Blood Bath and Its Strange Clan

If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know that I like to champion physical media. You may say that’s due to my not being able to afford robust broadband from any of the Great Satans currently controlling Big Cable, but the truth is it’s because we are living in an amazing age for boutique labels.

This week, I’m going to exclaim all over Arrow Films, who’ve been in operation in the UK since 1991, and recently branched out to America. There was a bit of a bobble in the distribution of their superb blu-ray of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, resulting in the dusting off of my Amazon UK account and importing it myself. That is an extra mile I did not mind walking… except that after watching that gorgeous, candy-coated transfer, I immediately wanted more with a capital M.

BB boxA year later, I have finally gotten my more and it is as remarkable and complete as it is improbable: A box set of four films that quite literally share the same cinematic DNA, marketed under the best-known of its many identities: Blood Bath. Tim Lucas, one of the best genre film historians and critics around today, bears the likely blame for this: in the earliest issues of his essential magazine, Video Watchdog, there was a three-part article tracing the history of these odd, stitched-together movies. Lucas points to these articles as the probable genesis of his magazine, since no other publication would have considered devoting that many pages to such obscurities. Speaking personally, I read those articles and thought, I’m not alone in obsessing over junk food movies.

I’ll try to keep this brief, as the set covers a lot of ground. Roger Corman, wheeling and dealing internationally after the box office failure of The Intruder (and not incidentally trying to get out from under the thumb of AIP), makes a stop in Yugoslavia and agrees to help fund a crime movie, filmed in English, and provide two stars for the American market. That movie, directed by Rados Novakovic, is Operation Titian. Don’t bother looking for it on the IMDb under that name, you’ll give yourself a headache. It’s there under Operacija Ticijan.

Thank you, LetterboxdOperation Titian feels a lot like the krimi movies so popular in Germany at the time, but suffers from not having a script based on a Edgar Wallace novel. The macguffin is a Renaissance painting by Titian, supposedly lost during WWII. A certain Dr. Zaroni (Patrick Magee) arrives, meeting with a shadowy someone who passes him a key to the villa in which the painting is now hidden. Zaroni kills the old man living there and steals the painting, only to discover that it is a copy. That shadowy someone is the old man’s nephew (William Campbell), who has his own plotline about his old fiancee who is marrying a reporter. Said fiancee is also the sister of the policeman who is tracking down Zaroni.


“Where are you headed after this, Patrick?” “Yugoslavia. You?” “What a coincidence!”

There are several more complications and twists, in true krimi fashion. The local actors, performing in English, are quite good; the photography tends toward the pedestrian, but at times produces some exceptional nighttime sequences that benefit not only from the old world architecture of Dubrovnik, but also an obvious reverence for Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and Carol Reed’s The Third Man. Corman, for his end of the deal, provided two actors who had been working in Ireland with some young turk named Francis Coppola on a horror movie called Dementia 13. Magee does his usual excellent job of playing alternately charming and quietly menacing, often in the same line. Campbell always does best when he is allowed to be a bit hammy, and he does eventually get that chance.

The pertinent point here, though, is that, after having read Lucas’ articles and knowing what eventually became of Operation Titian, I was pretty confident that I would never actually get to see it. And now I have.

How sad is it that I can recognize an Alpha Video box by sight alone?

How sad is it that I can recognize an Alpha Video box by sight alone?

Corman had some problems with Novakovic’s finished movie, and had it reworked for the American TV market into Portrait in Terror, the second movie in the box set. Portrait rearranges the sequence of events in Titian, and excises some pretty blatant travelogue footage (think Reptilicus without that time-wasting tour of Denmark). Titian introduced its characters in a lengthy scene at an airport, and it still didn’t do a very good job of it. Portrait almost starts in media res in comparison, and the viewer clicks with the cast much more quickly.

There are some puzzling additions, however. The murder of an extorting dancer, handled obliquely in Titian is now replaced by a bizarre stabbing scene in which only the slightest of efforts was made to match the actors – the costumes are close, but that’s about it (nice work is done finding similar architecture in Venice, California, though). The stabbing is followed by the murderer laboriously carrying the body down long stretches of stairs – in broad daylight – while the camera shows blood dripping on the steps. As the killer is supposedly wearing Magee’s white linen suit – which remains spotless – this becomes egregious rather quickly. He then loads the body into a rowboat and dumps the body in the middle of a crowded bay. It is still daylight.

