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Home » Cinema Macabre Issue 2: Kinky Nuns, Otherworldly Kids, Radioactive Jelly-Men And A Zombie Soldier Await You

Cinema Macabre Issue 2: Kinky Nuns, Otherworldly Kids, Radioactive Jelly-Men And A Zombie Soldier Await You

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What perverse pleasures does Cinema Macabre have in store for you this time? Read on if you dare…

Chris Beaumont: Satanico Pandemonium (1975)

Man, they made some crazy movies back in the day. Back in the 1970s there was a short-lived subgenre callen "nunsploitation." Never heard of it? Well, I have to admit that I heard about it a long time ago, but this was my first foray into the genre. I have read that it was kicked off by Ken Russell's 1971 film The Devils. This one came a few years later and hails from Mexico. If you are wondering what the ingredients of a nunsploitation film are, always factor in nuns (of course), lesbian sex, blood, gore, and a serious dose of weirdness.

Cecilia Pezet stars as Sister Maria, who spends much of her time in various stages of undress. Before we get to the stripping, we are first introduced to Sister Maria as she walks through the garden at the convent, picking flowers. On her jaunt she comes across a strange naked man who offers her an apple. Hmmm… I wonder who that could be? It is, of course, the devil in the flesh, there to tempt her and lure her to the dark side. This leads Maria to a crisis of faith as her spirituality is tested. In an attempt to detour her failing faith, she goes to her room, promptly removes the top half of her clothes, ties a belt of thorns around her waist and flagellates herself with a thick leather whip. So tell me, are you interested yet?

Despite her attempts to stay on the straight and narrow, she quickly finds herself succumbing to her repressed desires. She attempts to seduce her fellow nuns, as well as a local farmboy, who rejects her, leading to her darker murderous desires. The film builds to a point where there is no turning back, although you are left wondering if it was a dream, or was she truly visited by Lucifer?

I found that the movie did not go quite as far as I had expected, although it is still rather twisted subject matter. It strikes me as a low budget production, although it looks great with its lush colors and nice use of shadows. It was directed by Gilberto Martinez Solares, who did a good job with the fringe material. It is a movie that fans of exploitation cinema should definitely look into. Satanico Pandemonium is rather slowly paced as it draws you into Maria's changing mental state. The film is carried squarely on the shoulders of Cecilia Pezet; she delivers a performance that is a combination of innocence and unbridled sexuality, a collision of opposites resulting in a performance that will hold your attention.

Check your beliefs at the door and slip into this notorious chapter in the nunsploitation canon, which, coincidentally, was the inspiration for Salma Hayek's character in From Dusk Till Dawn.

Ian Woolstencroft: Village of the Damned (1960)

John Wyndham’s classic story The Midwich Cuckoos is the source of this low budget British science fiction thriller.

The film gets off to a great start as all the inhabitants of the small village of Midwich are rendered unconscious by forces unknown. When they recover hours later it gradually becomes clear that some of the villagers have been changed — all the women of childbearing age are now mysteriously pregnant.

Months later they give birth to scarily intelligent children who develop far faster than normal human offspring. The kids soon manifest telepathic abilities and a scary group-mind mentality, something that doesn’t endear them to the villagers or the military.

With a running time of only 77 minutes the film doesn’t hang about, cranking up the tension as the children become more advanced as well as more threatening to anyone who gets in their way. Only George Sanders as one of the children’s “fathers” makes any connection with them.

The horror here is in the realisation that your child is not your own and I don’t mean the wife’s been getting more than a pint of semi-skimmed from the milkman. The origin of the children is deliberately vague and this just adds to the aura of otherworldly superiority the kids exhibit.

Sanders is brilliant as the scientist who at first sees these children as an opportunity for the human race to advance but gradually comes to realise that they don’t want to help the world, they want to conquer it. He’s ably supported by a strong cast of British character actors.

It’s the children who make the biggest impression though; with blond wigs and cold, expressionless faces, they are scarily intense and just plain alien. The leader of the group is played by Martin Stephens, who would go on the following year to star in the exceptional The Innocents. You may think he’s been dubbed here, and he has, but by himself. His dialogue was overdubbed later to make him sound more dispassionate. It works too, adding a coldness to the character that is most effective in the scenes with his mother, played to perfection by the lovely Barbara Shelley.

Wyndham hasn’t been particularly well served by the big screen and this, the first adaptation of his work, remains the best. It was followed by a sequel, Children of the Damned, three years later that was solidly entertaining but lacked the powerful presence of Sanders. John Carpenter made an ill-conceived remake in 1995 but thankfully it hasn’t tarnished the reputation of this little gem.

