Friday, October 30, 2015

DEMONOID : MESSENGER OF DEATH ! 1981

aka MACABRA

 

"Up from the depths comes the ultimate horror !"



      Coming just on the cusp of the 1980's youth centered slasher craze and featuring a throw everything against the wall in a gooey mess script along with a couple of recognizable names for the marquee (and were probably wondering how they ended up here) this bizarrely entertaining Mexican/U.S. co-production has just been given a new lease a life courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome. Although released in 1981, DEMONOID with its mature cast of established (if not all well known ) faces and plot points concerning devil worship & procession (not to mention car chases, crawling hands & corpses exploding out of the ground) which seem to hearken back a few years to the glory days of 70's drive-in goodness.
     Produced and directed by Alfredo Zacarias for his indie distributing company American Panorama (which along with equally mind boggling THE BEES from 1978 were it's only two releases), it was co-produced by Americans Valley Hoffman and Paul Bagley, who both had connections to films such as THE HILLS HAVE EYES, STARHOPS and CAGED HEAT both in front of and behind the camera.




    Opening with a prologue in which a buxom blonde is shown knocking around some guys in robes and hoods before she's subdued, stripped topless and chained to a cave wall. Her hand is then chopped off whereupon it scuttles off before being skewered and placed in small silver box. Flash forward to the present where in the Mexican town of Guanajuato, Jennifer Baines (Samantha Eggar from David Cornenberg's THE BROOD) shows up to find her husband Mark (Sam Peckinpah regular Roy Jensen) in a bit of a quandary as the workers won't venture down into his silver mine for fear of a local legend concerning a satanic cult and "the devil's hand".
    Hoping to show this to be false the couple head down into mine and after discovering a mummified prospector (with a missing hand) they knock aside a few fiberglass rocks and come upon an underground temple where they come across the silver box seen in the prologue. Finding it filled only with dust they take the silver box home and later that night a hand crawls out and begins feeling up Jennifer while she's asleep in bed (!). Mark then wrestles with the hand and it appears to merge into his his own hand and now seemingly possessed by a evil & insane force, he goes to the mine the next day and blows it closed with all the workers inside.




    Fleeing to Las Vegas (with Jennifer in pursuit) Mark happily discovers that his new hand is now gangbusters at throwing craps which later leads to him being seemingly killed by a mobster and his frizzy headed moll (an uncredited turn by Russ Meyer starlet Haji). Jennifer traces his body to a cemetery in Inglewood, Ca. (where it later explodes out of the ground) and there joins forces with Father Cunningham ( Stuart Whitman - with a fading in and out Irish accent) who appears to having a  conflict of faith - along with being handy in boxing and welding.
    They begin following the hand as moves from one victim to another including a policemen (Lew Saunders from CHiPS) and a plastic surgeon (and his buxom nurse) all of whom go to some extraordinary lengths to extract themselves from the devil possessed extremity. Jumping from Mexico to Las Vegas to Los Angeles, the plot moves forward seemingly without the benefit of logic or common sense and takes a left turn about every 15 minutes or so into more and more bizarre sequences including a car chase with randomly flipping automobiles, the hand grabbing on to the underside of a train to gain a fast getaway and Whitman using a blow torch to burn off his Satan afflicted appendage.
    Zacarias actually prepared two different cuts of the film with the U.S. version titled DEMONOID : MESSENGER OF DEATH clocking in at compact 79 minutes while the international cut MACABRA ran at an expanded 90 minutes. The U.S. version also added the opening female sacrifice prologue (which some sources claim was shot by Jim Wynorski in Bronson Cavern as Roger Corman was involved in the early stages of the film's production) and also periodically quickly cuts to a sword wielding demon statue and adds a ending scene cribbed from Brian De Palma's THE FURY. DEMONOID also loses some dialogue sequences (including the entirety of Whitman's first scene) making it more of choppy viewing experience and adds a more ramped up bloody finale to Haji's death. DEMONOID's score is a patchwork of library music and cues from 70's A.I.P. and New World pictures while MACABRA has an original score comprising some disco-like rhythms and spooky choral music ala' THE OMEN.




