Monday, July 27, 2015

Sadie 6 Shot in "Bare Escape"

   "Bare Escape" scanned from Main Enterprises' *PPFSZT! Color Annual no. 1, published in 2012. If you know what to look for, you can see that my pencils were still pretty rough when I drew this. They're particularly stiff in some panels, and I hadn't yet the best grasp on anatomy. Still, this was my first (?) color story, and it looks downright incredible to my eyes! Inks, colors, and letters by Jeff Austin.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Oddball Film Report: HAUNTS (1975)

Note: this is another Video Cheese piece posted here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

HAUNTS (1975 - color)

   "Uh, er, eh, um.............huh?!"

   70's genre pictures offered a variety of subjects, and came in varying degrees of quality. That's true of any decade, of course, but the starkness of the 70's really drives this home. It was a decade in which film making technology was inexpensive enough that just about anybody who wanted to try their hand at being a producer did so. This trend had begun in the 60's, but it wasn't until the 70's that the explosion of regional movies really began. The phase didn't last far into the following decade, either. STAR WARS is credited by some as the death blow for micro-budget genre fare, as it turned audience tastes back toward spectacle not really seen since the heyday of Biblical epics in the 50's. 

   Before that, though, it seems distributors would scoop up just about anything someone had pointed a camera at. One reason for this was the massive (and largely embarrassing, for both the studios and the country) success of late 60's/early 70's counter-culture movies like EASY RIDER and BILLY JACK. Such films had been economically filmed in addition to being monstrously popular, something any deserving producer marks as a plus. Horror movies were also traditionally cheap to produce, so the decade saw a revival of the sort of cheap scares most in the industry saw coming to an end along with the 60's.

   Using mostly real locations, as opposed to the indoor sets so prevalent in earlier films, 70's quickies often captured a sense of reality that really helped to balance the more fantastic elements on display. The result was a slew of movies far better than they really should have been if we looked squarely at the budgets. Combine this natural realism with a sharp script and you get a genuine classic, such as KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, JAWS, or THE CAR

   Of course, even when all the breaks are in the favor of the micro-budget producer, a poorly executed production can result in a nearly unwatchable film. This too seemed to be magnified by the 70's, as this decade produced some of the most unwatchable dreck that would be ever be seen or heard of prior to the new century. 

   Of course, one reason for that was the new ratings system replacing the self-imposed censorship code in place from the mid 30's to the late 60's. This meant there was no longer any sort of quality control on content, and by extension the films themselves. 

   So many 70's potboilers unspool as if they're not even aware that they have an audience. Muffled sound recording, awkward framing, it's as if the guys behind the camera had never seen a movie before. The result of all this was a mixture of raw energy and listless boredom. 

   Some have called it Hollywood's second Golden Age...

   None of this really applies to HAUNTS (although the film is of the reality-adding production values school, as it seems the entire film was shot on and in real locations), I just needed an intro before I moved onto the film itself...

   Things start off pretty good. 

   A rapist slasher is stalking a small town and we open with a fresh victim's body being dragged into a supply hut where it is found seconds later. In a nice small town touch, seemingly the entire population turns out to watch the police investigate the scene. The town's Sheriff is Aldo Ray, who captures a nice everyman-type authority figure. He's introduced at a bowling rink, having a pretty good game, when he is informed about the body. Ray grabs his jacket and heads out without flinching, which for some reason struck a cord with me in this age of news conferences wherein the authorities seem hesitant to really do their jobs.

   Yes, things get off to a good start. The film has some good performances (I especially like Ray's reaction when he learns some distressing news about his daughter), strong characterization, is generally well-written, and paints a pretty good portrait of life in this town (I'm not sure where this town is, though. It's cold and near a rocky coast, so I guess up around Maine somewhere). Unfortunately, the story we're being served is so convoluted it negates many of the film's finer points. 

   Our main focus is not, actually, the slasher, but a psychologically troubled immigrant woman, Ingrid. Ingrid lives on her farm on the outskirts of town, alone except for her uncle Cameron Mitchell. And he's prone to long absences supposedly related to the bottle.

