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.

Monday, July 20, 2009

La marca del Hombre-lobo (1968)

... aka: Frankenstein's Bloody Terror
... aka: Hell's Creatures
... aka: Mark of the Wolfman, The
... aka: Vampire of Dr. Dracula, The
... aka: Werewolf's Mark, The
... aka: Wolfman of Count Dracula

Directed by:
Enrique López Eguiluz

There are several versions of this one floating around. The version I saw is the English-language release from Independent International (titled Frankenstein's Bloody Terror), which boasts being filmed in "Chill-O-Rama" and has some great opening credits with cartoon drawings of Frankenstein and "Wolfstein," as well as an explanation (bullshit) as to why "Frankenstein" is even used in the misleading title. The names in the credits have also been Anglacized; the director, for instance, is listed as Henry L. Egan. I've seen this version usually listed as running 75-78 minutes. It's supposedly missing around 15 minutes of footage. However, the 2007 Shriek Show DVD release has restored much of the previously missing footage and runs 91-minutes; just two minutes shy of what the complete version (the German release The Vampire of Dr. Dracula) supposedly runs. At a costume party, 18-year-old Janice von Aarenberg ("Diana Zura"/ Dyanik Zurakowska), who's been away at boarding school in Switzerland, meets mysterious stranger Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy, who also scriped under his real name Jacinto Molina). Waldemar has a reputation as being weird and intense, yet is respected by the townspeople, though Janice's father Sigmund (José Nieto) doesn't much like her talking to him. And neither does her handsome potential suitor Rudolph Weissman ("Michael Manza"/ Manuel Manzaneque). While exploring the ruins of an ancient monestary, Waldemar tells Janice and Rudolph about the history of the place. Rumor has it, a werewolf descendant of the Wolfstein family is buried somewhere on the grounds... and someone forgot to put it down with a silver bullet. Uh oh.

Traveling gypsies Janos ("Gilbert Granger" / Gualberto Galbán) and Nascha ("Rosemarie Winters"/ Rosanna Yanni) decide to crash in the Wolfstein castle for the night. They make a fire, find a wine cabinet, get drunk and then decide to explore the family tomb. While raiding the coffins of their valuables, they make the mistake of removing a silver dagger from one of the bodies, effectively bringing the long dead werewolf count to life. He kills them and then escapes into the woods. Soon after, wolf attacks are being reported in the area. A posse of hunters and dogs is organized to take down the beast. Waldemar is bitten when he jumps in to save Rudolph's life, and then goes on to carry the wolf curse himself. The werewolf design is naturally dated and very old-school (the film also employs time-lapse transformation techniques) but, as played by Naschy, it's an interesting athletic creature that pounces on victims and seems to be throwing punches when he claws people. While tortured Waldemar sulks around the Wolfstein Castle feeling hopeless, his new friends Janice (who has fallen in love with him) and Rudolph (who has accepted the fact he's just lost his girl) find help. Or so they think.

Feigning being experts in lycanthropy, Dr. Mikhelov (Julián Ugarte) and his sultry wife Vanessa ("Anita Avery"/ Aurora de Alba) show up to the castle, but have things in mind other than trying to help out. What? I'm not really sure, but they're actually vampires who start feasting on their young hosts. They keep Waldemar chained up the entire time and re-resurrect the Wolfstein werewolf. It's never really explained what the two plan to accomplish. Both Janice and Rudolph's fathers make it to the castle just in time to watch Waldemar break free and take on Wolfstein werewolfo e werewolfo and drive a well-deserve stake into Vanessa's heart. But Dr. Mikhelov has taken his new vampire bride Janice away. And since only a person who loves a werewolf can kill them, Janice is needed to take down Waldemar. But who's going to take down Dr. Mikhelov? Is this starting to get needlessly confusing all of a sudden, or what?

Though the storyline is a mixture of the all-too-familiar and the all-too-confusing, the motives are muddled and the pacing somewhat off, the film is beautifully photographed and very colorful, with vivid Bava-like lighting and good Gothic shooting locations. And it's a good thing it at least has that much going for it because otherwise our very first look at Waldemar Daninsky (a Spanish/ West German co-production) is pretty much a musty, though still mildly watchable, non-event. Regardless, it was an international hit during its day (including playing a popular double here in the U.S. and becoming a "creature features" late night TV staple in the 70s), made Naschy a top Euro horror star and was followed by over a dozen (!) sequels and spin-offs. The cast also includes Spanish horror regulars Ángel Menéndez, Antonio Jiménez Escribano, Beatriz Savón and Antonio Orengo.