    The British born Eggar had started out in major films such as DR. DOLITTLE but by this time had begun moving into TV and lower budget films and added to her drive-in bona-fides by also appearing in THE EXTERMINATOR this same year. Stuntman Roy Jenson (billed here as Roy Cameron Jenson) was a recognizable face as character actor usually playing "second heavy on the right" such as in Sam Peckinpah's THE GETAWAY where he was memorably blown away by Steve McQueen's shotgun and appears here in a rare (semi) leading role. At this time seemingly saying yes to every script within eyesight ex- Hollywood leading man Stuart Whitman had appeared in Tobe Hopper's excellent and underrated EATEN ALIVE and New Worlds CRAZY MAMA in 1976, Hammer's oddball SHATTER from 1974 and in 1979 he was a scenery chewing Rev. "James Johnson" (i.e. Jim Jones) in Rene Cardone Jr's infamous GUYANA : CULT OF THE DAMNED.
    Robert Burns (credited here as "special effects art director") worked on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and was most likely responsible for the atmospheric temple setting and the periodically popping up demon statue. The appropriately grungy cinematography is by Alex Phillips Jr. who had shot Sam Peckinpah's (also appropriately grungy) BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA in 1974. Erika Carlsson was a pretty big star in Mexico at the time (which explains her prominent billing on the MACABRA version) and here as the busty nurse who runs afoul of the hand has only one line as she shouts "NOoo...!"  at her demise.
    Although Whitman's mumbling attempted Irish accent comes across as inebriation at some points (which may have well been the case) and Eggar spends most the film staring bug eyed at the proceedings around her, both are pretty good here as they say their lines with much more conviction then the material warrants and giving the entire plot a gravies that almost seems out of place (even when they're trashing about while holding a rubber hand to their face). I've always had a fondness for this ever since I saw it on a double feature with DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE back in the early 80's and because of the weirdly bizarre proceedings and its whack-a-mole style plot DEMONOID is an entertaining exercise in low budget drive-in horror (and would make a wonderful dbl. feature with Oliver Stone's entertainingly bad bigger budgeted THE HAND from the same year).
     Frustratingly hard to view in recent years as DEMONOID's only U.S. release was the old Media VHS tape (which seemed to show up in every Mom & Pop video store in existence at the time) and a few years back there was a quasi-bootleg DVD release of the MACABRA cut in Europe. Vinegar Syndrome recently released it on a DVD/Blu dual pack that image-wise brings forth the WTF (?) story line with in startling clarity, plus it contains both cuts of the film along with some extras including an interview with Zacarias. The equally insane THE BEES is hopefully coming in 2016. Lucky patrons to the early showings of DEMONOID were given a "Demonoid Diploma" (which I would love to find).










All the above screen grabs are from the Vinegar Syndrome DVD




Hey, if E.T. is sold out you can always check out SATAN'S MISTRESS & DEMONOID !
       

