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




Gangsters, Masks and Trogylodytes

I can say that I’m going to stop doing multiple movies in each post, and I will have to admit that I am lying. To accomplish this I would have to A) Write more often; or B) Watch fewer movies. Neither is likely. My berserk schedule does not allow that much flexibility, and February has turned into a month of burdensome obligations. But never mind that:

Once Upon A Time in America (1984)

once_upon_a_time_in_americaFor instance: I’m not sure how long the average post takes me to write; six to eight hours sounds about right, unless I’m talking about my favorite movie, and then it takes more like two weeks. Now consider that in the time it took to watch Once Upon a Time in America, I could have written two-thirds of this column. Of course, watching the movie is what this is all about, so that’s a specious comparison, but I am here to say that at four hours and eleven minutes, this is not a short movie.

Nor should long movies frighten us; in the right hands, they yield amazing dividends. The only slightly shorter Andrei Rublev is an incredible experience, but it also has the allure of the exotic going for it, being set in medieval Russia, whereas Once Upon a Time rests in somewhat more familiar territory, with the early 20th century providing a taste of antiquity, but only a taste. It’s the story of four Jewish kids growing up in New York and working their way into the Underworld, eventually becoming big time bootleggers during Prohibition. By that time the kids have grown up into Robert DeNiro, James Woods, William Forsythe and James Hayden. Elizabeth McGovern, Tuesday Weld, Larry Rapp and Darlanne Fluegel round out the core cast.

Once Upon a Time in America 10The movie starts with DeNiro’s character, Noodles, on the run for snitching on Woods’ character Max (and its consequent bloodbath), and finding that a million dollars he had stashed away is mysteriously missing. The movie is going to flash forward to 1968 and then back to the 1900s, throughout Noodles’ life as he attempts to put together exactly what happened, and taking the audience along with him. Somebody tracked him down in his new life and is leaving clues for him to pick up. If the biographical parts don’t interest you – and they will – the central mystery will certainly keep you hooked as the movie progresses.

There are a lot of people that are going to argue that Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is his crowning achievement, and I would have held out for Once Upon a Time in the West, but that was before I saw Once Upon a Time in America. It’s quite possible that anyone who lobbies actively for the first two had only seen the truncated theatrical cut, slashed down to two hours and twenty minutes – almost half its running time! – a cut that Treat Williams (playing an idealistic Union boss who turns to the dark side) claimed couldn’t possibly make any sense. The version I saw had footage spliced in that was obviously from the cutting room floor, lacking the shine and gloss of finished product, and at least one lengthy scene has such an essential plot point that I was amazed it was cut. A filmgoer who had paid attention up to that point could have filled in the details later… but I’m finding more and more that filmgoers that pay attention are rare animals.

abixwBht_zps96e04c74.png~originalLeone had reportedly been offered The Godfather and turned it down, to his regret. There is a lot of the epic flashback stuff in Godfather 2 that is an obvious influence here, but Leone’s recreations of early 20th century New York are breathtaking. This is a four hour movie that only felt like three hours. It’s the longest movie on this year’s List, and I glad it’s out of the way, but I’m also very, very glad I saw it.

Buy Once Upon a Time in America on Amazon

Little Caesar (1931)

220px-LittleCaesarPYeah, it was with a little sarcasm that I followed up with Little Caesar, going so much in the opposite direction that it was absurd. The movie gives us the rise and fall of a crime kingpin in a slim 80 minutes. It may go by faster, but it also seems much slighter, certainly far less dense.

Edward G. Robinson delivers a star-making performance as Rico, who starts out the movie sticking up a gas station, but deciding to head to the Big City because he’s made for bigger stuff, see? Going along with him is his partner, Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) who sees the City as his big chance to become a dancer. Rico signs onto a mob easy enough, even though the boss (Stanley Fields) is a little concerned about Rico’s willingness to use his gun.

