4 Shots From 4 Films For World UFO Day: The Eyes Behind The Stars, Starcrash, War of the Robots, Star Odyssey

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Happy World UFO Day!

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Eyes Behind The Stars (1978, dir by Mario Gariazzo)

Starcrash (1978, dir by Luigi Cozzi)

War of the Robots (1978, dir by Alfonso Brescia)

Star Odyssey (1979, dir by Alfonso Brescia)

Film Review: Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas (dir. by Edmund Purdom, et al)

It’s been a while since I reviewed a real grindhouse/exploitation film on this site so I want to remedy that by talking about an English slasher film called Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas.

As the movie opens, we find ourselves in England with Christmas quickly approaching.  The fog-drenched streets of London have apparently been besieged by drunk old men dressed up like Santa Claus.  However, at least one citizen has taken things into his own hands by wandering the streets at night and killing anyone he comes across dressed as Santa Claus.  Seriously, we see a lot of Jolly St. Nicks meeting an untimely end in this film.  Most of them are done in by straight razor but at least one ends up getting shot and then another ends up bursting into flame and one Santa even up getting a spear driven through the back of his head.

That Santa has a daughter named Kate (Belinda Mayne) and Kate has a boyfriend named Cliff (Gerry Sundquist).  While they make most of their money by standing out in the middle of street and playing the flute, Cliff also has a side job as just a generally sleazy guy.  The day after Kate’s father dies, Cliff tries to convince Kate to take part in a pornographic, Santa-themed photo shoot.  Needless to say, Kate doesn’t react well to this and storms out.  So, Cliff convinces another model to wear the Santa suit.  That model is later caught outside in that Santa suit by the killer.  However, after opening the suit and giving the camera an excuse to linger over the model’s body the killer leaves without harming her.  This would seem to indicate that he’s only looking to kill men in Santa suits.  Normally, I’d be all for this development because fair play is fair play except for the fact that its eventually revealed that the whole Santa suit thing is pretty much just a red herring.  But, more on that later.

Anyway, Kate wants justice for her father but unfortunately, the police investigation is being headed up by Inspect Harris and you know that Harris isn’t going to be much help because he’s played by Edmund Purdom.  Purdom appeared in a lot of Italian and Spanish horror films in the 70s  and 80s and he was always the epitome of British incompetence.  Purdom is also credited as being director here but again, more on that later.

Now, by the time the 100th Santa has been brutally murdered, you might think that people would just naturally stop dressing up as Santa Claus when they’re out in public but no, that doesn’t appear to occur to anyone.  Instead, we get a mall Santa getting castrated while standing at a urinal.  And then we get another one getting killed while visiting a local sex shop and talking to a character credited as “the Experience Girl” (played surprisingly well by Kelly Baker).  Yet another Santa finds himself getting murdered while backstage at a TV variety show.  His body is discovered by Caroline Munro (star of Starcrash and Maniac) who plays herself and gets to sing a disco song before finding the body.  She also gets to wear this really amazing red dress that I would kill to own because, seriously…

Suddenly, this guy named Giles (played by Alan Lake, who apparently died right before this film was released) pops up and tells Kate that he’s a reporter and he starts asking her all theese questions about her father.  Kate gets mad and tries to call up Inspector Harris just to be told that Harris is out for the day taking care of some personal business.  Hmmm…could Harris be our killer?  It makes sense since he’s played by Edmund Purdom.  Then again, Cliff could be the killer as well because, while Kate is doing all this, Cliff is making money by selling her sexual favors to his friends.  Then again, it seems that Giles might be the killer because he then promptly shows up and kills Kate.

Meanwhile (we’re only about 40 minutes in to the film by this point), the Experience Girl is being interviewed by Harris’s partner, a tall guy named Powell who hates women.  The Experience Girl tells Powell that she would know who the killer is if she saw the killer smile.  Powell tells her she’s an idiot.  So, the Experience Girl goes back to work.  Giles shows up and smiles.  Experience Girl screams.  Giles kidnaps her but instead of killing her, he takes her to his flat and chains her up.  Giles explains that he’s a killer because Inspector Harris is his brother and Giles is jealous.  The Experience Girl knows who Harris is despite the fact that we’ve only seen her meet Powell. 

Speaking of Powell, he investigates Kate’s death and realizes he may have made a mistake dismissing the Experience Girl.  Then he tries to open a car door and gets electrocuted until he eventually ends up blowing up.

Now, none of this qualifies as being a spoiler because, even at this point, there’s still nearly 40 minutes of plot left.

Like a lot of 80s grindhouse films, the production of Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas is shrouded in mystery.  Shooting on the film apparently started in 1981 but it the film wasn’t actually completed and released until 1984.  Reportedly, Edmund Purdom was the original director but he ended up walking off the set which led to screenwriter Derek Ford taking over the movie for two days before he was apparently fired.  The film was then completed by Alan Birkinshaw (and possibly a few other people), working under the name of Al McGoohan.

