Saturday, December 28, 2013

La mujer murciélago [The Batwoman]

The Batwoman
Original title: La mujer murciélago
Directed by: Rene Cardona
Mexico, 1968
Lucha Libre/Horror/Sci-Fi, 80min

Many where the collaborations between Rene Cardona and producer, screenwriter, actor Alfredo Salazar, and many a great film did their many collaborations birth, movies that make up the cream of the crop of Mexican genre!

A passion for mixing and meshing luchadores and luchadoras against any monster conceivable, Salazar’s story for The Batwoman basically reuses the same plot as he’d used several times before (and would again)  - a mad scientist playing God, which becomes the enticing incident for our protagonists to get involved. Mexican lucha libre flicks had in the last couple of years been inspired by James Bond spy escapades and the success of William Dozier’s Batman TV series. Salazar had already proven that he had quite a talent for penning movies that featured strong female protagonists, Las luchadoras contra el medico asesino (Doctor of Doom) 1963, Las luchadoras contra la momia (Wrestling Woman vs. the Aztec Mummy) 1964, La mujer murciélago and later La horripilante  bestia humana (Night of the Bloody Apes) 1969 – all directed by Cardona Snr. All movies have in common that they lead is a strong female character, wrestling takes place both inside and outside of the ring, and villainous scientists with a fiendish plan to take over the world!  Oh and none of the women take any crap from any man.
Batwoman’s alter ego is rich society chick Gloria. Gloria’s secret is that she moonlights as a masked luchadora in the ring, but is also a renowned secret agent who hides her identify behind the mask of Batwoman. None other than the gorgeous Maura Monti plays Batwoman. Monti, another one of those fantastic women who made something of a micro career in Mexican movies, similar to that on Elizabeth Campbell, starred in more than thirty films before retiring when her husband asked her to. So even though she had a short and intensive career, the movies she left behind are great pieces of work.

A string of mysterious murders, leaving strong hefty athletes of Acapulco washed up on the shores, have the police left clueless. Detective Tony Roca [Cardona regular Armando Silvestre] has noted a series of similar crimes in Macao and Hong-Kong. Special agent FBI Mario Robles [Héctor Godoy] is also on the case and has brought in a secret weapon: Batwoman! [Monti] Swanky jazz flows over the soundtrack and a lengthy introduction to Batwoman is given showing her in various sport and physical activities such as horseback riding, and free diving, before she’s into the ring for a few shots of her fighting skills. Making a show stopping entrance only suitable of a secret agent, Batwoman parachutes into town in full outfit, cape, mask, and bikini…
With Batwoman presented, it is time to introduce the antagonists. On a boat called Reptilicus, Mad Surgeon Dr. Williams [Roberto Cañeda – certainly no stranger to playing mad scientists in Mexican genre pieces] complete with loony assistant called Igor, is busy at work trying to create a hideous Fish-Man hybrid! Failing miserably again, he sends out his minions to kidnap yet another athlete – because you kind of know that Dr. Williams is the murdering maniac responsible for all those dead athletes washing up on the shore. Tricking a wrestler known only as “Swedish” [Manuel Cappelito] out on a fishing trip, he’s kidnapped and strapped tightly to Dr. Williams operating table. Triumph at last – although we never see any of the operation, we do get to see the dodgy fish-man swimming along the ocean floor on a monitor as Dr. Williams laughs sardonically and proclaims his experiment a success!
Gloria  - Batwoman to you and me - meets up with Tony Roca and Mario Robles who quite clumsily bring us up to speed – as if you didn’t get what you’d seen in the last ten minutes – and after realizing that they have come to a stand still, as prime suspect Dr. Williams, refuses to let them enter his boat, Batwoman has to don the mask and sneak onto the aquatic laboratory! Sneaking around the place, she just about discovers Dr. Williams’s secret lab and sees what she think might be a Fish-Man hybrid before she’s discovered. Is the end nigh? No my friends this is merely the end of act one, as Batwoman grabs a jug of acid and splashes it across Dr. Williams face and makes her escape as he, bleeding and in pain from his melting face, commands his men to catch her at any cost, she will be his piece de resistance – Fish Woman!
As far as the art of storytelling goes, The Batwoman is something of a delightful mess. It’s terribly straightforward and there’s never really any mystery, as we know from the start whom the villain is, and what his fiendish plan is. But at the end of the day, it’s not really the depth of the story you are here for – albeit extremely psychotronic indeed – you are here for the wild ride, the amazing fish-man experiments, the fiendish villains, the car chases, the quirky surf rock soundtrack and for Maura Monti!