In Titian, that scene ends with the dancer gasping as the white-suited figure approaches; a few seconds only. In Portrait, it’s closer to five minutes. In Titian, her corpse is discovered during a sports fishing competition; we find she was impaled with a fishing spear. In Portrait, it is much the same, except the scuba diving takes much longer, and as we all know, if a movie is moving slowly, there’s nothing like a scuba diving scene to bring it to a dead stop.

What is unusual is that Portrait runs 15 minutes shorter than Titian, but it’s not an improvement. Operation Titian has a very deliberate pace, it is true, but it has a definite rhythm. That rhythm is chopped up to jarring effect in Portrait in Terror and those strange ill-considered inserts scrub the proceedings of any tension that might have been built up.

Then you get to the next evolution of Operation Titian, and things start to get really weird, as we get into the movie whose name the box set bears: Blood Bath.

SPOILER: This is all you're going to see of Magee in BLOOD BATH.

SPOILER: This is all you’re going to see of Magee in BLOOD BATH.

Roger Corman, who should have been named Patron Saint of Film Recycling some time ago, tells Jack Hill that it’s his turn to make a movie; he doesn’t so much care what kind of movie, so long as he uses 30 minutes of Operation Titian footage (this is the same MO that resulted in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets). William Campbell balks, but is eventually brought back on to flesh out his character in Titian: this time his BloodBathArt1Antonio Sordi is a painter obsessed with his equally artistic ancestor, who was burned at the stake (along with his disturbing paintings) based on the testimony of his mistress. Sordi is also quite insane, believes he is being haunted by the ghost of that mistress, and keeps killing women at her behest, using their corpses as the models for his successful series of paintings called Dead Red Nudes, and then dipping them in a huge wax vat.

Please note that there is no blood bathing in the movie, except on the poster.

Now this is a fairly solid concept for a thriller; consult The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film and you’ll find half a dozen movies with a similar plot. Jack Hill does some interesting stuff, not the least of which is a surreal nightmare scene where the ghostly mistress torments Sordi. Hill also archly revives the satiric beatnik art milieu of Corman’s Bucket of Blood, with Sid Haig and Jonathan Haze drunkenly searching for the next “art thing” with skills that would make a third grader sneer.

Oh no! Beatniks!

Oh no! Beatniks!

Corman returns from shooting in Europe (Yugoslavia, again!) and once more has problems with the movie, but while Corman was wrapping his movie and Blood Bath was in limbo, Jack Hill has moved on to Spider Baby. Another Corman protege, Stephanie Rothman, gets the nod to “improve” the movie yet again. She does this by inserting a storyline that Sordi is actually a shape-shifting vampire – shape-shifting probably because Campbell rightly wanted more money to come back yet again, so hell, just turn him into another actor entirely. Rothman also manages to get another actor from Hill’s version, Karl Schanzer, as the guru of the art beatniks, Max. Schanzer is saddled by one of the worst fake moustaches in film history, but he also becomes one of the most improbable heroes in that same history.

Oh no! A vampire who looks nothing like William Campbell!

Oh no! A vampire who looks nothing like William Campbell!

Blood Bath is a surreal experience, to say the least; my main source of confusion is exactly where the hell this movie is taking place. I was quite comfortable assuming it was in California, given the Venice locations, and then Campbell starts talking about living in a clock tower active since the 11th century, so I guess we’re still in Dubrovnik? Really, the worst thing that can be said about Blood Bath is that it plays out as exactly what it is: three movies stitched together, and at least one feels like a deliberate intrusion on the others. Still, at a slim b-picture 62 minutes, it has little time to wear out its welcome.

62 minutes? That works for a double feature (it played on a double bill with Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood), but won’t do for TV syndication, where most movies are slotted in a two hour block. So, like the villain in a video game, Operation Titian mutates into its final form, Track of the Vampire.

Oh no! Another vampire who looks nothing like William Campbell!

Oh no! Another vampire who looks nothing like William Campbell!

The name of the game here is padding, so yet another actor becomes the black-clad vampire to chase yet another woman through California scenery to the tune of nearly ten minutes. There is, apropos of next-to-nothing, a lengthy dance scene on a beach, but most remarkable of all is the return of that extorting dancer from Titian and Portrait, and Patrick Magee – absent except for a freeze frame in Blood Bath. Campbell and Magee have been re-dubbed in these scenes to manufacture an entirely new subplot about cheating wives and avenging husbands. All this manages to bring Track up to the requisite 82 minutes, but it does the overall movie no favors whatsoever.

