Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Mansion of Madness (1973)

*. You may not have heard of this one. I hadn’t before I tripped over it online. But if you haven’t seen it I recommend checking it out, as it’s a real buried treasure.
*. In brief, it’s another adaptation of the Poe story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” and one that actually shows some consideration for the source. It’s still just a riff on the theme of lunatics running the asylum, but some of the names are kept the same and it’s done in period dress. The American release version was even called Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon.

*. You might even think, listening to the opening voiceover, that you’re hearing Poe. You’re not, but it sounds right. And actually it’s quite a bookish script (though a Mexican production it was apparently filmed in English and dubbed into Spanish). The old man chained up in the dungeon is reciting Donne (“I run to death, and death meets me as fast”), and later we hear Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” You see, getting an English degree is useful for something after all.
*. Another, less literary allusion comes at the end when the dying Fragonard asks “Can this be the end of Maillard?” That must be a nod to Rico’s last words in Little Caesar, and it made me laugh to hear it here. What makes it even funnier is the fact that Fragonard isn’t Maillard.

*. If the script is allusive in various ways, the look of the movie is even more so. If you’re reminded of El Topo that shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Juan López Moctezuma (whose first film this was) was a friend of Jodorowsky, and this film was shot by the same cinematographer: Rafiel Corkidi.

*. I think it’s a wonderful movie to look at, from the theatrical staging and costumes to the terrific use of a weird set that looks like an abandoned factory of some sort. There are individual shots that have the painted look of Old Masters. How I wish they’d do a proper job restoring and releasing a cleaned up version. The one I watched was VHS quality.
*. With its patchwork appearance and opening in a misty forest it also reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which came out a couple of years later). And bringing in Monty Python to the discussion isn’t all that big a stretch. I’ve seen this movie described as a horror-comedy and black comedy, though I find these labels inappropriate.
*. It’s not that it doesn’t try to be funny, at least at times. The character of Couvier is clearly meant as a comic foil, and Fragonard’s over-the-top campy performance would recall Dr. Frank N. Furter but for the fact that The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out two years later. But I don’t think this is enough to make The Mansion of Madness even a hyphenated comedy.
*. Look at the way the comic pratfalls of Couvier, performed to accompanying clown music, lead directly into the most disturbing scene in the movie, which is the rape in the forest. It’s like we’re not meant to take the rape seriously. This is troubling, but then the split between what’s real and what’s make believe or fantasy is something that’s central to our reading of the entire film. Those branches they keep using as clubs, for example, bend like pool noodles.

*. A final film I was reminded of was Peter Brook’s Marat/Sade (1967). Both films are set in asylums and have the same concern with revolution. Mexico, like France, has a tradition of such things. And Fragonard, like Sade, is a director: someone who wants to put on a show. Does this change how we view Fragonard? He does represent a spirit of Satanic energy and the carnivalesque, seemingly more anarchic than cruel. This is a different kind of inversion of values than we get in the more mainstream treatment of the same story in Stonehearst Asylum, and more complex. It’s also more representative of its time. The official authorities aren’t tyrants, they’re squares.
*. I wish there was more information about this title available, but I could find very little even when I went looking online. As I’ve said, this makes it both a buried treasure and a movie in need of a restoration and a critical revisiting. It’s a far from perfect movie — it’s too talky in places and doesn’t handle action well — but for anyone interested in all of the various roads leading in and out of it, it will be worth the time spent tracking it down.

