(P.S. - check out his Underrated Action/Adventure list:
I watched a lot of wonderful trash this year, but this is the only one that qualifies as a stone-cold classic. The story of a young lady searching for her missing father in a coastal town populated by chilly weirdos, Messiah of Evil veers woozily from psycho-thriller to gothic horror to Romero-esque zombie panic, riding a swell of dread that periodically erupts into a stomach-twisting set piece. It helps that the cast is as impeccable as a '70s horror fan could hope for - Elisha Cook, Anitra Ford, Royal Dano, the incomparable Joy Bang, and, of course, Bennie Robinson as the Wagner-loving, rat-munching albino cultist. Messiah of Evil is a trip and a half, and it should be required viewing for any fan of ‘70s horror.
Sort of like Badlands cross-bred with A Clockwork Orange and stripped of all pretension, this is an ugly bit of business. Two amoral American moralists take it upon themselves to punish other people’s sexual indiscretions on a quiet European resort island via increasingly creative means. This one more than earns its place on the official list of British Video Nasties, but with a different vein of nastiness than most of its gore-drenched listmates. Also, the theme song is a manic folk-rock track about killing people with a sword.
I thought The Great Silence was as nihilistic as Euro-Westerns got, but that was before I saw Cutthroats Nine. There are moments in The Great Silence where hope at least seems like a distant possibility. From the first shot of Cutthroats Nine, it's clear that hope has no home film’s in the snowy, punishing landscape, nor in the blank eyes of the doomed convicts and marshals trudging resignedly across it. It’s a bracing experience if you take yours bleak.
About as affable as a blood-spurting, Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery set in a remote mental institution can be, this is a real triumph of regional filmmaking. Whereas most zero-budget casts err on the side of wooden awkwardness, this gang devours every line with gleeful gusto but never quite slides into camp. Even the closing credits are a macabre delight.
The marketing may play it up as a swingin' Rat Pack throwback, but this is a far grimmer, grimier movie than the Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joey Bishop cameos might suggest. It's a surprisingly dark undertaking for 1963, with sadism, rape, revenge and Jim Backus all rearing their respective ugly heads. Henry Silva exudes a weird, robotic charisma as the Italian mob killer cutting a swath of vengeance through the American underworld, Elizabeth Montgomery is insanely appealing as the upper-crust dame looking for seedy kicks, and Telly Savalas shows up with half a head of hair.
This one has been near the top of my watch list since I was nailed to the wall by the gonzo wit of director Frederic C. Hobbs’ Alabama’s Ghost last year. This is the more pedestrian of the two, but given that it’s all about a Wild West re-enactment town simultaneously beset by land grabs, con games and a giant, mutant killer sheep, that’s more to Alabama’s credit than Godmonster’s detriment. It also boasts another stellar performance by Alabama’s Ghost lead man Christopher Brooks. Between his Hobbs films and his work in Space is the Place, that dude might just be the most unjustly forgotten underground actor of the 1970s.
Chester N. Turner’s shot-on-video opus is a grainy, inaudible parade of amateurism made by people who clearly cared. Come for the heart and ambition, stay for the windswept whispers of a dead child, the glowering taunts of an undead clown, and Turner’s shrieking, lurching synthesizer score. There’s simply not much out there to compare with this.
There aren’t many genres where “there’s only one rapist in it, and he’s unequivocally the villain” counts as progressive filmmaking, but that’s biker flicks for you. Northville Cemetery Massacre stands out from that motley pack in several ways, foremost being its portrayal of biker gangs as amiable, harder-edged hippies rather than grotesque, snarling monsters. Actually, save for the aforementioned rapist and his cold-eyed vigilante buddy, everybody in this is reasonably reasonable, from the rival gangs to the local sheriff. And yet we still end up with a massive body count and a nihilistic lurch into the sunset. The ‘70s, man.
A hippie runs afoul of a Mexican ghost, scores some possibly haunted grass and heads to the boondocks to record an album with his psych-rock buddies. Insanity and violence ensue, of course, but not in the ways you might presume. Alan Rudolph’s first feature is a slow-burning, surprisingly heady thriller that sometimes plays like a mellower rendition of Bob Clark’s Deathdream, with a pretty groovy soundtrack to boot.
Kinda like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly scaled down and played mostly for laughs. Franco Nero drips oily charisma as a scheming Russian (!) prince, Lynn Redgrave is fetching as hell as an amoral Irish journalist and Eli Wallach gets to go full Tucco again. Even if the movie wasn’t as fun as it is, it’d be worth it just to watch a bespectacled Lynn Redgrave fistfight an entire detail of Mexican soldiers.
This may not technically count as a new discovery, but at my 4-year-old’s urging, this year was the first time I sat down to a Gamera movie without a protective coating of MST3K. Turns out watching Gamera un-riffed is a very different experience that really lets the series’ deep, deep weirdness shine through. This one has a couple of kids stowing away on a spaceship, visiting a dying planet populated entirely by two attractive cannibal women and their pet monster, and inevitably being rescued by a giant flying turtle. The explicitly stated moral of the story has something to do with traffic safety, and why wouldn’t it?