TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING: No Truth. No Justice. It’s the American Way.

Posted in Blu-ray, Movies, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos on June 27, 2022 by Robert Morgan

The last truly great film from director Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen), Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a bleak white knuckle thriller constructed out of corrosive political drama and wire-taut tension. A box office flop when it was first released in early 1977, Aldrich’s powerful exercise in crafting suspense and character is ripe for reevaluation in an age where the political and social climates are on the verge of bursting into flame.

Aldrich spent his career gravitating between star-driven smash hits and stranger personal projects that only someone with a decent track record could get away with making. When Twilight, an adaptation of the 1971 Walter Wager novel Viper Three, came to his attention, it was a standard action-thriller lacking in the substantial thematic elements that films of the 1970’s were bringing to audiences virtually on a weekly basis. Aldrich took the script by Ronald M. Cohen and Edward Huebsch and refashioned it into a dialogue-heavy drama that proceeded at a leisurely pace but offered up a four-course buffet of scenery chewing opportunities for a primarily male cast loaded down with some of the old Hollywood’s finest acting talents and a few choice up-and-comers talented enough to hold their own and occasionally dominate the legends.

Burt Lancaster toplines this amazing cast as Lawrence Dell, a disgraced former Air Force colonel sent to prison on trumped-up murder charges for defying his superiors who teams up with fellow prisoners Powell (Paul Winfield) and Garvas (Burt Young) to break out of the slammer with a dastardly scheme on his mind. The trio (initially a quartet until Dell is forced to violently dispose of a psychotic fourth wheel played by Conan the Barbarian’s William Smith) infiltrate a Montana nuclear missile silo and take complete control of its nine ICBMs with the intention of launching each one at the Soviet Union unless the U.S. government complies with their demands. Powell and Garvas think they’re in for a multi-million dollar payday, but Dell has another special request he expects President David Stevens (Charles Durning) to honor without question.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming could have been a bigger hit than it ultimately was, but it was released at a time when audiences were rejecting these eerily relevant political conspiracy thrillers in favor of the opulent widescreen fantasies of Jaws, Star Wars, and Superman. Realism was out, escapism was in. Aldrich’s passion project might have been a little late to a party that had already crowned The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor as best and second-best in show, but the message it delivered was no less chilling the more you thought about it, and the thrills no less effective. The “Operation Gold” sequence, in particular, is one of the most riveting hold-your-breath-and-don’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-the-screen moments in the history of cinema, on par with the rope bridge crossing in William Friedkin’s Sorcerer and the “call it, ‘friendo’” scene from No Country for Old Men. It’s certainly among the greatest action set-pieces Aldrich ever brought to the screen, and this is the guy who turned a commando raid on a Nazi chalet into one of the classic silver screen third acts.

The film takes place primarily on two sets, with each one commanded by a separate group of performers as if we were watching a pair of interconnected stage plays. First, we have the action happening in the missile silo control room with Dell and his cohorts fighting back the necessity to prove how far they’re willing to go to see their demands met. Lancaster is battered righteous perfection as the disillusioned patriot simply wanting the system he once believed in to take responsibility for their misdeeds instead of carefully sweeping their crimes against humanity under the carpet and leaving the scars that war inflicts on a nation’s soul to never properly heal. It ironically falls to Winfield’s character – the face of every downtrodden black man torn away from his family and friends to go fight a rich white man’s war – to prevent this once-proud military officer from crossing over into madness and devastation. Both men are positively electrifying in their respective roles.

Then there’s the conflict that plays out inside the Oval Office with Durning’s competent statesman forced to match wits with members of his own cabinet who possess secrets about this great nation of ours he never even begun to consider. The late Durning gives one of his finest dramatic performances in the service of a meaty character arc that is spectacularly executed inside a single room, with terrific assists from such hallowed silver screen icons and character acting legends as Joseph Cotton (The Third Man) as the businessman-like Secretary of State, Melvyn Douglas (Being There) as Stevens’ fatherly Secretary of Defense, and Blacula himself, William Marshall, as the Attorney General. The sharp dialogue and excellent support given by these men only serve to enhance Durning’s performance and make his slow-boiling fury at the horrors revealed to him even more credible when he finally blows up during one of the film’s most compelling dramatic scenes.

