Monday, November 19, 2018

Monster Party (2018, Chris von Hoffmann)

Monster Party, just released from RLJE films, is a new film from Chris von Hoffmann, director of last year's Cannibal horror flick, Drifter.  The premise for the film instantly grabbed me and the prospect of seeing Robin Tunney again made it even more enticing.

Monster Party starts out with a group of teens (Casper, Iris and Dodge) breaking into and robbing a house.  We soon learn that Casper (Sam Strike), needs a large amount of money to save his father from being killed over gambling debts.  Iris (Virginia Gardner) mentions that she is going to be working as a caterer for a rich family's party, so the three decide that they will use this opportunity to rob the house to bail out Casper's dad.  We soon learn that the homeowners are not your average family and the guests are far more dangerous than the three young thieves.  Oh, and if that's not enough, wait until you see what is in the basement!

Monster Party was a gory, flashy thriller with some blacker than black humor thrown in for good measure.  The premise is very original and well crafted, with enough spraying blood and faces ripping off to satisfy horror buffs.  A few of the peripheral characters could have been cut out with more focus on the leads, but overall it was a blast.  I liked the cast a lot too, especially Tunney, Sam Strike (fresh off last year's Leatherface) and Julian McMahon.  An overall fun film filled with shocks, gore and humor.

Monster Party is available now to stream or purchase digitally, as well as Pre Order the Blu Ray and DVD versions (which will be released on December 18, 2018) HERE.

Friday, November 16, 2018

King Cohen (2017, Steve Mitchell)

Going back through my old reviews always brings a tear to my eye.  I can still vividly remember watching some of the films for the first time and how much of an impression they had on me.  I used to work at a gas station and had many hours to sit and watch movies, which I more than took advantage of.  Sometimes I would fit up to 10 films in over one weekend.  At the time, I was just getting into cult films and my knowledge of the genre (and many sub-genres) was limited, to say the least.  I had no idea if a film was going to be an absolute gem or unwatchable garbage, so I would just watch anything.  One director whose films had a real impression on me, and always ended up being gems, was Larry Cohen.

King Cohen follows the amazing career of Larry Cohen, from his time as an aspiring comedian to the present, which still finds him writing constantly.  In the 1960s, Cohen was writing for television and created such shows as Coronet Blue, The Invaders and Blue Light.  After being fed up with producers, Larry then decided to go out on his own and produced, wrote and directed his first film in 1972 titled Bone.  Though misunderstood at the time, Bone has since become a cult classic and was one of the films I remember watching back in my gas station days.  Next up was the hugely successful Black Caesar with Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, and its sequel, "Hell Up in Harlem".  Cohen then went on to a successful career, probably best known for directing horror films (Q: The Winged Serpent, It's Alive, The Stuff) and later, a surprising turn as a Hollywood screenwriter (Cellular, Phone Booth).

Director Steve Mitchell (who wrote his own classic cult film, Chopping Mall), gets very in depth as we learn how Cohen managed to break away from the big studios and make the films he wanted to make without compromise.  These films are so great because they are the work of a pure artist who was determined, wouldn't take no for an answer and who put every penny of his admittedly small budgets on the screen.  We also see many of Cohen's stars (Fred Williamson, Michael Moriarty, Eric Roberts) and fellow directors (John Landis, Martin Scorsese, Mick Garris) stress the importance of what Cohen was doing and how there will probably never be anyone like him again.  La La Land Records (aka the Soundtrack Gods!), enter into the home video market with King Cohen, their first film release (and hopefully the first of many).  The Blu Ray also comes with a CD soundtrack of original music by Joe Kraemer, the composer of such films as Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

Purchase King Cohen directly from La La Land Records HERE

The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze (2018, April Jones)

As a long time lover of Punk Rock,The Mentors were one of those bands I was always a little too scared of to get into.  As mentioned in this film as a common misconception, I always assumed the hoods the band members wore were Ku Klux Klan hoods, not Executioner hoods.  I was familiar with the name "El Duce" and knew the band had shocking song titles ("Wine You, Dine You, Sixty Nine You", and "Service Me or Be Smacked" are two of my favorites), but other than that I knew very little.  Luckily, April Jones' new ROCKumentary, The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze, has filled in that gap in my musical knowledge.

