Tag Archives: 1976

CAPSULE: KEOMA (1976)

AKA Django’s Great Return; The Violent Breed

DIRECTED BY: Enzo G. Castellari

FEATURING: , Donald O’Brien, William Berger, Olga Karlatos

PLOT: A half-breed gunslinger returns to his home town after serving in the Civil War to find it overrun by an outlaw gang.

Still from Keoma (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: If you remove the infamous soundtrack, this movie is a candidate for a standard, artful, but pretty ordinary spaghetti Western. Grim as Hades’ gruel and dark as midnight, yes, but not weird. The soundtrack, moreover, qualifies less as weird and more as a hate crime against eardrums.

COMMENTS: What chance does a Western have on this site? In the category of weird Westerns, there is El Topo, and the buck pretty much stops there. Nobody else need bother applying. It scored #10 on March Movie Madness out of the whole 366 List. Sure there’s a few more weird Westerns on the List, but by and large, Westerns are the most conservative, vanilla genre out there. I know some fans will be ready to thrash me for saying so, but I hate this genre. It’s BORING! The same horses, the same guns, the same hats, the same saloon fight. Show me an establishing shot of an old ghost town with a tumbleweed blowing by and I’m yawning already. El Topo is my favorite Western, Blazing Saddles my second-favorite, and every other one is tied for last place, spaghetti Westerns included. Yes, I will grant, there are many well-done Westerns—don’t think I don’t appreciate them—but I can only stare at the same paint on the same wall for so long, even if Picasso painted it. Even worse is another Django (1966) knock-off (albeit starring the original Django). During the copycat Western period, all cowboys were Django, the way all Mexican Luchador wrestlers are Santo.

So, in the boring, boring west, Keoma (Franco Nero) comes home from the Civil War to find his home town overrun by outlaws. Team Bad Guy–cackling evildoers of the Snidely Whiplash variety—is led by Caldwell (Donald O’Brien), who doesn’t tie screaming damsels to train tracks but might as well, since he solves a plague epidemic by hunting the victims down like dogs. Worse yet, Keoma’s half-brothers despise him because he’s a half-breed Indian and have thrown in their lot with Caldwell. Keoma’s only allies are his father and a few town stragglers, so together Team Good Guy is going to solve this with lots of fighting, featuring saloon punch-outs and gunfighter duels at the O.K. Corral. Notice how this plot flies right through your brain without hanging onto any details? Horses are ridden, oats are eaten, honky tonk pianos are played, poker cards are dealt. The most original element is an old crone who observes Keoma’s progress and advises him from time to time.

Let’s talk about the dead, stinking elephant in the room: The Worst Soundtrack EVER! Keoma has the bad luck to be famous mainly for its cursed music. It’s as bad as every review says it is, and worse. The female vocals sound like Tiny Tim doing a falsetto after inhaling helium, and then the male accompaniment comes in sounding like what everybody swears to God is Arnold Schwarzenegger with a head cold. But wait, there’s more! The music sings the entire narration, an invisible Greek chorus punctuating every major scene in operatic detail. And not only that, the music is not at all Western, but sounds more like an amateur Renaissance Fair ballad. This takes what should have been the grand finale of the spaghetti Western genre and turns it into excruciating torture to sit through. Nails on a chalkboard, a cat-fight on acid, your ears will throw up. You want so badly to appreciate the dramatic moments but the manic chipmunk with croaking frog accompaniment just WILL NOT SHUT UP.

Notwithstanding this one crippling handicap, Keoma is hailed by many as a spaghetti Western classic. Even the most rabid genre fans will admit it’s derivative, but this came out in the twilight years of Prego horse operas, so it’s unavoidable. Director Castellari at least keeps the camerawork interesting, peeking at the action through barrel knotholes and from between the spokes of wagon wheels. Reportedly, the script was written on the fly while filming, which is impressive because lines of dialogue hint at spirituality and a Zen view of the world, and snippets have Shakespearian aspirations. But sadly, Westerns have been so spammed in cinema that even the Taoist ones are a dime a dozen.

The defining feature of Keoma, music aside, is grimness. This film takes place in a world that’s just a big sack of crap for everybody, where they’re all damned souls struggling to kill each other in the most sadistic ways possible on the shores of Hell. Which, even if you love Westerns, makes it hard to give a damn about anybody here. The only thing you care about after it’s over is sticking your head in the microwave on high to see if that purges the soundtrack from your memory.

