Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory - TENTACLES & REPTILICUS and GHOSTHOUSE & WITCHERY onBlu-ray ""

Saturday, July 4, 2015


TENTACLES (1977; Ovidio G. Assonitis)
The success of JAWS in 1975 led (as all movie successes do) to not only JAWS sequels, but a fair amount of JAWS-knockoffs. The main force of evil in these films took many forms. In GRIZZLY, the plot of the film is basically identical to JAWS, but the story has been transplanted from Amity Island to a National Park and the shark replaced by a killer grizzly bear. Same thing with RAZORBACK, but instead of a shark there's a giant boar. Even THE CAR (a movie about a demon-possessed automobile that runs people down) was stealing from the plot of JAWS to exist. These movies were being made all over the world. GRIZZLY and the CAR were American productions, but RAZORBACK was Australian. Italy was even getting in on the act, at least as a location for American International Pictures. 
I like to think of TENTACLES as a "vacation movie" for much of the veteran ensemble involved. I can just imagine Shelley Winters and John Huston saying, "Sure, I'll take a trip to Italy to hang out and make a movie!". TENTACLES has that similarity to the 70s disaster flicks in that it has an amazing cast whose faces could fill those little boxes at the bottom of the posters. Henry Fonda, Bo Hopkins, and Claude Akins also headline this one. They are surrounded by a sea of Italian actors and extras. There's something about Italian productions trying to fake American locations that always amuses me. It's especially adorable when the "American" scenes are juxtaposed with the music of workhorse Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani. A few notes from his score and you feel like your overseas already (and I love that). As with the slasher films of the 1980s, the JAWS Knockoffs of the late 70s (and early 80s) follow a pretty basic structural pattern. As with slashers, we typically have our "inciting incident" where a few characters we don't know meet their untimely demise. This is followed by an often protracted "discovery phase" wherein our main characters slowly come to realize that there is some kind of monster on the loose. That discovery phase is made more palatable in this movie because you've got a bunch of good actors doing their thing. I mean, I could just sit and watch Shelley Winters and John Huston have breakfast for hours. That stuff fascinates me. It is always fascinating to see great actors making their way through somewhat lesser material. It's like watching a great boxer fight way below their weight class - there's still grace there, but it's clear they could clobber if they wanted to. Anyway, TENTACLES is jolly good time and one of my favorites from the late 70s crop of knockoffs.

REPTILICUS (1961; Sidney W. Pink)
I hadn't seen this one before and it was very interesting to watch it back to back with TENTACLES. The dialogue delivery is a little stilted, but in that charming way that it could be with sci-fi films of this period. Also, the approach to monster-movie filmmaking had obviously shifted a bit between 1961 and 1977 when TENTACLES came out. REPTILICUS takes it time with the "discovery phase" of the movie wherein in scientists are analyzing bits of flesh and bone that were recovered from a drilling site. So this movie has a lot of science-talk and theorizing before we ever see a creature. In TENTACLES, cut to the chase a bit more quickly (people are getting killed by the Octopus within minutes of the films opening). REPTILICUS, because of the stiffly delivered exposition and whatnot, feels more like a movie that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have featured on their program. I find a certain charm in the long run-up to the action in a monster flick like this. Scientists talk amongst themselves, then they have press conferences and the military becomes involved. It's a slow process, but it's kind of an inherent part of the structure of these movies. As with TENTACLES, REPTILICUS is a result of the success of another movie (in this case it was GODZILLA). Unlike GODZILLA, the monster is not a man in a suit, but rather a puppet of sorts. He shoots a neon green acid slime from his mouth which is depicted by almost cartoon-like lines coming from his maw. I watched this movie with my 6-year old daughter and she got a real kick out of it. She is currently in a phase of liking giant monster movies and I am very excited about that trend. I believe that at least some of the appeal for her in this movie was the monster being more puppet-y. I guess you just have to be a certain kind of movie fan who enjoys old cheesy special effects to dig this kind of thing, but if you are into it then it is quite charming in it's own way.

