Monday, June 27, 2016

#2,125. Island of the Fishmen (1979)


Directed By: Sergio Martino

Starring: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson



Tag line: "They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean ..."

Trivia: A sequel directed by the same director Sergio Martino was made and released about sixteen years later and entitled The Fishmen and Their Queen






A late ‘70s Italian take on The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of the Fishmen is chock full of exploitative goodness, and squeezes as much as it possibly can into a feature film.

The year is 1891, and Lt. Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) finds himself floating on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea. A doctor whose ship, a prison transport vessel, sank several days earlier, Claude, along with a handful of convicts, are short on supplies and hoping beyond hope that they make their way to dry land. As luck would have it, their boat does, indeed, reach a remote island, but Claude and the others soon realize it’s not exactly paradise; aside from some well-concealed (and quite lethal) booby traps, there’s also a group of mysterious creatures stalking them every step of the way, beings powerful enough to kill a man with a single blow.

Eventually, Claude and the two surviving convicts, Jose (Franco Iavarone) and Peter (Roberto Posse), are approached by a beautiful woman on horseback, who warns them to leave the island as soon as possible. Her name is Amanda (Barbara Bach), and she’s the unwilling consort of the tyrannical Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson), who, for all intents and purposes, “owns” the entire area. Unfortunately, Claude and his companions have no means of escape, so Rackham agrees to put them up for a few days. During his time with their host, Claude discovers a number of disturbing things, including the fact that Amanda’s father, world-renowned scientist Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotton), is also on the island, and is responsible for creating the monsters, known as fishmen, that Claude and his cohorts encountered shortly after their arrival. Along with being incredibly strong, these fishmen are also helping Rackham retrieve treasure from what he believes is the sunken city of Atlantis! Throw in a voodoo priestess named Shakira (Beryl Cunningham) and a volcano that’s about to blow and you have what proves to be an extremely tense situation.

Can Claude and the others escape this island prison, or will they, too, fall victim to the dreaded fishmen?

While the movie itself is light on gore and doesn’t feature any nudity (we do, however, get to see a soaking wet Barbara Bach in a sheer white dress), Island of the Fishmen still has lots to offer, starting with its exotic locale (a fair portion of the film was shot on-location in Nuoro, Sardinia). In addition, there are plenty of dangers to keep the characters on their toes, including snakes, scorpions, and deadly traps (one poor convict falls into a pit of sharpened sticks, and is killed instantly). We’re even treated to a voodoo ceremony, complete with an actual sacrifice (animal lovers beware: a chicken loses its head before this sequence is over), and the film’s finale is as intense as it is exciting.

As for the fishmen, they may look kinda goofy at first (they reminded me of the monsters in 1980’s Humanoids from the Deep) but when the chips are down, they’re pretty damn intimidating. We don’t get a clear look at these creatures early on; when polishing off their initial victim, a prisoner named François (Francesco Mazzieri), we see little more than the swipe of a claw and a quick close-up. Before long, though, these fishmen become an integral part of the story, and we even feel a bit sorry for them as the movie progresses (their sole purpose is to swim to the ocean floor and bring treasure to the surface).

An Americanized version of Island of the Fishmen, titled Screamers, was released a year later by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, and featured an added sequence (a prologue starring Cameron Mitchell and Mel Ferrer that expanded on the lost city of Atlantis subplot). I’ve never seen this version of the movie, though, to be honest, I don’t think Corman or anyone else could have improved on the original. With its fast pace and thrill-a-minute story, Island of the Fishmen is a veritable smorgasbord of fun.







Sunday, June 26, 2016

#2,124. Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)


Directed By: Don Jones

Starring: Gary Kent, John Parker, Stafford Morgan




Tag line: "They were abducted and abused... ...but worse was yet to come!!"

Trivia: This film was inspired by an actual incident in which a missing woman's car was discovered on the side of the road, but the woman was never found






Like a good number of ‘70s exploitation films, most of what you need to know about this particular 1973 movie is in its title. If you can get past the whole Schoolgirls in Chains thing, you can certainly handle whatever else this flick might throw your way.

