Blackenstein (1973)

    When your film begins with a cartoony mad scientist laboratory (complete with equipment seemingly lifted straight from Universal’s Frankenstein) followed by airplane stock footage and a woman driving (and driving) a green car, you know you are definitely in for…well, padding and nonsense mainly. So begins Blackenstein, a movie about a boy and his hockey playing dog and the special friendship they share both off and on the ice…just F’n with you; it’s about a black dude that becomes a Frankenstein monster.

    So yeah, that lab mentioned above lies within the (admittedly impressive) mansion of Doctor Stein (real smooth movie) who is called in to help out Eddie, an injured vet (and by injured I mean this is some straight-up Metallica One video shit), by his fiancee Winifred. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing Stein’s lab assistant has the horny’s for Winifred so he gives ol’ Eddie some tainted D.N.A. which of course turns him into a lumbering cannibal monster (which sounds cool AF, but in actuality is more a generic Frankenstein costume with a tight ‘fro…wait, that’s freakin’ awesome…carry on). Guts are munched, library music is played, establishing shots are reused ad nauseam, doughy folks make sweet greasy love, dogs bark, and some scene padding appears that would make Rudy Ray Moore envious (oh yeah baby, you bet your ass there’s a nightclub scene with jokes that seem to go on for weeks)…and as you can guess, I think all of this delirious horse shit is absolutely the bat’s knees as it does the impossible and mixes grindhouse exploitation sleaze with a real Gothic flair!

    As balls out awesome as I found Blackenstein, I have to admit the extras are where this release really comes alive after five! Besides the theatrical cut, our pals at Severin (with an assist by those kinda okay I guess folks at Vinegar Syndrome) have included a slightly longer (though slightly beat up looking) version of the film with some extra scenes. That would be cool enough, but the hits just keep on a-comin’ as we also are treated to an interview with writer/producer Frank R. Saletri’s sister (June Kirk by name) who details her fright flick loving brother’s (he lived in Bela Lugosi’s house for cryin’ out loud) life and career as an actor, screenwriter, author, and lawyer…and tragically enough his unsolved murder in 1982 (an archive news broadcast about the crime is included in the package as well). Next genre vets Ken Osborne (Actor/Producer/ Director) and Robert Dix (Actor/Writer/Producer) weigh in on their dealings with Salteri…and while both are anecdotal, they of course lack the gravitas of the previous interview. Wrapping things up we get an audio interview with creature designer Bill Munns (accompanied by stills) and the film’s trailer.

    Look if you enjoy drive-in exploitation or the classic tropes of early Universal horror, there is absolutely no reason you won’t love this delirious mash-up of the two…in other words, Blackenstein is an absolute must for your creepy collection!

    Camera Obscura (2017)

    Jack, a veteran war photographer with a case of the ol’ PTSD, decides to continue his life as a fearless photog, only this time it’s a corporate gig shooting real estate. As fate would have it, his fiance Claire has gifted the J-man with a camera…an old camera that can capture images of future tragedies. Instead of chucking that bad luck piece o’ shit directly into the trash and getting on with his already shattered existence, Jack decides to run his ass raged trying to stop these events from occurring. Also, he may be insane and these that camera may not have any arcane abilities.

    Let’s talk about what works with Camera Obscura. First of all, that premise is shit hot; a cursed camera that can take photos of the freakin’ future; that’s a winner of a concept (though I’m sure some of you will tell me a hundred TV shows, books, or comics that have used the same premise, but I can’t recall any) and was enough to make me interested in the flick’s story line…but that’s where the interesting part basically stops.

    The problems with this flick stem mostly from two main issues; acting and pacing. The biggest flaw in the acting department is the film’s lead, Christopher Denham as Jack. While this dude is definitely a competent performer, his choice to portray Jack as a monotone, blase, wimp that basically walks from one nightmare scenario to the next left me cold and completely detached from his plight. Also, the chemistry between him and his supposed love of his life Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) is non-existent. It seems like these two just met the first day of filming, didn’t really like each other, and let that indifference shine like a giant beacon of “meh” all over the screen. As for the pacing, there are moments of decent suspense and supernatural shocks, but the material linking them together really has a case of the drags (even though the run time is kept to an hour and thirty five minutes). There’s also an off-kilter character added to the story that will really having you scratching your head with a case of the “what in the hell…where did that come from?” even though he actually advances the story (in an overly complex way).

    Convoluted, sometimes dull, though technically proficient, Camera Obscura is a middle of the road thriller (with a fascinating initial premise) that will more than likely hold your interest while it is on and then immediately fade from memory.

