Friday, March 11, 2011

Charles Dickens done the 42nd St way!

D. Shaun Costello
Full Frame

Did you ever think you would see a XXX retelling of Charles DICKen’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL? How about one that is actually very well made, with good set design, eye popping colors, neat cinematography and for the most part really good acting? Well it must be the 70’s porn world because modern smut wouldn’t bother. And it must be the work of porn auteur Shaun Costello because very few of the genre’s director’s could pull off such a weird feat and make it work. By all accounts it shouldn’t, but the resulting movie is all the things a could adult film should be, AND a remarkably sweet natured look at good-will to man to boot.

Mary Stuart stars as Carol Scrooge who runs a high society dirty magazine featuring naked men. She works her staff too hard and doesn’t believe in time off, even for Christmas, which she abhors. Her main layout man Bob Hatchet (Jamie Gillis) has to stay over through Christmas eve to get pictures ready she is unsatisfied with while she fucks a new model (Sonny Landham). But that night she is visited by the very well known three spirits of Christmas who take her through her life, past, present and future to try to help her amend her heathen ways.
She is first visited by her former business partner, Lance Marley (Marc “ten inch” Stevens) who warns her of what lies ahead before eating her out and boning her on the bed. Then she meets the ghost of Christmas past who takes her to a rather disturbing moment in her childhood where she cons her playmates into some very kinky playtime (all played by the adult players, acting like kids). Each subsequent scene plays out like the Dicken’s classic but with a decided adult twist, usually with the participants ended up fucking in some way.,

What sets THE PASSION OF CAROL apart is several things. One is the look of the movie. The movie was 90% shot on closed sets with everything designed by hand. While mostly very simply, the work on the set design is still very intricate and superb creating a cartoonish, other-worldliness that sets the movie apart. The whole thing is lit with harsh reds and greens, once again keeping with the Christmas motif. The gliding camera constantly finds the most interesting shots, weather there is sex going on or not, making everything appealing at all times.

The other interesting thing is that the movie has such a big heart. Even though the movie gets considerably bleak as it moves forward, it never loses site of a very sweet core, and the performances reflect it. Characters often tell each other they love them, a rarity in porn films. Jamie GIllis in particular is cast against type of a loving husband whose sole sex scene is with his wife. So when the final “transformation” of the main character happen, even if it is a little cheesy and heavy handed, it feels very sincere. It works because the movie is consistently sweet natured.

For all the sex going on, and some of it gets a bit perverted, the movie is a classy one. And should be a perennial for the Holidays in any sleaze loving families household.

This new DVD from Distrib-X-pix is something to behold. Remastered from ultra rare surviving elements to and HD source it is eye popping to look at. The bold greens and reds are solid for what I can only imagine is the first time (those colors ALWAYS bleed in analog sources). There is so much details newly available on screen that during the mirrored room three way sex scene the entire crew can now be seen hanging out in the reflections! Something that Shaun Costello is surprised to notice on his commentary.

Which that commentary is maybe the biggest reason to pick up the disc. Even if you are only interested in making of these films from the perspective of the era, this commentary makes this an essential purchase. Costello hits the ground running and never stops, giving us tons of information, incredible stories and is a great raconteur. I also appreciate that he never rags out or talks down about the people he is remembering or talking about. I’ve heard other commentaries/interviews about the adult era where people tend to get bitter or just don’t have nice tings to say. But anytime Shaun starts to seem to almost go into territory that may be unpleasant he keeps it upbeat and takes the high road. I liked that. I hope he does more commentaries as more of his films hit the format.

There is also a short little time capsule about 42nd Street that is cool but also a little sad to look at when shown how much it has changed. Add to that Shaun Costello’s exhaustive liner notes (more like a little book, than just liner notes as he goes into great detail on the making of the movie and living on 42nd st in the 70’s!) and you get one of the great grindhouse releases of 2010.

If you are a fan of this stuff you OWE it to yourself to pick this one up.
Review © Andrew Copp

Monday, March 7, 2011

Italian Alien Rip Off From The Deep or Deep Eco Message Film?

D.Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)
One 7 Movies
Full Frame 1:33
92 Minutes

This Italian genre mish-mash is basically advertised in the artwork as an ALIENS rip off, but it is actually just barely that, yet in reality is so, so much more. A Johnny come late in the Alien falls to Earth sub-genre by 1989, with by that year what would be primitive special effects, this movie has a whole lot to love. It it had been made even ten years earlier I could imagine it playing drive-in double bills, or urban theater afternoon matinees for quite some time. This is the exact kind of movie I used to sit glued to cable TV mid-day and watch while playing with my toys as a kid. Movies like SPACE RAIDERS, YOR THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (also directed by Margheriti) or Luigi Cozzi’s really shitty, but terribly entertaining HERCULES movies. If I had seen ALIEN FROM THE DEEP at ten years old it would have been on of my favorite movies of that year. But by 1989 I was about to enter college. I was well aware of so bad their good movies and would have loved it for different reasons.

