Thursday, April 18, 2019

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN CORPSES 1974



"Eight Graves! Seven Bodies! One Killer...And He's Already Dead"




      Released amid the 70's satanic horror boom and with such films as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT pushing the intensity level, 1974's THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN CORPSES must have seemed curiously out of place. Devoid of any bare skin and with just a few dollops of blood, its haunted house/family curse setting is almost quaint compared that that decade's other horrors. Because of its PG rating (and a really soft PG for the 70's), it was a favorite on afternoon/early evening broadcast TV and cable well into the 80's. I remember as a kid this running almost perpetually in the late afternoon movie..
     Featuring a typical John Carradine grouchy old man performance, some solid work by Hollywood "B" listers John Ireland (who would soon go on to SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS) & Faith Domergue (THIS ISLAND EARTH & former girlfriend of Howard Hughes) it's helped immensely by some great locations featuring the old Utah Governor's mansion. With its movie within a movie storyline there's kind of meta thing going on here as it's a modest budget horror film that rather appropriately has as its central plot a small group of filmmakers trying film a low budget horror movie.




     In the prologue we were shown the various past members of the Beal family and their grisly deaths which include shooting, stabbing, hanging & bludgeoning etc. with each member having a portrait hanging in their namesake house. We then see a satanic ritual being played out by Faith Domergue and upon pulling back we're shown a movie being made as curmudgeonly director Eric Hartman (John Ireland SALON KITTY) has arrived with a small crew & cast to film a horror movie at the Beal house. Grouchy old caretaker Edgar Price (John Carradine - in one of five films he appeared in this year) interrupts the shoot to tell the history of the house and its murders.
     Along with semi-has been actress Gayle Dorian (Domergue) and director Ireland, there's embittered ex - Shakespearean actor Christopher Milan (Charles Macaulay BLACULA), young actress Annie (Carole Wells THE LIVELY SET) and her boyfriend (& all-around lackey for Hartman) David (Jerry Strickler). After the opening credits parade of murder/bloodshed the film falls into the drama and arguments associated with films production as Eric yells at everybody and films sequences in single long takes (just like Hitchcock's ROPE it would seem).
    Things get a bit interesting when David handily finds a copy of a grimoire which here is The Tibetan Book of The Dead and some of the passages are incorporated into the movies script dealing with devil worship and the raising of the dead (which the actual book has nothing to do with).




     At times feeling like a NIGHT GALLERY episode stretched out to feature length, once the book is introduced into the plot the horror elements start to slowly (maybe a bit too slowly...) emerge. Gayle's cat is gruesomely killed and ol' Edgar (Carradine) begins slinking around in the background, even once climbing down into a crypt in the old Beal family graveyard and it's reveled that he has a workshop in the cellar (!?!). Although only in the movie to be the proverbial red herring Carradine does have a bit more screen time than expected and his appearances help keep the horror elements moving along and in the foreground. Gayle is also hotly eager to have a roll with her director, but he roughly casts her aside with a remark about her "past profession" and things don't move to far along and this is only instance where sex is even vaguely mentioned.
   With the graveyard, the book and the family history of the house, it's not too difficult to see where this is headed and at the climax things get a bit muddled (is there one or two zombies...?) and compresses an incredible amount of death into a short time. It takes it time getting there, but when it gets there it does pretty good. The zombie makeup is fairly effective in some shots (kept in the dark for the most part), a close-up of rotted toes wiggling in a ragged shoe and the resurrection scene in the graveyard has a nice atmosphere to it in spite of some iffy day for night shots.
     The director John Harrison was a TV director, and this was his lone big screen effort which explains the TV movie feel that drifts in every so often. The film was produced by an outfit called Television Corp. of America, which makes me wonder if this had its genesis as TV movie? The cinematographer Don Jones had a solid resume in 70's exploitation in various behind the camera jobs including directing SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS (1973), THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975), SWEATER GIRLS (1978) and the 1982 bizarre slasher THE FOREST.  It's unbelievable seeing Carradine in this and then realizing he's going to be acting for another 20 years!!













Saturday, April 13, 2019

WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS 1971


"Danny, Shooter, Fatback and the Kid. They learned a trade in the army. Killing."  


