Saturday, December 19, 2009

Daikaijû Gamera (1965)

...aka: Gamera
...aka: Gamera, the Giant Monster
...aka: Giant Monster Gamera, The

Directed by:
Noriaki Yuasa

Thanks to the international success of Toho's GODZILLA series and all of its offshoots (MOTHRA, RODAN, etc.), several rival companies decided to give chase in the giant monster sweepstakes. GAMERA, from Daiei Studios, is one of those, and probably the most popular of all the non-Toho Japanese monster flicks from the era, spawning six sequels in its original run as well as a new rebooted series beginning in 1995. GAMERA not only holds the distinction of being the only movie in its series to be filmed in black-and-white, it's also the last kaijû eiga to be filmed in black-and-white. The film is also noteworthy for being the only one in its series where the titular monster doesn't face off against another giant monster. So how's the actual movie? Somewhat fun, I guess. How can a giant upright-walking nuclear turtle not be a little fun?

The world's at war again (there's even mention of us being on the verge of WWIII) when a Russian airplane being pursued by some American fighter pilots decides to drop an A bomb out in the middle of the Arctic. The ice cracks open, steam rolls out and a gigantic prehistoric turtle (gah!) is awakened after a two-thousand year frozen slumber. It goes on to sink a ship, destroy a lighthouse, derail a train, demolish a geothermal plant and eventually turn Tokyo into a big pile of rubble. Amusing stuff? Yeah, pretty much, especially when a dance club full of bopping teens is smashed. The turtle ramage scenes deliver as is expected of them and the special effects are pretty fun. The rest of the movie is basically a snooze. Your typical group of scientists, militarymen, reporters, etc. try to bait the beast and discover it actually thrives on all manner of fire, nuclear energy, missles and bombs. There's also an orphaned boy who has a special connection to turtles of all sizes, thinks Gamera is just lonely and needs a friend and manages to get in the middle of everything. How our heroes rid the earth of the terrifying tortoise (for the time being, at least) is pretty amusing.


Eiji Funakoshi (BLIND BEAST), Yoshiro Kitahara (who also appeared - playing different roles - in the first three Gamera sequels) and Jun Hamamura (KWAIDAN, JIGOKU) star. In America, producer Sandy Frank scrapped some of the original footage and added brand new scenes featuring Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy, Dick O'Neill and Alan Oppenheimer, among others. That version was released as GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE in 1966 and is also available on DVD. I will likely review it separately on here eventually.


Daimajin gyakushu (1966)

...aka: Majin Strikes Again
...aka: Return of Daimajin, The
...aka: Return of Majin, The
...aka: Return of the Giant Majin, The

Directed by:
Kazuo Mori

After the surprisingly successful MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR came this immediate follow-up, which was filmed back-to-back with the two other Majin titles and is more or less just a rehash of the original. Unfortunately for this viewer, lightning didn't quite strike twice. There's a new set of characters here, but they're less interesting and less defined than the ones in the previous film. Furthermore, while the first featured several child characters, this one makes the mistake of centering the entire film around four of them, resulting in an overabundance of the cutesy that's not going to sit well with the glucose intolerant. The script doesn't really bring anything all that new or interesting to the table either. There are a couple of new additions to the Majin mythos, but the film still has the same basic premise as the first. The pacing is identical, right down to how (Dai)majin doesn't spring to life until the last 15-20 minutes of the film.

The film centers around two basic locations; a peaceful village and a mining camp. Right smack in the middle of the two is the steep mountain home of the giant (Dai)majin stone idol. Anyone who tries to side step the rocky terrain is kidnapped by an evil warlord and his army and forced to mine sulfur at a slave camp. If the prisoners cause any trouble or try to escape, they face death by being tossed into the boiling hot sulfur springs. Winter is quickly approaching and back at the village four concerned little boys want their missing fathers (now amongst the enslaved workers) back, so they decide to sneak off and brave the treacherous mountain all on their own. They scale cliffs, take a raft down rapids, try to avoid getting smashed by rockslides and avalanches and eventually are caught in a bad blizzard while trying to (sometimes comically) outwit the evil guards sent out to apprehend them. The kids also have an ally in a magical hawk who guides them along on their perilous quest. Naturally, when all seems lost, prayer brings Daimajin to life and he heads down to the mining camp to smash the place up, pummel the baddies and liberate the prisoners.