The immediate follow-up was the French effort Nights of the Wolf Man (1968), which is missing; it was either never completed or never even filmed. Naschy himself is actually the only person to vouch for its existence. Others in the Naschy/Waldemar werewolf series that actually are available include ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1970), THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971), Fury of the Wolfman (1971), Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf (1972), CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973), NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST (1975), THE CRAVING (1981), The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983), HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1987), Lycanthropus: The Moonlight Murders (1996) and TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF (2004).

The Shriek Show DVD (which is the first official home format release of the film here in the States) is a must for Naschy fans and includes the documentary short "Interview with a Werewolf" (a 28-minute interview with the actor), a commentary track from Sam Sherman (where he explains the origins of the U.S. title and goes into great detail about failed plans for a 3D release), rare trailers, radio spots and deleted scenes. As is actually the case with many of these films, the supplements are more interesting than the actual film.

★★

Dværgen (1973)

...aka: Sinful Dwarf, The
...aka: Teenage Bride

Directed by:
Vidal Raski

His leering, penetrative, beady little eyes... His infectuous cackle... His mischievous grin... His lovable shaggy hair... His ingenuous use of a cane... It could only be The Sinister Dwarf! After flopping in Europe (it was banned in Sweden and failed to do much business in Denmark), this extremely sleazy little exploitation gem was picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Harry Novak's Box Office International. It was blasted by critics, slapped with a (pretty well-deserved) X rating and failed to do much business here either, or in Canada for that matter (where it was released as TEENAGE BRIDE), and quickly sank into obscurity. But there's a happy ending to the tale of our perverted mini cult hero and his whacked-out mama, as several recent DVD releases (including a restored 2009 issue from Severin) have remedied the obscurity bit and the film has gone on to a decent cult following. Does it deserve one? Sure. It's depraved, ugly, tastless and scuzzy, it's full of sick humor and absolutely loaded with gratuitous full nudity. True grindhouse cinema.

A creepy, voyeuristic dwarf named Olaf (Torben Bille) uses one of those battery-operated toy puppies to lure a pigtailed girl into an old building and then clubs her over the head with his cane. What's to become of the poor lass? You'll just have to wait and find out! First, we get some great opening credits featuring various animated toys and puppets (penguin, giraffe, cymbal-playing monkey, etc.) dancing to tinny-sounding music. And then a young, financially-strapped couple; struggling, unemployed writer Peter Davis (Tony Eades) and his blonde, unemployed wife Mary (Anne Sparrow), are forced to take residence in a seedy old apartment house run by Lila Lash (Clara Keller), an abusive, alcoholic, facially-scarred lesbian ex-nightclub performer. Lila's son? Olaf, of course! The duo supplement their income by kidnapping teenage girls, keeping them prisoner in the attic, turning them into heroine junkies and then pimping them out to a steady stream of customers who don't ask too many questions. Well actually, they don't ask any questions. Lila likes to subject her prisoners, as well as her booze-swilling lady friend Winnie (Gerda Madsen), to various campy musical numbers with a Bette Davis circa Baby Jane flair. She even whips the naked upstairs captives while she sings. Olaf watches the new tenants have sex through peepholes and a toy company called "Santa's Workshop" is run by a guy named Santa Claus (Werner Hedman) and supplies Lila with all the drugs she needs to keep her girls in check.

After Peter lands a job as a salesman (at "Santa's Workshop") and has to be out of town for 3 or 4 days, Mary decides to check out the mysterious and off-limits attic. That's when Lila decides this would be the perfect opportunity to draft Mrs. Snoopy Pants into the family trade to replace one of her other girls, all of whom are either hopelessly strung out or insane. When Peter returns, he finds a typed Dear John note from his wife; little realizing she's already locked away in the attic getting ready to take a heroine shot to the ass so she can entertain clientel. Will he be able to put two and two together before it's too late?

It all looks extremely cheap (which actually just enhances the experience), was filmed in London with Danish and American backers and has a British and Danish cast all speaking English. The director is a man by the name of Vidal Raski, who has no other credits to his name. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Raski was actually co-star Hedman, a Danish porno director. Many of the same actors here (including Torben) had worked on his other adult features throughout the 70s, so it's definitely a possibility this film is another of his and he doesn't want to take credit for it. The amount of on-screen sex and nudity is very high. There are four lengthy sex scenes and they're all about as graphic as soft-core gets. Some sources claim that Torben was a children's show host before he took the role in this film, though I can find no real proof of that claim and it may have just been a publicity rumor. Either way, he gives a memorable performance here, as does Keller as his mother. The acting as a whole isn't nearly as bad as one might expect. The older actress who plays the mom's friend had also appeared in the silent horror classic HAXAN way back in 1921!

★★1/2

Brides of Blood (1968)

...aka: Brides of Blood Island
...aka: Brides of Death
...aka: Brides of the Beast
...aka: Danger on Tiki Island
...aka: Island of the Living Horror
...aka: Terror on Blood Island

Directed by:
Gerardo de Leon
Eddie Romero

BRIDES OF BLOOD was the first of three sex 'n' violence shockers (aptly referred to as the "Blood Island" trilogy) that were shot on location in the Philippines and distributed by low-grade specialists Hemisphere Pictures. Stuffy scientist Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor) is headed toward Blood Island to do some research on the effects Atomic bomb blasts in the vicinity have had on local vegetation, wildlife and humans. Accompanying him are his neglected and slutty (to put it mildly) platinum blonde wife Carla (Beverly Hills) and Jim Farrell (John Ashley), a good-natured, baby-faced Peace Corps officer who wants to help the island dwellers improve their village. "Maybe I can help keep them happy?" ponders Carla about her purpose aboard the ship, before she sneaks off to have a close encounter with one of the crewman. The ship's captain (Oscar Keesee) tries to warn them not to get involved, but they shrug off his warning, get dropped off and are immediately treated to the sight of natives disposing of dismembered body parts.

A man named Arcadio (Antonio Centenera) also informs them they never should have came and warns them that he and his fellow villagers have regressed to their primitive ways. Arcadio's English-speaking granddaughter Alla (Eva Darren) seems a little bit down in the dumps - possibly because she's been promised up as a virgin sacrifice to something or other. We'll get to that here in a little bit. Not yet discouraged by ample warnings they should high tail it out of there, our trio will go on to encounter radiation-colored sunsets, living-killing mutant banana plants (!), mutant butterfly (!) attacks, cult rituals where the natives go "la la, la la la la" over and over again and other island horrors. Up the ways from the village lives Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro), a wealthy playboy who has a mansion, an army of dwarf servants and a whip-wielding henchman named Goro (Bruno Punzalan). Esteban (who suffers from nightly migrains) lets Dr. Henderson and company stay at his secure home, which proves to be anything but secure once Esteban's true colors are revelead. Yep, he's a charismatic charmer during the day, but by night he transforms into a grotesque, lusty, radioactive mutant (referred to as "the evil one" by the villagers) that likes to "satisfy himself" by ravaging uncredited naked young Filipino beauties at night.

There's terribly stiff acting from at least two of the three leads (with a weird post-dub sound to the dialogue recordings), plus awful dialogue, a plotline jam packed with assorted nonsense and some bewilderingly cheesy effects. Just wait until you get a look at "the evil one!" The whole film is very colorfully shot, with lots of bold lighting choices, such as blue and pink smoke for the sacrifice scenes. It also features some very good sets and props, as well as more gore and nudity than most horrors of its day. In short; it's an awful movie that looks pretty good and thanks to the busy plot, exploitation elements and overall air of silliness, I can almost guarantee schlock fans are gonna enjoy this one.

Mr. Taylor had been a popular B-level star in the 30s and 40s, who at this stage in his career was having a hard time finding "respectable" work. This would be his only venture into Filipino horror, though afterward he'd earn his Z-movie credentials by appearing in half a dozen Al Adamson films. He retired from acting in the mid 70s and passed away in 1987. Ashley had also been a popular matinee idol type, who'd had some success in America as the star of juvenile delinquent flicks and the Beach Party pictures, before being forced into Z grade pictures. Unlike Taylor, however, he would stick around in the Philippines and star (and sometimes produce) ten additional films; most of which fell into the horror genre. With that behind him, Ashley returned to America and became a modestly successful TV producer (The A-Team series being his best known credit). He passed away in 1997. Leading lady Beverly Hills was a former stripper who had some steady film and TV work throughout the 60s and 70s. She made her debut in an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller, and also appeared in the underrated George Pal production THE POWER (1968) and the B-classic INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973); using her real name Beverly Powers for the latter. She retired from show biz at the beginning of the 80s, moved to Hawaii and became a minister!
.
The two other "Blood Island" pictures were THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968) and BEAST OF BLOOD (1970). Both starred Ashley.
.
★1/2 SBIG (to an extent)

Night Beast (1982)

...aka: Nightbeast
...aka: Terror from the Unknown

Directed by:
Don Dohler

A spaceship is struck by a meteor and forced to crash land on Earth. Out of the wreckage comes a tall, skinny, fanged, wrinkly, lizard-like alien monster dressed in a silver jumpsuit who immediately uses his laser gun to make three hunters evaporate, rips a father's face off, dissolves his children while they sit in a station wagon, rips a guy's guts out, kills his girlfriend and gets in a shoot out with cops and a bunch of local yokel draftees with shotguns... and all within the first 15 minutes! Sheriff Jack Cinder (Tom Griffith, sporting curly silver hair and a black mustache), female deputy Lisa Kent (Karin Kardian) and aspiring policeman Jamie Lambert (Jamie Zemarel) survive the attack, but have a hard time convincing local mayor Bert Wicker (Richard Dyzsel) and his large-breasted drunken secretary Mary Jane Carpenter (Eleanor Herman) that they needs to cancel the pool party they're throwing for the governor (Richard Ruxton). Meanwhile, a psycho biker named Drago (Don Leifert) is running around bad mouthing the fuzz and strangles his Asian ex-girlfriend Suzie (Monica Neff) to death because she wants to leave him for Jamie, leading to a horribly-choreographed fist fight that comes out of nowhere.
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The alien isn't given much of a motive for killing but it's revealed at a later junction that it enjoys eating people, which doesn't really explain why it likes to zap nearly everyone into oblivion that it comes into contact with, though it does eventually settle into more of a traditional carniverous alien rampage by ripping off a black guy's arm, ripping open the secretary's chest and ripping off the mayor's head. When it attacks a clinic run by doctors Ruth Sherman (Anne Frith) and Steven Price (George Stover), the two are able to fight it off using electricity, which comes in handy for the big electric cable finale.
.
Truly awful acting, terrible cinematography and production values and seemingly no sense of contuinity whatsoever helps this fall into the "guilty pleasure" category for fans of bad regional B movies. It's completely straight-faced and lacks any kind of pretense; the film merrily just zips along from one silly scene to the next, with one alien attack scene after another and with as many cheap-but-fun visual (some by Ernest D. Farino) and prosthetic makeup effects as they could probably afford piled on top. The film is also loaded with secondary characters whose relevance to the primary plot is questionable at best. After his first two timid sci-fi/horror features, Don even updates the formula to get it ready for the video age by throwing in a few random T&A scenes, one of which being an incredibly awkward but fitfully amusing coupling between our afro-sporting hero and his tanned-and-bleached sidekick. Yes, it's awful... but it's also awfully entertaining if you like this kind of stuff.
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Shot on 16mm around Baltimore (where all of the director's films were shot) and with a budget of just 42,000 dollars, this is more-or-less a remake of Dohler's first feature, THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978), with many of the same cast members playing the same roles they did in that film. It has been issued to VHS several times; and there's even a DVD release from Troma containing an intro, outtakes and bloopers, a commentary track from Dohler (who passed away a few years back) and Stover, as well as other fun supplements. The sound effects were by Jeffrey Abrams a.ka. J.J. Abrams, who'd go on to create the TV shows Alias and Lost, produce CLOVERFIELD (2008) and direct the blockbusters MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) and STAR TREK (2009).
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Others in the Dohler filmography include; FIEND (1980), THE GALAXY INVADER (1985), BLOOD MASSACRE (1988), ALIEN FACTOR 2: ALIEN RAMPAGE (2000) and DEAD HUNT (2007; which he co-directed with Joe Ripple). Dohler also wrote and/or produced several other films.
.
SBIG

Mrs. Amworth (1975)

Directed by:
Alvin Rakoff

One of many failed attempts to launch a television series, this 29-minute British short was to be the first entry in a horror/fantasy series entitled Classics Dark and Deadly. The series never took off and instead this was shown as a TV special (which only aired a single time), was released separately on VHS (in England only) and was then worked into a three-part horror anthology called THREE DANGEROUS LADIES (1977), which also included the shorts MANNIKIN (1975), an independent production about a cursed singer made by Donald W. Thompson and starring Ronee Blakely and Keir Dullea, and THE ISLAND (197?), which was directed by Robert Fuest, stars John Hurt and Charles Gray and whose origins are unknown. Perhaps it was filmed especially to round out the anthology.

Glynis Johns
(whose role in MARY POPPINS is played up big time on the somewhat misleading video box) has the title role. She's just moved to a tiny Wiltshire village populated primarily with older residents and claims to be a descendant from a family that lived there many years ago. Mrs. Amworth's presence, and frequent social gatherings at her mansion, have seemed to bring life to an otherwise boring little town, but she's also hiding a deep dark secret. Shortly after Amworth's arrival, many of the town's citizens have come down with a strange disorder where the hemoglobin seems to be disappearing from their blood. It's blamed on a gnat outbreak (!) but resident cynic Dr. Francis Urcombe (John Phillips) is suspicious of Amworth's frequent midnight strolls and how the plague of illness coincides perfectly with her arrival. Doing some research, he discovers the new lady in town is somehow related the Elizabeth Chaston, a witch who was held responsible when similar things happened three-hundred years earlier. Urcombe tries to convince his friend Benson (Derek Francis) - whose visiting grandson David (Pip Miller) has gotten quite ill - to help him.

There's definitely not much to write home about here. The acting isn't bad, but it's all rather predictable, forgettable and lacking in suspense and chills.

★★
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