Certainly, this explains why the film is such a huge mess but it’s also a part of the fun as watching the movie becomes a game of trying to figure out who directed what. 

Since Purdom walked off the film, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that he directed all of the scenes that he appears in.  (It also explains why his character disappears from the movie after the first 40 minutes.)  These scenes are all distinguished by the general immobility of the camera.  Purdom’s scenes are so static and so defiantly dull that they almost work in a strangely Warholian way.  The actors wander into frame, the actors wander out of the frame, the out-of-focus lens rebelliously refuses to follow them. 

The non-Purdom scenes — the scenes in which men dressed like Santa are graphically murdered and the scenes featuring the “Rxperience Girl” — appear to have snuck in from a totally different movie and often, they’re only link to anything we’ve seen in the Purdom scenes is some awkwardly dubbed dialogue.  These scenes feel as if they’re drenched in sleaze.  The camera not only moves, it lingers and it invades like a voyeur looking at dirty pictures in a public library.  Unpleasant on their own, these scenes somehow become even more distasteful when compared to the aritificiality of the Purdom scenes. 

It all makes for a very disorienting viewing experience and if the film isn’t really well-done enough to ever become disturbing or nightmarish, it still had a very odd dream-like feel to it.  Major characters wander through the film without every actually meeting each other.  Seemingly important plot points are brought up just to be quickly abandoned and forgotten.  Even all the multiple murders turn out to have very little to do with Santa Claus or Christmas.  If nothing else, this is a unique slasher film in that the murders are pretty much just  red herrings.

There’s a lot in this movie that doesn’t work but, as with many grindhouse films, that just adds to the charm of Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas.  Even the ending — which everyone seems to criticize — is oddly appropriate in that it makes as little sense as everything else we’ve seen on screen.  Also, like most grindhouse films, there’s a handful of memorable moments that actually do work.  For instance, the killer’s mask is genuinely creepy.  The scene where Giles chases the Experience Girl through the streets of London is also handled well and is even more suspenseful in that it takes place during the day as opposed to expected dark and foggy night.  And again, Kelly Baker is a sympathetic, if unexpected, protaganist in the role of the Experience Girl (though you get the feeling that the role was created and cast long after Purdom left the initial production).  Finally, this is a film that epitomizes the spirit that makes the Grindhouse great — i.e., it may have taken two years and multiple directors and the end result might be kind of chaotic but, in the end, the movie got made.

I ended up watching Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas last night because there have been reports that its about to finally snow here in North Texas and, as a result, I was in a holiday mood.  Since this is apparently one of those movies that has entered the public domain, the version I own is a part of one of those “50 Horror Classics” collections that Mill Creek puts out.  As a result, the transfer looked and sounded terrible.  But you know what?  That terrible transfer added a certain charm to the film.  Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas is a movie that was meant to be seen with a lot of random scratches and faded colors flashing across the screen. 

So, in the end, Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas is a pretty bad movie but it’s an undeniably watchable and oddly memorable one.  Plus, it features that really great red dress.  Seriously, just to die for…

6 Trailers From 1981

Hi and welcome to the latest installment of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers.  I apologize for being a few days late with this installment. 

This week, I’m highlighting trailers from the year 1981.  1981 not only saw the release of Lucio Fulci’s twin classics The Beyond and The House By The Cemetary, it was also the year that my sister Melissa was born.  (Happy birthday, Melissa Anne!) 

You may notice that, despite citing them above, I did not include the trailer for either one of Fulci’s films in this post.  I’m saving them for a future edition.  Instead, let’s start with Alien Contamination and end with Christiane F. and see what waits in the middle.

1) Alien Contamination

Earlier in this series, I featured the trailer for Luigi Cozzi’s Star Wars rip-off, StarcrashThis is the trailer for Cozzi’s attempt to rip-off both Alien and Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombi 2.  The film is pretty dull but I have to give the trailer mad props for actually making this movie look like it might be kinda fun.

2) Scanners

In this trailer, David Cronenberg proves that nothing sells a film like an exploding head.

3) Dead & Buried

I haven’t seen this film but I’ve read several favorable reviews of it.  While the trailer isn’t nearly as graphic as some of the other trailers that I’ve featured in this series, I still like it.  With the ominous narrator and all, it has a nice retro feel to it.

4) The Evil Dead

Speaking of retro, here’s the trailer to the original Evil Dead

5) Copkiller a.k.a. Order of Death

I recently ordered this Italian film off of Amazon but I have yet to sit down and watch it.  The trailer, for me, is memorable just because it’s a chance to see both Harvey Keitel and Johnny Rotten (who were both quite the sexy beast back in 1981) occupying the same space.

6) Christiane F.

