Can You Put Time on an Amazon Wishlist?

There is a confluence of unrelated incidents mucking around with my life right now, and amazingly, most of them are unrelated to the current administration freakshow.

The first is my recent vacation. With no obligations (past a couple of last-minute “hey can you do this tomorrow” gig offers while I was on the road, thanks guys), I watched a bunch of movies on the laptop. So I had a movie hangover when I returned to reality. I find I can’t concentrate on anything longer than the average TV episode, which these days is 40 minutes.

(There was also a severe lack of internet that week. I found one shop with wi-fi who graciously shared their password, which allowed me to clear out e-mail and find out that a company that had responded to my constant resume-sending had noticed my age and would not be pursuing our relationship any further. Again, thanks guys)

Not that I have the time to watch movies. My day job (still part time) insists on getting everything tightly scheduled out to the end of the season; I understand the need, I just resent the constant pressure that engenders. I can only reasonably handle my life one week at a time. It feels like I finally figured out how to juggle five balls at once and my instructor just tossed balls 6, 7 and 8 into the pattern. I’ve picked up some extra meetings – and when I asked the Universe for opportunities to make more money, I did not mean by spending more of my time listening to bureaucrats and politicians bloviate. Two evenings of every week must be reserved for The Show, which is a vital supplement to that part-time job. Please excuse all typos, I’m trying to get this posted before I head to tonight’s show.

The Daily Grindhouse Podcast is a going thing again. And – this is a personal failing, I feel – I find talking about movies easier than writing about them, so why write? It’s certainly faster – an hour or two of my time as opposed to eight to twelve hours crafting a typical column here. We’re casting our nets wider this time, so I find myself watching two or three movies for each episode. Then I come here and stare at a blank page because I haven’t watched anything else. There is a lengthy diatribe I am working on, but that means I have to have a suitable chunk of time to work on it.

Arrow Video was nice enough to send me screeners for their new Arrow Academy line, and I have got to get on those sooner rather than later. In my copious free time.

This besides the other meetings that people call me up for, wanting to pick my brains. Sometimes I even get lunch out of it.

Sleep factors in there somewhere. I’m told.

Better times and content next week, I hope.

 

 

 

That Movie a Year Thing

So the current Twitter game is listing a movie for every year you’ve been alive. The default seems to be toward “favorite” rather than “best”, which is going to explain quite a few of the entries on this list. This exercise puts you into Tough Choice mode – how to choose between Andrei Rublev, Chimes at Midnight and To Kill A Mockingbird? Well, what movie have you voluntarily watched the most times? Fantastic Voyage for 1966 it is, then.

It intrigues me that I did this as a Letterboxd list two years ago. I called it “A Life in Movies“, and the list I came up with last night has only a few variations. I contemplated updating that list, then decided against it – let it stand as a document of where I was then.

So this is where I am now:

1957 – The Seventh Seal
1958 – Touch of Evil
1959 – Sleeping Beauty
1960 – Psycho
1961 – Yojimbo
1962 – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
1963 – Jason and the Argonauts
1964 – I Am Cuba
1965 – Help!
1966 – Fantastic Voyage
1967 – In the Heat of the Night
1968 – Yellow Submarine
1969 – The Wild Bunch
1970 – Tora! Tora! Tora!
1971 – They Might Be Giants
1972 – The Godfather
1973 – The Holy Mountain
1974 – Blazing Saddles
1975 – Death Race 2000
1976 – Master of the Flying Guillotine
1977 – Star Wars
1978 – Dawn of the Dead
1979 – Alien
1980 – Altered States
1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
1982 – The Thing
1983 – Videodrome
1984 – Ghostbusters
1985 – Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
1986 – Aliens
1987 – Evil Dead II
1988 – Powaqqatsi
1989 – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
1990 – Tremors
1991 – The Fisher King
1992 – Baraka
1993 – Matinee
1994 – Pulp Fiction
1995 – The Quick and the Dead
1996 – The Wind in the Willows
1997 – Men in Black
1998 – Ringu
1999 – The Iron Giant
2000 – Memento
2001 – The Fellowship of the Ring
2002 – The Two Towers
2003 – Kill Bill Pt. 1
2004 – Primer
2005 – Constantine
2006 – The Prestige
2007 – Shoot ‘Em Up
2008 – The Dark Knight
2009 – Black Dynamite
2010 – Scott Pilgrim vs The World
2011 – Samsara
2012 – The Avengers
2013 – Gravity
2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy
2015 – The Force Awakens
2016 – Arrival

 

Traveling Music, Maestro

I had really hoped to have something ready for you folks before I hit the road.

For the first time in years, instead of sitting around the house on Spring Break, moping about the unpaid vacation, I am going with my wife and son and niece to visit my sister-in-law in West Texas, where cell towers are rare and the Internet is just an ugly rumor.

I’ll have a laptop with me. I have much to share with you, and I’ll be writing without access to my usual channels of research, but I think that going old school – odd to think of writing in a text editor and then transferring it over to WordPress seems Old School – will be good for me.

I should also pack an extra pair of earbuds because modern forms of communication may be out, but there’s still TV, which means I will continue to be bedeviled by the current administration and reality TV, which are apparently much the same thing these days.

Christ only knows what the world will be like when I return from the wastelands late this week. It’s tempting to bring along my leathers and spikes in case everything’s all Fury Road when I get back, but I’m trying to pack light.

So party on, be excellent to each other, and if y’all would fix everything while I’m gone, I’d certainly appreciate it.

