Thursday, July 23, 2015

GARDEN OF THE DEAD 1972

Death Was The Only Living Thing.....


....and best of all it's Filmed in Dead Color 



     Gaggles of formaldehyde resurrected zombie convicts shamble about a poverty stricken prison in this 1972 ultra low budget quickie. Director John Hayes cranked this out in a matter of days around Topanga Canyon outside Los Angeles for a reported budget of about $10,000 to serve as a second feature to his weird & darkly compelling GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE. Hayes had one of the more interesting careers in low budget film making directing the off beat oddity DREAM NO EVIL (1970) along with MAMA'S DIRTY GIRLS (1974) and JAILBAIT BABYSITTER (1977). As with here he usually teamed with writer/producer Daniel Cady (who wrote/produced 1977's Willard homage KISS OF THE TARANTULA) and here they combine to create something that while shoddily produced and with inept acting, is still a curious & bizarre viewing experience for 70's horror fans (and at only 58 min GARDEN OF THE DEAD really can't drag too much - although it does try). In spite of its budget and technical shortcomings, there's something oddly compelling about this and going in with the expected allusions it works in its own weird way.
     Totally free of blood (although the one sheet with its shambling line of zombies reminiscent of EC artist Graham Ingles is one of the more striking of the time period), it was one of the earlier offsprings of George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD from 1968 and features zombies that are based upon chemical revival which looks ahead a bit to films such as Jorge Grau's BREAKFAST AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE and its one of the first instances of "fast moving" zombies. Trotted out for years afterwards on the bottom of double & triple features, it even showed up on an early Siskel and Ebert episode as a (to be expected) "dog of the week".




     At a ramshackle prison (named Camp Hoover..?) which consists of wooden posts and barb wire the main job of a motley group prisoners is the manufacture of formaldehyde (?!) which the evil warden sells on the side for a few extra bucks. With the oblivious guards looking on the inmates gather about inhaling the fumes through a hose for a cheap high while a the same time work on a tunnel as the means to an escape. One of the prisoners Paul Johnson (played by Marland Proctor from CHROME AND HOT LEATHER), who's the "nice guy prisoner" is allowed visits by his waitress wife Carol (Susan Charney - in what seems to be her only acting role). They neck right outside the prison fence while the other prisoners stand around ogling her.
     Attempting a breakout one night the prisoners are quickly hunted down and shot and their bodies quickly buried in the prison graveyard, while the prisoners who didn't attempt to escape are chained together and forced to watch the burial. Almost immediately the dead prisoners arise from their graves and begin attacking and killing everyone in sight, while not looking for flesh to feed upon the zombies rampage around armed with various garden implements in a quest to find more formaldehyde to snort (although they do seemed to be attracted to Carol).




     No brain shots or fire are required here as the zombies can be handily dispatched with rifle shots to the body and by shining lights on them - which causes them to bubble & regurgitate white foam. The shoestring budget blue faced & moldy green  zombie make-up by Joe Blasco (who worked on ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE SS and David Cronenberg's RABID & SHIVERS) works well enough, although its obvious only a few of the zombies have full face make-up with the remainder regulated to a black smear under the eyes. In spite of the poverty stricken production level (the prisoners #'s are drawn on their shirts with a magic marker) the film manages some atmospheric sequences with the zombies suddenly darting (they do move quickly here) out of the darkness and mist in some highly effective long shots and later as they silently stare in at Carol as shes trapped in a motor home.
    The convict zombies also can speak and are able to use tools as weapons as the climax finds the survivors holed up in the prison office with Carol being put outside as "zombie bait" to lure the undead into rifle range. Lurking about in the cast are several familiar faces including Duncan McLeod from BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and Eric Stern  from THE LOVE BUTCHER. Also hanging around is exploitation guru Lee Frost (director of THE THING WITH TWO HEADS, LOVE CAMP 7 & THE BLACK GESTAPO) along with his frequent collaborator Phil Hoover. Available on a double feature DVD (sourced from what is most likely the last surviving 35mm print) from Retromedia in a 16:9 transfer that has a nice grindhouse look to it (sometimes I feel like its more fum to watch these movies with emulsion scratches & dirt) where its paired with the  wacky & bat-shit crazy SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED. Fun Stuff !!





  





Saturday, July 4, 2015

THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE( aka Dynamite Women) 1976

Claudia Jennings Movie Night # 5 !

What better way to celebrate the 4th of July then blowing up a bunch of stuff with Claudia !!


"MAKE A DATE TO DETONATE !"




