Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween, You Dogs!!!

For the final night of voodoo fun and on the very special occasion of Halloween, I’ve got a classic here that is just begging to be discovered. I’ve been saving this one for a special occasion such as this because it is not everyday you encounter a movie where so many women bounce about in leopard undies in the jungle. This is a movie so full of the sort of perverted auteurism that harkens to a not-too-distant past, specifically the year 1973. Ah, 1973….a simpler time. A time when Jack Taylor was on top of the world and the white man knew as much about black, youth, and female culture as he did about Vietnamese cooking. A time when voodoo movies were reaching the height of their potential to insult. In the world of voodoo films, there’s only one thing worse than Americans bastardizing the religion for the sake of laughs and that’s when other countries see our films and make their own versions, throwing out even the faintest glimmer of dignity they may have received in the states.

Night of the Sorcerers
by Amando de Osorio

So, what have the gods of bad movies given us this time? A prologue fills us in on the story as such. Somewhere on a sound stage that the titles tell us is in Bumbasa, which, lets be clear, doesn’t exist, a white woman is being sacrificed by a group of dancing Africans. Then, outdoors during the day, a group of soldiers comes looking for her. I point out the difference in the time of day because Amando de Osorio would like very much for us to believe that these scenes are happening simultaneously, but I’d like to know where in the world night goes from being dark to bright as day depending on how deep in the jungle you are. Anyway, the whites show up and shoot everyone to death (again they film the white guys opening fire and edit in footage of the black people being shot on the sound stage without ever showing them together) but not in time to save the sacrificial woman, whose severed head stands upright and laughs maniacally at no one in particular. Now if that sounds like a lot of half-assed artifice for one prologue, baby, you don’t know the half of it.

Next thing we see is a party of safari-ing folks most of whom I believe qualify as Jive-Turkeys. Their leader, one Jonathan Grant, is played by none other than that great mustachioed purveyor of protagonism, Jack Taylor. Once you’ve seen Jack Taylor, you never forget him. He’s the bloke who shaves for a few minutes during Female Vampire and spies on Dyanik Zurakowski while she gets undressed in The Vampire’s Night Orgy. Osorio used him a bunch of times, including his third entry in the blind dead series The Ghost Galleon; my first encounter with Jack and his bottomless face. His role as Grant is actually one of the few he was suited to, in that he isn’t chasing anyone’s skirt and I don’t have to watch him do so.

So Grant and his team show up in Bumbasa (the English language dubbing correctly identifies the region as Mumbasa, which is real, but the titles have it wrong) looking to document endangered species. The team – a dark skinned professor Rod Carter and three buxom women, Liz Meredith, Carol Harris, and Tanika – are greeted first by the prying eyes of a bunch of villagers for no real reason. Those gentleman are driven away by the arrival of Tomunga, a local fur trader who's been expecting them. He tells them the place is haunted by ancient voodoo and they’d do good not to linger. Carter and Grant think they know better and decide to hold their camp for a day before pressing on further into the jungle. And while they discuss this some exposition comes out. First is that Carol is the daughter of whomever is funding their expedition. She’s also got a crush on Carter, who’s shacking up with Tanika. That night Carter gets the first watch and spends it screwing Tanika half submerged in a stream while Liz photographs them from a bush. When Liz gets tired of snapping pictures she wanders off into the same voodoo ceremony that claimed the girl from the prologue and she gets her head cut off. When we see her next she will be dressed in a leopard print bikini like the first girl. The next day tensions run high. Liz is gone, Carol is mad at everyone, Tomunga gives no help other than to say ‘get out’, and when Grant develops the photos in Carol’s camera, he sees that his lookout was doing no such thing. Then the natives decide that suspense isn’t really what this film does best and kill both Carol and Grant. Just one more voodoo ceremony left, but will Rod stop it in time?

This film confirmed a theory of mine I’ve been cultivating ever since I saw Tombs of the Blind Dead and that is that its director Amando de Osorio is the Spanish equivalent of Russ Meyer. Granted Russ Meyer never made an out-and-out horror film, but think for a moment about the two men’s work in their respective genres. Both fill their works with artfully composed footage in interesting locales, both use characters intended to be mentally handicapped in some way, both rely on lewd, simple humour, both fill their films with antgonists who seem to get off on being evil, and finally their movies are filled to the brim with women whose defining feature is comically enormous breasts. Russ Meyer and Amando de Osorio lived and worked in different times and Meyer’s use of nudity was much more revolutionary (ok, I’ve just read that twice and see how funny that word is, so, let’s say taboo instead) than Osorio’s, but neither man’s films benefited from their gratuitous nudity – in fact, Meyer’s best film, Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, featured none at all. Both men really, really enjoyed breasts and put a lot of energy and thought into pressing them into (and out of) different costumes. Take a film like Fangs of the Living Dead – the plot is a mishmash of giallo clichés and vampire film plots shuffled together like a deck of cards, but the one thing you won’t forget is the parade of nearly nude women (some in costume vampire teeth) who populate the film. Osorio was curiously outside the average market of horror films. Not stuck making very strange masked-killer movies like so many of his countrymen and not nearly as busy as Jesus Franco or Joe D’Amato, he spent most of the second half of his career making gothics that he filled with buxom women. Tombs of the Blind Dead and its three sequels follow much the same formula, but they kept writing his checks and there was even the odd accidentally beautiful shot in there, sort of like in Meyer’s films. Russ was a gifted cinematographer and his last films were carefully planned, even if they don’t feel that way at first. Osorio had a way with…well, he wasn’t a gifted cinematographer, but he really took his time finding transcendently weird ways to film scantily clad women, which brings us to Night of the Sorcerers.