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Sausage Party (2016)

*. Wow. I have to begin by saying that I was really looking forward to this one. I have nothing against crude, juvenile humour. That’s what I heard Sausage Party was full of, and it’s what I was in the mood for. I was ready to  laugh.
*. I didn’t find anything offensive about Sausage Party. On the other hand, I didn’t find anything funny about it either. For what it’s worth, the only times I even cracked a smile were in response to a couple of the more crude and tasteless moments: the Douche sucking off the Juice Box and the revelation of Gum as a pink Stephen Hawking blob in a wheelchair. The climactic orgy, which I think was supposed to be offensive, didn’t do anything for me.
*. If a movie like this isn’t offensive or shocking though, it really isn’t working at all. There are no funny jokes, visual or otherwise. There’s a lot of swearing and attempts at ethnic humour, but what’s funny about the jive-talkin’ Mr. Grits? The fact that he doesn’t like Crackers? Or Chief Firewater? The fact that he likes to get baked? Or Teresa del Taco? The fact that she’s a lesbian? Not only is there nothing funny here, I don’t even know what was supposed to be funny.
*. I’d like to leave off saying anything more here, but I think I have to address the film’s critical reception. This was, on average, very positive. More positive, in fact, than audience reviews. What does it mean when a movie of this nature does better with critics than it does with audiences?
*. I think what it means is that critics have just given up on saying anything bad about a movie that they figured was critic-proof anyway. To say it was no good would just be to expose themselves as hopelessly out of touch, humourless prudes. A professional film reviewer could lose his job for something like that.
*. So, according to the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus is that “Sausage Party is definitely offensive, but backs up its enthusiastic profanity with an impressively high laugh-to-gag ratio – and a surprisingly thought-provoking storyline.”
*. As I’ve said, I didn’t think there were any laughs, and I’m not even sure what the gags were supposed to be. But just look at that last part. A “surprisingly thought-provoking storyline.”
*. One wonders at just how low the bar has now been set. What did anyone find thought-provoking about this? The idea that God might not exist, or was cruel? That we need to embrace difference? That Jews and Arabs can get along in the Middle East if they just come out as gay? Again, I want to emphasize that I don’t find any of this offensive or shocking. Not a bit. But thought-provoking? I can’t begin to imagine the mental swamp someone must have spent their entire life in to have found Sausage Party thought-provoking. There isn’t even a vegetarian message since all the veggies (and indeed inanimate objects as well) are just as sentient as the wieners. I’m at a total loss to explain this.
*. I don’t think I’ll even try. Or bother saying anything more.

Slither (2006)

*. An asteroid approaches Earth. We know it’s carrying bad news. We may think of the spaceship that appears at the beginning of John Carpenter’s The Thing, or again in Predator. For those with longer memories, the alien spores releasing and then drifting to Earth at the beginning of Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) may come to mind. I wonder what the first movie was to begin with such a shot. Something from the ’50s I suspect.
*. James Gunn, who wrote and directed Slither, might be someone to ask. He conceived of Slithers as a tribute to the horror movies of the ’70s and ’80s, and the featurette on the making of the movie begins with a roll call of various inspirations: The Fly, Tremors, Gremlins, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Brood, An American Werewolf in London, The Evil Dead, Critters, The Toxic Avenger, The Thing, Alien, and Halloween.
*. One title that doesn’t get dropped is Night of the Creeps (1986). This might raise an eyebrow, as Slither‘s debt to Night of the Creeps, which was noticed and remarked upon right away, is pretty pronounced. Both films are about slugs from space that enter their victims’ mouths and turn them into zombies. I’m not saying this film is just a rip-off, but not mentioning Night of the Creeps as a source seems a bit passively defensive.
*. Now here is where all this becomes relevant. Is Slither meant as homage, or parody? It’s obviously a horror-comedy, but that’s what most of the movies Gunn was inspired by were too (including Night of the Creeps). And they were parodies that were in some cases over twenty years old when Gunn made Slither. So I guess it’s an homage-parody of various homage-parodies. Which leads to the question of whether it brings anything new to the table.

