The late 70s and early 80’s were a boom time for exploitation films for both the US and our genteel neighbors to the north, for very similar reasons. Grindhouses and other theaters with extended showtimes needed more content that the mainstream was producing. Hefty credits for film productions made them ideal tax shelters for the well off, or for those wanting a bit of reflected lemonlight from being a “movie producer”.
With all of that extra cash flowing around, a whole host of first time and indie film makers stepped up to fill their noses with cocaine the programming gap.
Over 300 films were made in Canada between 1975 and 1982, most of them low budget genre fare. One of the last films of that tax evasion fueled boom was this forgotten bit of Canuxploitation, originally titled Bells. When it was released in the US, the film was sliced down from 95 minutes to a scant 80 minute runtime. It was also christened with the tabloid title Murder By Phone. Proving that even 38 years ago, the average American viewer had still not mastered the obvious.
College professor and environmentalist Nat Bridger (Richard Chamberlin) takes it upon himself to investigate the mysterious death of his favorite student. With the help of his teaching mentor Stanley Markowitz(John Houseman) and mural artist Lisa (Sara Botsford), he discovers the deadly weapon was a high pitched frequency sent over the phone line.
As Nat tries to find the culprit before they can kill again, it looks more and more likely that the calls are coming from inside the house…..or at least the phone company.
It’s the sort of one turn too complicated plotting that is half as clever as it thinks it is. This basic template glutted TV movies of the week and the better episodes of police procedurals of the period. There’s a double cross, and a love affair and the usual slight shimmies masquerading as twists you find in scripts of this ilk.
A far classier than average cast uses their talent to make sure the formulaic medicine goes down. How often are an Oscar winner (Houseman) and a Golden Globe winner (Chamberlin) heading up a formerly timely, now carbon dated older than dinosaurs fear of technology cheapie? If you guessed “Neveruary 32nd”, you win the Kewpie doll. Gary Reineke is also amusingly gruff as Lieutenant Meara, the stereotypical cop sick of all of these God damn meddling hippie kids.
The true joy of MurderBy Phone is its gleeful commitment to its titular concept, rather than any real concerns of acting or plot. Truer to advertising than many exercises in exploitation, the films’ kills are indeed all accomplished with the goofy telephone conceit.
The victim picks up the phone, and we get a brief shot of blinking lights, levers and sliders straight out of 50’s sci fi spaceship. A high pitched whirr and some beep boop beeping grow loud on the soundtrack. The victims’ heads shake, their eyes bleed, and then they shoot off into the distance like a champagne cork, accompanied by fireworks from a municipal parade or a third tier metal show. To add indignity to illogic, victims fly across train stations, out of windows and into bookcases, all accented with doubly goofy thunder and lightning sound effects and unceremonious thuds. It’s absolutely delightful in its essential silliness.
Most of the high propulsion victims, and all of the the eye candy in this movie has been condensed into a tight 1:35 trailer. Here’s a gif of one of the few death scenes not present. Tag yourselves, I’m the French doors:
Let the sunshine that is the cheerful ridiculousness of that GIF play for a little while, and try not to giggle. Feel free to then skip over what is essentially a very special guest star filled episode of Mannix. For an R rated horror thriller about murderous plastic, it’s all very tame and tasteful. The only real fun to be had is when Murder By Phone lets go a little bit in the campy death scenes. Even in their cheapie exploitation movies, Canadians live up to their reputation for politeness.
Shot in roughly 2 weeks in 1974, Death Game’s production was doomed from the start. The original director was fired at the last second, and producer Peter S. Traynor took over. His complete lack of anything resembling a clue caused the entire cast to basically stop speaking to him. Colleen Camp and (post Oscar nomination, pre Clint Eastwood) Sondra Locke only bothered to inform him that they preferred he stay the fuck out of the way of day to day filming. Male lead Seymour Cassel quit the shoot after nearly decking his ersatz “director”. While all of Cassel’s scenes were completed before he left, he refused to come in to rerecord some lines, causing his entire performance to have to be dubbed over in post.