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA 1970




     In 1968 Hammer released DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, its 3rd Dracula sequel (counting 1960's non- Dracula BRIDES OF DRACULA) and the film went on the be the company's highest grossing Gothic horror yet. Distributed by Warner Seven Arts in America its success made another sequel a top priority for both Hammer and their current American partner, but a monkey wrench in the form of Christopher Lee's growing resentment of the role (and increasing salary demands) was tossed in the works.
     Lee had long complained of Hammer's DRACULA output ever since his starring role in 1958's inaugural DRACULA. Long a critic of the scripts and the handling of Stoker's literary creation, this came to head in 1965's DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS where depending on which source was to be believed Lee refused to speak any lines in the film or they were all removed by scriptwriter by Jimmy Sangster beforehand (whatever the case, we ended up with a silent Dracula). Lee was begrudgingly coxed back for DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and then flatly refused to don the cape again.
    Anthony Hinds fashioned a script that passed the form of Dracula onto a new character in order to continue the series, however Warner balked at the proposal and stated to the effect "No Lee - No Deal". Once again Hammer prevailed and Lee agreed to return with the script re-written to accommodate the now presence of the "real" Dracula.
    In spite of its rather protracted genesis 1970's TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA stands as one of Hammer's better later period entries and it can be argued that it's the best of the DRACULA sequels. Placing the Count for the first time in his literary home of Victorian England, it's anchored by several strong performances by its leads, a wonderful cast of British character actors filling out the cast (including the incomparable Michael Ripper as a police inspector) along with Linda Hayden and Ilsa Blair supplying the requisite heaving bosoms.
    Watching the film, its easy to see what Hammer's initial plot idea was in regards to the "new" character of Dracula which means that rather oddly (although not detrimentally) Lee's Dracula seems to be shoe horned into the plot of a Hammer Dracula movie. As was becoming the norm Lee's screen time is minimal here and all the period Lee sequels suffer somewhat from the absence of Cushing's Van Helsing and a strong forceful protagonist for Dracula (although Andrew Kier did an admirable job in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS) with his ongoing demises coming almost from his own clumsiness rather then a pounding stake.




    Directed by Peter Sasdy (COUNTESS DRACULA and HANDS OF THE RIPPER) it also features Hammer regulars James Bernard (score), Arthur Grant (cinematography)and Les Bowie (effects) and with this being the last Hammer movie all three of these men worked on together, TASTE along with the above mentioned Sasdy titles that would be released in 1971 can all be seen as the beginning of the end of Hammer's golden age.
    The Hungarian born Sasdy was one of Hammer's better late period directors and also directed the interesting bio-horror DOOMWATCH in in 1972 and the classic BBC ghost story THE STONE TAPE also from '72. Whether by design or not all of his Hammer movies have a central theme running through them, being that the sins of the parents shall be paid for by their offspring (or as in this case paid by) and TASTE takes this theme mixing it in with Victorian hypocrisy and parenticide.
     Three Victorian gentlemen and their respective offspring are introduced including William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen - who appeared in several Bond films as the Defense Minister) and his daughter Alice ( Linda Hayden from BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and HOUSE ON STRAW HILL), Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) and his son Paul (Anthony Higgins RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) & daughter Lucy (Ilsa Blair) along with Jonathon Secker (John Carson PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES) and his son Jeremy (Martin Jarvis - whose appeared in literally hundreds of BBC productions).




     The three men though outwardly proper Victorian gentlemen all indulge in some extra curricular activities as they journey into London's East End obstinately to do charity work, but in reality spend time in a brothel which caters to clientele with "strange" requests. The seeming leader of the group Haywood rules his daughter Alice (Hayden) with an iron hand, banishing her to her room for talking to Paul Paxton (calling her a "harlot") and later threatening to beat her (there's also some uncomfortable undertones of incense) for her burgeoning love affair with Paul.
     Looking to up their excitement the group hooks up with the disgraced Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE) who promises them untold pleasures and experiences by participating in satanic ceremony with him. To initiate this ritual they purchase Dracula's ashes from traveling salesmen Roy Kinner (THE HILL) who had in a pre-credit sequence observed the demise of Lee from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, afterwards gathering his ashes. During the ceremony Courtley mixes his blood with the ashes and instructs them all to drink it. The men refuse and Courtley drinking it alone begins spitting up blood and convulsing on the floor with Haywood and his two companions beating Courtley to death. Fleeing the church they miss on Courtley's resurrection of Dracula. It's obvious this is the point where we were to be introduced to Bates as the new "Dracula" in the original script but (thankfully) Christopher Lee appears in all his Dracula glory.
    Courtley now in the personage of Dracula vows vengeance on the three gentlemen for killing "his servant" and begins tearing a bloody swath through each family using the sons and/or daughters as a means to his end. He gives special emphasis to Haywood's daughter Alice using her to lure the other victims and enact a bloody revenge on he father.




