Posts Tagged ‘exploitation films’

"Blood Freak" Movie Poster

"Blood Freak" Movie Poster

Sometimes, dear reader, your friendly neighborhood TFG is truly at a loss for words. It doesn’t happen too often, mind you, and not nearly as frequently as many who know me wish it would, but when trying to describe the wigged-out WTF-ness that is the 1971 cinematic absurdity known as “Blood Freak,” I’m afraid the English language just plain fails me (or perhaps I fail it). This, you see, is an exercise in (I’m assuming) accidental cinematic bizarreness so complete—and so confounding—that mere words simply cannot convey the nature of this particularly fetid celluloid swamp.

“Blood Freak” is the “brain”child of  Brad Grinter (“Flesh Feast”) and wanna-be Johnny Weismuller Steve Hawkes, who had starred in one low-budget Tarzan flick and was destined to do one more. The two of them wrote, produced, and directed thing thing together, and each “star” in it as well, Hawkes portraying the hero of the story, Viet Nam vet-turned-freewheeling-biker Herschell, and Grinter playing the film’s chain-smoking narrator. Evidently they’re pretty proud of the fact that Hawkes is in it, too, since  “starring Steve Hawkes”  appears not once, but twice, during the opening credits.

Writer/Producer/Director Brad Grinter as the narrator

Writer/Producer/Director Brad Grinter as the narrator

Our story begins when Herschell encounters a pretty young lady named Angel having (unspecified) car troubles along the Florida turnpike. Herschell gets her car working again and she invites him over to her place for a party her swinging sister Ann is having. Why she’d invite him, though, is a mystery since Angel and Ann are polar opposites, Angel being a Bible-quoting Jesus-freak of the first order and Ann being a swinging sixties (errr—-make that seventies) “let it all hang out” -kinda chick who’s into sex, drugs, rock and roll—but mostly drugs, and the party is full of Ann’s friends, of whom Angel clearly does not approve. Anyway, invite him into this den of debauchery she does, and while Herschell makes it clear that he’s more on the Angel side of the fence as far as the sex and drugs scene is concerned, Ann takes a shine to the muscle-bound lunkhead regardless and crafts a plan to lure him into her web of vice together with the help of her drug dealer, Guy, who supplies her with some super-pot that’s sure to turn Herschell, he assures her, into a raving addict in no time.

Herschell splits the scene to attend a Bible study group with Angel, where he meets a kindly old-timer who sets him up with a job at his poultry ranch. He’s got a week to kill before the job starts and nowhere to go, though, and that’s when his troubles begin. Angel offers to put him up at her and Ann’s place, and Ann quickly dares Herschell into trying her “super-pot” by insinuating that he’s a coward if he doesn’t. Sure enough, half a joint later our guy Herschell is a raving, lunatic pot-addict and Ann has gotten him into bed.

When he starts his gig at the turkey farm, Herschell is offered a way to make a few extra bucks on the side by a couple of unscrupulous scientists who work there and are experimenting on drugging turkey meat (for reasons completely unknown). They even offer him a little grass on the side in addition to money if he’ll help them out. After his first day on the job, Herschell comes home in a medical state I have never seen before or since that can only be described, I guess, as “marijuana withdrawal,” and he completely freaks out back at the pad. After getting high, though, it’s all good again, and he’s ready for work the next day. His scientist buddies set him up with a fork, a knife, and a whole frigging turkey, and Herschell chows down. But wait! Something strange is happening! The drugged turnkey causes Herschell to go into convulsive fits, and the scientists, after finding him writhing on the ground, whisk him away to a secluded ditch and leave him for dead. But our guy Herschell isn’t dead, and soon he returns home—but he’s not the same man. Herschell’s head has been replaced by the head of a giant turkey—a giant turkey that soon finds he needs the blood of drug addicts to survive!