This film focuses heavily on Eldon "El Duce" Hoke, lead singer and drummer of The Mentors, whose hilarious antics and songs became the stuff of legends.  Along with founding guitarist Sickie Wifebeater (Eric Carlson) and bass player Dr. Heathen Scum (Steve Broy), The Mentors blazed a trail of debauchery in a genre they created called "Rape Rock".  Basically this term describes the band's mix of punk rock and heavy metal with hilariously, politically incorrect song titles and lyrics.  We learn about the band's formation, many lineup changes, downfalls, the death of El Duce and the resurrection of the band.  Along the way we also hear from the many old and new band members of The Mentors as well as members of other legendary bands, such as Raven, St. Vitus, The Dwarves, Gwar, Fang, Exodus.

The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze proves itself to be a successful documentary because it not only entertains you, but also teaches you the history of a crucial, underground band.  The film could also be somewhat of a cautionary tale of the dangers of alcohol, but it is more of a celebration of the life of an important figure whose music and memories will live on forever.  The fact that The Mentors are still active (with Sickie and Heathen in tow), is a testament to the band's legendary status.

Kings of Sleaze is available to stream or purchase (either on demand or DVD), as well as other merchandise HERE

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Pyjama Girl Case (1977, Flavio Mogherini)

Coming in towards the end of the initial Giallo craze of the late 60's to mid 70's, is Flavio Mogherini's La ragazza dal pigiama giallo (aka The Pyjama Girl Case). Featuring many of the tropes of the classic Giallo films, the only real visible difference with this film is the setting. The Pyjama Girl Case was an Italian-Spanish co-production taking place in Australia, something not common with these films. Many of the classic Gialli were set in their native Italy or tried to masquerade themselves as American films, frequently casting previously popular American actors in main roles. This one mashes all of that together, with Australian, Italian and American actors to make a truly original film.

The Pyjama Girl Case stars Ray Milland as retired police detective Thompson, who is helping two younger inspectors solve the murder of a woman found dead on a beach. Her body was badly burned and she was found wearing yellow pyjamas. All clues point to a man named Quint living nearby and even though he is charged for the crimes, Thompson believes he is innocent. The film also follows Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro), a young woman stuck in a love triangle with an older man (Mel Ferrer), a young Italian (Michele Placido) and an American (Howard Ross). Soon the stories will intersect and come to a thrilling conclusion.

The Pyjama Girl Case benefits from having many interesting characters and a story that leaves you guessing until the end. Milland steals the film as the lovably crass Thompson (who makes some interesting hand gestures). I also enjoyed the character of Glenda, who Di Lazzaro plays well. Her piercing green eyes and capriciousness keep the the viewer entranced with her story. There are also some particularly gory scenes, especially those featuring the victim's burnt corpse. Riz Ortolani modernizes the film with a mix of his classic orchestrations combined with hypnotic beats and synthesizers. Also included are two songs by French disco queen and Salvador Dali muse, Amanda Lear. Overall, Mogherini crafted a well put together thriller sure to be a welcome addition to giallo and Italian horror fans

Fun Facts:

- Flavio Mogherini started out as a Production Designer and Art Director before becoming a screenwriter and finally a director, with his first film Anche se volessi lavorare, che faccio? in 1972.

-Dalila Di Lazzaro turned down the role of Domino in the unofficial 007 film Never Say Never Again (1983).

-Milland was no stranger to horror, starring in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), Roger Corman's Poe adaption Premature Burial (1962) and the 1972 cult classic Frogs.

Just released from Arrow Video is a beautiful new remastered Blu Ray/DVD of The Pyjama Girl Case. Below are the special features:

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • New video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie on the internationalism of the giallo
  • New video interview with actor Howard Ross
  • New video interview with editor Alberto Tagliavia
  • Archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani
  • Image gallery
  • Italian theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector s booklet featuring new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Purchase the Blu Ray directly from Arrow HERE , from the US distributors MVD HERE or from DiabolikDVD HERE

Eye in the Labyrinth (1972, Mario Caiano)

Eye in the Labyrinth is Italian director Mario Caiano's only foray into the wild world of Gialli. I was familiar with Caiano from the film Napoli spara! (Weapons of Death) and had seen his name listed as director for numerous other Italian Cult films. What really attracted me to this film though was famed Italian character actor Adolfo Celi, best known as the Bond villain in 1965's Thunderball (and in the 1967 Bond ripoff Ok Connery). Though frequently cast as a villain (including in Bava's brilliant Diabolik), one of my favorite roles he did was as the adulterer friend of Vittorio Gassman in Luciano Salce's 1965 spy spoof Slalom.