Halfway in, Fish-Man finally makes his appearance, and it’s almost a cheap kaiju feeling to his presence, but by gosh does the action pick up, Fish-man fighting Batwoman underwater is fascinating and certainly rings Creature from the Black Lagoon. He may not have received the credit he was due, but Alfonso Bárcenas Fish-Man is rad, and without any doubt the centrepiece of the movie, along side Monti’s swanky Batwoman that is!

As the climax approaches, Roca, Robles and Batwoman all find themselves captured by Dr. Williams who seems to be getting away with his plan of using Batwoman to create a better Fish-human hybrid, and you’ll never guess who comes to the rescue...
The Batwoman is a butt-kicking funfest filled with some really fantastic moments of Salazar/Cardona madness. Swinging surf music, swirly scene transitions, speedy car chases, underwater action and loads of cheesy fights! Although I’m not sure that it’s Monti in the Batwoman suit during the actual Luchadora sequences, as body shape somewhat changes! Monti totally rocks the as the suave, sexy, tongue in cheek, ass whipping Batwoman, and she most certainly is one of Salazar’s strong female characters, although one odd detail closes the movie. A last minute gag, perhaps included to assure the male audience that they still had the upper hand, a sign that Batwoman has her weakness too… In the vein of classic horror, going for one last shock, Salazar and Cardona go for one last kick as Gloria (Batwoman out of suit) leisurely stands at a bar taking in a drink with the two leading men as they celebrate their victory (as in the male detectives, not Batwoman’s as they still don’t know Gloria is Batwoman) and suddenly Gloria belts out a high pitched scream queen scream at something off screen… you may think it’s Fish-Man coming for one last attack, but you are wrong. It’s a mouse. Contradicting everything that Salazar has built up with the strong female character, Gloria is in that last scene, reduced to nothing but a stereotypical woman, weak, needing the help of strong men, and terrified of mice.  I chose to read it as Gloria staying in character, sticking to the façade of her alternative persona, keeping the men in the dark, that underneath all that hair, makeup and chic designer dresses, she is THE BATWOMAN!
The Batwoman is top-notch Mexican psychotronica! A must for fans of hot chicks kicking ass, rubber-suited monster men and lucha libre! All hail Alfredo Salazar and Rene Cardona and the cinematic legacy they left behind for fans of wild and crazy cinema. Viva!

Monday, December 23, 2013

205 lines about 38 films... (the 2013 list)

If you where Bruno Ganz character, the angel Damiel, in Wim Wenders magnificent The Wings of Desire you’d be able to hear me thinking “I’m not going to write a best of the year list, I’m Not going to write a best the year of list, I AM NOT GOING TO WRITE A BEST OF THE YEAR LIST…”

No, I’m NOT going to write a best of the year list, but instead I will give you these 205 lines about 38 films…

…and so begineth the rant…

The good stuff starts with Rob Zombie shoving things back into Zombieville with his story of a former junkie/radio DJ with a past that linked her to the Salem witch trials. Personally I don’t care much for his Halloween instalments, as I think of Zombie as much more original than a franchise-wrangler. Just listen to his music, weird, psychotronic, kickassy and perhaps most of all a fantastic mix of horror homage and geekery. Hence my soft spot for his original work more than the pack-em-wrack-em foolery. THE LORDS OF SALEM is everything that is Rob Zombie! A fine piece of possession and witchcraft mash-up with an over the top finale just like Zombie’s music. Kicks ass and delivers.