Frank Barrows (Gary Kent) and his brother Johnny (John Stoglin) live in a remote farmhouse with their domineering mother, who controls every aspect of their lives. To ensure that Johnny (who, despite being a grown man, has the mind of an 8-year-old) always has someone to play with, Mother has Frank kidnap young women and chain them up in the basement. When Johnny tires of current “friends” Ginger (Suzanne Lund) and the sickly Stevie (T.R. Blackburn), the two boys go out looking for fresh victims. They abduct Sue (Lynn Ross) as she sits in her broken-down car by the side of the road, but when she doesn’t work out the brothers go after Johnny’s “dream girl”, college student Bonnie (Cheryl Waters), who is dating her psychology professor, Robert (Stafford Morgan). Unlike Ginger and Stevie, though, Bonnie has no intention of becoming a toy, and will do everything in her power to escape this living nightmare.

While it’s certainly a perfect exploitation title, calling the movie Schoolgirls in Chains is a bit misleading. As director Don Jones said in an interview, the film doesn’t feature “any schoolgirls, and not many chains” (he had sold the rights to a distributor, who came up with the title). Still, Schoolgirls in Chains has a lot of what you’d expect from this sort of fare: men abusing women, nudity, rape, and a few nerve-wracking chase scenes (Sue, whose abduction opens the movie, manages to slip away at one point). The acting is so-so, as is the film’s overall pace, though director Jones does get creative at times with some POV shots, showing us what Johnny sees while spying on Bonnie through the windows of Robert’s house (along with being stylish, these scenes are also incredibly creepy).

In addition, Schoolgirls in Chains explores the sometimes complex relationship between a mother and her sons. During a flashback, we witness the disastrous afternoon when Frank tried to introduce his fiance Jane (Sara Lane) to his mother (played by Greta Gaylord). Not willing to “share” her son, Mother tells Jane that she and Frank have committed incest, and admits they continue to do so (Mother claims the intimacy began when Frank was only 15 years old). Aside from keeping Frank as a lover, Mother also treats her other son Johnny like a young boy, ensuring that, no matter how old he really is, he’ll always act like a child (Johnny and Frank have very different ideas of what “playing” with the girls means).

Along with a decent exploration of its twisted characters, Schoolgirls in Chains has both a twist ending (while not a total surprise, it’s fairly effective) and an intense final act (where Bonnie uses her wits, as well as her body, to escape her kidnappers). All this, plus just the right amount of ‘70s sleaze, makes Schoolgirls in Chains a movie that grindhouse aficionados will surely enjoy.







Friday, June 10, 2016

Announcement




(NOTE: I've added an update at the bottom of this post)

Well, my consecutive days have come to an end!

Yesterday evening (June 9, 2016), I found myself dealing with a physical ailment that, while not life threatening, was serious enough to keep me bed-ridden the entire time,  It's something I'll be dealing with over the next few days, but I should have a full recovery very soon (it must be something with birthdays.  The illness that caused the hiccup in my streak back in 2011 occurred on my birthday, and yesterday was my youngest son's birthday!).

The result of this illness is that, unfortunately, it prevented me from writing and posting a review yesterday, the first day I've missed since October 23, 2011 (a quick calculation: I made it 4 years, 7 months and 16 days, or 1,690 days in a row, without missing a review).


It's going to take me a few days to recover, but once I'm able to post again, I don't intend to stop until I reach the 2,500 mark.

In the meantime, I will continue to post on Twitter as I have (I have some 22,000 tweets that I've amassed over the years, so putting them together is a matter of simply "cutting and pasting", as opposed to having to type them out), though the frequency of the tweets will likely drop (no more new post every 10 minutes.  I'll try for one tweet every 15 minutes and see how that goes)

I thank all of you who have been following me over the years, and know that I have every intention of completing the challenge.

Thanks, and you'll be hearing from me again soon!


Dave B.

6/15 UPDATE

My recent health concerns, while not 100% better, are moving in the right direction.  I thank all of you who sent me well wishes; it means the world to me.

That said, I've decided to give myself a little extra time to rest and fully recover and to enjoy some relaxation time with my family. 

But I want to assure everyone that I will be back with a vengeance on June 26th, posting daily reviews again until I reach my goal of 2,500 movies. 

