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MAIDENS OF FETISH STREET (1966) **

Los Angeles in the ‘20s. A guy named Nick goes to a burlesque house and watches a chick with an impressive rack topless dancing. He then has flashbacks to other people’s sexual exploits. Nick thinks about his buddy, who goes to see a hooker in a fleabag motel. He tells her how he’s watched her grow up from afar ever since she was a little girl. He further creeps her out by demanding to hear about her first time. Since she’s trashy and upfront about sex, it befuddles him. He yells at her: “You’ve taken all of the poetry out of it!” Another story has a sexy model posing for a sexy sculptress.

Nick then goes back to live with his old lady (he literally has an old lady) and they whip some girl. He then gets a scared black girl in the bathtub and while he bathes her, she has a fantasy where she throws him down the stairs before tying him up, covering him in molasses, and pouring ants all over him!?! Nick finally finds happiness with a hot chick, but his old lady ruins everything when she barges in and whips them both. In the end, Nick goes mad and imagines he’s locked inside a dirty book store.

I didn’t get it either.

Maidens of Fetish Street is truly an oddity. The combination of leering camerawork, weird distorted noises on the soundtrack, hardboiled narration, and film noir cinematography help to keep the audience off-balance. Say what you will about it, but it’s certainly unpredictable.

However, the whole thing is undone by the patchwork narrative that borders on schizophrenic. I guess that makes sense up to a point since the main character is crazy too. It’s just that it’s all much too uneven to ever really work.

AKA: The Girls on F Street. AKA: F Street.

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THE ABNORMAL FEMALE (1969) ** ½

The Abnormal Female begins with an awesome title sequence that features lots of lurid lovemaking while a tender romance song plays on the soundtrack. Then a psychiatrist listens to several of his patients as they talk about their wild fantasies and bizarre sexual tendencies. We meet Vicki, a sadist (“Sadism is the desire to cause pain and use force!”) who smacks a guy around, ties him up, masturbates in front of him using a banana, and feeds him lemon juice through a turkey baster (!?!) before doing a 69 with him. Sherri has been married for six months, but when her husband doesn’t give her the perverted sex she craves, she goes to dive bars to picks up guys. Another patient loves anonymous sex partners and resorts to hitchhiking to find the strangers she desires. (“I don’t want any man to forget me!”) She also gets high on LSD and does her hippie boyfriend (he doesn’t look like a hippie, he looks like Burt Reynolds). Then we meet a married couple who get bored with their mundane sex life and have a threesome with another woman. Finally, a woman has a lesbian affair and gets it on in the shower with a girlfriend.

The Abnormal Female isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it does typify everything I love about these low budget sexploitation films from the ‘60s. It was shot in dingy sleazy apartments with no sound and what little dialogue we do hear is poorly dubbed. The outdoor sequences feature on-the-fly shots of the city and work nicely as a snapshot of the late ‘60s. The women in the cast are also a bit sexier than what you’d usually find in these sorts of pictures. Plus, they’re more than willing to get naked. The jazzy soundtrack is also pretty cool.

The running time is less than an hour long, but it still feels too long as there are some lulls in between the sex scenes. However, they are fairly graphic for the time (there are a number of full-on beaver shots), which certainly helps. It’s just a shame that some of them seemingly go on forever and aren’t very titillating.

Overall, The Abnormal Female gives you just about everything you could want from one of these movies. Nothing more. Nothing less. Even then, it’s just unremarkable enough to fall short of being wholly entertaining.

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ONE SHOCKING MOMENT (1965) ** ½

A douchebag businessman (that is, a businessman who is a douchebag, not a businessman who sells douchebags) moves into a swanky new apartment with his mousy wife. It doesn’t take long for him to get the hots for his secretary and pretty soon, he’s putting the moves on her. Meanwhile, the dominatrix who lives next door feels sorry for her new neighbor and sets out to whip her husband into shape… literally.

One Shocking Moment is an early sexploitation film from cult director Ted V. Mikels. He gets things started with a memorable image of the evil dominatrix driving her high heel through the hand of our hero. Sadly, after that, the thrills are few and far between. (Although to be fair, the title only promised us ONE shocking moment; it just delivers it right in the opening scene.) Thankfully, there’s just enough nudity here (including belly dances and stripteases) to keep you more or less entertained. If only the stuff that happened in between the smutty sequences was as much fun.

Mikels also acted as his own cinematographer and he did a rather remarkable job. The flick looks head and shoulders better than your typical skin flick from the same era. The editing (also by Mikels) is accomplished as well. Too bad he didn’t write himself a better script. Like Mikels’ other works (I’m thinking specifically of Astro-Zombies and The Corpse Grinders), One Shocking Moment is fitfully amusing, but it just doesn’t have that extra something to push it into the realm of a “good” movie.

AKA: Suburban Affair.

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THE GODFATHER (1972) ****

This week, our local theater, The Clayton re-launched their classic movie line-up in fine fashion with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. I’ve seen it so many times over the years, but this was the first time I got to experience it on the big screen. Talk about an offer you can’t refuse!

What can I say about the film that hasn’t already been said? There’s a reason why this thing has endured. It’s simply a note-perfect film. Seeing it on the big screen only amplifies its greatness. The horse head scene made everyone gasp (even when they already knew it was coming) and the tollbooth scene looked and felt even more intense on the big screen.

Sure, the big moments got everyone worked up, but for me, the smaller scenes felt big too. The scene where Michael finds out about his father’s attempted assassination really resonates more on the big screen. It always seemed that Michael’s evolution from goodie two-shoes son to kingpin was a gradual one. However, when you see it on the big screen, just from Pacino’s expressions, you can tell he’s immediately gone over to the dark side. I mean what’s he do as soon as he sees the newspaper about his father’s shooting? He runs to a pay phone and immediately shuts the door on Kay. Before (like during the wedding), he is forthcoming about his family and their business to her. It’s here where he begins shutting her out, both literally and figuratively. Slamming the door on Kay eventually becomes a motif throughout the series.

Another moment that sort of cements Michael’s almost immediately plunge into the family business is when he saves Vito from some gunmen in the hospital. Once he gets him safe in a darkened room, he whispers, “I’m with you, papa”. Now we can take that for its literal meaning; that Michael’s assuring his father that he is nearby and everything will be all right. Or we can believe that “I’m with you, papa” is Michael’s way of saying, “I’m a gangster now, papa”.

Another thing that gets hammered home when watching the film on the big screen is the importance of all the family events. The opening wedding scene not only deftly serves as an introduction to all of our characters; it also sets the Corleones up as a “normal” family. There are also important moments that happen during a funeral and (most famously) during a baptism. It’s truly awesome how Coppola intertwines the business of family rituals with ritualistic murders of the family business.

Not only that, but you get to see Brando at the height of his powers thirty feet tall. Plus, this might be the only time I’ve ever seen Joe Spinell (who made his film debut with this film) on the big screen too, so there’s that. That’s something I can cross off my bucket list.