Crapfest: Plot? Who Needs a Plot?

How long has it been since we had a Crapfest? I’ll tell you how got-dang long it was: it was last June. It was a different world back then.

So the chivvying and bullying began, and we finally lighted on the same Sunday as the Academy Awards. I can only speak personally, but I haven’t watched the Oscars this century anyway, and saw no reason to change that practice. So, Warren Beatty, your reputation is still spotless with me.

In attendance: myself, Host Dave, Erik, Rick and Paul. Alan was closing a show and arrive late, hoping that he would miss the worst. This, however, is an event known as Crapfest, so we can all sit in judgement of that strategy.

gizmo_Dave put on an old favorite of his, 1977’s Gizmo! for noise purposes, not intending it to be the first movie of the day, so of course – it became the first movie of the day. Gizmo! was a big favorite back in the early days of HBO, and for some reason only ever had a VHS release. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it might be because of music rights, because there’s a lot of songs tying together an hour and fifteen minutes worth of newsreel footage. Supposedly a documentary about invention and innovation, Gizmo! is better described, as one writer put it, as “steampunk Jackass“. All sorts of people climb into all sorts of newfangled flying and driving machines and proceed to get chewed up by same. This is mixed in with footage of people playing music by making fart sounds with their hands and folks blowing themselves up with dynamite. And squeezing themselves through tennis rackets. And…

…it’s interesting how much of this stuff wound up in Arise! The SubGenius Video.

Truly fascinating are the bits of prototype technology that are actually being used today, for instance: dye packs to mark money stolen in a robbery. The guys flapping around with leather wings attached to their arms are the precursors of daredevils in wing suits, after all – is it really their fault they are also prototypes for Wile E. Coyote? Also fascinating was the idea that you could improve anything by attaching a propeller to it, eventually resulting in a device that was nothing but propellers… which went nowhere.

help-meHoward Smith’s only other director credit is for the documentary Marjoe, which is a great movie, never mind that we showed it at an earlier Crapfest (Marjoe Gortner is, after all, the patron saint of Crapfest). And every now and then you will be reminded that Smith is rather gleefully fucking with you. The best example is right at the beginning of this YouTube post – watch it quick, who knows how long it will last. Just watch the first 30 seconds. Then try not to get sucked into the madness. It’s not the whole movie – it runs fifteen minutes short – so I’m willing to bet there are several songs missing.

And this is where things began going south. Erik had a plan – a good plan – for our dinner that night. Two words: burrito bowls. Which I guess is best defined as the stuff usually in a burrito, except in a bowl? He had a bunch of the fixins already prepped in baggies, but the other things – most notably the beef and chicken fajitas – took unexpectedly long to cook. This left myself and Paul in the Mancave to our own devices. I had brought some cartoons, which we watched, intermittently journeying into the kitchen to check on progress, which seemed glacial. Then we would go back. We watched a Swedish art film which was 17 minutes of naked women doing odd things in the woods with a variety of headdresses and masks. Don’t ask me why, it was art.  One of the standards of Crapfest is gratuitous nudity (which was, I believe, actually the event’s genesis), so I had been saving it for a treat, but I was bored.

When things drug on, I put on my copy of Harvey Sid Fisher’s Astrology Songs, which I had sneaked into an earlier ‘fest, and was a big hit with everyone but Dave. It did manage to get some of our Galloping Gourmet cosplayers into the Cave to relive a few minute of former celestial glory, but then they would return to making artisanal guacamole.

Harvey ran through the entire Zodiac, and still no Crapfest. I decided to play with fire.

I put on The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Now, Alan had occasionally requested this blight on the cherished memory of our youth, only to be gently told by Dave and myself, “Fuck you, no.” So this was the extremity to which I was driven.

It had the desired effect of getting people into the Cave to gaze in awe at the Forbidden Fruit. Who could resist meeting Chewbacca’s family?

His wife, Mala! His father, Itchy!

vlcsnap-2017-03-02-13h42m20s357His son, Lumpy!

vlcsnap-2017-03-02-13h42m40s687And TV funnyman Harvey Korman!

vlcsnap-2017-02-27-22h43m21s481We got as far as Harvey before Dave turned it off, commanding me to sit in the corner and “think about what you’ve done.” At least the chair in the corner was comfier than the folding chair I had been occupying.

Well, we finally had our burrito bowls – they were extraordinarily tasty, and moreover actually GOOD for us. I was still full the next morning, I pounded down so much goodness. And, with a vodka martini mixed by Dave (my bartender of choice), we finally settled down to the Crapfest proper, which was a mistake.

warriors-of-the-wastelandDave led off with The New Barbarians. So apparently I was still being punished.

Also known as Warriors of the Wasteland, it’s yet another Italian Road Warrior rip-off – any doubts you may have about that will be dispelled in the first five – no, make that three – minutes. It’s the far-flung future of 2019, nuclear war has devastated the Earth, and tiny pockets of survivors are trying to find the promised land. Unfortunately, a bunch known as the Templars are dedicated to finishing what the war started, and are killing everybody they can find.

Yep, there’s no scavenging for oil in this wasteland (often one of the greenest wastelands we have ever seen) because these guys are running around in their tricked-out dune buggies 24/7. In a holdover from Gizmo, one guy has added a side mounted propeller to his buggy, so he can chase people until they obligingly fall to their knees to be decapitated. Pretty near all the money went to their vehicles, one feels, because the Templars have to make do with armor made of pool flotation devices.

