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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hell Ride (2008) Bikers

Hell Ride (2008) - This scattered but entertaining story is about the biker gang the Victors, a tough gang of hombres sorting out a threat from a rival gang the 666ers. It is also a story about revenge and the settling of old debts. Scattered because it structurally jumps from time to time and give little snippets of back story that at first are out of any context but towards the end of the film weave into a story of settling old scores and discovering relationships that were only hinted at on the way. Being a biker movie it is a journey that at first seems a bit aimless but ultimately has a destination. Writer director Larry Bishop and his editors Blake West and William Yeh could have found a more coherent cutting together of the film that did not leave multiple open questions dangling untouched until the third act. Still This film is somewhat an ode the the biker movies of old.
 The Savage Seven, The Devil's 8, and the Soresport reviewed Angel Unchained, Bishop knows what makes a good biker film and here he works with care to make the script more than just a rehash. Now I have to admit, that with his incredibly tanning bed tan, and sharp surreal dialog that for a short time I thought this might be a satire. Hell I am still not sure but the story fleshed out enough to lead me away from that sort of thinking. It is a style that is too cool for school that is a bit off putting, but if you stick it out you see there really is meat behind the story. It is an ode to the movies of the past with classic shot of guys riding. Rivalry and death and destruction, revenge and redemption. Playing into the reflection to films of the past is the great music this feature has. Music mined from other great biker film such as Hell's Belles, The Savage Seven, and The Wild Angels add to the enjoyment here. For me the musical highlight was when Pistolero is going to take a vision quest to see what he needs to do to complete his mission, he eats some mushrooms and walks into the desert to the strains of Maggot Brain by Funkadelic. One of my favorite albums at all time and a electric guitar solo worthy of the great, more famous players. Played by Eddie Hazel it is one of the great guitar solos of all time and I was totally digging it.
  Bishop an actor in the biker films of the 60's and 70's brings a vigor to the film playing the lead Biker in the Victors, Pistolero. Having played in such biker classics as
  I think the mixed reviews this film gets are not without reason. As stated before the choppy time jump editing is too slow to create a main theme in the film and Bishop's performance as Pisterlero does not help. Add in Michael Madsen as The Gent and the film feel awfully influenced by executive producer Quentin Tarantino, who I have to say also chooses great music for his films. Then there is the violence vs. dirt aspect that pulls you out of the film. Biker films are dirty films about really ugly people and the culture is not one of pretty boys and girls. This film blurs that line with name actors and cute cameos, but the main thing is the secondary characters who are women. They are all LA beautiful and I mean beautiful! The whorehouse the Victors hang at is filled with stunningly gorgeous actresses who in no universe I know of would be in a biker whore house. The female lead characters Nada (Leonor Varela), Cherokee Kisum (Julia Jones) and Maria (Cassandra Hepburn) would never strike me as biker babes. Even bar owner Dani (Laura Cayouette) just is too attractive to fit the part of a desert tough biker bar owner and when Pistolero reaches down to touch her crotch and she moans you get why she is in the skin tight pants and in this film. Besides looks there is a real women failure in this film with most of the women being sexual objects for the men of the film.
   In biker movies reviewed in this set I have seen that more than not the women are a part of the gang, or used to contrast the bikers representing the society that the bikers abuse. In Angel unchained the hippie girls see the bikers as lost puppies and themselves as smarter and more mature. In the Wild Riders it is the biker women who get Stick and Pete kicked out of the gang.  Now granted I have not yet seen a biker film that was not somewhat misogynistic. All of them have been exploited and using the women roles as victims or second class citizens. In this film although the women are presented as tough, they really are there for their looks. Although they  can throw a punch or shoot a gun in the end they are still sexualized through dialog and action to the point that there is no doubt they are there to be used by the men in the film. They are never equal partners in relationship to the men.
