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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Summer Camp Slasher Memories

After writing the last post about Halloween movie suggestions (including Sleepaway Camp), I saw that the New Beverly was going to screen The Burning and Friday the 13th on Saturday night. Of course, like Mr. Moviefone, I said, "I'm in!" As I've mentioned in these pages before, it's so much more fun to watch the old classics (?) theatrically with an actual audience than at home.

The Burning (1981) used to be a real gray-market obscurity until it was released uncut by MGM on DVD in 2007. The film has several points of interest. It features early roles for Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter. While he plays a sort of overgrown camper urging the others to have sex, she barely appears in the movie, mostly in crowd scenes cheering people on or cowering in fear.

Another noteworthy fact is that this is an early Miramax Film—that's right, Bob and Harvey Weinstein. It was filmed in upstate New York and, as with Sleepaway Camp, the accents really shine through, particularly in the case of the camp bully, Glazer (Larry Joshua), who sounds like he studied acting with the Bowery Boys. But Joshua went on to tons of film and television work, including—ironically—an episode of the "Friday the 13th" TV series.

The movie is also strange in that the campers and the counselors are all about the same age, so it's hard to tell who's who and why one is acting like an adult while another, who looks the same, is acting like a kid.

The Weinsteins obviously rushed it into production to capitalize on the success of previous year's Friday the 13th, even securing the services of Tom Savini for the gore effects. It's trashier than its predecessor, perhaps giving a nod to William Lustig's ultra-sleazy Maniac (1980), which Savini also worked on. The print the New Beverly showed was faded, pink and was unfortunately missing the infamous raft murder scene during which most of the surviving cast is memorably dispatched by the killer, which makes the rest of the film rather dull aside from the hilarious 1980s fashions, cheesy dialogue and Rick Wakeman's often incongruous score.

Here's the missing raft scene:



The second film on the bill was a masterpiece in comparison—Sean Cunningham's original Friday the 13th (1980). The New Beverly showed a print struck in 2008, so the colors were good, and it was fun to compare the assets of two low-budget slashers from the same era. Everything about Friday is superior: the acting (six degrees of Kevin Bacon), the cinematography and the music. And while the characters in The Burning fade into generic obscurity, Friday brought us a horror icon: 1950s game show star Betsy Palmer's Mrs. Voorhees, with her predatory mouthful of huge teeth and chant of "Kill 'er, Mommy," which was also repeated on Harry Manfredini's ki-ki-ki ma-ma-ma- theme. And let's face it—when Kevin Bacon gets the arrow skewered up through his throat, it's a really nice effect, even after all these years.

I was working at the Niles 31 Drive-In Theater when the film was released, and we must've played it for at least a month on one of our two screens, whether it was the main, supporting or third feature.

The soundtrack was piped into the concession stand (where I served the popcorn), so consequently there are sounds and lines of dialogue that were burned into my brain and remain to this day, especially Manfredini's music and Palmer's "Why, I'm Mrs. Voorhees...an old friend of the Christies," and "Look what you did to him!" And as with De Palma's Carrie, it was fun to run outside at the right time to hear an entire parking lot full of moviegoers scream in unison.

Watching the film last night took me back to that era, and I was reminded of a couple of the murders that I always found funny. After having sex with Jack (Bacon), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor) goes to the use the facilities and—after doing a serviceable Katharine Hepburn impression in the mirror—sees the killer approaching with an axe.

But before she gets it in the noggin, there's a quick shot of her crying with her eyes closed, looking more like she just got grounded by her father than that she's about to get her face ventilated. And when Alice (Adrienne King) goes after Mrs. Voorhees with the machete to deal the final blow, the slo-mo shot of Palmer reacting in horror is priceless. I just wish the New Beverly had paired Friday with Sleepaway instead of Burning for a perfect camp double-feature.

Another semi-obscure killer camping movie—also filmed in New York—is Madman, whose only distinguishing feature is that it includes one of the few film appearance of Gaylen Ross (from Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead). Like Candyman, the film's killer appears when his name is called out, but it's pretty much of a trudge through familiar territory.

There are only so many killer camp films one can devise a scenario for, so industrious filmmakers made college slashers (The House on Sorority Row), babysitter slashers (When a Stranger Calls)—even religious slashers (Alice, Sweet Alice). Probably the most controversial slasher film is 1984's Silent Night, Deadly Night, which featured a psycho Santa and aired grim television spots during the holiday season, causing parents' groups to go ballistic.

