1/24/09

Dollar Dealicious: Sisters of Death (1977)

Heya folks, it's the Bug back again to bring you another fine flick that  wont make your pocketbook get sick. That's right it's Dollar Deals time again. This month, as you all know because you would never miss a day at the Lair, I'm covering films from the value priced Horrorlicious box set, and with only two more weeks to go I can heartily say that I've really enjoyed this set. Tonight's film only strengthens that feeling as we unravel a tale, not of the Brothers of Dismay, The Uncles of Woe, or The Cousins Twice Removed of Pain, but of the....
Sisters of Death (1977) starring Claudia Jennings, Cheri Howell, Sherry Boucher, Paul Carr, Joe E. Tata, Sherri Alberoni. Roxxanne Albee, and Arthur Franz. Directed by Joseph Mazzuca. 

Judy (Jennings) and her friend Liz Clyborn are being inducted into a group called "The Sisters", and the final step of the initiation calls for them to have a gun pointed to their head and the trigger pulled. The gun is loaded with a dummy bullet, and it's not supposed to fire. Everything goes fine as Judy takes her turn, but when the gun is turned on Liz, it goes off killing her instantly. 

Seven years later, and the sisters have long since parted ways. Judy is living the good life and had designs on the handsome son of the Governor, but when she receives a mysterious invitation to a reunion of "The Sisters", she heads out warily, haunted by their deadly past. The other four girls, speed demon Francie (Alberoni); hippy chick Penny (Albee); the hitch hiking Diana (Howell); and bitchy Sylvia (Boucher), all arrive at an inn. There they meet up with Mark and Joey (Carr and Tata), two men sent to pick up the girls and take them to "their final destination." After an hour's drive, they arrive at a large house out in the country where the men drop them off. 

The women find the house supplied with rooms for each of them, fine drink, and food, and they begin to start partying. Mark and Joey spy on the girls from a distance, and finally decide to crash the festivities. The guys hop and fence and sneak their way up to the house. After a cool reception from Sylvia, the other girls show up and the party really gets going. The next morning the girls awaken and each of them finds a picture of poor dead Liz in their rooms. 

They soon find themselves prisoner in the house, and even the fence around the property has become electrified. When their host unexpectedly reveals himself, it is in the guise of none other than Liz's father (Franz). He believes his daughter was murdered, and he calmly announces that he plans to avenge her death and uncover the truth. As he makes good on his promise, the group bands together to find a means of escape. Yet secrets run deep in "The Sisters". A traitor walks among them, and the truth must come out. 

Film Facts

--Joe E. Tata would later come to another kind of cult fame as Peach Pit's very own Nat on Beverly Hills 90210 and even now is reprising that role in the 2008 spin off/remake, the more briefly named, 90210.

--Sherri Albertini joined the cast of  The Mickey Mouse Club at age nine, and would go on to appear in many TV shows as she grew up. She has a reoccurring role on the series Family Affair for many years, and would go on to be the voice of Wendy on The Super Friends and Alexandra Cabot on Josie and the Pussycats. 

--Claudia Jennings was the Playmate of the Year in 1970. She also appeared in many genre films such as Unholy Rollers (1972) and Gator Bait (1974), and she was also considered for Kate Jackson's role on Charlie's Angels. Tragically she died in an auto accident in 1979.

--Sisters of Death was filmed in 1972, but didn't get a release for 5 more years. 


The Bug Speaks

You may well have already guessed that I enjoyed this film, and you would be correct. It had a ton of great things going for it, and for me, this was one of those films where the things that detract from it, only serve to enhance. At the core of this film is the story, and while simple and a tad overdone, it is played out quite well. There are tons of movies with the "Ten Little Indians" premise, but coming though the filter of a film that seems like the bastard child of the grindhouse and the Movie of the Week, something original manages to fall out despite itself. 

The acting, well, let's just say it varies. Roxanne Albee's flaky Penny and Cheri Howell as Diana are probably the two worst performances turned in, but thankfully neither of them holds the screen very long. Claudia Jennings' Judy is well played, and the actress put enough in the role to be able to pull off a few deft twists in her story arc. I really liked the performances of Paul Carr and Joe E. Tata as the accidental henchmen/heroes. Carr came off a bit like a cut rate David Soul (of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) , but when his hero guy potential gets going, he was really fun to watch. Tata on the other hand was more of the comic relief, and his suave '70's guy swagger made his turn as Joey come alive. 

The strongest actor in the film was by far Arthur Franz. As the vengeful father with his wild hair and manic looking eyes, he chewed up the scenery every time he stepped into a frame. Just watching him in his attic as he fashioned his own bullets becomes a study in how to make a minor character the lead role. It should be no surprise if you happen to see this film and recognize his face. He worked steadily as a character actor for over 30 years starting in movies like Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man and The Caine Mutiny(1954). He had over 135 credits to his name by the time he made Sisters of Death, and this was a man who knew how to make the small role big. He would have a few more roles until retiring in 1982, and he would later pass away in 2006 at the ripe old age of 86.

Now that I've gushed about the acting and the story let's get to the portion of the film that really brought it all together for me. It was made pretty dang poorly. The cinematographer, Grady Martin, only shot this one picture, and this was the only theatrical release film for director Mazzuca (who went on to be a production manager in the animation world working on She-ra, Muppet Babies, and Dexter's Laboratory.) The visual style of the film is quite a mess, but somewhere between the wildly sweeping shots, the boom being in the frame, and some rather rough edits, there is a charm in it's 16mm muddiness. It's not a film you're going to put on if you want to sit back and absorb the wonders of cinema. It's one you're going to watch and it'll make you wonder what is going on with it, but in a good way. 

This is a film that will not please lots of folks. From the production to the product itself, it lacks a couple key elements that usually add to the appeal of a movie of this ilk. There is precious little in the way of blood spilled with only the shooting at the beginning and one other murder yielding the red stuff, and there is only the promise of nudity that goes unfulfilled. For what it lacks, it still delivers you a maniac with a Gatling gun, a tarantula full of Cool Whip, a veritable parade of questionable '70's style, and an ending that twists literally up until the last frame. So check it out folks, and let me know what you think of what these twisted sisters (sorry, it was too easy to pass up) have in store for you. 

Bug Rating



No trailer I'm afraid, but here's the opening three minutes of the film.

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