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 27, 2018

Trhauma (1980)

... aka: Démence (Dementia)
... aka: Trauma

Directed by:
Gianni Martucci

I often forget that disco didn't actually die with the 70s and was still lurking around afterward. It was in its death throes, for sure, but was still trendy enough in the first few years of the 80s to be popping up even in some places you wouldn't necessarily expect. Like horror films. The famous example most turn to when discussing disco horror is the Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Prom Night (1980), which was so disco that it wasn't so much infused with it as it was informed by it. Then there was Don't Go in the House (1979), which capped off its grim, depressing story of a traumatized psycho torching nude women with the upbeat "Struck by Boogie Lighting" over the end credits. And who could forget (I'm still trying) the horror-comedy-erotic-musical Nocturna (1979), which basically existed as a showcase for disco dancing, disco fashions and disco music and boasted having a soundtrack from "Disco Queens" like Gloria ("I Will Survive") Gaynor and Vicki Sue ("Turn the Beat Around") Robinson right on the poster?

While the three titles above probably represent the most extreme end of the spectrum, disco had a funny way of weaseling its way into isolated scenes in many other films, whether that be the modeling session where Joe Spinell ogles potential victims in Maniac (1980) or vampire George Hamilton showing off his moves to the disco hit "I Love the Nightlife" in Love at First Bite (1979). Not just a North American phenomenon, disco also featured heavily in numerous European and Asian genre films. And it's even all over the soundtrack of this obscure, low-budget Italian slasher flick. Credits in need of music? Disco! Models posing for the camera? Disco! A man pulling up a driveway in his car? Disco! So even though it doesn't really fit the tone of the rest of the film, you're gonna have to endure the soundtrack occasionally giving you a little "Whoooooooo! Come on dance! Dance!" with scenes like a stuffed kitten getting its head lopped off.

The kitty slayer in question is called L'essere ("The Being") in the credits. No real name. That's it. As a young boy, "The Being" was teased by another boy for having a messed-up, all-white eye and then fell out of a tree. Now, as an adult, to say "The Being" is not very well-adjusted qualifies as a massive understatement. We can assume his tree fall stunted his mental growth as he still loves to play with Duplo blocks, but his other hobbies and interests are strictly adult in nature. That is, if the adult also happens to be a sick-o into strangling German Shepherds with their bare hands and having necro relations with bloody female corpses in sheep waste. But I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.

After meeting "The Being," we're then introduced to a bunch of other characters so underdeveloped they can only be measured on a mild-to-severe scale of how unlikable they are. Much to his wife's chagrin, Andrea ("Ronny Russ" / Gaetano Russo) has just recently purchased a large, old hillside villa. It's a beautiful home but it's also a fixer-upper, which is exactly why wife Lilly (Dafne Price) is frustrated with him. Since she inherited a bunch of money, he's done nothing but blow through it buying cars, yachts and property all over Europe. Lilly is not the least bit interested in his plans to sink even more money into renovating this new place he's just purchased either, but she's there all the same to wet blanket his greedy ass. Joining the couple there are half dozen friends.

Demanding photographer and budding blackmailer Paul (Timothy Wood) takes model Olga (Anna Maria Chiatante) out into the woods to shoot some nude photos. After she strips and bares all while a disco singer one-up's Andrea True by virtually having an orgasm on the accompanying track, he chews her out for not living up his high expectations. Angry, she storms off. The next time we see Olga, "The Being" is being his pervy self all over her dead body.

As night falls, and with Olga nowhere to be found, everyone grabs a lantern, split up and start searching the grounds. After Silvia (Silvia Mauri) is attacked, the gang do the usual horror movie routine of trying to call the police (phone lines have been cut), trying to drive away (tires have been flattened) and then, after finding the lone functioning vehicle on the property, sending just two people out to get the police instead of having everyone pile in and leave together. This naturally enables "The Being" (Per Holgher) to intercept and kill the police-fetchers after they stop to open the gate and then return to the home immediately after to bump everyone else off as they're waiting.

During the first 20 minutes, I thought this was going to be some unheralded sleazy classic. It comes charging right out of the gate with an one-eyed kid, a guy fighting a dog, a murder, nudity, a giant Lego castle, necrophilia, a stuffed animal decapitation and, yes, even that amusingly-at-odds-with-everything-else disco music. Problem is, nothing that occurs after all that is anywhere near as entertaining. The plot isn't very interesting, there's little suspense and lots of bickering and characters aimlessly wandering around. Even worse, the murder sequences are bland and most of the killings are either bloodless or occur completely off-screen. That's a big no-no for a flagrantly unoriginal film with as little story as this one has. Multiple strangulations, off-screen stabbings and people just falling out of frame as the killer approaches don't really cut it.

