What In The Hell Is Chris, I mean, Joe Watching Now? MANTANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE)

By Joe Meyers

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a mushroom trip…”

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A little over a year ago I was at a get-together with my girlfriend’s family, and found myself in a conversation with a lovely, horror loving couple, Ed and Toni. At some point Ed asked me if I’d ever seen ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, and went on to say it was basically the horror version (possibly part inspiration?) of GILLIAN’S ISLAND. To say I was immediately curious about the film would be an understatement. I loved GILLIAN’S ISLAND as a kid, and I would often come up with horror scenarios for the characters after watching episodes.

It took me some time after my chat with Ed and Toni before seeing MANTANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), but it was worth the wait. This 1963 film was written by Takeshi Kimura, directed by the legendary Ishirō Honda, and was loosely based on William H. Hodgson’s short story, “The Voice in the Night.” Starring Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, and Yoshio Tsuchiy the movie really is about a trip on a yacht that wrecks off the shore of a seemingly deserted island…and yes, the characters feature a skipper, his mate, a professor, a wealthy man, and a celebrity among others.

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As the group makes their way across the island they discover vast growths of strange mushrooms, and eventually come across a shipwreck on the shore. Exploring this ship they find evidence that whoever had been onboard was likely conducting nuclear experiments, possibly the cause of the mutated mushrooms. The longer they’re on the island to more certain individuals begin to unravel. At first they all agree to not eat the mushrooms, but as food is in sort supply some fail to keep that promise. The result is distrust between the members of the group and, once the mushrooms begin to alter the mind and body, upgrades to terror and paranoia. Honda always said the film was about drug addiction, and how people can loose themselves in their addiction. That social commentary does come across in the script, however, the DOCTOR WHO-like make up effects for the Mushroom People has this film far more memorable as a 1960’s slow burn, monster movie to me.

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I enjoyed the movie, but I’d actually love to see an update of this plot idea. While MANTANGO is beyond tame by today’s standards, I think a reimagining/remake could really ratchet up the body horror. Using modern practical and visual effects, as the mutated ‘shrooms take over from the inside out, it could be as dramatic a difference as John Carpenter’s THE THING was from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. If you’d like to take the (longer than three hour) tour with these castaways over a 90 minute runtime as well, you can currently find the film listed as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE on Amazon Prime.

 

“What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” – FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION Film Series

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“Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

– “The Mourning Bride” by William Congreve (Act III Scene 2) (1697)

Revenge films are a sub-genre that dances along the edge of horror, but they can often be found diving fully into horror as well. Another sub-genre that is also known to do just that are the “women in prison” exploitation films. The film series I am going to discuss this time around brings all these together in Female Prisoner Scorpion franchise out of Japan.

The four films series from Toei Company ran from 1972 to 1973 with Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972), Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972), Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (1972), and Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song (1973). Actress Meiko Kaji played the lead role of Nami “Scorpion” Matsushima in all four films with Shunya Ito directing the first three and Yasuharu Hasebe directing the fourth. Based on the manga Scorpion by Toru Shinohara, the stories center around Nami who was wronged in the worst ways by her boyfriend, Sugimi, a corrupt narcotics detective. Set up and abused, Nami attempts to kill Sugimi in front of police headquarters and earns her trip to prison.

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In Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, Nami is subjected to brutal abuse from both the guards and her fellow inmates. But never does she break, because Nami is a bad ass, filled with rage and driven by vengeance. Fueled by this rage and through clever manipulations of her tormentors, things get bloody and gruesome, with many of those said tormentors meeting a nasty end. Outside of the “standard” tortures that Nami is put through, the set piece punishment in this installment was the digging and refilling and redigging of an exceptionally large hole in the prison yard. Events evolving from this led to a riot and escape, allowing Nami to finish her acts of vengeance.

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 opens to Nami having been returned to prison and bound up in solitary confinement. But she can still move her head, and she has been holding a spoon in her mouth and grinding it down on the concrete floor to make a shank! Told you she’s a bad ass. The prison riot kicks off early in this one, permitting a larger group to escape and going on the run during a transfer. This one dips into the spiritual and metaphysical a bit when the group of escapees comes across the hut of an old woman who essentially foretells what crimes they committed and how each will meet their end . . . except for Nami. There is still vengeance to be meted out as the warden from the first film survived and continues to torture and torment Nami whenever and however he can. As the road trip continues, it literally gets on the road with the hijacking of a tourist bus that leads to a standoff with the police. The ending takes a bit of a surreal twist, but it works.