Production was then halted by a federal investigation into Peter Traynor’s financing sources, delaying the release of the film by over two years. When Death Game finally saw the light of day in 1977, it promptly flopped in a six month theatrical run. Retitled as The Seducers, the movie had some modest success on the home video market before becoming a common add on to those $5 50 movie box sets that sit by the checkout line at big box retailers.
In honor of the upcoming Grindhouse Releasing restoration, let’s take a look at what will soon be (incorrectly) hailed as a lost grindhouse classic, and you too can be one of the cool kids who liked this movie better when it sucked:
All you need to know about the credits sequence is that this print was ripped from VHS (hence the title) and that it is a full 4:45 of a woman with a faux fishwife accent singing about “dear old dad” who “taught both table manners and the birds and bees”. I wondered what in the fuck those two things had to do with each other, made a mildly off color eating reference, then began praying for my own death or the end of the song, whichever occurred first.
This porn ‘stache having gent is George, our somewhat hairy hero. The film’s events take place on his birthday, which he spent playing cinema’s first ever game of strip croquet with his wife, before she traveled out of town to get his son some needed surgery. He has a nice chat with his son on the phone, telling him how great he thinks it is that he wants to bring his newly removed appendix to school.
Just as he is about to settle in by the fire with a drink, these two bits of ridden hard and put away wet come knocking, and ask to use his phone. Because he’s the sort of guy who thinks a human organ is great for show and tell, he lets the women in.
The brunette is Donna, and the blonde introduces herself as Jackson. George agrees to let them stay until a friend comes to pick them up, and offers them hot cocoa and fresh towels to dry off, warm up, and allow more subtle peeks of skin for him to low key leer at. While Jackson nips off to use what she inexplicably refers to as the “catbox”, George acts like a first class out of touch doofus around Donna, trying to impress her with some elevator music he claims his kids gave him.
When the girls become transfixed by such amazing amenities as running water, they decide to have a skinny dip in the hot tub. When George discovers them cavorting about, he puts up some token resistance before joining them for a threesome. I’m sure his strip croquet partner will be less than thrilled with George’s sudden fondness for water polo. In the meantime, we get a 5 minute montage of head, shoulders, knees, and man ass. The music is so utterly redolent of 70’s porn, I had my speakers tested for syphilis. We also get a lot of weird B roll landscape and sunrise shots mixed in, for those cheap weed and consciousness raising vibes.
Morning comes, and so does the regret, but the girls are all smiles and offers of breakfast. They refuse to leave and are clearly both less cute and more crazy by daylight. However, it is their messy eating habits rather than the several obvious screws loose that causes George to scream at Donna and Jackson to get dressed and GTFO. The chords of the “Dear Old Dad” theme start up again. I wear a matching hangdog expression to the still above. Instead of anything relevant to the plot, we get a 30 second close up of ketchup slowly dribbling from the bottle, while discordant noise stacks up on the soundtrack. I am not kidding about this.
In a rare moment of clarity, someone in the editing bay realized that was ungodly boring, and we get this instead:
Disco strings swell in the background as Jackson deep throats a banana. Donna smashes out random notes on the piano, and the pair inform George they won’t be leaving, after all. Jackson claims to be 17, and Donna only 15. They have no qualms at all letting George be shuttled off as a sex offender if he tries to make them go.
Sondra Locke was 30 years old, and Colleen Camp was 21 years old in 1974. It’s obvious to anyone who isn’t an idiot that both of these ladies are clearly of legal age. However, George has proven to be exactly that, and panics at the threat. His response is to offer them a ride anywhere they want, and soon we are on another boring b roll filled field trip. The threat of another refrain of “Dear Old Dad” is cueing up on the soundtrack.
Thinking he’s left his bad life decisions behind in San Francisco, George has another cozy telephone chat with his wife, which is of no consequence other than the fact that his family is coming home the next afternoon.
Back at home after a long day of lowering the bar, George gets knocked out and bound to his own bed by Jackson and Donna, who while rather poor at basic life skills like bathing and using forks, can at least plan a successful fake out. Now that they’ve got him where they want him, the girls….jump on the bed. They put on make up, and play dress up in George’s wife’s clothing, showing some likely to be distributor mandated nudity. They cackle. A lot. “Dear Old Dad” plays yet AGAIN on the soundtrack.
