Sunday, June 26, 2022

Junesploitation 2022 Day 26: Free Space!


  1. Go for It (Nati con la camicia) (1983, dir. Enzo Barboni)

    Following the tried and true Terence Hill/Bud Spencer buddy comedy formula, the duo play lovable rogues who by coincidence get mixed up in a world of international espionage, mistaken identities, megalomaniacal villains, and kung fu fighters.

    The script offers plenty of silly comedy, contrived plot twists, ridiculous setpieces, and opportunities for Hill and Spencer to kick ass. Few things in life are better than seeing Bud Spencer open hand slap a bad guy. David "The Big Lebowski" Huddleston is fun in a supporting role. Franco Micalizzi's score is delightful.

    The Masque of the Red Death (1964, dir. Roger Corman)

    The cruel prince Prospero and his wealthy friends party inside the prince's opulent castle, while outside the walls the peasants succumb to a deadly plague.

    Corman extrapolates and adds a lot to the Edgar Allan Poe short story, and what he adds is entertaining nonsense. The movie looks beautiful and Vincent Price is in great form.

    Watched it on Studio Canal's "restored and extended" Blu-ray, which looks great. I don't know what it adds to the theatrical cut, but judging by the runtime, the difference is negligible.

    Green Room (2015, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

    A punk band play a show at a neo-nazi bar, accidentally witness a murder backstage, and end up in a standoff when the nazis don't want them to talk.

    A 90-minute white-knuckle ride that doesn't let you catch your breath for a second. I loved this. Anton Yelchin is excellent as the lead and Patrick Stewart is absolutely terrifying as the villain.

  2. Blood on Méliès' Moon (2016)

    Cozzi originally came up with the idea -- or at least the title -- for Blood on Méliès' Moon when he was working for Cannon in the 80s, but had no idea how it could be made. As much as we hate on modern technology, it did make this happen, as the Cozzi said that it was like when he "decided to become a publisher, until then, to publish a book you had to print at least one or two thousand copies. That meant a lot of money and often your storehouses were full of unsold copies. After the advent of digital, you could print even only thirty copies of a book and so I decided to start publishing books and novels."

    Let me try and summarize this absolutely berserk movie.

    Inventor Louis Le Prince -- a real artist could possibly have been the first person to shoot a movie of any length using a single lens camera and a strip of film; he also disappeared after boarding a train in September of 1890 on his way to demonstrate the camera, but there are theories that he was killed by Edison, disappeared to start a new life and celebrate his homosexuality where he would not be judged, that he committed suicide due to multiple failures or that his brother killed him to get their mother's will. The case has never been solved -- create a device that the Lumière Brothers would eventually call The Cinematographer.

    Luigi Cozzi, playing himself, finds a book called The Roaming Universe that was left for him when Barbara (Barbara Magnolfi!) is killed by the statue of the Blood and Black Lace killer within Profondo Rosso's Argento museum basement, a book that she received during a seance during which an old woman violently puked it into existence.

    A man has also sent Cozzi a lamp fashioned after Le Voyage dans la Lune and claims that a shadow version of La Prince in the guise of a masked magician has left the doorway open to a dark dimension that will soon doom our reality using film as his weapon.

    It's a little like La rage du Démon, in that one of Méliès' movies causes chaos, but it's also a lot like a conspiracy tract you would have found in the 80s all Xeroxed and left in a payphone booth or a strange YouTube channel that at first you giggle about but then you say, "Well, that makes sense." It's baffling and brilliant and corny and silly all at the same time, a messy final message from an auteur who can't help but be entertaining no matter what he does.

    There's also a trickster named Pierpoljakos (Philippe Beun-Garbe) who takes Cozzi through other dimensions, a severed head that can speak, Cozzi's wife reacting to him telling her that he has to save the world by just rolling over and going back to sleep, Cozzi in fuzzy pajamas, Ben Cooper level masks, monsters and effects, as well as Lamberto Bava showing off his dad's book collection, Dario Argento at an autograph signing and a nightmare that has critic Paolo Zelati claim that Cozzi is the Italian Ed Wood, which should upset him, but just ends up making him happy.

