Friday, December 26, 2014

Rosalba Neri News # 16 - Rosalba & AMUCK in 'Scope at Last !!




   In a surprise release Code Red has put out a rather nifty double feature DVD consisting of the really insane Italian/Hong Kong (via Shaw Bros.)/ Mexican (!?!) co-production from 1974 SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN (which really has to be seen to be believed). Released under the banner of "Spaghetti Cinema" its the second feature on this disc that's the most interesting (at least to this blog) as it consists of an anamorphic widescreen copy (albeit cut) of Silvio Amandio's fascinating & weirdly perverse 1972 giallo ALLA RICERCA DEL PIACERE.
   Released in the U.S. by Group 1 as AMUCK ! (and the title on the Code Red DVD case) the version included on this disc bears a MANIAC MANSION title card. Re-released under several titles & edits (including 78 min. LEATHER AND WHIPS version for the S&M crowd) the version here clocks in at 85 minutes as opposed to the original 98 minute running time of AMUCK ! The original cut was released on a bootleg DVD years ago by Eurovista (an off-shoot of the now defunct Luminous Film Wurks), while although uncut was sourced from a dead center VHS transfer of the film's 2.35:1 aspect ratio which meant that often inanimate objects such as chairs & lamps are visible while characters converse off screen. The disc's transfer was also hampered by a sickly greenish yellow tint over the majority of it.




    Code Red's source print while cut is a revaluation as far as compositions & color are concerned and while plagued in certain spots with some off/faded colors, print damage and emulsion scratches (mostly at the reel changes) for the most part looks very good, is highly watchable and image-wise is a massive upgrade over the Eurovista DVD. I haven't had time to do a comparison but all the major plot sequences (along with the requisite nudity & blood) appear intact with just some peripheral scenes chopped here & there a bit as this version was most likely just cut to make it more compatible with double & triple features while leaving all "the good stuff" intact.
    Starring both Rosalba and Barbara Bouchet (who are both at the height of their beauty here) along with a creepy performance by Farley Granger (from Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN) and filled with a druggy claustrophobic atmosphere of decadence & perversion this is one of the highlights of 1970's Italian giallo (and one of Rosalba's best roles).




All the above screen grabs are from the Code Red DVD


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays from The Oak Drive-In !!

Hope you all have a better one then Joan Collins does in 1972's TALES FROM THE CRYPT....



  


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

ACT OF VENGEANCE 1974

aka RAPE SQUAD 



    One of the more schizophrenic 70's films 1974's ACT OF VENGEANCE was originally released under the title RAPE SQUAD until at some point during a subsequent re-release it was re-tilted (and it's this title sequence that the MGM MOD DVD uses). Fitting into the 70's rape revenge genre (with  perhaps a bit of urban action/revenge) its a somewhat hard movie to get straight in ones mind and frankly I was surprised that MGM even released this on MOD. Although on one hand it does try to present in serious tones the humiliation and degradation of rape it mostly confines these to the aftermath of the crime with the victims humiliation at the hands of the police, while the attacks though violently staged are filmed in a seemingly titillating fashion which makes it hard to decide ones feeling about watching them (not to mention what the filmmakers intentions were) and to top it all off there's even some oddly placed humor injected into the proceedings.
   Pretty and spunky Linda (Jo Ann Harris) is part time student and lunch truck operator with a somewhat lunk headed boyfriend (Steve Kanaly from DILLINGER). One night she is brutally attacked and raped by an orange jumpsuit & hockey mask clad protagonist who forces her to sing "Jingle Bells". After the attack Linda endures a humiliating interview session with the police (along with a doctors examination) and breaks up with her uncaring boyfriend. Later she's called back to the police dept. for a line-up (which seems to go against every known police procedural) and meets other victims of the attacker including Nancy (Jennifer Lee), Karen (Lisa Moore HARRAD SUMMER), Teresa (Connie Strickland THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS and Angie (Patricia Estrin).  Later meeting back in Linda's apt. (and reading an article in Cosmopolitan) they decide to form a "rape squad" to help victims dealing with the police and go after known rapist who have slipped through the legal cracks.




   As a means to this end they attend self defense classes given by tanned & blonde Tiny (Lada Edmonds Jr. from SAVAGE !) who teaches them the fine art self defense which specializes in hits to the man's crotch with a hunk of metal. After holding a group meeting while naked in a hot tub (!) they then proceed to start their crusade which includes distributing flyers about town, shouting down insensitive men and best of all going after various low life scum who have by one way or another have evaded justice. All the while this planning and meeting is going on the group is observed by the rapist who is played by veteran TV western actor Peter Brown. As he observes them he narrates into a tape recorder (which he refers to as "Diary of a Champ") and plans for a return engagement with all the past victims at once.
    Tooling around town in Linda's VW bus the group first goes after low budget lounge lizard Bud (Tony Young SUPERCHICK) whom Linda hooks up with at a bar and later luring him back to his apt. (complete with a really impressive pyramid constructed of empty Bud cans) she resists his overtures and then calls in the rest of the gang so Tiny can beat the crap out of him, while the rest of the girls trash his apt. and end up by pouring blue ink over his privates ("to mark him") which they had originally told him was sulfuric acid.