*. The answer to that is: not much. Slither is an entertaining little movie, but it doesn’t work very well as a comedy or as a horror film. Being so in debt to so many other pictures, every part of the story is predictable. Indeed, it’s made even more predictable for the way it taps into the then-reigning zombie apocalypse genre.
*. Also, the fact that so many other films are shoehorned into the plot makes the story messy at times. A good example is when Kylie gets throated by one of the slugs and receives some kind of species memory. I take it this is borrowed from a similar scene in Quatermass and the Pit, which is an interesting footnote but doesn’t really provide us with any necessary information here and probably just confuses things.
*. The whole shared consciousness idea (the slugs constituting “a conscious disease”) isn’t made use of in any interesting way, and doesn’t seem to have been adhered to all that closely. Some of the possessed townsfolk become Grant, but others appear to hold on to their own identity.
*. The slugs are CGI when shown moving around in large formations, which actually makes them less threatening. A lot of effects, however, are done in camera with prosthetics, and those are always fun, especially when they’re given such an obvious sexual twist. The phallic innards threatening tentacle sex that come out of Grant’s gut reminded me of the horny hotdogs in Sausage Party, while Kylie is clearly choking on a rubber dildo. As for Gale’s bedroom at the end, it made me think of the diseased imaginings of Serpieri’s Druuna comics, which were kinky enough to begin with.
*. But even here it all looks a little too familiar. The bodies sticking together in a fleshy conglomerate clearly recalls The Thing, while Grant’s face is an almost carbon copy of the melted phiz of Dr. Pretorius in From Beyond. Again, twenty years later shouldn’t Gunn have come up with something just a bit new?
*. Nathan Fillion is very good in this kind of role, and I’d say the same for Michael Rooker, but they both seem wasted. I think the fundamental problem with Slither is that the script just isn’t clever enough to carry things along. There are no memorable moments or lines but just a handful of gory highlights. If you’re a fan of such stuff you will have seen all this before, years ago, and if you’re not a fan I don’t think it’s worth the bother.

Doctor Strange (2016)

*. I know I’m hard on Marvel’s superhero movies, but it’s not because I’m against comic books. I read a lot of comics when I was a kid. I even read Doctor Strange. So I was looking forward to this one, just a little.
*. It’s a disappointment. The interesting thing about Doctor Strange, and what would have been a great angle to pursue on film, is that he was a psychedelic superhero. The Eastern mysticism. That cape (didn’t it have a paisley lining at one point?). Those trips to strange dimensions that looked like the inside of a lava lamp with acid-wash backdrops. And last but far from least let’s not forget that in the original comic books the good doctor sported a ’70s porn-star ‘stache. The demonic goatee came later.
*. This isn’t to say that Doctor Strange should have gone the route of ironic ’70s parody transplanted to the present day, like a reawakened Austin Powers or Starsky and Hutch. Though that might have been interesting given Marvel’s increasing tendency toward self-satire (as in Ant-Man and Deadpool). Nor am I just upset that this isn’t the movie I wanted them to make, which is the most useless form of criticism. I’m just registering my sense that something got lost in translation from page to screen and a real opportunity to do something different was missed.
*. In the event, they don’t do anything interesting with the story at all. This is a pretty big problem, and for the Marvel Universe it’s a problem that’s getting worse. We know the script so well. There’s the origin story where we’re introduced to the protagonist who may be rich or whatever but whose life is going nowhere. There is the triggering event and he becomes the Hero, complete with a menu of unique superpowers. Usually there is a girlfriend he returns to but who has trouble relating to him in his transfigured state. The hero often has a mentor figure who helps bring him along. There is a villain who may share a similar back story to the hero, or be from another dimension. Or both. The conclusion involves a spectacular battle where the hero is called upon to make a Christ-like sacrifice to save the humdrum people of the world.
*. Deadpool avoided the formula, at least a bit, by beginning the story in the middle of things and then filling us in by way of flashbacks. It was the same old story, but at least they jazzed up the delivery a bit. No such luck this time.
*. Here we start off with super-surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) getting in a car accident and traveling to Nepal to get his mojo back, and more. The mentor is Tilda Swinton, playing The Ancient One. Strange is a (very) quick study and soon finds himself back at his old hospital where he tries to make up with his ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams). She doesn’t understand what’s going on. There’s a plot involving an attempt to open a gateway or portal to another dimension, allowing an evil force named Dormammu to take over the planet. I can’t imagine why Dormammu wants to bother, but whatever. The hero enters the dimensional portal (this was very reminiscent of the end of The Avengers) and sacrifices himself in some kind of temporal loop that traps Dormammu, who decides to call off his plans . . . for now. Also as per Marvel standard operating procedure there are some teasers included in post-credit sequences.
*. So it sticks closely to formula and I have to say that by now that formula is getting pretty stale. But there’s an even bigger problem than this.
*. Magic is a different kind of super power. I think we can all relate, imaginatively, to someone who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Such superheroes are super, but we can still at least understand what they’re doing. They’re running really fast, they’re flying, or they’re hitting things very hard.
*. But a magician is in a different category. Once you begin breaking down the categories of space and time, or the laws of classical physics, then my eyes start to glaze over. Reality becomes plastic, and cities dissolve into Escher-like kaleidoscopes. If our sorcerers can do all this, what can’t they do?

