Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Fortress of Amerikkka (USA, 1989)


So, here we have the sophomoric sophomore feature-length movie of (former) Troma film director Eric Louzil, the man who likes to claim to have discovered Kevin Costner, as Costner's first film appearance, Malibu Hot Summer aka Sizzle Beach USA (1981 / trailer), was a Louzil-produced movie (as is another early film featuring Costner, Shadows Run Black [1984 / trailer]). Eric Louzil went on to direct such famous, culturally relevant projects as Class of Nuke 'Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991 / full movie), Lukas' Child (1993 / trailer), Silent Fury (1994, with the great Charles Napier) and Fatal Pursuit (1994 / trailer, also with the great Charles Napier), and Class of Nuke 'Em High Part 3: The Good, the Bad and the Subhumanoid (1994 / trailer).
Since 2004, he's done the world a good turn by giving up the directorial chair in favor of the presiding chair of Echelon Studios, which "oversee[s] domestic & foreign film licensing with a library of over 15,000 titles." One would be hard placed to say that his departure from the directorial chair has been noticed — but then, going by Fortress of Amerikkka, which he supposedly also wrote (like many of his culturally relevant projects), one would also be hard placed to call him a talented filmmaker. (A businessman, on the other hand, he does indeed seem to be.)
We caught the "Director’s Cut" of Fortress of Amerikkka, or at least it was so lauded on the DVD cover. It would seem that the director cut the film (and the film script as well, in all likelihood) with dull scissors, for it is a mess of a movie. One of those total turds that leave you astounded that anyone could do anything so bad; but then, were it a smidgeon better, it probably wouldn't be half as enjoyable, for the only joy to be found here is in the total inability that pervades every aspect of the movie, from the script to the acting to the direction to the cinematography — you name it. Fortress of Amerikkka is bad even for a Troma film, and as such is something for true fans of craptastic films … though, oddly enough, it is somewhat boring at times for a movie as bad as it is. (The "main" character has all the charisma of and less acting talent than Stephan Lack in Scanners [1981 / trailer], so any scene he is in verges on interminable.)
In an interview of Louzil found online, he claims that "I made about seven films for Troma. My second was Fortress of Amerikkka. Lloyd put three 'Ks' in it." We are sure Louzil objected. (Not!) To say the movie is the worst Troma movie ever made is tempting, but as there are too many Troma movies we haven't seen to be able to offer such a judgment, let us simply submit that Fortress of Amerikkka is one of the worst films ever made in general. It would make a perfect double bill with Empire of Ash (1988 / full film), a movie we couldn't help but think of when we watched the disjointed, illogical, badly acted & shot & edited & lit & directed mess.
Fortress of Amerikkka introduces characters at the drop of a hat and also has them exit the movie just as quickly, and within the narrative mess that hopes to be a plot there are at least a dozen or more strands that wallow about looking for a reason to be. Little is fleshed out, and that which is doesn't manage to create a sequential plot. One gets the feeling that the movie was once 20 hours long and cut down to its current running time, as so many aspects of the "plot" dangle loosely and limply in the wind, like the dick of a 90-year-old nudist walking down Main Street of a desert town. Yes, the movie is not a pleasant sight ... but it is fun in that road-kill kind of way: something so bad, so terrible, that you find yourself rubbernecking to keep it in view. (Admit it: you'd rubberneck too if you saw a naked 90-year-old strolling down the street.)
The "plot" involves a wimpy wanna-be Billy Jack named John Whitecloud (as Gene LeBrock of Metamorphosis [1990 / trailer] and Horror House 2 [1990 / German trailer]) returning home to "Troma Town" from jail to revenge the death of his brother, killed by the very sheriff (David Crane) that sent Whitecloud to jail. At the same time, a kill-happy troupe of mercenaries (the "Fortress of Amerikka") is camping out in them-thar hills and killing everyone that crosses their path — and, of course, the twain shall meet. Sconced within those two disparate and underdeveloped plotlines are multiple (major, minor, and mini) characters and events that never meet to make a story.
Whitecloud's brother is buried in a cave under a cross (are Native Americans Christian?); Whitecloud hooks up with his ex, Jennifer (Kellee Bradley of Frayed [2007 / trailer]), whose fiancée hooks up with Leslie (Karen Michaels of Death Spa [1989 / trailer]), the nicest set of real breasts of the movie. Back at the Fortress of Amerikkka camp, two black members get it on (she looks good, we gotta say) while there's a catfight between two ugly white gals that ends with the death of one while some Sinead O'Conner wannabe has mini-orgasms shining her rifle. Indiscriminate people die violently at the hands of the Fortress, and between it all porn star Kascha (Caged Fury [1990 / trailer / full movie] and a lot of porn) wanders around smiling and looking lost, letting her discreetly displayed massive and intensely immobile mambos point the direction she is walking — she surely was responsible for more than half the silicon turnover of whatever year she had her set made.
