Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: The Horrors! The Horrors!

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, November 29, 2018 06:07pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. Both of these Blu-rays came out in the past three months. This month, I review two very different movies that just happen to have the word Horror in their titles.

Horrors of Malformed Men, Arrow Video:
This movie is like going to a Cirque Du Soleil show where all the performers on stage accidentally ate theHorrors of Malformed Men brown acid. I own a huge collection of cult films and along with the films of John Waters, Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou, Fellini's Satyricon, and Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, and this movie pretty much rules the roost of the "HOLY SHIT, WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING?" segment of my collection. The second half of this movie is like a sustained psychedelic assault on the senses. Director Teruo Ishii really pulled out all the stops to make this a one-of-a-kind experience. The movie is an adaptation of the writings of Edogawa Rampo and combines elements of his novels Strange Tale of Panorama Island and The Demon of The Lonely Isle with some of his short stories. The end result is a literal bombardment of strange surreal perversions. There's incest, bestiality, cannibalism, and a number of sexual fetishes that seem unique to Japan. There's a scene where a man sewn into a couch molests women who unsuspectingly sit on it.

The first half of the film, before things go completely bonkers, is a Hitchcock-style suspense story. The film starts with the main character, Hirosuke, awakening in a mental institution with no memory of how he got there. All he can remember is that he was a medical student; the rest of his past and identity are a complete mystery to him. He manages to escape the asylum and goes on a search to find his true identity. While reading the newspaper one day he comes across an obituary for a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to him. The man was from an extremely wealthy family and Hirosuke concocts a plan to fake his resurrection and assume his identity. Once he is ensconced in his new role he learns that the family patriarch has been squandering the family's vast fortune on a nearby island where he is building a kind of surreal amusement park. Hirosuke eventually visits the island to see what is going on and that's when everything goes bat shit crazy. It turns out that his father is disfigured and has a mad dream of creating a perfect world of surgically constructed freaks.

The second half of the film is a kaleidoscope of fever dream images, one more horrifying and bizarre than the next. Most films this surreal usually lose all structure and become just a stream of consciousness onslaught of disjunctive images, but Horrors of Malformed Men is rather unique in the history of surrealist cinema because it actually gives all this random madness structure and form. The most insane images and ideas are all explained and actually have reasons as to why they connect to the tightly plotted suspense in the first half of the film. It's a real literary tour de force, and there is a structure and artfulness to the script and the cinematography of this film that make it worthy of a Criterion Collection release. Sure, it's an insane cult film but it's also a valid work of art and kind of a masterpiece of world cinema. Arrow Videos' release of this movie is actually as good as a Criterion Collection release. It's beautifully packaged and the remastered picture is stunningly sharp to the point where you can see every macabre and bizarre detail. There are also a bunch of great bonus features to round out the package. If you are a fan of surrealism or cult cinema you have to watch and own this film.

The Horror of Party Beach, Severin Films:
This film has long been one of the most celebrated cinematic car crashes in the history of exploitation The Horror of Party Beachcinema. It's a surf movie! It's a monster movie! It's a gore-hound movie! It's a musical! It's like a bunch of genre films got mushed together, but in the course of trying to be all things to all people there ends up being something for everyone in this movie. The Horror of Party Beach had quite a presence back in the sixties and seventies. The promotions and posters for it were part of pop culture and it was all over magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and other periodicals that covered and reviewed the horror and sci-fi movies of the times. I'm a big fan of the man-in-a-rubber-suit monster movies of the sixties and seventies, but let's face it -- those movies are all about the monsters. The first half of these films where you have to sit through the backstory and the character development are usually as boring as watching paint dry. In fact, I know a guy named Eric Spitznagel who wrote a book called Fast Forward: Confessions of A Porn Screenwriter in which he examines the fact that the story and character development sections of a porno script are referred to as the "fast forward" parts because viewers just scroll through those sections to get to the good stuff. Horror and monster films from the fifties and sixties are often similar to pornos in this fashion. Getting to know the characters and the plot are just a tiresome chore on your way to the monsters and the killing. But this isn't the case with The Horror of Party Beach because between the monster attacks there are plenty of great swinging beach parties with girls dancing in bikinis to surf bands like The Del-Aires. This makes the movie breeze by because the surf musical is always picking up the slack for the monster movie, or vice versa. The Del-Aires are a great little band who perform a number of songs throughout the movie and they're as much fun as the monsters.

And then there are the monsters. These are some of the goofiest monsters ever created and they have gone down in cinematic history. The costumes, though, are very well designed with a lot of interesting details to them that are crystal clear in this new high-def remaster. The whole film is kind of a perfect time capsule of the beach surf music scene of its day. This was one of a handful of pictures made by director Del Tenney, who the internet sometimes describes as "The Ed Wood of Connecticut." There are a number of fun bonus features on this disc including a "making of" documentary that has some great information on Del Tenney that made me exclaim, "what a guy!" It describes how Del and his wife Margot were from the theater scene in New York but moved to Connecticut to settle down. But they couldn't leave the theater life behind, so when a friend who owned some drive-in theaters came up with the idea of making some movies to show in them Del and his wife jumped at the chance, which is how the film I'm reviewing came into being. At one point in the documentary, the interviewer asks Del if he was sad or upset about the film making so many critics' "Worst Films Ever Made” lists. “Those kinds of things don’t bother me,” he replies. “I didn’t make these films for art. I made them because I thought it would be fun and we could make some money on them, which is exactly what happened.”

“He was really very proud of the films,” his wife Margot adds. “Because they didn’t go away like stage performances do. They got more acclaim than little pictures like that usually do.” It’s now fifty-five years later and Del’s little movie is getting a deluxe release in a cinematic format that didn’t even exist when it was made. This movie is almost as immortal as the monsters that star in it.

Relevant Tags

Movie Moment (19), Jon Longhi (32), Cult Films (24), Asian Cinema (15), Japanese Film (2), Teruo Ishii (1), Edogawa Rampo (1), Famous Monsters Of Filmland (1), Monsters (18), Horror (218), The Del-aires (1), Porn (3), Del Tenney (1)