Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SASQUATCH THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT 1977

Classic 70's Bigfoot-sploitation Mayhem !!


"The Incredible Story Of Seven Men Who Defied Death In A Primitive Wilderness Where 
No Man Had Gone Before.... And Survived To Tell The Story Of This Legendary Creature !"




     One of the almost countless Bigfoot themed movies that proliferated in the 1970's (and even into the 80's...) 1977's SASQUATCH that because of its "G" was one of those ones that seemed to constantly show up on late night TV and more recently has appeared in seemingly every one of those "Bigfoot" themed budget DVD collections.
     Sasquatch movies could go the the total exploitation route such as 1980's gore-fest NIGHT OF THE DEMON or the aptly titled BEAUTIES AND THE BEAST (which screams out for a legit release) in which Uschi Digard and her hippie friends are menaced by a peeping tom obsessed Bigfoot or go with the scientific/docu-drama plot such as here (the route that 1972's  THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK took and it was this film that become ground zero for the 70's Bigfoot phenomenon). Some such as 1976's CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE tried to combine a bit both the scientific and the drive-in exploitation atmosphere.
     Presenting itself as a narrated documentary style plot with the narration played out during the course of the film it purports to show an expedition to fictional Peckatoe River in British Columbia (actually filmed around Bend, OR.) in order the track down and electronically tag (!) the legendary creature.  Opening with a JAWS inspired POV shot as a heavily breathing large creature moves through the forest as the soundtrack plays ominously (which you'd think if John Williams would ever hear it would sent him scrambling to speed dial his lawyer). We're then treated to a hyperbole filled 60 Minutes- like prologue which gives us a brief history of  Bigfoot legend and lore which cumulates in the Patterson-Gimlin footage from 1967.



     Showing us the HQ of the impressively named "North American Wildlife Research Center" where expedition head (who also narrates the film) Chuck Evans (screenplay writer George Lauris) feeds all known data concerning Sasquatch into punch card computer where it magically spits out a line drawing in the exact same pose as the Patterson film and points to exact location in Canada where Bigfoot(s) are likely to be found !
     Heading up to"Canada" we're then introduced the rest of the expedition all of whom make up a bulls-eye of stock characters including the semi-hippie and Sasquatch scientist Dr. Paul Markham (William Emmons), noble and stoic Native American guide Techka Blackhawk (Joel Morello), a crusty curmudgeon old trapper Josh "Aloysius" (Ken Kenzie) - complete with his mule "Ted", serious & steel-eyed cowboy/ wrangler Hank Parshall (Steve Boergadine), bumbling cook (and comic relief) Barney Snipe (Jim Bradford) and skeptical NYC reporter Bob Vernon (Lou Salerni - who seems to be trying to imitate Jack Nicholson here). The cast is fascinating only for the fact that except for screenwriter/lead actor George Lauris this seems to be their only acting credit.
     On horseback the group begins their trek into the wilderness and for the next chunk of the plot we're shown panoramic views of mountainous wilderness and various Disney-like wildlife footage including grizzly bears fighting, nursing wolf cubs, ice sliding badgers and comic relief with cook Barney chasing a raccoon out his tent. In an attempt to ramp up the tension a bit (and remind us that we're not watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom) a cougar attacks the pack horses which is shot (of which the men ruefully agree "had to be done") and the whiny reporter from New "Yawk" gets mauled by a grizzly. They're two historical encounters with Sasquatch shown (as narrated by mountain-man Josh) including the 1924 attack on some miners and an 19th century encounter by a two trappers named Bauman and Jessep which was later recorded by Theodore Roosevelt in his book The Wilderness Hunter.