They beat George up a bit for not looking particularly terrified, and Donna makes a sad speech about being molested, and that George is her new daddy now because he was so nice to her. We are now halfway through the movie and it’s the first legitimately disturbing thing either of the pair have managed.
Because all less stupid things must come to an end, the girls drag George down the hall and coat him with all of the food in the house. They cackle. Boy do they ever cackle. They cackle so much I feel like I’m back in primary school conjugating verbs. I cackle. She cackles. They cackle. We cackle. I will cackle. She will cackle. We will cackle. They will cackle. Assume cackling happens anytime the female leads are on screen for more than 3 seconds.
Realizing they have no more stolen food to actually eat, Donna orders groceries, and George makes his first non moronic decision of the film. The second the delivery man rings the doorbell, he starts screaming for help.
To keep him from snitching, Jackson and Donna drown the poor delivery guy in the oversized fishtank. We are now over an hour into a movie originally titled Death Game, and the first (and thus far only) death is barely visible behind a green gel filter. This game sucks.
There’s a long, sleep inducing sequence of a mock “trial” the girls subject George to. All it really is the same threats of rape allegations, breaking stuff and cackling as the previous hour of the movie, but with a green gel filter to make the lighting spooky this time. For real(ly dumb), I’m serious(ly amazed this movie is still going).
The “verdict” is guilty. Shocking, really. Sentence is death at dawn. George tries to escape a second time, and gets another blow to the head for his trouble. Whimsical music plays as the girls booze and eat, making weird pseudo sex faces at each other while they munch on apples and bagels.
George is left to his concussed daydreams of the simpler times of family life and strip croquet. “Dreams” might be a bit strong of a word. It’s basically his wife’s weird sex noises from the beginning of the film on the soundtrack while the camera stays focused on ceiling eaves. Saves the $50 it would cost to bring back the actress.
After even more shriek, smash and cackle (which was totally what was lacking in this film), dawn finally arrives. Jackson picks up a cleaver, but brings it down on the pillow behind George rather than his actual neck.
As a broken George sobs, the girls finally leave, satisfied with the life ruining results of their not quite death game. They skip down the street for yet another full 4:45 minute reprise of “Dear Old Dad”, and I once again start praying for death, before recalling I’m a lifelong atheist.
An “SPCA” truck comes barreling around the corner……
….and kills old Cackle and Squeak so violently, they become photo negatives. Apparently, the Deus ex machina does answer prayers. Roll credits.
Retro VHS Rewind: The Stuff (1985) Deadly desserts and sharp satire make a surprisingly tasty confection in this Larry Cohen cult classic tale of corporate espionage and murderous marshmallow fluff. Take a retrospective review look with me at one of my favorite films of the video era.
Welcome to the second of the two new features around here, Monster Munch! Monster Munch is an occasional compendium of my horror writing around the wider web, that often covers topics that don’t quite fit here. Modern horror films, listicles, reviews of new releases, whatever scary shenanigans my various editors allow me to get into.
5 Isolation Horror Films To Watch While Social Distancing My recommendations for films that will make you grateful that your personal form of isolation has snacks, booze and a cozy couch. While stressful, our current predicament is far from the loneliness worst case scenario, as these flicks will show you. If you learn nothing else from this list, go watch In A Glass Cage. It’s brilliant, brutal, and way too obscure for its own good.
Lucio Fulci’s career was a long strange trip. Internationally known for a 70s and 80s run of giallo and horror flicks, his best work was bleak, bloody and often darkly funny. The golden age of sensational splatter reached its apex in the 1981 dime store surrealist classic The Beyond. However, Fulci still faced unfavorable comparisons to the incredibly stylish but super self serious fellow director, Dario Argento. This Jan vs Marcia situation would dog him for the rest of his career.
By 1988, Lucio Fulci’s fortunes had done an abrupt about face. He had lost his wife to suicide, and his daughter was paralyzed in a car accident. Hepatitis and concurrent illness had forced him to leave the completion of Zombi 3 to human Xerox Bruno Mattei. A reputation for violent content and no fucks given criticism of the Catholic Church made financiers harder to come by.
