AUGUST 6, 2009

Bearing no relation to the considerably odder Masters of Horror episode of the same name, first-time director Eben McGarry's Sick Girl, a film that will certainly push the buttons of anyone who's squeamish about post-Columbine kid-on-kid violence. Basically a much gorier version of The Cement Garden, it's the story of Izzy (Leslie Andrews), an orphaned misfit in high school whom we first see getting on a school bus, beating up one passenger in front of two appalled onlookers, and urinating on her victim (a nun, no less) before waltzing off to calmly kill two gun-toting guys in a field. As it turns out, Izzy is fiercely protective of her younger brother, who is apparently a magnet for bullies, and her ability to calmly inflict sadism on anyone who crosses her leads to some spectacularly grisly set pieces. With her older brother off in Iraq and both parents presumably dead (you get to fill in the blanks there), Izzy pretty much has free reign to splatter the countryside with blood, though her actions prove to have extremely dire consequences by the third act. Definitely more accomplished and atmospheric than your average low-budget horror quickie, Sick Girl is going to be tough going for some (especially anyone quick to classify fare like this as torture porn, though there's clearly more going on here than suffering for entertainment), while horror fans should enjoy some knowing nods to the genre. Chief among these is the surprising return of Stephen Geoffreys, an '80s cult icon for his idiosyncratic turns in Fright Night, Heaven Help Us and 976-EVIL before embarking on some far more unorthodox career choices. It's great to finally have him back here as Izzy's nervous teacher, and he even contributes a fun new video interview to the DVD in which he talks about his memories of creating Evil Ed, a lunchtime tiff he had with Roddy McDowall, his reasons for ducking out of Fright Night 2, and his love of working with Robert Englund. You also get an extremely gory outtake reel (set to the song "I Want 'Em Dead"), a sick-joke PSA about bringing babies and cell phones into theaters, a very unusual 11-minute video interview with Andrews, and a teaser and trailer. Video quality is very good per Synpase's usual standards, especially for a shot-on-video title (that looks way, way better than usual for the format), though the overly aggressive sound mix (with music mixed about ten times louder than the dialogue) might have you adjusting the volume of your rear speakers.

Nothing personifies sleaze quite like a Women in Prison Triple Feature, and newcomers and pros alike can rub their faces down in the muck with all three of the offerings in this Retro Shock-o-Rama set. The biggie here is definitely The Hot Box, a 1971 New World drive-in favorite (from back when Roger Corman was running the company). At the time, fledgling filmmaker Jonathan Demme was involved in several of Roger's offerings (and would go on to helm one of the best WIP films of all time, Caged Heat), but here you can see him building his chops as producer and co-writer for the tale of four sexy nurses just asking for trouble when they go abroad to a shady jungle nation where they wind up in "a tropical torture chamber where anything can happen." What that really means is they're enlisted into involuntary medical service by a bunch of revolutionaries and naturally wind up firing off a few rounds themselves before the last reel unspools, along with providing the obligatory topless shots when things threaten to slow down. The "prison" angle here is questionable to say the least, but it's nice to finally have this long-unavailable title back in circulation again. Women in Cell Block 7 (not to be confused with Jess Franco's much scuzzier Women in Cellblock 9 just around the corner) offers a more traditional take on babes behind bars, this time courtesy of director Rino Di Silvestro (best known for Werewolf Woman) who piles on the sleaze as busty Hilda (giallo and sexploitation vet Anita Stridberg) goes undercover in a prison to clear the name of her mobster father, who's actually an undercover agent. Or something like that; the muddled dubbing and parallel storylines never quite hash that whole angle out very clearly. Anyway, she soon discovers the joys of body searches, long hot showers, hairy prison guards and sapphic experimentation. A frequent drive-in mainstay for years (under alternate titles like Love and Death in a Women's Prison, Hell Prison, and many more), this is presented here in its first-run U.S. version (running 99 minutes as opposed to the truncated 81-minute second-bill version), which is obviously altered considerably from the Italian original with dubbed voiceovers patching up some of the storyline and library tracks filling in for the jettisoned original score by Franco Bixio. It's certainly an amusing and entertaining example of early '70s prison fare mixed with more gangster mayhem than usual, not to mention a really, really downbeat ending that cribs from the earlier Cometogether and Oasis of Fear. Last up is Escape from Hell, a perplexing1980 release that's earned a few fans in recent years after decades of theatrical anonymity. Previously available as a standalone DVD from Troma, it's an Amazon-set yarn with a mix of Italian and Spanish faces behind and in front of the camera (including spaghetti western director Eduardo Mulargia) churning out the degenerate story of a jungle prison camp where the women are relentlessly abused by the new warden, eventually enlisting the aid of the hard-drinking doctor (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave's Anthony Steffen) to help them overcome their captors. Yeah, that's pretty much it for story, but the curiosity factor here lies mainly in the cast, led by the infamous Ajita Wilson (whose gender history is already the stuff of legend), and Luciano Pigozzi, beloved everywhere as Pag from Yor, the Hunter from the Future. Loads of nudity and abuse make this the most typical entry of the bunch, and even if you already have the other DVD version, the extra two films make it worth another peek. Transfers for all three are unspectacular to say the least (The Hot Box fares best, relatively speaking, but it's not a huge leap over an old VHS tape); Cell Block is the weakest thanks to very obvious cropping and squeezing in the frame that make it a bit of an eyesore. Still, if you're in an undemanding mood and want hours and hours of pure, undiluted '70s female prison mayhem, this should be just the ticket.

