Monday, November 23, 2015

A Bionic Christmas Carol

It being the end of year Holiday season (don't deny it - the ads cannot be avoided!) I have been watching a few genre related Christmas tales. Encouraged by my buddy John Davis' mad collection of such things I convinced him to check out something I haven't seen since its original broadcast back on December 12th 1976. Yes, we watched ABionic Christmas Carol from the fourth season of The Six Million Dollar Man! Of course this much beloved (by me) series made a version of A Christmas Carol! This was the 1970's when it seemed that every single damned TV series was required by law to craft an episode adapting Dickens' yuletide classic so that even Col. Steve Austin had to find a Scrooge stand-in to set right. Never was the story so bizarrely bent to a concept!

But one of the joys I have found of revisiting this series is getting to see interesting guest stars pop up to add to the novelty. Here we have the great Ray Walston as the Scrooge character and Dick Sargent (the famed second Darren of TV sitcom Bewitched) as the Cratchit stand-in. Walston plays Horton Budge, a cost cutting businessman staying just barely on the legal side of his government contract until his miserly ways nearly get an employee killed - and on Christmas Eve too! Sargent is his nephew who owes the old man thousands of dollars used to pay for his wife's medical treatments. When the Christmas Eve accident threatens delays in the progress of Budge's project he forces his workers to come in on December the 25th to keep costs down. What's a Six Million Dollar Man to do? Why, dress up as Santa Claus and take advantage of Budge's health problems to scare him into being a better person, of course! I love the 70's.

I'm not going to claim this episode is very good but it isn't without its charms. The cast is game and the scenario is rock solid so there is little chance of making a truly bad version of this tale. I'm not sure a non-fan of the series would get more than a passing bit of Holiday entertainment from A Bionic Christmas Carol but I'm glad to have been able to see it again. Oh! One of the great things about seeing these as an adult is being able to spot some sly humor in the show including two neat jokes slid into the proceedings. The first is a carefully framed shot of Austin in a toy store in which the at the time very hot Six Million Dollar Man action figure can be seen on a shelf just to the left of the character's face. Nice! The second actually took me half the episode to catch on to- the project Ray Walston's company is working on for the space program is a Martian exploration experiment. Yes- My Favorite Martian was trying to get folks to his home planet! Very cool.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

NaschyCast #54 - MORTAL SIN (1977)

We are back again to talk about another Naschy film. Of course, this one has very little Naschy in it, but at this point we'll take what we can get! MORTAL SIN is a pastoral drama set in a Spanish country in the 1940's with the ghosts of the previous decades civil war hanging over everything. The story plays out as a study of several characters attempting to find their place in the war changed world with particular focus on the three female members of the family - two sisters and the widowed matriarch - as they react to the presence of a young man of marriageable age who moves into the house. The three servants also factor into the proceedings as the relationships become more complicated and the expected romantic entanglements begin to take shape. You might think this is very different from the films we have covered here before but, as we point out, there are many similarities to past subjects of this podcast than you might think.

One note- both Troy and I refer to this as episode #55 at the beginning of the show and we are mistaken. I don't know how we screwed that up but we did. I guess jumping back and forth between this and The Bloody Pit is making us lose track of numbers in general! Sorry! This is #54.

There is no mail in the bag this time around but that doesn't stop us from veering far from our stated purpose in this one. The first half hour we discuss the KickStarter campaign to bring back Mystery Science Theater 3000; the Daniel Craig Bond films and how the new one measures up (spoiler free!); the difficulty of actresses being nominated for genre work and our respective horror Halloween viewings before we segue into going all moist over Paul Naschy. After the discussion and 'Our Man in the Field' Dan's new horror host segment we then talk at length about the SAW movies and the various long running horror film series. Has anyone out there ever watched all the Children of the Corn films? Really?

You can reach us at or over on the FaceBook page. Don't let us ramble free-range like this again folks! We'll get even further off into the weeds next time without leading questions. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

KickStarter - Mystery Science Theater 3000!!!

If, like me, you are a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 the recent news that show creator Joel Hodgson is taking a run at resurrecting the series was incredibly exciting. I immediately clicked over to the KickStarter site, read up on the campaign and then contributed to the funding. Their goal is to completely fund the first full season and go on from there. Oh my yes! As much as I have enjoyed the various offshoots of MST3K (RiffTrax, Cinematic Titanic, etc.) the idea of a return of the original show in a new form is the stuff of fanboy dreams. 

Here is Joel's prospectus - 

Hello, People of Earth. 

