Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Xenophobia

Year: 1980
Director: Greyson Clark
Cast: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Part of the reason we're going back to 1980 to scoop up extra movies is that some films slipped through my net before I refined my criteria for what does or doesn't qualify as a slasher film. Without Warning, which is about an alien invasion (well, kinda), just didn't seem to fit the bill at first. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized how uncannily it does follow the slasher formula, even considering that this should be pretty well impossible for a film that came out just three months after Friday the 13th

We've got a Crazy Ralph and everything!

Without Warning has a lot of slasher royalty behind it, as well. Generally the doddering, inbred kind of royalty, but it was shot by Dean Cundey, so that's nice. At the helm here is Greyson Clark, the director behind my fourth least favorite slasher of 1982, Wacko! There's also an Alone in the Dark pre-reunion going on here, teaming Jack Palance with Martin Landau because apparently they were just doing whatever script scribbled on a napkin was shoved in front of them in the early 80's. Anyway, I digress. Let's cover the plot, insofar as there is one (Another slasher trope! I've said this exact sentence dozens of times!).

A hunter (Cameron Mitchell of The DemonBlood LinkTrapped AliveTerror NightDeadly Prey, and Memorial Valley Massacre) and his son Randy (Darby Hinton of Wacko) are killed out in the woods (as played by California dry brush) by what can only be described as extraterrestrial ninja stars. They're basically little frisbees that look like sand dollars with little fanged sucker mouths that attach themselves to your skin via little tubes and start sucking out your insides. They also take down a comic relief Scoutmaster (Larry Storch of Sweet 16) before four horny teens come careening in with their camper van. Now that's more like it!

These teens are the Horny Sex Couple Beth (Lynn The) and Tom (David Caruso, who I certainly didn't expect to see mucking about in the slasher trenches, and boy what a twink he was 41 years ago) and the Sweet Couple Sandy (Tarah Nutter) and Greg (Christopher S. Nelson). The horny teens are dispatched almost instantly and Greg and Sandy are sent running through the woods and into town, where they encounter the Man Who Cried Alien, Sarge (Landau) and reunite with their harbinger, creepy gas station attendant Joe Taylor (Palance). They do eventually discover that there is a humanoid alien  (Kevin Peter Hall, who would go on to greater glory playing an alien in a little film called Predator) throwing these sand dollars around to murder people for.... reasons, and he's hiding the bodies in... a shed. Spooky!

It really sends a shiver down the spine, dunnit?

If there's one thing I've learned from a long and intensive study of slasher movie posters, it's that if the cool-looking monster or alien is shown in detail, then you're only gonna get to see it onscreen for twenty seconds max. I'm looking at you, The Slayer and The Incubus. If a film has enough of the monster that it wants to keep it a secret to surprise the audience, then that's when you end up with a subtle poster like Alien. So at least I didn't come into Without Warning with any illusions about this alien menace.

Ultimately, the design of the alien once we see it (once in a flash under a swinging lamp, the remaining 1 and a half scenes largely in shadow) is a pretty good, if uninspired variation on the Greys. The sucker discs look a little shoddier (when they're sucking their victims dry they're covered in what is unmistakably ketchup and mustard), but they're at least fun B-movie images if you suspend your disbelief off a cliff. Unfortunately, this hot-dog-esque M.O. is the only way people are killed in the movie, so it wears thin long before the gags peter out. 

But isn't it nice that at one frame of the movie looks like this?

Although the effects bringing the sci-fi elements to life are very 80's, the rest is an extremely effective pastiche of an average 50's B-picture. In that nothing happens for 80 minutes. Greg and Sandy run through empty woods interminably, then sit in a bar during a power outage that I'm pretty sure was engineered because they didn't budget for that many lights. The filmmakers seem to have come to the conclusion that the cheapest special effect is human beings grousing at each other in the dark. And the pacing of the kills is terribly poor (another slasher trope executed with aplomb), with most of the kills happening in the first two reels to leave plenty of time for wandering past some scrub. 

Palance and Landau don't liven up the proceedings, barely showing a shadow of even the screen presence they display in Alone in the Dark. But then again it's hard to breathe life into a character when you're asked to spout dialogue like "Alien! Alieeeeen! ALIEN!" The only performer who is doing anything remotely interesting is Larry Storch, in an unfathomable turn as a Scoutmaster who warns the boys against picking up rattlesnakes because they "carry germs" and tries to light his cigarette by holding it against a rock and striking it with flint. He is carted in from a completely different movie and carted back out more or less immediately. 