By 1986, the genre was pretty much washed-up, due both to a glut of copycat titles and censor backlash. The Fridays kept getting tamer and tamer until—like porn with the actual sex edited out—there was really no point to them. This paved the way for gentler stuff like Wes Craven's yawn-worthy Scream series and the PG-13 "eek, I'm scared" movies of the 2000s. It was refreshing to see hard-core horror come roaring back with the likes of the Saw series, which would have been condemned back in the 1980s, but of course the inevitable glut of remakes came with it, some good, some execrable.

Alexandre Aja's remake of Craven's 1977 The Hills Have Eyes (2006) was actually a vast improvement. And Marcus Nispel's take on Hooper's classic 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003) was a well-judged, suspense-filled update.

How shocking it was, then, that Nispel's reboot of Friday the 13th was so lame. He could have taken the plot of the original and gone practically anywhere with it. Instead, he piled on the drug-addled, oversexed teens, and turned Jason into more of a survivalist who property was being trespassed upon. The gore wasn't even very good. Some fansites clamored for Palmer to have a role in it, but as things turned out, maybe it's for the best that it didn't happen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween Movie Viewing Suggestions

It's that time of year again...and we've got a whole weekend to watch some classics and/or guilty pleasures to get us in the mood for Halloween night. Here are this year's picks:

1. Night of the Living Dead (1990). Special effects maestro Tom Savini took the directorial reins and George Romero provided the screenplay for this thoughtful remake of the 1968 classic that preserves the plot while providing some new twists, most of which work quite well. Casting is good—Tony Todd, before he was Candyman and the creepy mortician from the Final Destination films, plays Ben, and Patricia Tallman is Barbara. Tom Towles, the twisted sidekick from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, is Harry.

Tallman's Barbara is not helpless and semi-comatose like Judith O'Dea's original. Instead, she's more like Sigourney Weaver's Ripley from Alien—tough and in control, though even she gets crazy as events intensify, and Towles adds a welcome edge of sleaze to the character of Harry Cooper. The zombie makeup is impressive, but since it's rated R, it's not as gory as the original Dawn and Day. Still, it provides a consistent level of suspense because Romero does a good job of shattering our expectations along the way.

2. Piranha (1978). I thought Alexandra Aja's 2010 remake was okay, but here's a classic case of spinning gold out of an incredibly low budget. Joe Dante directed (and John Sayles wrote the screenplay) the original for an estimated $600,000, and he really made the most of his limited resources. Without the digital effects team (or 3D) that Aja had at his disposal, he still does a mighty good job with limited resources. Sure, you can tell that the carnivorous school swimming by is just a bunch of fish painted on a glass plate, but that only adds to the low-budget fun.

The screenplay is a perfect blend of classic horror and knowing camp, Pino Donaggio's lush score is wonderful, and it's got a cast to die for. Corman legend Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood) is the sleazy resort owner who refuses to cancel the grand opening. Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is the scientist who created the mutant fish. Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul) is a camp counselor. And Barbara Steele—Barbara Steele!—is the government official who assures us that there's nothing left to fear (yeah, right). The makeup is provided by a young Rob Bottin (The Thing), and it's great. Who can forget the scene in which they pull Keenan Wynn out of the water and see that the flesh of his legs have been eaten away to the bone? Piranha is truly B-movie heaven.

3. Sleepaway Camp (1983). Some films are born for cult movie status, and this nasty little slasher—whether intentionally or accidentally—easily earns that crown. Back in 1983, taking a cue from the popularity of the Friday the 13th series, writer/director Robert Hiltzik decided to up the ante by making the plot even sleazier and the gore even nastier than the Paramount films.

As everyone knows by now, it's the story of a strange little girl named Angela (Felissa Rose) who is tormented by the other kids at summer camp and is defended by her cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten) and would-be boyfriend Paul (Christopher Collet). As this drama is going on, counselors and campers are being offed in various gruesome ways, including death by boiling water.

There are many factors that make the film so off-kilter. All the kids at camp are really cruel and foul-mouthed, and they wear hilariously tight and small 1980s clothing. If you thought Nancy Allen's shorts in Carrie looked like they were cutting off her circulation, you'll be blown away by the genital-highlighting gear worn by this gang.

And since the movie was made in upstate New York, they all have the "N'Yawk" accent and the attitude. Desiree Gould, who plays Angela's Aunt Martha, delivers a jaw-droppingly bad performance, which actually works in the film's favor. There are also kinky flashbacks that show how Angela became an orphan and started living with her aunt and cousin. And the shock ending is really a shock ending!

