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Plot: mercenary happens upon conspiracy while tracking mass murderer.

Rene Perez describes Cabal as a tribute to “80s exploitation” which is just about the biggest oxymoron if there ever was one. At the dawn of the 80s the grindhouses on 42nd street were on the verge of extinction as the burdgeoning home video market swept in as a cleansing fire and the new alternative for low budget thrills. Semantics aside, Perez directed, edited, photographed, scored, and co-wrote Cabal with frequent collaborator Barry Massoni, and it’s one of his best this side of Cry Havoc (2019) and Death Kiss (2018). Eva Hamilton once again showcases that she’s the best Perez babe since Nicole Stark, Karin Brauns, Irina Levadneva, and Alanna Forte. Cabal is very much Cry Havoc (2019) with a late seventies/early eighties exploitation aesthetic. Death Kiss (2018) was an obvious tribute to Death Wish (1974). Cabal seems to be a tribute to the backwood horror and cheapo action features that were popular in the early eighties.

To say that Rene Perez has come a long way since The Snow Queen (2013) would be putting it mildly. In the last couple of years Perez has gotten far more dynamic and mobile in the way he shoots and lines up his scenes. His static scenic shots now only are part of a much wider palette and his keen eye for beautiful landscapes hasn’t dulled. When conceptualizing Cabal he probably looked towards bonafide American classics as Bloodeaters (1980), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), I Drink Your Blood (1970), and Raw Force (1982). As for the government conspiracy angle Coma (1978), Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979), or Eyes Behind the Stars (1978) are likely inspirations. Honestly, as much as we can get behind Cabal on mere principle as it obviously has it heart in the right place, it just so happens to be confused about what exactly it wants to be. Cabal is four movies mangled into one – it isn’t Commando Ninja (2018) or anything.

One day military contractor Dragonfly (John Ozuna) makes his acquaintance with Elizabeth (Eva Hamilton) in a local wateringhole. Elizabeth has been investigating the disappearance of a number of nubile women in the California Redwood forests. She believes that the women are brought there by a band of human traffickers who harvest their organs for interested third-parties. To get to said organs and body parts they let the women loose in the woodlands where Sallos (Tony Jackson) dwells. Sallos is a deranged homicidal maniac sporting a mask and a barbwired axe with a known affinity for bodily dismemberment and his quick, brutal methods of execution. After negotiating terms of the contract Dragonfly sets out to find Sallos and any survivors.

It doesn’t take long before Dragonfly is able to locate Sallos. When he finds remains of other girls that went missing he happens upon a massive conspiracy involving the local elite with ties going to the highest echelons of government, the corporate world, and mass media. It seems that Dr. Bieger (Joseph Camilleri), his media magnate girlfriend Kathleen (Linda Bott), their mutual associate and head of operations Sloan (Keely Dervin) and corporate strongwoman Thea (Alexandra Fabbri, as Alex Fabbri) are part of a organ harvest ring with the help of Dr. Kelly (Denise Poole) at the local hospital. Their goal is obtain eternal youth and vitality which will allow them to further strengthen and consolidate their political – and economical influence to bend the powers that be to their will. Now the cabal has set their eye on a waitress (Candace Cannon) and aspiring model Priss (Rebecca Tarabocchia). Things take a turn for the personal when Elizabeth is ambushed by para-military forces and finds herself at the mercy of Sallos.

Whereas Death Kiss (2018) was blatant and obvious in what it imitated Cabal is far less so. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what Cabal is supposed to pay homage to outside of “80s exploitation” - and that’s enough of a blanket term to be practically meaningless. With Cabal Rene has thrown together a bunch of different popular 80s fads without bothering too much, or at all, whether they mesh together, or not. First and foremost, Cabal is an action movie – complete with explosive shoot-outs, martial arts, and bloodspatters. Second, it’s a backwood horror about a deranged masked killer stalking, hacking, and killing a bunch of pretty girls in a scenic woodland locale. Third, it’s a police thriller wherein a military contractor is hired by a private individual to track down a bunch of missing persons. Fourth, and finally, it’s conspiracy thriller about the wealthy and politically connected elite operating a clandestine organ harvest ring out of a hospital to attain the closest thing to immortality. Most of the time, however, Cabal feels like Cry Havoc (2019) and Death Kiss (2018) stitched together.