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I AM WRATH (2016) ***

I am Wrath first popped on my radar a few months ago when someone leaked a bunch of unused marketing posters that were so poorly Photoshopped that you just had to laugh. (Someone took the posters for Jack Reacher and The Equalizer and clumsily pasted John Travolta’s head over Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington.) I knew right then and there, I had to see it. As it turns out, it’s pretty darn good, but the whole business with the posters is kind of telling as the movie is just taking John Travolta and plugging him into a standard revenge drama.

The plot is basically Death Wish 6, but with John Travolta in the Charles Bronson role.

That right there should be enough for you to put it in your Netflix queue.

Anyway, his wife (Rebecca DeMornay, who probably filmed her scenes in like a day or two) gets killed by some street punks. When Travolta identifies one of the creeps, the cops conveniently let him go. He then looks up his old army buddy (Christopher Meloni) who runs a barber shop that has a secret weapons arsenal (not to mention a shooting range) in the basement, and together they go around tearing up the city to find the other guys involved. Eventually, they uncover a conspiracy that goes right to the governor himself.

Spoiler Alert: Travolta doesn’t wait until November to vote him out of office.

I am Wrath was directed by the great Chuck (The Blob) Russell, although he doesn’t really put much pizzazz into the proceedings. The action sequences are accomplished, but unremarkable, but at least he doesn’t resort to shaky-cam tactics. Because of that, he has my utmost respect.

Is this a great revenge movie? No, not really. Is it a perfectly acceptable revenge movie that is boosted by terrific performances? Of course. Travolta and Meloni have a lot of chemistry. Why didn’t someone put these two together sooner? Since things are left wide open for a sequel, I hope that they team up again to take out even more scumbags.

No one reinvented the wheel with this one. Then again, the wheel didn’t need to be reinvented either. If you love John Travolta and you loved Death Wish 1, Death Wish 2, Death Wish 3, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, Death Wish 5: The Face of Death, Death Sentence, Taken, Taken 2, Taken 3, Punisher (89), The Punisher (04), Punisher: War Zone, Man on Fire, The Harry Brown, Ms. 45, The Brave One, The Equalizer, The Exterminator, or The Exterminator 2, you’ll want to check it out.

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STICKS AND STONES (1970) **

Peter and Buddy are a gay couple who live out on Fire Island. They invite a bunch of their gay friends to their home for a big Fourth of July party. As the party goes on, Peter gets jealous when Buddy starts flirting and after everyone goes home, they have to resolve their differences.

Sticks and Stones is notable for being one of the earliest films that featured almost exclusively gay characters and portrayed them in a positive light. There are very few stereotypes on display and the filmmakers take great pains to show them having a “normal” everyday life. That doesn’t necessarily make it good though.

The whole thing is slight and the relationship drama isn’t exactly involving. The humorous scenes are hit and miss too. The sequence where a gay couple try to change a tire goes on much too long and isn’t very funny, but I did get a laugh at the scene where a guy gets catty with an older “Leather Queen”.

All of this is amateurish to a fault. The performers aren’t quite convincing and the greenhorn directing makes the film look like a home movie in some spots. The writing isn’t much better. The scenes of characters endlessly pontificating about love go on much too long and their conversations during the party (there are discussions about dreams and the subconscious; not to mention an impromptu dance number or two) quickly grow tiresome too.

Although it’s not successful at being an entertaining or moving film, Sticks and Stones is still worth a look I guess, but only as a curio.

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THE MEATRACK (1969) ***

J.C. is a bisexual hustler on the prowl. He bangs a guy on the beach and helps a lonely housewife “move something” while her husband’s away at work. Later, a fat drag queen makes him dress up as a sailor, and a guy pays ten bucks to go down on him in a movie theater. J.C. returns to his apartment where he rescues a girl from being raped by his lecherous photographer neighbor. They accidentally kill him in the process and wind up falling in love. Their bliss is short-lived when his closed-minded lover learns J.C. also sleeps with men.

The Meatrack is a dingy and dark movie that treats its depressing subject matter in a matter-of-fact way. Although this is a sexploitation item, I can’t imagine that anyone gay, bi, or straight would find it arousing. It’s a sad film that’s more of a psychological exploration than an exercise in eroticism. The sex scenes are not sexy at all (nor were they meant to be) and are instead gloomy, uncomfortable, and true to life. The flashbacks to J.C.’s overbearing mother are also disturbing, especially when the image of her spouting her man-hating money-grubbing dogma is shown over him banging guys for cash.

The film really only veers into exploitation during the scene where two transvestites brandishing knives interrupt J.C. and his girlfriend making love and blackmail them into starring in a porno. The rest of the time, it’s a rather thoughtful examination of gay life on the street. Since J.C. is bisexual, he doesn’t really fit in. It’s only when he meets a girl that he starts to feel “normal”. When she dies, instead of grieving, he just goes into a movie theater (playing Night of the Living Dead) where he is hounded by men lusting after him.

Speaking of theaters, the scenes of J.C. prowling around the city (sometimes shot in grungy black and white) are really cool. He often hangs out in front of movie theaters and it’s neat just seeing all of the movie posters and marquees advertising films like The Screaming Skull, Invasion of the Saucer Men, Attack of the Crab Monsters, All the Sins of Sodom, Where Eagle Dare, Pit Stop, Bury Me an Angel, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. So for that, the flick also functions as a time capsule.

The performances are all amateurish and sometimes awkward, but that adds to the authenticity. Although J.C. is quite an interesting lead, it’s the drag queen who is the most fascinating. At first, he’s presented as kind of a freak show, just because of his outlandish appearance. After his tryst with J.C., he bares his soul to him, which makes for a surprisingly poignant moment. (“Gay? That’s a laugh. It’s a lonely life.”)

I can’t say it's all great. Some stretches are better than others (the scene where a client falls in love with J.C. feels a little rushed). However, this is a rather unforgettable film that tackles the subject of male hustling in a more realistic and depressing manner than Midnight Cowboy ever dreamed.

