Sunday, July 27, 2014

Movie Review: HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE



HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE
2010, Something Weird/Image, $14.98, 106m 20s, DVD
By John Charles

Originally published in slightly different form in Video Watchdog #167

Co-directed by exploitation legend Frank Henenlotter and Jimmy Maslon, the entertaining documentary HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS: THE GODFATHER OF GORE follows the infamous grindhouse auteur’s career as he segues from teaching into advertising and filmmaking, hooking up with partner David F. Friedman and producing a handful of highly profitable nudie cuties. When the market became overcrowded with daughters of the sun and the novelty was gone, the pair decided to produce another sort of picture the majors would never touch, resulting in “The Blood Trilogy.” Lewis and Friedman dissolved their partnership after that, but the former made several more gore movies and the entertaining oddities MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN, SHE DEVILS ON WHEELS, BLAST-OFF GIRLS, and JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT, as well as two of the worst children’s films ever foisted on the public.

Lewis and Friedman relay their memories in new interview segments, interspersed with comments from longtime fans like John Waters, Joe Bob Briggs, and Henenlotter, plus famous girlie photographer Bunny Yeager, frequent crewman Andy Romanoff, BLOOD FEAST villain Mal Arnold, veteran film critic Kevin Thomas (author of a notoriously negative review of BLOOD FEAST during its original release), Ray Sager (who had the titular role in Lewis’ THE WIZARD OF GORE and went on to produce some horror movies of his own in Canada), TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! actors Jerome Eden and Vincent Santo, and cinematographer Steven Poster (who went on to have a long career in the industry). If you have read Friedman’s book A YOUTH IN BABYLON and/or heard the various DVD commentaries the pair did over the years, there is not much here that qualifies as new, but the documentary makes for pleasurable viewing and reveals a few new tidbits, including additional information on Lewis stock company member, William Kerwin, whose recurrent all-American Boy onscreen image masked an addiction to cigarettes, booze, Benzedrine, and sex.

There are plentiful clips, including scenes from AN EYE FOR AN EYE, which was shot in 1967 but never edited (Something Weird is planning to release as complete a version as possible of the film in the future) and some 8mm behind-the-scenes footage on the set of THE WIZARD OF GORE. The film manages to avoid being a collection of talking heads via a nice detour in which Lewis and Friedman revisit locations in St. Cloud, the small Florida town where TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! was shot, and we are also given a look inside Lewis’ current home, a beachfront high-rise condo complete with a golden bathroom sink. Some of the interviews are poorly shot and there is some less-than-stellar editing, but Lewis remains a fascinating personality and a great storyteller. More huckster than filmmaker, he remains charming in his eighth decade, and as snake oil salesmen go, his brand of old-fashioned pandering seems more worthy of your dollar than the corporate cynics behind the endlessly franchised and rehashed horror movies of today.

The anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation generally looks and sounds more than acceptable (most clips are presented at 1.33:1) and the DVD offers plentiful extras, including Lewis’ nudie short HOT NIGHT AT THE GO-GO LOUNGE, a photo gallery, a collection of seven Lewis trailers (including one for the documentary plus, inexplicably, Elmer Clifton’s ASSASSIN OF YOUTH). The main supplement, however, is no less than 64m of deleted scenes from the documentary! There is some interesting material here, including extra appearances by Henenlotter, who was so determined to see BLOOD FEAST, he paid $300 for a badly faded 35mm print; information on the short BLOOD FEAST imitation FOLLOW THAT SKIRT! (apparently only one print was ever struck and it played at a gay-themed theater in San Francisco); coverage of Lewis movies glossed over in the final cut, including SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963), ALLEY TRAMP, SUBURBAN ROULETTE, THE PSYCHIC (all 1968), the then-lost films THE ECSTASIES OF WOMEN and LINDA AND ABILENE (both 1969) and BLACK LOVE (1972), MISS NYMPHET’S ZAP-IN (1970), and THE YEAR OF THE YAHOO (1972). An associate from Lewis’ Chicago days also reminisces about how cheap the man could be (and not just when it came to film productions) and Henenlotter discusses Lewis’ post-movie career as an expert in direct marketing (ie. junk mail).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Movie Review: BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT



BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT
1971, Retromedia Entertainment #RMED009, DD-2.0/LB/+, $14.95, 83m 29s, DVD-0

By John Charles

Originally published in  slightly different form in Video Watchdog #89


One evening in 1946, army deserter Joseph Langdon (John Ashley) is wandering aimlessly through a Philippines jungle. Exhausted and bedraggled, he manages to elude his pursuers, only to encounter a strange little man (Vic Diaz) who knows of Langdon's predicament. Wanted for rape and murder, and feeling the effects of some poisonous berries he ate, a delirious Langdon accepts the man's offer of restored health and safety -- providing he also agrees to eternal servitude. The film picks up in the present day and we learn that Langdon took over the identity of a Filipino man, who has just passed away. His spirit now transfers to the body of Phil Rogers (also Ashley), an American who was presumed dead following an industrial accident. Ordered to awaken the latent evil in those whose identities he has assumed, Langdon proceeds to screw over Phil's business partners and seeks to alienate the man's wife, Julia (LOVE ME DEADLY's Mary Wilcox). She, however, is not ready to give up on her husband and Langdon finds himself developing feelings for her himself. Previously seeking death as a means of escaping from the whims of his supernatural overseer, Langdon now begins to experience a change of heart. Unfortunately, as a by-product of his unholy pact, he frequently transforms into a vicious, werewolf-like creature that horribly mutilates its victims (with the mask-like make-up, it is never entirely clear if Ashley is the one portraying the monster in these bits).