Thanks again for your patience and support. 
Dave B
 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#2,123. Not of this Earth (1995)


Directed By: Terence H. Winkless

Starring: Michael York, Parker Stevenson, Elizabeth Barondes




Tag line: "They've Crossed The Galaxy In Search Of Our Blood"

Trivia: In Italy this film was released as Killer From Space







Directed by Terence H. Winkless, 1995’s Not of this Earth marked the third time that producer Roger Corman brought this story to the screen (The first, which was helmed by Corman himself, was released in 1957; and a 1988 remake featured former porn star Traci Lords as one of the leads). With that in mind, you would think this version of Not of this Earth would be pretty darn good (practice makes perfect, right?). Instead, it’s merely OK, leaving me to wonder why ‘ol Roger bothered making another one.

The story is the same: an alien from another planet (Michael York), posing as an eccentric millionaire named Paul Johnson, comes to earth to find a cure for the blood disease that is killing him and his people. Using his mind control powers, he “convinces” Dr. Rochelle (Mason Adams), a leading physician, to work on the problem, while at the same time hiring the services of his nurse Amanda Sayles (Elizabeth Barondes), who becomes Johnson’s live-in assistant, helping him administer the blood transfusions that are keeping him alive. It isn’t long, though, before Amanda realizes all is not right with Mr. Johnson, who has resorted to murder to obtain the blood he needs on a daily basis. With the help of her cop friend Jack Sherbourne (Parker Stevenson) and Johnson’s chauffeur / handyman Jeremy Pallin (Richard Belzer), Amanda sets to work trying to solve the riddle that is Paul Johnson, but will she discover the truth in time to prevent him from killing again?

To be honest, I’ve never seen the original 1957 Not of this Earth, and it’s been so long since I sat down and watched the ‘80s movie that I don’t feel I’m in a position to compare and contrast the various versions. But as far as this particular Not of this Earth goes, it’s certainly not a terrible film. Michael York delivers a deliciously over-the-top performance as Johnson, and the special effects aren’t nearly as cheesy as you’d expect (at times, they’re actually decent). Where the movie falters is in its more intense scenes. A late sequence where Angela and Jeremy search the mansion for clues isn’t the least bit suspenseful (even though Johnson was on his way home at the time and could have walked in at any minute). Most disappointing of all, however, is the ending, which features several chases (Johnson tracking Angela as she runs through the streets; Jack, on his motorcycle, pursuing Johnson’s car), yet is totally lacking in energy. Those moments when Not of this Earth should have been soaring high, it instead fizzled out.

Again, 1995’s Not of this Earth isn’t unwatchable. But it was unnecessary. And here’s hoping Roger Corman doesn’t attempt a fourth one.







Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#2,122. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992)


Directed By: Nick Broomfield

Starring: Nick Broomfield, Alleen Wuornos, Steve Glazer




Line from this film: "I don't care what the sentence is. I'm already on death row"

Trivia: Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival







It was between 1989 and 1990 that Aileen Wuornos, known as “Lee” to her friends, killed seven men along the highways of Central Florida. A prostitute by trade, she’d lure her victims into a wooded area, then shoot them and steal their wallet and car. Her live-in girlfriend Tyria Moore claimed to know nothing about these crimes, and when Lee Wuornos finally surrendered to police, she told them that she acted alone. Once incarcerated, Wuornos, now billed as the first ever female serial killer in U.S. history, was tried for all seven murders (over the course of many months) and each time was sentenced to death by electrocution.

But then, we know all this from the excellent 2004 Patty Jenkins film Monster, in which Charlize Theron played Wuornos and Christina Ricci portrayed Tyria Moore. Nick Broomfield’s 1992 documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer shows us what happened in the months and years immediately after Lee Wuornos’ arrest, when everyone from her lawyer to the police were looking to profit from her crimes.

