Monday, December 14, 2009

Blackenstein (1973)

Hollywood hasn't always been kind to African Americans. Beginning with D.W Griffith's 1915 "Birth of a Nation" with it's racist stereotypes and KKK heroes to the wide eyed frightened Uncle Toms of 1930s and 1940s, African American characters had been presented as either servants, buffoons or both. Things began to change by the late 1950s. Sidney Poitier became the first black leading man and the first black actor to win a Best Actor Oscar.

In the 1960s, thanks to Motown Records, African American musicians crossed over into the mainstream. Diana Ross became what was probably the first African American female superstar.

By the 1970s, Hollywood noticed that there was this huge audience for black oriented films. Starting with 1971's "Shaft", a new genre of low to moderate budget films known as "blaxplotation" was born. Most of these films were very violent action fare. The basic plot was an innocent African American being exploited by the mean bigoted honkies (A seventies term for white folks. I'm still unsure of it's meaning!)

Yet, as predictable as these films were, the were hugely popular and made stars of Richard Roundtree, Fred Williamson and Pam Grier.

I guess since Hollywood was running out of action plots they figure it was time to move Blaxploitation into the equally lucrative horror genre. The result of this idea was "Blacula" (1972) starring classically trained actor William Marshall as an African prince turned in to a vampire by the baddest of all honkies, Count Dracula himself. "Blacula" was so successful that it not only spawned a sequel("Scream, Blacula, Scream" co-staring Pam Grier. ) , but also started up the blaxpoitation horror sub genre. J.D's Revenge(1976) and Abby(1974) were just a couple of "The Exorcist" rip offs. But, the cherry on the cake is a big awful mess called "Blackenstein"!

Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivy Stone), a lovely young African American woman decides to go to work for her med school mentor. Dr. Stein.(As in FrankenSTEIN! Get it?) Winnie's boyfriend, Eddie Turner has lost both arms and both legs in Vietnam. Guess what? It just so happens that Dr. Stein's specialty is regrowing lost body parts using DNA injections. (Try explaining that to 1973 audiences.) Walker and Stein make Eddie an offer to make him whole again. At first Eddie resists, but when he's ridiculed by a mean white orderly, he decides to let Dr. Stein experiment on him. (VERY BAD MOVE!)

Dr. Stein moves Eddie into his very Gothic mansion/hospital with it's very large dungeon like lab. (Give me a break! Talk about cliché!) The DNA injections are a success. Eddie's arms and legs do indeed grow back! (And without stem cells! Glenn Beck must love this film.)

But alas, this is a Trash a Go Go blaxploitation horror film. Something must go wrong and does. It seems that Malcomb, Dr. Stein's manservant has developed a serious crush on Dr. Winnie. When Winnie rebuffs his affections, Malcomb decides to sabotage the experiment. He sneaks into Eddie's dungeon cell, (This movie gets more cliché by the second) and injects Eddie with an unknown substance. Faster than you can say "It's moving. It's alive!" Eddie's head becomes square, he starts moaning like Boris Karloff and walks out into the night with his new arms stretched out.Oh my God! Could it be that Eddie has become Blackenstein?

Eddie/Blackenstein goes on a violent, gory murderous rampage. His first victim is the mean, white orderly at the Veteran's Hospital. (When this dude says that he'll tear you limb form limb, he really means it.) Next he murders a fornicating couple (Jerry Soucie and Liz Renay, a former gun moll and John Waters star.) tearing out the woman's intestines and throwing them at her corpse. (Wouldn't Freud have a field day with that one?)

Of course Winnie and Stein have no idea that Eddie/Blackenstein is a monster, even when two cops come by and tell them of the murders. (Have they not noticed his change in appearance?) The two doctors are so damn clueless that Eddie/Blackenstein goes on another rampage that night.

The action now stops so that a really bad stand up comic can tell a couple of really bad jokes and a pretty good blues singer can belt out a number. (As lovely as this lady's voice is, her song has no place in this film.) Meanwhile, the monster manages to kill another couple and guess what? You got it! He disembowels the woman! (The writer of this script must really hate women!)

Eddie/Blackenstein goes back home only to find Malcomb in the process of raping Winnie. Malcomb tries to fight the monster off, but it's useless. He's strangled to death.

Winnie runs into Dr. Stein and tells him that Eddie is the monster. (BIG SURPRISE!) Then she does what any intelligent woman would do when being chased by a monster. She goes down to the lab and prepares an injection! (How did this woman pass med school?) Blackenstein attacks Winnie and just when you think she's a goner, the last bit of his humanity keeps him from hurting her. Stein runs into the lab and tries to destroy the monster only to be thrown into his equipment and electrocuted.

The following scene finds our protagonist in a garage where a young woman is about to go out in her dune buggy. The monster grabs her and takes her to some warehouse looking place. She escapes only to be caught and brutally murdered like every other female character in this film except Winnie and the singer.

The police finally catch up to Blackenstein and release a pack of Dobermans on him. The dogs tear the monster to pieces. End credits.

