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Short Circuits

Cannibal Girls poster  
Canada | 1973
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Robert Sandler
Starring: Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Robert Ulrich, Randall Carpenter
| 83 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Looking to get away for a romantic weekend to cement their newly sparked relationship, Cliff and Gloria head on up to a quaint little town named Farnhamville only to run into some car trouble before they can get to their destination. The local mechanic sees it’s a fixable problem, but it’ll take at least a day to repair. He suggests a small motel up the road, and the two figure they can still make the most of their weekend, especially when the proprietor of the motel tells them of a local legend that involves three young women that were believed to lure men to their mansion and enjoy their flesh right down to the bone. This was years ago however, and now the mansion has been turned into a restaurant. With this sounding like a promising diversion during their short detour, the two head up for dinner. Once inside, they realize its one bizarre eating establishment, still fully furnished as a live-in home and no other diners to speak of. Before they can leave, believing they’ve come to the wrong house, an eccentric Reverend named Alex St. John saunters in and tells them they’re indeed at the right place, and to come be his guest for dinner. Making matters more odd, there’s only one course on the menu and the Reverend joins them at the table to feast. The two just shrug this off as small-town quirkiness, but when three young women serve them and begin reciting weird chants, they start to wonder if the local legend is less fiction than originally believed and whether or not they may be the next course added to the eatery’s menu.

Directed by a budding Ivan Reitman and starring SCTV alum Andrea Martin and Eugene Levy (who I should note is rocking the meanest afro, mustache and mutton-chops ever put to celluloid), Cannibal Girls is just as much a comedic spoof as it is exploitive horror. The film’s script was only a 13-page plot outline, with no dialogue, so everything is improvised, and while I normally frown upon that, there’s an undeniable charm and realness to the dialogue that goes on here. Chalk it up to the closeness of the cast, everyone having a great time being a part of a film early in their careers, or just plain talent, but given the bulk of the film was shot in 9 days, leaving little time for multiple takes, the performances are quite solid. And then there’s Ronald Ulrich, who plays the good Reverend, chewing up the scenery with a ton of theatrical enthusiasm and unquestionably steals the show from Levy’s phenomenal ‘fro.

As inept a film Cannibal Girls may be in a lot of respects, with some lapses in logic and a finale that’s drawn out a bit too long, Reitman and crew nailed the atmosphere of small-town isolation better than you (and probably everyone involved in the film) would probably expect. There’s something about snow and the way an expansive field is turned into a dead-quiet white void while buried under it, but it was truly a stroke of fortune that when it came time to shoot, everything was covered in the white stuff. It’s also worth noting that a night chase scene late in the film evokes more than a few memories of Sally’s desperate dash to escape Leatherface’s chainsaw in the original TCM; and this was made more than a year earlier. Add to all of that a hilarious “Warning Bell” for the squeamish that chimes whenever a scene of heightened brutality is about to occur (and a serene doorbell to alert those that are turned away that it’s safe to look again), and Cannibal Girls is an interesting little entry into early 70’s exploitation that plays up black comedy and horrific perversions both well enough to warrant a look. Shout! Factory’s recently released disc is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and the restoration done is clearly apparent, with great colors and solid darker scenes; overall, this looks much better than you’d expect for such a low-budget Canadian shocker. The Dolby Digital mono track (available with or without the warning bell) is just fine, with little background distortion and clear dialogue. The two big extras feature interviews with Ivan Reitman and producer Daniel Goldberg and a solo interview with Eugene Levy. The Reitman/Goldberg featurette is full of great background info on the insanity of making an independent film, from the inception all the way to getting a finished print just 30 minutes before a screening at Cannes that would lead to the film being sold to Samuel Arkoff’s AIP. Levy, who speaks about the film while in a butcher shop, has a good memory of his time on the film and basically pokes fun at himself, saying if he’d known 38 years later the film would still be around with people watching it, he’d have stressed far more over how he looked. Rounding out the extras are two radio spots, a TV spot, and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

