An anthology comprising three unrelated low-budget horror features chopped down to half or a third of their running time and book-ended by God and Satan riding a train to Las Vegas with an 80s pop-rock band. How good could it be? Better than you’d expect.
The wrap-around segment opens on the train, with the teen band breaking into a music video-like production, lip-syncing into the camera and breakdancing. The song proves catchy, but that might be due to how often they repeat the chorus.
Meanwhile, in a private car, sit God and Satan. Ferdy Mayne and Tony Giorgio commit to their roles with a professionalism akin to Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, or Christopher Lee and their performances evoke a similar—albeit lesser—charm. Their discussion concerns the fate of various souls, beginning with Harry Billings.
Transition to the first segment, cropped from the then-unreleased film, Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars. It opens with Harry on his wedding night. He’s drunk and driving too fast. He barrels off the highway and wakes up in a hospital, strapped to a gurney, his new bride dead.
The doctors subject Harry to shock therapy and drugs, turning him into a mindless drone. Then they send him out in search of young women, whom he drugs and takes back to the hospital where the head orderly, played by Richard Moll in some scenes, molests and dismembers them. I say some scenes because we’re presented several shots where a hairier double stands in for Moll.
The whole segment only lasts twenty minutes. The break-neck pace plays like an extended trailer. We get all the best parts, including a laugh-out-loud death scene for Moll that proves reason enough for like-minded viewers to give it a watch.
Back to God and Satan, who debate Harry’s fate. They then turn their attention to Gretta.
This second sequence, cut from Death Wish Club, opens on the titular Gretta, who works in a carnival selling popcorn. She dreams of becoming a star, and after a smarmy older man named George Youngmeyer slides a few hundred-dollar bills into her shirt, she shacks up with him. To fulfill her dreams of screen stardom, Youngmeyer places her in adult films.
Cut to Glenn, a college student who sees one of Gretta’s porn films and falls for her. He tracks her to a club run by Youngmeyer where she plays piano. The two fall in love, irking Youngmeyer, who encourages Gretta to invite Glenn into their secret club.
This club comprises several over-the-top personalities, each of whom has survived a near-death experience. In their meetings, they attempt to recapture the thrill of facing death by subjecting themselves to various Russian roulette style scenarios.
For this meeting, they release a giant flying beetle who can only bite once, but whose bite proves fatal. The film depicts said beetle with stop-motion claymation that lands somewhere between amateur and endearing. When it does bite, the effect had me roaring.
We get more over-the-top death scenes, each more preposterous. Glenn and Gretta flee the group, but Youngmeyer orders them kidnapped and returned. The kidnapping scenes reveal Glenn as a karate master, albeit one thwarted by a thrown net.
Did I mention all this happens in under twenty minutes?
Back to God and Satan, who debate Gretta’s fate, after which they turn their attention to Claire.
Here the film falters. This third segment, edited from Cataclysm, runs forty-five minutes instead of twenty. Despite halving Cataclysm’s running time, it’s still too long. Despite the initial focus on Claire, the segment concerns an ageless demon, recognized by a holocaust survivor as one of his Nazi tormentors. Robert Bristol makes a great baddie as the demon, and the film proffers more gory claymation effects, but the longer running time can’t sustain the manic energy present in the prior segments.
Cutting this entry to twenty minutes and adding a fourth story would have solved the problem. Indeed, the first two stories prove recycling lesser exploitation productions into anthology segments works. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more.