hum.

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There’s one final laugh when female lead Marissa Mell – who just disappears from the film an hour in – gets shot in the thigh and she jabs a finger at the wound and says, ‘It’s not serious.’ Are you sure Marissa? You might wanna get that checked out, maybe get a tetanus shot or something.

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If the film had continued in the vein of the first 20 minutes then it could have been trashy good fun, but instead it plods along with a lethargy that extends to the overlong final fist fight. If ever a scene did not need slow motion, it’s this one! This sequence contains the moment that condemned the film to the Nasties – Berger slicing Harrison’s sister’s bare breasts with a straight razor. It’s unpleasant, but the film needed more unpleasantness, anything to make it stand out. As it is, I think you’d have to be a die hard fan of the poliziotteschi to get much enjoyment out of this one.

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1977 was a particularly special year for horror and exploitation films – on the Nasties list alone we have The Hills Have Eyes, Martin, Suspiria and Rabid – and this film simply shrivels up into a ball and cries when surrounded by those movies.

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The Video Nasties #55 – Rabid (1977, David Cronenberg)

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‘Shooting down the victims is 

as good a way of handling them as we’ve got.’

You want another example of just how arbitrary the Nasties were? Well then, I ask you this – why is David Cronenberg’s Rabid featured, yet his earlier, more disturbing and sexually provocative film Shivers is nowhere to be found? Put the answers on a postcard and then mail it to yourself, because there are no answers.

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Cronenberg is now one of the most highly respected filmmakers around, but Rabid finds him back in the early days when he was still pumping out cerebral yet utterly exploitative little movies like this one. A motorcycle accident near a plastic surgery clinic finds one of the victims, Rose, being given experimental skin grafts. Now, these skin grafts have some pretty extreme side effects – aches, nausea and a bloodsucking spiked translucent penis in your armpit (some sentences are just an absolute joy to write). When Rose sucks the blood of her victims with her armpit dick, she unwittingly transmits to them a rabies-like disease that causes complete insanity and a thirst for blood, eventually spreading to the whole of Montreal.

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As you can probably tell from that synopsis, this is a Nasty on a large scale, with masses of special effects, locations, extras, the works. But it never once strays from The True Path of Exploitation, and may in fact be the fastest paced, most eventful movie I’ve ever seen. No joke, I honestly don’t think that at any point in the movie, 5 minutes pass without either a gruesome death, an explosion or Marilyn Chambers taking off her clothes.

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It’s the sort of film where a car doesn’t just crash – it crashes, flips on its roof, falls off a bridge and then gets hit by a truck! The violence is fleeting but nasty, with the worst surely being the unbearable sight of a nurse having her fingers snipped off with scissors. If I have a complaint, it’s that the infected people look rather comical, with bulging eyes and oozing green goo out their mouths like they think they’re in a Troma movie or something.

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Despite his reputation for being so clinical though, Cronenberg still finds time for some family drama among the haunting imagery. Rose and her boyfriend Hart only share a couple of scenes, but it can be seen as a dry run for the sort of emotional power that Cronenberg would later wring out of his remake in The Fly. Their final phone call especially contains some of the best drama in any Nasty. Rabid is an exploitation movie par excellence – if only more horror movies modelled themselves on its structure, maybe then I wouldn’t have to sit through crap like I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses.

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The Video Nasties #54 – Prey (1977, Norman J Warren)

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‘I think you should know that Jessica and I are lovers.’

Prey starts with an alien crash landing on Earth and ends with an act of extreme violence and a hair-pulling lesbian catfight. You might as well stop reading now and go and find the film, because I know fine well that you want to.

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Norman J Warren (who along with The Terror and Inseminoid was doing his best to represent the UK in the Nasties) takes a basic idea that could easily have been talky and boring and somehow makes a film that is part exploitation/part arthouse drama, with the accent falling heavily on the exploitation side. In what could easily be a three person stage play, an alien on a reconnaissance mission lands on the grounds of a posh lesbian couple, Jessica and Jo. Jessica seems pleasant, though Jo is neurotic, jealous and possessive. She also has a poor handle on facts, as she claims that it takes five years for caffeine to leave your system, when in fact it’s closer to three to five hours. Wow Jo, just 43,795 hours off the mark there.