   The film's biggest "I'm not sure where they're going with this" element is Ingrid's association with the local church. Ingrid seems to be a woman of deep faith, a member of the choir and quick to speak with her priest if she runs into trouble. She's largely intelligent, if heavily suspicious given the recent murders. On the other hand, she's facing some psychological issues that include images of blood and (I guess) suppressed sexual dilemmas springing from possible incest activities and the suicide of her mother when Ingrid was but a child. 

   When we meet her, she's milking a goat and the activity spurs some flashbacks. Countering that is the sense that she seems to be enjoying what she's doing a bit too much, as if she's able to imprint something sexual onto milking a goat. 

   In the end, they really never go anywhere in explaining the church and how it impacts Ingrid, except to give her something to hang onto to keep her from breaking. In a refreshing twist for a 70's film, the church isn't presented as a beacon of hypocrisy. Still, there's a weird vibe in these scenes, as if we're supposed to consider it a dark place as opposed to a place of hope. Despite this, Ingrid's priest is an important character and does much good in the community. So... what gives?

   I'm not sure how much to get into here, as the plot is fairly complex. What really kills whatever effectiveness has been achieved is the last scene. You can almost sorta figure it out if you've seen a lot of psychological horror films, but not all the way. Given the careful crafting of the script, this last bit seems frightfully sloppy, as if they tried to wrap everything up and had a couple loose ends and rather than tie them off they just cut them free. 

   The best way I can describe the film is to say it was almost pretty good if it would just decide where it wanted to go. If you ever plan on seeing it, you'd best skip my detailing of the plot below. I will point out that advertising materials trying to sell this as an occult horror film are erroneous. Also, it didn't get released until 1977, though the date clearly notes 1975. Meanwhile, while watching it, I thought this was all taking place closer to 1980!

   Ingrid is scared of the slasher and begs Uncle Carl (Mitchell, who noted his career at this time consisted of films where he either raped women or killed them) to stick around that evening, but he's insistent on going out. He implies Ingrid has had problems with reality before, and there's something off kilter about Carl. (Then again, in Ingrid's world, everything is slightly off kilter.) 

   Ingrid fears the guy at the butcher shop, for instance, maybe feeling his skill with a knife has something to do with the killings. Also instilling fear is a young man who just moved into town. He's quiet, and isn't keen on the town's lush, who annoys everybody but the local bartender. She's introduced talking to Ingrid in the local store, and Ingrid is put off by her as well, at the moment we also meet butcher guy Frankie. Frankie seems to have a thing for Ingrid and it creeps her out. Creeps her out even more so, that is. Frankie is also carrying on with the Sheriff's daughter, and we eventually learn he has impregnated her.

   The killer attacks the lush and dumps the body at Ingrid's farm. The killer tries to attack Ingrid while out walking one night. Ingrid is milking the goat and thinks she sees blood in the milk. She freaks out and spills the blood on her dress, then we see it was just milk. She runs inside to take a shower. (She also leaves the goat in the milking harness, and it later begins to storm. I thought this a continuity error, but the goat later surfaces dead, so it could still tie together. Likewise, Ingrid leaves a light on in the supply shed when she thinks she hears someone in there, but this too could have been a subtle clue to her growing madness.) In the shower, we can see she's scrubbing so hard her fingernails are leaving bloody scratches. Frankie then breaks in and rapes Ingrid, who is forced at knife-point to deny anything is wrong when Carl comes in late and knocks on her door.

   Ingrid goes to the church and talks with her priest, then overhears him hearing a confession from Frankie. Ingrid assumes this is about her (but we later discover he was confessing about his affair with the Sheriff's daughter). Ingrid leaves, then is attacked in the cemetery by Frankie, who again tries to rape her. 

   The Priest (actually a Vicar, according to the IMDB credits. I'm not Catholic, so I don't know the difference, but I guess I should be saying Vicar) hears Ingrid's screams and rushes out. He finds Ingrid alone and rushes her to the hospital. Sheriff Ray is on hand as well. This is when he's hit with the news about his daughter, when the Vicar feels its his duty to let him know. Ingrid has named Frankie as the attacker too, although he didn't have time to finish the job, so to speak.