Though not nearly as enjoyable as the first, many of the same aesthetic pleasures have carried over to at least keep this juvenile fantasy-adventure watchable. Nearly every scene takes place outdoors and the mixture of well-designed sets and picturesque outdoor locations is fantastic. The special effects are also very good, as is the cinematography and music score. Then again, if you've seen the first already, you won't be seeing much new here. It was followed by THE WRATH OF DAIMAJIN, the third and final film in the series. Again, the top quality DVD release from AD Vision Films is recommended.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Daimajin (1966)

...aka: Devil Got Angry, The
...aka: Giant Majin, The
...aka: Majin
...aka: Majin, Monster of Terror
...aka: Majin, the Hideous Idol
...aka: Majin, the Stone Samurai
...aka: Vengeance of the Monster, The

Directed by:
Kimiyoshi Yasuda

When it comes to Japanese monster movies, it's hard not to have visions of horribly-dubbed extras running around in a panic as some silly-looking giant man-in-a-rubbery-monster-suit rampages through a city. We've all seen at least a couple of these things before. They're good for a few dumb good laughs, right? Not so at all in this case. Hell, it might not actually be so in many or even most cases if this is any indicator of what these things are like when presented in pristine shape with the original soundtracks. Visually speaking, this movie is beautiful. The sets and art direction are top notch, the production values and cinematography are excellent and the performances are good. It's well-written, with an intriguing central premise and decent characters. And the special effects - mostly showcased during the final fifteen minutes though the film has no problem maintaining interest without them - have held up beautifully over the years. There were many times watching this where I was in awe at how smoothly they managed to blend the model work with the live actors. It's a hell of a lot more effective than most of today's overpriced CGI effects.

Set in 17th Century feudal Japan, DAIMAJIN (initially released in the U.S. as MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR) centers around a small village about to be overthrown by warlord / chamberlain Samanosuke (Yutaro Gomi) and his chief henchman Gunjuro (Tatsuo Endo). They and their brood murder kind samurai lord Hanabusa and his wife, and then attempt to murder their two young children; Tadafumi and Kosawa. Thankfully, vassal Kogenta (Jun Fujimaki) manages to get the kids out of the village before its too late. Kogenta and the kids seek refuge with Aunt Shinobu, an elderly high priestess who lives at the base of Mount Okimadini. Located at the mountain right in front of a huge waterfall sits a huge stone statue of Daimajin, a God worshipped by many in the village. Ten long years later, evil Samanosuke has turned the village into a slave camp where the villagers are little more than slaves who are whipped and killed if they dissent in any way. Kogenta, the Aunt and the now-teenage Tadafumi (Yoshihiko Aoyama) and Kosawa (Miwa Takada) are still hiding out in the woods. After both men are captured and tortured, Auntie is slain and Samanosuke's troops unsuccessfully attempt to demolish the statue, Kosawa pleads to the huge statue to avenge the village. She gets her wish as Daimajin comes to life, waves its arm to reveal a green monstrous face and beings its rampage of destruction.

Even though I'm still very much a novice when it comes to Japanese monster movies, what I got here wasn't at all what I was expecting. And I mean that in the very best of ways. Not only is the film extremely well made and highly entertaining, but it's also filled with brilliantly composed and downright beautiful shots; from the waterfall pouring over the mountainside to low angles peering up at a cloudy, sometimes red sky as the revived stone statue marches toward the village. Like many other films, this has been issued on both video and DVD under many labels, so you need to be careful about which version you get. It's hard to imagine any of them stacking up to the high quality disc released by AD Vision Films, which is a gorgeous print with English subs. Judging by stills I just looked at, the version released by Image Ent./Retromedia doesn't stack up anywhere near the ADV version quality wise.

It was made by Daiei Studios and was followed by two immediate sequels; THE RETURN OF MAJIN and THE WRATH OR MAJIN. All three films were shot back-to-back in 1966. Several box sets containing all three Daimajin titles are available.


Mannekäng i rött (1958)

...aka: Mannequin in Red

Directed by:
Arne Mattsson

This is the second of a five-part Swedish murder-mystery series, all of which were directed by Mattsson, starred Karl-Arne Holmsten as police detective John Hillman and were based on novels written by Folke Mellvig. The others in this series (none of which have been officially released in the U.S.) include THE LADY IN BLACK (1958), THE RIDER IN BLUE (1959), THE LADY IN WHITE (1962) and THE YELLOW CAR (1963). While I haven't seen any of the others to confirm whether or not they're "horror" enough to include on this blog, Mannequin certainly deserves a spot here for being an obvious precursor to both the German krimni (which were largely adapted works of Edgar Wallace) and Italian giallo movements. Speaking of giallo, this movie is surprisingly similar in numerous ways to Mario Bava's acclaimed BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964); so much so that BABL almost seems like a remake! And while Bava's movie (often cited as one of the first of its type) has the upper hand when it comes to visual style and depictions of on-screen violence, Mannequin is actually the better written and acted of the two. It's also visually sumptuous in its own right. Hilding Bladh's Eastmancolor cinematography is gorgeous and the art direction, lighting and imaginative costume designs are all outstanding.

