Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals (1969) youtube video

As a result of having too much time on my hands, and no new material, here is a ‘filmed’ version of my recent review of The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals (1969)

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals (1969)

Sometimes watching an Egyptian Mummy battle a ‘Were-Jackal’ on the streets of Las Vegas is the only game in town, and where else can you see such a spectacle other than in 1969’s The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals.

The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals is a cheap and cheerful monster bash in the Al Adamson/Ray Dennis Steckler mode. Like Adamson’s films, The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals gives a late 1960s make-over to the tail end of the Universal Horror film cycle. Its director, Oliver Drake, had a slight connection to the Universal Horror films, having co-produced ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ in 1944, but was mostly known as a master of low-budget Westerns.

After a period of inactivity in the 1960s, Drake made a return to film directing at the decade’s end, which is where The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals comes along. This being one half of a two picture contract Drake had with Vega International Films, the other film that came out of that deal being ‘Ride a Wild Stud’ a softcore Western that Drake directed under the name Revilo Ekard, which is just Drake’s name spelt backwards. The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals’ writer and producer William C. Edwards, clearly had a jones for the old Universal Horror films while recognising the more lucrative appeal of making softcore films, and attempted to combine these two worlds with another Vega production ‘Dracula, the Dirty Old Man’.

Like Al Adamson, the makers of The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals could be accused of being in something of a time warp. This was after all 1969, a year after the release of Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead, and only a couple of years away from The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre changing the face of the American horror film forever. On the other hand maybe the thinking behind the film wasn’t as wrongheaded as it first sounds. By the late 1960s the Universal horror films were enjoying a second lease of life on American TV and Famous Monsters of Filmland was flying off the newsstands. So why not make a new, full colour Universal Horror movie throwback?

Unfortunately the perceived market for such a film appeared not to exist, and while Dracula, the Dirty Old Man and Ride a Wild Stud enjoyed some success on the adult movie circuit, The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals was reportedly never even finished. Despite being briefly screened to potential investors in 1969, funds to finish the film were not forthcoming and The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals sat unloved, uncompleted and on the shelf for many years. What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas though and more than a decade after The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals was made along came something called video. As the 1980s rolled on, such was the demand for horror product on tape that films considered unreleasable to theatres or TV suddenly found a home in the horror hungry VHS market. Thus it was in late 1985 that The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals finally saw the light of which time its attempts to put a new, hip 1960s spin on the horror genre must have seemed hopelessly out of date in an era of Freddy and Jason.

The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals stars Anthony Eisley, an actor who’d first come to prominence in the TV series ‘Hawaiian Eye’, but by the 1960s and early 1970s was really hitting the B-Movie treadmill, appearing in The Mighty Gorga, The Navy Vs The Night Monsters, The Doll Squad and Dracula Vs Frankenstein....boy, he must have done something really bad in a past life. Here Eisley plays the film’s Larry Talbot character, Dave, an archaeologist who is in Vegas to attend a conference on Egyptian culture, and has become obsessed with the Egyptian Princess Akanna. 

Right from the get-go you can tell this film has run into production problems. There is assumed familiarity with characters we’ve never actually been properly introduced to, and they frequently reference incidents that we’ve not actually seen. It is an experience akin to walking into a film half an hour in, and having to pay close attention to the dialogue in an attempt to piece together the parts of the film we’ve already missed. So, don’t go expecting any upfront explanation over how Dave has managed to acquire a pair of sarcophaguses containing the bodies of the Princess Akanna and her faithful Mummy servant Sirakh. A pair of sarcophaguses that Dave has proudly on display in his Las Vegas living room, which understandably makes for an interesting after dinner conversation piece with his friends Bob and Donna.