Originally filmed for Italian television as Quando Alice ruppe lo specchio (Translation: When Alice Broke The Mirror, for those prone to putting on airs), the US release of today’s film was direct to video. What happens when Italy’s godfather of gore goes TV movie of the week? Let’s find out with (retitled for the US) Touch Of Death:
The credits are brief, and play over dead silence, which should tell you the approximate budget of this whole proceeding. Instead, we watch Lester the lost woodshop teacher cook up some lunch, while listening to horse racing results on the radio.
I’m not sure why he’s cooking with a sterno stove at the dining table, but perhaps the gas had not been turned on in what is CLEARLY the showhome for some Florida senior living condominium complex circa the summer of 1987.
He takes his steak, curls up on the couch and watches either some sort of weird home made porn, or a fairytale witch. The video is all gaunt cackling face, big hair and the occasional flash of shoulder, so choose your own adventure on which is correct.
Proving my point about the house, we get a POV tour, and it’s full of mauve based color combos and delicate faux houseplants that would make Blanche Devereaux and the girls jealous. It even has a finished basement.
Too bad there’s a corpse with a steak sized chunk of her thigh missing lying down there. I hope they lock that door at the open house. Humming along with the classical music on the soundtrack, Lester grabs a chainsaw and does a lovely little box step and sway as he dismembers the body. While I would think a bloody power tool would make a poor dance partner, he doesn’t miss a beat or get a speck on his polo shirt. Soft aqua is such a lovely color, but it really does show every little stain.
In fact, Lester is quite the homemaker. After the dismemberment is done, he piles the pieces into a meat grinder, whistling and waltzing as he works. In the spirit of “waste not, want not”, the bits that can’t fit through the grinder are fed to some conveniently located pigs.
This condo complex really thinks of EVERYTHING.
Lester wants to celebrate a butchering job well done. He pulls several stacks of cash out of a wall safe, pours himself a drink and has a chat with the local bookie. All is right with the world, until the evening news reports the investigation into the death of a rich widow who looks like she just might be Lester’s blue plate special from the day before. Despite 3 different processes, he still managed to leave something behind for the trash collectors to find. Guess he was too concerned with keeping grue off that sweet polo shirt.
In any case, Lester is a bit stressed, and pops his favorite classical cassette into the finest tape deck Montgomery Ward could provide. He has a nice chat with his audio system about his worries, and the equipment is kind enough to allay his fears. What a pal.
For those keeping score at home, Lester is not only a murdering cannibal, he is nuttier than squirrel shit. Even Son Of Sam had the dignity to take his orders from a dog rather than an off brand boombox.
Apparently Lester’s betting is about as good as his body disposal. He travels to some weird abandoned building at the edge of town to hand over all of his ill gotten cash to a bookie who has yet to learn how to color match his browns. Our sadsack protagonist also begs for credit on his massive debts.
Because the bookie who keeps his own assistant literally over a barrel in a dilapidated building is going to be super generous and forgiving. Right.
Rather than sell his car or his house, Lester beelines straight for the personal ads in the local paper, to find more lonely ladies with an excess of money and a deficit of sense. For someone whose whole source of income is dependent on being Casanova in chinos, you’d think his seduction technique would have advanced past butterfly kisses and grin (or grimace) and bear it.
Unnecessarily drawn out hijinks ensue, with Lester trying and failing to poison his unfortunate paramour. He only succeeds in making her throw up, and magically removing the SFX facial hair that was tacked on to the actress’ face in the previous scene.
A vicious beating with a bat also fails, but does give us the bylaw mandated eyeball in distress scene required of any movie with Lucio Fulci at the helm.
Bloody, eyeless and as energized as the battery bunny, she pops back up, finally meeting her end in an oversized toaster oven. As her face melts away, the death is doubly sad. Not only has Lester killed an innocent, he has killed a freakishly tough medical miracle that apparently had no skull under her oozing flesh. If this seems an excessive amount of space to devote to a single death, bear in mind that this sequence is nearly 20 minutes of the film’s 90 minute runtime, and likely 95% of the SFX budget.
All that physical exertion makes Lester a sloppy boy. Rather than pass the body to those handy pet pigs, he stuffs it into his car trunk to dump it at a local construction site. Not only does he leave the woman’s severed feet lying in his own driveway, he covers the corpse in concrete in full view of an off brand Charles Manson sleeping in a nearby box.
