Posts Tagged With: Mexican Horror

Sympathy For The Devil? 3 FROM HELL Reviewed.

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BD. Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Region B. 18.

The contemporary controversy (or at least one of the contemporary controversies) concerning Todd Phillips’ Joker rehashes a long running argument about genre films which allegedly invite the viewer to identify with a protagonist who’s a violent psychopath… remember how Meir Zarchi’s rape / revenge (with the emphasis very much on revenge) epic I Spit On Your Grave (1978) was castigated as a glorification of violence against women? One outraged pundit condemned Zarchi’s film as: “Impossible to defend”, further opining that: “The Vice Squad ought to watch every person who actually buys a copy of this tape”. Bonus points if you can identify that outraged pundit (answer below *) The best genre films have always been aware of the thin line between the critique and endorsement of the “killer as pop culture icon” phenomenon and any list of those which navigated that particular moral tightrope most nimbly would have to include the likes of John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986) and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994), films to which the item under consideration here owes much.

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Completing a (so far) trilogy initiated by Rob Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses (2003) and continued in his The Devil’s Rejects (2005), 3 From Hell was supposed to reunite redneck maniacs Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) and Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie) with killer clown Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig). Unfortunately Haig’s rapidly declining health reduced his participation here to fleeting stock footage, which means one of the as yet unreleased productions which he completed before his death on 21/09/19 will have to stand as the capper to a truly amazing career.

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RZ quickly rewrote 3FH to include the Fireflys’ previously unseen half brother “Foxy” Coltrane (Richard Brake from Zombie’s 2016 effort 31… he also played Seneca in Bettany Hughes’s TV series 8 Days That Made Rome!), much as Moseley’s Chop-Top character was parachuted into Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in 1986. Foxy arrives to rescue Otis from a chain gang, in the process slaughtering everyone else he encounters, including Mexican crime Lord Rondo (Danny Trejo). They then hold nasty warden Virgil Dallas Harper (Jeff Daniel Phillips)’s family and friends hostage until he collaborates in springing Baby from his penitentiary (and she’s A Wild One, alright).

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Here’s where the problems really start… the warden is a certified scum bag but several perfectly nice and as far as we know blameless characters are brutally done in for the viewer’s lip-smacking delectation. You could argue that the nudge nudge intercutting of these murders with Three Stooges footage constitutes an all-too on the nose declaration of cartoony intent (not too difficult to swallow when you’ve already accepted the introductory premise that Otis, Baby and Spaulding survived something like 100 hundred bullets apiece, administered to them at the conclusion of The Devil’s Rejects) but the fact that Mr Zombie went out of his way (as we learn from the feature length “making of” doc on this disc) to shoot stuff in the cell where Susan Atkins confessed her part in the Tate killings is really kinda questionable.

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After spending the first half of this picture’s near-two hour running time settling accounts with the forces of law and order, the gang decamp South of the border but their desire to lay low for a while and enjoy a bit of Roderiguezesque R’n’R is foiled by the appearance of Rondo’s vengeful son Aquarius (Emilio Rivera) and his luchadores masked minions, The Black Satans, cue predictable quasi Spagwest carnage a la Tarantino…

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There are things I actually rather liked about this movie. Sheri Moon Zombie impresses as a genuine screen presence rather than the trophy wife vanity casting you might have feared and Moseley continues to consolidate his status as a contemporary Horror icon. It’s always great to see Dee Wallace and nice to know that Clint “Coopershit” Howard is still working. Mr Zombie is good with action, less so with the dialogue / expositional stuff. That “making of” and the director’s commentary track eloquently testify to just how much love and hard work he put into pulling off what was clearly a mammoth undertaking. But if you’re gonna use Iron Butterfly’s In A Gadda Davida to compliment a climactic moment, you’re going to have to top what Michael Mann did with it in Manhunter (1986) and he doesn’t. Similarly, if you’re consciously invoking such august company as Hooper, Carpenter, Stone and even Sergio Leone, let alone Tarantino, you’re stepping into giant shoes and on the evidence of 3 From Hell, that still feels like a bit of a slippery fit for RZ.

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Ooh, thanks for all that (James Gang era) Tommy Bolin on the soundtrack.

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(*) It was John Waters.

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It’s About Time… CRONOS Reviewed.

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When I learned that Guillermo del Toro had won the best director and picture Oscars for The Shape Of Water, I intended to dust off an interview I did with him in 1994 (when he was publicising his feature debut Cronos) for this Blog. The relevant data file proving resolutely elusive, I’ve decided to dust off my contemporary review (here slightly modified). It’s fair to say that I feel vindicated in my prediction of great things for Senor del Toro (who struck me even then as an intelligent and amiable dude). We Freudsteins are even contemplating a rare cinema visit… to watch a film so mainstream that it won an Oscar. Strange times indeed…

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Cronos (1993). Directed by Guillermo del ToroProduced by Arthur Gorson, Bertha Navarro, et al. Written by Guillermo del Toro. Cinematography by Guillermo NavarroEdited by Raúl Dávalos. Art direction by Brigitte Broch. Production design by Tolitga Figuero. Musiby Javier Álvarez. Special FX by Laurencio Cordero. Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Mario Iván Martinez, Juan Carlos Colombo.

