April 23rd, 2009

VICE ACADEMY 2 (1990) * ½

Linnea Quigley and Ginger Lynn Allen return in this criminally unfunny sequel to the USA Up All Night favorite, Vice Academy.  This time out, the newly graduated girls get their first assignment:  Bust the supervillainess Spanish Fly (Marina Benvenga) who is threatening to poison the city’s water supply with a lethal aphrodisiac.  They also have to contend with the police force’s newest creation, BimboCop (Teagan); who threatens to put the dim-witted dames out of a job.

 

Vice Academy 2 features a much better cast this time out.  We get Jay Richardson (who also co-starred with Linnea in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers), Duane (Pulp Fiction) Whitaker, and Melissa (Hard to Die) Moore.  None of them are given anything remotely memorable to do however.  Part 2 is also a lot more comic booky than its predecessor; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Sadly, there isn’t a whole lot of nudity (Linnea and Ginger only does one striptease together); which is probably the only reason to watch the damn movie in the first place.  

 

Also, the movie is just straight up stupid.  I know, I’m a sucker for a good old-fashion stupid movie every now and then, but seriously, Vice Academy 2 is just one big stupid ass movie.  Let me give you an idea of how stupid it is:  Spanish Fly speaks with a British accent!  Still, it’s marginally better than say, Police Academy 5 so it’s got that going for it I guess.

THE MAN WHO LAUGHS (1928) ***

Director Paul (The Cat and the Canary) Leni’s The Man Who Laughs is similar in a lot of ways to Universal’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923).  Like those films, The Man Who Laughs is all about a disfigured man who falls in love with a beautiful woman.  As with Hunchback, it was based on a novel by Victor Hugo and as an added bonus, it features The Phantom’s leading lady, Mary Philbin as the love interest.  While it’s not quite as good as either of those two films, it’s still a memorable and rewarding flick for fans of silent cinema.

 

As a child, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) was son of a nobleman who was kidnapped by gypsy surgeons that carved his face into a permanent grin.  Left for dead, Gwynplaine finds shelter in the house of an old man who travels around the countryside and uses Gwynplaine as his star clown performer.  Gwynplaine loves Dea (Philbin) and since she is blind, she doesn’t know about his deformity and loves him for who he is.  When the Queen’s henchman learns that Gwynplaine is still alive, he tries to restore his title by forcing Gwynplaine to marry a slutty duchess (Olga Baclanova from Freaks) to suit his own political agenda.  Gwynplaine tries to be a nobleman but after everyone laughs at him, he runs away to be with his beloved Dea.

 

The Man Who Laughs is largely remembered today because Gwynplaine’s excellent make-up that was the initial inspiration for The Joker.  I’ll admit that the similarities between the two are downright eerie and as a die hard Batman fan, I got a kick out of finally seeing this flick.  What really matters though is the story.  The love between Gwynplaine and Dea is the heart of the film and whenever Gwynplaine is pining over his unrequited love for her, the movie is extremely moving.  The gratuitous palace intrigue subplot may bog down the film during its last half hour, yet The Man Who Laughs always remains a pleasure to watch; mostly because of the stellar performances by the two leads.

 

Director Leni sadly died the year after this was released.

MONSTER FROM THE OCEAN FLOOR (1954) * ½

Monster from the Ocean Floor was the very first movie produced by a young Roger Corman.  It was directed by Wyott Ordung, the man who wrote Robot Monster.  Already you should know not to expect quality of any sort.  

 

Steve (Stuart Wade) is a marine biologist who romances a catalogue designer named Julie (Anne Kimbell).  Although he continuously pummels her with useless trivia about the ocean on their dates, she still kinda likes him.  Meanwhile, there’s a one-eyed octopus monster on the loose that slurps up divers, dogs, and Mexicans.  When the monster terrorizes Julie, Steve hops in his mini-sub and kamikazes that son-of-a-bitch right into the monster’s eyeball.

 

The last four minutes of this movie where the monster battles a wind-up toy submarine is a lot of fun.  It’s just a shame that the hour or so that comes before that is such a snoozer.  To make thing’s worse, that Steve guy goes on and on about how great the ocean is and just when you think he can’t get any more annoying, he whips out his guitar and croons a horrendous love song!  If you take a shot of your favorite alcoholic beverage every time Steve talks about the ocean, you’ll be in a coma long before the monster ever shows up.

 

At least Corman was smart enough to let Steve get the best line of the movie:  “Lovely girls don’t go around worrying about non-existent sea monsters!”

 

AKA:  It Stalked the Ocean Floor.  AKA:  It Stalked the Monster Floor.  AKA:  Monster Maker.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) ****

The first and faraway best version of H.G. Wells’ novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau contains some memorable performances, an unnerving atmosphere, and a few of the most unforgettable scenes in horror history.  A shipwrecked sailor (Richard Arlen) winds up on an uncharted island ran by the sinister Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) who has been conducting unorthodox and bizarre experiments; turning animals into humans.  Moreau wants the sailor to mate with his prized creation, The Panther Woman (the beautiful Kathleen Burke), but since the sailor’s engaged, he says no dice.  (Who ever heard of a chaste sailor?) 