Gripes aside, this isn't the worst thing you'll ever see either. At least it's not as boring as the same director's other foray into the genre, THE RED MONKS (1988). It's watchable. It's tolerable. It runs only 78 minutes. And if you don't care so much about originality and prefer the "stalk" to the "slash" in your stalk-n-slash flicks, you may like this a bit more than I did. Co-star Russo co-wrote the screenplay with Alessandro Capone (WITCH STORY) and the cast also includes Roberto Posse (who has a pretty good trash film resume) and Franco Diogene (who was acting for Fellini and in movies like Midnight Express around the same time he appeared in this).

Though this was released on VHS throughout Europe, it was never released in the U.S. and is still not officially available in English, though fansubs are available. I still can't figure out if the title is intentionally misspelled or not!


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Mil sexos tiene la noche (1984)

... aka: Night Has a Thousand Desires
... aka: Night Has a Thousand Eyes
... aka: Night of 1,000 Sexes

Directed by:
Jess (Jesus) Franco

Rubenesque psychic medium "The Grand Irina" (Lina Romay) is one half of a popular nightclub act where her partner "The Great Fabián" (Daniel Katz) blindfolds her, puts her in a trance and then goes around the audience getting various things from them and having Irina identify them in detail. After accurately naming off key chains, rings and cards right down to their inscriptions, Fabián approaches a shady-looking, chain-smoking man and his two female companions. The man hands him a white piece of paper with some writing on it. Irina identifies that writing as "You have only a few hours to live." The audience gasps, but nothing comes of it... at least not right away. Later that night in their hotel room, Fabián confesses that he's sick of traveling around Europe from club to club and staying in hotel rooms. Despite the fact Irina saved him from the streets prior to them developing their act, he's now over her too and ends their relationship.

After a sex dream involving her with the nightclub mystery man (Mauro Rivera) and his female friends (Alicia "Pedreira" / Príncipe and "Mamie Kaplan" / Mari Carmen Nieto), Irina wanders out of her hotel room the following morning. A deep male voice calling out her name and telling her to "Obey!" leads her to the lobby, where Lorna (Carmen Carrión) awaits. Lorna, who appears to be some kind of witch, then sends her out to do a little favor, which involves seducing and then stabbing alcoholic jazz pianist / singer Jamal (Albino Graziani) to death during sex. Jamal was previously seen arguing with the club manager about wanting out of his contract. That may or may not have anything to do with his murder. When Irina wakes up, she's back in her room thinking everything that transpired was only a nightmare. Maybe it was. Maybe not.

Despite their previous conversation about breaking up, Irina and Fabián still share a bed, still sleep together naked and kind of act like they hadn't even had the earlier conversation. Irina complains that he's been sexually neglecting her as of late and asks him to make love but they're interrupted by a mysterious phone caller who insists Fabián leave to tend to "business." Irina is then back to having sex with the same three people in her earlier "dream" while they pass a joint around and we hear echoing, distorted moaning in an incredible scene that's the highlight of the entire film. These are the moments Franco fans patiently slog through the more tedious moments to get to.

Receiving mixed signals from her boyfriend and no longer able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, Irina begins seeing psychiatrist Dr. Karmen (played by the director). He ends up not being of much help and Irina soon finds herself seducing a young man (José Llamas), luring him back to her room for a little balcony sex and then castrating him. Or did she? I wish I could say the final explanation for Irina's troubles was a shocking revelation but, unfortunately, Franco decided it was a good idea to reveal exactly what was going on at an earlier stage of the film. That results in a narrative that's painfully predictable, though he finds some other stylistic ways to surprise us.

In between the sex and nude scenes (which aren't quite as crudely shot as in many of the director's other sex films), we get endless shots of Romay writhing in bed naked, riding around in a car or wandering the hotel corridors and gardens in a daze in scenes very reminiscent of CARNIVAL OF SOULS, right down to the music. There are countless shots of the coastline, pretty flowers, trees and some pastel stained glass windows Franco seems enamored with. The camera shoots blood splatter on a window for several minutes; close-up and far, sometimes in focus, sometimes not. It also keeps zooming into eyeballs and pans or tilts up to the sky for seemingly no reason at all. At times, some bizarre sound effects are added, like a train whistle when water is shown and what sounds like geese honking (!) while showing a helicopter flying around.

Often times Franco's flourishes are self-indulgent and laughable. Every once in awhile they're brilliant. But they're distinctive and almost always at least interesting if you appreciate such things. If you simply don't care, you'll likely just find this vacant, padded and insufferably slow-paced. The entire film feels like Franco got some money together, invited a bunch of his friends to a picturesque beach resort for a week and then decided to play around a bit with his camera. He also wrote it, did the morose music score (as "Pablo Villa"), shot it (as "Joan Almirall") and edited (sans credit).

The shrink word association scene and Fabián keeping a copy of the Necronomicon as bedtime reading material allude back to Franco's Succubus (1968), though this is actually a partial remake of the director's Les cauchemars naissent la nuit (1970; Nightmares Come at Night). It was given a long-overdue DVD and blu-ray release in 2016 by Mondo Macabro.

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