Eye in the Labyrinth stars Rosemary Dexter as Julia, a woman trying to find her boyfriend Luca (Horst Frank), who has disappeared. After being led into an abandoned building and almost killed by a mysterious man, she is rescued by Frank (Celi). Julia is soon led to a commune owned by Gerda (Alida Valli), where she believes Luca may have been staying. Among the other residents are a peeping tom servant (whose artwork plays an important part in the fim), a transexual, Gerda's younger lover and more. Julia soon learns that the commune is a cover for a drug smuggling operation and that Luca was somehow involved.

With a varied cast of beautiful weirdos, a story that has more twists than the Amalfi Coast and some skillfully crafted cinematography, Eye in the Labyrinth is a classic, yet original take on the giallo genre. Dexter does a suitable job as the heroine stuck in a walking nightmare that she can't seem to escape from. Celi is great as the enigmatic, gangster-like Frank and the equally mysterious Gerda - played by Alida Valli (best known from Carol Reed's 1949 classic The Third Man) keeps you guessing her secrets until the end. Though the momentum seems to slow down towards the end, the unexpected climax more than makes up for the film's minor flaws. Not as by the book as many of the better known Martino or Argento gialli, Eye in the Labyrinth is well worth getting lost in. Check out the beautiful transfer on the Code Red release, as it brings the film to life like never before.

Fun Facts -

-In 1972, Adolfo Celi also starred in the giallo Who Saw Her Die? with fellow 007 actor George Lazenby

-Other than Giallo, Mario Caiano directed films from many different genres of Italian cinema - Spaghetti Western, Poliziotteschi, Nazispolitation, Gothic Horror and Gladiator films

-Eye in the Labyrinth was released on Spanish and Swedish VHS

Eye in the Labyrinth was released on DVD and Blu Ray by Code Red DVD.  You can purchase directly from Code Red HERE , from Screen Archives HERE or from DiabolikDVD HERE.

Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973, Aristide Massaccesi)

Death Smiles on a Murderer is notable for being one of the first films directed by Aristide Massaccesi, better known as Joe D'Amato. D'Amato started out as a cameraman for such great directors as Duccio Tessari, Franco Zeffirelli, and Fernando Di Leo before becoming a cinematographer for the likes of Alberto De Martino and Massimo Dallamano. In 1972, D'Amato finally ventured into directing his own features, though many of these were uncredited. That is until a year later when he directed this film, one of the few credited to his given name. After seeing several of his later films, Death Smiles on a Murder is quite a telling harbinger of things to come.

La morte ha sorriso all'assassino takes place at the turn of the 20th century and focuses on a woman named Greta (played by the mysteriously beautiful Ewa Aulin). As we see in the beginning of the film, Greta is dead and being mourned by her brother/lover Franz (the creepy Luciano Rossi). The story then continues a few years later with the now living, yet amnesiac Greta at the castle of Walter and Eva von Ravensbruck (Sergio Doria and Angela Bo). She arrives when her horse carriage is overturned and the driver is killed. The von Ravensbrucks insist Greta stays until her memory returns, though over time they both fall in love with her. Walter's father (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) later arrives, who himself once knew Greta and it is revealed that she may be some sort of undead being. Soon the inhabitants of the castle begin dying horrible deaths.

Death Smiles on a Murderer is a difficult film to categorize. I initially assumed from the title that it was a giallo, and though it has elements of that genre, I would not call it that. It is more of a supernatural, gothic horror film with scenes of extreme gore (a staple of D'Amato's) to complement the director's flare for elegant cinematography. Sort of like a Jess Franco film with less close ups and tasteless nudity (something D'Amato would delve into later). The violence is unexpected and staggering at times, with a shotgun to the face, a repeated knife slashing and a cat who rips out someone's eyeballs (see the original poster art) among the film's goriest scenes. I would be lying if I said the film wasn't confusing and some of the scenes overlong, but as a whole it is a fascinating mix of elements from D'Amato's later oeuvre. Oh and if you are wondering why I haven't mentioned Klaus Kinski at all, its because he is barely in the film. His part is somewhat important, but very small. Still, it's always nice to see him show up in anything.

