Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Evilspeak (1981)

Let me be the first to say that I'm not a fan of films that have to do with the subject of satanism, for a million and one reasons, which we won't get into now. I was raised in a Christian home and there were certain things that were considered taboo and forbidden in our household and that particular subject was one of them, point blank.

In the realm of horror films, there are many that touch on this particular subject - everything from The Exorcist to John Russo's Midnight. And though I've seen both those films, it's not because I was curious of the particular subject matter in each of those films. With that said, I was going through the DPP video nasty list - yet again - and I saw this one not only had made it to the list, but was actually prosecuted and banned under the Video Recordings Act of 1984 due to violence and the subject of satanism. I read more about this film and for some reason, I became interested in tracking it down and watching it, just to see what it was all about. I could relate to the plot: Nerdy kid gets picked on only to be able to get revenge, so this would be the basis of my reason for watching it.

I found out that Anchor Bay had released this film many years ago and was now out of print. Searching the net, I came across the original AB DVD that was selling for silly amounts of money (only because it was no longer being manufactured) and almost gave up until I found a collector who was willing to send me a DVD-R of said AB version so I could finally screen it. Well, needless to say when the DVD-R arrived, it was unplayable so I took that as a sign and gave up on seeing it altogether. Several months later, I actually did come across the out of print AB version at the local Rasputin's and picked it up used for about $9.95, which was much cheaper that what I'd been seeing it go for on the internet. My cousin and I sat down with popcorn in hand and put it into the DVD player. Was I nervous? Yes. Simply because...well, you know why. He, also, was uncomfortable with viewing the film as well but after an hour or so after talking him though it and promising that the slightest bit of "extremism" will prompt me to turn the movie off, no questions asked, he agreed. So we sat back, and waited for the next hour and a half to pass.

The verdict?

Son-of-a-b!tch I loved this movie! And I bet you're thinking, "what?"

So the movie opens with a bizarre sacrificing ritual about a guy who was banished from the church or something and commends his life to the devil, complete with nudie girl and everything. After this happens, we flash forward to the present day.

Stanley Cooper Smith (brilliantly played by Clint Howard) is attending a military academy and sadly, he isn't the most popular kid in school. He can't play soccer, he's a nerd, and all the guys hate him and pick on him. The superiors know of all this and do nothing to help the poor kid out and right away, you feel for him because the people around him make his life hell (no pun intended). So one day, Stanley finds this strange book which is the book of satan and he discovers that he can call upon the spirit of Estaban (which, in reality, is the name of the guy from the film's prologue) and wreak havoc on his classmates. Sort of like Carrie only with a Commodore 64 as the spirit of a dead guy as his tools. He uses the catacomb under the school to "practice" and soon enough, vengance is his.

There is plenty of gore here to boot and it's all done with such panache that you just can't ignore it. The film itself doesn't really delve into actual "satanism" as the spirit that Stanley calls upon isn't of the devil himself, but of someone who had been a follower. Sure, there are pentagrams at every turn and there are some brief moments of blasphemy that I had to overlook, but once I realized the "big picture", the film was actually surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe it's because I was picked on and tormented in school and deep inside I still harbor some unresolved issues? Maybe I would have liked the chance to "get back" at all those guys who picked on me on the school grounds and the athlectic fields? Maybe that's something I should save for my shrink?

At any rate the film boasts some fantastic and memorable moments. Everything from the pig rampage to the films ultra-gory climax. I enjoyed every minute of it. My cousin, surprisingly, enjoyed it just as much as I did. The gem of this whole production of course, is Clint Howard. He is just amazing in this and shows those bastards when it's time for their come-uppance. He plays the role of the outcast very well and when it's time for him to kick some ass, he KICKS SOME ASS. You can't help but root for the guy, especially when you see all that he's put through.

The ending is left pretty much ambigouous, leaving the viewer to figure out just what happened. Usually the good guys win in pictures like these, but in this case, we get the opposite. And for some reason, I liked that outcome. This one is a good time and I wouldn't say that if I really didn't have fun myself watching this forgotten piece of work. I remember seeing the VHS back in the 80's at Carl's Supermarket in Weslaco, Texas when I was in the seventh or eighth grade and the box art was something I never forgot. I wish that the DVD release put out by AB would have had the U.S. poster art instead of a derivative of the UK version. The picture is great and the soundtrack is just as good. I would say this one is worth seeking out if you can find it. Sadly, it's state of being out of print prevents many gore-hounds from tracking this down. Either AB should re-release it or BU should pick it up and give it's own release, because this one is an overlooked good time just waiting to happen.