Just as in BABL, the film is set in and around a colorful high fashion house full of designers, models and beauticians who cater to obnoxious and wealthy sophisticates. Both films open with the murder of a mysterious model and feature a killer who seems to be trying to conceal his/ her first crime with each new murder. The list of suspects is long. Very, very long. But don't worry, they're soon trimmed down. The fashion house itself is run by bitter, bitchy, wheelchair-bound Thyra Lennberg (Lillebil Ibsen), whose foster son Bobbie (Bengt Brunskog) is more interested in cars than clothes, so he's promptly written out of the will. Naturally, Bobbie's a bit upset about all this, especially when he learns that mum is planning on leaving everything to her snooty niece Gabriella (Gio Petré), who's more interested in a singing career than running the fashion house, and her playboy nephew Richard (Lennart Lindberg) instead. Each of the four characters are primary suspects in the first murder since each was in possession of a rare 17th Century dagger that was found in the victim's back.

Others thrown into the mix include put-upon designer Birgitta (Anita Björk), who is romantically involved with Richard and Bobbie, cosmetics counter girl Sonja (Lena Granhagen), who is romantically involved with one of the investigators, and a woman who goes by the name of 'Peter' (Lissi Alandh) and seems to be Gabrielle's lesbian lover. There's also a mysterious older woman lurking about carrying a cat that belonged to one of the victims. Detective Hillman is on the case and has some help from his wife Kaisa (Annalisa Ericson), who goes undercover as a model to see if she can uncover the killer. One character who you'll wish was 86'd is Det. Hillman's partner Freddy (Nills Hallberg), a stuttering buffoon who keeps popping up to provide completely unfunny "comic relief." His presence is a minor debit in this otherwise solidly made, sometimes quite suspenseful and very entertaining, if overlong (108 minutes), little thriller. The performances (especially from Björk and Ibsen) and camerawork are both very good, there's an eerie music score and the whole movie looks fantastic.

In addition to this series, director Mattson (a three-time nominee at Cannes) also made KORKARLEN (1958; aka THE PHANTOM CARRAIGE, a refilming of the 1921 silent classic of the same name), MORIANNA (1965), NIGHTMARE (1965), DIRTY FINGERS (1973) and MASK OF MURDER (1985). Most of those were never released in the United States.


Macario (1960)

Directed by:
Roberto Gavaldón

Hard-working, quiet lumberman Macario (Ignacio López Tarso) spends his days laboring in the forest to acquire enough firewood to sell to a local bakery so they can keep their ovens burning. His wife (Pina Pellicer) is a laundress. Their combined income is barely enough to feed their five small children. On the eve of "The Day of the Dead," as a special treat for Macario (who often times has to sacrifice his own dinner to his hungry, growing kids), his wife steals a turkey, roasts it and then secretly gives it to her husband to eat all by himself as he heads off to work one morning. Macario takes it into the forest, but as he sits down to eat, he's approached by three different men (one representing Satan, one representing God and one representing the Angel of Death i.e. The Grim Reaper) who all ask to share his turkey. The first, a mustached, smooth talker clad in black (José Gálvez), and the second, an ethereal older man dressed in white (José Luis Jiménez), are both politely refused. But Macario allows the third man (Enrique Lucero), who appears to be a fellow peasant who seems to have fallen on hard times himself but is actually the human guise of Death itself, to share his meal.

Afterward, Death offers Macario a special gift to pay him back. He taps the ground and a water spring gushes forth. He fills Macario's flask with water has the special ability to cure some (not all) of those who are ill. The peasant also informs him that he will appear (in ghostly, transluscent form) by the bedside of each person he hopes to cure. If he's standing at the foot of the bed, it's OK to revive them with the water. If not, the person's time to die has come and nothing can be done.

Macario first uses the water to revive his son after he falls in the well. Rumor quickly spreads around the village about Macario's special abilities and he's asked to help wealthy Don Ramiro (Mario Alberto Rodríguez) to cure his dying wife (Sonia Infante). After successfully curing her, Don Ramiro and Macario strike up a partnership and wealthy people from all over the country begin stopping by their inn for the miracle cure. A jealous local doctor whose business is taking a hit decides to tip off the Catholic moral authorities, who promptly send a bunch of inquisitioners into town to do their own investigation. Despite the claims of those he helped (who believe he's doing God's work), the witch hunters brand Macario a sorcerer, lock him up in a cell/torture dungeon and threaten to either cut out his tongue or burn him at the stake. The only way he may be able to save his wife is by healing the dying son of a nobleman.

Based on a novel by mysterious and elusive writer B. Traven (who also wrote THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE), this beautifully filmed (by Gabriel Figueroa), hauntingly atmospheric allegorical tale is dramatically sound (with a well-paced storyline and a quietly compelling central character), very well-acted by the entire cast, humorous and charming at times (though topped off with a tragic ending) and has enough fantasy and horror touches (the wily presence of Satan, the witch hunting/torture chamber sequences, the "Day of the Dead" skull aesthetic, Death's foggy, cavernous home filled with candles...) for me to include it here on this blog. The cast also includes Eduardo Fajardo, José Dupeyrón and Alfredo Wally Barrón.

