Monday, January 31, 2011


'Devil Bat's Daughter': An ode to forgetfulness

Devil Bat's Daughter (1946)
Starring: Rosemary La Planche, Michael Hale, Nolan Leary, Monica Mars, Molly Lamont, and John James
Director: Frank Wisbar
Rating: Four of Five Stars

Nina (La Planche) driven to a mental breakdown when she learns her dead father was not only a murderer but may have also been a vampire, is placed in the care of manipulative psychiatrist Dr. Morris (Hale). When his wife (Lamont) is murdered, everyone--including Nina herself--believes she did it in a fit of madness... everyone except handsome Ted Masters, the dead woman's son who has fallen in love with Nina. He sets out to prove Nina's innocence and that his step-father is the killer.

Taken on its own, "Devil Bat's Daughter" is an okay little horror flick that suffers from stiff acting, clunky dialogue, and strange story continuity lapses (such as a continuing back-and-forth about whether the "Devil Bat" of the title--a local mad scientist who either came to a bad end at the fangs of his own monstrous creations but only after they killed half a dozen others, or who was put on trial for murder and presumably executed). The majority of the story elements are familiar elements of horror movies and thrillers of this vintage--a woman shocked into amnesia, a corrupt psychiatrist who may or may not be abusing his patients, and a bland hero whose only defining quality is that he is in love-at-first-sight with the imperiled heroine--there are a number of other factors that make this an unusual film and worth checking out.

The primary of these is the sympathetic portrayal of the "other woman" with whom the slimy psychiatrist is two-timing the wife he obviously only married for money. Rather than being a coldhearted and scheming bitch who is every bit the villain that he is, she is another victim of his manipulations, and she ultimately comes across as remorseful. Almost as important is the titular character, who, although little more than a conduit for melodrama, is also the pivot-point for enough plot substance that there are genuine questions in the minds of viewers that she might indeed be an unhinged, murdering somnambulist. This is all too rare in pictures of this production level and period, where plot misdirection and obfuscation usually feel halfhearted and are often painfully transparent. Screenwriter Griffin Jay and director Frank Wisbar truly rose above the standard for this kind of movie in this case.

Unfortunately, the film is less successful as a sequel to the original "Devil Bat" picture. While I admittedly might be a bit more of a stickler for continuity than many movie viewers, I still think anyone who saw "The Devil Bat" would wonder how/why the small town that was home to Paul Carruthers moved from the American Midwest to the East Coast, or why everyone from the town gossipers to the courts seem to have forgotten that Carruthers confessed to committing several premeditated murders using a trained bat before being killed by said bat in front of witnesses, or how Carruthers somehow transformed in everyone's mind from a well-respected local chemist and pillar of the community who secretly dabbling in bizarre experiments with growth acceleration through electrical glandular manipulation to a researcher who relocated to the town to work in peace and quiet on his mad science projects. The only details about Carruthers and his "devil bat" that remains consistent from the original film to this one is that he was the final victim of his own monster.

Why the creators of "Devil Bat's Daughter" chose to virtually ignore the story of the original film in favor of making Paul Carruthers the center of vampire legends and recasting him as a misunderstood genius instead of a raving madman is a mystery to me. Perhaps they were trying to convey that the entire town was shocked into a state of amnesia and dissasociation like Nina was over the revelations surrounding Paul Carruthers: Everyone in the small town of Heathville forgot who they were, where their town was located, and everything that really happened, and they filled in the blanks with details that seemed more logical to them than what had actually happened.

The film would have been much stronger if they'd remained consistent with the original, as Nina's madness and apparent homicidal mania could have been inherited from her crazy father; the writers could even have kept their goofy "ah-yup, dem townies shurly do believe that ole Doc Carruthers wuz a vampire, yup dey sure do" stuff as the trigger for her mental breakdown. Instead, they created a film that is undermined every time it invokes the original movie with distortions and revisions of that films most basic plot points and background elements.

And that's a shame, because their sloppy and arbitrary story telling manages to ruin what might otherwise have been a decent little thriller.

For more on the films from Poverty Row production company PRC, check out Matthew Coniam's great series of posts at Carfax Abby.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Joey Wang

Born in 1967, Taiwanese actress and photo model Joey Wang (sometimes credited as Joey Wong) made her film debut at 14 in the mystically-tinged drama "It Will Be Cold By the Lakeside This Year" and proceeded to work steadily in horror, fantasy, and action films through the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, making more than 65 films. She retired from acting in 1998 after getting married and moving to Canada. (Wang has appeared in a couple of films since, but she shuns publicity and avoids the public eye.)

Wang's stature and willowy beauty made her the idea actress to play ghosts in Chinese period films, and her most famous films are indeed the "Chinese Ghost Story" series.