All in all, despite its mild B-science fiction charms, Without Warning presents us with almost nothing to recommend itself. It's a dreadfully tedious motion picture experience that wastes every ounce of talent spent on it (and once you get past those two veteran actors and Dean Cundey, that well is already shallow as hell). This kind of film is why I'm glad to mostly be free of 1980. It doesn't have the vigorous excesses of the later 80's, but it's not sober or serious like the late 70's, so it's really just a waste of time all around.

Killer: Alien (Kevin Peter Hall)
Final Girl: Sandy (Tarah Nutter)
Best Kill: They're legitimately all the same, but the death of the Scoutmaster has the ooziest gooiest blood splatter, so I'll pick that one.
Sign of the Times: Greg has to use a dial to turn on his windshield wipers.
Scariest Moment: Martin Landau points his fun at Greg and starts yammering about how the aliens are all his fault.
Weirdest Moment: In the spooky gas station, the gang discovers an upside-down baseball cap in which a rat is snuggled with its litter of babies.
Champion Dialogue: "I saw something outside that bar I've never seen before, and I have no desire to see it again."
Body Count: 9
  1. Hunter gets suckered.
  2. Randy gets suckered.
  3. Scoutmaster gets suckered.
  4. Beth gets suckered offscreen.
  5. Tom gets suckered offscreen.
  6. Greg gets suckered.
  7. Sarge gets suckered.
  8. Joe Taylor and
  9. Alien die in an explosion.
TL;DR: Without Warning is a dire sci-fi B-movie that wandered its way out of the 50's and got itself some decent special effects that are hardly used.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1211

Monday, September 13, 2021

Census Bloodbath: No, This Is Patrick

Year: 1980
Director: Mario Landi
Cast: Sacha Pitoëff, Sacha Pitoëff, Mariangela Giordano
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

Oh, Italian horror rip-offs. The fun never ends with you. Remember back in the day when Bay of Blood was advertised as a sequel to The Last House on the Left, a movie that didn't exist when Bay originally came out? Or how Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 is a "sequel" to Dawn of the Dead that doesn't even spare a thought to the fact that a sequel to that film couldn't possibly depict the beginning of a zombie apocalypse?  Among such storied company, Patrick Still Lives is actually a venerable pillar of honesty in advertising.

Allegedly a sequel to the 1978 Ozploitation classic Patrick, this film is more of a remake, but at least it has the decency to be about a telekinetic boy named Patrick. 

By the standards of Italian horror "sequel" continuity, Patrick Still Lives might as well be The Avengers.

So let's get ourselves acquainted with Patrick (Gianni Dei, who we'll meet again in 1987's Delitti). The film's abrupt beginning shows Patrick on a roadside with a man who is presumably his father, Dr. Herschel (Sacha Pitoëff). A bottle gets thrown from a car and smacks him on the head, sending him into a coma. Cut to years later, and Dr. Herschel has assembled a ragtag group of people at a health spa in a remote Italian villa. We don't find this out till later, but the plot is obvious from the beginning so I'll spoil it: everyone has been brought here under threat of blackmail, and they are all suspected of being the bottle-thrower. Patrick may be in a coma still, but he's hooked up to the brains of three other coma patients and his telekinetic wrath causes the guests to perish one by one in spooky supernatural ways.

The guests in question are Davis (Paolo Giusti), a Tig Notaro lookalike and the son of an important banker who was involved in an accident that killed several people; Peter Suniak (John Benedy), who is a drug addict; minister Lyndon Cough (Franco Silva), who is a corrupt parliamentary minister; and Peter and Lyndon's partners Stella Randolph (Mariangela Giordano) and Sheril Cough (Carmen Russo), whose crimes would seem to be that they like to have sex.

Women, am I right?

I don't know what circle of hell I've stumbled into where all the slashers I encounter are basically just softcore pornos now, but Patrick Still Lives at least lies much more staunchly on the "slasher" side of the line than either Killing of the Flesh or Momentos de Prazer e Agonia. And curiously, though the film is obsessed with showing naked flesh (this is the type of movie where people might casually just pop a boob out at dinner, and all the women sleep naked, putting on robes when they get up - robes that do nothing to cover their nipples or vaginas), there isn't actually any sex, unless you count Patrick's bizarre telekinetic tryst with sexy blonde staff member Lidya Grant (Andrea Belfiore).

