Mr. Vampire [1985]

In these troubled times, I find myself seeking out one of two things for a sure-fire spirit lifter: guys in masks (luchador-style or criminal-style–doesn’t matter) or hopping vampires. There’s a straightforwardness to either flavor of entertainment that I find comforting–there are conventions to be observed, and goddammit, I CRAVE those awesome conventions.

“Mr. Vampire” is arguably the Gold Standard of hopping vampire films and, to my eye anyway, one of the most entertaining entries in the impressive body of Hong Kong genre flicks. It’s an incredibly satisfying way to spend ninety minutes escaping from what ails the world, crammed full of monsters, kung fu, and comedy. The film follows the One-Eyebrow Priest (a character who would be featured in several other films, mainly due to his KICKASSITUDE), a rural cleric who specializes in combating supernatural forces, and his two bumbling assistants Chou (a handsome yet foolish young man) and Man Choi (a buffoon cut in the classic “Three Stooges” mold) as they track down a powerful vampire who is terrorizing the village. Set in what I’m guessing is the 1920s, there are period costumes and sets to add an extra level of interest.

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I’ll confess–I find most foreign comedies to be rather inscrutable. I tend to only understand the comedy behind the most low-brow bits, and I’ll wind up scratching my head at the nuanced dialogue-based punchlines. The genius of “Mr. Vampire” is that its comedy is almost entirely physical and therefore approachable by any audience. I’m not talking about mere slapstick here, dear readers–this is Best Of Breed slapstick that would make Buster Keaton take notes. The chemistry between the actors serves to put a cherry on top of the EXCELLENCE SUNDAE that is this film.

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The choreography of the comic scenes blends the acrobatic artistry of the best kung fu fights with a pitch-perfect sense of comic timing. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s the first ten minutes of the movie featuring an ABSOLUTELY AMAZING vampire fight:

The comedy doesn’t only work on a visual level. There are several scenes in which dialogue is used to enhance the hilarity of a particular encounter. A scene in which the priest and Man Choi attempt to behave properly during an English Tea with potential clients yields embarrassing results that span the language gap. Who knew that a comedy of errors sequence revolving around the proper way to drink coffee could have me in stitches? Upon watching it twice in a row and breaking up with laughter both times, I can only believe that this is the product of directorial genius.

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The incredibly generous nature of this film is underscored when, in addition to fighting off the threat of vampires, our heroes have to face off against a lady ghost who feeds on sexual energy as well. That’s right, lieblings–this movie lives in delicious Monster Mash territory, pitting man against creature AND creature for maximum awesometude.

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There are some genuinely creepy horror moments as well. I’m a huge fan of in-camera effects used to convey terror, and when the lead vampire hops into frame in slow-motion–well, it’s surprisingly chilling! The vampire effects are ghoulish and become more grotesque as the film advances, sparing no expense to create a look that oozes gruesome decay. [SIDEBAR: Hooray for monster-style vampires! Can I just say how refreshing a good ol’ monster-style vampire can be to cleanse the palate from the whiny-ass bitches that populate most of today’s vampire landscape?]

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One of the things that makes “Mr. Vampire” so extraordinarily entertaining to me is that it balances elements familiar to Western audiences with traditions unique to China. The supernatural traditions in “Mr. Vampire” are very different from the garlic and holy water mojo of the West. Combating a vampire is done very differently–spells are slapped on the forehead, and a coin-sword can be used to cause harm to an undead being. Holding one’s breath prevents the vampire from locating a potential victim (apparently these monsters navigate using the sense of sound and touch). If one is unfortunate enough to get stabbed in the neck by the poisonous claws of the corpse, dancing on sticky rice can ward off the onset of vampirism.

For sheer bang-for-the-buck entertainment, it’s hard to beat “Mr. Vampire.” Cozy up with a bottle or three of your favorite beer and settle in for a lovely evening with this Hong Kong delight. Psst–you can find it serialized on YouTube right here if you crave instant gratification.

Check out the Flickr stills gallery from “Mr. Vampire” for maximum glee.

SS Girls [1977]

If your drunkest relatives cobbled together five hundred dollars, raided an army surplus store and took over your grandma’s house for a weekend to remake “Salon Kitty,” it would look a lot like Bruno Mattei’s “SS Girls” (aka “Private House of the SS”). Utilizing many of the illustrious actors who starred in his other 1977 Nazisterotica effort, “Women’s Camp 119,” Mattei shifts the balance from pure sadism to sadistic sex in “SS Girls,” slapping together a shamelessly incorrect little flick that functions mainly to make Tinto Brass’ film look like high art in comparison.

