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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

The Mondo Macabro Mambo

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

At the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, I would like to propose that there are two types of DVD users. The first type has replaced the theatrical movie-going experience with a home theatre. They buy a lot of brand new, major studio releases on disc and, while they do pick up a large number of movies sight unseen, they rarely blind buy something they've never heard of before.

The other type is more interested in the archival side of DVD than the technical presentation. What they love most about DVD is the almost wholly unexpected side effect of the most obscure and unusual movies imaginable being widely and affordably available on disc. For them, shopping for DVDs is like a treasure hunt. Not only do they pick up movies they've never seen, they flock to movies they didn't even know existed, the more esoteric, the better.

For them... well, for us, since I consider myself (and much of The Bits staff) part of this second group, a label like Mondo Macabro is like a gift from above.

After bursting onto the scene a few years ago, Mondo has carved out a niche for itself by raiding the vaults of grindhouse and exploitation programmers the world over. "Big deal," I hear you protest, "there's plenty of indie DVD studios that have done the same thing." True but Mondo's focus on the international scene gives it a little something extra that all but guarantees you'll be exposed to something new and different. Their catalogue reads like an atlas of the bizarre, with vampires from Pakistan, possessed nuns from Mexico, and 2'9" secret agents from the Philippines.

For those of you with a taste for the unusual, join me now as I examine four recent discs from the wild world of Mondo Macabro. Everybody else... well, maybe I'll have something for you to read about next time.

Don't Deliver Us from Evil: Uncut Special Edition

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Don't Deliver Us from Evil: Uncut Special Edition
(aka Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal)

1970 (2006) - Société Générale de Production (Mondo Macabro)

Inspired by the same murder case that provided the basis for Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, this 1971 French film created such a stir that it was banned outright in its country of origin. Not for sexual content or violence, although the film has some of both, but for blasphemy. Writer/director Joël Séria places his two young girls in a Catholic school where they rebel against the hypocrisy of the Church by embracing Satan and all his works. Released from the convent for the summer, the girls spend their vacation together, growing closer and more dependent on each other while simultaneously turning into vicious sociopaths. They use their budding sexuality to seduce men, stage blasphemous passion plays in the name of Satan, and torment a simple-minded gardener by killing his beloved pet birds.

Even today, Don't Deliver Us from Evil retains the power to shock with its frank depiction of teen sexuality (it's probably worth pointing out that the two actresses very convincingly playing the 14-year old girls were both in their early 20's at the time) and its somber tone.

Imagine Heavenly Creatures as staged by Larry Clark, the director of Kids and Bully, in provincial France and you'll have some idea of what this film is like. Both Jeanne Goupil and Catherine Wagener are chilling as the two girls, so cold-eyed and utterly selfish. The film's treatment of the Satanist elements is very straight-forward and realistic. No cheesy looking horned beasts appearing from fog banks or consulting of the Necronomicon here. Just a genuine portrayal of how two rebellious young girls would actually approach a black mass based on their own reading of forbidden poetry and other books. And while some horror fans may bemoan the lack of gory set-pieces here, there are at least a few images and moments, including the disturbing finale, that will resonate in your mind's eye.

The DVD presents the film in anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen picture that is more than satisfying despite some very minor source problems. The French 2.0 soundtrack is also just fine. Like many Mondo releases, the disc includes a brief "About the Film" essay, helpful in all cases for establishing context and history for these often totally unknown movies. Don't Deliver Us from Evil also includes a trio of informative featurettes. A 15-minute interview with writer/director Joël Séria fills in his background and his inspirations for writing the script, while a 12-minute chat with actress Jeanne Goupil provides insight into the making of the film and its original reception. The 12-minute Hellish Creatures interviews true crime authority Paul Buck on the original Parker-Hulme murder case and its similarities and differences to the film. Wrapping things up is a gallery of promotional stills and art along with a preview of other Mondo Macabro releases. The Mondo preview appears with slight variations on all these discs, by the way, and it's so much fun that I played it every time.

Don't Deliver Us from Evil is in many ways a film ahead of its time. Certainly it's themes of bored teens escaping into an immoral world of self-gratification has resonance today, as does its controversial view of the Church. I imagine if you were raised Catholic, the film has even more meaning. Regardless of your background, the film casts an effective spell.

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B-

Satan's Blood: Uncut Euro Version

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Satan's Blood: Uncut Euro Version
(aka Escalofrío)

1977 (2006) - Cinévision (Mondo Macabro)

For a considerably less serious take on the problem of Satan worship in today's society, we head to Spain to drink from the chalice of Satan's Blood. Released in 1977, shortly after the loosening of censorship standards in Spain, Satan's Blood was one of the first films released with the newly-established "S" classification. The "S" is for sex and on that score anyway, Satan's Blood delivers.