Fortress of Amerikkka is one of those productions that would require ten times the amount of time to list everything that is wrong about the movie than it takes to watch it. Any given scene easily has a dozen fuckups — in fact, the whole film is nothing but a collection of fuckups strung together for the 100-odd minutes of film stock. So, in other words: if you, like us, are a fan of film fuckups so fucked up that they're fun, this visual abortion is for you.
On the other hand, if you are one of those masses of people who expect a vague smidgeon of a similarity of competence in direction, acting, scriptwriting, cinematography, editing, whatever: STEER CLEAR!
Holy Mohammed, though: Kascha has to be seen to be believed. Does anyone really get off on silicone missiles like those? (And we ask that as total breast fetishists.) Or could it be the lips that make our weiner act like that of a 90-year-old nudist? For some strange reason, when we look at her and all we can think of is the movie The Graduate (1967).
Why we think of The Graduate when we see Kascha:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Der Rächer / The Avenger (Germany, 1960)

Based on the Edgar Wallace's novel The Avenger (aka The Hairy Arm), the film almost seems like a Rialto production due to the presence of Heinz Drache, Siegfried Schürenberg and Klaus Kinski — more or less the modern Krimi début of all three — but in truth it is the singular German Edgar Wallace film to come from the production firm of Kurt Ulrich, which thereafter avoided the whole genre (let alone Wallace books, the German film rights of which were soon in the firm hand of the production houses of Rialto and/or Artur Brauner's CCC).
Ulrich began as a film producer in 1934, but seemingly took a prolonged break from 1937 to 1950, after which he specialized in mainstream German films such as the popular remakes of Emil und die Detektive (1954 / a scene), Die Drei von der Tankstelle (1955 / a song) and Charleys Tante (1955 / a mambo scene, featuring Walter Giller), plus lots of dramas and an occasional thriller. (His last production credit, as far as we can tell, was a shared production credit with Radley Metzger on the latter's Therese and Isabelle [1968 / trailer].)
In the case of Der Rächer, Ulrich was obviously dealing with something new and not of his abilities — a gothic horror Krimi  — for the final result is disappointing, all the more so for all the chances so obviously missed. Even the on-occasion fine B&W cinematography and the competent acting of most of the cast does little to make the movie palatable, as the less-than-exceptional script is not only terribly paced but blatantly, if unintentionally and ignorantly, racist. (Back then, one can argue, they simply didn't know better, but it doesn't make it any less cringe-worthy.)
The character Bhag (Al Hoosmann, of Tante Wanda aus Uganda [1957 / trailer]), for example, is a creature of another era, a Colonialist era when the black races of Africa were seen as something less than savage, as something sub-human, if not as virtual animals. Likewise, one can only infer that the Malaysian girl kept in a tower — and undoubtedly repeatedly raped — by Sir Gregory Penn (Benno Sterzenbach) is of little true worth as a human, for Penn not only survives the film while other, less-despicable characters die, but he is in no way taken to task or punished for his inhumane and criminal activities. True, the girl does conveniently simply hightail for home when finally free, but Sir Penn also simply walks away free and easy in the end, a silent but sure sign that it's OK to rape women (particularly foreign women) if you want to. Scriptwriter Gustav Kampendonk, who undoubtedly had a low opinion of both non-Aryan races and women and a deeply rooted misogynistic bent, went on to pen the somewhat better Bryan Edgar Wallace movie, The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle (1963 / trailer / full film), directed by Harald Reinle and starring Reinle's then-wife, the always babelicious Kairn Dor.
As for the Czech-born director Karl Anton, he may have been a competent director, but he flatly failed to overcome the material he was given for his last feature film, despite all the experience gathered since his first directorial effort in the early 1920s, whence he moved ever so slowly upwards from such things as the low brow drama Ein Mädel von der Reeperbahn (1930 / title song) and the NS anti-Soviet propaganda drama Weiße Sklaven (1936 / a song / full film] in the 1930s to such post-war mainstream fodder like the (first) remakes of Peter Voss, der Millionendieb (1946 / first 10 minutes) and Viktor und Viktoria (1957). Still, the argument can be made that his direction is more than adequate, as it occasionally delivers an effective shock; it is simply negated by the offensiveness of the film's less than subliminal attitudes.