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Jo is written as a sort of male fear of lesbianism, a man hating, knife toting maniac. Not only that, but she’s a vegetarian for goodness’ sake! A vegetarian lesbian! Quick, someone write a letter to The Daily Mail! Meanwhile, Anders Anderson – the alien – is portrayed as a fish out of water simpleton. It’s preferable to when he’s in his alien guise, which amounts to giving him a flat animal nose and sharp teeth. At night he communicates with his home planet, much like Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy.

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None of this is meant as a criticism. Prey can be very goofy and un-pc, but 70s British horror excelled at those things and the film is packed with the kind of nutty scenes that will leave you slack jawed in sheer wonder. A couple of murders and a poorly lit lesbian fumble suggest Prey is going to be standard exploitation fare, but about halfway through things get weird.

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Anders the Alien kills Jo’s chickens and she blames a fox so the militant vegetarian does the obvious thing – she grabs a gun and goes out fox hunting. When Anders captures the fox by leaping through the air and killing it, Jessica decides to throw a party to celebrate the killing of the animal, as vegetarians often do.

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The party itself is one of the most awkward ever captured on film. Jo dresses Anders up in drag, as making him a woman is the only way she can find him attractive enough to kiss to make Jessica jealous. There’s a strangely lovely scene where she tries to seduce him only to be rebuffed, which leads to her trying to kill him during a game of hide and seek.

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Are you keeping up?

Because later Anders tries to eat a swan and flails around in the water, causing the two women to try and rescue him. Here the film goes absolutely bananas, with everything going slow motion while berserk techno opera blares on the soundtrack while our hapless trio splash about in the most revolting, filthy looking water I’ve ever seen. Honestly, it looks like they’re swallowing thick crude oil.

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The Prey was such a surprise, although I suppose it shouldn’t be as Norman J Warren was actually a pretty talented filmmaker who deserves to be better known. If there’s a problem I have with the film, it’s the piss-poor sound recording. Audio levels fluctuate wildly within the same scene, and it’s not helped by the fact that Jessica belts out all her lines, Anders speaks normally and Jo whispers all of hers. It’s hardly a deal breaker though, and let’s be honest – how could you not love a film that mis-spells the name of its lead actress in the end credits? Step on up, Sally, err, Faulker? Come on credits man, you had one job! It’s Faulkner! Sally Faulkner!

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The Video Nasties #53 – Martin (1977, George A Romero)

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‘Nosferatu. Vampire! First I will save your soul.

Then I will destroy you. I will show you your room.’

Just how good is George Romero’s Martin? Well, what if I told you that it is the only Video Nasty that Soft Cell ever turned into a 10 minute synth pop song? Does that give you an idea? If not, then you’re mad, but also let me put you out your misery and tell you that Martin is easily one of the finest films on the Nasties, and one of the very best horror films of the 1970s.

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On a sleeper train, our titular character – the awkward, gangly Martin – drugs, rapes and murders a woman. Try to keep this in mind, because somehow, over the course of the film, Romero turns Martin into a genuinely likeable, sympathetic protagonist. Played by John Amplas with his puppy dog eyes and hangdog expression, Martin comes across as a victim of circumstance rather than a cold blooded killer, although it’s debatable which is more true.

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The film follows Martin as he is sent to stay with his religious uncle Cuda, who’s beliefs in ‘the old country’ and ‘the old ways’ have led him to believe that Martin is a vampire, which brings us to one of the main themes of the movie, that of reality versus illusion and the truth behind magic. Cuda has decked out the house with garlic, mirrors and crosses, which of course do not affect Martin. In fact, it is never made clear to the audience whether Martin is indeed a vampire, or just a sick man.

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Romero frequently cuts to black and white footage, which may be flashbacks, may be dreams or may just be Martin’s fantasies. For my money, it’s more likely that they are the latter – Romero constantly undercuts the fantasies by having the real scenario play out very differently. In the first instance, Martin imagines bursting into a room to find a beautiful woman beckoning him, but in reality he finds a woman in the toilet with a face pack on. Later, he imagines a similar scene, but when he enters the room the woman is with another man. It gets a bit obvious when Martin actually dresses up as a vampire, complete with cape and fake fangs, but the rest of the film is so good it’s not a problem.

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Martin is a depressing watch. Set in a rundown, industrial part of Pittsburgh and scored with as melancholy a soundtrack as you’ll ever hear, there’s little of the thrills of Romero’s more famous zombie movies, although Romero himself provides a funny cameo as a priest who really enjoyed The Exorcist.

