Saturday, April 30, 2016

George Romero's The Crazies- A Low Budget Horror Gem

       George Romero’s The Crazies (also called Codename: Trixie) is a nearly forgotten little low budget gem from the 1970s. I’m sure that there will be ton of film buff lunatics who went into a frenzy when I said nearly forgotten, but it is true. Most people have forgotten this little film, and it certainly has been lost in the shuffle, filmed as it was between his much bigger hits Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.
The film follows two stories, one about the civilians trying to stay alive during the disaster, having to battle both "the crazies" as well as U.S. soldiers ordered to shoot on sight. The other involves the political and military leaders trying to contain the epidemic.
Richard Liberty (Clank) & Will MacMillian (David)
Set in the small town of Evans City, Pennsylvania, the central characters are firefighter David, his girlfriend Judy, and firefighter Clank. David was a Green Beret and Clank an infantryman, both having served in Vietnam. The town has seen a number of violent events, including arson at a local farm by a demented farmer. Judy and David are very concerned, since Judy is pregnant.
Meanwhile, heavily armed U.S. troops in NBC suits and gas masks, arrive in town, led by Major Ryder, who takes over the doctor's office where Judy works. Days earlier, an Army plane carrying an untested bioweapon crash-landed in the hills near the town, infecting the water supply with a virus code-named "Trixie," causing victims to either die or become homicidal. "Trixie" is highly contagious, with anyone drinking from the Evans City reservoir becoming affected. In Washington D.C., government officials order Colonel Peckem to go to Evans City to help contain the virus, while scientist Dr. Watts, arrives to develop a cure before the virus spreads beyond the small town.
The film is in itself a comedy of errors. We see mistake after mistake made by the government forces attempting to deal with the crisis, due to the fact of the secrecy surrounding the bio-toxin Trixie. None of the response teams at first are told what it is or that it is infectious. As such, the equipment taken is inadequate. A member of the development team is shipped to the infected city, but is unable to effectively make strides due to all of his notes and files on the virus being left behind. And in fact the scientist finds a cure, but due to communication issues the knowledge is lost.
While certainly low budget the film, does not have that feel. It never stops moving and has an animated frenzied life to it. You can feel the impending dread and taste the paranoia of the actors. In The Crazies, as well as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead, Romero shows his true genius- his ability to do more with less. It wasn’t until he was handed larger budgets that his films began to feel flat.
The interesting thing about The Crazies is the treatment of the infected. They aren’t transformed into some ravenous monsters hell-bent on destruction, such as in 28 Days Later or I Am Legend, or instant bags of disease such as in Outbreak or The Cassandra Crossing. They literally begin to act odd, reacting to their environment in a bizarre manner. They giggle, they open things that should remain closed, they have difficulty remembering what’s going on. One of my favorite visuals is an infected woman running through a field, being shot by soldiers, carrying a broom and sweep the grass like it was a floor as she ran.
Lynn Lowery (Kathy)
This adds another dimension to the infected as they are fully functional, in a way, the decision to put them down is much more impactful. The element of pathos is much clearer here. These are real people being killed, as opposed to how they are shown in other films.
Some have made the case that this film might well easily be rewritten to show the dead outbreak in the Living Dead series, and I can see that. While The Crazies definitely borrows elements from Night of the Living Dead and adds element that would be later used in Dawn of the Dead, the film is in itself a complete entity.
The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor! 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Turkey Shoot - The 1982 Dystopian Most Dangerous Game Exploitation Feature