    There's also a discussion of the volcano sequence that Cozzi ripped off for Hercules and asks, "Did Cozzi choose the images or did the images choose him?" He also gets to fly on a rocket and when he lands, gets a smile from his own creation, Stella Starr from Starcrash.

    This movie reminds me of the Profondo Rosso store itself, a cramped small place with a few books, some DVDs and goofy masks, all standing above a shrine to the genius that is Italian exploitation cinema in the catacombs below. It doesn't make a lot of sense, it doesn't have to and it's wonderful.

    I have in my office a Profondo Rosso mug and it's one of my prized possessions. It's like some alchemical object, something I hold and hope that the inspiration and madness and love of cinema that Cozzi has always had stays within me. I also am happy to report that when I mentioned his name to Caroline Munro, she lit up and said, "He really is the most wonderful man."

    Get the full review here:

  3. Sudden Death (1995, dir. Peter Hyams)

    Terrorists attack the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, and Jean-Claude Van Damme is the only one who can stop them.

    Seemed kinda timely to watch it today, even though it's only the sixth final tonight.

    It's a blatant Die Hard clone, but it's a good Die Hard clone. There's some solid action and the hockey game setting provides opportunities for fun setpieces (Van Damme climbs on the rafters, fights a Penguins mascot and even ends up playing for the Penguins for a hot second). Van Damme is Van Damme and Powers Booth is a good villain.

    1. Love Sudden Death. Go Avs (and the other Mikko).

  4. Our last 'Free Space!' day at Junesploitation! Gotta make it count.

    Scott Derrickson's THE BLACK PHONE (2022, AMC Prime, 102 min.)

    Sporting a brand new vanity card (hi Michael!), "The Black Phone" is asking two big buys from its horror-trained audience and I was only able to give the filmmakers one. It's asking me to buy a child abductor in 1978 Denver named 'The Grabber' (Ethan Hawke, sporting some slick masks co-designed by Tom Savini) wouldn't rape, mutilate and/or do unpleasant things to Finney (Mason Thomas, Apple TV+'s "For All Mankind") for days, allowing him to get the upper hand in his basement prison. That's a stretch, but an even bigger one is that the ghosts of the children The Grabber murdered prior to abducting Finney pull their supernatural experiences together to communicate to our protagonist (by way of the titular phone only he can hear ring) what to do next. Madeleine McGraw's Gwen (sister of Finney) has a handful of great scenes, but is also saddled with a 'visions of dead children during dreams' subplot that feels like a THIRD big buy Scott Derrickson is asking of me just to accept the movie's premise. "The Black Phone" is no "Sinister," but the 70's production design/look is aces, Mason Thames looks like he belongs in a "Stranger Things" or "It"-caliber IP, and Gwen's arguments with God a welcomed moment of needed (and earned) comic relief. Worth seeing with a theater crowd that's really into it to make the final act come alive with revenge-of-the-bullied pathos. 3.25 HARD-TO-WATCH DRUNK DADS BEATING THEIR CHILDS (out of 5).

    Alex Cox's REPO MAN (1984, Amazon Rental, 90 min.) for the first time.

    I honestly don't know whether I like, hate or don't care for "Repo Man." Watched as a group viewing online with the Jury Room 4.0 members last Thursday night, it's clear a lot of people love the punk-heavy music soundtrack. I can't even remember any of the songs. Baby-faced Emilio Estevez's Otto learning the ropes of being a repo man from Harry Dean Stanton (wearing the same shitty clothes he wore in "Christine," "Wild at Heart," etc.) seems that would be an interesting movie on its own right, especially given the episodic nature of the repossessions (loved the grandma with the musician family that comes to her rescue) and the odd cast of characters working alongside the leads (Sy Richardson's Lite being the MVP). But the chase for a $20,000 Malibu Chevy with a very special trunk (and the finale the whole government chase subplot leads up to) is one giant 'meh' for me. I get the sense of 'anything goes' anarchy Alex Cox is going for, and "Repo Man" makes a great double bill with the director's "Sid & Nancy" biopic. But I need to rewatch it because I just don't get it... any of it, at all. 2.5 CORNER TRASH CANS (out of 5).