Gerald S. O’Loughlin (In Cold Blood) is one of the true MVPs of the supporting cast as a brigadier general and the president’s closest confidante who must act as the leader of the free world’s conscience during his greatest moment of personal strife. Solid work is also provided by the always dependable and watchable Richard Widmark, isolated from the rest of the main players while remaining a critical figure in the ongoing crisis, as well as Aldrich veteran Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen), Roscoe Lee Browne (Logan’s Run), and Morgan Paull (Blade Runner). Eagle-eyed fans of the Star Wars cinematic saga will be excited to single out cameo appearances from Garrick Hagon, William Hootkins, Shane Rimmer, and John Ratzenberger. In a development that should surprise no one, Jerry Goldsmith contributed a score that is equally melodic and menacing and always knows exactly when to apply the tension and ease off both the characters and the audience. Sharp and pristine widescreen cinematography is supplied by Robert B. Hauser (Soldier Blue, Willard), and Aldrich, along with an editing team that includes frequent collaborators Michael Luciano (The Flight of the Phoenix) and Maury Winetrobe (The Frisco Kid), heightens the onscreen suspense and surprise with a terrific use of the split screen technique.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a marvelous political suspense piece enriched by great ensemble acting, focused storytelling, and split-screen editing that puts the audience in the thick of some nail-biting action sequences. One of Robert Aldrich’s finest films, I could not recommend this long-neglected classic more.

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE: Who Needs Enemies?

Posted in Blu-ray, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews, Videos on June 23, 2022 by Robert Morgan

In the Boston underworld, Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is known as a stand-up guy. His colleagues call him “Eddie Fingers” because he once got his hand slammed in a drawer by some unsavory associates, giving the old timer a new set of knuckles in the process. Coyle must be a jack of many trades in the Beantown mob, but his primary business is supplying guns he procures through his younger partner Jackie Brown (Steven Keats). His current best customers are a gang of bank robbers led by Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco) and Artie Van (Joe Santos) that must abandon their arms after every holdup. He’s done his share of prison time and has no intention of going back now that he has a wife (Helena Carroll) and three children to look after, but when he gets busted driving a truck full of stolen Canadian Club whiskey in New Hampshire, Coyle is forced to become an informant for ATF agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) in the hope that he can avoid a sentence that could stretch to five years.

In order to keep from getting sent back to the clink, Coyle must sell out both Jackie and the Scalise gang, but his life – whether it be on the outside or in – isn’t going to mean much once word gets to the elusive Boston crime boss known to everyone as “the Man” that this low-life nobody is informing on his fellow criminals for the law.

One of the greatest necessities of effective storytelling is that the characters must define and propel the action, and not the other way around. Based on the novel by the celebrated crime novelist George V. Higgins (whose work was last adapted for the screen in 2012’s Killing Them Softly, one of that year’s best and most underrated films in spite of its odd retitling), The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of the most realistic depictions of blue collar criminal life and the strained and mendacious, but regrettably necessary, relationship between the right and wrong sides of the law. Best known as the director of the stellar Steve McQueen action hit Bullitt, Peter Yates is at his absolute best here, crafting a bleak and merciless thriller where the outcome only becomes certain once you grow to understand the people involved in the story. Working with screenwriter Paul Monash, who also produced, Yates brings the world of Higgins’ novel to vivid life and places greater emphasis on creating an immersive and authentic working-class landscape where the characters could plausibly exist than on delivering the thrills that audiences crave.