After a brief rundown of the events mentioned above (including video footage of Wuornos confessing to the crimes), Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer introduces us to some of the people who grew close to Lee after her arrest. Following her trial for the murder pf victim #1, Richard Mallory (which resulted in her first death sentence), Wuornos replaced her public defender (who failed to introduce evidence that Mallory was a convicted rapist) and brought in Steve Glazer to represent her. A former professional musician who decided to go into law, Glazer also put director Broomfield in touch with Arlene Pralle, who “adopted” Wuornos a few months after she was taken into custody. Claiming that it was Jesus who brought them together, Arlene tells of how close she and her new “daughter” have become, and it was Arlene and Steve, working together, who convinced Wuornos to plead “No Contest” (in other words “guilty”) at her next trial. They told her that confession was good for the soul, but it sure didn’t help her body much, seeing as Wuornos was sentenced to death three more times (Arlene and Steve said she was “ready to die”, but instead of remaining calm, Wuornos throws a fit when the judge pronounces sentence, shouting obscenities as the guards led her from the courtroom).

Steve and Arlene claim their intentions are pure, that they simply want to help their good friend through this most difficult time. Of course, they also demanded $10,000 from Broomfield to speak with him on-camera. As for Wuornos, she refused to talk to Broomfield on numerous occasions, despite assurances form Arlene and Steve that she would gladly do so.

In addition to this, we learn Wuornos’ former lover Tyria Moore may have made a deal with police involving (if you can believe it) the movie rights to the story. Wuornos complains about “police corruption” during her subsequent court appearances, though most dismiss it as the ramblings of a crazy woman. Imagine their surprise when, a few months later, three investigators on the Wuornos case were forced to step down over… you guessed it.. their role in trying to secure a movie deal for the story!

By keeping his cameras rolling, Broomfield captures all of the turmoil that made its way into Aileen Wuornos’ life once she was in prison, and quite often we’re rolling our eyes at the gibberish coming out of Steve and Arlene’s mouths (Arlene tells of how she was in a serious auto accident a while back, and how the doctors told her it was “the flow of love” from her to Wuornos that saved her life). Merging this behind-the-scenes fiasco with actual news reports and police file footage, Broomfield creates a documentary that’s as engrossing as it is sad.

Bottom line: Aileen Wuornos committed seven murders, and she deserved to be punished for her crimes. What she didn’t deserve, however, were these yahoos in her life!







Monday, June 6, 2016

#2,121. Legend of the Chupacabra (2000)


Directed By: Joe Castro

Starring: Katsy Joiner, J.T. Trevino, Chris Doughton



Line from the film: "It looks like its intestines have been sucked out"

Trivia: Director Joe Castro's mother appears in the film, playing one of the "experts" interviewed during the movie






Legend of the Chupacabra, a found footage / mockumentary directed by Joe Castro, is an ultra-low budget monster movie that, in spite of its flaws, manages to conjure up a few genuine scares.

Three cryptozoologist students from a nearby college head to Texas in the hopes of capturing footage of the legendary Chupacabra, a carnivorous beast from south of the border that, according to some, has been feasting on the local livestock population. One of the students, Maria Esperenza (Katsy Joiner), has a more personal reason for wanting to track down the Chupacabra (it supposedly murdered her uncle a week before), and with heavily-armed former U.S. Marine George Armistad (Stan McKinney) backing them up, the trio heads to the farm of Daniel Webster (Chris Doughton), who reported one of his goats was killed the night before (Chupacabra is Spanish for “goat sucker”). It’s here that their terrifying adventure begins.

Despite its mockumentary approach (the movie also features talking-head interviews with several “experts”, all discussing their theories on where the monster comes from), there isn’t a single moment in Legend of the Chupacabra that we believe what we’re watching really happened. Part of the reason for this is the quality of the performances, which, across the board, are on the weak side. But more than that, the creature itself, played by a guy in the suit, looks like.. well, like a guy in a suit! In addition, the story gets a bit goofy from time to time, introducing not one but three religious mediums who insist the Chupacabra is a demon sent from hell.

Where Legend of the Chupacabra excels is in the way it handles its monster; unlike other films of this ilk, the Chupacabra appears early and often, usually popping up unexpectedly (resulting in some effective jump scares). Toss in special effects ranging from mediocre (a few of the dead corpses Maria and company encounter are so-so) to pretty damn impressive (there’s a late effect involving an arm that looked great) and you have a horror movie that, at times, delivers the goods. Legend of the Chupacabra may not be perfect, but it’[s not a total washout, either.







