Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Creepshow 2 (1987)

... aka: Creepshow II

Directed by:
Michael Gornick

The EC Comics-inspired anthology Creepshow (1982) was a modest hit in theaters and did good business on home video and TV, so it was inevitable much of the same team would return for a sequel. This was once again produced by Richard P. Rubinstein and Laurel Entertainment. Tom Savini again helped work on the effects and appears in a cameo, though primary makeup fx duties were assigned to Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero and Ed French (Savini was merely a consultant). Original Creepshow director George A. Romero is back, but this time only as a writer and, again, adapting Stephen King short stories, two of which had not yet been published. Unlike the original, which contained five tales plus linking segments and ran two hours, this one only contains three stories and links and runs an hour-and-a-half, though five tales were originally planned. One of the discarded stories (“The Cat from Hell”) was later used for TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990) instead. Tapped to direct this time was longtime Romero collaborator Gornick, who had shot earlier GAR hits like DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) and the original Creepshow. This would be Gornick's feature directorial debut, though he'd directed four episodes of Laurel's Tales from the Darkside TV series earlier.

First up is “Old Chief Wood'nhead.” After thirty years running a general store in Dead River near an Indian reservation, elderly Ray Spruce's (George Kennedy) wife Martha (Dorothy Lamour) thinks it's time to finally close up shop. For starters, paying customers are few and far between in the dying desert town. But mostly, the poor locals are purchasing things on credit and have yet to pay them back. Indian chief Ben Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo) shows up with a collection of valuables from his people for them to hold as collateral, but that glimmer of hope is extinguished when Ben's arrogant grandson Sam (Holt McCallany) and a couple of his buddies (Don Harvey, David Holbrook) break in to rob them so they can run off to Hollywood. Both Ray and Martha are needlessly killed in the process. What the robbers don't count on is the wooden storefront Indian chief miraculously springing to life and enacting revenge with arrows, a tomahawk and scalping.

Tale #2 is “The Raft.” Four pot-smoking college kids (Daniel Beer, Jeremy Green, Paul Satterfield and Page Hannah, sister of Daryl) take a trip out to a scenic country lake, which has a grounded raft in the middle. They decide to brave the cold and swim out there to, uh, smoke more weed, I guess, and then find themselves trapped by a flat black creature they describe as looking like a giant oil slick but I describe as looking like a giant garbage bag. Properties of the creature are comparable to The Blob in that it can ooze between cracks and such and then quickly dissolve victims with an acidic substance. One-by-one the “teens” manage to get themselves killed. What this leaves out of the story that would have helped some in the plausibility department (especially with the first kill) is that the creature possesses a mesmeric quality using kaleidoscopic light that it uses to entrance victims.

Finally, we get “The Hitch-Hiker.” Wealthy, adulterous housewife Annie Lansing (Lois Chiles) oversleeps at her lover's place and must rush home late one night so her controlling lawyer husband doesn't get suspicious. On the way there, she loses control of her car after dropping a lit cigarette and accidentally runs over a man (Tom Wright) on the side of the road wearing a raincoat. Instead of helping or going to the cops, she decides to speed on home and pretend like nothing happened. But, much to her horror, the hideously bloodied victim doesn't leave her with that option when he returns from the grave to settle the score.

None of these three tales are really standouts. The first is entirely predictable and basically just zips through three kills (two of which are off-screen) in a non-suspenseful fashion after the initial premise is set up. The second is burdened by a silly / cheap-looking monster, bad acting and unlikable characters. The third gets repetitious and monotonous before it ends. But each story does at least have some merit, especially the Indian design in the first, some good gory / gooey kills in the second and plenty of blood (the undead hitcher gets shot repeatedly, run over and backed over countless times and even has his head smashed against a tree) and Chiles' performance in the third.

Romero's script somehow manages to represent both the best and worst of his screen-writing abilities. The goons in the first story – just like the military men in his DAY OF THE DEAD – are insufferably obnoxious and irritatingly over-the-top. There are better ways to make us hate people than have them maniacally cackle, scream all of their dialogue and overact. On the flip side, this has some instances of unexpectedly witty banter, like the conversation between Annie and her paid gigolo lover (David Beecroft) that opens the third segment. The last story also features King in a cameo as a dimwitted truck driver.

As far as the direction is concerned, Gornick is certainly no match for Romero. The original had a real comic book flair to it thanks to colorful presentation, vibrant lighting and clever use of comic book frames throughout. In between the stories here we mostly get some cheap animation featuring a Crypt Keeper-like “Creep” (voiced by Joe Silver) making macabre comments and a little boy named Billy who religiously reads Creepshow and lures some bullies into a trap where they get eaten by giant, carnivorous plants. Though these bits are OK they're simply not as stylish or memorable as the visual presentation used by Romero in the original. However, to be fair, the original also had twice the budget this film had.

While this didn't completely bomb in theaters (making 14 million on a 3.5 million budget), it didn't come close to matching the success of the first and thus did not prompt other Creepshow theatrical features. In 2006, Ana Clavell and James Glenn Dudelson made the much cheaper and much hated Creepshow 3 after making another unofficial, even more hated Romero “sequel:” Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005). You're better off pretending those two don't even exist. There's been talk of a “reboot” for years now but nothing has happened.