     At one point they make a crossing of the "dangerous Peckatoe River" and film's atmosphere attempts to draw the viewer in with a more ominous tone as Tecka intones ancient Native American legends and the group is beset by mysterious rockfalls, discover huge trees snapped off (which we're told is how the Sasquatch marks his territories) and the film cuts to pov shots of something peering through trees. Eventually entering a large valley which is their final destination the hear howling at night and discover large footprints. The group sets up an elaborate system of electric buzzers around the camp and soon the movie reaches the climax that we had all been waiting for - the hairy beast (albeit mostly in shadows) stalking through the nighttime camp causing much destruction and mayhem tossing plastic rocks about.
     The sweeping vistas of mountain ranges and long shots of endless forested landscape give the film an almost epic-like grander that sets it apart from other genre efforts and although the travelogue footage drags a bit during the first 3/4 of the running time it does give the feeling of an actual journey with changing landscape into the remote wilderness with the anticipated climatic attack worth the wait (although full disclosure here - I'm a sucker for Bigfoot movies). The cast is likable if somewhat bland (especially in the case of lead George Lauris) with the broad stereotypes given each character sometimes invoking unintentional humor.
    The soundtrack is composed of gentle country rock style instrumentals (in keeping with the the mountain scenery and 70's feel hereabouts you keep expecting John Denver to pop in warbling away in the background) and it comes complete with a closing theme song ("There in God's country, he just wants to be left alone...")
     Long a murky DVD bargain bin staple SASQUATCH THE LEGEND OF BIGFOOT recently got a Blu-ray release (Who'd a thunk it ?!?) from Code Red that contains a nice ana morphic print from 35mm with just a bit of wear and a few splices.









All Above Screen Caps Are From The Code Red Blu-Ray 



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Valerie Gaunt July 9 1932 - Nov. 27 2016

 

     When Valerie Gaunt made her appearance in Hammer's 1958 DRACULA it made for a startling revelation and in an eye opening way let we the viewers (especially if we were younger) know that we were heading into uncharted waters as far as vampire films were concerned. Unnamed (refereed to as "Vampire Woman" in the closing credits) she presages Christopher Lee's title role entrance in the film and thus became the first vampire to appear in a Hammer movie along with being the recipient of the first staking in blood red color and in addition was the first vampire to be shown with fangs in a major western film.
     Approaching Jonathan Harker with her low cut Grecian white gown and jet black hair she turns instantly from alluring almost coy like flirting innocence into a feral and sexually charged hungry animal. The look in her eyes as she turns toward his throat indelibly stuck in my young mind upon my first viewing and when in the next moment Lee's Dracula makes his unforgettable appearance and throws her violently to the floor where she lays hissing like a cornered snake it all made for one of the true cornerstones of screen horror.
    Valerie laid the groundwork for Hammer's next decade and a half of alluring female vampires but in spite of her abbreviated appearance in DRACULA she exuded a sexual evilness into the role that for me at least was never bested in the ongoing film series (although Barbara Shelley in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS came the closest).
    She also appeared in Hammer's inaugural Gothic horror 1957's CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN where she plays the conniving housekeeper Justine to Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein and who receives a nasty comeuppance. Her back-lit walk down a hallway in a sheer nightie is one of the first instances of the studio's ongoing motif of "Hammer Glamour".
    Born July 9 1932 in Stratford-on-Avon she retired from acting after DRACULA with only two other earlier acting credits for BBC TV on her resume besides CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. She lived quietly raising her family and later in life eschewed the horror film convention circuit leaving her fans with a small but very well remembered film presence that left an indelible impression on many. She passed away on Nov.27th.










Friday, November 18, 2016

COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE 1973

aka EL GRAN ARMOR DEL CONDE DRACULA





     The year 1972 was a particularly busy one for Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy as along with appearing in EL RETORNO DE WALPURGIS (CURSE OF THE DEVIL) where he portrayed his famous alter ego as the lycanthropy affiliated nobleman Waldemar Danisky there was also THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, LA ORGIA DE LOS MUERTOS (THE HANGING WOMAN) and LA REBELIÓN DE MUETAS (VENGENANCE OF THE ZOMBIES). This year also saw the release of EL GRAN AMOR DEL CONDE DRÁCULA (COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE) containing Naschy's only portrayal of the famous Count and lord of the un-dead. Shot back to back alongside HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE by director Javier Aguirre with both films written by Naschy under his birth name Jacinto Molina.
    COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE unfolds like a euro-horror hallucinatory dream with plot elements that would have seemed to be jotted down immediately after awakening from a restless sleep of nightmares. Naschy's take on the classic vampire plays out with a crawling dirge-like ambiance that at times can be almost mind numbly slow. One of the hallmarks of Spanish horror is those meandering plots with emphasis on brooding Gothic atmosphere, heaving bosoms splattered with blood, candelabras and stories that slowly twist & wind to a somewhat ambiguous conclusion - and COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (for better or worse) revels in all these these elements.




