Saturday, October 11, 2014

Halloween Havoc: LAST RITES (1980)

Through out the '70s and early '80s, before Cannon Films were producing their own films, they were responsible for releasing some of the most well-remembered drive-in fodder around. In 1980 alone they distributed minor classics such as THE GODSEND, DR. HEKYL AND MR. HYPE, NEW YEARS EVIL, SCHIZOID, THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, HOT T-SHIRTS and LAST RITES, Dominic Paris' skin-flint foot-in-the-door to the shabby lower-echelon of the film industry.

In a small town a teenage drag racing accident leaves the driver dead and the passenger, though still alive, is proclaimed dead on the scene and quickly rushed to the A. Lucard Funeral Home. Once laid out on the slab Lucard (Gerald Fielding), his assistant and the local doctor (Victor Jorge) take turns biting her neck before ramming a stake through her heart. As you may have guessed the pillars of the town's community are vampires who have orchestrated a clandestine conspiracy to fake the deaths of people who are ill or unconscious in order to feed, but not breed.

When Marie Fonda's (Patricia Lee Hammond) mother Mrs. Bradley (Mimi Weddell) takes ill Dr. Cummins (Jorge) gives her a major sedative on the sly and pronounces her dead. To take some of the weight off of Marie and her husband Ted's (Michael Lally) shoulders, the good doc recommends that they leave all the arrangements to Lucard. After taking the body away and giving everyone a bite, the Fondas suddenly decide they want to have the funeral at home. Doh! Am I the only one who finds irony in the fact that they want to keep a dead body in the living room?

Common sense would dictate that they stake her and fix her up with mortician's wax before returning her to the house, but instead after a heated debate, Lucard lets Ted take the body back and then decides the best thing to do is to have his assistant break into the house and stake her at home! Jeeze, so much for age being an indication of wisdom. When the assistant breaks in, he is mistaken for a burglar by Ted who throws him out of the window on to a picket fence that is strong enough to bear the force of a full grown man, punch through his rib-cage and come out the other side with out a splinter out of place. Even worse, grams has started walking and now they have to find her before someone discovers her and somehow pieces together their plot. I think one of my favorite lines in the film comes when after his mother-in-law's corpse has has been presumed stolen and Ted accidentally kills a man he suspected of being a home invader, he blithely says to his wife "we better get some rest." What?! Who can go right back to sleep after all that? Jeezus, most people would need to knock back a handful of Ambien with a bottle of Nyquil to get horizontal after that. 

I pity the fool who rented the movie based on the American video promotional art which inserted "DRACULA'S" above "LAST RITES". There is not much vampire "action" (not sure those two words go together) to be found here. Feeling much like a back-yard, micro-budgeted reworking of THIRST (1979), the plot moves slowly, the acting is rank amateur and it looks like it was shot on 16mm, even though it was shot on 35. Most of the film is Ted arguing with Lucard (who amusingly wears a black coat with the collar turned up to look like the classic Dracula cape), and Lucard frantically trying to get other people to do his dirty work. Even worse, old lady Bradley never puts sinks her fangs into anyone, though at one point she does consider it. No doubt there were more than a few fang fans who threw the tape out the window of a moving vehicle.

All that said, it is enjoyable if you are a sucker for no-budget regional films from that era. I really liked the idea of a septuagenarian vampire roaming the woodside and some of the shots of her doing so are pretty atmospheric. It's a damn shame that writer-producer-director Dominic Paris didn't exploit this a little bit more with some additional scenes of her actually doing something other than wandering around. Also, the last half hour gives us some enjoyable low budget action including a scene where two vampires face-off by what seems to be clearing their throats at each other. The problem with this is that it was a first time out for all concerned and the production is so skint it couldn't raise a fuss. The ending sequence really needed some more money thrown at it, but even so there is a an interesting kink in the plot at the 60 minute mark that sets the well conceived finale in motion.

Amazingly Mimi Weddell, in spite of not having a single line, managed to kick start her minor career with this movie. Nobody else did, except Paris who managed to make a handful of other (regrettable) genre films in the '80s before taking up writing family animated movies in Belgium. No really, his last film was TURTLE TALE 2: SAMMY'S ESCAPE FROM PARADISE (2012). I haven't seen the animated films, but I'll still go out on a limb and say that this is the best of his oeuvre and is entertaining in a forgiving state of mind.

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