*. It all looks a lot like Inception, which in turn looked like The Matrix. I think The Matrix was the real game-changer here, and not just for its look but for the theory underpinning it. This was that the “reality” experienced by those in the Matrix was really only a bunch of code that an adept like Neo could learn to manipulate, becoming a God in the process.
*. This idea of all reality, or our reality, being only virtual and thus easy to manipulate into novel forms, was also front and center in Transcendence and Lucy (both 2014). Lucy is basically a superhero movie too, with the eponymous character becoming one with the Matrix and thus a God. In Transcendence Johnny Depp experiences the same transfiguration through uploading his consciousness to the cloud.
*. I was reminded of these movies when the Ancient One introduces Strange to the world of magic by telling him that spells can be thought of as “programs” and that they constitute “the source code of reality.” This from the mouth of a supernatural being dispensing wisdom from a martial ashram in Kathmandu. Is nothing sacred?
*. Keeping with this same point, there’s a very odd bit in the script where Strange is taken to task for daring to mess with “the laws of nature.” Huh? Magic is taking the laws of nature and throwing them out of the window. Is his cloak of levitation obeying the laws of nature? The Eye of Agamotto? Are the spectral forms “natural”? Come on.
*. In my notes on Chandu the Magician I made the point that while magic would seem to be a natural fit with film, that’s not how it has ever worked out. Chandu himself was an immensely popular radio hero who, despite great state-of-the-art effects, didn’t translate onto film. Doctor Strange seems to me to be another example of the same thing. Since movies are magic anyway, magic on film is nothing special. It loses its magic.
*. So yes, if you’re into watching various metropoles (New York, London, Hong Kong) getting scrambled like a Rubik’s Cube then you may find this diverting. I didn’t think there was anything interesting in it at all. Dormammu was Sauron from Lord of the Rings, and Kaecilius and his back-up Zealots looked like the three baddies who escape from the Phantom Zone at the beginning of Superman 2. The cast are all pretty good, but they don’t have much to say or do that’s worth attending to. Swinton’s Ancient One actually tells us that “death gives life meaning” before she expires. Somebody got paid to write that.

Chandu the Magician (1932)

*. Despite the fact that a number of early filmmakers used the new medium as a way of (re)creating their own kind of magic tricks or illusions, turning “movie magic” into a term of art, magicians have never been that popular on screen. Even superhero-magician hybrids, from Chandu the Magician to Doctor Strange, while being adapted from their sources into decent flicks, didn’t enjoy great success.
*. Chandu should have been a hit. The character had been introduced to American audiences only a year earlier by way of an incredibly popular radio serial. Gregory Mank, on the DVD commentary, says that 60% of American households tuned in five nights a week to listen to Chandu, “an amazing statistic.” The show was targeted at kids, and the movie delivered with a crazy story of exotic adventure, served up with great special effects. And yet.