The first half of Patrick Still Lives - where the characters wander around either being naked, engaging in sub-giallo nonsense drama with lots of slapping, or both - is beyond repair. If you really want to see boobs that bad in 2021, there are much easier ways to do that than bootlegging a stupid Italian slasher from 40 years ago. It's only once the killings begin in earnest that things get interesting. 

"Interesting" unfortunately isn't synonymous with "good." The murder setpieces in Patrick Still Lives are a challenging lot to grapple with. I will lead with the fact that the special effects bringing them to life are uniformly superb for the time, and the movie's endless variations on gruesome kills are shockingly ahead of their time for a pre-Friday the 13th motion picture (technically it debuted in Italy a week after Friday, but they were produced contemporaneously is what I'm saying).

I know you actually don't care about the specifics, but I do. You don't watch slashers almost exclusively for eight years and not get a little in your head about it.

Every kill in Patrick Still Lives is brutal, but there are only two that perfectly ride the line between intense and entertaining: a man who gets a wicked metal hook jammed through his lower jaw, and a woman who is slowly, methodically, decapitated by a car window. Then there's the medium level: the first and final body count kills (where a man dies in a pool of boiling water and a woman is mauled by dogs) aren't particularly visually dynamic, even if the effects for both are above par for similar scenes in other movies of the time. The absolute lowest tier is the pair of kills that just involve poison, which don't require interesting special effects.

OK, enough beating around the bush. There's one kill here that is... challenging. Typically what I look for in a slasher movie kill is a unique premise and convincing, over-the-top special effects. This kill certainly has that, but it takes the sexual violence that simmers beneath the entire motion picture and pitches it right the hell up to 11. For the un-squeamish, here's what happens: A woman is skewered with a spit, which enters through her vagina and comes out through her mouth. It's certainly well-realized, probably the most impressive effect in the entire film. But coming at the end of a dozen scenes of cavalier exploitation and objectification, it's impossible to not feel icky about it. I'm not one for the censorship of art, especially exploitation and pornography (assuming they were created with properly consenting performers), but a conscientious viewer must come to this scene with a very particular mindset that I don't find myself capable of.

Even setting aside that particular scene, the impressive effects don't quite make up for the hour and change spent wandering around the villa with its desperately uninteresting characters while listening to a score that sounds like a Goblin tribute band covering the Exorcist theme. It's not an altogether unwatchable slice of giallo sexploitation, and it has some amusing campy moments (ie. Dr. Herschel tries to write off Lyndon's clearly boiled skin as a side effect of alcoholism), but at the end of the day I'd just rather watch Patrick, you know?

Killer: Patrick (Sacha Pitoëff)
Final Girl: Lidya Grant (Andrea Belfiore)
Best Kill: I'd have to say the car window to the neck, which is brutal in its ceaseless repetitive slamming and convincing geysers of blood.
Sign of the Times: Well, there really was only a tiny window of time in which anyone could have made a sequel to Patrick.
Scariest Moment: A hypnotically hornified Lidya licks the metal post of Patrick's bed. Think of the germs!
Weirdest Moment: Stella discovers Davis' mutilated body and to calm herself down, she wets her breasts at a nearby fountain.
Champion Dialogue: "I usually bang women, not whisky bottles."
Body Count: 8; not including the 3 unnamed host bodies fueling Patrick's telekinesis, who presumably die during the third act when he drains their energy.
  1. Lyndon Cough is boiled in a swimming pool.
  2. Davis is hung from a hook by the bottom of his chin.
  3. Stella Cough is skewered on a spit via the vagina.
  4. Sheril Randolph is decapitated by a car window.
  5. Peter Suniak is poisoned with carbon monoxide.
  6. Brad is electrocuted.
  7. Meg is mauled by German shepherds.
  8. Dr. Herschel is stabbed in the heart with a hypodermic needle.
TL;DR: Patrick Still Lives is a rather rote erotic giallo until it briefly becomes a very good gore picture.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1278

Friday, September 10, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Run Of Tamil