'City Hunter' is a quirky Chan vehicle

City Hunter (1992)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Chingmy Yua, Joey Wang, Kumiko Goto, and Richard Norton
Director: Jing Wong
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

"City Hunter" was adapted from a Japanese comic book and animated series of the same name... and it shows! The actors do the kind of double-takes, gestures, and poses that one expects to see in a "manga" or "anime." This adds greatly to the hilarity of the film.

The story revolves around private eye Ryu Saeba (Jackie Chan) who is hired to track down a run-away heiress (Yua). He ends up on a luxury liner, trapped between his jealous secretary/partner (Wang), the attractive heiress, a sexy gun-toting female agent (Goto), and a group of terrorists bent on capturing the ship and holding the passengers for ransom. And all Ryu wants is a bite to eat, because he made the mistake of skipping breakfast!

If you typically pick up Jackie Chan movies for the amazing stunts, this might not be the film for you; there really isn't much of that kind of action until the climactic scenes. It might also not be the film for you if you like your action free of random comedy and out-of-left field musical production numbers. However, if you have an appreciation for slap-stick and absurd screwball comedies, I recommend this flick highly!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

'Bite Me!' is done in by a bad script

Bite Me! (2004)
Starring: Misty Mundae, Michael R. Thomas, Sylvianne Chebance, Julian Wells, Caitlin Ross, Rob Monkiewicz, Erika Smith, and John Paul Fedele
Director: Brett Piper
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A failing strip club is invaded by monstrous spiders whose venom either bring out repressed sides of a victim's personality or turns them into hideous mutants.

"Bite Me" is a goofy film that spoofs the monster movies from the 1950s and the softcore porn films of the 2000s that many of the featured actresses have been in. It's not a bad little movie, but it could have been much better.

The problem is not with the actors. They're all pretty good, with Caitlin Ross (playing a doped-up stripper who manages to save the day while basically sleepwalking through the mayhem of monster spiders and crazy gunmen), Michael R. Thomas (as the brash club owner), and Misty Mundae (as a mild-mannered stripper who becomes Rambette after being bit by one of the spiders) being especially funny in their parts.

The technical aspect of this low-budget production is also very good, with decent camera work and lighting, nifty stop-motion animated monsters, and well-executed green-screen and CGI elements. The film actually looks better in many respects than movies with budgets that were probably ten times what it cost to make "Bite Me!"

What drags this movie down from, based on the concepts, the acting, and the technical execution, could have been at least a 7 rating to a very low 5 is the script.

The script is unfocused, flabby, and at times redundant. While there are some very funny bits in the beginning of the film but they are surrounded by material that sets up a subplot that never really pays off. The same is true with subplot about organized crime elements who are trying to take over the stripclub. An interesting character in the club's bartender is not given the development she should get, and the same is true to the club's owner. If the script had been taken through another couple of drafts, I'm certain writer/director Brett Piper would have noticed these flaws, saved the government conspiracy stuff for another movie and focused more on the stripclub and its denizens. That's where the heart of the movie is, and it's a shame that the time isn't there to develop it properly.

Still, "Bite Me!" is a fun little movie. It's worth seeing it you like cheesy monster films or if you're a fan of Misty Mundae or any of the other actresses appearing in it; they actually get to act in it, and they're good! (They mostly keep their clothes on, though, so if you're looking for the usual lesbian nookie, this is not the film for you.)

'Crime Broker' fails to close to deal

Crime Broker (aka "Corrupt Justice") (1993)
Starring: Jacqueline Bisset, Masaya Kato, John Bach, Ralph Cotterill, Justin Lewis, and Gary Day
Director: Ian Barry
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A bored legal genius who plans precision heists as a hobby (Bisset) is forced into taking part in violent crimes and murder by a psychopathic criminologist who uncovers her secret (Kato).

"Crime Broker" is an Australian made-for-TV movie that feels like a tawdry grocery store paperback thriller. It should appeal to those who like Jackie Collins novels (or whoever her more modern counterparts might be), but the rest of us might be a little bored with the predictable twists of the film and flat characters that never move beyond the state of stereotypes or cyphers.

I sat through the film primarily because I was hoping it was going to give me a fun finale with the crime-planning judge somehow turning the tables on the man who forced her into getting her hands dirty--her genius-level intellect was referred to over and over in the film, so it seemed like a perfect pay-off and a great fate for the vile, arrogant character played by Masaya Kato--but such was not to be. Although the "final job" the judge is forced to plan--one that involves robbing her own husband--is the perfect set-up for just the sort of finale this film desperately needed--the finale consists of a secondary character stepping in to more-or-less save the day... and ensuring that an already mediocre film slides into bad.

Jacqueline Bisset was pushing 50 when this movie was made, but she was still full of every bit of sex appeal as she exhibited in the 1970s. It's too bad the rest of the package wasn't as attractive and charged as she was.

