Category Archives: Exploitation
Whatever you do, don’t go by the IMDb listing for this 1970s schlockfest, which is supposed to be about ‘a gay drag queen with a mother fixation who terrorizes a city, hunting down, killing and dismembering women’. While that sounds like something I’d rather like to see, Miss Leslie’s Dolls is actually about a maniac obsessed with transporting her spirit into the bodies of young women, while the ‘dolls’ of the title are the preserved corpses of the girls she failed to possess.
With long black Morticia Addams hair, bushy eyebrows and five o’clock shadow, and dressed in a matronly purple robe, Miss Leslie looks like Aleister Crowley in Norma Bates drag. Now it’s pretty obvious from the outset that she’s being played by a bloke (Miami theatre actor Salvador Ugarte) being dubbed by a woman, but it all makes sense in the end and the road to the reveal is an absolute hoot.
This trangressive spin on the Old Dark House and House of Wax sees students Martha (Kitty Lewis), Lily (Marcelle Bichette), Roy (Charles Pitt) and their teacher Alma (Terri Juston) seeking shelter from a storm at Miss Leslie’s remote home in the woods.
On setting eyes on the lonely middle-age woman’s tableaux of female statues, the teens suspect her of belonging to some weird love cult, but Miss Leslie explains that she has long held a fascination for dolls and for creating life size ones as her family once owned a doll factory that was burned down in a fire. Martha, meanwhile, is the spitting image of the girl Miss Leslie was in love with 20 years ago.
Things go all Thundercrack meets Psycho as soon as the lights go out, with the students and their teacher getting in some bed swapping and heavy petty (Roy’s a bit of a sex god, and there’s some girl-on-girl action), while ‘girl worshipper’ Miss Leslie heads to the cellar for an emotional heart-to-heart with the skull of her dead mother, whom she blames for her murderous acts. We then learn that all Miss Leslie wants in life is to be desired – and to do that, she needs to be reincarnated into the body of a young woman. Oh dear… there are three potential candidates upstairs!
What happens next is really ‘Out there!’ – with the standout scenes involving the waxwork ‘dolls’ coming to lurid life; Martha, Lily and Roy being chased by Miss Leslie armed with an axe dripping in blood, and a drugged Alma, dressed in baby doll negligee and fluffy mules, trying to escape from the deranged maniac. So does Miss Leslie succeed in her spirit swapping? Well you’ll have to see the film to find out. But I can reveal that’s there’s a neat twist at the end.
For decades this would-be cult classic was considered lost, and doesn’t even get a mention in any of my cult film reference books, including Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopaedia (my go-to book for the weird, the strange and the freakish). But kudos to Network Distributing and The Erotic Film Society’s Julian Marsh for unearthing this hidden gem (which I’ve now watched three times).
As I’ve mentioned, the film shares its DNA with a host of other genre classics, with Psycho being the obvious one. Shot at the same studios in Florida where Hershell Gordon Lewis lensed his grand guignol offerings, it has the look and feel of the godfather of gore’s grindhouse flicks (especially Gruesome Twosome), but also has shades of Ed Wood’s Glen Or Glenda and even Beyond the Valley of the Dolls running through its exploitation veins.
There’s much debate as to who really directed this bizarre cinematic experience, which is all explained in the booklet, written by film historian Laura Mayne, which accompanies Network’s release, but that doesn’t matter, as this is a hugely enjoyable slice of cheap and sleazy 1970s horror, which also benefits from an unusual score by the film’s screenwriter (Ralph Remy Jr as Imer Leaf) that fuses the space-age electronic sounds of Bebe and Louis Barron’s music to Forbidden Planet (1955) with Bobby Beausoleil’s otherworldly orchestral score to Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (1972).
Newly scanned from one of the few surviving prints in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Miss Leslie’s Dolls is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 3 September from Network.
The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) | Sergio Martino’s notorious exploitation cult looks ravishing on Blu-ray
From Shameless in the UK comes the 2k restoration release of Sergio Martino’s 1978 Italian horror The Mountain of the Cannibal God (minus the gratuitous animal cruelty) on Blu-ray and DVD.
Ursula Andress braves tarantulas, alligators, anacondas and treacherous terrain as she goes in search of her missing scientist husband, Henry, on a ‘wild and uncontaminated’ island in New Guinea.