Arrow Video released a deluxe special edition Blu-ray in 2019, newly restored and with a host of special features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Aside from the peculiar mismatching of Nero and his role, the movie’s almost random collection of elements gives it an appealing recklessness and energy that sells it. The main drawback is the music…”–Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA (1976)

DIRECTED BY: Lewis John Carlino

FEATURING: Jonathan Kahn, Sarah Miles, , Earl Rhodes

PLOT: A young boy growing up in a seaside English town with his widowed mother is involved in a cultlike group of juvenile delinquents, but idolizes a passing sailor who woos his mom… for a while.

Still from The Sailor Who Eell from Grace with the Sea (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is one of the all-time great titles, but definitely not one of the all-time weirdest movies. What little weirdness it has is more of a function of its unfashionable (some might say “clumsy”) use of symbolic narrative than anything else.

COMMENTS: Lewis John Carlino (screenwriter of Seconds) adapted The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea from a novel by oddball nationalist Japanese writer . Some critics argue that, in changing the location from Japan to Wales, the movie fails to achieve greatness because it can’t translate Mishima’s specifically Japanese cultural concerns to screen.

I disagree. I think The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea fails to achieve greatness on its own merits. Specifically, the movie is poorly paced, losing rather than gaining steam as it goes on, and the acting is flat and uninspired. Sarah Miles does best as the young widow hiding her simmering sexuality under the cover of prim country Victorianism (although her mournful masturbation scene in front of her dead husband’s portrait is risible). Kris Kristofferson is mainly there as a manly prop for the sex scenes, a duty he performs well enough. The main acting issue is one that brings down many coming-of-age films: the reliance on young, untrained actors in crucial roles. Star Jonathan Kahn, whose only other credits were literary parts in BBC juvenile television adaptations, is just serviceable: he has the look of a conflicted adolescent, but he can’t channel the surging hormonal rage needed here. Earl Rhodes, as “Chief,” is more of an obstacle to success. He gives theatrical speeches that sound like a schoolboy’s self-serving impressions of Nietzsche (“morality is nothing more than a set of rules adults have invented to protect themselves.”) He always sounds like he’s reading from a script and never develops the sinister charisma necessary for us to buy him as a mini-Manson; and if we can’t believe he seduces his schoolboy chums into bizarre acts of anti-adult rebellion (like a ritual involving a poor kitty), the delicate credibility of the plot falls apart.

Hints of perversity and sex can’t overcome the movie’s over-solemnity (the tone they were going for was “haunting,” but it’s a near miss). Sailor‘s lack of spark is a shame, because the film raises a multitude of interesting topics: youthful rebellion, missing father figures, Oedipal desire, the foundations of morality, the lure of romanticism, the tension between pure ideology and real life. While there is a certain fateful irony in the conclusion (optimistically promoted as “startling” in the tagline), it’s deliberately telegraphed so that there is no suspense. A few indicia of derangement–dissonant baroque music played on prepared piano during the boy’s memory of seeing his nude mother, a stuttering montage as the boys prepare their final act–give the movie the slightest touch of formal strangeness.

There is one major support for the interpretation that the film is a failure of translation. Mishima likely intended the novel as an allegory for Japan’s postwar situation, and viewed the boys as the upcoming generation of heroes and patriots who would overthrow Western domination of “pure” Japanese culture. In Carlino’s hands, these brats are misguided monsters, Lords of the Flies refugees, who make the parents into tragic victims of their misguided fanaticism. Obviously, that’s a seismic thematic shift—but again, I don’t think that’s the reason the movie fails to hit its mark. With more vital direction, they could have pulled the reversal off.

At the moment The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is free to watch on Tubi.tv (no way to know if that will still be true by the time you read this, naturally).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…has an intriguing effect by virtue of its very strangeness, with its uneasy combination of a sex-starved widow and twisted kids making for, at the very least, a memorable experience, if not entirely for the right reasons.”–Graem Clark, The Spinning Image

(This movie was nominated for review by “Mina.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: BLACK COBRA WOMAN [AKA EMANUELLE AND THE DEADLY BLACK COBRA] (1976)

Eva Nera

DIRECTED BY: Joe D’Amato

FEATURING: Laura Gemser, Jack Palance, Gabriele Tinti

PLOT: An exotic dancer moves in with the wealthy, snake-obsessed Judas Carmichael; a series of murders-by-snakebite follow—but is Judas responsible?

Black Cobra Woman aka Eva Nera

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In spite of its herpetological conceit, Black Cobra Woman quickly turns into a run-of-the-mill revenge story—aside from one particularly memorable scene.

COMMENTS: The sexploitation film lives and dies on its perversity. The best of them, notably the works of and , create a sense of danger simply watching them. They disgust and arouse at the same time, lambasting any illusions the viewer may have about their own dignity or propriety. When the sexploitation film fails to offend and settles for titillation, it founders.