    The Climber (1975)

    Influenced by the tough American thrillers of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s like Bullitt, Dirty Harry, The French Connection and Death Wish (as well as the then rising crime rate in Italy among a period of social and political turmoil), the Poliziotteschi film was born. These films were brutal; featuring graphic violence, rape, drugs, gun battles, organized crime, car chases, political corruption, heists and people taking the law into their own hands. The heroes of these films were usually tough blue collar loners, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. A prime example of the genre is the subject of this review, Pasquale Squitieri’s The Climber recently released by the fine folks at Arrow Video.

    America immigrate Aldo (Joe Dallesandro) is a low level thug in Naples who works smuggling stolen cigarettes for a local mobster, Don Enrico. Aldo runs into trouble when he starts raising the price of the stolen smokes, in an effort to skim a little off the top for himself. When the Don finds out, he’s none to pleased and has his men beat the ever-loving shit out of Aldo. No longer welcome in Naples, he makes his way to Rome, determined to get a bigger slice of the crime pie by going into business for himself. He also vows to get even with his former boss of course. As Aldo rises to power he puts together a crew of misfits, gets betrayed, and makes some powerful enemies.

    A possible inspiration for Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake of Scarface, The Climber is the classic “rise and fall of a criminal” tale (made popular by such films as Little Cesar, The Public Enemy and the original Scarface…hell, every Grand Theft Auto game features some kind of spin on it too), and while it is a solid film, it has it’s moments of being disjointed (the story jumps around, characters are introduced only to fade into the background while others are set up for something big, only to flutter around the periphery, etc.). That being said, the film is always captivating as we become thoroughly engaged in seeing just how far Aldo will rise, and what he’ll do to get there.

    Model-turned-actor Joe Dallesandro (who worked with Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol…most famously on Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula) is great here as a low level dude with dreams of the big time and a resolve for getting there. Another standout was Tony Askin, playing a hitman who doesn’t kill for money, but rather out of his cynicism in humanity. Also of note, the score by Franco Campanino is perfect (and funky), and overall The Climber looks and sounds beautiful.

    As for bonus content, the sole extra here is Little Joe’s Adventures in Europe; an in-depth interview with star Dallesandro detailing how he got his start in the biz, and how he got cast in The Climber. Also, if you grab a first-pressing of this release, you get a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roberto Curti.

    If you’re a fan of ‘70’s Euro-Crime films that hew a little on the arty side, The Climber is highly recommend.

    -Guest Review by Shane Migliavacca

    The Paul Naschy Collection

    As a boy, Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina Álvarez) saw the classic Universal film Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and so a legend was born, as Naschy would grow up and create the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky who would go on to be featured in a string of now legendary fright flicks. But the Daninsky pictures were not the only horror productions Naschy would star in as the new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory, titled appropriately enough The Paul Naschy Collection, proves. Let’s take a look at what the set has to offer.

    Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973) – Warlock Alaric De Marnac and his followers are executed in Medieval France, but before death the warlock places a curse on his brother and their descendants. Centuries later, Hugo De Marnac and some of his friends hold a seance to contact Alaric and in doing so they learn the location of his decapitated head. Before you can say “bad Idea” they go noggin hunting which naturally leads to a whole boat load of trouble.

    Playing like a fever dream, demonic take on Night of The Living Dead, ‘Horror’ is classic Naschy. There’s a nutso supernatural story, crammed with a generous helping of sex and gore, not to mention a reincarnated headless warlock and bloodthirsty zombies! Naschy plays dual roles and handles both very well, and the whole picture is elevated by the beauty of Helga Line and Emma Cohen. Considered by many to be Naschy’s best film (not by me, but it’s up there), Horror Rises from the Tomb is a fantastic Euro Horror film.

    Vengeance of the Zombies (1973) – As in the previous feature, Naschy again get’s to play multiple roles here; this time as an Indian guru named Krishna and his burn victim cum comic book villain brother Kantaka (he also appears as The Devil in a crazy dream sequence). The plot involves women being killed by a masked killer and being turned into zombies. It’s all part of a revenge plot involving the various vivacious victim’s families…because, reason.

    Vengeance of the Zombies is one trippy blast of a film that’s equal parts voodoo flick and giallo. It feels like the cast and crew dropped acid and decided to make a horror film…a film I can easily say is my fav Naschy piece. Of course Naschy himself is said to have hated it, but what does he know?!! The only negatives I can throw at Vengeance is during one voodoo ceremony a chicken losses it’s head…literately. Oh, and the occult expert boyfriend character (you’ll see) can really go on and on in scenes where he explains voodoo practices.

