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PART ONE: WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE OF THE WORLD WITH MONDO MACABRO
Livin’ in the Nineties. Not a great time for the genre film fan. Dreck like 'Scream' took over the multi-plexes and their Goosebumps-style slasher clones clotted the video bins. Exploitation forgot to do what it does best: Exploit. PG-13 ratings meant minimal violence and little nudity. Thankfully Anchor Bay, Image Entertainment and the like came along and churned out lost Italian thrillers and uncut zombie gut busters.
As a video store buyer during these tough times, European trash films had been readily available through the grey-market since the heyday of the “Video Nasties”1 lists. This means I already had them. Mostly inferior third generation bootlegs that could gladly use an upgrade, but I’d seen them nonetheless. Something new needed to come my way and into the palms of paying customers. Things unseen and unheard of on this side of the hemisphere.
Cue Pete Tombs.
A guy who had already cut his journalistic teeth on the Euro-sleaze and horror market with a hefty tome called Immoral Tales (St. Martins Griffin -1995 - written along w/Cathal Tohill). This was an invaluable resource to the outer fringe film nerds looking for their next fix. You read about it, now you want to see it. So off you go, mail ordering from places like Midnight, Video Search of Miami, and Luminous Film &Video2. Quite a collection to be had…at a respectable price. But like I said above…you could find the stuff. Cannibal hardcore skin flicks, Spanish women-in-prison grinders, Italio-crime sprees were all ready for the taking. So what about those Holy Grails? Stuff you couldn’t find that had been elevated to “must have” status? As record collectors know, the more KBD/OOP/SSLD the shit gets, the more you sweat finding it. And it never seems to pop up on eBay…well, sometimes it does. And you gamble paychecks to grasp it.
This Tombs character didn’t like to sit and wait for auctions to end just so he could get his clammy hands on a Region 4 Turkish 'Exorcist' tape or something of that ilk. He just went out and found it…and a lot of other goodies as well. Robert Ripley style. Then he settled down and wrote about it all in a book called Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema Around the World (St. Martins Griffin - 1998).
Like a super-fanboy, Tombs spewed out info so fast and furious only an autistic youth (or a sweaty film geek) could keep up or understand. More strange movies than you ever thought of were being produced in lands like Malaysia, Portugal, Turkey, etc., and he was here to tell ya' about ‘em. Movies dealing with local folklore, regional horror themes and weird sexual practices. Movies that aped popular blockbusters, but were so skewed in delivery or barrel scrapingly low buck they take on a surreal feel all of their own. Movies that knew they needed to exploit whatever the hell they could in order to survive against the Western studios. Movies that, well…only he had seen.
But it made a great read. And the pictures didn’t hurt yer salivation glands ‘neither. Mondo Macabro came and went from print quickly, and those who read it thumbed it up and down like a medical text. Notes and dog ears abound. New copies are sitting on Amazon right now for $160.00. You know, it may be worth it.
So off I went with my new found knowledge, searching til the end of the earth (well, the Washington state line and parts of Illinois) for all things mentioned in Mondo Macabro. Few and far between these things would pop up. I’d check papers for local Filipino video store closings, Thai grocery tape sales, and random Mexican dollar stores. After a year I had quite a few oddballs for the collection:
And so on. I even put together a two shelf tribute section at work for my new found friends, aptly titled: Mondo Macabro. Exciting as this was, most weren’t subtitled (or even shittily dubbed) and could definitely use a remastering from someone who cared. Anyone?
The Nineties grind to a halt, some towers collapsed, and the birth of indie DVD changed everything. Pete Tombs teamed up with Andy Clark and got themselves a BBC show documenting all things weird and worldly. They pulled together some resources and started producing DVDs in the UK of stand out titles. Cleaned up the prints, got some subtitle translators and packed the discs with trailers, interviews and excerpts of the aforementioned TV series. Good game. Now for the guts n’ gravy.
The Mondo Macabro label has released 40 films or so stateside to date and are off and running in theatrical film production as well. Every film that has been released under the MM moniker is worth seeking out for the cultural experience alone, but these are the puppies I found fit to add or keep in my collection, even after the brick and mortar video store days closed down. Each selection is followed by some runner-up suggestions that ya’ might be into as well. This is how you cheat a top ten. I’m sure some of you have seen a few, but here’s to the sweaty palmed newbies. 2000’s have been kind to you. Read on.