After a sacrificial prologue (that eventually turns out to have nothing to do with anything), Satan's Blood seems for awhile like it might actually be a pretty creepy little movie. Andy and Anna go out for the day, spending their time doing such typically 1977 pastimes as seeing Star Wars and driving around the city. On their way home, they're stopped by another couple, Bruno and Mary (or Berta, depending on if you watch the English or Spanish language option). Bruno claims to be an old friend from school but Andy doesn't recognize him. Not wanting to seem rude, Andy and Anna accept an invitation out to their secluded house. Once there, they find themselves unable to leave, surrounded by bizarre behavior, and ultimately taking part in a Satanic orgy.

The set-up for this movie is pretty good and staged quite effectively. We've all been in a situation where someone recognizes us but we just can't remember their name or how we know them. That part of the movie carries a genuine sense of unease. But once our heroes arrive at the world's creepiest mansion, things start to make a lot less sense. Anna's reaction to seeing Mary eating bloody raw meat off a countertop like an animal shortly after their arrival at the house is certainly more laissez-faire than mine would have been. Lurking around the house is a couple of servants whose purpose remains a mystery. And after the orgy scene, the movie just spirals into a surreal series of inexplicable events with characters being apparently killed, then turning up alive, getting re-killed, and on and on. The final twist seems inevitable in a totally illogical way. I have no idea how or why we get to that point but after everything else, it seems like we must. And even if the movie fails to deliver on the creepy atmosphere its premise promises, it's never less than entertaining.

Mondo does another fine job on the technical side with this release, with an above average image and two audio options, both English and Spanish language. Neither of them sounds particularly natural but that's hardly a shock on a movie like this one. In addition to Pete Toombs' "About the Film" essay and the Mondo preview, Satan's Blood provides an alternate opening which you can either play on its own or with the film itself. This is one of those academic-style prologues they used to tack onto especially sleazy movies in an attempt to give them some redeeming social value and it's pretty amusing. The disc also provides a fairly extensive gallery of stills and promotional art. Most interesting is a nearly half-hour featurette called The Devil's Disciples. Here, Gavin Baddeley provides a surprisingly informative and thorough overview of the Church of Satan and its most famous representatives, including Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey. It doesn't have anything specifically to do with Satan's Blood per se but it is worth watching.

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B-

Virgins from Hell: Double Disk Special Edition

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Virgins from Hell: Double Disk Special Edition
1987 (2006) - Rapi Films (Mondo Macabro)

Now this... THIS is a movie! Imagine if you could take four or five exploitation movies, stick 'em in a blender, hit "puree" and pour out a super-concentrated, ultra-gonzo exploitation movie. That's Virgins from Hell.

Our story (such as it is) begins with a raid on a casino by an all-girl biker gang. The ladies destroy the place and make off with the money. The gang is led by two sisters who have bigger fish to fry than just the casino. They're after the head of the criminal syndicate, Mr. Tiger, a flamboyant sadist (with an outstanding wardrobe consisting mainly of garishly colored pimp suits) who killed the girls' parents and took over their home, turning it into an elaborate compound complete with underground laboratory and dungeon. For his part, Mr. Tiger has kidnapped some of Asia's finest scientists with the aim of cornering the international aphrodisiac market. I swear, I'm not making any of this up. Anyway, a scientist/prisoner named Larry has apparently perfected the love serum just as the biker gang attacks the compound. The girls are taken prisoner and the serum is tested on one of them. All this is in about the first half hour or so.

Yes, there's much to love about Virgins from Hell. The wild sets, the wilder costumes, the increasingly baroque tortures dreamed up by Mr. Tiger. Oh, and I didn't even get to the old hermit character with a knowledge of "traditional medicines" including the ability to use a live snake to extract a bullet from Larry's leg. Virgins from Hell is the kind of delirious exploitation movie made by people who know they can't compete with big-budget Hollywood action epics in a fair fight. So they do the only thing they can do. They don't fight fair. A similarly-themed movie from Hollywood would be expected to at least make some small effort at making sense. That's not the case here. Virgins from Hell is essentially everything the filmmakers could afford to throw into the pot in 90 fast-paced minutes. Other movies might do it better but I'll bet they didn't have as much fun.

Disc one of this two-disc set features the movie in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and dubbed English 2.0 stereo. You also get the original trailer, a thorough and entertaining essay by Pete Toombs called Women in Chains: An Overview of the WIP Movie (that's Women in Prison to you genre virgins out there), and the toe-tapping More from Mondo Macabro preview.