  The story centered around Pistolero wanting to get revenge for a biker gang war years before where his woman Cherokee Kisum was brutally killed. In the past the Victors dealt a harsh blow to the 666ers and the later gang stayed out of the Victors turf. Now years later with Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones) as the leader they are spreading out into the Victors' area again creating mayhem and targeting our heroes. The Victors for their part have not done well over the years with a group of less strongly loyal riders they are sort of close to closing shop as a gang. It makes them a prime target for the new and incredibly violent 666ers. Derision within the ranks means that the battle is on two fronts, Pistolero and The Gent, with up and comer Comanche (Eric Belfour) spend a good deal of time in the film testing the bikers in their own gang's loyalty and killing all who fail the tests.
There is a secondary line of storytelling about these three main characters. he script wants you to believe that the line between trust and distrust is thin but where they are the focus of the film the viewer never really feels that way. The Gent and Pistolero several times have guns drawn on each other but we know that fight just is never going to happen. There will be an outside condition that gets them to work together every time. Comanche is a secondary story line also. He rises through the ranks of the gang fast and Bishop in his script does a good job at first of making you think the young man may be a plant. Then he also is explained and it all fits together why these three are the trio who come out of this film unscathed. Comanche's journey is one of discovering who he is in this crazy would and probably is the most solid story line in the film with an outcome that is satisfying to the viewer.
  There are cameos in the film by Dennis Hopper as Eddie Zero a Victor from the past with a reputation for being dead and David Carradine (RIP) as The Deuce the head of the 666ers but mostly businessman at this point in his life. Again I am not sure is such famous Tartetino connected guy help or hurt this film. In the end though the film is very watchable if not the best put together feature. If not a satire of biker films, it is what a biker film would be in today's mentality in Hollywood, they would make it pretty enough to appeal to the 16-32 male population, lots of tits and ass from lovely young actresses trying to break into the business, with cameos to drag in some older males from legends. Full of graphic violence and ridiculously active gunfights but ultimately the good guys always prevail and the bad guys get theirs in the end. Sure enough you would have this film. Not really a biker film of old but more of the after birth for a new generation.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Whip and the Body (1963) Mystery

The Whip and the Body (1963) - Another film from the year I was born. In this Mario Bava directed mystery the sadistic son of a 19th century nobleman appears to rise from the grave to seek revenge on his family which has disowned him.Well written and executed this period piece is a refreshing side trip from all the biker movies I have been watching the last month and a half. Co-written by renown Ernesto Gastaldi, Ugo Guerra and Luciano Martino all prolific, experience writers and producers. Directed by Mario Bava on of the great Italian directors and performed by a cast including Christopher Lee, Daliah Lavi, Tony Kendall and Ida Galli it is one of the better mysteries I have seen in a while.
 The story goes that the eldest son Kurt Menliff (Christopher Lee) was sent away from the castle loosing his spot as heir to his father's title after cruelly killing the daughter of the castle's maid Giorgia (Harriet Medin). Details of the girl's death are never shown other than the knife she was killed with, but it is implied that it was a cruel death. So much so that Count Menliff (Gustavo De Nardo) disowned his son after he was implicated. His inheritance and title forfeited to his younger brother Christian (Tony Kendall). Kurt returns to the castle with Giorgia swearing vengence, the old count shaking in fear at his return and Christian now married to Kurt's former lover Nevenka (Daliah Lavi). Complicating the setting further is the revelation that Nevenka only has eyes for Kurt and there relationship includes violent whipping. This must have been somewhat shocking to audiences when this film came out. Kurt standing over the beautiful Nevenka whipping her repeatedly with a horse crop. Nevenka crying out but also showing a quivering anticipation, waiting in an aroused state for the next blow.