You know what's even sleazier than women in prison? A guy having sex with a sheep, which is what brings us to Animalada, a 2001 black comedy from Argentina that essentially spins that unforgettable Gene Wilder episode from Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex into a murder-packed, feature-length oddity. Long-married businessman Alberto becomes entranced with a newly-arrived sheep at his vacation ranch, and after naming the newcomer Fanny, he decides she's much more appealing than his wife, who's been around for decades and no longer interests him. However, when the handyman expresses a little too much interest in Fanny as well, Alberto takes matters into his own hands -- which is witnessed by his wife, whose protestations fall on deaf ears and lead her to a sorry, undeserved fate. Then things get even stranger... The idea of a couple sent to hell by bestiality has certainly been explored before (most notably in Max Mon Amour and Bigas Luna's truly astonishing Poodle), but Animalada puts a new spin on the theme by accentuating the horror as much as the laughs. (Don't worry, the relationship between Alberto and Fanny isn't graphically depicted, which is more than you could say if Joe D'Amato directed this.) Of course, whether you find this funny at all will depend on how pitch-black your sense of humor goes, as this film gets odder and bleaker as it goes along with the expected finale in which no one really comes out very well, with an amusingly twisted sting in the tale. It's definitely unique and probably the perfect second bill to Zoo. Synapse's no-frills DVD sports a very attractive anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer, which serves the film well given its most visuals courtesy of first-time director Sergio Bizzio, a novelist and playwright who still pens a lot of scripts for Argentinian TV. However, it's unlikely he's ever conjured up something for the small screen as outrageous as this.

For a somewhat more sane look at Argentinian life, Synapse has also unleashed Rosarigasinos, a fast-paced and oddly affectionate crime comedy about two shabby robbers, Tito and Castor, who get released from the slammer after a couple of decades and find their who environment radically changed. Like a couple of criminal Rip Van Winkles, they try to connect with their old cohorts in crime and find the stolen cash they stashed in a lake, but the plan doesn't remotely go as planned and they must resort to their rusty thieving skills to make it in a much faster lifestyle than the one they knew. A modest, witty, and somtimes stylish character study, Rosarigasinos is best served by a great central performance from Federico Luppi, a very busy actor best known for his stellar work in Pan's Labyrinth, Cronos and The Stone Raft. Once agian the DVD is bare bones but offers a sturdy anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer (albeit with inexplicably severe windowboxing), while the Spanish language track sounds fine and features optional English subtitles.