The new blood is, admittedly, a mixed bag. Tony Jackson replaces J.D. Angstadt as the prerequisite mute serial killer. Jackson’s performance is minimalist and brute, near identical to Angstadt in that regard. Angstadt, of course, modeled his role after Charlie Glackin. John Ozuna will make you pine for Robert Kovacs, David Reinprecht, and Robert Amstler. The girls? Well, there’s not really a whole to say about them. Rebecca Tarabocchia, Clementine Hetherington, and Kimberly Molina all do what girls like this in Perez features always do: they smile, take their top off, wimper, and die. Neither of them leaves much of an impression the way Spring Inés Peña, Sierra Sherbundy, Raven Lexy, Stormi Maya, or Elonda Seawood did. Melody Vaughan plays the kind of maternal, protective role that Malorie Glavan usually does. Only Denise Poole and Candace Cannon manage to do something with what little they are given. As for the oldtimers: Linda Bott, and Joseph Camilleri will make you wish Marilyn Robrahn, Richard Tyson or John J. Welsh were still around. Bott and Camilleri would feel right at home in the next Neil Breen spectacular. Illuminating every scene she’s in (and acting better than the majority of the cast, combined) is Eva Hamilton. Miss Hamilton is just about the best thing in Cabal.

For reasons inexplicable Perez has chosen a very desaturated color scheme. The lush vibrant colors of, say, Sleeping Beauty (2014) are conspicuous only by their absence. Sallos is pretty much a nonentity compared to Prisoner AYO-886 / Havoc and instead of a full-blown The Last House on the Left (1972) madmen-on-the-loose flick Cabal is, for the most part, a fairly conventional action movie with some horror dressings. Cabal would probably have benefitted from cutting Sallos altogether as the Neil Breen-like conspiracy is far more interesting than a bunch of scantily clad babes escaping from another axe-wielding masked maniac. Sallos can in no shape or form compete with Rene’s greatest creation Prisoner AYO-886 / Havoc and Cabal attests to that. Sallos has no real reason being in Cabal other then to provide a few gory kills, and he has no other function besides that.

The kidnapping and stalking could just as easy been done by the military personnel and there would be no notable narrative difference. The trailer is misleading in that it banks on the presence of Sallos so much. He’s just a peon. Here’s an idea for the next Playing with Dolls episode: an apocalyptic duel between Havoc and Sallos in the California Redwoods devised by The Watcher, with a bunch of pretty people acting as either cannon fodder or live bait. The score is a stroll down to memory lane with lots of ambient synths and piano. For that grimy grindhouse feel the digital film stock is artificially aged through the use of lines, grains, and speckles of dirt. It feels awfully 70s for an 80s throwback. The action direction and fight choreography from John Ozuna is sort of functional but one-dimensional – and has nothing on Hong Kong. Perhaps Perez should keep Ozuna as a consultant and employ Antony Cinturino, Danielle C. Ryan, or Cecily Fay.

Now that Rene is on an 80s revivalist binge let us pitch another idea. How about that long overdue LETHAL Ladies imitation we all know he has been pining to make? He could call it B.U.S.T. (or Branch of Unity, Strategy & Tactics. We have given this some thought, you see) and have the most beloved Perez babes face off against his usual array of stuntmen and bodybuilders. If anything over the years Rene has made some stellar casting choices that wouldn’t feel out of place in a vintage Andy Sidaris spycaper. Imagine what Perez could do with a stretch of beach, palm trees, a warm color palette and a female ensemble cast in pastel-colored bikinis wielding oversized guns and candy-colored cocktails. Who wouldn’t want to see Eva Hamilton, Spring Inés Peña, Omnia Bixler, Alanna Forte (or Elonda Seawood), Karin Brauns (or Wilma Elles), and Aurelia Scheppers (or Irina Levadneva) duke it out in an explosive battle against crimelord Richard Tyson, or Daniel Baldwin and their bevy of gun-wielding beautiful henchettes? What better opportunity than to have Stormi Maya, Raven Lexy, and Gemma Donato cameo? It would the ideal excuse to hire Breen babes Jennifer Autry, or Victoria Viveiros, low budget starlets like Schuylar Craig, Lisa Palenica, Alejandra Morin, Ginny You, and Tracey Birdsall or genuine talent like Cristine Reyes, Nicole Bilderback, Samantha Robinson or Nicola Posener. Andy made 12 of these things, and Rene (so far) has none. How’s that possible? We’d even help brainstorm a storyline outline with possible setpieces and locations, if that’s what it takes to get the ball rolling.