    Best known today for the classic MACON COUNTY LINE from 1974 three years earlier Richard Compton directed this 1971 film which is an early film entry dealing with Vietnam vets returning to an uncaring country. Written by Guedron Trueblood (who in 1973 would direct THE CANDY SNATCHERS) it also fits with the road movies of the era which started with 1968's EASY RIDER and would continue in the 70's. These movies featured individuals or sometimes disparate groups of both men and/or woman who were searching for America on a journey to more often the not nowhere while the country itself was being torn apart by the political and social upheavals of the time. Most often through the barren landscapes of the west and featuring gas stations, diners and small towns dropped along endless highways these journeys also often grew darker as they went on.
    Four Green Berets including Danny (Joe Don Baker WALKING TALL), "Shooter" (Paul Koslo MR. MAJESTYK), "Kid" (Alan Vint MACON COUNTY LINE) and "Fatback" (Elliott Street HONKY) are discharged from the army after serving in Vietnam. The uniformed men are unceremoniously dropped off at a bus station with no one to meet them. Danny discreetly removes a large bundle of cash from a locker and it's unclear to what the origins of it are although its implied that perhaps it's through an illegal enterprise such as drugs. He splits up the money between the four which is several thousand dollars each and it's reveled that the group have a plan to drive cross country to California to live on a cattle ranch that has been inherited by Vint.




    They purchase a used Cadillac in a humorous scene (in stark contrast to future events) in which they keep bartering down the price as the car is disassembled by Shooter and finds mechanical flaws. Danny seems to be the leader of the men (he's the only one referred to by his actual name) not because of their service rank as the others just defer to his decisions and each of them seen unable to function socially outside of the group. The first night on the road they pick up a woman (Jennifer Billingsley WHITE LIGHTNING) and take turns having sex with her in the backseat. They offer her $100.00 but she demands $500.00, bringing up the Mann Act as they have crossed state lines whereupon Baker angrily throws her out of the fast-moving car. Although she is most likely killed the men don't seem to give it much concern and drive on.
    There's a point where they stop at a totally vacant motel run by (in very weird performance) Geoffrey Lewis and a bevy of prostitutes appear (including Luanne Roberts from THE PSYCHO LOVER and BONNIE'S KIDS) turning in to an orgy. In one the film's more gentler moments Baker relates to one of the women that the only thing he knows how to do anymore is "killing" and Vint shares a battered picture of their ranch with another.
    It's here that the story takes a progressively dark turn, and this continues with a stop at Danny's home and a family reunion with his parents (With his father played by character actor Lonny Chapman) that turns out ugly as they scoff at they're idea of the cattle ranch. Later their car breaks down in a small town and finding the car needs major repairs. Feeling they are being taken advantage of and becoming more & more at odds with the townsfolk, including an ugly barroom scene with Korean War veterans chiding "We didn't come home until we won", the sheriff (Billy Green Bush FIVE EASY PIECES) places them in jail for protection. 




    Upon leaving the town, it's discovered that Fatback's money is missing, and this leads to a brutally violent climax in a small town ironically called "Hope" which is instigated by something as unassuming as a locked gas pump. The climax packs a punch even to this day and it's easy to see the filmmakers were going for a comparison to the infamous 1968 Mai Lai massacre and the cinematography turns jerky handheld looking like the Vietnam newsreel footage that was showing up nightly on network news. It's only after the violence that the four men seem to totally relax and as the camera pans through the bloody destruction it's almost with a sense of resignation of the inevitable.
    Best known for his role in WALKING TALL along with appearances in three James Bond movies Baker was a fairly major star in the 70's starring in several movies and despite of his brawn there was always a certain gentle demeanor about him. A much better actor then ever given credit for he can also bring a darker side to the surface as he does here. An instantly recognized face Koslo spent almost his entire career playing weaselly underlings and slightly off-kilter personalities and he's one of those actors that always bring a smile to my face. Vint would later appear in MACON COUNTY LINE and would show up once again with Joe Don Baker in the CHECKERED FLAG OR CRASH a Filipino off-road racing from 1977.
    There's a country-tinged soundtrack from The Country Gazette with songs by Ronee Blakley who would later appear in Robert Altman's NASHVILLE. After years in home video purgatory this has recently been given a full frame transfer DVD release from Fox in their Cinema Archives line.







