Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Blood Frenzy (1987)

... aka: Bloody Frenzy
... aka: Frenesia sanguinaria (Bloodthirsty Frenzy)
... aka: Sede de Sangue (Bloodlust)

Directed by:
Hal Freeman

In stark contrast to all the fun stuff, another thing that helped define the 80s era was the Moral Majority, which began in 1979 with multi-millionaire minister Jerry Falwell and eventually infected all manner of politics, law, art and culture. The organization set goals that included all the usuals like overturning Roe vs. Wade, making sure gays remained second class citizens, opposing equal rights measures and affirmative action, censoring or trying to ban things they didn't like, trying to force prayer into schools and saturating the media with propaganda / scare tactics in an effort to convert people over to conservative Christianity. They also really had a bone to pick with all manner of popular entertainment that didn't propagate the Christian lifestyle and their vision of “values” / the “traditional” family. The Moral Majority were extremely successful in helping to shape the minds and goals of many in the following decades, as well as influencing those at the top in politics. They sunk millions of dollars into eventual president Ronald Reagan's campaign, with 10 million going solely toward slanderous ads falsely stating his opponent was a traitor and not really Christian like he claimed. Morals indeed.

As you can imagine, the Moral Majority were given quite a bit of power in the Reagan administration because, frankly, they were owed as much for helping him get in there. What followed was downright bizarre to those of us who try our best to keep overzealous religious wackos at arm's length most of the time. There was a sudden rash of "Satanic Panic" in the media with "rumored" (bullshit) stories of small town Satanism run amok, animal killings and impressionable teens falling into Satan's grasp. Many murders were falsely attributed to Satanic cults despite zero evidence. Actual murderers and criminals used Satanism as a scapegoat to try to skirt heavier prison sentences. Covers of heavy metal albums and lyrics were endlessly criticized, with some musicians being dragged into court to defend themselves after being blamed for the criminal activity of others. There were countless stories speculating about child sexual abuse in Satanic cults while a blind eye was turned to real child sexual abuse being committed by Christian and Catholic religious leaders. All of this went on well into the 1990s and even spread to other countries like the UK.

Not content with just spreading fake stories, the Moral Majority and the politicians who pandered to them were also suddenly having hissy fits over things like horror movies, rap music, fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and, perhaps most of all, depictions of people seeming to (gasp!) actually enjoy having sex. The "Porno Chic" of the 70s quickly did an about face into our government starting an all-out war on sex films. That resulted in laws twisted to trap pornographers under the pandering and prostitution umbrella. Porn sets were raided, many were arrested and lives were ruined in the process. Director Hal (Harold) Freeman was among those targeted. In fact, he was one of the very first people to ever be arrested for making porn when the set of his film Caught from Behind 2 (1983) was invaded by authorities. After being convicted of five counts of pandering by a lower court, he was thrown in jail, put on probation for years and had to go through numerous costly appeals and court battles. Freeman's case finally went all the way to the Supreme Court; a case that ended up effectively legalizing hardcore porn for good in the state of California. Freeman was acquitted by February 1989, but the damage had already been done by that point. His savings were depleted and he passed away in October of 1989.

In the midst of all that, and like many others during this unsure time when the government was coming down hard on the adult industry, Freeman was attempting to go mainstream. He even created an offshoot of his X-rated Hollywood Video label called Hollywood Family Video for the sole purpose of releasing non-hardcore films. Their first effort was Blood Frenzy, filmed in the deserts around Barstow, California. It was shot on 35mm, had a budget of around 100,000 dollars and was completed in just 12 days. Most of Freeman's adult film crew also worked on this, including writer Ted Newsom, who was given a story titled “Warning – No Trespassing” written by Ray Dennis Steckler to base his script upon, and cinematographer Richard Pepin, who'd shot most of Freeman's adult films under the name “Rick Christopher.” Pepin would soon join up with Joseph Merhi to form City Lights Entertainment Group, which would later turn into direct-to-video action specialists PM Entertainment Group.

Psychologist Dr. Barbara Shelley (Wendy MacDonald) is into something called “confrontational therapy” and decides to take six of her nuttiest patients into the Mojave desert to a secluded location to try out her techniques over the course of three days. Among her patients are Rick (Tony Montero), a Vietnam vet prone to zoning out, hallucinations and sudden bursts of violence and anger, Dory (Lisa Loring), an extremely angry, abrasive, loud and bitter lesbian fashion model, passive aggressive instigator Dave (Hank Garrett), pretty blonde nymphomaniac Cassie (Lisa Savage), drunk Crawford (John Clark) and neurotic Jean (Monica Silvera), who doesn't like being touched. Going by the opening sequence, one of them had an abusive drunk for a father... until they decided to rip out his throat with a garden claw.