*. I had a hard time telling from Mank’s commentary, and the accompanying featurette Masters of Magic: The World of Chandu, just how well the movie did at the box office. Mank doesn’t say much aside from mentioning it was “profitable.” From what I was able to dig up this is correct, but only just. It certainly didn’t provide anything like the return on investment of Frankenstein. Other voices on the documentary say that the box office was disappointing due to Edmund Lowe not having the requisite star power to carry the lead. We’re also told that it didn’t do well in cities but played well in small towns, better in matinees than evening shows (as would be expected given the target audience).
*. I don’t think anyone could have been happy, as the franchise was allowed to lapse. There was a serial a couple of years later (The Return of Chandu) made up of a dozen short films that cast Lugosi as Chandu, but that would be it. Before long the mage had gone the way of the Shadow or Mandrake, radio stars killed by video. There were various rumours of remakes and re-sets all the way into the 1970s, but nothing materialized.

*. Why has this been the fate of so many magicians? Chandu the Magician (along with The Mask of Fu Manchu, starring Boris Karloff) was Fox’s response to the success of Universal’s monster hits of the previous year, and it checks all the right boxes. I don’t think we can blame it all on Lowe, as I don’t think he’s that bad, and the villain of such a piece (Bela Lugosi as Roxor) is always likely to steal the show anyway. Who remembers the handsome leads in Dracula or Frankenstein?
*. Even the credits are fun, with a waving hand making them appear on screen. And they are interesting credits too. Co-director William Cameron Menzies was an accomplished production designer, and gives this film a great look with some really impressive sets. James Wong Howe was behind the camera. Henry B. Walthall had been the star of The Birth of a Nation. Ken Strickfaden apparently designed the lab, as he had done in Frankenstein. Bela Lugosi turns in one of his best performances.
*. It’s a good story too, with all sorts of great adventure elements. There are multiple kidnappings, a plot involving a giant death ray that’s capable of wiping out cities halfway around the world, our hero being bound in chains and locked into a sarcophagus that’s then tossed into a river, a prison cell with a collapsing floor, and all sorts of other pulp goodies. For a children’s film it also pushed the envelope. Censors objected to a scene where a man has his eyes burned out with a branding iron and another where sexy June Lang is put on the auction block. Mank directs us to look at her bosom to see why the censors were so upset, as it’s clear she isn’t wearing anything under her light dress and it rather looks like a cool wind is blowing in from somewhere. Princess Leia’s turn as a slave girl had nothing on this.

*. About the only part that doesn’t work is Herbert Mundin’s turn as Miggles. It’s just a one-note part and gets tiring quickly, especially given how it’s overworked. Not to mention how he seems to be entirely shoehorned into the plot.
*. So it was a hot property and it still disappointed. The Chandu franchise was stillborn. And again I wonder why. Mank finishes up his commentary by saying that we have always been fascinated with the world of magic, which is true, but not in the movies. Why? Perhaps movies raised the bar too high. The movies are magic on steroids, making us less appreciative of the real illusion.

Don’t Breathe (2016)

*. I was only about fifteen minutes into this one before I recognized that it was a remake of Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (1991). The connections seemed obvious. Craven, in turn, had based his screenplay, loosely, on a true story about burglars breaking into a house and finding a bunch of trapped children.
*. On the DVD commentary for this film Stephen Lang (who plays the Blind Man) asks writer-director Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues if the idea was based on a true story. They initially say the idea was just about the blind man but that they also knew about the various stories of girls who had been held captive in basements for years and thought it would be cool to make a movie about people breaking into a house and finding such a situation. The People Under the Stairs isn’t mentioned. Did they not know it? I’ve noticed on a lot of DVD commentaries that directors and writers conspicuously fail to acknowledge their greatest debts. I’m not sure why this is. I mean, on the commentary for Quarantine they don’t even mention that it’s a remake of Rec!
*. So Don’t Breathe isn’t breathtakingly original. Even the blind villain isn’t that new. We’d already seen the blind troglodytes in The Descent, and there’d been a pack of blind hoodie-wearing ghetto rats in Citadel. Being sniffed out by monsters with heightened senses of smell or hearing goes back at least as far as Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972), and probably much further.