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Martin doesn’t really belong on the Nasties. Although the opening scene does mix rape with murder, it’s not in the lurid manner of something like Late Night Trains. Romero has bemoaned the fact that his original cut, which ran 2 hours 45 minutes, has gone missing, but I don’t care. At 95 minutes Martin feels the perfect length. It’s the strongest script Romero ever wrote, with a bitterly ironic coda that rivals Night of the Living Dead for sheer feelbad value.

And is there any higher compliment than that?

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The Video Nasties #52 – The Hills Have Eyes (1977, Wes Craven)

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‘Do ya always try to stop trespassers by hanging yourself?’

Poor old Wes Craven could do no right in the eyes of the DPP. His first film, Last House on the Left, was one of the most high profile titles on the list and his second, The Hills Have Eyes, sits snugly amongst the Section 3 titles. It’s a quantum leap forward from that film in terms of confidence and action staging, even if it lacks the raw power of Last House.

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If Cannibal Holocaust made me afraid of the jungle, then The Hills Have Eyes made me afraid of the desert. The Carters, a likeable enough bunch of goons who look and act like a real family, break down in the middle of nowhere with only their caravan to protect them. Unbeknownst to the Carters, a clan of inbred mutants with a convoluted and unnecessary backstory are lurking in the hills, ready to pick the family off one by one.

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Craven seems to have tried to make a more mainstream film this time, even though there’s still a scene of a man being crucified and set on fire. However, the attempted rape is not followed through on and the stolen baby is never eaten, which should come as a relief to most. Instead Craven is more interested in slowly turning the screws until the tension is unbearable, leading up to a caravan attack set piece at the halfway point that is one of the highlights of Craven’s illustrious career. It’s exciting and unpredictable, with several characters biting the dust in quick succession. Part of the excitement of the film comes from the total disregard for the safety of the actors, who hurl themselves up and down sheer rock faces with reckless abandon, adding an element of very real danger. I also love films where the climax builds to such a level of intensity that the only way to end the movie is to freeze frame and turn the image bright red. Sometimes it’s the only way to go!

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It’s a terrific film that has been very well documented, so I won’t bore you with the usual stuff about Craven’s predilection for booby traps, or his penchant for pitting civilised man against savages. Instead, I’ll leave you with a simple question.

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At the start, we see the Carters driving along, with the clan watching them through binoculars, getting increasingly excited about eating the family. You expect the car to drive over spikes, or for a tyre to be shot out or something. Instead, there’s a faintly ridiculous moment where two low flying planes buzz overhead and then, in a panic, they swerve to avoid a rabbit on the road and drive into a ditch. It’s an unlikely series of events, but my point is this – if it hadn’t happened, would the Carters just have driven on past and been absolutely fine? I bet the mutants would be kicking themselves for forgetting to set a trap! Maybe that’s why they’re so hungry – they just haven’t figured out how to make people stop their car.

Unexpected moral of the story – don’t swerve to avoid rabbits, especially not in mutant country.

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The Video Nasties #51 – The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977, Cesare Canevari)

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‘We’re living in Hell Lisa, and

the Devil is everywhere around.’

Here we go again then, another Italian Nazi sex movie. Even just typing that out I can’t quite fathom how this is actually a genre! The Gestapo’s Last Orgy is different to the others, in that the production values are marginally higher than garbage like Love Camp 7 and The Beast in Heat, and for once there is a clear storyline to follow. Now all we need is a Nazisploitation movie that has an interesting, compelling storyline, although I’d prefer never to have to sit through one of these movies again.

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This one reminded me of our old friend Deep River Savages, in that it’s an unlikely love story. Here, instead of the love between a savage woman and a civilised man, we have the extraordinary bond forged between a Death Camp commander and Lisa, a young Jewish prisoner. Their Sadean relationship forms the second half of the movie, as his attempts to break her and get her to fear death somehow result in the two of them falling in love, replete with romantic cruises on the lake and a sappy love theme. It simply adds to the whole what-the-fuck nature of the film.

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I mean seriously, who are these films even meant for? Gorehounds have nothing to sink their teeth into here, with some dabs of fake blood and nothing else. And surely no one comes here for the sex. We open with Nazi soldiers getting turned on by photos of a woman smeared in shit, and it’s all downhill from there. I guess if you’ve ever had a fetish for naked girls vomiting on mice while hanging upside down, then by all means watch this film. Afterwards, please seek help. At least the sex scene between Lisa and her doctor is worth a chuckle or two, as they roll backwards and forwards for about five minutes like two people who’ve heard of sex but never actually seen it.

