Friday, 23 January 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #17- "VAMPIRE KILLER BARBYS."









When I was about 11 or 12, realising that girls were not he worst thing in the world and had begun to find myself drawn to them in ways I didn't really understand (and still don't, if I'm totally honest), I would sometimes go into the local independent video rental shop (PIP Tank Video) under the guise of wanting to play the glitchy "Street Fighter 2," machine they had that allowed you to beat your opponent in literally one second if you knew how to exploit it properly (the key was to play as either Ryu or Ken and throw a Dragon Punch the second the round started, as doing that would also throw about a million Fireballs at your opponent), and walk around looking at the back of all the movies rated 15 and up, in the hope that I'd find pictures of women in some state of undress, or if I was lucky the occasional bare boob. And I mean occasional, I think you can count the number of nipples I saw doing this on the fingers of one hand.

Why am I telling you this incredibly embarrassing fact about myself? And how does it relate to the movie I'm going to be covering today?

Because there's pubic hair on the back of this box. And it definitely isn't mine.

I picked this up in the same day I bought "Code 46," and in my rush to get to the counter with that, I didn't really give the box the good once over I usually do. I didn't really worry about it too much because, well, it's called "Vampire Killer Barbys." Who wouldn't want to review a film called "Vampier Killer Barbys?" What more do you need to know? So I'm sitting on the bus on the way home, inspecting my purchases, when I looked on the back of the box for this film and saw a picture of a topless woman running through some forest or something. "Huh," I thought "there's something you don't see anymore in these politically correct times," casting my mind back to the days previously described. So based on nostalgia alone, I already had warm feelings towards this film.

Then I noticed she wasn't wearing any jeans. Then I noticed she wasn't wearing... anything. At all. I mean, it's not the largest picture in the world, and it's not like it's one of those "Hustler"-style gynecological centerfolds, but the fact remained, on the back of this movie that I had just bought for a pound, there was a picture of a woman, and I could very clearly make out her breasts and pubic mound. I'm not the easiest person in the world to shock, but I think on this crowded bus, I may actually have gasped. Because this was something new. This was something I had never encountered before. I had never found full frontal on the back of a video or DVD box before (excluding porn. Obviously). And suddenly those nostalgic feelings went away, because even during my bout of puberty-spurred curiosity, I didn't think I would ever see... that. To be brutally honest there's a very good chance I wouldn't have known what I was looking at if I had. It just makes me laugh that we live in an age where everybody is walking around on eggshells terrified of saying or doing something that would upset anybody, and I was able to go into what is essentially a discount supermarket and buy something with a picture of bush on it (and no, I'm not making that joke. One of the many good things to come out of the recent Presidential election is that joke can now go away, hopefully forever). Oh, and there's also a picture of a bearded man holding a scythe, grinning manically, flanked by two dwarfs, who also seem very pleased with themselves. On any other box, this picture would have been the star attraction.

This move is the work of Jess Franco, who I've come to discover has something of a cult following amongst horror fans. I was talking about movies recently with a friend down the pub, and totally unprompted she dropped his name as a director whose work she enjoys. He apparently started composing music at age six, before eventually discovering film, where frankly prolific isn't the word- he has a staggering 189 directorial credits listed over at IMDb, dating back to 1957's "El Arbol de Espana," all the way up to 2008's "La Cripta de las Mujeres Malditas," AKA "A Bad Day at the Cemetery." He's also a writer, a composer, an editor and an actor, very often working on his own films under an amazing array of pseudonyms (my personal favourites being Adolf M. Frank and Clifford Brawn). Even "Jess Franco" is a pseudonym, his given first name being Jesus. Alot of his work has been in the Erotic Horror genre, and I'm sorry, but that idea doesn't work for me. I can just about get my head around the concept of Erotic Thrillers, because most of them just feature sexed-up versions of the old Film Noir Femme Fatales, but I don't get the concept of Erotic Horror at all. To me, I don't see how it's possible to be frightened and horny at the same time. They just seem like naturally-opposed emotions. And even if you don't mean it like that, if you just mean it as in blood and guts, then that doesn't work for me either, because without going into too much detail, there's enough blood in my personal life already without me introducing it into the bedroom (that was marvelously cryptic of me, wasn't it?)