    Later targets include obscene phone caller "Foul Mouth" Bernie (well known comedy character actor Stanley Adams) and in one the more bizarre sequences pimp "Pimping Percy" (Jay Fletcher FOXY BROWN) who is laid out on the hood of his Cadillac after hitting one of his prostitutes. Whether intentionally or not this scene is played out with some out of left field humor with the ladies all piling out of Linda's VW and freezing (you expect them to yell out "Rape Squad !") and Tiny's kung-fu(ing) of the pimp looking like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. The movie's climax finds Linda and her cohorts (who suddenly work together with all the logic of The Three Stooges) at the mercy of the rapist at an abandoned zoo.
   With the proliferation of familiar 70's TV faces the film seems to play out like a made for TV movie with the rape sequences bringing it jarringly back to the grindhouse. At the beginning Jo Ann Harris (who was excellent in Clint Eastwood's THE BEGUILED) seems to be main character focus of the plot, but she drifts into the background for the majority of the movie - which is a shame as she obviously has the best acting chops here. It's kind of weird seeing Peter Brown (who was a regular on T.V.'s  LAREDO) as the gleefully sadistic megalomaniac rapist (and you wonder what made him think of this in terms of a career move).




     It's a shame that Lada Edmonds never had a bigger career as she has a great screen presence here and had earlier made a great team opposite Carol Speed in Cirio H. Stantiago's Filipino actioner SAVAGE ! from 1973. Directed by Bob (COUNT YORGA) Kelljan ACT OF VENGEANCE was produced by A.I.P. and at some point was re-titled from RAPE SQUAD (as maybe even in the 70's slathering RAPE SQUAD upon theatre marquees was not considered a hot idea). It's available on DVD via MGM's MOD program with a cover featuring Jo Ann Harris's face superimposed over an explosion (??).
 







Monday, December 8, 2014

THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE 1959


"This Picture Was Written, Produced and Directed To Scare The Daylights Out Of You !"



   One of the more lurid and sensational low budget horror programmers to come out of the 1950's THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE was a perennial favorite for Saturday afternoon horror hosts and boasted that infamous still that was an oft repeated image in Famous Monsters. In terms of 1950's horror and sci/fi it boasts a pretty impressive pedigree both behind and in front of the camera and features a story line that would to be right at home in an E.C. horror comic. The film is also interesting in the fact that as in WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) it treats the subject of voodoo in a very serious way with an almost scholarly approach to it (complete with a step by step "how-to" for shrinking a head). In addition the script doesn't use frantically explained science hyperbole or natural facts to explain away the proceedings, leaving it up to supernatural and voodoo to the cause of the central horror.




   Approximately 200 years earlier a South American jungle trading post operated by the Drake family massacred an entire native village in attempt to rescue a captive member of their company group who they find beheaded (which will play into the plot in regards to the maim villain). Leaving alive only the tribal witch doctor, he of course imparts a curse upon the successive generations of the family. This manifests itself in the ongoing male members of future generations of the Drake family as each one of them dies around the age of 50 by apparent heart attack with their heads being mysteriously removed afterwards and skulls subsequently showing up in the family crypt.
   Two brothers are now the sole reaming male members of the family left alive and after receiving a message from the elder brother Kenneth Drake (Paul Cavanagh from HOUSE OF WAX 1953) concerning shrunken heads that have been popping up, prompting younger brother Jonathan (Eduard Franz - THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD 1951) to travel to to his older brother's house accompanied by his daughter Alison (Valerie French from THE 27th DAY). Unfortunately they arrive just after Kenneth has been dispatched by a creepy figure with his mouth shown shut welding a curare tipped stick, a bamboo dagger and a basket for collecting heads. Arriving just in time for the funeral Jonathan (who is also an expert on the occult) opens his brothers casket and is shocked to find the head has been cut off.




   Also appearing on the scene is Mike Hammer-esque police detective Lt. Jeff Rowen (Grant Richards From T.V's THE UNTOUCHABLES) who is there to investigate the somewhat mysterious death and to provide a nominal love interest for Alison. The great Henry Daniell (THE BODY SNATCHER 1945) is also here as Dr. Emile Zurich. Without giving much away its fairly obvious from his first appearance that Zurich is is involved in the voodoo proceedings (why else would you have Henry Daniell here ??) - although there is quite a surprise concerning his "origin" that still packs a bit of a punch when viewed to this day. Famous for playing cultured and sophisticated men of evil intent, he's obviously rather old & frail here (he would die in 1963) but still bring a wonderful air of menace to the proceedings (you just know from his first appearance that he's up to something).



    As romantic leads (luckily this is not played up to much) Grant Richards and Valerie French have about zero chemistry with Grant's police Lt. looking and acting like he stepped out of an episode of NAKED CITY. The film has a cramped set-bound look with all the cars driving through the same 20 ft. stretch of driveway, but is helped immensely by the creepy presence of Paul Wexler as the witch doctor Zutai and some gruesome close-ups of the shrunken head process and thankfully the plot doesn't (in it's 70 minute running time) get bogged down in the police procedures or romantic sub-plots. Directed by Edward L. Cahn ( IT ! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN & CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN) and photographed by Maury Gertsman (SHE WOLF OF LONDON) and with a suitably creepy score by Paul Dunlap (who cranked out literally dozens and dozens of scores for low budget movies in the 50's and 60's among them I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN & BLOOD OF DRACULA). It's available on DVD in the Midnight Movie series in a double feature with Boris Karloff's VOODOO ISLAND.