105659-004-3271C8DCJoe does get a job as a dancer at a night club (it was a different time, I tells ya), and slowly removes himself from Rico’s sphere. Rico does stage a hold-up at the nightclub, and winds up shooting a local Commissioner. After that, his rise to the top of the Underworld begins, and it is as meteoric as his fall, precipitated when he tries to force Joe back into his gang, and Joe’s lover convinces him to turn state’s evidence against Rico. His loyalty to Rico is, shall we say, bruised when Rico tries to kill him, but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.

Rico will end up hiding out in a flophouse, but is roused to action by the head cop who’s been dogging him all movie long starts insulting him in the papers, leading up to a shootout and those famous words, “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”

vlcsnap-2016-01-31-01h13m17s081It all feels very 1931, if you catch my drift. Stilted and somewhat mannered, even given the subject matter. Sources are conflicted as to whether or not Rico is based on Al Capone or Salvatore “Sam” Cardinella, another violent Chicago mobster, but that doesn’t really matter. From this comes The Public Enemy, Scarface and any number of other gangster movies – but the real reason to watch is Edward G. Robinson. Robinson was a serious student of drama, and watching him act is always an unalloyed pleasure. He’s probably one of the finest character actors of the 20th century, and that he’s unrealized as such, and is instead relegated to the ranks of cartoon characters, ending every sentence with a “nyah!” is the true crime here.

Buy Little Caesar on Amazon

The Mask (1961)

CR3Ynk2VAAAzh77In the spirit of due diligence, I should reveal that I entered in a contest in December, sponsored by Classic Movie Hub and Kino-Lorber. I won the first week, and the prize was my choice of eight Kino-Lorber blu-ray titles. They were all tempting (and more than a few I have purchased in the meantime) but the only one I had never seen was The Mask, though it had haunted most of my adult life when it was the cover for RESearch magazine’s Incredibly Strange Films issue.

The Mask is notable for several reasons. First, a somewhat novel use of 3-D, especially considering that cinematic craze was over by 1955 and The Revenge of the Creature. It is also the second film by Julian Roffman, who almost single-handedly jump-started the Canadian feature film industry. It was felt that a horror movie like The Mask would be more successful commercially than his first effort, a crime film called The Bloody Brood, starring Peter Falk.

Psychiatrist Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) has a particularly distraught patient in Michael Radin (Martin Lavut), a young archaeologist who’s been having nightmares and blackouts. Radin feels it is somehow the fault of a strange South American ritual mask he discovered recently; he claims it is exerting an unholy, murderous power over him.

The Mask 2Barnes dismisses Radin’s fears, because unlike us, he did not watch the beginning of the movie where Radin pursued and strangled a young lady. Even more distraught, Radin leaves the office, mails the mask to Barnes, and blows his brains out.

So Barnes finds himself in possession of what his deceased patient claimed had taken over and ruined his life, and like any curious person in the same room with the Necronomicon, he just has to have a look. The ominous voice in the soundtrack intoning “Put the mask on… NOW!!!” probably wasn’t helping, either.

post-269895-0-10112400-1446578737This is the point at which theater-goers were supposed to put on their own mask, ie., the red/green glasses that made 3D work in those days. Barnes finds out that wearing the mask immediately results in a bad LSD trip, full of horrifying and bizarre imagery. He also feels himself compelled to wear the mask over and over, as he slowly succumbs to the same paranoia and murderous delusions as his patient.

Now the first thing one is going to ask (particularly if “one” is me) is – so how are the bad acid trip images? And the answer is pretty darn good, actually. Roffman had gone so far as to consult avant-garde artists in the design of these sequences (ironically, he abandoned their concepts as too unrealistic, especially on his budget) and employ groundbreaking electronic music. These parts are refreshingly forward-thinking. The images are strange and actually unnerving, aided immeasurably by the fact that Roffman uses his 3D very constructively, even when things aren’t flying out or reaching toward you from the screen. Objects in the foreground and the background provide nice parallax scrolling, for instance. The Kino-Lorber blu-ray, in association with the 3-D Film Archive, is sharp and flawless and produced for people with 3-D players and TVs, neither of which apply to me. The trip sequences are supplied in red/blue anaglyph as an extra, but, alas, not as a part of the 2-D presentation. The anaglyph presentation is really strong, as well – but you’ll need to provide your own glasses.