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Crucible of Terror poster  
UK | 1971
Directed by: Ted Hooker
Written by: Ted Hooker & Tom Parkinson
Starring: Mike Raven, Mary Maude, James Bolam, Ronald Lacey
| 91 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Artist Victor Clare loves capturing the beauty of young women before it fades; so much so that he’s not above encasing them in plaster while they’re still alive so he can pour molten steel into the breathing hole to create a picture-perfect work of art. Oddly enough, Victor only does his artwork for personal satisfaction and isn’t the least bit concerned about money or fame. His son Michael, a raging alcoholic, sees things differently and swipes a few pieces of his father’s work (including one such metal sculpture) and sells them to an art buyer named George, who’s putting on an art show. Victor’s work is such a success that George sees big things for himself: the discovery of a true visionary in the art world. Trouble is, the pieces have been sold without Victor’s permission, and Michael has already let it be known that his father has no interest in selling his work and becoming well known. George nonetheless talks Michael into taking him to Victor’s secluded villa in hopes of persuading him otherwise. Once there, Victor seems nice enough (although his wife that dresses in little girl attire and pigtails while feeding her stuffed animals at the dinner table may be a red flag), and immediately takes a shine to George’s wife Millie. He finds inspiration in her that he’s been lacking for years, and won’t allow her to say no to posing for him, which she does repeatedly. While Millie senses something quite wrong with all of this, George is consumed with his artistic discovery and tells her she’s overreacting. When the bodies start to pile up though, he may have to reevaluate that opinion…

Crucible of Terror is an odd film, part gothic pot-boiler, part murder mystery, and part psychological thriller, and while it all doesn’t mesh together flawlessly, I found myself quite interested in seeing where everything was going and never caught myself looking at the clock. The film really is a mish-mash of ideas that never fully explores any of its aspects enough, and it could even be considered slow and plodding, yet the random flourishes of gore and violence and the strength of the opening scene where a plaster-wrapped maiden is unwillingly immortalized in bronze should keep most viewers interested enough to continue on. You’ll also get to enjoy Mike Raven, who plays Victor Clare, hamming it up big time (clearly channeling Vincent Price) and playing into the gentle yet clearly psychotic personality he’s been given with great gusto. Watching him stalk Millie while never raising his voice or looking evil in the least is undeniably effective.

The script is rather undercooked (although the ending is pretty well done), especially when it comes to character development. There’s a number of characters, most notably Victor’s wife, who I mentioned before seems to have reverted to being a 5 year old, whose back-stories are never explained and we’re just sort of expected to take them at face value; how dare we as an audience be inquisitive! Victor’s live-in assistant is another curiosity; he really didn’t know what happened to every model that just disappeared over the years? And on a personal note (and your mileage may vary), how the hell does a film about a horny old eccentric that wants to capture the beauty of young (and generally pretty damn attractive) women get away with only scant seconds of nudity in the opening frames? All of the young ladies here aren’t hard on the eyes whatsoever, and you’d think this would be the perfect film to play up the nudity angle. Alas, we’re all left disappointed. At least the one lady that does spare us a look is named Me Me Lay. Yeah, can’t make this shit up. Severin’s release of Crucible of Terror is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and outside of a few scenes that amount to less than a minute that were obviously culled from a lesser source, the film looks quite good, with vibrant colors and a pleasant level of grain. The Dolby mono track is in good shape as well, with little in the way of background distortion. This release is as bare-bones as you can get, with not even a trailer to account for, but seeing as most everyone of note involved in this film has passed away or disappeared from the film world, it can be forgiven. Although a Mike Raven documentary would have been great, considering he was a known to be an occultist; prime material to document!

