Monday, January 15, 2024

The Crimson Kimono (1959) starring James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Victoria Shaw

"YES, this is a beautiful American girl in the arms of a Japanese boy! What was his strange appeal to American girls?"

When ambitious stripper Sugar Torch gets gunned down in the streets before her big Vegas break, LA homicide detectives Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) and Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) spring into action. Partners, roommates, Kendo combatants (!), and best friends, Joe and Charlie’s bromance dates back to the Korean War when sharpshooter Joe donated blood so his CO (Charlie) could get surgery. In other words, nothing can come between them. Except a DAME! 

While protecting Chris (Victoria Shaw), their only lead in the case, both Sensitive Joe and Gruff Charlie fall for the pretty artist. Sam Fuller wrote and directed this schizo but enjoyable look at postwar LA, racism, bromances, and identity issues, all wrapped around a fairly ho-hum murder mystery. 

Shigeta, of course, is immediately recognizable as DIE HARD’s Mr. Takagi while Corbett made a living as a tv guest star. The film also features tv’s Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) in an uncredited role along with Ana Lee (General Hospital’s Lila Quartermaine) as “Mac”, the boys’ boozy artist pal. — Dan Taylor

Saturday, January 13, 2024

VENUS IN FURS (1969) - starring James Darren, Maria Rohm, Klaus Kinski

James Darren stars as Jimmy, a trumpet player who awakens one day and digs up the horn he'd buried on the beach ("It's like burying my life" he says in the film's noir-ish voiceover). As he fiddles with the instrument – which was exactly where he remembered burying it – he notices something floating in the surf and discovers the slashed, beaten body of a beautiful blonde.

At first he doesn't recognize her but eventually remembers that this is the same girl he encountered while performing at a jet setter party a few weeks earlier. There he stumbled upon a perverse trio – a sweaty art dealer (Dennis Price), a carpet-munching photog (Margaret Lee), and a sadistic playboy (Klaus Kinski) – whipping, assaulting and stabbing the girl.

Instead of stopping the shenanigans Jimmy walks away thinking that maybe it's "their bag" and avoids getting involved in their reindeer games. Escaping to Rio he encounters Wanda (Maria Rohm), a dead ringer for the girl he found on the beach.

Can this be the same girl? Is Jimmy's mind playing tricks on him? Or, is something more bizarre at work? Regardless, he strikes up a relationship with her, to the chagrin of his casual galpal Rita (Barbara McNair), a soulful club singer employed – like Jimmy – to entertain at swinging jet-setter shindigs.

In a series of hypnotic episodes, the three pervs who tortured the poor girl find themselves encountering their victim as well, though without the same results as the last time. With the body count piling up and the cops on their trail (the film wildly shifts from hypnotic erotic thriller to chase flick in an unexpected sequence), Jimmy and Wanda escape together while Franco circles back to the beginning of the film.

I could probably show VENUS to a dozen different people and get as many differing opinions about the flick's meaning. One friend described it as a painting that Franco put out there and each viewer can interpret the proceedings however they wish.

Kinski fans will be both delighted and disappointed by his miniscule, almost silent role. His limited dialogue is dubbed by another actor, but he's rarely looked so striking on screen. At one point Franco frames his face – chiseled features, ice blue eyes, blondish hair – against a red background (a dominant theme and color scheme throughout the flick) and it's simply one of the best uses of The German Olivier's features I've ever encountered. (It's up there with the "prayer grenade" sequence in A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL.)

A very trippy and hypnotic flick from Uncle Jess. – Dan Taylor

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Churchill's Leopards (1970) with Klaus Kinski, Richard Harrison

Richard Harrison—in a twist worthy of a Jean Claude Van Damme flick—stars as twin brothers (!), one a Nazi officer, the other a British commando. In an effort to cut off the German supply lines and leave them "hamstrung" (mmmm, hamstrung), Churchill himself concocts Operation: Overwatch (or something to that effect) which is designed to drill a hole in the base of the dam, plant some explosives and make it go BOOM. The surrounding area would be flooded, roads would be destroyed, and two Panzer divisions would be forced to eat one another. 

Klaus plays the suspicious, chain-smoking Captain Holtz who seems to think something is hinky with Lt. Muller (Harrison) right off the bat. Sooner or later, you know Klaus is going to get to the bottom of it, but you're not sure how. It's a meaty supporting role for K2 and he gives Holtz more personality beyond the typical evil SS officer with impeccable fashion taste. He has a sense of humor and appreciates the finer things in life. But he's not above taking 20 hostages to sweat a confession out of the townsfolk for the murder of two German soldiers. 