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Now third film, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable, goes off in an odd but effective direction and adds in a bit of gothic horror and supernatural happenings. Yet again, Nami has escaped custody and is on the run. The first person to spot her is a prostitute in a cemetery . . . where Nami is trying to chew through the severed hand of the police detective that is still cuffed to her wrist. And that’s not even the most cringeworthy moment in this one! I don’t want to say much more than that, because I feel this is one you just need to jump into and go with. Just be prepared for the occasional head scratching and the “WTF?!?” reactions now and then.

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The final film, Female Prisoner Scorpion: Grudge Song, ended up being the weakest of the films for me, and I can chalk it up to a few reasons. The first being that while on the run (again!), Nami is found and aided by Kudo, a former student revolutionary who was tortured and maimed by the police. More than a third of the film focuses on him instead of on Nami, and it’s suppose to be her film. The second reason is the change in directors. Shunya Ito had a style in the first film that bordered on giallo to me, with his use of creative sets, bolded lighting, and quirky editing tricks. In each of the three films he directed, there was something technique-wise that caught my attention. Outside of one or two slightly trippy scenes in Grudge Song, Yasuharu Hasebe’s direction didn’t really do much for me. And a third thing! Even though Meiko Kaji could convey so much with a look that it allowed for keeping her dialogue to a minimum in the first three films, she had maybe four or five lines in the entirety of Grudge Song, and even those were used as internal monologue instead being spoken out loud.

Overall, it’s not a bad series of film if these are genres you like watching. If you are a fan of Japanese martial arts cinema of the early 1970s, you might recognize Meiko Kaji’s name from the legendary role she would go on to play shortly after this: Lady Snowblood. Like the theme from Lady Snowblood, theme song of this series will stick with you, too.

So, if my musings have piqued your interest, all four films are currently streaming on Shudder. What better way to pass the time in lock down than watching someone else in lock down?

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“What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” – ROBO VAMPIRE (1988)

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Every now and then, you come across a title in your streaming platform scrolling, and it just jumps out at you. Or in this case, hops out at you.

Godfrey Ho’s (aka Joe Livingstone) 1988 opus, Robo Vampire, just sounded like cheesy, low-budget fun, and the poster even leans into that vibe fairly hard. The core concepts of this production just make you giggle and ask, “Wait, what??”

As simply put as I can, American heroin smugglers in south east Asia get tired of the repeated run ins with “Tom, the anti-drug agent” and his team, so they hire a Daoist priest to train jiangshi (“Chinese hopping vampires”) to fight those darn anti-drug agents.

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Are you still with me? Tom and most of his team are killed in their first encounter with the jiangshi. After literally 3 seconds of mourning from his commanders, one asks to use Tom’s corpse for his android experiments. Thus, Tom is resurrected as “Robo Warrior” to continue the fight against the vicious smugglers and their vampires. Keep in mind that “Robo Warrior” is one of the worst RoboCop knock offs you will ever witness. But wait! There’s more!

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In an effort to counter Robo Warrior, the Daoist raises a vampire beast. Or at least a vampire in a gorilla mask. The raising of this creature is not without difficulty as its ghost witch (or witch ghost?) lover interrupts the ritual and battles the Daoist as two of the American drug smugglers stand around watching. One of strongest powers of the witch ghost (or ghost witch?) is being able to spew out a crap load of exposition in under 3 minutes.

Often, I use closed captioning just to not miss dialogue. But one of favorite things now is how the CC interprets sounds or actions on the screen. Anytime it says <squelching sounds> during a movie, I know great things are happening on screen! Robo Vampire brought a new level to the experience for me with <mystic whooshing>, <frightened groaning>, and <monstrous wailing/yelling> during the fight scene between the Daoist, the witch ghost (or ghost witch?), and the vampire beast. And just when I thought it couldn’t be topped? They dropped this cherry on my sundae: <intense mystic whooshing>!