The structure of the film parallels that of “Salon Kitty:” a high-ranking SS officer is tasked with running a brothel where the hookers will collect secrets from the clients that will lead to a weeding out of undesirables from the ranks of the Nazi party. The officer becomes drunk with his own power and eventually falls victim to his egomania.

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Except, instead of Helmut Berger as power-mad SS officer Helmut Wallenberg, we get Gabriele Carrara, an actor as understated as a day-glo fun-fur tuxedo, as Hans Schellenberg. Instead of Ingrid Thulin as Madam Kitty, we get Macha Magall (Dr. Ellen Kratsch from “The Beast in Heat,” a film in which she was decidedly not Dyanne Thorne) as Madame Eva.

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Salvatore Baccaro reprises his role as Big Rapey Guy In Training Montage, however, and approaches the role with a zeal equal to that which he showed under the guidance of Maestro Brass.

It’s hardly necessary to devote much time to a frame by frame comparison of the two films, but my snarkiness compels me to point out a couple of examples. Remember that bit in “SK” when Wallenberg is going around REJECTING and APPROVING girls for service? It looks like this:

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Whereas in “SS Girls,” it looks like this:

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And when the girls disrobe and set to an orgy of Teutonic efficiency, this in “SK”:

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Which, in “SS Girls,” is an extended mini-toga’ed training montage that looks like this:

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Those stunning interiors in “SK” with their mirrors and elegant lighting:

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…wind up looking like rooms decorated by a very elderly person with an affinity for ceramic collectibles in “SS Girls:”

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Then there’s the small matter of costuming. Period pieces prove to be a challenge for wardrobers because of the many details that must be recreated. Military uniforms are especially tricky, considering that each insignia on a soldier’s outfit represents a specific rank, affiliation, or accomplishment. Why is it, then, that a goodly percentage of the Nazis in this film are wearing uniforms that still bear the insignia of the East German army? Perhaps that’s why they’re plotting against Hitler–they’re actually Communists from the future!

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Another soldier has a bald pate and hair well past his collar, making him look like a Lynyrd Skynyrd roadie who lost a bet. His role appears to be escorting around a doberman (who sometimes participates in implied Dog-Woman Love Acts) and cackling maniacally.

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The most memorable victims of the spy-brothel are General Oscar, who has gone power-mad a la Colonel Kurtz, and his pals Kominski and Wang (no, really). You can tell Wang is Asian from his nunchucks and samauri sword (no, really), but Mattei has crossed all available digits that you won’t notice that his surname is Chinese rather than Japanese and that you’re not paying too much attention to his home-made-with-markers headband. The bald-faced comic-book villainry of these guys is pretty stunning to watch, and I’m sure there’s a special seat in Hell reserved for me for the proliferation of giggles produced during their screen time. I kinda wanted their S&M hijinx to have “Yakkety Sax” accompaniment.

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No discussion of this film would be complete without revisiting the male lead in this film. In a swap not unlike that of Folgers Crystals for fresh-ground coffee, Mattei has cunningly replaced Helmut Berger with Gabriele Carrara, the Jerry Lewis of Nazi Exploitation cinema. Suffice to say, much like the Folgers Swap, the substitution is incredibly apparent and wildly disorienting. That’s not to say that Carrara doesn’t own his role–he grips it in his teeth, shakes it till its neck snaps, and then devours it in big meaty gobbles. Don’t suspect that I tried to capture the actor mugging for the camera–it’s impossible not to capture him mugging for the camera! Upon re-watching “SS Girls,” I’m made to wonder why Carrara didn’t go on to star in more films. His overacting becomes a little charming, and by the time he commits hammy, ridiculous suicide, I was feeling for him. A little. OK–a very little, but still, that counts for something, doesn’t it?

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While he lacks Berger’s icy allure, he compensates in a other ways. Such as “Pulling Champagne Corks Out With His Teeth,” a stunt that he pulls at least five times in the film with varying dramatic effects. There’s the egomaniacal cork-pull, the cork-off between Schallenberg and Oscar, and ultimately the despondent pre-suicide cork-pull. Bonus points for donning face-paint and a Pope outfit in order to mete out justice to traitors. That’s showing… OK, it’s not showing class, but it is adding an unnecessary and ridiculous flair to the proceedings, and I give him credit for that.
For sheer, balls-out bad taste, “SS Girls” ranks up there with “the Beast in Heat.” It’s entirely divorced from anything we know to be quality filmmaking, measured acting, or fine production values, but it’s very vileness makes for some pretty compelling film-watching.

