Grindhouse Classics : “The Gore Gore Girls”

Just when you thought the coast was clear, I’m back with more Herschell Gordon Lewis! Between this little haphazard Lewis retrospective Lisa Marie Bowman and I are indulging in, and her exhaustively thorough, and highly readable, Friday The 13th series of recent days, Through The Shattered Lens is really becoming a gore-hound’s delight these days, isn’t it? Hell, even the music reviews around here lately have a bombastic and violent theme to them — Bathory? Hell, I’m impressed — Quorthon’s “Viking trilogy” is my favorite period in Bathory history, truth be told, and Twilight Of The Gods my favorite Bathory album, even though my all-time favorite song of theirs, Blood, Fire, Death appears on the album — well, Blood, Fire, Death. But it’s waaaaaayyyy too early for me to be getting this hopelessly sidetracked, isn’t ? So let’s get back to our guy Herschell.

Having spent my last visit here examining the alpha of Lewis’ “gore cycle,” namely Blood Feast, I figure now would be as good a time as any to take a look at the omega (not just of his gore flicks but of his filmmaking career in general, at least until Blood Feast 2 came along about 30 years later, but we won’t pay any attention to that — nor should you), namely 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls. Somebody a whole lot wiser than I am (though I’m not sure exactly who — truth be told, it was probably several “somebodies”) once said “if you’re gonna go out, then go out with a bang,” and this movie certainly makes it clear that HGL took that advice to heart.

Even by Lewis “standards,” the plot for this one is pretty threadbare — go-go dancers at a local (in this case “local” being the Chicago area) strip joynt are being murdered in downright awesomely grotesque fashion — faces smashed to pulp in mirrors before their heads are dug into, buttocks beaten and — uhhhmmmm — tenderized with a meat mallet before having salt and pepper added to the impromptu (and quite rare, it must be said) “rump roast” for seasoning, nipples clipped off with scissors to reveal squirting biological fountains of both white and chocolate milk, heads shoved into deep-fat fryers — clearly, Herschell’s pulling out all the stops on his way out. And just as clearly, he’s well past the point of even pretending that he’s taking any of this shit seriously. Not that he ever put much effort into such  conceits in the first place, mind you,  but in the case of this film it’s especially fortunate that his tongue was so obviously placed firmly in his cheek, because it really does help to take the edge off what, on paper at least, seems like a truly OTT-in-the-misogyny-department series of murders ( a well-placed subplot involving a local feminist group helps to lessen the impact, as well — even though said group’s inclusion amounts to little more than a red herring plot-wise, the surprisingly level-headed portrayal of them by Lewis comes at least somewhat close to an admission on his part that feminist critics of his work were probably right ). Think of this as Herschell doing what he did best — giving gore-lovers more of what they wanted than they could possibly have hoped for, while not-so-tacitly admitting that it was all crap, anyway.

Anyway, back to the story — this was Lewis’ one and only attempt at injecting a bit of mystery into the proceedings, and doing their best to sleuth out the identity of the killer, without murdering each other first, are the truly odd couple of gungo-ho (but hopelessly incompetent) reporter Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell), and fancy-pants private eye Abraham gentry (Frank Kress, who absolutely sinks his teeth into the role of the — ahem! — sexually ambiguous version of Phillip Marlowe and is, in true Lewis fashion, playing the whole thing not just for laughs but for hearty, full-throttle belly laughs from start to finish). Throw in comedy legend Henny Youngman (who must have been broke or something) as the ridiculously fast-talking owner of the strip club the unfortunate victims worked at, and friends, you’ve got a recipe for a winner on your hands.