Black Cobra Woman climaxes in one of the cruelest, most gruesome acts of the sexploitation genre. This makes it all the more disappointing that the prior 80 minutes feel so lifeless. The sex is dull and tired, a series of sad-looking women stripping and touching each other’s thighs. There’s no thrill to any but the final two scenes, and the rest of the film is padded so heavily with travelogue footage of Hong Kong that the journey isn’t worth it.

The central conceit is promising. Amateur herpetologist Judas Carmichael, played by a weary Jack Palance, falls in love with Eva (Laura Gemser), a lesbian dancer who performs with a live cobra. Eva moves in with the wealthy Carmichael, who shows no interest in sleeping with her. Judas keeps Eva only as an object of fascination, like one of his many pet snakes.

Black Cobra Woman sets up Judas as Eva’s keeper, but it never pursues the implications of that relationship. Judas displays hardly any possessiveness or abusiveness towards Eva, and happily ignores the succession of women she brings back to his house from Hong Kong lesbian clubs. Black Cobra Woman’s villain turns out not to be Judas, but rather his brother Jules, who becomes obsessed with Eva. Using his brother’s snakes, Jules seduces and murders each of Eva’s girlfriends.

Gabriele Tinti plays Jules with appropriate sadism, but the character ultimately falls flat. His lust for Eva feels contrived, especially when Jack Palance’s character has such clearer motivation for jealousy. His murders are far too tame, as well. Sexploitation films eroticize murder, but despite the obvious phallic implications, all but one of the snake scenes come across as pedestrian. When Jules throws a venomous snake onto a naked woman, he comes off as a schoolboy teasing a girl with spiders, not a psychopath.

Black Cobra Woman aka Eva Nera

When Eva discovers that Jules is responsible for the killings, she arranges for his murder. Two hired thugs ambush Jules on the beach, beating him and tying him down on all fours. They sodomize him with a cobra while Eva taunts him. The scene is shocking and revolting, but surprisingly non-graphic. There’s no gore, only Jules’ anguished screams. This restraint might be admirable in a more exciting film, but Black Cobra Woman is so dull up to this point that the lack of any gore hurts.

Black Cobra Woman feels like a victim of bad casting. Laura Gemser spends nearly the entire film looking at the ground like a depressed prisoner. In theory this should make her eventual rebellion all the more satisfying, but that never happens. She murders Jules, not her captor Judas, and her suicide in the last scene feels less like an escape from her cage and more like an easy way to end the film.

Jack Palance disappoints even more. At the nadir of his career in the late 70s, Palance could still turn in sinister, hate-worthy performances even in pablum like Angels’ Revenge. Here he comes across as a doddering old man. The red cardigan he wears doesn’t help, making him look like a washed-up Mister Rogers.

Black Cobra Woman sets up an intriguing relationship between a snake-woman and her owner, but quickly turns into a routine murder and revenge story. The villain’s comeuppance is grotesque, the lead-up doesn’t earn it. One scene, no matter how shocking, can’t salvage a boring film.

Black Cobra Woman can be found on a newly-released Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber under the title Emmanuelle and the Deadly Black Cobra.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This bizarre curio from veteran European exploitation filmmaker Joe D’Amato is unexpectedly high on style and depressingly low on substance.”–Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

 

RON ORMOND’S CHRISTIAN SCARE DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GRIM REAPER (1976) AND THE BELIEVER’S HEAVEN (1977)

Like before him, had a brief, inspired period of lunacy, best seen in his two Christian scare masterstrokes: If Footman Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971) and The Burning Hell (1974). After these, he lost his demented mojo. While 1976’s The Grim Reaper has much to recommend it (within a certain mindset), an element of fatigue has set in. The first and most obvious sign is the absence of Rev. Estus Pirkle (he and Ormond had a falling out over money—imagine that!), and as unfathomable as it may be, that stoic nutcase is immediately missed. The second major flaw is Ormond’s futile attempt at a linear narrative, proving he didn’t quite grasp the fact that the appeal of his previous two films was as crowning examples of evangelical .

Still from The Grim Reaper (1976)One thing that The Grim Reaper does accomplish is fleshing out, on celluloid at least, the Baptist maxim “you’re goin’ to hay-ull.” One can always tell a Baptist because that’s their favorite catchphrase, and they haven’t grown tired of it yet.