Herschell and Angel

Herschell and Angel

So there you have it—this film is about a giant, blood-drinking, turkey-man. Really. With a European “star” (Hawkes) who can barely utter a sentence in English. And a chain-smoking narrator who cuts into the “action” by reading from a script on his desk (in fairness, though, he’s not the only actor in this fim who appears to be reading from a script,  the two scientists are at least as bad and they even stumble over their lines, as well).

What is this movie, then? Bad monster flick? Anti-drug scare film? Christian exploitation cinema? Low-budget mishmash or bad ideas? In truth, “Blood Freak” is all that and more. A bastard offspring of Herschel Gordon Lewis (and I must say some of the blood and gore effects in this film, particularly one where a guy gets his leg sawed off, are surprisingly effective given the utter incompetence of everything else on display) and Ron Ormond,  “Blood Freak” is unlike anything else that’s ever been made—or ever will be made. And that’s probably (okay, certainly) a good thing. But it’s definitely “must-see” stuff for the seasoned aficionado of exploitation fare.

“Blood Freak” is available on DVD from the fine people at Something Weird Video. The video quality is superb (considering how rare prints of this title probably are to obtain), and while the sound quality is hit-and-miss, overall it’s certainly passable. The DVD is loaded with cool previews and several shorts that encompass the various “themes” of the main feature. Highly recommended.

Oh, and Steve Hawkes made the news for a minute in late 2004 when one of the pet tigers he keeps on his Florida compund escaped and was shot by the cops. Really.

Promo Poster For Dire Wit Films' "Isle Of The Damned"

Promo Poster For Dire Wit Films' "Isle Of The Damned"

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not at all a fan of Troma-style “instant cult classics,” if you will, and prefer films that actually earn their “cult” status without the aid of a fully-laid-out blueprint, but I must admit that “Isle Of The Damned” the second feature from director Mark Colgrove and Dire Wit Films, is a refeshingly bizarre serving of intentional cinematic sewage that spoofs the excesses of the Italian cannibal film subgenre while not losing completely the sense of genuine unease that the best of these flicks, like Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust,” instill in their viewers. In other words, “Isle Of The Damned” does make you laugh and also makes you feel ashamed for doing so.

This is thanks in large part to a truly disturbing subplot involving Billy, the young teenage ward (played by a guy in his late 20s/early 30s, naturally) of lead character “Jack Steele” about which the less I reveal the better— suffice it to say that Billy’s travails are the source of much uneasy laughter during the course of the film, and while the typical cheesiness of fake moustaches, overtly lousy dubbing, over-the-top cheap gore effects and the like are easy enough to crack fun at without feeling guilty, laughing at the struggles of “poor little Billy” will give you the same feeling as watching the animal slaughter in “Cannibal Holocaust”—you don’t really want to see it, but you can’t turn away. In that sense, then, “Isle Of The Damned” succeeds because it not only mocks but also captures the spirit of the Italian cannibal subgenre, since it’s just as cringeworthy, albeit in a completely different way.

Sure, much of the humor is overly obvious (the supposed “director” of this “lost classic” is “Antonello Giallo,” for instance, and the film’s promo poster blares that it was “Banned In 492 Countries,”) but there is plenty of unexpected and more ambiguous ” humor” peppered throughout in addition to blatant absurdities like a “jungle locations” that look like upstate New York or southern rural  New Jersey and a huge mansion located on a primitive, “uncivilized” island.

Does the entire film still have the overall subtlelty of a hammer blow to the skull? Of course, but that’s part of its—and I use this term loosely—charm. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this film to everyone, but if you think that the “instant cult classic” genre has nothing to offer, I’d humbly suggest that you give “Isle Of The Damned,” warts and all, a chance. Shot for something like $20,000, this film delivers the warped and twisted goods and leaves you feeling guilty for having so much fun. Who can ask for more than that?