It was the first Mexican film to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film (it lost to Bergman's THE VIRGIN SPRING) and was also nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival (where it lost to Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA).


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

La tête froide (1970)

... aka: Cold Head, The
... aka: Deuxième partie

Directed by:
Patrick Hella

Shots of a car speeding down the road are intercut with kinky sex flashes (a woman with a whip rides a guy, for instance). Then the car crashes into a tree, the male driver (Christian Chaix) is decapitated and the bloody, injured female ("Marie Laurence" / Marie-Paule Mailleux) scoops up his head and returns to her home. There, she cleans herself and the head off, prepares dinner for herself and the head, buys the head a Ken Doll to keep it company, puts the head on a mannequin's body and then has a series of strange hallucinations, which include having sex with her bloodied lover, dancing in a room by herself with a spotlight, etc. Things culminate in her having sex with the head and then throwing it into the trash bin.

Although this seems to have been somewhat inspired by Repulsion (1965), right down to the sound of a clock ticking during one scene, it's also somewhat interesting as a boundary-pushing precursor to such later films as Lamberto Bava's Frozen Terror (1980), which also featured a couple getting involved in a car crash and the woman bringing the severed head home to make love to, as well as Re-Animator (1985), which turns out to not be the first movie with a disembodied head, uh, going down on a woman. There's no dialogue, technically-speaking it's pretty rough around the edges and it runs just 13-minutes (a scene with fellow underground Belgian filmmaker Roland Lethem, future Jess Franco movie regular Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and others was removed).

After making many short experimental films, Hella made a few documentaries and would go on to become a prolific casting director for such films as Duplicity (2005) and In Bruges (2008). Leading lady Mailleux appeared in several other shorts (including some for the same director), landed a small supporting role in José Ramón Larraz's Cannes-nominated psychological horror film SYMPTOMS (1974) and then disappeared promptly afterward (IMDb states that she died in 1999 while living in India).


Monday, December 7, 2009

La casa del tempo (1989)

...aka: House of Clocks, The

Directed by:
Lucio Fulci

Like several other Fulci films, this opens with a literary quote; this time from 19th Century French playwright and novelist Honoré de Balzac ("The Human Comedy"), as if it's striving for some sort of respectibility. A very wealthy and seemingly normal elderly couple; Victor (Paolo Paolini) and Sara (Bettina Milne) Corsini, live in a gated mansion along with their maid Maria (Carla Cassola), one-eyed hired hand Peter (Al Cliver) and army of Doberman Pinchers they let roam free outside. Victor believes that the dozens of clocks that fill the home are his "children," and he and his wife are up to something strange involving the rotting corpses of his niece and nephew, which are kept in a locked room. After Maria discovers the bodies, Sara jams a spear into her stomach until her guts start pouring out. Meanwhile, three thoroughly obnoxious 20-somethings; Tony (Keith Van Hoven), Diana (Karina Huff) and Paul (Peter Hintz) are driving around smoking weed, arguing and plotting to break into the mansion. First, they stop by a supermarket, where Diana distracts the cashier by letting him sniff her panties while the other two shoplift dinner. For some reason, one of them also decides to lighten the mood by suffocating a cat in a plastic bag. Nice.

The three end up at the mansion, where Diana pretends to be a stranded motorist to coerce the couple to let her in so she can use their phone. It isn't long until her buddies barge in. There's a struggle over a rifle and the elderly couple, as well as Peter, are all killed. The thieves hide the bodies, start looting the place and plot to leave, but can't because the dogs are gathering around outside the door. Now trapped inside the home, the clocks all begin rewinding by themselves, bodies turn up missing and characters who were killed return to life and start attacking. There are three impalements (including one with a steel fence), three shotgun killings (including a stomach blown away), a hand stabbed with a knife, a head bashed off a table, a strangling, chainsaw and axe usage (both strangely off-screen) and zombie hands emerging from the ground. Despite this, the film actually isn't as gory as most of Fulci's other 80s offerings.

It's confusing, the characters are all horrible people you could care less about and nothing really makes a lick of sense, which has prompted some fans to refer to it as "a surreal gem," which is the same thing the same fans said about his sloppy, horror clip recycling hodgepodge NIGHTMARE CONCERT (1990, aka A CAT IN THE BRAIN). Sorry, but I still don't buy it. It's easy to come up with a senseless story and then not have the courage of your convictions by writing everything off at the very end. In this case (feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don't want this thing spoiled) the film settles for a groan-inducing "it was all just a dream" twist as our leading lady wakes up from a horrible nightmare and learns that her friends had the same exact nightmare. Now scared, they decide not to actually break into the house and drive off. That's all capped off with an absurd attempt at irony when the bagged kitty cat comes to life, jumps in the driver's face and causes them to crash and be killed anyway! The "moral" ending is surprisingly similar to the one used by Lamberto Bava for GRAVEYARD DISTURBANCE (1987), and I hated the conclusion of that flick, too.