Enter into all this Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete), who is apparently a former Templar now dedicated to messing with them as much as possible. My occupying the Seat of Exile had its drawbacks: the soundtrack alternated between quiet dialogue and EXTREMELY LOUD MACHINE SOUNDS and back to possibly significant but quietly delivered details AND THEN THE ROARING OF A THOUSAND ENGINES and back, but I’m also pretty confident that it all boils down to some ancient conflict between Scorpion and the Templar Leader with the singular name of One (Italian standard George Eastman).

By the time the art department got around to tricking out Scorpion’s ride, they had run out of aluminum panels and propellers, and had to make do with some dryer hose, a plastic skull, and a huge plastic dome left over from the Star Wars rip-off craze of a few years earlier. I think they were going for a sort of Batmobile look, but it just reminds me of the Alert Squad car from Darktown Strutters:

dat-carvlcsnap-2017-03-02-00h09m04s927And that is likely the most obscure reference I will make all day. No promises, though.

There was, at least, wild applause when Fred Williamson finally showed up with the inappropriate name of Nadir, though who the hell is ever going to tell Fred Williamson that he has a lousy name? Nadir drives a much more badass-mobile than Scorpion (naturally) and takes an extraordinarily long and dramatic time to aim his explosive arrows.

"I make this blow-up shit look good."

“I make this blow-up shit look good.”

The New Barbarians‘ major claim to infamy occurs when Scorpion is inevitably captured by the Templars and it is announced that it is time to “finish his initiation”. What this involves is a long, fairly fetishistically-drawn out scene of Buggery on the High Seas, if you substituted the Wasteland for the High Seas. Dave – who I will remind you chose this movie – skittered out of the room faster than a Congressman at a town hall meeting at the very start of the scene, ignoring my shouts for him to get back here and take his medicine. Wuss.

Anyway, Nadir rescues him – eventually – and finally they both take on the Templars just in time to rescue the last survivors, and Scorpion gets his revenge in a wholly appropriate and mechanically improbable manner, the end.

Honestly, the most amazing thing about The New Barbarians is that director Enzo G. Castellari still cares enough to pull off the occasional impressively arty shot. This will not be the case with our next movie.

Paul exercised his wuss clause and left early – in all fairness, he had warned us he would – and I moved up to his seat in the big couch, also known as the Front Row. Now I could at least keep track of the plot, I thought.

Wrong, because the movie was Erik’s choice – Samurai Cop.

What a time to be alive.

What a time to be alive.

There’s an Asian gang called The Katanas trying to take over the drug trade in L.A., so a cop is imported from San Diego (what?): Joe Marshall, nicknamed “Samurai”, because he was trained in the martial arts in Asia and speaks fluent Japanese. Or so the IMDb entry tells me, because I wasn’t getting much of that from the movie itself. Star Mathew Karedas sort of looks like a Sylvester Stallone muppet from the right angle, with Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon hair. Mark Frazer is Frank Washington, sassy black cop who specializes in reaction shots, and who is not old enough to be too old for this shit, so he doesn’t say it, but we say it for him anyway. And Robert Z’Dar (with impressive beard on that impressive chin) is the enforcer for the Katanas… Yamashita. Yamashita.

I think it is important that I simply let the movie speak for itself at this point.

Samurai Cop is a movie that is magnificent in its incompetence. Director Amir Shervan has 30 credits on the IMDb, and you couldn’t prove it by what you see on the screen. It all takes place during the day, because lights were too expensive. No attempt is made to control the color temperature of the film, so a lot of scenes are either way too blue or way too yellow (lens filters also cost too much, I guess). And the best part is that six months after he thought filming was finished, Karedas cut his hair. Shervan wasn’t finished, though, and you can frequently see him switch between his natural hair and a remarkably fake woman’s wig in the same scene.

ACTIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGrrrrr

ACTIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

The action is pretty plentiful and fairly decent for the price – really everything else in the movie just elevates those scenes – and I hope a lot of guys got their stunt card out of it. Dave spent most of the movie complaining that the Samurai Cop wasn’t doing any samurai stuff (he did cut off one guy’s arm with a sword, which I referred to as the movie’s tribute to LucasFilms), while the rest of us spent our time wondering, “Will the redhead get naked again?” She did, a point in the movie’s favor, but this movie also has way too many men in speedos. If you ever wanted to see Gerald Okamura in a speedo, Samurai Cop has you covered, as it were.

I do kind of admire that Shervan the writer tried to give every character a little scene of their own – not that I think this movie wound up on a whole lot of demo reels.

Yeah, this needs to be seen to be believed. As the bug in the trailer points out, it’s free on Amazon Prime. Good choice, Erik.

At this point Dave tried to rush in his mandatory Edwige Fenech movie, but I was having none of it. It was my turn, and first things first:

Now, I consider myself the Nice Guy. I mean, sure, I’ve inflicted Things and Raw Force on the Fest, but I’ve also brought The Raid: Redemption. I refuse to show bad kung fu movies. I almost always watch what I bring to insure its (harrumph) quality.

league-of-gods_poster_goldposter_com_2So what I brought was League of Gods, a Chinese CGI-infused comic book that I had fallen in love with, and that it was likely no attendee had ever heard of, or would see under normal circumstances. League of Gods has more plot in its first five minutes than in the entirety of the first two movies (or even if you add in the last movie of the evening, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves). I did my best to boil it down for everyone who had consumed too much liquor to get through the anal rape and blue-tinted men in speedos, so let me try to do the same here:

There are two warring cities. One, we’ll call it Eviltown, is ruled over by a King (Tony Leung) who has joined physically with the evil Black Dragon to rule the world, and his consort, the demoness Nine-Tailed Fox (Fan Bingbing). The other city, Niceville, is trying to stop him from totally incarnating and bringing 18,000 years of darkness upon the world, and for that they need the Sword of Light.