"Frankenhooker" movie poster

"Frankenhooker" movie poster

We’ll conclude our little look back at the madcap career of semi-legendary director Frank Henenlotter with his 1990 trash masterpiece, “Frankenhooker.” I won’t beat around the bush, this is my favorite of Henenlotter’s films, and is a bona fide cult classic completely deserving of its reputation.  Hysterically funny and just-as-hysterically gruesome, “Frankenhooker” packs more punch than any multimillion-dollar Hollywood blockbuster and delivers the gore-soaked goods on a budget that directors like Zack Snyder and George Lucas probably blow on lunch.

Once again filmed in the environs of New Jersey and, most notably, New York’s former scuzzy underside in and around Times Square (and yes, there are scenes set in a sleazy 42nd Street flophouse, in case you were wondering), “Frankenhooker” is the story of aspiring mad scientist and med-school reject Jeffrey (played by James Lorinz of “Street Trash”), who builds his future father-in-law an automatic lawnmower as a birthday gift, only to have the half-assed gizmo shred his fiancee, Elizabeth (former Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen) to pieces when it goes haywire at said future father-in-law’s birthday party. Jeffrey isn’t one to meekly accept tragedy when science can fix things, though, and he absconds with her decapitated head and concocts a truly warped plan to bring the love of his life back from the grave.

On a “shopping trip” to 42nd street in an attempt to find the perfect body to attach Elizabeth’s now-cryogenically-frozen head to, Jeffrey decides his best course of action is to get as many working girls as possible assembled at one time in order to select the perfect unwitting donor for his scheme.  He hires “lead hooker” Honey (former Playboy Playmate Charlotte Helmkamp) to get a bevy of her fellow hookers together so he can literally “play doctor” with all of them, but he hits upon a problem—after taking copious measurements of all the girls, he can’t find just one perfect “specimen” to stick his former fiancee’s head on. Fortunately for Jeffrey, he doesn’t need to pick just one, as the ladies of the evening stumble upon the batch of “super crack” he has cooked up as a little side experiment and soon are getting higher than heck on Jeffrey’s killer (literally) rock. The result? The picture below says it all, I think—

There's no high like a "super crack" high!

There's no high like a "super crack" high!

That’s right, the hookers literally explode all over the room, leaving Jeffrey no end of body parts from which to select as he stitches together a new “home” for Elizabeth’s head.  Soon, with the aid of a makeshift operating theater in his mother’s garage and convenient lightning storm, Jeffrey has brought his lady-love back, with her head attached to a body assembled from exploded prostitute-parts—she’s not the same, though—she has purple hair (and nipples), shambles around like a heavy-footed beast, and says things like “Lookin’ for some action?,” “Want a date?,” and “Got any money?” Yes, homemade surgery combined with the wildly unpredictable forces of electricity have brought Elizabeth back from the grave, and turned her into—Frankenhooker!

With a wildly outlandish premise, a truly fantastic comedic performance from Ms. Mullen in the title role, strong supporting performances (especially from Ms. Helmkamp—who knew so many former centerfold models could actually act?), wonderful “old-school” effects, authentically sleazy New York locations, and a tongue-rammed-tightly-into-cheek overall tone, “Frankenhooker” is an absolute gem of a flick, as no less authorities than Bill Murray and Joe Bob Briggs have attested to.

Unearthed Films' "Frankenhooker" DVD

Unearthed Films' "Frankenhooker" DVD

Finally released on DVD by Unearthed Films in 2005 in a package crammed with great extras, “Frankenhooker” is an absolutely essential addition to any B-film junkie’s video library. Besides a terrifically clean 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the DVD includes a terrifically insightful commentary from Henenlotter and makeup/effects man Gabe Bartalos, an extensive interview with star Patty Mullen, a great set of production still photos, a featurette on the movie’s make up effects, the original theatrical trailer, and lots more goodies to keep the demented “Frankenhooker” fans out there happy.