In the end it's a race against time as Muller's girlfriend (Helga Line of HORROR EXPRESS, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, LORELEI'S GRASP and NIGHTMARE CASTLE) arrives and is sure to get to the bottom of the deception. Or will she? Other familiar faces include Frank Brana (RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD) as a French Resistance fighter and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE, CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT, DEATH SMILED AT MURDER and tons more) as the head of the commando unit. 

Another nice package from Wild East. I'm sure it looks great compared to what was previously available and despite a couple audio glitches early on this is an entertaining "gotta blow up the dam", French Resistance and Brit Commandos vs. Evil Nazis flick. Contains a second Klaus-tastic WWII flick—SALT IN THE WOUND (aka THE LIBERATORS)—with the German Olivier as a Yank GI! – Dan Taylor

Monday, September 18, 2023

Bacterium (2006) directed by Brett Piper

I'm a big fan of Brett Piper's THEY BITE, a funny, slightly gross take on 50s killer creatures from the sea flicks. In that low-budget crowd-pleaser, the director piles on the jokes, coaxes a very funny performance from porn icon Ron Jeremy, and ups the ante with a faux trailer for the unforgettably titled INVASION OF THE FISH FUCKERS.

So, it's no surprise that the presence of Piper's name on the credits pushed BACTERIUM to the top of my 'To Watch' stack. And while it lacks the laughs or sly B-movie references of THEY BITE, it's not a bad entry in the mutant-organism-on-the-loose-meets-government-conspiracy sweepstakes.

Opening with a sinister car/helicopter chase through the underdeveloped backwoods of the mid-Atlantic (much of the flick was shot at Fort Totten, Bayside in Queens, NY), Piper sets an ominous tone that kicks the flick off nicely. As the car careens through the countryside, the driver's face pulses and melts away while the helicopter pursues its prey. As the contamination-suit-clad chopper occupants close in, one makes the tragic mistake of touching the "sample", a vial of green liquid that will surely lead to no good.

Meanwhile, a group of paintball-playing kids stumble upon what appears to be a deserted house in the woods. Thinking it'll be a good hiding place they enter, only to encounter the crazed scientist who has created a mini lab in an attempt to contain a mutated super virus. (One glance at the stack of ancient, low-fi Macs in the background might explain his utter failure at his mission.)

From this point BACTERIUM plays out like you'd expect from a low-budget version of THE BLOB. (And, in case you missed that reference point one of the characters shouts, "Don't do that! Didn't you see THE BLOB?!") The big tube of glowing fluid turns into an oozing, attacking, face-eating, chest-bursting mass that likes melting faces, flesh, and lab rats.

Will the teens and government scientists escape from the organism? Will the government decide to use a nuclear strike or even a black hole bomb that will deliver localized destruction and eradicate the creature ... not to mention everything else in the area?

If you've seen THE CRAZIES, THE BLOB, OUTBREAK, or any other mutant organism/government conspiracy/virus-on-the-loose flick, BACTERIUM won't hold a ton of surprises. But Piper and Co. manage to ring every dollar from the flick's budget thanks to some fun miniature and model work as the creeping bacterium divides and divides and grows stronger and larger.

And don't be fooled by the PG-13 rating. About 15 minutes in, star Alison Whitney treats us to a healthy dose of full-frontal nudity, complete with perky boobs and a nice landing strip. Couple the surprising nudity with the melty face effects and BACTERIUM is an entertaining, if not all that memorable (or original) monster flick. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor of Exploitation Retrospect and has no idea why there isn't a three-disc special edition of THEY BITE available.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Adios, Craig | Saying Goodbye to An Old Partner in Trash Cinema

Was completely floored last night when I found out that Craig Ledbetter of European Trash Cinema and Hi-Tech Terror fame had passed away. When my buddy Lou and I created ER back in 1986, a copy found its way into Craig's hands and it wasn't long before we became trading partners and fast friends.

His zines were crucial in my development as a trash hound, and to paraphrase Mr. Joshua from LETHAL WEAPON, Craig had forgotten more about trash cinema than I will ever know.

My association with Craig led to lasting friendships with pals like Bob Sargent of VIDEOOZE, David Zuzelo (my CINESLUDGE co-host) and CINEMA ARCANA's Bruce Holecheck; and I'm not sure such mutant sinema breeding grounds as the old European Trash Cinema (ETP) group on Yahoo would have existed without Craig's influence.