    EIFFEL (2022, theater, 108 min.) for the first time.

    A fictitious biopic of Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) rekindling his once-hot relationship with a woman from his youthful past (Emma Mackey's Adrienne), which according to this fanfic-like narrative is the primary creative drive behind Eiffel designing the landmark that bears his name in Paris in time for the 1889 World's Fair. Despite some fine production design and great use of CG to re-create the construction of the Eiffel tower from scratch (the type of scene too cost-prohibitive to be made practically), the movie tries to make dramatic heft out of Parisians from all social strafes trying to block and/or prevent Eiffel from building his vision. It all rings hollow and throwaway given the tower's iconic status, leaving only the romantic subplot as a character driver. "It's okay," but this is the type of flick best seen on a streaming channel during a rainy weekend afternoon. 3 19th CENTURY SECURITY FENCE FRENCH ABORTIONS (YIKES! out of 5).

  5. Following my plan of watching as many films in my collection as possible this month, I created a double feature with two releases from the Mondo Macabro label.

    THE WILD PUSSYCAT (1968, dir. Dimi Dadiras) International Cut

    The Wild Pussycat is a Greek sexploitation film that is essentially an elaborate tale of revenge. When a young woman commits suicide, her sister gets ahold of her diary and learns that the boyfriend is a pimp. There are several flashback scenes showing the humiliations the woman experienced. The sister sets up an elaborate trap to punish the man: an isolated room that is soundproof. A two-way mirror looks into the bedroom, where the sister frequently undresses and engages in several sexual acts. Suffering from thirst, hunger, and a libido he cannot satisfy, the man faces an ordeal that may break him. An actress named Gisela Dali gives a sultry performance as the vengeful sister with a strong fashion sense. The combination of dark eyeliner with false eyelashes striking accentuates her eyes in the B&W cinematography, making her look more menacing. Definitely the kind of off-beat film I associate with Mondo Macabro.

    I have seen this movie before, but it was as a remake directed by the notorious Joe D’Amato, EMANULLE AND FRANCOISE. Though that film follows The Wild Pussycat very closely, it has a harder edge to the story. George Eastman also gives one his best performances in it.

    HUNTING GROUND (1983, dir. Jorge Grau) in Spanish

    When a lawyer and her husband go to their hunting villa to pick up some papers one night, they interrupt a burglary in progress. By the end of it, the husband lies dead in a pool of blood. What follows is a tense and sometimes brutal thriller. It is also a Christmas movie that leans heavy on drama in certain sequences. This is a quality Spanish production all around, with the acting adding to the impact of the film. The portrayal of the main villain is particularly despicable. With all of the discussions on justice and human nature, I would not call this a total exploitation film.

  6. METROPOLIS (1927)
    While I'm certainly familiar with this movie and seen plenty of clips from it over the years, this morning was the first time I've sat down watched the entire thing front to back. It's... very good. The story is the heaviest of heavy hands, all haves-versus-have-nots themes and Tower of Babel metaphors. But the gigantic sets, cityscapes, and other effects are still extraordinary. The whole time, I couldn't help but mentally check off all the other movies this has influenced over the years. And actress Brigitte Helm is radiant, both as a human and as a robot. A bona fide classic, and I'm so glad I've finally seen it.

    Bonus Lloyd Kaufman-sploitation, day 26: PRODUCE YOUR OWN D*MN MOVIE (2010)
    Once again, IMDb tells me this is one movie, but on a Troma Now it's a series of feature-length documentaries. I only watched the first one. We follow Kaufman as he films cameos in a variety of low-budget horror movies, interviewing their directors about life in the indie movie trenches. There are a lot of cool close-ups looks at how impressive-looking gore effects on done on the cheap. I must admit, seeing these filmmakers at work, making and finishing their movies with absolutely no resources whatsoever, makes me believe that, yes, anyone really can make their own d*mn movie.