     Produced by Roger Corman's New World Pictures (and one of Claudia's more popular pictures) this 1976 action exploitation favorite gained some notoriety in the early 90's as being looked at as a precursor to Ridley Scott's THELMA AND LOUISE. Although its debatable whether Scott had seen or was even aware of it's existence the two movies do share some similar themes primarily in a plot line based upon two strong central female characters who embark on a road trip which turns ugly & violent (however Claudia and her buddy are a more deliberately crime centered duo from the get go - and show bit more scenery then their 90's counterparts). Although lately its been fun to see how people read things such as social comment or gender issues into exploitation movies that for the most part were likely pretty far from the said films creators end purposes, THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE while at its core being basic 70's drive-in fare does have some interesting stuff lurking in its plot (whether by design or not by writer Mark Rosin & director Michael Pressman) and fits kind of left handed in with the 70's "road" movie genre. Plus anytime you get Claudia Jennings into a pair of daisy dukes worked into your plot that's a good thing.




    Claudia stars as Candy Moran who upon escaping from prison (where she handily worked on a road crew doing blasting) and liberating some dynamite robs a local bank by brandishing the said dynamite and subsequently hands the money over to her Pa (who doesn't seem to mind much as far as her method of obtaining it) in order the pay off the mortgage on the family farm. While at the bank she catches the eye of teller Ellie Jo Turner (Jocelyn Jones from Dirty Harry's THE ENFORCER) who had just been fired from her bank position for constantly being late as a result of languishing in bed with her boyfriend(s). Later a hitchhiking Ellie Jo is picked up by Candy and the two women decide to become partners in the dynamite bank robbing way of life. Eventually they hook up with "Slim" (Johnny Crawford from the THE RIFLEMAN) who serves as a love interest for Ellie Jo and poses has a hostage for the gang's escalating robberies.
      Like a lot on 70's exploitation movies its a bit of a schizophrenic proposition and much like New Worlds Nurse series of movies, the film starts off with kind of a goofy comedy vibe to it before turning somewhat serious. At  one point it goes into an extended (way too extended...) under cranked sequence in fast motion that has the trio gleefully counting and playing with their stolen loot, while a short while later there's a couple of bloody shotgun killings. The police are shown to be pretty much complete buffons in the early sequences, but the above mentioned shotgun sequence turns film in almost a 180 degree direction and points it toward its somewhat downbeat ending.




     The plot channels a bit BONNIE AND CLYDE and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID with its pair of rebels vs. the establishment plot line, but doesn't lose sight of the main reasons people would be drawn to this - shit blowing up and Claudia in (and out of) her daisy dukes. We don't get a lot of character establishment (but we really don't need it - or want it) and the the plot sticks pretty close to the Roger Corman mantra of boobs and/or action every 15 minutes or so. With all that being said however, the plot does place its two female leads strongly front and center and in control of their chosen way of life. Though it does offer up the requisite nudity & sex with both Candy and Ellie Jo (sometimes even together), they rebuff any man who forces himself upon them and engage in relationships when they want to and on their terms.
     Claudia & Jocelyn have a great chemistry together (in some scenes they look almost like sisters) and film does have some quite funny moments in the first half with Claudia dressing up in a prissy hair bun with large glasses to call in a fake bomb threat in order for Jocelyn to stage a robbery while posing as a pushy bank customer. A wonderfully natural & charismatic actress, Claudia's charms are on full display here and its easy to see why see was one of the few true drive-in stars during the 70's. In 1979 she missed out to replace Kate Jackson on CHARLIE'S ANGELS (with the part going to Shelly Hack) and later that same year she would tragically die in head on automobile collision on Topanga Canyon Blvd. after falling asleep at the wheel of her car.  
     Under its THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE title this is available from Shout Factory on DVD (in one of their typical schizophrenic packages) that includes the tolerable & sorta fun Corman produced TV pilot GEORGIA PEACHES with Tanya Tucker and Terri Nunn, along with the insufferable and utter crap-fest SMOKEY BITES THE DUST - with Claudia at least getting a disc to herself.
   
 Claudia Rockin' the Shotgun !!









 


Monday, June 29, 2015

THE BODY BENEATH 1969

    
    
"Filmed in the Graveyards of England" 



     During the late 60's low budget Staten Island filmmaker Andy Milligan was cranking out ramshackle horror and grungy sex shocker films, mostly for low budget mogul William Mishkin the sleaze king of Times Square. Andy's battles with the penny pinching Mishkin are the stuff of legend and while Mishken did have the uncanny ability to market Andy's poverty budgeted epics and give them lengthy runs on the grindhouse circuit, his suspect accounting practices sent the ever violate Milligan into fits of rage.
    In 1968 at the behest of British producer Leslie Elloitt, Milligan packed up his 16 mm Auricon camera and headed off to London, where he would be seemingly free of his nemesis and could indulge in his love of Gothic settings. After rounding up the usual gang of misfits and disparate actors somewhat bizarrely Andy's first feature for Elloitt was the non-horror NIGHTBIRDS, a  very strange & downbeat story of a twisted love relationship between a pair of London street waifs. Only shown commercially once, it became a lost film until a print was recently discovered and released on blu-ray by BFI.