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Psychomania poster  
UK | 1972
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Arnaud D'Usseau & Julian Halevy
Starring: George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin
| 90 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Tom Latham leads a motorcycle gang called The Living Dead (complete with members featuring names such as Hatchet, Gash, and Chopped Meat) as they terrorize the streets of their small town. Tom’s personal life is an odd one, living with a mother that’s sensitive to the other side and frequently holds séances in house. She also seems to know the secret of life beyond death, and after agreeing to let Tom into a secret room in their house where he learns of his father’s death (and how a giant toad relates to it), he becomes obsessed with the notion of returning from the grave. It’s as simple as believing you’ll survive at the key second before you meet your maker, and Tom is so certain it’ll work he drives right off of a bridge and into a river. His fellow Living Dead cohorts think Tom was having something of a mental breakdown, and morn his death by burying him astride his prized bike. Of course, this being a horror flick and all, Tom wasn’t nuts and a day later he rides triumphantly from his grave and starts raising hell, knowing you can only die once. The gang can’t believe he’s back (and invulnerable), and once he tells them how easy it is, they’re all more than willing to become synonymous with the name emblazoned on the back of their leather jackets. Apparently being dead slows rational thinking though, as they seem oblivious to the fact that their escapades are drawing the attention of the authorities.

I still don’t understand what a giant frog from the cemetery has to do with rising from the grave, but it’s just another quirk you’ll find in Psychomania, a film I’ve been aware of for well over a decade but have unjustly ignored for reasons I can’t exactly pinpoint; this is a heck of a lot of peculiar fun from the land of tea and crumpets. The most striking thing about the film is that it’s unconventional in nearly every way. When you think undead bikers, the first thing that’s sure to pop up in your imagination are rotting zombies astride rusted, cobweb-ridden motorcycles looking for the next piece of viscera to gnaw on. In reality (well, Psychomania reality), what you get are kids that are exactly the same in all respects, except now all notions of conscience and inhibition have been tossed off the back of the bikes; basically, these guys now officially embody the stigma every biker gang through the ages has carried with it. They sure do make the most of it, starting bar fights, running people off the road, and terrorizing old ladies; you know, all the things a good, respectable motorcycle gang does to pass the time!

While the story itself (especially the secret room scene where Tom learns how this all works, which is mind-bogglingly bizarre and had to have been filmed while on awesome narcotics) doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, the film manages to meld the rebel motorcycle film with horror pretty well, thanks in part to the impressive atmosphere. The scene that opens Psychomania, which shows Tom and The Living Dead riding through a graveyard engulfed in pea-soup fog accompanied by some great music, sets the tone nicely for what’s in store, and the film keeps that up throughout. Director Don Sharp (probably best known for his work with Hammer) does the best with what’s obviously a very low budget, and while it isn’t without its flaws, Psychomania is a damn fun hog to ride shotgun with. Severin Films has taken over the reigns from Image’s long out-of-print Euroshock collection release and gives the film a suitable special edition. The 1.78:1 anamorphic print (which inexplicably changes to 1.66:1 about 15 minutes in) is taken from the best source available (a note at the beginning documents that the original negative has been lost), and it’s clear Severin have done everything in their power to make this look as good as it ever has (and likely will). There is the occasional print damage, a handful of dark scenes are a bit murky, and sometimes the colors look a touch off, but overall there’s little to complain about and the high bitrate ensures no further issues. It should be noted that wherever this print was culled from, it looks a lot more digital than film. The Dolby mono track is free of any hiss or pops, but does sound a little muffled during some of the dialogue, although it’s far from a deal breaker. Three big extras are included, the first of which is entitled "Return of the Living Dead", which has a ton of the cast and crew riding high talking about the making of the film. Secondly we have "The Sound of Psychomania", a sit-down with the film’s composer John Cameron. Lastly is "Riding Free", an interview with singer Harvey Andrews, who did the song during the funeral sequence only to be dubbed over in final production. Rounding out the special features is an optional introduction to the film by Fangoria editor Chris Andrews and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

