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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Hänsel und Gretel verliefen sich im Wald (1970)

... aka: Erotic Adventures of Hansel and Gretel, The
... aka: Hansel and Gretel
... aka: Hansel and Gretel, Lost in the Forest
... aka: Lass uns Knuspern Mäuschen
... aka: Naked Wytche, The

Directed by:
F.J. (Franz Josef) Gottlieb

What in the holy hell is up with all these recent Hansel and Gretel-themed action-horror-comedy movies, anyway? The modestly successful big budget theatrical release Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), directed by Norwegian Tommy Workola (or Dead Snow fame), is probably to blame for all this, but almost immediately after it we got such direct-to-DVD releases as Duane Journey's Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (2013), David DeCoteau's Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (2013), Anthony C. Ferrante's Hansel and Gretel (2013) as well as numerous short subjects. There are several more of these currently in the pipeline as of this writing, including a sequel to Workola's film currently in pre-production and scheduled for a 2016 release. I guess it's the same thing that happened when Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) spawned Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012) a year earlier but, still, Hansel & Gretel of all things. Really? That's just strange and random. In any case, I was originally planning on watching Giovanni Simonelli's take on this classic fairy tale, 1990's Hansel e Gretel (1990), which was "supervised" and supposedly partially directed by Lucio Fulci, but for some reason ended up popping this German soft-core flick in instead. I'm actually kind of glad I did in a way.


A camera pans over an urban industrial complex as our off-screen narrator Oskar (given an annoying fey voice in the dub), promises a fairy tale that's "a lot more fun" than the children's story. I guess we'll see about all that. We then meet blonde couple Hansel (Dagobert Walter) and Gretel  (Francy Fair) as they frolic around in a pond. Even though they've been dating for nine weeks, Gretel is reluctant to put out and Hansel is getting frustrated dealing with her. The two then have a hilarious argument featuring some of the worst horny male coercion dialogue ever. He explains her how natural sex is, what a good cook she is and even points to the fields and screams, "Everywhere you look everything is blooming thanks to fertilization!" I don't know about you, but I think the last word a virgin preparing for her first time out wants to hear is "fertilization," Gretel shrieks back "You're nothing but a male nymphomaniac!," accuses him of accompanying her on this trip only because he thought she'd put out and then slaps him in the face when he grabs her tits. The queeny narrator chimes in "Welllll, that certainly put a damper on things" as a tree is shown falling down. A subtle bit of symbolism it ain't.






The two then go for a drive in the country, a tree falls in front of their car and they decide to go to a secluded spot in the woods to make a picnic and camp. There, they get into another heated argument where he whines some more about her not putting out while she whines about he should marry her first. It's not even ten minutes into the film and I'm already wanting to see these two lovebirds slowly cooking in a boiling pot. Thankfully, the extremely sexy Countess Helga (Barbara Klingered aka Barbara Scott) shows up on horseback to invite the duo back to her mountaintop castle and things begin to look a little more promising. Once there, they meet the Countess' staff, including butler Fritz (extremely prolific Austrian actor Herbert Fux), buxom maid Gertrude (Erika Kambach) and voyeuristic woodsman Oskar, our narrator, who's played by German comedian / singer Karl Dall, a sufferer of ptosis, a disorder where the muscles that raise the eyelid aren't strong enough to fully open it, resulting in a permanently droopy eyelid.






Gretel insists on having her own bedroom, which leads to another bicker-fest. Hansel tries to sneak into her room later that night, falls into some fertilizer and then drinks some hallucinogen wine given to him by Oskar that results in a major trip-out nightmare involving murder, bloody whipping, a woman being stretched out on a rack, a vampire and kaleidoscopic visions of skulls and burning candles. The Countess is not only a bewitching beauty but also an ugly witch who keeps giving the couple conflicting advice in order to drive them apart so she can get her claws into Hansel. Will the troubled young couple finally have a happy ending, so to speak? Just what is the "pinnacle of ecstasy" the Countess speaks so highly of? And if I said it involved having sex in a cage in front of a bunch of zoo animals would you believe me? 