While you’re busy playing detective and trying to work out how all that came about, we’re simultaneously being told about ‘the curse of the jackals’ which dictates that any man who spends the night alone in a room with the body of the Princess Akanna will transform into....not a werewolf....but a ‘Were-Jackal’. A goofy looking mash-up of a teddy bear and the traditional Universal era look werewolf. The Were-Jackal obviously impressed Vega International enough to use the same costume in ‘Dracula, the Dirty Old Man’, where the Were-Jackal, called in that film ‘Irving Jackalman’ goes on to rape and murder several unfortunate young ladies. In one depraved instance having sex with the corpse of one of his victims. If nothing else, Dracula the Dirty Old Man provides a far nastier- if painfully unfunny- flipside to The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals.

'Irving Jackalman' up to no good in Dracula, the Dirty Old Man

Unable to be parted with the Princess Akanna, Dave rather foolishly spends a moon lit night alone with her body, and does indeed transform into a Were-Jackal. The fact that they never got around to shooting the opening act of the film does mean that The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals is free to cut right to the chase, we get around to the first Were-Jackal transformation within the first ten minutes. While this Were-Jackal is a more wholesome, family friendly Were-Jackal than the wisecracking, serial rapist Were-Jackal we meet in Dracula, the Dirty Old Man, he still manages to kill a few cops, scare a tramp, and generally run amok in Vegas.

The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals is certainly an evenly proportioned monster movie. From the Were-Jackal dominated opening half hour, we then delve straight into the Princess Akanna’s back-story which anticipates her returning to life in modern day Vegas. The narrative baton is then handed over to the Mummy Sirakh, he also returns from the grave and goes in search of his long lost love Akanna, who is busy hitting the night-spots of Vegas with Dave. Where she passes herself off as ‘Connie’, a friend of Dave’s from “way back East” to his friends Bob and Donna.

Vega International’s intensions seem to have been to encourage film production in Las Vegas and get local talent into film. This would explain the presence of Marliza Pons, who plays the Princess Akanna, in the cast. Pons’ real calling in life was as a belly-dancer and later dance teacher, for which she enjoyed a four decade long career in Vegas with. This was her only serious brush with the acting world, and with her exotic looks and extravagant costumes, probably the same outfits that she wore as part of her day job, Pons certainly looks the part. Still, you do have to wonder why the film didn’t think to include Pons’ famous belly-dancing talents into the plot. A situation that is doubly confusing when you take into account that there are actual belly-dancing sequences in this film, occurring when Sirakh kills several belly-dancers during his quest to find Princess Akanna.

As if having a Were-Jackal and a Mummy as love-rivals wasn’t enough, Akanna’s life is further complicated by the fact that Dave’s friend Bob also falls under her spell. In a bizarre curveball of a plot twist, Bob develops the ability to transform into the Egyptian goddess Isis, who shows up to offer guidance to Akanna. The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals could form the basis for the strangest ever episode of Blind Date (or ‘The Dating Game’ if you are in the US). Will the Princess Akanna choose Dave, a serious archaeologist by day who is a beast by night? Or will her heart be won by Bob, the gender fluid chemical engineer who leads a double-life as an Egyptian goddess? Or will Princess Akanna go for the mature man and pick Sirakh, who despite only having one functional arm and eye, and no tongue at all, still possess a heart of gold? Who will she choose...stay tuned to find out.

Just when The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals threatens to become borderline incomprehensible, John Carradine shows up to try and explain just what the hell is going on. A thankless piece of heavy lifting for sure, with Carradine also asked to bring dignity to lines like “we can’t just stand by and let a 4000 year old Mummy and a Jackalman take over the city”. Against all odds, Carradine does partly succeed in filling in some gaping plot holes from earlier on in the film. We learn from him that a plane carrying the sarcophaguses of Akanna and Sirakh crashed over Lake Mead, and presumably Dave must have rescued these sarcophaguses from the lake and brought them back to his house. Which is roughly the part of the film that we came in at. So, about an hour in we do finally start getting answers to all those nagging questions brought about by the unfilmed sections of the film.