Der Rächer starts with a shock, to say the least. A car zooms out into the night and as it whips around a corner, a box is tossed from its window. Two women passing-by sit in the filth and open it and discover the decapitated head of a man. Regrettably, after this wham-bang opening scene, the film quickly becomes talk-heavy and somewhat dull, up until its last scenes in an underground cellar where three of the main characters seemingly face an unavoidable date with a guillotine. In-between, special agent Michael Brixan (Heinz Drache of, among others, Hypnosis [1962] and Coast of Skeletons [1964]) is pulled back from oversees by his boss Staines (Siegfried Schürenberg of, among others, The Inn on the River [1962] and The Hand of Power [1968]) when a civil servant of the Foreign Office loses his head, one of a number of victims of an unknown madman who specializes in decapitating either villains who have escaped justice or people who are terminally ill. (Strange combo, to say the least, but perhaps representative of the scriptwriter's mindset.)
The only clues available lead Brixan to a film production near Winchester, where the beautiful but unknown starlet Ruth Sanders (Ina Duscha, a real-life unknown starlet who was out of the industry by 1963) finagles the lead role from the obnoxious star Stella Mendoza (Ingrid van Bergen of Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen [1961]). Ruth continually avoids the amorous advances of the obnoxious, amoral Sir Gregory Penn (Sterzenbach), who is not above sending his savage servant Bhag (Hoosmann) to kidnap the object of his base desires. After coming across a page typed by the same typewriter used for the notes found with the decapitated heads, Brixon concentrates his investigation to the area, even after his main suspect, Lorenz Voss (Klaus Kinski) also loses his head. Breaking into Penn's house one night, Brixon even discovers a Malaysian girl locked in a tower room; oddly enough, he leaves her there. Too many scenes later, Penn and Brixon find themselves handcuffed in the cellar of the true killer and about to be beheaded when Ruth — with Bhag close at her heals — stumbles onto the scene…
Ina Duscha is exotically beautiful, Benno Sterzenbach excels as a truly repulsive man of no morals, and everyone else does a fine job with their material — with the possible exception of Bhag (Al Hoosmann), whose overacting is as embarrassing as his whole character. The script itself is so incompetent that none of the movie's good features help in any way to make the flick any good, despite some nice B&W cinematography and bodiless heads. And while it is true that there is no justice in real life, the inappropriately distributed "justice" of this movie leaves a nasty after-taste: a character whose biggest fault is weakness and greed — Lorenz Voss — has to pay with his life, while a man as repulsive and amoral as Penn can be permitted to survive. In this sense, Der Rächer reflects a fact of life: the rich get away with it, and the poor don't.
Der Rächer disappoints tremendously because it so obviously could have been something good had only it been in the hands of a more competent producer with a more competent team, or at least a more competent scriptwriter. A disappointment of an Edgar Wallace movie, a disappointment as a Krimi, Der Rächer can be avoided and can only be recommended to completionists and then with the addendum: put it at the bottom of the pile.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sonata (USA, 2004)

(Spoilers.) This obscure "horror" movie is the direct-to-video feature film directorial début of the unknown Ukrainian-born, LA-based filmmaker Boris Undorf, who wrote the script as well. Though initially well-received at various smaller film festivals, where it garnered a respectable amount of awards, Sonata is now more-or-less a completely forgotten film. Unjustly so.
Odd indeed that when Boris Undorf made the movie, he didn't bother writing "Based on a True Story", but then, perhaps he didn't know the true story that his movie closely, if possibly unintentionally, echoes: that of the unhinged Spanish, proto radical-feminist Aurora Rodriguez (23 April 1879 — 28 Dec 1955) and her daughter Hildegart. Aurora was a firm believer in eugenics who, thanks to an unknown donor found via newspaper advertisements, produced her amazing daughter, Hildegart (born 9 Dec, 1914), a brilliant intellectual prodigy who spoke six languages, possessed a law degree, had written masses of articles and books, and become an international leftist leader all by her late teens when, as she tried to become an independent woman and leave her overbearing mother, she was shot to death in the early morning of June 9, 1933,* by that said mother.
* Another date sometimes given online is April 11, 1931.