"If we use this fancy lens effect, no one will notice that it's padding!"

“If we use this fancy lens effect, no one will notice that it’s padding!”

Track of the Vampire is, sadly, the version I was most familiar with all these years, from several viewings on local horror movie slots – and the story never got any more comprehensible with repetition, let me tell you. That’s also where Lucas first picked up the thread, as he explains in the real jewel of the collection, a video essay titled “The Trouble with Titian – Revisited”, With all respect to Xan Cassavetes, it could have also been titled “Operation Titian: A Less-Than-Magnificent Obsession”.

If you’ve never watched a movie with a Tim Lucas commentary track, you’re in for a treat, and probably going to develop a bit of an obsession for them yourself. Track down any number of Mario Bava blu-rays (like the aforementioned Blood and Black Lace) with his work on them – Lucas literally wrote the book on Bava movies – and you will be amazed by the amount of information he can pack into less than 90 minutes. “The Trouble with Titian” represents such a magnificent visual expansion of that three-part article, along with new information he has gleaned over the years – it makes you wish every article he has written could be realized in such a form. Side-by-side comparisons of the different versions, freeze frames – a lot of time and care went into this supplement, and it shows.


Yay, garish blood-dripping version!

That disc also holds video interviews with Jack Hill and Sid Haig, and a gallery of around 30 pictures. A pack-in booklet has compact but fairly complete bios on Campbell, Magee and Haig, and there is a poster of the box cover art and the much more lurid theatrical poster for Blood Bath. It’s a nice bonus that labels like Arrow care enough to make reversible covers for the disc box itself, allowing me to indulge my more vulgar urges and swap that cover around for the garish, blood-dripping version.

As I said before, I never thought I would see Operation Titian in this lifetime, much less in the company of its strange, Frankensteinian descendants, and I certainly never thought I’d see them in such immaculate condition in 2K restorations! There is no reason for this box set to exist, and yet it does, and for that we should all be grateful. It traces, in great detail, the events in a very small but vibrant corner of the independent film industry, the creative arc of what were thought to be a series of disposable movies. But are any movies truly disposable?

Tim Lucas and I were not the only people struck by the strangeness of Track of the Vampire; chance cinematic encounters like this are just as likely to engender curiosity and passion as stumbling onto a viewing of an acclaimed art filmArrow Films once again has my respect for approaching movies that have long been the subject of fuzzy public domain discs, and treating them with the same reverence and respect as their much more hoity-toity, supposedly more “respectable” contemporaries.

Buy Blood Bath on Amazon




The Memorial Crapfest

It had been six months since the last Crapfest. There are many reasons for that. The holidays, certainly. There was also the fact that I was really tired of the cat-herding involved with setting a date that everyone was available. It was just much easier to find a day to meet with Rick, or Dave, or both, and just quietly watch some movies.

Life, though, has a way of forcing our hands.

A couple of weeks ago, in my semi-annual bitching about my life post, I mentioned that I skipped out on the memorial service of an acquaintance because that evening was the only chance I had to rest, recoup and heal in a physically grueling week. The deceased was Mark, who was responsible for such Crapfest entries as Skyscraper, The Black 6, and Evil Town. It wasn’t a memorial service, but a Celebration of Life (Mark would not have appreciated a moribund memorial service, not at all) and it was apparently crowded, which is to the good.

I’m a simple man, and I memorialized Mark the best way I knew: by inflicting terrible movies upon my fellow man, as he would.

The evening began with host Dave testing out his new AV setup with the first 20 minutes of Pacific Rim. Now, Pacific Rim is not crap. It is, however, quite loud. I sat and stewed that every time I tried to start things out nicely with some vintage Rolling Stones or Tom Jones, I get castigated for daring to put some “quality” into everybody’s precious crap. No one understands that this only makes the scalpel cut deeper. Yet here is Dave, receiving no such complaints while he projects giant robots punching kaiju.



When you’re the host, you get to do stuff like this.