To be sure, you need a strong (hell, a cast-iron) stomach to make it through some of the death and dismemberment on display here (all of which looks pretty darn good on the Something Weird Video DVD release of this film — they did a very nice job remastering the full-frame picture, the mono sound is good, and extras include, of course, a commentary from Lewis and, doubly of course, the “Gallery of Herschell Gordon Lewis exploitation artwork”),  as the effects are, on the whole, somewhat-better-conceived than in the average HGL production, but there’s just no escaping the feeling of “the director’s not taking this whole thing too seriously, so why should I?” that permeates each and every frame of this film. It’s brutally honest in its intentions — “give the audience what they want one more time, rake up a bunch of money, and close the door behind me on the way out” is the best summation of Lewis’ aims here, and his willingness to have a few laughs as he says “thanks for the cash one more time, suckers” is just icing on the cake. Any movie that openly states that it’s proud that it’s over with (see the final screen cap below) is clearly imploring you to do anything other than take it seriously, and with that in mind, I gotta say, while The Gore Gore Girls falls absolutely flat in its attempt to wring anything like dramatic tension out of its poorly-thought-out (to be generous) murder-mystery premise, and while its absolutely appallingly brutal treatment of the female gender should be inexcusably offensive, and while it’s “fourth wall”-busting acting absolutely obliterates any chances the film might have had (not that it really wanted any) of being seen as anything other than a cash-in quickie, the fact is that it’s just about the most fun you can imagine having watching someone’s eyes being pulled out. And tits sliced off. And head deep-fried.

And that’s really the genius of Herschell Gordon Lewis in a nutshell, isn’t it? He could play you for a sucker, openly tell you that was exactly what he was doing, and make you chuckle at what a chump you were as you handed your money over to him anyway. God bless ya, Mr. Lewis — we could sure use more like you today. Thanks for this outrageous parting gift.


Film Review: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (dir. by Tom McLaughlin)

(Minor Spoilers Below)

Continuing my series reviewing the Friday the 13th films, today we take a look at one of the pivotal installments in the saga, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.

Following the financial success of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, it was pretty obvious that there would be another installment in the Friday the 13th franchise.  Mindful of the extremely negative reaction to the previous attempt to make a Friday the 13th film without Jason, Paramount hired director Tom McLaughlin to bring Jason back to life.  In the process, they also abandoned plans to have the protagonist of the previous two films — Tommy Jarvis — turn into a psychotic murderer. 

(Which, if nothing else, ensured that this would be the last Friday the 13th to feature a cameo appearance from Corey Feldman.)

Jason Lives opens a few years after the end of New Beginning.  The residents of Crystal Lake have finally wised up and changed the name of their unfortunate little town to Forrest Green.  Corporate executives spend the weekend playing paintball in the woods while blissful lovers safely picnic a few feet away.  Even the old summer camp has opened back up and, for the first time in a Friday the 13th film, has managed to stay open long enough for actual campers to show up.  Gruff Sheriff Garris (David Kagan) keeps an eye on the town while his rebellious daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) works as a counselor at the camp.

Yes, everything’s perfect until, once again, Tommy Jarvis comes to town and get everyone killed.

Now played by Thom Matthews, Tommy has apparently changed a lot since the end of New Beginning.  No longer is he simply willing to silently suffer from nightmares and hallucinations.  Now, Tommy is a man of action and his first action is to go back to where it all began, find Jason’s grave, and dig him up.  Why?  “Jason belongs in Hell,” Tommy tells us, “and I’m gonna see that he gets there.”  Okay, whatever you say, Tommy.  You’re just lucky that you look like Thom Matthews.

Anyway, Tommy, dragging his reluctant friend Hawes (Ron Pallilo) with him, tracks down Jason’s grave and digs him up.  Apparently not remembering his pre-credits nightmare from New Beginning, Tommy does this on a rainy night when there’s lightning striking all around.  Once Tommy digs up the coffin, he starts to stab it with a metal post and, before you can even say, “I knew that was going to happen,” lightning strikes the post, electricity surges through the coffin, and suddenly, Jason (played here by C.J. Graham) comes back to life as an unstoppable zombie.  He also proceeds to kill Hawes, which seems a bit unfair since this was all Tommy’s stupid idea to begin with.

