Saturday, September 18, 2010

#92: Tombs of the Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio, 1971)

Tombs of the Blind Dead is commonly regarded as Spain's answer to Night of the Living Dead. Regarded by whom? I don't know, but this statement appears several times on the DVD case and is repeated in every review of the movie I scanned, so I might as well join the crowd. Both movies feature an army of undead killers crawling out of their graves and inspired several sequels, but the similarities generally end there. Night of the Living Dead is a far better movie, but I don't want to sell Tombs of the Blind Dead short. Ossorio's film is a Eurotrash mini-classic, lovable in its shabby ineptitude, genuinely unsettling fright scenes, hazy lesbian flashbacks, beyond stupid screenplay, unintentional and intentional comedy, and bikini- and hot-pants-clad Eurobabes. Also, lots of lovely on-location Spanish countryside and ultra-macho smuggler Pedro. Quien es mas macho? Pedro es mas macho!

The film opens at the swimming pool of a luxury hotel/resort in Madrid. Two bikini babes run into each other and start conversing. They were roommates and friends in boarding school, but they haven't seen each other since. One of the women, Betty, has just moved back to town, opening a mannequin shop next door to ... the morgue! The other woman, Virginia, is there with a man who she thinks she's dating. The man, Roger, thinks he's still single. He hops out of the pool and is immediately smitten with Betty. He starts hitting on her and invites her along on a trip to the countryside the next day. Betty immediately says yes. No one finds this odd. In fact, most of the characters in this movie make nonsensical split decisions. On the train trip, Virginia starts feeling like a third wheel, but is she jealous of Betty or Roger or some sexy combination? Cut to hazy boarding school flashback, where we discover that Betty and Virginia were more than friends ... they were lovers! Whatever the sexual case, Virginia jumps off the train near a spooky abandoned monastery.

Instead of following the tracks back home, which most of us would do even if we were dumb enough to jump off a train in the middle of nowhere, Virginia settles in for the night at the creepy monastery. She unrolls her sleeping bag, takes off her short shorts, gets naked, smokes some cigarettes, finds some beach party music on her transistor radio, reads a trashy paperback, and tries to get some sleep. Unfortunately, she gets a visit from the dead. The blind dead!
These are no ordinary zombies, however. This group is a bunch of undead Knights Templar from the 13th century who turned to the dark side. They started worshiping Satan, sacrificing virgins, and drinking their blood. They were finally caught and hanged in the town square. Birds pecked out their eyes. Because of their Satanic blood rites, however, these knights get out of their graves every night and go hunting for humans. Because their eyes have been pecked out of their sockets, these knights are blind and hunt their victims through sound. They drink their victims' blood, ensuring continued immortality. These victims become blood-drinking zombies. Got all that? Did I mention these knights ride through the countryside in slow motion on zombie horses? I didn't? Well, they do.

The rest of the film involves Roger and Betty's search for Virginia and whether all this spooky activity is the work of undead knights or area smugglers. They enlist the help of a professor specializing in the knights and his son, head smuggler Pedro. Pedro is the personification of assholish Spanish machismo. He likes to drink rum, bed the ladies, immediately accept insane challenges, participate in date rape, slap ladies in the face, walk around shirtless, tell people what to do, and take cigarettes from his girlfriend's mouth and place them in his own. Another notable character is a lecherous, creepy morgue attendant who provides some solid black humor.
This film is almost avant-garde in its lack of dialogue and abundance of stupidity, but there are some truly thrilling scenes, particularly a run-in with a zombie in the mannequin shop that involves melting mannequin heads, blinking red lights, and a near-Argento mise-en-scene. The knights themselves are pretty sweet horror villains, and the ending provides some nifty nihilistic abandoning of all hope.

This is the kind of movie that's hard to recommend to general movie buffs, but if you appreciate Eurotrash horror and can ride out some rough patches, there is much to enjoy here.