A soundtrack album of Les Reed and Rick Wakeman's score is available through Waxwork Records. Also available on the Divimax Special Edition DVD is the 32-minute documentary Nightmares in Foam Rubber, which features lots of behind-the-scenes footage plus interviews with Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger about their fx work on the film. They also discuss Ed French either quitting or being fired (they're a bit vague about it) and how Nicotero should have received his fx credit as he did more of the actual work. It's also revealed that Patricia Tallman (soon to star in Savini's remake of Night of the Living Dead) played Hannah's role during her entire death scene as the lake water was so frigid they needed a stunt woman.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Il sesso del diavolo (1971)

... aka: Il sesso del diavolo: Trittico
... aka: Sex of the Devil
... aka: Triptych
... aka: Trittico

Directed by:
Oscar Brazzi

After taking a relaxing anniversary cruise, Andrea (Rossano Brazzi) and his wife Barbara (Maitena Galli) are dropped off in Istanbul, Turkey. There, they meet up with Andrea's reserved assistant Silvia (Sylva Koscina) and his Turkish colleague Omar (Fikret Hakan), who hasn't been back to his home country in fifteen years. Andrea's secretary has arranged a luxurious seafront villa for them to stay at while they're in the country. Upon arrival at their vacation home, Omar has an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu like he's been in the same house before while the married couple can't stop bickering.

Andrea was once a brilliant doctor but has since lost his skills, developed a phobia of surgical instruments and devolved into an impotent, depressed drunk. The much younger Barbara (because there's this rule that all doctor's wives in movies must be at least twenty years younger) was once a model in New York before settling down and isn't too comforting in his time of need. As a matter of fact, she doesn't at all mind rubbing his face in his failures, especially when she doesn't get her way. Andrea disapproves at how provocatively she dresses. She tells him he just doesn't get modern fashion cause he's so old. He's too tired to go out to the nightclubs their first day there. I'm sure you can already guess what her response is. Because of his depression, Andrea also hasn't been able to be intimate with his wife, something she just laughs about.

While tensions rise between the couple, there's a sinister housekeeper named Fatima (Güzin Özipek) quietly lurking about. Fatima gives Barbara a special medallion necklace. She then whips out a large tray decorated with astrological signs and arranges tea cups on it in a peculiar, purposeful way before serving it to the guests. Silvia has a wavy premonition that discourages her from actually drinking the tea but the other three do. The following day during a sightseeing trip, someone wearing sunglasses “accidentally” bumps into Andrea and almost knocks him over a cliff. Someone else has made a plaster sculpture and uses a brick to smash in the faces on it. A mysterious man stalks the ladies on a shopping and sightseeing excursion. A weird little neighbor girl keeps going to the garden at night “to see the lady.” But a blind palm reader has good news for Silvia at least. She's a butterfly who will soon be able to spread her wings and fly free and happy.

Recognizing some art pieces around the grounds of their villa, Omar finally realizes why the place feels so familiar. That's because it had belonged to a French sculptress friend of his named Claudine. Claudine was obsessed with the zodiac and what influence it has in our lives. Said beliefs also influenced her art pieces, which always had astral and psychic components. She also hung herself right outside that very home.

So the housekeeper hypnotizes Silvia and puts her through some ceremony where she's stripped and then dressed in a pink kaftan dress. She emerges from that sexier and more confident than the conservative Silvia who arrived in Istanbul, which results in her coming on to both the doctor and his wife. Omar, however, isn't having any of this, especially after having a terrifying vision of Claudine hanging in the garden. He buys a plane ticket to Ankara and encourages everyone else to head back to Rome. They eventually do but not after some other bizarre things occur.

The sunglasses assassin shows up a few more times to kill Mr. Obromov (Ayden Tezel), an art collector who's been buying up all of Claudine's work, and then tries to take out Andrea with a throwing dagger. There's a trippy belly-dancer act cut with the housekeeper's witchcraft ceremony, including one where she summons a scorpion and tries to get it to sting Andrea's crotch (!) The two female leads can't seem to keep their clothes on for longer than ten minutes and there are a few slow-motion dream sequences, including several of Andrea being chased around by the Turkish side characters and one where he and Silvia do the Eurotrash version of the beach scene in From Here to Eternity.

The director and two stars died decades ago so they ain't talkin' but I doubt even a zodiac-obsessed, acid-dropping former hippie astrologist could tell you what in the hell is going on here. This seems to be trying to say something about love, relationships and men being emasculated and ultimately rendered insignificant by independent women who'd just assume turn dyke than deal with male baggage, but when a filmmaker buries said message(s) under a bunch of artsy nonsense in an otherwise incomprehensible film he might as well not be saying anything at all. Not that this movie isn't somewhat interesting at times. It is. Some of the sequences are actually well done and kind of mesmerizing. Still, by the end, I found myself not really caring. And that's a good thing considering this doesn't even really have an ending; at least not one that actually resolves anything. Too much empty travelogue footage and mostly bland performances (Brazzi seems downright bored) don't help matters any and the score is as all over the place as the rest of the film, with a main theme by Stelvio Cipriani that blatantly rips off the opening chords of Iron Butterfly's “In a Gadda Da Vida!”

Never released here in America, this is listed most places online under the title Trittico ("Triptych"), which refers to one piece of art divided into three sections. I usually see it used to refer to three paintings from the same artist hung next to each other to create one continuous scene / image or one of those closed framed photos with two flaps that open to reveal a larger photo, but it can also refer to a trilogy of books or a musical composition in three parts. While this does feature a sculpture of three faces they show a couple of times, whatever relevance it has to the plot is, like everything else, muddled beyond comprehension.

The director is the younger brother of the star and was also a producer on Psychout for Murder (1969) and the sleazy Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974), which also featured his brother. "Trittico” is merely a subtitle on the print I viewed and I found no poster with that title on it. Pretty much all advertising materials I've found call this Il sesso del diavolo or “Sex of the Devil” (not to be confused with Il sesso della strega or “Sex of the Witch” from around this same time), so that's what I'm calling it here.

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