February 12th, 2008

DON’T OPEN THE DOOR (1979) * ½

S.F. Brownrigg, the man who gave us all Don’t Look in the Basement tells us not to do something again, and like the fools we are, we go ahead and do it anyway. 

 

There’s a great opening title sequence that features some of the creepiest looking doll babies you’re liable to see, then the plot begins.  A little girl with pigtails sees her mother stabbed to death and it kind of leaves an impression on her if you catch my drift.  The little girl grows up to be Susan Bracken and 13 years later, she returns home to care for her sickly grandmother.  Pretty soon, she starts getting a lot of threatening phone calls by a guy who sounds like Vic Morrow AFTER the helicopter accident.  It turns out the killer is a nutjob who watched Psycho too many times and likes to dress up in women’s clothes before he wallops people on the noggin with a hammer. 

 

Let’s talk ugly for a second, namely the transvestite killer in this movie.  You know how some trannies can actually pass for women?  This one couldn’t even pass for HUMAN!   

 

The color scheme for this flick is kinda cool (looks like a kaleidoscope on LSD) as the movie often resembles an Italian giallo directed by Timothy Leary.  There are also some great extreme zoom close-ups of the victims that are repeated over and over again.  Bracken is quite decent in the heroine role and it’s a shame she didn’t make more horror movies.  (She only has one other film, a made for television movie to her credit.) 

 

Despite having these few distinguishing merits, the flick is more or less a perfect cure for insomnia.  Like Brownrigg’s Don’t Look in the Basement, this flick is a sluggishly paced and light on surprises and blood.  There’s way too much of the movie that is all build-up and no payoff.  Consider the numerous scenes of the killer’s POV camera angle stalking Bracken while she sleeps.  Does he do anything?  No, he just hovers over her and does one of those heavy breathing numbers while she snores. 

 

Then there are the 7 zillion scenes where Bracken runs up her phone bill by talking to the raspy voiced killer.  There are so many scenes of her talking on the phone in this movie that you’d swear that it was partially funded by AT&T.  There’s also way too much time spend on the obvious red herrings (crooked doctor, crooked judge, crooked ex, etc.), all of whom want to get their grubby hands on gramma’s money.  The “arty” ending where Bracken herself becomes a killer doesn’t do it any favors either.  My advice, Don’t Watch the Movie!   

 

Best dialogue exchange:  “What’s wrong with her?”  “She’s very old!” 

 

LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973) **

Elke Sommer stars as a tourist named Lisa who visits Spain and gets separated from her group.  While trying to find her tour bus, she runs into a charming butler played by Telly Savalas, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a mural of the devil she saw while sightseeing.  He offers her and a group of strangers shelter in his master’s mansion where they posture and preen for an hour or so.  Predictably, the man of the house goes crazy and the bodies start piling up.  Since he likes Lisa, he drugs her and bones her next to the corpse of his first wife.  (If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.)  In the end we learn that Savalas is indeed the devil and turns all the dead bodies into mannequins

 

The film’s best sequences are it’s earliest where Elke wanders around the surreal back alleys of Spain.  The maestro Mario (Black Sunday) Bava lushly photographs these scenes and bathes them in bright poppy colors, which gives the film a trippy atmosphere.  Unfortunately things get severely bogged down once she reaches the castle and the film starts to quickly work on the audience’s patience. 

 

In Bava’s oeuvre, Lisa and the Devil is a minor work, but just because it doesn’t stack up well against his other classics, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth a look-see.  There’s a great bit where a woman goes nuts and runs her husband over SEVERAL times with a car and a flashy scene where blood literally covers the camera lens.   

 

To ensure American audiences would sit through this lyrical and often beautiful looking film, the producers forced Bava to add a bunch of superfluous exorcism scenes featuring Robert Alda (Alan’s dad) as a priest to cash in on the success of The Exorcist and re-titled the film.  The results were:  

 

THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM  (1976)  ** 

 

As much as these scenes go against the grain of Bava’s original intentions, they provide a lot more cheap thrills than in the film’s original incarnation.  I can’t say that I really blame the producers for adding them because Lisa and the Devil was way too pretentious to be truly involving and too arty to be scary.  At least the green vomit, constant swearing (“I am the asshole of the world!”), and gratuitous nudity of The House of Exorcism add a little fun to the proceedings.  Like any piecemealed together movie, what you gain in shock value, you inevitably lose in coherence. 

 

In the end, it all comes down to what kind of movie you’d rather see.  If you want to watch an uneven but majestically filmed supernatural story, see Lisa and the Devil.  Those who love their Exorcist knockoffs filled with green vomit and confusing editing, see The House of Exorcism.  By themselves, neither is very satisfying, but seen back to back; they’re a fascinating lesson in crass movie marketing. 

 

Savalas gives a playful performance (he even sucks on a lollipop like Kojack) and is clearly relishing being allowed to go over the top, especially while talking to a bunch of mannequin heads.  Elke looks great, particularly when she’s displaying her luscious melons and Gabriele (Women’s Prison Massacre) Tinti co-stars the ill fated chauffeur. 

 

The wimpy master of the house gets the best line:  “I can’t live like this in your shrine of death!”

 

AKA:  The House of Exorcism.  AKA:  The Devil and the Dead.  AKA:  The Devil in the House of Exorcism. 

THE TATTOOED HITMAN (1976) **

 

After the success of The Street Fighter movies, New Line Cinema tried to create another dubbed hit from Japan.  As with that Sonny Chiba classic, they purchased a yakuza flick from Japan and hired Jack Sholder (who would later go on to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 for the studio) to re-edit the film and dub it into English.  It was not a hit and New Line pretty much stopped importing movies from Japan altogether.  The problem was that while The Street Fighter was a no holds barred, violent and entertaining comic book action movie, this flick is a middling yakuza picture. 

 

The plot has Gingi (Bunta Sugawara), a cool as ice hitman returning home to his pregnant girlfriend.  Gingi is weary of the new world of the modern yakuza that is all business and no violence.  He feels out of place and lashes out at his superiors who more or less understand his aggravation.  But when he befriends a down and out loser named Ken, Gingi’s loyalty to his new pal and his unquenchable taste for violence ends up starting an all out gang war. 

 

Unlike The Street Fighter, Sholder was unable to make any of this really interesting.  The plot moseys along at a snail’s pace and the spurts of violence are few and far between.  What holds the movie together is the awesome performance of Sugawara.  He looks like a cross between Chow Yun Fat and Clint Eastwood and kicks major ass whenever the screenplay allows it.  He is easily the best thing about the film and the scene where he gets the clap from a hooker is priceless.  If only the movie had been worthy of his charisma.  With or without Sugawara, the film still would’ve been a thoroughly routine yakuza drama, but at least his excellent performance keeps you watching.  Naturally, he gets all the best lines of the movie, my favorite being:  “I’m like a loaded gun.  If anyone triggers me, I’ll kill!”