Thursday, October 30, 2008

All the Sins of Sodom (1968)

This was the second part of the Joe Sarno double feature, and it's a film that was thought to have been lost for 30 years. Apparently, the negatives were discovered recently and this digital transfer was made, and then screened to a sold out Weird Wednesday audience. There's something humbling about watching a film that hasn't been seen by anyone else in 30 years, or in some cases, ever. It was definitely more of what I'm used to from Sarno, exceptionally photographed Black & White sequences with iconic imagery, somewhat choppy editing, and performances that range from vibrant to cardboard.

The plot centers around a big city photographer looking to catch his big break in the world of model photography. Throughout the film he has a handful of muses, some innocent and coy, at least one of them is pure evil (well, sort of), but they all give themselves over to the photographer, both in front of the camera and behind it. When the photographer gets what he wants from both his innocent and evil muses, at what cost will he have to pay?

To be honest, I was completely conscience during this movie, but because of the slow pace and limited plot, it's hard for me to recall specific details that stood out to me. I remember thinking that the evil muse was not really my type, but that she was so wonderfully filmed that I understood why she was the catalyst in the movie. I also remember thinking that the male lead, the photographer, was not up to the challenge of acting against the female cast. His exclamations of frustration to his model; “No, no, it's not evil enough,” induced more laughter in the theater than understanding. I remember the goofy faces the elevator operator made in the background of his shots, which I think is funny now, since he's the only male in the movie that got a film credit on IMDB.

After the movie, I went out into the lobby and met Joe Sarno. I watched his trembling hand scribble out an inscription on my copy of “The Love Merchant.” The young man next to him asked Sarno if he remembered that picture, and he replied with fondness for it. I wonder what that night at the Alamo was like Sarno? I remember during the screening of “Abigail Lesley,” looking down the row of seats and seeing Joe's face as he watched the screen. I wonder what it was like to watch it in theater with an audience, after all these years?

The inscription on my dvd said: “Hey Popkoff! Enjoy the Sex! - Joe Sarno.”

Here's is a bit of one of the Q & A's from that night:

All the Sins of Sodom” screened at midnight on 10/1/08 at the Alamo Ritz and was presented by Weird Wednesday.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Abigail Leslie is back in Town (1975)

Well, well, the nearly 4 years that I've been attending Weird Wednesday, there have been 3 directors that have punctuated my weekly cinema exploration: Al Adamson, Andy Milligan, & Joe Sarno. Adamson was sort of an everyman's director, who took whatever material he could get his hands on and did what he could with it, with varying degrees of success. Regardless of the subject matter though, an Adamson movie was always an "Adamson" movie. Milligan on the other hand was a shoestring budget auteur whose productions were mostly period pieces complete with hand-sewn costumes, reused sets, and loads of dialogue, mostly of the bickering and bitching variety. He was also a huge asshole apparently; whose real-life final act mirrored the best possible twist in any of his productions.

That brings us to Joe Sarno, a psychology major, whose Sex films, especially in the 60's, were more concerned with the character's motives than with their sexual actions. Known in some circles these days as "the Ingmar Bergman of sex films," his movies combined starkly-photographed, envelope-pushing scenes of titillation with suburban settings, and complex, yet compelling Soap Opera-esque performances. He's especially known for providing strong female characters in a genre where the opposite was usually the case. Most of his films that I have seen, with the exception of "Swedish Wildcats," were black & white Dramas that carried the ambiance of Film Noir into the world of Skin Flicks, and along the way mixed in occult themes, corruption, and paranoia.

This screening of "Abigail Leslie" was part of a Weird Wednesday double feature along with "All the Sins of Sodom," and was presented with Joe Sarno (now 87 years old) Live and in Person. If I had to guess, I would venture to say that this film was made either shortly before or shortly after his transition from Soft-core to Hardcore, due mostly to the excess of full frontal nudity, which was definitely more than any other Sarno film I've seen at the Alamo.

The only reason I note that is because I had invited two of my younger friends to the show, one of them 18 and the other 19 year olds, and neither one had any idea what they were in for. I imagine they were shocked and quite confused by the thought-provoking Q & A and mature analysis that followed the screening. One of them quite perfectly described the movie as "a housewife porno, but with 'real' housewives."

