THE SOULTANGLER (1987)
WRITERS: John Bishow, Pat Bishow, Lance Laurie
DIRECTOR: Pat Bishow
STARRING: Jamie Kinser as Kim Castle
Pierre Deveaux as Dr. Anton Lupesky
Bob Cederberg as Carl
Tom Cosari as Zack
Sue Chase as Sandra
Louise Millmann as Jessica
QUICK CUT: A woman investigating her father's death winds up meeting someone who thinks their souls are connected.
Kim - An intrepid reporter determined to get to the bottom of her father's strange demise. She's stubborn, and isn't over her dad's death, and she won't stop until she gets some answers.
Dr. Lupesky - A bit of a madman. He says only he can survive the madness of his drug, but I'm not so sure. He has no ethics or morals, and will do anything to further his research, up to and including kidnapping and murder. In fact, the murder is kinda required.
TRISK ANALYSIS: Welcome back, Triskelions! I hope Summer is treating y'all good, and the weather is nice. But here at Trisk, we're stuck in the basement with some freaky science experiments, and are watching The Soultangler. This movie is...it's, look. Let's just get into it.
Right away, the cheesy 80s synth music draws me in, as it always does. The movie kicks off after the credits with a REALLY trippy sequence with some exposition over it, by our antagonist, Dr. Anton Lupesky. He explains that he invented a drug he calls amphorium, that enables a person to enter another body, provided it has eyes. Oh, and that they're dead.
Well, the eyes ARE the windows to the soul, I guess. But there's a downside to the drug, in that it causes hallucinations, and Anton claims he is the only one who can withstand the madness. You...you sure about that one, doc? I got about 90 minutes of footage that say otherwise.
But like I said, it's a wonderfully trippy scene as Anton freaks out, intercut with mutilated skulls, and gory scenes, and more. It definitely sets a mood.
Things get a bit more normal as we cut to a news reporter talking about the Whitewood Institute that employed Lupesky, and is now closing. Probably because of his experiments.
We watch as Lupesky walks away, and a news report continues on, saying he's leaving the country to work where his ideas are more appreciated. He then almost immediately returns, saying the US facilities are superior. So yeah, this reeks of padding as he leaves only to return minutes later.
We then meet reporter Kim Castle, as she narrates to the camera, before we hear one of her father's last letters to her. In the letter, he tells her that Lupesky is a madman, pure evil, and this has put the suspicions that her father's death may not have been as normal as everyone suspects.
Then we get to meet Anton's two minions, the smitten Jessica and Igor stand-in Carl. They're eager to get back to work with the doctor, and have to get the place ready for his return.
We then watch a really long scene of a girl running, being watched by a creepy guy...and then a van pulls up and grabs the girl, running over the creep before he can kidnap her for himself. That's a nice swerve, but also feels like more padding.
Next there's another couple getting ready to head out, and the van arrives again, so Carl can jump out, beat the guy with a pipe, and kidnap his girlfriend. And you know what happens next? Another random kidnapping! There is a lotta random kidnappings in this town. I am definitely not moving here.
Finally we mix it up a bit, as Kim wakes up in a field, hearing organ music and a strange voice. She approaches the church, and the priest suddenly becomes an incredibly mixed up zombie. Because why not? Let's just dump in a random nightmare on top of everything else.
Kim awakens from her dream, heads off to work, and we get to watch lots of driving and poppy synth music. She does finally go in to talk to her boss and try and convince him to run her story on Lupesky, but since she works for the local tabloid, it's a tough sell.
But wait, strap in for the thrilling READING NEWSPAPER MONTAGE!
We finally get back to the real meat of the story though, with Lupesky working over one of his kidnap victims. He blathers on for a bit about what he's doing to her, and how he needs to kill her to tangle up her essence with his soul, and hello title. Fair warning, this dude likes to monologue to unconscious people.
The scene is wonderfully creepy, and there's a weird charm yet sleaziness to Lupesky's acting, and it's great.
Kim does some more investigation into the disappearances, but enough of that, we get more soliloquies from the doctor to listen to, and that's far more fascinating.
We then get a flashback to him trying to convince the doctor from Whitewood we saw earlier, and it's artily filmed, with the audio and visuals not synching up. The movie is definitely trying to be different. A lot of this movie has a strange dreamlike floating quality to it.
Then it's back to the doctor lady from the institute in real time, and oh, her roommate tells her Lupesky came back SIX MONTHS AGO and she had no idea. You would think, someone so invested in the guy so deeply, would've noticed that.
