Thursday, July 30, 2009

Superstition (1982) review


James Houghton (Reverend David Thompson), Albert Salmi (Inspector Sturgess), Lynn Carlin (Melinda), Larry Pennell (George Leahy), Jacquelyn Hyde (Elvira Sharack), Billy Jacoby (Justin Leahy)

Directed by James Roberson

***WARNING! This review contains several pics of gruesome violence***

"They have doomed us all took that from the pond...a compassionate priest would not purify her with fire. The ritual was not completed. As long as that was in the pond, she could only move about at night. Now she returns in the early hours of the dawn...unless you repeat the ritual...with fire...She will seek you out. You must understand!"

Elandra Sharack, a witch executed by drowning in 1692 returns to kill anyone who enters the old Sharack house or its grounds. When a series of gruesome deaths occur, believed to be the work of a cult, a young priest moves in to help repair the spooky old house for use as a rental property for the church. An old woman and her handicapped son hold the key to the legend of the witch and what lies beneath nearby Black Pond, the site of the demonic necromancer's burial place.

This gory little obscure gem contains elements of numerous 'Devil' movies from the 70's such as THE OMEN (1976), THE EVIL (1978) and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). The seemingly "accidental" deaths such as a bloody casualty by runaway circular saw blade recalls similar deaths in the classic OMEN films. The removal of a sacred cross from the bottom of Black Pond which unleashes the vengeful witch during the daytime hours recalls a similar story conceit in the little seen THE EVIL (1978) wherein the Devil himself is released after a cross is removed from a basement cellar door. And the background story of another family that previously inhabitated the house with violent consequences is straight out of the box office hit, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979).

For a low budget movie, the special effects and music are quite good. There's even a lengthy flashback sequence when the priest goes to a church archive to learn about the history of the house which shows the execution of the witch some 300 years prior. This scene is excellent and very well acted. It recalls similar scenes in such Gothic classics as BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) among them.

Even if the rest of the film was no good, this one sequence is well worth the rental. The witch becomes possessed, speaks in a demonic tone and her face contorts and bubbles laughing maniacally as she curses anyone who trespasses on the grounds of her house. When she's put into the lake tied to a gigantic wooden post, a nearby church is razed.

The special effects are plentiful and judiciously gruesome. There's the aforementioned saw blade that enters a mans chest and rips its way out his back, a victim is nailed to the floor with a huge spike, a man is crushed to death in a wine press, a head explodes inside a microwave, a victim is cut in half trying to escape through a window and an exploding mirror sends shards of glass into a persons face are among the nastiness found herein. Also, there's the presence of the witch herself just appearing out of nowhere grabbing victims with her reptilian hands and dragging them into the darkness to their doom.

The ambitious effects are the work of several individuals--Steve LaPorte, Kelly McGowan, David Miller and William Munns. While the second and fourth artist only did a scant few films, the other two went on to prolific careers. Such pictures as THE BEASTMASTER (1982), SWAMP THING (1982), THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), DREAMSCAPE (1984), NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) and TERMINATOR 2 (1992) among them. The producers later went on to handle the RAMBO films, TOTAL RECALL and TERMINATOR 2.

The score is also very good and adds to several suspenseful sequences such as the scene where Albert Salmi remains in a hidden room found in the basement of the house. He finds dead bodies then the shadow of something ominous is seen in the hallway. The score has a European feel to it and would be just as at home in an Italian horror picture as it is here. During the last 15 minutes the film goes to Hell as the cruel witch goes about eliminating everyone in the house. The film is also littered with 'jump' moments a la FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). The music gets quiet then a sharp chord heralds a false scare just moments before the real shock takes place.

About the only real negative (and it's not much of a negative) towards the film is the appearance of a mysterious little girl dressed in white named Mary. It's revealed during the final moments who she is, but her appearances are few and far between and little is done with the character. When you see her at the end, you almost forget the character was even in the movie. Speaking of the ending, if you're familiar with a plethora of 'Devil' cinema, you can probably guess how this one will end up as well.

Albert Salmi is the most recognizable actor in the film as he appeared in dozens of television shows such as the original TWILIGHT ZONE and numerous cop and western shows. Some of his movies include EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) and DRAGONSLAYER (1981). Billy Jacoby is another very recognizable face especially if you remember a lot of tv programs from the 1980's. He was also in THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and CUJO (1983).