Enlisting the services of Stacey Keach’s professor Edward Foster and jungle explorer Manolo (Claudio Cassinelli), Susan (Andress) and her brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) set their sights on the mountain of Ra Ra Me, where Henry’s clandestine expedition was headed. But everyone have their own private reasons for reaching this mystical destination… and not everyone is going to survive the ‘orgiastic pandemonium’ that ensues…
Also known as La montagna del dio cannibale (in Italy), Slave of the Cannibal God (in the US) and Prisoner of the Cannibal God (in the UK), Martino’s exploitation flick was banned in the UK as a ‘video nasty’ until 2001 for its violent imagery. Shameless have now reinstated the long-missing original dramatic gore, but has wisely chosen to ‘soften’ the animal suffering visuals which were patently inserted, completely out of context, to cater for commercial stipulations of the day. However, that bestiality scene involving a ‘disinterested’ pig remains intact!
Frankly, I think this rebuild makes for much more suspenseful jungle adventure (like King Solomon’s MInes meets Emmanuelle), while Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography of the jungle and its wildlife, and the cave locations (all shot in Sri Lanka,) really shine in this restoration. The camera also loves Andress, who looks flawless despite her many ordeals, which include climbing a genuinely dangerous waterfall and being turned into a living goddess coated in honey. The music score, by Guido and Maurizo de Angelis, is also one I could happily listen to in its own right. My only niggle is the film’s unflattering portrayal of indigenous culture (but that is something that’s problematic of many Mondo-style exploitation flicks of the era).
Martino has fully supported Shameless’ efforts not to ‘pander to exploitative and unnecessary violence against animals’, and the director explains that in detail in the extras that are included in this release.
• Cannibal Nightmare – Return to The Mountain of the Cannibal God: Documentary
• Sergio Martino on filming animal cruelty
• Theatrical trailer
• Italian credits
This semi-sequel/remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963) was written by Michael Sonye (aka Haunted Garage’s Dukey Flyswatter) and directed by Jackie Kong. It follows two weirdo brothers Michael (Rick Burks) and George (Carl Crew) and the reanimated brain of their serial killer uncle Anwar (Drew Godderis) as they attempt to resurrect an ancient Lumerian goddess, Sheetar, using the body parts of immoral young women and the sacrifice of a virgin to awaken Sheetar’s powers…
Given only a limited release back in 1987, Blood Diner’s cult reputation has grown over the years. Now, I do remember seeing it lurking in VHS bargain bins back in the day, but I never saw it until now as it’s been dusted off and given a HD Blu-ray makeover as part of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video re-issues – and I must say Blood Diner certainly belongs in the ‘it’s so-bad it’s good’ section of my cult film library.
The music is a bizarre mix of dire synth score, 1960s soul and mambo; while the acting (featuring the worst accents ever) is abysmal, but it’s all shot with such energy and OTT garishness – just like the Troma films of the day – that I’ve actually gone back for a second helping.
Featuring hilarious gross-out sequences and lots of blood, gore, cartoon violence and projectile vomiting, Blood Diner is one seriously insane ride. It also boasts the kind of way-out characters you’d expect from an early John Waters movie, including a burger bar owner whose ventriloquist dummy does all the talking, an obese food critic, a manic archaeologist, and that talking brain in glass jar.
Naked female flesh – and their entrails – are high on the menu alongside some quite nasty acts of violence against women and misogynist humour like ‘Every heard of battered girlfriends?’, which made me question whether the film’s female director was making some kind of a statement or not? There’s also some broad swipes against health food fanatics and the homeless which border on being just a little too unkind.
Filling out the running time is a unnecessary wrestling match involving an Ayran bloke wearing a Hitler moustache and Nazi insignia, while the film’s big set piece is the ‘blood buffet’ where Sheetah, now resurrected, and sporting what looks like a man-eating vagina with teeth in place of her stomach, causes complete mayhem.
Given the cult status that Troma’s Toxic Avenger has acquired over the years, this insane 1980s horror comedy is certainly in the same league. And now that its been restored and remastered – you never know, we might just see a stage musical adaptation one day soon. I know I’d pay to see that (just minus the misogyny).
Blood Diner is released through Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK, and includes the following special features:
• Audio commentary with director Jackie Kong
• Six Blood Diner featurettes: Queen Kong; The Cook, The Uncle, and The Detective; Open for Business; Scoring for Sheetar; You Are What They Eat!
• Archive interview with project consultant Eric Caidin
• Trailer, TV Sports and Still Gallery
The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast | A fitting farewell tribute to the goremeister who was born on this day in 1926
On 26 September 2016, Herschell Gordon Lewis – who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 15 June 1926, headed to the last drive-in in the sky aged 90. But, in doing so, he left behind an enduring legacy as the Godfather of Gore.