ALUCARDA (Juan Lopez Moctezuma - Mexico, 1975)The DVD label came swinging out of the gate proper with this lost doozy. A Mexican feature that tells the tale of Alucarda & Justine, two frisky orphaned girls on a woodland jaunt and journey of sexual discovery, but become sidetracked by gypsy-witch orgies and bloodletting. Things go sour back at the home front as Alucarda becomes more and more, um…unmanageable around the nuns & clergymen. Bad words spew forth, full frontal blood baths occur and a priest sets up shop to stop the girls damned soul from getting the worst of her and the convent…
Fairly similar in tone and style to Ken Russell’s 'The Devils' or 'The Antichrist' on a base level, but almost louder and garish in sound, sleaze and set design (is that even possible?). Director Moctezuma collaborated with Jodorowsky earlier in his career, so fans of 'El Topo' can kind of tell how this is gonna play out. A low budget fare with claustrophobic shots that makes up for any inferiority with its set design, color and balls out violence. It doesn’t take long for the priests and nuns to start blowing up in this’un folks. The image of a full frontal nude Alucarda rising from a blood filled coffin will stick with you (and be used to sell metal LPs) for a long time to come. One of the best possession or nunsploiters out there.
Mondo Macabro also released Moctezuma’s 'Mansion Of Madness'; a film based on the Edgar Alan Poe story, “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether”. Classier maybe, but still a psycho-surrealist trip. Not to leave the naughty nun fans in the dust, they also released Mexico’s 'Satanico Pandemonium' & more recently, Japans’ filthy 'Sins of Sister Lucia'. Both are worth a look as well.
MYSTICS IN BALI (H Tjut Djalil - Indonesia, 1981)Somewhat the cornerstone of Indonesian horror, and the reason I’m writing about this label in the first place, 'Mystics...' is a stone cold genre classic and serious grue blasting good time. Cathy, a young American girl, travels to Asia to write a report on the countries black magic rituals. After meeting up with a Leak, a cackling black magic queen, problems arise for our intrepid reporter. Problems like vomiting insects. Problems like dancing in the moonlight and turning into a wild boar. Problems like keeping her head on and her internal organs inside as it all pops off and flies away to suck fetuses from unsuspecting mother’s wombs. !?!? Read that last line again. Her head comes off and uproots her guts: lungs, heart, intestines, et al. Off it flies, along not so hidden wires, searching the local township for unborn babies. No shit. If that don’t hook you, nothing will. Gonzo over the top action and atrocious dubbing (will the witch ever stop the Muppet laughter? Afraid not…) has you reeling and rolling from start. This'n makes you wanna’ chuck most of those 80’s HK horror flicks into the nearest refuse bin. The last act's 'Sword and the Stone' warlock battle royale is just the perfect icing on the cake. You’ve not seen this many Intellivision style laser f/x since 'The Last Starfighter' hit the big screens…I guarantee.
MM treaded the same muggy waters of Southeast Asia a few times more to bring similar titles such as 'Queen of Black Magic', 'Dangerous Seductress', and 'Lady Terminator' to the digital age. 'Queen…'though not as show stopping great as 'Mystics...', still delivers the goods and stands its own next to flicks such as The Shaw Brothers’ 'Black Magic' series. As for 'Dangerous Seductress' and 'Lady Terminator', read on. I’m getting to ‘em…
FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY (Eddie Nicart - Philippines, 1981)Come join the Philippines biggest littlest action star, Weng Weng, in one of his great ramshackle James Bond rip offs (named Agent “00”!). The Ultimate party film for those jaded videophiles, a 2.5ft. tall super agent takes on the Filipino drug cartel and seduces ladies with his grotesquely oversized nipples. Like Bond, our little hero has plenty of spy gadgetry to aid him in his duties. A razor lined pork pie hat. OK. A pen and belt buckle with many “useful uses” (something was lost in translation…I think). X-ray glasses that can see through women’s clothing, but not really anything else. Good shit. Our agent does most of his own stunts and looks horrified in the process. He parachutes out of skyscrapers with nothing but an umbrella. He kicks off the wall like a chinchilla whilst shooting thugs. He shakes like a spastic during his jet pack hi-wire feat. Pants shall be shat. Amazing. Inept in every way (dialog dubbing, editing, fight sequences, etc) but never EVER boring. How this escaped the clutches of MST3K crew, I’ll never understand…the film is double billed with another Dick Randall produced exploiter: 'Challenge of the Dragon' with/by Bruce Le (ah, remember all the phony Bruces post mortem?). Not even close to the greatness of the headliner but a good beer swilling fu-time filler nonetheless.