     Opening with two workman delivering a crate to an abandoned sanitarium (and who both speak like characters out of a Warner Bros. cartoon) in whose catacomb like cellar they find a roomful of coffins. An unseen figure hidden in shadows attacks one of the men while the other flees in terror and upon running up some stairs an ax is buried in his head and he falls in slo-motion back down the stairs. Drawing us almost immediately into the dream like atmosphere this sequence is repeated through the opening credits while Carmelo Bernaola's organ based score eerily plays.
     Starting off proper with an opening sequence that appears in almost every other Dracula themed movie as were introduced to a group of travelers in a horse drawn coach galloping through the countryside in the area around the Borga Pass. An accident leaves them stranded in the vicinity of an abandoned sanitarium (which happens to be the former residence of Count Dracula) which was overseen by a Dr. Kargos (i.e. "Karloff-Lugosi") and who was later hung by the local villagers for conducting sadistic experiments on the inmates (where's that Naschy film ?!?). The travelers include Imre (Naschy regular "Vic Winner" aka Victor Alcazar), Senta (Rosanna Yanni THE AMAZONS along with Jess Franco's KISS ME MONSTER & TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS), Elke (Mirta Miller VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES), Karen (Haydee Politoff QUEENS OF EVIL) and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo MANIAC MANSION).
     Seeking shelter in the sanitarium the group is welcomed by the new owner Dr. Wendell Marlow (Naschy) who keeps it in readiness for stranded travelers (reminiscent of Hammer's DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS). Quickly getting into the spirit of things the women slip into their nightclothes and begin wandering about the premises while Irma runs into one of the delivery men from the prologue (who is now a vampire) and is instantly initiated into the coven of the undead. It's interesting to note how the man of the group is the first one bitten which follows a previous attack on the male deliveryman in the prologue and it's this that sets in motion the vampirism of the female cast with the seemingly male hero sidelined immediately.
    It's soon revealed that the kindly Dr. Marlow is Count Dracula and has in mind a highly convoluted scheme to resurrect his dead daughter Rodna "Countess Dracula".




     Naschy plays his Dracula character here much like his Waldemar Danisky alter ego - that of the sympathetic monster agonizing over lost/never to be had love while wrestling with his destiny its and attached curse(s) -and as with his werewolf Nascy portrays a much stockier and barrel chested Dracula then we're used to. Though he does have a truly evil plan here involving the sacrifices of various female victims for his sister's rebirth he also takes long walks with Karen (who he alternately sees as physical lover and a sacrifice to his daughters resurrection) while engaging in some ludicrously hilarious dialogue with her as she intones at one point "These have been the most terrible and happiest days of my life ..". The English dubbed version is a veritable goldmine of this type of priceless dialogue
     With an almost hypnotic fascination, the plot drags along ponderously at certain points with seemingly endless wandering down hallways or walks in the woods. Alternating between scenes of bizarre interludes (such as the female cast taking a morning skinny dip in the sanitarium's stone pool) along with the sight of two female vampire jumping in slo-motion to a rooftop (complete with a penny whistle on the soundtrack) along with poetic-like sequences such as the mist filled basement with the negligee clad cast gliding through its hallways or the female vampires in waist high blowing foliage stalking a victim.




      Director Agguire stages some scenes of highly charged erotic horror that make Hammer's "nudge nudge wink wink" nudity such as in in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS pale in comparison with the highlight being two female vampire eagerly feeding upon the breasts of their reclined victim. The film also features healthy dollops of blood and sadism with Naschy and his female vampire companion savagely whipping a captured women and bloody feedings by the gaggle of un dead. Naschy's Dracula fades in the background for lengths of the plot with the female trio of vampire taking center stage violently and lustfully with Rosanna Yanni's Senta putting a scythe to good use at one point.
      Part of the allure of COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE was that it was one of the few Naschy films (at least in my neck of the woods) that played regularly on television during the coming decade or so under various titles including an American theatrical branding of CEMETERY GIRLS (or TRAMPS in some cases). When the uncut version began circulating on the video market for many a folk (including me !) the full strength version was a revelation as with its bright red blood splattered about and the profusion of nudity was quite an eye opening experience as this was one of the first Spanish horror films I saw in all its glory.
      Although the uncut version in various forms has been floating around for quite a while (showing up from both Code Red/BCI and Rhino's Elvira DVD line among others) the new Blu-ray/DVD combo release from Vinegar Syndrome (containing both the original Spanish language and English dub) is an eye-opening beautiful viewing experience. An added bonus is a subtitled audio commentary from Naschy and Javier Aguirre that was originally recorded for an unreleased entry in Navarre's line of Spanish horror DVD's.









   All Above Screen Caps Are From The Vinegar Syndrome DVD