Of course everything is building up to a battle between the Were-Jackal and the Mummy, part of which takes place right there on the Las Vegas strip. It is unquestionably the highlight of the film, if only for the utterly nonplussed attitude of the Las Vegas public. Instead of shrieking with horror and running away, which they would have surely been directed to do had they been paid extras, here Joe Public just tends to casually stroll alongside the Mummy and the Were-Jackal, while a couple of them choose to point and laugh at the pair. I can’t imagine how crushing it must have been for the filmmakers to watch the rushes and notice that people are laughing at their monsters.

Given what we now know about 1960s Las Vegas and the mob, you can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers had to grease the Mafia’s palms in order to shoot this sequence, which takes a detour right into the heart of one of the casinos. There, the sight of the Mummy carrying Akanna in his arms, with the Were-Jackal in hot pursuit, meets with the same indifference from the public as it did on the Strip. Did they get the Mafia’s okay to shoot that, or did they have the balls to just go in there, cause a commotion and get out before anyone realised what was going on. Sadly as pretty much everyone connected with this film is now deceased, we may never know how big their balls really were. Rumours of Mafia involvement have however dogged this film for years.

What is certain is that no one connected with The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals seemed too happy that it was eventually released. This was in fact one of two films that came back to haunt Anthony Eisley during the video era. Eisley had also played the lead in The Tormentors (1971) a biker film in which Eisley infiltrates a Nazi Biker gang who are involved in a plan to assassinate a Christ like hippie leader. The Tormentors was another movie that sat on the shelf for years before creeping out on video in the mid-1980s. Eisley later claimed that Oliver Drake was “a little bit senile”. A claim that has subsequently been refuted by Drake’s son, who cites the fact that Drake continued to write books and give talks about his Western career, as evidence of his father’s lucidity. In its uncompleted and patchy release state though, The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals itself hasn’t exactly helped in dispelling the urban myth that its director was senile.

At the time Vega International proudly hyped The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals as “a good old fashioned horror picture” and “a breakaway from the .... pseudo-intellectual spook picture”. On those terms, it is hard to argue that The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals wasn’t successful. 50 years on, its makers can sleep sound in the knowledge that no one has ever mistaken their film for one of those pesky pseudo-intellectual spook pictures. As time capsule oddities go though, The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals is a colourful one, opening with a terrific surf rock theme tune that is guaranteed to get people up and dancing at any Halloween party, and offering up what kids love about horror movies, namely monsters slugging it out till the filmmakers either ran out of film or money. The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals is a very Las Vegas type of a movie, showbiz razzmatazz practically runs through its veins, with monsters, showgirls, belly-dancers and B-Movie veterans being rounded up and putting on a show for the masses. To end where I began, I ask again just where else can you see a Mummy fight a Were-Jackal on the streets of Vegas. The randy ghost of ‘Irving Jackalman’ no doubt still haunts the Strip.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Playing with Dolls (2015)

Is Rene Perez the hardest working man in the B-Movie biz today? It sure feels that way. Since his arrival on the film scene with 2010’s War Machine, he has managed to clock up a count of 20 movies, more than some filmmakers manage during their entire lives, and shows little sign of slowing down. His workload at the moment amounts to an average of three movies a year, an even more impressive feat if you take into account that as well as director, Perez serves as his own editor, writer, cinematographer, occasional fight arranger and- as ‘The Darkest Machines’- does the music for his films too. There is something of a Jess Franco quality to the man. While admittedly, their films have little in common per se, the nature and sheer productivity of their output gives validity to the comparison.

