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Reviews

Caught in the Act
(1941)

Unfunny Henry Armetta Vehicle
Al Martin, who in 1941 had just written the oddball horror film, THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET, and eventually would write INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, was a journeyman scriptwriter who must have been pretty hard up when he got the gig to write CAUGHT IN THE ACT. A vehicle for forgotten B-movie comic Henry Armetta, the script wants this to be an alleged screwball comedy but is a slow-paced, unfunny mess. Armetta plays a fractured-English Italian immigrant meatball called Mike Ripportella, a construction foreman who winds up a victim of circumstance when a mobster attempts to bring down his boss. Flavorless direction by Jean Yarbrough has the under-rehearsed cast unable to enliven the unfunny mistaken identity scenario and poorly delivered punch lines. There is a cute moment in the penultimate fight scene, in which Mike sprays seltzer water to disable an attacking thug,. Of all the actors caught in this fiasco only Charles Miller, as Mike's boss, displays the dry delivery style required by the script. This film used to be a mainstay on late-night TV and can be found today on YouTube.

The Eugenist
(2013)

Fast-Paced Sci-Fi / Zombie Movie Doesn't Register
This mishmash of perverted science, zombie creatures, government agents and dumb teenagers was viewed under the title THE EUGENIST. A secret bio-warfare lab sequestered in an abandoned school was the hub of experiments to cultivate a virus that would wipe out the world's "bad stock" of people. Unfortunately, when the lab is dismantled the virus remains in the school's ventilation system. Homeless people start squatting there and absorb the virus becoming zombie-like creatures straight out of E.C. Comics and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. A scientist who stayed behind trying to find a cure for the zombie plague also seems to need more living dead people for his experiments. Enter a gaggle of incompetent teens that investigate the school at night and get locked inside, where they encounter the league of slow-moving flesh eaters. While director Tariq Nasheed keeps the movie going at a fast clip, as a co-scenarist he fails us with a well worn plot, and the requisite bunch of idiotic teen characters that can only run but not hide from the zombies, and often conveniently just walk right into their waiting arms. Technical credits are fair -- the lighting makes the school sufficiently spooky -- but the actors are painfully under rehearsed and their dialogue is hard to understand at times.

Ang babaeng putik
(2000)

Plodding Monster Movie Takes Too Long to Take Hold
A pre-med student, Mark, decides to throw it all away to try his hand at writing horror fiction. For inspiration, he moves to a remote hamlet ruled by self-styled mercenary police and befriends a few locals somehow living among the isolated tropics of rural Philippines. Unfortunately, as soon as he arrives he develops writer's block. A hokey faux magician entrusts Mark with cultivating a strange "living tree" (he pawns it off as "Japanese squash") that begets a strange, mute woman who inexplicably becomes Mark's lover. She doesn't eat or drink but when Mark accidentally cuts his hand, she is quick to suck his blood. While all of the nude sex scenes with her give Mark newfound inspiration to write, the downside is that she occasionally turns into a grotesque flesh-eating monster. This is a mild horror opus that suffers from a plodding pace until the monster shows up late in the game, and then it becomes all too predictable. Mark, indifferently played by Carlos Morales, is too dense a character to be likable (or even believable). The supporting cast, including Joanne Miller as a local girl who befriends Mark and John Arcilla as the leader of the police-soldiers, fare much better. As the woman of mud, Klaudia Koronel has little to do other than look beautiful. A big negative is the paper mâché monster costume.

Hanadama: Gen'ei
(2016)

The Evil Flower Spirit Strikes Again
In this, a sequel to Hisayasu Sato's HANA DAMA: THE ORIGIN (2014), the evil flower that resolved the plot of that film has returned in a far more obscure, less accessible entry. Set mostly in a decrepit "repertory"-type cinema that is on the verge of closing forever, during the screening of a movie the projectionist (Shima Ohnishi) finds in the film a woman who should not be there. He inspects the film reels but cannot find the girl anywhere. Later, he finds her haunting the theater and hides her in the projectionist room, but she later disappears. This leads him to learn of her tragic life in a baffling series of flash-forwards / flashbacks that imply much more than is explained. The flower appears later as an image on the movie screen, at which point HANA DAMA: PHANTOM goes off the rails with every character, including film-within-film characters, losing their minds, unbottling their emotional turmoil and playing out their often disgusting hidden pleasures. Similarly, Sato's movie unspools much like one of his transgressive 1980s "J-films," with camcorder-level photography and low production values, but not without a certain level of curious intensity.

