January 23rd, 2009

DR. ORLOFF’S MONSTER (1964) **

Dr. Orloff (NOT played by Howard Vernon) dies and relinquishes control of his monster to Dr. Fisherman, who revives the fiend using high frequency sound waves.  To make sure the monster is fully functional; Dr. Fisherman takes him out on the town so he can kill half-naked strippers.  When Dr. Fisherman’s niece shows up to the castle, she appeals to the monster’s dormant human emotions so he’ll finally take care of the mad doctor once and for all.

 

Director Jess Franco’s Dr. Orloff’s Monster isn’t as much fun as its predecessor, The Awful Dr. Orloff, but it undoubtedly has its moments.  Granted, most of the moments I’m referring to involve naked women being strangled by the “Monster” (okay, so he’s more like a mindless zombie more than anything), but in a Jess Franco movie, you take what you can get. 

 

After a promising set-up, things get kinda stuffy and dull; particularly when there isn’t a topless lady around.  You’ll be guaranteed not to fall asleep though because there’s a high-pitched whirring sound whenever the monster is about to strike.  Between that annoying noise and the screechy musical numbers I don’t know what was worse.  Oh well, Dr. Orloff's Monster still has enough titties in it to make it worth a look for any disreputable Franco fanatic.  

 

AKA:  Brides of Dr. Jekyll.  AKA:  Dr. Jekyll’s Mistresses.  AKA:  The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll.  AKA:  The Secret of Dr. Orloff.

THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1973) ** ½

An English photographer (Ivan Rassimov) goes to Thailand to watch some kickboxing and snap a few pictures.  He then takes off for the jungles of Burma and predictably, gets captured by savages who quickly string him up and let their kids beat him like a piñata.  When he tries to escape, the natives strap him to a pole and spin him around till he gets dizzy and then tie him up and let him suffer in the sweltering sun.  After proving his worth, the tribe elders invite him to chow down on some monkey brains and he is accepted into the tribe. 

 

Rassimov then makes goo-goo eyes at the chief’s hot daughter (played by the appropriately named Me Me Lay) long enough for him to consent to their marriage and after the ceremony they run around the jungle having a bunch of sex.  As a result of some much damn sex with her new horndog hubby, Me Me becomes pregnant.  Then a neighboring cannibal tribe starts chowing down on some of the native girls, so Rassimov has to dispense some jungle justice and cut some tongues out.  After busting a few heads, Ivan returns to his wife who bears him a tot (“My little black savage!”), then dies in childbirth.  In the end, a helicopter flies overhead but Ivan chooses to stay with the natives to raise his son and help rebuild the village.

 

The Man from Deep River is widely regarded as the first gory Italian cannibal movie, but regrettably you have to wait over 70 minutes before the cannibals even show up.  A more fittingly description of the film would be A Man Called Horse; set in the jungle.  Director Umberto (Cannibal Ferox) Lenzi brings a nice travelogue look to the Thailand scenes and makes the jungle scenes feel more or less authentic, yet he could’ve been a little bit more ruthless with the editing. 

 

Even though the flick does get bogged down every once and awhile, it still features enough gory goodness to make it worth a look for cannibal fans.  Tongues are cut out, monkey brains are eaten, and there is an excellent scene where the cannibals munch on a girl’s boob.  Speaking of the female anatomy, the amount of naked women on display in this movie is considerable.  Me Me Lay hardly ever wore a stitch of clothes and the scene where a bunch of native girls laid around sunbathing in the nude was A-OK by me.  There were also some nasty real life animal mutilations in there too, for folks who are into that sort of thing.  We got a mongoose vs. snake scene, a cockfight, crocodiles being gutted and goats getting their throats slit.  In short, The Man from Deep River is no Eaten Alive; but it’s still a decent flick nevertheless.

 

Rassimov and Lay later starred in Jungle Holocaust together.

 

AKA:  Deep River Savages.  AKA:  Sacrifice!

HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968) ***

Cattleman Clint Eastwood is wrongly accused of murder and gets strung up by a bloodthirsty lynch mob.  After the posse ride away, Eastwood’s neck is literally saved by Good Samaritan Ben Johnson.  When he’s brought into town, the hanging judge (Pat Hingle) exonerates Clint (who now wears a scarf to hide the huge scar on his neck) and deputizes him to bring in the men who tried to hang him.  While initially Clint just uses his badge to get revenge, he eventually decides to let the law handle things.  Clint quickly changes his mind though when the posse shoots him in the back.  After Clint gets nursed back to health by a pretty prostitute (he’s pretty much indestructible in this flick), he goes back out for vengeance.