Back in America, Synapse finds just as much grotesquerie with the more recent Header, a shot-on-DV taboo-breaker about a disgruntled ATF agent (Jake Suffian) who takes off from his seemingly happy home life to investigate some illegal liquor-makin' going on in the backwoods. However, people have been turning up dead with the backs of their skulls hollowed out, and it seems an inbred, psychotic clan at war for ages with its neighbors might be responsible. Exactly what they're doing with those holes in people's heads forms both the meaning of the title and the central shock device that propels its two most "appalling" sequences, though director Archibald Flancranstin never tips over the edge to make it a truly heinous experience a la Bride of Frank or Bloodsucking Freaks, which traded in some similarly nasty subject matter. This also marks the first adaptation of subterranean extreme horror novelist Edward Lee, who also appears for an interview in the supplements; think of it as a cross between a particularly nasty Jack Ketchum story and Wrong Turn and you'll get the idea. Some of the scenes (especially those with crazy Gramps) appear to be half-played for laughs, while most of the scenes with Suffian are jittery and dead serious. The bland DV photography doesn't really do the film any favors (Synapse's disc captures the very limited visual palette about as well as could be expected), but the film tosses in enough curveballs to keep things interesting and really redeems itself with the despairing and poetically sick final ten minutes, which bring the story in an interesting direction that could have inspired a more ambitious sequel away from the usual scary-redneck terrain. The DVD features two trailers and a "making of" featurette sliced into multiple sections, namely separate interviews with the director, Lee, Suffian, and a set-visiting Ketchum, along with a making-of look at the special effects.

It's pretty much a given now that Media Blasters' Rareflix series of oddball triple bill sets is one of the wonderful hidden treasures of the current DVD market, and anyone who hasn't been swayed already might want to take a peek at Rareflix Vol. 2. Basically these are all obscure, often startling films that no s ane person would ever expect to see released on any kind of digital format, so let's start off with the looniest and crappiest of the bunch, Run Like Hell, which is best described as 78 minutes of shot-on-video drive-in pandemonium. Utterly gratuitous T&A, radioactive zombies, shotgun battles, scuzzy voyeuristic sex scenes, a monosyllabic pseudo-ninja wielding a sword, a chainsaw duel,. depressing desert scenery, and lots of bad lighting are just a few of the joys you'll experience here. The sketchy plot takes place in the far-off, desolate future of 2008 (this was shot in '95, after all) where single women are kept naked except for g-strings at a dusty outpost, where militaristic Robert Z'Dar entertains his men with the occasional prisoner dalliance. Eventually some of the women get out, a bounty hunter is recruited to go after them, and the second half of the film involves random people colliding in the desert and fighting over and over again. It's utterly incompetent on every possible level, which of course makes it perfect late-night viewing, preferably with a little alcohol to make the ride go a little easier. Up next is the considerably more professional (but less outrageous) Molly and the Ghost, an erotic supernatural thriller most interesting for the fact that it was directed by Donald Jones, best known for weird exploitation favorites like Girls in Chains, The Forest, and the sadly still-M.I.A. The Love Butcher. Molly and her sister, Susan, don't have the greatest relationship, which is proven when the latter falls in love with Molly's studmuffin husband and hires a hit man to take Mollyl out so she can have him all to herself. However, the idiot caps Susan instead, who comes back as a ghost to... uh... really upset everyone around her. Part Playboy pictorial, part soap opera, and part ghost/zombie flick, it's a strange outing indeed with a surprisingly attractive and accomplished cast and some nutty plot turns that rapidly accumulate to a truly whacked-out finale. Imagine a gothic romance novel channeled through Full Moon Pictures, and you'll sort of get the idea. Last up we hit Eurocult territory with the oldest film of the trio, 1968's The Killer Likes Candy, a title beloved by anyone who remembers the days of Video Gems VHS tapes (whose released sported a rifle-toting assassin munching on some taffy). The cast here features former Harryhausen heartthrob Kerwin Matthews, "handsome" '70s Euro startlet Marilu Tolo, and peplum favorite Gordon Mitchell, while die-hards will also spot regulars like Umberto Raho and Fabienne Dali in the story of a relentless ex-Nazi contract killer who... yep... likes candy. Kerwins' the American agent brought in to protect his latest target, an important Asian ruler, while funky lounge music by Gianni Marchetti blasts away on the soundtrack. The killer's repeated attempts send our hero all over Italy, winding up with a nifty showdown in the Roman catacombs. Quite fun actually if you have a taste for '60s Euro-spy antics, and the set's DVD presents the usual English-dubbed version in what at least appears to be a generation or two above the old tape edition.