But you know when nobody complains about “quality” in a Crapfest? When that quality is in the form of cartoons. I curated another set of cartoons, if only because Mark had really enjoyed the Halloween set at the last Crapfest. We start off easy with Feed the Kitty, one of Chuck Jones’ best, followed by Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie, which is its polar opposite: in the first, a bulldog adores a little kitten; in the other, a bulldog continually tries to kill a little kitten.

Tom & Jerry were actually the worst about this.

Tom & Jerry were actually the worst about this.

The next section grew out of a discussion that Dave, Rick and I had after watching Diplomaniacs, about what Dave termed “blackface dynamite” (a scholarly term, to be sure) in cartoons, where an explosion turns everyone onscreen into minstrel show participants. The one instance he could recall with certainty was in Droopy’s Good Deed, which I surprisingly had in its uncensored form… but I still started off with Chew Chew Baby, a 1958 Harveytoon that played semi-regularly in the weekday morning cartoon slot, alongside the Bugs Bunny and Sylvester the Cat cartoons. It terrified me, and in short screwed me up for some time. It was a horrible thing to show a 5 year-old, and once again it is temporarily on YouTube, so look quick:

Oh, all right, here’s the censored Droopy scene in Japanese, which doesn’t make it any better:

Surprisingly, there are some (pretty awful quality) examples of the Betty Boop cartoon I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You, featuring Bimbo and Koko being chased by the giant flying head of Louis Armstrong:

Again, I fully expect all of these to be purged from YouTube in the next week.

I laid out my usual four movies to be voted on. Dave was having none of this voting crap, however (the fascist), and snatched up the recently-released Sorceress DVD. I have gone into Sorceress in far too much detail elsewhere, so let me be brief, and you can visit me twenty years ago at your leisure.

Sorceress is yet another Roger Corman-produced New World Pictures attempt to cash in on the sword and sorcery fad. It was directed by Jack Hill, who has a bunch of good, influential cinema under his belt, like Coffy and Switchblade Sisters. He asked that his name be removed from the movie. It is an intriguing script, full of amazing effects that Corman was not willing to pay for, so what you’re actually watching is a cheap piece of junk. It does feature the Harris twins (Playboy Playmates) and their nudity, Frampton the Barbarian, and for some reason, a Viking and his traveling companion, a satyr. I’m usually pretty forgiving about the acting in these things, but in this one it gets pretty dire.


“And my axe! …except I don’t have one.”

The major heartbreak in all this: Jack Hill wanted Sid Haig to play Pando, the satyr, but Corman wouldn’t pay for that, either. I weep over the loss of this portrayal. And you know what else is not in Sorceress? A sorceress! None. Zip. Zero. Corman apparently took a list of possible titles to a local high school and asked them which movie they’d go see. “Why, the one that gives me a chance to see boobies,” they replied, and so it was.

After this, Alan had brought something. When Alan brings something, it is always horrific. This time, it was, at least, horrific and short. It was the premiere episode of the shortest-lived M*A*S*H* spin-off ever, W*A*L*T*E*R*. Yes, Gary Burghoff’s shot at a show featuring his Radar O’Reilly character.

There are a few points of interest: using one of the best episodes of M*A*S*H* as a springboard – the one featuring a TV crew filming a documentary of the 4077th – a “Where are they now?” special catches us up on what happened to Radar – excuse me, Walter – in the intervening years. He lost the family farm and got abandoned on his wedding day, among other things. So now he is a beat cop in St. Louis.

walter2Now, Walter using his Radar O’Reilly powers to solve crimes is the series I would have tuned in to every week. Instead, what we have here is some gently uplifting comedy about how being a nice guy and having an affinity for animals makes Walter a good cop. Any warm feelings toward the show engendered by having Dick Miller crop up as the manager of a burlesque house besieged by warring strippers is wasted by the fact that Walter’s eventual love interest is played by Victoria Jackson. Possibly before she went insane, but still.

You know what? Screw you. Why should I be the only one to suffer?

There needed to be some filler while dinner was grilled (We were too wrapped up in W*A*L*T*E*R* to attend to such things, it seems), and this fell to me. I had two trailer compilations, labeled “Adventure” and “Satanism” “Satan!” chose Paul, enthusiastically. He would regret that.