And it's in this scene, with the doctor smoking, closeups of the ashtray, her friend smoking...I start to realise WOW there is a LOT of smoking in this movie, Christ.
We get even more research, with Kim's buddy who works for the police, Zack, getting some info about a maroon van involved with the kidnappings, and Kim herself researching devil worshipping. Or just watching Haxan. One of those.
She dozes off during that, and has another nightmare where she claws away at her arm, looking for a diagnostic port or something.
The doctor lady arrives at Anton's house to try and run him out of town again, they bonk her out and stick her in the closet for later. Geeze, now he's just ordering kidnap victims to his house. That's service.
Finally, after even more driving and synth music, the plotlines finally decide to converge, and it's about time. Kim shows up at the doctor's house to do an interview with him and his great work.
While they chat, Anton sends Jessica to drug some tea, to dose Kim with some amphorium to drive her mad, and dispose of her pesky questioning.
Kim brings up the allegations of his more questionable work, Lupesky takes offense, and ends the interview. He repeatedly calls for Jessica to remove the annoyance.
So Kim leaves and we get...MORE DRIVING. But don't get too comfortable folks, because the movie has lulled us all into thinking these scenes are slow and boring, but then things get trippy when the amphorium kicks in.
Kim finds a doll laying in the road, it starts speaking in Anton's voice, quoting Shakespeare, and she stomps on it to make it stomp, splattering it into a pile of blood and guts.
She finds herself at the abandoned Whitewood Institution, which has seen better days, and oh yeah. There's zombies shambling after her. As you do.
Our heroine suddenly awakesn on the side of the road, with a voice calling hilariously from off camera that he is her father, and he's going to get her.
Aaaand there's more zombie chasing. Y'know, I love the trippy drugged out sequences, but we get more of that than anything else, and it really goes nowhere except for weird dream shit.
Once she gets her head on straight, having survived the amphorium dosage, she meets with Zack for...MORE TALKING! But they do finally drop in the bit about eyes being the windows to the soul, so there's that.
But then we immediately cut to Zach. On the PHONE with Kim. Asking if she remembers that story he told her about the eyes. You just told her one scene ago, so yes!
We get mired down in a bit more walking and driving around, but oh, oh folks. We also get a "Soultangler" song, a rockin' bit of a tune, with a guy chanting "Soultangler! Soultangler!" The movie just redeemed itself a bit.
Kim heads back to Lupesky manor at night, to sneak around and take photographs, but Carl grabs her. She briefly escapes, hops in the kidnapmobile, but immediately crashes into a tree. So that was a short-lived escape.
But fortunately, Kim was smart enough to have good friends, and her roomie calls up Zack to do something, like check it out himself, and maybe call the cops.
However, it is also a short-lived capture, because someone sure sucks at tying knots at Casa Del Lupesky. Kim almost immediately unties herself and runs off.
The Kim Rescue Squad arrives, and Zack goes in first, because he's arguably a police officer, even if he just works at the front desk.
Meanwhile, the reporter rushes around trying to either escape or hide, eventually ducking into a closet...and her friend gets bonked on the head from behind while she waits to do nothing outside.
But, the doctor knows she's in there, somehow, and he grabs her. He starts hilariously talking while holding onto her, and occasionally letting go because this guy loves emoting with his hands. I can relate. But still.
Then Lupseky falls over cackling after threatening Kim, and we see her friend wander in. They embrace, her face changes, and Sandra speaks in Lupesky's voice, the dead woman possessed by his disembodied soul. LET THE SOULTANGLING BEGIN.
Sandra then topples to the ground, and the doctor pops up like a sadistic game of Pop Goes the Lupesky. He grabs Kim, cackling, and they give her a second dose of amphorium.
Zach arrives with his gun and holds Lupesky at gunpoint, telling him the cops are on the way. Anton takes it all in stride, in fact he laughs heartily over it and falls away.
And folks. This is where the movie goes from Good to Great. Lupesky suddenly reanimates a mutilated corpse, in rough shape, with his chest ripped open, and guts pouring out.
It's somehow silly and camp, but also really terrifying and creepy as the person threatens with the incongruous voice of Lupesky. It especially helps because the movie has been just so mundane thus far.
Zach tries to stop the shambling monster by punching him in the gut, but more guts just spill out. Intestines which the man just uses to strangle Zach with.
Kim does some quick thinking, finds a board with two nails in it, and slams them into the creature's face. I suppose the intention is to take out his eyes, but that is a wildly specific weapon to discover. But I can roll with it. If I must. But then someone shall find a bigger board, with bigger nails on it...!