New World Pictures' premiere release (toplining a double bill with Alfred Vohrer's superior CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND), this Four Associates production from writer/director Eddie Romero is more attentively scripted than the director's other horror pictures (particularly the sequences with Ashley and Diaz, the latter portraying a personable tempter intrigued by the philosophical aspects of human nature). While the sex and gore (including a bit of implied cannibalism early on) are contemporary, BEAST is rooted in traditional horror with several familiar situations. In addition to the variation on lycanthropy (which is sometimes triggered by arousal), our increasingly sympathetic protagonist experiences horror upon seeing his transformed face and, in an obvious nod to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Langdon receives care and solace from a destitute blindman (THE BIG BIRD CAGE's Andy Centenera, as a former bandit chieftain whose acts of kindness are an atonement of sorts for the evils of his youth). The performances are a bit stiff and the film tends to meander (there is at least one dialogue sequence interrupted by a blunt "Roger Corman edit") but the picture remains an interesting entry in the Filipino horror cycle and was Ashley's first outing as a producer, a role he specialized in until his death in 1997. Leopoldo Salcedo and Eddie Garcia co-star (as the police officers investigating the killings), along with Ken Melcalfe, who plays token Americans in many Filipino productions.


THE BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (on-screen title) was released on tape by Charles Band's Cult Video and United/VCI and, while we do not have those versions available for comparison, Retromedia's presentation likely offers a moderate improvement. The 35mm source material (which bears a video burned 1994 copyright date) has light wear throughout and the telecine operator tends to brighten night sequences far too much, but the colors are fairly robust (if not always accurate) and details levels are passable. The image has been matted to 1.80:1 and looks a little tight in spots, but the framing is generally effective. Light hiss and crackle can be heard throughout, though the audio (evidently the optical track of the print) is okay. In addition to the usual vintage drive-in promos and Retromedia intro with Fred Olen Ray and Miss Kim, the disc includes New World's theatrical trailer (in considerably worse shape than the feature), and a congenial salute to the film's star. "Remembering John Ashley" (20m 51s) offers an overview of Ashley's career and features interviews with the actor's wife, friends Fred Olen Ray, Andrew Stevens, and Steve Stevens (who co-starred with Ashley in HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR). No great revelations here, just a group of admirers sharing memories of a man whose friendship they treasured and who loved making and talking about his movies, even the ones other actors would like to have seen vanish from the face of the Earth. The disc concludes with a photo gallery that, in a nice touch, is accompanied by one of Ashley's old rockabilly 45s. A modest 7 chapters are provided on the DVD, which was authored by Fat Cat Post and lacks time functions.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Movie Review: REDLINE (1997)




REDLINE

aka ARMAGEDDON
aka DEATHLINE
1997, Nu Image/Image #ID6314NGDVD, DD-2.0/SS/+, $9.99, 96m 6s, DVD-A

By John Charles

Originally published in slightly different form in Video Watchdog #74

In the near future, Moscow is a hotbed for smugglers dealing in black market cybertoys and partners Wade (Rutger Hauer) and Merrick (Mark Dacascos) are set to hit paydirt with a planeload of the newest pleasure chip. After successfully downing a government patrol ship out to seize their cargo, Merrick doublecrosses Wade and fatally shoots him in the head. Looking for a new way to combat the increasingly powerful Troika crime syndicate, Special Prosecutor Vanya (I, MADMAN's Randall William Cook) has Wade brought back to life via a new brain regeneration procedure. Although he is supposed to terminate the subject once interrogation is complete, Vanya decides to let Wade track down and eliminate his former partner, who is becoming increasingly influential in the Troika. With the help of beautiful prostitute Katya (Yvonne Scio), Wade is eventually able to confront his nemesis but he has every right to be suspicious of his new allies' true motives.

Beyond the obvious Rutger Hauer connection, REDLINE also invokes BLADE RUNNER in the way it introduces high tech gadgets into the decaying squares, hotels, churches, and bathhouses of olde world Hungary (which stands in for Russia here), providing a consistently remarkable milieu. There are a few other less inspired allusions, like a shootout among various ruined and discarded statues of Communist icons, copied from GOLDENEYE, and a throwaway parody of the Odessa Steps sequence from BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Co-writer/director Tibor Takacs (THE GATE I & II, I, MADMAN) also remains true to the exploitation roots of the project by incorporating barely motivated gunplay at every turn and nudity so gratuitous even Andy Sidaris would be hard pressed to justify it. The storyline also becomes more and more hackneyed as the film progresses, culminating in an especially uninspired finale that doesn't so much tie up loose ends as whisk them away as an annoyance. Regardless, REDLINE remains above the direct-to-video norm, offering enough visual élan and modest diversion for it to be worth considering.

The Canada/Netherlands co-production is presented in fullscreen and looks to have been produced with video in mind. The image is sharp and colors are strong, with some mild grain (probably intrinsic to the cinematography) popping up on occasion. The Ultra Stereo mix is sufficiently dimensional, though most viewers will be wishing the track would go dead during the awful end title theme. A seemingly incomplete trailer is the only extra.  

(This disc is out of print. A 2005 DVD re-issue from Allumination also appears to be no longer available)