The story centers on Priscilla (Rebecca Brooke, giving an uncommonly strong performance in a Sex film), content yet bored housewife whose marriage was thrown into peril some years earlier by her friend and town jezebel, Abigail Leslie (Jennifer Jordan). After Abigail's betrayal, her own marriage fell apart and she left the town of Baypoint.

The film begins with the news of "that hot-pants-bitch," Abigail Leslie being back in town. Upon hearing the news, Priscilla attempts to play it cool, but retreats as fast as she can to the beach. There, she reflects back on the events that fill her with such dread. In a flashback we see Priscilla and her friend, Tracy (played by Susan Sloan), catching Abigail in bed with Priscilla's husband, Gordon. The line delivery by Tracy is the perfect contrast to Priscilla's horrified expression; "They say 'a kettle of hot water helps in times like these.'" It's at this point that the audience is introduced to Abigail's dead eyes and smoky detached voice.

Every Monday and Wednesday Priscilla goes to the beach where she meets up with Chester, a nice-guy handyman who has the eyes for Priscilla, but the two of them are too shy to take their rendezvous one step further. Meanwhile Abigail returns to the local boat yard (where most of the film takes place) and meets up with some of the other local housewives. It's not very long before Priscilla's husband hears the news and sets up a secret meeting of his own with Abigail.

Priscilla suspects as much of her husband, and feels sorrow, frustration, and confusion about her crumbling marriage, even though everyone around her, including her naughty aunt Drucilla and her beau, Bo (played by Sonny Landham of "Predator" and "48 Hours" fame), urge her to enjoy the freedom that comes with an open marriage.

Meanwhile, Abigail begins the seduction not only of every man in town, but of every woman too. I remember during the first 45 minutes of the film thinking that it was all so scandalous. The enjoyment derived from it was on par with the kind you get from hearing juicy gossip. Abigail's line delivery and philosophies in particular made me chuckle and gasp throughout. When asked why cheerleaders look more pretty today, Abigail responds "Oh, they eat better and fuck more." When she seduces one of the ladies, she says "give me your tongue damn it, give it to me!"

So much of the first half of the film is filled with seedy conversations and sleazy seductions, and all the while I felt that Abigail was concocting a plot for revenge. As the film progressed it became more and more clear that her plot was not so much vengeance as was forgiveness, well, forgiveness through a LOT of sex. Virtually the entire second half of the film is filled with sex scenes. As a result, it felt like the plot and characters eventually were crushed under the weight of all that sex screen time. Of course, I'm the kind of guy that gets bored with sex scenes after a while.

At any rate, this movie was pretty awesome, even if the first half was better than the second.

"Abigail Leslie is back in Town" was screened on 10/1/08 at 9:30 and was presented by Weird Wednesday.

Better Off Dead (1985)

I cannot believe it has taken me well over a month to write a review of this movie. It screened at the Arbor as part of the Retro Replay series that they were trying out. That was on 9/3/08 and here it is now, 10/25/08. What the hell have I been doing with my time? Well, watching movies, a lot of movies. Currently, I am 28 reviews behind, but once I knock this one out I'll only be 27.

When I was a kid I liked this movie a lot, and by the time I was a teenager, it had become one of my all time favorites. I just remember thinking how zany and weird it was at the time, and how different it was than the other movies that I grew up around. Little did I know back then that in its own way, "Better Off Dead" was kind of my gateway drug for "Cult" movies. Years later, I showed it to my girlfriend and (after hearing about how it was one of my favorite movies) she just stared at me with a confused look on her face.

John Cusack plays Lane Meyer, an obsessive teenager whose girlfriend, Beth, dumps him because it's in her best interest to date someone who is "more popular, better looking, and who drives a nicer car." Lane takes it bad...really bad. He tries to kill himself several times, but fails miserably each time. His life becomes more complicated when Beth falls for the town's local pretty boy and school ski team captain, Roy Stalin, the only man ever to ski the K-12. Throw in the fact that the nerdy, fat, and obnoxious next door neighbor, Ricky, has a potential girlfriend in French exchange student, Monique, and Lane's life is pretty much horrifying (by teenage standards that is).