La Semana del Asesino (Cannibal Man) (1972)

If there's one thing I love, it's a horror film that takes its time in getting into your brain. One that uses plot and imagery to slowly take you deeper and deeper into its arms until it doesn't want to let go. These types of films are more effective in my book. Sure, we all love gore and jump scares, but what about those films that use tension, mood, and atmosphere to create a sense of doom and despair?

I've known about Cannibal Man for a while now, seeing that it was on the DPP list of Video Nasties back in the eighties. Anchor Bay had first released this and then several years later, Blue Underground re-released it with alternate art. A few months ago, I'd seen the BU version at my local Rasputin's but for some reason, I didn't pick it up. I went back the next week to see if it was still there, but alas, someone had swiped it for their own collection. I then found it again - but this time it was lodged in the "Cult" movie section and I was so excited to see that it was AB's first release that I'd come across. Without thinking, I purchased it (for a modest $7.95) and I took it home so that my cousin and I could finally sit through this one.

The story opens with the inner sanctum of a slaughter house, complete with cow carcasses and blood galore. With this, I wasn't sure as to what to expect. We are then introduced to Marcos (the beautiful Vicente Parra), an employee of said slaughter house and the life he lives in 70's Spain, complete with his humble home out in the middle of a deserted area of the city. One night as he and his girlfriend are out on the town, he becomes involved in a scuffle with the taxi driver they are taking home. He accidentally kills the taxi driver and what transposes from there is one of the most amazing downward spirals I've ever seen captured on film. His girlfriend knows of the murder...will she turn him into the police? Instead of taking a chance, he kills her. When she is presumed missing, someone comes to look for her. To hide her murder, her kills the person coming to look for her. And so on...and so on....and one by one, he takes their remains and disposes of them in the slaughter house's incinerator to erase any trace of them. But who is the man who is watching him from far away? What does he know? And will he tell Marcos that he's been witnessing every murder taking place?

This is a great piece of film making. The photography is superb and direction by Eloy de la Iglesia is absolutely remarkable. The Spanish title translated as "The Week of the Assassin" is more true to the film's overall plot, as Marcos kills for seven days in a row. There is absolutely no cannibalism in the film (which was probably why it was placed on the video nasties list to begin with), which though misleading, it redeems itself with a strong storyline. We watch as Marcos kills again and again and the more he kills, the more he begins to lose touch with reality and the life he's used to leading. He slowly begins to fade away, the murders haunting him day after day until he finally reaches his breaking point. His house soon becomes a den of secrets, each one eating away at him more and more. The ending is both sad and disturbing, as Marcos decides to give in to his madness and turn himself in.

If you're looking for gore, there is not much of it here. If you're expecting cannibalism, you might as well stay clear of this one. But if you love a strong storyline and beautiful photography, then I do recommend this. I was expecting something completely different when I put this into the DVD player for the first time, but I was taken away but a great story, some good gore scenes, some great photography, and some really handsome men. I know that this review is short, but seek this one out. The AB version is already out of print so the BU version will be your best bet. Don't be fooled by BU's cover art though as it can be misleading to what the story is all about and was clearly used solely to attract. They don't make them like this anymore.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Island of Death (Devils in Mykonos) (1975)

First of all, let me say that it's great to be back. Apologies for not having posted on this blog for quite some time but due to working two jobs and other life situations, I've been forced to stay away from here. On the bright side of that, my horror collection has exploded and I've been lucky enough to get my hands on some rare finds and other films that I've been waiting to make part of my plethora of 70's and 80's horror films. 

I am one of those horror fans who is fascinated by the UK's DPP list of "video nasties". Secretly, I am in search of every single one of those films, just to say that I have them. Most of them I do own, but there are some on the list that are just so hard to find that I've given up on searching from them. I've researched them all and though some of them seem like just a big waste of time, yet others have gotten my curiosity a-boiling. Just the other day, I was walking through the anals of the local Rasputin's - which still has one of the largest horror selections I've ever come across - and whilst looking through the DVD horror section, something out of the corner of the eye caught my attention. I pulled it out and saw that it was the U.S. version of "Island of Death", one of the most notorious of the "video nasties". I couldn't believe that I'd come accross it. I'd searched for it before on the likes of Ebay and Amazon and just found that it was too expensive to add to my collection. The price here? $3.95. Yes. $3.95. So I took it home, practically jumping up and down, as one of the most elusive entries to my stacks and stacks of fright flicks was finally coming home with me. 