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Hey everyone, I just wanted to let you know that I have been busy putting the finishing touches on my latest book, Revenge of the Video Vacuum. Although there isn’t a firm release date set, it should be ready by the end of October, just in time for Halloween. Unlike my last two books, there’s really no general theme. It’s basically a mishmash of chapters devoted to some of my favorite genres, actors, and directors.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here is the table of contents:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 1: COMIC BOOK MOVIES
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990)* & TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)*
COMIC BOOK MOVIES STARRING MARY-LOUISE PARKER: RED 2* & R.I.P.D*
SEQUELS TO FRANK MILLER MOVIES STARRING EVA GREEN: SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR* & 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE*
RUMBLES IN THE JUNGLE: SHEENA* & THE PHANTOM*

CHAPTER 2: ROGER CORMAN
ATLAS*, VON RICHTHOFEN AND BROWN*, COCKFIGHTER*, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING*, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980), BIG BAD MAMA 2*, THE BLACK SCORPION (1995)*, SHARTOPUS VS. WHALEWOLF*

CHAPTER 3: YOU KNOW, FOR KIDS
MAC AND ME*, TOM AND JERRY: THE MOVIE*, HOMEWARD BOUND 2: LOST IN SAN FRANCISCO, ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL, PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE*

CHAPTER 4: EL SANTO
THE VAMPIRE AND SEX, SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. THE MONSTERS, THE MUMMIES OF GUANAJUATO, KILLERS FROM OTHER WORLDS*, 3 GIANT MEN*

CHAPTER 5: THE JAZZ SINGERS
THE JAZZ SINGER (1927)*, THE JAZZ SINGER (1953)*, THE JAZZ SINGER (1980)*

CHAPTER 6: CHARLES BRONSON
MR. MAJESTYK, 10 TO MIDNIGHT, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO, DEATH WISH 3, KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, DEATH WISH 5: THE FACE OF DEATH

CHAPTER 7: THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS
THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS*, THE MONSTERS DEMOLISHER, THE GENIE OF DARKNESS*, THE BLOOD OF NOSTRADAMUS*

CHAPTER 8: BURT REYNOLDS
SHARK*, W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS*, HUSTLE*, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, STARTING OVER*, THE CANNONBALL RUN, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 2: “BROTHERS IN ARMS”

CHAPTER 9: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHTS
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 2*, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!, INITIATION: SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 4*, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER*, SILENT NIGHT

CHAPTER 10: NICOLAS CAGE
SNAKE EYES*, NATIONAL TREASURE*, NEXT*, SEEKING JUSTICE*, THE FROZEN GROUND*, RAGE*

CHAPTER 11: BUDDY COPS
RUNNING SCARED*, LETHAL WEAPON, DOWNTOWN*, RENEGADES*, THE HEAT*

CHAPTER 12: FRED OLEN RAY
STAR SLAMMER*, EVIL TOONS*, THE SHOOTER, HOUSEWIVES FROM ANOTHER WORLD, LUST AT FIRST BITE

CHAPTER 13: THE GIRL(S) WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO(S)
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011), THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009), THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE*, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST*

CHAPTER 14: UWE BOLL
HEART OF AMERICA: HOME ROOM*, RAMPAGE*, STOIC*, ASSAULT ON WALL STREET*, SUDDENLY*, IN THE NAME OF THE KING 3*, RAMPAGE: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT*

CHAPTER 15: FOUND FOOTAGE, GET LOST!
THE LAST EXORCISM*, TROLLHUNTER*, THE DEVIL INSIDE*, AS ABOVE SO BELOW*, DEVIL’S DUE*

CHAPTER 16: JAMIE GILLIS
THE VIOLATION OF CLAUDIA*, WATER POWER*, DRACULA SUCKS*, HOT HONEY*, SLAVE OF PLEASURE*, DRACULA EXOTICA*

CHAPTER 17: SCI-FRIED
SPERMULA*, AFTER EARTH*, DARK SKIES*, LUCY*

CHAPTER 18: JESS FRANCO
KISS ME MONSTER*, THE BLOODY JUDGE*, FEMALE VAMPIRE, CANNIBALS, BLOODY MOON, MACUMBA SEXUAL, LULU’S TALKING ASS*

(* denotes review is exclusive to this publication)


Here’s the official press release:

MEXICAN WRESTLERS! NICOLAS CAGE! BURT REYNOLDS! KILLER SANTAS! VAMPIRES! CHARLES BRONSON!

Are you a fan of wild, weird, and wonderful movies? Well, this book is for you! Author Mitch Lovell is back once again to take you on a guided tour of Hollywood’s highest highs and lowest lows. Here is a journal of one man’s plunge into the eclectic world of cinema, covering every genre from Buddy Cop action flicks (like Lethal Weapon) to Found Footage horror films (like The Devil’s Due) to movies based on comic books (like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). From the films of Hollywood maverick Roger Corman to the work of Spanish schlockmeister Jess Franco; Mitch profiles some of the world’s greatest low budget directors. From crappy kiddie films to silly sci-fi movies; Mitch tackles it all, leaving no cinematic stone unturned. If you love movies as much as he does, you’re sure to enjoy this book. Get YOUR Revenge now!

Mitch Lovell is the proprietor of The Video Vacuum, a website that specializes in reviewing every kind of movie known to man. He has also contributed to Exploitation Retrospect and Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

If you haven’t already checked out my other books, they are available at the following links:

THE BEST (AND WORST) OF THE VIDEO VACUUM (featuring an introduction by Jim Wynorski):

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Direct from the publisher link: https://www.createspace.com/4843470

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Best-Worst-Video-Vacuum/dp/1500107298/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449166724&sr=1-2&keywords=video+vacuum


THE VIDEO VACUUM’S UNEXPENDABLE GUIDE TO ACTION MOVIE ICONS:

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Direct from the publisher link: https://www.createspace.com/4971853

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Video-Vacuums-Unexpendable-Guide-Action/dp/1500978957/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449166786&sr=1-1&keywords=video+vacuum

DOUBLE VISION: HOLLYWOOD VS. HOLLYWOOD:

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To buy directly from the publisher, you can go here: https://www.createspace.com/5312534.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Double-Vision-Hollywood-vs/dp/1508446482/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450456891&sr=1-1&keywords=double+vision+hollywood+vs+hollywood

I’ll give you all more information as it becomes available. I’m really excited about this one and I hope you are too. See you at the movies!

HYAPATIA LEE’S TASTY (1985) ** ½

Hyapatia Lee stars as a DJ named Tasty Tastems who works at KNUT, a rock n’ roll radio station. When the station is in danger of losing its advertising revenue, the manager threatens to shut the place down if the ratings don’t improve. The DJs decide that since the station is in the toilet anyway, they should go out with a bang and switch things over to an all-sex radio format. While Hyapatia gives callers sex advice, other DJs do it at their desk and let the sounds of their lovemaking play out over the airwaves.

Hyapatia Lee’s Tasty plays like a sexed-up version of WKRP in Cincinnati. Too bad it isn’t really funny and the sex scenes are hit-and-miss. The cast is decent though. In addition to the lovely Hyapatia, we have Kristara Barrington (who gets banged on a desk), Mike Horner (looking like Burt Reynolds with his moustache and red jacket), and Karen Summer (who does a terrible Valley Girl accent). Although their scenes aren’t great, it’s still fun seeing these old pros in fine form.

The guy who plays the manager is a pretty bad actor though. I guess that’s to be expected and all, but it’s hard to take him seriously during the sex scenes since he has a pair of distracting strawberry birthmarks on his butt. Another scene that just doesn’t work is the one where a couple explores anal for the first time. It feels rushed and is curiously missing its money shot. The final scene in which Hyapatia gets it on with another DJ is ruined by editing that suggests that a stunt cock had to be employed, since the guy’s face and unit are never shown at the same time.