This movie has aged especially well given the “clean-up job” Rudy Giuliani did to 42nd Street, and so unwittingly provides a slice of nostalgia for a bygone era on top of all its other sick attributes. A true one-of-a-kind movie watching experience, “Frankenhooker” marks the apex of Frank Henenlotter’s uniquely twisted filmic sensibility  and will leave you laughing out loud all the way through while reaching for the bark bag at the same time. Not to be missed under any circumstances!

basketcaseart03The work of cult film auteur Frank Henenlotter holds a special place in my twisted heart, as his films were staples of the late-night second-tier “premium” cable channels (Cinemax, The Movie Channel) during my misspent “formative” years, and as such I wasted far too many hours watching them repeatedly and finding my fondness for them grow with each successive viewing. While his strange blend of gross-out horror and slapstick-style comedy is admittedly an acquired taste, his sizable semi-legion of fans is testament to the fact that many people are indeed tuned into his particular warped wavelength, and as such, I thought it might be fun to pay homage to what are unquestionably his three best efforts (to date, that is—I have yet to see his long-awaited new release, “Bad Biology”), the “unholy trinity” comprised of “Basket Case,” “Brain Damage,” and “Frankenhooker.”  Let’s begin this nostalgic look back at Henenlotter’s career at its inception, his feature-film debut, the 1982 classic “Basket Case.”

The set-up is simple enough : a doctor is murdered in over-the-top gruesome fashion in his home by an unseen assailant. Cut to a 20-something young man with a big wicker basket and even bigger hair (our “hero,” Duane Bradley, played—if that’s the word we really want to use because very few of the performances in this film resemble anything traditiononally defined as acting—by Kevin Van Hentenryck) from upstate New York arriving at a fleabag 42nd street “hotel,” checking in, showing off a fat wad of cash that attracts the attention of the establishment’s unsavory residents—excuse me, “customers”—and asking where he can get something to eat. After procuring a sizable quantity of hamburgers, Duane heads for his room and there we see that the food isn’t for him,  as he feeds it to whoever or whatever is in his wicker basket. Duane then holds what appears to be a one-way conversation with his basket-dwelling friend, goes to sleep, and the next day begins to embark on a series of visits to other doctors, saying he’s an “old friend” who wants to pay a surprise visit.

Over the course of his brief “scouting mission” to say hello to his “old friends,” Duane manages to pick up (through zero effort on his own part) and start a semblance of a romance with one of the doctor’s receptionists, get acquainted with the truly varied yet deliciously stereotypical cast of characters who reside in the hotel (including getting drunk for the first time in his life with a hooker who lives across the hall played by Beverly Bonner), and withstand further telepathic assaults from his “pet” in the basket.

Along the way, we learn the film’s not-so-secret— that his wicker-dwelling companion is actually his horribly deformed twin brother, Belial, who was attached to Duane in conjoined fashion until they were teens, when some unsavory paid-in-cash doctors agreed to separate the two so Duane could lead a “normal life.” As for Belial, he was surreptitiously dumped in the trash, presumed dead, or soon to be so. Belial quickly summons Duane via telepathy to rescue him, and then the two creatively and grotesquely kill their father, who was the brains behind the operation of—errr—-the operation and are raised from that point on by the kindly aunt who had looked after them during their early years. When she passes away, they have no remaining relatives (their mother died giving birth to them), and set out to avenge themselves on those who separted them.

Duane's basket-dwelling brother

Duane's basket-dwelling brother

I won’t tell you (if there is a “you” out there reading this) how it all ends up in case you haven’t seen the flick, but I will say that there are some solid cheap gore effects, a fun, cheesy extended stop-motion animation scene of Belial trashing the hotel room, some sick chuckles thrown in for good measure, and an authentic vibe of Times Square griminess to the proceedings that makes this demented zero-budgeter an absolute joy to watch and sets the tone for all of Henenlotter’s subsequent work—outrageous premises, lovably bizarre monsters, New York sleazepit locations, and biological absurdities of the David-Cronenberg-on-crack variety are constant running themes in his films.