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Now’s when we cut to the story of Ray being recruited by Chief Thompson to go and rescue Sophie the spy a group of gangsters and smugglers that captured her. And by “cut to,” I mean cut nearly an hour’s worth of footage from the 1984 Thai film Paa Lohgan into this one for all of the gang war and spy story stuff. Keyways to tell which is Paa Lohgan versus Robo Vampire when key characters aren’t on screen? Besides the visual difference in color grading of the film, all the Thai footage uses real guns with blanks. All the Chinese footage uses these weird barrel attachments that contain 5-6 firecrackers (that you can often see) that fire off in quick sequence.

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Okay. Some are bigger than firecrackers. . . . .

There are a couple scenes of old school “Chinese water torture” under a dripping faucet for Sophie that feel almost quaint now when you think of waterboarding. But it seems to work on her! Ray and Wendy face the same torture later with the same results.  But let’s get back to Robo Warrior and the hopping vampires.

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Careful! Sophie looks like she knows how to look like she knows karate!

A scene that I’ve found the most GIF worth, the jiangshi encircle Robo Warrior on a beach. Immune to most of his bullets, he goes hand to hand for a brief bit with limited results. He then summons his machine gun back into his hand like it’s fricking Mjolnir! This happens at least two other times in the movie, as well as his gun suddenly being able to shoot a rope of flames. Seriously. It’s a flaming rope strapped to the end of the gun!

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This movie was just bad in so many ways, from the acting, the dubbing, the effects, and beyond. Man was it fun to watch! The only part I found a bit objectional was a scene out of nowhere that had a woman cutting open the belly of a cow or oxen to stuff several bags of heroin in and sew it back up. Outside of that, Robo Vampire is just straight up laughable. Even the closed captioning made me laugh.

Kick back with a beverage of choice, some snacks, and a few friends (however social distancing permits), and just have a good laugh with this one. Heaven knows we can use a laugh or three right now.

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(On Amazon and YouTube)

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – THE VELOCIPASTOR

(Holy hell! It’s been a year since I posted one of these?!? I swear, fright fans, that this will be coming out more often again as we continue to create more original content for our site.)

Have you ever had one of those nights where you just want something brainless, short, and funny to watch? A little while back, such a night made me finally dive into an indie micro-budget film that hooked me clear back with its “is-this-real-or-a-parody?” trailer: The Velocipastor!

As told by the writer-director, Brendan Steere, he tried to type “velociraptor” into his phone one day in film school, and autocorrect changed it to “Veloci Pastor.” Kind of weird how a seed gets planted sometimes, eh? Anyway, after a few funding hurdles, Steere secured an investor and $35,000 to make his film.

Clocking in at just 75 minutes and featuring not a single person you’ve probably ever heard of, The Velocipastor is just silly fun that pays homage to low-budget indie films but never taking itself too seriously. Most of the performances (many provided by friends and family members of Steere) are bad in the best way possible. Even the trained actors do a deliberately bad performance, and that makes it even better!

(**Minor Spoilers Ahead!**)

The plot of this film you never knew you needed to see revolves around young Pastor Doug Jones (Gregory James Cohan), who shortly after graduating from “priest college” witnesses his parents die in a fiery car explosion. … Or at least that’s what the placeholder card tells us on the screen. Seriously, this moment was the true hook for me. A brilliant yet hilarious way to save on the budget. It set the tone for me and let me know what to expect from here on out.

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Following this tragic event and the not-so consoling words from his mentor, Father Stewart (played by Daniel Steere, Brendan’s father), Doug travels to China. (Trust them, it’s China.) While there, he happens upon a woman wounded by ninjas (yes, we get ninjas, too) in a forest, and she gives him a dinosaur claw that passes the curse onto him. Now, when Doug gets angry, he turns into a velociraptor-sized dinosaur. Or at least a step up from the inflatable T-Rex costumes you see at Halloween.

As fate would have it, Doug is spotted by Carol (Alyssa Kempinski), a lady of the night, when he transforms and decapitates a mugger in the park. Carol then encourages Doug to use his powers for good and eliminate the criminal element in the town. From there, montages ensue, romance blooms, ninjas (like you’ve never seen) resurface, an exorcism is sort of attempted, and an out of left field Korean War flashback help progress the plot to a gloriously “WTF?!? LMAO!!” finale.

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I highly recommend checking this one out, fright fans. Go in with the only expectations of having some laughs, some gore, and a good time. It’s not often in this series I can genuinely say, “Go see this!”, and mean it with sincerity. So, go now, my children, and may the blessings of The Velocipastor be upon you.