Most pornos of the era spoofed hit movies and TV shows, but this one also spoofs a hit song. In the film’s most memorable sequence, Hyapatia stars in her own music video, “Hit Me with Your Wet Shot”, a pretty funny spoof of Pet Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”. However, Hyapatia’s inability to accurately lip-synch the lyrics lessens the overall impact, although it does add an unintended laugh or two to the proceedings.

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HIGH-RISE (2016) ***

There are echoes of Kubrick, Polanski, and maybe even a touch of Cronenberg running through director Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, based on the novel by J.G. (Crash) Ballard. It’s a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic allegory about class warfare and social division. Although it doesn’t quite click all of the time, I already have a feeling I’ll probably be revisiting it sometime in the near future.

Tom Hiddleston stars as a doctor named Laing who moves into the 25th floor of the titular building. He’s very well-to-do, but the tenants who are richer than he is that occupy the floors above him treat him as an inferior. The building’s mysterious architect (Jeremy Irons) occupies the penthouse with this crazy wife. When he takes a shine to Laing, his peers become jealous. After a series of boozy parties, Laing becomes alienated as he yearns for other men’s wives. When the power goes out in the complex, the tenants quickly revert to savage ways and begin doing gruesome things to their neighbors.

Some of the social commentary regarding class warfare is a bit on-the-nose (like the patio scenes where Sienna Miller looks down on Hiddleston, literally. Get it? He’s beneath her.). Likewise, a few of the character names (“Richie Wilder” and “Royal”) are over-obvious. Still, even when Wheatley is hammering his points home in a less-than-subtle manner, there’s plenty to enjoy.

The thing I liked most about the film was that the backstory is deliberately vague. The time period looks like the ‘70s, but there is a distinct feeling that the rest of the world is in shambles outside the walls of the high-rise. Is this a post-apocalyptic world, or one closely like our own? Wheatley leaves that for us to figure out, and rightly so. If he had spelled everything out for us, it wouldn’t have been nearly as intriguing.

When the shit hits the fan, it does so with little fanfare. One moment everything seems okay, and in the next, it's descending into chaos. (It almost seems like that scene in Grindhouse with the missing reels.) Again, the vagueness of the particulars is what makes it work.

The film is anchored by some great performances. Hiddleston is terrific as our hero, who isn’t all that heroic and who might be just as bad as everyone who is above him. Luke Evans is also memorable as a documentary filmmaker who loses his marbles and starts filming the collapse of society. Miller is equally fine as his sex-starved wife, and Irons has a few choice moments as the man behind the curtain.

At two hours, High-Rise maybe goes on a bit too long. However, there are enough mesmerizing stretches and unique moments of mayhem to make it totally worthwhile. Besides, it contains some of the best face-ripping effects I’ve seen in a long time and that by itself is nothing to sneeze at.

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It’s hard for me to pass these horror trailer compilations up. Even the ones that aren’t that great manage to put a smile on my face. Coming Attractions: Horror Volume 2 is a pretty good one as far as these things go. I’d even say it’s a hair or two better than the first volume, mostly because it gives you a good mix of classic horror films and trashy B titles. How can you resist any compilation that includes trailers for The Day the Earth Stood Still, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein that also features The Killer Shrews, The Giant Gila Monster, and Teenage Monster?

Things kick off strongly with a fun trailer for Black Friday. It sensationalizes the fact that Bela Lugosi was actually hypnotized on the set for his death scene. Another great trailer (seen on other compilations, but still welcome here) that revolves around hypnotism is for Horrors of the Black Museum. In that one, a hypnotized woman gets needles stuck through her arm.

Most of the trailers are for old black and white films. (It’s only in the last fifteen minutes where the program switches to color as trailers for films like The Skull, Dinosaurus!, and The Masque of the Red Death are shown.) Those who enjoy more R rated material in their trailer compilations may be a tad disappointed by this one, but any fan of the classic horror movies of yesteryear will thoroughly enjoy themselves.

AFTER PORN ENDS (2012) ***

After Porn Ends is a no-frills, but entertaining documentary that chronicles several former porn stars as they try to find themselves after leaving a life of pornography behind. Some adjust better than others. While people like Richard Pacheco make a clean break from the industry, others like Raylene quickly return after announcing their retirement.

There are some heartbreaking stories here to be sure. Some stars routinely deal with addiction and stalkers. It’s also sad when you hear people like Houston losing their jobs once their employers find out about their porn past. It also hurts knowing that a guy like Randy West has to participate in celebrity golf tournaments in order to give money to charity because many charitable institutions frown upon contributions from adult film stars.

Most of the time, it’s good news though. Asia Carrera is able to leave her past behind and raise a family. Tiffany Million is able to remarry and start a lucrative career as a bounty hunter. (She should be the subject of her own documentary, if you ask me.) Mary Carey uses her notoriety to run for governor of California. (She can in tenth place.)

There’s nothing groundbreaking or earthshattering here. If you’re a fan of XXX films and want to catch up on what some of your favorite actors and actresses are up to now, it’s definitely recommended. Hopefully director Bryce Wagoner will continue chronicling their exploits for future installments. (Think a porn version of the 7 Up series.)

(Edit: I checked out Wagoner’s IMDB page, and there is a sequel coming out next year, although it follows a different group of actors and actresses.)

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SCARECROW (1973) ** ½

Gene Hackman stars as an ex-con who is hitchhiking his way across America. He runs into an ex-sailor, played by Al Pacino, and the pair decides to buddy up and hit the road together. Along the way, they get into various misadventures and suffer personal and emotional setbacks.

There’s a solid foundation for a good film here, but the meandering script is patchy and episodic, and the direction by Jerry (The Panic in Needle Park) Schatzberg is lackadaisical to a fault. Some sequences work better than others. The opening scene where Hackman and Pacino jockey for position while hitchhiking is a classic. It almost feels like it came out of a Laurel and Hardy movie and probably could've been released as its own contained short feature. Sadly, once the duo hits the road, there are long stretches in between the highlights where nothing much happens.

For some, just seeing Hackman and Pacino together during the height of their popularity will be reason enough to check it out. While both leads are pretty great, the situations they get into (like hanging out with a couple of loosey-goosey women) and the melodrama that unfolds (like the stuff with Pacino’s estranged wife) is frankly, weak. I’ll admit I enjoyed seeing them playing a pair of quirky down-and-out hobos. Who wouldn’t? I just wish they had a better film to inhabit.

The great Richard (Invasion USA) Lynch also appears in a brief, but memorable role as a scary prison rapist.