Year: 1980
Director: Balu Mahendra
Cast: Prathap Pothen, Shobha, Malasia Bhaskar
Run Time: 2 hours

There is a slight issue I come across sometimes in my journey to watch every single slasher movie released during the 80's: foreign countries like to make movies too, and sometimes if you want to watch a slasher released in a language you don't speak over 40 years ago, you have to take what you can get. And sometimes subtitles aren't a part of that package. So it's entirely possible that the screenwriter of the Indian Tamil-language film Moodu Pani (AKA The Mist) is the next Shakespeare. We're not here to review the story today, we're here to look at the 1980 porto-slasher as a purely cinematic and visual object, which is kind of the point anyway, wouldn't you say?

...This still might not be the best movie to do that with.

Moodu Pani is another "hero killer" movie, like that same year's Maniac, centering around the psychology of its twisted protagonist Chandru (Prathap Pothen). Chandru hates women because his dad cheated on his mom, as far as I can tell. I will give that motivation the benefit of the doubt that maybe it's given more layers in the actual dialogue. But, knowing the state of the slasher film in this period, it probably doesn't. Anyway, he either is a taxi driver or frequently poses as a taxi driver (because he also works on a film set at one point, though never again), and he visualizes many of the women in his car as his dad's mistress and attempts to strangle them. There's also a woman who spends a full hour of the movie sitting on a porch chatting, and he's in love with her for some reason so he kidnaps her, leading to a prolonged series of escape attempts. 

To be fair, I would probably be just about as confused about the plot if I could understand everything.

The film would probably be much more successful at delivering any kind of atmosphere if its killer wasn't one of the most milquetoast screen presences in the history of cinema. Pothen plays Chandru like a stammering geek, and while I understand this approach is meant to highlight the vastness of the evil living inside him, the (infrequent) killings are staged in a way that highlights their artificiality and don't pack the visceral punch of something like Maniac. That said, I could at least understand a woman initially trusting Chandru, rather than Joe Spinell's Frank in Maniac.

There are only two moments where Chandru seems like an interesting cinematic figure in any way, and both of them use the same technique to heighten the fright. Chandru seems to get stuck on a single phrase, begging a character for something he wants, repeating the same words over and over and over in an increasingly shrill plea. It's an outward expression of how he gets stuck inside an obsession and compulsively must act out his urges no matter what anybody around him thinks.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to cut this review a little shorter than I prefer, because there's literally nothing else about Moodu Pani to talk about. Other than the novelty of being made in India, which has a gorgeous landscape and architectural tradition, the film has absolutely zilch to look at. It's understandably low budget, considering it doesn't even have the backing of the Bollywood machine, which wasn't as flush with cash in 1980 as it is now. But there isn't even a single angle the camera takes that makes a choice beyond merely staging the action in the center of the frame, lit with even, sanitized sitcom brightness. 

It also does the thing that some Indian musicals do where they only justify shoehorning in music numbers during diegetic performance moments, which limits the fantastical inspiration that they usually are capable of exhibiting. While Moodu Pani has a performance or two, it couldn't really be classified as a musical in the way that the Hindi slasher entry from 1980 - Saboot - could. This prevents the film from wasting even more time, because those numbers wouldn't have been any good, but as such it lacks even the basic spark of joy that something like Saboot's swoony romantic number during a search for the corpse of the singing woman's father.

Killer: Chandru (Prathap Pothen)
Final Girl: Blue Shirtdress Girl, who if I had to guess based on who gets top billing is probably Rekha (Shobha)
Best Kill: Pass. But if I had to choose, as my article word count demands, I suppose the first strangling, which is rendered amusing by the fact that the lady's hands somehow end up super bloody despite her not being stabbed.
Sign of the Times: Chandru is rocking the mustache, clear glasses, ring tee vibe.
Scariest Moment: In one scene, a character is talking to Chandru but their voice is drowned out by a screeching in his own head.
Weirdest Moment: Again, maybe I'm misinterpreting events, but Chandru appears to solicit a prostitute via a six-year-old pimp.
Champion Dialogue: N/A
Body Count: 2
    1. Yellow Sari Woman is strangled.
    2. Brown Dress Woman is strangled.
TL;DR: Moodu Pani is a movie I didn't get to experience in full due to a lack of subtitles, but I don't think it would have made much difference in me finding it aggressively bland.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 899