You really have to see this film to believe it. There's probably not one redeeming feature. The acting is dreadful, the script seems like it was written by a second grader and the lighting is horrible. Some of the scenes are so dark that you can't see what's going on. And the dogs! Bullets couldn't kill this guy, but a few dogs tear him to pieces!

I remember when this film came out. It disappeared pretty fast. I hadn't seen or heard anything about it for years until I found the DVD in Walmart's $5.00 bin. I've read reviews from different people online and there's a mixed reaction. Some folks think it's beyond bad while other find it a campy delight! I agree with the latter. I've watched it more than once and love it more each time. The first time you watch it, you have to get past how unbelievably bad it is and the disturbing gore. Then you can enjoy it's campy elements.

Blackenstein is available on DVD from Xenon Pictures. The transfer is from a pretty bad print, but I'm not sure that a good print is in existence. After all, this movie is almost forty years old.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bad Girls Do Cry (1954)

A regular drive-in staple was the exploitation film. The plot usually involved some sweet young girl who unwittingly gets involved in some type of criminal behavior. These were morality pieces meant to show the evils of the big city and titillate the libidos of young boys and men. They ran about 65 minutes and the cast usually consisted of unknown starlets or over the hill burlesque queens.

Most of these films were just plain awful and forgettable. Since they usually had an "Adults Only" stamp or later an R rating, the very young girls they were trying to warn weren't allowed to see them. The core audience must have been lecherous old pervs who were watching only to see naked or semi-naked young girls on the screen.

In the 1950's mainstream Hollywood films were still fairly chaste. Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield jiggled across the screen, but always kept their clothes on and screen sex never got hotter than a kiss on the beach. Exploitation films went a little further, showing ladies' undies and slightly more explicit love scene. Bad Girls Do Cry is an example of such a film.

Innocent young Sally Downs (Burlesque Queen Misty Ayers, who looks neither innocent nor young) has just arrived in an undisclosed big city from an undisclosed small town. She read an ad in the newspaper for a waitress job and decides to apply, but not before taking ten minutes to strip all the way down to her bra and panties, wash her bathtub and take a bubble bath, all with no nudity. (This was probably the closes thing to porn for 1954 audiences.)

Sally gets the waitress job and one night meets Nick, a sleezeball. (We know he's a sleezeball because he wears a black hat and calls Sally "Doll") He tells Sally that he owns a modeling agency and she has just what it takes to be a top model. Sally is already tired of slinging hash and agrees to see him the next day. (OH!OH!)

Sally arrives at the modeling agency, a run down suburban bungalow, and the first thing she's asked to do is disrobe. (Even in 1954, wouldn't a big old bell be going off in any half wit's head?) This gives us another chance to watch Misty Ayers do what she does best, take off her clothes. Once Sally is stripped down to her bra and panties, Nick comes into the room, overpowers her, knocks her out and shoots her up with some kind of drug. (I'm assuming it's heroin, but she shows no signs of addiction or withdrawal throughout the entire film.)

As it turns out, the modeling agency is really a brothel (What a surprise!) and before you can say Happy Hooker, Sally is the most popular girl there. (This could be because the other girls are so butt ugly that they make Edith Massey look like Elizabeth Taylor.)

One night, Sally meets Tommy Cole, a decent young man who falls in love with her. Tommy doesn't believe that Sally belongs there and decides to sneak her out. This does not sit well with Nick and Blanche, the alcoholic madam. When Tommy tries to sneak her out, Blanche and Nick are waiting for them. They threaten them with a gun and force poor Sally back into the house.

Since Tommy tried to steal the cash cow, he is no longer welcome at the brothel. He tries to call, but Blanche hangs up on him, he sends Sally a letter and Blanche tears it up. Tommy has finally had enough and goes to the police. He tells the Police Capitan everything about Nick and Blanche's white slavery ring. As it turns out, the Police Capitan is in cahoots with our baddies and warns Nick.

Nick riggs Tommy's car. When Tommy breaks down on a deserted street, Nick chases him, corners him behind a telephone pole and shoots him dead.

Just when you think this slime is going to get away with white slavery and murder, it comes out that Tommy was the son of a very prominent civic leader, who's demanding blood for the murder of his son. The Police Capitan comes to the house and tells Nick that he killed the son of a VIP and there's no way he can cover for him now. Nick gets pissed off and kills the Police Capitan. Meanwhile, Sally overhears the entire conversation. She is so outraged at Tommy's murder that she locates a scissors in the bottom of her drawer.(Would they really have left sharp objects with in her reach?) Nick walk into the room and he's so cocky that doesn't see Sally behind him. She stabs him several times with the scissors killing him. The end.

I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this movie. First of all, I strongly suspect that it was filmed silent in 8mm or Super8 and blown up to 16mm or 35mm with the soundtrack dubbed in. The soundtrack barely matches the visuals, no character has any dialogue in close up, and the music sounds like something from another planet. The attempts at humor are lame at best. (Blanche's drunk schtick and Nick replacing Blanche's booze with milk.) The acting is dreadful. There is not one moment of a performance from any of the cast. There's a special feature on the DVD of one of Misty Ayers' burlesque routines. It's kind of sad because it shows that the lady really did have talent.