Fun trivia tidbit: Some U.S. distributors of this film drastically re-edited it and gave it the zippy new title Revenge of Planet Ape. Hoping to capitalize on the Planet of the Apes craze, they filmed a new prologue in which a race of super-apes controlled Earth 3,000 years ago. Unfortunately, man killed them, burning out their eyes with pokers, but not before the head of the apes vowed undead revenge 3,000 years in the future. This prologue required editing out all the Knights Templar talk, so we could pretend these skeletal killers were actually super-apes. God bless this stupid world of ours.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

#91: Ticks (Tony Randel, 1993)

I'm fortunate to live in a city with two of the greatest video stores in the country, with two locations each, that continue to thrive in the era of Netflix. Occasionally, however, something falls through the cracks. And that, my friends, is how I came to own a second-hand VHS copy of the straight-to-video shitsterpiece Ticks. Ticks is not a good movie. Director Tony Randel (not to be confused with Tony Randall) has no discernible directorial style and the screenwriter's knowledge of human behavior seems to have been gleaned entirely from after-school specials and 1980s sitcoms. Having said all that, Ticks brought me great joy. This is a fun movie, with the most bizarre casting this side of Skidoo.

Ticks stars Peter Scolari (Tom Hanks' co-star on Bosom Buddies), Seth Green, Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Ami Dolenz (daughter of The Monkees' Mickey Dolenz), veteran character actor Michael Medeiros, Ron Howard's more talented brother Clint Howard, and their father Rance Howard. This cast is nuts in theory and in practice, particularly Clint Howard and Alfonso Ribeiro.

Ticks opens with teenager Tyler (Seth Green) getting dropped off in inner-city Los Angeles by his drunk father. He encounters menacing street thug Panic ("They call me Panic, 'cause I never do!") (Alfonso Ribeiro), screenwriter Brent V. Friedman's bizarre idea of a typical black inner-city teenager. Soon, a van pulls up to pick up both teens. Turns out, Panic's street thug persona was mostly an act. Driving the van is Holly (Rosalind Allen), who runs a program for troubled inner-city teens. She takes them camping in the wilderness to broaden their horizons. She's joined by the oddly named Charles Danson (Peter Scolari) (rejected names for this character: Ted Dundy and John Wayne Dacy) and his surly teenage daughter Melissa (Virginya Keehne). The rest of this rag-tag group of troubled teens includes spoiled rich girl Dee Dee (Ami Dolenz), her vaguely Hispanic steroid-loving boyfriend Rome (Ray Oriel), and vaguely Asian selective mute Kelly (Dina Dayrit).

I'm not even done setting this shit up yet. Next, we meet marijuana farmer Clint Howard. It seems the steroid he and many other pot farmers in the region are using to embiggen their weed is also embiggening and mutating the region's wood tick population. These ticks are now about the size of a small hubcap, and their venom has hallucinogenic properties. Howard, whose small but memorable role contains a couple of great line readings, is the first to encounter the killer ticks. (Great line: After his gerbil gets shredded by a tick, he pulls the mangled corpse out of its cage and says "Dude, you're all messed up.") The troubled teens have a few run-ins with the ticks, as well as a couple of evil marijuana farmers: inbred hick Jerry (Michael Medeiros) and the vaguely British Sir (Barry Lynch) (yes, his character's only name is Sir) who likes to take out a comb and run it through his hair while talking about his evil plans. As if killer ticks, evil marijuana farmers, and the surly vagaries of troubled youth weren't enough to contend with, the region is prone to forest fires. Shit is about to get fucked up. (Bonus great line: After Panic's dog is butchered by a killer tick, the teary Panic says, "I always thought I would go in a drive-by shooting, but my dog ... MY DOG WOULD MAKE IT THROUGH ALIVE!" I'm paraphrasing from memory. The actual line is even funnier.)

There's not much to say about the filmmaking side of Ticks, though the special effects are surprisingly good. Director Tony Randel is most famous for Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and his other credits include a live-action version of Fist of the North Star, Assignment Berlin, a hair-growth infomercial, and the television series Power Rangers in Space and Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction. Screenwriter Brent V. Friedman has written two other films on our list, The Resurrected and Necronomicon. His other credits include Hollywood Hot Tubs 2: Educating Crystal, American Cyborg: Steel Warrior, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and Foodfight!. As you can see, he specializes in films with a colon in the title.