Welcome! I'm Joel Hodgson. 

Once upon a time, a television series called MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 was born. We debuted on Minneapolis' KTMA, local television, on Thanksgiving Day 1988, as the world was in the final throes of Teddy Ruxpin-mania. That was almost thirty years ago, but for some reason, people still seem to like the show – it’s a mitzvah!

Our show has had a long, strange run. Across a UHF channel, a cable network, cancellation, a feature film, then another cable network, the show lasted for 12 years, two generations of hosts and puppeteers, 2 Emmy nominations and a total of 197 episodes before we got canceled again for good in 1999. Sadly, it was just as Prince predicted.

But maybe that's not where it all ends.

Starting today, we finally get a chance to bring back MST3K.

With your help, we can create a new season of MST3K, prove there's still an audience, and maybe even convince a network to bring us back for more.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


House of Whipcord begins on a rainy dark night somewhere in the English countryside. A beautiful but obviously distressed young woman is stumbling along a roadway. She almost collides with a parked truck and when the driver helps her inside he discovers that the poor girl has been beaten terribly with a whip. As the good Samaritan sets off to find a hospital the film flashes backwards in time to show us how this woman has come to be in this awful state.

We find French émigré Ann-Marie (Penny Irving) at a trendy art scene party in London where she is a minor celebrity because of her recent arrest for public nudity. Although the public indecency was done as part of a modeling job she is a little ashamed of what happened and even the lauds of her friends can't cheer her up. Lurking at the party is Marc (Robert Tayman), a handsome young man who takes her mind off her troubles and asks her out on a dinner date. At dinner Marc is charming but also demonstrates a hidden dark side when he frightens Ann-Marie with a closed-eyes game of tactile distress. This should have warned the lonely girl off but she seems to need some kind of relationship and so dismisses the incident. When Marc declines her offer of spending the night at her place she is surprised when he instead asks her to join him the next weekend to meet his mother in the country. Ann-Marie's roommate and fellow model Julia (Ann Michelle) is concerned about her friend but wishes her well on her trip. Julia has her own problems and is preoccupied by her married boyfriend's insistence on delaying leaving his wife.

The trip to Marc's mum's home is a good deal longer than Ann-Marie had anticipated, and when they finally arrive she's ushered into the gated and locked compound of an old jail. Immediately the girl is divested of her clothes, her luggage and her dignity as she is brought before an elderly blind judge. She's informed that she has been found guilty of flouting public decency for her public nude display. The judge explains that they have set up this private house of corrections for the public good. Their goal is to hold people responsible for crimes that the permissive English courts punish too laxly. Strict moral uprightness is their objective and the only solace offered in this prison is a Bible placed in each small cell. The newest convict has the situation explained by her cellmate, another girl imprisoned on moral charges. The jail is looked after by only three older women; there are five other inmates and discipline is harsh. First offense merits a stay in solitary, the second infraction results in a beating with the titular whipcord, and strike three... you're out. Execution by hanging is the ultimate penalty and one that every single inmate has somehow met so far. The place is run by Mrs. Whitehurst (Barbara Markham), an obviously insane woman obsessed with morality and tormented by her past. She blames all her life's failures on the loss of her position as governess of a real prison years before — a loss having to do with the death of a female French inmate much like Ann-Marie.

While only two other women are employed as jailers, their care in dealing with the prisoners has made escape impossible. They seem just as deluded as Mrs. Whitehurst if not as mad, and at least one (Sheila Keith) appears to be a lesbian with a streak of sadistic self-hatred. Sadism turns out to be the rule of the place as we learn that Marc is Whitehurst's illegitimate son whose sadistic tendencies are encouraged by dear old mum. Not only is Marc used to lure wicked ladies to the trap but also once mother fixates on Ann-Marie he entices her to make an escape attempt. This leads to her quickly making strikes one and two with little hope of ever seeing the outside world again.