There are a lot of movies with “Satan” and “The Devil” in their titles, and the most amazing thing about this is that most of these movies are boring. How is this even possible? They don’t even have enough good stuff in them to make a good trailer, and this is sad.

fitnessRick had prepared a ton of hamburger patties. Dave imperiously strode through the kitchen, proclaiming, “You will have double cheeseburgers! This is the LAW!!!” In a rare gesture of restraint, I only had two double cheeseburgers. I miss those double cheeseburgers. They were good double cheeseburgers.

(Why yes, I did just have my semi-annual visit to my doctor, during which we discussed my weight gain. I told her it was all Rick’s fault. She sighed and scribbled something in the TO BE KILLED column.)

lost planetThen Dave put on his choice. It was a choice that would make us miss boring old Satan. Like many of Dave’s choices, it had more names than a petition against closing a local community center. The name it had chosen for the evening was Galaxy Destroyer, but it is apparently better known as simply Galaxy or Battle for the Lost Planet (“uncensored TV version of Kampf um den verlorenen Planeten”) or “Do you even watch these fucking things before you show them?”

SO there’s this thief named Harry Trent (Matt Mitler) who has stolen a very valuable data tape, and hijacks a space shuttle to escape the security guards chasing him. First problem: he damaged the shuttle and can’t maneuver it, so he has to take a comet’s route back to Earth, which will take five years. Luckily (if not realistically) , there is sufficient fuel and food for this. Second problem: he passed a fleet of wannabe Vogons who reduce the Earth to a scorched black ball.

So after five years of komedy, like discovering he also broke the ship’s stove so that the food is crap and drawing a naked woman on a pillow to seduce, Trent returns to an Earth that has regrown into a bunch of B-movie communes, and discovers he has become a legend, because the data tape he stole will operate a mega-weapon that will destroy the pig-faced aliens. He picks up a feisty liberated woman (Denise Coward), runs into space crabs, has to deal with Mad Dog Kelly, the Maddest Mad Man on the Q Morning Zoo… no I’m sorry, he’s Joe Genitissi in a role that should have gone to Frank Stallone, a Mad Max wannabe who thinks all women should willingly be in his harem and Trent fights him to the death AND OH MY GOD WILL YOU JUST END I REALLY MISS BORING SATAN.

semistalloneSemi-Stallone gets Trent into the Mega-weapon complex and finds out it can kill anybody or anything just as long as the particulars can be programmed into it. Even with the data tape, the surviving scientist (Bill MacGlaughlin) can’t figure out how to program it to kill the aliens. Semi-Stallone says that’s because he’s “too cordial” and he just has to program in human beings and tell the machine to kill everything else. Congratulations, asshole, you just destroyed the biosphere, animals, insects, bacteria and all.

But no, this works, and the aliens dissolve like the demons at the end of the original Evil Dead, but this is deemed so cool that they show many, many instances of it until even that becomes boring. Gaaaah.

This is the work of Brett Piper, who some of you will know from A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, and you are nodding sagely right now.  Some fair stop-motion animation, almost nudity (“MY movie had boobies,” I once again entoned from the back), komedy, and some tiresome social commentary.

Dave sneered that we had lost our “bad movie legs”. See for yourself, the three minutes where the movie almost got exciting:

And lest that make you think you might actually want to watch this, here’s the actual trailer:

The only comment on YouTube:

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.31.32 PM

And you know what else wasn’t in Galaxy Destroyer, besides entertainment value? A galaxy, being destroyed or not.

Sometime during this Paul scapered off into the night, claiming work the next morning (he was lying, he wanted to watch the Rockets game in peace. Incidentally, they lost that night.) and also Erik, claiming a hangover (the veracity of this is unknown). This left Dave, Rick, Alan and myself. “What else you got?” asked Dave. I presented two discs which I knew to be around an hour long. “What else you got?” he asked again, and I realized I was the only person in the room who had to get up for work the next day.

Short sleep rations are a fact of my life. You don’t scare me.

Can-que_e39fe8ffI presented two more movies. And with some sort of hell-spawned wisdom, Dave chose the movie that would be of a fit with the rest of the evening: The Return of the Five Deadly Venoms, which has nothing to do with the earlier movie, Five Deadly Venoms. It is, in fact, a re-titling of Crippled Avengers, because people are idiots.

Chan Kuan-Tai plays To, a famous kung fu hero, whose wife and child are hideously mangled by enemies (To then kills the scumbags with one tiger blow each). His son survives, though his arms have been cut off, and To raises him to be a great fighter with iron arms that have some proto-Tony Stark weaponry in them. They also become colossal jerks, ruling the local village with an iron (ha!) fist, and crippling most of the cast of Five Deadly Venoms for various minor infractions, like talking back or bumping into them on the street.