Flesh Gordon [1974]

Internet, I know what you’re thinking–“Kate, we’ve accepted your love of third-rate films featuring face-stealing surgeons, your unquenchable lust for banana-flavored coffee*, and the joy you derive from painting tiny watercolor boobs, but this is just too much. Your passion for ‘Flesh Gordon’ is more than we can accept.” I’m going to set forth a case for this 1974 softcore porno sci-fi comedy that will beg you to reconsider this film based not only upon its sheer batshittery, but upon all the great stuff it gives you in addition to insanity and copious nudity.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this particular nugget of Americana, “Flesh Gordon” was the brainchild of Graffiti Productions, a company that had previously churned out hardcore porn reels. Graced with a budget of $100,000, the minds behind the production company devised a plan to merge their passion for porn with a love of Golden Age Science Fiction. The hilariously hokey end product is the result of various misadventures brought on by a combination of zeal and naivete that infuse the end product with a manic glee that never fails to bring a smile to the Tenebrous Lips.

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The plot follows star athlete Flesh Gordon, lady-pal Dale Ardor, and scientist Flexi Jerkoff in their quest to save Earth from the effects of the sex ray of Emperor Wang the Perverted, ruler or Planet Porno. The comedy is broad and sometimes cringe-worthy–Catskills Comedy one-liners are tossed around liberally, and I feel it necessary to warn that there are, in fact, El Kabong sound effects. Striking another potential hash against the film is the fact that it’s a softcore flick–contrary to legend, no hardcore cut of this film exists, so the sex we’re left with is essentially a lot of suggestive bump-n-grind. So, why in the name of a dark and sinister deity do I enjoy this film?

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Simply put, “Flesh Gordon” gives and gives and gives, piling craziness upon craziness to a staggering degree. The effects work isn’t giving George Lucas a run for his money, but it is cheap, fun, and sometimes effective. I adore low-budget stop-motion animation and model-usage because of its creakiness–the filmmakers aren’t trying to play the audience for fools; they’re adding in something goofy for the sake of fun. It’s not trickery but rather a little visual gift–“Here, look at this cool thing we’re throwing at you just because we can.”

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There was no need include a cool-looking animated sequence over the credits. In fact, that was probably a rather costly way to handle the opening, but the filmmakers opted for this because it looked nifty and added to the psychedelic ambience of the movie.

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Seriously–who doesn’t love little toy rockets in little toy space? EVERYBODY loves that, dammit, and this movie gives us a cock-shaped rocket in the kind of space that has eyeball planets. Better yet–the little cock-shaped rocket bursts out of a tiny model house during takeoff in what looks like a scene taken from “Mister Rogers’ Land of Make-Believe Blue Reel” (which doesn’t actually exist, but maybe should).

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The real stars of this film, in my never-humble opinion, are the stop-motion figures. Not content to give us one or two stop-motion sequences, we get THREE. Count that, people–I’m willing to wager good money that’s three more stop-motion monster seuqences than the last softcore porn you saw! My glee is almost uncontainable over the fact that we get a Snake Monster scene, a Giant Monster scene, and a Sword-Fighting Monster scene. That’s Harryhausentastic stuff right there. The Beetle Man who battles Flesh in an actually-pretty-well-done hand-to-hand combat scene and the Giant Idol who kidnaps Dale King-Kong-style were both taken from previous, unfinished projects and acquired at a reduced cost, while the Penisaurus sequence was made new for the film (strangely enough, nobody else was making a film featuring penis-shaped dragons, thus necessitating this expense). Once again, the filmmakers did not have to include such elaborate sequences, but they did. You know why? Well… neither do I. I’m just guessing it’s because they love me and want me to be happy.

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But it doesn’t stop there–oh no, friends. Several scenes feature matte-painted backdrops and there are guys in robot suits as well. Robot suits with mechanized penises, at that! Why? Why not! I haven’t even mentioned the hook-handed lesbian, the gay prince, or the ladybug plane yet–in fact, I think it’s best if I just stop here and assume I’ve convinced you of this movie’s kickassitude.

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I salute the makers of “Flesh Gordon” for their unwavering commitment to combine the universes of Kid Logic and Porn Logic to bring us what is a memorable, hilarious, and light-hearted sex romp.

