Wednesday, August 27, 2014


"Enter the other side of MADNESS"

   In the early to mid 1970's Texas based S.F. Brownrigg made a string of four unique low budget horror/exploitation movies (a fifth movie titled THINKIN' BIG, a teenage T&A comedy from 1986 is also credited to him). Working on minuscule budgets while shooting in desolate & lonely looking locations and most times featuring the same stock company of players, his movies (often re-titled) filtered out through the drive-in & grindhouse circuit where they played for years on dbl and triple bills.
   Born as Sherald Brownrigg in 1937 in Arkansas he worked as photographer during a stint in the army and in the late 1950's began working for Texas low budget schlockmaster Larry Buchanan editing THE EYE CREATURES and doing various duties on MARS NEEDS WOMEN, THE NAKED WITCH, ZONTAR THE THING FROM VENUS, HIGH YELLOW and IT'S ALIVE.
   His first movie as producer/director was 1974's FORGOTTEN (later re-tilted with the more familiar DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT). Filmed over the course of 12 days it concerns various grisly occurrences at a desolate asylum (actually the dorm block of a Texas religious college). Recipient of one of the earliest LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT rip-off taglines ("To keep from fainting keep repeating it's only a movie...) and helping kick start the whole 70's "Don't" genre it was followed by SCUM OF THE EARTH (aka POOR WHITE TRASH II - Brownrigg's crowning achievement), DON'T OPEN THE DOOR & KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN. Although the films carry various copyright dates they all seemed to have been filmed in 1972/73 and released over the coming years with later dates attached to them.

   Filmed on most likely insanely small budgets they each play out like a very warped little combination of low budget horror & southern gothic, like an unholy marriage of a more technically proficient Andy Milligan filtered through some Tennessee Williams. After DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT Brownrigg's next three movies all focused on evilly dysfunctional family situations usually in isolated houses seemingly cut off from the world. Featuring close-ups of sweaty and weirdly unattractive faces shot with odd camera angles through running water, mirror reflections and streaky glass they look wholly unlike any other low budget horror of the time. Benefiting from better then average performances from his regional stock company (including future character actor Stephen Tobolowsky), Brownrigg's movies while undeniably slow moving do have a certain claustrophobic grimy creepiness about them.
    For KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN Brownrigg toned down somewhat the gory aspects of of the two "Don't" films leaning toward more of a psychological type horror that brings to mind a bit Hitchcock's PSYCHO. Starting off with hitchhiker being dropped off on a deserted stretch of road and then making his way up a long driveway (ominously with a "Keep Out - Not responsible for any accidents" sign) toward a lonely looking house. Finding the door unlocked he enters, pilfering the refrigerator and later in the evening while cooking his meal over a campfire a mysterious cloaked figure with a sword kills him.

    Arriving home from the store the next day we're introduced to the owner of the house Lesley Fontaine (Brownrigg regular Camilla Carr who later showed up in a small part in LOGAN'S RUN) who initially seems to share the house with her brother Kevin, although almost right away we're not certain of his existence. Loosely under the care of a psychiatrist (Gene Ross) Lesley seems to suffer delusions which may or not be connected (along with the mysterious "brother") to a rash of grisly murders occurring in and around the house. The murders include a hired hand (Tobolowsky), his girlfriend and in one the movies highlights a prostitute named Twinkle (Sharon Bunn) who's brought back to house by Lesley to service the mysterious Kevin. Although initially its fairly easy to deduce who the killer is, there's enough left turns thrown into the plot (including a jarring ending) that leaves it ambiguous to who or what is actually behind the killings.
   As the central character here (and with whom a movie like this would succeed or fail) Camilla Carr is really outstanding in the role of Lesley alternating between barely controlled sanity,simmering rage and seductress - the highlight of which is her build up to and the attempted incestuous seduction of her real/imagined brother. As one of Brownrigg's stock company she also appeared in DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT and SCUM OF THE EARTH.