Iloz Zoc: The H-Man (1958)

Another Toho Studios' atomically-charged creature feature.

Director Ishiro (Godzilla) Honda dishes up another atomic-age tale filled with dissolving gangsters, determined but baffled police, fainting females, and sage scientists in this 1958 creep-fest. I remember being scared silly watching this on television as a young horrorhead, back in the good-old days of the Shock! package of scary films and local station, late-night TV horror host shows.

While it's a bit slow by today's standards, the film’s simple, balloon-powered clothes with bubbling colored-goo effects are still stylish and eerie as the nuclear radiated jelly-men pop up from the Tokyo sewer system to dissolve people for sustenance, leaving only their clothes behind.

It opens on a rainy night as a gangster becomes an unlucky snack during a narcotics smuggling job. When another gangster suddenly disappears without his clothes, the police are baffled, but a handsome young scientist may have the answer: two steamship crewmen survived a chance encounter with a derelict ship with no crew on board, except for their clothes. To their horror, the would-be salvagers discover the previous crew is still oozing about, and they barely escape from being eaten like their comrades. The scientist believes their terrifying story and tries to convince the police that those creatures, born of the atomic bomb’s radiation, are now in Tokyo.

Toss in a few nightclub dance numbers with scantily-clad dancers, more nervous gangsters, and an insane dash through the Tokyo sewer system to rescue the perpetually fainting leading lady before the army sets fire to everything, and you've got an odd but entertaining mix worth watching with friends. Bring out the squiggly-wiggly jello and have a theme party showing of The H-Man: Molecular Man Terrifies the World!

Daniel Woolstencroft: Deathdream aka Dead of Night (1974)

If you’ve never read W. W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw (and you should), there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the premise: be careful what you wish for.

There’s no doubt that it’s a story that’s inspired many, perhaps most famously Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which by King’s own admission owes much to Jacob’s classic tale. In 1974, Bob Clark updated the myth with chilling effect in Dead of Night (the current DVD release assumes one of the film’s other identities, Deathdream).

It’s the tale of a young soldier, Andy Brooks, who’s killed in Vietnam during the film’s opening sequence. But when he comes home to his parents’ house, albeit acting a little strangely, they assume the reports of his death were a mistake, and that everything’s okay.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Though clearly a metaphor for the horrific effects that war can have on a family, Deathdream isn’t heavy-handed; it manages to convey its message in subtext and concentrate on building tension and atmosphere. There are some genuinely creepy moments, and a conclusion that should stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Elements of Bob Clark’s film have aged, but its theme seems incredibly relevant today in the face of the current conflict in the Middle East. So much so that Joe Dante produced a similarly themed short for his offering in the first Masters of Horror season — Homecoming. Director John Stalberg and Grudge scribe Stephen Susco are currently working on Zero Dark Thirty, a modern day remake of Deathdream (the conflict is shifted to Afghanistan).

Richard Backus gives an unsettling, scene-stealing performance as Andy, and is almost as much to thank for the film's success as Clark. Deathdream also has the honour of being gore legend Tom Savini’s first film, although his effects weren’t quite as splatterific here as they’d go on to be in his later work.

Tragically, Clark and his son were recently killed in a traffic accident. A drunk driver (who also happened to be an illegal immigrant) collided with their car, resulting in both their deaths. It’s a great loss to cinema, and the horror genre in particular.

Deathdream is creepy, thought provoking, and moving. You can pick at one or two aspects of the production if you like, but the final film is a testament to Bob Clark’s vision and skill, and – in my humble opinion – stands proudly as a must-see (yet sadly overlooked) entry in the horror genre’s crowded vaults.

Rest in peace Bob, you’ll be missed.

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About Ian Woolstencroft

  • http://midnightcafe.wordpress.com Mat Brewster

    Good stuff guys. I will seriously have to check out that nun film. Who doesn’t love a little nunsploitation?

    Sorry I missed the deadline. I have nothing to blame but my own inherent laziness.

  • http://www.nunsploitation.net Nunsploitation.net

    I’m always happy to see nunsploitation films get some ink, but I was just a bit disappointed with your review. Did you check out the special features? Nunsploitation.Net helped do the features for this movie including one on the history of nunsploitation films.

    Mondo Macabro did a great job putting this package together with worthwile features including an interview with the director’s son who co-wrote the film, a featurette from Salvation Films about nunsploitation cinema, and featurettes from us at nunsploitation.net on the history of the genre.

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    No, I haven’t gone through the extras yet, but I do plan to. For the purposes of this fine column, I only focused on the film.