Hanadama
(2014)

Gives New Meaning to the Term Flower Power
Hisayasu Sato takes on the themes of school bullies and Japanese family dysfunction (the latter one of his recurring subjects) in this solidly made and audacious movie. Transfer student Mizuki (Rina Sakuragi) is bullied ruthlessly by a phalanx of sadistic classmates. While she is determined to sustain a calm composure against the threats, her new passive and sycophantic friend Kirie (Maika Shimamura) is more seriously traumatized by the bullies and the teachers, as well. These two form an alliance with Shibanai (Syun Asada), who is also tormented by teachers that have sexual sadism on their minds. Likewise, Muzuki's home life is a despairing situation in which she maintains more of a zombie-like state, absorbing her parents' relentless recriminations and privately putting out burning cigarettes on her legs in order to feel anything. It does take Sato quite a while to bring the intensity of the beatings, humiliations and rape to a boil.

In the final act, though, instead of following audience expectations the film veers off into a surprisingly effective abstraction of revenge, in which Mizuki becomes possessed by an evil spirit in the form of a glowing, oversized flower that attaches itself to her and turns her into a sort of avenging angel. The penultimate sequence in Mizuki's classroom is a brilliantly shot montage of crazed children exacting her revenge for her, by their own hands against one another. Sato even turns the violence against the audience -- at one point Mizuki's insane gaze becomes transfixed on Sato's camera which she slashes at bloodily with a box cutter. Concurrently, back at home Mizuki's insane parents clutch and scream at each other in a grotesque sexual frenzy while rolling around in garbage.

HANA DAMA: THE ORIGINS is further proof that Sato has continued to mature as a filmmaker and is also still willing to take viewers to places they never dreamed a movie would go. The production values in his movies have also improved dramatically, with good staging, photography and an excellent music score by Yoshihide Ôtomo. In addition, Rina Sakuragi gives an exceptional performance in the very difficult role of Mizuki.

Mahiru no kirisakima
(1984)

Overly Complex Murder Mystery Disguised As a Sex Film
Director Yôjirô Takita, whose 2008 film OKURIBITO (DEPARTURES) won the 2009 Best Foreign Film Academy Award, cut his teeth on "pinku" sex melodramas of which HIGH NOON RIPPER is an undistinguished example. Noriko, a scrappy female journalist and her photographer try to unravel the identity of a brutal killer who only strikes in broad daylight. The story line, which is not very coherent to start with, halts on a regular basis to accommodate scenes of Noriko and others having sex with others or themselves, usually in a shower. Additionally, the movie's plot similarly unravels around a cynical denouement that left this viewer as cold as the corpses that have piled up. HIGH NOON RIPPER (also released as DARKROOM FANTASIES) shares story elements with an earlier, far superior Takita 1983 pinku thriller, RENZOKU BÔKAN (THE SERIAL RAPE MURDERER, or literally, CONTINUOUS RAPE), as well as its lead actress Kaoru Orimoto.

Lost in Space: The Mechanical Men
(1967)
Episode 28, Season 2

The Series' Best Attempt at Goofy Comedy
The story line is not much - a phalanx of tiny robots induct the Robinson's robot as their majestic leader - but as this episode progresses the action becomes less about the threat of these pint-sized robots and more a stage for some of the funniest moments in the entire series. In the second act, Dr. Smith and the Robot go through some kind of literal personality exchange, meaning the Robot speaks with Dr. Smith's voice and mannerisms, and Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) assumes the Robot's personality. This gives Harris ample opportunity to employ physical comedy to wave his arms frantically, shouting "Warning! Warning!" in the Robot's voice, and perform other crazy shenanigans and word play that is richly comedic. The tongue-in-cheek dialogues between Harris-as-Robot and the other characters allows writer Barney Slater and director Seymour Robbie to play the lunacy as completely straight, employing a consistent spoofing tone as the real Robot, now decked out in a crown and imperial robes and outfitted with Dr. Smith's cunning and overbearing megalomania, plots to steal the Jupiter 2 and launch a reign of terror across the galaxy. Many of the second season episodes were attempts at humor that failed. This one is memorably daft.