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What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS (1973)

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“I can’t accept this concept of intelligence.” – Mayor Charles Silverdale

Fredric Hobbs must have meant that when he wrote and directed 1973’s Godmonster of Indian Flats, because if he did accept a concept of intelligence, more than one character in it would have had some!

Okay, so let me back up a bit. First, apologies for the time gap between now and my last blog in this series. I’m inherently lazy and will slack off when given the opportunity. Second, the only reason this movie even came onto my radar was due to a search I was doing for films from 1973 that I could use for my “Birth Year Challenge” list on Letterboxd. And third, as soon as I saw the ratings and read the synopsis, I knew this would fit perfectly for the series and get me off my ass to write a post. So there.

(Spoiler Warning – I breakdown the whole film from here on out.)

Our story takes place in Comstock mining region of Nevada and opens with a heavenly choir and fake sheep bleating. The sheep are right there. Why they dubbed them, I do not know. We meet a young shepherd, Eddie, who goes into Reno and promptly gets hustled out of his gambling winnings after being taken by Elbow Johnson (seriously, that’s his name) to the historically restored mining town. Everyone with a position of power in the town is in on the racket, from the mayor and the sheriff, all the way down to the madam of the brothel and the local bartenders.

After getting rolled, Eddie is taken under the wing of Dr. Clemens (from Cambridge!), an anthropologist with a lab in the area. The doc takes Eddie back to his sheep ranch to recover from the beating and the booze. While Eddie is passing out in the sheep pen, a yellow glow and weird lighting begins to happen, accompanied by people just out of frame waving some very confused looking lambs around in the air. Suddenly one of the sheep essentially screams and pops out what looks like a twenty-pound placenta that also groans!

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“Oh… That ain’t right …..”

Jump to the next morning with Dr. Clemens and his student and lab assistant Mariposa checking up on Eddie. When they find him hiding in the straw next to the “hybrid embryo” (hybrid with what?!?), the doctor goes into full SCIENCE! mode with this find of the century and takes it back to his lab. I wish I could find some info on what exactly they used for the exterior set of the lab, but you must see it to really appreciate the absurdity of it.

While hijinks ensue at the lab for Eddie, Mariposa, and the doctor as the embryo grows, the parallel plot of Mr. Burnstable, a representative for a European mining corporation, trying to obtain the land rights of the area from Silverdale and his henchman, Philip Maldove, further shows the corruption within the town. Corruption to the point of (brace yourselves for this one) the sheriff having his dog play dead and making it look like Burnstable shot it during a target shoot game. They even have a funeral in the church, with a casket (that barks when opened!), all in an effort to discredit Burnstable and turn the townsfolk against him. I should mention that the sheriff sports a nice set of workman coveralls that he tacks his badge onto.

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Cut back to the lab and Dr. Clemens spouting 100% meaningless scientific jargon that almost sounds significant. The hybrid embryo continues to grow and look weirder each time we revisit it. Burnstable, with the help of Madam Alta, manages to escape a “vigilance committee” lynching following another frame up attempt by Maldove and Silverdale. They seek refuge at Clemens’ lab, and in the standoff that features eight or nine tear gas rifles (and cannisters that explode three or four times, depending on which clip gets recycled), the titular “godmonster” breaks loose and kills one of Silverdale’s men.

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The creature gets ready to tune up the gas station.

As hard as it may be to believe, at about the 70-minute mark of this 88 minute movie, we get one of the weirdest and funniest scenes of the film as Mariposa goes after the creature. Weird for the fact that she essentially dances with the thing to calm it down and show she’s friendly. Funny because of the following line: “Don’t be frightened. I’ve been following you all the way from the glory hole!”

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“Here, I’ll lead . . .”

The posse of Silverdale’s men and Dr. Clemens recapture the creature, and then the film really goes off the rails. As he’s having Burnstable driven out of town, Silverdale admits to dealing with the mining company directly after he bought up all of the local rights from everyone else in the interest of “conservation” even though he has every intention of reopening the mines. The townsfolk learn of the betrayal, a riot ensues, people are killed, Silverdale rants like a madman, repeating lines he’s spouted earlier in the film, and the creature gets killed in a truck explosion. … Credits.

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Not sure what the Fredric Hobbs was aiming for with this one.

