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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Il dolce corpo di Deborah (1968)

... aka: Body, The
... aka: El dulce cuerpo de Deborah
... aka: En röst i mörkret (A Voice in the Darkness)
... aka: Married to Kill
... aka: Sweet Body of Deborah, The

Directed by:
Romolo Guerrieri

Only very forgiving giallo addicts are going to want to swill this perfumed toilet water. Tranquilizer-popping, possibly unstable American Deborah (Carroll Baker) and her hunky new hubby Marcel (Jean Sorel) decide to take their honeymoon in Geneva, Switzerland so she can see where he grew up and learn as much about him as possible. Well, more like learn something about him as the two don't seem to know each other all that well. Everything is going fine (at least as far as sex and nice scenery are concerned) until they decide to go to a nightclub to watch a black dancer strip down to a g-string and Marcel runs into an old buddy of his. The friend, Philippe (Luigi Pistilli), glares at him, gives him the cold shoulder and turns right around and leaves as soon as her spots Marcel. Marcel chases him down only to have Philippe brand him a murderer; accusing him of killing his former girlfriend Suzanne prior to running off to the U.S. Philippe insinuates he murdered her, though the death is on the book as a suicide. Deborah overhears the entire conversation and, later on, presses Marcel to provide an explanation. That he does and a long flashback follows.







Prior to going to America, Marcel, who'd fallen on some hard times, fell in love with the well-to-do Suzanne Boileau (“Evelyn Stewart” / Ida Galli). Because some thugs he owed money to were beating him and threatening his life on a regular basis, Marcel had Suzanne swipe some money from her loaded parents to pay them off. Wanting to better himself (and pay them back), he then decided to go to America and stay with some friends in Boston until he could get back on his feet and provide better for their future. He promised Suzanne he'd write her every day and that he'd soon return to her, but that all changed once he met Deborah and fell in love with her. Supposedly the heartbroken Suzanne then committed suicide in his absence. Philippe is bitter because he was also in love with Suzanne and perhaps now wants revenge.







Now wanting to find out exactly what happened, Marcel goes to visit Suzanne's parents only to find the house has been abandoned long ago. When they go inside, they find a lit cigarette with lipstick on it and hear someone playing the piano but no one is to be found. A phone rings and the voice on the other end threatens Deborah; claiming they're going to kill her to punish Marcel for what he's done. A later call to the phone company reveals the phone at the villa was disconnected over a year ago. Never mind all of that, the lovey dovey duo have a plane to catch to Nice, France. Upon arrival, they rent a huge orange villa out in the country for a week and then many little things occur that give Marcel the impression that they didn't leave their troubles behind back in Geneva. Suzanne's favorite song ends up in their stack of records, Marcel thinks he sees Philippe at a boxing match and the strange phone calls begin again...







A lame and utterly forgettable thriller, Deborah is slow-moving, almost offensively empty and vapid and completely devoid of thrills and suspense. This has to be one of the weakest, most bland scripts ever penned by the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi. The dialogue is awful, the one-dimensional characters function as little more than mannequins to adorn with fine late 60s fashions and things plod along from one boring non-event to another until the very end when it unleashes a few customary "surprises." Sadly, the last minute plot twists are all incredibly lame and predictable (gee, a 300 thousand dollar life insurance policy... who'd have ever guessed!) and come way too late in the game to salvage this, anyway.







The only thrills this attempts to generate are of the erotic kind. However, since this was made during a big transitional period in world cinema when censorship was just starting to erode, the scenes are all extremely tame. We're talking close-up shots of arms, legs and shoulders and barely discernible “nude” scenes shot through foggy shower doors. In other words, there is no real nudity from the stars (at least not in the 92 minute version I viewed) despite about a half dozen “love” scenes. Instead, we get long sequences of the two leads kissing, hugging, lying in bed with strategically draped blankets wrapped around them and pawing at each other while spouting laughably insipid “romantic” dialogue (“You're so delicious... and I'm always so hungry.”) Often resembling a feature-length perfume commercial (perhaps a better alternate title would have been “Eau de Giallo”), the print ads pretty much sold the entire film on the (bare) backs of the hot lead couple. Alas, it takes more than a few pretty faces to make something worth watching.




I love Baker in certain roles (like her brilliant turn in Andy Warhol's Bad) but, let's face it, when the woman is bad, she is really bad. In the English version, the actress dubbed her own voice (I believe several of the other main actors did as well) and, despite being in her mid-30s when this was filmed, usually sounds like a frail old lady. Her voice cracks, warbles and completely lacks inflection and she often awkwardly breaks and pauses between words as if trying to sync her dub to her lips. She does however look great and some of her clothing choices are pretty hilarious. During one scene, she cuts it loose in a comic book-themed nightclub (“Kaboom!”) decked out in Christmas bulb earrings and bracelets. In another, she plays Twister on the front lawn while dressed in a lime green mesh onesie. Oh, the late 60s. Gotta love 'em.




Genre regular George Hilton is in this one, too, playing a voyeuristic painter named Robert. Born in Uruguay, the handsome Hilton started acting in Argentina but quickly relocated to Europe so that he could actually have a career. He was far better suited for the spaghetti westerns he was frequently cast in than suspense thrillers and horror, but found himself cast in numerous early 70s gialli anyway; usually ones also produced by Luciano Martino and directed by Luciano's brother Sergio Martino (who was one of the production managers on this one). In most of those films Hilton came off as incredibly bland and one-note, but he's a bit more animated and less wooden here despite the film itself being worse than his later efforts.


This French / Italian production was given a U.S. theatrical release in 1969 by Warner Brothers / Seven Arts but was never officially issued here on home video. Italy (on the Nocturno label), Greece (Key Video), Hungary (Mokep), Brazil (Mac) and Spain (CJ) all received VHS releases, while Italy, Sweden and Japan have gotten DVDs. The director was born under the name Romolo Girolami and is the brother of director Marino Girolami and uncle of director Enzo G. Castellari and actor Ennio Girolami. He also made the giallo The Double (1971) and a number of westerns.

1/2

Friday, April 29, 2016

Morbo (1972)

... aka: Morbidness

Directed by:
Gonzalo Suárez

Hidden gem alert, folks! While this one isn't all that easy to find (it was never officially released in the U.S. or many other places outside of Spain) it's definitely worth the effort to track down, especially for fans of subtle, ambiguous horror. Immediately following their wedding, young newlyweds Diego (Víctor Manuel) and Alicia (Ana Belén) hit the road with their camper in search of some adventure and fun. Feeling liberated and free, she even strips off her wedding gown down to a mesh bikini at a gas station in full view of the attendant. They drive along and finally pull off the main highway onto a dirt road, ignoring a “Prohibido el Paso” sign as they do. Going deep into the woods, they finally pull over in an empty field and decide to camp there for a few days. They gorge themselves on food and wine, have sex, carve their names into a tree, play dodge ball, discuss their love and their fears and other strange things, blown up some inflatable chairs, sunbathe and decide to open all of their gifts; most of which they mock and nonchalantly toss on the ground. Well, except for a Mona Lisa painting. Alicia wants to hang that by the fireplace of her beautiful country home. Once Diego buys it for her, of course. But the honeymoon doesn't last forever as they say... though usually newlywed bliss lasts longer than a day!






All of the happiness, passion and optimism about the future quickly falls by the wayside in favor of boredom, insecurity, bickering and a curious sudden disconnect between the two. He's brought along his economics books to catch up on some work. She's not happy about it and has no idea what to do with herself. When he suggests she go on a walk, she accuses him of treating her like a child. What we've done here is basically fast-forwarded to the problems and hurdles most couples face years down the line in their relationship. In this case you have the working career man and the housewife. He immerses himself in his work, becomes complacent, stops being attentive to her basic needs (he even has to be nagged continually to get her some clean water) and adopts an almost condescending, resentful attitude toward her at times. She quickly becomes bored, feels unfulfilled in her role and starts becoming increasingly neurotic. All of this coincides with a strong gust of wind, which is just the beginning of the odd things that start going on in the natural world around them as their relationship suddenly starts crumbling.






Alicia starts growing more paranoid and begins to suspect not only that he husband is lying but also that the two of them are not alone. She constantly has a feeling she's being watching, most particularly when she's naked, sleeping or being intimate with her new husband. She steps on a hairpin outside on the ground... and she doesn't use hairpins. Somehow the windshield wipers on their car turn on, which coincides with her wedding gown (left in the backseat) disappearing. One of her pet hamsters eats the head off of its mate, survives their attempt to drown it in the sink and eventually has to be tossed outside in a plastic bag. Their wedding cake topper is found floating in a river with the eyes on the bride gouged out. Diego discovers a seemingly-abandoned home nearby and takes water from their well, but the jugs are found emptied later on. And there's a lot more weirdness where that comes from.






I couldn't help but feel a strong sense of deja vu as this one unfolded. That's probably because it shares more than a few things in common with the later and much more famous Australian film LONG WEEKEND (1978). That Colin Eggleston-directed / Everett De Roche-scripted effort centers around an unhappy, extremely unlikable couple on the verge of divorce who take their camper to a secluded area in a last ditch effort to save their doomed relationship. Their foulness of mouth and personality, and their complete disregard for the natural world around them, leads mother nature to strike out at them. Morbo is so similar in so many different ways that I refuse to believe the makers of Weekend didn't see this one beforehand. And while I did enjoy Eggleston's film quite a bit, this is the more sophisticated and multi-layered of the two.






Director Suárez, who worked on a number of other genre films I'm now excited to check out, isn't one to completely tie himself down with genre restrictions and does a very impressive job making much from little. Most of the film takes place on one plot of land and the surrounding forest, yet he's able to keep viewers fully immersed in the plot and intrigued about where things may be headed. Not only that, but he generates a good amount of suspense and is able to create effectively eerie, disquieting moments from things as simple as the rustling of trees in the wind. Juan Amorós' excellent cinematography and an outstandingly creepy music score from Jacques Denjean both also contribute heavily to the film's success. The leads, who are both famous singers in Spain, deserve kudos as well for solid performances and holding the whole thing together. Belén is especially good.






American character actor Michael J. Pollard, who is always weird but perhaps even weirder than usual here with a deep, dubbed voice, turns up at the end in an enigmatic role as a backwoods creep who lives in a crumbling old mill house with his blind, wheelchair-bound, disfigured wife (María Vico), who was burned up in a forest fire. The wife, who's suicidal and bitter to the point where she doesn't even want to be touched, and the husband, who's been so long without companionship (and sex) he's driven to some very creepy behavior, seem to be a grim reflection of where the young couple may be headed one day. However, the same can't be said for the two stars in real life. They fell in love while making this film, got married and remain together to this very day. Suárez used both of them again the following year in his adventure-fantasy Al diablo con amor (To Hell with Love).

★★1/2
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