Turkey Shoot, also known as Escape 2000 in the US (not the film that MST3K did an episode on in season 7) and Blood Camp Thatcher in the UK, is an explosive not-to-subtle excuse for a gore fest, disguised as an Orwellian drama. Not to say that this isn’t fun in the same way Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS is fun.
In the future people that society categorizes as “deviants” are rounded up into prison camps to be reeducated. This particular camp is so successful, because they pay almost no attention to the attrition rate. As such deaths are colorful and plenty and happily shown on the screen, usually performed by the warden’s burly sergeant, Ritter.
As the Warden Thatcher recites: “One of you has been foolish enough to try to leave us before his re-education was completed. In my view this is treason, and will be treated as such. You will remember our motto: 'Freedom is obedience, obedience is work, work is life'. Well, now understand once and for all that the reverse is also true, 'Disobedience is treason, treason is a crime, crime will be punished!'”
The film follows a small group of camp prisoners, most notably Paul (Steve Railsback) – a pirate radio presenter who was caught broadcasting anti-dictatorship messages – and Chris (Olivia Hussey), a shy shop owner who was captured when a protestor randomly stumbled into her store and the police thought he was conspiring with her.
Now all of this fun camp frolics culminates in a manhunt ripped from The Most Dangerous Game, where the Warden to aid his political career, has gathered together a collection of rich and powerful people to have a game hunt. Each of them picks out a target, with an additional condemned man tossed in, and they are given a head start.
As with most 80s low budget schlock there is an over-the-top ridiculousness in the weapons and equipment of the hunters. While the warden contents himself with a rifle, the female sadist lesbian (it is hinted) uses explosive tipped arrows from her crossbow, while the portly politico seems to like setting things on fire, and the last, a flamboyant libertine, uses a futuristic jeep vehicle with a scoop on the front, a machinegun mounted on top, and a “mutant” creature-covered in hair and fangs, with green cat eyes- he found in a carnival.
Strange as this sounds, the film was partially subsidized by the Australian government under its 10BA Film Tax Exemption Scheme, which was designed to bring new business and industry into the country and succeeded for a while.  Still budget problems were a large part of the issue with this film as at the last minute film lost about $700,000 of it's $3,200,000 budget, two weeks before production began when a major investor backed out. This cut the film from 44 days to only 28 and the first 15 pages of the initial script were removed as well as a 4 page helicopter chase scene. 

Still Turkey Shoot is what you make of it. If you go in wanting to see Citizen Kane reborn, then you will sorely upset. If, however, you want to see a fun exploitation flick with some nice gruesome gore to chew on, then jump on it.
Full film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Alice Sweet Alice: A Little Girl Serial Killer Film

          I first ran across this gem when I randomly picked it up on with Psychomania in a VHS double feature.While not my first choice of the two, Alice Sweet Alice is a compelling and vicious little film that has almost no morality and a jaundiced view of the world.
         It predates its more successful contemporaries, Friday the 13th and Halloween, it still bears several hallmarks of the genre with a masked killer running about killing people with a knife. The film was originally titled Communion (and the novelization published under that name)but after its premier at the  Chicago International Film Festival, director Alfred Sole demanded a title change so that the audience wouldn't think they were seeing a religious film. It was then re-released in 1982 as Holy Terror, primarily to market on Brooke Shields success, who appears briefly in the film.

         Set during the 1950s, 12 year old Alice (played by 19 year old Paula Sheppard) lives with her mother and younger sister Karen. During Karen's fist communion she is brutally murdered by a masked assailant. Alice, always jealous of her younger sister for the attention and praise she received from their mother and others, is the primary suspect in her murder.
         As the film explores themes related to various rites of passage for Alice, sexual or religious, it maintains an incredibly uncomfortable air about it. In particular her scenes with the disgustingly creepy "Mr Alphonso" who lives in her apartment building, eats cat food and has an affinity for young girls will cause even the most hardened viewers some unease.    
Alphonso DeNoble in Alice Sweet Alice
         Alphonso DeNoble, who played fat pervert landlord, wasn't a professional actor at the time. He was working as a bouncer at a gay bar and the director of the film persuaded him to play the role. Before his death in 1978, he got acting jobs in two other low-budget horror films, Blood Sucking Freaks and Night of the Zombies.
Brooke Shields in Alice Sweet Alice
          Brooke Shields appears briefly as Alice's sister Karen who is strangled by the chain of a crucifix, stuffed into a box and then set on fire. The third re-release of the film attempted to erroneously play up her part, to make it seem that the film starred her. But apparently according to box office receipts, this effort failed to make an impact. 
Paula Sheppard in Alice Sweet Alice
          Film scholars have noted the film's overwrought portrayal of Catholicism and organized religion to be characterized fully as the villain's primary motive, whose ultimate goal is to "punish" dinners; this has resulted in some claiming the film to be overtly "anti-Catholic". Writer/director Sole's own proclaiming of himself as an "ex-Catholic"  and his actual formal excommunication from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey (over his writing the porno Deep Sleep)supports this interpretation of the film's anti-religious message.
         Be that as it may, Alice Sweet Alice is a wonderful slasher film and should be enjoyed by all who are partial to the genre. As Rodger Ebert wrote, "Director Alfred Sole has a brilliant touch for the macabre and there are some splendidly chilling scenes." 
         The Full Film is provided below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Psychomania- A Weird British Biker Horror Film