   The setup aside this film is both simple and wonderfully mysterious. The simple setting and the possible directions turned in a way I was not ready for. The fact that Christopher Lee was the star I figured we would be following him throughout the film. Not so! very early on he is murdered and we are left wondering who killed him. The red herring has to be Giorgia who made it obvious she would love to see him dead. Or how about the younger brother who married Nevenka only after his father required it. He loves his childhood sweetheart Katia (Ida Galli) who follows him around like a puppy dog. (also a suspect), or is it the count himself who out of fear only needs to remove his fear by removing the threat. Or did Nevenka herself do away with the man who both excites and harms her. Then when it seems Kurt starts being seen around the castle at night, it may be his death was faked by him and he has put a diabolical plot in motion to take back what was once his. Now when I was watching it before paying attention to who was in the cast. I saw Christopher Lee and was like" Wow they really got a Christopher Lee look alike for this film." but later I found out it was him but all of his lines were dubbed by someone who sounds nothing like Christopher Lee. Shocking!
  Becoming the featured cast member Nevenka leads us through the tale to its conclusion. I make a point never to share too much in a mystery review.In particular one like this which is intriguing all the way through. Bava sets a mood and carries it through the film masterfully. If there is a weakness in the film it is the score by Carlo Rustichelli, not because it is not wonderfully created but because he develops a theme and repeats it too often through the film. When all is said and done though this may be one of Bava's best films. It stands as a really wonderfully developed and acted mystery thriller. Maybe a ghost story if you want to stretch the meaning. So spend a bit of time and go rent this one. I found it on DVD at Netflix.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Psychomania (1973) Biker Zombies

Psychomania (1973) - If there is one thing that the Internet has shown me it is that there is an audience for absolutely everything. So when I was looking for obscure biker films to cover and saw this film and the very loyal following it had I had to cover it. Severin films did a very nice release of Psychomania recently and its print and extras were just what was needed for viewing. Searching down the actors for interviews, profiling the score composer and even tracking down the English folk singer who performed the one song in the film made for some real added pleasure in reviewing this film. Now I had thought I was about finish with my run of biker movies. My work as a QA engineer at a software company has been particularly busy.  I just was not finding the time to view and write about films. I have seen a few but just did not have the energy after a long day in front of a computer to spend more time typing away on a keyboard. Psychomania showed up on my door thanks to the great people at Alternative Cinema and I have to say I was excited, not at the two week delivery time but more that I had forgotten I had ordered the film. They may be a bit slower than Amazon at processing orders but the variety and scope of the films can't be beat if you like alternative cinema. They also do an entertaining podcast once a month that is worth looking up at iTunes, "The Alternative Cinema Pocast" SO lets dive again into the biker genre and maybe it will energize me enough to get to "Dear God No!" which is the film I was originally getting ready to see with this biker movie background viewing.
   There is not a traditional zombie in this film, but instead each of the bikers commits suicide and comes back as an immortal undead person gaining the added strength and invincibility. The appropriately named gang, "The Living Dead" are a rowdy bunch two women Abby (Mary Larkin) and Jane (Ann Michelle) and six men, Tom, Bertram (Roy Holder), Hatchet (Denis Gilmore), Chopped Meat (Miles Greenwood), Hinky (Rocky Taylor) and Gash (Peter Whitting) who cause trouble in small town England. Lead by Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) they are a group of apathetic youth who have no purpose other than to rile things up. They are at the age where they don't want to fit into society and through the bike gang roar through life creating risks to heighten their suburban doldrums. Now how they become the undead is most of the story.
  We see Tom's Mother (Beryl Reid) in an early scene performing a satanic ritual at a place called in the film "the seven witches"  a collection of stones in a circle like a mini Stonehenge. She is visited there by the devil (maybe) in the form of Shadwell (George Sanders) and signs a contract her little baby tom offered in as well. It is this magic that seems to be behind things. Shadwell stays on with her as her butler and Tome grows into a young man wanting for nothing. Sanders at the end of his career was a great find for Director Don Sharp. He is a veteran actor of such great films as Rebecca (1940), All About Eve (1950), Village of the Damned (1960), but his career was winding down by the time he took this role. It turned out to be his last as shortly after this final performance he was found dead in a hotel room in Barcelona Spain. He had taken five bottles of Nembutal and left a suicide note that read.  Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck. It is a strange coincidence that the primary driver in this last film was also suicide.