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Cronos begins with antique dealer Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) acquiring the statue of an archangel, which has apparently been missing for four hundred years. The appropriately named but distinctly menacing Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) turns up at his shop, very keen to acquire the artefact for his dying uncle Dieter (Claudio Brook), a Howard Hughes-type so anally retentive that he keeps his surgically removed tumours in glass display cabinets. Nice. Gris and his little granddaughter Aurora (the spooky Tamara Shanath) soon discover why he’s so intent on buying the piece – it contains the legendary Cronos Device (shades of the Lemarchand Configuration), a small, elaborately engineered metallic sphere which incorporates a worm-like organism whose secretions confer the gift (or is the curse?) of eternal life… along with an overpowering urge to drink human blood.

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To gain possession of the alchemical contraption, Angel does away with Gris… or so he thinks. The antiques dealer has already experimented with the device and, unpicking his mortician’s stitches, wanders out of the crematorium, visibly decomposing, for a confrontation with the bad guys. After finally destroying the Cronos Device, Gris goes to blessed oblivion, surrounded by those who love him. “I am Jesus Gris” he states, and that’s enough. Mortality is acknowledged as an essential component of humanity.

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I knew doodly-squat about Guillermo del Toro when I first watched his feature debut, apart from the fact that he is Mexican. For all I knew, Cronos might have been some kind of masked wrestler smack down or something akin to the loony likes of Night Of A Thousand Cats. Instead, it emerged as that kind of horror picture which comes along every so often and gives you new hope for the future of the genre. “As far as I’m concerned, Cronos is a world-class gem of a film” says one of its stars, Ron Perlman and while there’s a touch of “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” about this pronouncement, it just so happens that he’s right.

You could call Cronos a vampire movie, but it’s a revisionist one that continually confounds your expectations by reversing the conventions of the genre. Never mind Tom Cruise mincing around in Interview with the Vampire, Cronos cuts the crap and delivers the kind of new blood the genre has been crying out for… and in supplying it, del Toro announces his arrival as a major new Horror auteur for the nineties and beyond.

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Hugo A Go-Go: NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. 905 Entertainment. Unrated.

Why would Trump wanna build that fucking wall, anyhows? Perhaps to repel the wave of Mexican monster movie outrages perpetrated by successive generations of the Cardona family (most of whom seemingly bear the Christian name Rene, to the ongoing consternation of trash filmographers). In 1962 the Cardonas launched Las Luchadoras (“The Wrestling Women”) upon an unsuspecting world with Wrestling Women Vs The Murderous Doctor, in which the eponymous heroines were called upon  to enforce the Hippocratic oath with drop-kicks, headlocks and forearm smashes. In 1963 they knocked out a couple of entries in the Santo series (Santo being a fat man in a mask, who has enjoyed innumerable punch-ups with monstrous and megalomaniacal adversaries), namely Santo Versus The Strangler and, in a much anticipated rematch beyond the grave, Santo Versus The Ghost Of The Strangler. But these were merely tune-ups for the Cardonas’ masterpiece, which came the following year – Wrestling Women Vs The Aztec Mummy in which, you won’t be surprised to learn, the Wrestling Women took on an Aztec Mummy that was getting ideas above its station, also taking time out for a tag team confrontation with Mexico’s answer to Fu Manchu and his kung fu-kickin’ sisters. Not content to rest on their luchadoral laurels, the Cardonas made The Invisible Killer that same year.

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In 1966 Las Luchadoras were clipping the wings of The Bat Woman and in 1967, Acapulco’s local favourites The Fish Monsters came unstuck against our indefatigable heroines. Treasure hunting was in, big time, for 1968’s Santo brace Santo And Dracula’s Treasure and Treasure Of Montezuma and in the following year’s Wrestling Women Vs The Murderous Robot, those feisty wrasslin’ gals kicked ass when one of their number was kidnapped by a mad scientist (mad scientists apparently being ten-a-penny down Mexico way.)  Also in 1969 the Cardonas pitted Santo Versus The Headhunter and still had time to make Los Jinetes Del Terror, in which leper gunslingers made Santo’s day. This latter film is known in English language markets as either Santo Vs The Terror Riders or, rather more memorably, The Lepers And The Sex (!?!) 1971 saw Santo In The Mummy’s Revenge, in which the Mummy fared no better against Santo than he had against Las Luchadoras. Hereafter this tranche of tacky taco terrors went into terminal tailspin, though Rene Cardona Jr had already perfected the horror wrestling sub-genre in 1970 with Night Of The Bloody Apes, a hysterical dollop of maniacal Mexican monkey business that ended up, inexplicably, on the dreaded “video nasties” list in the UK, more than a decade after it was made.