 

Anyway, the good (bad) doctor rules his island of misfit mutants with an iron fist and a handy bullwhip, which he uses to keep “the natives” in line.  Every night he forces them to say “The Law” (no killing, no walking on all fours, no growling) or else they’ll get whipped.  When the sailor’s fiancée finally shows up to rescue him, Moreau lets them break Law #1, but once they get a taste for killing, the rioting animal-men go out for blood…Moreau’s.

 

I don’t think director Erle C. Kenton ever got the credit he really deserved.  Stuck doing “B” pictures for most of his career (he did a number of Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello movies for Universal), he never really got to capitalize on his excellent work here, and it’s a shame.  Kenton’s close-ups on the pathetic animal-men’s faces are haunting and the “House of Pain” and “Saying of the Law” sequences are some of the best stuff you’ll ever see in a horror movie.

 

The flick is not without its flaws.  It drags considerably whenever the action switches off the island; particularly when focusing on Arlen’s fiancée desperately trying to find her man.  These sluggish scenes are easy to overlook thanks largely to the wonderful performances.  Laughton is at his best as the hateful Moreau and Burke is truly stunning as The Panther Woman.  But it’s Bela Lugosi who gives the best performance of the film.  Hidden under tons of fake fur (although his distinct Hungarian accent is unmistakable), Lugosi is simply awesome as the Sayer of the Law.  He’s only in about three scenes, but they are all incredible.  “Are we not men?”

 

Skip the ’77 and ’96 versions and stick with the original.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

The Law says that Island of Lost Souls must go to Number 3 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten List for 1932 right below Freaks and just above Kongo.

THE NEW WORLD (2005) **

The New World tells a little bit of revisionist history.  In school, we learned that John Smith came to America and hooked up with Pocahontas to improve relations with the Indians.  When he went back to England, Pocahontas then shacked up with John Rolfe.  The New World changes things up ever so slightly.   In this version, it’s Bullseye that comes to America and romances Pocahontas.  Since we all know that Bullseye is a bad guy and bad guys never get the girl, she instead falls in love with Batman.  (Although in Bullseye’s defense he didn’t kill any Indians using paper clips.)

 

Since The New World was directed by Terrence Malick, photographing the lush landscapes comes first and telling the story is a distant second.  I’m a huge Badlands fan and I dug The Thin Red Line, so I was braced for that.  Most people probably won’t “get” what Malick was trying to do and will more than likely end up getting pretty pissed off at this movie.  I guess if you want a more straightforward tale of the Pocahontas legend you can always rent that Disney shit.  (Pocahontas doesn’t sing any Vanessa Williams songs in this one.)  

 

Even though Malick puts his distinct signature all over this movie that doesn’t necessary make it “good”.  Unlike his previous films, The New World doesn’t really gel with Malick’s Man Is Not As Cool As Nature philosophy.  It works somewhat during the film’s early passages, but as the film wears on, the message kinda gets muddled.  To make matters worse, the flick gets downright boring once Bullseye leaves poor Poke-A-Ho.  

 

Luckily, Bullseye and Batman dish out a pair of pretty good performances to make the flick watchable (although Batman doesn’t use his gravelly voice).  Plus, the chick that plays Pocahontas is mega hot in a Jailbait Native American kind of way.  She made me pitch a teepee, that’s for sure.  The New World isn’t great or anything but I guess it beats sitting in history class, so ** for that.

ROCK ALL NIGHT (1957) **

A duo of thugs on the lam storm their way into a rock n’ roll club and force a pretty blonde to sing for her life.  Even though the club is filled with macho dudes, nobody will stand up the crazed gunmen.  It’s up to a delinquent named “Shorty” to put an end to the pair of pistol packing paranoids' reign of terror and save the day… err… night.

 

In some ways Rock All Night is the ultimate Roger Corman movie.  For one, it features an impressive cast of Corman’s regular players.  There’s Dick (The Terror) Miller (playing the hero for a change), Jonathan (Little Shop of Horrors) Haze, Abby (Viking Women and the Sea Serpent) Dalton, Bruno (The Wasp Woman) VeSota, Russell (Attack of the Crab Monsters) Johnson, Mel (The Undead) Welles, Barboura (A Bucket of Blood) Morris, Beach (Teenage Caveman) Dickerson, and Ed (Swamp Diamonds) Nelson.  Also, it was filmed on the cheap and in the usual Corman fashion, it only took an impressive five days to shoot (and it shows).  The biggest Corman trademark is that it features LOTS of padding.  Seriously, this movie runs a mere 62 minutes long yet it’s packed with at least seven songs (some of which are repeated) and contains very (and I do mean VERY) little plot. 

 

Even though not much happens in Rock All Night, its still makes for a fast paced 62 minutes.  To me, even Corman’s worst flicks are usually still worth a look, and this one is no exception.  If you enjoy seeing any of the previously mentioned cast members (especially Miller) in anything and you have about an hour to kill, then you probably owe it to yourself to catch Rock All Night.  VeSota (who looks like a beatnik version of Colonel Sanders) gets the best line of the movie when he says, “I have the groovy honor of wheeling and dealing for that mad group!”