For most of its duration Cabal feels like a repurposed Playing with Dolls script. Over the years Rene has abundantly proven that he knows how to shoot an exciting action scene on a low budget. Death Kiss (2018) evinced that better than anything. Cabal might not be the next big Perez caper but it has its heart in the right place. The thing is that Cabal has a bit too much going on at any point and it lacks the focus of Death Kiss (2018). This would have worked wonders as a madmen-on-the-loose horror flick in tradition of The Last House on the Left (1972), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) or as a martial arts action movie in vein of Raw Force (1982). That Cabal starts out as an action movie only to turn into a backwood horror, and then to contort itself into a conspiracy thriller is what ultimately works to its detriment. It never settles on a specific tone nor direction. It’s everything at once, and none of the above. And that’s a shame. Especially when you have somebody as versatile Eva Hamilton at your disposal. Cabal does everything we have come to expect of a Perez feature – and while it may not surpass them, we can’t shake the impression that this could have been so much more. The trailer certainly looked promising. Perhaps a second go at Cabal might birth what this always should have been.

Plot: can Pervirella save Condon from the evil Queen Victoria?

After the fall of the great houses of Hammer, Amicus, and Tigon and with directors-producers as Norman J. Warren and Pete Walker moving out of the filmmaking business British exploitation – and cult cinema seemed destined for obscurity. For a while, at least, that was indeed the case… until 1997. That year two figureheads of counterculture, two masters of fringe cinema joined forces for Perverilla, a vaudevillian throwback of deliberate kitsch and cheese that, for all intents and purposes, was to be a celebration of yesteryear’s celluloid heroes of the preposterous, and the grotesque. Far from a critical – and commercial success upon original release it attained something of a rabid cult following in ensuing decades. In no small part responsible for that following was it being an early outing for two future British television personalities, the last great hurrah for ailing British - and Italian exploitation mainstay David Warbeck, and a showcase for the considerable assets of a young (and often very naked) Emily Booth.

The mad genius behind Pervirella is Josh Collins - a first class honors graduate from Central St. Martins school of Art and Design in London in 1990 - who made a name for himself in British nightlife with his underground cabaret and burlesque club The Frat Shack, RHB Exotic Entertainment as well as his bars in Melbourne and Perth. Collins and his entourage are behind the annual retro music festivals Wild Weekend Festival in the UK and Spain as well as the Las Vegas Grind in Las Vegas, Nevada. With his Zombie Zoo Productions production company Collins conceptualizes, designs, and manufactures everything from sets, costumes, and props for the various live performances of his artist collective. As an avid fan of cult cinema from the sixties to eighties Collins was bound to envision his own deviant feature and with The Perv Parlor (1995) that was indeed what happened. Helming The Perv Parlor (1995) was underground filmmaker Alex Chandon who by then had helmed micro-budget splatter epics as Chainsaw Scumfuck (1988), Bad Karma (1991), and Drillbit (1992). In short, Josh Collins is the embodiment of decadence and excess, and more or less the British equivalent to notorious boob-lovers as Jim Wynorski, Andy Sidaris, or Bill Zebub.