     For his second feature Milligan turned to his love of all things Gothic (although here with a contemporary setting) and made for all intensive purposes his most cohesive film and the one with the most straightforward narration - but still with burning hunchbacks, bright red stage blood, over blown dialogue & Andy's patented method of shooting highly un-erotic nude lovemaking sequences. Although the script is still filled with Andy's flowery overwrought prose, for once he found an actor worthy of it in the form of Gavin Reed (who later showed up in small but memorable, part in TOOTSIE). Although his haughty attitude and sneering condescending delivery would seem overdone in any other film, in Milligan's twisted universe and gutter view of the human race its a scenery chewing marriage in hell.
     Reed plays the Reverend Algernon Ford, who newly arrived in London, sets up residence at Carfax Abby (one of many nods to Bram Stoker & Lugosi's DRACULA peppered about) and looks to revive the All Souls Church. Along with his constantly knitting wife Alicia (played with an unnerving creepy silence by Susan Heard) he pays a visit on Graham Ford (Colin Gordon) who the Rev. claims to be a distant relative of. He invites Graham and wife Anna (Susan Clark) to dinner, while Anna has just had an unnerving experience in a local cemetery where she was accosted by three pasty blue faced blond haired women. Later the Rev. meets a young couple Susan's & Paul (Jackie Skarvellis & Richmond Ross) with who he also claims to be a relative of Susan and offers to officiate at their upcoming wedding.




    Seems the Rev. and his wife are part of a centuries old vampire clan who have begun to get progressively weaker caused by inbreeding and need to get some new blood infused into the family (all of which fits into Andy's favorite theme of dysfunctional families). Occasionally Alicia has to give blood transfusions to her ever weakening hubby and administer leeches to control his blood pressure. In addition sunlight doesn't kill them outright, but makes the grow weaker. After luring Susan to his home the Rev kidnaps her with the plan to turn into a baby maker in order to provide new blood into the clan and in addition sends the blue faced vampires out out for Susan who once vampirized lures Graham to Carfax Abbey for breeding purposes. In addition yet another relative Candace (Emma Jones) is kidnapped in order to use for a handy blood supply.
    Assisting the Ford's is sympathetic hunchback Spool (Berwick Kaler from NIGHTBIRDS) who after attempting to help the captives is crucified in an ornate garden with the blue faced harpies dancing about and the Rev. Ford pontificating in one of the more bizarre & surreal moments in Andy's cannon. Also hanging about is the Ford's maid, who while also showing some sympathies for the captives gets a pair of knitting needles shoved in her eyeballs for her trouble. The film ends in a delirious sequence with the vampires holding a meeting thats allows Andy to unleash his fondness for outrageous costumes (with many looking to be made from shower curtains) and outlandish head wear for the ladies. Rev. Ford decides to move the clan to America which prompts one the vampire ladies to unleash this classic piece of Milligan dialogue - "Go to America ? Never ! What is America ? What it it made of ? Pimps, prostitutes, religious fanatics ? Thrown out of England but a few short centuries ago. They're the scum of the Earth !" - which most likely is a peek into Andy's psych and his feeling for his native country's "establishment".




     With the look of an acid tinged Hammer film shot through a Vaseline smeared lens this is for however bizarre it may seem on the surface, Milligan's most accessible film. His trademark swirling camerawork is held to a minimum, athough his 16mm camera can still be heard whirring away in the background at certain points. With the contemporary setting he doesn't have to worry (not that he worried anyways) about such things as light sockets and background traffic noises that invade his usual "period pieces" and the London setting help tremendously with the films atmosphere (much better then the usual Staten Island). As to be expected the pacing is a bit off with some long drawn out dialogue sequences (punctuated by jarring editing) & wonky sound editing- but what the heck, this IS an Andy Milligan film.
     Much of the film was shot at Sarum Chase, a Tudor style mansion in West Hampstead that served as the setting for numerous film and photo shoots including the inner gate fold of The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet album. Andy would later shoot much of CURSE OF THE FULL MOON here - later re-titled THE RATS ARE COMING, THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE !".
    Sadly, THE BODY BENEATH  would be the end of Andy's British sojourn as he had the to be expected falling out with his British producers. THE BODY BENEATH was never released in England but did play throughout the 70's on 42nd St. where it was co-billed with Andy's GURU THE MAD MONK. He stayed in England for awhile and ending making three movies there for the hated Mishkin - his take on Sweeney Todd with the THE BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS, Jekyll & Hyde in THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS and the above mentioned CURSE OF THE FULL MOON.