Apparently, Heather Locklear was originally part of the film during the start of the production, but her scenes were cut from the finished movie. When SUPERSTITION made its way to video in the late 80's, it was a somewhat dark print, but this was intentional on the part of the DP. However, when the film was released to disc a few years ago courtesy of Anchor Bay, they brightened all the dark scenes much to the chagrin of the original cinematographer. Over half the film was completed in a week before the production was shut down only resuming six weeks later.

SUPERSTITION (1982) is a little known, yet entertaining horror movie from the early 80's. Even now that it's gotten its long deserved DVD release from Anchor Bay, it still hasn't garnered the attention it truly deserves. I first saw the film during its initial VHS release and was fascinated by it then and even more so now considering its lingering unknown status as one of the better unsung horror movies of the last few decades. With its loyal, yet small fanbase, hopefully more people will see the film and enjoy it for its creative energy on a small budget during a time that will, in all likelihood, never happen again.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: She (1983) review


This is a section devoted to rare, and as yet to be released on legitimate DVD movies. Some films may have been released in some part of the world, or on some public domain label, or some may have simply never been released at all on the digital format. This section is designed to keep these films alive and to provide remembrance to those who may have seen them in some form or other, whether it be on the silver screen, on videotape, or the small screen at home.

SHE (1983)

Sandahl Bergman (She), David Goss (Tom), Harrison Muller (Dick), Elena Wiedermann (Hari), Quinn Kessler (Shanda), Gordon Mitchell (Hector), David Brandon (Pretty Boy), Gregory Snegoff (Godan), David Traylor (Xenon)

Written and Directed by Avi Nesher

"You have passed through the cycle again, Goddess. But the prophecy still stands. A man will come to claim your heart. For him, you will break your vow. Through him you will be destroyed."

***WARNING: This review contains one image of nudity***

'She' is the man hating and ageless ruler of a tribe of amazon women. In order to retain her beauty, she must never fall in love with a man. Every male that enjoys her body is killed immediately after making love. During a ritual wherein 'She' battles her way through a gladiatorial gauntlet, 'She' bathes in a magical pool and is told that she is destined to one day fall in love thereby being destroyed in the process. Soon after, two men, Tom and Dick cross paths with the feisty Goddess and kidnap her in an effort to locate Tom's sister, Hari, who was abducted by the vicious Norks led by Hector. The group make their way towards the Norks fortress and encounter numerous obstacles along the way.

Avi Nesher directs this wacky, totally nonsensical mishmash of various themes and ideas that melds elements of CONAN THE BARBARIAN with THE ROAD WARRIOR to the accompaniment of a heavy metal soundtrack. It's a wonderfully campy movie that is seemingly self aware of its own trashiness. Nearly every set has graffiti of some kind on the walls or are adorned with movie posters of one kind or another. Because of its intentional outrageousness, SHE (1983) is easily the most memorable of all the Post Apocalyptic movies that enjoyed a brief run of popularity since the release of MAD MAX in 1979. The Italians cornered the market with the sub genre, but this international production is the most fun of them all. Not to mention this film has very little to do with the H. Rider Haggard novel of the same name which was adapted for the screen by Hammer Films in the mid 1960's.

Every culture, every time period throughout history is represented here and visualized through various costumes worn by the myriad of quirky characters. Subtle references to communism and cruel dictators from history's past are also in evidence that add some depth to this total loose cannon of a movie. The emblem of the Norks is a variation on the German swastika. SHE is simply one of the most inexplicable motion pictures you are ever likely to see. It's confounding to try and come to terms with what the filmmakers were attempting to do here. Were the writers on drugs when they wrote this one? Or was it the intention from the start to create a ballsy, humorous, self referential cult film of the weirdest order? Whatever the case may be, the film is too wild and woolly to not divulge as many of its eccentricities as possible.

The films peculiarities embark from the start of the film when we are introduced to three of the main protagonists--Tom, Dick and Hari, the last of which is female. An animated opening credits sequence shows us what appears to be Armageddon then a title card lets us know this is a post apocalyptic time period with "Year 23 after the cancellation". The trio enter a village called Heaven's Gate (a nod to the big studio mega bomb?) where they patronize various stalls for clothes and food. Moments later we meet the Norks, a brutish band of barbarians led by Gordon Mitchell. These guys wear attire ranging from football uniforms adorned with swastikas, to German soldier gear, to guys with the form of a skeleton painted on their bodies. Hari, Tom's sister, is captured by the Norks and Tom and Dick are soon drugged and sold to the Goddess, 'She'.

