Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Erika Blanc... Her death has been greatly exaggerated.

According to an erroneous blurb on "European Trash Cinema," many people - myself included - believed that Ms. Blanc had recently passed away. I'm sure a lot of people may be saying "Erika who?" but to those who watch a lot of Euro horror, giallo, exploitation, spaghetti westerns, spy flicks, etc. she's likely a familiar face. I've always personally really liked her work and screen presence, particularly in the film THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE (1971), where she gave a brilliant performance as a deliciously evil succubus. She is also fairly well known for playing the lead role in Mario Bava's classic KILL, BABY... KILL! (1966). Reading about her passing (which turned out to thankfully not be true) prompted me to go ahead and write up a bio for this unjustly overlooked actress. There's almost no information about this woman online anywhere, so all I had to work with is the films I've seen of hers, the book "Femme Fatales" by Tom Lisanti, Louis Paul and Eileen O'Neill (which has a special section dedicated to her) and one interview, but I did my best with what I had to work with.

Erika Blanc was born Enrica Bianchi Colombato on July 23, 1942, in Garnago in Brescia, Italy. Before becoming an actress, Blanc studied costume design in Geneva, worked as a model for an advertising firm in Greece and served as a writer for the Italian fashion magazine Le Femme d'Aujourd Hui and the journal La Tribune de Geneve. Returning to Italy, Blanc (then 20-years-old) was spotted walking along a beach by film producer and director Bruno Gaburro, who asked her to appear in a documentary he was making about the Lake Garda region. The two would eventually marry and move to Rome, where Blanc had to seek work as a waitress and exotic dancer to keep them afloat while trying to land modeling gigs and commercial extra work on the side. It was during this time she racked up her first (uncredited) screen appearances in Tinto Brass' sci-fi comedy Il disco volante (1964) (THE FLYING SAUCER) and the British production THE BATTLE OF THE VILLA FIORITA (1965), a romance starring Rossano Brazzi and Maureen O'Hara that was location filming in Rome. Erika then was signed by legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis to do test footage for peplum (sword-and-sandal) features, which ended up leading nowhere. She found herself returning to modeling for a brief period of time before a photo-story newspaper insert she appeared in became a surprise sensation in Italy, and more doors began to open for her.
In 1965, Erika landed smaller, though credited, speaking parts in then-popular espionage films such as Agente S 03: Operazione Atlantide (1965) (OPERATION ATLANTIS), as an ill-fated contact agent, Agente 077 missione Bloody Mary (1965) (MISSION BLOODY MARY), as a secretary, and Misión Lisboa (1965) (MISSION LISBON) as "ragazza (girl) in bikini." Through these supporting roles she was able to make the quick transition to lead actress, garnering major parts in a pair of early black-and-white shockers; playing a sinister housekeeper in the gothic horror La vendetta di Lady Morgan (1965) (THE VENDETTA OF LADY MORGAN) and a dual role as a murdered woman and her look-a-like sister in the grisly, PSYCHO-inspired Il terzo occhio (1966) (THIRD EYE), which would later be re-filmed by notorious Joe D'Amato as Buio Omega (1979). In 1966, Blanc also played the female lead in Mario Bava's beautifully-made ghost tale Operazione paura (1966) (KILL, BABY...KILL!). She rounded out the decade by making appearances in numerous spaghetti westerns, James Bond-style spy films and thrillers, including playing a seductive murderess in Umberto Lenzi's early giallo Così dolce... così perversa (1969) (SO SWEET... SO PERVERSE) with Carroll Baker. Erika would also make history by taking the lead role in Io, Emmanuelle (1969) (I, EMMANUELLE) after original choice Edwige Fenech had to bail out of the production. Though later actresses such as Sylvia Kristel, Laura Gemser and Krista Allen would become more famous for playing this role in various sequels and offshoots, Blanc was actually the very first actress to play the part.
Blanc would make a handful of memorable appearances in various horror and exploitation films during the 1970s as well. She had perhaps her best-ever role as Lisa Müller; a sexy, evil succubus who murders tourists stranded in a remote castle in the atmospheric Belgian/Italian co-production La plus longue nuit du diable (1971) (THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE). That same year she'd make a scene-stealing appearance as a stripper who uses a coffin in her show in the giallo La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba (1971) (THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE). Unfortunately, one factor that has likely prevented Blanc from achieving the cult status she deserves is the relative obscurity of many of her films. With the exception of the last two films mentioned and the Bava effort, Blanc's genre work is next to impossible to find in America and numerous other countries. Many were never even released to theaters outside of Italy. Other noteworthy roles for Blanc during this time include portraying a manipulative and possibly evil mannequin-come-to-life in La rossa dalla pelle che scotta (1971) (THE RED-HEADED CORPSE), a noblewoman fighting religious hypocrisy (and trying to save the life of her child) in the torture-filled period-set horror Hexen geschändet und zu Tode gequält (1973) (MARK OF THE DEVIL 2), a wealthy wife caught in a web of adultery, murder and a pit of flesh-hungry rats in El juego del adulterio (1973) (THE DEADLY TRIANGLE) and a prostitute in the cult crime flick TONY ARZENTA (1973). She'd also play a supporting role as a victim in an episode of the Dario Argento-produced/written series "La porta sul buio" ("Doors Into Darkness"), team with Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy for Una libélula para cada muerto (1974) (A DRAGONFLY FOR EACH CORPSE) and rounded out the decade with appearances in sex comedies, as well as appearing in no less than four pictorials for Italian Playboy, including two cover photos.
Roles seemed to be few and far between in the 1980s and 90s, with Erika chosing to concentrate more on stage work, though she'd make the occasional appearance in a film or television series, including playing a small role as a psychiatrist in Body Puzzle (1990), an awful gore film from Lamberto Bava. It wouldn't be until the next decade that Blanc would become a more critically respected actress in film. In 2003, she was nominated by Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists for Best Supporting Actress for both Ilaria Alpi - Il più crudele dei giorni (2002) and Poco più di un anno fa (2003) (ADORED: DIARY OF A MALE PORN STAR), who'd also give her a third nod for her sensitive portrayal of an alcholic in Cuore sacro (2005) (SACRED HEART) a few years later. Blanc also took home Best Supporting Actress for the latter at the Flaiano Film Festival and received a nomination from the prestigious David di Donatello Awards (the Italian Oscar equivalent) for the same role. She also won many accolades and award for her theater work over the years. Most recently, she could be seen playing a recurring role on the Italian television series "Carabinieri", which lasted on-and-off from 2002 to 2008.
Blanc was interviewed about her career and exploitation films in general on the British TV series "Eurotika!" in 1999 and in several magazines and books over the years. Blanc also did an interview for the No Shame DVD release of "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave." While many of her contemporaries threw in the towel once their beauty faded, Blanc is seen in that interview, aged and husky-voiced, applying makeup in front of a mirror while preparing to hit the stage. She briefly mentions being upset that Quentin Tarantino didn't invite her to the Venice Film Festival for a then-recent giallo retrospective, but invited others instead, apparently feeling forgotten despite being a mainstay of the genre. She then laughs, shrugs it off and says "Ah well, I don't care... I act in the theater, now..." and goes on to say she prefers stage work to film because she hates how films are shot these days.
Blanc Horrorography [1950 - 1990]

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