*. But originality isn’t what’s important in a genre flick like this. What we want is alert direction, a good villain, and at least one memorably gross scene (usually, but not necessarily, a “good kill”).
*. Don’t Breathe delivers on all three of these. The promotional campaign told us it was being brought to us by the same people who did Evil Dead. Note the missing definite article: not The Evil Dead (1981) but Evil Dead (2013). Yes, Sam Raimi was part of the production team here, but it was helmed by Fede Alvarez, who had directed Evil Dead.
*. Those aren’t great credentials, but apparently Alvarez took criticism of Evil Dead to heart and decided he wanted to go in a totally different direction. What he meant by this was an original script, less gore, and less CGI. Good idea. And while Alvarez hardly reveals himself as a major new talent with this film, he does demonstrate an understanding of the basic grammar of suspense and he doesn’t give do anything too idiotic. Exasperation at an idiot plot can really hurt a film like this.

*. The good villain in this case is the Blind Man, played by Stephen Lang. It’s not a great part. As with the best heavies, he has few lines and we don’t actually know that much about him. He remains mostly mysterious. But he’s different and has a unique look. I especially like the muscular reality of him. What I mean is he doesn’t look buff but rough: this is an old guy with old-man strength. That wifebeater and those heavy boots are the uniform of someone who doesn’t give a fuck any more.
*. He’s also, while not given “depth,” a character who is allowed a certain amount of sympathy. He’s Eastwood wanting these punks to get off his lawn, and he has a point. Sure he goes (or the film takes him) too far in the end, but he’s not just a bogeyman.
*. Finally there is the one memorable gross-out. This doesn’t involve the dispatch of any of the kids but rather concerns a loaded turkey baster dripping in anticipation, and a hair suspended in milky viscosity. Definitely an “ew” moment and not one likely to be forgotten by anyone who sees it. What more can you ask?

*. In addition to these essential elements there are signs of a real desire to make it all interesting. I’m thinking in particular here of the long shot (or what’s made to look like a single long shot but probably was at least two or three shots spliced together) introducing us to the interior of the house. They didn’t have to take us on a tour of the whole house (sans basement) right away, but since we’re with the gang all the time it fits, and it’s done so fluidly we don’t even realize how well it’s being done. That final flip underneath the bed showing us the gun is like the cherry on top. Take that, shaky-cam aficionados! This is real filmmaking!
*. I appreciate that cellphones can be used as flashlights in a pinch, and that’s how they’re used in a number of recent horror films. But shouldn’t a gang of burglars breaking into a house at night have brought some flashlights? I would have.
*. What does the Blind Man mean when he says “I’m not a rapist. I never force myself on her”? Does he mean that Cindy accepted her part in a bargain? And why would that distinction (which is casuistry anyway) apply to what he plans to do to Rocky?
*. Where is all that light coming from outside the windows? The exteriors don’t show any streetlights, but it’s like it’s high noon on a sunny day out there.

*. The ending is dark, leaving things open for a sequel (which became inevitable on the film’s success). It was, however, originally imagined as being much darker, with Rocky not escaping. This would have been a real downer, and yet more in keeping with the nihilistic spirit of contemporary horror.
*. Personally, I find the nihilism trite. “There’s no God. It’s a joke. It’s a bad joke. You tell me what God would allow this.” That’s easy to say. “There’s nothing a man can’t do once he accepts the fact that there is no God.” Or vice versa, depending on how you define God.
*. So this isn’t a landmark or game-changer. It’s a welcome relief from the found-footage genre (which one could easily imagine it being done as), but it’s very much in line with another sort of film I’ve referred to as the “trap” movie. This is a genre where the protagonists aren’t besieged within a house so much as they’re stuck in a situation they have to either escape from or die (think The Ruins or any of the many, many Game of Death films, the children of Saw). So to be sure we’ve been here before. But it’s all put across with professionalism and intelligence, and it has a crazy old muscleman chasing some kids. And a turkey baster too.

