Collins’ Crypt: BC Gets Exploited #1

Brian introduces a limited column reviewing THE EXPLOITATION CINEMA 20 FILM COLLECTION. 

Around the time of Grindhouse, a bunch of companies specializing in public domain/independent movies released "Grindhouse Greats!" or similarly titled collections, hoping to cash in on the presumed success of that film by re-packaging the sort of titles that inspired Quentin Tarantino (and Robert Rodriguez, if mainly by proxy) to make it in the first place. Had the film been a bigger hit, maybe these collections would be more prominent and better produced, but alas, we just have things like The Exploitation Cinema 20 Film Collection, a ten-disc set (with a cover featuring a Rose McGowan simulacrum, for good measure) that promises the full grindhouse experience - each disc offers a double feature plus trailers, available in a "Play all" function. All that's missing is the concession stand, stains on the floor, and unsanitary behavior from the couple in the back row.

I was recently given this set by a friend (who was going to toss it), figuring it would make for a fun recurring BAD column where I watch all ten double features. As the set only has two horror-centric doubles, it wouldn't be appropriate for Collins Crypt every time out, but I thought I'd launch it here and spin it off into its own thing, which I hope to run one or two times a month a month until I've gone through the whole box. And then *I* will toss it out, if this first double is any indication of the rest of the set's quality*.

As promised, the experience begins with trailers, though I was disappointed to discover that most of the spots were for other films on the set. Brian Quinn runs a Grindhouse night at the New Beverly once or twice a month, and part of the fun of his curated trailer reels is that 9 times out of 10 the movies AREN'T going to be shown anytime soon, if at all. Let's face it, the majority of these films aren't very good, but often provide fantastic trailers - so it'd be a lot more fun, I think, if the ones they showed wouldn't be spoiled by simply plopping in the next disc and seeing how bad they were. The one trailer that's not advertising another movie on the set is Legend of the Eight Ninjas, a Sonny Chiba film featuring a truly awful/amazing ballad called "I Never Want This Night To End", which most definitely does NOT fit the film at all but nonetheless was used as a selling point ("Theme song by John O'Banion!" the trailer informs us). For the record, the other two spots here are for Pickup and Don't Answer The Phone, both on the other discs.

The first feature was Black Candles (Spanish title: Los Ritos sexuales del diablo), a sleazy Rosemary's Baby ripoff from 1982 (they were still ripping Polanski's film off, almost 15 years later?). Directed by Jos? Ram?n Larraz (the director who passed away last year and was behind such colorful titles as Edge of the Axe and Violation of the Bitch), it quite amusingly starred a guy who I thought looked a bit like renowned adult film actor Jamie Gillis, BEFORE I realized that this was basically a softcore film with some random devil worshipping shit thrown in for good measure. There are three lengthy sex scenes in the first 20 minutes alone, and by the time the film has finished we've seen just about every conceivable male/female pairing that could be made from its cast, plus a pair of lesbian scenes for good measure.

But the two most notorious scenes don't involve two humans. In one, a character is killed when a sword is rammed into his anus, which would have been a more fitting demise for the male character who had roughhoused his way into anal sex with his wife (she protests for about 2 seconds, then enjoys it enough to have a smoke with him after), but oh well. In the other, a woman makes love to a goat during one of the cult rituals, a scene so ludicrous that it's easy to forget that it's completely fucked up as well (as if her eager thrusting wasn't enough, she begins licking his horns at one point). I think there was some incest in there somewhere too, but I wasn't sure if it was a hallucination or a memory.

And I say that with regards to the context of that particular moment, since (spoiler!) the whole movie turns out to be a dream. In the closing moments our heroine wakes up in the back of a car, revealing that she fell asleep on the way to the house where all this nuttiness goes down, and everything we have seen hasn't really happened. But then things start playing out the same way and she meets people there that match up to the ones she dreamed about, so maybe it'll all happen anyway. For her sake, I hope it's more exciting this time around; despite the wall to wall sex the movie is actually kind of boring - the cult stuff is so haphazard that it never really intrigues, and most of the plotting seems to be dictated by little more than "Let's get this guy and that gal into a room so they can have sex", rendering it largely uninvolving. And that's even more obnoxious when you consider the twist - why not go all out if you're gonna say it was all a dream anyway? Since she's barely in on the sex (her husband is the one who quickly succumbs to the cult's pleasures), it's kind of a boring, passive dream for her, isn't it?