This tale is told through the filter of constant CGI madness and action; as Rick said afterwards, “Well, that certainly wasn’t boring.” Rick had, in fact, read my earlier write-up on the movie and was really looking forward to “the talking baby”. This scene in particular; his favorite move is “Divine Thunder”.

Of course I had the right crowd for this flick: they immediately glommed onto the video game nature of the unfolding story, and easily spotted, “Ah, this is the platforming level”

“Man, I hate those”

“Oh, not a puzzle level! I hate those!”

Great fun, and I got to see it projected big and loud.

Okay, one last time for the trailer:

Now it was time for Dave to play his Edwige Fenech movie, and it was also time for me to go. With all the time spent on that amazing dinner, it was now after 11:00pm, and like Paul, I was expected to be productive early the next day. So yes, I exercised my own personal wuss clause, which in a way was okay, because that movie was Strip Nude for Your Killer, and as I left I saw the credit that let me know I was making the right decision:

FFFFFFFffffffffffff-

FFFFFFFffffffffffff-

I also knew that it was a bad idea because it meant I was going to have to watch it by myself later, in order to write about it. My main experience with Bianchi is through two movies – Burial Ground (urp) and a not-very-good version of Treasure Island, starring Orson Welles as Long John Silver.  And I hate giallo anyway. Mike Vanderbilt at Daily Grindhouse tells me that gialli are meant to be social occasions, with everybody laughing talking and drinking during the lengthy exposition scenes and presumably shutting up during the murder scenes. So I had left the ideal circumstances for seeing Strip Nude for Your Killer to instead watch it where I could grumble endlessly to myself in private.

strip-nude-for-your-killer-posterDid you get tired of all that plot during League of Gods? That’s fine, because here a fashion model dies during an abortion, and then somebody starts killing all the people at the fashion agency where she worked. There. That’s the plot.

Where to start, where to start. Well, it’s a giallo, so everybody is a different shade of loathsome, except possibly Edwige Fenech, who plays Magda, a plucky photographer’s assistant whose only dubious quality is she’s in love with our supposed hero and uberjerk Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo).  Police are never allowed to be competent in gialli, and Strip Nude certainly doesn’t break the mold in that respect. Suspects just keep getting killed until only Magda, Carlo and the killer are left, and the killer’s identity provokes a “Hah? Who?” reaction. I refuse to watch it again to find what scene that background character showed up in. If they even do.

vlcsnap-2017-03-01-00h21m55s344

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, FATTY

Dave tells me that Erik turned to glare at him every time a male character acted like a total cad, which must mean he didn’t get to watch 3/4 of the movie. As I entered my viewing of Strip Nude for Your Killer into Letterboxd, I finally gave it one and half stars – that one star is due only to Ms. Fenech, at the height of her weapons-grade cuteness, and certainly not shy about displaying her beauty in toto.

Edwige, no, you're better than this

Edwige, no, you’re better than this

I suppose, if nothing else, Strip Nude for Your Killer, like The Dude’s rug, tied the evening together; not only does it start with far too many men in speedos (Carlo included), but it ends with the promise of anal rape. (“Still more tastefully done than Kingsman!” Dave offers)

And I totally forgot about the abuse of the musical saw until I saw this trailer:

Buy The New Barbarians on Amazon

Buy Samurai Cop on Amazon

Buy Strip Nude for Your Killer on Amazon, you perv

The Haunted Italians, Part Two

Well, life got a little away from me for a bit there. Here I am on the other side, trying, somewhat dazedly, to finish what I started.

hercules-in-the-haunted-world-movie-poster-1964-1020422688Last time, we dealt with Italian cinema’s flirtations with Dante Alighieri’s Inferno – understandable, given the poet’s importance to Italian culture – and, as mentioned, I had intended to cover three movies, until I realized I was going to have to expand it to four.  We’ll get into why in a bit, but for right now we had better get started before events jerk the rug out from under me again.

The next logical movie after L’Inferno and Maciste in Hell, I thought, would be Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World, or as this particular copy would have it, Hercules in the Center of the Earth.

Hercules (Reg Park) is, as usual traveling back after some adventures to the love of his life – this time it’s the princess Deianira (Leonora Ruffo). He and his traveling companion, the womanizing Theseus (George Ardisson) are set upon by some thugs, who would normally be chased away by Hercules employing his party trick, hurling styrofoam boulders at them, but as this is a special Bond-style opening, he instead throws a whole damn wagon. We will eventually find that the thugs were sent by Deianira’s guardian, the regent Lico (Christopher Lee), who neglected to tell his bully boys that the target was Hercules. This seems like mission critical information to me, but what do I know, I’m not an evil regent.

Don't trust him, Hercules - that's Christopher Lee!

Don’t trust him, Hercules – that’s Christopher Lee!

Hercules is shocked to find that Deianira is now somewhat insane, supposedly driven to distraction by the belief that her absent lover has died at sea (no extra points will be awarded for guessing that Lico and his magic are at the root of this problem). Hercules consults the Oracle (a masked Gaia Germani), who cannot reveal too much, due to the “forces of darkness”, but when Hercules sacrifices his immortality to Zeus, the Big Guy allows her to tell Herc that the Stone of Forgetfulness will cure his love. The main problem there is the Stone is deep in the realm of Hades.