Zach and Jessica struggle over a gun, which goes off and kills her. Kim explains what's going on, as best she can (BECAUSE THIS IS BATSHIT), and they try to find where Lupesky is hiding, gouging eyes along the way.
The wannabe cop finds a brain with eyes attached to it, that still is apparently enough for Lupesky to control. The refugee from The Fiend Without a Face tries to make with a Zach Attack, only to be stomped good.
But then there is a horribly mutilated body in the corner that starts cackling like the Cryptkeeper, and man. This place must REEK with all the bodies scattered around. Lupesky starts mocking them, saying he's fast as fast can be, you'll never catch me!
Which, sure, but eventually he's gonna run out of things with eyes to jump into, at the rate they're going.
Next he jumps into a body missing half a face, and this movie may be camp as fuck, and cheesy as hell, but they did NOT skimp on the gore effects. I respect that.
Lupesky leaps back into his own body and commands Carl to stop them, since he's the Brute Squad around here. Carl's sick of taking orders though, the two of them fight, and the doc whacks his minion in the neck, nearly taking his head clean off.
The body stumbles around, spurting blood, with the head barely hanging on, and did I mention the awesome effects?
Naturally, Lupesky jumps into the big strong lug, and goes after Kim, until she stabs out HIS eyes with two test tubes that gloriously fill with blood.
Kim goes to stab out Lupesky's eyes, when the cops arrive and everyone is pretty disgusted by the utter horror show this place is, with all the bodies in various states of mutilation. Y'know, for all this talk of soultangling and the importance of this gift, I gotta say...it seems pretty limited, and Lupesky doesn't do a whole lot with it besides making his body Corpsey in the corner laugh at his own jokes.
The movie could rightfully be over at this point, but nah, let's watch as the cops sit around outside drinking coffee and trying to make sense of this.
And still it could be over after that, but sure, we can sit around with Kim and discount Ted Raimi chatting about stuff and how everything worked out in the end!
FINALLY it ends with Jessica being wheeled out of the hospital, with her eyes covered up and blood coming out of them, as she screams, so we know Lupesky lives, but is trapped forever in her body. Aww, they finally get to be together forever.
Video: It looks good enough, for what it is, you know this was not shot with a big budget, and it looks fine.
Audio: There are times when I wish the audio was a bit louder, or they were better micced, but for the most part, it's fine.
Body Count: With so many dead and undead bodies, it gets a bit dodgy, but I tried to count any final death.
1 - 12:30 minutes, man run over by van.
2 - Random dude beaten on his lawn?
3 - Randomer dude beaten on the streets?
4 - Woman gets her face carved up so she can tangle souls with the doctor.
5 - Jenny dies while fighting with Zack
6 - First corpse gets killed again with nails to the eyes.
7 - Jessica gets shot in the struggle with Zack
8 - Carl gets his head nearly whacked off
9 - Lupesky's body dies without a soul, BUT HE LIVES ON...
Best Corpse: Can i go with the dude missing half his face? Because that was amazing. Besides that, best actual death would be Carl's.
Blood Type - A-: So much blood and gore and some great effects give this a passing grade.
Sex Appeal: I think we get through this with nothing.
Drink Up! every time someone smokes.
Video Nasties: A collection of highlights from the Soultangling sequence.
Movie Review: The plot has a clear path from Kim's goals, but it seems very meandering, coupled with a lot of padding. But all that fluff does work well, once the souls hit the fan. It is a long trip, but it makes that strangeness hit you in the gut all the more. It's actually made well enough, for something trying to impart a strange, off putting, dreamlike quality to the narrative at times. That might not have been entirely intentional, but it works surprisingly well. But the acting is on the rougher side, and it's clearly made on no budget. Still, it's got a lot going for it, and some genuine earnest effort to it, three out of five brains with eyes.
Entertainment Value: Fortunately, the plodding start of the movie does still give you a lot to laugh at, and keep your attention, and knows just when to drop in a weird dream, or Lupesky chewing scenery. And he chews it so well, and is a thrill to watch and flail and laugh. And then the final twenty minutes, when it all hits, makes the journey worth it. Four out of five dangling heads.
BONUS REVIEW: There is actually a SECOND version of this movie, a shorter, 62 minute director's cut, on the DVD. First of all, I think it takes a lot of guts for a director to look at his work and honestly say, "There's about 30 minutes of bullshit in this movie I can cut out and get it closer to my vision." And yes, yes there is. And also the director pretty much confirms exactly that in the commentary, going into how much he doesn't care for all the padding he felt compelled to put in. And yes, it is a slightly better movie, since you get right to the good stuff, even if you do lose that sense of being lulled into a sense of safety.