"Maam I resent you saying I dress like Wil Wheaton. You need to put some clothes on before I throw you off my boat!"

Pretty Marina Giulia Cavalli stars as Jane a Greenpeace investigator heading to a remote island in tow with her lovelorn and trusty cameraman Lee (Robert Marius) (who only shoots with a VHS camera!) to look for the shady doings of corporate criminals E-Chem headed by baddy Charles Napier. Turns out these dunderheads have been dumping all their toxic waste into the local, very active volcano! Along the way they meet some local witch doctors and have some various jungle adventures. In fact the whole first half of the movie is an action/adventure movie about this couple trying to get the goods on E-Chem and evading capture. I kept checking the dvd box and wondering if I had been misled about this whole Alien/monster business.

"Goddammit! I used to work for Russ Meyer! I was around titties til Tuesday! How'd I end up on this helicopter with you?!"

Not that it isn’t entertaining and well handled. It all has a sort of ROMANCING THE STONE vibe going on as Jane meets Bob (Daniel Bosch) the local snake wrangle (wink wink!) who helps her out of a jam and into his heart. He gets a glimpse of her in his shirt after a shower and he is sucked into her whole scheme. Even the fact he keeps a pet cobra that roams free in his pad, doesn’t deter her from his wiley ways either. They play house while her friend Lee is being tortured for information by those evil E-Chem bastards!

"He's the "snakecharmer" hardy har har..."

Then finally about the 50 minute mark a meteor falls into the lake by the volcano and a monster crawls out into the water. The E-Chem scientist a kindly old man named Dr. Geoffries (Alan Collins) explains it came from space attracted to the power of the toxic waste and is using it to gain power and grow! See the movie threw you a curve ball! You thought some monster was going to be born out of the volcano or some prehistoric dinosaur or something! Nope! it came from space to stomp their asses! From here it gets right down to it, biting the head off a diver and burrowing into the ground heading towards the factory.

Jane and Bob are heading back to the factory because Lee hid a VHS tape of the toxic dumping there as well, so all is on a collision course for CRAZY! The creature is stopping along the way to pinch people in half with the giant claw or melt their face off with his radioactive touch, or slimy residue. All we see of the big guy for the most part is that big ass lobster claw bursting out of the ground or through walls until the big finale when he stands upright. He looks like a two story bio-mechanical car engine with lobster claws mixed with a transformer toy. Which is to say he looks FUCKING AWESOME. 

"Beat this shit Michael Bay!!!"

A couple of other highlights include a character having his leg melted by radioactive goo while he still walks around, Dr. Geoffries running around with a huge retrofitted flame thrower, and best of all Jane having to be “decontaminated” from the monster goo, which means she ends up in a wet T-shirt and underwear for the entire climax of the movie. That’s some good thinking Right there. The effects are of the old school blowing up miniatures variety. Which adds a real charm to the proceedings as well.

For all the shooting and monster chomping and some splatter action, the movie is surprisingly non-offensive. The gore is not really lingered on, and there is no sex or nudity (wet T-shirt not withstanding). Only the occasional F-bombs really land this with the R-rating. Hell if I had kids I’d probably let them watch it. Like I said, if I saw this when I was ten years old I’d have loved this. 

"Apparently the monster farts glass."

The DVD is sparse on extras, only a “image gallery” that is images from the actual film, and a grainy ass many generation away copy of the Italian credits sequence. I would have loved some interviews or even just a trailer. This is a full frame presentation but it seems like it may have been shot that way as it never feels like the frame is tight or missing information. 

Overall quite and enjoyable pulp sci-fi flick that I feel no shame in recommending to fellow aficionados of this sort of thing. 

Review © Andy Copp

Friday, March 4, 2011

I Spit on your Rape Revenge Remakes

D. Steven Monroe
Anchor Bay Ent.

It is certainly arguable if the world even needed a remake of Meir Zarchi’s brutal exploitation classic I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and really any movie that tried to update it was not going to live up to the big shoes of the original. That film is one that has for years split horror and sleaze films fans to almost violent extremes. In one camp you have those who feel the original movie is nothing but misogynist, hateful garbage. A film that brutalizes women for the enjoyment of a rag tag crowd of impotent men who get off on seeing females dis-empowered and sexually abused for lengthy amounts of time. On the other side is the group who see the film as a superior piece of exploitation cinema, that attacks the material with an almost feminist agenda. A work of primal rage, that contains a surprising amount of quiet beauty and fury. The controversy of Siskel and Ebert reviewing the movie has become stuff of film criticism legend and even a lot of genre critics have spent years poo pooing the film as a way to not have to take a stand on it.

"The remake will be remembered for the subtle use of phallic imagery"

But with the major success of so many remakes it was only a matter of time. When something like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT has a major Hollywood remake that lands in theaters it is only fitting the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE will have one too. So the question remains how do you update one of the seriously most disturbing movies of all time for modern, jaded audiences?