An intriguing and true tale, filmed prior to Sonata by the Peru-born Spanish filmmaker and actor Fernando Fernán Gómez (28 Aug 1921 — 21 Nov 2007) in 1977 as Mi hija Hildegart / My Daughter Hildegart, and again seven years after Sonata as a short film by Sheila Pye entitled The Red Virgin (2011) — "Red Virgin" being the nickname bequeathed Hildegart while still alive by the popular press. So, though the historical tale was perhaps, possibly, not known to Boris Undorf, let us paraphrase some famous words here in reference to Sonata: "The following is based on a true story. Only the names [and places] have been changed to protect the innocent."
The talent of the young female prodigy of Sonata, named Megan (Nicole DuPort of Cemetery Gates [2006 / trailer], Southern Gothic [2007 / trailer], and Tooth and Nail [2007 / trailer]), is music, and she has spent her life mostly at home under the watchful eye of her overbearing and possessive novelist mother Samantha Fergus (Annie Scott Rogers of No Return (2003 / trailer], Razor's Ring (2008 / trailer], and The Abstracting (2012 / trailer]).
 
Woe be the fragile young adult with raging hormones who is abused emotionally, psychologically, and physically by those elders they should be able to trust — and woe be those who do the abuse. And Megan's mother Samantha is an abuser, if primarily psychological: the self-written fairytale she has told her noticeably immature daughter virtually every night her entire life, which involves a mother who sews the eyes of her daughter shut when the daughter finds love, reveals the foundation of her abuse. The daughter is hers, and no one else's. But, as one knows from many a fairytale, a Prince Charming often shows up to throw a spanner in the works. In this case, it is the dark, mysterious stranger that Megan meets one afternoon while delivering a basket of fruit … or did she actually even meet anyone at all?
In all truth, we (a group of beer-swilling guys out for bloody film full of laughs) put this one in our DVD player expecting, well, guts and guffaws, and we were seriously disappointed. But, as our rule when watching mystery DVDs is "what goes in stays in till the end", we slogged on tossing out insulting bon mots as we drank our beer and ate our chips and flips. It speaks for the film that, as slow and deliberate as it is, the bon mots progressively became fewer and, about 20 minutes into the movie, Sonata enjoyed the engrossed silence of a group whose filmic tastes generally preclude anything that might be described as "serious". But while we wanted trash, we did indeed get a serious movie — and ended up really liking it.
Sonata is a bit of strange fish. Sold as a horror movie, it is far more an obviously low-budget, slow-burning, and linear psychological drama that meanders, fascinatingly, to an obvious and tragic conclusion. The camerawork, betraying a healthy understanding of the works of Alfred Hitchcock, is stylish but not overt; the pacing languid and the acting variable. All, however, combine to create a tale that gets under the skin as both the expected and unexpected of the narrative get revealed and the inevitable, tragic end comes to transpire.
That Megan is messed up is never a doubt, but her mother is also just as obviously far gone. Thus, after a certain point in the movie there is also little doubt about how Sonata shall end. Nevertheless, the viewer remains intrigued and, once the final credits roll, the overriding feeling that remains is that of regret for Megan and the tragedy that she was literally programmed to be part of. There is a short exchange about a pet canary in the past that serves to reveal that the tragedy had been on the back burner for some time. All that it was waiting for was Prince Charming's wrench in the works.
Sonata is anything but trashy or exploitive; it is a serious labor of love from a filmmaker who displays a lot of promise both as a director and screenwriter. Due to its general lack of speed, however, Sonata is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. But if you like slow burners or films that succeed at becoming more than their parts, you'll want to give Sonata a go. If you can even find it anywhere.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Short Film:The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow (USA, 2008)


Here's an arty short horror film that overflows with atmosphere. The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow was written by Rodrigo Gudiño, and directed by him and Vincent Marcone. Rodrigo Gudiño "is the publisher of Rue Morgue Magazine, senior coordinator of the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear National Horror Expo, producer of the Rue Morgue Podcast and co-programmer of Rue Morgue's CineMacabre Movie Nights". His first feature film, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (trailer), was released in 2012. 
The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow has won a number of awards since its release, and it's easy to see why: beautifully made, mysterious, and visually alluring, it is a slow burner that tells its tale in an uncommon fashion. The Facts In the Case of Mister Hollow is a horror film, without doubt, but it is less a traditional narrative than a visual impression that evolves the closer you look, proffering chilling tidbits and clues that offer the semblance of storyline but no hint of a conclusion. It features a certain level of dream logic and visuals, and like many an unpleasant dream (or full-fledged nightmare), it leaves as many questions unanswered as it makes revelations. Enjoy.
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