Once that was over, I was treated to two more trailers from elsewhere on the set (Prime Evil, which doesn't really belong anyway since it was a late 80s production, long after the heyday of such fare) and Sister Street Fighter, another Sonny Chiba effort. I wish they threw in a "let's go out to the lobby" type jingle for good measure, but that would require too much effort I guess. By the way, the whole retro vibe is thrown off by the modern logos at the top of each film (one of them even has a URL), pimping the remastering companies that got these movies onto DVD in the first place. A poor call; not only does it suck you out of the "experience" but it also lets us know exactly who to blame for the poor, non-anamorphic transfers that the films got. Being beat up is fine; that would add to the allure in its own way - but seeing VHS tracking glitches and having to watch the film in a tiny square window in the middle of your TV isn't really ideal. Insult to injury, the obligatory "Feature Presentation" fanfare IS anamorphic - the only time the image will fill your HDTV on the set. Still holding on to your CRT monitor? This is the set for you.

The 2nd film was Evil Eye, which was slightly more of a legit horror movie than Black Candles but not necessarily much better. This is one of those fairly common "psychological thrillers" where a guy may or may not be blacking out and killing folks, and since he dreams of them BEFORE they happen you can't blame him for suspecting he's the murderer. Of course, he's not, but the goal for the viewer is to figure out who IS. Is it his girlfriend? His doctor? The cop chasing him? His best friend? His chauffeur? I have no idea. I honestly couldn't make heads or tails out of this movie, which had some giallo elements but wasn't nearly as intriguing as your average pre-Deep Red Argento flick. There are some great isolated moments, like a guy spitting up a frog, and some of the ladies (particularly Pilar Vel?zquez as Peter's girlfriend) were quite lovely even in this blurry transfer, but I couldn't get into it. I looked at some IMDb reviews and they all point out the movie's incoherent screenplay, so at least I know it wasn't just me.

Oh, and it's all a dream. Yes, again. The common theme that unites these movies, besides being kind of dull, is that they both pull the most obnoxious twist in cinema on the poor viewer who sat through them. But worse, it's clumsily presented, cutting back to a fairly random moment to show him waking up and including some out of nowhere accident footage along with it. Apparently there's a cut of the film that runs 106 minutes (this one is about 90), so maybe that would clear things up if it really existed, but damned if I'll ever try to find out. It's possible that there's a good movie in this concept, and I like that they throw telekinesis into the mix (one highlight - making a record spin so fast that it flies across the room), but even this possibly cut version felt way too long, and the director seemed more interested in the scenery than the kill/plot scenes, so I guess it's just not my cup of tea.

Since I couldn't get into the movie, I started trying to imagine myself sitting in a theater with this particular double feature. While I was able to get through the whole 3 hour experience more or less without pause (I had to administer a diaper change for baby Collins, as my wife had gone out with friends - this is the sort of crap I subject him to when left unsupervised!), I know that if I was at a drive-in I'd be heading to the snack bar for a lengthy period of the second film, if not dozing off in my car. A double feature typically has the best film first, letting the second one play for the hardcores while the normals clear out, making the exit at the end of the second movie run that much smoother and let the employees get home that much quicker. But really, unless you were there for the sex (Evil Eye had its fair share, but nowhere near as rampant or relatively graphic), there's really not much of a difference in quality here - they're both unfocused ripoffs of earlier films, with terrible endings to boot. Their few positives (both have fine scores, to be fair) are outweighed by the negatives - they're sort of BOTH worthy of being the "B" movie to something more enticing. And their basic similarity hurt as well; Death Proof may be a lesser Tarantino effort, but at least it was nothing like Planet Terror, making Grindhouse a double feature that wouldn't find you having trouble remembering which one was which the next morning. These two were starting to blend together while I was watching!

And yet, I still had some fun. I love the idea of trying to recreate the old school experience at home, and while the presentation left a lot to be desired, at least they had the basics right (I've seen a DVD offering a double feature that still brought you back to the main menu after the first film concluded). Again, the failure of Grindhouse probably kept us from getting more (and better produced) installments of these kind of sets, but they'd also start throwing in more titles that didn't belong once they burned through the "good" ones. When I was doing Horror Movie A Day, I bought up a bunch of public domain sets from Mill Creek and the like, and I see a few repeat titles on this set (I now own TWO copies of Prime Evil!), so they're obviously all drawing from the same pool of mostly crap public domain films. I do appreciate the variety though - this set has kung fu movies, sex comedies, women-on-a-mission flicks... I'm bound to enjoy at least one movie on the thing, right? Optimism is a key element here; let's just hope I got off to a bad start and the other discs offer more of that retro vibe I crave.

*I've already seen both films on the other horror double, and I'm not a fan of either. So I'll save that for last, assuming I make it that far.