Hercules gathers up Theseus and gets saddled with an Odious Comic Relief who is so unfunny I was pretty sure his name was Odioso, but it turns out to be Telemachus (Franco Giacobini). This is a terrible use of the name of Odysseus’s son – Telemachus here is the supposed fiance of the woman Theseus is always snogging (Marisa Bellia), but now hangs around Theseus as, I suppose, the Ultimate Cuck, to use the current idiot jargon.

Can you spot the Odious Comic Relief in this shot?

Can you spot the Odious Comic Relief in this shot?

hercules-in-the-haunted-world-heroism-cult-movies-downloadThese three journey to the island of the Hesperides – usually some nymphs who tend a garden, but here a bunch of ladies under a curse. Herc needs their Golden Apple, which will insure that he can come back from Hades, but it’s at the top of a tree with more deathtraps than a cave leading to the Holy Grail. Hercules, naturally, throws a styrofoam boulder at the apple, knocking it down, and freeing the Hesperides from their curse.

Theseus and Odioso, meantime, have been offered to the rock monster Procrustes (whom Theseus actually fought and vanquished, according to mythology, but here merely breaks his sword on the monster). Hercules arrives in the proverbial nick, throwing Procrustes into a wall, which conveniently enough, was covering the entrance to Hades.

hercules-haunted-world-procrustes-rock-monsterThis sequence is where Bava works his usual magic with a very limited budget, starting with a lovely siren chained to a pillar, an obvious trap for horndog Theseus. They walk through a forest in which is trapped the souls of the damned (thanks Dante!), as they find when Theseus attempts to hack through with his magically restored sword, and the branches bleed while the trees wail. Herc still whacks off enough vines to make a rope that he stretches over a lake of lava (by attaching it to a hurled styrofoam boulder) to get to the Stone. Theseus will try to follow Herc on the rope, but fail, as he is not a demigod, and falls into the lava (another pretty good effect).

ooerJust when we’re trying to figure out how to get Odioso down there to also fall in Hell’s soup bowl, we find that Theseus has somehow miraculously gone through the lake of fire unharmed, and he is being mooned over by some honey (Ida Galli) and, being Theseus, he decides to sneak the girl out of Hell without telling Hercules.

Hercules is glad to see his friend alive, the sap, and the unknown babe hiding in the ship’s hold tells Theseus the only way to get out of the sudden storm buffeting the ship is to toss the Golden Apple overboard.  How does she know about stuff like this? It’s because she’s actually Persephone – in Maciste in Hell, “Pluto’s Second Wife”. In this Americanized version, “Pluto’s favorite daughter”. Did the Italian version thus whitewash the whole abduction of Persephone fable, or was it just for us prudish Yanks? Anyway, Pluto ain’t happy, and now there’s a curse upon the land, which kind of harshes Hercules’ buzz when Deianira is cured by the Stone. Lico is equally put out until his pals with the Forces of Darkness assure him all he has to do is drink Deianira’s blood during the upcoming eclipse and he can be evil for eternity.

hercules-haunted-world-christopher-leeSo Herc has to convince Theseus to give up Persephone and rescue Deianira yet again when Lico abducts her to a nearby hill with a handy sacrificial altar, leaving a bunch of zombies behind to slow Hercules’ roll. Hercules finally catches up, and though you might think he would drop a styrofoam boulder on Lico, he figures nope, I’m not taking chances with Christopher Lee and drops a whole damned standing stone from the surrounding pseudo-Stonehenge on him instead. Fortunately, there are many more Styrofoam stones around for Herc to throw on the approaching herds of zombies until the eclipse is over.

Still not quite the end, as Persephone used the power of the Stone of Forgetfulness to erase her memory from Theseus’ mind, so he goes back to snogging Odioso’s girlfriend, and Odioso throws himself into the ocean to drown, to the cheers of the audience, and the laughter of Hercules and Deianira, the jerks.

vlcsnap-2017-02-18-00h35m42s710

DO IT, ODIOSO! DO IT!!!!!!!

Mario Bava had worked as lighting and cinematographer in the two movies that started the peplum boom, Hercules and Hercules Unchained, so he was working in familiar territory here, but it still has to be granted that the movie profits magnificently from the addition of Bava’s visual sense and overall fascination with gothic imagery. The scene of the zombies rising from stone sarcophagi is so horror movie effective you might think you accidentally switched to another movie. There’s a reason it features so prominently in the trailer below.

You expect Bava’s usual vibrant use of color, but few directors ever got so much variety of use from plain old fogHaunted World‘s low budget is often achingly obvious – Reg Park probably experienced some deja vu when Bava recycled sets from Park’s previous Hercules flick, Captive Women – but the results are rarely less than gorgeous to look at. The vibrant colors even make some iffy miniatures look good.

hercules-haunted-world-mario-bava

When you saw that scene cropped for 4×3 TVs, you never realized that Bava perfectly set up the hill with the standing stones and altar, over to the left.

Speaking of Reg Park, he makes for a terrific Hercules. At the peak of his bodybuilding form, he’s handsome, affable, certainly looks the part, and is a good enough actor to look like he’s putting real effort into hurling those styrofoam boulders. Lico is the sort of role Christopher Lee could have done in his sleep, but as ever, he is completely serious and gives the role more than its due. Now, I know that the studios at Cinecittà were so noisy that all the movies were shot without sound and dubbed later, but I still really resent it when Lee is dubbed by another actor, one without his presence or gravitas, and who was likely being rushed by the ADR director to get it done in one morning, because Godzilla vs the Thing had the studio that afternoon.

