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Short Circuits

Altin Çocuk poster  
Turkey | 1966
Directed by: Memduh Ün
Written by: Bülent Oran
Starring: Göksel Arsoy, Sevda Nur, Altan Günbay, Reha Yurdakul
| 86 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

A Turkish secret agent, codenamed Golden Boy, is called back early from a well-earned vacation (complete with a cadre of women constantly surrounding him) when another agent is gunned down while attempting to relay a message to headquarters. While they don’t know the exact message, the agent was sent to investigate the possibility of a nuclear threat to Turkey, and his death pretty much confirms that the rumors were true. Golden Boy is assigned the case and quickly finds himself dodging fists and bullets. Of course he’s the best there is, and all this really does is cut into his time with the ladies. Before long he comes face to face with the man behind the treachery, and discovers this mission may be a bit tougher to complete than he originally imagined.

When it comes to pulp cinema, no one really does it with more fun than Turkey, and while they're already renowned among cult film fans for their superhero films (and hilarious knock-offs), their forays into the spy arena are just as entertaining and Altin Çocuk (aka Golden Boy) is definitely among the best I’ve come across. It’s the first in a series of Turkish James Bond imitations that compensates for its low budget by ramping up the sex and violence so you’ll hardly notice its shortcomings. And surprisingly enough, Altin Çocuk doesn’t have many; this is without a doubt one of the more polished and accomplished Turkish films I’ve seen. Don’t worry though, this is still campy goodness through and through, anchored by a bald, diabolical villain that comes complete with nefarious cat-stroking as he spouts his evil manifestos and utilizes torturous rooms with spikes slowly descending from the ceiling. Sure, he’s nothing more than a caricature, but I doubt anyone coming to this party is expecting to take any of this seriously.

Any good Bond clone needs to be a ladies man, and our Golden Boy goes above and beyond the call of duty. Bond usually has a stable of two or three lovelies in each of his films, but here our fornicating foreign agent has more than he (or the viewer) can count. Every time a new scenes starts in the first 40 minutes he’s with a new chick; Bond might be losing his touch, he could learn a thing or two from this playboy. Altin Çocuk also hides a mean streak that for the most part lies dormant but rouses itself a handful of times, particularly in a scene where a love interest meets her demise with a noose around her neck while standing on a block of melting ice. It’s nice to see a film like this where our hero isn’t flawless and has a few lives hanging over his head. Toss in some jazzy music, a breakneck pace that never allows boredom to set in, and even more Turkish tail, and Altin Çocuk is a real treat for fans of psychotronic cinema. To go along with one of their best film releases to date, Onar Films also serves up arguably their best quality DVD yet. The print, presented in the film's original full frame format, is honestly the finest I’ve ever seen a Turkish film look; damage is at a minimum, and while a few darker scenes are a bit too light, when you look at the condition most of these films are in, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about here. The mono audio is likewise in great shape, which is definitely a plus considering how active the score and sound effects are. The English subtitles are an improvement over past releases as well, with little in the way of grammatical errors. An interview with Altan Günbay (our detestable but lovable antagonist) is the big extra here, and it’s funny to see that his bald head was what made him a star, going so far as to mention many of the contracts he signed when joining a film included a clause that said he had to remain bald! Also included are text bios for Günbay and actress Sevda Nur (who is very cute), a short photo gallery, an essay on Turkish spy films, a selected filmography for the genre, trailers for other Onar releases, and an insert which is a mini replica poster. If you’re at all interested in this, snatch it up quick as it’s limited to only 500 copies!

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Goodbye Gemini poster  
UK | 1970
Directed by: Alan Gibson
Written by: Edmund Ward
Starring: Judy Geeson, Martin Potter, Michael Redgrave, Alexis Kanner
| 89 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Looking like two survivors from Village of the Damned, blond-locked twins Julian and Jackie arrive at a boarding house somewhere in the heart of London. While we’re never let in on where they’re coming from or how they ended up here, we soon find out that they don’t embody the purity their cherub faced, teddy bear carrying aesthetic suggests when said teddy bear is strategically placed on the stairs, causing their new landlady to tumble to her doom and allowing the twins to take the room they really wanted. Now free to go whenever they please, they start to cruise the London party scene and meet Clive and his friend Denise, who immediately take a fancy to them. Clive is bad news though, which is proven rather quickly with his seedy nature that includes owing money to violent bookies and blackmailing people through drag queen associations. When he gets Julian mixed up in the whole mess, the only way out looks to be the twins’ homicidal tendencies…

A bizarre amalgamation of excess, sexual deviance, obsession and murder, Goodbye Gemini proudly waves the flag of late 60’s counter-culture yet film-wise is firmly planted in its own little world. Just like the carefree spirit this movement thrust towards the forefront, Goodbye Gemini sort of casually moves along, flowing very freely yet holding together a reasonable semblance of a core narrative. People sort of just drift in and out of Julian and Jackie’s lives (and their house; lock the doors!), and almost seem drawn to them by some sort of unexplainable force. When they first meet up with Clive and Denise at a local pub, it’s as if the two strangers have known the twins since childhood. I’m not quite sure whether this is more due to Clive and Denise forcing themselves into the situation or not, but seeing that almost everyone takes notice of the duo immediately when they enter any room, I think the strange aura they exude definitely plays into things. You’d also have to mention that an older man later on in the film, that’s only met Jackie by passing earlier, takes her in, risks his status in the community for her, and allows her to sleep in bed with him, without a thought of doing anything else. It’s certainly odd behavior, but it fits in fine with the laid-back openness the entire film demonstrates.

The sexuality of the film is unabashedly in your face, with no taboo ignored. Whether it’s transsexuals that are stripping or seducing clueless guys, men staring at one another with obviously lurid thoughts, or the suggested (and sometimes rather blatant) incest, there are ample opportunities in Goodbye Gemini to make you feel uncomfortable if you’re a bit sexually naïve. While these aspects never become overbearing, there are definitely moments where what’s going on is quite apparent. There’s also the violent and disturbing murder sequence that is the crux of the film, the only real flourish of violence throughout, making it all the more jarring when it does happen. The ending is a downtrodden, yet appropriate resolution, and while the acting at some times can feel quite over the top (particularly by way of Martin Potter, who plays Julian), in this peculiar piece of cinema, it can be forgiven. Fans of offbeat cinematic experiences that defy categorization (and include asking stuffed bears for advice), Goodbye Gemini is without a doubt worth a look. Scorpion Releasing’s DVD presentation serves up this overlooked film with a pretty decent anamorphic 1.78:1 print. There’s some damage here and there in the form of nicks and scratches, but overall the print is in very good shape. Color reproduction is quite good, although at times things appear a bit soft or over-saturated; I noticed a handful of shots where the image looks a bit blurry possibly due to color-bleeding, but considering the hazy atmosphere of the film, some of this could have been intentional. The English mono track is in very good shape, although the occasional muffled line of dialogue does pop up. The only real extra on the disc is an audio commentary with star Judy Geeson and producer Peter Snell, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson from Mondo Digital. While they touch a bit on the film itself, it’s more about the two participants and their career as a whole, feeling more like a general interview than a specific film commentary. Also included is the film’s theatrical trailer as well as the same Cinerama trailer reel found on Scorpion’s Doctor Death release.

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Kingdom of the Spiders poster  
USA | 1977
Directed by: John "Bud" Cardos
Written by: Richard Robinson & Alan Caillou
Starring: William Shatner, Tiffany Bolling, Woody Strode, Altovise Davis
| 95 Minutes | Rated PG

- By KamuiX

Called in when a healthy, prize calf mysteriously dies, veterinarian Rack Hansen doesn’t know exactly what to make of the situation, as it’s nothing he’s ever seen before. Befuddled, he sends off samples to the state university. All is shrugged off as a freak incident until a scientist from the university, Dr. Diane Ashley, shows up and drops a pretty big bombshell: the calf was killed due to a massive dose of spider venom. This seems pretty extraordinary, since a large number of spiders would have to attack simultaneously to kill an animal of that size, but before long they discover a huge spider hill teeming with thousands of tarantula. After running some tests on one of them, Dr. Ashley discovers the spider’s venom is five times what it normally should be. Seems as if all of the pesticides the farm workers use have not only mutated the little critters but also wiped out their natural prey, forcing them to look elsewhere. Could human victims be far behind?

I’m going to fill you in on a little known fact about myself: spiders give me the friggin’ creeps. While there are a number of other things that I’m not a big fan of (birds being one of them), none of them get to me like spiders do. Just a picture of a spider makes my hair stand up and gets me itching as if a phantom spider is crawling on me somewhere. So Kingdom of the Spiders was a daunting task the first time I saw it, and it still was this go around. Yet it must say something about the quality of the film that even knowing it’s going to make me uncomfortable, I’m still willing to re-watch it. And if, like me, you are freaked out by spiders, Kingdom is basically the perfect horror film. While many horror fans are basically immune to any of the genre’s tricks, these types of films were created to prey on your weaknesses by taking what you’re most afraid of and forcing you to endure it. And damn, Kingdom of the Spiders sure does that. It’s my worst nightmare come to life, where thousands upon thousands of tarantulas have invaded a small town. While that’s bad enough, seeing that they want to kill you and eat you is just the cherry on top. In my brain, this isn’t fiction; it just proves what I’ve always known all along: spiders are evil, terrifying little fuckers.

If spiders don’t affect you in the same way they do my pansy ass, there’s still tons of fun to be had with Kingdom of the Spiders. First and foremost, William Shatner is absolutely tremendous in the title role. Of course, your mileage may vary as the Shat is indeed an acquired taste, but what you can’t deny is his total dedication to the role, including a climax that involves being covered in giant tarantulas, including on his face. The scale of the film is quite impressive, as the rural locations are indeed nice to look at and you’ll also get some wild scenes near the end where the entire town is overrun with creepy-crawlies, from the roadways, the storefronts and even the water-tower. There’s a handful of really good effects (note to self: never shoot at a tarantula when it’s on your hand), and through all of the B-level cheese, there’s some damn good tension in the second half when the small group of survivors are holed up in a hotel while a legion of spiders attempts to overtake them. It’s very reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead, and considering spiders aren’t slow and can creep up on you from all angles, it’s a hell of a lot freakier.

Shout! Factory does a bang-up job with their Kingdom of the Spiders release, and you’ll notice that fact only minutes after starting the film. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this is without question the best the film has ever looked. There’s a bit of print damage during the opening minutes, but after that this is damn-near flawless. In fact, it’s so good, I’m surprised Shout! didn’t opt for releasing this on Blu-Ray as well, as it would have looked magnificent. The new-found clarity is so impressive that this was a whole new nightmare for me, as I was able to see every hair on these tarantulas from hell in contrast to the black blobs they appeared to be on other releases. The included English mono track is spotless and in fantastic shape. The first of many extras is an audio commentary with director John "Bud" Cardos, producer Igo Kantor, cinematographer John Morrill, and spider wrangler Jim Brockett, with moderation by Lee Christian and Scott Spiegel. The commentary is super in-depth and any question you’ve ever had about this film’s production is likely to be answered. Next up is arguably the greatest supplement, a new 17-minute interview with Bill Shatner! He shows some genuine enthusiasm about the film and as usual is just a joy to listen to. One cool bit of info found in this piece is that a sequel was planned that never took off that would have had Rack waking up in an insane asylum, with people doubting whether the events of the first even happened or not. This is followed by a 12-minute piece with spider wrangler Jim Brockett talking about spiders and showing them off; needless to say, I’d had enough of these evil bastards by this point and skipped much of the segment. A short 5-minute piece turns up with co-writer Stephen Lodge, who talks about some of the changes that needed to be made to make the film a reality. Rounding out the extra features is a cool behind-the-scenes reel that runs 17 minutes that was shot with Super-8, the film’s original theatrical trailer, and a poster/stills gallery. If you’re a cult film fan and have never seen Kingdom of the Spiders, Shout! Factory’s release is without question the way to go.

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Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls poster  
USA | 1973
Directed by: Eddie Saeta
Written by: Sal Ponti
Starring: John Considine, Barry Coe, Cheryl Miller, Stewart Moss
| 89 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

After his wife dies in a freak car accident, Fred Saunders is overcome with grief. It doesn’t help that his wife’s final words were “I’ll come back”, which has given him a false hope that somehow she actually will return to him. After attending a fake séance and going down other hopeless avenues, he’s approached by a woman who claims she can take him to someone who can truly resurrect the dead. This person is called Doctor Death, and at a demonstration he saws a disfigured woman in half and puts her soul into that of a recently deceased beautiful young girl. Fred is still skeptical, but he’ll try anything so he pays the good doctor 50k to do the same to his wife. The procedure turns out to be a failure, as the newly procured spirit refuses to enter Fred’s wife’s body. This is just fine with Fred, who thanks to the ordeal has come to terms with his wife’s death and is ready to move on. Dr. Death however has never failed before, and refuses to give up.

Pretty much wiped off the face of the earth when it comes to the history of horror, Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls has been unearthed by the good folks at Scorpion Releasing, and while it’s not being pulled from the grave kicking and screaming to be noticed, it is a mildly entertaining farce anchored by the kick-ass performance of John Considine, who takes on the titular role of Dr. Death. In many ways, the film can be compared to Bruce Kessler’s Simon, King of the Witches, in that it’s pretty pedestrian in nature but has a title character that is quite interesting. Unlike Simon however, the film built around Doctor Death is actually rather amusing and not a total mess. Still, the main draw is Dr. Death himself, and while his logic and tactics are rather flawed (would a new soul really be enough to revive a lethally-poisoned body?) it’s damn entertaining to watch him prance around in his gaudy garb and command wayward souls to “enter that body!”

Fred, the antithesis to Dr. Death, isn’t very compelling, mainly due to the fact that he wants his wife back so bad he’s willing to take just her body, even if it’s inhabited by another soul; he comes off as rather selfish in his drive to not allow his wife to rest in peace. What the film lacks in a fascinating foil for Dr. Death it makes up for with moments of genuine humor and surprisingly graphic gore, including a severed head in a box and black goo that melts flesh from bone. Three Stooges fans (ie, everyone) will want to keep an eye out for a quick cameo by Moe Howard. While ultimately the good doctor may not be endorsed by the AMA, Doctor Death is a fun little horror diversion worth a look for those that enjoy discovering forgotten genre flicks. Scorpion Releasing presents the film in a very good 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that features vibrant colors, great contrast, and nearly no print damage. The included English mono track is in good shape, with nothing negative to report. Extras include an active commentary with star John Considine along with moderators Scott Spiegel and Walter Olson, an on-screen interview with Considine in which he talks about the fun he had making the film as well as a few other notable flicks, and a piece entitled Remembering Eddie Saeta, where Eddie’s son Steve speaks about his father’s enthusiasm for making this film and how happy he’d be knowing it was still around 35+ years later. Rounding out the extras are a quick intro with Considine and Spiegel, a TV spot for the film, and an assortment of trailers from the film studio Cinerama, whose catalog Scorpion has likely acquired. Overall, another great release from Scorpion, a distributor that looks to be a real force in 2010.

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Until Death poster  
Italy | 1987
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Lamberto Bava & Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Gioia Scola, David Brandon, Urbano Barberini, Marco Vivio
| 97 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

On the outside, Linda and her live-in boyfriend Carlo seem to be a normal, happy couple that runs a sea-side restaurant, but they hide a very dark secret: they conspired to kill her husband eight years prior and now live in denial which creates a lot of behind-the-scenes turmoil every day. Carlo is strapped down with Linda’s son Alex, and only sees her husband every time he looks at him. He’s also starting to become very paranoid, as the local sheriff seems to be sniffing around the case of Linda’s husband’s disappearance again, although Linda shrugs it off and believes Carlo is just cracking up. One night, a drifter named Marco stops by and while Carlo suspects something is up immediately, Linda gives him a room to stay in and also allows him to help do work around their property. Red flags go up for Carlo when Marco seems to know things that he shouldn’t, and he definitely doesn’t like the way that Linda’s son is warming to him and the way he’s worming his way into their lives so effortlessly. Yet Linda can’t see it, as something about him seems very familiar, almost as if her husband has returned to her…

Proving once and for all that the impossible is at very rare times possible, Lamberto Bava has not only created a watchable film with Until Death, he’s actually made a damn good one. It’s no secret to anyone around these parts that I’m a massive LB detractor, mainly due to the fact that his father is such a master of cinema and the contrast between the two is startling. I’ll admit to being entertained by my last foray into Lamberto Land, Dinner with a Vampire, but that had way more to do with George Hilton’s hammy vampire performance than anything Lamberto was doing behind the lens. In Until Death though, and I can’t believe I’m about to type this, it’s the strong direction that makes it work. The film basically takes place in one small spot, the restaurant and surrounding land, yet Bava manages to keep it interesting through nice shots and a very healthy pace. There are also some very nice flourishes of horror (although don’t kid yourself, this is a psychological thriller above anything else), including some wicked nightmare sequences that ooze the style you’d expect from the son of the Horror Maestro. Apparently, not all the genes were lost.

The acting isn’t particularly good, but it is passable and works fine within the confines of the story; and let’s face it, Gioia Scola could be the worst actress on the planet and I’d still be entranced into a stupor thanks to how stunning she looks here. One thing I did respect about the acting aspect of Until Death is that it manages to skirt around having an annoying kid in the cast. The second I saw Alex and realized he was going to be a big part of the film, I started to dread what I was going to have to endure, complete with violent flashbacks of Bob from House by the Cemetery. Luckily, the kid here did alright. Add in a mind-raping final act that fed right into my hunger for disorienting horror paranoia, and Until Death is not only a good film for Lamberto Bava, but a flat-out good psycho-horror flick period. MYA Communication’s release is a bare-bones affair, but thankfully the print quality this time makes up for that. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this is among MYA’s stronger efforts, and while there is some print damage as well as some softness at times, overall this is a very nice visual presentation. The English audio sadly doesn’t fare as well, and while it isn’t bad and you’ll have no trouble hearing the dialogue, it isn’t in the best of shape, plagued with a lot of background pops and hiss. The Italian track is near-flawless, but there are no English subtitles included.

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