Some people, I know, would disagree with me referring to Christiane F. as being an exploitation film.  I’m sure that the film’s award-winning director — Uli Edel — would disagree with me.  However, Europe’s art films were often sold as America’s grindhouse movies and, just from anecdotal evidence, that was often the case with Christiane F.  Besides, I love this trailer if just for the music alone.

Poll: Which Movie Should Lisa Marie Review?

Last night, with the help of my friend Jeff, I conducted an experiment. 

First, I took out my contacts which basically left me blind.  Then, just to make sure I was totally without sight, I had Jeff blindfold me.  He then took me by the hand and led me over to my DVD collection.  Clumsily, I grabbed 10 DVDs at random and handed them back to Jeff.  I then proceeded to walk into a wall, at which point I tried to take off the blindfold and ended up losing my balance and falling down flat on my ass. 

Why was I risking life and limb to randomly select 10 DVDs?

I did it so you could have the chance to tell me what to do.  At the bottom of this article, you will find a poll listing the 10 DVDs I randomly selected.  Come next Saturday (June 19th to be exact), I will watch and review whichever movie receives the most votes in the poll.  In short, I’m giving you all the power.

Now, to be honest, I’m feeling just a little trepidation about doing this.  Whenever you set up a poll, you’re running the risk of absolutely no one voting.  Fortunately, I have a plan B in that I recently got the 1st season of Gossip Girl on DVD.  If nobody votes in the poll, I’ll just spend next Saturday watching Gossip Girl and writing several long — very long —  essays on how different Chuck is in the books as compared to the TV show.

The choice, as they say, is yours.

The 10 movies I blindly selected are listed below in alphabetical order.

1) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) — Jimmy Stewart asks Lee Remick a lot of questions about her panties.

2) Darling (1965) — Julie Christie claws her way to the top of the modeling industry and discovers ennui.

3) Emanuelle in America (1978) — Emanuelle investigates decadence in America.  Some people think that this movie contains footage taken from an actual snuff film.  We call those people “idiots.”

4) Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1969) — Mario Bava directs this film about a man driven to murder by the sight of an unflattering bridal gown.

5) Lost in Translation (2003) — I will admit that I squealed with joy when I discovered that I had randomly selected one of my favorite movies of all time.

6) Primer (2004) — Engineers play with time and space.  Oddly enough, this movie was filmed a few miles away from where I live.

7) The Sidewalks of Bangkok (1986) — Like most of Jean Rollin’s film, this is something of a misunderstood masterpiece.

8 ) Sole Survivor (1982) — An atmospheric little horror film with a sadly generic title.

9) Starcrash (1978) — Strange sci-fi movie in which Christopher Plummer recruits space pirate Caroline Munro to battle a pre-Maniac Joe Spinell.  This film also marks the screen debut of David Hasselhoff.

10) The Sweet House of Horrors (1989) — One of Lucio Fulci’s last films.

So, those are our ten options.  On Saturday, July 19th, I will sit down, watch, and review whichever movie receives the most votes.  On that day, for four to six hours, I will give up my independence and submit to the wishes of the majority.

6 Exploitation Film Trailers That I Love

The only thing I love more than a good exploitation film is a good exploitation film trailer.  I’ve been known to buy Anchor Bay DVDs of films that I hate just to see what trailers will be included in the extras.  Often times, when I find myself suffering from writer’s block, I cure it by watching 42nd Street Forever.

Below are 6 exploitation film trailers.  They are six of my personal favorites though I could easily list 666. 


1) Teenage Mother (1967)This trailer (if not the actual film, which is pretty dull) is pure exploitation perfection.

2) They Call Her One Eye (1974)They Call Her One Eye is the American title for a Sweedish film called Thriller, A Cruel Picture.  It’s an appropriate title but its also one of the best movies ever made in the history of cinema.

3) Ms. 45 (1981)I love this movie.  Whenever I break up with a boyfriend or just find myself annoyed with men in general, this is the movie that I end up popping into my DVD player.  Consider yourself warned. 🙂

4) The House With The Laughing Windows (1976) This giallo, directed by Pupi Avati, is probably one of the best films ever to come out of Italy period.  The trailer only begins to hint just how girm, dark, depressing, disturbing, and downright odd this little gem really is.

5) Starcrash (1979) — Starcrash was Luigi Cozzi’s attempt to cash in on Star Wars.  For what its worth, Starcrash is actually a lot more fun and, as played by Caroline Munro, intergalactic priate Stella Starr is actually one of the few truly strong women to appear in Italian exploitation cinema.  (The next Halloween party I’m invited to, I’m going to go as Caroline Munro in Starcrash.)  The special effects pretty much define the whole concept of “That’s a great movie when you’re stoned.”

6) Spasmo (1974) Our final trailer is for that rarest of things, a good movie directed by Umberto Lenzi.