  7. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015 – George Miller)
    I watched this masterpiece in the Black & Chrome Edition for the first time. I cannot say that it improved the movie, but some close-ups looked a bit more interesting than before. Overall, I would say that some important information is lost in B’n’C (e.g. The Green Place) and some shots are not as impressive as before. Mad Max: Fury Road has a beautiful coloring and I want to see it in the calmer scenes, and feel it in the thunderous explosions. That being said: MM:FR is still my favorite action movie of the past decade, and it shows, that nostalgia action acts (the world, the look, the gruff male lead (?), the action), combined with modern topics, actors, and roles, can blend just perfectly.

  8. Piranha (1978, dir. Joe Dante)

    Pretty much what I expected. A sillier version of Jaws with janky effects, some Dante touches, and Dick Miller. And a stop-motion lizard that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot!?

  9. BUSTIN’ LOOSE (1981)

    A suicide attempt, child prostitution jokes, Miles Davis, pyromania and strip poker with children can only mean one thing…I just watched Bustin’ Loose (1981).

    Directed by Oz Scott and clearly designed as a Richard Pryor vehicle probably best described as an R-rated after-school special. BL is notable in that the filming bookends Pryor’s suicide attempt. Apparently they felt the original cut filmed in 1979 was comedically flat and they were looking to bring in frequent Pryor-collaborator Michael Schultz for reshoots to spice it up. The filming of Stir Crazy and Pryor’s health pushed reshoots into 1981 and Pryor’s appearance can vary noticeably from scene to scene.

    As far as plot goes, it’s pretty simple. Parolee Pryor is manipulated by his parole officer into driving a bus load of kids from a Special Ed class (their term) that was somehow also their home, across the country from a closing facility to a farmhouse owned by the kid’s caretaker and officer’s girlfriend played by Cicely Tyson. Bureaucratically there is a lot of 80’s all-purpose plot duct tape holding this process together. There is a mild romantic sub-plot between Pryor and Tyson, who in a refreshing casting choice was 16 years older than Pryor and years away from being grossly name-dropped by Mitch Green. According to Pryor’s autobiography, he was hitting on Tyson behind the scenes to the point that her husband, Miles Davis called Pryor personally and told him that she was spoken for.
    The kids are a real variety pack of at-risk and post-risk youth. Among other things, there’s a pyromaniac, a blind kid obsessed with driving and a girl forced into prostitution as a child. All of these traits are played for laughs or tears depending on which way the wind was blowing during that particular scene. Unfortunately the performances are almost uniformly awful from the child actors.

    There is a brief encounter with the KKK on the journey, which is played almost exclusively for laughs and was also featured in the marketing which I assume was to show a little comedic edge. Other than that scene which probably runs about 3 minutes, a couple of raunchy jokes and a little profanity, I feel like they begged for an R rating to try to hook Pryor’s core audience.

    Bustin’ Loose is fine. As with many Pryor films, there is an element of underachievement because there are always moments of brilliance but sometimes they are too few and far between.

    1. Busting Loose was one of my favorite discoveries so far this year and proof that Richard Pryor was a legitimate lead for many projects but worked really well with the kids (at least on screen).

  10. Rowdy Herrington's ROAD HOUSE (1989, Amazon Prime, 114 min.).

    Seen this so many times by now I'm into deep cut backstory speculation (how long does Jeff Healey's residency at Double Duce last, and how much are he and his band getting paid?), or adding subtext to scenes that may or may not have any. For example, when Dalton (Patrick Swayze during his 'cut-in-marble' 80's phase) makes love to Doc (Kelly Lynch) in his rental by the lake in front of Brad Wesley's place (Ben Gazzara), does Dalton know Brad is watching them and is he rubbing his sexual conquest in Brad's face? If so then Dalton is being a major dick to his new girlfriend, and no better than the pigs he deals with at work. Open for interpretation I guess, unlike Sam Elliott trying to use full frontal (felt, not seen) to steal Dalton's girl away from him. A classic for a reason. 4 WESLEY HENCHMEN DYING OFF-SCREEN DURING THE FINALE THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SEEN GETTING ROUGHED-UP BY DALTON (out of 5).

