Island of the Fishmen aka L’isola degli uomini pesce (1979)

directed by sergio martino
dania film/medusa cinematografica

This contemplative, philosophical inquiry into the underpinnings of theories of evolution and the turmoil that can result when ruling classes oppose their implications ultimately wrests from its labors a few hard-won victories for what is best labeled “truth.” Hahaha, no – this is an Italian Island of Dr. Moreau crossed with an adventure serial, featuring some FX we’d later see improved by Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Coincidentally, it also features the pursuit of treasure from an ancient land.) Also featured is a voodoo cult, for some reason that either wasn’t provided or to which I wasn’t paying enough attention. Overall, it was a labor to get through this contrivance, but at times it almost approaches B-movie apotheosis. All it lacks is anything interesting or titillating or engaging or exciting!

why did i watch this movie?

I really don’t remember, so let’s presume it was the ridiculous title and Italian origin.

should you watch this movie?

Not unless you have to, which I’d wager is unlikely.

(Note: L’isola was also released for U.S. consumption under the titles “Something Waits in the Dark” and “Screamers,” both of which were altered to some considerable degree.)

highlight and low point

The stock volcano footage is gratifying, as are the obvious miniatures used for various shots such as that immediately above. Other FX are worthy of derision at best – but the “fishmen” themselves aren’t half bad. As is customary, the dubbed dialogue provides many great moments, such as this revelatory soliloquy:

Now I remember! He’s the geneticist who was condemned for his experiments … transplanting animal organs into human beings.

Oh, yeah, him. The above reminiscence leads to the equally appealing accusation, “You’re not a scientist! You’re a madman, an insane criminal!”  Gripe, gripe.

Rating from outer space: c−

La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla Tomba aka The night Evelyn came out of the grave (1971)

directed by emilio p. miraglia
phoenix cinematografica roma s.p.a.

I don’t know about you, but with a title like this one, I found myself expecting a shoddily filmed 76-minute exploitation picture about vengeful undead … so in a sense I was sorely disappointed by this lavish Italian epic of misdirection and aristocratic shenanigans. I was NOT disappointed, however, by the fact that this film delights in trying to live up to the finest tradition of the giallo (the literal translation of which is “doesn’t make a lick of sense”*). But I WAS disappointed that everything resolves itself in a fairly straightforward manner. Of course, at least one major loose end isn’t even addressed, so that redeems matters somewhat. As for Evelyn and her grave, don’t even ask about that. Trust me.

*untrue

why did i watch this movie?

 I was perusing a website from which I download music, and someone posted this extravaganza’s soundtrack. I had to know more, what with the name and all.

should you watch this movie?

Though mildly diverting, it really doesn’t deliver the goods, as it never commits itself enough to do so. Hey, that’s a mild pun, as the storyline concerns the main character’s mental condition!

highlight and low point

Okay, seriously, a really good movie could have been constructed out of this muddle. Unfortunately, that’s not the movie they made. For instance, one or more characters is revealed not to be what he or she seems to be – but these revelations are irrelevant to anything that subsequently occurs. And once all the confabulations are sorted, it’s not unlike any standard episode of any crime or detective drama. Erika Blanc‘s role isn’t substantial enough, although her character’s disreputability compensates somewhat.

rating from outer space: c−

you keep this by your pool, too, right?

Blood and Lace (1971)

directed by philip gilbert
contemporary filmakers/carlin company productions

Had I seen this one before? That’s not a rhetorical device damning this picture for predictability or anything; I kept having a strange sense of déjà vu at different times as I watched it. Boy, this is one sleazy flick – especially given that there’s only one scene of semi-nudity (a purported teenager’s back). What you have here is the tale of a very questionable orphanage, governed by a woman in cahoots with both the local caseworker and her dead husband (well, sorta), ably assisted by a drunken goon played by the guy who would later be known as Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, dispatching supposedly runaway teens but pocketing their state funds anyway thanks to an overused walk-in freezer in the basement. But then the new girl upsets the applecart, only for it eventually to be discovered that nothing is as it seems! Except for all the things that are exactly as they seem, of course, and perhaps one or more revelations that you may anticipate.

why did i watch this movie?

I have contemplated watching this movie multiple times before, and I cannot tell you why exactly I went ahead with it this time.

should you watch this movie?

While I don’t think one could call this a “classic,” even among the ranks of drive-in throwaways, it’s got a lot going for it.

highlight and low point

Just about every character in this drama is disreputable in one way or another, which makes for a pretty good time. Overall, the story is fairly plausible, even if in an Erskine Caldwell kind of way. The leads – Vic Tayback, Gloria Grahame, Melody Patterson, the aforementioned Len Lesser – are all appropriately sordid. The “blood” is unmistakably red paint.

rating from outer space: b+

Beyond the Door aka Chi sei? aka The Devil Within Her aka Behind the Door aka Who Are You? etc. (1974)

directed by o. hellman and r. barrett
a. erre cinematografica, s.r.L.

SUCH a ripoff of The Exorcist (and Rosemary’s Baby) that  … oh, God help us, maybe this isn’t fiction at all! Maybe it’s – A WARNING! (In an ordinary horror flick, right about now you’d get some clamorous sounds, maybe piercing strings, I dunno, but herein you get, like, afro-jazz-funk.) You’re not even going to believe this, but I recognized the name of one of the cameraman in the credits, Maurizio Maggi, because he also worked on L’occhio nel Labirinto. Was he the entity responsible for all the double exposures here? How much overtime did the sound guys have to put in to create all the overdubs? That was quite the feat of editing, let me tell you. This foreign-market plagiarism is occasionally almost scary, even.

why did i watch this movie?