Also the band featured here is real, and apparently still active today, a Spanish punk-pop band, the only difference being they spell "Barbies" how you'd expect. Apparently the only reason it was changed in the promotional material was because Mattell predictably kicked up a stink. Humourously, the correct spelling of the band's name is all over the film itself, from their drumkit to their van, which just goes to show you just how much attention Mattell's lawyers were really paying. I don't know for a fact if all the people playing the band here are actually in the band, but the lead actress, Silvia Superstar (which I'm also guessing isn't her real name), definitely is.

The beginning is like Horror Movies 101- it's dark, the moon is full, there howling somewhere, and we see a large close-up on the face of a stuffed wolf. This happens quite alot during the film actually, we'll suddenly find ourselves zooming in on one of these, as if the director thinks, "LOOK! STUFFED WOLF! SCARY!" Um, no. Real wolf, kind of scary, stuffed wolf, something you're fairly likely to see round your Nan's. A bloodied man runs semi-dressed out of a large building. This is referred to as a castle several times over the course of the film, but it looks more like a mansion to me. I suppose it doesn't matter what you call them, in the end they're the same thing, just big houses. He's running for his life, stalked by Arkan (Aldo Sambrell), a balding man dressed like a butler, and Baltasar (
Santiago Segura), the aforementioned bearded gentleman, sadly for the moment without his tiny posse (I said posse. Get your minds out of the gutter). The poor dude manages to give Arkan the slip, only for Baltasar to sneak up behind him and slit his throat. It's one those film school specials too, where the knife leaves a trail of blood across the neck without actually causing a wound. Baltasar cuts off the man's ears, taking it back to his little friends Pipa and Pipo and attempting to decide which of them deserves to have this little treat, before deciding on... one of them (I can't tell the apart, I'm not going to pretend I can), his reason being that "the kindness and gentleness you reserve for me at night deserves a reward." Oh Lord, he's sleeping with them. Even worse, we find out later that these two are in some way supposed to be his children. Erotic Horror, ladies and gentlemen! Arkan then goes to address the lady of the house, The Countess, who's little more than a skeleton at this point in the film. A skeleton in a dress. You cold probably get it a role on "Hollyoaks." He tells her he's got a present for her, that being a jug presumably full of blood, and then say that "He" has returned, and they are once again under his "devilish protection." Who "He" is, we never actually find out, and as you'll see later, his protection amounts to jack shit.

Follow the credits sequence that appears to happen over a painting of Vigo from "Ghostbusters 2's" fat sibling, we finally meet The Killer Barbies themselves, performing at a concert, and... they're not bad, amazingly. They don't reinvent the wheel or anything, but they're decent enough, and the song they play in full here, "Love Killer," is incredibly catchy. I caught myself humming the chorus hours after I'd finished watching the film for the first time, which is usually a good sign. We also get a look at Arkan in the crowd, watching them perform with a scowl on his face. He's clearly a purist. After the gig, they take their payment, which they're informed is, "enough for some joints maybe," which is funny, because the next scene seems them turning down a guy who offers to sell them some grass (HA!). Once they get in the van and start driving, the movie briefly turns into a twisted, perverted version of "Scooby Doo." Sharon (Angie Barea), the only other female member of the band, starts openly blowing Billy (Billy King, the only person here using his real name, and I think also the only person other than Silvia actually in the band for real at this point), causing Mario (Charlie S. Chaplin) to comment that "if you're still hungry, my fly is at your disposal." What a charmer. Flavia (Superstar) takes her top off so Rafa (Carlos Subterfuge, who looks just like Shaggy if Shaggy were evil, which is probably the main reason this scene feels so Mystery Machine), will let her drive, causing a man to fall off his bike when he sees her (heh). They're listening to their own music whilst all this is happening, by the way, seemingly the same two songs on a loop, including "Love Killer." What a bunch of nasty little narcissists.