Bad Girls Do Cry was directed by Sid Melton, who played Uncle Charley on Make Room For Daddy, Alf Monroe on Green Acres and Sophia's husband Sal in flashbacks on Golden Girls. I could excuse a know nothing nobody for making a dud like this, but Melton was a Hollywood professional. What was he thinking?

Bad Girls Do Cry is available fro Something Weird Video. The disc includes two other exploitation films, Girl in Trouble and Good Time With a Bad Girl.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Drive-In Massacre (1976)

For my first review on my drive-in blog, I thought it was appropriate to do a drive-in movie about the drive-in. I first saw Drive-In Massacre in the early eighties. I have a friend who had a 35mm projector set up in his living room. He worked in the business, so sometimes he was able to acquire prints of some obscure films. He got his hands on a print of this film and showed it one night.

The action begins at a California drive-in movie theater. A young couple sits in their car to discuss the future. (First hint that they are goners.) The young man leans from the car door to retrieve the speaker and faster than you can say Anne Boleyn, a sword comes down on his neck and decapitates him. His girlfriend freaks out and the assailant stabs her through the throat with his sword.

The next day, the police are baffled. (Are the police in bad slasher flicks ever not baffled?) Detectives Larry and Mike (We never learn their last names.) interview Austin Johnson (Newton Naushuas), the theater manager. Johnson is a class A prick(We know this because he has a shaved head and cusses a lot.) and refuses to cooperate with the police. It turns out that he's bitter because a carnival once stood on the site of the theater. Now he spends all his time in the projection booth and doesn't get to meet people. (Who in their right mind would want to meet this loathsome creature?)

The cops talk next to Germy, the clean up man who was once a geek in the carnival. Germy tells them about some perv in an old beat up Chevy Nova, who cruises around the lot peeping at couples doing the wild thing.

One would think that a brutal murder would cause all sensible folk to stay away from that place, but in Trash-O-Rama Land, no one is sensible. The drive-in is packed. That can only mean one thing. Another brutal murder. This time the couple is stabbed together with a sword after the girl tells the guy she's pregnant. (I wonder what those pro-life folks had to say about that.)

Germy writes down the perv's tag numbers and Detectives Laurel and Hardy pay him a visit. Even though he insists that he only goes to the drive-in to masturbate(Ewwww!) and not to murder innocent fornicating couples, Larry and Mike insist on searching his car where they find a bloody rag. After a very long drawn out foot chase, the perv is arrested, but has to be released when they find that it's only cat blood.(Why do they have to let him go? There are a slew of charges that could have been made.)

That night, our fine police officers decide to stake out the drive-in with one of them in drag. (I kid you not.) Even though those two brave detectives are keeping everyone safe, another girl and the perv are chopped up.

Our fearless law enforcers are back at the station licking their wounds, when they get a tip that a maniac is holding a teenage girl hostage in a warehouse. Gee, this has to be our killer. (Where the tip comes from and who left it remains a mystery.)

The action now moves to the warehouse where a maniac with a machete is indeed terrorizing a young girl. In a very long scene, he chases the poor girl around the warehouse until Larry and Mike arrive to shoot him dead. As it turns out, the girl is his daughter and he had escaped from the looney hatch just that morning.

Since neither the perv nor the machete wielding psycho could possibly have committed the murders, Mike and Larry decided to interrogate Austin Johnson. Austin does not take this well. He verbally abuses everyone and gets so pissed at Germy for helping the cops that he fires him. Of course Larry and Mike don't have a grain of evidence,(Where are those CSI folks when we need them?) so they have to release Austin Johnson.

The now unemployed Germy decides to see Johnson one more time before he goes. Another employee begs him not to go into the projection boot, but plucky little Germy isn't hearing it. Just as Larry and Mike arrive, we see shadows of a brutal murder on the screen. They break into the booth and find Johnson hacked to pieces on the floor. It has to be Germy, right? WRONG! Germy has also been brutally murdered.

The film ends with an audio announcement that there is a killer loose in the theater and for everyone to run for their lives. (Why didn't Hitchcock think of a cleaver gimmick like that?)

I have to say that this has got to be one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and I write about bad movies. The script is dreadful, the drive-in scenes are so dark that you can't even make out what's on the screen and the warehouse scene make one think someone put on the reel of a different movie. The worst part is the end. Nothing is resolved. We never find out who the killer is or why he/she was doing it. The producers probably thought they were creating some cleaver cutting edge gimmick, but it comes off as unfinished and stupid.

Drive-In Massacre is available on DVD from several different distributors. My copy is part of a collection called 50 Chilling Classics fro Mill Creek Entertainment. A word of warning: The version on this set has some of the more gory scenes watered down. I'm not sure if the original version is still available.

Watch the film: