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

Burning, The (1981)

...aka: Carnage
...aka: Cropsy

Directed by:
Tony Maylam

One of several dozen direct copies of FRIDAY THE 13TH to emerge during the early 80s, The Burning celebrated its 20th anniversary with an uncut, uncensored version, restoring all of the grisly Tom Savini special effects (which had been removed from the original VHS and theatrical versions) to all their gory glory. The "plot" (don't expect anything even remotely resembling originality here, folks!) concerns a caretaker at a summer camp who is severely burned when a prank backfires. He's taken to a hospital where, after five years worth of faulty skin grafts, he's released, guts a hooker with a pair of scissors and then heads back to the same camp (now armed with a big pair of hedge clippers) to get his revenge. OK, I know you're yawning, but wait just a second. Aside from the cliched script, groan-worthy dialogue, grating characters and typically uneven acting, this has pretty good technical credits, a creepy Rick Wakeman (of the group Yes) electronic score, some genuine scares, a pretty suspenseful finale, trashy characters and the new version really ups the ante in violence. So the film pretty much delivers exactly what is expected of it. A highlight has five people on a raft getting slashed, impaled and chopped to pieces in less than a minute.

You can also have some fun spotting the future star. Is that George Costanza (Jason Alexander... with hair!) dealing in rubbers and porn mags? Or the geeky little dude from Fast Times at Ridgemont High as the voyeuristic Alfred? Fisher Stevens gets his fingers chopped off and The Piano star, Holly Hunter, gets some practice playing a mute in a nothing role. Jack Sholder (The Hidden) was the editor and it was one of the first efforts from producer Harvey Weinstein (who also co-wrote the story) before he co-founded Miramax.


Dominique Is Dead (1978)

...aka: Avenging Spirit
...aka: Dominique

Directed by:
Michael Anderson

Dominique (Jean Simmons) is a rich, emotionally troubled middle-aged woman whose marriage to American stockbroker David (Cliff Robertson) is going so well that they sleep in separate bedrooms. And if that’s not bad enough, strange things begin happening in the house that make her believe the place is haunted. Naturally, no one believes her, she thinks she’s losing her mind and finally decides to just end it all by hanging herself, but insists her will not be read until after their wedding anniversary. In the meantime, David starts hearing footsteps, the piano plays itself, he’s haunted by visions of her ghost (key overkill blue backlighting), weird things happen to her gravestone and there’s a murder or two. Jenny Agutter (as the artist sister-in-law) and Simon Ward (as a chauffeur) also figure into the big plot surprise revealed at the very end. Edward and Valerie Abraham adapted this viewable, but still too leisurely, dull, cliched and slow-paced film from a Harold Lawlor story previously published in Kurt Singer’s collection “Ghost Omnibus.” Robertson basically just walks through his role and the rest of the above-average cast (Judy Geeson as a family friend, Ron Moody as a doctor, Flora Robson as a maid…) is wasted in bit and/or uninteresting roles. It was first released on tape in the US under the title AVENGING SPIRIT.

Revenge of Frankenstein, The (1958)

...aka Blood of Frankenstein
...aka I, Frankenstein
...aka Vengeance of Frankenstein

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

Picking up right where the original - THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) - left off, Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) manages to escape execution by guillotine with help from hunchback Karl (Oscar Quitak). Three years later in the village of Carlsbruck, a Dr. Victor Stein (guess who?) has recently established himself with a lucrative medical practice and a hospital catering to the homeless. So popular is the new doctor that he's managed to win over many new patients, which doesn't set too well with the jealous doctor's counsel. In his spare time, Dr. Stein has been diligently working on a new pet project; the same one that failed in the first film because of a damaged brain. Having already constructed the body from spare parts gathered from dead patients over the years, Victor has found a willing brain donor in Karl, who is all-too-eager to escape his withered, half-paralyzed body. Victor has also found an assistant in ambitious young doctor Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews). At first, the brain transplant goes off without a hitch, but then Karl (now played by Michael Gwynn) decides to leave his hospital bed prematurely, gets into a scuffle with the janitor, damages his brain and becomes violent.
REVENGE is an entertaining - though less gruesome - sequel that's about on par with the highly regarded first effort. The original storyline (which was written by Jimmy Sangster) adds nicely to the Frankenstein canon of films and the production values are good across the board. It's well directed by the ever-reliable Terence Fisher, vividly photographed by Jack Asher and has convincing art direction and period detail. There's also an amusing twist ending. Mr. Cushing (excellent as usual) has been given slight alterations on his character this time out. Here he's a bit more savvy, collected, drolly humorous and seems to want to escape his past and live as normal a life as possible, while continuing to work on his experiments on the side. Though it's mainly Cushing's show, most of the supporting cast (especially Matthews and Gwynn) are just fine. And keep your eyes peeled for Lionel Jeffries and Hammer regular Michael Ripper as grave-robbers in one of the first scenes.
Followed six years later by THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964).

Curse of Frankenstein, The (1957)

... aka: Frankenstein and the Monster

Directed by:
Terence Fisher

This milestone British horror effort is notable for many reasons. For starters, it was the first Frankenstein adaptation to be filmed in color. Secondly, it was a huge international hit that not only became the most successful British film of its time but also helped establish Hammer Productions as one of the world's premiere studios specializing in fantasy, science fiction and horror - a title it would retain for the next twenty years. Third, it (along with Hammer's follow-up hit HORROR OF DRACULA) made stars out of leads Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, whose names would become synonymous with the genre. And finally, it helped to usher in a return to Gothic horror after years of atomic age sci-fi films (dealing with alien invasions, giant monsters, etc.) that dominated the early part of the decade. Furthermore, the film also upped the ante in on-screen gruesomeness.

In a mountainous village in Switzerland sometime in the 19th Century, Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is being held in an asylum, and narrates his own story about how he ended up there. After inheriting the Frankenstein fortune upon his parent's death, young Victor decides to hire live-in tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) to school him in science. After years of study, the two men begin experimenting in bringing the dead back to life, starting with successfully reviving a puppy. Not quite satisfied with that, Victor (with assistance from an increasingly reluctant Paul) decides to move on to experimenting with human corpses. They acquire the dead body of a hulking burglar from the gallows, bring his body back to the lab and discover birds have rendered much of the body unusable. Victor then sets out to find replacement parts, starting with getting the hands from a newly-dead sculptor. Meanwhile, Victor's lovely cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court) shows up to make good on a marriage arranged during her youth. Little does she know, but Victor is already carrying on an affair with household maid Justine (Valerie Gaunt), and plans to continue doing so regardless of his engagement.
Realizing things have taken a decidedly wrong turn, Paul chooses to quit assisting in the experiments and tries to encourage Elizabeth (whom he has grown fond of) to leave, but she refuses. Victor keeps acquiring body parts in Charnel houses and such, but when it comes down to getting the right brain for his creation, he's reduced to murdering a brilliant scientist (Paul Hardtmuth) to get it. During a scuffle with Paul, the brain is damaged but Victor decides to use it anyway and finally his creation is complete. Lightning strikes and soon the strong hulking creation (Lee) is brought to life.

From top to bottom, this is a professionally done production. It's well directed by British horror king Terence Fisher, has convincing period detail and boasts an excellent central performance from Cushing, as well as very good supporting ones from Urquhart and Court. Lee himself has just minimal screen-time, but still manages to make an impression as the creature. However, the role itself is more one-dimensional than what we'd previously seen in Boris Karloff's portrayal in the original FRANKENSTEIN films. Other notable contributions come from composer James Bernard, cinematographer Jack Asher, production design and art direction from Ted Marshall and Bernard Robinson and costumes by Molly Arbuthnot. The film is quite grisly at times, with a decapitation, severed hands, eyeballs, brains, a shotgun blast to the face and a fiery finale. The pale green make-up design on the creature (conceived by Philip Leakey) gives it a more zombie-like appearance than previously seen in other adaptations.

Despite an implied execution at the end of the film, Cushing's mad scientist returned again (albeit under the name Victor Stein) in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN the following year, as well as many other sequels for Hammer, lasting until 1974's Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.


Nadie oyó gritar (1973)

...aka No One Heard the Scream

Directed by:
Eloy de la Iglesia

For starters, I have to say that the current 4.3 rating on IMDb is an absolute joke. This is a very good, drama/thriller with interesting characterizations, strong performances, suspense, good plot twists and a few well-time shocks. Middle-aged, still very attractive Elisa (Carmen Sevilla) has gotten by in life on her looks. We first meet her as she's bidding farewell with her wealthy older lover Óscar (Antonio Casas), who from all indications has been supporting her financially (apartment, car, money, plane tickets) in exchange for one weekend a month of her time. Elisa's growing tired of it, though, and decides to skip her flight to London so she can call off the arrangement. That night, her relief at being free and able to possibly start anew turns to horror as she exits her apartment and finds her next-door neighbor Miguel (Vicente Parra) dropping the freshly-killed body of his wife Nuria (María Asquerino) down an elevator shaft. Elisa runs back into her apartment and locks the door, but Miguel manages to get in through the window, brandishing a gun. Instead of killing her, Miguel decides to flip things around and turn her into an accomplice; making her accompany him across town so they can properly dispose of the corpse. As the two head toward their destination (a secluded beach house) there are a lot of suspenseful close calls with the police as well as a strange bond that starts growing between the two. After awhile, Elisa seem all too willing to cooperate with her abductor. After they sink the corpse in a lake, she even decides to carry on the relationship with Miguel when they return home to their respective apartments.

Director Eloy de la Iglesia is best known here in America for his 1972 shocker CANNIBAL MAN; which was good enough to encourage me to seek out more of his work. This is the first one I've been able to locate (his films are very hard to find here) and thankfully it's every bit as good as I was hoping it would be. Despite being listed as strictly horror on IMDb, this really defies genre and mixes drama, black comedy, suspense, road movie, character study, psychological thriller and horror, with a few jolts and bloody scenes. In that regard it reminded me a bit of Claude Chabrol's Le boucher; which is horror not in the traditional sense of jump scares, supernatural beings, gore, etc., but one more grounded in the everyday; in reality. It's the lows "normal" people can hit to fulfill themselves and find a sense of belonging in this world.

There are some very Hitchcockian scenes here, such as when Elisa and Miguel end up having to transport people injured in a car accident to a hospital and police ask him to put a suitcase in the trunk... where the body of his wife already is. However, the attention paid to the lead characters and how they were fleshed out is what made the movie stand out to me. We learn a bit more about each person as the film progresses and what makes both tick and what makes them eventually click with one another. Miguel is a man whose dreams of becoming a successful writer never came to fruition and who settled for marriage to a wealthy woman he didn't love instead. Elisa, though supported by a man (or possible several men), in turn has her own younger lover (Tony Isbert), who she supports. She seems to thrive on feeling needed, by someone, anyone, for any reason. At one point she even manages to turn the tables on her abductor and can easily kill him, but decides not to. Events like these may come off as silly in some hands, but they are completely plausible here because of strong dialogue, character detail and the performances. There's also a big twist at the end that I didn't see coming and an ending that is unexpected, ironic and tragic.

If you can find a copy of this anywhere, I highly recommend watching this. And if you need help finding a copy with English subtitles, feel free to PM me and I can point you in the right direction.


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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