Maciste in Hell. Again.That would have wrapped up my original article, but there was something bothering me. I had thought I had seen various parts of Haunted World in my youth (as I said, my mother watched these religiously on the afternoon movie in those pre-Dr. Phil days), and expected a much lengthier trip to the Underworld. When that didn’t materialize, I realized I had seen pieces of a different movie entirely, and there was only one real candidate for that, and it was, ironically enough, Riccardo Freda’s 1962 remake of Maciste in Hell, re-titled, for Maciste-deprived Americans, The Witch’s Curse.

With uncharacteristic swiftness, we get right down to the title fulfillment, as a witch is burned in 1555 Scotland. Marta Gant claims that the Justice condemning her is doing so simply because she turned him down when she was young, and curses the entire village. One hundred years later, the curse is in full effect, women going mad and attempting to commit suicide, usually at a huge dead tree that only flowers when someone succumbs to the curse.

I’m sure The Doctor will set these superstitious villagers straight in a jiffy.

Now, let’s meet a couple of newlyweds, Charlie (Angelo Zanolli) and Marta (Vira Silenti). Marta is a direct descendant of the witch from the first scene – she even has the same name – and as a wedding present, Charlie has bought the old family castle for her. This proves that one should always do one’s due diligence when buying real estate, because the superstitious villagers immediately storm the castle and attempt to lynch Marta while yelling about burning her. Stupid villagers.

Enter – twenty minutes into his own movie – Maciste (Kirk Morris) – who, despite being in 17th century Scotland, is clad in his taditional loincloth and sandals, and probably freezing his nipples off. He saves Marta from the mob, who are probably more cowed by this half-naked madman who can bend iron bars than anything else.

Marta’s ancestor is a real witch-with-a-b because she makes a bible burst into flames when Marta touches it at a trial, guaranteeing she’ll be burned at the stake. The more rational town doctor (Charles Fawcett) shows Maciste the cursed tree, and the muscleman naturally pushes it over and climbs down the well-lit hole into Hell to seek out the witch and save Marta’s life.

The credits helpfully inform you that Hell is being played by the caves of Castellana in Italy, and they are beautiful and quite spacious; after playing tourist for a while and observing a small army of extras being tormented by the occasional day player in a mask (with the required homages to Gustav Doré), Maciste sets to his task of finding the witch. He will be aided in this by Fania (Hélène Chanel), a beautiful woman who, to the surprise of nobody, is actually the witch she is looking for. No getting turned into a demonic sex toy for this Maciste, he is instead hit with a spell of forgetfulness while Fania gets kidnapped by Goliath so Maciste can throw styrofoam boulders at him.

Oh no! A lion puppet!

It seems Maciste was never given an origin to explain his great strength, and this portrayal seems to weigh against any sort of divine descent like Hercules, as Morris has to really strain during his feats of strength, like bending bars or picking up boulders to protect him from sparks falling from above. Normally, I’d say this is for tension, for reinforcing Maciste’s heroism and determination to aid the helpless and overcome all obstacles that rise in his way. Actually, it’s just to pad the running time of the movie, which becomes tediously obvious as we go along.

maciste-in-hell-3Luckily for Marta – whose execution date is fast approaching, Maciste eventually stumbles upon Prometheus, who in accordance with legend, is chained to a rock so a vulture can eat his liver for all eternity (this was because Prometheus gave fire to mankind, in case you had forgotten that the gods are dicks). Prometheus tells Maciste to look into a nearby pool where he sees scenes from his last two movies (Il Trionfo de Maciste and Maciste in the Valley of Woe) and then the beginning of this movie, fer gawd’s sake, to restore his memory.  told you the padding got obvious.

(It was, incidentally, the scene with Prometheus that I remembered from my youth and was hoping to see in Hercules in the Haunted World. I would have liked it better in Bava’s movie, where it likely wouldn’t have been thrown in to reach the 90 minute mark)

Oh no! A vulture puppet!

Well, Fania of course falls in love with Maciste’s innate goodness and lifts the curse, Marta is saved, the whole village praises Maciste and asks him to stay, but he must move on the to the next improbable time period and locale to fight evil. You know, like Caine in Kung Fu. You’d think the villagers would have at least bought him a shirt or something, though.

Now, any peplum movie is going to suffer by being seen after something shot by one of the premier genre directors of the period, but I suspect Witch’s Curse would seemed pretty sub-par even as a stand-alone. I’m willing to embrace the concept of Maciste as a sort of cosmic Lone Ranger, journeying from what appears to be Ancient Egypt to Khanate Mongolia to Puritan Scotland, but give me some attempt to reconcile the appearance of a half-dressed madman in the middle of a Mayflower pageant!

Get thee to an ATM, toad!We’re really here to see Hell, aren’t we?  The scenes in Castellana are wonderful to look at, and feature some truly fantastic pyro work. But past the time-wasting grunting scenes, there is also a surprisingly diverse cross-section of wildlife in Hell, and all of them want to wrestle with Maciste. A lion(ess with a bad wig), a couple of snakes, Prometheus’ vulture, a herd of bulls for crying out loud. Most of the times the puppets are pretty well-matched in the close shots, but the snake scene has some of the most egregious grab-the-animal-and-pull-it-to-you attacks I’d seen since Deadly Eyes. This is all underlined by the ancient witch and her similarly damned would-be lover Parris are always looking on, talking about how no one can defeat the Devil, but then the Devil just opens another cage from Hell’s Petting Zoo.