Probably because it's apparently falled into the public domain, the 1979 golden age porn classsic Pro-Ball Cheerleaders has been reissued more than any other film with a similar pedigree. Basically a more star-studded competitor to the previous year's Debbie Does Dallas (right down to a reprise of the famous lockerroom shower scene), it's basically silly, mindless fun mostly worth watching for its cast and the fact that it's better-acted than its model. The story kicks off with a rootin'-tootin', cowboy-garbed Ric Lutze overseeing the latest cheerleader tryouts, which most memorably feature Candida Royalle doing a routine in what appears to be a body outfit made of Saran Wrap. Then the girls pretty much split off and hop in the sack with all of the football players out on the road, with one ambitious lass even pegging Lutze on a massage table in one highly unexpected scene. Eventually everyone gets back together again at the school for a big dance where everyone shimmies naked as the credits roll. Featuring old pros like Lisa De Leeuw, Turk Lyon, Jennifer West, Jesse Adams, Susan Nero, Mike Ranger, and even a surprise appearance by Marilyn Chambers' most famous screen partner, Johnny Keyes, it's never going to be mistaken for high art but pretty much fits the bill of what a cheerful, 35mm smut classic ought to be. After Hours' release features a much, much better transfer than the ones we've seen in the past (the Alpha Blue one was particularly the worse for wear); the skin tones in particular look much more robust here, and the print damage is extremely minimal. The only debit here is the enforced 1.78:1 widescreen framing, which vertically squishes the image a bit to fit the frame. It's not horrendously distracting, but if you can do XY scaling on your DVD player, it will definitely come in handy. This two-disc set is technically billed as the Pro Ball Cheerleaders Grindhouse Triple Feature, though neither of its companion films really have much to do with pom poms or football. However, they are both golden age, all-star outings and fine examples of their era, so there's really no reason to complain. Paired up on the first disc is one of Fred J. Lincoln's slickest and most reputable directorial efforts, 1981's Oui, Girls, with Paul Thomas and Anna Ventura starring as a pair of insurance investigators who set out for a sex ranch in Nevada where someone might be getting away with murder. Of course, that's pretty much just an excuse for the two of them to basically swap partners and ask the occasional question before the ubiquitous "surprise" ending. Not bad at all and still curiously unknown, this is a fine later effort before VHS swallowed up the industry; Lincoln keeps things moving at a brisk clip, and as usual Thomas proves he's one of the better actors among his peers. Oh yeah, and then there's the stable of women, which includes Lisa De Leeuw again along with Tiffany Clark, Sharon Kane, China Wong, and a bunch of one-off starlets who give it their all. Finally, disc two contains an extra feature that happens to be the earliest of the bunch, 1976's Three Shades of Flesh from pseydonymous director "Rick Shell." John Leslie (during his mustache period) appears in the opening scene as the first man to become entangled with three aggressive female roomates -- Alice, Lynn and Diane -- who decide to turn the tables on all the men who take them for granted and cast them aside. Now they've decided to do the same thing, but how long will it last until each girl meets her match in the sack? Though pretty much shot inside one house (apart from some sidewalk bits) and very modest in terms of ambition, this is the most carnally intense of the three films, particularly a nighttime scene with a snooping China Leigh lurking out on the stairs as the women do their handiwork. Short-lived actress Spring Finlay (The Starlets, Baby Doll) is the most interesting of the cast, while her female co-stars were mostly never heard from again. The guys certainly stuck around though, including such stalwarts as Tyler Reynolds, Ken Scudder, R.J. Reynolds and John Seeman. This was also previously available from Alpha Blue in a really dupey VHS edition, but the transfer here is excellent from a surprisingly well-preserved print. No liner notes this time out, but the movies easily speak for themselves.

