January 31st, 2008

MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968) ** ½

You’ve probably seen zombie movies by George Romero, but if you think you’ve seen it all, you should check out this zombie flick by the OTHER Romero, Eddie.  He and his producing partner/leading man; former child star John Ashley made a bundle in the 60’s and 70’s making cheap horror movies in the Philippines.  This was a sequel to the duo’s hit Brides of Blood, and while it’s no classic, it’s a lot better than that film and is quite a lot of fun. 

 

Right before the movie begins, there’s a great gimmick where the audience has to take “The Oath of the Green Blood” (lucky theater patrons were actually handed vials of green blood they had to drink before the movie began), then almost immediately, we see a slimy green zombie chasing a naked woman through the jungle.  So far so great. 

 

A group people, including Ashley, his wife (Angelique Pettyjohn) and a James Dean wannabe go to “Blood Island” where a sunglasses wearing scientist with a limp named Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy) resides.  Gee, do you think HE could be the one responsible for the hulking green faced killer running around? 

 

In between the great scenes of the snot faced creature killing naked women there is a LOT of plot.  There’s Angelique trying to save her boozy father from the grips of alcohol, the James Dean jackass trying to whisk his widowed mother off the island and there’s a whole crazy native subplot that goes nowhere fast.  The Rebel Without a Clue dude also spends a lot of time investigating the strange death of his father.  Gee, do you think HE could be the Paper Mache faced zombie?

 

When Ashley fools around on his ham radio, the creature gets a headache THIS BIG and trashes hotel rooms like a rock star and kills even more necking natives.  In the end, Ashley burns the doctor’s lab to the ground and he and his monster burn together.

 

Whenever the mossy faced monster is on a rampage, Mad Doctor of Blood Island is damn good times, but the portions of the movie that involves people actually talking to each other seems like an over long Pilipino episode of General Hospital.  

 

Romero gets a Pavlovian response out of his audience every time the monster shows up, because whenever it is about to attack, the camera gets real shaky and zoomy.  The shaky cam stuff is kinda cool at first, but Romero goes a little overboard with it sometimes and it’s enough to make you dizzy. 

 

The green faced zombie himself is pretty cool looking and resembles the love child of Jason Voorhees and Swamp Thing.  For a movie called Mad Doctor of Blood Island, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of blood to be found, but as in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, there is plenty of gore.  Only in this flick it’s in full color.  We see guts being ripped out, arms, legs and hands torn from their sockets, heads are dislodged from their neck stumps, and we see lots of small and large intestines go splat of the floor. 

 

The plot is pretty predictable (anyone with half a brain could tell you ten minutes into the movie the identity of the zombie), but the film features at least one novel plot twist as the zombie is actually controlled by his jilted ex lover instead of the mad doctor. 

 

Ashley does what he can with his limited charisma, and Remy looks like a beatnik version of Dr. Strangelove.  Unfortunately the densely chested Pettyjohn disappears for a good chunk of the movie, which is a shame because she’s easily the best actress in the whole film.  And I’m not just saying that because she bares her mountainous mammary glands.  (Okay, that’s not entirely true.) 

 

AKA:  Blood Doctor.  AKA:  Grave Desires.  AKA:  Tomb of the Living Dead. 

BLUE SUNSHINE (1976) **

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the 60’s ended when they did.  The times were marked by rampant drug use, corrupt government officials, and the United States was embroiled in a lengthy, seemingly unwinnable war in a foreign country for fairly dubious reasons. 

 

Actually the more I think about it; the 60’s were just like today, except the music was better. 

 

The hippie movement turned out to be a bust and the fact that they were constantly stoned out of their gourd probably didn’t help their cause either.  One of the hippie mainstays of the 60’s was the acid counterculture, and no film better showed the distain felt by the 70’s generation toward the acidheads of the previous decade than Blue Sunshine. 