At this point I would usually make some observations about the acting talents of those involved, but with this film that's almost impossible, because as you've probably figured out be the names of alot of the people involved, this isn't an English language film, but rather Spanish. I usually like to watch foreign movies with subtitles, partly because I'm just a bit of a pretentious twat, and partly because you get a better sense of the acting abilities of someone when you hear their real voice. On this disc though, no subtitles are available, so all we get is an English dub. And my God, it's horrific. Almost nobody's voice matches up with the character they're playing (Rafa sounds like a cartoon dog, Flavia sounds much older than her claimed 19 years) and the ones that do sort of make sense are ruined by voice actors who either realised what kind of movie they were doing and just phoned it in, or have probably never done this sort of thing before. They even dub over people laughing! "Ha! Ha! Ha!" Is that strictly necessary? Laughter is one of the few things that can be understood in any language (Christ, when did I turn into Bono?).

The van predictably breaks down, and Arkan, who had seemingly been riding around on a little boat just to pass the time just moments earlier, shows up to offer them a place to stay until someone can show up to fix it tomorrow. They take him up on his offer, with the exception of Sharon and Billy, who stay in the van to fuck. I'm not being crude saying that. We cut back to them several times, and that really does seem to be all they're doing in there, for hours at a time. They don't even switch positions. Once the others arrive, they all notice a painting of the Countess, presumably done before all her skin fell off. "I've got this feeling I'll recognise her," Flavia says. What do you mean, you think you'll recognise here? You're staring at a painting of her right now, either you recognise her or you don't. "She's as beautiful as she is mysterious," Rafa chimes in. How does he know she's mysterious? He's bee in her house for all of five minutes. For all he knows, she could be on the toilet. "Yeah, she's not my type, but I'd still bang her," Mario offers. Okay, fair enough.

Upstairs, Arkan visits The countess' quarters again, and amazingly, she now has flesh. It would seem that drinking blood restores her, and at least we now have a reason for him to want the band to stay, even though it's never revealed why he chose them specifically to be the next victims. He takes the band to their rooms, and everything seems alright with them, until the next scene where Flavia and Mario sneak around and find Arkan seemingly calling for a tow-truck for their van, only for them to discover what he was actually speaking into was an intercom, so he didn't really call anybody. Okay, two things- 1)If he really didn't know they were there, why was he pretending to place a call for a fake tow truck? What was that in aid of? 2) Why were Flavia and Mario even sneaking around? Two seconds ago they were insanely happy with this arrangement, now they're tip-toeing down stairs like like a couple of kids playing detective. It makes no sense. It also doesn't lead to anything, as they go upstairs to tell Rafa what they've seen, he tells them not to worry, so they... don't. Meanwhile, The Countess drinks some more blood and continues to look and act stronger. She asks Arkan how much he loves her, to which he replies, "Madam, listen to me, nobody has ever loved anybody so much, I love you more than Paul loved Virginia, more than Cyrano loved Roxanne, and Romeo loved Juliette." Ahhh, that's actually quite lovely. He's a sly old charmer, that Arkan.

Hey, anybody wondering what Billy and Sharon are up to back at the van? No? Well, tough, because you're going to find out, as the movie cuts back to them. And as I said, they're both rutting away like rabbits, Sharon still mostly dressed and very obviously still wearing a thong, as Baltasar, Pipa and Pipo look on. And dear God, they're still listening to "Love Killer!" It's like they're determined to turn me against the one thing in this movie I quite like. The Little guys break into the car, steal the Barbie dolls the band has hanging up as decorations, and also plant a quite disturbing winged thing on the rear-view mirror, all without Billy and Sharon noticing. And Bathasar? He has a wank. Erotic Horror, ladies and gentlemen! Sharon sees the thing hanging from the mirror, and freaked out, talks Billy into coming with her to the mansion. When they get there, they bump into Arkan, who tells them of something that apparently happened there, of a satanic monk that fell in love with an aristocratic lady, tortured and raped her to death, then created a potion made from her blood and his semen that brought her back to life. Billy then asks him what the time is, he says he, "lost track of time centuries ago," and when they're backs are turned, he just disappears. Okay, now I'm confused. From this story, it would be safe to assume that this monk was the "He" Arkan mentioned earlier. However, from all the sledgehammer-subtle hints being dropped, it's also fairly safe to assume that Arkan is the monk, so what sense would it make for him to say "He's" returned, when it seems like he's always been there? It also renders that lovely declaration of love he made earlier decidedly less lovely.