This is a surprisingly good film. Its low budget never interferes with the story and even manages to add a sense of malice to the proceeding at times. This is a fine example of meager means used effectively to make a solid movie. House of Whipcord sets itself up with a wink at the audience when it opens with a text passage decrying the fallen moral state of modern society. Anyone that thinks this is to be taken literally will be sorely and amusingly disappointed. The film is an attack on the simpleminded moralism of those who would wish to impose their views on society with poor Ann-Marie as an example of the folly of putting religious judgments into law. Ann-Marie is clearly a naive young girl searching for comfort and trying to find her way when she is abducted and tortured. She feels embarrassed by her actions and is a far cry from the kind of evil creature of lust that the self-appointed court is set up to punish. Of course, the fact that this system only seeks to punish women is the classic form of condemnation strait out of the Old Testament Bible. Remember, it was always the women who were stoned to death for adultery, not the men. This Biblical view of forcing women to act as scapegoats for all sin shows up in Whipcord starkly as the moralists don't even consider going after the male photographer who took the nude photos. Punishing men is never even considered by the jailers, as if Eve were the only sinner and her punishment the only concern. The system set up by this small coven of moralistic outlaws is, sadly, exactly the kind of religiously intolerant thing I see calls for every other week to this day. That director Pete Walker and his writers were seeing this type of moronic hypocrisy in swinging London is not as shocking to me as it is to notice that we are currently in another up cycle of the same thing now in America. With this kind of dark story is a downbeat ending any surprise?

I've only seen a few of director Walker's films but I've been surprised by their high quality. Especially here, he shows not only an eye for interesting ideas but a strong visual flair too. His shot composition is often clever and the film is very well edited with a remarkably fine story flow. In the last half-hour of the film Ann-Marie's roommate Julia begins a search for her and the juggling of these two narratives is handled brilliantly. The film never feels rushed but it moves very well. This is journeyman craftsmanship on display in a way that makes many more recent horror films look both poorly conceived and sloppy. I look forward to working my way through Pete Walker's films in the future.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Scooby Doo Villains by Grimbro!

Scary! Check out more of the artist's work over on his Facebook page or Tumblr site.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Filmirage Productions- WITCHERY (1988)

Because Scream Factory has been slowly putting them out on DVD and Blu-Ray over the past couple of years I find that I have been working my way through the film produced by Joe D'Amato's production company Filmirage. Until the past couple of weeks I had no idea that this company had existed but their name popped up at the beginning of METAMORPHOSIS (1989), BEYOND DARKNESS (1990) and now WITCHERY (1988). All of these are terrible horror films but I enjoyed them for various reasons that only lovers of Euro-Trash cinema will fully comprehend. Yeah, they're bad but they have something that makes them entertaining in ways that other movies of their level of quality just can't manage.

Looking at the list of 43 movies produced by Filmirage from 1980 to 1994 I can't help but be shocked at how many of them I have already seen. And looking at the descriptions of the others I just want to dive in and see the rest - now! There is bad horror movie gold in there! I just have to see any film called FRANKENSTEIN 2000 (1992) but I may hold off on the drama DIRTY LOVE (1988). Ah, who am I kidding? Joltin' Joe D'Amato making a film about a young girl seeking fame in the big city? It'll be sleazy madness!

One of the most fun (and often funniest) elements of these European produced flicks is the absolutely terrible acting. Each film usually has one competent actor to anchor the proceedings but they are surrounded by people that seem to have never been in front of a camera before someone yelled action five second ago. Strangely, WITCHERY (1988) a.k.a. LA CASA 4 somehow snagged both David Hasselhoff and Linda Blair at down points in their careers meaning that the movie had at least two people on set with prior acting experience. You may smile at the idea of the Hoff as an actor but trust me, he is the thespian highlight of this silly-ass film. In fact, seeing him in this made me deeply aware of how often we see competent acting and brush it aside because it is the standard in what we watch instead of the exception. 

Hasselhoff may seem like a TV hack but when you put him in a film with people that can barely emote it becomes much easier to appreciate the skill he has. I'll never wish he was nominated for an acting award but don't discount what he can bring to a scene to make it seem alive and even believable. On the other hand Linda Blair doesn't add much to the proceedings. She doesn't embarrass herself though even when she goes all frizzy-haired Exorcist crazed near the end.

If you have any affection for Euro-Trash I think you'll get a kick out of the Filmirage movies and I'm glad that so many of them are easily available now. Scream/Shout Factory's releases are very good and any chance to delve deeper into these bizarre productions is welcome. They aren't everyone's cup of tea but if you have any curiosity you can dip a toe in with relatively simple clicks. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

CAGED! (1950)

I have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times. So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP film would or could be became solidified around the 1970's and 80's version of the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first encountered older WIP movies that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this happen?

Caged! (1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will get her a job is her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps and makes a feeble try at escape.

Unlike many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting  help the prisoners find a pathway out of their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she has given up hope of following the straight an narrow path to parole. She's going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do on once she is on the outside.

Although I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while saving the harder stuff for later.