Something Weird's 20th Anniversay DVD Release

Something Weird's 20th Anniversay DVD Release

There are a couple of different DVD versions of “Basket Case” out there, but the best is easily the 20th Anniversary edition released in 2002 from Something Weird Video. Featuring a plethora of extras including a commentary by Henelotter, producer Edgar Ievins, and actress Beverly Bonner, a raft of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, a documentary short featuring Henelotter and rapper R.A. “the Rugged Man” touring the movie’s  original filiming locations, an extensive selection of trailers, TV spots, radio spots, promotional posters and artwork and still photos, and radio interviews with actress Susan Smith (who played Duane’s love interest) among other delights-for-the-completist, this is definitely the version of this disc to own and can be found at bargain-basement prices most anywhere.

Followed by two sequels, the first of which is pretty damn clever and the second of which doesn’t quite reach the same level of twisted-yet-fun depravity of the first two (but which isn’t nearly as bad as many folks seem to think), “Basket Case” is definitely one of the better efforts of the low-budget horror-comedy genre and has earned its esteemed reputation in B-movie history. If you haven’t seen it, then I highly recommend checking it out ASAP, and if you have seen but it’s been a few years, it’s well worth another look, as it holds up surprisingly well given its budgetary and technical limitations, and it has an air of authenticity that most shlock filmmakers often spend their entire careers striving to find but never quite achieving.

Next up I’ll be taking a look at Henenlotter’s second feature, the remarkably twisted “Brain Damage.” Until then, thanks for reading,  and remember, when it comes to moviemaking, money is no substitute for brains and imagination!

the_witch_wwho_came_from_the_sea_poster_003The 1976 classic “The Witch Who Came From The Sea” is, simply put, a film that must be seen to be believed—or more accurately, it’s a film that must be seen and felt, since it’s about as emotionally gripping and character-driven as any film that ever played The Deuce.  Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo-Digital and DVD Delirium has described it as a movie that feels as “if Tennessee Williams wrote an exploitation film,” and I can’t really top that description it’s so completely apropos given the themes of dark family secrets, alcohol abuse, and distorted memories of the past (and perceptions of the present) which dominate this story , so I won’t even try.

In brief, Molly (played by Millie Perkins, best known for her starring turn in the TV version of “The Diary Of Anne Frank”) lives in a quiet, sleepy little seaside resort town where she works as a waitress and indulges in her favorite vices of heavy drinking, random, meaningless sex, obsessing over television celebrities, and filling in the gaps in her memories of childhood by concocting a rich fantasy world where her father was a noble seafaring captain. Molly also dreams about castrating muscled beach hunks and steroid-ripped NFL players, but as the film goes on we come to realize that these may not be fantasies at all and that these brutal castration scenarios tie into chapters of her past that she’d sooner forget—and is, in fact, trying her damnedest to.

Directed by Matt Cimber (Jayne Mansfield’s last husband for all you trivia buffs out there), who’s best known for helming blaxploitation favorites like “The Candy Tangerine Man” and “The Black Six,” this is a moody, evocative, dreamlike  film beautifully shot by renowned cinematographer Dean Cudney and featuring a finely nuanced, touching performance from Perkins at its core.  While the subject matter is no doubt harrowing and violent in every sense—physical, emotional, and psychological, the dreamy, naturalistic flow of the film provides the velvet glove wrapped tightly around the subject matter’s iron fist.

Available on DVD from the fine folks at Subversive Cinema, this title is, sadly, out of print, but still readily available at modest prices, especially if you’re willing to get a used copy. The 16:9 anamorphic transfer on the disc is absolutely lovely, and there’s a fine “making-of” featurette and an engrossing commentary by Cimber, Cudney, and Perkins among the disc’s fine bonus features.

While the poster for the film certainly makes this look like your typical “barbarian sorceress” type of flick,  and the promotional slogan “Molly Really Knows How To Cut Men Down To Size!” evokes images of a grindhouse bloodbath, the truth is that this is a sensitive, poignant, and emotionally jarring film that will reward any adventurous cinephile who’s willing to go with it’s flow. Very highly recommended indeed!