Billy and Sharon go in the house, have a brief chat with their bandmates, than suddenly decide not to stay there after all. I can't say I blame them after that story, but it does make me laugh how much of a sheep Billy is. He literally does whatever Sharon tells him to. This proves to be a wrong move, as they are promptly set upon by Baltasar and Arkan, who slit Billy's throat and then chase the naked Sharon (I love how she makes love for hours with her clothes on, and then decides right this second that she's going remove them. It's like she remembered, "Hey, these come off!") through the forest, until Baltasar decapitates her with his scythe, which doesn't best please Arkan, but they're both like, "Fuck it, this'll do." They take her and Billy back to some place on the mansion grounds there a verity of mutilated bodies are hung up in the air, their blood collecting in jugs, that's then added to a pot along with some white stuff that I assume is supposed to be semen. Baltasar actually dips his finger in the spunk and licks it, and even though I know it's fake, this still got a shudder out of me. So well done movie, you managed to at least gross me out using a partially sexual situation. He also handles the most obviously fake dead body I've ever seen. The arms and legs don't move at all, and the arms are straight up in the air, like the guy died doing the YMCA.

Having regained her strength, The Countess finally appears, and she looks... alright. She's played by Mariangela Giordano, and she does look damn good for a woman who was pushing sixty at the time. Much like Jennifer Tilly looks damn good for a woman of 50 (I know, I can't believe it either). I will take exception to Rafa calling her, "the most beautiful bitch I have ever seen in my life," though, because, dubious compliment aside, if that's true, he's obviously not lived. He's instantly smitten, and she seduces him into coming upstairs with her, which initially angers Flavia, until she reveals, "I'm just mad because he should have found a way to include me." This movie was very clearly partially written by a very old man. Upstairs, The Countess ties Rafa to the bed, and they start... actually, I'm not sure what happens. She scratches him, then she just starts rolling around on the bed, groaning and moaning. At one point I think the only parts of her even touching him are her feet, and they're just touching his leg. And strangely he seems to be having as much fun as she is. I will say though that the fact that this woman is as old as she is gives this scene a sort of anarchic edge, like the filmmaker is actually trying to make some kind of statement about age and beauty and sexuality. He's probably not, he probably just wanted to see her tits, but it's quite an interesting thought all the same. Eventually they start having something that look like sex, only for The Countess to produce a knife and start stabbing him during the act. This is it. If you were to ask me to close my eyes and come up with a visual representation of Erotic Horror, this is what I would come up with, a person killing another person whilst they're shagging. Erotic Horror, ladies and gentlemen.

And also once again the knife produces blood without actually breaking the skin. Maybe it's magic.

There's actually a fair bit if runtime left, but if I'm honest, not much else happens. Flavia discovers the bodies and freaks, Mario kills Arkan with a crossbow to the head (where the fuck did he find a crossbow? And if Arkan's supposed to be a ghost, how can he die?) The Countess gets killed being thrown out of a window and being impaled on a spike (I always found it strange why evil monsters would just leave so many spikey things lying around...), and Billy, who is somehow not dead even though he had his throat slit several hours ago now, traps Baltasar in their truck and sets fire to it (using lighter fluid left next to some hay, if you can believe that). He kills himself and the dwarfs, but not Baltasar, who comes after Mario and Flavia, only to be run over by a steamroller. The dummy they used is very obviously a blow-up doll. At one point I think you see one of the arms pop. Flavia and Mario then escape on Arkan's boat, and we're treated to a little spoken-word wrap-up, translating the text that's on-screen...

"Flavia and Mario without any further problems returned to the city, where they continued their artistic career. They are still bonded together by a strong friendship"

Okay, so that's just a long-winded way of saying they're still making music together. Gotcha, with you so far.