If you're thinking a movie like Virgins from Hell doesn't need the double-disc treatment, think again, buddy-boy! The second platter takes you halfway around the world for Destination: Jakarta, 70 minutes of trailers from other Indonesian exploitation flicks from Rapi Films, the studio responsible for Virgins from Hell. It's quite the collection with movies like The Devil's Sword, Hell Raiders and the Jaka Sembung trilogy: The Warrior, The Warrior and the Ninja, and The Warrior and the Blind Swordsman. There's also a 25-minute documentary on Indonesian exploitation to whet your appetite further.

Film Rating: oh... let's give it an A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/A

The Deathless Devil/Tarkan Versus the Vikings: Turkish Pop Cinema Double Bill

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The Deathless Devil/Tarkan Versus the Vikings: Turkish Pop Cinema Double Bill
(aka Yilmayan seytan/Tarkan Viking kani)

1973/1971 (2006) - Atadeniz Film/Arzu Film (Mondo Macabro)

If you're like me, you might have heard about Turkish popular cinema without ever having actually seen an example of it. Probably the most notorious aspect of Turkish cinema is their... shall we say, loose reading of copyright laws. During the 70s and 80s, the Turks remade some of the most popular films and TV shows of the era, often using the same costumes, music and even footage from the originals. The Man Who Saved the World or, as it's more commonly known, Turkish Star Wars, for instance, is oh so illegal to distribute over here, although you can find bootlegs at virtually any comic book convention and clips are posted over on ifilm (this link should go there) that give you a pretty good idea of what the movie's like.

At any rate, I'd heard of the movies from Turkey's genre boom for years but I never thought I'd actually see one. Now, thanks to Mondo, I've seen two. And they're just about as mind-bending as I'd hoped.

The Deathless Devil is a Turkish superhero opus about a young man who learns that his father was the masked avenger known as Copperhead. Dad was killed years earlier by the nefarious Dr. Satan. The evil Doctor is back now, killing his way through a list of scientists in an attempt to seize control of a device that flies airplanes by remote control. It takes absolutely no convincing to get Junior to don the Copperhead mask and do battle Dr. Satan, his goons and his clunky killer robot. This is a thoroughly ridiculous movie with music cues "borrowed" from the likes of Henry Mancini and Ennio Morricone. It's cheesy fun for the most part but it tried even my bad-movie patience at times and I've got a pretty high tolerance level for this kind of thing. Let's just say that the comic relief provided by Copperhead's Sherlock Holmes aping partner made me long for the subtlety and refined wit of Jerry Lewis circa Which Way to the Front.

More entertaining is Tarkan Versus the Vikings, a Turkish sword-and-sorcery epic based on what is apparently a very popular Turkish comic book. Tarkan and his two wolves (which look an awful lot like friendly dogs) are acting as bodyguards to Yonca, the daughter of Attila the Hun. Suddenly, a horde of rebellious Vikings in cahoots with a Chinese dragon lady attack and kidnap Yonca and kill one of Tarkan's wolf-dogs. Tarkan is much more upset about the dog than the kidnapping and vows revenge on the Vikings.

Tarkan Versus the Vikings is a little gem of low-budget weirdness. The actors are clad in fur costumes that appear to be bath mats and sport a wild assortment of mismatched wigs and fake beards. Considering the history of Turkish cinema, when the story called for the arrival of a giant octopus I was surprised the filmmakers didn't just insert random clips from old Ray Harryhausen movies. To their credit, they tried to do it themselves, though the resulting effect is less than awe-inspiring. Despite (or more accurately, because of) its shortcomings, Tarkan Versus the Vikings is great fun and a terrific introduction to the wild world of Turkish pop cinema.

Mondo is upfront about the condition of the films on this double-feature disc. Basically, we're lucky they exist at all. Most Turkish films of the era were destroyed when the cycle ended in the 1980s. Neither film is in particularly good shape but they're far from unwatchable. The soundtracks in both cases are in Turkish with English subtitles provided. Extras include text-based information about the films, as well as a very good 24-minute documentary on Turkish Pop Cinema.

Like so many titles in Mondo Macabro's catalogue, this disc provides prime examples of a type of film that many have heard talked about but few have actually experienced first hand. The next time you're with that friend who thinks they've seen it all and acts so jaded and cynical when trying to find a movie to watch, pop in a disc from Mondo Macabro. It should shut them up for at least 90 minutes or so.

Film Ratings (Average): C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C/B-

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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