To avoid getting informed upon, he backs over Canal Street Charlie, but leaves the body in the middle of the street. There goes the remaining 5% of the SFX budget. I would also like to point out to all of you, that the car does indeed have Florida plates. Called it.
To top it off, jewelry he stole from his last victim is all worthless costume, and he owes even more interest to his bookie. A description of the likely killer has hit the evening news, and Lester has to change his appearance from shop teacher to portly sitcom dad to avoid detection by the police.
Our next victim is a slap happy S&M loving soprano, who doesn’t stop singing even in her sleep. Lester strangles her with a whip, and in his latest brilliant plan, transports her body in the front seat of his car. I suppose a jauntily tied scarf hides a lot of sins, as the cop who pulls him over for speeding assumes the cadaver is asleep.
Despite the ever so supportive talking stereo’s assertions that all of this trouble is due to a copycat killer, Lester is not soothed. The evening news once again has the breaking info, announcing the killer’s blood type and DNA genetic code(?!), and our doughboy matches both. While possible, it isn’t terribly PROBABLE that there are two moronic mass murderers with identical DNA on file with the police, and a secret twin seems unlikely on a TV movie budget.
Time for Lester to do some more gambling to destress, as this movie is going to have to try to flesh out the plot now that the SFX money is spent. For variety, he loses his shirt at poker. Why poker? Because even his bookie won’t take any more of his bad bets on horse races. He’d rather fleece him at cards and eliminate the wait.
In deeper hock than ever and plagued by mystery phone calls, Lester heads to the racetrack……to look for the copycat killer. Yep. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. Spooked by a few loud noises and his own shadow, he heads home……..
….to deal with a highly convenient plot device. A woman named Virginia Fields (whom genre fans will recognize as Cannibal Ferox’s Zora Kerova) keeps accidentally dialing Lester’s number. Thrilled by his sexy voice, she strokes a decorative taxidermy swan suggestively (not a typo), and they make plans to meet. She happens to be yet another wealthy woman with a disfigurement.
Meanwhile, the nightly news has clocked Lester again, so he disguises himself as woodshop teacher version 2.0. This time it’s big square glasses and hair that is an odd piss yellow attempt at blonde. Hope poor Virginia likes big brass house keys.
We’ve seen this same basic scene 4 times now. He minces and winces and acts generally disgusted to be anywhere near a woman. At this stage, I sincerely wonder if he would have been happier with a nice cuddly bear of a truckdriver.
They don’t even bother using the scar prosthetic in the long shots, so Lester’s cartoonish distaste is even more pronounced when the camera pans to the lovely (non altered) face of the actress.
Just like all the rest, utterly enchanted by the powder blue pouched possibility of penis, she is smitten beyond all reason. When Lester sobs about business debts, she agrees to loan him $200,000, with his house as collateral. She promises to have the cash when they meet the next night for dinner.
Unsurprisingly, Lester prepares to kill Virginia as soon as he confirms she withdrew the cash…….
Unlike the rest of these dizzy birds, Virginia watches the news. She recognizes Lester from the police composite drawing……..
……and promptly shoots him. Wanting to die like a wild animal, a bleeding Lester runs out to the parking garage……
…….where we learn that Lester’s mysterious copycat……..
……is his own shadow. Because even the literal darkness wanted to bring Lester’s crimes to light. Or something. I feel like some metaphors got mixed here. Since Lester the murderer and (just that one time) cannibal is dead, I hope somebody thought to notify the questionably sentient boombox.
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.
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)
G.G. Grahamis a cult film cryptid, horror hag, and exploitation film explorer of the dusty and disreputable corners of cinema history. The street preacher of Z-grade cinema can be found writing for various genre sites around the web, or on Twitter @msmidnightmovie
About Shock, Schlock & Leftover Film Stock:
For now, just a humble blog dedicated to the dirtier, mostly disreputable side of cinema. Forgotten flickers of the pre code era, roadshow rarities, grindhouse gore, direct to video dreck, big budget money pit monuments to hubris……..if it offended respectable folk, bombed at the box office or succeeded spectacularly in filming fast, cheap and free of necessary permits, it will probably be discussed here eventually.