 

The plot has a bunch of former hippies who have a delayed psychotic reaction to some acid (called “Blue Sunshine”) they took ten years earlier.  The first symptom is massive migraines and then they start losing their hair in mass quantities.  After a while, they go completely bat shit insane and turn into bald headed Looney Tunes who kill people with extreme prejudice.  Zippy, an average Joe, witnesses one of his friends go acid crazy and murder a couple of people by stuffing them face first into a fireplace.  Predictably, the cops think Zippy is the killer and he goes on the run to clear his name by bagging an acid maniac Big Game style with a tranquilizer gun to prove his innocence. 

 

The parallels to the Manson case are fairly obvious (bald headed acid freaks go nutzoid), but the film is more of a paranoid thriller (there were a lot of them in the 70’s) than an out and out horror flick.  Too bad director Jeff Leiberman (the man who directed everybody’s favorite killer worm movie, Squirm) fails to make any of this even remotely suspenseful.  While there are one or two memorable images (like a bald headed babysitter trying to stab some tykes or when a deranged baldie goes on a rampage in a disco and starts bodyslamming people left and right), the film is too muddled and turgidly paced to be truly worthwhile. 

 

The biggest irritation factor comes from Zippy, who is not the brightest of heroes.  He spends most of the movie trying to convince everyone that he’s not the killer, but he’s so stupid that he often will leave the scene of a murder screaming at the top of his lungs while covered in blood and holding a knife.  Not the best way to prove your innocence. 

 

Zippy was played by Zalman King and if you’ve ever watched Showtime late at night, you’ll instantly recognize his name.  He’s the jackass that made millions off of Red Shoe Diaries and produced the softcore classic 9 ½ Weeks.  He’s not much of an actor and it’s easy to see why he’d rather be behind the camera urging women to take their clothes off than being on screen himself. 

 

Ultimately, Blue Sunshine suffers from the poor execution of a more or less decent premise.  The film does have a great title sequence where the potential psychopaths slowly start to feel the aftereffects of the acid kicking in, but it all builds to a quite abrupt, anti-climatic and virtually non-existent ending. 

 

I guess maybe if I took a bunch of acid before I saw the movie, I’d be willing to give it ****, but since I ain’t no dirty hippie, it’s strictly ** material.   

MONSTER (1979) *

 

If you watch this stupefyingly bad horror movie expecting to see Charlize Theron as an ugly lesbian murderer, you’re going to be very disappointed. 

 

It makes The Crater Lake Monster look like Jaws. 

 

This Monster is all about a giant sea monster comes out of a lake and murders a dude in a hammock down in Mexico.  Because a big name chemical company’s industrial waste is the cause for the monster being so huge-ified, they send some pencil pusher south of the border to protect the company’s interests.  Of course there’s the requisite female news reporter that has an IQ of about 11, who’s always sticking a camera in somebody’s face and asking them about the pollution levels in the lake.  

 

Meanwhile, the monster carves up his next victim; a skinny dipper.  Then, there’s a TON of unnecessary “plot” developments involving some local rebel trying to blow up the chemical plant.  Thankfully, the annoying dimwit ends up blowing himself up with it.  In the end, our hero swims out to the middle of the lake, tosses a bomb into the creature’s mouth and it blows up. 

 

If you think the movie’s title is unoriginal, wait until you actually see it.  We’re talking Clichéville here.  The characters are all your basic run of the mill monster fodder.  We have the vapid teenagers, the rugged hero, two drunken fishermen, and the foul mouthed CEO of the chemical company who says things like, “You don’t believe in that monster crap, do you?”

 

Actually there are way too many characters here that get in the way of the monster’s rampage.  The most gratuitous character is the wife of the guy in the hammock.  All the superstitious villagers think she’s some kind of witch and try to burn her at the stake.  Excuse me, but what the heck does this have to do with the monster eating people? 