Sad as this is, it does force the poorer viewers among us (like me) to judge The Mask on its own merits. It has a reputation as being slow-moving, but hey, welcome to low-budget genre films in the 50s and 60s. Most people watching The Mask came to see the 3D sequences, and under those circumstances, anything not mask-related is doing to be greeted with impatience. Bereft of that gimmick, we can see The Mask as it really is: sightly clunky, repetitious and padded, but no less so than a lot of its contemporaries. And those mask sequences, appearing at roughly a half hour, 45 minutes, and then ten minutes before the end – are really something. I’m unsure of the disc authoring voodoo necessary to make such things happen, but I really wish they could have used the branching capabilities of the technology to make a 2-D/anaglyph viewing of the movie possible, just like in the theaters.

Buy The Mask on Amazon

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

BtomahawkThis was getting quite a bit of buzz at the end of the year, and the premise is pretty unique, so I knew I was going to have to watch it, even if just for the cast. And man, what a cast; I am going to single out casting director Matthew Maisto right here for some lavish praise.

Because right at the beginning, we meet two cut-throat western bandits (literally – the very first image of the movie is a man getting his throat cut) played by Sid Haig and David Arquette. And dammit, any movie that starts out with Sid Haig is okay in my book. Not that these guys are going to last long – while vamoosing because they hear horses approaching, they blunder through what is obviously an Indian burial ground of some sort, and before you know it, Sid is festooned with arrows.

BONE TOMAHAWKBut having had our nerves jangled, let’s go over to the little frontier town of Bright Hope several days later, where cattle boss Arthur (Patrick Wilson!) is recovering from a broken leg. His wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is the backup for the local drunken doctor (luckily for Arthur) and she is called to the jail one night to tend a drifter who got into an altercation with Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell!), and got shot in the leg. That drifter is David Arquette, so we’re pretty sure something bad is in the offing.

The next morning a local stable boy is dead and disemboweled, the horses he was tending are missing, and so is the drifter, the Deputy, and Samantha. The local educated Indian, the Professor (Zahn McClarnon) identifies the unique bone-tipped arrow left behind as belonging to “The Trogylodytes”, a tribe the other tribes leave strictly alone because they don’t want to die. He points the way to a series of canyons where the Trogs make their home, and a sadly small party of Hunt, Arthur, a dandified Indian fighter named Brooder (Matthew Fox!) and the “backup deputy” Chicory (Richard Jenkins!) set out to rescue their townsfolk.

bone_7This core ensemble works so incredibly well together that I yearned for more adventures with them. Matthew Fox’s appropriately-named Brooder is a fun departure for him, but the real revelation is Richard Jenkins as Bone Tomahawk‘s Walter Brennan character. Unrecognizable in the role, Jenkins very easily steals the show from the other three, and that is no small accomplishment. It wasn’t until almost halfway through the movie I realized who he was!

bonetomaPatrick Wilson’s Arthur has been given an interesting obstacle for his character to overcome: that broken leg. No devil from hell is going to stop him from rescuing his wife, but the constant re-injuring and threat of gangrene puts a particular edge to his struggle.

Oh, and the Trogylodytes, it turns out, are cannibals, so in the last half-hour it turns into an Ruggero Deodato movie. There’s a reason I can’t expect to see more movies with those four characters.

(To return to the cast once more, I should mention that among the citizens of Bright Hope can be seen – briefly – James Tolkan, Sean Young and Michael Parê. Good work, Mr. Maisto!)

bone-tomahawkThis is S. Craig Zahler’s first movie as a director (and his second as screenwriter) and it does nothing but make you hungry for the next one. The dialogue is so damned good, the characters so well-delineated, that the movie was a genuine pleasure to discover.