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Hyapatia Lee’s The Ribald Tales of Canterbury is my kind of porno flick. It’s from the golden age of the ‘80s; a time when things like plot, music, costumes, and humor were just as important as the sex. Not only did porn legend Hyapatia Lee star in the film, but she also adapted the screenplay from Geoffrey Chaucer’s most famous work. (I think lines like “Okay, Carpenter, let’s see how well you drive a peg!” weren’t in the original text.)

Hyapatia and her friends take a long journey on horseback together. During the ride, she suggests they tell each other stories to pass the time. Since this is a porno, all of the stories revolve around fucking.

The humor ranges from cheesy (like the sound of ringing bells during a money shot) to obvious (like when a hot babe simulates fellatio with a bread stick), but it’s funny more often than not. The period costumes are all well done (although the actors don’t spend much time in them) and the sets ape the medieval setting in an adequate manner. Although some of you won’t care about that stuff, I for one admire the care and thought that went into the production. Anybody can make a smut film nowadays. All you need is a camera, two bodies, and a bed. (Sometimes, you don’t even need the bed.) The Ribald Tales of Canterbury is proof that you can make a good porno and a good movie all at the same time.

The sex scenes are for the most part solid. Mike Horner and Debra Lee have a hot fuck session in the hay and Hyapatia has a good lesbian scene with Colleen Brennan. My favorite sequence though was when the miller’s wife and daughter take on two studs and engage in a four-way 69.

Some of the sex scenes suffer from excessive cross-cutting whenever two sets of couples are doing it simultaneously. The constant back and forth sometimes causes the sex scenes to lose momentum. That’s a minor quibble though. It's a great vehicle for Lee and whenever she is front and center (in and out of her clothes), the movie is a lot of fun.

AKA: Medieval Merriment.

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SWELTER (2014) *

A gang of thieves arrive in a desert town in the middle of a record heat wave looking for their partner who mysteriously disappeared with their loot. As it turns out, the town sheriff is actually the guy they’re looking for. Only he got amnesia after the robbery and doesn’t remember pulling the job. More complications arise, which leads to a final bloody showdown.

I watched this just because it had Jean-Claude Van Damme in it. As it turns out, it’s not really a Van Damme vehicle as he plays more of a supporting role as one of the thieves. He doesn’t give a bad performance or anything; it’s just that he is woefully underutilized.

Sadly, this is more of a riff on those Tarantino rip-offs you used to see a lot of in the ‘90s. There’s even a scene where the thieves plan on robbing a casino dressed up as members of The Rat Pack and there’s an argument because one guy doesn’t want to be Joey Bishop. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Reservoir Dogs where Steve Buscemi doesn’t want to be Mr. Pink.; except… you know… it sucks.

Other ways it apes Tarantino: Characters get into Mexican standoffs and have long conversations about coffee.

The robbery itself had potential. In the right hands it could’ve been another 3000 Miles to Graceland, but with The Rat Pack impersonators instead of Elvis impersonators. However, the actual robbery sequence is all-too brief and the overuse of slow motion is really annoying.

After that, the film gets talky and dull and goes absolutely nowhere fast. By the time the plot twists start occurring, it’s really hard to give a shit. The ending is especially boring and the whole thing just feels lifeless and inert.

Not even Van Damme’s strong performance could save this turkey. He does a good job when you consider the fact he was given almost next to nothing to work with. It also doesn’t help that his role is so small that his character never really makes an impact on the plot one way or another. The film suffers from an overall lack of action too. Sadly, this means Van Damme doesn’t do much in the way of fighting either, and when he finally does get into a scuffle, it’s anticlimactic as hell.

The only other character worth mentioning is the drunken town doctor played by Alfred Molina. It’s the sort of part that a guy like Molina could play in his sleep. Thankfully, Alfred was half-awake when the cameras were rolling. He and Van Damme are the only bright spots in this dud.

AKA: Duels.

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THE FLAMING TEENAGE (1956) **

The Flaming Teenage is a ‘50s scare film that just about covers all the bases. Not only does it condemn teen drinking, but also drugs and juvenile delinquency too. Too bad it’s just too uneven to work as a slice of dated parental propaganda.

An on screen narrator, who sits behind a desk and reads from his script, addresses the audience. He tells us the plight of a young man who gets caught drinking and thrown in jail. His father’s solution: Take him to a bar! Brilliant! Once there, he recounts to his father the events that led him to prison. As the father and son look around the bar, they can see how alcohol has ruined the lives of the patrons. It’s here where our teenage hero wises up and quits drinking.

This sequence is great. I especially loved the hilarious attempts by the filmmakers to make drinking look glamorous. The long lingering shots of snaggletooth women leering at the camera are guaranteed to crack you up.

Then, then the action switches over to a real-life account of Fred Garland. Fred is bored by his job at the candy store and starts drinking. He feels cramped by his small town life, so he sells his shop and goes to the big city for a life of show business. Fred quickly drinks his way out of a job and eventually tries to commit suicide. He then gets hooked on smack and goes to jail before turning his life over to Christ.

Whereas the first segment was full of unintended hilarity, the “Fred Garland” sequence isn’t nearly as much fun. Sadly, the opening bit about teenage drinking is a mere fifteen minutes long, while Fred’s story takes up almost an hour. It’s just a shame that Fred’s scenes dominate the movie because they just can’t live up to the awesome opening scene.

Co-director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (who did the Fred Garland sequence) went on to direct the immortal cult classic The Blob.

AKA: Twice Convicted.

HOOKED (1957) **

Hooked is a rather ho-hum slice of ‘50s anti-drug propaganda. It’s earnest and well-meaning, but it also happens to be quite dull. Although I did enjoy the docudrama style (it basically plays like a long episode of Dragnet), it’s never really entertaining on its intended surface level, nor does it work as a Reefer Madness-style camp classic.

An undercover cop is killed and a Joe Friday wannabe sends in another guy to find out what happened. He gets in good with a pretty girl who is close to a dealer and starts snooping around. When one of their clients dies of an overdose, he decides to set up a sting operation.

The big problem with Hooked is that it’s so matter-of-fact. Had there been some level of paranoia about the sweeping drug epidemic, it might have worked. Because the cops deal with the case as just an everyday occurrence, it never really seems particularly urgent.

Another problem is the constant narration. Yes, I’m sure it worked well on Dragnet, but a lot of the narration here is superfluous. There are times when the narration just tells us things that we can plainly see happening for ourselves. The only time the narration gets an unintended chuckle is when it has to explain to the audience the (painfully obvious) slang the teenagers are using.

Sure, the detective stuff may be boring, but the scenes with the teens are only marginally better. The only memorable part comes during the dance numbers. There’s a bug-eyed scat singer (who looks like Rodney Dangerfield) who does a pretty good number, as well as a song by a foxy female drummer. Had there been more of these entertaining interludes (not to mention more unintentional laughs), Hooked might have been an addictive time capsule.

AKA: Curfew Breakers. AKA: Narcotics Squad.