This is a story where relationships are important, but loyalties buckle easily when the slightest pressure is applied, and Yates and Monash understand this all too well. The Boston where Eddie Coyle goes to work every day trying to make ends and keep his nose clean is one anyone from the city could recognize and connection to because Yates and cinematographer Victor J. Kemper (Dog Day Afternoon) shot the film on location in several areas around the actual city. They take the production to the nondescript banks, grocery stores, train stations, and public parks where criminal activity is often going on with average ordinary citizens blissfully unaware. Monash’s adaptation of the Higgins novel retains the author’s gift for dialogue that sounds natural and genuine and doesn’t serve to merely advance the narrative, but to give the viewer a window into how these people think, operate, and relate to one another.

The houses mostly have wood-paneled interiors and could have burst hot water heaters and a lack of food in the fridge. Art director and production designer Gene Callahan (The Stepford Wives) did a fantastic job bringing a sense of hard-edged kitchen sink realism to the sets. Dave Grusin’s (The Nickel Ride) jazzy score, infused with a healthy dose of streetwise funk, pulsates with the rhythm and poetry of the world of dangerous and doomed men, and the expert editing by documentary veteran Patricia Lewis Jaffe keeps the pacing razor-taut and furious with respect to the characters and the dilemmas in which each person finds themselves. There are several memorable set-pieces that positively rack the nerves because we are never quite sure what the outcome could be, but the possible threat of violence and death hangs over everything the characters say and do; one false move, one misspoken sentiment, and that could be all she wrote. It’s rare when a movie can keep you on the literal edge of your seat, but The Friends of Eddie Coyle is never short on such suspenseful moments.

Yates’ film starred iconic cinema tough guy Robert Mitchum in what is undoubtedly his finest performance, and at the point in both his life and career when this project came along, the man was ready to play Eddie Coyle. The role required an actor who embodied Coyle’s world-weary resignation, aged wisdom, and stringent devotion to a moral code that has kept him alive and employed in criminal activity with strength and authenticity. Mitchum, growing weary of being typecast as the laconic badass in every generic crime and western picture that got tossed onto a studio development exec’s desk, brings a battered authority to the role and really nails down the character’s Boston accent by incorporating it into his own whiskey-aged vocals with nuance. Coyle isn’t an action hero, but an old man who has long comprehended the choices he has made in life and the people with whom he has to do business on a regular basis and must exist in that world without rocking the boat. Mitchum gives what may be the best performance of his storied career.

Coyle’s fatal mistake is overestimating the value of the experience and intelligence his years in the underworld have brought him. When he finally realizes that he’s a small-timer for a good reason, it’s far too late. In a more conventional film, Eddie and ATF agent Foley – played by Richard Jordan, one of American cinema’s most unsung and underappreciated character actors, in one of the best performances of a distinguished career that should have made him a star – would have bonded early on, developed a trusting relationship, and teamed up in the finale to battle the forces of the mob in a showdown full of pummeling fists and blazing fists. This is not a conventional story.

To Foley, a low-level slob like Eddie Coyle is a nobody who might have some useful information, and that’s if the Feds don’t already have it (which they usually do). Foley isn’t a cold-blooded bastard, but a man trying to do his job to bring down the mob. He’s the good guy in this scenario, and if a tip from Coyle can bring him a good arrest with an easy conviction on the side, so be it. That doesn’t make these men friends or even allies with overlapping motivations. That’s the nature of this business, one that the film never tires of reminding us – sell out your friends, and the same could very well happen to you. Coyle is expendable. If he goes down, someone else will take his place and life will go on as if nothing ever threatened to derail it.

Mitchum and Jordan are surrounded by a gangbuster of a supporting cast comprised of unsung acting talent that it took years, and for some even decades, for audiences to truly appreciate. Peter Boyle (Taxi Driver) is terrific as a syndicate man and another of Foley’s informers put in a very difficult position in the finale. Alex Rocco (The Godfather) and Joe Santos (The Rockford Files) impress greatly as the leaders of the stick-up crew with whom Coyle does regular business. One of my favorite performances in the film was given by the late Steven Keats, probably best known to contemporary as Paul Kersey’s son-in-law in the original Death Wish, as Coyle’s cocky, but canny and vigilant protégé Jackie Brown.