Adam Rehmeier once told me that he’d never finish the trilogy that The Bunny Game starts off with. He said that he’d never tell the story of what happened to “Bunny” after Jonas drives off with her in that white van at the end of that harrowing movie… although he did tell the tale of Jonas and how he – at least as I interpret it – tries to redeem himself of the wrongs that took place between The Bunny Game and the opening second chance birthing metaphor at the start of JONAS. Perhaps not as graphically tormenting as The Bunny Game, although never the less JONAS is haunting, suggestive, imaginative and captivating. I’m fascinated by Rehmeier’s techniques as he constantly turns out through provoking, engaging and stunning movies by his minimalistic method of improvised storytelling!

Comedy and the end of mankind never really blend well, but Edgar Wright gave it his best shot with THE WORLDS END, about five mates getting back together again after twenty years to go on a  - almost like an inverted coming of age flick and despite being fun and Edgar Wright-Simon Peggy in all the right places it failed for me as unlike all their earlier characters as Gary King is just a twat without any redeeming qualities, uncomfortably too much like way to many 40 something’s that I know. Loved the cast, loved the story, loved the wild twists bug couldn’t give a toss about Gary King. Someone who did get it right was Even Goldberg and Seth Rogan who with their THIS IS THE END just managed to get the right blend of Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Johan Hill being the characters you’d think them to be, and Emma Watson in a great part! Death, destruction and dope with plenty of funny gags about us all being fucked!

End of the world, or start of a new era, which ever it may be, Lloyd Kaufman nailed another hilarious gem filled with farts, body fluids and nudity laden splatter slapstick with his THE RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH Vol 1. delivering just about everything you could expect from a Troma movie and the always-present car explosion. It also mimicked the original Carrie in one of the greatest cliff-hangers in ages, let’s just hope that part two hits as soon as possible.

Intermission time, and here’s some popcorn flicks that got the job done: AFTERSHOCK was a great way to watch people die horrible deaths and perhaps a showcase of Eli Roth being a better actor than director (although I still haven’t seen The Green Inferno, and I do kinda like Hostel II). You’re Next was fun, fast, furious but predictable, although did deliver some really great mainstream horror moments. The winner of best mainstream horror this year was undoubtedly James Wan’s THE CONJURING. Perfect piece of fluff that taunted the audience with the “will he or won’t he jump scare us" approach that he used throughout the flick. And who can resist a movie with Lili Taylor! THE PURGE may not have been a horror flick, but it definitely came out of nowhere with it’s interesting premise and some tense moments.

And the masked killer theme kept on with, YOU’RE NEXT! enjoyed some good reviews and started being hailed as the best flick of the year… well it sure was intense and it packs a punch, but not the best film of the year, although it is one of my faves and good enough to be one of the films to make it onto this best of the year review. Giallo was represented by Federico Zampaglione’s polished TULPA, which was everything that Giallo used to be! Fede Alvarez did what he could with EVIL DEAD and managed to update the deadite universe decently, and despite me being ready to leave when Mia came back to life, he managed to pull me back in and nail me to my seat with those last ten minutes of concentrated intensity! It would have been great with a new Evil Dead flick if not for the fact that the thunder was stolen right under them by a little flick called WITHER! A Swedish horror flick inspired by Evil Dead and totally impressed the boots off me! These guys are the ones to keep track of in the years to come!

Back to our ranting, and Xan Cassavetes THE KISS OF THE DAMNED! How the heck can’t one fall head over heels in love with a movie that feels like Jean Rollin as told by American Independent filmmaking? Or remember the first time you played Castle Wolfenstein and the first player shooter interface blew your mind! Well, mix that with mutant Nazi monsters, a Russian documentary team and Victor Frankenstein and you get Richard Raaphorst long awaited FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, which would perhaps have done better without the found footage waste of time approach, but get’s in there and delivers more or less everything that I’ve been dreaming of since that initial Worst Case Scenario trailer hit a few years back!