  11. Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey

    A hideous, garish animation with the most packed cast imaginable... Truly a "how the fuck did this get made" movie.
    Samuel L. Jackson; Sandra Oh; Chris Pine; Neil Fucking Armstrong; Mark Hamill; James Earl Jones; Doug Jones; William Shatner; Jason Alexander.... and it goes on like this.

    Originally meant to be 2 hours, but cut down to 45 minutes without adjusting the script, due to budgetary constraints - this movie started production in 2002, was due for release in 2004, screened in 2010 and then was buried until now.

    Ostensibly, it's an educational film about subatomic particles... in reality it has nothing to teach and its message is just perplexing. I need to find out more about what the hell lead to this cursed movie being made. Sort of one of the worst things I've ever seen, but so strange that I can't help but like it.

  12. But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

    My last 1999 blind spot this month is a hilarious indie satire about a group of gay teenagers who are sent by their parents to conversion "therapy", where they are taught how to reject their immoral, unnatural ways and become straight, wholesome members of society. Of course things don't exactly go according to plan.

    The whole cast led by Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall does a great job conveying the heightened tone of the movie (one of the conversion trainers is played by RuPaul who at one point proudly announces: "I myself was once a gay"), which is matched by garish hot-pink-and-blue aesthetics. The movie's not just biting satire, though - there are also moments of real tenderness as the two main girls start developing romantic feelings toward each other. A smart, funny, quirky comedy with deeply sad undertones. Two thumbs up from me.

  13. Clearcut (1991, dir. Ryszard Bugajski)

    Graham Greene stars as his most memorably menacing and threatening character I have seen him play. He is a Native American out for vengeance against loggers who are ruining the land. He is not messing around. This movie quickly escalates and gets incredibly dark, violent, and despairing. I will not soon forget it. Highly Recommended.

  14. Elvis (1979) on Blu-ray

    Wanted to check out this John Carpenter directed TV movie after seeing the Baz film. It's really interesting, well made, and manages to not rush anything despite being barely longer than the new film - which rushes a lot. Kurt Russell is great as Elvis, but I do have one complaint: his lip-synching. I don't expect him to sing it. He's not a singer and Elvis was one of the best. But he could at least move his lips at the right time. Or they could have synced it up better. He's off most of the time. Still fun though.

  15. Dark Floors (2008, dir. Pete Riski)

    Lordi is a gimmicky heavy metal band from Finland who wear monster makeup on stage. They were riding high after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006 (a music contest with participants from every European country and hundreds of millions of viewers each year), so the obvious next step was to leverage that success towards making a movie. So they came up with a horror movie about a small group of people stuck in a hospital being attacked by monsters played by the band members. And for some reason they made it with English-speaking actors, even though it was made entirely in Finland with Finnish money.

    The characters are paper-thin and the plot clichéd and entirely predictable, but it still manages to be a fairly fun ride. Helps that it's 80 minutes long and doesn't wear out its welcome. A weird decision to base the movie around the band's monster personas and not their music. There's only one Lordi track on the soundtrack and it plays over the end credits. For about half of the runtime I was preoccupied with wondering why one of the actors seemed so familiar. Turns out it was William Hope, aka Lt. Gorman from Aliens.

    Bonus short film: Expectancy (Odotusaika) (2020, dir. Juho Fossi)

    For each Free Space! day, I'll include a Finnish short film.

    A father-to-be is home alone, renovating his unborn child's room, when a newly purchased baby monitor starts playing sounds from the future about his failures as a father.

    A clever little short about the fears of becoming a father. Heikki Ranta does a good job as the lead (and practically only) actor.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. The choice of English for Dark Floors may be due to marketing considerations. An English-language film is probably easier to sell for distribution than one in Finnish. I remember watching a Christina Lindberg film called Maid in Sweden that was literally made in Sweden but used an English script. Since the real market for the film was outside of Sweden, why bother having to create subtitles or do a different dub. The Greek film I watched today seemed to have had an English script when it was made. The English dub matches the mouth movements of the actors perfectly.