So while I wanted to kill all the characters myself and cringed at the terrible dubbed dialogue and hated the silly "twist" ending cop-out, the movie isn't completely worthless. It has an OK music score, a basic attempt at atmosphere both inside (spinning clocks, light glittering off various things, some coloring...) and outside (fog rolling in...) the mansion, as well as enough red stuff to keep the gorehounds from straying. I'm sure if you love all things Fulci, you'll also love this. Well, if you can look past the very cheap, very soft look of the "telecolor" cinematography.

It was originally made for Italian TV and was part of a four-part series called Le case maledette ("The Doomed Houses"), which also included the Fulci-directed SWEET HOUSE OF HORRORS, as well as the Umberto Lenzi-directed HOUSE OF LOST SOULS and THE HOUSE OF WITCHCRAFT. This one supposedly was too violent for TV, so it briefly played theatrically before heading to video. Though there was no VHS release in America, it got a R1 DVD release via Shriek Show in 2002.


Demented Death Farm Massacre... The Movie (1986)

...aka: Death Farm
...aka: Hillbilly Hooker
...aka: Honey Britches
...aka: Honey Pie
...aka: Little Whorehouse on the Prairie
...aka: Shantytown Honeymoon

Directed by:
Donn Davison
Fred Olen Ray

Fred Olen Ray purchased the rights to a low-budget 1971 hicksploitation flick originally released as SHANTYTOWN HONEYMOON (aka HONEY BRITCHES and several other titles), added a few minutes of new footage featuring John Carradine as "The Judge of Hell," changed part of the music score and then sold it to Troma, who did their usual re-packaging/re-title job to give it some camp appeal. Back in the 70s, the film was re-released numerous times under a variety of different titles, including HILLBILLY HOOKER and LITTLE WHOREHOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. The director of the original film was Kentucky-born Donn Davison (aka Phil Chandler), who had worked as a spook show magician, managed the Dragon Art Theater adult cinema in California, did voice over work and trailer narration, served some time behind bars for obscenity charges back in the mid-70s and was apparently a national yo-yo champion and spokesperson for Duncan Yo-Yo's!

In addition to this film, Davison (who passed away in 1999) had also directed a 1968 redneck drama titled MOONSHINER'S WOMAN (often mistaken for another alternate title for this when it's an entirely different film) and added his own footage to several other features, including THE LEGEND OF BLOOD MOUNTAIN (which was filmed in 1965 and re-released with Davison's newly-added footage as BLOOD BEAST OF MONSTER MOUNTAIN in the mid-70s) and SHE-FREAK (filmed in 1967 and re-released with new scenes as ASYLUM OF THE INSANE). Though it probably sounds like this will be a complete mess, surprisingly enough it isn't in that bad of shape. The footage with a depressingly frail and sometimes incoherent Carradine only amounts to a couple of minutes and has him (in the best later-day Lugosi tradition) babbling a bunch of nonsense that has nothing to do with the movie. It's badly spliced in and utterly pointless, but the original feature, while dumb as can be, is pretty fun at times.

A couple of thieves rob a jewelry store, make off with over a million dollars in rare jewels, steal a helicopter, crash it and then steal a jeep. This being a super low-budget regional film, none of that is actually visualized for us. It's simply described during a car radio broadcast (voiced by Davison himself) right before the bluegrass staple "Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms" comes on. The two thieves; British-accented Philip Courtley (Jim Peck) and his younger accomplice Kirk Taylor (Mike Coolik), along with their girlfriends; Amazonian, big-breasted, chain-smoking bitch Suzanne (Trudy Moore) and meek, abused Karen (Valerie Lipsey), run out of gas while heading down to Florida to sell the stolen diamonds. Stuck in the backwoods of North Carolina, the quartet push their jeep off to the side of the road and then head into the woods looking for some place to hide out until they can get some gas.

After walking through the woods for what seems like an eternity, the quartet run into young and naive country bumpkin Reba Sue (Ashley Moore), whose father "sold" her to an old, bearded, pudgy moonshiner named Harlan Cravens (George Ellis) to clear up a 200 dollar debt. Harlan is a not only a loud slob, but he's also a paranoid, woman-hating religious nut who thinks every woman is a whore and won't consumate his relationship with his shapely new wife. No problem, Kirk's game. After the two of them get it on, Karen and Reba Sue get into a catfight that ends in death as one of the ladies gets her head bashed in with a moonshine jug. From here on out it's a free for all with characters chasing each other around the house and through the woods trying to kill one another. There's a pitchfork-through-the-neck and someone gets mowed over by a pick-up truck.