As a proprietor of European Trash Cinema he'd fill my PO Box with countless DVD-R double features like last night's viewing of THE PLEASURE GIRLS (with Klaus Kinski) and the Jack Taylor/Paul Naschy monster mash DR. JEKYLL VS. THE WEREWOLF. And when I wanted to do something "special" for friends like send out a dozen or so copies of KINSKI PAGANINI he was the guy I turned to.

As I look around at the trash horror community and see all the grieving, I can only imagine what his family is going through. I hope you'll keep them–and everybody who was lucky enough to know this wonderful man– in your thoughts, prayers, or however you celebrate one's life.

And as you go through this weekend and the days ahead, remember to enjoy every sandwich as Warren Zevon once said.

Adios, Craig. – Dan Taylor

Friday, November 25, 2022

Amityville: A New Generation (1993)

After yet another disheartening Flyers loss (their eighth in a row … do I hear nine?) it was time to head back down the Amityville Rabbit Hole with AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993), inspired by the book Amityville: The Evil Escapes but not to be confused with the film AMITYVILLE: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1989) which stars Patty Duke and Jane Wyatt and co-stars an evil floor lamp. Got it? Good.

Instead, NEW GEN focuses on Keyes Terry (Ross Partridge, who looks a bit like a Thrift Store Jake Gyllenhaal), an artist/photographer who lives in a trendy artist’s building along with painter Suki (Julia Nickson), sculptor Pauli (Richard Roundtree!), and Keyes’ supportive but exasperated girlfriend Llanie (Lala Sloatman aka Dollar Tree Taylor Swift). Rounding out the building’s residents are David Naughton and Barbara Howard as Dick The Landlord (subtle) and his wife, Janet.

While taking photos one day, Keyes encounters a homeless man (Jack Orend) who hands him an ornate mirror. Might it be … evil?! Well, it’d be a short–and boring–movie if it wasn’t.

Naturally, Keyes brings the mirror back to the building where it starts claiming victims (like Robert Rusler as a boozy paramour of Suki’s) and attracting the attention of Detective Clark (the always reliable Terry O’Quinn), who may know more about the mirror’s history–and Keyes’– than he initially lets on. Everything culminates at a group exhibit in the loft where Keyes’ past and preset collide.

Amityville “sequels” tend to be pretty hit or miss, but NEW GENERATION is ludicrous and entertaining, complete with trips to mirror world, an unexpected shotgun blast to the face, enough gore to be satisfying, over-the-top David Naughton, the many layered wardrobe of Thrift Store Jake Gyllenhaal, and did I mention Richard Roundtree as a sculptor named Pauli?! – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and The Hungover Gourmet, which just announced its return to print after a twelve year absence.

Friday, October 14, 2022

The Axe Murders of Villisca (2016) starring Alex Frnka, Robert Adamson, Jarrett Sleeper

“We’re ghost hunters! We hunt ghosts!”

In June 1912, eight people were brutally murdered in the Moore family home located in Villisca, Iowa. Six family members and two houseguests were bludgeoned with an axe by an unknown assailant, and despite many suspects (one of whom confessed and was tried—twice!) the crime remains unsolved. 

Fast forward to 2016 when Denny (Jarrett Sleeper), his pal Caleb (Robert Adamson), and Jess (Alex Frnka, the new girl at school who got filmed sleeping with Connor the homophobic jock a-hole) decide to celebrate Caleb’s last night in town with some paranormal exploration at the Moore House, now a tourist attraction played by the funeral home from PHANTASM 2. 

After a tour of the house conducted by Greg (Jon Gries/Uncle Rico from NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE), the trio break in after hours and, well, spooky stuff happens. The three confront past demons, Connor and his dumb buddy show up, and we’re treated to many scenes of Rev. Kelly (Sean Whalen from ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE and LAID TO REST among many others) whack, whack, whacking his way through the house. 

Unfortunately, the glacier-like pacing makes the flick’s 78-minute running time feel like two hours and so little attention is paid to character development that we feel nothing for Denny, Caleb and Jess before they’re thrown together—in other words, it’s hard to care what happens to them. Flashbacks to their pasts are murky at best and the ending left my daughter and I both going “Huh? Wha?”.

The leads are likable—despite looking too old for their parts—and there’s plenty of creepy imagery but this is not recommended unless you’re having trouble sleeping. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and The Hungover Gourmet. He is thrilled that his teenage daughter is now enthusiastic about watching trashy horror flicks.