Friday, January 31, 2014

Deadly Weapons (1974); Double Agent 73 (1974)

These were both filmed by Doris Wishman and both star Chesty Morgan, so it makes sense to review both together.

Deadly Weapons

How bad is it? Even the director disliked it.

Should you see it? No.

The plot is a simple revenge story, where the star uses her enormous breasts to smother men. It could've been sexy, it could've been funny, but it's just tedious. Doris Wishman is, in my opinion, the worst director who ever made more than a few films; some people have nothing to work with, some have huge budgets that don't amount to much and then there's Doris who squandered whatever she had.

A word about the star and the type of film: unlike today, breast reduction surgery in the 1970's was rare, expensive and never covered by insurance. Some women made money by allowing their huge breasts to be photographed and then used the money to pay for surgery to reduce their size. Some tried to make as much money as they could first, and Morgan was one. Wishman didn't like her. Russ Meyers didn't like her (he probably would've given her only a token non-speaking role, as she couldn't act and had a thick Polish accent), Fellini cut her scene from his "Casanova." I actually met her briefly when I was 15 and I didn't like her, either.

The movie seems to take place entirely indoors, probably filmed in one house. The camera is static, the dialogue minimal and hard to understand (Chesty's voice is dubbed to cover her thick Polish accent), the entire production is terrible. One expects a film of this type to be "titillating" but it doesn't even manage interesting or tawdry; one doesn't care about Morgan, one doesn't even feel sorry for her for being in such a film and so burdened.

The two scenes that stand out in my mind involve one where she's bathing - and it's about as interesting as if watching her peel potatoes and one where she's undressing and flab just hangs everywhere. 

Double Agent 73

How bad is it? It's almost as bad as the above.

Should you see it? Only if you're really desperate and it's free.

They don't even look mammoth here. There's NOTHING to see here, folks.

This time, Morgan's voice is her own, at least.  Chesty's infiltrating a drug smuggling ring and, after she kills men, she uses a camera surgically implanted in her left breast to take pictures for identification, (why not before?), so the film has a lot of her extricating a breast, holding it like a loaf of sliced bread and pointing it, with a shutter click sound effect. There's also a time bomb in the camera, for reasons inadequately explained.

Sometimes I think that the film could be remade into something worth watching. There's actually someone who would currently fit the role (and her English isn't great, either):

If you're going to see a Doris Wishman film, I'd pick one of the early nudist camp films. Nude on the Moon (1961) has a couple of laughs (my main recollection of it is one guy who looks like he has bird crap in his hair). Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) is probably her best. Another Day, Another Man (1966), The Amazing Transplant (1970), Keyholes Are for Peeping (1972) and the documentary Let Me Die a Woman (1977) all have a few admirers, but I cared for none of them.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972) and other Al Adamson films

aka Man with the Synthetic Brain

How bad is it? It's a mess.

Should you see it? It's not essential viewing.

Someone gets revenge on John Carradine

Al Adamson and his partner made a heist film called Echo of Terror (or Two Tickets to Terror) around 1965, but they couldn't sell it, so they added footage and a soundtrack and added a new plot about a killer and called it Psycho A-Go-Go (1967). This wasn't successful, so they added more footage and made it a detective film called Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1969). Then they added yet more footage about zombies and called it The Man with the Synthetic Brain (1971). Then they retitled it Blood of Ghastly Horror. Apparently, somewhere along the way, versions of this were called Fiend with the Atom Brain and The Love Maniac.

Don't expect to follow the plot too closely. There's a murder in an alley. The detective on the case gets evidence that it's linked to an old case. Flashback to diamond robbery. Then there's evidence that it's linked to a mad doctor. Flashback to John Carradine treating a brain-damaged Vietnam vet by replacing brain cells with electronics. The vet becomes a maniac. In response, the vet's father kidnaps the doctor's daughter (played by Regina Carroll, the director's wife), not for ransom, but to turn her into a zombie, as that's his special field of knowledge. Jewel thieves have controlled the vet's brain and are using him to commit murders. Policeman Tommy Kirk chases the bad guys. Go-go dancers get killed.

Then I get lost.

There's a lot of extreme close-ups, partly because the original film was done in wide-screen and this got the pan-and-scan treatment, partly to do a head-in-a-box scene. There's a witch doctor who wears a lab coat. There's terrible dialogue ("I flew in... on a plane.") There's some good music (by the Vendells) and some good cinematography (by Vilmos Szigmond), though the latter is piecemeal, as later parts were shot by someone else. There's some nice scenery around Lake Tahoe. There's a lot of puppets... for some reason.

I have to admit that I zoned out a lot while watching this.