My cousin and I got home and got comfortable and popped this into the DVD player. Though I was aware of some of the more notorious scenes in the film, I threw all expectations out the window and awaited one of the most thrilling movie-watching moments of my life. Was this film going to live up to the hype and 25+ year reputation that's kept it famously out of print for so long? 

Within the first few minutes, I was speechless. The film tells the tale of a couple that's fled England due to some run-ins with the law to the Greek island of Mykonos to where they cause chaos to everyone they come into contact with. But what they do while on their little holiday is...well, surprising. I'm really torn between giving you the whole plot and giving away every spoiler in the book and just letting you, the reader, see it for yourself. As long as it took me to get a hold of this one, I'm not sure what to do here. If I don't give it all away, the review here will be really short (which would be ironic as the film pretty much runs about two hours). And those of you reading this (who are aware with what this film is all about) are probably expecting a tell-all, over-the-top review from me, but to be honest, I don't even know where to begin. That should tell you how much of an impact this film had on me. There are those films that you read about witch repuations that have followed them through time and you have certain expectations based on those reputations. Then you sit and actually watch said film and you don't know whether to go along with what everyone else thinks or to just stick with your own opinios about it, whether it be good or bad. This is one of those films that I don't know whether to call the biggest piece of shit I've ever seen or one of the greatest explotation flicks I've ever sat in front of. Because it's not a horror film - despite some brief scenes of gore - it's an all out expoit-fest. And I mean that in every sense of the word. 

There are scenes that are going to shock you. There are scenes that will make you scream out "WTF?!". There are scenes that will make absolutely no sense to you. And there are scenes of beautiful photography that will make you ask if the director was making a film with such extremely contrasting scenes on purpose to throw the viewer off, or to ease some of the more extreme scenes. In any case, let me say that most of what transpires in the film is something that has never been done before and will probably be never done again. The goal of this film was to shock and that it does. Everything from bestiality, homosexuality, homophobia, rape,'s all here...even a totally random scene of watersports! And it's presented in a rather blatent fashion. There's nudity everywhere (We even get to see male nudity, which is always good). The film reeks of sleaze. Especially when you get to see the mentality the main character has toward people on the island. It's confusing at first, but then you realize what is "really going on". The film's twist at the finale will make you sick to your stomach, and when the credits roll at the end, you'll sit there and either throw the remote at the television or revel on what the hell you've just put yourself through. 

Image did a really good job on this one. From what I've read, the reason it was put onto an official DVD release was because the director was tired of seeing shitty bootleg copies go for unheard of amounts on the internet. He supervised an official transfer from the original negatives and to be honest, the film looks great. Colors are bright and vivid and the soundtrack doesn't show its age at all. This particular DVD has sold for silly amounts on line so I'd always shyed away from it. Believe me, $40 vs. $3.95? There isn't much in the realm of special features, we get a trailer and some of the (out of place) songs with accompanying slide shows, but that's about it. 

There is alot I want to say about this film. There are just so many things I want to let out (especially about the unexpected revelation at the end), but I feel that as a reviewer and avid horror fan, this is one you need to look for if you're a completist. Especially those of you who are followers of the UK's DPP list. It's one of those films that, no matter how hard I try, I could never convey to you how much this film is different than anything you've ever seen. To be very honest, I was expecting a bit more - since most of the scenes of extremism are actually implicit rather than explicit - but that was where the film hit me most. You get to revel in what the motive behind the couple's spree of depravity originates - since it's never really stated in the film - and think to yourself, how the hell did this get made in the first place? It's a great piece of expoitation film history so it deserves a watch. 

I do apologize for not giving away the major plot points and over-the-top scenes. I just don't have the heart to reveal everything in a film that still hold it's repuation after so long. The final verdict: seek this out if you're curious. Your jaw will drop, I guarantee it. If you've seen this already, don't be shy and leave a comment. I'd love to hear your opinions on this one.