It was in 1963 that the exploitation film-maker decided to branch out from his nudie movies and attempt to emulate the success of American International Pictures (AIP) – but with his own style of shocking imagery (cow tongues, anyone?), bizarre visual slapstick and a ‘fuck-you ‘ attitude towards established film tropes. He ended up changing the horror cinema landscape forever.
In celebration of the schlock master, Arrow Video released 14 of HGL’s exploitation movies (including nine Blu-ray world debuts) in one giant box-set, filled with a bucket-load of bonus content, last October.
Yes, his blood-n-guts epics are all presented in restored versions (Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Wizard of Gore et al.), but also included are his rarely-seen exploitation flicks on sleazy photographers (Scum of the Earth), sex robots (How to Make a Doll), biker girl-gangs (She-Devils on Wheels), youths-run-amok (Just for the Hell of It), psychic witches (Something Weird) and hard liquor-loving hill-billies (Moonshine Mountain).
I’ve finally got my hands on the box-set and am now looking forward to some exploitation HGL’s movie madness. Now, bring on the moonshine…
WHAT’S IN THE BOX…
• Newly-restored from original and best surviving vault materials of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Moonshine Mountain, Color Me Blood Red, Something Weird, The Gruesome Twosome, A Taste of Blood, She-Devils on Wheels, Just for the Hell of It, How to Make a Doll, The Wizard of Gore, The Gore Gore Girls, This Stuff ll Kill Ya!
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the features and extras on 7 Blu-ray and 7 DVD discs
• Brand new introductions to the films by HGL
• Newly-produced interviews and featurettes, commentaries, and short films
• Two bonus Blu-rays featuring 1.33:1 versions of Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Color Me Blood Red, A Taste of Blood and The Wizard of Gore [limited editions exclusive]
• Bonus DVD: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore documentary [limited editions exclusive]
• 28-page HGL annual stuffed full with Lewis-themed activities plus archive promotional material [limited editions exclusive]
31 (2015) | Rob Zombie’s ultra-violent valentine to blood-soaked 1970s exploitation is a demented kill-ride
Following 2013’s supernatural misfire The Lords of Salem (which I rather liked, so check it out here), the shock rocker pays homage once again to 1970s grindhouse by tipping a blood-soaked Bozo clown wig to Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Funhouse, by way of Stephen King’s The Running Man and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. But frankly, its not a par on those classics.
The director’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie, heads up a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween night 1976 and let loose in a derelict factory where they are given 12 hours to fight their way to freedom through a maze of secret passages containing deadly traps and a cavalcade of homicidal clowns bearing sicko monikers like Psycho-Head, Sick-Head, Death-Head, Sex-Head and Doom Head.
Placing bets on who will survive is Malcolm McDowell (who turns 74 today) as the bizarrely-named Father Napoleon-Horatio-Silas Murder, veteran British actress Judy Geeson (who was also in The Lords of Salem) and voice over artist Jane Carr. Bizarrely, their aristocratic 18th-century attire makes them look like they are appearing in a completely different film – and indeed they might well be as their characters are never fully explained.
Fans of Rob Zombie’s cult hits House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects will relish his return to ghoulish sadistic form, but this demented trip through the most blood-drenched funhouse this side of the late Hershell Gordon Lewis might leave everyone else colder than all those corpses that pile up before Sheri’s final girl showdown with the film’s most intriguing character, the psychopathic killer Doom Head (Richard Brake, who played the Night King on Game of Thrones).
The Driller Killer (1979) | Abel Ferrara’s notorious art house video nasty gets a deluxe HD restoration release
‘Abel Ferrara’s debut is in the exploitation ballpark, but it’s as much a product of Warhol low-budget artiness as the slasher genre.’ Empire
One of the most notorious of the video nasties, this 1979 exploitation-art-house crossover from future Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant and Welcome to New York director, Abel Ferrar was judged almost entirely on its video sleeve artwork with the film itself left out of the equation. Now it’s getting a deluxe Limited Edition Steelbook from Arrow Video with the disturbing film fully uncut.
Director Ferrara also goes in front of the camera to play struggling artist Reno, a man pushed to the edge by the economic realities of late-1970s New York and the No Wave band practising in the apartment below. His grip on reality soon begins to slip and he takes to stalking the streets with his power tool in search of prey…
The Arrow Video release of The Driller Killer features a high definition restoration of the film, plus the following special features…
• 4K restoration from the original camera negative of the never-before-seen pre-release version and the theatrical cut.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations in both 1.85:1 and 1.37:1 aspect ratios.