The cast is rounded out by smaller turns from Mitchell Ryan (Electra Glide in Blue) as Foley’s superior, James Tolkan (Back to the Future) as a mysterious representative of “the Man”, Matthew Cowles (Shutter Island) and Margaret Ladd (Mozart in the Jungle) as a pair of impulsive kids trying to secure weapons from Jackie for their own robbery, and Michael McLeery (Mother’s Day) as a nervous punk who shows up in the final scenes to serve a purpose I dare not spoil but will easily become clear to you once he makes his first appearance if you understand what must be the logical conclusion to The Friends of Eddie Coyle….the only conclusion that could make any sense.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a masterpiece of 1970’s downbeat crime cinema and a feast of terrific acting, writing, direction, music, and cinematography. Peter Yates’ best film as director is also a timeless classic that would be difficult to make in this day and age.

NOBODY Does It Better (Than Most Modern Action Movies)

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Reviews, Videos on June 13, 2022 by Robert Morgan

It is one of the rarest of occasions, the moment when a special kind of movie comes along – a movie that, until it actually existed, I never realized my life had been missing. Now that it was a reality, a crucial piece of the puzzle known as my soul has been restored to its rightful place and I am one step closer to achieving nirvana.

Nobody is such a movie.

As I write this, several hours have passed since my third session with the first therapist I’ve seen on a regular basis since 1997. I’m also still processing the recent passing of Philip Baker Hall, the legendary character actor who delivered fantastic performances on film (Secret Honor, Hard Eight) and television (Seinfeld) before dying at the age of 90 on June 12. Hall was a favorite of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast the screen veteran as aging professional gambler Sydney in his 1996 breakthrough feature Hard Eight (originally titled Sydney) and three years later as cancer-stricken game show host Jimmy Gator in Magnolia.

Between those two films, Hall made a memorable appearance as ambitious porn financier Floyd Gondolli in Anderson’s sprawling epic Boogie Nights. He had only scene, but it was one of the film’s definitive scenes. During a New Year’s Eve party at the home of adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), Gondolli has arrived to deliver a stark message to Horner about the industry’s future: film was dead, and videotape would soon be the way to go. It’s not the message an intelligent professional with lofty ideals such as Horner wants to hear, and at first he rejects it with barely concealed fury (successfully conveying the first two stages of grief in the process), but Gondolli coolly counters Horner’s skepticism with a masterful sales pitch that all but ensures the hardcore devotee of shooting hardcore on celluloid will soon see the light:

“I’m not a complicated man. I like cinema. In particular, I like to see people fucking on film. But I don’t want to win an Oscar and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass and lollipops in my mouth. That’s just me. That’s just something I enjoy.”

Now, you might ask, what does butter in the ass and people fucking on film have to do with a violent action vehicle driven by longtime alt-comedy icon and acclaimed icon Bob Odenkirk? Simple pleasures, ladies and germs. Much like Floyd Gondolli, the Professor Harold Hill of the XXX market, I myself am not a complicated man. Although I have yet to experience the sensation of a churned dairy product in close proximity to my rectum, I do like cinema. You might even say that I love it.

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t watch a movie. Most of the movies I watch are enjoyable in some fashion; it’s rare when I see one that’s so lousy and boring, I treat it like Spartans treat newborn babies with visible birth defects. I’m one of the easiest people in the world to please. Action cinema is one of my longtime loves. The amount of cinematic epics loaded with bullets, bombs, and badasses in my physical media collection easily outnumber the other genres by 4-to-1. That’s being generous. That’s being me. I’m a sucker for a sweet, tasty slice of escapism, and Nobody hits the spot every time.

Bear with me now, because I’m about to write my least favorite part of any review – the synopsis. I only do it for the benefit of the skeptical reader, if anyone actually reads what I write.

When we first meet Odenkirk’s titular suburban schlub Hutch Mansell, he’s living a life that could not be more ordinary if his hobbies included tax form preparation. He works at a metal fabrication plant owned by his father-in-law Eddie (fuckin’ Michael Ironside) and lives in a lovely house in a quiet neighborhood with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen, who should have shot to stardom on the strength of her performances in The Devil’s Advocate and Gladiator, and the fact that she didn’t is an unforgivable offense), teenage son Blake (Gage Munroe) and younger daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath).

