Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Review: SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS



SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS
1968, Something Weird #ID6066S WD VD, DD-1.0/MA/+, $24.95, 82m 27s, DVD-A

By John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #69

While Herschell Gordon Lewis is best known among cin­ematic trashpickers as “The God­father of Gore,” he regularly dabbled in other exploitation genres, and this amusing entry in the biker movie craze was one of his biggest commercial suc­cesses. “The Man Eaters,” an all­ girl motorcycle gang wreaking havoc in South Florida, stage races along an abandoned air­ strip with the winner getting first choice of the meat in “The Stud Line.” When member Karen (Christie Wagner) breaks the girls’ golden rule and becomes attached to one man, she is given a choice: drag him behind her bike or suffer that fate herself. The real trouble begins when a rival male gang tries to take over their turf, leading to increasingly brutal tit-for-tat reprisals. 

As one would expect from a Lewis picture, SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS doesn’t flinch when it comes to violence, showcasing a decapitation, a severe case of road rash, and all manner of anti­-social activities. The proceedings are comically tame in every other area, however, featuring ridicu­lously toned-down language (“Dirty Mother...Fuzz!”), abso­lutely no drugs, and (despite a surfeit of innuendo and implied lesbianism) a fully clothed orgy where piggyback rides are the height of debauchery! Every­thing finally wraps up with an unbelievably contrived “Crime Doesn’t Pay” ending of the sort that was once mandated by The Hays Code. Frequent Lewis crew member Roy Collodi cameos as a bartender who makes the mis­take of angering The Man-Eat­ers main mama, Queen (Betty Connell). The soundtrack in­cludes some music recycled from the director's A TASTE OF BLOOD. 

The source material has some worn sections and colors fluctuate between pale and reasonably vivid. The flaws that pop up (an intermittent flicker, flash frames signalling the end of a shot, the film running at the wrong speed) are the fault of the cinematography and editing, which are pretty awful even by Lewis film standards. Cropping is occasionally apparent, but not a major issue; the sound is okay within the limitations of the original recording. Lewis, Mike Vraney, and (very faintly) Jimmy Maslon provide a commentary track, with the director revealing that all of the girls (with the ex­ception of THE GIRL, THE BODY AND THE PILL’s Nancy Lee Noble, who plays gang mascot “Honey-Pot” ) were real bikers; that American International sub-distributed the picture in some territories on the bottom of a double bill with THE BORN LOS­ERS, the first of Tom Laughlin’s “Billy Jack” films; and that the working title was MAN-EATERS ON MOTORBIKES, also the name of the memorable theme song (“Bug off or you’ll find that you have blown your mind!”). Lewis also recounts how the experience of being hit in the crotch with the aforementioned papier maché head during filming launched him on a single-minded quest to discover the detergent that could out-muscle his infamously hard-to-clean stage blood. The discus­sion also devotes a fair amount of time to JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT, another JD picture the director made shortly after this one. The opening minutes of the conversation are marred by some annoyingly loud interference. Supplements consist of the the­atrical trailer (narrated by Lewis), the familiar Lewis Gallery of Ex­ploitation Art, and BIKER BEACH PARTY, an 11m 28s short (with the SWV watermark) about a New Jersey gang called The Aliens. It is narrated primarily by a member who says “you know” eight times per sentence and shares personal philosophies like “Jesus died so we could ride.” For those confounded by such undiluted truisms, a more eru­dite commentator helpfully ex­plains “Don’t let it snap your mind: you’ve got to groove with the bike crowd to know where it’s really at.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Movie Reviews: DERANGED/MOTEL HELL



DERANGED / MOTEL HELL
1974/1980, MGM Home Entertainment, DD-2.0/SS/16:9/ LB/ST/CC/+, $14.95, 81m 25s/100m 54s, DVD-1 