Oh no! Cow puppets!

Kirk Morris was about the only actually Italian bodybuilders in the peplum boom (real name Adriano Bellini), and reportedly Freda didn’t think much of him as an actor – Maciste doesn’t get a single line until he descends into Hell – but he does pretty well, even when asked to really streeeeeeeeeetch out those lifting scenes. He made a bunch of Maciste movies, and even played Hercules several times, including one of my favorites, Hercules, Samson and Ulysses. Here he’s still got a fair amount of youthful charm – think Fabian as a muscleman – and I would probably would have liked him more if the driector hadn’t disliked him. Or he was in a better movie.

Now to put this to bed because a fifth movie is reaaaally tempting me.

Buy Hercules in the Haunted World on Amazon

Buy The Witch’s Curse on Amazon (good luck, it’s Alpha Video)

 

The Haunted Italians, Part One

My life is ruled by synchronicity. I get a chance to watch a movie, closely followed by another movie that has some loose connection, and I realize that another movie I was planning to watch has a similar enough connection to warrant further examination. This either speaks to 1) Incredible luck (in an area which does me no good whatsoever); 2) Possible mental derangement on my part; 3) The fact that there are only so many ideas floating around in the ether; 4) All of the above.

linferno_1911_filmAnd so it was that an opportunity to watch a classic Italian silent movie turned into three four Italian movies, each with its own charms, strengths, shortcomings, and history.

What kicked off this mad train of cinematic thought was the 1911 film L’Inferno, based on the Hell sections of The Divine Comedy by the Supreme Poet of Italy, Dante Alighieri – possibly based more significantly on the famous Gustav Doré illustrations of same. I admit I haven’t read The Inferno since college, but the movie seems a pretty fair approximation of the high points, with Dante lost in the woods, then taken on a guided tour of the Nine Circles of Hell, and the celebrities within (which included some of Dante’s enemies – my professor took special delight in pointing those out).

linferno-1911-river-of-filth-flatterersThere’s some laudable special effects employed for the more fantastic scenes involving the damned and the various princes and monsters of Hell, admittedly many of which Georges Méliès had been doing for years at that point. 1902’s Trip to the Moon is only 13 effects-packed minutes long, and L’Inferno is three times that length, and uses every one of those trick to realize its spectacle.

Dante gets to interview a couple of the imprisoned souls about how they wound up in that particular circle, leading to vignettes illustrating their tales of woe. The major setback to the modern eye can be leveled at practically any motion picture of that era: it is essentially stagebound, every shot is wide, the camera nailed down. This is perfect for the spectacle being paraded before us, but this may require more than a bit of patience from a viewer waiting for a close-up (there is one… sort of… as the camera gets a bit closer to the gigantic Lucifer).

00_22_462013-06-12-16h02m16s117L’Inferno deserves respect not just for its ambition, but for being the first full-length movie produced in Italy (The Australians apparently beat them to the punch for the first in 1906 – but in Italy’s defense, it reportedly took three years to shoot this). That they succeeded in their ambition with the grand scale of spectacle on display is admirable. You might look at me a bit askance for mentioning patience earlier, when the running time is listed at a mere 68 minutes, but that running time was considered almost unthinkable at the time – longer films were traditionally broken down for serialized viewing, and this seemingly lengthy epic certainly lead to higher ticket prices. A contemporary account of a viewing mentions two intermissions to help the audience get through it. You have to wonder what that diarist would have thought of Birth of a Nation’s runtime of 2 hours and 45 minutes, only four years later.

YouTube has the beautiful restoration that I saw, though unfortunately not with English intertitles. Maybe you can read Italian, or maybe you also read The Inferno in college and can muddle along. Or maybe the words are mostly superfluous and we are here to see pretty pictures:

90583-maciste-in-hell-0-230-0-345-cropThen, oddly, the next movie to fall into my sphere was also silent and Italian and involved the Other Place: Maciste in Hell. Now, like most Americans, I had been kept largely ignorant of Maciste. The character had been introduced in 1914’s Cabiria (yes, silent and Italian), which was one of those movies I had always intended to watch back when I could afford Netflix Instant, yet never did. Maciste is likely the longest running recurring character in cinema, appearing in over fifty movies, over half of which are silent, and starring muscular actor Bartolomeo Pagnano. The other half were shot in the peplum boom of the early 60s, but those imported to American shores were re-named with the more familiar Hercules (or his Son), Samson (or his son), Atlas or even Goliath. My mother was addicted to watching the damned things on the afternoon movie slot in the late 60s, and I was really confused when the occasional reference to Maciste slipped through.

Bartolomeo Pagnano, quite winning as Maciste.

Bartolomeo Pagnano, quite winning as Maciste.

The silent Maciste movies seem to cover a lot of time periods – In Hell seems to take place in the 19th century, and it was a little bewildering to see the muscle man in a nice suit. Barbariccia (Franz Sala), a Lieutenant of Hell, comes to Earth with a few of his cohorts to spread corruption, but Barbariccia’s main target seems to be the virtuous Maciste (Pagnano). Changing from his demonic form to a more traditionally evil cape, top hat and elegant moustachio, the Lieutenant first tempts Maciste in person, then steals away the baby of Maciste’s neighbor Graziella (Pauline Polaire) moving her to blaspheme and become his rightful prey, and she is saved only by a traveling holy man.

maciste-in-hell-1925-stillThe neighbor bit is part of a major subplot where we get to see our hero be a proactive muscle man, as that baby is also the child of a local prince (Dominico Serra, I think), born out of wedlock. Maciste visits the palace, womps up on some powdered wig-wearing footmen, and talks some sense into the young prince, who sees the error of his ways, and promises to wed Graziella. On his way back home, Maciste discovers the kidnapped baby abandoned in the woods, and rescues it; afterwards, he confronts Barbariccia, and the devil carries him down to Hell.

