23 June 2014

70s Creatures and Killers

Seventies Creatures and Killers
By Kristin Battestella

From poisonous snakes and wild yetis to deadly daughters and a killer family playing house, here’s a quartet of deranged creatures and murderous mayhem replete with seventies charm.

Blood Mania – The swanky music might not be for everyone, but the period clothes are groovy, and dreamy, wild opening credits with wispy nightgowns and psychedelic lighting start this 1970 flick off right. Producer, writer, and star Peter Carpenter (Point of Terror) has intimate fun with the dames and the double entendres while his crusty doctor turned invalid patient worries if his slutty daughter Maria De Aragon (the face behind Greedo in Star Wars, wow!) is poisoning his breakfast. The blackmail and twists play like a porno edited without the follow thru – seriously, the morning bathtub, the pool boy, a crook ogling a wife, tension between said daughter and the pissy nurse – all before one heady, hazy, drug induced sex scene. This sexploitation design gets to the naked chicks in frothy bathtubs and seducing swimming pools quickly, however the horror is slow coming for an 80-minute picture. Not only is there a fun romantic romp at the marketplace montage and characters entering the uneven plots too late, but it’s halfway thru the film before we get to contesting family wills and something sinister afoot. Fans of soft saucy and juicy skin with only a little crazy and creepy scares can have a good night in here for sure. There is a bloody good, gory, if a bit nonsensical finale, too. However, I’m not sure how this was ever classified as horror or ended up with such a mismatched title. Indeed, I do hope these rumors of a missing twenty minutes resolve the scary plot holes and more importantly comes out on video soon!

Girly – Originally entitled Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly, director Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) crafts a character unto itself in the lovely Oakley Court estate landscapes and its 1970 d├ęcor and period interiors for this hour and forty minutes. Fun zoo and animal footage adds to the seemingly safe and secure before creepy voiceovers, suggestive siblings, loony adults, and playing dress up reveal the mischievous but perfectly demented Mary Poppins manner soon to unravel thanks to disturbing Lolita feelings, implied sexual aspects, and playmate macabre. Some today may find the pace slow to get going or the no one acting their ages British baby talk annoying, but the twisted build and off kilter humor work nicely with the perspective camera work, hinted violence, and increasingly disturbing intensity. Unexpected jack in a box jump moments keep the audience on edge while bizarre adult size cribs and rocking horses accent the sickly effective racist and anti-Christian moments. At times, it may be tough to laugh at the unseen nasty and the well done skin crawling feeling it creates, yet this peculiar family unit is strangely entertaining. The twisted sing songs and murderous rhymes escalate toward a darker tone as the fun and games turn into a life and death test of dementia and wills. How did this all begin and where is it going? How long can these divisive depravities endure? Horror fans expecting blood and gore or final analysis may be disappointed, but those who enjoy depraved character studies with clever implications will delight in the simmering spectacle here.

Snowbeast – Ominous music and dangerous snowy slopes belie the sunshiny 1977 ski fashions, snowmobiles, and lush Colorado locales peppering this deadly bigfoot tale. Despite the faded public print, a slightly small scale made for television production, and some pathetically lame bloody ski jackets; lovely forests and mountain photography shine along with tracking zooms and killer camera perspectives. And the cast knows how to ski! The spooky atmosphere restarts slightly once Bo Svenson (Breaking Point) and Yvette Mimieux (The Time Machine) arrive, and a past love triangle is somewhat unnecessary, as is a skimpy Olympic flashback. However, these elements provide some unexpected for a horror movie of the week dialogue on how Olympians often have difficulty coming down to mortal levels and regular life after such glory. Womanly angst aside, this really is just a Jaws in the snow clone – one man believes in a monster after an opening attack, but pesky grandma Sylvia Sidney (Beetlejuice) dismisses it as an avalanche and withholds the news because the economically needed carnival must go on. Unheeding people take to the slopes, death ensues, and sheriff Clint Walker (Cheyenne) claims it was a grizzly attack by presenting a mistakenly shot bear. Contrived miscommunication and crap police action grow tiresome and the ski montages are a tad longer than necessary. Thankfully, the period lack of smartphones and natural snowy isolation remain effective. Shaggy Yeti arm appearances create scare toppers amid the more dramatic act by act pace, and the bigfoot gone wild is smartly only seen in shadows, dark windows, hairy flashes, or with quick, snarling teeth. Seeing what the monster does – over turned vehicles, logs tumbling, shattered glass – rather than what it definitively is keeps this watchable despite those Jaws comparisons and dated archetypes.  The pace is uneven in the final act – switching focus on characters and coming to a somewhat speedily conclusion considering how we really just watched people skiing for 85 minutes – but this one remains fun for a summer cool down or a snowy night in with the family. 

Stanley – 1972 eco statements, animal photography, and lots of peace and love music start this 100 plus minutes before the period Everglades beauty quickly turns into dangerous swamps and fatal quicksand. For some viewers, the poisonous snakes and creepy crawly pets will be horror enough thanks to effective slithering and hissing sounds – our titular friend is a rattlesnake, after all. Star Chris Robinson (12 O’clock High) must have been very comfortable with all those snakes around his neck! Racist injun and redskin remarks and more inappropriate attitudes of the time from the wrong people around him, however, don’t make his Tim any more likeable for the audience. He’s too warped and creepy, talking to snakes, sleeping with his little friends, and using the critters for his own reprisals. What gives him the right? Interesting Seminole reflections don’t have time to blossom either thanks to the obligatory biting the villain on the butt sequence. Enemy Alex Rocco (The Godfather) has some icky incestuous dialogue as well, but these shenanigans away from Stanley’s vengeance feel somewhat pointless. Lullaby music for baby snakes and snake funerals are also a bit too bemusing and confuse the tone of the picture. Is this serious about reptile abuses or is it meant to be hokey? Knowing that the snakes themselves were most likely mistreated during production of the film kind of mars any environmental statements to be had. The burlesque shows onscreen are weak and the pace is more run of the mill revenge action than horror, but there are some original, fun moments here with plenty of snaky bits to make your skin crawl. 

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