Monday, April 1, 2019

DOCTOR DEATH : SEEKER OF SOULS 1973



"THESE WOMAN HAVE JUST SEEN THEIR DOCTOR"



    A curious mixture of 1960's Gothic horror and 1970's California shag carpeting occult this garishly colorful effort features turtlenecks, huge sideburns, ties wide enough to land a jet on, baby doll nighties and & splashy red blood. It was directed by busy asst. director/producer Eddie Saeta (who had been doing second unit stuff since the 30's) features an over the top performance from prolific TV actor John Considine (COMBAT!) and enough 70's day-glo colors to fry your retinas. 
    Lawyer Fred Saunders (Barry Coe JAWS 2) is heavily despondent over the recent death of his wife Laura (Jo Morrow TERMINAL ISLAND) and since she has promised to come back to him in the afterlife (we see her as a skull-faced ghost in the opening credits) he's hellbent on making this happen ASAP. Ignoring the come-on advances of his secretary Sandy (Cheryl Miller DAKTARI -who does everything sort of throwing herself naked upon his desk) he seeks out the help of seemingly every crackpot in greater Los Angeles including fake seances and a group of monks who keep the rotting corpse of a member's wife hanging about.




   Much to the concern of his doctor friend Greg (Stewart Moss THE BAT PEOPLE) he meets up with "Dr. Death" (Considine) whose assistant Marta is played by Florence Marly who most people will know as the blood sucking alien from Curtis Harrington's QUEEN OF BLOOD from 1966. Dr. Death puts on demonstration for Fred and select group of individuals whereupon he transfers the soul of a women with a hideously scared face to a beautiful one recently deceased. Unfortunately, the donor also must to be not amongst the living so this gives the Dr. an opportunity to whip out the old sawing the girl in half magic trick which here isn't a trick and the young woman is dispatched and her soul transferred. 
   Intrigued, Fred hires the good doctor (for $50,000!) to transfer a recently departed soul to his wife. Fred has a sort bit of concern over the use of a living donor for the process but this is put aside after he follows the ghost of his wife through a graveyard and makes out with her in the crypt. The doctor and his scared henchman Thor (Leon Askin -General Berkhalter from HOGAN"S HEROES) procure a young hippie girl which Laura's corpse rejects during the transfer procedure (with Considine intoning "enter that body!!"with all the dramatic flourish of a Shakespearean actor)
    Fred decides to call off the process after failure (and sleepless nights hearing his wife's voice) but the Doctor has become infatuated with the resurrection of Laura and continues racking up a startling body count while the oblivious Fred begins romancing his secretary with a falling in love montage complete with soft focus picnics, Frisbee and horse rides. It doesn't take too long see who the Doctor has in mind for his next victim with Fred racing against time to stop him.




     DOCTOR DEATH fits into that genre of 70's California occult/horror with films like COUNT YORGA (1970) and DEATHMASTER (1972) while in fact it would be easy to see the star of those films Robert Quarry in the title role here. DOCTOR DEATH however does employ a healthy dose of humor and black comedy with even Three Stooge Moe Howard making a cameo appearance as an audience member who eagerly volunteers to see if a female from the Doctor's stage show is truly really dead. Saeta had worked as asst. director for Columbia on many Stooge shorts and this was his first and along with a couple of TV episodes only directing credit. There's also an amusing sequence where the Doctor relates relates his past life and origins which stretch back thousands of years with various male and female donor bodies.
     Filled with vivid splashes of bright red blood and oozing flesh wounds & gore make-up including a decapitated dead and in a surprising move the doctors spraying blood can dissolve flesh all of which help dissipate the made for TV look the film ventures into sometimes. All the actors fade into the background with the over the top performance from Considine and the film really kicks into high gear whenever he's onscreen with the exception of the enigmatic Marly who brings a touch of class and old-world aristocratic atmosphere to her extended cameo and hold her own against the almost endless cavalcade of young female victims.