   After his motion picture career faded away Brownrigg went to work for ESPN doing production work on golf shows and various hunting/fishing programs. In a 1990 Fangoria article he announced that he was going to do a sequel to Tod Browning's FREAKS (which was his life long dream project) but sadly nothing become of it and he died in 1996 at the age of 58. Save for SCUM OF THE EARTH, his movies have always been rather easy to find (albeit in sometimes iffy quality), as they pop up constantly in those budget horror movie compilations. VCI has put out a nifty double feature DVD of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT and DON'T OPEN THE DOOR that are both in the best quality yet (BASEMENT is even widescreen). It can be had for less then $10.00 and is an excellent introduction for those looking to discover ol' S.F. Grindhouse Releasing has been promising a DVD (and now Blu-ray) of SCUM OF THE EARTH for years with a release date now set for 2015.


Thursday, August 21, 2014



"You'll Tremble With Suspense !

    In addition to Ray Harryhausen's IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, during the 1950's producer Sam Katzman cranked out dozens of "B" films including a handful of horror titles (the majority of which were distributed by Columbia) that while being undeniably low budget & schlocky do exclude a certain perverse curiosity with probably the most (in)famous being 1957's THE GIANT CLAW. In 2007 Sony issued a nifty 2 DVD set that collected four Katzman productions including the aforementioned CLAW along with the interesting wolfman via 1950's atomic paranoia THE WEREWOLF (1956) and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955), plus ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957).
    Although 1957's THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE didn't make the cut for the above package, it has shown up through the Sony MOD program which is good news indeed. Like most of Katzman's productions its a bit talky and sometimes slow moving, but in it's own way does have a weirdly surreal atmosphere running through it (whether by design or not) with a closing shot that is strangely haunting. Throwing some 1950's female JD plot elements (ala' REFORM SCHOOL GIRL) into a low budget horror programmer is an inspired idea and as helped along by the presence of veteran character actors Victor Jory  & Ann Doren, plus the work of cinematographer Benjamin H. Kline (who shot many of The Three Stooges shorts) the film is an entertaining example of "B" 50's horror.

   At the La Salle Detention Home For Girls (where most of the "girls" seem a bit long in the tooth) strange things have been happening with the sudden death of a number of the residents (usually proceeded by a blood curdling scream) which begins to arouse the suspicion of sympathetic new social worker Carol Adams (Charlotte Austin from FRANKENSTEIN 1970). The victims are usually found to have died of a "heart attack", but when one of the inmates turns up as a suicide and is found hanging in the dormitory ("she would no sooner commit suicide then she could've flown over the fence !"), Carol becomes convinced something nefarious is going on.
   Helped by her assistant & inmate Tracy (Jean Willes - who in a few years would be hanging out with Frank & The Rat Pack in OCEANS 11) along with visiting state appointed psychiatrist & soon to be love interest Dr Jess Rogers (William Hudson - best known as Allison Hayes philandering husband in ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN) Carol begins investigating the strange goings on - which seem to be tied in to a spooky bunch of recently appointed school administrators who include Dr. Murdock (Victor Jory), his creepy assistant Mrs. Ford (Ann Doran -who appeared in literally hundreds of movies and TV shows) and their REALLY creepy associate/ henchman Eric (the grim and never smiling Freidrich von Ledebur).

    It's soon discovered that Dr. Murdoch and his gang are actually a group of 18th century scientists who have discovered the secret of eternal life that consists of literally transferring the life energy out of young girls, which entails placing the victims in a metal bathtub and then hooking up some Ed Wood-like electrical equipment to an electric chair looking device that transfers their life energy to the 200 plus year old protagonists. A downside to the procedure is that the process is only temporary and that without a regular repeat of the life sucking electric bath the recipient will harden and pretty much "turn to stone". As it's been discovered that young females (imagine that !) work best, we've ended up at the school for delinquent girls with the back story being discovered via a handily procured diary (that makes some references to alchemy & the Count St. Germain).