Hutch is sleepwalking through life until the night when he gets the rudest of awakenings….

Okay, that was all bullshit, and I can do better. After all, I’m not writing the Nobody press kit here. Long story short, thugs break into the Mansell home, Hutch gets pissed because they stole Abby’s kitty cat bracelet, he kicks a bunch of ass on a city bus and kills the little brother of a powerful Russian gangster, and the next thing you know, all-out war with a steadily rising body count ensues.

As it turns out, Hutch used to be a covert government assassin known as an “auditor” who retired to live a normal life, and now he’ll need to summon his particular skill set once more to protect his loved ones and save his ass from Russian retribution.

That’s much better.

The brainchild of John Wick creator Derek Kolstad and Hardcore Henry (a kickass flick I should revisit sometime down the road) director Ilya Naishuller, Nobody takes a well-worn concept and finds surprising new ways to make it fresh again. It’s not a masterpiece of the genre, but it’s damn great entertainment that delivers action, drama, character, and humor with expert precision without once boring the viewer.

We’ve seen the story of a retired assassin forced to return to his old life for matters of the heart before, but not quite like Nobody presents it. Even after Saul Goodman came into his life, it was difficult to picture Odenkirk playing a man who could break bones and wield firearms with the confidence of a cool-headed professional athlete. The featurettes on the Blu-ray release of Nobody show the actor training harder than he ever thought possible to convincingly play Hutch. That hard work pays off in spectacular fashion when our humble everyman working stiff reveals his true colors in the now-classic bus fight scene.

Hutch Mansell isn’t invincible. He can’t get into brawls with guys half his age without earning at least a few bruises for his trouble. It’s refreshing, in this age of superheroes and muscle-bound dude bros knocking down entire armies of faceless henchmen without slipping in their own puddles of baby oil, to have a main character in an action movie take a little damage. Not even the mighty John Wick, who shares a little DNA with our man Hutch no doubt thanks to their mutual creator Kolstad, could make it through one of his franchise’s epic shootouts unscathed.

What Odenkirk brings to the role of Hutch is relatability. Many of us see ourselves in the regular guy known to his family and co-workers, and more than a few of us wish we could come out victorious after a 90-minute assault of violence capped off by a ripper of a car chase soundtracked by Pat Benatar’s 80’s rock classic “Heartbreaker” and a full-scale gun battle at Hutch’s place of employment where he gets some much-needed from his aging father (Christopher Lloyd) and brother/fellow government operative (RZA). The finale is a beautiful parade of mayhem that could go on for a solid hour and I would not complain one bit.

The perfect family.

Kolstad’s script provides the cast without just enough character meat for them to snack on, with Odenkirk and Aleksei Serebryakov getting the most scenery to chew. Serebryakov’s stressed Russkie mobster is often a demented delight, going from singing at his own nightclub to beating up hospitalized goons in a matter of minutes with the same level of energy. It’s always nice to see Michael Ironside, ever the pro as Hutch’s dad-in-law and watching Christopher Lloyd – Doc Brown himself – working a pump-action shotgun in the final bullet-fest is a visual that will linger in my memory forever. Kudos to Kolstad for making Nielsen’s underwritten wife role a little different than usual; when Becca finds out what her hubby has been up to at night as his unsuspecting family sleeps, her reaction might pleasantly surprise you.

The direction by Naishuller is not quite as flashy and chaotic as he displayed in Hardcore Henry, but a dialed-down approach best suits the material and he still brings plenty of energy to the action set-pieces of Nobody while keeping the focus on character and story, as slight as both may be. It’s always nice to be able to follow what’s going on in a fight scene or shootout since most modern action features tend to rely heavily on handheld cinematography and jagged editing that leaves the simplest physical conflict an incomprehensible mess.