While this doesn't quite cut it as a horror film (despite the "spooky" new footage/ music and a couple of gory moments) and doesn't quite cut it as sexploitation (there's just one sex scene with only partial nudity), it does work OK as a redneck movie. The accents are hilarious and the characters; especially Harlan and Suzanne, are entertaining enough to keep you watching. The cast also includes Pepper Thurston as a black whorehouse madam named Jessie-Belle (uh, get it?) and R. Kenneth Wade as Harlan's semi-retarded hired hand Tobey.

If you're interested in seeing the original film minus the Ray-shot scenes, Something Weird offers it on VHS and DVD-R.


Devil Within Her, The (1975)

...aka: Baby, The
...aka: Evil Baby
...aka: I Don't Want to Be Born!
...aka: It Lives Within Her
...aka: It's Growing Inside Her
...aka: Monster, The
...aka: Sharon's Baby

Directed by:
Peter Sasdy

Former stripper Lucy Carlesi (Joan Collins) has just given birth to a 12-pound baby boy... who scratches her face and licks her blood just minutes after it exits the womb! Dr. Finch (Donald Pleasence) recommends she not breast feed because what just occured is clearly a sign of post partum depression. Lucy, her bland Italian husband Gino (Ralph Bates) and infant Nicholas all return home and things quickly go from bad to worse. Lucy relates a howlingly funny flashback to her former glory days as an exotic dancer to her completely useless best friend Mandy (Caroline Munro). You see, a year or so earlier, right after performing her patented Hunchback of Notre Dame-inspired strip act (!!) Lucy's dwarf co-star Hercules (George Claydon), Quasimodo to her Esmeralda, decided to try for some backstage action. After a failed attempt to grab her breast, Lucy shrieks, her sleazy boss Tommy (John Steiner) barges in and kicks the dwarf out so he can have sex with her instead. As Lucy is exiting the building later that night, the spurned dwarf emerges from behind the stage to curse her and tell her she's going to have a possessed baby.

So what does having a possessed infant entail? Well, it's messy. The baby manages to completely destroy its room and all its toys in a matter of seconds. It's super-strong. The baby easily draws blood by clawing and smacking people around. It hates crosses and has a fit during an attempted baptism. And it's deadly. The baby pushes its sitter (Janet Key) into a pond, where she hits her head on a rock and drowns. It also manages to tie a noose, climb into a tree, lower it around someone's neck and then lift them off the ground until they're dead. And it's even got enough oomph to pick up a shovel and swing it with enough force to decapitate someone during the film's only gory moment. Thankfully, Gino's full time nun / part time animal pathologist (!?) sister Albana (Eileen Atkins), who shows her affection for her brother by rubbing noses with him (!?) has flown in from Italy for a visit. After nearly everyone is already dead, Albana finally gets around to performing an exorcism on the baby during an exciting climax where the crib shakes, the baby rolls over onto its stomach twice and the dwarf keels over dead in the middle of a showgirl act. The end.

Sound like one of the most ridiculous and ill-conceived films ever created? Yep, it pretty much is. Obviously the filmmakers were wanting to cash in on both the big early 70s devil craze created by ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973) while also tapping IT'S ALIVE (1974), the surprise 'killer baby' hit made the previous year. Needless to say, they fail hard on both counts. The baby itself is never actually shown really doing anything. The film simply has one of the actors lean over the crib and suddenly jerk back, exclaiming "It bit me!" or "It hit me!" or "It spat on me!" followed by a shot of the baby lying in its crib wondering what the hell that big contraption is pointed in its face. I'll admit that I did laugh quite a few times watching this movie, but it also grows tiresome after awhile and has so many incredibly dull stretches that I'm not going to give it a "SBIG" rating.

There are many familiar faces in the cast... and most of them are terrible! While Collins does put some effort into her role, the woman just isn't a very sympathetic presence and her near-constant hysterics get highly irritating after awhile. And it pains me to say this, but Pleaseance and Bates (two actors I usually enjoy) are even worse. Pleasence is so subdued he might as well not even be there, while Bates' Italian accent is one of the worst ever commited to film. Atkins is also asked to do an Italian accent and while hers is pretty bad too (some of the unintented comic high points are her constant exclamations of "Day-Veeeel!") she's at least not utterly boring to watch like her male co-stars. Munro is around simply to look good but her character, who's screwing the same scrawny sleazebag who used to run around with her supposed best friend and may actually be the real father of the killer baby, has nothing to do and is distasteful. The most solid performance in the film is contributed by Hilary Mason (from DON'T LOOK NOW) as an elderly housekeeper who loathes the baby.