None of the sequels are as good as the original, although the second one, starring Bruce Springsteen's sister Pamela as Angela, now all grown up but still insane, is fun. In 2000, Hiltzik's film was rediscovered by a whole new audience on DVD and the director, Rose and Gould all became cult stars and started making more movies and convention appearances. There's even a reunion movie currently in production with all the originals involved, but I don't have high hopes for it. It sounds a little too opportunistic. You can't catch lightning in a bottle twice.

4. Tenebrae (1982). Remember when it was exciting to anticipate the release of the next Argento film? Well, Tenebrae should bring back happy memories, because it's easily his finest giallo. Comprehensible, perfectly plotted and packed with suspense and splat, it's excellent Halloween viewing.

Tony Franciosa stars as Peter Neal, an American author of mystery thrillers, who is in Rome promoting his newest, "Tenebrae." He receives a letter from a crazed fan who says his books have inspired him to go on a killing spree, and sure enough, the bodies start piling up. Daria Nicolodi (Argento's former squeeze) co-stars as Neal's devoted assistant, who pitches in to help him solve the mystery, and John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street) is his agent.

The stars of the film, though, are the cinematography and set pieces. Argento's Suspiria cinematographer, Luciano Tovoli, provides some great stuff here, especially when his craning camera prowls all around the outside of an apartment building of a soon-to-be victim, elongating the suspense to the point of unbearability. And Argento enjoys ratcheting up the suspense. Just as our nerves have been stretched to the breaking point watching a young women try to escape the killer, he throws in a vicious attack dog that also starts to pursue her!

The gore is great. A victim's arm is hacked off with an axe, and her dismembered stump decorates the walls with crimson for what seems like forever before the killer finishes her off. And the film does a really great job with the mystery. Dropping hints all along the way, Argento keeps the killer's identity a secret until the truly mind-blowing climax.

I first saw Tenebrae on VHS in heavily-edited form as the ridiculously-titled Unsane, and it was still good! But the easily available, completely uncut DVDs and Blu-Rays are the way to go. And it's got a great score by members of Goblin that you can dance to!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Theatre Review (LA): Pulp Shakespeare Tackles Tarantino

Article first published on Blogcritics.

Originally premiering in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Fringe Fest this past June, Pulp Shakespeare is back with original director Jordan Monsell's Her Majesty's Secret Players for a run at Theatre Asylum. It's an elaborate re-working of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction as a Shakespearean tragedy, and it's as fascinating as it is funny. Since Tarantino is well-known for his verbosity, the screenplay is custom-made for the Bard's similar traits.

Though some have said it's not necessary, familiarity with the film is a prerequisite in order to fully enjoy the performance. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never seen it, but happily it was airing on Cinemax the day I was going to see the play. I had time to see 70 minutes of it beforehand, and it's a tribute to the playwrights that I was able to comprehend the portions I hadn't yet seen.

Monsell (also one of the show's five writers) wisely telescopes the two-and-a-half hour movie into an 80-minute production, which preserves the structure of the plot without wearing out the gag. All of the key scenes are here, but now instead of coffee shops and theme restaurants, they take place in taverns and dungeons.

Going back in time to Elizabethan England also provides some choice visual gags. When Vincent and Mia go out for dinner, their waiter is Richard III instead of Buddy Holly. And Jules' "bad mother-you-know" wallet becomes a money pouch embroidered with the words "blasted Oedipus." And in keeping with the film's spirit, there's lots of violence.

Among the standouts in the cast are Dan White and Aaron Lyons as Jules and Vince, and Liza DeWeerd amuses in two roles, including the multiply-pierced Jody. Christian Levatino is also fun as Sir "Butch" Coolidge, now a jouster instead of a boxer. And Nathaniel Freeman brings sinister bearing to his role as Lord Marsellus Wallace.

Staging is minimal—a few rough-hewn tables and chairs that can be easily respositioned for scene changes are all that's needed—and the costuming is evocative of the period.

The company has had Shakespearean training, and it shows—the actors ably handle the complicated oration, and if the audience isn't roaring at every line, it's because they're actually listening. This is a show that requires concentration to catch all of the clever ways Tarantino's script has been transposed to the language of the Bard.

Pulp Shakespeare at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles. Plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until November 13th. For reservations, call (323) 960-7612 or online.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Theatre Review (LA): To Kill A Mockingbird

Article first published on Blogcritics.

