31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 4- Abby (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 4- Abby (1974)

A Blaxploitation Exorcist rip-off.

A pastor goes to Nigeria and accidentally unleashes an ancient malevolent spirit. Oops. His daughter-in-law back in America then starts to change from being a God-fearing, wholesome wife to becoming a possessed randy harlot. 

This film is such good fun. The pastor is played by William Marshall who was already known to Blaxploitation audiences as Blacula. Austin Stoker also stars who would later feature in John Carpenter’s masterpiece Assault on Precinct 13 a couple of years later. But it’s Carol Speed as Abby who steals the show. She seems to truly relish her role and brings some much needed spice and vigour to it.

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There’s groovy interiors, snappy dialogue and effects that look cheap and nasty even by Exorcist rip-off standards. In fact they make Beyond The Door’s FX look highly innovative by comparison. But that’s all part of the fun.

I love the fact that the exorcism at the film’s conclusion takes place in a downtown bar.

This film made loads of money at the box office but was abruptly taken out of circulation when Warner Bros. issued a lawsuit as they stated that the film ripped-off The Exorcist a bit too much. Abby’s director William Girdler never denied this. The only existing prints are in very bad condition and it’s rumoured that a decent print hasn’t surfaced yet as possibly the lawsuit is still in place which prevents a decent DVD/Blu ray release. It’s also rumoured that the lawsuit also involved all copies of the print to be confiscated by Warner Bros. so that they could destroy it.

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I hope this isn’t true. I’d love this film to be released after being restored. In fact, I’d love a Blu ray box set containing all of Girdler’s films. He deserves to be recognised as one of the leading auteurs of brilliant exploitation films. 

*** and a half

Poster of the Week- Enter The Dragon/Death Race 2000

Poster of the Week- Enter The Dragon/Death Race 2000

This week’s Poster of the Week is for the double bill of Enter The Dragon and Death Race 2000.

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Double bills were very popular at cinemas in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s and seemingly the more lurid films the better with horror, kung-fu and cult films being selected for these billings which were traditionally shown at midnight on a Saturday night. It was like the cult film ethos that permeated 42nd Street in New York was proving so popular that it even influenced the cinema programmers of Britain.

It was rightly assumed that the kind of audiences who would go to see a Bruce Lee film would also want to see a Roger Corman movie, especially as one of it’s stars (Sylvester Stallone) had since become famous for his role as the eponymous hero of the movie Rocky (check out the cheeky reference to this in the billing for Death Race 2000 on this poster).

Both of these films were also resurrected from years gone by for this double bill and so this gave cult film fans the opportunity to see both on the big screen again. These were also the days before home video and so cinemas were the primary source for seeing such fare.

Double bills fell out of favour in the 90’s and onwards but thankfully there are now special cinema screenings of films that have just been restored for Blu ray. I’ve noticed a lot of older films receiving cinema showings to commemorate an anniversary of a film’s release also. Inception and Back to the Future are two such films showing on the big screen again recently because of this. And this is a great thing. To see a film on the big screen with a great sound system are the optimal conditions for experiencing a film.

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Layabout crazy cat Jerry (played by the director Ray Dennis Steckler under the hilarious pseudonym Cash Flagg), his girlfriend Angela and his friend Harold go to the seaside to visit a carnival there. After getting their fortunes told they see the fortune tellers sister Carmelita who is a stripper. Jerry is seen by Angela to be staring a bit too intently at Carmelita and so leaves in a huff with Harold. With them gone Jerry decides to go and watch Carmelita’s strip show (the carnival has it’s own nightclub that holds such entertainment. The name of this establishment is, wait for it, The Hungry Mouth which rivals only The Flaming Cave Lounge from John Waters’ Female Trouble in terms of a brilliant name for an establishment of that kind).

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Jerry is then lured to Carmelita’s dressing room where he is hypnotised. This then turns Jerry into a ruthless killer of which afterwards he has no memory of. He had in fact killed two characters whilst he was in his murderous trance-like state. He also tries to throttle Angela to death the next day.

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Hypnosis!

Carmelita’s plot is then revealed. She has been throwing acid into people’s faces which turns them into zombies (!) and then keeping them captive.

But Jerry then decides to confront Carmelita as he keeps having flashbacks and knows that something isn’t quite right ever since he visited Carmelita at the carnival. This all builds to a very eventful climax.

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Carmelita uses the same foundation as Donatella Versace

This is pure Drive-In B movie goodness. Theres so much to like here. The hypnosis scenes, the hallucinatory dream sequence Jerry has, the zombies, the song and dance sequences at the nightclub (one of the girls can be seen chewing gum as she performs her dance moves. Now that’s attention to detail and classy to boot!).

The film also has a colour palate which can make your eyes water. I had several acid flashbacks whilst watching this gem.

I first found out about this film from reading the cult film bible Incredibly Strange films from Re:Search publishing at the tender age of 14. This book treats Steckler as some kind of god in much the same way more pedestrian film fans look up to John Ford. And they’re right. Steckler is an Orson Welles for the perverse.

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And John Waters is a huge fan.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 17- 31 Days of Halloween- Basket Case (1982)

Day 17- 31 Days of Halloween- Basket Case (1982)

Duane books into the sleazy flophouse Hotel Broslin with a large basket. It’s contents consist of his deformed twin brother who he used to be conjoined with. Both Duane and his twin are hellbent on enacting revenge on the surgeons who separated them against their wishes.

Basket Case will always occupy a special place in my dark little heart. When my family first bought a VCR in 1982 we rented two films. One was the cartoon of Captain America from the 60’s. This choice was intended for 8 year old me. And whilst Cap is very cool, it was the other film that intrigued me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA 1966 VHS

It was rented to be viewed by the rest of my family when I had gone to bed. It was Basket Case. The forbidden always seemed more alluring to me. And after much pouting and pleading I was allowed to watch the film. It was an amazing night of mind-expanding and gleefully deprived family viewing.