 

The hammock death is about the only good thing the movie has going for it (we never get to see the skinny dipper’s assets), so the filmmakers wisely show it TWICE.  It’s a shame that all the gratuitous subplots leave so little room for the monster to do his thing, because the monster itself isn’t half bad, even if it is just a dime store version of the Loch Ness Monster.  The stalking POV shots of the monster, where you get to see it’s webby claws slashing people, are more effect than the money shots of the monster itself.  After sitting through all those bland actors endlessly jibber-jabbering about God knows what, seeing ANYTHING resembling a monster is something of a relief.  There’s also a superfluous set-up for a sequel that thankfully, never happened. 

 

All in all, Monster is strictly standard stuff:  Ecological Mutated Monster Runs Amok.  You’ve seen it all before; it’s just never been this boring.   Oh yeah, and just after the opening credits, we’re informed that this was based on a true story. 

 

Right.

 

The flick stars Jim (Robert’s son) Mitchum and Anthony (Dracula vs. Frankenstein) Eisley.  John Carradine also earns a paycheck as an ineffective priest.

 

Suggested drinking game:  Take a shot every time someone says the word “monster”.

 

AKA:  It Came From the Lake.  AKA:  Monster, the Terror That Became a Legend.  AKA:  Monstroid.  AKA:  The Toxic Horror.  AKA:  Toxic Monster. 

BRIDES OF BLOOD (1968) **

 

Scientist Kent Taylor takes his slut wife (Beverly Hills; obviously her Christian name) to Blood Island to do some atomic research, while his apprentice John Ashley is off doing some Peace Corps hippie hand-out stuff.  Taylor’s wife is such a whore that she doesn’t even get off the boat before seducing a sailor.  (You could make a case that he raped her, but she looked like she was enjoying it from where I was sitting.)  Once on the island, Taylor learns that the radiation there is so high that it turns ordinary plants into bloodthirsty carnivores and causes butterflies (!) to grow to immense proportions. 

 

They meet a doctor who looks like a cross between Ricky Ricardo and Ricardo Montalban who lets them crash at his mansion (complete with midget servants).  He informs them that there’s a heavy breathing monster that looks like a melted gingerbread man (a product of massive radiation) who’s running around on the island, but they stay anyway.  The natives (who wear flannel pajamas) worship the monster like a god and leave out topless virgins as a sacrifice to him.  When John finds out his girlfriend is the next to be sacrificed, he scares the monster off with a flare gun and rescues her. 

 

Then there’s the big “surprise” reveal of the monster’s true identity, but anyone with half a brain will instantly realize that it’s the dude who dresses like Mr. Rourke on Fantasy Island.  In the end, the monster gets burned to a crisp in a grass hut while trying to chow down on Johnny Boy’s gal. 

 

The biggest problem with this movie is that there is way too little plot crammed into 96 minutes (which feels more like 96 hours).  The film is filled with long scenes where nothing much happens (like when the slut wanders slowly down a dark hallway and DOESN’T get jumped by the murky looking monster) and the film is mercilessly padded with idiotic bickering between Kent and Hills.  Had there been more of the goofy looking monster sacrificing virgins and less of the villainous vines, we may have had a winner here.   

 

The special effects of the man eating plants are supremely stupid looking (although I did like the scene where we see it devouring severed arms, legs and even a head) and the monster is appalling (it looks like a booger colored shit monster with glowing red eyes), but there is one Grade Z transformation scene in which the Ricky Ricardo dude slowly gets a lot of Play-Doh put all over his face that almost makes this mess worth it.  There’s also a priceless fight scene where Ashley puts the pelvic crush on a guy by putting him in a figure four leg lock.  That’s hilarious.    

 

Despite the lack of any redeeming quality, the success of this flick led to three sequels (two official, one not so much), the first one being Mad Doctor of Blood Island, which upped the gore and breast quotient considerably.   

 

Ashley gets the movie’s best line when he says, “This beast continues to wallow in an orgy of human blood!”

 

AKA:  The Brides of Blood Island.  AKA:  Brides of Death.  AKA:  Brides of the Beast.  AKA:  Grave Desires.  AKA:  Island of the Living Horror.  AKA:  Orgy of Blood.  AKA:  Terror on Blood Island. 