(Tommy Jarvis, in this film, is a part of that proud horror film tradition of heroes who do everything wrong and get a lot of people killed but are somehow never held responsible for their stupidity.  Again, it’s a good thing that he looks like Thom Matthews.)

Tommy goes to Sheriff Garris and explains what happened.  Garris responds by promptly locking Tommy in a cell and refusing to listen as Tommy tries to explain that “Jason’s still out there!”  For once, Tommy is correct.  Jason is still out there and he’s heading straight for the summer camp…

There’s a scene early on in Jason Lives that pretty much sums up the entire film.  Alcoholic cometary caretaker Martin (played by Bob Larkin) mutters to himself, “Why’d they have to go and dig up Jason?” before looking directly at the camera and adding, “Some folks sure got a strange idea of entertainment.”  In short, this is the comedic, meta Friday the 13th, populated with characters who have seen the previous installments of the series and who fully understand that they’re in a slasher film but who still manage to get killed anyway.  This is the movie where Lizbeth (played by the director’s wife, Nancy McLaughlin) says, “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that a weirdo with a mask is never friendly” but then tries to reason with him anyway.  This type of self-referencing is pretty common in slasher films today but this is the first time that it ever showed up in a Friday the 13th film and it stands in stark contrast to the rather dark films that came before.  When I first saw Jason Lives, I thought it was a little bit too jokey (though I loved the line, delivering between two frightened campers: “So, what did you want to be when you grew up?”) but, on my second viewing, I better came to appreciate what McLaughlin was going for.  As opposed to other installments, Jason Lives doesn’t even try to be a horror film.  Instead, it’s a communal experience that is specifically designed for an audience that wants to play along with the film.  Jason Lives is the fun Friday the 13th.

Oddly enough, it’s probably also the most Christian.  Along with containing no nudity, it also features Jason deciding not to kill one girl because he hears her praying and, finally at the conclusion, Tommy being brought back to life through a combination of CPR and prayer.  (As opposed to the jokey nature of most of the film, the prayer scenes are played relatively seriously.)  This is probably as close as the Friday the 13th franchise ever got to being family friendly and it stands in marked contrast to just about every other film in the series.

Jason Lives is a bit of an oddity in the Friday the 13th series and it was also the first installment in the series to gross less than $20,000,000 at the box office.  Despite the fact that this film is as much of a comedy as a horror film (and despite the fact that Jason appears here for the first time as a zombie), Jason Lives is also probably the last truly Jason-centered film in the series.  Each subsequent film would match Jason with a gimmick in an attempt to revive the franchise’s declining box office prospects and, not surprisingly, those subsequent films would suffer from a marked decrease in quality.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the first of the gimmick films, Friday the 13th part VII: A New Blood.

6 Trailers In The Basket

Hi there and welcome to the Easter edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers!

1) Bunnyman (2009)

Just in time for Easter, it’s Bunnyman!

2) Deathmaster (1972)

Much like Twilight, Deathmaster combines the true life crimes of Charles Manson with vampires.  In this one, the Manson character is played by Robert Quarry.  Speaking of which, did anyone see those pictures of the modern-day, incarcerated Manson that were released last week?  I took one look at those and I went, “Santa Claus is really letting himself go.”

3) The Last Horror Film (1984)

Speaking of maniacs, this film reunited the two stars of the infamous movie of the same name, Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell.

4)  Hercules (1983)

For the past month and a half, I’ve been watching Lou Ferrigno on The Celebrity Apprentice and, even though I’m rooting for Aubrey O’Day, it’s impossible not to like Lou.  Here’s Lou starring as Hercules in a film from the infamous Luigi Cozzi.  (I wanted to also include the trailer for Hercules In New York, the 1970 debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger but every single Hercules in New York YouTube video is embedding disabled.  Bleh!)

5) Ironmaster (1983)

Yes, it’s yet another history lesson from the Joel Schumacher of Italian exploitation, Umberto Lenzi.

6) The Phantom of the Opera (1998)

Since it’s the holidays, let’s end with some Argento.