Also, if the Universe could continue to cough up two new westerns a year starring Kurt Russell (and maybe Sid Haig, too), I would be very appreciative.

Buy Bone Tomahawk on Amazon

Zéro de conduite (1933)

Zero_de_conduiteSo why not finish up with another story of savages? Or more appropriately, I started with the longest movie on the list, I might as well finish up with the shortest, at only 44 minutes.

Zero for Conduct is about four boys in a repressive boarding school, their lives little better than that of prisoners, who cook up an act of rebellion during the school’s annual celebration of its very existence. This is Jean Vigo’s third film – he only made four – and it was thought so scandalous and subversive that the French censor banned it until 1947. Vigo himself was quite the anarchist, and it shows in his movies to this point, a mixture of irreverence and surrealism. The new schoolteacher, Hugeut (Jean Dasté), little more than a boy himself, draws a caricature of a fellow teacher that animates itself; the dominating headmaster is a bearded midget (Delphin), and in the annual celebration, the grandstand full of dignitaries is quite obviously a bunch of literal dummies.

Zero_de_conduiteZero is tagged as influential, with many descendants like The 400 Blows quoting it. There is at least one sequence of thrilling, otherworldly beauty; possibly the first “shit” ever uttered in a French film (twice), and, sadly, the feeling that this might be a longer project trimmed down due to time and money. In any case, certainly worth a watch, definitely since I’ll soon be watching Vigo’s final film, L’Atalante.

Buy The Complete Jean Vigo on Amazon

The Last Crap of Summer

It actually happens, every now and then, that I get a Saturday off. This is a mixed blessing; no work on Saturday means no pay, but it also means that it is possible to throw together a Crapfest WITH NO HOLDS BARRED! IT’S A SATURDAY! ALL BETS ARE OFF! WHAT YOU GOT TO DO ON A SUNDAY, ANYWAY?

(Well, I had to get up at 8am to read at Hippie Church, but why should I get more sleep on a Sunday than I do any other day?)

We had a fairly full roster, with only The Other David absent, as in a mirror image of my plight, he had a show that evening. Host Dave had rearranged the furniture in the Crapfest Room, and we lolled about in spacious luxury as Hell unspooled before our very eyes.

santo-titleDave started off with a movie that, like the devil, has many names: the one plastered on the screen as a subtitle was Sex and the Vampire. If you are looking for it on the IMDb, it is better known as Santo and Dracula’s Treasure or Santo en el tesoro de Drácula. In my peculiar little world, El Santo requires no introduction; I find in this world, however, such is not the case. So there was some discussion about lucha libre and pro wrestling, and everybody missed the plot set-up, which is Standard Operating Procedure for a Crapfest. (In lieu of such discussion, I will simply direct you to the Wikipedia page for El Santo)

El Santo, besides being a famous wrestler, crimefighter, and monster-killer, is also an accomplished scientist, it turns out, and has invented a time machine. But it is INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS and has not been tested yet, so the scientists he invited to ooh and ahh at it instead go “Poo-poo!” and march out. The machine will only send a person back to a past incarnation, and for some reason it is safest to send a woman with voluptuous curves into the past,  so Santo’s plucky girlfriend Luisa (Noelia Noel) puts on a high-collared silver suit and walks into a very short Time Tunnel.

timetvWouldn’t you know it, she appears in a household that is being bedeviled by a foreign gent who calls himself Alucard (Aldo Monti), and yes, our local brainiac Professor Van Roth (Fernando Mendoza) has to write that name down and hold it up to a mirror. This version of Dracula, it should be pointed out, has a propensity for taking off women’s clothing, and has a harem of brides who take “clothing optional” very seriously. This convinced Paul that Dracula was the true hero of the movie.