COFFEE TOWN (2013) *** ½

My wife and I have been watching season after season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia throughout most of the summer. All of the actors are terrific and hilarious on that show, but by far my favorite character is the narcissistic sociopath Dennis, played by Glenn Howerton. When my wife saw that he was in this low budget comedy, she put it on her Netflix queue. I’m happy she did because it shows a side of Howerton we usually don’t get to see. In fact, it’s kind of odd seeing him play a “normal” character as he basically plays the straight man to his oddball, politically incorrect friends.

Howerton stars as a computer tech who works from home. Since his roommate (Jake Johnson) just committed suicide in their apartment, he can’t bear to work in the apartment any more. Instead, he chooses to do his work out of the titular establishment, a Starbucks wannabe coffee shop on his laptop. He enjoys the atmosphere of the place, even if he has to deal with the asshole barista (Josh Groban) who hates him. Another plus, a hottie (Adrianne Palicki) always comes in after working out, so he gets a lot of opportunities to ogle her. When he receives word the shop is going to turn into a trendy bistro that frowns upon people hanging out and mooching off their wi-fi, he plots with his friends to rob the place so the deal won’t go through.

Howerton is really funny in this and he has a good chemistry with Palicki. I also never thought I’d ever say this, but Josh Groban is pretty hilarious. He does a great job at being a dick and he gets a lot of laughs throughout the film.

The flick is full of funny dialogue and decidedly Un-P.C. humor, which makes it perfect if you’re a fan of It’s Always Sunny. (The scene where Howerton and his friends try to stage a mentally challenged version of UFC fighting would be right at home on that show.) There are a few lulls in the hilarity and some sequences work better than others, but it hits often enough to be a totally worthwhile, if a bit slight comedy.

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I, ROBOT (2004) *

There’s “High Concept” and then there’s “No Concept”. As in, the fuckers that made this movie had “No Concept” on how to do justice to Isaac Asimov. Okay, look, I’ll be the first one to admit that I haven’t even read I, Robot (or any of his books for that matter), but I can be damned well sure that the stuff he wrote was like a hundred times better than this dumbed-down drivel.

The future plays like an In Living Color parody. Will Smith is a cop who wears a futuristic doo rag and pays top dollar for “vintage” Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers. (The merchandising department must not have been able to secure a deal with Air Jordan.) He also hates robots and is a robotist. (I made that term up.) He’s such a robotist that when he sees one running with a purse, he tackles it and tries to arrest it, even though he knows robots are incapable of committing a crime. (The robot was trying to get an elderly lady her inhaler.) Naturally, when a scientist (James Cromwell) dies, a robot (Alan Tudyk) is blamed. Of course, Smith does a little digging and uncovers a killer robot conspiracy.

This is a bad movie, through and through, but I have a feeling I might not have hated it so much if I saw it when it first came out. The reason for that is the awful CGI. I bet on opening day, the CGI looked great, but twelve years after the fact, it looks horrible as fuck. Man, SYFY Asylum films have better effects.

I hate to be That Guy, but practical effects from the ‘80s still hold up. This shit is just plain weak. It’s not as bad as The Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns, but it’s pathetic.

Will Smith is equally awful. At times he seems to be doing a Damon Wayans impersonation of Will Smith. I mean the part where he’s attacked by an army of robots and says “Aw, hell no!” is just cringe-inducing. I’ll admit, he was given a flimsy character and a shitty script to work with, but he’s completely on cruise control here.

The “social commentary” is also laughable. It’s heavy-handed and obvious at best and ludicrously inept at worst. What the hell was Alex (The Crow) Proyas thinking when he signed on to direct this?

Three years later, Smith starred in another adaptation of a classic that started with I, had terrible CGI, and was co-written by Akiva Goldsman. That flick was I Am Legend. While it wasn’t perfect (again, the terrible CGI), it at least captured the spirit of the source material and was a fairly kick-ass flick. I, Robot on the other hand, deserves to be thrown on the scrap heap.

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THE TELEGRAPH TRAIL (1933) **

John Wayne is best known by his nickname, “The Duke”, but did you know that in the early days of his career, he had a horse named “Duke”? Some people might think it’s a bit weird that he basically stole his nickname from his horse. If you think about it though, it’s kind of like when Indiana Jones named himself after his dog. Anyway, “Duke” (the horse, not John Wayne) is pretty funny in this one. Heck, he’s a lot more entertaining and has better comic timing than Wayne’s human comic relief sidekick, I know that much.

The film starts off with a list of the great frontier inventions: The covered wagon, the stagecoach, The Pony Express, and now, the telegraph. A bunch of Indians massacre some cowpokes who were trying to finish connecting the telegraph across the country. A cavalry soldier named John (Wayne) learns of his murdered friend and says, “Those red devils!” We eventually learn the Indians are being manipulated by an evil (white) guy whose reign of terror will be affected by the telegraph’s completion.

There’s an OK romantic subplot in which a woman throws herself at Wayne in order to spurn the villain’s advances. Of course, Wayne doesn’t want anything to do with her at first, but they inevitably wind up falling in love. There’s a funny part when Wayne’s sidekick sees her and he calls her a “piece of calico”, which I suppose is a Pre-Code euphemism for pussy. Okay, so it’s not exactly “funny”, but it is notable. Not too many oaters of the day had thinly-veiled allusions to female genitalia, so for that and that alone, The Telegraph Trail is worth bringing up in conversation.

Other than that, this is about as routine as they come. The plot is strictly one of those numbers where the villain’s hold on townsfolk is threatened by burgeoning frontier technology. It also doesn’t help that Wayne doesn’t have a lot a lot of chemistry with his leading lady, or anyone else for that matter; except for maybe his horse. There’s more comedy here than your typical B Wayne western, but there aren’t any real laughs to be had.

The action is hit-and-miss. A lot of the footage was economically recycled from a silent era western, and the seams are easy to spot. Even with the mercifully brief 53 minute running time, there’s a lot of padding. (There’s a musical number around a campfire.) Still, it’s not all bad. Wayne gives another reliable performance and his longtime crony Yakima Canutt does a fine job in the role of the manipulated Indian chief.

AKA: High Wolf.

TOMAHAWK (1951) **

Van (3:10 to Yuma) Heflin stars as famous frontiersman Jim Bridger. He is trying to negotiate peace between the Sioux Indians and the white man, although he knows full and well that the white man has no intent on keeping his promises. The arrival of a man named Dancy (Alex Nicol) on the scene adds to the intensity of the situation, not only because he hates Indians, but because he has a checkered past with Bridger. Things come to a boil when Dancy kills a chief’s favorite son in cold blood, and it’s up to Bridger to stop a war from breaking out.

Tomahawk starts in good faith. It begins with an earnest backstory about the Sioux Indians that paints a fairly sympathetic account of the Native American’s plight. All of that is quickly dropped though in favor of the feud between Nicol and Heflin. None of this is particularly gripping and he scenes of Heflin trying to romance Yvonne (The Munsters) de Carlo are kinda dull too. The direction by George (Comanche Territory) Sherman is pedestrian at best and the pacing is often sluggish.

