Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2020 - Allan Mott ""

Friday, February 19, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Allan Mott

Allan Mott is a 45 year old Canadian who owns ‘Cats’ on Blu-ray and still expects you to take his recommendations seriously. You can tweet your outrage at him at @HouseofGlib. He’ll probably respond with a sexy Taylor Swift ‘Cats’ gif.

The Monster and the Girl (Stuart Hesler, 1941)
2020 being what it was I never even bothered to put together a list of my Top 10 faves of the year. I managed to completely lose track of what was “current” and instead focused all of my attention on the past. And, by that standard, my favourite film experience of the entire year was a black and white man-in-an-ape-suit movie from 1941.

There are two kinds of great genre films. Those that perfectly perform the ritual we expect and those that expertly defy it. Stuart Hesler’s ‘The Monster and the Girl’ is a moving example of the latter--a film whose execution is so assured and sincere that it transcends the camp we expect from movies featuring a man walking around in a gorilla costume and becomes something entirely different.

More noir than horror, ‘The Monster and the Girl’ mines late depression-era big city tragedy to add a note of genuine pathos to its outlandish premise. The film begins with a young man named Scot on trial for a murder he didn’t commit. A small town boy, he attempted to rescue his sister, Susan (Ellen Drew, who’s excellent here), after she’s caught in a scam designed to lure beautiful young women into prostitution. The gangsters behind the scheme pull strings to ensure his conviction and death sentence. After his execution his brain is transplanted into the body of a gorilla and he goes on to get revenge on the men who led him to his fate.

Despite its B-movie plot and length (it’s only 65 minutes long), “The Monster and the Girl’ never feels cheap or rushed and expertly uses moody and affecting cinematography to become something greater than it should have been. Extra praise deserved for famed suit performer Charles Gemora, whose performance as the gorilla is on par with Andy Serkis’ work in the recent ‘Planet of the Apes’ films--without the benefit of mo-cap cgi.

Sex Appeal (Chuck Vincent, 1986)
Last year a local horror convention gave me my pick of its guests to interview for one of their panel Q&As and I immediately chose ‘Killer Workout’s Marcia Karr because her brief filmography not only included that cult classic but also ‘The Concrete Jungle’, “Chained Heat’, ‘Maniac Cop’, ‘Hardbodies’, ‘Real Genius’ and ‘Savage Streets’ (not to mention her being the casting director for ‘Cheerleader Camp’). It was going to be her first ever convention appearance and I made it my mission to completely catch up on every film she appeared in (which was easy because I already owned half of her onscreen credits). Unfortunately the convention was canceled due to y’know, but at least it gave me the excuse to watch ‘Sex Appeal’, which I think features her best performance.

Ever since I saw the VHS cover at my local video store when I was a kid, I got it into my head that it was probably a low budget riff on ‘Weird Science’ (based solely on the image of a sexy lady posing in a doorway). Instead, it turns out to be one of Chuck Vincent’s more personal works--albeit one with as much nudity as you’d expect from a filmmaker who jumped back and forth between hardcore XXX and softcore genre fare.

Vincent regular Louie Bonanno plays Tony Cannelloni, a shy schmuck with an overbearing Italian mother who is inspired to move out and get his own place after he buys a book about how to score with beautiful ladies. Forgoing an A to B plot, the film then follows his fruitless attempts to get laid with a series of actors from Vincent’s far more explicit films.

Karr appears as his sister, whose affection for him belies the film’s sly sweetness, which does a great job of sanitizing a potentially sleazy premise. It also helps that Tony comes across more as lonely than creepy and all of his potential partners are presented as being enthusiastic before fate shuts down each interlude. The result is the rare low budget 80s sex comedy that’s actually funny and allows you to like its characters rather than be grossed out by them.

The Mephisto Waltz (Paul Wendkos, 1971)
My favourite book of 2020 was Stephen Rebello’s ‘Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time’, which--as its subtitle makes clear--is an entertainingly exhaustive look at Jacqueline Susann’s blockbuster novel and the resulting film adaptation, Like all great books about movies, it made me want to explore other works by the performers it discusses--especially Barbara Parkins, who I was least familiar with.

Scanning my DVD library I realized I’d been sitting on a copy of ‘The Mephisto Waltz’--in which she co-starred with Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset--for years now, so I decided to pop it in. Coincidentally, my only knowledge of the film came from a write-up of it in another Rebello book, his ‘Bad Movies We Love’ (co-written with Stephen Marguilles), so I was expecting some campy early 70s nonsense.

And that’s exactly what I got, but in all the ways that made me ludicrously happy rather than disappointed. Alda stars as a music journalist who meets Curd Jurgens, the world’s greatest concert pianist, for an interview, and quickly find himself seduced (along with his wife, Bisset) into a strange world of Satanic worship and dark rituals that allow the master musician to take over the younger man’s body. It’s totally ridiculous, but I honestly found it more entertaining than ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.

It helps a lot that the film allows Parkins, playing Jurgens’ very sexy daughter, to shed the good girl persona she was shackled to in ‘Valley of the Dolls’ and go full vamp in a series of often astonishing 70s outfits. She, along with Bisset, give the film a genuine erotic charge that I found all the more entrancing thanks to its period outrageousness.