Low as hell budget, bad acting, bad script, and an unforgettable creature costume of an 8-foot-tall hybrid sheep monster. What the hell did I just watch?? Well, it’s on Amazon Prime at the time of this post, and you can go check it out for yourselves and ask the same question after.

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Tourist Trap (1978)

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For those Fright Fans familiar with my viewing habits this time of the year, you know I’m neck-deep in three different viewing challenges over on Letterboxd, most notably the fifth annual HoopTober horror viewing challenge. But this viewing is related to the Horror x52 challenge (52 horror movies in 52 weeks) that I’ve been working on since the summer.

In comparison to the other films I’ve viewed and reviewed so far in my “What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” series, 1978’s Tourist Trap is probably the most known of these random cult classics. This was my very first viewing of it, and I felt it had enough oddballness (is that a word?) going for it that it fit with the spirit of why I started writing these posts. So let’s dive into this 40-year-old film, shall we?

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The Rifleman has a rifle!

The story centers around a group of guys and girls out on a random road trip when one of the cars gets a flat. We open on Woody rolling the tire to whatever gas station he might find along this back road that saw better days before the highway came through and diverted traffic. Within the first five minutes, we witness Woody getting whacked by either a poltergeist or a telekinetic attack after getting trapped in the remote gas station! Gotta love it when a film hits the ground running, right?

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Woody, we hardly knew ya . . . .

Well, of course the rest of the gang (featuring a young and brunette Tanya Roberts) goes looking for Woody and have their own car troubles out of nowhere. It just so happens that the breakdown is on the property of Mr. Slausen, played by the legendary Chuck Connors! Friendly Mr. Slausen runs a waxworks museum that saw better days and better business before the highway came along, too. In his efforts to help the remaining four protagonists, things get more and more creepy when he talks of his brother who made the wax figures but went to the city. About this time is when we start seeing someone wearing various masks and wigs, stalking the quartet.

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Anyone else getting a Leatherface vibe here?

I don’t want to say much more about the story because there is a plot twist (which most of you will see coming) and various plot points that make this film unique and interesting enough to stand out as an early slasher that more horror fans should make an effort to see. The final 5 minutes or so had some nice “Wait. What?” moments to make you glad you took this journey to it’s totally messed up ending.

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As Al Snow use to ask: “What does everybody want?!?”

Another reason to watch this is to pick out the influences behind it and the influence it may have had on some classics that came after it in the 80’s. Beyond the obvious House Of Wax inspiration there is a strong Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe throughout this, and that’s probably due to the co-writer of the screenplay having been the editor for TCM. Tourist Trap also uses the same effects crew as TCM. The telekinetic part may have been a note from Carrie, and one of the jump scares is a straight up homage to Psycho. For the films that came after, I have a feeling that Motel Hell was heavily influenced by this. The level of dark humor, the remote roadside setting, and the use of an aged-but-known actor in the lead can’t help but make me come to that conclusion.

I must note at this time that there is essentially a remake of this film that was an utter waste of my viewing time: 2005’s House Of Wax. Yes, they try to claim it was a remake/reboot of the 1953 classic, but come on! The 2005 film has far more in common storywise with Tourist Trap than with the true House Of Wax with Vincent Price. I mean, the only good things about the 2005 film is seeing Jared Padalecki pre-Supernatural and that Paris Hilton gets killed. Seriously.

Anywho, if you want to watch this, I strongly suggest watching it how I did. Watch it on Shudder with the “Last Drive-In” commentary from the legendary Joe Bob Briggs. The nuggets of truth and trivia and just plain ol’ fun he drops elevates any movie.

Now to get back to my movie challenges . . . . .

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Keep watching, Fright Fans!!!

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Belladonna Of Sadness (1973)

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A couple of years back, I started doing the “HoopTober Challenge” created by user Cinemonster over on Letterboxd because I love horror (obviously), making film lists, and being challenged to watch new stuff. During that time, there was one film that popped up on numerous lists in the category of “Films From Another Country”: 1973’s Belladonna Of Sadness. Given the fact that I’m also doing the “Horror x52 Challenge” and the “Birth Year Challenge”, both created by user kynky, waiting until now to watch it helped me kill two birds with one screening.