The thing that keeps you watching is the eclectic cast. It’s cool seeing old pros like Van Heflin mixing it up with future exploitation stars like Susan (The Wasp Woman) Cabot (who plays his Native American wife) and Alex (The Screaming Skull) Nicol, not to mention an up-and-coming Hollywood legend in the form of Rock Hudson. None of them do anything particularly memorable mind you, but if you ever wanted to see Lily Munster in the Wild West, then this one might be for you.

AKA: Battle of Powder River.

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KANSAS RAIDERS (1950) **

Jesse James (Audie Murphy), his brother Frank (Richard Long), The Younger Brothers (James Best and Dewey Martin), and Kit Dalton (Tony Curtis) go down south to join up with Colonel William Quantrill (Brian Donlevy) and his army of raiders during The Civil War. They already have a way with robbing a bank, so they figure they can make a killing by looting and pillaging with Quantrill and his men. It doesn’t take long for Jesse and his gang to become sickened by the way Quantrill slaughters innocent men and women to get what he wants. Jesse wants to back out, but when Quantrill is wounded in battle, he feels an obligation to help him.

Kansas Raiders is buoyed by a great cast (it’s fun seeing a young Tony Curtis trying to sound like a cowboy with his thick New York accent). The solid direction by Ray (The Spoilers) Enright is another plus, as he more or less delivers on the action (the “handkerchief fight” between Murphy and one of Donlevy’s men is the highlight). However, the film suffers from some muddy morality that hamstrings the entire picture.

For starters, it’s hard to buy Jesse James as the hero, especially when we willingly signs up to rob banks. Yes, he draws the line at murdering civilians, but his hands aren’t completely clean. Now, if this was made twenty years later, there would've been more room to explore the film’s murky concepts of right and wrong. Since it's a ‘50s B oater through and through, Jesse’s wrongdoings are almost embarrassingly glossed over. Plus, the eventual bond that grows between Jesse and Quantrill is a bit hard to swallow, particularly since Quantrill’s portrayed as such a tyrant throughout most of the running time. The finale is also way too convenient to really work as things get wrapped up way too neatly in the end.

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TEXAS, ADIOS (1966) **

Franco Nero takes a leave of absence from being the town sheriff to find the man who killed his father. Along the way, his greenhorn brother tags along, and eventually proves his worth out on the trail. Once the brothers finally find the guy responsible for their father’s death, he reveals a secret that could wind up tearing the brothers apart.

Texas, Adios is an unremarkable and forgettable Spaghetti Western. The pacing is sluggish and the direction is lackadaisical. It’s definitely no Django, I’ll tell you that. Indiscriminate fans of the genre (not to mention Franco Nero) may find something to enjoy here, but honestly, there’s not a whole lot to it. The only distinction it has is the not-bad twist at the end, and even then, it comes off as being a day late and a dollar short. It also doesn’t help that Nero looks pretty bored and is lacking that steely edge he brought to Django.

The only real standout scene (for me anyway) was Nero’s barroom brawl. There’s a nifty moment where he fires his gun from behind he back to shoot a bad guy that was pretty badass. I also dug the bit where he steps out of the way of a flying knife (which winds up going into the stomach of another mean bandito). Other than that little bit of business, the action isn’t really up to snuff.

AKA: The Avenger. AKA: Adios, Texas. AKA: Goodbye Texas. AKA: Django 2.

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You all know me. You all know I am a sucker for these cheesy horror trailer compilations. This one isn’t a particularly standout release, but since I hadn’t seen many of the trailers before, not to mention the fact that a few of them made me laugh out loud, I have to say that it’s highly enjoyable.

The first half of the running time focuses on black and white horror movies from the ‘50s and ‘60s, with a heavy concentration on science fiction. Many of the trailers are better than the actual movie (take for example Beast with a Million Eyes). My favorite trailer had to be for Unknown Terror in which the announcer tells us: “Strangely enough, this amazing adventure began with a calypso song!“ Unfortunately, we have to listen to a crappy calypso band drone on and on for some time after.

The second half is devoted to color horror films of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Many Hammer horror flicks are featured, most of which feature Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee. Some other highlights include SSSSSSS (“Don’t say it, hiss it!”), Beauty and the Beast (a weird version that plays more like The Wolf Man than the classic fairy tale) and Alfred Hitchcock’s tongue-in-cheek introduction to The Birds. (There’s also a trailer for Psycho, but it’s for the film’s re-release and not the famous one starring Hitchcock.)

The collection is rounded out by a bunch of trailers for ‘80s vampire movies like The Lost Boys, Fright Night, and Vampire’s Kiss. This ends the compilation on a strong note and makes you wish that more recent trailers (or at least ones from the ‘80s) had been included. I wish there was more R-rated material too because the bulk of the trailers are rather tame. Still, it’s hard to complain when the great trailer for Chamber of Horrors (featuring a comic relief actor who claims to be president of “The Society for the Protection of the Easily Scared” who explains the “Horror Horn” and “Fear Flasher” gimmicks), is included.

MOONSHINE LOVE (1969) **

A thief gets knocked on the head after pulling a job and loses his memory. He winds up in the care of an oversexed moonshiner’s daughter who wastes no time getting him in the sack. Eventually, his former crew come looking for the money and he of course has no idea where the dough is stashed, which leads to a big brouhaha.

Moonshine Love features several scenes of women getting in and out of their skimpy costumes, but it never once feels sexy, steamy, or dirty. There is one sequence in which our heroine makes love to a vegetable that is worth mentioning. And by “vegetable” I don’t mean she makes love to an invalid person. I mean she masturbates with a carrot. I’m sure you raised your eyebrow while reading that last sentence. Trust me, the scene itself isn’t sexy at all and goes on forever.

Speaking of which, Moonshine Love is only an hour long, but it feels a lot longer. The dialogue scenes go on at a seemingly endless clip. However, if you keep an eye on your DVD player’s digital readout, you’ll be dismayed to learn that only precious and few minutes have actually passed. Still, I have to commend the filmmakers for cramming in as much rampant nudity (not to mention the sex-with-produce scene) in a 60 minute running time. Because of that, the film skates by with a Two Star rating just in terms of the sheer amount of skin alone.

AKA: The Sod Sisters. AKA: Head for the Hills.

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JENNIE: WIFE/CHILD (1968) **

A hot and horny child bride is all grown up and lusting over a shy farmhand. She’s pissed at her husband for not buying her fancy dresses and yells, “The only thing you covered my body with was yours!” Of course, she runs off with the farmhand, but you know, he just might have a thing for the town floozy.

There are some highlights here to be sure, although I admit they are few and far between. It isn't corny enough to be enjoyable as a campy melodrama nor is it well-acted enough to work on its intended level. There just aren’t any sparks between the members of the central love triangle, and because of that, the drama is often tepid. It also doesn’t help that there are several lulls throughout the running time. We do get a glimpse or two of some brief nudity, but not nearly enough for the film to skirt by on titillation alone.