OL renzoku rape: Kyonyû musaboru
(1990)

Hisayasu Sato Misfire Mocks Plastic Surgery
A young woman regrets getting breasts implants in this brain-hurty hour-long sex melodrama from the fetid mind of Japanese "pinku" director Hisayasu Sato. In the first five minutes, she is assaulted by briefcase carrying middle-aged rapist (Shôichirô Sakata) whose breast fetish has turned him psychotic, and whose son (Masahiro Yoshida) later turns up to apologize for his father but then invites her to join them in further rape games. The movie quickly descends into thin allegory, with all three settling into a perverse "family" set-up that also involves a wax dummy and extensive scenes of the characters eating food, often in extreme closeup. Sato's puerile commentary on Japanese family life is not compensated by the violence, which is so poorly shot in dark hues that it is rarely clear what is going on beyond the heavy breathing and screams. Within this misfired attempt that comments dryly on the value of plastic surgery, Shiina Itô as the buxom main character sometimes rises above the squalid material.

Hanra honban: Joshidaisei bôkô-hen
(1990)

Well-Plotted But Ultimately Sick Sato Adventure
One of Hisayasu Sato's more carefully plotted sex melodramas, HANRA HONBAN: JOSHIDAISEI BÔKÔ-HEN (literally, FEMALE COLLEGE STUDENT ASSAULT) details the criminal activities of Ichiko (Tôru Nakane), a college student who makes some extra money from "rape contracts" sent by a computer program called Rosebud. If he is not raping women for money he is staring into his computer screen waiting for his next assignment, or visiting his girlfriend who is traumatized by nightmares of sexual assault. As he grows more detached from reality, Ichiko graduates to both rape and murder. Typical for Sato, all of this is shot in a mesmerizing style in one of his apparent hardcore efforts, which makes the violence even more disturbing. The extended final act slows things down to incorporate a subplot involving an extrasensory investigation of the assaults, a surprise ending, rather shocking public nudity and occasional "psychic photography" effects, all of which is punctuated by the usual hypnotic Sato soundtrack. If you can stomach the sickness, the movie offers a good performances by Sayoko Nakajima as a girlfriend and Sato regular Kiyomi Ito as a cheery college girl. Also known as PSYCHIC ROSE and NAKED ACTION: COLLEGE GIRL RAPE EDITION.

Hekutopasukaru: Uzuku onna
(2009)

Exquisite Effort Succeeds With a Very Offbeat Romance
Mio (Honoka Ishibashi) runs a funeral parlor in a small port town in the Kyushu region of Japan, where heavy rain storms and typhoons are a way of life. Following her fisherman husband's death in one of the typhoons, Mio lives a lonely, almost morose life, dresses in black, wanders the ocean side and does little with herself while she waits for fishermen to die in storms. As a result, she is called "vulture" by the townsfolk. She also becomes sexually charged during the rain storms, but otherwise seems to lack any purpose. A young man, Daikichi (Ryousuke Uchida) begins working with her part-time and discovers her abnormal constitution, which slowly develops romance with erotic undertones, the likes of which I've never encountered onscreen.

HECTOPASCAL is beautifully photographed with sophisticated but harsh tones that nicely complement the rather warped plot, offering the raging ocean and rain as major characters equal to the human characters. Director / co-writer / editor Tour Kamei further solidifies his reputation for literate, emotionally charged dramatics. His work here presents a fascinating world view and a sophisticated image sense, working with what seems like a screenplay difficult to visualize. Despite winning some film festival awards as a director he deserves wider recognition. But what adds unexpected depth here is the extraordinary sound design and music by Nonaka "Masa" Yuichi, featuring a soundtrack that integrates spare musical riffs on guitar backed by a lilting synthesizer combined artfully with the natural sounds captured on film. For example, during one scene a strangely melodic sound of dripping water forms a counterpoint to Yuichi's guitar, beautifully rendered and surprisingly creating suspense in a scene that at first appears to be romantic.