Belladonna Of Sadness (aka Kanashimi no Belladonna; La Sorciere, Tragedy of Belladonna, or Belladonna) is an animated Japanese production written by Yoshiyuki Fukuda and
Eiichi Yamamoto, and directed by Yamamoto, based on Satanism and Witchcraft by Jules Michelet. It tells the tale of young Jeanne and Jean, lovers preparing to wed in medieval France. Seeking the approval of the local Baron on their wedding night, the Baron instead demands a tax from Jean that he knows cannot be paid. Going beyond claiming “prima nocta”, the Baroness encourages her husband to share Jeanne with the entire court.

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Follow this, Jeanne vows her revenge, and in doing so sows the seeds to allow the devil in. Jeanne rises within stature and wealth within the village only to be struck down by the envious villagers and the wicked Baroness. When she has hit rock bottom after being cast out of the village, the devil manifests in his full power and seals the pact with Jeanne that brings her into her full powers as well.

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For the rest of the story, I encourage you to go watch this for yourselves, Fright Fans. This film is visually stunning and quite beautiful at times with the primary use of water colors for the animation. Most of the animation is actually camera pans across still paintings, but you let that go as the story draws you in as you cheer for Jeanne to gain her vengeance. The score by Masahiko Satoh is dead-on jazzy 70’s but not to the point of being obnoxious and fits perfectly.

The obscurity of this film is one of the reasons I picked it for this post, but there are some definite WTF?!? moments within it as well, dear readers. The animation depicting Jeanne’s rape is visually shocking in the way that it combines symbolism with the literalness of this violent assault. There is also nudity and fairly graphic sex many times throughout the film, including the devil looking (and acting) very phallic whenever he appears, growing larger with each appearance. And at about the 19 minute mark, I think I witnessed the birth of tentacle hentai when Jeanne’s torn dress kind comes to life.

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But the capper for the sex scenes? Well the orgiastic magical rites that Jeanne enacts with the villagers, of course. I’ve been mulling over how to best describe these scenes for the last day or so, and here’s the best I can come up with: Picture Yellow Submarine and The Electric Company (yes, the 70’s kids show with Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno) dropped acid with shrooms and formed the largest gang-bang daisy chain you’ve ever seen. … You want to go watch it now, don’tcha? Wait! I left out the bit that looked like someone giving a shocker to a greyhound. Don’t worry. You can’t miss it.

The witchcraft, possession, murder, and devils make this an amazing Asian art-house entry into the sub-genre of animated horror, and I highly recommend watching this wherever you can. It’s currently up on Shudder and has been played on Turner Classic Movies “Underground” block on Saturday nights in the past. Let me know what you think when you do. It does cast quite the spell on a viewer.

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What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Alien Contamination (1980)

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Pop quiz: What do you get when you borrow from Lucio Fulci, Ridley Scott, and Cronenberg and use Columbian drug money to help finance it? That’s right, Fright Fans! You get this sci-fi horror production, Alien Contamination (aka Contamination).

Following his success of the 1978 “space opera”Starcrash, Luigi Cozzi wanted to stay in the realm of sci-fi for his next film. After seeing Ridley Scott’s legendary classic, Alien, Cozzi decided he wanted to make pretty much his own version but on a fraction of the budget. Keeping the eggs, the acid, and an alien creature, but keeping the setting to just Earth, Cozzi was underway. Shot in just 8 weeks with locations in Rome, New York City, Florida, and Columbia (we’ll get back to that one), Cozzi had his film.

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“Da suits! Day do nothing!!!”

Now granted, also because of the budget, the big alien creature wasn’t stop motion and was animatronic instead, the creature wasn’t what Cozzi wanted. As the viewer, you only get to see random quick, poorly lit shots of the entire creature. But by that point you don’t really care.

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This is where the Cronenberg influence comes in. The acid from the eggs? Well, it’s actually spores released by the eggs when they are in a hot and moist environment. When the spores explode from the eggs, anyone that is splattered by the eggs also explodes!!! In a few of the shots, you get the impression that Cozzi spent a good chunk of the budget on the sternal and gut explosions that happen several times throughout the film. Some are slightly laughable but others are fairly impressive. The graphic nature and slow motion filming of the bodily explosions actually earned Alien Contamination a spot on the “Video Nasties” list for excessive blood and gore.

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Crap. I just realized I hadn’t even mentioned an important thing: the plot! A derelict cargo ship coming into the harbor in New York City doesn’t answer any hails. Upon searching the boat, the harbor patrol, a scientist, and a cop find a few dead bodies and a curious collection of pulsating eggs, that look like footballs made from alligator hide, in the boiler room by some steam pipes. Now remember what I said makes the eggs go boom? Yep. Welcome to the game, Victim #1!!!

