Sunday, July 27, 2014

Exhumed Films' Forgotten Film Festival 2014

It took me a week, but I'm finally getting around to writing about the Forgotten Film Festival, which was sponsored by Exhumed Films at Philadelphia's International House last Sunday.

The guys who make up Exhumed own an extensive collection of 35mm prints and trailers and used the Forgotten Film Fest to screen five pictures that, for the most part, have literally not been released anywhere since the 1970s. None of them are on DVD or Blu-ray or VHS, at least not in the United States, and at least two were thought to be lost films. It's quite possible the prints owned by Exhumed are the only ones that still exist for some of these movies, which made my road trip to Philly to see them literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Note: Big thanks to Chris Poggiali at Temple of Schlock for providing some research and images for this post. I have known Chris since his days as a regular at Mobius Home Video Forum, I have exchanged many emails and Facebook comments with him over the years, and it was a great pleasure to finally meet him in person.

If you know me well, you know I love trailers. Not the dull trailers created today from the same focus-grouped template, but the idiosyncratic previews of yesteryear. Each film at the festival was preceded by several trailers and film clips that helped build a real grindhouse atmosphere.

Before the day kicked off with SKATETOWN, U.S.A., we got to see an amazing Live Aid preview featuring the Mick Jagger/David Bowie video for "Dancing in the Street" (I love it), the Who performing "You Better You Bet," and trailers for HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS and ROLLER BOOGIE.

Fitting, because 1979's SKATETOWN, U.S.A. edges out ROLLER BOOGIE for the title of Greatest Roller Disco Movie Ever. Acts like Dave Mason (who performs in the film); the Jacksons; Earth, Wind & Fire; the Village People; Eddie Money; John Sebastian; Heatwave; and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. are heard throughout the film, and SKATETOWN, U.S.A. definitely works as a fun, upbeat musical. As a comedy, it’s the pits, and as a competition movie, it somewhat predicts the BREAKIN’ movies, except all the dancing here is on roller skates.

Most of the casting falls into three categories: sitcom actors, standup comics, and musical acts, primarily Mason, who performs “Feelin’ Alright.” Whatever cult SKATETOWN has is primarily built upon the first category, which includes top-billed Scott Baio (HAPPY DAYS), Ron Palillo (Horshak from WELCOME BACK, KOTTER), a hot-pantsed-and-tube-topped Maureen McCormick (Marcia Brady from THE BRADY BUNCH), David Landsberg (the nerdy Skulnik from C.P.O. SHARKEY), and LAUGH-IN’s Ruth Buzzi.

They participate in the plot, such as it is, which involves Baio and Greg Bradford (the two later worked on ZAPPED! together) competing in a roller disco dance competition against the absurd Ace Johnson (Patrick Swayze in his film debut) and his menacing gang of fey skaters. Like the Really Rottens, the Westside Wheelers will pull any dirty trick to ensure Ace wins the trophy.

Occasionally, director William A. Levey (BLACKENSTEIN) cuts away to let one of the comics do a bit, which without exception land with a thud, whether it’s frantic Bill Kirchenbauer as a war-damaged doctor, Vic Dunlop and Gary Mule Deer as clumsy concessionaires, old Leonard Barr, or Murray Langston, who plays both an unfunny drunk and the Unknown Comic. Flip Wilson also plays dual roles: Skatetown owner Harvey and (in Geraldine garb) Harvey’s mother (with little person Billy Barty as his father!).

It’s hard to describe SKATETOWN, U.S.A. as “good” in any honest sense of the word (McCormick wrote in her memoirs that cocaine was all over the set), but it’s a lively good time and difficult to dislike. The cutting is fast, so the bad comic bits go by quickly, and there’s fun in spotting all the cameos from Sydney Lassick to Dorothy Stratten to Bob Minor to Judy Landers to Joe E. Freaking Ross. The music is great, “disco sucks” or not, and everyone seems to be having a good time in pursuit of a bad movie.

Leading into 1974's SON OF DRACULA were trailers for YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, THE HUNGER, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, and the boob-centric ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK. Anyone familiar with the late Harry Nilsson’s music, such as his NILSSON SCHMILSSON and SON OF SCHMILSSON albums, knows he was a man of wit and color. Which makes it all the more baffling that, as an actor, he was one of the dullest imaginable--as blank as could be. Nilsson’s soporific performance as Count Downe, the son of Count Dracula, is just one of many missteps in SON OF DRACULA, which was produced by Ringo Starr for Apple Films and barely released.

After the murder of Count Dracula in his coffin, Downe returns to London, where Merlin the Magician (Starr) is to prepare him to take over his father’s throne. Between songs, Downe decides he no longer wants to be an immortal bloodsucker, and asks Van Helsing (Dennis Price) to make him human so he can settle down with the comely Amber (Suzanna Leigh).

Most of the songs Nilsson performs are off his previous albums, but rock fans may enjoy the film’s only lively scene: the performance of the new “Daybreak,” in which The Who drummer Keith Moon, guitarist Peter Frampton, bassist Klaus Voorman, and Rolling Stones sax player Bobby Keys can be seen.

Other than this, SON OF DRACULA is a stone cold bore with Ringo’s dull playing maybe a notch above Nilsson’s. Freddie Jones does good work as Baron Frankenstein, the villain of the piece, but that’s about it. It’s no mystery why this film has stayed buried since the 1970s. The Exhumed print had a YOUNG DRACULA title card clumsily inserted into the opening titles. Obviously someone somewhere tried to pass the film off as a sequel to YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

On to trailers for DRACULA BLOWS HIS COOL (a bad German movie with an actor wearing an unauthorized Superman T-shirt), HORROR OF DRACULA with THE THING THAT COULDN’T DIE, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE with GARDEN OF THE DEAD, and KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. Then, Andy Milligan's BLOOD.