This movie does have a few nicely composed shots in it and the photography cleans up nice on the DVD transfer, but the thing I’m gonna remember years from now when the plot escapes me is the footage of Bárbara Rey, Loreta Tovar, and María Kosty bouncing around the jungle in leopard print bikinis. Now, I’m not sure what religion worships the god of themed stripper costumes but Osorio seemed fairly certain that when you die in a voodoo ceremony, you come back in leopard. So, how does he stage the stalk-and-kill scenes featuring our undead beauties? He has them hop like bunnies and then shows it in slow motion. He knew his audience, I’ll give him that. There must be some kind of prize for this – the film has seven characters and we see five of them naked before the credits roll; of the four women (not counting the topless girls in the voodoo ceremony) in the movie, they are all topless at one point and three of them get to bounce around like they’re in a wet t-shirt contest at Señor Frogs. I’ve never seen anyone give that kind of thought to the obligatory naked women in a zombie film. That sort of care I’ve only seen in Russ Meyer’s movies.

As for the voodoo, this film has the blasphemy points of Wes Craven’s Serpent and the Rainbow. Night of the Sorcerers doesn’t have anything that you wouldn’t find in the earliest of voodoo pictures (the genre went largely unchanged from I Walked With A Zombie onward), except now we’re treated to racism and nudity set to Muzak! That the plot is largely unremarkable isn’t really my complaint, it’s simply that there didn’t appear to be the slightest hint that anyone gave this bullshit a second thought. Now, King of the Zombies isn’t exactly what I’d call progressive, but put it in the context of its 1941 release date and Night of the Sorcerers starts to look a lot more pathetic. I would have thought that the blaxploitation movement and especially Sugar Hill’s release in the states would have sent ripples around the globe, and I guess in a way it did. Voodoo zombie pictures essentially became extinct soon after this one (they were even given a sort of farewell in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie), or anyway, they evolved. When it became clear that people wouldn’t come out for a voodoo picture, producers found another genre to populate with naked natives, heedless violence and more xenophobia than you can shake a stick at – the cannibal movie (the degrees of separation meet at Zombi Holocaust, and I mean that two ways – the meeting of the zombies and cannibals and the big ass mistakes made in the hands of distributors).

Night of the Sorcerers also has the distinction of featuring some of the sorriest translation errors I’ve yet seen. I discovered something when I accidentally left the subtitles on when I changed the language to English to hear the terrible dubbing – the words on the subtitle track and the words on the English dubbing don’t match. This means that someone – presumably Osorio – translated the dialogue into English from Spanish and didn’t have it proofread. He had his actors record it, mistakes and all, when all along there was a subtitle track written with the correct dialogue. That’s how it seems anyway – what I know for certain is that the line “I’m molested that Professor Carter made such a bad choice…with that dirty half-breed” wound up in the final cut. Molestar, the verb 'to annoy', seems to have been directly translated from Spanish with no regard for its actual meaning. Then there are the problems in the delivery that make the bad dialogue even worse. There’s a scene in the beginning when Liz and Tanika talk about Carol’s involvement in the expedition. Liz says something along the lines of “Carol’s used to getting what she wants,” and Tanika’s reply is a curt “Yes, and I’m too!” And while we’re on the subject of Carol, why is she there? She’s the daughter of the expedition’s backer, but she clearly hates being there and serves no practical purpose, so…what’s the deal? Just another set of breasts I suppose. And why does Liz want to take nude photos of Tanika and Carter? She claims that she’s going to make money off of them, but what magazine in the world would buy pictures of people screwing without their consent? And why does she explain her plan while sitting around naked? And why don’t Tomunga and Tanika get last names? And what nationality are they supposed to be? Do they know each other, because they act like they do? And who are those Africans who stare at them at length in the beginning for no reason and who never come back to serve a narrative function? Where are the soldiers from the prologue? I feel like I’m taking Crazy Pills! Not only does Night of the Sorcerers have no respect for a religion it doesn’t understand, it has no respect for people of any nationality. It is a film about hateful people who don’t trust each other, most of whom live just long enough to get naked – exactly like a Russ Meyer film.

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