Bring in more scientists and more government agencies, and we learn the eggs came from space (dun-dun-DAH!) when two astronauts (one played by Ian McCulloch of Zombi fame) returned to Earth. Someone has been hiding and producing more eggs on a Columbian coffee plantation for their own nefarious plots (or are they??) for world domination!

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Talk about “walking on eggshells”!

Okay. All the Columbian stuff? Yes, this film was partially financed with Columbian drug money. Hell, a couple of the gunmen that greet the cop and the scientist at the plantation probably weren’t even actors and provided their own guns! Cozzi did say that the drug smugglers where pleased when the film turned a profit on their investment, though.

In the end . . . oh yeah. The ending. This hits the Fulci influence home for me. With the derelict ship floating into the harbor and an ending shot showing NYC again and a potential threat within it, I thought I was watching Zombi again. Seriously, fright fans, this is not a great movie by any means, but it was fun to watch it for what it is. Watch it with friends, have a few laughs, and be surprised by the bodies going *BOOM*.

Trailer for “Contamination”

“What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now?” – Killer Nun (1979)

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Nunsploitation

A subgenre of exploitation films which centers on aberrant secularized behavior of religious women and had its peak in Europe in the 1970’s. (Cobbled from Wikipedia.)

This was my first adventure into the dark little corner of this particular subgenre. I think before this the closest I came to seeing a nunsploitation film was 1971’s The Devils. That infamous film had at least ten times the budget of this plus the star power of Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. Killer Nun has the fading star power of Anita Ekberg (La Dolce Vita, War And Peace) as the lead, Sister Gertrude, and the less than 5 minutes of screen time of Alida Valli (Suspiria) as her Mother Superior.

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Alida Valli (Miss Tanner in Suspiria) as Mother Superior

There are 3 main reasons why I chose to watch this one:

  1. It’s available on Shudder.
  2. It’s a Section Two “Video Nasty”.
  3. I needed to watch a “video nasty” as part of the “Horror x52 Challenge” that I’m participating in on Letterboxd.

Let’s perform our penance and talk about the film for a bit. Set in modern times, which happens to set it apart from the medieval time period used in most nunsploitation tales, Sister Gertrude isn’t the most stable of people after having a brain tumor removed recently and developing a morphine addiction during her recovery. The Sister with a growing smack habit breaks bad and goes to the city to score when her stash dries up at the care home (don’t know what else to call the institution she helps run with its odd mix of residents/patients).

Prior to this outing, we get to see one of her “psychotic” moments of anxiety and distress while assisting the doctor. If you deem to watch this or already have, can you please tell me what instrument they are using for her psychotic break scenes? Seriously. I’m torn between it either being a theremin or a singing saw. Whichever it is, it made me chuckle a bit at the choice of it for those musical stings.

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Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg) with Dr. Poirret (Massimo Serato)

Anyway, back to the outing. Sister Gertrude decides to get some with a rando from the bar, and this leads to one of the more ridiculous simulated sex scenes I’ve ever seen for any Italian horror film out of the 70’s. Given the height difference and doing it standing up against a wall, either the dude was trying to jab it through her navel or his penis can contort like an elephant’s trunk. … Okay, yeah. I nitpick things like this. Sue me.

For the first 40 minutes, not a hell of a lot happens. But then the Killer Nun dons some pink Playtex dishwashing gloves (which made my mind think giallo), and the body count and intrigue both begin to build. Intrigue, you say? Why, yes I do! It’s around this time that the vast majority of the viewers can see a twist coming, but even then it comes off well.

Another “close but not quite” moment I liked was a scene when Sister Gertrude has everyone in their rooms praying for one of the deceased while she kneels in the hallway. As the camera slowly and steadily pulls back down the hallway away from her, she’s kept in the center. This scene would have been a greater moment for the film through the cinematography if it had been a dolly shot instead of handheld. I say this because you can see the minor tilting of the plane/frame as the camera man is backing up, and the centering of the frame shifts just a bit during the pull back as he dodges a couple of chairs that are off to one side of the hall. If they couldn’t do the dolly, they could have at least removed the obstacle of the chairs!