  16. 301/302 (1995)
    I had high hopes for this one. I had heard it was a forgotten gem of South Korean horror. I like a lot of the ideas in this one, and maybe I'd like it more if it ever gets restored, but currently it looks and sounds like a tv movie and it didn't help that I could see pretty much every plot point coming. It's also interminably paced... Not one but two 20-25 minute long flashbacks that just stop the movie dead in its tracks.

  17. My Cousin Vinny (1992) 90's Comedy

    Finally crossing this one off, another one of my huge movie shames. Sounds crazy, I've caught the first and last 20 minutes on Comedy Central a bunch of times, but never that middle 90. And it's great. It's got one of my favorite old man casts of all-time; Fred Gwynn, Bruce McGill, Lane Smith. And with apologies to the Karate Kid, I think the movie wisely limits the screen time of some of the weaker characters. I think Rob reviewed it a few years back, give that a read. He's smarter than I am.

  18. Matty's Same Name/Not Related double/Junesploitation free space!
    EATEN ALIVE 1980
    Umberto Lenzi
    EATEN ALIVE 1976
    Tobe Hooper

    Each month I pair two same name films unrelated by franchise or plot. This swampy thriller/jungle cannibal shocker combo is an ode to F This Movie and it's EIC Patrick Bromley and it fits my monthy viewing project quite nicely.

    Lenzi's Eaten Alive has its good points (opening shot in Niagara Falls, which is in my area) and its bad points (animal cruelty and yes, cannibals) but the movie isn't half bad as far as jungle cannibal movies go and the Jonestown storyline is a welcome wrinkle to the rest of the depravity.

    Meanwhile Tobe's Eaten Alive is exactly what you would want out of a 70s era hicks/swamp/hotelsploitation, eco terror/animal attacks film from the director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as his follow up to that film, Hooper even contributes to the music. Neville Brand stars as a creepy owner of a hotel (and a secret pet croc) with cameos from (a returning) Marilyn Burns, (a pre Freddy) Robert Englund and (a post Phantom of the Paradise) William Finley
    The connective tissue between them is equally apparent as it is inexplicable as Mel Ferrer appears in both films!

  19. Bushwhacked (1995) 90's Comedy!

    This might sound harsh, but Ann Dowd isn't allowed to play a regular mom. I know she's hiding something.

  20. Antlers (2021)

    A teacher suspects one of her students is being abused at home by his father...but the reality is even more terrifying.

    I wanted to see this immediately after watching the trailer, but then it kept getting pushed back, and when I got tired of waiting I read the short story the film was based on, which was incredibly unsettling.

    The atmosphere of the film really tries to replicate the feeling of the short story, but being a full length film, there's a lot more explanations and background. So, I liked it, and it was definitely creepy, but I do feel like the short story is also worth a read.

  21. Urgh! A Music War (1981)

    The boring editing and camerawork can't stifle the energy of some awesome, if not forgotten musicians. Look at alist of the bands. It's impressive. Devo, The Cramps, X, Gary Numan had always been some of the highlights for me. This time I was most taken with Au Pairs. Very cool to see how many of the bands of that time were integrated racially and sexually.

  22. Curdled (1996)
    Turns out I'm a massive fan of the mid-90s extended Tarantinoverse that includes movies like this, Perdita Durango, Natural Born Killers and Freeway. The dance sequence in this is one of my all time favourite scenes. What a cool gem of a film.

  23. Corruption (1985) dir. Roger Watkins

    Calling this “porn David Lynch” sounds cliche and easy and like it feels like it sells Corruption kinda short, (it’s certainly not intended to)- but it’s also a really hard comparison not to make. For the frequency Lynchian gets overused (and used incorrectly), this might be the most accurate example of it I’ve seen in a while- made even more interesting by the fact that this predates the majority of Lynch’s most iconic material. Watkins uses a whole lot of unsimulated sex to tell a story about power that’s boiled down to structure and symbolism and power and little else. We watch, and so does our protagonist, broken down then apart by getting what he thought he asked for, until all he knows is that he doesn’t want it anymore.