It’s not all make believe, some of it is for real, documentaries that stuck with me this year are THE AMERICAN SCREAM which told the tale of three amateur home haunts. Each Halloween they open their back yards for visitors to roam the spooktacular home haunts they have built there. A nice story, great characters, but not quite as cool as MONSTERS WANTED which totally grabbed me with the story of Rich and Janel as they shared their dream of creating a whopper of a haunt all financed out of their own pocket… the big difference between the two documentaries with their similar premises was that Rich and Janel’s story totally engaged in a much more deeper way that The American Scream and it really showed just how deep into personal hell they where ready to go to achieve their dream. Great stuff!

Closing in to the best shit of the year, let’s ventilate some thoughts on some of the stuff that got hyped, but was lacking… WORLD WAR Z what a fucking sleeper, James Bond meets McGyver with zombies… the less we talk about it the better for all of us, I might give it a second shot when the sequel hits… talking of sequels… I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2… oh my. More like I shit on your genre too! And whilst we are shitting on genre… TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D… the only movie I turned off this year, and nobody even broke the door!

The definition of feminist horror is sloppily put as “Female victim killing off all her antagonists”, although Karen Lam’s EVANGELINE works by that formula, it was first when she told me “I didn’t want her to be screaming or moaning sexually when he raped her. All that has to come from him, the antagonist!” that I actually got what Lam’s take on feminist horror was. Lam’s flick grows on me for each time I think of it, and still stands out amongst the “rape-revenge flicks” and feminist approach. Revenge and feminist film was also served up in Marina de Van’s utmost intriguing DARK TOUCH, which took “the psychic kid” to levels up and beyond Carrie. Dark, very dark, almost shot completely in the dark and extremely suggestive, but beautiful, creepy and powerful stuff.

After being the wunderkind of Mexican cheap trash for the last few years, Adrián Garciá Bogliano ended this year on a high of hype from most major genre press…  although as often is the case with hype, the words of Flavour Flav and Chuck D ring through the air… “Don’t Believe the Hype!”  HERE COMES THE DEVIL is a neat and groovy little drama using horror elements and a decent core story about a family whose two children become possessed by evil forces, but it’s nothing like the movies that made him a highlighted “guy to keep track of” to start with. This movie is a victim of great marketing and a topfuckingnotch trailer, but it will undoubtedly scare anyone off backtracking his catalogue back to the early gems. I get the feeling that this is all that he could cope with after being part of The ABC’s Of Death, perhaps compromising his style and tone, and hence an easy cop out. But never mind the bollocks, it’s a cool movie, tarnished by the simple fact that it’s nowhere near his earlier flicks! Technically last year, but no film put a bigger smile on my face than the meta backstage dabbling, off-screen dweller, BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO and the fantastic Tobey Jones, as it dabbled behind the scenes of Italian genre film in pulling familiar referents out of the bag like there was no tomorrow! Not to mention all the great old films it made me go back and re-watch. PACIFIC RIM, I loved it, Del Toro is the man, and if nothing else, it could be a little teaser of what Legendary Studios will do with Godzilla, about to stomp all over screens in a few months.

Grab your asbestos gloves, because things are getting hot now as we move into the final flicks, and the ones that shaped the cinematic year of 2013!

Ok, let’s go off topic for a short Spring Break, spring break, spriiiiinnnggg breeeaaaakkk… Harmony Korine’s SPRINGBREAKERS, fucking brilliant. Weird, suggestive, non-linear shit, just like being drunk, a complete antithesis of the slurred mess that was THE BLING RING... and talking about being drunk, Ben Wheatley safely hung onto his spot as one of the most fascinating directors to come out of the UK with the dreamy arty farty, black and white nightmarish field trip A FIELD IN ENGLAND. Death metal, dopey mushrooms and a smashing cast! The splatter and gore division knocked one out of the park with STALLED, a fantastic take on the old – locked in a tight space whist zombies shuffle around outside – premise… and comedy… and stupendous gore… and toilets.