Speaking of vintage smut, After Hours also continues its authorized series of releases with Shaun Costello, whose Forced Entry remains one of their standout titles. Their confusingly-titled Shaun Costello One Day Wonders Honeymoon Suite Grindhouse Triple Feature loads in three quickies from the early '70s, and at least two of them are actually pretty big eye-openers. As a way of introduction, these "one day wonders" were essentially one hour or so shot quickly with a handy cast, usually confined to one or two rooms with everyone (literally) banging away quickly before their next gig. Honeymoon Suite is the most ordinary of the bunch, basically following the escapades of three couples who decide to commit to each other after years of swinging. However, their new explorations into monogramy come with a few unexpected hitches. The cast is certainly game (Tina Russell and Marc Stevens again, along with Costello, Georgina Spelvin, Levi Richards and Valerie Marron), but you've seen the same thing a million times before. Things get much more interesting with an improved transfer (relatively speaking) of Costello's most widely-circulated quickie, Joe Rock Superstar, a pretty stunning mix of glam rock and hardcore featuring Marc Stevens as Joe Cock (hmm, wonder why they changed that for the title?), a glitter-wearing, eyeliner-sporting rock idol who's having trouble keeping it up. Meanwhile everyone around him including his drummer (Jamie Gillis) and guitarist (Costello) gets a different groupie every night. What to do? Well, after performing one song called "My Dick" onstage without pants, he finally finds his libido turbo-charged thanks to... his mom. Pretty wild stuff, and the concert scenes feature Stevens lip-synching while the other actors pretend to play their instruments -- and also pop up as audience members at the same time. How very existential. Then the set reaches its climax in every possible sense with the rarely-screened Come and Be Purified, the most audacious and clever of the trio, with Gillis taking center stage as Father Sexus, a phony priest who preaches to the newly converted about the spiritual freedom of rampant, indiscriminate sex. His randy assistant, Brother Francis (Costello, of course), gets to savor the goods, too, along with the fiery Miss Divine (Erica Eaton). The newest members of his little congregation are soon sweet-talked into orgies and other activities, though what con man Sexus is really up to isn't fully revealed until the last scene. Not surprisingly, the image of Gillis in full priest gear getting it on didn't play too well in most parts of America, and the film quickly vanished. Thankfully it's been revived here and definitely cements Costello's status as the porn equivalent of a master storyteller. Costello also provides some great liner notes in which he talks about the four-month period in which he made 32(!) of these puppies in a four-month period and also gives details about the mob connections he discovered behind the whole enterprise. Fascinating stuff, and the transfers are about as good as can be given the scruffy nature of the original productions.

In what must be an industry record, After Hours has managed to take its grinhouse-themed collections to a new extreme by packing no less than five titles into its single-disc Insatiable Housewife Grindhouse Collection, but don't worry -- most of 'em are storefront quickies, so they're short and don't demand any serious compression issues. As you can probably guess, the only common denominator here is that -- yep -- each one somehow involves a married woman being very, very naughty (though one of them cheats a bit). Up first is Virgin Honeymoon, a cheap and somewhat hard-to-follow tale about two newlyweds whose bliss is disrupted when it turns out hubby is basically a complete man-slut who jumps on anything in pants. Soon he's organizing orgies and having strange women fondle themselves in his den, so untouched wifey decides to keep her chastity and hightail it and leave him to his own devices. Quick, scuzzy and very '70s, it's bound to make you want a shower afterwards, but the vintage set decoration is horrifically compelling. Next up is Love on the Beach, which actually plays more like an art film with a few hardcore bits thrown in to get it on screens. Bookstore clerk Carol gets picked up on a bus by a stockbroker named Robert, and they decide to spend the day romping around naked at the beach. She tells him about the last time she had sex, which involved getting raped by a bunch of guys; meanwhile his last girlfriend was a complete dead weight in the sack. (All these flashbacks are basically softcore, by the way.) Then they get down to it on the beach as lots of folk music plays and you get to savor the surf and landscape. It's kind of dreamy, strange, and not particularly hot, but definitely a curio. (And Carol's not married, so the housewife label doesn't really stick here.) Then things take a hard right turn with the newly-shot After Hours quasi-storefront feature, Insatiable Housewife, which features soft-to-hard participants Betty Lynn, Traci Hayes, New Beverly sleaze guru Adam Trash and Eric Ericson letting it all hang out for the story of a frustrated housefrau who finds the satisfaction she cravaes in an alley with a homeless bum, only to come home and discover with her husband that she's now a completely different and more open-minded woman. In a rarity for After Hours, this has three girl-on-guy scenes and only one lesbian encounter, which means they're definitely diversifying. The punchline at the end is pretty funny, too. Back to vintage territory again with Please... Try My Wife, where we meet our heroine Stephanie awakening her lazy husband by sitting on his face. She decdies to spend the day by taking tips from Catherine Deneuve and becoming an afternoon whore, but first she has to prove her skills with her new madam. Meanwhile hubby takes advantage of her absence with the neighbor. And... that's about it, but that's an awful lot for a half-hour joint like this. Finally we wrap things up with The Lonesome Wife, a silent one-hour cheapie with an all-music soundtrack (of what sounds like hyper bluegrass musicians) as a blonde woman argues with a couple of guys about some photographs, then has sex one of them (maybe her husband, who knows?) before he's kicked out of the bed by the other guy. Then we intercut with another woman and some other guys messing around, back and forth. What does it all mean? Not much, but you get to see lots and lots of naked people on white sheets. The liner notes this time out are provided by 42nd Street Pete, resurfacing after sitting out the last few rounds of releases for some reason. He covers all the bases in his usual take-no-prisoners style and thankfully doesn't seem to have too much reverance for the sanctity of marriage, just like all the movies themselves.