In 1970, Christopher Sergel adapted Harper Lee's Pulitzer prize-winning novel about racial strife in Depression-era Alabama for the stage, and it has since been performed by theater companies large and small all around the world. So closely does it hew to the novel (and to Robert Mulligan's 1962 film), it's more-or-less critic-proof, unless the company presenting it is so awful that the material sinks into amateur embarrassment.

Such is not the case with Actors Co-Op's new production at the Crossley Theatre in Hollywood. It's well-mounted, with a number of assured performances, and for those who love the book and film, it's a way of enjoying the material all over again.

This is certainly a labor of love for director/scenic designer Gary Lee Reed and producer Beth Castle, as there are literally hundreds of elements to monitor in the production—evocative lighting and sound, multiple actors, and the setting itself—the fronts of the various homes in the neighborhood where Atticus Finch lives with his children, Jem and Scout. There are no surprises here—if you love the film, you'll enjoy this stage recreation, down to the incidental music extracted from Elmer Bernstein's original score.

But there's some real talent on display in the performances. Greg Martin makes for an authoritative Atticus. Also enjoyable is Joanne Atkinson as the plain-spoken but perceptive Miss Maudie and Letecia Moore as the Finch's maid, Calpurnia. Montelle Harvey resonates in his short but crucial scene as the falsely-accused Tom Robinson.

And here, the conceit of the adult narrator sharing the stage with her younger self really works, with Liz Randall as the adult Jean Louise speaking Lee's beautiful prose and fondly gazing at the other characters...beloved ghosts of her memory. Young Albert Bursalyan and Zoe Calamar, as Jem and Scout, also impress.

I wondered how Reed was going to manage the transition to the courthouse scenes with such a spare set. He draws a black scrim in front of the houses and provides lighting effects (bars of a jail cell; the slow spinning of a ceiling fan) to suggest the atmosphere. Considering the space limits of the stage, it's resourcefully done.

Another advantage to the small space is that the audience becomes part of the group of courtroom observers, giving the proceedings an intimacy that intensifies the drama. And the story has become such an important part of our popular culture that when Reverend Sykes says, "Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing," I scanned the audience and saw more than a few people wiping their eyes.

Occasionally the music comes close to obliterating the dialogue, but for the most part the ambitious production is rendered skillfully, with sound design by Jenn Peterson, lighting effects by J. Kent Inasy, and nice period costuming by Paula Higgins.

The material still resonates today, because sadly—even though we'd like to think the days of bigotry and racial hatred are past us—the current political and cultural climate is proving to us that it is not so.

To Kill A Mockingbird at the Crossley Theatre, 1760 North Gower Street, Hollywood. Runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. until November 20th. Additional Saturday matinee on October 29th at 2:30 p.m. For reservations call (323) 462-8460, ext. 300, or online.

Photos: Lindsay Schnebly

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Moneyball Is Money

Brad Pitt has had quite an interesting career. Besides being one-half of Brangelina, he's played vampires, jocks, con men...even a figment of Edward Norton's imagination. For years, he was typecast as sort of a friendly stud because of his masculine beauty—Thelma and Louise (1991) is probably the penultimate example. And regardless of the character he played, as David Denby pointed out in the New Yorker, his eyes were empty. He wasn't able to convey the thought process.

But time has been kind to Pitt. Age has mellowed his looks, and somewhere along the line he began to catch fire. Maybe Inarritu's Babel (2006) was the first film in which I noticed him really getting in touch with his emotions. As a man struggling to save his severely wounded wife, he showed a depth he hadn't exhibited before. And he'd matured enough to really make the outrageous concept of David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) work.

In Bennett Miller's wonderful new film Moneyball, we get the Pitt performance we've been waiting for—nuanced, charismatic and resonant. I'd read Denby's review before seeing the film, so the first thing I looked for were his eyes—and indeed they've got life in 'em! He plays Billy Beane, the (real) general manager of the down-at-their-heels Oakland Athletics. Frustrated at the loss of his star players to higher-paying teams, he starts to look around for up-and-comers he can get cheap. His aged scouts are no help; they seem more concerned about the potential replacements' good looks and girlfriends than their onfield talent.

When he goes to Cleveland to try to trade players with the GM of the Indians, he is outraged when the man keeps deferring to a chubby young guy, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), whose whose every word he seems to take as scripture.