Andrey Iskanov’s TOCHKA! Yes, this may be somewhat controversial as Iskanov’s latest piece of madness (designated to be part of Profane Exhibit) still isn’t released, but I was lucky enough to see Andrey’s long version, all 26 minutes of it, and it was a mind blower, a heart breaker, and a fucking nightmare of deep dark horror. I’ve also seen other parts of this anthology flick, but none stand up to Tochka. Just like the yet to be released short I AM MONSTER, a delightful play on genre and gender served up in a morgue by Shanon Lark and Lori Bowen. I enjoyed AMERICAN MARY, and it got the job done, but I wanted more! Invaders from Mars where featured in both V/H/S 2 (which should have stayed S-V/H/S) with its “better than the original” wrap around story, and DARK SKIES, which surprised me with it’s great less is more and greys approach.

Comedy and horror, tricky business, but Don Coscarelli has always managed to balance them well in his dark stories, and JOHN DIES AT THE END is no exception. Fun, fast and definitely an unexpected delight of 2013 – and I managed to revisit it twice and it was just as good, if not better, the second time around.

Oliver Beguin’s stunning approach to what is the most misused and predictive sub niche of all time, Vampires and lost love, manages to bring the horror of loosing oneself, love and identity, and finding it all over again… and avenging wrongs into one hot hammering mix. CHIMÈRES is a stunning movie, meditative, passionate and addictive. If Vampire stories are all about love, well then this one is all about what you will do for love, and the love in CHIMÈRES takes them pretty far into dark areas. Featuring Catriona MacColl holds a small part, there’s a cameo by Ruggero Deodato and packed with David Scherer's magnificent special effects, CHIMÈRES brings back the originality to the vampire flick which that tired old genre has s been lacking for ages! 

Israeli duo Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales follow up the smashing debut flick Rabies with a second piece of genre fare. BIG BAD WOLVES captivates its audience from the first moment and after grabbing it’s audience in a hard empathetic grip thanks to anti-hero Miki [Lior Ashkenazi], it quickly becomes a riveting piece of suspense that will buzz you just like when you lick batteries!

The original was a great study of a family falling apart as the family patriarch suddenly was taken from them filled with dark humor and catholic guilt. The religious guilt is still present in the American remake sets the story in a small tiny rural setting. Mom dies, dad get’s depressed, the change of responsibility within the family over who has to prepare the human sacrifice ahead of their flesh-eating ritual shatters the family and positions the children against their patriarchal father. Jim Mickle’s WE ARE WHAT WE ARE is a fantastic piece of American Gothic! Guilt, Judgment and some fucking amazing cinematography make this one a no brainer for best film of the year lists. (And the great Eric Stanze shot second unit on this gorgeous movie, making it worth the watch just for that!)

The slow rot of a melancholic young woman… Canadian Éric Falardeau delivered THE most powerful “knock you down and don’t fucking get up again” movie of the year  – the philosophical, existentialistic horror movie THANATOMORPHOSE The emancipation of a young woman through her own death… re-defining her self as a woman, freeing her self from the objectification and positioning that she has in all her relationships. It is dark and disturbing, but wonderfully poetic and meditative film that almost chokes its audience before violently letting go in the most cathartic finale this year. I’ve been back to this film three times since first watching it early 2013, and each time it get’s deep in my head as the poetic necrophilic romance that lead actress Kayden Rose and director Éric Falardeau create in this cult masterpiece, the best movie of 2013. (Oh and it also has special effects by the majestic David Scherer!)

Because it would kill me to write ten lines about five flicks right…. Now back to regular programing.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Arañas Infernales [Hellish Spiders]

Hellish Spiders
Original title: Arañas Infernales
Directed by Federico Curiel
Mexico 1968
Lucha libre / Horror, 85 min

Of all the antagonists the legendary Blue Demon faced, the question is if the giant brain eating alien spiders of Arañas Infernales don't take the price for being the most surreal! The second of his solo movies, the last of the black and white Blue Demon films, and also the final collaboration between producer/writer Luis Enrique Vergara and Blue Demon, Arañas Infernales was for decades considered to be one of the “Lost” Blue Demon films. But in 1999 a print turned up on Mexican television and later it was released domestically on DVD. So there’s no time for sad faces, as Arañas Infernales has returned from the vaults of the lost, and now can be enjoyed as the delightful cocktail of multiple sub-genres in one supersonic death ray that it is!
Starting off with a wonderful scene of a spaceship shooting laser beams at stuff off screen and then hovering down over earth, whilst the voice over establishes the threat of the alien invaders from the galaxy of Arachnea, the whole thing is cross cut with our hero, Blue Demon in the mandatory opening wrestling match. As you see this is a movie  that catches fans of pscyhotronica, sci-fi or even Lucha libre from the word go.