Doctor and patients arrive at their desert location around some old abandoned silver mines and hours from the nearest town. There, they set up their tents and immediately get to work on their intense therapy sessions, which usually end in screaming and crying. However, this time one of the sessions goes beyond that and starts a physical confrontation between Dave and Rick. Later that night, someone takes it upon themselves to put on a pair of gloves and slash Dave's throat. Not only that, but the killer also throws out all of their food and most of their water, steals the microphone to their CB radio so they cannot call for help and swipes the distributor cap from their RV so they can't leave the desert. Since they're 50 miles from the nearest highway, they're pretty much screwed as someone starts picking them off one by one. A jack-in-the-box playing “Pop Goes to Weasel” ties together the murder seen in the opening sequence with the new series of killings.

A mixture of slasher and mystery, Blood Frenzy is utterly average in execution with extremely static camerawork not alleviated any by direction that's both unimaginative and thoroughly uninteresting from a visual standpoint. That said, this does have a few entertaining perks. For starters, there's a decent amount of latex gore and, after much slogging around in the middle, a lively enough finale. And then there's Newsom's script, which may poorly disguise the identity of the killer but does offer up some hilariously crass dialogue. Finally, most of the actors really throw themselves into this thing. Freeman wanted to avoid porn connections so he didn't hire any adult actors for the film and instead opted for a mixture of pros, friends and decent newbies from a local theater program. Even the blonde bimbo in this one really isn't too bad of an actress.

I'd be remiss if I didn't single out Loring's contributions. A former child actress best known as Wednesday from the original The Addams Family TV series, Loring goes wayyyy over the top in her portrayal of an incredibly unlikable character who seems to scream out every other line of dialogue. This is one go-for-broke performance which could be deemed either brilliant or awful depending on how you view it. Either way, she's very entertaining and makes the slow-moving mid-section more watchable. Loring landed the role because she had porn connections of her own as she'd worked behind the scenes on a number of them (like Traci's Big Trick) and was dating porn actor Jerry Butler at the time. The two eventually married but divorced five years later.

A few other trivia notes: According to a producer, former model Savage had agreed to do nudity when she was hired but, with a lot of footage already in the can, refused to do her nude scenes when the time came. Not only that, but she reportedly locked herself in her hotel room, called her lawyer boyfriend and threatened to sue them or walk off the set if they kept pursuing the issue. Being the pro she is, Loring stepped in and did the topless scene for her. * Clark was married to (and the agent of) Lynn Redgrave when he appeared in this and Redgrave actually visited the set on several occasions. * Chuck Rhae, who appears in a small role as Lonnie, was the husband of X actress Danica Rhae.

Freeman, Newsom and producer Claire Cassano planned a second horror film to be titled Judgment Night, a slasher set in a courthouse, that was never made because of Freeman's death. The only other video produced under the Hollywood Family label was the documentary Earthquake Survival (1988), a tape sold at grocery stores that was written by Newsom and Brinke Stevens and hosted by Shelley Duvall. Like Blood Frenzy, it reportedly made a lot of money.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Zai shi feng liu jie (1985)

... aka: 再世風流劫
... aka: 뼈와 살이 타는 밤
... aka: Byeowa sali taneun bam
... aka: Haunted Romance, A
... aka: Night of Burning Flesh, The
... aka: Night of Burning Flesh and Bones
... aka: Ppyeo-wa sal-i taneun bam

Directed by:
Myeong-hwa Jo (Ching Luk)

I have an extremely long list of films I'm constantly on the hunt for. And sometimes I find out I have the same film listed two or three different times under different titles. That appears to be the case with this one. Depending on the source one consults, this is either a Hong Kong production originally titled Zai shi feng liu jie (English title: A Haunted Romance) directed by Ching Luk aka Charles Lowe or a South Korean production with the English title Night of Burning Flesh and Bones (or just The Night of Burning Flesh according to the poster) directed by Myeong-hwa Jo aka Joe Moung-hwa. The latter I also see listed under two other titles: Byeowa sali taneun bam and Ppyeo-wa sal-i taneun bam. In short, you can see this one film listed places under at least eight different titles directed by four or five different directors. The cast lists are also different depending on where you look, though it wasn't uncommon for actors to be known by different names in other countries or for distributors to simply make up names of cast members so they sounded more homegrown.

What ultimately gives this one away as a HK production (or at least co-production) is the presence of several cast members, most notably the female lead. She's credited as Ji-hye Han on the Korean print but she's better known under the names Chi-Wai Yuen, Maria Yuen and Maria Jo. Yuen's career lasted less than a decade, in which time she was frequently cast in sexy roles usually requiring nudity in a number of exploitation and sleazy horror films. Her best known film is the crazy cult favorite Seeding of a Ghost (1983) but she also appeared in Dead Curse (1985), Watch Out (1986), Cannibal Curse (1988) and others. Going through my screen caps I also found out she's the female lead in the (awful) ghost comedy JOKERS PLAYING GAMES (1987) that I reviewed here awhile back. In that one she used the name Chi-Wai Lui.