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

*. The title helped. As with I Spit On Your Grave, it was changed by the producer to something more marketable (the working title was Phobia). It was also meant to complement the second half of a double bill it appeared on (I Eat Your Skin, a film it had little in common with and that had been shot six years earlier but never released). That the title has nothing to do with anything in the movie is pretty much irrelevant.
*. It is, of course, a poor, no-budget exploitation movie, of interest today only for how silly it all is. At the time it had some notoriety for setting a new benchmark for violence, but by twenty-first century standards even the director’s cut is pretty tame. Only the pregnant woman stabbing herself in the belly with a wooden stake still has any shock value.
*. Perhaps the most disturbing thing watching it today is seeing all the dead animals. Apparently only the chicken was killed for the film, and if you object to that you should listen to John Waters’s commentary on Pink Flamingos. There are, however, a lot of dead animal carcases on display, including numerous rats and a goat.
*. In some ways it can be seen as a transitional film. It’s often compared to Night of the Living Dead, but I don’t think that’s a very strong connection. These aren’t zombies and (despite what’s often said in the literature) they aren’t cannibals. They’re just people infected with rabies. Its nearest analogs are later films like The Crazies and Rabid.

*. But in addition to looking forward it also looks back. One of the first things that struck me was how the horror plot we know so well, where the group of young people take a wrong turn or their car breaks down and they end up in some homicidal backwater, was being reversed. The town here is a ghost town that seems to consist of nothing but a single bakery, but it appears to be a wholesome enough place. The kids whose van breaks down, on the other hand, are Satan-worshipping druggies who haven’t even learned to eat with utensils. This is an older plot, more like The Wild One than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The immediate inspiration seems to have been the Manson murders.
*. The political message would appear to be an obvious one then. After all, it out the same year as Joe. But Kim Newman, who only briefly mentions this title in Nightmare Movies, makes an understandable mistake when he calls it “a Living Dead spin-off featuring a clash between rabid hippies and hard-hat construction workers.” That’s the conflict you’d expect, but in fact the two groups never confront one another. The construction workers, who are presented as a sleazy enough bunch themselves, are very quickly “converted” to hippie madness by way of a gang-bang with an infected girl. The rest of the movie they run around waving machetes and frothing at the mouth.

*. Much has been made of the multi-ethnic character of the gang. I doubt this was more than happenstance, and if it wasn’t I don’t think it reflects a very progressive point of view. The violent and diseased element aren’t just druggies and devil-worshippers, they’re coloured. They also practice interracial sex, and I don’t think the film approves of that (indeed, the stake in the belly loses some of its power to shock in our knowledge that the baby is probably “infected” and needs to be aborted).
*. You could say much the same for the Satanic cult business. After the laughable nudie opening scene this is basically dropped and nothing further is made of it. I think they just wanted to have a group nude scene and weren’t very interested in the devil worship.
*. I have to say I find this movie a lot less interesting than it’s made out to be by its fans. They’ve elevated it to semi-cult status, but there’s little here beyond the usual exploitation weirdness, more often the result of incompetence or serendipity than any original creative vision. Peter’s bizarre scheme for getting revenge on the punks — injecting blood drawn from a rabid dog he’s just shot into a tray of meat pies — is just one example. It’s certainly hard to forget the shot of him holding the blood-filled syringe over the pies, but it’s a pretty ridiculous idea all the same. Which makes it just like everything else in this cheesy flick.