Blue walks away from the opening fight victorious of course, and as he and his mate drive home their car strangely breaks down, a buzzing light is seen on the horizon and they find a car on the side of the road with a smoking skeleton slumped over the steering wheel. A hot space alien, Queen Arianec [Martha Elena Cervantes], semi hiding in the shadows, hypnotizes some dopey blokes and tells them about the space spider plan to steal humans and feed off their brains. The goons reveal the sign of the spider at the back of their necks (used to reveal who’s bad and not every time the camera zooms in on their spider marks through out the flick) and stumble off to carry out the fiendish plan… the plot thickens, but first another fight, this time a tag team match, and Blue wins this one too.
A poor couple are jumped in a dark alley, he knocked out, and she kidnapped and fed to a giant spider that lurks in a giant web out in the woods. Blue Demon and mates take a trip out to the spot where they saw the strange stuff the previous night, only to be attacked buy the alien queen, stunning rays of audio and caped goons… a fight breaks out and Blue does his thing! Queen Arianec sends her goons off to fight Blue who starts to put one and one together, realizing that there’s something off on the go… something to do with that spaceship he saw earlier on. Struggle, struggle, struggle, plot, plot, plot, busted by Blue, busted by Blue, busted by Blue and so on with a few unfortunate victims falling prey to the giant spider (which you may have figured out is Arianec already), and a sturdy chug forth to a final climactic battle between Blue Demon and Prince Arac [Fernando Osés] who’s come to help Arianec drain the world of human brains.
Turning it up to eleven for the final act, the aliens infiltrate Blue’s next big bash in the ring arming his opponent, the sardonic Prince Arac with a deadly weapon! For each blow Blue serves up, Prince Arac slowly transforms into a spider handed fiend! You have to see it to believe it… or just check out the awesome Ricardo Sáinz special effect below, but if nothing else, this is some fantastically trippy stuff and I love every minute of it!  A classic set up if there ever was one follows as Blue’s mates Joseph [Virel Sergio] and Hilda [Blanca Sánchez] are kidnapped during one the climax of Prince Arac and Blue Demon’s fight – and you know what happens when Blue’s mates get kidnapped, it’s shit kickin’ time, even if it means Blue Demon has to fight off giant spiders, wrestle space aliens and
Show stopping highlights in this wonderfully weird flick are a dog being shot by the space aliens and becoming a smouldering heap of bones (yes, think Mars Attacks), a wicked scene where Queen Aracnia space rays a goon to keep him from revealing them (think Dalek death rays), Prince Arc entering the ring and his opponents laughing at him before he beats them silly with just a few power punches and needless to say the fantasticly goofy giant spider!

Supposedly the scenes of flying saucer scenes where lifted from (yes, as in nicked) from Ed D. Wood Jr’s Plan 9 from Outer Space and Tom Graeff’s Teenagers from Out of Space, but who cares, this is super schlocky sci-fi, Lucha libre fun, a must see for fans of Blue Demon and cheap space invasion flicks. With that said, it’s time to right a wrong, as Gustavo Caésar Carrión at times get’s credit for the eerie space age soundtrack, although this is unfortunately not right. The composer on Arañas Infernales was Jorge Perez Herrera, and quite a lot of the warbly sci-fi schlock comes right off the legendary Dick Jacobs and His Orchestra Themes from Horror Movies LP from 1959.
Following this delicious black and white battle against spider aliens from outer space, Blue Demon returned in the colourful and lush Blue Demon vs. las Diabólicas (Blue Demon vs. the Diabolical Women) in 1966.

Viva Blue Demon!

Disney Star Wars and the Kiss of Life Trope... (Spoilers!)

Here’s a first… a Star Wars post here.  So, really should be doing something much more important, but whist watching my daily dose of t...