Pervirella was to be Collins’ most ambitious and engrossing production up to that point. A spiritual successor to his The Perv Parlor (1995) filled to the gill with oneiric fantasy images, Victorian Age period costumes, ornately designed candy-colored full-size sets, cartoony miniatures, and model animation. It was to be the scion to everything from School For Sex (1969), Zeta One (1969) and Girl Slaves Of Morgana LeFay (1971) to Flesh Gordon (1974), Marie, the Doll (1976), StarCrash (1979) and Galaxina (1980). Following in the footsteps of Luane Peters, Judy Matheson, Kirsten Lindholm, Yutte Stensgaard, Pippa Steel, and Mary and Madeleine Collinson was 21-year-old Cheshire hottie Emily Booth, a curvaceous cutie with an aversion to clothing. As Pervirella Booth was modeled after Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella and the Roger Vadim adaptation from 1968 where female libido is the strongest currency, as well as Modesty Blaise. Collins’ creation had a penchant for dressing in pink just as Hanna-Barbera's Penelope Pitstop from Wacky Races (1968) and there never was a situation where Pervirella couldn’t get out of by flashing her breasts or swinging her ass. Among the many guest stars are Redemption Film muses Eileen Daly, and Rebecca Eden, as well as the controversial, BAFTA award winning Jonathan Ross (BBC’s highest paid star as of 2006) and The Word and Never Mind The Buzzcocks host Mark Lamarr. Early in the production Caroline Munro was to guest star as well, but she left after a few weeks. That Pervirella was a satirical jab at the the Royal House of Windsor is an added bonus. Before America got in on the action with Superstarlet A.D. (2000), there was Pervirella.

In the realm of Condon, evil Queen Victoria (Sexton Ming) has decreed that dissidents – intelligentsia, perverts, and otherwise - are to be rounded up and summarily executed. To that end the Queen orders that a wall be built around Condon establishing her long pined after “Monarchy of Terror”. In the underground dissent and discord with the establishment are rife and soon a rebel alliance is growing in the bowels of the city. The rebels call themselves The Cult of Perv and are presided over by the Demon Nanny (Rebecca Eden). For as long as she has been their ruler the Demon Nanny and her Cult of Perv have indulged themselves in the “Sins of the Depraved”. In her death throes she gives birth to a girl (Anna McMellin) who within seconds grows into a voluptuous babe that the Pervs name Pervirella (Emily Booth, as Emily Bouffante). In Pervirella the Cult see their long prophesied savior and a fellowship is soon formed. Professor Rumphole Pump (Ron Drand), Monty (Shend, as The Shend), Sexton Ming (Anthony Waghorne), and special agent Amicus Reilly (David Warbeck) are to embark on a “Crusade Of Doom” and assist Pervirella in any way they see fit. On their zany globetrotting adventure Pervirella and her fellowship are besieged by agents of the malefic Victoria and a trio of witches. If her journey wasn’t dangerous enough Pervirella has one tiny problem: within her bountiful bosom resides a sex demon and whenever she loses her magic talisman she’s overcome by raging nymphomania and an urge to tear her clothes off; both of which she finds impossible not to indulge…

First and foremost Pervirella aimed to revitalize the British sex comedy by taking it back to its Benny Hill roots. Next to that it’s also a very lively steampunk fantastique that lovingly spoofs Eurospy conventions and that two decades prior would probably have been made in either France or Spain. It looks as if Monty Python, Peter Jackson, Renato Polselli, and Luigi Cozzi went on a bender and in their collective state of inebriation produced a screenplay that defies description. In other words, Pervirella is delightfully insane on about every level. It also happens to be Alex Chandon’s most entertaining feature by a wide margin. Here Chandon merely serves as a conduit to Collins’ vision and most, if not all, of his shortcomings are wholly absent. The candy-colored, circus sideshow, Victorian steampunk production design is a wonder to behold. It took cosplaying (a phenomenom that originally came from early 1980s Japan) and LARPing to a then-unprecendented level and we wouldn’t be surprised if much of its cult following derived from those spheres. Also not unimportant is that Pervirella at no point takes itself seriously and that its primary concern is to have fun, above all else. It’s also a good excuse to see freshfaced 21-year-old Emily Booth cavorting around in what seems like a permanent state of partial undress. Pervirella was the injection that the very British and all but extinct knickers and knockers subgenre needed. In any case, there’s an abundance of both but it never reaches Zeta One (1969) levels of camp. Pervirella even has her own swanky, sexy theme song, just like Barbarella (1968) and Galaxina (1980)!