Just prior to choosing her man for the night, 'She' must traverse a passage littered with garbage and do battle with assorted fighters wearing medieval armor and armed with swords. Lastly, she encounters a Frankenstein monster(!) wearing a jacket with the word 'Mother' on the back. She subdues the thing by biting off one of the bolts in his neck causing his head to explode revealing the creature to be some kind of robot. Injured in the battle, 'She' comes across a female sage who speaks of a prophecy that one day a man will win her heart thereby destroying her. While this is going on, 'She' bathes topless in some kind of magical pool which heals her wounds for another "cycle", making her whole again. 'She' returns to her chamber to kill her one night pleasure slave, but Tom and Dick are waiting for her there.

They kidnap 'She', but are soon captured by mutants wrapped up in gauze and toting chainsaws(!) They are thrown into a trash compactor and nearly crushed. Escaping with the help of 'She's' women warriors, our heroes then capture the leader of the mutant mummy men, Kram. He and his followers are set free, though, and our heroes and heroines exit stage right and on to the next (ever increasingly) strange locale.

Tom and Dick are allowed to leave to carry on with their search for Hari. Curious, the warrior woman follows closely behind the two men. They next end up in a strange community where the inhabitants dress in Roman clothing and dine to the accompaniment of 1950's Doo Wop music(!) The apparent leader of this group of perplexing individuals is the androgynous Pretty Boy (David Brandon). The proceedings veer off into even weirder territory during the night. Later, whilst everyone sleeps, 'She' and Shanda sneak into the hamlet and find mutilated and dismembered bodies in the kitchen. It is soon discovered that the inhabitants are werewolves(!!) The quartet barely make it out alive and having slain the monsters, move on to their next adventure.

They then enter the domain of the "one and only man-God, Godan." Once the actor playing Godan speaks, cult film fans will instantly recognize his voice as the dubber for several Italian trash classics such as CANNIBAL FEROX (1981). Tom and Dick evade torture, but because 'She' refuses to bow, she and Shanda are taken away and whipped in what comes off as a very sadomasochistic sequence. Godan's followers all dress in monk attire and brandish oldeworld style axes. Godan is killed by his female subordinate when she becomes jealous that her 'God' lusts after 'She', preparing to ravish her on his bed. "We believed in you...and you betrayed us", she says after plunging an axe into Godan's chest. I assume the name 'Godan' is some scrambled meaning that hides the words 'no God'.

From there, our intrepid quartet make their way into a forest where they encounter Rudolph, a burly giant of a man wearing leotards and a tutu. After defeating him, they are rendered unconscious by a gassy fog and taken to some kind of makeshift laboratory in the middle of the woods. There they meet Rabel, a mad scientist dressed in Colonial Era garments. It's never explained just what the hell Rabel is doing out their in his plastic lab adorned with various species of birds and medical equipment. 'She' seems to know Rabel and offers him one of the two Urich crystals(?) in exchange for their release. The mention of the Urich crystals is one of a few script devices that are never answered, nor elaborated upon.

While this is going on, Tom, who wasn't captured, finds his way to the Norks fortress. Guarding the bridge leading to the entrance is a bizarre character named Xenon. Dressed in some kind of a sailor uniform aligned with tassels and sporting an eye patch with map lines dotted along his face, this extremely memorable character spouts off dozens of lines from various well known movies and television programs. Annoyed, Tom chops off one of Xenon's arms which promptly changes into another Xenon. He ends up with about a dozen of the line spouting madmen coming at him down the bridge marching and dancing in a chorus line(!)

'She', Shanda and Dick soon manage to escape and likewise run into the lunacy of Xenon before disposing of him then finally entering the Nork stronghold. Unknowingly meeting up with Tom on the inside (they're all wearing masks), the four are put into an arena and fight to the death against other gladiators. It should be mentioned that the sword fights are very well done and the stunt performers do a great job of making them look realistic. I am curious if Sandahl Bergman performed in these scenes as well. No doubt she did. The editing in these scenes is also well executed as there are no 'dead spots' in the action.

Hector, the supposed leader of the Norks (the real leader is a tall fellow inside a contamination suit who speaks with a distorted voice) discovers 'She' is among the warriors and brazenly sends her and her friends out of the fortress with the knowledge that the Norks are going to enslave her tribe.