Adamson directed a lot of bad films at the start of the alphabet:

Angels' Wild Women - dullest biker film ever.
The Black Samurai, 1977 - okay blaxploitation with Jim Kelly
Black Eliminator, 1977 - more Jim Kelly, still okay
Black Heat, 1976 - yet more of the same, still okay
Blazing Stewardesses - absolutely awful "comedy" with surviving Ritz Brothers
Blood of Dracula's Castle 1967 - dull vampire film with John Carradine as a butler
Brain of Blood  1971 (aka The Brain, aka The Undying Brain, aka The Creature's Revenge) Mad doctor performs brain transplants. Acting, camera work, score and sound effects are all poor.

Added 8/20/14

Dynamite Brothers 1974 Poor martial arts blaxploitation.
The Female Bunch 1971 Dull action film.
Five Bloody Graves 1970 (aka Gun Riders, aka The Lonely Man, aka Five Bloody Graves to Tombstone) Very violent western; watchable but nothig special.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals (1969)

How bad is it? It's among the worst-made films available.

Should you see it? It's only available on cassette in a murky print, but if that's your thing, sure. It looks like it was filmed in Super-8, so even a clean print wouldn't be great.

This is about the best photo I can find from this movie.

You can learn a lot about movie-making from bad films; I learned blocking scenes from "The Giant Gila Monster," for example. "Mummy/Jackals" shows how long-range shots are filmed before two-shots or close-ups - because this movie used whatever footage they had when they ran out of funds and a lot of it is done solely in long shots.

The plot has an Egyptian goddess that carries a curse for whoever spends a night with her. Of course, someone has to do it. The goddess comes to life... and passes herself off as a low rent Vegas showgirl, for reasons not adequately explained, and she comes complete with a fat mummy with one bulging eye (that switches sides at one point). A guy gets turned into a were-jackal, with special effects that are rock bottom. John Carradine says he can solve the problem on the next full moon - and then doesn't show up again. [He also doesn't move. I like seeing how directors worked around his arthritis problems.] There's a dinner scene where a woman says she's going to make a call - and then never comes back and no one comments on it. There's a chase scene filmed on the Vegas strip, where people stare into the camera and laugh at the actors. Finally, the Mummy and Were-jackal drown in a hasty ending that leaves so many hanging threads it gives new meaning to "fringe film."

The music is actually pretty good, except that there's only a couple of minutes of it and it gets reused repeatedly. Some of the acting isn't terrible. I'm stretching to find something nice to say... this is wretched. Reportedly filmed in 1967, they ran out of money and couldn't finish the project (I'm guessing someone saw rushes that involved the Vegas strip scene and backed out), but had been contractually obligated to supply a film and did the best they could with what they had. The film then sat unseen until it got a brief release on videotape and has since all but disappeared.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Maniac (1934)

How bad is it? It's cheap and tremendously overacted.

Should you see it? Definitely. It's the first great terrible film.

When I first read about this movie, I thought it would be horrifying. For example, a man plucks out a cat's eye and then eats it. It's so poorly done, however, that it's fun, rather than scary.

The story has a mad scientist trying to bring life to the dead. His assistant is an actor who dresses up as the coroner so the two of them can work on a body in the morgue. While they do this, two men (janitors?) watch and have one of the most entertainingly stupid conversations ever committed to film. Later, the doctor causes a disembodied heart to beat and then tells his assistant that he (the doctor) is  going to kill him (the actor) and bring him back. The actor then kills the doctor instead. Thinking that the doctor will be missed, but he won't, he decides to dress up as the doctor and take over his practice - including the experiments. We get to see a man who believes he's a gorilla (a la Murders in the Rue Morgue), then the cat's eye thing - a real one-eyed cat was used, and we get to see some brief nudity. Then we get to see the actor's wife and three other women in lingerie behaving in what Esper and wife must've thought was a provocative way; the brunette with the Betty Boop voice makes me laugh whenever she speaks, one prances around the room and another uses one of those old-timey shake-your-weight-off-with-a-vibrating-belt devices. Meanwhile, two women have a cat-fight with syringes in the basement! Lastly, the police arrive to discover that a man has been entombed in a wall with a live cat (also from Poe. "Cask of Amontillado?"). The cop, leading the actor away, has the final word: "Man, you're crazy!"

Esper made a number of terrible films, the ones after the Hays Code skirting decency standards by pretending to be educational and by not being shown in movie theaters. "How to Undress for Your Husband" does not live up to its title, unfortunately, but all his films have something entertaining; "Cocaine Fiends" has a scene where a prop window slams shut by itself and startles the cast, but they didn't retake the shot. "Maniac" remains the one essential Esper film.