So, a newly blind man, a deaf-mute, a legless guy, and a brain-damaged hero who tried to help them (but still has excellent kung fu skills in his muscle memory), learn kung fu and come back to rid the world of To and his iron-fisted son. If you need more details, once again you can commune with my younger self.

Chang Cheh’s Venom movies (as they are known) tend to end in spectacular fight scenes that rely more on acrobatic skills than martial artistry, but the fights are so dizzying, like a gymnastic tournament gone ballistic, that it is damned near impossible not be sucked in. Another special shout out goes to Wang Lung Wei as To’s second-in-command, whose battle cry of “Let’s go!” whenever his men were losing, became the quote of the evening.

It washed away the Boring Satan and Boring-er Galaxy Destroyers and ended the night on an up-beat. Nyah nyah on Erik and Paul who have to nurse their delicate psyches through horrid memories of Galaxy Destroyer when they think of this night, and not the exhausting final fight of Crippled Avengers or the ta-tas of the Harris Twins (“My movie had boobies!”)

And rest assured that Mark is laughing at us all, and probably making a joke about an obscure Richard Burton movie.

Looks like I’m back to my cat-herding duties.



Crapsgiving 2012

I actually recovered from a week and a half of Extreme Bizzitude the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Wednesday night was spent brining the turkey, Thursday, of course, was cooking and eating, then eating after a nap, then eating some more. Friday was more restful, as old chum Cabot Parsons was down from Noo Yawk to visit, and we made each other remember stuff from our more youthful days that we had good cause to forget (and then I ate). That was the restful day my body had really needed. And Saturday… ah Saturday… was the rest my soul needed, as I had no Show and therefore bullied everyone into a Thanksgiving Crapfest, or, as it is known, Crapsgiving.

Our Author, ready for action.

I think I actually stuffed myself more at Crapsgiving than I had at Thanksgiving. Host Dave had cooked up some excellent beef-and-venison sausages and sautéed the hell out of a mix of mushrooms and peppers and some dirty rice – nay, filthy rice – to accompany them. As the evening wore on we would also tuck into a huge pepperoni pizza Rick had snagged from Costco – I believe the crust was also made from pepperoni, as were portions of the box. In any case, there was a hell of a lot of pepperoni. Then the usual snacks, and Paul brought supplies for root beer floats. After a year spent losing weight, I am finally back to my fightin’ weight of 500 pounds.

While various people arrived, I played a disc of terrible things from, appropriately, Alas, the only people to be scarred by this were myself, Dave, Rick and one of two new guys who had arrived early, Erik. Erik brought his A-game, I must say; he came with some movies of his own, about the worst of which (that I had seen, anyway) was The Angry Red Planet, and I love The Angry Red Planet. But I don’t think he was entirely prepared for the brain-blasting awfulness we put ourselves through on a regular basis; though Everything is Terrible  should have been a fair intimation.

We started off Crapsgiving Proper with The Big Doll House, Jack Hill’s first Filipino Women In Prison flick for Corman’s new company, New World Pictures. It isn’t the absurd perfection of The Big Bird Cage, but it is still pretty entertaining in its own right. This is apparently Pam Grier’s first big movie role, where Sid Haig is giving her acting tips as the shoot progresses. Their chemistry is damned good, so much so that Hill would pair them again for The Big Bird Cage the following year.

There is really only one plot in these movies: there are women in a hellish Filipino prison, and they want to escape. What sets each apart is the bizarreness of the setpieces. Granted, there must always be at least one shower scene, one wrestling match (usually in mud, if Corman has anything to say about it), and at least one torture scene involving nudity, ideally several. Doll House also has a food fight followed up by a general fire-hosing of the inmates (which, legend says, the inmates didn’t know was coming). This particular prison is also, for some reason, run by female Nazis, though there is also a shadowy hooded military man who seems to operate things behind the scenes, leading Erik to deduce that the prison is actually being run by Cobra Commander. (“I hate you, Joe! Now get undressed!”)