It’s difficult to imagine now what the DPP took such active exception to… the phoniest scalpings and eye gougings in film history? The way a kidnapped Orang-utan transforms, by the miracle of not-so-special effects, into a dude in a shabby gorilla suit? The surgery scene which splices together medical footage and original material so ineptly that more mitts are seen paddling around in a patients chest cavity than could possibly belong to the people conducting the operation? Dr Kraumann’s pronunciation of the word Leukaemia (as “Loose-seam-ia”)? Possibly it was the risible scripting and woefully inaccurate lip synching during the priceless scene in which a police chief dismisses the protagonist’s speculation about mutating killer apes, thusly: “It’s absurd, the proofs are insubstantial… it’s more probable of late that more and more you’ve been watching on your television many of those pictures of terror!”

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To some of us, this is the very stuff of movie magic. Indeed, the only fault that I can really pick with Night Of The Bloody Apes is that it scandalously short changes the viewer vis-à-vis plasma drenched simians, delivering only one when its title promises… well, at least two! The same director’s similarly titled (why mess with a winning formula?) La Noche De Los Mil Gatos / Night Of A Thousand Cats /  (1972… “Alone, only a harmless pet… One thousand strong, they become a man-eating machine!”) gives you considerably more title characters for your buck but I seriously doubt that we get anything like Mil Gatos… and 905’s obscure R1 edition kind of confuses the issue by going out as “Night Of A 1000 Cats.” You do the math…

… but if you can stop fixating on pussy dimensions for a cotton pickin’ minute, you’ll discover that the flick itself is a genuine laugh riot. For starters, it “stars” charisma bypass victim Hugo Stiglitz. If you found Thunderbird puppet Hugo less than convincing as a firebrand investigative reporter in Umberto Lenzi’s lamentable zombie bandwagon jumper Nightmare City (1980), check out herein his hopeless attempts to portray an irresistibly smooth, murdering  fanny magnet with the mandatory musclebound, kaftan-clad lame brain sidekick (“Dorgo”), those caged cats and a castle crammed with medieval weaponry and torture devices. Driving around Mexico City on his motorbike in a cowboy hat and leathers, sucking on his pipe and sporting Noel Edmonds patented facial fuzz, Hugo usually has no problem attracting senoritas. If he does strike out though, he simply climbs into his helicopter and flys over swimming pools in the choicest part of town, taking his pick of whatever easily impressed bikini clad lovelies he has thus drummed up.

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When he gets them back to his gothic shagpad and everybody’s loosened up with a few cocktails, he shows them his pride and joy – his collection of pickled heads in jars. Needless to say, his horrified dates’ bonces soon get added to the collection, while their minced bodies are thrown into the pussy pound by Hugo and Dorgo. All of this Bluebeard stuff is very jolly as far as it goes, but unfortunately the picture is heavily padded with travelogue shots of Mexico city and helicopters, to the point where you start wishing Los Luchadoras or a stray bloody ape would turn up to enliven the proceedings. Sensing that his “plot” is going nowhere fast, Cardona throws in a flashback wherein Hugo becomes emotionally attached to Paulette, a potential victim, and instructs Dorgo to spare her life. Acting on his own initiative, Dorgo kills her anyway, for which act of disobedience he too later becomes cat food and the least comely addition to Hugo’s bottled head collection. For no better reason than Cardona having topped the hour of footage he was obviously contracted to deliver, Hugo’s latest date escapes and so do those cats, to dole out poetic justice and demonstrate conclusively that eight out of ten feral felines prefer Noel Edmonds-style Whiskers…

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In an age when home cinephiles are debating the merits of 4K HD and curved screens replacing the flat screens that replaced curved screens, it’s safe to say that this is something of a cheapjack release. The “special features” promised on the box include “Scene Selection” (from all of 4 chapters!), “Digitally Mastered” (apparently from a fuzzy VHS copy) and “Full screen Presentation”… yep, the fact that the film isn’t even presented in its original screen dimensions is considered a “special feature” by 905! Nor do they  have any qualms whatsoever about revealing the film’s meagre running time (63 mins!) prominently on its poorly executed sleeve…. talk about a soft sell! Presumably if you were trying to shift copies of this today your sleeve and merchandising would concentrate more on the fact that Stiglitz is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite actors. Anybody fancy re-releasing it? Arrow? 88? Severin, maybe? On a double bill with Ted V. Mikels’ The Corpse Grinders, perhaps? Nah, didn’t think so…

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