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The film hits every bullseye it aims for. Theres humour (check out feeding time for the basket’s resident), gore (each attack is bloody as hell and very inventive) and well rounded characters whether they’re the main players or the supporting cast. In fact a film could be made based on any of the film’s characters and it would rock.

Whilst the film does contain very black humour this doesn’t dilute the horror sequences which pack a real punch still. In fact, Basket Case has an air of sleaze, filth and edginess that reminds me of another masterpiece, Bloodsucking Freaks. Both films capture a time when 42nd Street and The Deuce reigned supreme. Basket Case even takes us into one of the grindhouse cinemas. We even get a cameo by Sonny Chiba!

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The big reveal

Basket Case is The Evil Dead’s low budget filmmaking genius with John Waters’ writing brilliance. I can’t think of any higher recommendation to a fellow lover of warped cinema brilliance than that.

5 out of 5 stars

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- Night of the Juggler (1980)

Day 1- 31 Days of Halloween- Night of the Juggler (1980)

We’re off to a flying start. This lurid slice of exploitation truly delivers. It’s fast, frantic and batshit crazy!

A young girl thought to be the daughter of a very prominent and stinking rich businessman is kidnapped for a $1m ransom. But the wrong girl is snatched and her father is James Brolin. Bad move.

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Insane poster for an insane movie

This really is one of the great New York movies with the city being portrayed as it really was in 1980- down at heel, dangerous and jam packed full of ‘characters’. Witness the scenes that take place on 42nd Street. The Deuce has never looked so wild and utterly alluring. The scene in the strip joint is worth the price of admission alone.

Brolin is at his Amityville Horror best resplendent with the same long hair and beard as in that previous movie. His performance is kinetic, untamed and unpredictable to say the least.

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Never go ‘full feral’. Never go ‘full Brolin’.

The kidnapper is played by Cliff Gorman and is just as off-kilter and feral. You want to see what a great actor Gorman was? Compare his portrayal here to his turn in William Friedkin’s masterpiece The Boys In The Band. A brilliant and very underrated actor.

This movie is as grimy and wired as the city it takes place in at that timepoint. And I loved every part of it. Now, can we have a Blu ray release please?

4/5 out of 5 stars

Review- Death Wish 2 (1982)

Review- Death Wish 2 (1982)

Due to all of the controversy regarding this film I had to wait until I was living in Australia for a year to see this opus fully uncut. This film still remains cut here in the UK. At the time of the film’s release the BBFC cut over 3 minutes from the film (chief censor James Ferman seemed proud of this and said that it was surely a record) due to two rape scenes contained within the movie.

The vigilante Paul Kersey (played with badass aloofness by Charles Bronson aka ‘The Man’) has moved from New York (the setting of the original movie) and is now practicing his considerable architectural skills in L.A. But after his housekeeper is raped and killed and his already traumatised daughter is subjected to the same treatment Kersey goes back into ass-kicking mode.

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There’s so much to love about this film. Firstly there’s Jimmy Page’s sleazy, unsettling soundtrack. It suits the film perfectly. There are sounds, moods and textures heard that make you want to luxuriant in it’s aural squalor whilst also wanting to run to the shower with a bottle of bleach and a wire brush. Yes, it’s THAT good. The soundtrack was actually nominated for a Razzie in the year of it’s release. As was Ennio Morricone’s score for The Thing. I’m part grinning, part grimacing as I write this…

The movie adores Los Angeles and lovingly shows its sun-drenched beauty but also the rotten underbelly of LA by night. The sequences when Kersey rents a dirty motel room, dresses down and prowls the nocturnal streets to find the scum who killed his daughter are some of the best ever captured on film of inner-city horror and urban decay. They also give the city’s amazing freaks, punks and ‘local colour’ centre-stage. These moments are worth the price of admission alone.

Hell, we even get Charles ‘Sheriff Bracken’ Cyphers thrown into the mix.

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But the thing I love most about this film is that Winner knew what he was directing. He was making an exploitation film and so the core elements of violence, retribution and gunplay are all exaggerated and amplified. Y’know- EXPLOITATION!

And this is what makes the film so enjoyable- and why Winner was so unfazed by the level of criticism that certain (but not all) critics levelled against the film. He knew that the hacks of the day always (and very predictably) slated films that audiences loved in drive-ins and 42nd Street cinemas. And he didn’t give a toss. He knew what audiences wanted and gave it to them. But rather than creating a rushed piece of crap he crafted a polished film that truly delivered but also had enough room for social commentary.

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It’s worth watching the studio debate on the film that was televised before Death Wish 2’s release. Enjoy Michael Winner’s relaxed, considered and educated response to criticism of the film from the hysterical feminist Anna ‘Rabies’ Raeburn and the show’s presenter.

It’s also worth seeking out the TV programme about film violence that Winner took part in with none other than Mary Whitehouse. Yes, the woman who spoke about The Evil Dead as if it was a snuff film EVEN THOUGH SHE HAD NEVER SEEN IT!

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Bore off

This is something that exploitation film fans understand- the actual genre and it’s conventions and tropes. We know that The Evil Dead is the horror equivalent of a dark comedy (in places, anyway) with blood by the gallon load replacing custard pies. We also realise that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is just as darkly comedic. This is because we’ve actually bothered to watch such films unlike the blinkered, elitist journalists or moral panic perpetuating self-appointed public decency crusaders.

And Michael Winner knew about this genre of films also. Enjoy his expertise.

4 out of 5 stars