If you’re not won over to the AWESOMENESS that is “Flesh Gordon” yet, check out the Flickr gallery of stills for further evidence of the visual madness and excellence of this movie.

*Firstly, this is not a euphemism. Secondly, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it–it’s awesome.

The Diabolical Doctor Z [1965]

As if the subjects and minions of the Tenebrous Empire needed another reason to believe that Jess Franco is a living legend, “The Diabolical Doctor Z” marks a bold CHECK in that director’s favor. Like “the Awful Doctor Orlof,” this film takes a meager budget and stretches it to its fullest through the use of ingenious cinematography, clever editing, and a wild storyline.

“Doctor Z” hits all the right exploitation cinema notes. We’re treated to mad science, revenge, far-out go-go dancing, ghoulish surgery, and settings steeped in gothic goodness. Add in a smattering of sexiness and a killer robot as well as a plot that moves along at a refreshing clip and you’re in for a very fine eighty-three minutes.

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Outcast neurologist Dr. Zimmer, with the help of his daughter Irma, has pinpointed the sections of the brain responsible for good and evil in humans. When he appeals to his colleagues for permission to experiment on human subjects (which he’s kinda-already done in the form of creating his henchman Hans, a convicted serial killer), his hopes are dashed and he suffers a fatal heart attack. Irma Zimmer vows to carry on his work and seek revenge on the nay-sayers, and boy does she ever do just that! She fakes her own death, kidnaps an exotic dancer who performs under the TOTALLY EXCELLENT MONKIER of Miss Death, equips her with poison-tipped fingernails and brainwashes her into a killing machine.

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Plainly put, the movie looks gorgeous. Franco’s use of a very long depth of field in scenes shot down alleys and hallways pays homage to Orson Welles and creates a crisp, contemporary look. High-contrast light and dark are used to brilliant effect. There’s a sequence in which Miss Death seduces one of the scientists that Irma Zimmer has marked for death (played by the venerable Howard Vernon) that looks particularly gorgeous. When the two begin to speak, the lights dim–the doctor’s face is lit from the side, emphasizing his hawk-like features, and only Miss Death’s eyes can be seen. It’s clear from lighting alone that something intimate yet sinister is in the offing. On-location filming is used to great effect, with Bavarian-style chateaux and gloomy mansions adding extra flavor to the proceedings.

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No review of this film would be complete without addressing the amazing nightclub sequence in which Miss Death is revealed. Slithering across a floor painted like a stylized spider’s web, Miss Death (garbed in a droolworthy lace bodystocking) makes her way towards a male mannequin, slides up its body, tackles it and dons a skeleton mask before the lights go out. It’s perhaps a minute worth of film, but the disorienting angle of the action, shot from top-down, is memorable and effective. Why-oh-why can’t real-life nightclub acts be this cool?

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Irma Zimmer is a truly formidable villainess–she is portrayed just like a male heavy would be. She’s capable, cold-blooded and driven, hell-bent on achieving her goals through any means necessary. Actress Mabel Karr owns the role, and shots from below, emphasizing her commanding presence, underscore the magnitude of her evil. The scene in which she performs her own reconstructive “Yeux sans Visage”-style facial surgery is a jaw-dropper.

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Jess Franco appears on-screen as the put-upon police detective investigating the case. His role is mildly comedic–he’s an exhausted father of triplets with an eccentric style of dress. Bonus points for the “Orlof”-like appearance of the police kitten on his desk!

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The director further links this film to his previous, career-making outing by making reference to Doctor Orlof, who gets a shout-out for his work on the centers of good and evil in the brain. It’s interesting to me when a filmmaker creates his own mythology, reusing elements from previous films and connecting his body of work.

Enjoy a Flickr gallery of stills from “the Diabolical Dr. Z” here.

Strip Nude for Your Killer [1975]

It’s safe to say that all works of fiction have an internal logic that puts the plot in motion and guides it through its various twists, leading the story to its conclusion. Granted, the type of logic can vary drastically–there’s Dream Logic, Kid Logic (“Batman can shoot lasers out of his fingertips, and Spiderman totally drives a racecar and has a robot sidekick”), and Retard Logic (“let’s split up and investigate these woods where the murders have been taking place, armed only with flashlights!”). Every once in a while, however, a movie dances across my eyeballs that defies my attempts to apply any known system of logic to the goings-on. Andrea Bianchi’s “Strip Nude for Your Killer” is one such movie.