As with Franco at the height of his powers, Perez seems to go from film to film in quick succession, leaving the impression that there is little downtime between movies and of a tireless, workaholic behind the camera. According to a mutual acquaintance Perez is “a very cool fella” who “also has this great anti-Hollywood B.S. attitude. He refuses to play by their rules”. Fast as the movies are turned out, there is real heart and soul at their core, you can instinctively tell this guy lives to make movies and that filmmaking is more than just a 9 to 5 chore. Almost inevitably, given their back to back nature, his films share the same filming locations, set pieces, themes, and like Franco before him Perez has cultivated a close stock company of familiar faces. The reoccurring locations and actors help give the films a distinct identity, despite Perez being something of a genre chameleon. His 20 movies span action, Sci-Fi, fairy tale adaptations, Westerns, Horror movies as well as hybrids of all of the above. Of late he can even lay claim to having birthed a genre of his own ‘Bronson-ploitation’, films based around their lead actor’s remarkable resemblance to Charles Bronson. A phenomenon headed by Perez’s Death Kiss (2018) an intended love letter to the Death Wish franchise in particular and 1980s action films in general which in true ‘triumph of the underdog’ fashion met with a warmer reception than the authorised 2018 Death Wish remake and helped raise Perez’s public profile considerably. Death Kiss also made an unlikely star out of Robert ‘Bronzi’ Kovacs, a hitherto unknown Hungarian Charles Bronson impersonator, who’d been working for the UK based Susan Scott lookalike agency, but since appearing in Death Kiss has become part of the Rene Perez rep company, as well as striking out alone with a starring role in the upcoming prison based Bronsonploitation movie ‘Escape from Death Block 13’.

Prior to Bronsonploitation, Perez’s main claim to fame was the ‘Playing with Dolls’ series, a Horror franchise that currently consists of three films: Playing with Dolls (2015), Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust (2016) and Havoc: Playing with Dolls (2017). It is a series that has had a rather confusing release history here in the UK, which probably warrants a few lines of explanation. While the third movie remains so far unreleased here, the second film ‘Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust’ was released simply as Playing with Dolls, making it seem like the first film in the series. In an already infamous piece of false marketing, the first Playing With Dolls film was however re-titled ‘Leatherface’ for the UK DVD market (tag line: ‘the legend lives on’) with the misleading impression that it was part of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Beating the official Texas Chainsaw prequel- which was also called Leatherface- to UK supermarkets by about a year, this jumping on the TCM bandwagon was apparently met with Perez’s disapproval, and it is unlikely the TCM people were all that happy about it either. Indeed, it’s tempting to speculate whether the UK distributors may have since been hit with a cease and desist order. Tellingly the DVD release appears to have disappeared from the shelves and is currently showing as unavailable on Amazon UK, although the film has subsequently shown up on streaming platforms under the slight re-titling ‘Metalface’ with all references to chainsaws airbrushed from the cover.

the two 'faces' of Playing With Dolls

The Playing with Dolls franchise has echoes of the Saw series, but equally harks back further to the Hounds of Zaroff/The Most Dangerous Game. A reoccurring character in the series is a rich, jaded businessman known only as Scopophilio (Richard Tyson) who gets his jollies by luring poor, down on their luck women to a remote cabin in the Californian mountains under a variety of ‘carrot on a stick’ pre-texts. He is very much a Count Zaroff for the 21st century, right down to the goatee and smoking jacket, and has the place wired with CCTV cameras to record every voyeuristic detail. Unbeknownst to the people under surveillance, Scopophilio has also used his vast fortune and criminal connections to spring a mask wearing serial killer from jail in Bolivia. Known only as Prisoner ‘AYO-886’ he is allowed to roam about the vicinity and butchers anyone he comes in contact with. In order to ensure that none of his guests or ‘AYO-886’ are able to stray too far from the cabin, Scopophilio has the area patrolled by mercenaries armed with machine guns who are only too happy to keep all and sundry at arm’s length from the outside world.

The first Playing with Dolls film centres around Cindy (Natasha Blasick) a Ukrainian immigrant for whom the American dream isn’t exactly working out. She is an immediately sympathetic character struggling to keep her head above water and facing a day to day existence of xenophobia and unwanted sexual attention. Cindy has recently lost her job, and thanks to being ripped off by a roommate is now seriously in debt to her repulsive landlord (John J. Welsh) who is pressing her to replay him with kindness, telling her “just let me hop into bed with you now and then.... I’m a great lover”. John J. Welsh is quite the Perez regular, although further exploration of Perez’s films have revealed this is actually an atypical role for him. Welsh’s regular forte within Perez’s films being the wise, spiritual, substitute father/mentor figure, yet he leaves such an unpleasant impression here that I admit it did take a while to readjust and accept him in such roles. The dirt of his Playing with Dolls character proves difficult to rub off.