   The Sheriff bursts in on Frankie and his daughter and arrests Frankie under suspicion of being the killer. Meanwhile, his deputies have caught the killer in the middle of an attempted kill and chased him into the local sawmill (which apparently runs 24 hrs a day). Ray lets Frankie loose. 

   The killer is eventually shot down and unmasked to be the new guy in town. (Up til now, I was thinking Ingrid had a split personality and her dark side was the killer. The killer, clad in denim and wearing a stocking over his face, is a slender figure and his murder weapon of choice is a pair of scissors missing from Ingrid's sewing basket -and they never do explain how this guy got them, unless it's a different pair and just a coincidence that Ingrid can't find hers. I got the idea there was supposed to be two figures on the loose: slasher Ingrid and rapist Frankie. Kudos to the film for surprising me, although part of this was because this guy was so obvious a choice. He seemed to be the film's designated red herring.)

   When the reports of the killer being gunned down air on television, Ingrid is horrified because Frankie is still at large. Ingrid seeks some evidence against Frankie, digging out her bloody clothes from his attack (another subtle clue is that Frankie drew no blood in the cemetery and Ingrid was naked when he attacked her the first time. Oddly, given the period, there is no nudity at all in this film) and taking them to Carl for his help. 

   Carl has been bound, though, and Frankie plans another attack. Ingrid manages to kill Frankie first, but Carl thinks Ingrid shouldn't go to the police because they won't believe her. They'll bury Frankie and forget about it. 

   As Carl tamps the dirt down on the fresh grave, he looks up to Ingrid's window and sees her getting ready to take a shower. He walks in on her and she rushes out to tell the authorities about Frankie, yet maintains her relationship with her uncle is a clean one. The Sheriff and the Vicar look at Ingrid like she's nuts, but follow her to her house. It's too dark to find the grave, so they'll search at first light.

   The deputies find the grave just as the Vicar pulls up with the Sheriff's daughter and Frankie (!) in tow. Ray is shocked, then discovers the goat has been buried in the yard. He rushes upstairs to get Ingrid, who has killed herself in the bathtub just like her mother did. 

   Now its full disclosure time. Ingrid is buried and Uncle Carl arrives in town, but he's much older now. Around Ingrid, he had dark hair, and now he has silver hair via the worse ageing make-up I've ever seen! His hair looks like its been flocked or something. Despite that, we get a really good acting scene between Mitchell and Ray.

   Ingrid died a virgin, and seeing the body at her farm was the trigger to really set off her wild fantasies. Carl hasn't seen Ingrid since she was a little girl (he says never, but the flashbacks fill in some details. It seems Carl had an affair with Ingrid's mother, who was his sister! She then either killed herself in shame or he killed her and faked her suicide. Mention is made of Ingrid's father, but we never see him). 

   Carl then goes to Ingrid's house and snoops around. This turns out to be the same house where Ingrid's mother died! Overcome with emotion, Carl walks into the bathroom to splash some water on his face. We see blood coming from the facet. Carl turns around and walks toward the shower. In the mirror, through the steam, we see grown Ingrid stepping out of the shower! Obviously insanity runs in this family, but the narrative makes it a little hard to follow what's really supposed to be happening. (Carl also spouts scripture when speaking with Ray, and again I'm not sure what to make of it.) The movie almost works quite well, but I just can't make sense of this ending!

   Right off, I question why Carl imagines a mature Ingrid when he hasn't seen her since she was a child (given Ingrid's imaginary Carl was young as he was the last time she actually saw him). What goes on here? Carl and Ingrid both have imaginary friends based off of each other, despite neither of them really being all that close? Or is Carl's imaginary Ingrid supposed to be imaginary Ingrid's mother? That might make slightly more sense. Slightly. Maybe the film's ultimate point is that madness doesn't make sense...

   During the final reel when Carl is walking around the house, I found myself thinking about making a movie like this that follows a killer who evades the police, and then in the last scene is attacked by a giant spider that comes from out of nowhere. That would be neat.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Short sweet

If all works out, you should be able to find this one on Ebay this week...

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wendy, another new project

 A work in progress. Most of these panels have been altered since I scanned them.