While out of town on assignment and in the woods snapping photos of bugs, birds, lizards and rabbits, photographer Jun-sik (Chow Fong) finds a gold locket with the photo of a beautiful woman inside. He removes the picture, rips it up and then returns to his hotel room, where he replaces the old photo with one of his wife and hopes to present it to her as a gift when he returns home. Immediately after, he sees visions of the beauty in the photo (Yuen) sitting on a patio and wandering the hallways, more often than not holding an umbrella. The woman then materializes in his room. She announces herself as Chung-ah, takes a shower, comes out in a towel, laughs, acts seductive and plays hard to get to the point where Jun-sik is driven to crawling at her feet ready to worship her. Before he can, he wakes up in his bed. A nightmare? Well, when he opens up the locket and finds Chung-ah's photo back inside he's not so sure.

Concerned by the strange incident, Jun-sik goes to see a doctor, who tells him there's nothing physically wrong with him so he may want to seek a spiritual remedy if he's indeed being pestered by a ghost. That turns out to be about as helpful as going to the hospital with cancer and having a doctor sending you home with a prescription for prayer. Next thing we know, Jun-sik is gutting a white baby rabbit and burning its innards in a field while praying. He disposes of the locket in the ashes and returns home to his wife (Lai-Fong Cheng) and young daughter (Bo-Ming Man), whom he frequently neglects. However, mutilating Thumper turns out to be a waste of time as the ghost pays him a nightly visit to seduce him again. When the little daughter looks over to daddy's bed, she sees him in an embrace with a skeleton!

Chung-ah eventually explains that she and Jun-sik were lovers in a previous life and she'd like to be lovers again. Whether he likes it or not is irrelevant as she's determined to get her way. And that she does. Jun-sik is soon sneaking out of the house and lying to his wife to join his new ghost lover in hotel hot tub romps and flings at closed down disco clubs. As the affair becomes more intense, he starts becoming withdrawn and depressed and has nightmares of murdering his wife and daughter. Chung-ah then starts doing everything in her power to keep him from returning home, including ratting him out to his wife. The wife then destroys his photography lab, where he keeps a cage full of white lab mice (huh?!), in a rage. The ghostly vixen also causes the young daughter to have horrible nose bleeds and even threatens to kill her.

Jun-sik comes to the conclusion that constant sex with a beautiful woman who can't keep her hands off of you is no match for the love of his family. He seeks the aid of an old psychic woman who then sends him off to the country to see a monk (Ling-Kwong Wan). Chung-ah shows up there dressed in a bikini top and high-waisted skirt and with her patented pink umbrella to attempt to dazzle the holy man with her charms but is unsuccessful. He then barricades himself and Jun-sik inside with spell papers on the windows and doors. Chung-ah talks a local dimwit (Sha-Lik Pak) into removing the papers for her so she can gain access. While the monk attempts to stop the succubus-like spirit, Jun-sik's skirt-chasing colleague (previously seen screwing one of his bikini models) tries to seduce his abandoned wife. Someone also goes crazy at the end and starts killing off the characters, including suffocating one with an empty fish bowl over the head (!)

Clearly made on the cheap, this has a plodding storyline, no real special effects, bare bones art direction, unlikable characters, no humor and is padded, poorly paced and often poorly edited. To the director's credit, he does attempt to at least spice things up visually with colorful lighting and some decent camerawork. He also has a good eye for how to frame a shot and knows how to make certain colors pop (particularly the spirit's pink clothing and umbrella) against white rooms and urban backdrops. The shot compositions lead me to believe the director is indeed Ching Luk, whose only other known credits are in cinematography. He was a cameraman on Enter the Dragon (1973) and shot THE ACCIDENT (1983) and a few Shaw Brothers movies like 1980's Lost Souls. The synth music score is also pretty good / eerie and there's a bit of 80s schlock fun during certain scenes like the modeling session and a trip to a disco where a group of guys break dance to a terrible song called “Shake Your Body."

At the end of the day this is mostly just a vehicle for the charms of the sexy leading lady, who is quite nice to look at throughout and has no less than four nude scenes. However, if you end up seeing the Korean cut of the film like I did, nearly all of her nudity has been fogged out. Strangely, we do get to see breasts two different times but these are during sequences when owners of said breasts are being attacked! Odd that they decided that depictions of normal, consensual sex (well, as normal as sex with a ghost can be, I guess!) are deemed worthy of censorship but sexual violence is not. Maybe that's a Korean thing.

This one's never been released in English and the best version currently available is a Korean VHS dupe which has a very soft, very bright picture. Since there are a lot of voice overs used, both from the male lead and the ghost lady, and I couldn't understand those, I'm boosting what I'd otherwise rate this by half a star. Maybe it has brilliant dialogue? I highly doubt it but, hey, stranger things have happened.

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