There's skinny-dipping, voice-overs from at least three different characters, ping pong, lots of shots of animals doing their thing, communal showering, horse-riding through an apple orchard, sex in a Rolls Royce in view of a bunch of children on a field trip, a giant porcelain penis statue sitting beneath a giant porcelain clam shell statue (there's some more of that clever symbolism for ya!) and some great outdoor scenery. In other words, there's something for everyone...

Sex!

Kinky sex!

Exhibitionism!

Insatiable harlots!

Primitive contraceptives!

Trendy post-Graduate between-the-legs shots!

Pervy wooden puppet play!

Voy-Horse-Ism!

If you can get past the horrid English dubbing (the male lead is particularly irritating), then this isn't all that bad for what it is. The good-looking cast spend as much time with their clothes off than on, there's some surprisingly clever camerawork and stylish lighting and enough oddball happenings to keep it all unpredictable and interesting. The director also made numerous krimi in the late 50 through the 60s, like THE BLACK ABBOT (1963) and The Phantom of Soho (1964), as well as the vampire comedy Lady Dracula (1977).






Sunset International Releasing distributed this in theaters here in America in 1972 under the title The Naked Wytche and with the tagline "A bedtime story for grown ups under 80." That was followed by a poor-quality Something Weird Video release (titled The Erotic Adventures of Hansel and Gretel) that was missing over five minutes of footage. What I viewed was a composite using the English dubbing track and the uncut 80-minute version, sourced from the German VHS distributed by Video Medien Pool (VMP) under the title Lass uns Knuspern Mäuschen (which Google Translate tells me means "Let's Crunch the Little Mouse").

★★1/2

El caminante (1979)

... aka: Traveler, The

Directed by:
"Jacinto Molina" / Paul Naschy

After stabbing and then robbing a war vet who calls him out as a liar, Leonardo (Naschy) walks away with a bag of gold and a smile on his face, proclaiming "The world is so beautiful... I shall enjoy it!" And that's just what he does in this episodic, blackly comic 'Merry Frolics of Satan' filled with mean-spirited vignettes hoping to eventually drive home a more enlightened message at the end. Naschy's character is a bearded vagabond who takes what he can get when he can get it and doesn't let little things like law, religion, guilt or morality stand in his way. If he wants your money, he'll find a way to swindle it from you. If he wants your wife, he'll seduce her. Hell, he'll even kill you just for the clothes off your back. Nothing is off limits. Leonardo sums up his philosophy to life rather succinctly early on: "The rich shit on the poor and suck their blood like leeches and then the poor slit their throats as soon as they get their chance. That's humanity." Leonardo also happens to be none other than Satan himself. Adopting a human look and, with it, a human's mortality, he's come to Earth (during Medieval times) to see just how man is progressing. He'll ultimately discover he has very little corrupting to do as we're doing a fine job of that all by ourselves.






The film follows Leonardo on a debauchery journey as he encounters one sad sack character after the next and leaves a trail of misery, heavily compromised morals and death in his wake. Accompanying him on his travels is troubled teenager Tomás (David Rocha), whom he easily woos away from his cruel (and blind) former master after pissing in his drink and pushing him into the water. The loyal but painfully naive Tomás has had a tough row to hoe thus far in life. Abandoned by his mother at a young age and abused by nearly every adult he's encountered up until this point, Tomás figures he has nothing to lose leaving his abusive last master and traveling alongside the amoral and mysterious stranger he's just met... especially considering he's promised all of life's perks (food, shelter, nice clothing, money, sex...) for doing so. He'll eventually discover the hard way that friendship and loyalty mean nothing to his new friend, especially when the almighty dollar is at stake.





Leonardo / Satan is driven by all of the seven deadly sins, but primarily by lust and greed; money and sex. He seeks shelter with a poor farm couple and, while the husband's away, decides to make his move on the crippled and neglected wife, Inés (Silvia Aguilar). After successfully seducing her (Satan is incredibly suave and apparently rather well-endowed to boot), he pays her back by threatening to gut her, robbing her at knife point, calling her a "slut" and then carving an upside down cross on her ass because he likes to "brand his cattle." From there, he gets word that filthy rich nobleman Juan Lopez (Pepe Ruiz) and his wife Blanca (Paloma Hurtado) will be traveling through the area. He and Tomás manage to intercept them and turn Juan's greediness against him in a clever way that leaves all of his guards dead and he and his wife hanging from a tree in their underwear, having been stripped of all their money and belongings.






