Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Multiple Maniacs – A John Waters, Carny Masterpiece

Review by Steve D. Stones

Thanks to my co-blogger and good friend Doug Gibson, I now have a beautiful Blu-Ray print of John Waters' 1970 carny masterpiece – Multiple Maniacs. Doug purchased the film for me as a Christmas gift. The print is a remastered special edition put out by Criterion/Janus Films in 2016 with an audio commentary by director Waters. The film also has interviews with cast and crew, such as George Figgs, who played Jesus Christ, and Mink Stole, who has at least two roles in the film, including a “church whore,” as she refers to herself in the film.

The film follows a group of misfits known as “the Cavalcade of Perversions” who set up a fast and cheap carnival attraction with such performances as a puke eater, a dope addict, a woman licking a bicycle seat and two men kissing. The main attraction, of course, is Lady Divine, who kills and robs patrons of their money and jewelry. Most of the film shows a strange and hateful conflict between Divine and her boyfriend known as Mr.David – played by David Lochary.

The entire film has a home movie, Andy Warhol experimental flavor to it, which adds greatly and never distracts from its tone and style. Many scenes show shaky camera movement and the shadows of the cameraman and crew on the ground during the filmed scene. Actors often look as if they are hesitant to deliver their lines, or too rigid in their composure to improvise their lines.

Look carefully for cars driving by in the background in a scene where actor George Figgs as Jesus Christ blesses loaves of store-bought, wrapped bread and canned tuna on a plastic, folding picnic table. As his followers gorge themselves on tuna and bread, modern cars drive by in the distance. Does this distract from the film in any way? Heck no. This is guerrilla film making at its best.

Low-budget director Andy Milligan does something similar in his 1971 cult classic Guru The Mad Monk in which the sound of driving cars can be heard in a scene that is supposed to take place in the Middle Ages in front of a church. Milligan often shows power lines in the background of scenes in which the time period depicted is many centuries or decades before electricity and the Industrial Revolution.

Figgs as Christ carries a cross and wears a crown of thorns just before his crucifixion in one scene. These images are juxtaposed with scenes of Mink Stole masturbating Lady Divine's anus with a rosary in a church chapel. Never in the history of cinema up to that point had such perverse, blasphemous images been put up on the screen. Director Waters loves to smear this kind of stuff in the faces of his viewers, and never would he want to apologize for it. Can you blame him? All this becomes a precursor leading up to Divine's excrement eating scene in Waters' next film – Pink Flamingos (1972).

Perhaps the most bizarre scene is saved for the near ending of the film when a giant paper mache lobster, known as Lobstora, rapes and has sex with Lady Divine. Divine makes no attempt to free herself from the fake lobster, and appears to be enjoying the lobster sex as she laughs hysterically during the entire scene. As the lobster backs away, broken parts of it are shown on the couch in which the sex act took place. Lady Divine now becomes hysterical and goes on a rampage of destruction.

As an essay included in the Blu-Ray written by Linda Yablonsky states: “Multiple Maniacs is a monster movie for people who would rather watch a comedy.”

As a big fan of all of Waters' films, I've felt for many years that Pink Flamingos is Waters' greatest early film. After viewing this newly remastered Blu-Ray print from Criterion/Janus Films, I've now changed my mind. Multiple Maniacs is not to be missed. It is Waters' best early film. Happy viewing.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Turhan Bey is The Amazing Mr. X

By Doug Gibson

"The Amazing Mr. X," a 78-minute 1948 release from Eagle-Lion films, is likely the best chance to fully observe the talents of Turhan Bey, a charismatic contract actor of the late 1930s early 1940s who found his major-studio work had dried up after World War II. "The Amazing Mr. X" was a fortunate opportunity for Bey.

The plot involves two sisters who live in comfort by the sea. The elder sister, played by Lynn Bari, is obsessed with her late husband (Donald Curtis) and thinks she hears him calling. The younger sister, played by Cathy O'Donnell, is worried about her sister. Eventually, they meet up with a smooth, charismatic psychic (Bey) who promises to help Bari make communication with her late husband. Eventually, the younger O'Donnell becomes more obsessed with Bey than her older sister. Character actor Richard Carlson plays the good guy, Bari's fiance, in this flick, working to expose Bey as a fraud. Although the B-movie's longer-than-needed running time causes the action at times to drag, it moves toward an effective climax.

One interesting facet of Bey's spiritualist is that although he's obviously a phony, he's a sympathetic character. That was a smart move from director William Wyler. Bey's charisma has also preserved the film's iconic cult status. It is occasionally shown at revival film festivals. The scenes of Bari being "haunted" by her "dead husband" are spooky. The Austrian-born Bey enjoyed a long life, dying at age 90. Watch the film above.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

George Zucco as the vampire -- Dead Men Walk

By Doug Gibson
Dead Men Walk, 1943, B&W, 64 minutes. Producers Releasing Corp. Directed by Sam Newfield. Starring George Zucco as Dr. Lloyd Clayton and Elwyn Clayton, Mary Carlisle as Gayle Clayton, Nedrick Young as Dr. David Bentley, Dwight Frye as Zolarr, Fern Emmett as Kate and Hal Price as the sheriff. Schlock-meter rating: Six stars out of 10.

This 1940s PRC cheapie about a vampire who rises from the grave and attempts to destroy his niece to spite his brother is a lot of fun. It stars horror great Zucco in dual roles; as ocultist brother Elwyn who is murdered by his good brother, a doctor named Lloyd, also played by Zucco.