Surprisingly little nudity, given the movie’s ultimate venue was the drive-in, but some little caution was apparently called for in 1971. The next year Deep Throat would put “porno chic” on the cultural map and things would loosen up considerably for a few years, providing the teen-aged me with a short Golden Age at the Drive-In. The Big Doll House’s major problems are a Shakespeare-sized cast list (with an identically Shakespearean body count), getting rid of Pam Grier way too soon, and that there is no Vic Diaz. If I had been Ferdinand Marcos, I would have required every movie made in the Philippines to cast Vic Diaz. Dammit, A Filipino movie without Vic Diaz is like a Women in Prison movie without a shower scene.

Also best line of the night comes from Dave: “Sid Haig is like the Cary Grant of Women in Prison movies.”

Best of all, Big Doll House  was one of the movies from The List – I now only have 15 to go before the end of the year (oy). Thank you, gentlemen.

Alan and Paul and the other newb, Joe, sauntered in toward the end of Doll House. Paul might have gotten to see an exposed breast, or two; Alan was not so lucky. Dave called upon me to put something on while he prepared martinis to fortify ourselves against his choice. I put on my new Shazzan disc, but when Dave sneered at it, I huffily withdrew it and substituted something I had promised Paul a long time ago: the very first episode of Hee Haw.

Most of you sneered just then. But then, most people are familiar with Hee Haw from its later, syndicated years, when the bits were old and worn and the writers were desperately pawing through whatever joke books they could find in resale shops to fill up time between country stars. But the first year, all this stuff was new, and the material was smart, surreal and sharp. There was no doubting the musical ability of the visiting stars (in this case Charley Pride and Loretta Lynn, who sang a feminist song about squaws going on warpaths) and there is no gainsaying Buck Owens. No, there is not, because Buck Owens kicks ass. The very first song, on Hee Haw, on the country & western version of Laugh-In, is not a country song. It is “Johnny B. Goode” with Dogpatch-styled go-go dancers.

(You know, when I wrote this, all these things were available on YouTube. I leave this horrid placeholder up by way of protest)

This is your monthly reminder that Buck Owens always disclaimed he played country. “I play American music,” he would say, and go back to rocking out. The twin brothers in the background were the Hager Twins, there for youth appeal. Their songs were likewise good, and I always find myself infected with their “The Gambling Man” for weeks after watching this first episode. Dig the kazoo action:

So despite initial disbelief, the room wound up enjoying Hee Haw. It opened up old memory through-ways  and if nothing else, it was a memory you could sing along with:

Then, finally, Dave was ready to spring his horrifying choice of the evening on us. But it was a digital copy, running off a server in a back room, so while it transferred itself to a closer hard drive (honestly, we were one hot chick with short hair shy of a 90s hacker drama), we popped in an emergency disc I had gotten from Warner Archive some time before: Hollywood Party (1934). The trailer will give you some idea of the surrealism packed into its 69 minutes:

Yes, that’s a shockingly young Jimmy Durante going mano a mano with Mickey Mouse, and that is not the weirdest thing on display in this movie. The contents are surprisingly saucy – Hollywood Party just barely slipped out before the Hayes Code started being sternly enforced. This is the sort of movie that gives you some context into older Looney Tunes gags. We never made it to Mickey Mouse, much less The Three Stooges (still shackled to Ted Healey) or Laurel and Hardy. We never had time to ponder the allure of Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, whose act consisted of combining a spoiled brat with the worst psycho girlfriend you ever had. Hollywood Party was interrupted by the completed transfer of Dave’s choice: Abby (1974).

Abby is William Girdler‘s blaxploitation version of The Exorcist; it was reportedly more successful than Blacula, and one of several Exorcist knock-offs suppressed by Warner Brothers. I was a bit bemused by the other members of our gathering saying, “Abby? Abby? What’s that?” I sometimes forget what a strange little specialized bubble I occupy.

Snappy pith helmet, Bishop. You must be in Africa!

Abby is the fourth of five movies Girdler made in his native Louisville, Kentucky; he was known for making them fast and cheap, even when he moved on to Hollywood. I’m pretty sure most of Abby‘s budget went to paying William Marshall, and that is always a wise investment. Marshall plays Bishop Garnett Williams, who heads off to Nigeria to aid in pestilence and famine relief, but winds up unleashing an ancient demon who possesses his innocent daughter-in-law, the title character, played by Carol Speed. Again, there’s not much budget, so any demonic activity is limited to cursing, flailing around, popping an alka-seltzer into the mouth, renting a fog machine for one night, and scaring white women to death. And, oh yeah, screwing a bunch of men, much to the dismay of her husband, Williams’ son, himself a minister. I guess that’s a valid (and economical) path to take when your possessed character isn’t a schoolgirl.