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Ninja Pussy Cat poster  
Japan | 2003
Directed by: Hiroyuki Kawasaki
Written by: Ribon Kawasaki
Starring: Mashiro, Tomotake Shigematsu, Yoko Satomi, Takahiro Nomura
| 61 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

If you’re a fan of the recent crop of softcore lady ninja (Kunoichi) flicks coming out of Japan such as the Kaede and Kasumi series, you might want to do yourself a favor and check out Hiroyuki Kawasaki’s Ninja Pussy Cat, which is largely responsible for the recent boom in the genre. In 16th century Japan feudal Japan, two warring ninja factions, the Iga and Fuma clans, are at one another’s throats. The Fuma clan, led by Kotaro, may be about to win the battle, as the leader of the clan has discovered that the Shogun’s son, who is set to take the throne upon his death, doesn’t have royalty running through his veins. Before they can take this public however, Hattori Hanzo and his Iga clan descend on their village and lay waste, leaving only two members of the clan alive: Hayato, a young ninja who is sent away with the secret before the Iga clan arrives, and Kaede (not the same character from the later series), Kotaro’s daughter. In an attempt to not only avenge her fallen clan but also get Hanzo’s blood, which would provide the evidence they need to send the royal house of Japan into chaos, Kaede infiltrates the Iga clan’s headquarters only to be captured and imprisoned by Hanzo. As inexperienced as she may be, Kaede has a few sexy ninja tricks up her sleeve that have to be seen to be believed.

As compelling a synopsis as that may be, Ninja Pussy Cat is still at its core a pink film, and this is one instance where the filmmakers seem to rely to heavily on that and don't explore the intriguing story it’s built upon enough for my liking. Sure, I enjoy these films for the same reason as most others: they’re fun, cheesy, sexy, absurd escapist entertainment, but the one thing I’ve consistently said to defend these films against the naysayers is that they also generally have strong stories to back them up. Yeah, I want to see the almost porn-level sex scenes too, but the reason I’ve become such a fan of the genre over the years is because they’re entertaining even between those titillating sequences, and in many cases if they eliminated them, you’d still be left with a pretty decent flick. Ninja Pussy Cat however, as it moves along, does start to feel as if the story is only there to get us to the next intercourse interlude. It starts out strong, but it gets flushed right down the toilet and comes off very half-baked. When we see Kaede, who’s been kidnapped by Hanzo, still tied up in one scene, then flash to an unrelated sex scene, followed back to Kaede stumbling down a grassy pathway, now free of the Iga clan, you gotta wonder if the script (or a reel of film) accidentally caught fire during production.

Ninja Pussy Cat does have its merits though, one being the ladies, all of which are quite attractive and are generally nude more than they’re clothed. The action sequences, which unfortunately are too few, are surprisingly well done (including ninja stars laced with poison that will make you a nymphomaniac) and the film’s finale is absolutely oozing (literally) with excess and it certainly makes up a bit for the bumpy road we have to take to get there. Like I said at the top, if you dig the Kasumi (which Kawasaki went on to direct the first four of) and Kaede series of recent half-naked ninja flicks, Ninja Pussy Cat is a pretty interesting, if deeply flawed, blueprint whose coattails were ridden to success. Pink Eiga’s release is presented in 1.85:1 letterbox format and looks pretty decent, although like most of these films, looks older than it should due to the poor way they’re preserved in Japan; as much money as the films make the industry, they sure aren’t treated as if they should be archived for future generations. Audio is available in both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround, both of which are nicely balanced and free of any background noise. The main extras on board are an introduction to the film as well as interviews with director Kawasaki and regular pink actress Yoko Satomi that feature some good behind-the-scenes info about the genre. Rounding out the extras are the usual Pink Eiga goodies, such as the film’s original artwork, cast and crew bios and filmographies, a slide-show of images from the film, and trailers for this and a boatload of other current and upcoming PE titles. You can get your dirty little hands on this kitty through Pink Eiga's Web Store (which will come with some extra PE goodies!) or Amazon.