   The gaunt & cadaverous Eric makes periodic appearances carrying off hapless female victims and once even breaking in on dorm room full of them. Like most movies of this ilk it drags a bit during the "investigating" portion of the movie, but the script is fashioned with enough female abductions every so often to keep ones interest and somewhat flat direction by László Kardos (credited here as  Leslie Kardos) is offset by Benjamin Kline's moody cinematography which is shown to great effect in the closing shot with the nightgown clad women standing silently watching as the scientist's laboratory/house burns.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Happy (Belated) Birthday Barbara Bouchet !! MILANO CALIBRO 9 - 1972


    Born on this past Fri. the 15th of Aug. in 1943 in Germany she and her family moved to San Francisco after WWII and as a teenager she became a dancer on the THE KPIX DANCE PARTY show and won The "Miss Gidget" beauty contest. In 1962 she moved to Hollywood and appeared in such films as 1965's IN HARM'S WAY as Kirk Douglas's cheating wife & CASINO ROYALE from 1967. She also made numerous TV appearances including THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and STAR TREK. In 1970 she relocated to Italy where she made a name for herself starting in various gaillos, poliziotteschis ("cop" movies) and thrillers among them BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971), AMUCK (1972 - with Rosalba Neri !), THE LADY IN RED KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972), DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972) and THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS (1972). She had a small role in Martin Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK from 2002 and continues to work to work steadily up till today. 


     MILANO CALIBRO 9 (CALIBER 9) was one of 13 (!) films Barbara appeared in during 1972 (as partially seen in the brief list above) and was the first part of a loose trilogy by director Fernando Di Leo that was followed by LA MALA ORDINA (MANHUNT - U.S. Title THE ITALIAN CONNECTION 1972) and ILL BOSS (THE BOSS 1973). Although he dabbled in other genres (most notably spaghetti westerns and the weird gaillo ASYLUM EROTICA from 1971 - with Rosalba Neri !) his best work was undoubtedly the crime films he made during the 70's.
    Filled with garish clothes & decor, machine guns, violent shootouts & beatings, car chases and larger then life characters the Italian police/crime films of the 70's have been rather sorely unrepresented on region 1 DVD, but Blue Underground released some awhile back (including Enzo De Castellari's excellent STREET LAW) and Raro has brought out two blu-ray sets collecting the best of Di Leo's crime films.

    1972's CALIBER 9 is one of his best and along with an excellent performance by Barbara (this is my favorite of hers) it features gritty and restrained performance by Gastone Moschin as the lead protagonist which is balanced out by a delirious scenery chewing Mario Adrof as his nemesis. Moschin plays Ugo Piazza (love that name !), a gangster who upon being released from prison finds himself the center of attention from both the police and the mob as they believe he knows the whereabouts of $300,000 that went missing during an elaborate money changing scheme shown in the prologue.

    Mario Adorf (who was Peckinpah's initial choice for Mapache in THE WILD BUNCH) plays Rocco who engages in an elaborate and brutal game of cat and mouse with Piazza as he seeks to learn the whereabouts of the missing money (which may or not be known by Piazza). Overseeing everything mafia-wise is the "The Americano" played by Lionel Stander (who pre - HART TO HART had quite a career going in Italy during the 70's).
   Although the basic story is an oft used crime/mob plot the film moves at a terrific pace as it only gets bogged down in a series of what seems like endless debates between the two main police characters concerning communism vs. fascism - which was a common underlying theme in many of these movies.  Moschin (best known for playing Robert DeNiro's early NYC nemesis in THE GODFATHER PART II) is excellent as the ex-con who while initially coming across as a mindless hulking thug (as are most of the male characters) actually carefully plans out each move and its fascinating watching him pit various characters against one another.

    Barbara plays Nelly a go-go dancer (who lives in a mind bogglingly decorated apt.) and was Piazza's girlfriend and while not being entirely faithful to him while he was in prison she does come back to him (although her means to an end aren't exactly 100% kosher). Her go-go dancing sequence as filmed with tilted and sideways camera angles along with pulsating lights is one of the highlights of the film (and probably 70's Italian cinema in general).
   Still currently living in Italy, in the mid 80's she came out with a line of exercise videos and books and opened up a health club in Rome.