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Examples of Modesty

Here are some pictures of Peter O'Donnell's legendary international woman of mystery, Modesty Blaise (including a publicity shot of Monica Vitti as Modesty in the 1966 film).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Great Mike Oldfield songs with trippy videos

Here are a pair of classic tunes from the great Mike Oldfield with vocals by Anita Hegerland.

Mike Oldfield and Anita Hegerland

Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Bad Blonde' is an okay crime drama

Bad Blonde (aka "The Flanagan Boy") (1953)
Starring: Tony Wright, Barbara Payton, Frederick Valk, Sid James, and John Slater
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A boxing promoter's trophy wife (Payton) seduces and manipulates a young prize fighter (Wright) into murdering her husband.

"Bad Blonde" is a crime drama mixed with a sports movie and a dash of film noir. Despite the American title, the film's main focus is actually the up-and-coming boxing star Johnny Flanagan, to whom the original British title referred, and how he is undone and ultimately destroyed by the sociopathic Lorna Vecchi.

It's a tragic story, because we watch Lorna destroy two decent men--and ruin the lives of two others--as the film unfolds. Boxing promoter Giuseppe Vecchi (played by Frederick Valch) is a kindhearted man who works very hard to treat everyone he interacts with fairly and to make all his friends happy, so as Lorna keeps pushing Johnny to murder him with her lies and sexual wiles, we keep hoping that he will come to his senses and tell his manager about what is really going on between him and Lorna. The fact that Johnny is also a good person makes us root even harder for him, especially when Lorna preys on Johnny's naivete by claiming to be threatening suicide and claiming to be pregnant to push him over the edge.

Because her victims are so likable, it is very satisfying to watch Lorna get her just rewards at the end of the movie. It would be even more satisfying if it made a little more sense than it does, or if one didn't have the feeling that she might easily be able to lie her way out of full punishment, but there are few characters in films that viewers want to see dragged off in chains than Lorna Vecchi.

The ending might also have been more satisfying if Barbara Payton had been a slightly better actress. She excels at putting sexiness--or, more accurately, horniness--on the screen, and she's quite good at delivering lines that are supposed to come across as haughty or bitchy, but when required to act angry or scared, her performance falls flat.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast is strong enough to carry the movie, with the supporting actors providing enough emotion and the tension to bring life and strength to the flawed ending. Likewise, the character of Giuseppe Vecchi could easily have come across as an annoying buffoon if he had been portrayed by a lesser actor than Valk. Much credit also goes to director Reginald Le Borg for keeping the film moving at a fast pace and further negating the lack of range in Payton's performance.

"Bad Blonde" is one of a dozen or so film-noirish crime drama's that Hammer Films co-produced with American B-movie mogul Robert L. Lippert. It's worth checking out if you want to see a neglected side of the greatest British B-movie studio. It's not the best film that came out of the partnership, but it's still very entertaining.

Saturday, January 22, 2011



Saturday Scream Queen: Rosalba Neri

Italian beauty Rosalba Neri (who is often credited under the stage name of Sara Bey) began her acting career at the age of 15. She appeared in at least 99 movies over a thirty year span, from 1956 to her retirement from acting in 1985. (Sources vary on the exact number of movies she appeared in.)

Neri appeared in films of just about every genre, often as a sexually charged villainess, the majority were soft-core erotica, thrillers, or horror flicks. Among her most famous films are "Lady Frankenstein", "The Lion of Thebes", and Mario Bava's "Hercules in the Haunted World.

'Lady Frankenstein' mixes monster-making with sexual perversion

Lady Frankenstein (aka "Daughter of Frankenstein") (1972)
Starring: Sara Bey, Joseph Cotton, Paul Muller, Mickey Hargitay, and Paul Whiteman
Directors: Mel Welles and Aureliano Luppi
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Tania Frankenstein (Bey) proves psychopathy is an inherited trait when she continues and perfects her dead father's work in reanimation and monster-making... by creating her perfect mate and sex-toy, using the body of a hunky handyman, and the brain of her father's former assistant (Muller).

"Lady Frankenstein" is a fast-paced--once it gets started... it opens rather slow--decidedly sleazy twist on the typical Frankenstein film. Monsters are created, monsters run amok, and torch-wielding villagers burn the castle down, but the twist here is that Frankenstein (played with class above this movie's station by Joseph Cotton) dies at the end of the first act, leaving his twisted daughter in charge of the murder and mayhem. Boy, does she rise to the challenge.

This film is most remarkable for the most disturbing sex scene I've seen so far on film with Tania Frankenstein having an orgasm as her lover is being murdered under her. Twisted stuff, but in perfect keeping with the overall tone of the film. It is also remarkable for having just about the lamest-looking monster of any featured in a Frankenstein film. (Yes, even lamer than the non-monster in "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter"... what we have here looks like the Toxic Avenger's retarded country cousin.)

Decently acted, and featuring better music, camera work, and sets than many films of this kind, "Lady Frankenstein" might be worth a look if my comments above haven't warned you off.