DICK TRACY (1945) ***

 

After four popular serials, Chester Gould’s famous funny strip detective starred in his first feature length film.  It’s a lot better than that Warren Beatty crap. 

 

Morgan Conway stars as Dick Tracy, a hardnosed detective who is trying to find the hideously scarred extortionist known as “Splitface” (Mike Mazurki) who is on a rampage of revenge, killing the twelve jurors who put him away for murder.  Along the way, Tracy has a run-in with an astronomer/fortune teller/hypnotist who uses a crystal ball and holds eerie séances and meets a creepy mortician who ends up with a scalpel in his back.  In the end, Tracy and Splitface go toe to toe for an extended fight scene and he brings the no-good criminal to justice.

 

Conway looks nothing like the cartoon strip incarnation of the character, but does have a stern no-nonsense attitude that’s appropriately fitting.  Splitface is far removed from the cartoony villains of the strip (I guess if they wanted someone who looked like the characters in the strip they would’ve hired Rondo Hatton and saved money on make-up) and Mazurki imbues him with a realistic sense of menace.

 

The film clocks in at just over an hour, and any fan of the character, or B Movie Detectives in general will enjoy it wholeheartedly.  There are some terrific bare knuckle fight scenes (the final brawl between Tracy and Splitface is especially rousing) and one particularly great stunt where someone gets thrown through a skylight. 

 

All the characters that you loved from the comic strip are here like Tracy’s long suffering girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Anne Jeffreys), his bumbling partner Pat Patton (Lyle Latel) and the scrappy Junior (Mickey Kuhn).  The supporting cast really holds the movie together and I liked the way that Tracy was always standing Tess up for dinner because he was too busy fighting crime. 

 

Conway returned the next year in Dick Tracy vs. Cueball. 

 

AKA:  Dick Tracy, Detective.  AKA:  Splitface. 

THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (1938) ** ½

 

Leslie Charteris’ famous detective, The Saint made his feature film debut in this uneven but fun thriller.  Louis Hayward stars as Simon Templar, The Saint who is hired by the police commissioner of New York to turn vigilante and rub out six gangsters who are above the law.  After each murder, The Saint leaves his calling card with his insignia. 

 

Basically this was the Death Wish 3 of it’s day.

 

In the film’s best scene, The Saint dresses up like a nun (!) to get close enough to a gangster to snuff him.  He also rescues a little girl from the clutches of another bad guy and does an incredible stunt where he swings like a gymnast from a gutter and leaps onto a roof. 

 

This initial entry of the Saint series (which was originally intended to be Alfred Hitchcock’s American debut) works mainly because of it’s potent premise.  There’s always something intriguing about a smooth talking vigilante working outside the law to exact justice.  It’s still an effective idea today, and must have really wowed audiences back then.  While the flick has more than it’s share of lulls and suffers from a sluggish pace (especially when Templar tries to romance a gangster’s moll), it really cooks whenever The Saint is using his wits to mow down no good criminals. 

 

Hayward was replaced by George Sanders for the film’s second film, The Saint Strikes Back, but returned to the role fifteen years later in The Saint’s Girl Friday.  He may not be as cool as Sanders was in the role, but he carries the film nicely and has an easy on screen charisma that suits the character. 

 

Even though The Saint never really took off on the big screen (for further proof, check out the lame big budget American version starring Val Kilmer), he was later immortalized by Roger Moore, the definitive Saint, on television in the 60’s.      

THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1939) **

 

George Sanders takes over the reigns from Louis Hayward for the second installment of The Saint series. 

 

After a man is gunned down at a New Year’s Eve party, The Saint goes to San Francisco to investigate.  He helps a woman clear her disgraced father’s name and tries to track down the identity of a mysterious kingpin.    