There are a lot of little touches that really go a long way in separating this 80's Teen Comedy from the pack; the Japanese street racing brothers (one of whom talks like Howard Cosell), the psychotic, menacing newspaper delivery boy, and the claymation Van Halen video/dream sequence, just to name a few. It also does an admirable job of both satirizing the conventions of the Teen Angst genre, while also carving it's own unique, yet true take on them.

Watching it for the first time in a theater with well over a decade of strange cinema under my belt, obviously "Better Off Dead" didn't register the same way it used to, but unlike my recent "Ghostbusters" screening, I still managed to take something new away from it. For starters, the character of Ricky came off less nerdy this time around, and more daring. He has no problem dancing at the dance, he pushes the other, weaker nerds around, and when it comes time to fight Lane at the end, he doesn't back down. Secondly, Lane's best friend, Charles (played by Booger from "Revenge of the Nerds), still steals the movie. His line deliveries, facial expressions, and screen presence ages better than anything else has in the movie, especially the soundtrack and the "my $2's" gag.

Anyway, onwards to next review!!!

"Better Off Dead" screened on 9/3/08 at 7:00 at the Arbor as part of the Retro Replay series.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Turkey Shoot a.k.a. Escape 2000 (1982)

This was the final film screened during the Not Quite Hollywood series, and I watched it the night of the Bill Murray Experience. As a result of trying to the watch the documentary, “Not Quite Hollywood,” earlier in the evening, I ended up seeing many clips from this movie, and to be honest, I was foaming at the mouth, waiting for midnight to roll around.

The film is another work directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and is set in the “near future” of 1995. It's a dystopian future at that, complete with a police-state concentration camp, and everything. At the beginning of the film, three new prisoners (one guy and two girls) are rounded up and shown the inner workings of the camp by the evil and sadistic head guard, Ritter (Roger Ward, giving the film's stand-out performance). Ritter is a maniacal monster and wonderful villain. The scene where he slaps a young female inmate till she's lying a pool of her own blood is intense, disturbing, yet strangely hilarious.

On the flip side, Steve Railsback's performance as Paul, the male lead, left a lot to be desired for me. He just seemed like a jerky dude. As the story progresses, we find out that our three leads are the next in line to take part in the camp's most cruel and unusual of punishments: they are to be hunted for sport. Their reward, if they survive, is that they get their freedom. The hunters, in this case, are Thatcher, the head of the camp, Ritter, and his cronies, including a freakish-wolfman-like-ogre, who rides around with him in a dune buggy. There is also a woman (played by Carmen Duncan) on the prowl with an arsenal of exploding arrows. While the hunters hunt, the prey, led by Railsback, fight back and attempt to bring forth a revolution.

As fate would have it, seeing the clips from this movie earlier in the evening turned out to work against the film for me. In other words, those sequences of sex and violence in “Not Quite Hollywood” proved to be the best “Turkey Shoot” had to offer. Seeing those moments in a montage ended up to setting my expectations entirely too high. As a result, whose to say what my response to “Turkey Shoot” would have been if I hadn't seen those clips? Judging from my friends who were with me (none of which saw “Not Quite Hollywood”), it might have been the same. All in all, this film was kind of disappointing, and was a slightly below average “Terror Thursday,” not that great, but with a few truly inspired and entertaining moments. Most of which were either provided by the creative gore effects, or most likely, the truckload of pyro that was used in this thing.

“Turkey Shoot” screened at midnight at the Alamo Ritz on 9/25/08 and was presented by Terror Thursday.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rudy Ray Moore (1937 -2008)

The hits just keep on coming...

The death of Dolemite himself, Rudy Ray Moore, was announced today. His passing comes as a result of complications from diabetes, and is yet another in a long line of shocking celebrity deaths this year. It seems like Heaven is getting more awesome with each passing day. Hopefully, if he sees a ghost, he'll "cut the mutha fucka."

Here are the soundtracks to "Dolemite" and "The Human Tornado."

Click "Soundrack (1975)" to download.