Watching Nobody is like eating a meal you’ve enjoyed before but prepared with a few different ingredients. Even though the outcome is ultimately the same as before, you still feel fulfilled. I could watch this movie every week without tiring of it. That’s how good it is. Nobody won’t win any Oscars and it’s not going to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to. It’s one of the simple pleasures that make being a movie fan so much fun, like a glob of Country Crock lubricating the crevices of your anus.

“I’m gonna fuck you up.”

In Need of a Gory Getaway? Plan Your Escape to BLOOD ISLAND Today!

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Independent Cinema, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2022 by Robert Morgan

Six decades ago, a group of Filipino filmmakers and a few English-speaking actors in need of an easy payday birth one of the wildest and bloodiest franchises in the history of exploitation cinema. I am referring, of course, about the infamous “Blood Island” series – a quartet of insane low-budget horror flicks that delivered to audiences around the world a non-stop parade of slime, sex, and slaughter.

The beginning was a little rough.

1959’s Terror Is A Man, a lo-fi riff on H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, sowed the seeds for the monstrous mayhem to come. But the movie itself is an overly talkative affair about a shipwrecked sailor (Richard Derr) whose lifeboat lands on an island in the middle of who-the-hell-knows where scientist Dr. Charles Girard (Francis Lederer) and his wife/assistant Francis (Greta Thyssen) have transformed a panther into a sort of Man Panther (Flory Carlos), or Panther Man if you will.

Nothing much happens for the first hour of Terror outside of Francis falling in love with the sailor and a surgery scene with less blood than a papercut. For that scene, the producers added a warning bell to cue the audience for mondo disturbing stuff about to happen. That bell sounds like a telephone ringing and when I first heard it, I half-expected Girard to shout, “Will someone answer that damn thing already?” By the time Panther Dude finally breaks free from bondage and goes on a very mild rampage in the movie’s last twenty minutes, you may or may not care one bit. The laughable make-up on the misbegotten mutant does not help either.

Terror was co-directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero, with only de Leon getting screen credit, and produced by Kane W. Lynn. During World War II, Lynn was a pilot in the U.S. Navy stationed in the Philippines. Once the war ended, he decided to settle down there, and it was then that he met Romero and the two men became friends and formed Lynn-Romero Productions. Back in the States, Lynn met up with producer Irwin Pizor, and together with Romero they founded Hemisphere Pictures to ensure American distribution for their Filipino projects.

Out of the partnership between Lynn and Romero came several other movies including The Scavengers (which played on a double bill in the U.S. with Terror Is A Man) and The Raiders of Leyte Gulf, the latter a staple of exploitation trailer compilation DVDs. Few of these did well at the box office, compelling the producers to make a return trip to Blood Island in 1968 for Brides of Blood.

After the sleep-inducing Terror, there was nowhere for the series to go but up. Introducing color and upping the ante in terms of sex and violence made Brides a vastly more entertaining movie. It also one of the Blood Island quartet’s most enduring staples – actor John Ashley. At the time he received the offer to star in Brides, Ashley’s marriage to Deborah Walley had ended and he needed immediate escape. He enjoyed the experience of working in the Philippines so much that he stayed on long after the Blood Island series concluded and produced several exploitation movies in the country that saw release in the U.S. through distributors like Dimension Pictures and Roger Corman’s then newly-formed New World Pictures.

Shot for a meager $75,000, Brides found Ashley playing Peace Corps member Jim Farrell, who escorts Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor, another B-movie veteran) and his wife Carla (Beverly Powers, credited as “Beverly Hills”) to investigate evidence of atomic radiation at the tropical paradise nicknamed “Blood Island” by the fearful natives. There they encounter Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro), a 50-year-old man who looks half that age, mutated vegetation with life of its own, and a hideous monstrosity who terrorizes the islanders unless it is offered two naked female sacrifices.