Tim (played again by Ormond’s son Tim, now minus facial fair and sporting a Baptist haircut) and his mama, Ruby (Viola Walden) are saved. Unfortunately, his dad, Vern (Cecil Scaife) and brother, Frankie (Eddie King) are unsaved trash.

Worse, Eddie races cars! Now, the film doesn’t go into the semantics of “what if a race car driver is saved?” My Pentecostal aunt found herself in that same undesired predicament with one of her brood, but since Pentecostals don’t believe in “once saved, always saved,” I guess her boy wasn’t saved, even if he claimed to be. While the appeal of watching cars driving around a circle is a tad perplexing and the idea of racing is foolhardy, one might be hard pressed to locate the sin in it.

Still, Eddie isn’t saved. Tim attempts a literal last second death conversion by pleading with Eddie to recite the sinner’s prayer before succumbing to injuries from a wreck. Stupidly, Eddie doesn’t accept Jesus as his lord and personal savior. Now, Eddie’s gonna fry, but good. Such half-baked theology lacks a bit of spiritual common sense. The Ormond hypothesis follows Baptist reasoning (?!) pretty closely. According to them, if a serial killer gets saved before he dies, he goes to heaven (an example is Jeffrey Dahmer, who some actually claimed was saved in this manner). However, if his victims didn’t get the chance to say the sinner’s prayer and died immediately (as we assume some did), then they have go to Hell. Shit outta luck, dude—it’s a “the rules are the rules” kinda thing, as the Baptist preacher tells Eddie’s mum and dad. Sorry, folks, I can’t say he’s in heaven at the funeral because he’s burning in Hell now (as if dying in a fiery death wasn’t punishment enough). Yes, these are adults who Continue reading RON ORMOND’S CHRISTIAN SCARE DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GRIM REAPER (1976) AND THE BELIEVER’S HEAVEN (1977)

300. THE TENANT (1976)

Le Locataire

“Many would attest that The Pianist is Polanski’s most personal work, given the obvious Holocaust subject matter, but look beneath the surface, and when the window curtains are drawn aside, Polanski’s The Tenant shines brightest as the work closest to his being.”–Adam Lippe, A Regrettable Moment of Sincerity

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Melvyn Douglas, , Jo Van Fleet

PLOT: Meek clerk Trelkovsky rents an apartment in Paris that’s only available because the previous tenant threw herself out the window. He takes it upon himself to visit the woman, who has just awakened from a coma; while there, he meets Stella, a friend of the pre-deceased, with whom he embarks on an awkward romantic relationship. After the previous tenant passes Trelkovsky moves into the apartment, where his odd neighbors are obsessed with keeping the grounds quiet, and finds himself slowly taking on the personality of the previous tenant.

Still from The Tenant (1976)

BACKGROUND:

  • Based on the 1964 novel Le Locataire Chimérique by Panic Movement member . Polanski co-wrote the screenplay, rewrote the main character to be a Polish immigrant rather than a Russian, and cast himself in the lead.
  • Because of its apartment setting, The Tenant is considered part of Polanski’s unofficial “apartment trilogy,” which also includes Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
  • The film was shot in English, but most of the French actors were dubbed over by American voice talent. (Polanski dubbed himself in French for that language’s version).
  • Lensed by Sven Nykvist, ‘s favorite cinematographer.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Unfortunately (because as a looker he’s no Dustin Hoffman, or even ) it’s the sight of Polanski in drag, particularly as he admires himself in the mirror, hiking up his dress to reveal his garter and stockings, and concludes “I think I’m pregnant.”

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Tooth in the wall; toilet mummy; high-bouncing head

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Take a novel by Surrealist writer Roland Topor and give the property to Roman Polanski to adapt and star in while he’s having an anxiety attack, sprinkle lightly with hallucinations, and you get The Tenant. It’s a little Kafka, a little Repulsion, a little Bergman, a little cross-dressing exhibition, and very weird.


Original trailer for The Tenant

COMMENTS: Trelkovsky—no first name—is an improbably quiet Continue reading 300. THE TENANT (1976)

1976 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA

The beauty of the 1970s is its obsession with multifarious genres and trends, but the hardly means all the movies are good. A case in point is ‘s Eaten Alive, which jumps on the killer animal bandwagon started by Bruce the shark, who shows up here as a laughably fake big green scaly lizard. Naturally, Hooper taps into his own hayseed folk focus, which include Texas Chainsaw‘s tied-up Marilyn Burns, a very creepy Neville Brand, an almost unrecognizably made up Carolyn Jones, and a very kinky fellar named Buck, played by Robert Englund. Another 70s tendency, which would be unthinkable in the next decade, is the terrorization of tykes. Here, a poor little crippled girl gets to witness her doggy become gator bait. She’s further terrorized by dysfunctional parents, including a pappy lookin’ for a nonexistent eyeball (!)  It’s a weird indie (but, by no means not List-worthy). Hooper is still in full exploitation mode before Spielberg ruined him with a professional filmmaking lesson for Poltergeist (1982)—not a bad movie per se, but with a few exceptions, it threw Hooper permanently off course.