Even though I haven't seen everything from the usually-competent Sasdy, I can assume this is the low-point of his career. It's well-distributed in the UK and other countries, but there's no R1 release of this one.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

La saga de los Drácula (1973)

... aka: Dracula Saga, The
... aka: Dracula: The Bloodline Continues
... aka: Last Vampire, The
... aka: Saga of Dracula, The
... aka: Saga of the Draculas

Directed by:
León Klimovsky

Berta (Tina Sáinz), a descendant of the Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) clan, hasn't been back to her birthplace, a tiny Transylvanian village, since she was a child. Now living in London, married to Hans (Tony Isbert) and in the early stages of pregnancy, Berta receives a telegram from her some estranged relatives asking her to pay them a visit. Berta complies, but once she and her husband arrive in the village, she soon starts regretting they've ever come there. Their coachman refuses to take them to the castle so they're forced to walk by foot. On the way there they discover a topless woman lying in forest with puncture wounds on her neck and breast. They take her to a local inn/tavern where the superstitious townspeople write off the attack (and other similar recent attacks of young women in the area) to a pack of wolves but seem to live in fear about Castle Dracula and its inhabitants.

The next day, Dracula family "administrator" Gabor (J.J. Paladino) meets Berta and Hans at the inn and offers to take them to the castle. Once they arrive they can't locate anyone... but do find inscribed grave markers for each of the family members. He serves them a meal of raw meat and suspiciously thick and foul tasting wine to wash it down with while they wait for the family, who won't be arriving there until later that evening. Grandpa, the aged Count Dracula (Narciso Ibáñez Menta) shows up to reveal that he's remarried a sexy and much-younger young woman named Munia (Helga Liné). Berta's two cousins and childhood playmates; Xenia (María Kosty) and Irina (Cristina Suriani) are still around, too. Everyone seems overjoyed that Berta is pregnant and have a toast that evening to "The future Count Dracula." Though the Count tells his granddaughter they suffer from a genetic disease, it isn't long before the entire family are revealed to be vampires and they want Berta's baby to carry on the family bloodline.

I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised with this one. Despite the fact it's not difficult to find (a DVD was just released last year) this has a measly 67 votes on IMDb and a ho-hum 4.8 rating. While it starts like your usual Gothic horror yarn with all the usual trappings, it eventually charts it own course and becomes sort of like a vampire version of ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) with the blood sucking family holding the pregnant, innocent descendant prisoner in their castle. The woman's useless husband cheats on her with the sexy mistress of the castle and then passes on the vampire gene to the woman's unborn baby after they have sex. The baby then starts feeding internally off the mother, turning her sickly, anemic and eventually batshit crazy. Throw in a one-eyed, web-fingered melty-faced monstrous child kept hidden in the attic, two bizarrely-filmed nightmare sequences (one where our heroine is being chased through a building by a bat-faced monster and another where she leans in to kiss her grandmother and her head falls off!) and a bloody axe rampage at the finale where heads and limbs are hacked off right and left and you have this bizarre Spanish gem.

It's blackly humorous, the cast is great (especially Menta as the bearded, weathered Dracula, who is perfect in his part) and it's even surprisingly creepy at times. The special effects are decent (with vampires given an effectively otherworldly slight green tint at times), the film has a nice misty soft-focus look and the score is excellent. Gothic/ vampire horror fans get what they want (old castles, foggy forests, dark dungeons...) and exploitation fans get what they want (gore, sex and a hilarious scene where the the two vampire cousins strip off in front of a rabbi in the woods and kill him) and everyone is happy. The cast also includes "Henry Gregor"/ Heinrich Starhemberg (the son of Austrian prince Ernst Ruediger von Starhemberg) as a crippled doctor, Betsabé Ruiz as a vampire victim, Luis Ciges and Elsa Zabala.

Klimovsky is best known for his numerous pairings with Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy and holds the distinction of directing the actor more times than anyone else (if you exclude the times Naschy directed himself). The Naschy / Klimovsky collaborations include THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971), Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf (1971), VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972), Devil's Possessed (1974), A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1974), DEATH OF A HOODLUM (1975), Kidnapped (1976) and The People Who Own the Dark (1976). Other Klimovsky horror efforts that don't feature Naschy include Edge of Fear (1964), VAMPIRE'S NIGHT ORGY (1973), I HATE MY BODY (1974), NIGHT OF THE WALKING DEAD (1975) and Trauma (1978). If you ask me, his work is much more interesting than he's ever been credited for.

The 2008 Deimos DVD (which has been remastered from the original negative and looks great) gives you the option of watching the film dubbed (which is actually surprisingly well done) or in its original language with optional English subtitles. The disc also includes the trailer, an altered credits sequence and alternate "clothed" scenes used for more bashful markets to replace the nudity.