Having been left with next to nothing aside from a deathly ill child to raise all on her own after her unfaithful husband managed to get himself killed, Aurora (Sara Lezana) becomes the next victim. Leonardo strikes up a bargain with her: he'll cure her child if she'll have sex with him. She reluctantly agrees, both parties go through with their part of the deal and, soon after Leonardo leaves the following day, Aurora finds herself not only stripped of her virtue but also her daughter, who dies shortly thereafter. However, Leonardo had been kind enough to leave her with another unpleasant surprise: his "seed" (the Antichrist) in her belly! Unfaithful miller's wife Maria (Adriana Vega), repressed nun Mother Elvira (Blanca Estrada), who claims to have been having sexual contact with a "demon" along with several other ladies in her convent, and whorehouse madame Leonor (Ana Harpo) will also have rather unsavory encounters with Leonardo that end on a sour note. And speaking of sour notes, things also don't pan out so well for Satan either when he gets a much-earned taste of his own medicine. After all, he's now just a mere mortal himself and just as vulnerable to the ills of man as anyone else.





The late Naschy considered this one of the very best films he ever did. Guess what? He's absolutely right. This is perhaps even *the* crown jewel in his long filmography and, for the most part, it's still waiting to be discovered all these years later. Even if you're not a Naschy fan; even if you've been subjected to the numerous mediocre or sub-par films he's been involved with over the years and given up on him in the process, I still recommend giving him one last shot here. It may even give you a whole new appreciation for his talents as both an actor and a filmmaker.  Not only a well-crafted film with fine work by the production team to effectively evoke time and place, it's also stylishly directed, well-cast and exquisitely photographed by Alejandro UIloa to both bring out the natural beauty of the outdoor locations and to give a soft, other-worldly glow to any bright light that happens to be in frame at the time (the screen also glows red whenever Leonardo's feeling especially mischievous). Stylistically this certainly hits the bulls eye, but thankfully it has much more to offer than just visual splendor.


Best of all, this is uncommonly well-written and thoughtful for a Naschy movie (he shares writing credit with Eduarda Targioni). While littered with scenes of casual human cruelty, it never once becomes monotonous due to its fast pace and a steady stream of humor ranging from extremely dark and blasphemous to light, ribald and bawdy. By design, this is all meant to paint a grim and pessimistic picture of mankind where the innocent and sinful alike suffer as pawns on the same morbid playing field we call Earth. This is best illustrated during a sequence where Leonardo allows a conflicted Tomás to dream about what the future holds and he has (black-and-white newsreel) visions of war, death, atomic bomb explosions and the Holocaust. 

As far as Naschy's performance is concerned, he's never been better than he is right here. This role is perfect for him and he plays it with an arrogant swagger and a sly, devilish twinkle in his eye. In this context, it finally makes sense for all of these women to fall at his feet! Watching his crucified Satan looking up at the sky and cursing God for his part in giving life to us "pigs" is perhaps the most powerful and poignant scene the actor has ever done. Irene Gutiérrez Caba as Aurora's loyal maid, Rafael Hernández and Manuel Pereiro round out a strong cast. Though a notable change of pace for the director, fans of his more exploitative films will be happy to know this is plenty violent and nearly all of the females in the cast get naked, including Taida Urruzola (a Spanish Playboy cover girl who also appeared in the giallo Red Rings of Fear) and Eva León (who'd appeared alongside the star in at least half a dozen other films).






So why is this film seldom discussed and viewed outside of Spain? Simple: It's never been officially released here in America, or most other countries for that matter. While the majority of Naschy's lesser flicks have enjoyed pretty wide exposure on both DVD and VHS (perhaps because they stick closer to horror / monster movie conventions and thus deemed more marketable by suits), this one has rested in limbo for decades. It deserves better treatment than that. What I viewed was the Spanish DVD from Video Mercury Films / Vellavision; a very nice, restored print. Though it doesn't come with English subtitles, fan-made subs are available.

★★1/2
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