Well, Pop comes back from Nigeria and after his son and Abby’s brother, a cop, track her down to a local nightclub, Marshall dons his holy dashiki and lays the righteous smack down on the devil. There’s a lot of not-quite subliminal flashes of Speed in some monster makeup (to echo the one in Exorcist) in the lengthy exorcism scene. They even pull out the stage illusion levitation trick, possible because they didn’t have to bother lifting a bed. Genius!

I’ve never been a big fan of The Exorcist, for much the same reason The Omen leaves me cold; I don’t have much in the way of religious roots to shake. So I’m afraid a cheap copy of The Exorcist (and Girdler, whatever his shortcomings, was refreshingly honest about that) isn’t going to do much for me. At least now I can say I’ve seen Abby.

Really, the most frightening thing about it: It has thrown the door open to a viewing of Exorcist II: The Heretic. Which, surprise, surprise, I have just gotten from the Swap A DVD Club.

You can take that earlier phrase “At least now I can say I’ve seen Abby” and use it for our next movie. Its possibility as a Crapfest entry had been danced around for some time, and finally, it seems, it was time to actually experience it.

Sweet Sassy Molassy. We’ve been through a lot at Crapfests. We’ve subjected ourselves to Dondi, Things and Strange Beings. We keep thinking we’ve developed scar tissue. But The Room punched us in places that hadn’t been touched before.

Writer/director/producer Tommy Wiseau also stars as Johnny, who is a saint, I tell you, a saint. His girlfriend, Lisa (Juliette Danielle) lives with him, and he buys her flowers, dresses, a ring, soon a car and a house. They are to be married in a month. Lisa, though, confesses to her Mom and everyone who will listen that she finds Johnny “boring”, doesn’t love him anymore, and isn’t going to marry him. Then she has an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero).

The Room is like a vanity novel about human relationships written by Martians; they know what relationships look like, but not what they sound like, what truly makes them tick.

Characters keep getting introduced, right up into the third act – at least I think that was the third act – mainly to tell us how awesome Johnny is and how evil Lisa has become. “She’s a sociopath!” Conveniently Introduced Psychologist tells us. Lisa also finishes every conversation with “I don’t want to talk about it!” and we were really sorry we hadn’t known to count those.

There’s a fair piece of your six million dollar budget right there.

There are four sex scenes in The Room. One is simply the first sex scene between Johnny and Lisa played again, with a different fake rock song on the soundtrack. These scenes make you wonder if you haven’t accidentally flipped to Cinemax; in fact, if not for the tragic ending, I would assume this was Wiseau’s audition tape for directing Cinemax flicks.

Wiseau is working through some issues here, and I don’t need a Conveniently Introduced Psychologist to tell me this. Johnny is just a wonderful human being, everybody agrees about this, even Mark while he’s schtupping Johnny’s girlfriend. So after everything is revealed at Johnny’s birthday party, and he makes everyone leave, Johnny tears the place apart (“I saw Orson Welles do this in Citizen Kane and it was awesome!“) and then blows his brains out, leaving Lisa and Mark to boo hoo hoo over their loss and transgression and doubtless the President to declare a day of mourning.

It’s that last scene, the oh-what-have-we-done scene, that leads me to believe that the vanity novel was written by an adolescent Martian. God, how many stories have we constructed in our little hormone-cooked brains where we died and everybody agonized over how badly they’d treated us? That’s what the last scene in The Room is, and the difference is that Wiseau managed to pull together a reported $6 million to make a movie version of it.

I also can’t help but laugh at the last part of that trailer, the “quirky black comedy” part. That’s the part that finally makes it salable, but The Room was not shot as a black comedy. It’s a teenage I’ll-show-them-all put to film, and I’m glad that Wiseau got some catharsis out of this, even if I and everyone who’s seen it has not.

My first encounter with The Room:

It’s the “Oh, Johnny, I didn’t know it was you” followed by “You’re my favorite customer” that still gets me.

Of course, I was live-tweeting the Crapfest, and about three-quarters of the way through The Room, I had to say this:

Little did I know that there is a Room bot out there, and I came home to this: