Irish McCalla was a popular pin up model whose brief acting career is probably best remembered for her titular turn on mid 50s television series Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle, a role for which she was cast when Anita Ekberg turned it down. While far from a dynamic actress, her statuesque 5’10” frame and nominal ability to deliver her lines gave her a modest edge over some of her fellow beauties looking to jump from the pages of men’s magazines to the silver screen.
1958’s She Demons is the only film appearance in her slim filmography where Irish was given top billing. Given the time frame and the jungle island setting, this was likely a bit of a calculated career move for all parties concerned. She wanted out of television, the film’s producers wanted a still somewhat recognizable name on which to hinge an otherwise unremarkable bit of budget genre fare.
Spoiled socialite Jerrie Turner (Irish McCalla) is sent off on a vacation cruise so her father can get his bratty daughter out of his hair (and his checkbook) for a bit. Unfortunately, the ship gets caught up in a hurricane, and crash lands on an uncharted island. Thankfully, square jawed tour guide Fred (Tod Griffin), sassy sidekick Sammy (Victor Sen Yung, whose list of credits is historical proof of just what kind of roles non Caucasian actors were unfortunately limited to in this era), and ship’s captain Kris (Charles Opunui, ditto) have all survived the wreck along with her.
Typical of someone used to hired help, Jerrie is less concerned with her crew or essential items like food or a radio than she is with the location of her powder blue cashmere shortie or a particular pair of toreador pants. The group’s troubles quickly move out of Gilligan’s Island territory, and into something more pressing. The seemingly empty island is actually filled with, you guessed it, “she-demons”. The creatures look like scantily clad human women from the neck down, but have horribly mutated faces, sharp fangs and a tendency towards random violence. To make matters worse, the one partial radio broadcast the group is able to receive indicates the US military is scheduled to use the island as a bomb testing site in less than 48 hours.
This sort of schlock was an even bigger barnacle than juvenile delinquency melodramas for hanging onto the bottom of a double bill for ungodly amounts of time. What distinguishes She Demons is just how many tropes it manages to pack into 76 minutes.
Baseline plot stolen from Bela Lugosi’s work in both 30s sci fi serials and 40s horror cinema?
Check to both of those, simultaneously.
Rampant exoticism and ethnic stereotyping used primarily in service of giving some blandly attractive white extras an excuse to shake it in sarongs?
Check, and it’s a fully choreographed number set to Les Baxter’s “Calypso”.
Mad scientist in attendance?
Absolutely, check. The villain isn’t just a mad scientist, he’s a Nazi mad scientist, Karl “The Butcher” Ostler (Rudolph Anders). He’s been holed up on the island with his foot soldiers since before the war ended, using the suspiciously pale “natives” as guinea pigs in a crazy scheme to restore the beauty to his burn scarred wife’s face. There’s also a henchman named Igor (Gene Roth) who pops up to add some early Nazisploitation style sadism to this whole affair, whipping an escapee and tossing the girls into bamboo cages when its not their turn on the operating table.
Had writer/director Richard E. Cunha managed to shoehorn in some half baked voodoo angle, this film could have filled the Bingo card. That said, the final act is a nice surprise as it’s Jerrie, not unseasoned potato salad Fred, who saves the day. She manages to grow both a spine and a sense of resourceful priority quickly enough to save herself and her staff before the stock footage of US Air Force bombers is scheduled to show up.
This being the 50s, Jerrie ends up doing so in an evening gown, and Fred still gets the romantic hero treatment in the last 5 minutes despite being basically useless. It’s still a notably refreshing change for a film of this ilk to give its leading lady a bit of character arc. Even if that character arc is “self involved spoiled brat” to “self involved spoiled brat that manages to appropriately wield a champagne bottle and a set of keys to spring the men….. because there is absolutely no way in hell she’s voluntarily paddling 300 miles to the mainland in a rowboat”.
What do you get when you mix a television journeyman, a frustrated soap opera pretty boy, an aging rock star, and a former Prince protege?
Never Too Young To Die, a Gil Bettman directed action comedy to update spies for the rad kids of the Reagan era, penned by the same twisted mind that would later produce the truly execrable Baby Geniuses.
While the film received a limited theatrical run and a home video release, both flopped. The movie held on briefly in syndication before vanishing for several decades into the recess of VHS only curios. Content to let sleeping dogs lie, no one bothered to exhume Never Too Young To Die for DVD/Blu Ray release until 2017.
Let’s get this totally tubular tale of the teenage spy who loved Vanity over with:
The cold open of this 1986 misfire is a herd of lost extras from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, chanting in support of their glorious leader, gender bending Ragnar (Gene Simmons). For the record, that name is not a keysmash or a typo. Clearly, production was aiming for a glam rock and roll nightmare, but the practical result is a puffy mess who clearly ate the whole pack of Frank N. Futers. As Ragnar struts and shrieks some nonsense about “little turdballs”, and poisoning the city water supply, even the fan club down below looks confused.
A critical disk of information needed for this overly elaborate poisoning plan is missing. One of the female crustpunks is a traitor. As she is bound to a prop cross, we get a truly disturbing scene where the crowd chants for Ragnar to give the double agent “the finger”. As Gene Simmons licks glossed lips and raises a dirty acrylic coke nail, we mercifully cut to credits. NO ONE needed to see exactly where that was going.
Enter Lance Stargrove (John Stamos), a teen gymnastics champ at a weird high school that apparently has dorms. He’s got a cheery theme song, big hair, and a stereotype of a best friend named Cliff, who only exists to spit computer jargon and build literal plot devices. Well, plot devices other than those that were already stolen from The Goonies and Gymkata.
It isn’t all sunshine and sweatbands for Lance. His mom is dead, and his dad is going to miss the big gymnastics meet, AGAIN. Best to photogenically brood about it. Stupid dad having a stupid mysterious job.
While he sulks, we cut to Lance’s father James Bond, Drew Stargrove. Stargrove the elder is played by George Lazenby. Lazenby is best known for being the guy who keeps Timothy Dalton from being the least popular Bond actor.
Mr. Stargrove is doing top level espionage for Roto Rooter, but the job goes badly sideways due to a defector in the ranks and some “C4” that looks and adheres like kneaded eraser. Ragnar makes short work of an injured Mr. Stargrove after some boring squabbling over the missing disc for the water poisoning plot. In a psychic link between father and estranged son, Lance bungles the big tumble tournament and lands with a thud at the same moment his dad dies of his own ineptitude. Kismet.
At the funeral, a bundle of dear old dad’s not at all secret agent “associates” show up, including Danja Deering (Vanity), wearing one of the leftover costumes from the Vanity 6 album tour. Lance being Lance, he has a tantrum about his dad ever having known a good looking woman in even the most mysterious of capacities. He sulks his way through a pile of dry as kindling exposition with the one scene wonder family lawyer.
Lance is now independently wealthy, and the owner of his father’s farm/ personal retreat, which he didn’t realize had ever existed. Again, best to sit in the backseat of the limo and photogenically brood about it.
Speaking of the farm, Lance decides to visit, just as Ragnar’s club wielding henchman interrupt Danja’s horseback riding with demands for the missing disc. The barn doubles as an armory, and is blown up in the scuffle despite Ragnar’s goons not having a single modern weapon. Vanity loses the gun she brought to a blunt instrument fight, and the grenade box thoughtfully stored beneath the saddles lights the whole structure up like kindling when the side of beef above struggles to keep control of a semi automatic.
Danja sustains a small wound on the arm, which inexplicably requires her to take off the frilly blouse she nicked from Prince’s closet. Lance is unharmed, but….you guessed it…..proceeds to photogenically brood about it. Vanity’s expression in the still up there pretty much sums up my feelings toward this entire sequence. Whatever secret agency these characters are from is the bottom of the can of dollar store alphabet soup.
Okay, so we’re going to pause a moment here. Another mystery man comes to retrieve Vanity from the farm, and they have a debrief about the obvious misunderstanding regarding the meaning of the phrase “barn raising”. When she mentions the culprit being Ragnar’s henchmen, our ersatz G man replies “The hermaphrodite?” in an incredulous tone.
1. It is a third of the way through the movie, and this bizarre plot point was felt to be of enough merit to be shoehorned in, apropos of absolutely fuck all. 2. That terminology was not a good look even in 1986. 3. The mid 80’s were an unfortunate boom time for casual homophobia in films. 4. Why is Ragnar’s gender identity or physiology more important that the fact that her crew is planning to poison an entire city’s water supply, and has already committed murder? It’s not. But the entire rest of the movie will repeatedly harp on it because of point #3. 5. Velvet Von Ragnar refers to herself as she in the scene that follows this one, and so will I.
Danja heads off to catch Velvet Von Ragnar’s nightclub act. Lance follows along like a puppy, because he wants to prove he can do big kid stuff aside from brood and sulk.
As far as the actual performance? Gene Simmons had a career as a professional musician for over a decade at this stage, and manages not to sing, dance, speak or walk in anything resembling the same time signature as the beat.
The costume is borrowed from the 1980 Linda Carter ENCORE! TV special, and Gene mainly just wobbles around the stage shrieking like Dr. Rockso’s grandparent. Should you be a masochist, but not so much of one as to watch this entire movie, some of the vocals from this sequence were recycled for the 1992 KISS song “Spit”.
Another homophobic conversation is had. Danja leaves, slapping Lance for implying she’s a star(grove) fucker. Lance attempts to go undercover as a fan of Velvet’s to place one of his BFF’s handy bubble gum trackers in her dressing room.
Surprising no one, Lance fails miserably. Velvet flushes the tracker down the toilet. Lance gets his ass kicked outside of the bar, and manages to nearly get blown up when his motorcycle explodes.
This doesn’t stop him from borrowing poor Cliff’s motorbike to go chase Danja, as he adhered the other bubble gum tracker to her car. As usual, he gets in the way of Danja’s escape from more of Velvet’s post apocalyptic errand bitches, nearly gets himself shot, and does absolutely nothing to prevent the goons from capturing her in their fishing net of doom.
Meanwhile, the henchmen drag Lance back to his father’s farmhouse, and whip him until he cries. At roughly an hour into this film, our supposed hero has done little more than pout, sulk and get beaten up by shitty roller derby characters looking for dated computer technology.
But by the power of the cheap badge that the set dresser dredged up from a local plaque and trophy shop, Lance finally finds his footing. The gnashing of teeth for “intensity” and a theme song reprise…..THAT’S his ninja way. Defenestration fu saves the day, and Lance’s reputation as a completely ineffectual idiot. Now he’s just a mostly ineffectual idiot.
Turns out that stupid tchochke is a quest item, as when Lance fumbles putting it back onto his necklace, it rolls into a glowing groove in the floor. Once activated, there’s a little super spy Narnia underneath the bed. Like an onion, this farm. So many layers.
Seeing his dad’s trophy room of awards and accomplishments gives Lance the confidence to pick up a handgun as he sees a figure in motocross gear entering the house. Lance still being a moron, he almost shoots poor Cliff. Cliff came by with both a brand new motorbike and a custom designed flamethrower, because plot device. He also mentions that the disc Lance’s dad had sent before all this started just happened to be inside a specially built compartment inside of Cliff’s new bike. Funny that Lance almost killed the person that has the one thing everyone in the film wants, and that Cliff didn’t mention having it until just now.
Fuck it, whatever, lets see how the homemade flamethrower plays into Danja’s rescue.
Blah, blah, blah overly elaborate villain plot.
How in the hell did Robert Englund end up in this only semi polished turd? He’s wonderful as always, in a bit role as a tech dork named Riley.
Velvet kills the previous two henchman as punishment for their failure to retrieve the disc. At least they call the dirty coke nail “the spike” rather than “the finger” this time. 50% less nightmare inducing.
Move along, nothing else to see in this scene.
Lance and Cliff make like a bad album cover as they fight fire…..with fire. Danja is rescued from yet another overly elaborate crematorium of doom type villain mechanism, and everyone debriefs in what looks like a church basement or a shipping container. The entire water poisoning plot everyone has been talking about the entire film has to be rehashed again for the secret agent bigwigs, who decide Lance and Danja……should sit at the farmhouse and wait.
Hear that sound? It’s the plot grinding to a near standstill in the final stretch.
At the house, Lance and Danja have a weird combination of flirtation and argument, with semi love confessions and suspicions of double crossers in their own ranks mixed with the insufferably pouty Lance brooding over the fact that a beautiful woman has decided she wants to sleep with him. I was going to complain about how long this scene drags on, but for time killing filler, you could do far worse than circa 1986 Vanity stepping in and out of a bikini.
The editing of the actual sex scene is bizarre with moody sax sprinkled throughout the oddly jumpy visual cuts. Apparently, I’m the only one who remembers that this is a mission, with a full crew of spies chilling at the top of the hill with high powered binoculars. Whatever, I won’t yuck someone else’s yum.
Lance and Ganja get airlifted out of the house while lookalikes take their place. Maybe because the lookalikes will get actual spy stuff done rather than having kinky sex. However, the helicopter pilot isn’t Agent Carruthers, but instead is a disguised Ragnar. This transition is one step above Scooby and those meddling kids pulling the rubber mask off the villain at the end of the episode, proving once again that Danja and company are the worst spies ever.
Ragnar drags them back to his dust bowl hide out, which is pretty much run like a nuclear winter Medieval Times. Ragnar demands a toast from her throne, Danja and Lance are pelted with rotted food as they are dragged out in a cage, and John Stamos gets into some awkward territory challenging the big side of bacon main henchman to a duel to see who is a “real man”.
The real spies show up in rescue helicopters, and Ragnar runs with Riley the tech nerd, the disc she had her henchman steal from Cliff’s bike, and a nuclear football like suitcase. Lots of filler shots of the good guys mowing down extras ensue as Ragnar makes her break for it.
With the poisoning device armed and a 3 minute countdown, Lance manages to catch up to Ragnar for what is (thankfully) their last standoff on a municipal aqueduct. Some is this precious time is wasted with yet another inane homophobic conversation about who is a “real man” or “real woman” and other such tripe. Because John Stamos and his 45 minute blow dried and moussed coif is the height of butch masculinity. It’s the femme person in the corset that’s bad. Some dumb shit like that. I stopped listening for the sake of the 14 brains cells I had not yet killed with booze while watching this film.
Lance is such a cocky little shit, its oddly satisfying to see Ragnar take a hearty swing at his head with a tire iron as she calls him a pathetic little boy. In fact, she’s well on her way to kicking his ass until he goes for the cheap shot of biting her boob. Some super tough super spy he is. As one cheap turn deserves another, Ragnar gets in a slash with her infamous coke nail.
They continue their chicken fight on the ground, and the detonator says that only about 30 seconds have elapsed, despite this eating up several minutes of screentime. Vanity catches up in the chopper, Cliff’s homemade flamethrower at the ready rather than the plethora of real weapons her employers supplied.
Roberta Findlay was one of the few female creators of the exploitation golden age, and is only rivaled by Doris Wishman in terms of both longevity and prolific output across the sleaze subgenres. In her multi decade career, Roberta wrote, produced, directed, distributed, and occasionally acted in her own work.
Thankfully, Ms. Findlay is a far more competent multi hyphenate than her predecessor. Less thankfully, keep in mind the curve on which we are grading.
Alongside her husband Michael, she created the landmark Flesh trilogy of roughies, which mixed sex and violence into a brand new bag, helping eradicate the tamer trend of the nudie cuties that had dominated the early 60s. Their early 70s failed slasher experiment called Slaughter was later reedited into the notorious Snuff, which set an urban legend into motion that still persists today.
After parting ways with Michael in 1973, Roberta made a successful string of porn features, before controversy came calling again regarding 1985’s Shauna: Every Man’s Fantasy. The movie was a cash in Frankenstein’s monster, made from archive footage after the titular star had committed suicide at 20.
So what happens when an admittedly indifferent schlockmeister mixes rape revenge tropes with a knockoff of Assault On Precinct 13? 1985’s The Tenement, which I watched under its lamer alternate title:
The font and the theme song got lost on their way to Beat Street, full of stutter synth, and a rap lyric that can’t decide if the tenement is a “place of shelter” or “helter skelter”. We get some generic exteriors and cut to a dingy basement, where a gang of weekend Warriors is busy doing drugs, waving dead rats at each other, and…….whatever the fuck this is:
Too bad the party gets broken up pretty quickly by the cops. The dude who called the police is our first introduction to the building residents, and he stops to greasily gloat at the gang members in a Speedy Gonzales accent as they get packed off into a squad car. This way they know exactly which person turned the gang in. How could that possibly go wrong?
The residents throw a party to celebrate the gang being gone. This introduces us to the rest of the ethnic stereotypes tenants, some of which I’m not even sure were given names outside of the credits. Rojas is the drunk tub of greasiness and bluster who called law enforcement. Mr. Washington is a strong silent type doing his best Duane Jones impression. Leona is a sassy single mom. Anita is a sweet pregnant girl. Ruth a tough Jewish grandmother, and Angel a hooker with a heart of gold who turns tricks to support her husband’s habit.
There’s another older couple named Wesley, blind Mr. Gonzalez with a seeing eye dog, some random little kids who belong to someone or another….none of this is going to get developed in any significant fashion, so trust that the accents are horrible and the characterization is worse. This celebratory party scene lasts longer than some of these actors’ careers.
Aside from Leona, they all prattle on at length about being SO VERY GLAD THE GANG IS GONE. THEY ARE SAFE NOW. FOREVER. WE SURE WON’T SEE THOSE GANGBANGERS AGAIN.
Except for the fact that bail exists, and within a few hours our gang is right back out on the streets, making sure that snitch Rojas gets the mandated stitches. Due to budgetary constraints “stitches” becomes 1 tiny piece of prop glass and a large bandage on the forehead.
The baddies get their own long and equally boring party scene, where they smoke a bunch of angel dust in a parking lot and sing off key songs about “passing that fucker, man”, to the tune of stock music cues that would later pop up in Zombie Nightmare. Then the mighty Chaco, our aviator shade and frontless shirt wearing gang leader gets a listless spin shot and this struggle of a 4 line speech. It absolutely sounds like he learned it phonetically:
Chaco (gazing at nothing): Blood. My head….is full of blood. My dream…. is full of blood. I’m going to take my building BACK!
Typical of most “urban warfare” style films, 20 minutes in and that’s pretty much it for plot. There’s a ton of expository padding, but none of it teaches you anything important about the characters you didn’t learn through the early party scenes. Angel and her husband fight over his drug use. Anita’s mom is not thrilled she’s pregnant. Leona wishes she could move. Mr. Gonzalez is beloved by the children, because cute seeing eye dog. Rojas is drunk and Ruth is reciting a Shabbat blessing. Just in case the caricatures weren’t broad enough the first time around, hit me baby one more time.
We know there’s going to be a bloody conflict. The film just needs to give Crow T Robot his Christmas gift , and decide who lives and who dies. Place your bets or grab your bingo cards, whichever you prefer.
While the post apocalypse aerobics instructor of the group cuts the phone lines, the seeing eye dog ends up as fodder for a banger’s Countess Bathory moment.
By the way, timestamped title cards have been present but irrelevant the entire movie, as its not like PCP fueled murder sprees are on a tight schedule. Feel free to join me in continuing to ignore them.
Leona goes downstairs to check the phone line, and is brutally punished for being right about the gang’s return. This sequence made me glad for how weirdly prim this movie is, despite its X rating for violence. Conceptually horrible things happen, but we don’t explicitly see much of them. In the case of a deceased pup and a Last House On The Left style remix of the uses of household implements, less really is more.
In a thin upside, Leona’s little girl is smart enough to head upstairs to safety with a neighbor, and Leona managed to pull a Fulci on one of her attackers before dying.
Mr. Washington begrudgingly helps herd everyone he can find onto the upper floor landing, because apparently Chaco & friends are a bit confused on how stairs work, and won’t follow them. Bickering amongst the residents ensues, but they do comply. That runtime needs a lot of padding to make a safe landing.
Proving Mr. Washington’s point, Chaco yells some threats from the lobby, but doesn’t move an inch. The rest of the gang rampages through the emptied apartments like unattended Sims. Without someone to tell them what to do, they are stabbing random furniture, tossing food around, and getting bags stuck on their heads.
Variations of these same 3 shots fluff out a lot of the remaining runtime. Assume they happen in between any relevant action, and even some that aren’t. For example, Angel’s futile plea to one of her tricks on the street to go get help rather than come inside, which wastes another few minutes without disturbing the main plot’s vacation.
Angel’s husband dies defending his stash. Angel only makes it to safety because Mr. Washington comes out onto the landing to protect her as she runs upstairs. The fourth floor stairs are still lava.
One of the gang overdoses by virtue of doing the entire stolen pile of drugs at once. Chaco and Olivia Newton Chula mourn by having a bloody trip to second base beside the body of their fallen comrade.
Not to be outdone by gangbangers for moronic and unnecessary deaths, Mrs. Wesley dies searching downstairs for disinfectant. Anita’s mom dies trying to escape from the third story window via a single strand of clothesline. That doesn’t even work in cartoons, for fuck’s sake.
Over an hour into the movie, the baddies finally figure out the whole fourth floor stairs thing, and start tearing apart the makeshift furniture barricade the residents made.
Only by the grace of grandma Ruth and her ancient New York wisdom of nut shots and baseball bats, do the residents escape up to the fifth and final floor.
The good ship plot device comes in, and the gang wastes more time with random vandalism, to give the good guys time to MacGuyver an elaborate defense of an electrified bed frame and wet steps.
Downstairs, Chaco kills one of his own people via genital stab because the film’s runtime is almost out and too many people are still alive.
The residents loot a gun clip off of the crispy fried victim of their death bed, assuming the gang’s gun is no longer a threat without ammo. Our fifth grade teachers taught us what happens when you assume. In this case, it gets Mr. Washington shot as he heads downstairs.
Assumption also gets Rojas killed by Chaco’s handy dog collar. While a brilliant parry of boiling water and a fridge made of foam killed Chaco’s ladyfriend, and mortally wounded another gangster, Chaco himself was unharmed.
By going downstairs to gloat and finish the job with a knife, Rojas proves that only manual strangulation can get him to shut the fuck up.
Ruth stuns Chaco with her trusty bat, but doesn’t kill him. That leaves poor pregnant Anita to battle the big bad on a rainy roof, and finish the job with a TV antenna and a convenient attack of sudden rotoscope lightning. Too bad she locked herself out, as the door slammed shut in the struggle…….
……….or maybe just a less rainy pitch black night. Allegory is hard.
Really it’s “Teenage Survival Sex Work, With A Side Of Free Love”, but that just wouldn’t have the same lurid appeal for trailers, posters and lobby cards.
Teen drifter Kim (Alisha Fontaine) has decided to leave her former life pushing drugs for a transient commune. Instead, she hitches for a draft dodging new boyfriend, who is using her to help him get out of the country. The two of them make their way east, in the hopes that Kim’s estranged sister Hilary (Robin Low) will give them cash from Kim’s inheritance.
Too bad her former lover/guru/drug connect Maury and his wayward band of hippies have followed her across the country, and the bad times roll right behind them.
I can’t say there’s anything remarkable in this Z grade romp. Most of the dialog has clearly been dropped in in post, and the only print I can find is scratched like it has eczema. However, it is a grindhouse potboiler that understands that movies have to actually move. The 75 minute runtime breezes by as it hits all of the standard beats of the flotilla of the post Charlie Manson cheapies. Establishment bad. Disenfranchisement worse. Off beat bohemian dancing. You know the routine.
There’s a melodramatic B plot that involves Kim seducing Hilary’s sugar baby younger boyfriend, and Robin Low gives a hammy soap opera performance as the uptight foil to Kim’s freewheeling ways. There’s skinny dipping and man stealing, and a whole lot of Hilary swanning about her fabulous house drunk and tut tutting at Kim.
Then Maury shows up and brings all of the drugs, bongos and bad juju with him, as well as excuses for some more nudity, some violence, and a wild groovy, party, man. Wherever you go, there you are. Heavy.
It’s obvious that this will end poorly, in the classic youth in peril/juvenile delinquent mode, but the sheer budget conscious bungle of exactly how it all falls down was worth a solid giggle.
A slight, but perfect, bottom half of a double bill with a Tiffany Bolling feature presentation. She tended to play the grown up, harder bitten version of this same character in equally regional California productions. Give Kim 5 years to wise up, a tan, and a golden blonde rinse…..you end up with Jesse from The Candy Snatchers.
Exploitation film has always been a trend driven beast, with bizarre boomlets for damn near every common noun you can append -sploitation to.
Nunsploitation shared its 60s and 70s heyday with the women in prison films. Both niches were basically playing the same game, but with different variants of black and white uniforms. Fallen convent angels in habits or proud prison sinners in stripes, both subgenres were chock full of sadistic authority figures, women in isolation, and kinky (often lesbian) sex.
The subject of nuns also added the delightful bonus of jabbing a stick straight into the eye of the church, and a controversy was always good for a few extra asses in the seats. Not surprisingly, many genre standouts were produced by filmmakers in the Catholic strongholds of Spain and Italy.
Today’s film is one of the last gasps of the fading clergy craze, and is unusual for both being set in the (then) present day, and for having made the UK’s infamous “Video Nasties” list. It’s also the only nunsploitation flick starring former mainstream sex goddess Anita Ekberg (though it certainly isn’t the only Hail Mary in her late career filmography).
Originally titled “Suor Omicidi” and also released under the amazing, much snappier alternate title of “Bad Habits” let’s see just how far Ms. Ekberg has fallen from the Trevi Fountain:
Nothing much happens in the credit sequence. Communion wafers are eaten, nuns line up in elaborate configurations, incense and chants are had. An unseen Sister is in confession trying to be absolved of her need for revenge on all men, and up pops the title card. Enter Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg), clapping her hands, chastising two of her male patients for making dirty jokes, and being a absolute ray of sunshine that no rational human being would want to to deal with first thing in the morning.
By comparison to the dour nuns in the opener, Sister Gertrude is absolutely the Mother Superior of the Order of the #305 False Eyelash, making her hospital rounds in full eye make up. Sadly, it isn’t all smiles and frosted eyeshadow.
Sister Gertrude has just recovered from surgery to remove a brain tumor, and she hasn’t been quite herself since. While she used to be the resident doctor’s first choice of assistant, she has been neglecting her duties of late, endangering patients and having wacky music cue filled panic attacks at the sight of blood. A younger nun named Sister Mathieu picks up the slack for Sister Gertrude’s various fuck ups.
Every doctor that has examined her has declared Sister Gertrude healthy. She insists that all of the tests are wrong, and that she would be her usual self again if she could only get some more morphine. Because those cold sweats and fainting spells couldn’t possibly be drug withdrawal rather than an invisible phantom tumor. Nope. No way.
In a landmark case of “that escalated quickly”, Sister Gertrude is reading bloody hagiography of tortured saints to the patients at breakfast, then curbstomps patient Josephine’s dentures to dust for taking them out at the table. Sister Gertrude has gone from Pollyanna levels of sunny to shrieking “DISGUSTING! DISGUSTING! DISGUSTING!” like Joan Crawford when she just saw some wire hangers.
Sister Gertrude’s no good, very bad day just keeps on rolling.
Sister Mathieu insists on a nude fireside chat in their shared bedroom, confessing to both her forbidden love, and destroying Gertrude’s medical records. Without tangible proof, no one can deny Gertrude is sick…..which even the brain tumor survivor realizes is an utterly stupid plan.
Then that damned Josephine has to go and have a heart attack and die from the shock of the false teeth frenzy.
Then the doctor cuts off Gertrude’s supply of morphine. Cold turkey.
There’s nothing to do but sneak off into the city and pawn a dead woman’s stolen ring for drug money. As one does.
Over alternating dreamy Roman cha cha music and kicky disco kerfluffle, Gertrude does her various dirty deeds and stops into a cafe for a drink, a smoke, and a man. In hilarious voiceover, she growls about liking beards, and disliking a man she deems “too Latin looking”, whatever the fuck that means in terms of a generic looking white guy. Settling on a chain smoking clams adjuster, she practically purrs and pants her way through this breathy and bizarre line reading:
Sister Gertrude (voiceover): Come on……look this way. Sister Gertrude is just DYYYYYIIING to make love to you.
While Anita Ekberg declined to appear nude, they do have weird half clothed simulated sex in a random apartment building hallway. How his gross open mouthed goldfish style make out technique would be a turn on remains a mystery. On the other hand Ms. Ekberg’s Sister Gertrude is still a stone cold fox.
Back at the charity hospital, Sister Gertrude sets a two prong plan in motion. First, get the doctor who dared deny her fired. Second, celebrate by deciding to shoot up over it. It’s a special occasion, after all. Thrashing about on the carpet, we get a surreal little hallucination sequence of sliced brains and the tentative fondling of the deceased. All set to this delightful piece of music in search of a Nancy Sinatra song to belong to.
It’s about here that the movie takes an abrupt leap towards giallo territory, and mostly lands with a thud. A patient tries to help Sister Gertrude through her overdose. No good deed goes unpunished, and he is bludgeoned to death with a lamp, then tossed out of the window to make it look like a suicide.
The ever helpful Sister Mathieu burns a bloody veil of Gertrude’s she finds in the laundry, not that it helps anyone believe the suicide story. By the following afternoon, the remaining patients point blank call Gertrude a killer during the world’s grimmest game of truth or dare.
A patient and a local girl have some noisy sex outside in the pouring rain, and while their choice of venue is questionable, being choked to death with cotton gauze seems excessive.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Factory fleshpot Joe D’Allesandro shows up as the new head doctor at the hospital. He keeps his shirt on and his wonderful, working class New York City accent is dubbed out. That tidily eliminates any conceivable purpose of his being in this film.
In a clear concession to the current non starter status of the plot, Sister Gertrude savagely humiliates a nude Sister Mathieu. Sudden dominatrix mode engaged, Gertrude threatens to beat Mathieu if she does not immediately put on silk stockings, and make good on her previous sexual invitations.
Due to an excess of jumping jacks, the patients have a soup bowl clanking rebellion(none of that is a typo), and are sent to bed early. After leading evening prayers, Sister Gertrude is attacked by a mystery assailant, and the one patient who may know who did it is keeping silent. Not that it matters, as the potential snitch is acupunctured to death the following day, and hung up to bleed out in a laundry chute. Bonus points for easy clean up.
Sister Gertrude flies into hysterics at the sight of another body, and when Dr. Rough Trade gives her a sedative, her drug addiction is obvious. She has more than enough tracks to make a greatest hits album. Sister Mathieu tearfully admits covering for Gertrude’s addiction and the theft of hospital morphine.
Desperate to know what is real and what is her own hallucination, Gertrude drugs and kidnaps a handicapped patient named Peter. Dumping him at the bottom of the boiler room steps, she demands to know who is the source of the rumors blaming her for the murders. When he refuses to tell, Gertrude takes his crutches, trapping him there. She has other business to attend to……..
Which gives Peter plenty of time to drag himself up the stairs inch by inch….
Only to be kicked right back down them again by an unseen nun. Yet another killing gets Sister Gertrude sent away to the Brides Of Christ version of Bellevue……
To give us appropriate time to rush through a sloppy ending that primarily exists in service of getting this highly misleading image onto some video boxcovers.
The early 70’s were a time of massive change for all facets of film industry. The old studio system was gone, and a newly frank and independent generation of filmmakers were veering into rawer territory than ever before seen in Hollywood. Hardcore pornography broke box office records, and porno chic permeated pop culture to the point that even the staid New York Times had a reviewer front and center for “Deep Throat”.
It was bad enough that the mainstream was edging onto exploitation’s turf, and that the rise of hardcore had killed the market for old style hard R/soft X sexploitation almost overnight. However, another shake up was coming to the grindhouse ecosystem. As is often the case with cinematic stalkers, the next menace was coming from inside the house. Exploitation veteran Sean Cunningham and fresh face Wes Craven unleashed “Last House On The Left” in 1972, and set a new high water mark of drive in depravity.
With everyone scrambling to find new ways to package exploitation style sleaze, short lived distributor General Film Corporation took a chance on an odd little film called “The Candy Snatchers”, with TV writer/one off director Guerdon Trueblood manning the director’s chair, and first timer Bryan Gindoff providing a script that mixed sex and shocks with a new crime thriller style structure. Let’s find out what exactly they are doing to poor Candy, shall we?
Folk guitar twangs over the sound track, admonishing us what a shame it was that “the Candy girl had to play the game”, and clueing us in that this particular Catholic schoolgirl is the titular Candy. In a classic B-movie tradition, the teen Candy is played by twenty something actress Susan Sennett. Candy chats with the Mother Superior, says goodbye to her friends, and promptly starts trying to hitch a ride home. Basically this entire sequence becomes a music video for the folky theme still blaring away on the soundtrack, “Money Is The Root Of All Happiness”. Candy is young, carefree, and blissfully unaware of being watched:
Enter hulking Eddie (Vince Matorano), scheming Jessie (Tiffany Bolling), and her several screws loose brother Alan (Brad David). Following behind her as she continues to hitchhike, they kidnap Candy in the guise of giving her a ride. Because those Groucho glasses don’t actually hide anything, our trio blindfolds, binds and gags Candy in the back of the van to protect their identities.
We get a close up of a “Money Is The Root Of All Happiness” bumper sticker on the van, a special credits sequence mentioning the writer and singer of the new song “Money Is The Root Of All Happiness”, and now a long plot mandated drive into the hills so the entire song can be played AGAIN.
Dear God, this movie needs to stop trying to make “fetch” happen with this Jim Croce reject theme song.
Candy’s father is a well to do manager of a diamond jewelry business, and our terrible trio kidnapped her to collect a hefty ransom. A efficient, simple plan. Where this veers from Crime 101 is that they plan on burying Candy alive until the ransom is paid, with nothing more than a tiny pipe for air. This is the sort of overly elaborate nonsense that tanks Bond villains, let alone a group of people who have yet to master the concept and correct use of masks. Jessie admits that she got the idea from seeing it on television. Clearly, that was one gritty episode of “Scooby Doo”.
To compound the tragedy, no one notices there’s a witness, even if that witness is just a kid who looks like a lost extra from “Village Of The Damned”:
The child does try to help Candy in his own odd way, listening in to make sure she is still breathing, then dropping some peanuts down the hole to attempt to feed her. Our tiny potential savior is named Sean(Christophe Truegood), as we learn from his mother screaming his name like a pig caller from the bottom of the hill. She also is slamming a cowbell with all her might, in case your eardrums weren’t bleeding yet. Little Sean is apparently mute, and before he can even try to indicate what he saw up above, his mom is slapping him and shrieking that they are late to Daddy’s business dinner. Meanwhile, Daddy isn’t even home yet. If this woman was my only company, I wouldn’t talk either.
Meanwhile, back in the actual plot of the film, the baddies are synchronizing watches and getting ready to make their ransom demands to Candy’s father, Mr. Phillips (Ben Piazza). It’s an ornate, timed 3 person plan. They need all the help they can get if they are going to successfully pull off such daring maneuvers as making a phone call and dropping an envelope off at the back gate of a business. What’s next? A cereal box decoder ring?
Right about here is where this movie starts to splinter into a random joy buzzer effect, as if you were flipping through the channels, unsure of what exactly it was you wanted to watch, and catching a little bit of everything. Each individual plot thread chugs along, with blithe disregard for matching the mood or content of the others. This does not get better as the film goes on.
Jessie and company celebrate their victory with some drunk driving, visions of diamonds giddily dancing in their heads as they drive to the ransom drop off point.
Sean’s parents cringe in embarrassment in admitting to the big boss their son can’t talk. Said boss finds disability hysterical, and laughs like a community theater Mephistopheles for at least 30 seconds. Making a mute child cry is high comedy, apparently.
Meanwhile, Mr. Phillips gets Candy’s mom drunk, tells her Candy is staying with a friend, and that he has a work meeting to get to. The “work meeting” is a tryst with his assistant Lisa, who is also his mistress. She is putty in Avery Phillips’ hands, as long as those hands are full of embezzled diamonds from their shared workplace. Not surprisingly, he never shows up at the ransom drop off point.
Standing by their cartoon supervillain plan, Eddie and Alan take Candy out of her prison, and take her into their abandoned house hideaway for the night. You know, the one right next to the ventilated hole they decided to use instead. Because that makes total sense not to just use the house for the hostage in the first place.
Assuming that Candy’s family isn’t taking them seriously, Alan insists that Candy’s ear in a box is the only option to let her father know they mean business. Jessie and Alan are all for it, but Eddie stops them from actually harming Candy.
Instead, someone remembers this is indeed a grindhouse movie, and we take a trip to see a man named Charlie, a worker at the hospital morgue who apparently sells body parts out of the back. There’s a brilliantly creepy little scene where he negotiates the price with Jessie via singing a cheerful song down the hall, then delivers this bizarre speech while massaging the feet and legs of a corpse:
Charlie: These are the best people in the world. They don’t hurt nobody. They don’t make no trouble. They don’t tell me what to do. They don’t cost no money. They mind their own business. Yes, all they do is lie there, and just think about all them people it’s too late…..to fuck.
The smile never leaves Charlie’s face, even as he hands Alan the bloody ear in a baggie.
Eddie is back at the hideout, having a cozy fireside chat with the bound Candy, and inadvertently letting her know the name of each of her captors and approximately what they look like. It’s a soft focus speech full of pouty pathos and bowling alley dreams, and Candy falls asleep in Eddie’s arms.
Just in case you fell for the supposed character building of it all, as soon as Jessie returns from the morgue, Eddie has a vicious fight with her, until she is sobbing incoherently that “I don’t want to be me anymore!” Apropos of absolutely nothing, Eddie pulls her out of the bathtub and sexually assaults her in a fit of “friendzone” faux nice guy rage.
The only thing anyone learns from any of this is that they finally use the abandoned house to stash Candy, tying her to the radiator before they leave for the next stage of their Hindenberg of a plan. It involves more bickering, and the theft of a telephone truck.
Candy’s dad? Still keeping his wife drunk and misinformed as to Candy’s actual whereabouts.
Cut to an utterly ridiculous chop socky fight with a remarkably agile telephone repair man, which Jessie ends with a 2′ x 4″ and a terrible one liner.
Sean…..is still in the movie. His parents are still abusive.
Eddie tries to strong arm Mr. Phillips, and we finally learn why he has been so coolly indifferent to Candy’s fate. He’s not her real dad, and never will be. If Candy lives to be 21, she will inherit two million dollars from her biological father’s estate. If Candy dies before then, Avery himself will receive half that sum. This knowledge is why he married Candy’s gin blossom of a mother in the first place.
In the second piece of actual acting in this entire movie, Mr. Phillips hands Eddie back his box of cadaver ear with a casual “You forgot this”, thanks him with barely concealed glee, and sincerely wishes him a nice day. Villain transformation complete, and parting Mr. Burns hand gesture duly earned.
Eddie runs back to the van and tells Jessie why they can’t kill Candy, if they want to see any sort of profit.
Unfortunately, Alan is already on his way up to the hills to do precisely that.
This is what happens when the annoying child actor is the director’s real life son. Rather than the at least semi exciting chase that is currently happening off screen, we get a TV movie of the week presentation of Son-Rise: The Miracle Of Denim. He loosens Candy’s blindfold, but can’t untie her. Candy then begs him to get the police. Having failed miserably at everything but grinding the plot to a screeching halt, Sean hides in the open attic trapdoor when he hears Alan coming.
As he has been planning the whole movie, Alan brutally beats and rapes Candy, so she “won’t die a virgin”. It’s awful, and made worse by the fact that Sean is still there, and can see everything from his vantage point.
Eddie and Jessie arrive, and while too late to stop the rape, he nearly kills Alan for doing it.
In a spectacular misread of the room, the follow up to this is several scenes of flatfooted slapstick involving stray cats, goofy chases and Sean trying to use a talking toy to summon help. In more side splitting hilarity, the attempt at a phone call leads to a cantankerous Jewish deli owner telling Sean to shove a salami up his ass.
I can’t stand him either, but that was harsh.
There’s a solid 30 minutes more padding to the plot, but both this film and this write up have run long as it is. Assume bad jokes and drawn out scenes of Sean. Here’s the highlight reel:
Eddie has hidden Candy in the hole with a newly concealed breathing tube, to fool the others into thinking she is dead.
The titular Snatchers get themselves a gun, but stop by the house and kill Candy’s mom with a knife (?!)
They finally manage to force Mr. Phillips to empty his store’s safe and make with the diamonds.
Alan shoots Mr. Phillips and is about to shoot Jessie to increase his cut, but Eddie kills him first.
A wounded but not dead Mr. Phillips shoots Jessie in the parking lot, steals a car and starts following Eddie into the hills. The car chase is sped up like a bad episode of “The Benny Hill Show”, and there’s more wah wah pedal pseudo funk.
Everyone caught up? Good. Lets end this thing.
Eddie shoots and kills Candy’s stepfather…….
…….. and as he had promised earlier, Eddie begins furiously digging to free Candy from the hole.
Only for Sean to pop up out of nowhere with Mr. Phillips’ gun, and shoot Eddie dead in some sort of bizarre reverse MacGuffin that absolutely NOBODY wanted. He then happily slides down the hill, and shoots his parents for good measure. Candy’s paniced breathing gets louder on the soundtrack, before some familiar folky chords kick in:
Doris Wishman was a suburban housewife who picked up film making as a hobby after the death of her husband in 1958. A failed actress and former secretary for a film distributor, her hobby bloomed into a 40 year exile into the heart of lowbrow film making. Brassy, ballsy, and barely five feet tall, she self financed over 30 films, that spanned every major niche of exploitation as the first (read: only) lady of the genre.
That said, the story of Doris Wishman as a person, is far more cinematic than her actual output. Her films are bargain subbasement affairs, with all of the technical acumen of your cousin Henry manning the camcorder at your other cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. Lamps are always ready for their close up. Stock footage and poorly framed location shots run amok, inserted at random. Any resemblance between the audio dialog and the movement of the actors’ lips is entirely coincidental. Join me for this spectacularly titled bit of Sixties sleaze, and brace yourself for an intro into the wild(-ly inept), weird world of Ms. Doris Wishman:
Stock jazz putters over the opening credits as we see a couple resting in a rumpled bed. Beautiful blonde Meg would prefer her husband Ted stay home with her, rather than heed the alarm clock and head to work on a Saturday. Being as the camera cuts away at the slightest hint of sound that might need to sync up, let’s assume this conversation happens telepathically.
When bickering fails to do the trick, Meg joins Ted for a brief make out in the shower (and inexplicably emerges in full make up). She struts around both nude and in a rather fetching lace nightie. In an odd choice of last resort, she decides to wage war over the value of a balanced breakfast rather than a quick coffee. Ted placates her just long enough to physically toss her back into bed. He then hauls ass out of the apartment faster than you can say “three martini lunches”.
Down but not out, Meg ties up her hair in a scarf, puts on some panties beneath her sheer nightgown, and steps into her marabou trimmed housework heels.
As Meg goes to take out the trash, the building’s knuckle dragging janitor gives her a distinctly predatory leer. The hulking mass of hydrogenated oil and hubris blocks the hallway, undressing Meg with his eyes. Greased lightning goes from zero to sexual assault in about 15 seconds. My joy at the stock music finally changing is promptly ruined by his revolting pig grunting as he rapes our heroine. The visual of the wide polyester plains of his Dockers clad posterior rippling as he vigorously ruts like a farm animal will haunt my nightmares more than “Cannibal Holocaust” ever could. Hearing someone coming, he lets Meg crawl back to her own apartment. He also chases after moose & squirrel threatens her not to tell as she leaves.
The respite is short lived. Meg barely has time to cry before he slips a blackmail note under her door, demanding she come to his apartment. Otherwise, he will tell her husband everything. Poor Meg tries to bribe him, but all Lardy Mc Lecherous wants is to finish what he started in the hall. Rather than be victimized again, Meg bludgeons him to death with an oversize ashtray. I love you, Phillip Morris.
Knowing no one will believe her if she tells the truth of what happened, Meg runs away to New York, hoping even a rape revenge murder will be treated with indifference, as long as it wasn’t committed by someone from the bridge & tunnel commuter suburbs.
Meg does get lost in the big city crowd, as the camera settles on the feet of the passerby for a period of time that would make even Quentin Tarantino go vanilla. Just feet, Folgers Crystals music and my regret at asking just how much one can pad a movie with an already scant 63 minute runtime.
Sadly, the newly minted “Ellen Greene” of “Chicago” doesn’t fare much better than poor old Meg. Geography doesn’t change the fact that you need more than backcombing and big sunglasses to start a new life.
The mild mannered man who takes her in when he finds her crying on a park bench? A recovering alcoholic. Ellen/Meg savagely misses his various hints, serves him a cocktail as a misguided thank you, and gets beaten senseless with a belt for her trouble.
Tracy, the seemingly nice woman Ellen/Meg meets while window shopping? Has an identical cousin Della who does indeed need a roommate. Tracy just neglects to mention than any roommate of Della’s won’t need to sleep in a separate bed. Given that this is 1965, Ellen/Meg takes likely statistic over happily Sapphic.
(Surprisingly, Doris Wishman shelled out for twin actresses Darlene and Dawn Bennett to play Tracy and her cousin Della. Had I not double checked IMDB, my bet would have been it was the same person wearing a blonde wig. I suppose this movie really was her magnum opus)
Ellen/Meg finally decides that renting a room would be superior to the explosive unkindness of strangers. The wife of the couple she rents from gives her no more stress than some questions about Chicago. The wife just has no clue her husband is yet another rapist. He waits until everyone is asleep and beats Ellen/Meg into unconsciousness. Silence secured, he assaults her, muffin top spilling over his hideous gingham boxers in the process. Where the fuck is the cutaway to a random piece of home decor when I actually need one?
Just in case the point was not clear, this film pads like a drag queen. Every one of these upheavals means more street feet, trees and soft jazz as Ellen/Meg travels from place to place. I wanted to do the same timestamped review format as “Death Drug” , but the sheer amount of nothing happening made that an impossibility. Instead, I made an editorial photo gallery of all of the vintage lingerie and loungewear looks in the film for this week’s Bonus Round, as I had tons of time to kill. Seriously, I would have done less waiting for the Rapture or Godot, whichever suits your ideology.
Ellen/Meg answers an ad for a paid caretaker, and it’s a Mrs. Thorne. A kindly elderly lady with plenty of tchochkes. Will the lambs finally stop screaming? Or will Mrs. Thorne’s son the private detective figure out “Ellen’s” true identity? The tension ratchets up when he arrives for a visit, and just as he has sussed our protagonist as murderous Meg………….
…….she wakes up in her own bed in Boston, with good old no breakfast, body slammer Ted to comfort her after her terrible dream. He heads off to work, she tidies up the apartment. Meg opens the door to take out the trash, just as she had in her dream……..
Hell really IS other people…..particularly filmmakers who reuse the first 10 minutes of their own film to avoid the expense of writing or shooting an actual ending.
Bonus Round: The Lingerie Of “Bad Girls Go To Hell”
In the last of what I’d consider the extended intro pieces for this blog, lets take a second to examine the era of shoulder pads, Aqua Net and cocaine, 1985 to be precise. The grindhouses and the drive ins are on life support, the home video revolution providing one of the last nails in their collective coffin. Rather than travel to the worst part of town and risk your dignity and/or your wallet to catch a screening, you could enjoy self programmed double and triple features in the privacy and comfort of your own home. No sticky seats, prying eyes or having to carefully watch the schedule for a replay of your favorite reels of sex, splatter and sensationalism.
The one big carryover from the grindhouse when home video became the dominant venue for schlock, was the legion of idiosyncratic films, fueled mostly by sheer hubris. This is perhaps the class of cross era trash my black heart has the biggest soft spot for. Be it once faded mainstream stars or a dime store auteur, they never let lack of budget, talent, good taste or logical sense stand in their way. A dream is a wish your heart makes, and this class of cinematic defilers made their putrid zombie babies with love. None of it is competent, but you can tell the makers of this type of shit film (most of whom made only 1 or 2 movies) thought they were genuinely making something, cool, new or remotely important. They were wrong. Horribly wrong. That smooth sugar of effort still makes this stuff go down way easier than purposefully bad cynical cash ins like “Sharknado”
Which brings us to today’s film, a micro budget, Texas made slasher from one and done director Terry Lofton:
The hellishly loud bong of distorted Casio synth presets plays over the cold open. The fade in is a gang of construction workers sexually assaulting a young woman. The scene is pretty brief and isn’t played for titillation as much as some other films of this era….but if you are looking for anything genteel or tasteful in a movie called “Nail Gun Massacre”, you are reading the wrong blog entirely. There is a hasty jump cut to yet another greasy redneck screaming about clean shirts while his wife hangs the laundry. A leaf crunching killer in woodland camo is shown stalking toward the family’s home. Actually, “stalking” is being far too charitable, given the motorcycle helmet, huge yellow air tank, and the fact that the killer is stomping through the woods carrying an industrial nail gun.