The quartet decide to make a stand at the bridge and attack the Norks as they emerge from their fortress. It is here that it becomes glaringly obvious from the way that they look at each other, that Tom and 'She' have fallen in love with one another and one is reminded of the prophecy mentioned earlier in the movie. Anyway, when it looks like it's the end for our heroes, Shanda shows up with Rudolph(?) and the other amazons. Having lost the battle, Hector proclaims to 'She', "We'll meet next time, Goddess!" as if a sequel was planned. No doubt if one had surfaced, it couldn't equal the insanity prevalent here.

Nesher ends his film on a somewhat bittersweet note. Dick and Shanda, who have bickered throughout the whole picture, finally get together. Tom takes his sister and exits in the same fashion from which he made his entrance. 'She' appears both surprised and saddened that he is leaving. As soon as he boards his boat, 'She' turns her back so as not to show her tears. Once he and Hari are away from the shore, the dejected Goddess turns back and watches him sail away while remembering Moona, the wisend female sage who foretold her impending downfall. Tom watches her as well and the viewer gets the impression that both do in fact have feeling for one another. It's not stated just why he leaves her, or if he even knew what would happen should they have gotten together. Nonetheless, it's a doleful finish that's accompanied by a beautiful ballad from Justin Hayward, the singer for The Moody Blues. The song, 'Eternal Woman', is about the character of 'She', and the lonely existence she must endure longing for the love she knows she can never have.

Director Avi Nesher not only wrote the film, but also contributed to the metal songs found on the soundtrack. In addition to these songs performed by a group called Bastard, Motorhead also participated on the score. It all adds up to a curious blend of sword & sorcery and post apocalyptic thrills done in a tongue in cheek style that you will either love or hate. There is no middle ground here. I get the impression the filmmakers were gunning for a midnight movie sensation here what with all the outlandish elements congealing together to create one very fun evenings worth of entertainment. In the words of 'She' to her subordinate, Shanda, "This has nothing to do with sense."

Some choice dialog:

The mutant, Kram to 'She': "Never trust a mutant...that's your motto, isn't it?"

Kram to Shanda: "Careful of my arms...they tend to fall off."

Pretty Boy: "Your friend seems likely over enthusiastic."

Tom: "My friend's an asshole."

Sandahl Bergman is perfectly cast as the vibrant and lovely leader of the amazon women. Her dancing background makes her a natural in the fight scenes and she seems to have done all her own work here. She is amazing in the sword fights and displays more energy and enthusiasm than some male performers in similar roles. No doubt she was chosen for her previous role as Valeria in CONAN THE BARBARIAN from the year prior.

If nothing else, both Bergman and the stacked Quinn Kessler provide plenty of eye candy throughout so even if you're put off by the curious style of the movie, you have two frequently scantily clad women to ogle at. David Brandon (as Pretty Boy) is a recognizable face to Euro cult film fans. He was Caligula in Joe D'Amato's nasty porn historical epic, CALIGULA, THE UNTOLD STORY (1982) and also in STAGE FRIGHT (1987), the slasher favorite directed by Michele Soavi among his numerous credits.

David Traylor as Xenon is easily the funniest and most memorable aspect of the film and that's saying a lot. He steals the show from everyone and everything else. His rapid fire comic exchanges are hilarious as the totally insane character spouts off everything from the Green Acres theme song, to James Cagney, to Foghorn Leghorn and anything else in between. It gets even funnier whenever a limb is severed from his body as a new Xenon is created and the hilarity increases.

David Goss is quite good in the role of the hero and a very handsome actor. It's surprising he didn't do more in film and television than he did. He does a serviceable job in line delivery, but he has presence and his look suits this type of role. He could have easily fluctuated between playing both heroes and villains. Prolific American actor and cult film favorite, Gordon Mitchell is on hand as Hector, the leader of the Norks. He doesn't get a whole lot of screen time and his character is never really built upon all that much. If the film wasn't as fun as it is, the lack of a good villain would seriously hinder the picture. But with the constant flood of bizarre situations, the film doesn't really give you a lot of time to think about it.

SHE (1983) is one of the nuttiest motion pictures ever made and one of the most amusing. The film reminds me of an 80's music video and not just because of the metal music heard from time to time. The only other film that I can draw a comparison to would be the similarly structured cult favorite, FLASH GORDON (1980). The set design and general weirdness recalls many a peculiar music video from that decade. Quirky from start to finish, Nesher's film never ceases to surprise, or confound the viewer. You may find it absurd, you may find it the most memorably ridiculous movie ever, you may find it to be a camp classic, but there is one thing you can't say the film is not...and that's entertaining.
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