• Original Uncompressed Mono PCM audio.
• Audio commentary by Abel Ferrara, moderated by Brad Stevens (author of Abel Ferrara: The Moral Vision) and recorded exclusively for this release
• Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer, a brand-new interview with Ferrara (see a clip below).
• Willing and Abel: Ferraraology 101, a new visual essay guide to the films and career of Ferrara by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Cultographies: Ms. 45
• Mulberry St., Ferrara’s feature-length 2010 documentary portrait of the New York, available on home video in the UK for the first time ever.
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Michael Pattison and Brad Stevens
• Steelbook Limited Edition features original artwork (2,500 copies).
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil (UK Amaray specs).
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only).
To celebrate Arrow Video’s release, we have been given this exclusive extra to share with you. In this new interview with Abel Ferrara recorded for this release, he discusses why he cast himself in the title role after initially asking David Johansen of The New York Dolls…
Psychomania (1973) | The British black magic biker flick roars back into mirthful mayhem in high definition
Let’s face it, 1973’s Psychomania is seriously daft! But this bizarre British exploitation oddity is also the only Surrey-set satanic frog-worshipping zombie biker flick ever to be made in the UK. Now it’s about to raise hell amongst horror aficionados again as the BFI brings it back from the dead for a re-mastered 2k dual format release.
Set its own warped version of Walton-on-Thames where pram and shopping trolley-pushing suburbanites live cheek to cheek next to a ancient pagan site where legend has it that a coven of witches were turned to stone, Psychomania (I have no idea why its called that either) finds real-life motorbike fan Nicky Henson (taking time out from treading the boards at the Young Vic) donning his own leathers and revving up a clapped out AJS to head up The Living Dead, a group of posh-sounding Hell’s Angel’s types with a penchant for tie-dye, crochet knitted tops, multi-coloured name patches and singing mournful folk songs.
Bored shitless in suburbia, where the only fun they get is in knocking down cereal boxes at the Hepworth Way Shopping Centre, Nicky’s medallion man makes a pact with the Devil in return for the secret of immortality, commits suicide, then returns from the grave. Soon his gang (who come off like Eric von Zipper’s Rat Pack in the Beach Party movies) are following their leader in order to create more Beano-esque mischief down at the shops.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well that’s what makes this black magic biker flick from director Don Sharp (who also helmed the Fu Manchu movies and the Tony Randall comedy Our Man in Marrakesh for Harry Alan Towers) so much fun. Plus there’s Beryl Reid as the high mistress of comfy sofas and veteran Hollywood actor George Sanders casting a long shadow as the ghoulish guardian of a big toad that possesses arcane powers (no idea why, either!).
Their scenes take place in what looks like a showroom for the crème de la crème of 20th-century chair design (some I spied in Taschen’s 1000 Chairs), and it’s also the setting for some improvised waltzes between Reid and Henson and some ridiculous straight-faced dialogue, like ‘I’m dead, Mother, but apart from that, I couldn’t be better!’.
And if that’s not enough to wrap your laughing gear around, wait until you see the dead coppers lined up inside the mortuary cool boxes (that ended up in Space 1999) and the wonky prison-set where Doctor Who’s Sergeant Benson (John Levene) presides. There’s also guest appearances from the like of Robert Hardy, Bill Pertwee and future EastEnder June Brown (who would follow this movie with David Hemming’s Jack Wild drama, The 14).
Mind you, the action sequences (which all take place on the newly built M3) are terrific and more than once did I find myself shouting ‘OMG’ at screen as those spluttering bikes narrowly missed coming a cropper; while a sequence involving Hatchet (Blood on Satan’s Claw‘s Denis Gilmore) jumping off a bridge in front of a oncoming Commer van is a standout. Playing one of the suicidal bikers is Britain’s oldest stuntman Rocky Taylor, who has worked on everything from James Bond to Harry Potter.
Topping it all, however, is the soundtrack by Donovan’s former arranger, composer John Cameron. A mix of 1960s pre-punk garage, doom-laden psychedelia, and blaxplotation-infused funk, peppered with ecclesiastical organ sounds and early prog. – it belongs in every film buffs soundtrack collection. And makes a fitting companion to this new BFI release, which is a must have.
Sadly, this was the final feature for 65-year-old George Sanders. The Hollywood legend, who had made a career out of being a cad in classics like Rebecca, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The House of the Seven Gables, committed suicide on 25 April 1972 in Spain – and some say this was the last thing he ever saw…
• Newly re-mastered in 2K and presented in the original aspect ratio (1.66:1), with optional subtitles.