Now, about the time we start wondering “Didn’t this movie used to have El Santo in it?” We see El Santo watching the unfolding Dracula movie on a Time TV; and he’s getting increasingly worried when Luisa’s previous incarnation is vampirized and about to be staked by Van Roth right after he put paid to Dracula. Santo brings her back in the nick of time.

Dracula, Prince of Nudies

Dracula, Prince of Nudies

Now how, you may wonder, did I know about Santo’s time machine, and the shadowy black figure who is watching Santo watch Time TV? Well, much to my consternation, el tesoro de Dracula is in large part an uncredited remake of Attack of the Aztec Mummy, which I had watched a couple a months ago in preparation for an October roundtable (plug plug). Santo decides that finding Dracula’s resting place, and getting his medallion, which will lead to the titular treasure, will prove to all those scoffers that his time machine works.

There follows a shot-for-shot recreation of the tomb scene in Aztec Mummy, right down to the odious comic relief spotting the villainous Man In Black and mistaking him for a ghost. The only deviation is a fight between Santo and the MiB thugs, after which they find Dracula’s coffin, the stake still in his remarkably preserved body, and they take the medallion. But! Dracula’s ring has the key to decoding the medallion’s map, and the MiB steals the ring, then has his burly henchman Atlas wrestle Santo for it (I was wondering how they were going to work a wrestling ring in, and they promote the match for two weeks). Santo, of course, wins, and the MiB hands over the ring, which you have to admit is kind of classy.

AlucardBut he then has his thugs take the stake out of Dracula, figuring that the Count will track down his jewelry, and we’re back to Aztec Mummy territory again. Paul said, “Yay! Dracula’s back! Maybe we’ll have boobs again!” (speaking of titular treasure, har de har) Paul is remarkably psychic, as we did indeed, and then Drac goes ahead and revives all his clothing-challenged brides again, to boot. Santo still wins, which in Paul’s book, means that evil (and clothing) won the day.

It was time to start preparing the evening meal, and the folks doing the planning had outdone themselves: Erik had personally hand-wrapped and skewered a small army of shrimp in bacon, and Rick had an assortment of artisan sausages and pork tenderloin. Science and physics were employed to grill this meaty menagerie without making the Crapfest Room any hotter. All these efforts were highly successful, and damn Rick, but you work magic on a grill. In medieval times, you would have been burned at the stake as a sorcerer. I had a meat hangover the next day, and couldn’t look at anything but salad.

zapin1But it also fell to me to throw in some filler. We had already been through all my trailer compilations, but I had brought something else, something that could also be turned off at anytime with no loss of story: Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In, which had been offered by Vinegar Syndrome as a free download.

There is nudity in the first scene. There is nudity in every scene following. ‘Why are you being so nice to them?” Dave asked me, dismayed. “Because I know what is to come,” I replied. Zap-In is a blatantly obvious rip-off of Laugh-In. right down to go-go dancers (topless in this case) doing their thing while supposedly humorous text is displayed over their gyrating forms. Every now and then we see the cast walking in a circle as if they were playing musical chairs, until someone off camera throws the signal, they all freeze in different positions and say “ZAP!” One lady keeps falling over, which is the funniest thing in the entire movie.

False advertising, and overpriced, to boot.

False advertising, and overpriced, to boot.

You see, this is an H.G. Lewis movie, produced and directed under two of his numerous pseudonyms. And you haven’t lived until you see H.G. Lewis doing comedy. Wait, I should have said you have never experienced a slow, lingering death until you have seen H.G. Lewis doing comedy. So, in a 75 minute movie, at minute 40, I hear a haunted voice from the back of the room moaning, “I never thought I would be tired of seeing tits.” They made it to minute 50 before they begged to shut it off like George C. Scott in Hardcore. I felt like Victor Von Doom after one of his plots against the Cursed Richards had achieved fruition.

All right now, seriously, folks. It was time for a movie I had been trying to force into a Crapfest for months, if not years. The Stabilizer.