    Next is Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974) – Ex-con and drifter Gilles (Naschy ‘natch) arrives in a French village looking for some work. He ends up getting offered a ride from Claude, a woman with a prosthetic hand and a deformity. Instead of running the other way…fast…Gilles accepts. Claude soon offers him work at her family’s estate where she resides with her wheelchair bound sister Yvette and her other sister, the fantastically horny redhead Nicole. Gilles does chores on the estate and does Nicole too due in large part to her aforementioned horniness. Among the fixin’ and f**kin’ a black gloved killer starts a kill spree around the village, offing blue-eyed women and plucking out their eyeballs. Before you can say “Holy Lucio Fulci”, Gilles becomes everyone’s prime suspect.

    Blue Eyes is a great Spanish giallo; stylish and sleazy, with plenty of weirdo characters, red herrings, black gloves and bright red blood. Naschy’s Gilles is one of his more complex characters as he starts out as a misogynistic brute, but as the film progresses we see him start to evolve, especially when it comes to his relationship with Claude. The only downside to all this giallo fun is a gruesome animal death in the form of a pig slaughtered on film. It adds nothing to the film except cheap shock value.

    Next comes Human Beasts (1980) – Manly Merc Bruno (Naschy…I mean, who else would it be really?) partners up with his Japanese lover Meiko and her brother to steal some diamonds. Bruno double crosses the siblings during the robbery and makes off with the loot so of course the duo swear vengeance on him. Bruno soon ends up getting wounded and taken in by a rich old doctor and his two hot daughters. Along with all you see above, we also get Bruno dressing up as Napoleon, a mystery murderer, and as is always the way, a dude getting eaten by pigs!

    If this film sounds bizarre, it’s because it freaking is! Equal parts revenge film, drama and horror show, Human Beasts is a crazy mess that only Naschy could dream up. In many ways this film is a lot like Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (i.e. an asshole loner staying with a weird family, a shadowed killer on the lose..hell it even uses some of the same locations)! The overall tone of the film is fairly grim as it was written at a time when Naschy had little faith in his fellow man, and that effects the narrative as all of the characters are rather shitty human beings.

    Bringing up the rear is a flick starring the aforementioned Waldemar Daninsky character; Night of the Werewolf (1981) – During the Middle Ages, Countess Elisabeth Bathory is put to death along with her servant Daninsky, a man cursed with lycanthropy. Cut to the 20th Century, where two idiot grave robbers find poor old Waldy and remove a dagger from his chest, allowing him to return to life…a life marked by turning into a wacked out werewolf. He of course goes ape shit on the nearest town. Good one dudes! Soon three hot coeds show up at Bathory’s castle where they run into Waldemar (who’s chilling in his best Ren Faire finery like the pimp he oh so truly is). Anyway, one of the girls is actually a Satanist bent on reviving the Countess, which she succeeds in doing. Vampire versus werewolf. The End.

    I’m always down for some Waldemar Daninsky action, and Night deliverers in spades. The werewolf spills and chills are the best they have ever been in the Daninsky films, as is the werewolf makeup…he looks fantastic here. Though there’s plenty of sex and violence here, this is an old school monster rally at it’s core with tons of cool gothic imagery to behold to boot.

    This is a fantastic set if you hadn’t guessed already. The films look spectacular, with Horror Rises from the Tomb and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll being the visual stand outs. There’s a whole slew of extras here as well: each film is presented in High Definition in their complete uncut versions, plus you get theatrical trailers, Spanish credit sequences, alternate “clothed” sequences, still galleries, brand new audio commentaries, and a cool ass glossy booklet with facts and other assorted shittery by Mirek Lipinski.

    In short, I love this set and it’s easily one of my favorite releases of 2017. Highly recommend and then some! Now, can we get a Volume Two please?!!

    -Guest Review by Shane Migliavacca

    The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968)/The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

    Let’s just get one thing straight…if you have any issues with a six foot plus English dude (namely Chritopher Lee, acting the role to dignified and near robotic perfection) playing a Chinese dude (complete with crazy accent and eye prosthetics), then just skip right on past this part of the column. I’m not going to debate ethics, especially in genre cinema, because quite frankly it’s a big, hairy, f**kin’ waste of time (I mean a Caucasian doin’ Asian is one of the milder offenses the shit I normally watch around here has to offer) . Now, on with the god damned show!