To put this in context, 1975 was the year that gave us both Dario Argento’s sublime “Profondo Rosso” (marking a deliberate break from his earlier “Animal Trilogy) and the absurd “Strip Nude for Your Killer.” The giallo had been milked almost dry and filmmakers were trying to extract as much from the genre as possible. The golden years of the giallo had past, and the intricate elements of these stories (perverse sexuality, the cruelties of modern life, dark psychology) began to get eclipsed by an emphasis on profuse nudity and gore. NOT that there’s no love for nudity and gore in the Empire, mind you–but this viewer finds herself pining for the complex character studies of some of the earlier entries while watching most post-1972 gialli.

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9 out of 10 black-gloved killers prefer the taste of J&B

“Strip Nude for Your Killer” is a shameless attempt to cash in on the Blood ‘n’ Boobs craze, and as such, you can’t really hate it too much. It does, indeed, give us nudity and killing in plentiful doses. It also works in some really unwelcome comedy and has little of the visual flair that characterizes the best of the giallo breed. The plot is fairly straight-forward: the employees of a fashion photography firm are being stalked and killed by a black-leather-clad assassin. A horrible secret from the past unites them and has marked them for death. All is revealed at the end in typical WTF style–there’s no priest to blame, so the scriptwriter had to go for the next best shocking thing.

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Sweetie, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Nino Castelnuovo, having Hit The Wall face-first at top speed sometime between playing the elegant male lead in 1969’s “Camille 2000” and “SNfYK,” plays Carlo Bianchi, a fashion photographer so oily and misogynistic that I found myself wondering if he was any relation to Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi. Carlo is over-the-top even by giallo antihero standards, with his inclinations towards rapeyness, buttcheek-baring Speedos, and general air of hirsute dissipation. It’s all the more perplexing that fellow fashion photographer Magda Cortis, played by Euro-Super-Babe Edwige Fenech, throws herself at Carlo in a darkroom seduction scene featuring a totally AWESOME garter belt that this viewer feels is entirely wasted on its intended target.

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But–what about those murders? They’re taking place somewhere, yes? Well–yes. But the movie feels like two different films up until about a third of the way in, when the police appear to begin investigating these murders. Italian detective work FOR THE WIN once again! The murders each involve some sort of genital mutilation, which points to a sexual motive for the crimes. Of course, since every character in the film is a pervert or strumpet of some stripe, this only serves to expand the scope of the investigation. Everybody’s got something to hide, and Carlo decides to launch his own investigation with Magda (as you do).

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Back to the logic that drives this film–simply put, it’s entirely alien, even for a giallo. People just DO STUFF because it drives the plot, not because it is in keeping with their (admittedly flat) character motivations or because it makes anything approaching sense. The scene in which I finally tapped out of even attempting to understand the plot occured when one of the fashion models is essentially kidnapped by the owner of the agency (who happens to be a morbidly obese sex addict)…

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…almost falls victim to a rape attempt…

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…then agrees to sex…

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…then comforts the agency owner when he cannot Do The Deed…

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…and ultimately refuses payment for her services. This all goes down over the course of two minutes of screen time and just makes the mind reel. Better yet–it has no function in terms of plot and is played as a comedic interlude. This occassioned the fifth time during the course of the movie in which I felt the pressing need to shower off a thin layer of slime.

I won’t mention the fact that the movie ends on a freeze-frame of Carlo and Magda after Carlo has threatened Magda with anal rape. Those wacky kids and their forced sodomy hijinx!

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This apartment was designed by the folks who brought you “The Yellow Wallpaper”

The mise-en-scene in this film is absolutely apeshit as well. It’s a wonderland of Levi’s and J&B product placement devised, I can only imagine, by competing companies who wished to slander the good names of these companies. The interiors are made up of so many competing patterns it’s like sombody put on three teevees playing three different episodes of “the Brady Bunch,” peered through a prism, and slapped the results on-screen. I also like the fact that if you’re running a successful ad agency, you’d find the need to decorate your apartment entirely in those advertising mirrors you’d win at playing flip-a-frog at a carnival. Astonishing stuff, and surely the product of a deranged mind.

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Your film has SERIOUS issues when this dude’s boobs get almost as much screen time as Edwige’s boobs


“SNfYK” is a sleazy mess that borders on parody, playing like the twisted love child of a “Love Boat” entry and an antediluvian episode of “Silk Stalkings.” For giallo completists and fans of Edwige’s boobs, it’s not unwatchable–all others should view at their own risk!