 

Although Sanders lacks the rugged edge Hayward had, he brings a higher level of sophistication to the character and the role fits him like a glove.  Despite his winning performance, the movie itself is pretty bland.  It has it’s moments (like when The Saint gives a bodyguard a black eye), but they’re all indebted to Sanders’ charisma rather than the ingenuity of the script. 

 

Jonathan Hale reprises his role from the first film as Detective Fernac and gets the movie’s best scene where he has a hallucination of giant shellfish swinging from a trapeze.  Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon from the Batman series) also has a small role as a weasely lawyer. 

 

Sanders returned for the next film in the series, The Saint in London.  He later went on to play The Falcon, which was more or less a Saint knockoff. 

THE SAINT IN LONDON (1939) * ½

 

George Sanders returns as Leslie Charteris’ famous do-gooder Simon Templar, AKA:  The Saint, in this third entry of the franchise for RKO Studios.  This time out, The Saint is tracking down a group of slippery counterfeiters in London with the unwanted help of a reformed pickpocket (David Burns) and a wide eyed danger craving debutante played by Sally Gray. 

 

Like the previous entry, The Saint Strikes Back, the plot is more or less on autopilot, and it’s only worth watching unless you’re a diehard fan of the series.  Sanders’ detached debonairness helps things considerably, but it would take one more flick for the studio to finally give him a GOOD movie to star in (The Saint’s Double Trouble). 

 

The downfall of the movie is that The Saint is saddled with one too many second bananas.  Burns is rather annoying as his hapless valet and Gray’s character is a bit grating at times (The Saint was always cooler when he worked alone), but I guess they had to shoehorn a romantic angle in somehow.  At least you’ll get some enjoyment out of the scene where Sanders accidentally socks Sally on the jaw.  That’ll teach her for slowing the plot down.  This entry is rather light on action and moves along at a snail’s pace, but for a low budget B movie programmer, you could do a lot worse.    

CHASE STEP BY STEP (1974) *** ½

 

Chase Step By Step sounds like it’s going to be a Lifetime Channel Original Movie where Rob Lowe or some other turkey plays a douche bag named Chase who goes through a twelve step program.  Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth. 

 

Basically what we got here is a pair of circus performers getting hired to protect a shipment of gold in ancient China.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, if you’re trying to find someone to protect your gold, you’d hire them out of Soldier of Fortune and not Barnum and Bailey, but these carnies know how to throw down and have some serious acrobatic kung fu skills. 

 

They’re told by their employers to kung fu the crap out of anybody that tries to mess with the gold.  Luckily for the audience, EVERYBODY in China is after the gold, which means we are guaranteed a kung fu scene every five to ten minutes where the kung fu carnies karate chop the bejabbers out of people in black pajamas. 

 

I mean these guys throw people THROUGH grass huts, nail one chap to a door with a machete and bury the hatchet… into some dude’s chest.  But the standout sequence is when the hero kung fus several people while walking on STILTS!  Their circus training also comes in handy when they have to swing from tree branches like gymnasts or walk across vines like tightrope walkers.  There’s also an excellent scene where the trapeze artist dude jumps off a three story building and lands on a bad guy’s sternum as well as a great bit near the end where the carnie chick throws a knife into a guy using her pony tail! 

 

But that’s not all.  We have some extreme pole vaulting, a tough talking Korean in a see-thru cowboy hat who wears tiger claws, a main villain who looks like John Belushi when he played Samurai Accountant, as well as a dog act that gives new meaning to the term “flea circus.”  There’s also the requisite terrible dubbing and even worse dialogue (“Those two!  They’re tough!”) you’ve come to expect from your average 70’s kung fu movie.    

 

My only complaint:  What’s with the awful title?  Why didn’t they just call it Circus Fu or Big Top Karate Chops or Carnie Gold or Ringling Brothers and the Temple of Doom?  Anything but... Chase Step By Step?  I just don’t get it.  I think it’s one of those cases where somebody serious screwed up on the English translation.  No matter.  This movie offers some of the finest kung fu circus performer action you’re likely to see in this or any lifetime.