Fun Facts -

-D'Amato directed or co-directed several films in 1973, including the Macaroni Combat film Heroes in Hell and the Horror film The Devil's Wedding Night,

-Klaus Kinski and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart appeared together the same year in Mario Caiano's Kung Fu Spaghetti Western "The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe" (Il mio nome è Shanghai Joe)

-Also in 1973, Klaus Kinski appeared with Luciano Rossi in Mario Gariazzo's Polizia film "The Bloody Hands of the Law" (La mano spietata della legge).

Arrow Video recently released Death Smiles on a Murderer on Blu Ray and it is a must have. Features include:

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original Italian and English soundtrack
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas
  • D’Amato Smiles on Death, an archival interview in which the director discusses the film
  • All About Ewa, a newly-filmed, career-spanning interview with the Swedish star
  • Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
  • Original trailer
  • Stills and collections gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
​FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Stephen Thrower and film historian Roberto Curti
Purchase the Arrow Video Blu Ray directly from Arrow HERE or from the US distributors MVD Entertainment HERE or from DiabolikDvd HERE

Killer Cop (1975, Luciano Ercoli)

Luciano Ercoli started out as a producer in the 60's before directing his first feature, the masterful 1970 giallo (and one of my favorite films) La foto proibite di una signora per bene (Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion). Continuing on with two more more gialli, Ercoli directed 1971's La morte cammina con i tacchi alti (Death Walks in High Heels) and 1972's La morte accarezz a a mezzanotte (Death Walks at Midnight), all three of which star his wife Susan Scott (aka Nieves Navarro) and Simon Andreu and were co-written by Ernesto Gastaldi. Ercoli then directed two period films (under the pseudonym Andre Colbert) before ending his career with a trio of crime films, the action drama The Magnificent Dare Devil, this film and the comedic The Ripoff. La polizia ha le mani legate (translated as The Police Have Their Hands Tied and released in the U.S. as Killer Cop) is a film I spent a long time looking for. Very hard to find in the U.S. for years, I first read about the film after hearing the song "Papaya" on the Stelvio Cipriani CD compilation included with NoShame's out of print Luciano Ercoli Death DVD box set. I loved the song so much, I had to check out the film it was from. By the point I finally saw the film, I was already knee deep in poliziotteschi and this film was worth the wait.

Killer Cop stars Claudio Cassinelli as Rolandi, a detective for the drug squad. While trying to get information on a drug deal, Rolandi witnesses a fatal hotel bombing. After his friend and co-worker Luigi is killed, Rolandi seeks out the truth about the massacre, which he believes is tied to Luigi's death. The clues lead him to a drug addict who lost his glasses during the bombing, who may be the key to solving the murder. The District Attorney (Arthur Kennedy) on the case soon discovers Rolandi has been conducting his own investigation and forbids him to continue, however he won't give up until justice is served.

La polizia ha le mani legate followed the trend of other Italian crime films of its time by building its story around headlines plucked right out of the newspapers. The "Years of Lead", as they were known from the late '60s to the early '80s, was a time in Italy's history rife with bombings, assassinations and kidnappings due to social unrest and political bedlam. The influence of the times are apparent in this film and make it all that much more interesting and realistic. Though Ercoli made a film filled with violence, high speed chases and dramatic situations, Killer Cop isn't completely without any humor. Cassinelli's Rolandi, though completely dedicated to his job and not afraid to get into sticky situations, is also kind of bumbling but luckily never goes over the edge into parody. The rest of the cast are great, including Sara Sperati as the mysterious Papaya, Franco Fabrizi as the ill fated Luigi and Bruno Zanin as the confused lemming turned bomber. Stelvio Cipriani, who may be the quintessential Poliziotteschi composer, crafts his score to make it almost another character in the film. You will find yourself humming some of the themes long after the film is over. His song "Papaya" in this film is probably my favorite piece of film music of all time. Overall, Killer Cop is a prime example of the Polizio genre and would be a treat to most '70's gritty action film fans.

Fun Facts -

-The English language version of the film features narration by Jack Lemmon

-The bombing in this film is based on the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan where 17 people were killed and 88 were injured.

-Killer Cop was released in various VHS editions.

Killer Cop was released on Blu Ray and DVD by Raro Video in 2015.
Order now from Raro Video HERE or from HERE