For the aspects that most likely earned it the “video nasty” tagging, there is the drug use, the sex, the violence, some torture (a deliciously done murder using injection needles), but oddly there isn’t really any anti-religion sentiment or social commentary to it. From what I’ve been reading, this also sets it apart from most other nunsploitation films.

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“Okay. Just a little pin prick . . .”

In the end, I can recommend checking this one out. Not a great film, but not a bad one either. Give it a view if you have Shudder, or check it out elsewhere. You just might make a habit out of nunsploitation films!

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)

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“We all have our personal horror stories to tell.

May yours never be as devastating as Miss Helen Black’s.”

Well, as long as I don’t live a repressed life and pick up a random Rick James puppet from a thrift store, I think I’ll be good!

Seriously though, this is another one of those films you hear about on “so bad it’s good” lists or by word of mouth from friends that like oddball, low-budget films. And I can definitely declare that Chester N. Turner’s Black Devil Doll From Hell falls into both categories for me.

Released in 1984 after being filmed over several years on a budget of about $10,000, this felt like a labor of love to me on some levels. In comparison to stuff like Birdemic that is just so bad it’s truly bad, you get the impression that the folks behind this were actually trying to give it their best effort with what they had available. Turner even took a correspondence course on film making before starting this production. Originally intended to be part of an anthology film (Tales From The Quadead Zone, Turner’s only other film), the script ended up being too big to be just a short. So why not whip out the camcorder and the Casio keyboard (what better way to write and perform your own score and soundtrack) and make a feature-length film out of it?

Our story is that of Miss Helen Black, a devout and pure woman saving herself for marriage. One day she enters an antique shop and notices a ventriloquist dummy sporting impressive cornrow braids (which actually were inspired by Rick James). The shopkeeper warns her that the dummy’s original owner was “an East Indian” and that the doll grants the owner’s “most heartfelt desire”. She also tells Helen that she has sold the doll 4 times already, but each time the doll somehow finds its way back to the shop.

After purchasing the doll and getting home with it, Helen takes a shower with the doll sitting on the toilet. That’s when the puppet wakes and uses its apparently telekinetic powers to slowly slide open the shower curtain and get a gander at a wet, soapy, and suddenly aroused Helen!

Confused by these feelings, Helen decides to sleep on it, only to have some rather dark erotic dreams featuring the puppet. After a bit of “How’d you get over there?!?” with the puppet moving around on its own, it jumps her after another shower (just like in the dream!) and knocks her out cold. Waking up later, confused and tied to the bed, Helen is raped by the puppet. The effect this assault has on her is to awaken her repressed sexual desires to the point of her begging to be fucked by the puppet. (Funny outtake: The puppet’s head popped off during the filming of the sex scenes. Talk about getting a little head!)

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“I said, WAKE UP, BITCH!!” – The Puppet

The next day, the puppet is nowhere to be found. Cue a montage of Helen cleaning her house for the next several minutes. Sure, she can clean her house, but she can never clean this stain upon her soul. In wanton desperation to satisfy her new-found lust, she invites in a street hustler she had ignored and rebuked the day before. But even his mighty and sweaty hip action cannot satisfy her. This bit made me think Turner was probably influenced some by the classic adult film The Devil In Miss Jones, where a repressed virgin is introduced to sex and depravity after death and is eventually condemned to a Hell where she cannot get any sexual gratification, no matter how much she pleads or begs. Following the disappointing sex and Helen telling him, “Just finish up, and get the hell out”, we are given the most terrifying moment of the movie: A full-frame close-up of the street hustler giving us his “O” face. **shudder**

As with any possessed doll movie, you know things ain’t gonna end well for Helen. Granted the real life happy ending for Shirley L. Jones, who played Helen, is that she ended up marrying the director after the production was completed.

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Helen has literally fucked with this puppet for the last time . . . 

The cut I watched was just over 90 minutes on Shudder. There is a VHS cut out there that was butchered down to 70 minutes by Hollywood Home Video without Turner’s input after they had picked it up for distribution. Granted, I can see where many things could be trimmed here and there throughout, but it’s still kinda shitty to cut a person’s film without them. There remains the look and feel of having just popped in a much-loved videotape, complete with tracking distortions and warbles throughout. Given the content of the movie, by the end I felt like someone had meant to give me their home movie but accidentally gave me one of their home-made soft core fetish porn tapes instead!

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!