• Return of the Living Dead (2010, 25 mins): featuring interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor.
• Sound of Psychomania (2010, 9 mins): interview with composer John Cameron.
• Riding Free (2010, 7 mins): interview with singer-songwriter Harvey Andrews.
• Interview with Nicky Henson (2016, 14 mins): who recalls his time on the film (much of which is a repeat of what he says in the 2010 featurette).
• Hell for Leather (2016, 8 mins): Short film about the company who supplied the film’s costumes.
• Remastering Psychomania (2016, 2 mins):
• Discovering Britain (1955, 3 mins) Fantastic vintage travelogue, narrated by the celebrated poet, about the Avebury stone circle.
• Roger Wonders Why (1965, 19 mins): Amateur film which sees two Christian biker youths visit the 59 Club, and meet its founder Reverend Bill Shergold. You have to stick with it to understand why its included here.
• Original theatrical trailer.
• Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016, 91min, onscreen text): in lieu of an audio commentary, this is a hilarious subtitle trivia track, and works a treat.
• Collector’s booklet with new writings on the film; plus full film credits.
In an apocalyptic Australia, where lawlessness prevails, outcasts and misfits are being secretly herded into concentration camps disguised as drive-in movie theatres. When young petrolhead Crabs (Neil Manning) takes Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the local drives in his brother’s ’56 Chevy, they soon face the terrible realisation that they have become the latest inmates of this bizarre social experiment. Can they escape before becoming resigned to a hellish existence of all-day parties, round-the-clock movie shows, and all the radioactive junk food they can eat?
Dead-End Drive-In is a prime slice of crazed Ozploitation from Brian Trenchard-Smith (aka Australia’s answer Roger Corman), who was responsible for Australia’s first martial arts thriller The Man From Hong Kong and the cult prison actioner Turkey Shoot. When it was released Down Under in 1986, it was written off as a bargain bin Mad Max rip-off, while its unconvincing cast of day-glo punks, freaks and loons looked like they had stepped out of an issue of the era’s über-trendy i-D magazine.
But it does have its fans, including this (Australian-born) writer, especially as it popularised German Bundeswehr vests and featured some rocking new wave tunes from those legendary Aussie alternative bands, Hunters + Collectors and Kids in the Kitchen. It’s also a great reminder of the now lost Australia tradition of going to the Drives.
Originally put out under the ArrowDrome label on DVD in 2013, Dead-End Drive-In is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a 2k restoration print, and packed with new extras, including an audio commentary from Trenchard-Smith and a documentary by the director on Australian stuntman Grant Page. Which only makes this the perfect excuse to revisit the much-maligned futuristic thriller.
Virgin Witch (aka The Virgin Witch and Lesbian Twins) is a 1971 British sexploitation horror about two models (played by real-life sisters Vicki Michelle Ann Michelle) who are lured into a coven by a lecherous lesbian. Directed by Ray Austin (TV’s Journey to the Unknown) from a screenplay by Klaus Vogel (allegedly the pseudonym for Hazel Adair, one of the creators of TV soap Crossroads), it was later disowned by the Michelle sisters, but remains a guilty pleasure for genre fans.
Catch it on The Horror Channel today at 10.55pm (Sky 319, Virgin 149, Freeview 70, Freesat 138).
INTO THE WOODS
Following a bloody fallout with their mob boss dad, two biker brothers and their sadistic Impalers gang invade the secluded cabin of a crazy scientist and his glum daughter. But they soon regret it when they unwittingly become guinea pigs in the scientist’s latest genetic experiment, while a sasquatch starts picking them off…
A huge fan of 1960s and 1970s drive-in exploitation movies, director James Bickert hits the jackpot in recapturing the sleazy vibe of those films with Dear God No!, a breast-tastic, ultra-violent trip that fuses John Waters-style humour with Roger Corman’s biker classic The Wild Angels, the trippy satanic film I Drink Your Blood and the 1970s faux documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek to create a grindhouse homage to die-for. Shot on super 16mm, Dear God No! is a drive-in lovers’ wet-dream. Just forget the lame acting and bad synching and enjoy the ride.
THE DVD RELEASE
In 2012, a two-disc Impaler edition was released by Monster Pictures which included the Grindhouse Cut of the feature (with 1.32sec cut by the BBFC), collector’s booklet, audio commentaries, trailers, gag reel, two parodies and an animated short. In the US, Big World Pictures released a R1 DVD featuring the film uncut and unrated.
Dear God No! also screens today (Sunday 3 April) on The Horror Channel at 11.40pm