Once again, de Leon and Romero co-directed, but Romero was able to minimize his colleague’s artistic intents behind the camera while amping up Terror Is A Man’s few memorable aspects and frosting the finished cake with plenty of fake blood and a plethora of nude women. When Hemisphere released Brides in the U.S., publicity representative Sam Sherman came up with a marketing gimmick that offered a pair of cheap plastic engagement rings to female moviegoers so that they become Brides of Blood themselves. Sherman’s idea to include fake marriage licenses in the ring set was vetoed because of the potential legal nightmare they could create.

A year after the release of Brides, the series hit its peak big time with Mad Doctor of Blood Island, the most entertainingly lurid and trashy of the quartet. Ashley was brought back to play a different character, pathologist Dr. Bill Foster, while voluptuous film and television actress Angelique Pettyjohn supplied the sex appeal. Foster and Pettyjohn’s character Sheila have come to Blood Island for different reasons: the doc is investigating an outbreak among the natives of a chlorophyll disease, while Sheila is hoping to find her estranged father. Their host Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy) stays mum about mysterious happenings on the island, which includes people bleeding out green before perishing with faces covered in mossy infections. And once again, there is a rampaging monster in the area and this one both bleeds green and randomly murders islanders.

Mad Doctor opens with a prologue, filmed at an Air Force base in Manila, inviting audiences to take part in the “Oath of Green Blood” by drinking “of the Mystic Emerald fluids herein offered” and becoming ravenous for either sex or murder. Packets of green liquid were handed out to paying patrons during the movie’s American release, another Sam Sherman marketing innovation, though one he later claimed made him sick to his stomach when he tried the stuff himself. Following the oath, we get a cold open with a terrified native woman running naked through the jungle before the chlorophyll beast rips her face to shreds. We are clued into the monster’s presence with a series of wild, repeated zoom-ins. This flick wastes no time whatsoever.

The third and best entry in the Blood Island series boasted its best trailer, narrated with frothing, cackling hysteria by the German-born actor, monologist, concentration camp survivor, and frequent David Letterman guest Brother Theodore (The ‘Burbs).

With de Leon opting out of 1970’s Beast of Blood, Romero returned to bring the series to a close. Picking up immediately after the end of Mad Doctor, Ashley returned as the heroic Dr. Foster, the sole survivor after the previous movie’s green-blooded creature murdered the others and destroyed their boat. Months later, he returns to the island (because some people just never learn) with reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnall) and they find the still-alive Dr. Lorca (played this time by Eddie Garcia), now sporting an eyepatch and continuing his diabolical experiments. He also has the monster from Mad Doctor in his lab, its disembodied head kept alive on machines while its body lays strapped to Lorca’s surgical table.

Though it rarely hits the delirious heights of Mad Doctor, Beast of Blood – which marked Ashley’s debut as producer – has enough sleaze value to justify its existence even as it retreads familiar territory with little inspiration. Severin Films released all four movies on Blu-ray in an attractive box set in late 2018. The set is now out of print and fetching ludicrous prices online, but you can still purchase individual releases of Terror Is A Man, Brides of Blood, and Mac Doctor of Blood Island. If you are in the mood for a cavalcade of carnality and carnage, plan your escape to Blood Island today!

Keanu Reeves Is Ortiz the Dog Boy In Alex Winter and Tom Stern’s FREAKED!

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2016 by Robert Morgan

freaked

Alex Winter and Tom Stern‘s fantastically demented 1993 comedy Freaked is one of those rare films whose existence is nothing short of a miracle. It went into production as Hideous Mutant Freekz (also the title of the Parliament-Funkadelic theme tune that underscores the end credits), but the directors, who also wrote the script with Tim Burns, had the new title forced upon them by the inefficiently supportive execs at 20th Century Fox who green-lit the project thinking that Winter’s involvement was tantamount to getting the next chapter in the exciting time travelling adventures of Bill Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan. That turned out to be the least of Freaked‘s behind-the-scenes troubles.