Now things soften up quite a bit for Grindhouse Girls of the 1970s, a four-discer under the banner of ei's Secret Key label. The first disc is pretty standard early '70s bump-and-grind fare kicking off with Daisy Does Hollywood, which features a really terrible blonde actress in pigtails as the titular character, a redneck who tries to make it in Hollywood -- which in this case means nailing a bellboy, an agent, a lesbian, and an actor while dodging a scuzzy photographer. Not surprisingly, Daisy winds up scooping her shattered dreams off the pavement at the end, in keeping with pretty much every other softcore quickie from the period. None of the actors ring a bell here, though apart from Daisy herself, they're all reasonably competent. Feature number two is Big Beaver Splits the Scene, whose title is easily the most notable thing about it. There's not much story here, just some SoCal couples getting together for some partner-swapping in a swimming pool and a shag-carpet den (with a young John Holmes bouncing around in the background). Fortunately things pick up considerably with disc two, starting with Girls in Paris, which looks kind of like what would happen if a bunch of high school theater kids tried to put on a production of Gigi and got everyone naked in the process. Apart from some stock footage, Paris is represented here by some hilariously colorful, ultra-cheap sets that would do Barry Mahon proud, all backing up a bunch of naughty skits about a sexually curious American visitor, a streetwalker and her grabby john, a burglar getting lucky with a married lady, and of course the obligatory girl-on-girl encounter. It's short, cheerful, and surprisingly fun. Last up is easily the weirdest of the bunch, Trapped in the House, which belongs to the extremely small subgenre of sex flicks (like Caught in the Can) that think guys dressing up in drag to infiltrate an all-female institution is, like, super-hot. It's not really, but the image of hordes of naked women jumping all over a guy in fishnets and lipstick is certainly something you'll never forget. In this case a couple of girls decide it would be great to get it on with a guy behind the back of their predatory bull-dyke house mother, so they talk a guy into dressing up in drag so they can sneak him in. Eventually another guy shows up, and of course the house mother gets a little in the bargain as well. Even by one day wonder standards the technical quality here is extremely low, but the weird premise and even nuttier execution make this a dusty curio totally unlike anything you'd see peddled to the adult market today. Along with the usual cross-promotional trailers, this comes with liner notes from the After Hours Collector who also seems stumped as to how any of these films ever came into existence.

June 11 , 2009
March 19, 2009
October 27, 2008
August 7, 2008
July 25, 2008
May 31, 2008 (Aussie Special)
February 19, 2008
January 8, 2008
October 23, 2007
October 8, 2007
September 29, 2007

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