After the meeting, he hunts Peter down to ask him who he is and why his boss takes him so seriously. Peter, a Yale graduate in economics, explains that he's designed a statistical way to rate players and their winning potential, and the trades Billy wanted were just too valuable. The game. he explains, is simply about runs, so anyone who's guaranteed to make it to base is a big deal. Billy thinks about it for a while, and instead of trying to buy players, he decides to buy Peter.

Peter arrives in Oakland and begins putting together lists of players that could bring real talent to the club at a bargain price. Having lost Jason Giambi, Billy gets his hard-partying brother, Jeremy (Nick Porrazzo). Another player, Scott Hetteberg (Chris Pratt), who has been considered a lost cause as a catcher due to nerve damage in his hand, is retrained to play first base.

The team's manager, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) seethes at his perceived loss of control and refuses to put the new players into the positions Billy recommends, and the first few games are a disaster. Billy solves the problem by trading off Art's favorites, leaving him no choice but to put Billy's guys into position. As a result, they begin to win...and win.

Moneyball is an underdog story, but with a refreshing twist. Although it doesn't have a tragic ending, it's not one of those over-the-top exhilarating "feel good" movies like Field of Dreams. Pitt's Billy is a very real person. He's prone to attacks of extreme anger (this movie has to hold the record for desks being turned over) and his tension is expressed through an oral fixation. When he's not chewing tobacco, he's eating junk food. As a matter of fact, he's eating something in almost every scene.

What can I say about Pitt? He inhabits Billy's character with maturity and truly wonderful gravitas. He's gonna get an Oscar nomination, folks—but will he go all the way? Hill is a surprisingly excellent match for him as a tight-assed nerd who gets caught up in all the thrills. Hoffman, who is always good, is enjoyable as the burned-out manager who is angrily indifferent until the team starts to win, and then he becomes visibly quickened with excitement.

There are a lot of unfamiliar faces in Moneyball, as there were in Miller's earlier, marvelous Capote (with Hoffman as the elfin author). This adds a documentary feel to the film without disrupting its dramatic flow.

Reed Mitchell, whose second film this is, plays the young Billy in truly touching flashbacks showing how he turned down a scholarship to Stanford to join the MLB at age 19, and failed...giving us a reason to understand his violent outbursts. Robin Wright is effective as Billy's ex-wife, who is clearly still in love with him, but probably divorced him because of said outbursts. Particularly notable is 13-year-old Kerris Dorsey as his daughter, Casey, who really knocks it out of the park in her few scenes.

What's most remarkable about Moneyball is that it's based on Michael Lewis' nonfiction book, covering a topic that could be unbearably boring—statistics—yet it's alive and real, and there are a lot of laughs.

Some reviewers have said that you don't need to be passionate about baseball to love the film. Well, that may be true, but it certainly helps. If you get choked up when you see an establishing shot of Fenway; if you keep your favorite team's last game on your DVR to watch again later (as I did with the Dodgers); then you're the film's target audience. As Billy says more than once, "It's not hard to romanticize baseball." And indeed it isn't.

When I went to Fenway in 2006, my childhood crush, Susie Cowsill, was there to sing the national anthem. Now how's that for romanticizing the game?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wild Times at the Convent

THIS POST IS RECOMMENDED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES

When Ken Russell unleashed his shocking The Devils on an unsuspecting world in 1971, it produced a bizarre side-effect: the nunsploitation genre. Spain and Italy, where Catholicism holds the greatest sway, were the breeding grounds for these bizarre efforts whose makers reckoned that audiences couldn't get enough of sexually frustrated nuns, tortured nuns, demonically possessed nuns and—most importantly—naked nuns.

Though many of these films are hilarious and mind-boggling to watch now, it makes one wonder who the original target audience was and how they received them. My guess would be kinky Catholic guys who were abused by nuns as schoolboys and enjoyed watching the films as a kind of vicarious revenge therapy. There were two kinds of nunsploitation films: those featuring nuns battling against corrupt, hypocritical superiors; and those featuring actual demonic possession. Sometimes the two strands merged.

Prolific (and opportunistic) director Jesse Franco was one of the first off the block with the oddly-titled Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun in 1973, though it wasn't released until years later due to censorship problems. It's about a girl who is sent to a convent after being caught trysting with her boyfriend. To her horror, she discovers that the priest who supervises the place and the nuns who live there are actually satanists.

Of course, there are plenty of elements here that would come to typify the genre—lesbian sex, torture and a special guest appearance by the Dark One himself. Fans say this is one of Franco's best, which depends entirely upon one's tolerance for smash zooms and incoherence.