This and Tour Kamei's previous work, Terebi bakari mi teruto baka ni naru? (2007) a.k.a. KILL UGLY TV, also starred Honoka, who shines here. These two feature films signified the actress' break from starring in myriad "pinku" exploitation movies. Her performance as Mio is wonderfully nuanced, revealing the character's emotional revival with extraordinary subtlety, and to very good effect especially in the movie's closing scenes. Other performers do admirably.

Terebi bakari mi teruto baka ni naru?
(2007)

Interesting But Oppressively Filmed Two-Act Play
Yuki (Honoka) is a shut in, possibly agoraphobic, living in a trash-laden apartment. She feeds her goldfish, watches TV and sleeps a lot. In what is essentially a filmed two-act play, the camera never cuts away a green-infused view of the apartment. The green filter apparently illustrates Yuki's only method to making money -- the camera is connected to the Internet for voyeurs to enjoy watching her. Problem is, she never leaves her bed. A technical helper arrives at her apartment and suggests that she leave her bed sometimes and undress for the camera. She remains in a near-catatonic state as more people come into the apartment, such as a social worker who eventually persuades her to go outdoors, and a boyfriend who leaves her food and has sex with her. This movie is well done but the apartment setting is as oppressive for the viewer as it is for Yuki. This is an artistic effort that really should be played on-stage. The acting is good, with A-V star Honoka again demonstrating an ability to rise above her sex film beginnings. The final scene is somewhat shocking and ambiguous, but at least it is in color.

Sign of Aquarius
(1970)

Meandering 70s Hippies Headed For Nowheresville in Downtown Cleveland
The film is more interesting as a relic of a bygone era than a coherent theatrical work. Bobby is an ex-pusher that has settled in an urban hippie commune, circa 1970, struggling to survive with a rag-tag bunch that appear bored most of the time but sometimes take to the streets to protest ("Peace, Luv, not War!" etc.), conduct anti-war meetings in a city park, get busted by cops, engage in some obnoxious panhandling ("This is our work"), get stoned and revel in nude dancing. As a film, GHETTO FREAKS (a.k.a, SIGN OF AQUARIUS, LOVE COMMUNE) is no more consequential than the lives of these "lost soul"-type hippies, and unreels a plot-less scenario that mostly centers around Bobby, his relationships with the commune members and his attempt to get free of his violent gangster past.

Director Emery is compassionate to the late-60s youth protest ethic, but there is hardly any story to justify up the running time. Although these kids, including Bobby, are shown as rebels with a real cause (anti-Vietnam War) they are also cynically portrayed as having no future. Emery's semi-documentary shooting style is a plus, but his characters are underdeveloped or unsympathetic (Bobby being the main culprit here), and the dialogue is mostly aimless and seems improvised. An overlong orgy scene, featuring enough nudity to warrant the film's original X-rating from the MPAA, is symptomatic of how most scenes tend to drag on with little import, and with histrionics that take place in a vacuum because we never get to know the characters well enough.

Two interesting scenes hint at the movie's undeveloped potential: When furious parents interrupt the commune's antics to try to remove their hippie daughter; and a street protest in which a middle-class working stiff argues uselessly with the self-absorbed hippies.