"Olga Lujan and Arkan disappeared without a trace. The castle was turned into a first-class hotel for tourists."

Um, okay, so their bodies disappeared, that's what you're saying. Still doesn't explain how you could kill a ghost with a crossbow, but never mind.

"Baltasar was punished for his crimes and became food for worms and vermin. Then he returned to him mosterous offspring hoping to have one day a new oppertunity."

Um... so he's dead? You mean he met up with his kids in Hell? And what kind of oppertunity could he be waiting for in Hell?

"Killer Barbies has a new car in which they travel across the country."

Thank you, I really wanted to know what you did about the whole wheels situation.

"Finally, nobody really died. The proof of that is that we can applaude the group this evening in Velencia. Our story is, in reality, a creation of pure fantasy."



... WAT?!?!?!

That's how youre ending this movie?! "Guess what, none of this actually happened!" Well, DUUUUUUUUUUUUUR! Could never have figured that out without a clearly disinterested voice-actress teling me so! Wow, who would have guess that movies are fake (except for the ones based on true stories, and they're very often faker than they want you to believe)? In all seriousness, I hate it when people try to pull this meta shit completely out of nowhere, it makes you feel like a fool for ever being emotionally invested in the story to begin with. And yes, believe it or not, there are people who could bring themselves to be emotionally invested with even something like this. In many ways, and admire and envy them.

As I said before, there are things wrong with this movie that aren't the faults of the filmmakers. I can't hold them responsible for the dub, because they probably had no say in what was done there. And I'll lay off the acting, because the dub is so distracting it's impossible to tell whose good and whose not. However, even with those two small mercies, there are still a crippling amount of things wrong with this you can blame them for, the biggest of all being just how cheap and tawdry the whole thing feels. I get the feeling Franco was trying to give this a Hammer-like quality, but the thing with the Hammer horror movies was, even with all the gore and nudity you'd often see, their productions still managed to have an air of class about them, something this is missing from almost the first frame. It's a mish-mash of horror cliches that have been used better in other movies, with some flesh thrown in to hopefully keep people interested, and it fails because it's not scary, and I personally didn't find it even slightly arousing (I'm not going to go into detail on that one either, use your imaginations if you really need to. Probably better off doing that anyway).



Before I go, I'll leave you with a gift, the best thing in his movie, so you don't have to even consider buying this to experience it. Don't say I don't ever do anything for you.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and when I first joined the force, I assumed there was semen on everything.


jeffrey said...

The odds were, in regards to reviewing a film by Jess Franco (or any other name he goes by), good. He's that prolific. Especially since you're there! He's the "Russ Meyer" of Europe (way more prolific though and, arguably, way more raunchy/extreme). At least, that's the who Americans, who are familiar with his *coughs* work, seem to compare him to all the time.

I suspect one of the reasons why he goes by so many pseudonyms is because audiences have become familiar with his *coughs* style and subject matter. Maybe marketing?

The Cheap-Arse Film Critic said...

This wasn't anywhere near the fun of a Russ Meyer movie. I don't find his movies particularly sexy either (although I'll say he has his moments...), but thet're almost always entertaining.

bjoly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bjoly said...

Sorry, I thought it was this film that I had a copy of but it was a clone. I remember a scene with 4 people in a van and one of the girls goes topless and causes a guy to fall off a bike but it couldn't be this one because it was made in '96 and my buddy and I were in that 'Anything with boobs has to be good' phase just a few years before that. We should bag this guy for plagurism. If only I could remember the name of that other flick, of course it's not like we WATCHED the whole thing, just fast-forewarded to the 'good' parts.

Dave said...

I remember fast-forwarding to the "good parts" back in the day. That last comment cracked me up!

aylad_tx said...

I can understand dubbing the laughter. If the voices actors were that badly matched to the characters, I would think the actual voices of the live actors might sound completely different. The audience could get confused when every the characters laughed, their voices changed.
If your going to be bad, you can at least be consistent... I guess.

The whole scenario described above would be hilarious to watch.