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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Tower of Evil Jim O'Connolly 1971

Sometimes a Tower is Just What's in My Pants

An absolute gem of a horrorsexploitation film, 1971’s Tower of Evil is essentially an amped-up Scooby Doo episode for porny adults. Which is to say that it’s everything that I ever wanted in a filmed motion picture entertainment. Imagine Daphne as a drugged-out hooker, Fred as a bearded Topher Grace, Shaggy as a stoner hippie horndog, and Velma as a bug-eyed Hammer actress. Throw in some primo grass, a wonderfully fogged lighthouse set, and repeated references to “jazz festivals”, and you’ve got the makings of a pot-hazed bitchfest of epic proportions. Oh, and did I mention that Scooby is a babbling, psychotic retard? Like we’d have him any other way.

Tower of Evil (originally titled The Horror of Snape Island) begins with an unapologetic 3-minute shot of a miniature lighthouse that’s apparently supposed to pass for the real thing. Already I’m in heaven. From here we cut to 2 crusty seamen navigating the foggy, rocky waters as they approach said miniature lighthouse. Crusty seamen? Again, pure heaven. And when Captain Salty and Skipper McSpunk finally reach the island, what do they find? A naked male body ass-up in a pool of seawater, with a few sand crabs scuttling over its perfect buns. HALLELUJAH! Well, except for the crabs, that is -- itchy little bastards, ain't they?

I won’t get into the fact that said buns belong to John Hamill, who at the time was one of Britain’s top physique models (Joe Dallesandro, eat your tush out), or the fact that he spends at least half of his screen time nude and brandishing his shitbox for all to see, because we’re all about SERIOUS criticism here. Right, kids? No, instead I’ll focus on the plot, which involves a bunch of super-hot kids hanging out on this abandoned island after a jazz festival, getting stoned and fucking each other’s brains out, and then all dying horrible, violent, bloody deaths. See how civilized that is?

It seems that of her group of friends, lovely Penny (Candace Glendenning) is the only one who survives a night on Snape Island, and even she is so traumatized by their stay that she knifes the shit out of an elderly man when he stumbles across her stark-raving and stark-naked self hiding in a shed behind the lighthouse. She then runs, panicked, through a fog-ravaged series of non sequitur flashback images, screaming the whole way, until slamming smack into the other fisherman (the one that looks oddly like James Cromwell from Babe the Gallant Pig), who clubs her on the head with a wrench or something. And rightfully so – bitch was getting annoying. We move forward and find that Penny is in a catatonic state, the kind that can only be fully enjoyed by quack psychologists with color wheels. Yes, a doctor is using Motel Hell-style flashing lights to induce some kind of total recall for Penny so that she can remember what happened to her and her friends on the island (which resulted in a beheading, a sword-impalement, and poor sweet-cheeked John Hamill’s gloriously-bootied demise). But for now she’s too batshit to remember, which is good – as that would pretty much end the movie.

Now it’s time to meet our REAL cast – that is, the Big Chill Scooby Gang, with whom we’ll revisit the studio set down the block and hopefully encounter more mayhem. I’ll only touch on the important (read: either hot or trashy) ones, as the rest aren’t worth getting into. Adam (Mark Edwards) is ostensibly our puckishly handsome (though somewhat mantis-bodied hero) and the aforementioned bearded pre-incarnation of Topher Grace. He’s pretty cool, and his fashion choices certainly would allow for Fred’s ascot fixation. Nora (the GORGEOUS Anna Palk) is our slutty, drugged-out Daphne, whose sexual appetite is rivaled only by her appetite for weed (she smokes 3 joints in a row at one point). Her outfit is preposterous, considering that these people are supposed to be anthropologists or something (they’re investigating the island for a potential shrine to Baal, as suggested by the sacrificial sword that was found in one of the hippie victims), and by the end she’s wearing what looks like a leftover costume from When Women Had Tails. So she’s baked out of her mind, wearing a suede bikini, and is a total ho. Great. She’s also caught the eye of our resident Shaggy, swinging lothario Brom (Gary Hamilton -- you know, should I even bother listing actors' names if they've only been in one film? Like you'll have any idea who the fuck I'm talking about?), who sounds like he’s perpetually congested and sports one of the most hideous costumes in history but looks pretty damn sweet when it hits the floor. If you’re into the lanky, bedroom-eyed British rocker type, you’ll be all over him. And then there’s Rose, the somewhat-less-trampy and helmet-coiffed heroine, played by moonpie-eyed Jill Haworth, who you will totally recognize the instant you see her. She’s our Velma, and she’s probably as thrilled as you would be to be saddled with such a lame character.

Anyway, these swinging thirtysomethings alternately bicker (there’s a lot of romantic entanglement), investigate the island, and boff the help (Brom is a hired hand, having spent all his summer money at a jazz festival – what is UP with these damn things? They’re the kiss of death!), and we slowly put together the pieces of the island’s puzzle. I don’t want to give too much away (because it’s really quite obvious), but let’s just say that it predates both Hell Night and Humongous by a decade. The whole Baal treasure thing -- like Communism -- is just a red herring, really; the actual story behind the murders is much simpler and therefore much more interesting, in my opinion.

And really, who cares about the plot when there’s hot pot-smoking intellectuals who trade partners like baseball cards and wear the late sixties’ hottest fashions? I certainly don’t. And it’s even easier to ignore when there are bloody murders, explosions, legitimately spooky moments (the unseen killer’s “nervous laugh” really got under my skin), gruesomely rotten corpses (Slimy. As. Fuck.), unbridled bitchiness, and more hysterical screaming than you can shake an overdubbed Italian at. The pace is fairly brisk, there are some deliberate and well-staged stalk-and-scare sequences, and the overall look of the film is garish but kind of beautiful in its own cheesy way. I was also impressed by the editing, which I can imagine must have shocked just about anyone who wasn't a devout Russ Meyer follower at the time -- the jarring flashbacks are really quite hypnotic, particuarly the one that sustains what must literally be 90 full seconds of constant, fever-pitch screaming. And the actors are a real kicker as well: Edwards is a fun little dickens to watch -- his eyes twinkle like he were about to sell us Irish Spring or something -- and Palk's droll, jaded bitch is of a camp caliber that any sissy worth his sea salt will adore.

But in the end, it’s really all about the buns, isn’t it? Thanks to a Best Supporting Man-Can performance by John Hamill (who went on to do straight hardcore sex films – if you come across any, CALL ME) and a few other spots of dreaminess, Tower of Evil may be more of a euphemism for its delighted homo horrorhound viewers than its creators ever intended.

Rating (out of 5):