J'irai cracher sur vos tombes
(1959)

Ludicrous Tract on U.S. Race Relations Concocted by French Fillmmakers
A French-made rumination of American racial tensions, circa the late 1950s, emerges a ludicrous attempt. A remarkable dissonance of plot, character and sentiment overwhelms practically every scene. The juxtaposition of French-language dialogue and the Continental performances are at odds with the subject matter, which focuses on a so-called "light-skinned" African-American, played by badly miscast lily-white Christian Marquand, who tries to fit in with a U.S. town overrun with racist bourgeois and a "Wild Racer"-type motorcycle gang that appear to have been imported from some American-International juvenile delinquency movie. The clashes of acting, stilted dialogue, a strange French version of Americana, and a plot that is meant to be social commentary but emerges as mild exploitation, result in an abject failure. A risque nude swimming scene is a surprise, and was probably the only reason this movie found its way into the international marketplace. A good jazz-infused music score is the singular plus here.

Blood Widow
(2020)

Promising Vampire Scenario Suffers from Micro-Budget Treatment
Shot in and around barren locations, in stairwells and alleyways in Tucson, Arizona, BLOOD WIDOW offers an intriguing plot and a decent script that deserved a bigger, better production. We follow a serial killer-turned-vampire who encounters a small group of bloodsuckers intent upon resurrecting their kind in a modern setting. Two hardened police detectives chase down the clues, to a tragic end. Director-co-writer-costar Brendan Murphy has constructed a few effective scenes -- the ballerina's death sequence is a stand-out -- but for every decent scene there are around ten that don't come off, including a ridiculous nightclub scene and a lot of slow-moving procedural dramatics. A quick shooting schedule is evident. The actions scenes are far too ambitious for the movie to pull off given the limitations of the micro-budget. Additionally, most of the actors are either under-rehearsed or plain incompetent. However, James Craven is notably quite good as the elder detective who enlivens all the scenes he is in; and Melissa Aguirre Fernandez is a strong presence as the lead vampire.

Shlosha Yamim Veyeled
(1967)

Mawkish Plot Works Against Poignant Reflections on Lost Love
This slow-paced Israeli import focuses on a young teacher (Oded Kotler) who takes charge of his former sweetheart's child for three days. Memories of their youthful romance on the kibbutz continually crop up and act as a depressing contrast to his current love affair. Though the nostalgia of lost love has touching moments, the failure to insert this theme into a more gripping plot makes the resulting movie quite maudlin.

King, Murray
(1969)

Uneven Mix of Fiction and Documentary Styles
This not entirely successful combination of cinema vérité and fiction concentrates on a live wire-type insurance salesman, Murray King. The filmmakers follow him through one business day and several nights of pleasure while he pontificates on his philosophies. Had the film been pure vérité it would have been an excellent documentary of a his spontaneous reactions and relationships. The two ingredients of fact and fiction, however, serve only to water one another down.

Doktor Glas
(1968)

Interesting but Antiseptic, Depressing Character Study
This curious film is a clinical examination of a sexually repressed doctor in turn-of-the-century Sweden, and it is as cold and detached as its hero. Dr. Glas (Per Oscarsson) is an old man whose blurry, unhappy existence is plagued by sharply etched memories of the time in his past when he helped an attractive young woman kill her obnoxious husband. The flashbacks are interspersed with his sexual fantasy about that woman. Director Mai Zetterling's surgical style is visually effective, but too antiseptic to evoke much feeling.

Rivers of Fire and Ice
(1968)

Below Average; Wild Kingdom Did It Better
Ron Shanin may have been a jack of all trades in central Africa, but he was the master of none in the film world. He not only wrote, directed, produced and for the most part photographed this true African adventure, he also starred in it. The fault lies not so much with the photography, which depicts African wildlife interestingly enough. The problem is with Mr. Shanin's narration, which ranges from pedantic to ridiculous. His condescending attitude toward the natives and attempts humor are quite irritating.

2000 Years Later
(1969)

Misses the Mark Despite an Interesting Cast
This tasteless satire exploits the ailments and pretensions that it so bitterly attacks society for. After living in suspension for 2,000 years, a Roman messenger arrives in Los Angeles to warn society that it's not too late, "if". The "if" is never disclosed, not even when the Roman makes a guest appearance on a TV show hosted by Terry-Thomas and Edward Everett Horton, which becomes as irrelevant as the film itself. The clichéd visual gimmicks and adolescent humor only underline the crudeness of this 90 minute commercial on the ugliness of humanity.