By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #98

This “Midnite Movies” double bill pairs two “down home” hor­rors, each presented on its own side, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles, and no supple­ments other than a theatrical trailer. Originally released by American International Pictures, Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby’s DERANGED first appeared on video in 1994 through Moore Video. Tim Lucas reviewed that edition in Video Watchdog #18, remarking that “this morbid movie remains bearable by complimenting its oppressively sick atmosphere with notes of black humor and social commentary...which intermittently come together in chords of sadness and truth.” This VHS edition was authorized by the film’s producer, Tom Karr, and the print used for the trans­fer represented the directors’ original cut. The AIP release ver­sion, however, was missing the picture’s most graphic sequence. When MGM announced their DVD, fans were hoping that it, too, would be the full strength edition but, in a change from the norm for this label, MGM has opted for the tamer cut, which runs lm 10s shorter than the tape. This would indicate that the bit in question (which runs lm 15s and should appear at the 22:22 mark on the DVD) was likely eliminated prior to AIP’s purchase of the production. In it, psychotic mama’s boy Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) uses a spoon to scoop out an eye (“There she comes now, real easy!”) from Miss Johnson’s de­cayed, severed head. He takes a hacksaw and slowly slices off the top of her skull, using the spoon to loosen and then remove her brain. Oddly, the “real easy” line has been moved to the point, about lm later, when Ezra is holding the woman’s flayed face in front of his own and speaking to his mother’s mummified corpse. In the Moore release, he says “All we got to do is stitch it on you.” The AIP version closes with a 5s copyright notice for that company and a “names have been changed” disclaimer, ac­counting for the slight discrep­ancy in running times. The loss of this scene is not crucial to the narrative, but it will disappoint those who have grown accus­tomed to the Moore version. In every other regard, how­ever, MGM’s anamorphic presen­tation comes out far ahead. The source material is in much bet­ter condition, as are colors, con­trasts, and detail levels. The digital mono sound is also cleaner and more satisfying. The 1.85:1 matting cuts off horizon­tal image visible in Moore’s 1.55:1 tape, and nothing of sig­nificance is added to the sides, but the DVD looks correctly bal­anced more often than not. 

Although it also looks like another AIP property, Kevin Connor’s MOTEL HELL was originally produced and distrib­uted by United Artists, a major studio that released compara­tively few horror films during the 1980s. While a seasoned exploi­tation company would have known how to properly sell this cheerfully ghoulish black com­edy, UA never really got behind the movie (save for the creation of a memorable poster and tagline) and it closed in most markets after only a week. Rail thin Vincent Smith (an ideally cast Rory Calhoun) and his obese sister Ida (PORKY’S’ Nancy Par­sons) are prototypical back coun­try eccentrics who run both the Motel Hello and a successful smoked meats business that trades on Vincent’s congenial down-home image and promise of 100% all-natural ingredients. One evening, while Vincent is hunting, he witnesses a motor­ cycle crash that claims the life of the middle-aged driver. The twenty-something female pas­senger, Terry (TIME WALKER’S Nina Axelrod) survives, however, and Vincent takes her home to recover. The confused, father-fixated girl soon falls for her elderly savior, much to the an­noyance of Bruce (GRAND THEFT AUTO’s Paul Linke), Vincent’s oafish little brother and the sheriff of the neighboring county. Neither he nor Terry is aware of Vincent and Ida’s clan­destine activities, which involve creating car accidents and “planting” the survivors in their “Secret Garden.” Each “degen­erate” victim’s vocal chords are slit and they are then buried up to their necks and force-fed. Once they have attained the desired weight, Vincent has the prime ingredient for his ever-popular sausages (as his bumpersticker slogan goes, “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent fritters”). Recent acquisitions include a punk rock band called “Ivan and the Terribles” (whose ranks include a pre-CHEERS John Ratzenberger as the drummer), two hookers (PLAYBOY playmates Rosanne Katon and Monique St. Pierre), and a kinky couple (Dick Curtis and game show staple Elaine Joyce) whose love of bondage makes Vincent and Ida’s work that much easier. The virginal Vincent is proud of his efforts (“There’s too many people in the world and not enough food...This takes care of both problems at the same time”) but, when Terry accepts his proposal of marriage, Ida decides to elimi­nate her, and the siblings’ well-honed operation is soon in jeopardy. 