Predictably the landlord turns bullying/threatening when Cindy doesn’t play ball, reminding her that he is within his right to kick her out on her ass, if she doesn’t dress up all cute and throw some sex his way the next time he calls round. Since the clock is ticking on that unwanted encounter, Cindy attempts to get her old job back, only for life to smack her in the jaw once again. Cindy’s presence immediately provokes a barrage of abuse from her ex-employer’s wife. It transpires that Cindy’s boss had been making advances on her. Although he apologetically takes full responsibility for his actions, his pleas that Cindy did nothing wrong fall on deaf ears with his wife. She’d rather push the blame onto Cindy than accept her husband’s failings. Cindy’s age, attractiveness and ethnicity are all torn into by the woman, what one remembers most about the entire hateful rant is the ethnic slur “are you even legal here?” When she threatens to report Cindy to the police, for the made up crime of stealing a computer, Cindy fearfully flees.

A seeming upturn in Cindy’s fortunes awaits her back at her apartment when a mysterious phone call offers her the chance to work as a maid at the luxurious, mountain getaway of an elderly Danish businessman. Allowing Cindy to turn the tables on her landlord, who she victoriously tells to “go play with yourself”, before driving off in the smart SUV that her new Danish employer has left parked for her outside her apartment.

Of course, Cindy’s mysterious benefactor is none other than Scopophilio himself, and by taking the job she is merely going from one bad time situation to another. We, the audience have already been given a taste of the carnage that awaits Cindy at the cabin. At the outset of the film a heroic police officer slugs it out with Scopophilio’s goons in the wilderness, while AYO-866 pursues Cindy’s predecessor through the woods, eventually tying her to a tree. After contemplating cutting off one of her breasts, he instead makes the comparatively humane decision to run her through with a tire-iron.

Imagine if Fangoria magazine had run a competition in the late 1980s for teenage gorehounds to design a brand new horror movie icon, the winning entry would probably have looked like AYO-886. An undeniably awesome creation, he is the Bolivian bastard child of the characters that rocked young horror fans’ world back in the 1980s. AYO-866 has the unnerving, head tilting stare of Michael Myers, the physicality, gloves and hyperventilating angered mannerisms of Kane Hodder’s Jason, and the patchwork quilt mask of Leatherface, with the added touch of having barbed wire wrapped around his head. Exactly what this character’s name is has become the source of some conjecture and confusion. Briefly referred to as AYO-866 in the first film, called Havoc in the later sequels, re-titlings of the film have resulted in the character being re-christened ‘Metalface’ and ‘Leatherface’, while the German release title ‘Cinderella: Playing with Dolls’ looks to have given rise to the belief that ‘Cinderella’ is the name of the killer. Unofficial as that last name is, there is something perversely appealing about the idea of a hulking maniac being called Cinderella.

Playing with Dolls’ second act has been the source of disappointment to some slasher movie fans, who’ve gone into the film expecting a body count movie only for it to instead opt to become a suspenseful two hander between Cindy and Cinderella, that demonstrates Perez’s ability to orchestrate several well-executed jump scares. Essentially the second act is a game of cat and mouse, only where the mouse is unaware they are sharing house space with the cat. As Cindy goes about her duties maintaining the luxury cabin, having been told the Danish owner is away, she is blissfully ignorant of her murderous ‘housemate’ who jumps out at her on several occasions yet seems both incapable of either killing her or alerting her to his presence. The most jolting scene in this respect sees Cindy sorting through the wardrobe of one of the rooms, only for Cinderella to unsuccessfully lunge at her from an overhead bunk bed.