It's the Drunken Master's Grand Theft Auto! It says so right on the box!

It’s the Drunken Master’s Grand Theft Auto! It says so right on the box!

The Stabilizer is an Indonesian action movie from 1986 starring Peter O’Brian, a teacher who was vacationing in Indonesia when filmmakers noticed he looked sorta kinda like Frank Stallone and offered him lots of money to extend his vacation and make a couple of movies. He wound up making five more over the next six years, ending up with Angel of Fury, with Cynthia Rothrock.

O’Brian is Peter Goldson, a CIA guy called The Stabilizer because the CIA likes to nickname guys the opposite of what they do, I guess. He comes to Jakarta to help his old friend Captain Johnny (Harry Capri) find Professor Provost (Kaharudin Sayah) who has invented a “narcotics detector”, and who has been abducted by Goldson’s old enemy, the musically-named Greg Rainmaker, whose supervillain gimmick is big boots with golf cleats.

Both The Stabilizer's girlfriend and his archenemy have this photo of him. And that's all you really need to know about this movie.

Both The Stabilizer’s girlfriend and his archenemy have this photo of him. And that’s all you really need to know about this movie.

What follows is pretty much non-stop action with sweet 80’s fashion, all leopard print spandex and triangular pockets with zippers. The only way to respond to this movie is the line from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure: “Great movie, Pee-Wee! Action-packed!” Seriously: it is quite possible to see the seed of movies like The Raid in this, with a desire to create Raiders of the Lost Ark-style action setpieces without the real talent – or coherent story – to back it up.  Whatever else it may be, The Stabilizer is not boring, and is totally committed to insane action.  It presents a country where doors are never used when there is a motor vehicle to drive through a wall, and bad guys have maps on their person labeled “Location Map”, causing the heroes to say, “This could lead somewhere.”


pulgaposterWhen trying to come down from the mind-searing momentum of The Stabilizer (“Situation… stabilized!!!“) Dave determined that the very best way to go was with Pulgasari. Again, a short class was required.

In 1978, Kim Jong-il, then only the son of the ruling despot of North Korea, decided he wanted to make some movies and had one of his favorite directors, the South Korean Shin Sang-ok kidnapped (Shin’s actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee, was abducted first, possibly to lure Shin to Hong Kong) to direct his films.

Shin directed seven films for Kim Jong-il, until he and Choi managed to flee to an American Embassy while attending a film festival in Vienna – in 1986, eight years after their abduction. This story is probably better than any Shin was forced to make under orders; I may never know, because Pulgasari seems to be the only one generally available.

Pulgasari01Based (of course) on a North Korean fairy tale, Pulgasari starts with the usual despotic King (but it’s okay, because he’s an imperialist despot, not a beloved despot like Kim Il-sung) crushing the peasantry and confiscating all their cookware and farming implements to make weapons. A heroic blacksmith refuses and is tortured and imprisoned. He makes a little figure out of rice and mud before he dies; his daughter pricks her finger while sewing, and a drop of blood falls on the figure, bringing it to life as the metal-eating monster Pulgasari.

The more metal it eats, the bigger it gets, and it is soon helping the rebel army take on the evil forces of the King, despite all the kaiju size deathtraps the army prepares for it. (Kim Jong-Il was also a big Godzilla fan, so it’s really kind of interesting that his kaiju flick owes more to the Daimajin movies than the Big G). Eventually the King gets smished and the people triumph, except that Pulgasari is still hungry and starts eating all the cookware and farming implements (because Pulgy represents unchecked capitalism, you see) until the blacksmith’s daughter sacrifices herself to save the villagers.

Pulgasari.jpgPulgasari has a professional sheen but stolid pace; Jong-il hired technicians from Toho, including Kenpachiro Satsuma, the stunt performer who was operating the Godzilla suit in that period, to play Pulgasari. As I said, very professional, good-looking… and more than a little tedious. As Dave said after the movie was over, “I feel like I was kidnapped by North Korea.”

