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Samuel Thomas
Samuel Thomas


Every now and again, a movie washes up on the fringes of the industry that's unlike anything else of its time or any time. Who Killed Teddy Bear (no question mark) certainly qualifies; rarely discussed or even mentioned, it's not quite forgotten, either it's hard to forget.By 1965, the barriers were starting to be breached in what could be shown, or even implied, on the screen (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf dates from that year). But Who Killed Teddy Bear rubs, brusquely and suggestively, against just about every taboo obtaining then or now. It's a New York story, but of the grotty 1960s, when Manhattan led the nation as an example of how American cities were surrendering to crime and vice and ugliness at the core.Spinning platters in a seedy discotheque, Juliet Prowse starts getting obscene phone calls then finds a decapitated teddy bear in her apartment. Police detective Jan Murray takes the case, which holds an obsessive interest for him. Four years earlier his wife had been raped and murdered; now the world of perversion and fetishism has become his life, both professionally and privately (despite a young daughter, who listens to him listening to his lurid tapes from her bedroom). Prowse becomes so shaken by the stalking that she can't quite trust him, or for that matter her tough-as-nails boss Elaine Stritch, who, invited home to serve as protection, makes a pass at her. Shown the door, Stritch, in a slip and fur coat, wanders the dark streets and back alleys, where....Top billing goes to Sal Mineo, 10 years after his debut as Plato in Rebel Without A Cause, as a waiter in the club. Back home he has a child-like grown sister, whom he locks in the closet when he's making the rounds of the porn shops and peep shows near Times Square. Though his character isn't gay, he's served up like prime, pre-Stonewall beefcake, halfway between raw and blue; towards the end, when Prowse teaches him to dance, he erupts like a go-go boy.The movie bears all the marks of a starvation budget, but for once the saturated photography and jumpy cutting seem just right. The odd but savvy cast even the young Daniel J. `Travanty' makes his debut as a deaf-mute bouncer brings from Broadway and east-coast television a rough edge that's far from Hollywood's buffed and smooth product. But it's the vision of the TV-reared director, Joseph Cates, and writers Arnold Drake and Leon Tokatyan that makes Who Killed Teddy Bear so hard to shake. Neither a tidy thriller nor a nuanced character study, it nonetheless has a trump card to play: It's the real McCoy,a genuine creepshow.

Teddy YIFY

Even before you see his face, you can feel the sensuality of Sal Mineo thrusting its way off the screen, wearing nothing but tighty whities as he makes several obscene phone calls at 6 O'clock in the morning. He's only fondling his legs, but the point is made. When you finally see Sal's gorgeous face, he's inside a really swinging nightclub where the customers are rude, crude, long to be nude, and using food to get the girls in the mood. Mineo works busing tables and takes over waiting them when the servers don't show up. "If you're going make it in show biz, you're going to meet some pretty weird types. Of course, that is assuming that you're planning on making it on your feet, so to speak!" That's how you're introduced here to the legendary "Ladies Who Lunch" diva Elaine Stritch, playing an extremely glamorous lesbian who has the hots for D.J. Juliet Prowse. Tough but with a sense of compassion to the underdog, Stritch has a drunk customer kicked out and stands up for one of her deaf employees when the customer attacks him. She reminds me a great deal of Grayson Hall's character in the cult movie "Satan in High Heels", although this was obviously made on a bit of a higher budget even if it's still down the scale on its vision of a lack of polite society.As for Mineo, don't let his polite on the surface nature fool you; He disguises his voice on the phone as you see only his bare chest and the tip of his jockeys, and this is where the perversion takes on a sexual film noir story, pre-dating "Basic Instinct" and "Fatal Attraction" by more than two decades. This is the village, and it is not a polite society. The film turns dirt into art, and it is absolutely fascinating to watch, even though you are praying that circumstances like this never happen to you. But when you work in the bar world of a big metropolis, you never know what type of sociopath is going to come in. Even the police detective interviewing Prowse after she is harassed on the phone has a very verbal way of describing the types of characters he has come in contact with. Don't click your heels together to hope to go back to Kansas; Once you're in the land of Odd, you're stuck there.A jazzy music score aids in the vision of New York's dark side, and there's no turning back when you stay out past happy hour. Nights in New York always bring film noir to life, whether it's on screen or in reality. I have been searching for this dark and disturbing film ever since I became fans of both Mineo's and Stritch's, and in biographies on Mineo's life, Ms. Stritch went into great detail in her remembrances of him as a man and as an actor. Jan Murray is fantastic as the police detective overshadowed by the grittiness in his life, yet still leading the life of perfect father. A lot of detail went into the creation of each of these characters, and every moment is fascinating. Every character (including Murray) has their own elements of darkness, showing the inner anxieties we all carry and which can explode at any minute.The teddy bear reference is an interesting metaphor both psychologically and visually, and in spite of the tacky nature of the theme, it is sensationalism that titillates no matter how much the viewer tries not to admit it. As Jean Simmons' missionary said in "Guys and Dolls", she's supposedly afraid of sin, so naturally, she's attracted to it. But these aren't the friendly colorful gamblers of Damon Runyeon's New York. This is a John Cassavettes/John Waters view of a changing society, filled with a gritty ugliness that the early film noir only dared to touch on.