It is not clear why British di­rector Kevin Connor (FROM BE­YOND THE GRAVE, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT) was cho­sen for this bucolic, intrinsically American black comedy. Per­haps it was thought that a for­eigner might be better able to impart the humor in the various Southern stereotypes and their (to him) alien ways. His direction is competent and moderately stylish, but the primary assets are Calhoun’s marvelously mannered turn and Robert & Steven-Charles Jaffe’s severed-tongue-in-cheek script. While the pair’s idea for “The Secret Garden” may have come from INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS’ infamous tagline “They Plant the Living and Har­vest the Dead,” it is far more likely that they recognized and decided to expanded upon the dark humor inherent in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE’S premise of crazy backwoods folk making a living in the meat business. In­terestingly, when it came time for THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MAS­SACRE PART 2 (1986), screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson seems to have used MOTEL HELL as his jumping off point, turning the TCM family into caterers who select those with dramatically opposing lifestyles (in this case, obnoxious yuppies) as the grist for their grinder, and Jim Siedow’s “Cook” character into a beloved local celebrity. That film also offered a reprise of MOTEL’s climactic chainsaw duel, with the lawman “hero” (a very unappealing individual in both pictures) facing off against a masked opponent in the fam­ily abattoir. Both the satire and violence in TCM 2 are far more extreme, however, with Connor’s picture more akin to earlier bur­lesques like Bud Townsend’s TERROR HOUSE (1972; aka THE FOLKS AT RED WOLF INN) and Ivan Reitman’s CANNIBAL GIRLS (1973). MOTEL HELL improves upon both, however, and deserves the small but loyal cult it has ac­crued. Wolfman Jack appears briefly as a sleazy preacher, and the 1957 UA favorite THE MON­STER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD can be seen unspooling at a local drive-in. 

The old fullscreen videocas­sette and laserdisc incarnations of MOTEL HELL certainly looked like hell, with a very soft image, bleary colors, heavy grain, and poor detail. MGM’s new anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation suffers from some mild DVNR jitter and variable night sequences; how­ever, the remainder of the film looks far more balanced and stable, a very noticeable improve­ment. This was one of the earli­est low-budget horror films to be mixed in stereo (one of the poster taglines was “Enter the Secret Garden in Dolby Stereo”) and, while the rear channels are mostly quiet, there are some ex­cellent separations up front that add to the film’s lustre and entertainment value. Spanish and French (the latter in mono) tracks are also included. The humor intrinsic to the title (which arises from the flickering “o” on the establishment’s malfunctioning neon sign) does not really work in other languages, of course, but the Spanish moniker (Motel del infierno) is close. The French, meanwhile, went with Nuit de cauchemar, which redundantly translates as “Night of the Night­mare.” The disc was authored by Sunset Digital Studios.

[Both films have since been released separately on Blu-ray in improved special editions. I have a review of Arrow’s Region B disc of DERANGED coming up in a future issue of Video Watchdog and also previously looked at a German PAL DVD edition of the picture in VW #125. MOTEL HELL has been issued on Blu by both Arrow (Region B) and Scream Factory (Region A)]

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Video Grab Collection: Theatre Marquees in AMERICAN SEXUAL REVOLUTION

In the early days of hardcore pornography, one way to get around a possible obscenity bust was to present the explicit sexual acts in the context of a documentary. One such production was AMERICAN SEXUAL REVOLUTION (1971; available on DVD-R and as a download from Something Weird Video), which entertains mainly through its time capsule collage of vintage "tenderloin" theatre marquee footage. While the majority are from the Times Square/42nd Street area, there are a few shots from other cities as well. The film itself is forgettable, but if you love this stuff, you will be in seedy heaven. Here are a few of the many on display...