Poster for Grizzly (1976) No award will given for guessing what film Mako: The Jaws of Death (directed by William Grefe) is shamelessly ripping off. It stars Richard Jaeckel using sharks to exact revenge. Better is William Girdler’s Jaws-with-claws, Grizzly, which stars Christopher George and the busy Jaeckel (again). It’s an unadulterated rip-off, made all the better for its trashiness.

Jeff Liberman’s Squirm is a hoot. Think Jaws as a buncha earth worms. It’s roguish humor is winning. It was a video store favorite for years, usually found next to the sticky floor section.

Surprisingly Rattlers (directed by John McCauley) are a duller, less threatening lot than fish bait.

Frustratingly, The Rat Savior (directed by Krsto Panic) remains an elusive gem. It won several awards at genre festivals, was available briefly on beta-max, was shown rarely on television and in arthouse cinemas (where I caught it a quarter of a century ago), and is only available on YouTube, devoid of subtitles or dubbing. It has recently been released on a PAL DVD in its original Yugoslavian language, which will hopefully pave the path for an accessible statewide release. Based on the novel by Alexander Greene, it’s a rodent-infested variation on body snatchers crossed with John Campbell’s shape-shifting “Thing.” The nasty cheese-eaters kill and impersonate human victims. The resident scientist (Ivica Vidovic) develops his own pesticide. However, once the rats impersonate a human, there’s no way to differentiate them, and mistakes are bound to happen. The Rat Savior is allegorical, political paranoia; a one-of-a-kind film, awaiting rescue from obscurity.

The House with Laughing Windows (directed by ) is a rare giallo that’s more unsettling than stylish. Already covered here as a Continue reading 1976 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA

1976 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE OMEN & CARRIE

1976 is such an astoundingly productive year in exploitation and horror that we’re forced to divide it into two parts. Religious-themed horror takes front and center in this first part, beginning with Alfred Sole’s Communion [better known today as Alice Sweet Alice], one of the most substantial cult films ever produced. Beginning with a young Brooke Shields torched in a pew, dysfunctional Catholicism is taken to grounds previously unseen. Mantling the most pronounced trends of the 1970s, Sole plays elastic with multiple genres (slasher, psychological, religious, independent movies, horror) with such idiosyncratic force that the movie’s cult status was inevitable. It should have made Sole a genre specialist, but his career as a director never took off, and he only made a few more films. Surprisingly, critics have been slow in coming around to Communion. It’s essential viewing and we hope to cover it in greater detail here at a later date.

Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To remains one of the most relentlessly original films of the 70s, already covered here and a solid List contender.

Richard Donner made a bona fide pop star out of a pre-pubescent antichrist with The Omen. It was a marketing bonanza, spawning endless sequels and a pointless 2006 remake. Sensationalistic, red-blooded, and commercially slick, in a National Enquirer kind of way, it’s predictably most successful in coming up with ways to slaughter characters—the most infamous of which is a decapitation by glass. In that, The Omen is a product of its time. The creativity in many of the later Hammer Dracula films was often solely reserved for ways to dispatch (and resurrect) its titular vampire. The Abominable Dr. Phibes took tongue-in-cheek delight utilizing the plagues of Egypt to annihilate everyone in sight. It was also the decade of Old Nick and deadly tykes. Throw in apocalyptic biblical paranoia, and The Omen is practically a smorgasbord of 70s trends.

Still from The Omen (1976)The Omen is helped tremendously by Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which is reminiscent of Carl Orff and still remembered (and imitated). Three character performances stand out: Billie Whitelaw, who literally lights up as a nanny from the pit, David Warner as a photographer obsessively trying to avoid his predestined end, and Patrick Troughton as a priest who “knows too much” (and gets his own Dracula-like finish). Unfortunately, the film is considerably hindered by its two leads. Gregory Peck, nice fella that he was off screen, is his usual wooden self and poorly cast as Damien’s adoptive ambassador father. The role was first offered to , whose old school conservative machismo and hammy charisma would undoubtedly have been a better fit. Alas, even though he rightly predicted it would be a major success, Heston objected to a film in which evil triumphed over good, and chose instead Continue reading 1976 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART ONE: THE OMEN & CARRIE