Not too far removed from the Weng Weng path lays another Asian actioner, The Indio-produced 'Virgins from Hell'. Delirious and dumb as a box of rocks, the movie deals with an all chick biker gang on the warpath against a drug mob that are using powerful aphrodisiacs to turn the women of the world into sex slaves. Bar fights, Prison breaks, and an unreal bazooka murder, all on a budget of 200 bucks and set on the Laugh-In soundstage. I can’t complain. Comes with a bonus disc of more than an hour of Indonesian action trailers to sweeten the deal.
THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN (Luigi Cozzi - Italy, 1975)Going back to its 'Immoral Tales' Euro-sleaze roots, Macabro has released quite a few Italian, French and Spanish horrors in their short time. One of the best in my mind is Luigi Cozzi’s debut, 'The Killer Must Kill Again'. A subtle and stylish giallo3 similar to his mentor Dario Argento’s early work, the film is a lurid game of cat and mouse with just enough vulgar activity and blunt trauma to keep you glued to the screen. The creepy Lurch of a hit man (played by genre heavy Michel Antoine) spends most of the movie trying to retrieve the dead body of his boss’s wife that has been stored in the trunk of a car. Problem is a couple free-wheeling post-hippies have stolen the vehicle not knowing about the cargo. Obvious nods to Hitchcock (as with most gialli) are everywhere, and dialogue is left to brisk snippets, letting the film rely on the visuals to unravel. Tons of garish décor and eye candy whether it be swinging Seventies pads or the always snack-worthy Christina Galbo. The body count is minimal, but when it violence hits, it packs quite a punch. I’m telling ya, the brow and cheekbones of actor Michel Antoine will haunt your in your sleep.
If you want delirious junk food entertainment you can fill up with 'The French Sex Murders'. It makes very little sense but it does have ample nudity, thick dollops of gore, a Humphrey Bogart look-alike (!?!) and the always scene chewing Franco-phile Howard Vernon dealing with some serious eyeball issues. The label also released the genre classick and much sought after 'Death Walks At Midnight' in its initial UK pressing, but stateside it was available on No Shame in a Luciana Ercoli box set worth seeking out…
THE DEVILS SWORD (Ratno Timoer - Indonesia, 1983)For those out of the loop, Barry Prima is like the Indian equivalent to Van Damme and Bronson rolled up in a mean mullet and headband combo. In this outing Prima stars to take on a horny crocodile queen and her gator-headed minions for ownership of a meteor forged sword. What’s he gotta’ do to possess it, you ask? Fight cannibals, Cyclopean head-lamped cave dwellers, warlocks with various pop-off appendages, and that flying wok head removal system made famous in the 'Fatal Flying Guillotine'. Shit slops along like a day-glo aborted Flash Gordon serial that’s falling from its threadbare plot. Losing touch with reality? It’s for the best. High levels of gore and chop-socky “choreography”. Screwy fight after fight and it’s going…somewhere. One of the films I’d been chomping at the bit to see for umpteen years, and the wait paid off.
As of this month, MM dropped another prime Prima sword & sandal epic on us; 1981’s 'The Warrior'. The first film I had the pleasure of seeing from the past days of obscuro-weird-world searching, and this time around it looks pretty damn gorgeous. Prima plays Jaka Sembung, a mystical Indian rebel heading up a prison revolt against the Dutch rule in the 19th century. Locals bring out the big guns of black magic to destroy Jaka, gouging out his eyes and leaving him for dead. Nope. Not for long. Cue more wizardry and fireworks, and he’s back from the grave and tearing through all those who did him wrong, limb by limb. Literally. Based on a popular comic book then sequel'd and copied as much as Django in it’s time, The Warrior headed off the Indonesian exploitation wave of the early Eighties and is as good a place as any to start beefing up your collection.