The second act of Playing with Dolls also gives rise to some unexpected character development that more than compensates for the temporary lack of incident. Cinderella goes against initial impressions as a ruthless killing machine by leaving dolls for Cindy around the cabin. Then in a slightly grosser variation on the theme leaves the remains of a dead animal on the doorstep. An act that comes across less malicious, and more in the manner of a cat bringing a dead mouse home to impress its owner. In a call-back to Bill Johnson’s Leatherface of the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, Cinderella appears smitten by Cindy and faces a ‘sex or the saw’ type moral dilemma, an inner battle between sexual and romantic feelings for the woman and his more common murderous impulses. A theme the series returns to in the third film ‘Havoc: Playing with Dolls’. Cinderella seems to have reached that difficult age when horror movie villains realise that women are more than just things you plunge sharp metal objects into and serve up as hamburger meat.

The fact that Natasha Blasick is drop dead gorgeous does admittedly help sell the idea that even the most cold blooded killer might think twice about doing away with her. A booty shaking montage as Cindy goes about trying on the clothes that have been left for her, scenes of her walking around in her underwear, and stripping off to go for a dip in the hot tub, means her appeal isn’t lost on the audience either.

True to their exploitation movie influences, Perez’s films rarely short change audiences when it comes to female nudity. Chances are that if there is an attractive female cast member in a Perez film, you’ll get to see her naked at some point. His films display a healthy disrespect to easily offended sensibilities. An outrageous scene towards the end of Playing with Dolls, in which Cinderella attempts to anally penetrate Cindy using a torn off part of a tree (the film’s equivalent of TCM2’s ‘chainsaw sex’ scene) will surely be enough to scare away that crowd.

The question over who the real monster in Playing with Dolls is becomes increasingly blurred as the film progresses. Cinderella isn’t above momentary flashes of humanity. When he captures his first victim and she begs for her life, he bows his head as if ashamed. Then when he pulls off her top, instead of ogling her breasts, he backs away and averts his eyes in embarrassment, anticipating the tortured mixture of sexual curiosity and conservatism that is later played out with Cindy. Scopophilio on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Cinderella, an outwardly handsome, charismatic man whose dark soul is incapable of any kind of compassion. If anything, Scopophilio’s attitude towards women is even more unsettling than Cinderella’s. When he isn’t watching snuff movie replays of their deaths at the hands of Cinderella, he is joined by a revolving door of drugged up, trafficked prostitutes “dolled up and ready for love” as he puts it. These are seemingly the only type of women he can relate to, though he bitterly complains to underlings about the amount of heroin they use to keep the women ‘agreeable’. It’s implied, especially in the first sequel, that these women meet with no better fates than the ones who go before Scopophilio’s CCTV cameras. As a quick aside, Scopophilio –obviously derived from scopophilia- is such a brilliant name for a movie franchise villain that you are surprised no one has thought to use it before. Surely you would have thought the James Bond series would have snapped it up years ago, so it’s doubly surprising that the Playing with Dolls series itself uses the name so infrequently.

Ultimately Cinderella emerges as little more than a caged wild animal used for blood sports, one who has been too brutalised and encouraged into barbarism to ever fully be domesticated, the barbed wire wrapped around his head only further adding to this comparison. He is every bit a plaything as his victims, a pawn being moved across a bloody chessboard by a far greater degenerate.

Much as Scopophilio can take the blame for moulding Cinderella into a monster, there is evidence he is having a similar effect on Cindy, moulding her into a slightly different kind of monster. Despite the pair of them never actually meeting, and he only observing her over CCTV, Scopophilio’s corrupting influence gradually begins to taint Cindy’s character too. Surrounded by all manner of luxuries, and with very little by way of worldly responsibilities, Cindy is soon taking to vodka partying hard and modelling the trashy wardrobe that Scopophilio has left for her, “dolled up and ready for love” as he might put it. Cindy gradually becomes undistinguishable from the drugged up skanks that surround Scopophilio, making you suspect that all the women who are around him end up that way.