Shock-O-Rama's Newly Remastered "Drainiac" DVD

Shock-O-Rama's Newly Remastered "Drainiac" DVD

Maybe it’s because I was just saddled with a massive plumbing mainline repair bill of $7,800 (probably roughly what this film cost to make), but something about Brett Piper’s “Drainiac” really appeals to me. In the (admittedly brief) period of time before his name became synonymous with “cheap CGI” and “starring Misty Mundae,” Piper cooked up this little gem in his home environs of New Hampshire with a cast and crew composed mostly of friends, various acquaintances, and aspiring (i.e. unprofessional) actors and actresses willing to work for next to nothing. It’s a definite labor of love, and while being a confused and often haphazard one, nevertheless that warped, twisted love shines through.

To briefly sum things up, a high-school girl (played by Georgia Hatzis) who’s mother has recently died and who’s father is a drunken, verbally abusive good-for-nothing sets to work fixing up a house said rotten father has recently bought hoping to “flip” quick for some cash after doing a series of fast (mostly cosmetic) repairs. However, an evil spirit of some sort that lives in the dilapidated shithole’s plumbing (and claimed the lives of a couple of vagrants “a few years ago” in the movie’s opening scene) has other ideas and when our leading lady’s high school friends show up to (ostensibly) help her clean the place up, it decides it’s going to burst forth from the pipes and kill them all instead. After getting good and tanked at a local watering hole , her father heads home to see how his daughter’s doing with the unenviable task of cleaning up his latest dilapidated get-rich-quick scheme (in a classic cheesy exchange the bartender asks the dad if he’s sober enough to drive and he replies “I’d better be, I’m too drunk to walk), only to fall victim to this foul drain-spirit when his mini-van radiator overheats and he pulls over to find out what happened (how it got from the house to the car is never really explained) and gets fried to a crisp when he opens the hood for a look. While some of the usual teenage hijinks ensue at the house, a world-weary exorcist (played by Steven Bornstein) comes across the father’s dead body and makes his way to the house, where presumably he’d been heading anyway since this is the sort of thing he does for living. He ropes the kids into a rather impromptu exorcism, the spirit(s) reveal themselves, all does not go as planned, not everyone survives, the spirits go apeshit, the house implodes on itself, and all that’s left is a giant crater in the ground to prove that any of it ever happened. The end.

Even as late 90s/early 2000s straight-to-video horror flicks go, it’s a mind-numbingly simple “plot,” with some truly harebrained dead-end subplots thrown in for no real reason whatsoever (such as when our heroine finds an antique photograph of a woman in the house who looks exactly like her mother—only the picture is over 100 years old! gasp!), but the combination of zero-budget (but well-executed, all things considered) stop-motion and live FX works, there’s something honest about the sheer one-dimensionality of all the characters, and the stilted dialogue is charmingly cheesy for the most part.

The folks over at Shock-O-Rama have recently released a “special edition” DVD of this overlooked non-masterpiece, which completes the film to Piper’s satisfaction for the first time (he’s referred to the initial DVD release as literally a “work in progress”), and blows the original 16mm image up to an anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation. Also included is a pretty thorough commentary from Piper that’s entertaining, informative, and immediately out-of-date as he talks about how he can’t wait to release this new hi-def transfer on HD DVD since HD DVD is the wave of the future and standard DVD is on the way out as sure as VHS and this release is intended for HD DVD only and won’t be put out in standard DVD format . Whoops, guess that didn’t happen! And while Piper can be forgiven for thinking HD DVD was going to win out in its short-lived “format war,” I have yet to see a “Drainiac” Blu-Ray release advertised anywhere.

All in all, a fun little way to kill less than an hour and a half (hell, less than an hour and twenty minutes) of your life, and a nice little “time capsule” peek of sorts into that period of mid-90s to early-2000s of straight-to-video Z-grade horror that is often completely passed over almost as a matter of course by most DVD companies,  even those willing to crank out lesser 60s, 70s, and 80s exploitation titles— which is something of a shame since  some flawed gems, such as this, are to be found there.