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Honestly, this film feels like it was beamed in from some other, really pervy dimension. The most memorable part is surely the dinner scene, where the high ranking officials gorge themselves on a stew made of Jewish babies. They gobble it up with lip-smacking relish until one of their whores faints. Then, they strip her, douse her in cognac and burn her body. Later, the Nazis fuck on the table, one guy groping the charred flesh of the corpse as he goes about his business.

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If I have to say something good about it, then some of the music is alright (although often used rather inappropriately) and there is a jarring use of slow motion during an attempted suicide.

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It’s a poor film that takes itself very seriously, which is a deadly combination. I never thought I’d find myself yearning for the days of Love Camp 7, but here we are folks. This is a sleazy, depressing and ultimately rather dull film. If you simply must watch one Nazisploitation movie, then I guess SS Experiment Camp would get my vote, though honestly I don’t think any of them are worth it.

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The Video Nasties #50 – Fight For Your Life (1977, Robert A Endelson)

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‘You poor white trash – if you didn’t have that gun

you’d be a yellow streaked bum.’

Fight For Your Life starts off pretty strongly, but don’t be fooled. This is the kind of film where occasionally you want to pause and go check for a pulse. If you happen to find one, please let me know.

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The movie opens with a fairly exciting scene of three convicts escaping from a prison van. They steal a pimp’s car, leaving him stranded in his underwear. All the while, the Fight For Your Life theme song plays, a blaxploitation funk number typical of the time. So far, I am 100% in. And then the prisoners end up at the home of a black preacher and his family and the film just nosedives.

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It’s the kind of movie that reviewers dread, because so little actually happens that there’s almost nothing to write about, which is highly unusual for a blaxploitation film. Those films tended to give audiences super cool black heroes to root for and get behind, often railing against some stuffy white bureaucrat. What we have here though seems to be a blaxploitation movie for secret racists, who want to pretend to cheer on the Turner family’s revenge whilst secretly revelling in their endless degradation.

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Because my goodness, the father is such a fucking sap! It’s almost impossible to root for a hero who is so passive. The leader of the crooks, a piece of white trash called Kane (well played by William Sanderson), barges into the Turner’s house, threatens his family with a gun, smashes the place up, insults and humiliates him in every way possible. Turner, being a religious man, accepts it all, saying ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth.’

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Eventually the family manage to turn the tables and hold Kane at knifepoint, but spent so long yakking that he gains the upper hand again! Kane rapes Turner’s daughter, causing the man to finally – finally – seek vengeance, 70 minutes into an 85 minute movie. Unbelievably, Kane somehow manages to wrest control away from Turner again and you’re left shaking your head at how pathetic and ineffectual a protagonist he is.

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There’s also a cop on Kane’s tail who is quite honestly the worst character in any film ever, played by the worst actor in any film ever. David Cargill, in his one and only film role, plays Lt ‘Rulebook’ Reilly, a character who is so incompetently shot that, despite being a key player in several early scenes, we don’t actually see his face until 35 minutes in!

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He’s just always filmed from behind, almost as if it was a different actor standing in for Cargill, who was probably too busy flipping burgers that day to be on set. Lt ‘Rulebook’ Reilly, in case you can’t guess, plays by the rules. In case the name wasn’t enough, every character he interacts with brings it up. Oh, did I mention that he’s very by the book? That’s right, the rulebook. Basically, it’s all leading up to the ridiculous ending, where Lt Reilly (y’know, old ‘Rulebook’ Reilly) does not play by the rules. I know, I know, who could possibly have seen it coming.

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The whole film is boring. After the first twenty minutes or so, it’s pretty much everyone sitting around in a room, with Kane humiliating Turner and Turner doing nothing about it. There’s a couple of nasty gunshot wounds, a baby threatened at gunpoint and two rapes, though when compared with something like Last House on the Left or Late Night Trains, nothing here really screams Video Nasty. Perhaps it was the unrelenting barrage of racial slurs from the mouth of Kane that got this film in trouble? It’s hard to say, and it’s not a film I’d recommend seeking out. It does, however, end on a hysterically ridiculous note that almost made the previous 85 minutes worthwhile. Almost guys, almost. Turner and Kane are pointing guns at each other while Turner turns the tables on Kane, calling him a ‘faggot’ and implying that he had been raped by a black man in prison. This prompts Kane to throw his hostage to one side and blurt out the classic line, ‘You’re just like the black man my mama ran off with!’ So there you go, he’s got a reason for being a racist. A stupid, stupid reason.

Move along folks, nothing to see here.

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