Movies Till Dawn: Cracked

Straight to VHS” (2021, Indiepix) Willfully odd but often compelling documentary about an obscure 1988 Uruguayan film, “Act of Violence in a Young Journalist,” and its hold on filmmaker Emilio Silva Torres, who attempts to not only root out information about the picture, but also understand its grip on him. The first third of the doc is devoted to Torres tracking down like-minded fans of the film and anyone involved with its production, which proves harder than one might think: few, if anyone, has anything good to say about its director, Manuel Lamas. From there, Torres dovetails into reveries that may or may not be fictional: these may prove polarizing for some viewers, though they’re creatively done and do sum up the endless theorizing, fantasizing, and perseverating about film obsessions that seem to take up the most mental real estate for diehard film fans. Indiepix’s DVD also includes the full-length “Act of Violence,” a curious mix of romance, political drama, and supernatural thriller that frequently slows down to discuss the root causes of violence with experts and passers-by alike. It’s crudely made, but also oddly fascinating, if for no other reason than its baffling construction; one can grasp how it might sink its dull claws into curious film fans like Torres, and maybe you.

Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century” (1977, Code Red/Kino Lorber) Fresh from his turn as the apostle Thaddeus in “Jesus of Nazareth,” Italian actor Mimmo Crao plays the titular creature, a 20-foot-tall wildman thawed from ice in the wilds of Canada, and who reacts to being exploited by crass businessman Edoardo Faieta by wrecking a model representation of the city of Toronto. Italian-Canadian monster movie aspires to the spectacle of Dino de Laurentiis’s 1976 remake of “King Kong” but proves far more enjoyable, thanks to its onslaught of delirious ideas and images; chief among these is the ceaseless gurning of Crao himself, who in his Yeti get-up resembles a wayward member of the Edgar Broughton Band, as well as the astounding disco theme by the Yetians. His relationship with beatific mute pre-teen Jim Sullivan and Antonella Interlenghi as his (understandably) creeped-out sister really pushes matters into surreal waters, especially when the Yeti grooms her with an enormous fish skeleton (and her gesture of thanks prompts the beast-man’s colossal nipple to become erect). On par with “Mighty Peking Man” in terms of pure, unadulterated giant monster junk-fun; Code Red’s subtitled Blu-ray is remastered from the original camera negative.

“Dementia” (1953, Cohen Media Group) Upon waking from a nightmare, an unnamed woman (Adrienne Barrett) wanders through a menacing, unnamed city (played by Venice and MacArthur Park), where she’s subjected to an unceasing stream of threats, both real and imagined. Perverse and fascinating hybrid of noir, horror, and surrealism, streaked with heavy lashings of Freudian psychology, from theater chain owner turned writer-director John Parker, who drew on the premise from a nightmare experienced by Barrett, who was his secretary. Though strapped with the usual technical hindrances and a complete lack of dialogue, “Dementia” exceeds these limitations with extraordinary black-and-white photography (by William C. Thompson, who shot many of Ed Wood’s features) and images steeped in disorienting, doomstruck imagery that place “Dementia” closer to “Carnival of Souls” or “Eraserhead” than most ’50s B-horror fare. Cohen’s Blu-ray features a near-flawless remaster of “Dementia” – a revelation, given its long status as a bootleg-only title – and a more modest print of “Daughter of Horror,” a second, lesser version of the film issued by the producers that attempted to make sense of the goings-on by adding Crypt-Keeper-style narration by none other than Ed McMahon.

Hiruko the Goblin” (1991, Mondo Macabro) A eccentric scientist (pop star Kenji Sawada) discovers a link between a rash of gruesome murders at a high school and the discovery of a tomb that reportedly housed the titular spirit on its grounds. Gruesome horror-fantasy by Shinya Tsukamoto lacks the frenzied freakout visuals of his “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” but still manages to unleash a torrent of alarming visuals, not the least of which is the sight of demonic spiders with human heads; the violent interaction between these creatures and various cast members is spectacularly gross and imaginatively executed through a mix of stop-motion animation, practical effects, and visuals, as well as Tsukamoto’s signature caffeinated camerawork. Like its spiritual relative, Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2,” there’s also a lot of warped humor and more than a touch of melancholy, especially in regard to anxieties about loss and spirits at rest. A unique experience, to say the least; Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray includes a 2K restoration and commentary by Japanese film historian Tom Mes; interviews with Tsukamoto and a featurette on the effects provide a full and informative retrospective.

Monster from Green Hell” (1958, The Film Detective) A downed rocket irradiates its passengers – wasps used for space travel experiments – which transform into colossal monsters that cause havoc in the titular forbidden region of West Africa. A staple of Saturday afternoon creature feature broadcasts for decades, “Monster from Green Hell” is a competent stitch job of new scenes featuring granite Jim Davis (later of “Dallas”) and Emmy-nominated screenwriter Barbara Turner (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s mom) traipsing through Griffith Park and Bronson Caverns and vintage jungle scenes from 1939’s “Stanley & Livingstone,” with a few glimpses of oversized wasp heads and stop-motion monsters. The pacing is often tedious to the point of exasperation, but the finale maskes up for lost time by throwing everything at the viewer, from the wasps to a volcano eruption that reproduces the original color tint scheme in the conclusion. The 4K transfer on Film Detective’s Blu-ray is a vast improvement over most previous blurry prints of the film and includes commentary by illustrator/historian Stephen R. Bissette and a featurette on Davis.

Endgame” (1983, Severin Films) Mark your calendars: in 2025, America is a post-apocalyptic wasteland dominated by a military complex that keeps the survivors – mostly mutants – entertained with a “Running Man”-style game that pits glam warrior Al Cliver (“Zombie“) against an array of hunters. Black Emanuelle star Laura Gemser throws a wrench into the works by recruiting Cliver to lead a pack of fellow mutants across dangerous territory overrun by biker gangs, monsters, and Cliver’s former competitor, king-sized George Eastman. Another Italian “Mad Max” carbon, this time from absurdly prolific cinematographer/exploitationer Joe D’Amato, who keeps the pace and action at a brisk clip; the grindhouse moments (cannibalism, assault) are cheap and gross, but the movie itself is an enjoyable bit of crash and bang. Severin’s Blu-ray features English and Italian language tracks and an entertaining interview with Eastman (and his sleepy dog), who details his likes and dislikes regarding the film, as well as a CD with the full bouncy Italo-disco-destruction score by Carlo Maria Cordio.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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