The music is the best thing about Jennie: Wife/Child. Davie Allen and the Arrows do the awesome theme song, but the best song comes during the amazing sequence where Jennie strips down to nothing and frolics in a pond while "Birthday Suit" plays. This song is terrific and will have you tapping your toes. (There was a soundtrack album available!) Throw in some nice cinematography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond and you have yourself one heck of an odd and uneven sexploitation flick.

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RETRO PUPPETMASTER (1999) * ½

Toulon (Guy Rolfe) flashes back to his days as a young Puppet Master during the turn of the century. While he’s off making wooden puppets, some Egyptian sorcerer is looking for an old wizard. He sends some mummies after him and the mummies have to turn into a bunch of sunglasses-wearing assholes in order to blend in. The wizard dude seeks refuge with Toulon and imparts to him the magic necessary to turn his puppets into living creatures and fight the mummies.

Retro Puppetmaster was the seventh entry in the long-running series and it’s pretty much all over the place. The opening minutes packs in enough flashbacks, wizard battles, and mummies that it’ll make your head spin. Things settle down quickly though and the flick becomes dull pretty fast.

I kinda dug the “Retro” design of the puppets. They’re similar to the ones in the other movies, but they look just different enough to keep them feeling fresh. I especially thought the Cyclops was pretty cool.

You can’t argue with the 70 minute running time, but even then, it feels like there’s a lot of padding. (The slow motion fight scenes help to tack on an extra minute or two.) Speaking of slow, the whole thing is slow moving and there’s not a heck of a lot of action or puppet mashing to be found. (They don’t come to life and start killing people until the third act.)

The acting is pretty bland too. The actors look ill-at-ease while wearing their costumes and speaking in forced accents. Because of that, their dialogue scenes feel like a bunch of cut-rate Masterpiece Theater-type shit.

Despite all of this, Retro Puppetmaster isn’t really all that terrible, especially when you put it into context with the rest of the series. I’ve sat through about 70% of what the franchise has to offer, and I have to admit this one falls in at about the middle of the pack. I’m not saying it’s “good”. Not by a long shot. What I’m saying is there are a lot worse Puppet Master sequels out there that you can waste your time on.

AKA: Puppet Master 7.

HYBRID (1998) **

Hybrid is a hybrid of a post-apocalyptic action flick, monster movie and Skinamax film. I had high hopes for it since it was directed by Video Vacuum favorite Fred Olen Ray and co-executive produced by the one and only Jim Wynorski. Sadly, it just doesn’t make the cut.

J.J. (Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold) North, Brinke Stevens, and some other guys are making their way across the wasteland, scavenging for supplies, and seeking shelter. They wind up spending the night in a military installation and wouldn’t you just know it? The place was recently home to an experiment where some scientists got together and morphed a snake, cockroach, and a man together to make a hungry killing machine. Before long, the monster is running around and making lunchmeat out of our cast.

And what a cast we have. J.J. North once again delivers a great performance and so does Brinke Stevens. The film also features Ray regulars Tim Abell, Peter Spellos, and Robert Quarry. Enough about them though. J.J. and Brinke are the real winners of the cast, and I’m not just saying that because they take a steamy lesbian shower together.

Okay, maybe I am.

Basically what we have here is a remake of Creepazoids, Fred Olen Ray style. We can definitely tell it’s his baby because of the recycled footage, stock players, and the unmistakable way he films the sex scenes. It’s a hodgepodge that never quite works, although it’s certainly watchable enough. Heck, the shower scene alone is worth the price of admission. I mean North (who I believe to be one of the most unsung Scream Queens of the ‘90s) only made a handful of these things, so you’ve got to take them when you can get them.

AKA: Hybrid: The Outer Limits of Horror.

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016) ***

Kubo is a small boy who is on a quest to find his father’s suit of armor. He is pursued by his sinister aunts and evil grandfather, who have murdered his parents and plucked out one of his eyes. Kubo is a hard kid to keep down though. Protected by a talking monkey and a beetle samurai, Kubo begins to perfect his living origami technique (which he uses his guitar to activate). When the monkey and samurai prove to be no match for Kubo’s wicked family, the young lad then summons up his courage to face his grandfather for the final showdown.

Kubo and the Two Strings, if you can’t already tell, is a dark and sometimes confusing kid’s movie. While some of the mystical mumbo jumbo and perplexing mythology doesn’t make a lot of sense, I just sort of rolled with it and wound up enjoying it immensely. A lot of that had to do with marriage of the impressive voice cast (that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and George Takei) and the intricate stop-motion animation. The actors all infuse their characters with a lot of humanity while the animators bring them to life in a rather unique fashion.

The coolest animation feat is the giant skeleton. It is a jaw-dropping creation. Be sure to stay after the credits for a brief behind the scenes peek that shows the effort it took to bring that thing to life. There are also a bunch of underwater eye monsters that are rather nifty too. Only the final monster fails to impress. It just looks like one of those alien ships from The Avengers.

Despite its patchiness, Kubo and the Two Strings is a worthwhile kid’s flick. From a technical standpoint alone, it’s pretty cool. I’m sure somewhere Ray Harryhausen is smiling.

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MOTHRA (1962) ***

Mothra is a cool monster because it goes through a metamorphosis throughout the picture. It starts off as an egg, then it hatches and a giant worm hops out. This thing goes swimming around the ocean, knocking over boats until it reaches Tokyo. There, it wreaks more havoc until it turns itself into a cocoon. Then, an enormous fuzzy moth monster emerges and when it flies, the force from its wings causes cars to fly through the air and buildings to topple. Mothra also has two tiny twin princesses he protects. These girls are as cute as a button too, even if they do have a tendency to sing some annoying songs that are guaranteed to make your eardrums split.

The movie surrounding the monster itself isn’t quite as cool, sadly. It’s awfully talky, especially in the early going. The human villain is bland as all get-out. His main crime is stomping all over an ancient civilization and exploiting the princesses for his own financial gain. (He puts them in their own Vegas-style stage show.) Did his actions really necessitate the city of Tokyo getting smashed up, causing untold millions in property damage, not to mention loss of innocent lives? You see what I’m getting at here is that this is one of those thought-provoking types of monster flicks. They just don’t make them like they used to, folks.

Besides, let’s get real here. We don’t judge a monster movie on its human characters. We judge it on its monster mashing. The monster mashing scenes in Mothra, while they are rather similar to the ones found in Rodan, are really entertaining. I’ll admit, they sort of run out of stuff for Mothra to do by the end of the film, but that doesn’t necessarily hurt it. I mean the only way they could’ve improved on the formula is by having him (or her, it’s hard to tell) fight another giant monster. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long until we got Godzilla vs. Mothra, which was even more entertaining.

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