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Thursday, April 23, 2009

BLITZKRIEG: ESCAPE FROM STALAG 69 -- DVD review by porfle

At a stultifying 135 minutes, Keith J. Crocker's ode to grindhouse Nazi-sploitation, BLITZKRIEG: ESCAPE FROM STALAG 69 (2008), is almost twice as long as his 1997 trash classic THE BLOODY APE, but not quite as much fun to watch. Still, the more prurient among us (excluding myself, of course, heh heh) will find much to enjoy, although getting to these tidbits of titillation can be pretty slow going until the lively climax.

With the writer-director of THE BLOODY APE at the helm, BLITZKRIEG's atrocities rub shoulders with lots of goofy comedy. Charles Esser plays Helmut Schultz, the rotund commandant of the camp, like a petulant kid whose mommy didn't love him enough. Shoehorned into the same uniform that he had fifty pounds ago and sporting a German accent that would be hard for Arnold Schwarzenegger to decipher, Schultz delights in performing inhuman experiments on prisoners even as his superiors warn him of retaliation by the rapidly advancing Allied forces. His Ilsa-lite sister Frieda (Gordana Jenell) is a junior officer who also enjoys tormenting the hapless POWs.

Schultz's "pet" project is a mutant ape-man (seen only in deleted scenes) about which he boasts, "This beast will not only kill the enemy...he will rape the women, and defile the entire environment!" After a disapproving scientist nixes the project, Schultz tells his equally-corpulent toady Wolfgang (Steve Montague): "He must be blind not to realize the potential of my mighty man-ape!"

Meanwhile, burly Yank prisoner Jack Jones (Edward Yankus) is planning a daring escape with the help of his fellow inmates Lucille (Brenda Cooney), a plucky Scottish lass, and the fierce Natasha (Tatyana Kot), a Russian ball of fire whose unending torture sessions only make her more revenge-crazed and dangerous. Yankus, whose acting style consists mainly of reciting his lines without actually falling over, resembles an amusing cross between John Goodman and Al Gore. Crocker himself, as "James St. Bernard", appears as an American sad sack named "Bernard St. James."

Also joining the Allied opposition are two captured USO performers-- Marjie Kelly as 70s style jive-talkin' black mama Marjie ("Who in the hell are you two turkeys?" she asks Schultz and Wolfgang), and Tammy Dalton as a cute Southern-fried stripper named Candice, who, posing as a guard, greets an approaching Nazi with a chipper "Heil Hitler, y'all!" Kelley looks well fit in the buff, but after a brief flogging and a shower scene, she doesn't have much to do. But when sweet Candice is forced to perform her cheesy burlesque act for her jeering captors, Tammy Dalton pulls it off beautifully. It's one of the three or four really good setpieces in the film--suddenly Crocker and company are firing on all cylinders and, for a few minutes, it feels like we're watching a real movie.

For sheer, manic intensity, however, nobody in the cast can match Tatyana Kot. Her flame-haired dervish Natasha is a real treat to watch, whether she's spitting blood and screaming wild-eyed obscenities back at her torturers or running naked through the woods with a machine gun, mowing down German soldiers. In a flashback, we see her lure one of them into a bubbly bathtub for some almost-hardcore sex before gleefully castrating him, in an obvious homage to the tub scene from I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE.

Another penectomy occurs in the Nazi torture dungeon, this time in full close-up as the sadistic and sexy Dr. Zuber demonstrates to a visiting Japanese general (Wayne Chang) the best way to neutralize an unruly male prisoner. Here, the awesome Steph Van Vlack, who is the closest thing in BLITZKRIEG to a genuine "Ilsa"-type character, delivers the film's most skilled performance while once again the direction and camerawork somehow click into just the right groove. Seductive yet steely-eyed and evil, the topless Dr. Zuber playfully toys with her captive until the scene comes to a cutting end with some fake-looking but rather startling FX. After that, I'm thinking that if Crocker had made Steph Van Vlack's Dr. Zuber the main character of this movie, it would've been a lot more awesome.

Additional horrors include Natasha's incessant ordeals of bamboo shoots under the fingernails, hot branding irons, a nasty finger vise, a stretching rack, etc., plus various other male and female prisoners being violated in depraved ways. These episodes are interspersed between numerous boring dialogue sequences until finally we get to the breakout finale, where the action finally kicks into high gear. In addition to the obligatory gory revenge against the Nazis, some of the good guys also get theirs in surprising ways and there's an ironic twist or two as well. It's no spoiler to reveal that Schultz gets away, since the whole sordid tale is a flashback that he's recounting years later to a shocked priest (THE BLOODY APE's Paul Richichi), in a framing story that has its own surprise ending.

Obviously, no film made for $10,000 is going to look all that impressive, especially when it's a WWII sex-and-sadism thriller set in a Nazi prison camp. The locations are okay although some of the camp exteriors look like they were shot in somebody's backyard. Costuming and set design (by co-scripter Keith Matturro) range from semi-realistic to impressionistic, with a ragtag group of Russian POWs looking the most authentic. Crocker decided to go with the cheaper digital video instead of film this time, although his 16mm black-and-white test footage (one of the DVD's extras) looks pretty cool.

Other bonus features include an entertaining commentary track with Crocker, Matturro, Kot, and Wild Eye Releasing's Rob Hauschild, a making-of featurette called "Nazis Over Nassau", the original 16mm extended trailer "Schindler's Lust" (1995) starring THE BLOODY APE's Larry Koster, deleted scenes, a cast and crew Q & A session from the film's premiere, production stills, bloopers, trailers, and short film by Crocker entitled "Desade '88." Image and sound quality are okay, although the really bad accents rendered much of the dialogue difficult for me to make out.

Although the production values are exceedingly low, it's fun watching Keith Crocker attempt something this ambitious on such a small budget. And while it takes a bit of effort to get through this overlong and often tedious schlock epic, there are enough elements of sex, violence, and perversion--along with some pretty off-the-wall comedy--to make the trip worthwhile for fans of this bizarro brand of entertainment.

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1 comment:

Kung Fu Movies Rock! said...

I really love this blog! I'd never have heard about a film like Blitzkrieg: Stalag 69 if it weren't for you! I love bad trashy movies.
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