Bank Shot (Gower Champion, 1974)
The early 70s was a good time in Hollywood for author Donald Westlake. Between 1972 and 1974 four of his novels were adapted into movies. ‘The Hot Rock’ came first, followed by ‘Cops and Robbers’, ‘The Outfit’ and finishing up with ‘Bank Shot’.

It was also a good time for Joanna Cassidy (you probably know her best from ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’), who co-starred in the latter two films and is one of the primary reasons I found ‘Bank Shot’ surprisingly delightful.

Directed by former MGM musical star Champion (‘Give a Girl a Break’), the film stars George C. Scott as a famed bank robber who escapes from prison with the help of Sorrell “Boss Hawg” Brooke, whose nephew (a baby faced Bob Balaban) has a plan for a new heist. The scheme is bankrolled by Cassidy, who is looking for some adventure, but Scott refuses to go ahead with it until he comes up with a brilliant idea of his own--to avoid risking getting caught trying to break into the state-of-the-art safe, they’ll just steal the entire building instead.

As the premise suggests, ‘Bank Shot’ doesn’t take itself seriously and its third act--when they’ve successfully stolen the building--often veers into straight out farce/slapstick, so it’s not for those expecting another ‘Point Blank’ (also adapted from a Westlake novel), but is definitely a great choice for anyone looking for a fun crime caper with a heavy dose of absurdity.

An Eye for an Eye (Larry Brown, 1973)
Also released with the similarly generic title of ‘Psychopath’, this unique B-movie thriller was recommended to me by G.G Graham, who has quickly become one of my fave sources for 70s exploitation titles that have flown past my radar. Like a lot of the best low budget genre fare of the period, ‘An Eye for an Eye’ tries to justify its sleazier instincts by attaching them to an important social issue in a way that is as unquestionably sincere as it is unintentionally hilarious.

Tom Basham plays Mr. Robbey, a childlike TV show host who regularly visits the children’s ward of a local hospital, where he overhears a nurse talk about the number of abused kids the ward treats and how they’re often returned directly to their abusers. As you might expect, he doesn’t take this news well and makes it his mission to make sure those terrible parents never hurt their children ever again.

Part misguided message picture, early proto-slasher film and police procedural, ‘An Eye for an Eye’ hits that exploitation sweet spot where it’s just creepy enough for you to forgive its rough spots and goofy enough that it never feels as icky as it could have been. It’s a case where a film’s more amateurish moments makes it more watchable rather than less and creates a work that is ultimately far more memorable than other similar but more professional productions.

Interestingly, fans of the film ‘Maniac’ might find ‘An Eye for an Eye’’s plot familiar, since Joe Spinell and ‘Combat Shock’ director Buddy Giovanazzi shot a short film called ‘Maniac 2: Mr Robbie’ in an (unsuccessful) attempt to get funding for a non-sequel sequel to William Lustig’s controversial cult favourite. Based on that short (and it’s subtitle) the planned feature would have been a direct remake of Brown’s film.

Patrick Still Lives (Mario Landi, 1980)
One of the classic examples of Italy’s enjoyable tradition of unscrupulous producers completely ripping off a successful film and fraudulently selling it as an official sequel, ‘Patrick Still Lives’ is a hilariously sleazy riff on Richard Franklin’s Australian classic, ‘Patrick’, that ditches the original’s suspense in favour of surreal death scenes and an epic amount of gratuitous nudity.

If you’re unfamiliar with Franklin’s film, it’s a tense supernatural thriller about a seemingly comatose hospital patient who uses his psychic powers to terrorize the nurse he’s become obsessed with. Landi’s non-sequel sequel switches the action to a large mansion where a mad scientist keeps his psychic comatose son alive as he invites several unsuspecting guests over for a weekend of boobs, bloodshed and more boobs.

Like many similar Italian horror films of the period, ‘Patrick Still Lives’ doesn’t even attempt to make sense. It’s a softcore fever dream that riffs on its source material so loosely that you begin to suspect the filmmakers had never even seen the original film and just based their script on someone else’s description of it in a cinematic game of Telephone. The result is a work of mesmerizing incoherence that manages to avoid feeling as cynical as it could have considering the whole reason why it got made.

The Black Cat (Luigi Cozzi, 1989)

Speaking of incoherent Italian fever dreams! Despite being titled ‘Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat’ Luigi Cozzi’s bizarre sci-fi horror has no discernable connection to Poe’s short story (and even less connection to Lamberta Bava’s ‘Demons’ even though it was sold as an entry in that franchise in several territories).

But that doesn’t matter since it’s made with Cozzi’s uniquely endearing sincerity, which has long made him my fave Italian genre auteur. Like ‘Starcrash’ and his Hercules films, ‘The Black Cat’ wears its influences on its sleeves like a sixth grader mashing together their favourite stories into one hilarious whole. In this case, there’s a (tiny) bit of Poe, a touch of Bava (but Mario, not Lamberto), a dash of Kubrick and--weirdly--a sprinkling of X-Men (but only if you’re paying attention).

It’s impossible to sum up the plot (which may explain why the film doesn’t even have a wikipedia page), but highlights include Caroline Munro being Caroline Munro, a boil-faced witch spewing green slime straight out of ‘You Can’t Do That on Television’, a swerve in every scene and the kind of bonkers ending only Cozzi could be satisfied with.

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