    Producer Harry Alan Towers was livin’ high on the Hunan hog with his successful string of films based on Sax Rohmer’s vile villain Fu Manchu…well he was until his ol’ chum Jess Franco F’d that up for him with the two films included in this collection! Watta pal…

    Let’s start with The Blood of Fu Manchu. This yarn concerns our mustachioed no-goodnik, and his equally evil daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) cooking up a truly ludicrous (read: F’n awesome) scheme in their secret underground base in the Amazon (which comes complete with an army of hooded minions).  What is this plan you ask? Why they have simply kidnapped ten good lookin’ ladies and injected them with venom (from the world’s most bored and non aggressive snake to ever grace the silver screen) so that their kiss becomes deadly. Yup…totally reasonable and completely fool proof. Well, maybe not completely, as Nayland Smith, Fu’s arch nemesis, survives his lip lock (he just goes blind because, yes…) and heads out to both find a cure (with an assist from his cohort Dr. Petrie) and kick Manchu’s buttocks up and down the rain forest. Along the way we get some “sure why not” horse shit involving some banditos that doubtless no one will, or ever has, given a rats ass about (though admittedly the lead bandit becomes a huge part of the plot later),  and a subplot involving a studly adventurer with an ax to grind with ol’ Fearsome Fu.

    Fun, action packed, and jammed with comic book sensibilities, The Blood of Fu Manchu is a real hellzapoppin’ hoot of a flick… and it has everything you’d expect, good or bad, from a Franco helmed action picture (beautiful girls a-plenty, fun sets, zany schemes, far-out costumes, constant zooming camera, focus issues, meandering sub-plots), which of course endears it to your’s cruelly immediately. In short, fans of the series generally hate it, but they can kiss my ghoulish grits; this one is a winner in my book and it gets…

    Now, let’s see how feature numero deuce-o holds up…

    The Castle of Fu Manchu begins in the only way it could; with Fiendish Fu detailing his new plot to freeze the world’s oceans (there’s a heart transplant involved in there somewhere as well…and if you think that’s random, just press on dear reader). He then demonstrates that he can do just that by sinking a ship, which is visualized via stock footage from A Night to Remember…you know, the classic film about the Titanic…that was shot in F’N BLACK AND WHITE). Needless to say, the leaders of the free world are a bit antsy about the whole affair, so  Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie are once again relied upon to solve the case. What follows is a whirlwind of countless close up shots of bubbling beakers (rivaled only by the pulse stopping surgery scene), more fez hats then you can shake a hookah at, some really nice Bava-esque lighting, and an outrageously cool cross dressing female assassin (played to the hilt by Lady Frankenstein‘s Rosalba Neri) that steals the whole show.

    Even though this was the death knell of the series, I found this particular entry a real gem. The clunky inclusion of the stock footage, the comic book look and feel of the sets and action, that awesome assassin mentioned previous, and of course the delicious performances by Lee and Chin) all add up to an infinitely watchable, undeniably fun (though technically flawed…you can’t win ’em all folks) film.

    As great as the flicks in this release are (seriously, this is worth it for the feature films alone), Blue Underground have included some extras as well including: The Rise of Fu Manchu and The Fall of Fu Manchu; collections of archival interviews with Director Franco, Producer Towers, and Stars Lee (whose candor and honesty about the series is refreshing), Tsai Chin (who is very, very prosaic and honest about the works of Rohmer and the films she starred in…and also is totally tuned in to the tongue and cheek elements of the work), and Shirley Eaton, who appears in The Blood of Fu Manchu via (unpaid) stock footage…which leads to a hilarious (to us anyway) amount of back peddling from Franco, as well as trailers and still galleries for both films.

    This is campy, hyper stylized, flat-out insanity that could only come from Joltin’ Jess Franco (well with an assist by Sax Rohmer of course), and will really thrill fans of over-the-top pulp adventure!

    Evil Ed (1995)

    Recently I watched Cinema Paradiso, an overlong tribute read: yawn-fest) to movies. Last year everybody was raving about La La Land, one of those films where Hollywood makes a picture to convince everyone how great they are. What both of these have in common, if you couldn’t tell, is they’re a kind of movie I just can’t get into…overlong love letters to cinema. I love movies…who doesn’t? But I don’t need to see them get a two hour hand job. Which brings me to Evil Ed.

    Evil Ed was created to be a satire of the Swedish Film Censorship Board, which at the time was heavily editing sex and violence out of domestic films (as well as the ones they imported), while also being a tribute to movie making (well of horror film making to be precise). Please don’t be a two hour hand job movie…

    Double E goes a little somethin’ like this: Edward Swenson (Johan Rudebeck), a fairly mild-mannered film editor, is removed from his usual duties and assigned to work in the studio’s horror department. Ed is none too pleased when he is given the job of cutting down the violence in the “Loose Limbs” slasher series in the hopes of making them more palatable (I.e. bigger money makers). To facilitate this, Ed’s new boss Sam Campbell (one of the films many little nods to Evil Dead) puts him up at his country cottage so he can work in peace and quiet. Laboring tirelessly, all the blood, sex and gore start to effect Ed, and he starts hallucinating. Soon the boundaries between reality and fantasy shatter and before you can say Jack Thompson, Ed has become a psycho killing machine straight out of a horror film.