I’m old enough to remember seeing some B-roll production footage on some E! Channel show back in the early 90’s when it was still being referred to as Hideous Mutant Freekz, but a year or so later I was in a neighborhood supermarket when I found a young adult novelization of the film that bore the replacement title. The labor of Winter and Stern’s love was granted something approximating a theatrical release, of that I am sure. Studio suits screened it for preview audiences who were under the assumption they were about to check out another dumbass comedy to please the undemanding youth market and were horrified to find out that….GASP….they had a potential cult film on their hands. That’s not exactly the kind of truth you want to face when you have $12 million invested in this peculiar business endeavor.

As the old saying goes, Freaked wasn’t released…it escaped. It wasn’t until late-1994 when I finally received the opportunity to check Freaked out for myself during an after-school viewing on HBO. I laughed my ass off then, but the best part is that the film’s oddball, offbeat humor (honed to perfection by its creators through years of making short films and their lamented MTV comedy series The Idiot Box) holds up well after more than two decades since it was unveiled for the world to see. This is in spite of the fact that Freaked is very much a product of its time, from its spazzy, in-your-face visual style to the aggressively cool and catchy soundtrack featuring Henry Rollins and Butthole Surfers. Oddly enough, Winter and Stern first conceived of Freaked as a gruesome horror film starring the Surfers. I haven’t even mentioned yet the prominent roles both Brooke Shields and Mr. T play in this big screen madhouse. Whoops, I just did.

Had Freaked been made a decade earlier, it likely would have been treated the same way by whatever studio was unfortunate enough (from their perspective) to bankroll its creation. It was destined to be unloved by all but the true freaks and geeks who once spent their weekends running through the aisles of their local video store like a human pencil line on a restaurant place mat maze looking for the latest craziest flicks from all over the world and now plan their lives around the double feature picture shows at the New Beverly Cinema.

Cable airings and video rentals and sales helped keep Freaked alive and breathing as its cult following grew. Anchor Bay Entertainment acquired the rights to the film as part of a package of 20th Century Fox titles the studio had zero interest in further exploiting and released it on DVD for the first time in the summer of 2005 in a splashy two-disc set that contained a brutally honest and hilarious directors’ commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, two of Winter and Stern’s early short features (one of which I’ll include below) and best of all, a feature-length rehearsal version of the film performed by most of the cast (Shields and T are the most notable absentees) shot on videotape with the actors wearing nothing but their street clothes.

One of the most unusual things about Freaked is the uncredited casting of the one and only Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy, the charming leader of the Freaks. It’s difficult to recognize the future star of The Matrix and John Wick underneath the impressive mutant make-up created by a gifted effects team that included horror/sci-fi cinema vets Tony Gardner (Army of Darkness) and Screaming Mad George (Society), but Reeves is pretty easy to spot in the rehearsal footage. Say what you will about the man’s acting abilities, but his performance as Ortiz doesn’t require the stage fur and phony dog fangs to convince. Reeves is hilarious and clearly having a blast going way over the top with a hearty laugh that Errol Flynn would admire just as soon he stopped banging his latest teenage girlfriend.

There’s a video assembly of Reeves’ highlights from the Freaked rehearsal I’ve posted below. The Anchor Bay DVD is sadly out of print and copies are currently commanding high prices on the online auction market. It was released on Blu-ray in August 2013, and though it featured upgraded picture and sound quality it was completely devoid of supplements for some fucked-up unexplained reason. Maybe one day the rights will fall into the hands of a video distributor that actually gives a shit about respecting this bizarro laugh riot of an old school horror spoof. Until then you can order that Blu-ray HERE. If you manage to track down a copy of that OOP DVD, give the rehearsal version a watch just to see both a young Reeves and John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Winter’s Bone) in action.

Here’s Winter and Stern’s 1985 short film Squeal of Death, a film noir parody starring Winter that they made during their sophomore year at New York University. It was selected to be shown on an episode of USA Network’s 80’s series Night Flight, and after being seen by both an executive at Columbia Pictures and filmmaker Sam Raimi, Winter and Stern were on their way to Tinseltown to start their careers. Read more about it HERE.

Screw it. Here’s the Freaked theatrical trailer.