Drunk, unhappy and bored, she’s not unlike The Phantom of the Paradise’s Phoenix, and likewise is observed from afar by a masked man who can do nothing but watch her become a shadow of her former sweet self. While Cinderella is clearly beyond redemption, Playing with Dolls does find Cindy being able to shake off Scopophilio’s toxic influence, donning a flowing white dress for the film’s final act which seems to symbolise her regained purity and goodness. In one final personality shift, Playing with Dolls then transforms into an out and out action movie, with the long presumed dead policeman from the film’s opening reappearing and finally alerting Cindy to the danger she is in. A furious Scopophilio then orders his men to storm the cabin, resulting in a shootout between the policeman and Scopophilio’s heavies, as well as briefly allowing Cinderella to become one of the good guys by cracking open the skulls of several of Scopophilio’s goons, before slipping back into the role of the film’s monster.

Playing with Dolls spans sexual harassment drama, backwoods horror, suspense thriller and kick-ass action movie. By rights there is no way the film should work, but it’s a tribute to just how versatile Perez is that somehow it does, with none of these multi-genred elements registering as a directorial weak spot. Once you’re aware of the hoo-ha that arose over trying to pass the film off as a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel in the UK, it is hard not to consider how this would have actually worked as a ‘real’ Texas Chainsaw sequel. Admittedly there is the slight obstacle of explaining how Leatherface came to be in prison in Bolivia!!! but maybe he killed a few Bolivians who’d been vacationing in Texas, and had to be extradited to Bolivia to stand trial. It’s nothing a quick script re-write couldn’t have explained, and let’s face it the official Texas Chainsaw franchise has asked its audience to accept far stranger, credibility defying concepts, especially that batshit ‘Next Generation’ film.

The idea of dropping Leatherface into an unfamiliar mountainous location, making him the victimised plaything of a rich, detestable man, and working in Most Dangerous Game and action movie elements into the series is exactly the kind of adventurous, tearing up of the rulebook that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series currently feels desperately in need of. It would certainly be an improvement over the steaming dung heap of a TCM prequel that now officially bears the ‘Leatherface’ name. As with his Death Wish imitation, Playing with Dolls posits Perez as a far worthier heir apparent to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series than its official custodians.

Although it is not readily apparent, and tends to only dawn on you a couple of days after watching the film, Playing with Dolls does also lend itself to interpretation as a modern day fairytale. Its Cinderella like heroine is after all literally called Cindy, the landlord and the boss’ wife are like the ugly sisters, vindictive characters hell-bent on making Cinders life a misery. Like Goldilocks, Cindy comes upon a cabin in the woods, eats the food, sleeps in the bed all the while remaining oblivious to the danger she is in. The heroic, dashing policeman who comes to Cindy’s aid is the film’s equivalent of Snow White’s Huntsman, and Cinderella is akin to the Beast of Beauty and the Beast, a character whose hideous appearance dictates that any interest in the opposite sex isn’t likely to be reciprocated. Given that Perez is big on actual fairy tale adaptations, with his versions of Sleeping Beauty (2014) and Little Red Riding Hood (2015) themselves being rife with horror elements and female nudity, it’s unlikely the horror-fairytale crossover aspects of Playing with Dolls are unintended. Ironically had this been an official Texas Chainsaw sequel, Perez would have probably been praised for cleverly subverting the ending of the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. At the risk of getting too spoilerish...I’ll just say that the very plot device that proves to be Sally Hardesty’s salvation in TCM, spells doom for Cindy in Playing with Dolls. Not all fairytales have happy ever after endings.