Country fried wifebeater meets his demise via nail in the forehead, causing the killer to quip in a distorted voice about the worst headaches being right between the eyes, MUAHAHAHAHA. This movie has a high body count for the budget, and every single kill gets a wisecrack that would make Henny Youngman roll in his grave. The woman and child run away through the woods in what is Foley designed to sound like cornflakes over Jello, roll opening credits. The music accompanying this is just some manic laugher recorded near a desk fan, and we are on our way to the titular massacre. Kind of.
First we get a pointless distributor mandated T&A break, where a guy named Mike and his girlfriend are rolling around with a stuffed toy Snoopy, talking pillow talk that sounds like a 14 year old’s fantasy of what sexytimes sexy sex talk is like. The girlfriend shakes her breasts and pouts about needing an “organ donation” because her expensive cleavage is lonely.
Mike has to cut this ever so sensual interlude short, as he has a pressing appointment to go “cut wood” with his buddy on the edge of town. This is NOT a paraphrase. That’s the dialog in the final cut. He hops in his pickup and leaves to go have an annoying expository chat with his BFF Brad about bodies being found out there, and that they don’t fear the killer because they are in TEXAS and they have this here CHAINSAW. Right on cue, the killer arrives to off Brad as he’s taking a leak, because now he’s “really pissed off”. Mike falls into his chainsaw after being nailed to death, and cuts his own hand off. Not that it matters. Because he was already dead. Our ever so stealthy killer then drives off in a stylish gold hearse. Because who’s going to notice a neon yellow air tank carrying, helmet wearing killer driving a car straight out of a Dolemite Halloween special?
Not the local yokels, who discover the truck days later without bothering to look for bodies, call for back up, or remove the truck from the road. Instead we cut to the director’s actual grandmother, playing the challenging role of “clerk of the store she owns”. Her game, but utterly stilted, delivery of the single most ridiculous line in the film is a wonder to behold:
Clerk (to customers): Do you remember when you could sit outside and not worry about the mosquitos….and the killers?
She ends her brief cameo by looking straight into the camera, handing over the groceries, and revealing a copy of the script in plain view. God bless Meemaw Lofton.
I would like to think that this scene was also the moment when the crew realized they were in way over their heads. When you can’t make someone doing their real life job look or sound remotely natural on camera, the shooting script is the length of a memo and your own grandmother looks nervous at what the hell it is you are up to, you might have miscalculated a tad. The rest of the film abandons what little logic it had managed to establish. It’s non stop blood, boobs, bad puns (and even worse sense) from here on out. It’s also an absolute blast.
Though we never see the nails fly through the air, a host of interchangeable victims meet their fates through inexplicably lethal wounds to the extremities, because the killer (and I quote) “doesn’t want money” (s)he wants “REVENGE, asshole!”
Could this possibly have something to do with the gang rape at the start of the film? It’s difficult to tell for sure, as the Goofus & Gallant team of county sheriff and Canadian tux wearing town doctor leave pretty much every stone unturned. No matter if it’s a gold hearse on the side of the road or a corpse in the street, they can find some way to ignore it. Granted, some of the actors playing corpses are still visibly breathing, but the point stands.
The new residents of the property where everyone keeps turning up dead are missing a nail gun? Interesting. Construction worker hobbies on a local job site include nail gun fights and cheerfully talking about the joys of townie rape? What’s a sheriff to do? Head straight to Burger King.
To kill some time, and allow Sheriff Stress Eater to complete the longest journey from point A to logical conclusion B in human history, we get a borderline slapstick scene involving a dumbass managing to piss off both his current and ex girlfriends at a Dairy Queen. Inexplicably the new girlfriend then has sex with this loser in his car. The radio repeatedly blasts a disco record about foosball, which succeeded in distracting me from trying to figure out what the fuck “Hornier than a rooster in a Chinese henhouse” is supposed to mean.
As Sheriff is still busy (clearly with a line at the Dairy Queen), we kill some more time by cutting to a portly man who has mastered the obvious, as he mentions the killings are likely connected to the construction site. As his daughter changes into a swimsuit, he goes to check on some steaks he has grilling by the pool on this sunny afternoon. As this character is also not given a name, we all know what happens next. Our murderous mystery date pops out from underwater, pumping the unnamed bearded man full of nails until he falls face first into his own barbecue grill. I was thrilled that old helmet head had finally unlocked the “stealth” achievement. However, what would have been the coolest death in the movie is promptly ruined by being able to see the “dead” actor grabbing the fence to avoid hitting his head:
Just as Doctor Dumbass calls in a request for criminal profiler, Sheriff Sugar Doughnuts finally realizes what the rest of us figured out ages ago….the rape victim might have reason to want to see some creatively dead construction workers. Good job, Davey Diabeetus! It will still take him a solid week to do a god damn thing about this marvelous revelation, so cut to the killer dispatching 2 more unnamed women with this immortal line:
Killer (to victims): Time to get your NAILS done!
The doctor FINALLY goes to talk to our victim, who vehemently insists she knows nothing. Our slow as molasses sawbones also wants to talk to her brother, Bubba. He’s apparently out for a drive in his old hearse. The chase (and the light bulb) is on, and both the doctor and the girl rush off to the building site on Old Town road. It’s a mid speed chase, at best.
The hearse does a “Dukes Of Hazzard” death splat over a hill, and our killer runs straight up onto a construction catwalk some 30 feet up:
Catwalks. They end. So our mystery murderer conveniently falls to their death:
This gives Deputy Double Cheeseburger time to arrive for the final unmasking, which reveals…….
……. a character who is clearly a completely different height and build than the person who wore the camo suit for the rest of the movie. A character who would have absolutely no reason at all to mention the rapes in the first person. A character who was in the movie for all of maybe 90 seconds before this moment.
I guess everything (including nonsensical twist endings and masterpieces of unintentional comedy) really IS bigger in Texas.
Let’s take a journey deep into the heart of the public domain, to talk about “Scream Bloody Murder” a negative bank balance budget 70’s slasher that can be found everywhere from the Internet Archive to $5 DVD sets at big box retailers. The leading man is a one film wonder, and every print I can get my hands on is damaged and so yellowed it looks jaundiced. Even so, “Scream Bloody Murder” in slightly better shape than “Death Drug” by virtue of having actually made it onto the lowest rungs of DVD.
However, it is also a fantastic example of a basic class of filmic dumpster fire. These sorts of films wander out of obscurity by virtue of sheer manic gusto. Plot elements and set pieces are piled on top of each other in pedal to the metal crescendos of sex, violence, and sheer weirdness. Plotting or tension building is irrelevant, plot threads, characters, or entire chunks of the film are blithely made non entities in service of the next passing thought. Given budgetary constraints and often concise run times, if you go several steps too far as standard procedure, one of the 8769476834678937 ideas you’ve thrown against the wall will stick before the end credits roll. It’s filmmaking as Mad Libs. The result might be comic. Its also likely nonsensical.The zippy pacing and low investment of effort threshold will also probably go a long way toward making the end result entertaining overall. Now let’s get to “Scream Bloody Murder”:
The pre credit open is a farmer working next to a tractor, while his bowl cut sporting moppet plays nearby. As soon as Daddy’s back is turned, the kid hops into the driver’s seat, and mangles dear old Dad to death under the wheels. Why? Because someone remembered “The Bad Seed” was a huge hit in 1956.
In a lightning fast bit of instant karma, the kid then loses control of the tractor, falls down, and MANAGES TO RIP OFF HIS OWN HAND under those same wheels. We are at the 3 minute mark, and we’ve already had two bloody “industrial accidents” and as much straightforward exposition as we are going to get regarding anything that happens in this entire movie.