TURKISH POP CINEMA DOUBLE BILL:
Back in my video store days I had a window display of old half-broken TVs piled up in a mess of unspooled VHS tape and reel to reel canisters. I would punish the sidewalk passerby’s by playing horror trailers, strip loops, and weird drug films for hours at a time. More often than not folks would question the Mexican wrestling films, Kenneth Anger shorts…and these little turd-gems. “What the hell is with the rubber octopus eating Conan?” folks would ask. Or: “There’s this dude in a ski-mask fighting against an evil cardboard box…it’s a robot?! Can I rent it?” I’d tell the customer: “Yeah. Those are Tarkan and Yilmayan Seytan. They’re shitty looking prints, have no subtitles and are only available on import VCDs… yet, still totally worth it.” Well, now gentle viewers, YOU can see them in all their craptastic sets and safety pinned costume glory. 'Deathless Devil' (aka Yilmayan Seytan), a remake of a popular Forties serial, is so low brow it was prolly shot under an imported shag rug. Duct tape is the only thing holding it together between its stolen music cues. Shoddy slapstick grinds away at your soul. But you can’t turn away. Story goes something like this: a special agent looking for an assassin finds out he’s the son of a fallen superhero named Copperhead. People around him start to die in the clutches of a Dr. Satan and his death dealing cardboard robot. The same Dr. Satan who did in dear ol' dad years ago. Our agent decides to don daddy’s Copperhead ski-mask and answer his true calling. Off he goes to fight crime with his bumbling ass of a sidekick. And then there’s that robot. Look at that robot. I live for the robot. Incoherent? Yeah. Inept? You betcha’. But that robot, people! Wowsers. When’s Monty Buckles gonna’ steal him for a music video?
DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS (H Tjut Djalil - Indonesia 1992)
Back to the Asian lands for a couple of late in the game messes that reek of Miami Vice Ferrari fumes and wanna-be James Cameron script treatments. A young girl is possessed by a man-hating Sea Queen in 'Lady Terminator', and the Queen uses her to destroy the bloodline of her foes. Snakes in the snatch and daggers to the back lead to the similar Canon Films’ 'Ninja III' script, only now soured in a pickle jar. A weird hodgepodge of 'The Witch That Haunted The Sea' and the obvious Schwarzenegger rip-off, 'Lady Terminator' builds on Indio-folklore but throws it mostly to the wayside so a lot of bullets can be expelled…and mostly into the crotch of men. Cocks in the audience will turtle up watching this leather clad vixen going in for groin destruction over and over. Tons of nudity and emasculation sandwiched between scenes that are shamelessly lifted from The Terminator, including the famous eye surgery. A class act.
Welp, that’s a lot to digest. A few worthy last minute mentions go out to the 'Bollywood Horror Collections: Volumes 1 & 2', because how often are you gonna’ get the chance to see Indian horror musicals? Hell, these guys released four so far in double packs! Good Sunday fodder that could help you work on yer horror host chops.
Since Tombs has written essays covering the Japanese “Pink” cinema 5, the label has been pulling out some lost Nikkatsu productions as of late. 'Assault: Jack the Ripper' and the stylized Edogawa Rampo-based 'Watcher in the Attic' are stand outs.
Oh hell, just go buy, rent, Netflix (or whatever you hooligans do these days) the entire catalog. The ones I haven’t mentioned are worth a gander and may be your future faves. Hell, even the worse film from a lost corner of the globe has to be more interesting than another shat out/spit up Bruckheimer rehash? Right? Right!
(PS: If anyone’s interested in the above mentioned films like 'Impaktu', The Turkish Spiderman, or any of the tapes I collected in the search years…most are available for rent in Seattle at the mighty Scarecrow Video. Tell them Rob said hi...and then to hang my posters!)
NEXT TIME: The lost island of neglected VHS trash: things that somehow avoid DVD release. A Damn Shame…
To read other interviews please browse the archives here.
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