WITCHERY (1988; Fabrizio Laurenti)
Any movie that opens with a nightgown-clad, pregnant woman in the midst of some kind of desolate landscape being pursued by (what looks like) Amish farmers with sharp tools has my attention. It's a slightly campy and yet oddly terrifying scenario - perhaps because the pregnant woman is breathing heavily and genuinely running for her life. The sequence also ends with a crazy stunt so that makes the opening all the better. Enter Linda Blair. Also pregnant and having bad dreams. Through an odd turn of events, she ends up on an island with David Hasselhoff and his girlfriend and a few other folks. The island itself has a history of superstition and witchcraft about it. Things go south real quick once they all arrive.
This movie is pretty trippy in parts. While the characters are trapped on the haunted witchtrap of an island, all kinds of weirdness goes down. People are sucked into tub drains and down trash chutes in red psychedelic sequences (which resemble a red version of the opening animation from a James Bond flick). Bits of the movie itself that we are watching is shown the characters on an old projector. It's bizarre stuff. Mouths are sewn shut, people are burned alive, general mass hysteria.
Let me just digress for a second and go on a Hasselhoff tangent. You know you love the guy, but you're cheating yourself of the full "Hoff" experience if you don't check him out in some of his earlier film work. I mean, I love him in KNIGHT RIDER, BAYWATCH and even THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE, but you've not lived until you've experienced the zaniness he brings to things like REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS. While he's much more toned down in this movie, he's still a goof and very fun to watch. He and Linda Blair actually followed up this horror flick with a low-budget actioner called BAIL OUT which is a bad movie to be sure but a very very entertaining one. 

Anyway, so WITCHERY is notable in that it puts Linda Blair in the position of speaking in a supernatural voice and looking creepy. Not EXORCIST creepy mind you, this movie just gives her really teased-out frizzy hair (as if she was just electrocuted) to make her look nutty. This movie also has one heckuva a "huh?!" kinda ending - one of the best of that type that I've seen in a while.

GHOSTHOUSE (1988; Umberto Lenzi)
After watching the crazy opening of this movie, I started to wonder who was responsible for it. When the director credit rolled it all made sense. Umberto Lenzi is the man behind this one and he is no slouch in terms of making out-there crazy films. Watch a little bit of NIGHTMARE CITY (which you really should do if you haven't) and you'll have an idea of the lunacy I'm talking about.
One unique thing about this one is that it is part of that rarified and very tiny subgenre of films wherein a HAM radio plays a key role. The only other two I can think of are FREQUENCY and CITIZEN'S BAND. The HAM radio operating main dude in GHOSTHOUSE stumbles on a frightening call for help one night and uses his amazing computer skills to locate the origin of the signal (a haunted house). It's rather humorous to watch a film about characters that communicate this way in light of the ridiculousness of our communication abilities today. But that's just a small part of this movie's weirdness. I've always felt that part of the draw that Italian horror films have is their inherent sense of surrealism. Umberto Lenzi is certainly not the only Italian director to bring this kind of thing to the table. Obviously guys like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci bring their fair share of weirdness to the table in their movies too. Lenzi is a little often more batshit though. There is this disjointed nature about things that he does in his films that I find kind of delightful. In GHOSTHOUSE, there's random bits of stuff he throws in here that makes the movie an enjoyable barrel of WTF. Most of the film is set in this eerie house, which is haunted by the spirit of a little girl with a super creepy doll. Basically the setting is an excuse to have all kinds of odd and bad things happen to the characters. Each time one of them sees the little girl (who is genuinely unnerving in some scenes) it tends to lead to bad stuff. One of my favorite random things is that this doberman keeps showing up in the house at different points. Doberman's are evil right? Devil dogs? I have no idea, but it feels like that's what Umberto Lenzi thinks. I must give the movie credit for some memorable practical effects. They do some cool stuff with glass and light bulbs in making them looking like melting balloons or something. There's also a great "guy falls in a pit of acidic ooze" bit towards the end. In fact, the last 20 minutes or so is a pretty good time and filled with freaky weirdness and awkward death.

1 comment:

Greg Wilcox said...

Congratulations on surviving Reptilicus! I'm going to guess there's not a peep on that disc about the stuff they cut from the US version. In case you're curious, here you go (enjoy!):