Monday, March 19, 2007

Aztec Schoolgirl Angels

Highlights from the April 2007 issue of SIGHT & SOUND are now posted at their website, including my review of Masumura Yasuzo's RED ANGEL, available on DVD domestically from Fantoma. The blessing of having quite a lot of new releases to choose from each month carries with it the curse of indecision; when it comes time to choose a new disc to watch or review, everything is curiously reduced to a title on a spine, and I tend to gravitate toward what's familiar. In this case, I remember deliberating over my choice for longer than usual, becoming very frustrated, and picking out RED ANGEL just to end the aggravation. I didn't know anything about the film, but it turned out to be an engrossing evening's viewing. I couldn't exactly call it entertainment, but it carried the weight of valuable experience and stayed with me for days.

My next SIGHT & SOUND column, which I've already turned in, will be devoted to Impulse Pictures' forthcoming release of SCHOOLGIRL REPORT #1: WHAT PARENTS DON'T THINK IS POSSIBLE. (Amazon.com pins the disc with an April 24 release date, but Xploited Cinema is already listing it as in stock.) Impulse Pictures is a new label specializing in Eurosex imports; this will be their second release (after Mac Ahlberg's JULIETTE AND JUSTINE) and I understand they hope to release all thirteen films in this West German series (1970-80), with the next two already in the works. Unfortunately, the release does not include an English audio track, which means that the film on the disc is not quite the movie as I remember it from my drive-in days back in the '70s. However, the subtitled German track reveals the film I always suspected was lurking there: a defiant statement from postwar, freedom-entitled West German youth directed at the hypocrisies of their uber-conservative Hitlerjugend parents. When one girl, forced to "explain" her sexual activity by her elders, proudly replies "I'm 18 and I live in the 20th century!", one can easily imagine theaters full of young German people going crazy -- just as they did here in America when Peter Fonda outlined the dream of his generation in THE WILD ANGELS: "We want to be free! We want to be free to do what we want to do. We want to be free to ride. We want to be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man! ... And we wanna get loaded!" The SCHOOLGIRL REPORT that played in US drive-ins was a more tongue-in-cheek movie, while the German version has an edge that hasn't dulled with time. It's sexploitation but also something of a revolutionary act, and exciting on both counts.

I recently spent a couple of nights watching BCI Eclipse's box set THE AZTEC MUMMY COLLECTION, which contains THE AZTEC MUMMY (in Spanish only), THE VENGEANCE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY and THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (both on flipper discs containing both the Spanish and English-dubbed versions, the former with subtitles). These are Mexican pastiches of Universal's Mummy series, cleverly relocating the ancient past from Egypt to the land of the Mayans, with aspects showing an equal debt to the 1940s serials of Universal and Republic. I'm going to reserve my full-length review for VIDEO WATCHDOG, but I'll tell you this much: these films plainly modelled themselves on the Universal series' weaknesses as well as its strengths. None of the films is longer than 70 minutes, and the first consists of maybe four or five scenes stretched as far as they can go (with nearly half the length spent on prologue); the second spends its first 20 minutes recapping the first movie, while the third opens five years later, with the hero inviting guests to his home so that he can relate to them the events of the first two pictures, which occupies nearly 25 minutes of screen time. An odd thing about the Spanish versions: Whenever the Aztec Mummy appears onscreen, the picture turns dark -- you can't get a bead on the bugger! I suspect this is a form of Mexican censorship, an attempt to tone down the horror content, because the cutaways to other characters during these scenes resume their brightness. The conclusion of the first film is so dark, I couldn't quite tell what happened in it until I saw those scenes recapped in the third movie! The same scenes in the English versions are much brighter, making it all the more regrettable that the first film has no back-up version included. Despite some fun moments, I found them tedious on the whole, though I imagine they play somewhat better in the presence of good friends and good beer.

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