Something extremely insane was necessary to raise us from the Pulgasari doldrums. There was a small vocal minority that was fomenting for The Apple, to mark the passing of Menahem Golan, but it was noted that none of these people had actually seen that movie, and they were in large part the same people Rick had conned into demonstrating for The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, so they were roundly ignored. After tossing The Apple under the bus, we, for some outlandish reason (I personally blame lots and lots of vodka), went for another movie Rick had been pushing for ages: Skatetown USA.

Poster_of_the_movie_Skatetown,_USAWe must note that Skatetown has never had a legitimate video release, likely because its soundtrack has a lot of really recognizable songs from 1980, marking it as being from the same era as FM and Americathon, when movies were marketing tools for what were hoped to be hot-selling soundtrack albums. Rick’s copy was apparently one of a number of nefarious versions floating around struck from a 16mm print.

This is one of those movies that you can tell was based firmly on the Official Drug of Disco, Cocaine – and that is the only possible excuse for its existence. Roller Disco had come and gone in the time it took to make this movie, much less get it released. But let’s see what sense can be made out of what came from this cauldron of coke and something else beginning with a K sound.


Here is everything wrong with the late 70s, in one picture.

There is this roller disco presided over by a Wizard in a white afro. It’s actually owned by Bill Barty and run by his son, Flip Wilson. Okay, I’ll wait a few minutes while you work the cramps out of your brain. Okay? Halfway through the movie, we’ll discover that Mrs. Barty is Flip Wilson as Geraldine, so that explains THAT.

skatetown_usa_pdpNOW. There is some sort of contest held every year at the roller disco (in this wizard-run fantasy realm, roller disco has been going great guns for two years), for the best roller disco dance number, and the prize is a thousand dollars and a moped. Scott Baio is training his friend Stan (Greg Bradford) to win the contest, making them the Rocky and Mickey of this movie (Bradford actually has less range and versatility than Stallone). BUT. The fix is on, and the leader of the local gang of disco hooligans, Ace (Patrick Swayze, in his film debut) is sure to win for the second year running.

I really do not miss the days of roving bands of roller disco hooligans.

ALSO. Some illegal drugs have been spilled in a grinder so every body is getting hooked on the Most Delicious Pizza Ever (made by professional fake Avery Schrieber Vic Dunlop), including Ruth Buzzi, who is there as part of a church group to shut down this Den of Iniquity. I’m also told Joe E. Ross is in there, too, going “Ooh, ooh!” but I missed him. Also Dorothy Stratten in a halter top and hot pants. Her I saw (mainly because Rick would scream “Dorothy Stratten!” every time she appeared).

love cocaineTHEN. The competition happens, with Ace’s treacherous band of hooligans sabotaging all the other solo acts, led by Ace’s right hand man, Ron Pallilo as Dark Horshack. One of the contestants is a guy who, for some reason only apparent to the cocainated, is dressed like a Mexican bandito, right down to floppy mustache. He became known to us as “I Love Cocaine Man”, especially after Dark Horshack douses him with itching powder just before his number. Knowing the rest of this movie, it was probably itching cocaine.



Swayze’s entry, partnered with his belt, is actually pretty good (Swayze was a competitive skater, after all). Stan’s entry is even better (we’re told), and goes un-sabotaged when Dark Horshack is ambushed by an over-acting Bill Kirchenbauer. Admittedly, at one point, Stan does ride a skateboard while still wearing roller skates, which is sort of the Platonic ideal for skating. The fix is still on, though, and Ace wins – and it’s time for SUDDEN DEATH OVERDISCO!!!

Marcia! Nooooo!

Marcia! Nooooo!