The classy, sophisticated Flickr gallery of stills from “Strip Nude for Your Killer” resides here.

Found Footage Festival [2008]

While “Repo! The Genetic Opera” proved to me once again that life isn’t all flowers and sausages, my weekend’s film-viewing activities were by no means all duds. A dear friend of the Empire recommended that I take in a viewing of “the Found Footage Festival,” a combination comedy revue and clip show that had me laughing till I nearly ruptured at least two vital organs.

“The Found Footage Festival” is ninety minutes of sublimely simple and brilliantly hilarious fun. Comedians Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have been collecting oddball videocasettes for almost two decades, nabbing every corporate training video, exercise tape, and public access television show that comes across their path. Their genius rests in their ability to sort through countless hours of dreck to pluck out the meaty morsels that wind up on-screen during the FFF. Most of us have seen sexual harassment training tapes at work–few of us would have the desire to watch dozens of them, and select all the clips in which the following Henny-Youngman-like couplet was uttered:

Worker: “Did you want anything, boss?”
Boss: “Sure I do–but we can talk about that later.”

Who but Joe and Nick would realize that this exchange takes place in nearly EVERY sexual harassment training video? That’s commitment to an artform, people.

The clips are organized into several segments–from the aforementioned sexual harassment montage to the “Hunks” footage (taken from such classics as “Playgirl’s Hunkercize”) to some truly staggering public access clips including the unforgettable MIKENASTICS, seen here in his training video:

The FFF guys seem to have a great deal of affection for their quirky subjects. Sure, they’re poking fun at the various crazies featured in their film clips, but it doesn’t really cross the line into mean-spiritedness. They celebrate the weirdness around them rather than taking an attitude of snarky superiority.

Enjoy a clip from the FFF here (and maybe learn a little something about how to seduce women through hypnosis at the same time):

Oh–related to the FFF, one of the programs featured is an AWESOMELY INSANE dance program out of Chicago titled “Chic-a-go-go“. If anybody from the Windy City feels like being my hero, please go on the show, boogie like there’s no tomorrow, and know that I envy and adore you.

Check out the FFF MySpace page for upcoming dates around the U.S. and in Canada.

Tenebrous Empire vs. "Repo! the Genetic Opera"

Per Baron XIII, “Repo! the Genetic Opera” is the kind of movie that has so many things, so wrong with it that one could devote volumes discussing its badness, or merely dismiss it with a cutting quote. The Baron’s cutting quote:

Five words: “Gothic ‘Trapped in the Closet.'”

You know what, Internets–he’s right. “Repo” is an opera told entirely in recitative, pretty much entirely sans-aria, detailing a story that’s full of plot holes and stupidry. Unlike R. Kelly’s hip-hopera, there are no midgets or flights of fancy to elevate this effort to sublimely surreal status. The Baron is wrong that “Repo” is the Worst Movie Ever, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a contender. Director Darren “Yes, the ‘Saw’ Sequels Guy” Bousman manages to squander heaps of cash AND a talented cast on an Off-to-the-Nth-Power Broadway musical with a high-concept but ill-fleshed book and songs so cringe-worthy that I thought the Baron was going to try to melt into the floor out of sheer embarassment for everyone involved in the production.

So… why is the internet abuzz with praise for this mess? Stop drinking the Kool-Aid, fellow fans of bizarre cinema! “Different” does not equal “Good,” and the painfully self-referential tone of the film (LOOK I CAN HAZ OGRE AND BILL MOSELEY!) plops it firmly in the category of Hipster Cash-In. Allow me to detail some more egregious issues I have with this movie, won’t you? Of course you will!

  • Forty years in the future, Lip Service outfits and cheap plastic shoes from Pleaser have finally dominated the clothing market. No, really–if I can tell you the prices, sizing and SKU numbers of every piece of clothing worn by a character on-screen, your wardrober deserves a Sound And Unsexy Thrashing.
  • NEVER unleash the G-Bomb (G*th) in your film–just don’t–unless you mean it to be funny. ESPECIALLY NEVER do it if the music in your film is more “Meat Loaf’s Retarded Cousin” than “Nik Fiend.”
  • If you show a gun in Act I, it had BETTER go off in Act III. And in this case, substitute “drug made of dead people” for “gun”–make USE of something icky and cool like that in the Plot Proper.