This film (also released as The Death Wheelers) is an odd conglomeration of different genres being thrust together to made a truly memorable film. It is not a good film, not bad, not even so-bad-its-good, but it is not boring and has a vibe about it that resonates with the viewer long after for reasons which cannot really be explained. No one I’ve met who has seen this film has ever forgotten it.
The film is better than it has any right to be. It attempts to capitalize on the notorious success in England of A Clockwork Orange by having an attractive sociopathic main character, then mixes it with the low budget trend of cycle movies which were circulating around England’s youth culture, and adding an occult twist- another popular trend at the time. Add a fading star, George Sanders, a script that didn’t know if it wanted to be serious or camp, and a three week shooting schedule and viola!- Psychomania!
Biker Tom is the leader of a gang who lovingly call themselves "The Living Dead". Aside from tormenting the local townsfolk, the gang likes to hang out at a place known as The Seven Witches, a graveyard that some believe is haunted.
Tom's mother holds séances allowing people to communicate with their dead family members. She does this as a charity, and insists that no one ever pay her for her services. Her butler Shadwell (George Sanders) runs the household and apparently never ages. There is a hint that he is a demonic imp or something of the sort, but it is never verified, but he does like to examine frogs- a sign of the Devil in some rural parts.
Tom's mother allows him to enter a forbidden room in the house and learns the secret of immortality- You must believe that you will return, and believe so firmly that you actually want to die, then you must commit suicide. The very next day Tom speeds off a bridge.
 He is buried sitting up on his motorcycle (with a full tank of gas apparently) at The Seven Witches. After an excruciating folk song, Tom roars from the grave on his bike. That night, he murders an entire tavern.
He passes on the secret to his gang and they follow suit. Now undead (aside from Tom's girlfriend, Abby), The Living Dead live up to their name and go on a murderous crime wave. But with Abby's refusal to go along with the others, and Tom's mother's guilt for creating a band of killers, soon the bikers discover a horrible downside to immortality. 
Pictured: Downside
Psychomania is also distinctive as it is the last film of the acting great George Sanders. Now I’m not going to say that this film was the final nail in his coffin, but I doubt it helped. By the end of his life Sanders was suffering from dementia and a minor stroke, and can be seen visually listing back and forth in Psychomania.
          But at least he went out in style. On April 23rd, 1972 he entered a hotel in Spain and downed five bottles of Nembutal- a barbiturate usually used as short term sedative, though it has been used in the U.S. for lethal injections in death penalty cases and by veterinarians for euthanasia purposes.  

George Sanders in Psychomania
The most popular of his three suicide notes read, "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."
  Later David Nivens in his second autobiography, Bring on the Empty Horses, wrote that Sanders had predicted that he would commit suicide when he was 65, and seemed perpetually depressed in his 50s.
John Levene in Psychomania
 And for old school Doctor Who fans, there is a small scene where John Levene (who played Sergeant Benton) is a sergeant at a police station, then is murdered by the gang.
          The entire film is below.

         Enjoy and Caveat Emptor!