Alas, the evil Elwyn's death fails. Elwyn has learned how to resurrect himself as a vampire. With the help of demented servant Zolarr (Frye in a great, meaty role), he begins to murder. A woman driven crazy by grief (Emmett) suspects him, but no one takes her seriously. Once she starts to gain credibility, she is killed off by Zolarr. Elywn's chief target, however, is revenge against his brother. He appears to the startled doctor, and promises to suck the lifeblood from his beautiful niece Gayle (Carlisle). She's engaged to another doctor (Young) who, as Gayle starts to wither away, begins to suspect Lloyd of trying to kill her.

There are rumors all over town that Lloyd killed Elwyn and the townspeople, spurred by the murders, start to talk vigilantism. The sheriff blusters a lot, but accomplishes little. Eventually, there is a showdown between the undead Elwyn and brother Lloyd.The low budget, of course seriously hampers the film. The FXs are virtually non-existent. Zucco's Elwyn seems to fade away rather than pass through walls. The lighting is very poor. The script weak. Many of the characters are stereotypes. There's the rich doctor, the rich young couple, the crazy old lady, the blustery sheriff, the very superstitious townspeople.

The acting, except for Zucco and Frye, is quite poor. The direction, by cheapie legend, Newfield, is pedestrian. However, the plot is quite unique for a vampire film of that era. Film writer Frank Dello Stritto, writing in Cult Movies 27, describes Dead Men Walk as the best plotted vampire film of that era. However, Dello Stritto agrees the finished product is mediocre.

Nevertheless, Zucco is magnificent. The doctors are not cast as twins. It's amazing how different Zucco appears as the respected Dr. Lloyd Clayton and the balding, gaunt brother Elwyn. His timing and delivery is first rate. Frye's Zucco is menacing, and watching it is bittersweet, since the talented horror star died of a heart attack a few months after completing the film. Students of the early horror films, particulary Poverty Row Bs, should own Dead Men Walk. It's easily available on VHS or DVD.

"Dead Men Walk" is occasionally on UEN's Sci Fri Friday at 9 p.m. on Channel 9 in Utah. Here is an essay from UEN on the film. I have seen it on TCM as well. It's a wonderful example of a low-budget 40s C horror film with stars (Zucco and Frye) that elevate the film beyond its low-budget production values. Watch the film above via YouTube!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn

1987, Color, 85 minutes (less in some foreign versions). Directed by Sam Raimi. Cast includes: Bruce Campbell as Ash, Sarah Berry as Annie Knowby, Dan Hicks as Jake, Ted Raimi as possessed Henrietta Knowby, Denise Bixler as Linda, and John Peaks as Professor Raymond Knowby. Schlock-Meter rating: Eight stars out of a possible 10.

So many reviews like to call Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 a comedy, or a tribute to the Three Stooges, and there are some great "gross-out" gags, as well as my favorite comic scene, where Bruce Campbell's Ash, minus his possessed hand, traps it by piling a copy of Hemingway's "A Farewell To Arms" on a container holding the hand. Yes, this film contains a lot of comic parody, and after the first half Campbell plays his part mostly for laughs. And it's true that Raimi's very fast-paced, boom-boom-boom "I'm going to jar the viewer every 30 seconds" seems a tribute to Stooge-like filmmaking. And the excessive gore does desensitize the viewer after a while.

But let's not forget that Evil Dead 2 is a very scary, suspenseful thriller that throws out just about every horror/action plot element that exists. Most work. There are only a few clinkers, and the result is a cinema gem. Critic Roger Ebert pegged it best when he wrote that the film was not in bad taste, but about bad taste. Evil Dead 2 is sort of remake of Raimi's micro-budgeted Evil Dead, but with a little more plot and a twist ending that set up another, even more comic sequel, Army of Darkness. The plot: Ash and his girl Linda (Bixler) decide to squat for a night at a cabin in the Michigan woods. Once there, Ash turns on a tape recorder where a professor, who lives in the cabin, invokes a chant from The Book of the Dead that sends a demon to the cabin. From that point on, all hell breaks loose. Eventually, Ash and a few later arrivals, including the professor's daughter (Berry), are forced to fight it out with the demons.

The film is so fast-paced that you just marvel at the speed and special effects in the film that you forget the plot is pretty light. Director Raimi was destined for bigger assignments (A Simple Plan, Quick and the Dead, the Spider Man series). He's thrifty and economical. I suspect many minutes were spliced out of the final cut of Evil Dead 2 to maintain the fast pace, horror shocks and, yes, comic timing. Most of the cast is mediocre, except for Campbell, who is outstanding. For the first half of the film, he is largely responsible for carrying the flow of the film, and he uses the right amount of fear, fatigue, anger and outrage to pull it off. There are great visual effects, including a twisted, ominous looking bridge over a high drop, a dancing headless woman-demon, a human snake, a psychopathic hand, a woman being attacked by a tree, a demon's eyeball flying into a screaming mouth, and the most chilling, Ted Raimi's possessed Henrietta Knowby, a thoroughly gruesome old demon hag who hangs out in the cellar.

By all means rent or buy Evil Dead 2. It's well worth the price. However, while it is funny, expect more shivers than chuckles. Also, those who leave the room for a snack will miss several shock scenes. They happen so fast.

-- Doug Gibson