A word of warning, Rene Perez movies are a very potent drug, I got addicted badly and clocked up 13 of his 20 movies in an almost binge-watch fashion, only two of which proved to be a letdown. Which is a damn healthy positive-to-negative viewing ratio in my book. Perez is undoubtedly one of the most fresh and exciting forces to emerge from the B-Movie world in a long time, and needless to say I have high hopes for his upcoming CRY HAVOC, which promises the irresistible spectacle of seeing Cinderella being pitted against the Man with Bronson’s Face himself, Robert Kovacs. Go Bronzi !!!!!

Sunday, 3 March 2019

February Round-Up

Dragon Fury (1995)

Random bits of The Terminator, Highlander and the Masters of the Universe movie converge as a swordsman from the year 2099 (Robert Chapin) is sent back in time to 1990s LA to try and retrieve the antidote to a disease that will wreck havoc in the future, while an evil dictator (Richard Lynch) sends a few henchmen back in time to stop him. Ultra-low budget, much of the film looks as if it was shot in the backstreets and motel rooms of LA, the inner city backdrops and plot lunacy recalls the skid row eccentricity of ‘The Master Demon’, without ever being quite as compelling. Still, Dragon Fury is undemanding 1990s VHS store filler, with the expected amount of action, T&A and the occasional bloody decapitation on hand to save the day. Low-brow humour is very much in evidence too. Lynch’s heavies are transported to 1990s LA in a compromising position and as a result are immediately set upon by a homophobic street gang. There is also a time travelling love interest (Chona Jason) who seems more interested in getting a quick fuck from the hero than helping him recover his lost memory, taking her top off and delivering the film’s best line “I’ll answer more questions after we rest and have sex”.

Aside from the ever dependable villainy of Richard Lynch, the most charismatic cast member by far here is T.J. Storm, who I chiefly remember from the 1990s ‘Conan’ TV series, and really deserved a career as a action movie leading man. Not that he has done too badly for himself, having found a niche in the world of motion capture acting. Anonymous, big budget gigs in that capacity include playing Iron Man, The Predator, Colossus in Deadpool and Godzilla in the 2014 film and the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters. So, at least someone here has gone on to bigger and better things. While the lead actor’s mullet has already been the source of much amusement here, there is also the hilarity of the height discrepancy between him and the two female leads. Either he is excessively tall, or they are excessively short, but the amount of time they spend staring up at him must have given the two women neck-ache for weeks afterwards. Dragon Fury is also the first instance I’ve encountered of a director giving ‘special guest appearance by’ credit to himself, I’m sure he took allot of persuasion to do a cameo in his own movie.

Savage Harbor (1987)

Starring Sylvester Stallone's brother, Robert Mitchum's son and Lisa Loring...if you've ever wondered what a hot, grown up Wednesday Addams looked like...what Robert Mitchum would have looked like with a mullet...or what Sylvester Stallone would have looked like with a Lennie Bennett-style male perm then this film will satisfy your curiosity if not a great deal else. Stallone and Mitchum play a pair of sailors who find love in the same port (if ever there was a sentence that came out sounding all wrong, then that was it). Mitchum finds love with a stripper (Loring) which plays out relatively incident free. Less fortunate is Stallone when he hooks with the British moll of repulsive gangster, who'd rather kidnap her and get her hooked on heroin, than give her up to Stallone. Exploitation movie vet Nicholas ‘Don’t Answer the Phone’ Worth initially features heavily as the gangster’s right hand man, then disappears for about an hour, only to briefly show up again towards the end.

Director Carl Monson had a sexploitation background helming the likes of A Scream in the Streets, Please Don't Eat My Mother and The Takers for Harry Novak's Box Office International films in the 1970s. For what would turn out to be his last film, Monson moves up the Hollywood food chain slightly here, working with B level stars and in the direct to video action realm. Still the specter of Monson's A Scream in the Streets haunts this movie's mixture of crime and sex, most notably during Stallone’s run-in with a transvestite. There is a similar mean spirited aura to Savage Harbor too, with a thick sense of misogyny and homophobia at work. Sad to say though that without regular intervals of lengthy soft core sex, Carl Monson movies are just more dull than anything else.