In preparation for writing this post, last night I watched Flavia the Heretic (1974), an Italian-French coproduction directed by Gianfranco Mingozzi, a documentary filmmaker who nevertheless displays some good dramatic chops here. It's about a young woman whose father forces her to become a nun and she enters a convent run by a nasty bishop and a Mother Superior who seems to have eyes only for Flavia.

She's an early feminist, though. Furious at being forced to live in a male-dominated society, and she repeatedly escapes the convent, only to be captured and brought back. Finally she joins an army of Muslims and enlists their help in storming the convent and exacting her revenge on those who'd wronged her. At one point, she appears on horseback in full battle armor, looking just like Joan of Arc.

Florinda Bolkan plays Flavia, a familiar face from Lucio Fulci's (also religious-themed) 1972 Don't Torture the Duckling. And the Muslim chief Flavia becomes romantically involved with is played by Anthony Corlan (Higgins), who had earlier appeared in Hammer's superb Vampire Circus (also 1972).

This is far more arty than other films in the nunsploitation genre, but when it gets into the exploitation, it does so wholeheartedly. Hot oil is poured on tender flesh, there's both female and male rape, nipples are sliced off and a horse is castrated. Mingozzi demonstrates a taste for surrealism, too, especially in a sequence in which paintings come to life, a naked woman crawls into the carcass of a butchered cow and other nude nuns frolic with equally undressed Muslim soldiers.

Japan piped up in 1974 for a rare entry into the genre, School of the Holy Beast, in which a young woman enters a convent to uncover the mysterious death of her mother there 18 years before. Her rebellious spirit doesn't sit well with the nuns there, so the requisite beatings and mayhem ensue. School can be considered part of that country's "pink" film industry, softcore theatrical releases that were in vogue from the 1960s until the 1980s, when home VCRs gave the general public access to hard-core pornography. Pink films were characterized by their high level of (nonexplicit) sex and violence.

Mexican filmmaker Juan López Moctezuma chimed in with 1975's Alucarda, which sounds like a feminized anagram of Dracula but is actually the name of a young girl who enters a convent (oh, yeah—that one again) inhabited by a bizarre sect of nuns who dress like mummies. She becomes possessed by a demonic spirit and all hell breaks loose. What follows are the requisite orgies, tortures and demonic hijinks required by the genre. I haven't seen this one, but I understand it has surrealistic, arty touches as well. (I'm going to avoid a Moctezuma's Revenge joke here. Well, I guess I didn't.)

Bruno Mattei, a colleague of Franco's (in spirit, anyhow), was another opportunistic filmmaker who didn't hesitate to pattern his rip-offs on the latest craze. Tinto Brass's pornographic Caligula (1979) inspired Mattei to make two sex films about the crazed emperor of his own. And Fulci's successful Zombie (1979) provoked him to make his own gut-munching epics—even merging them with hardcore sex!

He made a rather late arrival in the nunsploitation genre with The True Story of the Nun of Monza in 1980, in which—wait for it—a girl's father forces her to enter a convent to protect her from the evils of the outside world. Too bad the outside world has already penetrated the walls of the "holy" place, as the nuns carry on with each other and even sneak out to have sex with men.

Joe D'Amato, one of Italy's most notorious flesh merchants, jumped into the genre with 1979's Images in a Convent, which mixes the typical nunsploitation hijinks with brief instances of hardcore sex. He returned to the genre in 1986 with Convent of Sinners, giving whatever was left of the fan base more of what they craved. Oh, and are you ready for the plot? A girl is raped by her father and sent to a convent to atone for her sins...

One of the more bizarre entries here is 1978's Killer Nun (Suor Omicidi), starring former '50s hottie Anita Ekberg as a morphine-addicted nun who smokes, drinks, picks up men on the street for back-alley quickies and may be responsible for a series of deaths at the hospital in which she works. Sadly, despite the storyline and appearances by Warhol star Joe Dallesandro and Suspiria's Alida Valli, it never really catches fire. Although it has some nunsploitation elements—including the requisite lesbian scene—the violence is tame (unless you count an unprovoked assault on an old lady's dentures) and it's more like a mystery.

The time of the nunsploitation genre is long gone, along with the nudie cutie, the roughie and the prison camp picture. Fortunately, distributors like Something Weird, Mondo Macabro and Synapse Films thoughtfully provide contemporary audiences with DVDs so that they can experience for themselves these bizarre phases in cinematic sexuality.


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