 

Although the opening scene greatly resembles the look and feel of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western, things settle down after awhile and Hang ‘Em High ends up becoming more or less your basic routine oater.  Ted (Magnum Force) Post directs the flick in his usual workmanlike style and has a tendency to let the tension lapse every other reel.  (The flick runs a good twenty minutes longer than it probably should have.)  However, since the core of the story is revenge, and I’m a sucker for a good revenge movie (as well as a good Clint picture) I easily forgave the flick for its various shortcomings and was able to concentrate on the good stuff.

 

What really keeps you watching is the cast of familiar faces.  Clint gives another top notch performance here and I particularly liked the fact that his throat injury gave him a good excuse to use his gravelly voice.  Hingle was also first-rate and Johnson makes a memorable impression with his brief but crucial role.  The supporting cast is rife with cool villains like Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, L.Q. Jones and Alan (SKIPPER!) Hale, who all stand out nicely.

 

Eastwood gets the best line of the flick when he says, “When you hang a man you better look at him!”

THE WRESTLER (2008) ****

Mickey Rourke gives a career defining performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up professional wrestler who now (barely) pays the bills by wrestling on the indy circuit.  After a particularly brutal “Extreme” match where his opponent shoots him multiple times with a staple gun, Randy suffers a heart attack and is told to never wrestle again.  He initially sees this as a wake-up call and retires to try to get back in touch with his estranged lesbian daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and start up a promising relationship with an over the hill stripper (Marisa Tomei).  Eventually the world pisses all over Randy and defying doctor's orders, he eagerly jumps back into the ring to do battle with his arch nemesis, the Ayatollah. 

 

As a lifelong wrestling fan, I always try to catch the independent wrestling association events when they come to town.  There is something about a local venue featuring past their prime wrestlers who still give their all (or all that they can give) for a smaller crowd that appeals to me.  On one hand, you can have an opportunity to hang out and chat with the wrestlers (I ended up in a bar drinking beers and chilling out with Balls Mahoney after one show), on the other, it’s fascinating to see some truly memorable superstars on the waning end of their career.  Since wrestlers don’t have a retirement home and wrestling is the only thing they really know how to do, where else are they going to go?  If you can't make thousands cheer you on in sold out big city arenas, you might as well make a couple hundred cheer for you in a small high school out in bumfuck, right?

 

And that is essentially what The Wrestler is all about.  Randy “The Ram” is a guy uncomfortable in his own skin who is only at peace when he’s in the ring giving his all for a small but loyal crowd.  Randy isn’t particularly good with people.  He has to beg his landlord to remove the deadbolt from his trailer (only after he coughs up the back rent).  He has to plead with his boss at the grocery store for extra hours.  He can keep kids entertained, but only for so long.  (Why sit in a trailer and play NES with a washed-up wrestler when you have Call of Duty 4 at your house?)  And his relationships with women are spotty to say the least.  But when he’s in the ring, the man truly shines.  He maybe a little older and a little slower, but he gives the people a good show and that’s why they still love him.

 

Rourke’s performance is pretty much the whole show.  He’s awesome in this flick, better than he’s ever been (and that’s saying something) and if he doesn’t get the Oscar, then the Academy can S my D.  As much as I loved the wrestling aspect in general and appreciated director Darren (Requiem for a Dream) Aronofsky’s respectful handling of the material; without Mickey’s formidable presence, the flick wouldn’t have worked the way it does.  He owns the movie and his tearful speech to the crowd at the very end will give you goosebumps.

 

Aronofsky’s direction is invisible, which is probably the best compliment you can give a director.  He lets his actors act and you never once feel the presence of the camera.  Whether you’re inside The Ram’s trailer or inside the ring, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a movie, but accompanying him on his journey.   

 

What I really dug about this movie is that it’s more or less realistic; not just when it’s dealing with the wrestling side, but concerning the relationships as well.  Although it does veer into Lifetime Channel territory at one point, there is no storybook ending as ALL of the women in Randy's life desert him.  Sure, the stripper chick comes to see him at his final match, but she’s not there to root him on, she’s there to tell him not to wrestle.  And even when Randy ascends to the top rope to execute his signature move, she isn’t there for him.  The crowd, however, is.  And to Randy, that’s all that matters.

 

The Wrestler flies off the top rope and lands square at Number 8 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 2008; ranking just above Tropic Thunder and right below Gran Torino.

 

Speaking of the highest honors in filmmaking, I am setting a deadline of Jan. 31 for me to catch up on all my missed films of ’08 before I start handing out the nominations for The 2nd Annual Video Vacuum Awards.  (AKA:  “The Viddies”.)  Our local theater just got Frost/Nixon so I’m going to try to catch that before I make my final selections.  (I still have to find time to see The Bi-Curious Case of Benjamin’s Butthole too.)  Expect me to announce the nominations on Feb 1st with the award ceremony to follow sometime around when that OTHER award show begins.