November 21st, 2014

ZORRO, THE GAY BLADE (1981) **

George Hamilton had success sending up Dracula with Love at First Bite. Here, he tries to work his limited comedic skills by playing another iconic screen character. The results are decidedly mixed.

Don Diego (George Hamilton) returns home to Mexico and learns from Captain Esteban (Ron Leibman) that his father has been killed. He also finds out his father was Zorro and he decides to pick up the mantle and fight for the people. During a night of dashing derring-do, Don Diego breaks his ankle and looks for a replacement Zorro until he can heal up. He finds it in his gay twin brother, Bunny (also Hamilton).

Zorro, the Gay Blade works as a comic version of Zorro up to a point. The scenes of Hamilton’s lighthearted swashbuckling are okay. I liked the part when he crashes a masquerade ball and swings around like Tarzan. Whenever it switches gears to full-on comedy, it’s not very funny though. (Like what was up with his sidekick dressing up in a dog costume?)

The first half is kind of fun. Once Bunny enters the picture, the film stumbles hard and the gags just don’t fly. The gay jokes run the gamut of harmless to borderline offensive, but none of them are particularly funny. Director Peter Medak, a guy who’s mostly used to thrillers and horror films, doesn’t really seem to be in on the joke. He just thinks that just dressing a suave ladies’ man like Hamilton up in a variety of colorful dainty outfits is automatically funny.

The sad thing is that Hamilton is pretty good as Don Diego. If the writers scrapped all the nonsense with Bunny, it might’ve actually worked. I think Hamilton could’ve pulled off a (no pun intended) straight Zorro flick.

AKA: Zorro Swings Again.

NIGHT OF DEATH! (1980) ***

Martine (Isabelle Goguey) is a beautiful young nurse who comes to work in an old folks’ home ran by a strict matron named Helene (Betty Beckers). When another nurse disappears, Martine doesn’t really think much of it, until she finds her suitcase partially burned in the incinerator. Martine is unaware that the poor nurse’s body is actually downstairs and the residents of the nursing home eat her various organs for a midnight snack. Naturally, Martine’s next on the menu.

The audience learns fairly early on what’s going on in the nursing home (well before our heroine does), which is interesting. Because of that, there aren’t any Rosemary’s Baby-type of shenanigans where something vaguely out of the ordinary happens to put you on edge. Since you are already one up on the main character; it just becomes a question of when (and more importantly, how) she figures it all out. That’s what makes Night of Death! a lot of fun. It drops this poor girl into a horrible no-win situation and lets her stew in it.

The film has a Don’t Look in the Basement-style inmates-running-the-asylum vibe to it. It also has a Don’t Look Now-inspired twist ending involving a serial killer too. Night of Death! also boasts a cool, creepy atmosphere and a fair amount of nudity too. The gore effects are very well done and the organ eating scenes are appropriately gross.

Sure, the pacing is a bit uneven. Sure, it’s guilty of spinning its wheels too much when it’s coming down the homestretch. However, once Martine grabs an axe and starts hacking up senior citizens left and right, things quickly get back on track.

IT CAME FROM THE THRIFT STORE: ILLICIT BEHAVIOR (1992) ** ½

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If Shannon Tweed was the Queen of the Erotic Thriller, Joan Severance was the Duchess. Joan wasn’t as prolific as Shannon, but she had a good run starring in a number of softcore thrillers in the early ‘90s. One thing is for sure, Severance had better acting chops than many of her contemporaries.

The first thing you notice about Illicit Behavior is its derivative title. I used to work in a video store and I remember all the movies in our erotic thrillers section had the same eight or nine words in the titles. “Illicit” and “Behavior”, along with “Fatal”, “Instinct”, “Animal”, “Carnal”, “Basic”, “Desire”, “Sexual”, “Impulse”, “Criminal”, and “Intent” were among the interchangeable words. (It shouldn’t surprise you that the film was also released under the title “Criminal Intent”.) Likewise, the film itself is just as derivative as its title.

Joan brings cop hubby Jack Scalia along with her to her therapy sessions. She makes a shocking revelation and it causes friction in their relationship. Robert Davi is an Internal Affairs officer investigating an incident where Scalia shot a perp. When Scalia learns her brother molested her as a child, he goes to rough him up and accidentally kills him. This puts him in even more hot water. He’s placed under house arrest and gets increasingly jealous of Joan, especially when she starts spending more time with Davi.

Illicit Behavior was directed by Worth (Snapdragon) Keeter and the story was credited to Czar of the Erotic Thriller, Jag (Night Eyes) Mundra. It often gets bogged down in cop movie clichés and police procedural melodrama instead of delivering on the actual erotic thriller-ing. Overall, it’s not bad, but not what we really came to the party for.

The film also goes on much longer than it should. Just when it feels like its wrapping things up, it springs another twist on us and continues on needlessly for another twenty minutes. Also, Severance’s abrupt change from mousy housewife to femme fatale is botched, although that has more to do with the schizophrenic script than with Severance’s performance.

Still, it’s worth watching just for Joan. Although she stays fully clothed in some of her sex scenes, she gets a couple of good nude scenes. She gets a great introduction doing some sexy dancing on her porch while dressed in a bikini top and cut off shorts. After that, her husband comes home and tells her to “assume the position” in the kitchen before banging her against the refrigerator. If you can't already tell, that's the highlight.

Plus, it’s just cool to see Robert Davi in a rare leading role.

AKA: Criminal Intent.

Next time on It Came from the Thrift Store: More Erotic Thrills with Sliver!