A Boy... a Girl
(1969)

Occasionally Lyrical But Hollow Love Story
A handsome 15-year-old boy (played by Dean Martin's son), who is in search of himself, meets an enchanting 15-year-old girl (Airion Fromer). They fall in love and several dates later make love in the desert. The next day, the boy takes an LSD trip accompanied by an older woman friend who gambols around in the nude, and the girl meets an older man who presents her with a horse and a proposition. This slightly silly plot contains some lyrical passages, but the overall style is hollow prose rather than poetry.

Adélaïde
(1968)

Lurid, Obscure French Film Spotlights Tragic Menage-a-Trois
The theme of mother-daughter rivalry is stretched to ludicrous extremes in this overdone, morbid French melodrama. A recently widowed mother (Ingrid Thulin) marries her young lover (Jean Sorel), whom she shares with her daughter Adelaide (Sylvie Fennee), and the psychotic trio set off to destroy themselves. A series of sick sexual games leads up to the final gunshots. The story contains little insight into human relations, develops pointlessly and seldom intensifies. The characters' somewhat obscure emotions fail to advance notions of truth or tragedy. What it does reflect is an unfortunate scenario of perversion for perversion sake.

Meglio vedova
(1968)

Lifeless Mafia Comedy Wastes Charming Virna Lisi
The beautiful Virna Lisi stars in this Italian-made absurdity. She portrays the undefiled daughter of a progressive member of the Mafia, who has betrothed her to a more conservative member. When a young Englishman (Peter McEnery) comes to town, however, she begins indulging in clichéd fantasy sequences. There are the usual Mafia jokes, feuds, and outlandish killings, none of which are able to revive this lifeless comedy.

Les gauloises bleues
(1968)

Well-Meaning Portrait of Dysfunctional Youth Tripped Up By Surreal Approach
Set in the Parisian slums, this French film paints a surrealistic picture of a lost soul. Abandoned by his father and taken away from his mother by welfare workers, Ivan grows into a directionless man. The telling events in his childhood and adult life are randomly intercut with macabre fantasy sequences involving his girlfriend, his mother, her lover and various social workers and government officials. There are humorous moments mostly achieved by Georges Demestre, who is excellent as Ivan. A typical tableaux illustrates the movie's theatrical sensibility, as in Annie Giradot's lengthy monologue where she argues to an (unseen) judge for the return of her son. Despite this and other fairly emotional moments, the movie is overrun with heavy symbolism that weighs down the basically simple story. The juxtaposition of these elements holds interest and creates a chilling, downbeat mood, but the film is too confusing to be satisfying.

Dáma na kolejích
(1966)

Insightful Social Commentary Presented in Light Musical Form
This engaging Czech musical lightly satirizes the banalities of 1960s life by stylizing them in song and dance routines. Traffic jams, beauty salons, gossiping neighbors in an apartment house form amusing chorus lines. The heroine (Jirina Bohdalova) is a tram driver in Prague who rebels against her work-weary existence after she discovers her husband's infidelity. Although the movie is uneven, it has charm and lovely photography.

All the Loving Couples
(1969)

Prudish Approach in Wife Swapping Flick a Total Turn-off
Released around the time of Paul Mazursky's superior BOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE, ALL THE LOVING COUPLES is a degraded satire on the subject of wife swapping, a cheaply made exploitation flick that tries to pass itself off as social commentary. The story deal with around four sets of well-to-do suburbanites that indulge in wife swapping once a week. The movie unspools on a single Friday night, where we watch the protagonists drink, argue politics, leer, fondle, watch dirty movies and denounce racial prejudice. The performers lack the requisite talent and they are indifferently directed, with a scenario that is punctuated with show-stopping flashbacks that offer little more than cliched motivations and characterizations. It's all very dreary. The screenwriter, long time B-movie scribbler Leo Gordon brings a prudish (even puritanical) approach that places the film in a sexploitation "black hole" -- It is not sleazy enough to attract the intended tongue-wagging crowd and not clever or intellectual enough to attract an art-house audience.

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