  Tom is definitely the disaffected youth who is acting out having never come to terms with the death of his father. His Mother through her witchcrafted deal is wealthy and not needing anything acts as a medium for purposes only known to she and Shadwell. There is a secret about the late Mr Lathan and Tom wants to know what it is. After a freaky trip in the room where he died Tom comes out of the magic of the place knowing that the secret to immortality is knowing with all your heart that you will come back. His father who was also in the magic circle was trying just this feat and must have had doubt because he never made it back. Now Tom is the worst kind of mean biker, he is a mean biker because he can be. It is not the freedom of the road he is looking for. He is just a spoiled kid looking to make his boring British life more exciting. Now with the secret of eternal life (after death) he is determined to make it happen.
  After Tom is successful at killing himself by driving off a bridge we have a hilarious scene where the gang gets permission and then buries him at the stone circle. He is propped in his riding leathers and sitting on his bike. The folk singer Harvey Andrews sings the song Riding Free as they have their quite nice ceremony. The setup of the corpse on the bike is great when he is reborn and roars from the ground on his motorbike, like a bat out of hell. When he returns his invincibility is quickly shown as he murders several people. When he comes back to his gang and convinces them to join him is his life after deah each has to come up with a way to die and know that they will come back. A good chunk of the film is the creative death scenes the riders choose. Soon the gang is truly the Living Dead and they now feel they can't be stopped and start a killing spree the police can not ignore.
  There is also an internal gang story. Abby does not want to die and is pressured repeatedly by Tom and the gang to do it. I think she knows that if her heart is not in it she will just be dead and that is not her desire. Tom pushing harder and harder as the overly controlling boyfriend gets to the point where he threatens to end her life if she does not join the gang. This scene culminates with the gang pushing a gun into her hand. At the same time...
Mrs. Latham knows the power of immortality has gone to Tom's head and he scares even her. She being older asks appropriately, Well what are you going to do now that you have what you want? His answer is all about the chaos of doing whatever he wants. She finds this just too unbearable and with Shadwell breaks her contract with the devil for her and her son. So since the film has to end we see the gang turned to stones as the Mother breaks the contract. It leaves Abby staring in amazement alive and well. Then the final shot as Shadwell arrives at Abby's location to offer a contract to her. This was a very well put together story. By no means is it great, the acting is a bit muggish and Sanders somewhat sleepwalks through his role. Still there is something to be said for the film. The cool helmet design for the biker gang, the excellent psychedelic influenced score by John Cameron. It is not hard to watch and more it has a story worth watching.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Biker films, worst of the rest.

 Sorry for the long break from the blog, my work has gotten very busy and I have been doing so much typing that I have been hard pressed to find the desire to continue it at home. This does not mean I have given up on watching Biker movies though.
There have been several Biker films I have watched in the last few weeks that really do not warrant a full review. Mostly they are just too bad for any serious consideration. Not that I don't review bad films but just I only have so much bandwidth and there are other films I want to give the time to. So here is a brief review of some of the less than stellar films I have seen recently.
BigFoot (1971) - Sixties biker on the road in the great northwest, and when two stop to spend some quality time a bigfoot comes and steals the girl. When the guy comes too after being knocked by the creature he teams up with a couple of traveling salesmen to search for the girls. This was a truly ridiculous film but had the great John Carradine as the salesman looking to capture a creature to put in a carnival sideshow. So much was bad about this movie but I think you could it could be great on MST3K. The local sheriff who although gets all kinds of reports of creatures in the woods refuses to take any of them seriously.  The woman pilot who after crashing in the forest is held prisoner of the creatures possible for reproduction reasons. It is as much a campy fun film as a horrible story. I won't say don't seek this out just because it is so crazy in its badness that you may want to watch for a good laugh.
Killer Biker Chicks - Now this one I would recommend staying away from. This was an equally weird and bad film about a roadside brothel in the desert where the women in it are biker chicks and serial killers.. There is so much strangeness in this that I can't even begin to explain it.