High points include… well, there’s about a minute and half of Paris Hilton writhing around in bondage gear that has only sealed her eventual fate of being chained to my throne garbed in Slave Leia togs sometime in the dystopian future. I’ve included her photo as my only visual here because, frankly, it’s all you need to see. The more we can forget that the rest of the cast was involved, the happier we’ll all be.

Pee Ess: If you’re not Russ Meyer, you’re not allowed to use exclamation points in your film title.

Pee Pee Ess: Changed my email address over there since Comcast is friggin’ HELLA-VEXING. You can find me at Gmail now (with the rest of the civilized world).

Three Tough Guys [1974]

“Three Tough Guys” was a blind view from the Grindhouse Experience box, and damn near fulfilled its promise of blindness with the muddiness of the print. Still, there’s enough in this Italo-French blaxploitationer to make it worth soldiering through. No new ground is covered as Isaac Hayes’ former cop joins forces with venerable European character actor Lino Ventura’s rough-and-tumble Catholic priest to combat the oily evil of Fred “Black Shatner” Williamson’s career criminal Joe Snake. To go over the blaxploitation/Italo-crime checklist, we’ve got gritty dialogue, ridiculous clown suits, amusingly stilted fight sequences, and plentiful bitchslapping. There are some slow bits towards the middle, but just as my interest would begin to wane, something AWESOME would happen and I’d be right back in it. This movie reminds you of it’s balls-out redackarousness at the correct moments. As you’re dozing during the plot exposition–WHAMO! There’s fisticuffs and wig-snatching and shirtless-beleathered Fred Williamson to wake you right the fuck up.

I’m kind of in awe of the COMPLETELY AMAZING pinball-themed film poster shown here. Sidebar: I LOVE scenes filmed in vintage videogame arcades, and this movie has several. Including a fight scene in which Fred Williamson gets pelted with a bowling ball and sent down the alley. Bestill my beating heart! You can see fully eighty percent of the Good Shit in this two-and-a-half-minute trailer:

Bonus points for the scene in which Isaac Hayes’ character takes a leak on some vanquished baddies. Stay classy, “Three Tough Guys.”

I’d be hella-remiss if I didn’t make mention of this movie’s theme song. It’s a good ‘un, written and performed by Mr. Hayes himself and containing some of the most fist-pumpingly, eye-crossingly, drool-inducingest badass lyrics OF ALL TIME. You’ll be humming this bad boy all day long, right along with me.

Preacher man, police man, working together
They both can fight, black and white
and they’re TOUGH GUYS!

NOTE: I ADORED director Duccio Tessari’s “the Blood-Stained Butterfly” which starred my first choice for Tenebrous Emperor, Helmut Berger. It’s kinda hard to believe he directed that film, a giallo of great beauty and sensitivity, and this wacky thrill-ride! I am most surely inspired to seek out more of his films now.

APPROVED Links of Weirdness & Wonderfulness

I’ve been doing a little reorganizing of links over to the right there, and I realize that there are a whole bunch of nifty things I’ve been reading that deserve a special mention here due to their ability to bring a grin to the Tenebrous Lips.

  • No Smoking in the Skull Cave is a wonderful mix of blogger Becca’s own art, cool vintage pics, and sexy girls in outfits–that’s a win-winwin in the Empire!
  • Obscure Hollow boasts an impressive collection of film stills devoted to interior design in horror films. I am saving some of these to hand over to the decoraters who I plan on hiring to build the Tenebrous Chateau. BONUS: one of the contributers to this blog is Kerry Kate of October Effigies (pssst–her creepy dolls make great gifts).
  • Fascination – The Jean Rollin Experience is an impressive resource for photos and info on the work of the French horror auteur and Empire Fave.
  • Sugar and Spice is a fantastic collection of photos and video clips of those sexy sirens of the Sixties and Seventies, run by Keith, one of the busiest bloggers I know!
  • Rev. Phantom’s Midnight Confessions is a blog after my own heart–he respects the AWESOMENESS of “Halloween III” and he shares my love of Enzo G. Castellari.
  • Magic Carpet Burn is so crammed with excellence that it’s overwhelming–comics, halloween decor, guys in skeleton suits, and Rat Pfink & Boo Boo. I… fear I have to take a moment to collect myself.

If all THAT doesn’t do it for ya, here’s a picture of Cobra Commander kicking a puppy.