After the expected scenes of Maciste taking on the hordes of Hell – the scene where he grabs a demon by the tail and proceeds to swing it around like a wrecking ball is especially sweet – Maciste is ushered into the throne room of Pluto (Umberto Guarracino), King of Hell.

Lucifer. You were totally lied to by your album covers.

Lucifer. You were totally lied to by your album covers.

This gets almost as confusing as Maciste in semi-modern dress: as contemporary posters claim, this is “Based on Dante’s Inferno”, and to be sure, there’s the giant Lucifer, presiding over the icy expanse of the Ninth Circle, Caiaphas is still crucified to the ground (though no longer trodden underfoot by hypocrites wearing heavy cloaks of lead), and quite a few torments of the damned are familiar if you’d just watched the 1911 version. But we’re still mixing in some questionable Greek mythology.  Proserpina (or as we know her, Persephone) (Elena Sangro) is identified as “Pluto’s second wife” though I don’t recall any others, and Pluto even has a daughter, Lucerfina (Lucia Zanussi). Prosperpina has her sights set on Maciste, and so does Lucerfina, though in her case it’s because Maciste thinks nothing of tossing demons over cliffs and rescuing the tormented, which she finds utterly refreshing.

maciste-classicAccording to “the latest rules of Hell”, no living man can stay in Hell more than three days unless he is kissed by a she-demon, and though Lucerfina tries to warn him of this, our musclehead kisses Proserpina, which turns him into a demon. That doesn’t seem to bother him too much, as he settles down to non-stop offscreen debauchery with her, until the jealous Barbariccia leads an army of revolt against Pluto. Maciste, who is now even stronger because he’s a demon, routs the revolution single-handedly, and in gratitude, Pluto turns him back into a human and releases him back to the real world. Proserpina, however, double-crosses him and has him chained to a rock, returned to his demon form, forever her sex toy.

But! On Christmas Eve, the baby Maciste saved, now a toddler, prays for him, and it’s apparently one of those “latest rules of Hell” that such an act can save a cursed soul, and Maciste is released, The end.

HellThe biggest contrast between Maciste in Hell and L’Inferno will be that the visual language of cinema has been largely developed, and movies in 1925 no longer resembled filmed stage plays – in fact there’s been a case made for Italian director Giovanni Pastrone, who made the aforementioned Cabiria, inventing some of the innovations generally credited to D.W. Griffith, most notably the tracking shot. Guido Brignone directed in Hell and several other Maciste movies, and was directing films right up until his death in ’59. And Maciste in Hell is a really good movie with a cracking pace and some impressive spectacle – especially a shot of a flock of devils circling the infernal skies straight out of Doré, and some effective dissolves done with time-reversed smoke and fire.

The original running time of Maciste in Hell is given as 95 minutes or so, though the version i watched was only 65, which may explain that cracking pace, but I didn’t sense any break in the story. Given how many silents have completely vanished, we should be happy that we still have this essentially (somewhat) complete version. If you’re a fan of early cinema or silents, or even a little curious, Maciste in Hell makes for a fun watch.

Now, this little post has been kicking around for a while, getting longer and longer, even when work and personal pressures kept me from physically typing it out. The breaking point was when I realized I needed to see yet a fourth movie for this line of inquiry, and it was while I was tracking down a copy of that movie that I realized that this beast could actually be presented in two parts, and finally get something up in this dang blog.

So see you soon, I hope. Before I realize a fifth movie is needed.

(I’m a little jealous. My version of the movie is 10 minutes longer somehow, but the picture quality on this one is superb.)

Or you can buy Maciste in Hell from Amazon.

 

 

 

Remember Me?

hi-you-may-remember-me-from-the-alphabetStill here. Still alive. Paid my money to be here another year – even slapped down the extra gelt to remove the ads from the bottom of each post (you’re welcome). If that’s not a statement that I intend to be in this space for the foreseeable, I don’t know what is.

December was remarkably quiet. In the acting end of my life, it’s usually full of holiday parties. Not 2016, though. Then, surprisingly, January opened full throttle; I think we had more shows in the first two weeks of January than we had in the entire month of December. Some believe this is because people figured out the world wasn’t actually going to end (immediately) and were relaxing. They pointed to the Stock Market, among other things.

It seemed to me that this is more like the parties held the night before the final battle in Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven, but what do I know? I’m just an American citizen of no celebrity, with no stock portfolio, and therefore no worth.

The other side of my employment situation cranked up, too: extra City Meetings, some previously scheduled, some not. This week starts my weekly stories. At some point this semester I am going to have to pretend once more that I don’t despise sports.

In all this, I actually have been working on a post, which is only two-thirds finished and about 1500 words. I hope to have that up in the next few days, but don’t lay any money on that, ‘kay? Stay tuned. Like I said, another year. Which is, oddly enough, the length of time I expect my current health insurance to exist.

Yeah, I’m just a bowl of happy candy today, ain’t I?