What to say about Emily Booth (here still calling herself Bouffante) without becoming redundant? For one thing the Bouff debuted simultaneously in Hollywood as well as in British (and, by extent, European) trash cinema. Not only did she play the lead role in a vehicle with her mind, she also made a cameo in Paul W.S. Anderson’s failed sci-fi/horror hybrid Event Horizon (1997). If anything else, it goes to show that a terrible screenplay cannot be salvaged by a swathe of respectable Hollywood actors or a big budget. Event Horizon (1997) was a lot of things, but it wasn’t good by any metric you choose to employ. Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Joely Richardson couldn’t save Event Horizon (1997) – so how was the Bouff going to stand a chance? No, Ems did right by focusing her mad energies on Pervirella, which was never going to have any mainstream appeal. To her credit the Bouff was able to parlay her turn in Pervirella into a lucrative television – and modeling career. Just two years later Emily rechristened herself Booth and went on to host Bits (1999–2001), season three of outTHERE (2003), as well being a regular presenter on Eat Cinema (2006) (now My Channel), videoGaiden (2008), and the Horror Channel. In between her television gigs Ems found time to act in Alex Chandon’s Cradle Of Fear (2001) anthology and Inbred (2011), among many others. Not bad at all for a bubbly British lass never afraid to take her top off when and where it mattered.

The other big name was late New Zealand actor David Warbeck, a veteran of nearly 80 films in a career that spanned a quarter of a century, then in his twilight years. Warbeck started out in theater productions, and performed with a small touring company in New Zealand before being awarded the New Zealand Arts Council scholarship in 1965. The scholarship allowed him to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England which he did for four terms. Sources differ whether Warbeck quit or was expelled (he was rumoured to have had an affair with Geraldine McEwan, the wife of Academy principal Hugh Cruttwell) which led him to a modeling career wherein he figured into various print – and television commercials as well as a number of fotoromanzi with Marisa Meil. His modeling engagements quickly led to opportunities in acting and Warbeck’s first role of note was in Trog (1970), the swansong of Hollywood Golden Age leading woman Joan Crawford. From there David was whisked to Italy by spaghetti western specialist Sergio Leone for A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). He returned to England for the Hammer horror Twins Of Evil (1971) from director John Hough and with Mary and Madeleine Collinson. In 1973 he was tipped to play James Bond in Live and Let Die (1973) before producer Albert R. Broccoli vetoed up-and-coming television actor Roger Moore from the spy-action series The Saint (1962-1969) who cut his teeth for the role as suave Simon Templeman.

In the years that followed Warbeck alternated between horror and action-adventure working for directors Lucio Fulci and Antonio Marghereti on The Last Hunter (1980), The Beyond (1981), Hunters Of the Golden Cobra (1982), and The Ark Of the Sun God (1984). Before Pervirella Warbeck’s last notable effort was Rat Man (1988) with Nelson de la Rosa. Warbeck famously shared the screen with everybody from Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner, Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Jack Palance and Peter Cushing to embattled Italian exploitation babes as Janet Ågren, Laura Trotter, Tisa Farrow, Catriona MacColl, and Cinzia Monreale. While doing Pervirella Warbeck was under investigation for running a brothel out of his restored high Victorian gothic Hampstead palazzo, a colossus built by associates of Sir George Gilbert Scott at the time of the construction of St Pancras station. It was custodian to a miniature salon theatre that witnessed performances from Gilbert and Sullivan, George Grossmith and Ellen Terry.

That Pervirella is acquired taste almost goes without saying and it definitely isn’t for everybody. It’s intentionally kitschy in every aspect and the pastel – and cotton candy production design is enoug to send anyone away screaming. Yet there’s something strangely appealing about a steampunk pastiche that closely mirrors Flesh Gordon (1974) in terms of plot but is completely its own beast otherwise. It wouldn’t be until some twenty years later that Josh Collins took to directing his second feature with the equally irreverent and satirical Fags In the Fast Lane (2017). In the two decades after Pervirella Alex Chandon went on to produce a number of music videos for British extreme metal band Cradle Of Filth which culminated in the band featuring in his proper debut Cradle Of Fear (2001). While Cradle Of Filth exploded into the mainstream (at least in metal terms) and have carved out a very… er, interesting career path for themselves Chandon remained a humble unknown. Chandon’s most recent feature is the suprisingly entertaining Inbred (2011) and the short film compilation Shortcuts to Hell: Volume 1 (2013). Perhaps it’s unfortunate that the Pervirella universe was never expanded or explored with a sequel. Or perhaps not, as Pervirella draws as much strength from not having been tainted by sequelitis. Only one question that remains: who will replace Emily Booth as Britain's n° 1 bra-busting cult babe?