Here's a particularly weird, warped and flat-out unsettling little low-budget killer kid horror favorite. This truly strange offering centers on 12-year-old oddball Jamie, a friendless, sexually precocious and socially maladjusted pre-pubescent teen creep whose sole pal is a teddy bear with glowing red eyes that occasionally talks to him. Jamie's heretofore lousy lot in life perks up considerably when two good things go his way: his parents hire a sexy young lady (nicely played by brunette hottie Jeannie Ellis) to look after him and, better still, Jamie discovers a deep hole in the nearby woods with a bunch of big, hairy, carnivorous prehistoric humanoid beasts he dubs "trogalogs" residing in it. Pretty soon Jamie is not only spying on his babysitter in the shower, but also feeding various folks who mercilessly persecute him and/or put a crimp in his lifestyle -- his babysitter's football player boyfriend, the mean schoolyard bully and his equally nasty girlfriend, even some cranky old biddy in a wheelchair who lives down the street -- to his newfound butt-ugly, fanged and hirsute flesh-eating monster buddies.Director Lew Lehman really plays up the intrinsic perversity of the alarmingly aberrant premise; he has the evil little brat "hero" cut out nude photos from a book and force the uptight, yet attractive local librarian to secretly strip for him in front of an open window (!). Lehman's aided substantially in his goal to present Jamie as one deliciously deviant and depraved puppy by the strikingly obnoxious performance by homely and charmless child actor Sammy Snyders: With his stringy build, bumpy nose, grating raspy voice and unsightly salad bowl haircut, Snyders qualifies as one of the most grotesquely off-kilter and unsympathetic murderous little twerps you will ever see in a fright flick. The movie has a very cool surprise ending, too. The Anchor Bay DVD offers this demented dilly on a two-sided flipper disc with the hilariously horrendous late 80's direct-to-video clunker "Hellgate;" it's a satisfyingly clean and crisp widescreen presentation with a skimpy still and poster gallery as the only extra.

The Pit is a strange but oddly watchable '80s horror film -- so bonkers it's hard not to like. The story centres around 12-year-old misfit Jamie (Sammy Snyders of Huckleberry Finn and His Friends fame) who is left in the care of babysitter/home help Sandy (Jeannie Elias) while his parents are away. Jamie's bizarre behaviour gives Sandy cause for concern - he talks to his teddy bear, keeps nudie magazines under his pillow, cuts out pictures of naked women from library books, sneaks into her room while she is asleep (nipples out!), gets her to wash his back in the bath, and declares his love for her by writing a message on the bathroom mirror while she is taking a shower. He also tells Sandy his secret: he has found a pit in the woods that is home to trolls (or 'trollologs' as he calls them). Of course, Sandy doesn't believe this outlandish story, at least until she consents to join Jamie on a trip to the pit...Man, the tone of this film is all over the place: sometimes jokey, sometimes genuinely disturbing (Jamie's phone call to sexy librarian Marg Livingstone, played by Laura Hollingsworth), sometimes inexplicable (Teddy moves by himself), and sometimes gory (the trolls eating their victims). Just when you think you have it sussed, it changes course. I was 100% convinced that the more fantastical elements -- Jamie's conversations with Teddy and his meetings with the trolls -- were all part of his disturbed imagination, and that when we see Jamie feeding people to the creatures by luring them into the pit, he was in fact killing them himself. That would have made sense (and was apparently the writer's original intent). Instead, the furry, yellow-eyed, meat-eating critters turn out to be all too real, and, aided by Jamie, escape their pit to go on the rampage. Cue a fun-filled final act as a team of hunters pursue the trolls to their hole in the ground and blast them to bits with shotguns (rationalising what they have seen by calling them wild dogs!).And just when you thought it couldn't get any more crazy, there's a twist ending that is positively insane (and is a strong indication that director Lew Lehman had his tongue firmly in cheek throughout).The thing is, as totally haphazard and oddball as the film is, it's certainly never dull: the characters are fun, the performances are solid (Snyders carries most of the film and is suitably weird throughout), and Lehman's direction is competent (I'm surprised to see that it is his only credit as director). The film delivers a couple of surprises along the way (with one particularly unexpected death) and a touch of exploitative content for good measure (topless nudity from Elias, Hollingsworth and the director's daughter Jennifer as a skinny dipping teen who is carried away by a troll). Perhaps most importantly, it is unequivocally unique: it's the only film I can think of where a blind woman in an electric wheelchair is dumped into a pit of cannibalistic trolls. 041b061a72


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