Redd Kross is entirely to blame.

should you watch this movie?

It manages to be intermittently entertaining, with scads of bizarre minor details, but mostly due to its utter shamelessness. The dubbed script is of course masterful:

“No doctor can possibly explain her pregnancy.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is not … explainable.”

(Luckily for the devil’s surrogate, her condition arises post-Roe v. Wade, so she is advised by her doctor that she can terminate the diabolic fetus “should we come to the conclusion that your pregnancy creates a definite hazard to your … physical, or mental health.” She demurs, however.)

Oh, and the sound design really is pretty effective.

highlight and low point

When the character named after one of the directors is hassled by a street musician emulating Rahsaan Roland Kirk, well, that’s something you sure don’t see every day. A sequence that transforms the (human) children’s bedroom into a dangerous funhouse is impressive.

rating from outer space: d

Equinox aka The Beast (1970)

written and directed by jack woods
tonylyn productions, inc.

Of the many mysteries this inspired flick presents, perhaps none is more pressing than why in hell it’s called “Equinox.” A scatterbrained adventure of sorts, it unfolds as a long and involved tale of why a guy named Dave now resides in a sanitarium. Seems Dave, his friend Jim, Jim’s girlfriend and Dave’s blind date all went out looking for a certain Dr. Waterman, only to encounter all manner of bizarre things. These include a crazy old man living in a cave; a strange forest ranger who calls himself “Asmodeus”; a disappearing castle; an ancient book of weird incantations and illustrations (which we should find very familiar); a passage to a different realm; a Kong knockoff; another giant creature; what may be intended to be The Devil himself; and lots of other fun stuff. The dialogue is of course cardboard flat and the acting no better, but this preposterous affair’s a real throwback pleasure.

why did i watch this movie?

I found it on YouTube quite by accident, and a brief inquiry made it a must-see.

should you watch this movie?

They quite literally do not make pics like this anymore, such as that cannot even be called “B” movies, and its independence alone is appealing.

 

highlight and low point

As hinted above, it seems fairly obvious that Sam Raimi and crew must have seen this film at some point before they made The Evil Dead, just as it’s obvious that Jack Woods et al. were familiar with works such as, oh, I don’t know, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. For trivia fans, Jim is portrayed by the future Herb Tarlek, and co-producer/writer/director Dennis Muren would eventually work on blockbusters such as E.T.

rating from outer space: C+

La Terrificante Notte Del Demonio aka La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable aka The Devil’s Nightmare aka Au Service du Diable aka The Devil Walks at Midnight (1971)

directed by jean brisme’e (sic)
delfino film/cetelci s.a.

Literally titled “The Terrifying Night of the Devil” in its native Italian and “The Longest Night of the Devil” in French (it was an Italian and Belgian co-production), one might immediately suspect that in “The Devil’s Nightmare” they’d find a mishandled feature in which nobody was too invested, but this classic European sleaze actually impressed me no end. Well, at least the middle portion did, as for a while this tale of seven travelers unwillingly spending a fateful night in an eerie castle became intriguing and stylish. The latter third is less trashy than the first third and more pedestrian than that which precedes it, though it does at least introduce some priceless camp elements. On the whole, the picture surpasses reasonable expectations. Oh, and it disproves the widely held notion that castles don’t have phones, for those keeping score at home.

why did i watch this movie?

Whilst I was scouring sources for stuff to screen, I saw the English sobriquet for this picture and was immediately agog. “The devil’s nightmare?” I wondered, suspecting linguistic malfeasance. Ergo …

should you watch this movie?

A good time would be had by all, assuredly.

highlight and low point

Somewhat surprisingly, given the overall mood and orientation of this affair, it boasts the least passionate “lesbian” scene one may ever witness. (To call it “tepid” would be a wild exaggeration.) It counterbalances this shortcoming, however, with the most floridly literal depiction possible of signing a contract with the devil. Somewhere in between these extremes, it presents a panoply of themes and settings familiar from such fare as House on Haunted Hill, Clue and Se7en, to name just the most obvious. Erika Blanc’s succubine Lisa Müller is a particular treat throughout.

rating from outer space: B+

Vampire Circus (1972)

directed by robert young
hammer film productions

“Better no mother than a mother that worships the devil!” proclaims a vindictive villager as this picture comes out with all guns blazing. (Torches, actually.) I immediately wondered if I needed to start watching everything with the Hammer name from this time period. Child slaughter, nudity, lust, arson, mayhem … and that was all in the first 15 minutes, before the credits ended. Things settle down after that, once the gypsies show up with the “Circus of Nights,” although a hearty massacre of three members of a family – by a panther – does find its way in there. (The panther is rather amusingly animated and exaggerated by the FX of the day.) Despite getting a bit bogged down in the villagers’ struggle to understand what has befallen them, however, enough eldritch touches recur to keep things moving along nicely toward the expected ending.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, I try my best to keep my motives pure and my intellectual pursuits respectable, but this damn flick is called “Vampire Circus.”

should you watch this movie?

terrifying muppet gore

If you don’t find the title “Vampire Circus” deliriously fetching, then probably not.

highlight and low point

The Circus has an attraction called “Mirror of Life,” and it is within this enclosed tent that nefarious truths are revealed, of course. One of the scenes that takes place in said location is pretty impressively intimidating. Some of the moments when the main vampiric henchman Emil brandishes his fangs verge on silly. Oh, and if you’re keeping track, herein it is once again revealed that removing the stake from the undead’s heart will allow it to return to its imitation of life. So apparently I forgot that bit of mythology somewhere along the way.

rating from outer space: B−