Tag Archive: american

A strange mix of hypnotic mood piece and all-out zombie movie from the people later responsible for Howard the Duck, this has long been a staple of public domain collections and early streaming sites. This review is based on the revalatory DVD from Code Red, which restores a film which relies on careful composition to its proper ratio.


A young woman travels to a remote town in search of her artist father, whose letters to her have become increasingly deranged. Arriving at his deserted beachside house, she sets off on a search which brings her into contact with an aristocratic drifter and his two female companions, the suspicious and aloof townfolk and constant reminders of her father and the bizarre circumstances of his disappearance.

Arletty wanders her father's mansion

This is a film dominated by a central location – the home of the missing father is a cavernous mansion which is both sparsely furnished and claustrophobically-decorated with a large number of murals. These paintings – several of which contain threatening figures which peer out at the viewer – play with the geometry of the locations in a Caligari-esque way, with characters passing through impossible spaces and threatening to become lost in the mise-en-scene.

These early scenes are possessed of a dream-like, deliberately-paced atmosphere which recalls similar lost-girl genre films such as Carnival of Souls. However, once Arletty encounters the drifter Thom and his two female familiars, the film encounters a series of set-pieces as the true nature of the townsfolk is revealed. Firstly, in perhaps the films most famous scene, Anitra Ford is hunted by raw meat-devouring townies in a late-night grocery store – a nightmareish scene which uses the bright, familiar setting as a spectacular counterpoint to the horror.

A late night buffet for the townsfolk

Then, the boyish Joy Bang is stranded in a cinema which gradually fills with the zombie-like denizens, who sit silently watching the film or turn to look at her with bleeding eyeballs. Both of these scenes stand alone from the main narrative and, indeed, the almost hermetically-sealed atmosphere of the mansion. The character’s are almost literally trapped in this central location and leaving it can only trigger death – or at least a living death. Arletty’s father eventually returns to tie-up the casually-developed plt strands and threaten an act of infanticide, following a bizarre scene which sees the artist smear himself in blue and red paint.

Arletty's father fails the Blue Man Group audition

Surrounded by the portentous monochromatic figures in the murals the father staggers towards Arletty as a multicoloured aberration, before she despatches him in a burst of flame. Shortly after, she mistakes Thom for one of the townspeople and stabs him in the arm – an act which dooms him to drown in the ocean as the frantically swim for safety from the rampaging population. Arletty herself is saved and delivered to the asylum from which she has told the tale in flashback. As the film ends she warns the people of the cities that the contagion is spreading as she paints in the sunshine of the asylum garden.

Not to be confused with Renato Polselli’s 1972 giallo, this is an extremely bizarre genre hybrid which appears to have been stitched together from several different films. It’s part slasher film, part political conspiracy, part right-wing revenge film, part police procedural and part post-Vietnam film. It’s also all wrong – none of these elements being done with any level of competency.

“St. Louis, 1977”, a  car drives to a bridge and two men dump a body over the edge. It’s night and you can barely see what’s going on. Following this non-sequitor, a woman retrurns to her apartment to find her room-mate stuck to a door with a six-foot spear. Some extremely unsympathetic policemen arrive, who proceed to grouse and joke in full earshot of the traumatised girl. It turns out that her room-mate went home with a guy who had earlier in the day been interviewed by her boss for a job. So begins a terrifyingly casual investigation which will scare viewers more than anything else in this film.

We’re then introduced to our killer – a guy named Charlie, who spends the next 30 minutes pointlessly running from no-one (the cops spend most of their time chatting to women or sitting around the office drinking coffee) and occasionally killing random women.

It’s at this point that the film’s schizophrenia becomes most apparent.

Plot 1 – in this film Charlie carries out a few murders until he’s surprised in a house by a returning husband and is shot by the wife. The British VHS I watched is very badly censored, with various stabbings, pitchforkings and shootings abruptly cut. In the full version – and stretched to feature length – this would be a grade Z slasher film, albeit an interesting early example.

Plot 2 – in this film the police lean on the girl’s employer, who obviously knows more than he’s letting on. It turns out that he’s a member of an underground right-wing group who employ old army guys as vigilantes. Led by a Rod Steiger type, these businessmen occasionally meet in an underlit cellar to pass judgement on various rapists and murderers who’ve escaped the clutches of the coffee-drinking, skirt-chasing lawmen. Stretched to full length this would be a grade Z vigilante movie.

Stitching together the two plots requires Charlie to run around experiencing massively cheap Vietnam flashbacks. Those who have seen the flashback scenes in Combat Shock will know what to expect. Despite some unconvincing gore, these look to have been shot in someone’s back garden on a spare Sunday afternoon, but at least feature the same actor.

It all culminates in a shootout at the vigilante group’s hideout, with Rod Steiger experiencing more Vietnam flashbacks as the police take him down in a hail of bullets. The hideout itself has been located by the girl, who the police have encouraged to endanger herself by spying on her boss. It was a massive disappointment to me that the two cops on the case emerged unscathed from the gunfight at the end; in fact, the youngest guy emerges with the girl. There truly is no justice.