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The Evil poster  
USA | 1978
Directed by: Gus Trikonis
Written by: Donald G. Thompson
Starring: Richard Crenna, Joanna Pettet, Andrew Prine, Cassie Yates
| 89 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Psychologist C.J. Arnold and wife Caroline are in the market for a building to house their drug rehabilitation center. They come across a huge mansion that’s in dire disrepair, but since the price is right, they decide to snag it and fix it up even though Caroline sees a weird apparition while touring the house. She probably should have taken more notice though since this house has a nasty past and surely won’t turn out to be the best environment to house recovering addicts. C.J. gets some of his colleagues and patients together one weekend to help clean up the house and fix it up before opening its doors. Whilst cleaning the basement, he removes a cross stuck between the handles of some cellar doors and unwittingly unleashes an evil force into the house. Caroline’s visions fall on deaf ears, but once the house seals itself up and victims start to pile up, someone better start listening.

I should start off by saying I’m not a huge fan of haunted house films. I can easily count on one hand the ones that I truly love, and while there’s more beyond that that I do enjoy, for the most part these types of films do very little for me. Even though I viewed The Evil with that preconception, I’m still rather certain this isn’t the best the haunted house genre has to offer. A bad story is a bad story, and The Evil has an awful one, something so underdeveloped it’s a wonder they even got the funding to get this thing made (but it was produced by Roger Corman’s studio, so that solves that conundrum). Unless I missed it, I’m pretty sure there’s no mention at all about why all of this is happening, other than it’s a bad house where bad things have happened before and are likely to happen again. Oh, and they do, but it wouldn’t be a proper ghostly abode flick without a true unbeliever, and that’s where Richard Crenna’s character C.J. comes in. He refuses to believe there’s anything supernatural going on and that there must be a logical explanation, even though he’s watching with his own eyes as one of his colleagues nearly cuts his hand off with a power saw, another spontaneously bursts into flames, and people are thrown back by an invisible force whenever they get close to the windows. Hey Colonel Trautmen, IT’S A FUCKING GHOST YOU IDIOT!

Lest I beat this film up too much though, when compared to many other bad haunted house flicks of the 70’s, this one stands out as one that is rarely, if ever, boring, which automatically moves it up a few notches over its similar brethren. After the first 30 minutes, there’s something happening literally every 2-3 minutes, and it keeps things interesting even if you really have no clue why the hell they’re happening in the first place. And really, it’s a good thing The Evil moves along like it does, because regardless of the film’s many shortcomings, it genuinely has to be seen for the final 10 minutes. Without a doubt, the finale is one of the biggest WTF moments I’ve seen in a very long time, and if you thought the ending of Fulci’s The Beyond was a head-scratcher, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this. Throw in some hilariously bad acting (the hapless electrocution victim is a real highlight) and a horny ghost that isn’t above ripping chick’s clothes off (see, he’s not ALL bad), and The Evil is likely to keep you entertained just enough to warrant a viewing when you invite some friends over for your next bad movie night. Shout! Factory has paired The Evil with Twice Dead in another Corman double feature, this time presented in grindhouse fashion, much like Dark Sky’s Drive-In Double Features from a couple years back. You can choose to watch the film’s solo, or choose “The Roger Corman Experience” and watch them back-to-back with trailers before and in-between. The Evil gets a pretty solid 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, and while a couple of scenes look a bit washed-out, overall there’s very little to complain about. The mono audio track is free of any hiss and well-balanced. Continuing Shout!’s great run of getting people together for commentaries on films no one else would give any effort to, director Gus Trikonis, writer Donald G. Thompson and director of photography Mario Di Leo talk about filming in the old Vegas hotel used for the setting and overcoming budget hurdles to get the film to turn out how they wanted. Also included is a trailer and TV spot for the flick.

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