This is a couples event, so Swayze and his main squeeze – and of course, his belt – smoke up the dance floor while Dark Horshack takes Stan’s partner out parking with a drug pizza. Stan’s partner, incidentally, is Maureen McCormick, better known as Marcia Marcia Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch, and here, sadly enough, lapsing back into cocaine addiction, given the work environment. She is so out of it, we can’t even call her Dark Marcia, it’s more like Trash Marcia, and I just came through this movie feeling badly for her. Especially since she’s now hooked up with Dark Horshack, thanks to the drug pizza.

Ace’s squeeze defects over to Stan (replacing Marcia Marcia Marcia) and Stan wins, leading to a roller race down a pier resulting in Stan’s saving Ace’s life when a bit of sabotage goes wrong. Everybody now likes and respects everybody else, and we all go back to the roller disco for happy dancing and lots of cocaaaaaaaaaaaaaine.

A Photo of everything ELSE wrong with the late 70s.

A Photo of everything ELSE wrong with the late 70s.

Scott Baio says he kept turning this movie down until they offered him a ridiculous amount of money, and he still wound up regretting it, saying “It was just a guy making a film who didn’t know how to make a film,” by which he means William A. Levey, whom we all know from (ack) Blackenstein. Case closed.

And, for all that, Skatetown USA was still accorded to be the highlight of the evening.

“The Greatest Story Ever Rolled” hahahahahaSHOOT ME

Surprisingly, this poster doesn't lie THAT much...

Surprisingly, this poster doesn’t lie THAT much…

The rest of the wusses headed out, leaving only Rick, myself and Dave, who then proceeded to tempt me with a movie with which I was unfamiliar. A Philippine flick featuring Vic Diaz and Sid Haig, Wonder Women. “Sold!”

Ross Hagen is Mike Harber, who is hired/blackmailed by Lloyds of London to find a missing jai alai star player, only to find that he has been kidnapped by Dr. Tsu (Nancy Kwan) for spare parts in her organ-legging operation. She offers youthful, strong body parts (and in some cases, total brain transplants) to rich old men to finance her other… stuff, I guess, including her army of mini-skirted murderesses. Harber isn’t shy about mowing them down with his sawed-off shotgun, either, when they shoot at him, which is often.

"Ba-OOGA! Ba-OOGA! Escaped mew-tant alert! Ba-OOGA!"

“Ba-OOGA! Ba-OOGA! Escaped mew-tant alert! Ba-OOGA!”

Vic Diaz, the patron saint of Philippine exploitation movies, plays Lapu Lapu, the driver of a fantastically pimped-out taxi who serves as Harber’s guide. Sid Haig, on the other hand, has a pretty uncommon role, as Dr. Tsu’s lawyer and organ broker, given to suits and shirts with enormous ruffles. Dr. Tsu has some failed experiments in cages (which I immediately dubbed “Mew-tants”), and if you think they’re going to eventually get loose and start roaming the compound, get yourself a cookie from the Crapfest jar (You can’t miss it, it looks like Vic Diaz). There is also a really good chase scene using those tricked out taxis through crowded streets – very Bondian.

Because Dave demanded (and supplied) it: a picture of Dr. Tsu’s operatory, including surgical scrubs by Glad®, all the better to continue showing off their kicky miniskirts and go-go boots:scrubs

Past that, though, there isn’t that much to remember. It seems an unnecessary remake of The Million Eyes of Su Muru, but what the hell, badass babes in miniskirts provides a good cooling down period. Oh yeah, Dr. Tsu has invented something called “Brain Sex” so you can also throw in ripping off Barbarella to the list. And the assassination at the cockfight from Man With the Golden Gun. And… oh, never mind, this piece is already too long.

So we woke up Rick (“I tried. I really tried.” “But what? It wasn’t bad enough?”) and went on our weary ways. It was a good Crapfest. You can tell a really good Crapfest by the way it eats holes in your memory, rendering you unable to be totally certain that you really saw what you think you saw. So we leave you with the two things that make the world go ’round:





(Dave worked hard on that. Feel free to praise him, or pity him.)