Post credits we get a quick scene of the dime store bad seed getting hauled off to a mental ward, then a flash forward to the adult version reading (via voiceover) a letter from his mother. We learn our protagonist’s name is Matthew (Fred Holbert in his only film role), asylums look like mid tier day spas with kicky little striped robes, Matthew’s mom has been too busy to visit because of her new boyfriend, and that Matty boy now has a hook for a hand, likely because it was the cheapest way to explain away the missing one. It still gets a stinger music cue straight out of “Dark Shadows”.
We get the director’s credit (Marc B. Ray, who only helmed that particular chair for 3 films) and a pouring blood graphic to cut to Matt’s homecoming after being released. Too bad it’s the same day as Mom’s wedding to that pesky boyfriend, and no one even knew the he was arriving back. Once the newly minted husband & wife do sort out who the one handed man is in their driveway, they attempt to seem remotely interested. Matt tosses a snitty shit fit worthy of any teenage edgelord that ever moped across a shopping mall to the Orange Julius.
When Matt takes a break from sulking and farmwork to peep on his mom & stepfather kissing in the garden, he promptly murders them. The unmitigated gall of getting married and seeming happy about it was bad enough, but when stepdaddy kisses Mommy/Madonna (and makes her a filthy whore) he dispatches them both….with an axe and a rock. Even though he has a sharp object attached to his arm.
Matthew then hits the road and runs…… from the mother of all Oedipus complexes. He hallucinates his mommy being mauled by filthy men in everyone he meets, and none of the women he “saves” appreciate his sacrifice, so they get bloodily dispatched too. The newlyweds who pick him up hitchhiking? He bludgeons the man with a rock and then drowns the woman in a stream. The imagined taunts of his dead mother and step father ring loudly enough in his ears that they drown out the smooth jazz on the soundtrack, as he once again makes haste to avoid the rising body count.
Meeting painter/hooker with a heart of gold Vera(Leigh Matthews, a two film wonder), things brighten a touch for our little Matt. He compliments her art, renames her Daisy, brings her flowers, and kills a john for treating her poorly. If that isn’t love, he doesn’t know what is. Also, the dead john? Killed with Vera’s stolen palette knife. What do the death sequences of this film and the song “Triumph” by the Wu Tang Clan have in common?
No hooks to be found in either of them.
Desperate to impress and to make good on his claims of wealth and success to fulfill his inane white knight fantasy of “saving” Vera/Daisy from sex work, he murders the entire household of the closest fancy house he can find. For those keeping score at home: Time elapsed: 50 minutes Body Count: 9 Implements used: 7 Kills via Hook Hand: 0
Matthew kidnaps his lady love and steals from locals to provide her with all the creature comforts you could possibly need while tied to the stolen bed of a psychopath. I would also be remiss if I didn’t pull out this notable quotable, both for the actual content, and the perfectly petulant delivery:
Matt (to Vera/Daisy): See what I do for you? I get groceries, and clothes, and art stuff, and kill people, and do you appreciate it? No.
“Scream Bloody Murder” has always been a favorite of mine, and the sequence post kidnapping has always been a big part of the reason why. In a film who’s very existence indicates a gaggle of questionable choices, Vera/Daisy never falls into the Bermuda triangle of slasher victim bad decisions. She defies Matthew’s insane directions as best as she is able, be that spitting food back into his face or insisting on being called her real name. The second Matt leaves the house, she hobbles to the phone, even if her bondage means she has to dial a rotary phone with her tongue (a rather impressive skill). She hops downstairs and makes noise when she hears the doorbell. She’s always plotting escape, and eventually she finds Matt’s Achilles heel. Like every other character based on Norman Bates’ basic template, he’s terrified of women, terrified of sexuality, and female sexual agency makes him just as limp as his knives and threats are sharp. In the context of needing a bath, Vera/Daisy forces him to attempt to play pool with a rope, and upends the power dynamic just long enough for another chance to flee.
Unfortunately, just as Vera/Daisy’s plan starts to work out, the unfamiliar sensations of wanting to be filthy cause Matthew’s hallucinations of Mommie Dearest to come back back in full force. He snaps, and finally slashes Vera/Daisy’s throat with the hook. The one character we have reason to care about is just a few STEPS from freedom, and Matthew FINALLY learns to keep it simple, stupid.
Matt’s mind completely snaps, and hallucinations of all of his victims stalk him, cackling ungodly loud on the soundtrack. He runs away, then steals a car, abandoning it to try to hide in a church. Unsure if what he is seeing are real ghosts or tricks of his own mind, we see him finally get his fondest wish, giving the apparition of his mother a tongue kiss, then collapsing and spitting blood.
The ghosts/hallucinations/whatever raise hooks, Matthew raises his…….
…….and eviscerates himself with his own hook. Instant karma strikes again, and this dumbass goes to his grave never having learned.
This is actually the poster/tagline for a much better film. Rightfully, the term gore-nography probably belongs to either “Blood Feast” (the originator of gore horror) or ” I Drink Your Blood” (first film rated x for violence/gore)
This may seem like an odd place to begin even a bad film blog, as the failure and subsequent obscurity of “Death Drug” is very much deserved. B movie lovers are a devout bunch, tolerant of all manner of cheap sets, swiss cheese plotting and infinite variations of baseline technical ineptitude. They lovingly campaign for their personal favorite turds to be polished into updated Blu Ray editions, or limited run returns to the cinema. That is likely never going to happen here. However, I decided to open the blog with “Death Drug” because, to my head, it is a perfect example of 1 of the major classes of cinecrap.
In the age of the internet all media is infinitely more accessible, and all manner of film gets rediscovered. Every day, tons of titles ripple across blogs and forums as a “so bad it’s good” masterpiece, spreading outward until people who may have only seen a small part of the movie (if at all) feel the need to pass the word along. Much like the old children’s game of Telephone , except what gets lost in translation is that to get to the glorious few minutes of horror and hilarity, there will be 60-120 minutes where ABSOLUTELY FUCK ALL NOTHING happens. “Death Drug” only runs about 74 minutes, but without some friends to act as your MST3k crew, 56 of them are badly dressed dead air. That being said, if you too are damned to watch this alone, I’ll be giving you the TL: dr timestamps of the best bits, and that will likely be policy from here on out. Let’s begin, shall we?
“Death Drug” is a pretty standard cautionary tale, and the entire character/story arc is pretty much summed up in these two photos. It’s the sort of ineffectual scare tactic melodrama US teens are regularly subjected to in health classes. A pre “Miami Vice” Philip Michael Thomas plays Jesse Thomas, a musician moonlighting as a plumber until his big break hits. He has a beautiful wife, a steady job, and has just been accepted into a prestigious music conservatory. However, he won’t even have a chance to pack for music school, before two music producers offer him the record deal of a lifetime. What could POSSIBLY go wrong? His friendly local neighborhood drug dealer even gives him a free party favor to help him celebrate during his victory lap disco celebration with the Gap Band(?!). Just one hit can’t hurt……….until Jesse starts hallucinating, and loses everything he holds dear to the comforting puff of PCP.
I will never fault a young actor for appearing whenever and where ever they can. However, most of them would quietly move on to bigger and better things. What takes “Death Drug” from shrill cheapie to internet pass around is that Phillip Michael Thomas decided to have this 1978 film partially recut with additional footage and rereleased on home video in 1986.
In 1986 Philip Michael Thomas was as big a star as he would ever be, making some $100,000 an episode as Tubbs on “Miami Vice”, and had accumulated some respectable stage and film credits. He was a household name with enviable cheekbones, but much like his “Death Drug” character…..wanted a music career. Rather than do another production of “Hair” or remind folks he was in cult favorite backstage musical “Sparkle”, Philip Michael Thomas had a better idea. He had “Death Drug” recut to be a showcase for his own new music video, and added a rambling intro about his performance as Jesse being a “dug deep from the soul” “dramatization” he hoped we enjoyed.
Ignoring the endless faux newsreel footage, the 4 FULL SONGS of Gap Band noodling, and the fact that this movie goes on for nearly 20 minutes AFTER THE MAIN CHARACTER DIES, let’s see some highlights of this “dramatization”:
While Philip Michael Thomas may have thought he was digging deep for this role, he was digging his own career grave. Neither the recut film nor the music video made any impact at all, and by the 90’s the man who coined the term “EGOT” to describe his ambitions in entertainment was shilling for a psychic line. The psychic line was actually quite successful…..once they replaced PMT with everyone’s favorite faux Jamaican, Miss Cleo.