Cobra Commander is one bad dude

The Champions of Justice [1971]

Some things are almost too beautiful for the world we live in, Internet. I remember the very fitst time I was introduced to the world of Lucha Libre, that qiuntessentially Mexican form of professional wrestling marked by masked characters, acrobatic fighting maneuvers, and–yes–zany-ass sci-fi/horror/action films. The frantic action, wild plot lines, and colorful personalities of these movies are the cinematic equivalent of sugary breakfast cereals–delicious, nutrient-free, and able to induce the coziest of feelings in the heart of the partaker. The innocence and enthusiasm of these movies is absolutely contagious. It should come as no surprise to learn that I’ve got a rather burgeoning collection of lucha movies on DVD.

All lucha films are kinda created equal, to be honest, but like all genre flicks, there are standout examples. “The Champions of Justice” is such a standout and just might be my favorite of these films. What it lacks in the iconic El Santo, it makes up for in EVERYFUCKINGTHING ELSE. Let’s bullet this out:

  • FIVE masked wrestler good guys
  • Mad scientist heavy
  • Army of machine-gun-toting super-midgets
  • Mexican beauty queens in distress

If all that isn’t good enough for you, add in luchadores riding around on motorcycles, in dune buggies, in speed boats, in muscle cars. Still waffling? How about a frikkin’ groovetastic jazzy soundtrack–your boat, it should be floated now.

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I feel a little guilty setting you up for such AWESOMETUDE and then reeling you back in with the Sameness, but establishing the Ground Rules is important in any conversation on genre films. In some ways, lucha libre movies are like old school kung fu epics–there are conventions that must be observed. The good guys are absolutely committed to virtue and demonstrate their goodness at every possible opportunity. Take, for example, Blue Demon–he’s a busy dude; he’s got wrestling to do, natty suits to wear, motorcycles to ride. Yet when approached by a group of adoring fans, he smiles and promises everyone an autograph. Also, the film MUST open with a formal wrestling match in the ring, and “The Champions of Justice” is no exception. The ring time in “tCoJ” is pretty limited–you get your introductory rasslin’, and then it’s on to strictly in-plot rassling thereafter. Speaking of this wrestling, there is virtually no gunplay or weapons play. When weapons do come into the picture, the luchadores are quick to disarm their opponents in favor of grappling and punching. You’d better believe there’s a headstrong character and a born leader among the good guys (everybody is a ladies’ man, so there’s no need for that role to be specifically filled). As you might’ve surmised, the movies work on Kid Logic–good guys are good, bad guys are bad, friends are friends, More = More Better, and Sometimes Stuff Just Happens Cos It’s Cool-Lookin’.

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Back to “the Champions!” The five members of the group are Blue Demon (frequent sidekick to El Santo, now moved into the leadership role, doubtless after YEARS of grooming by the Silver One), Mil Mascaras (Thousand Masks, known for his frequent and deft mask-changes), Tinieblas (Darkness), el Medico Asesino (Killer Doctor, who is somehow a good guy–go fig’), and la Sombra Vengadora (Avenging Shadow). Each member has a goddaughter in the Miss Mexico paegent, but superbaddy the Black Hand has sworn revenge. He was turned in to Interpol by the good guys in the past (he works for some foreign European country and might be tied into the Red Peril), and now his plan is to enslave their beauty queen goddaughters.

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Black Hand has recruited an army of caped-masked-and-red-suited midgets to do his bidding and instead of –you know–just hiring super-strong guys, he has invented a super-strength machine that allows the midgets to wrestle the luchadores–and WIN! That’s right, Dear Friends, we’ve got midget-on-masked-wrestler action sequences. And they’re every bit as good as you’d want them to be.

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The movie is just an orgy of excellence. Sciencey Sounds accompanied by dry ice and whirly colors? CHECK. Explosions? YES! Skydiving? FUCK YES! Underwater fight scenes matted out against goldfish tanks? DOUBLEFUCK YES! It’s almost too much for the human brain to accept, and by about forty minutes into the hour-and-twenty-minute run time, I just resigned myself to giggling and wearing a huge-ass grin as Rad Thing after Rad Thing punched, kicked, and tossed its way across my teevee.

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I want to issue a sincere THANK YOU to the Mexploitation Gods for coming up with such a thing of beauty as this film. It’s stuff like this that keeps me from being a complete atheist–you know that somewhere, some benevolent deity pointed down to earth and planted the seed of lucha libre, and that deity loves us and wants us to be happy.

Check out the Flickr gallery of stills from “the Champions of Justice”–you’ll be glad you did!