Movies Till Dawn: A Slew of Saturday Morning Strange

Boom!” (1968, Shout! Select) Wealthy, pill-popping Sissy Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor) is interrupted in her task of writing her memoirs at her sprawling Italian villa by Christopher Flanders (Richard Burton), a struggling poet/artist who may or may not also be the Angel of Death. Hallucinatory high camp tricked out as an arthouse film, directed by Joseph Losey and penned by Tennessee Williams, who provides reams of impenetrable dialogue for Taylor to shriek and Burton to murmur between utterances of the film’s title. None of it makes a lick of sense, but watching the two leads and Noel Coward as the Witch of Capri bitch and bite (while appearing thoroughly and legitimately pickled) their way through the film is a kitsch lover’s dream come true; the Sardinia locations, astounding costumes by Tiziani (with designs by Karl Lagerfeld), Panavision photography by Douglas Slocombe, a moody, dulcimer-heavy score by John Barry and Richard MacDonald‘s lavish production design (Burton and Taylor apparently wanted to buy the villa seen in the film, unaware that it was a set) all lend gilt to this warped hothouse flower. Shout! Select’s Blu-ray includes dishy commentary by “Boom!” superfan John Waters, who famously wrote that he would never sleep with anyone who didn’t like the film, and a fun overview by critic Alonso Duralde.

Evil Town” (1987, Vinegar Syndrome) Travelers unlucky to pass through the rural burg of Smalltown (not Superman’s home, it should be noted) are treated to country hospitality before being abducted by a pair of degenerate gas station attendants and experimented upon by the local mad doctor (an elderly Dean Jagger, whose dialogue delivery is hampered by ill health). Grimy oddity is a patchwork Frankenstein cobbled from an uncompleted mid-’70s thriller starring Jagger, James Keach and Robert Walker, Jr., and directed, at one point by Curtis Hanson, to which executive producer Mardi Rustam (who currently oversees the “Tolucan Times”) added new and largely incomprehensible footage (the creepy attendants, hapless teens, a karate maniac), much of which is a carbon of scenes in his equally tawdry space vampire film “Evils in the Night” (1984). What results will undoubtedly cause nuclear-strength disorientation in all but the most ardent cult/junkfood film film; Vinegar Syndrome pays tribute to their dedication with a Blu-ray restoration that includes an interview with one of the credited directors, Larry Spiegel (“Knock Knock”), a compare-and-contrast with scenes from “Evils of the Night,” and even a double-sided poster of the cover art!

Robowar” (1987, Severin Films) Italian-made, Filipino-lensed action/sci-fi with OG Captain America Reb Brown and a team of commandos stalked by a technobabble-spewing robot solider in an unnamed jungle. Director Bruno Mattei and co-writers Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Druidi (“Troll 2”) take the bouillabaisse approach to Continental genre carbons, freely lifting whole sections of “Predator” and folding in elements of “RoboCop”; the result is threadbare and ridiculous, but delivered with the frenetic energy of a kids’ game of shoot-em-up after too much birthday cake, and as such, should provide acres of entertainment for Eurocult and junkfood film fans. Severin’s Limited Edition Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including amusing interviews with Fragasso, Druidi and co-star Catherine Hickland, who also provides some candid home movies taken on the set.

Scared Stiff” (1987, Arrow Video) Mary Page Keller (in a role intended for Sheena Easton), a faded pop star who decides that the best tonic for her emotional wellbeing is to move with her son and husband/former therapist (Andrew Stevens) to a gloomy Southern mansion once owned by a slave trader. You would not be incorrect to guess that ghosts play a role in “Scared Stiff,” but what awaits Keller and company at the end of this supernatural thriller by Richard Friedman (“Doom Asylum”) and future “Blood Simple” producer Dan Bacaner is less specter and shade and more video game-styled visual onslaught, with a barrage of corpses, African tribesmen, the aforementioned slave trader, grand pianos, a kid’s lamp with what appears to be Chief Wahoo‘s head for a base grown to the size of a Buick and other ephemera thrown at the viewer with psychedelic abandon. The frenzy of the final 20 minutes more than makes up for the sluggish pace of what proceeds it, though Keller and Stevens have the romantic and scared routines down pat. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes commentary by and interviews with Friedman and Bacaner, who discuss co-writing the script with Mark Frost (later of “Twin Peaks”), among other topics, as well as the original trailer.

Gangway for Tomorrow” (1943, Warner Archives Collection) Five workers en route to a wartime defense plant (played by the front gate of distributor RKO Radio Pictures) recall the paths that brought them together: cabaret singer Margo fled a Nazi firing squad to give back to the Allied war effort, while a speedway accident ruined Robert Ryan‘s career as a race car driver, but not his patriotism. Former prison warden James Bell lost his taste for the penal system after putting his own brother (!) to death, while former Miss America Amelita Ward gave up the bright lights to build planes so the boyfriend (William Terry) she spurned can make it home from the war, and well-heeled hobo John Carradine is guilted by a judge into giving back to his country. Heavy-handed WWII propaganda by writer Arch Oboler, whose radio series “Lights Out” remains one of the creepiest OTR programs; however, his tendency to moralize big topics into the ground is in full effect here, but the cast is game, especially a young Robert Ryan, and at 69 minutes, it’ll play as either a breezy exercise in camp or a nostalgic trifle. Warner’s MOD disc is full-screen.

Note: thanks to Warner Archives Collection for providing this disc gratis for review.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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