I haven’t seen them all (or even most), but BLOOD is easily the most coherent Andy Milligan film I’ve seen. It’s also the funniest and the most entertaining, for all the wrong reasons, naturally.

Filmed, of course, in Milligan’s rundown Staten Island house and set, of course, in the late 19th century, BLOOD tells the story of the Orlovsky family, who are actually Larry Talbot Jr. (Allan Berendt as the son of the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man) and Regina Dracula (Hope Stansbury as the daughter of Count Dracula). Helping the Orlovskys find a cure for their diseases of vampirism and lycanthropy are another married couple, Carrie (Patricia Gaul) and the legless Orlando, whom Michael Fischetti portrays hilariously by clomping about on his knees. They grow plants in the basement that produce blood (!) and make a sound like Milligan rubbing balloons, and any nosy villager dumb enough to creep about the Orlovsky home meets a gory fate (that also goes for the mouse that is slaughtered for Milligan’s camera).

Unlike other Milligans I’ve seen, BLOOD is not dull, despite its soap opera plotting, uneven (to say the least) performances, cheap props, claustrophobic sets, unconvincing period setting, awful makeup, and laughable dialogue. Come to think of it, instead of “despite,” I should have written “because of.” Bryanston Releasing, the company behind THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN, also released BLOOD on a number of double bills during the 1970s.

Next up were trailers for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, DUNE (which made the David Lynch film look far more interesting than it is), ALIENS, and the underrated CRITTERS. None of them had anything to do with the next film, the very obscure MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS.

Alan Ormsby, who went on to a successful Hollywood career writing genre pictures like CAT PEOPLE, MY BODYGUARD, and PORKY’S II: THE NEXT DAY, made his directorial debut with this gender-bending comedy. Apparently shot in 1973 as THE GREAT MASQUERADE, it also carried such titles as AC/DC, THE AC/DC CAPER, ARTISTS AND MODELS BALL, and MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS, which was on the Exhumed Films print. Despite the many releases and many titles, I’d be surprised if many people have seen it.

The appealing Robert Perault (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING) stars as Dave Collins, a Miami police detective who is recruited by his bosses to shave his legs, don a dress, and enter a cruise-ship beauty contest to find out who has murdered the contest’s last three winners. Also on board are Dave’s wisecracking partner (Paul Cronin), some bickering mobsters (including KING FRAT’s John DiSanti), Dave’s suspicious girlfriend (who doesn’t know about his assignment), and Roberts Blossom (who starred in Ormsby’s next film, DERANGED) as the rich guy who owns the pageant and is Dave’s top suspect. Producer Jack McGowan pulled strings to get cameos by columnist Hy Gardner, comic team Lou Marsh & Tony Adams, Henny Youngman, and Johnny Weissmuller (!), who judges the contest and probably had no idea he was in an R-rated film with full frontal nudity.

About that. Ormsby originally shot a PG movie, but it appears as though McGowan filmed a handful of nude scenes later and inserted them. None of the main actors appear in scenes with nude women. Nudity or not, Ormsby’s film is a cute little picture. The script needed a couple more polishes, but it still contains a fair share of laughs and is performed competently by a likable cast, many of whom are native Floridians. Ormsby shot on a real cruise ship called S.S. Emerald Seas, hence the title. He’s better known for his horror films, which include the scripts for DEATHDREAM and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS.

Trailers for THE DEVIL’S RAIN (Shatner!), THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT, and MARK OF THE DEVIL 2 introduced the day's final feature, another obscurity, a 1968 softcore film called THE SATANIST.

Pat Barrington, the gorgeous and shapely star of essential Sixties nudie movies like AGONY OF LOVE, THE ACID EATERS, and ORGY OF THE DEAD, is the only performer I recognized in THE SATANIST, which bears no acting credits. It’s likely some or all of the technical credits are pseudonyms, though the unlikely monikered writer and director Zoltan G. Spencer may actually be a real person.

Shot in black-and-white without sync sound, THE SATANIST is basically a series of tame sex scenes held together by a slight plotline. A pipe-smoking writer and his wife move into a house where he can recover from a nervous breakdown. After spying on his sexy neighbor getting a greasy nude rubdown by a sexy nude friend, he has an erotic dream about the neighbor. He and his wife learn the neighbor and her friends practice witchcraft, and the couple attends a party that turns into an orgy. The End. Pretty much.

The women show their (impressive) breasts and buns, while the men not only stay dressed during sex, they even leave their shoes and socks on. My tolerance for the softcore genre is quite low. I rarely find the sex interesting or erotic, and there’s rarely anything else going on. Spencer at least hired attractive actresses, and Miss Barrington was definitely at the top of her field, so THE SATANIST at least has that going for it. Olympic International, which also put out classy titles like LOVE CAMP 7, THE LOVE ROBOTS, and MASSACRE FOR AN ORGY, released THE SATANIST to a few grindhouses and perhaps drive-ins, though it’s unlikely more than a half-dozen prints ever were struck.

Five films, about eight hours, followed by a chat with fellow film buffs Chris and Tim Mayer. Then, three hours back to D.C. and up early for work the next morning. A six-hour round trip to Philadelphia made for a long day, but a day well worth the effort.

1 comment:

Casey said...

The second unit nude footage in MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS was shot by Florida exploitation legend Brad Grinter, who is credited on the film as "Frank M. Grinter".