The answer seems to be simply just up the gore to the expected splatterpunk levels and hope for the best. Story wise this is almost exactly the same. Young city girl Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) goes to the woods to write her first book in peace and quiet. Her first interaction along the way is at a redneck gas station where she inadvertently humiliates the group of yokels there when she spurns the advances of the local tough guy when he hits on her. Once settled in she has plumbing issues and the town handicap Matthew (Chad Lindberg) helps her out and develops a crush on her. Soon the town goons and Matthew have crashed her cabin and are abusing her in an attempt to have Matthew lose his manhood.

"A moment clearly echoing the original film. Or the Denmark Classic A Summer Day"

The scene is clearly here driven by class distinction as much as by sexual desire or even violence as the men are consistently driving home the fact that they feel she is looking down on them. The actual humilation scene goes on for quite some time as they scare, here, call her names, read her book out loud and make fun of it and finally force her to fellate a gun and bottle while comparing her to a horse that needs to be tamed. It is a long and unpleasant scene, made worse because knowing the original film, you know this is all leading up to her being brutally raped at any time.

But in a new twist, she gets loose and finds the town Sheriff in the woods hunting. (SPOILER ALERT) who of course knows the boys and once has her back to her cabin starts to arrest her for making false accusations and for having drugs. Then the boys come back and the expected rape begins. Which is not as brutal as the original film. Here only the character of Matthew and the Sheriff are shown fully forcing themselves on Jennifer. The others are shown in kind of a in and out haze as she loses consciousness and the movie fades out. It is actually a far more tasteful choice in direction that was expected given the pedigree of movie being remade. It still follows the same structure, though backwards, as she is here attacks at her home first then in the woods. This time she jumps off a bridge after her attack and the guys loose track of her once she is in the water. Unlike the original where she is left for dead after they believe Matthew has killed her.

"Hill-billy bathub time!"

Here in the remake the movie takes a severe bad turn. Jennifer simply is removed from the narrative for a significant amount of time. The film is supposed to be her story, yet for a good ten minutes or more she is gone from the film as we spend time with the rapists as we know their families, and how they are trying to get away with the crime. What steam the movie has built up to the point, and it isn’t terrible, goes all over the place and becomes an unfocused mess.

Then it tries to become a slasher/stalker picture as she comes back for vengeance, asking the audience to put aside some pretty illogical things, like for example that Jennifer has survived in the woods, injured for over a month on her own. But even more that she is now able to overpower and kill these hulking maniacal men on her own, even in her crazed malnourished state.

The movie really goes limp in the second half as the filmmakers start giving Jennifer goofy catch phrases such as “It’s Date Night!” after she kills her abusers in an attempt to make her really clever and to set her in the pantheon of on screen killers. In an attempt to keep up with the Jones the filmmakers chose to have her slaughter her abusers in complex and painful ways that would be much more at home in one of the SAW films that a simple revenge set up. So one fellow is strung up over a bathtub full of water and lye, and their has his eye-lids pulled open with fish hooks and smeared with fish guts until CGI crows appear and tear out his peepers (seriously, I am not making that up!) and finally one unlucky rapist scum is strung up like a stallion with a metal bridal knocking out his teeth and finally castrated in a nod to the original film. But taken one step further as his removed member is shoved into his broken, bleeding mouth. There is also a shotgun sodomy bit where she viciously fucks one of the slobs in the ass with the barrel of a shotgun while screaming at him about why he violated her. The biggest problem with that scene is that it was done better a couple of years ago in the film CLOSURE with Gillian Anderson, almost down to extremely similar dialogue,

"Just whatever you do, don't stuff a fake severed cock in my mouth. That would be REALLY humiliating..."

The director has stated one of his goals this time around was to “correct” the flaws of the original by not having the Jennifer Character use her sexuality to seduce the villains into her grasp. Such as the scene in the original where she Seduces Matthew before Hanging him. It is the ONE questionable scene in the original that really muddies the moral waters about the intention of the filmmaker. But the director here simply pulls that back entirely too far and almost gets rid of the main character’s point of view altogether. By removing her from the mid section of the film we lose touch with her and lose sympathy. We don’t see what she is going through, her pathos and he need to do these guys in. It simply doesn’t work. I commend him on his attempt to try to make it less sleazy, but at the end of the day he also makes it kind of ridiculous, making the bad guys charactitures in the process (not that the original isn’t guilty of that either). The main villain's speech about “a man being just a man” from the original film is also absent here, which was another focal point.

So what you are left with is a rather unfocused modern revenge film, with a few well done suspenseful moments, some heavy gore, and not a lot else making it worth the time. It certainly is not the worst of the remakes I’ve seen, but redundant keeps popping into my mind as a word to describe the experience.

Review © Andy Copp

Siskel and Ebert Go Off about Women In Danger IN Horror Films