Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Mill Creek DVD Inferno: First Circle - LIMBO

In Dante Alighieri's Inferno, the outermost -- and therefore least severe -- circle of Hell is called Limbo and is reserved for the unbaptized and for virtuous pagans who did not accept Christ. Here one will find sinners whose punishment is living in a diminshed, though still fairly nice, version of Heaven. Meanwhile, in the Mill Creek DVD boxed set Drive-In Cult Classics: 32 Movie Collection, the outermost circle of Hell is reserved for films which are rated 5.5 to 5.4 on the Internet Movie Database. Yep, that's as lofty as the films in this set get, which isn't suprising considering that (I think) all of them come from Crown International Pictures.

Here, traveler, you will find reviews of the following films:

Separate Ways (1981)
The Babysitter (1969)
Carnival of Crime (1962)

Let us begin our journey.

Separate Ways

Few remember it now, but there was a time in this country when soapy domestic melodramas actually had a shot of making it big at the box office. Separate Ways was Crown International's somewhat feeble attempt to cash in on the trend. Fortunately, they recruited two fine cult movie actors, Karen Black and Tony Lo Bianco (both quite good here), to play the squabbling couple. Lo Bianco's an ex-racecar driver whose auto dealership is failing. Black is a stay-at-home mom who finds her marriage unsatisfying. They have trouble communicating. They argue. They have affairs. They go through a trial separation. She finds employment at a sleazy club called the Foxy Lady. Blah, blah, blah. Cut out the nudity and the profanity, and this would be perfect for the Lifetime network. Mill Creek gives us an acceptable but slightly muddy full-frame transfer which probably doesn't do Dean Cundey's cinematography justice. GRADE: C

Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? Probably not. If so, just barely. Ms. Black does at least three nude scenes, but these are brief and not quite satisfying. The scenes at the Foxy Lady are also far too tame to sate the drive-in audience. Meanwhile, there's some auto racing action at the beginning and end of the film, but this is really just the same not-too-exciting footage used twice. The filmmakers, admirably, did try to spice up one of the couple's fights by having it take place in a moving car which is driven crazily and dangerously by Lo Bianco's character. But for the most part, Separate Ways is just talk, talk, talk.

The Babysitter

Another film about an upper-middle-class couple whose marriage is in trouble, The Babysitter tells the story of a rather stodgy district attorney who decides to cheat on his even-stodgier wife with the couple's free-spirited hippie babysitter, Candy. Meanwhile, some junkie delinquents find out about the DA's extracurricular actitivies and try to blackmail him in an attempt to free one of their loser junkie friends. The Babysitter is definitely one of those time capsule movies which probably felt out-of-date a week after it was released, but that doesn't make it any less fun. In fact, I enjoyed the heck out of this, despite about a hundred boring parts. The full-frame transfer is pretty rotten (just try pausing the picture and see what you get), but somehow I didn't mind it much. GRADE: B

Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? With flying colors, even though it's in black-and-white. The Babysitter wallows in sleaze and scandal for virtually its entire running time. There's plenty of nudity, debauchery, and sadism along the way, including at least two scenes in which women's bras are removed at knifepoint. The only real drawback is that we have some great Manson Family-looking bikers in the movie, but there's not much in the way of biker gang action. But the drive-in crowd definitely got their money's worth with this flick.

Carnival of Crime

Ay! With a title like that, you might think Carnival of Crime would be about the felonious goings-on at a circus sideshow or something, but sadly this is not the case. The "carnival" in question is the one they have in Brazil. This is a dubbed, B&W cheapie about an architect whose adulterous (and, frankly, mean) wife goes missing. She's later discovered murdered, and guess who's wrongly accused of her death? It's up to the architect to solve the murder, which involves talking to a lot of sleazy-looking men I would describe as cads. To blatantly pad out the running time, there's a completely unrelated, tacked-on subplot about two assassins arguing amongst themselves in the jungle. The only really interesting thing about Carnival of Crime, though, is the stock footage of some neat-looking Brazilian architecture from the 1960s. The transfer, it must be said, is horrendous even by Mill Creek standards. GRADE: D

Does It Pass the Drive-In Test? Not hardly. Slow, talky, and horrendously dubbed, Carnival of Crime leaves virtually all the sex and violence off-screen. Even Brazil's Carnival itself seems fairly dull here. There's almost nothing to look at and even less to get excited about.

COMING UP! The Second Circle - Lust - featuring Van Nuys Blvd., The Pom Pom Girls, The Sister-in-Law, and The Teacher.

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