Sunday, June 5, 2016

#2,120. The Big Trail (1930)


Directed By: Raoul Walsh

Starring: John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill, El Brendel



Tag line: "The Most Important Picture Ever Produced"

Trivia: Gary Cooper was originally offered the role of Breck Coleman and wanted it, but he was under contract to Paramount Pictures







Dedicated to the men and women who planted civilization in the wilderness and courage in the blood of their children

A grand, sprawling motion picture about the pioneers who pushed their way west, The Big Trail also marked the first time a young man named John Wayne was given a starring role in a film, and both he and its director do their part to make it as auspicious a debut as possible.

As the movie opens, a large band of pioneers is gathered along the Mississippi River, preparing for the long journey to Oregon, where they plan to start a new life for themselves. To help them on this westward trek, they’ve hired a grizzled old buzzard named Red Flack (Tyrone Power Sr.) to serve as Wagon master, and also ask young Breck Coleman (Wayne), who had spent years traveling all around the country, to act as scout. While he’s certainly happy to assist his neighbors, Breck also took the job because he believes Flack and his partner Lopez (Charles Stevens) murdered an old friend of his, and he intends to exact some frontier justice on the two once they reach Oregon.

Also joining the wagon train is former Southern belle Ruth Cameron (Marguerite Churchill) and her younger siblings David (David Rollins) and Honey Girl (Helen Parrish). Breck’s first encounter with Miss Coleman doesn’t go well; thinking she was someone else, he grabs her from behind and kisses her. His attempts to apologize are thwarted by Miss Coleman, who instead turns her attentions to fellow southerner Bill Thorpe (Ian Keith), a gambler who, unbeknownst to her, isn’t quite the “gentleman” he proclaims himself to be. Joined by hundreds of others, including Swedish immigrant Gus (El Brendel) and his loud-mouthed mother-in-law (Louise Craver); and Breck’s good friends Zeke (Tully Marshall) and Pa Bascom (Frederick Burton), the wagon train sets off on a journey that will last for months, filled with hardships that will likely claim the lives of many of the settlers before they ever reach their new “promised land”.

Though he wouldn’t become a full-fledged star until the later part of the 1930’s, when John Ford cast him in Stagecoach, John Wayne makes for a fine hero in The Big Trail, portraying Breck Coleman as a young man who knows his way around the wilderness and is prepared to do whatever it takes to see the settlers through safely. As with most movies of this ilk, Breck has his share of enemies, including Flack and Lopez, who murdered an old trapper friend of Breck’s a while back; and Bill Thorpe, who sees Breck as a romantic rival for the hand of Ruth Cameron. All three are shady characters who have had dealings with each other in the past, and agree amongst themselves that Breck must die before they reach Oregon. As the love interest, Marguerite Churchill is more than adequate, and El Brendal’s Gus provides some comic relief along the way (the funniest bit involves him trying the help his mother-in-law across a mud puddle).

The first half hour or so of the movie is dedicated to these characters, and we get to know each of them well enough. But it’s when the journey begins that the true spectacle of The Big Trail kicks in, with large-scale scenes that reveal, sometimes in brutal detail, just how difficult an undertaking the westward expansion was for those brave souls who tried it. At one point, the wagon train has to cross a river, and the current is so strong that it sweeps some of the wagons away, leaving many to rebuild before they can begin again. Other obstacles await the settlers as well, including sheer cliffs (the company, cattle and all, has to be lowered by ropes) and, as they get closer to their destination, hostile natives who have no intention of sharing the land of their ancestors (the film’s most exciting scene involves a battle between the settlers and the Native Americans). Throw in a harsh, unforgiving desert (where water is scarce) and raging snowstorms, and you’re left to wonder how anyone could survive such a treacherous expedition.

Utilizing dozens of wagons, hundreds of extras, and at least that many horses and heads of cattle, Walsh brings an epic feel to practically every scene in The Big Trail while, at the same time, never losing touch with the personal tragedies and triumphs that make its story so rewarding. An ambitious film from start to finish, The Big Trail is one hell of an impressive motion picture.