     Lee's Dracula (with once again limited dialogue) is a magnificent presence of evil here (next to the original, I think this is his best performance as the title character) as here he's embodied by revenge along with his usual blood lust. Seeming not wanting so much to ensnare & turn victims in vampires, but to simply destroy them as he throws aside his female victims after they have served their purpose (which strikes me as a bit odd, since I can think of worst ways to spend eternity rather then having Ilsa Blair and Linda Hayden hanging around with you).
     TASTE also benefits with one of the stronger casts in the series with each one of the three male fathers having a unique personality thats helped by Hinds script. In particular John Carson (who was magnificent has the evil squire in Hammer's PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES from 1966) as the only member of the trio who shows some resolve and Geoffrey Keene as the sadistic head of the Hargood family (and as the defacto leader of the group and it's "immoral" compass) are both outstanding as is the hero of the film Anthony Higgins as the young Paul Paxton. Beautifully shot by Arthur Grant, TASTE as a gorgeous "autumnal" look to it and features Hammer's usual excellent set design with the ruined church looking particularly impressive.
     Linda Hayden, who was only 17 at the time of filming, had made a big splash with BABY LOVE in 1968. Featuring a sleazier exploitative Lolita style plot, Hayden generated scads of publicity in the British press for appearing nude in the film and was probably cast by Hammer on account of her notoriety at the time. However with that being said, she's quite good here and was excellent in 1971's BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW as the leader of a group of satanically possessed children in a rural medieval English village. Her shyly seductive smile while laying atop Lee's crypt is one of the most erotically charged scenes in 1960's British horror.




     Ralph Bates was originally looked upon by Hammer to be a younger successor to Cushing and/or Lee (a plan that never really materialized) and with his dark, brooding looks always came across as a lesser version of Oliver Reed. His other Hammer projects include the abysmal HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), the somewhat interesting DR. JEKYLL ND SISTER HYDE (1971) and lower rung of the the"Karnstein Trilogy" 1971's LUST FOR A VAMPIRE.
    Sadly Hammer followed up TASTE with the cheap and shoddy looking SCARS OF DRACULA later in 1970 and the series never quite rebounded with a couple of uneven attempts to update the series to the 1970's with DRACULA A.D.1972 and 1973's THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA  and concluded in 1974 with the kung-fu/Dracula team-up THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (which I've always liked).
    TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA is included with Warner's spiffy new Hammer blu-ray set and as with the earlier DVD release contains the restored harder R rated cut. In 1970 Warner initially trimmed some content including some lingering bloodshed and violence along with some fleeting nudity in the brothel scenes on order to secure a GP rating. Supposedly Vincent Price was originally going to be cast as one the gentlemen, but budget constraints negated it.



  



All the above screen grabs are from the Warner Region A blu-ray



      

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pat Woodell - July 12, 1944 to Sept. 29, 2015

    

    Some sad news to pass along, as actress Pat Woodell passed away on Sept. 29 after a long battle with cancer. A striking long haired brunette, she was born in Winthrop, MA. and started out in early 1960's television, appearing in the first two seasons of PETTICOAT JUNCTION as "Bobbi Jo" before leaving and starting a singing career with some success.
   Although most of the online obituaries have focused on her "wholesome" 1960's TV work during the following decade she carved out a well remembered niche in exploitation movies with a couple of Arthur Marks features including 1973's THE ROOMMATES and CLASS OF '74 from 1972. Along the way she also appeared in several Filipino drive-in classics including Eddie Romero's Island of Dr. Moreau knock-off THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) and his version of The Most Dangerous Game in 1972's THE WOMAN HUNT.
   In 1971 she played tough as nails convict "Bodine" in Jack Hill's classic THE BIG DOLL HOUSE ("Their bodies were caged, but not their desires !"). The first (and best) of Roger Corman's New World Filipino productions, it also starred Judith Brown, Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, Christine Schmidtmer and (of course) Sig Haig. Pat was pretty unforgettable in the film's climax as she blasts away with a pair of machine guns. She is very missed.