    I remember back in the ‘90’s, Fangoria ran articles on Evil Ed singing it’s praises. A few years latter I rented it, and admittedly at the time I did not really care for it, as I expected a straight up slasher for some reason. Anyway years later I can enjoy it’s over the top antics and surreal, reality bending moments…not to mention it’s love letters to Sam Raimi’s oeuvre including; the roving camera work, wacky Three Stooges goings on, and Evil Dead style demons. Basically, if you enjoy the stylized look and gore of ‘80’s Italian horror you should feel right at home here.

    But all is not blood and roses. For starters we’re supposed to feel bad for Ed when he starts to loose his shit, but for me he never came across as very likable in the first place. I know he’s supposed to the type that gets walked all over, but damn grow a little backbone dude. Then there’s Nick the delivery boy; Ed beats him up and later steals his girlfriend causing Nick to become our every-man hero…but things go too far into parody with his closing narration about goodness and love saving the day. While likely a satire of traditional Hollywood “happy endings” it comes of as too forced for my tastes and makes Nick a bit of a cartoon.

    As for the bonus features included with Evil Ed, Arrow really outdid themselves with this one as we are treated to two cuts of the film, a featurette on the creation of the Special Edition cut, deleted scenes, bloopers, teasers and trailers, a still gallery, and a making-of documentary. Also included is Lost in Brainland, a never-before-seen three hour version of the making-of documentary mentioned previous. Damn!

    Evil Ed is like the love child of Lucio Fulci’s Cat In The Brain and the early work of Peter Jackson. If that sounds awesome to you, you’ll dig on ol’ Ed. Just remember the beaver scene stays in the film (it’ll make sense after viewing…promise)!

    -Guest Review by Shane Migliavacca

    Witchita (2016)

    A dude named Jeb just so happens to be a director for a children’s television program…and that program just so happens to be tanking faster than Andrew Dice Clay at a feminist rally (I’ve been saving that one since 1988…I think you’ll agree it’s aged like a fine wine whose grapes were fermented in pure mirth). Anyway, ol’ Jeb has the 1000Watt idea to take a bunch of writers to a secluded lodge (the journey to which will bring to mind a certain Kubrick lensed fright flick…or the ending of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner…but what’s the difference really) to try and create some creative zeitgeist. Seems reasonable…oh, and Jeb decides to film everything with hidden cameras because he is coming unglued and is preparing a major case of the “goin’ ape-shits” that will leave the group all murdered like (but not before he uses their deepest secrets against them).

    I have to admit, ol’ Witchita shocked the living hell outta me; when I read the description of the flick, and began feasting my putrid peepers upon it, I expected the film to be your run of the mill “secluded cabin slash-a-thon” that are a dime a dozen ’round these parts, but I was proven wrong! First of all there’s Jeb, as portrayed to perfection by Trevor Peterson…it’s nothing short of fascinating to watch this cat go from put upon loser to off-the-rails maniac seemingly at the flick of a switch…and the weird part is, you can almost sympathize with him…well, until he starts getting all homicidal that is. Also of note are his victims…rather than the “dude bro” frat boys and pouty ex-cheerleaders that normally comprise the victim pool in pictures such as this, you instead get nuanced, mature, professional types (for the most part) that have layered lives…in other words, these seem like real people that suffer the rage of our “everyman” murder machine, and you feel for them. I also must note the beautiful setting of the film…there are some great Autumnal and early Winter landscapes that are featured here to painterly perfection that really offer a different and aesthetically pleasing vibe to the proceedings.

    As for the negatives…well, in my book there aren’t very many of them outside of a few visual nods and performance cues lifted from The Shining…but if you’re going to steal, steal from the best I always say…and honestly it doesn’t really detract from the overall experience.

    I would urge any of you fine fiends out there to give Witchita the once over, especially if you dig on the more psychological side of our beloved fright flicks. It’s well shot, terrifically acted, and full of suspense throughout!

    Daniel XIII
    Daniel XIII; the result of an arcane ritual involving a King Diamond album, a box of Count Chocula, and a copy of Swank magazine, is a screenwriter, actor, artist, and reviewer of fright flicks…Who hates ya baby?

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