Eugénie (1970)

...aka: De Sade 2000
...aka: Eugenia
...aka: Eugénie de Franval
...aka: Eugenie de Sade
...aka: Eugénie de Sade
...aka: Eugenie Sex Happening

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

The opening credits, which don't waste any time getting right down to the nitty gritty by having a full-blown lesbian scene going on as names splash across the screen, state this is "based on a novel by the Marquis de Sade." That novel is "Eugénie de Franval," something I haven't read. And while I can't speak for this film as an adaptation (the 18th century tale has been moved to a modern day setting), I do know enough about de Sade to say this does justice to certain Sadean themes, such as finding exhilaration and comfort in the sexually forbidden and romanticism in cruelty, torture and death. The lesbian scene that opens the film is interrupted when a man comes into the room, one of the women leaves, the man acts as if he's going to make love to the other woman and then suddenly strangles her to death. All of this turns out to be a home movie that was filmed by a pair of serial killers. The man screening it is a reporter by the name of Attila Tanner (played by director/writer Franco under the name "Franco Manera"). Attila follows the viewing with a trip to the hospital to visit a mortally wounded young woman named Eugénie Radeck ("Susan Korday"/ Soledad Miranda), the female accomplice seen in the film, and listens to her deathbed confession, which is then recounted for us.

Eugénie (whose mother died just days after giving birth to her) lives in a large, snowbound home in Germany with her stepfather Albert (Paul Muller), a well-known and controversial erotica writer. Completely infatuated in a decidedly unhealthy way with the man who has raised her since birth (and vice versa), Eugénie begins sneaking into his library to read his sexually-sadistic books and finds herself becoming intrigued. She tauntingly exposes herself to him; giving him glimpses of her legs, staring intently and hanging on his every word. Albert tells her of the pleasures to be had in inflicting pain upon others and wants her to experience it first hand, so he arranges for Eugénie to accompany him on a French press tour. The two sneak a flight over to Brussels, hire a nude model (Alice Arno) and dear old dad takes pictures while his daughter murders her. The two return home, pick up a hitchhiker and then smother her to death, making passionate love after it's all over. Before long, the two have claimed a handful of victims, sinking their bodies in a nearby ice-covered lake. For an encore, Albert wants Eugenie to seduce a man, make him fall in love with her, break his heart and then kill him; something he plans on filming. He selects an overly-sensitive, virginal jazz trumpeter named Paul ("Andre Montcall"/Andrés Monales) as their prey. Eugenie starts dating him and finds herself falling in love; which turns out to be the undoing of both father and daughter.

Yes, this is very distasteful, unsubtle, exploitative and sometimes disturbing material that not everyone is going to want to see, but it's still a worthwhile piece due to how it's executed. Franco manages to effectively capture the sick relationship between an intelligent, twisted, manipulative and jaded murderer and his equally warped, painfully subservient daughter while keeping true to the spirit of the source author by imbuing the film with a dreamy, (very) darkly erotic feel. He also manages to get good performances from his two leads. Muller is very good in his role but the beautiful Miranda really walks away with this one. She's often seen sitting in a fetal position, almost hugging herself, and gazing blankly at her father; someone she's almost elevated to God-like status in her own mind. Miranda manages to create a sort of tragic anti-heroine here, who's disturbed yet oddly naive and innocent all the same. Just looking at who raised her, and his motivations for doing so, is enough to make her a somewhat sympathetic figure regardless of the terrible things she ends up doing. Franco, on the other hand, is something of a minor debit in his acting role. Though important to the structure of the film, Franco himself is far too wooden to really bring the character, who seems to be stalking the father, to life.

This French/Liechtenstein co-production also boasts a haunting score from Bruno Nicolai, as well as superb cinematography from Manuel Merino, which primarily plays off whites and reds as the cold, wintery isolation of the Radeck home (where father and daughter live in their own little world) clashes with the red warmth of the jazz club (where Eugenie actually gets a chance to interact with others and potentially experience what a more 'normal' relationship is like). It's loaded with nudity and sex (though the director doesn't linger on it for a boring eternity like he does in some of his other films) and while there is some blood, there's no real effects work here. In other words, the blood is simply smeared on victims and that's that.
It was filmed in 1970, though IMDb claims it wasn't released until 1975. This wasn't Franco's first nor would it be his last trip to the de Sade well. He also made MARQUIS DE SADE: JUSTINE (1968), EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969), JULIETTE (1970; a film that went unfinished due to star Miranda's tragic passing in an auto accident), PLEASURE FOR THREE (1974), EROTIC SYMPHONY (1980), WICKED MEMOIRS OF EUGENIE (1980), CRIES OF PLEASURE (1983) and HELTER SKELTER (2000), all of which are said to have been based on de Sade's work. The unrated DVD is from Blue Underground.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dorian Gray (1970)

...aka: Bildnis des Dorian Gray, Das
...aka: Dio chiamoto Dorian, Il
...aka: Evils of Dorian Gray, The
...aka: Portrait of Dorian Gray, The
...aka: Secret of Dorian Gray, The

Directed by:
Massimo Dallamano

Oscar Wilde's famous allegorical novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray," which was first published in 1890, was a key adapted literary piece of the silent film era. There were versions of it made in 1910, 1913, 1915 (one filmed in the US, the other in Russia), 1916, 1917 and 1918 (which featured a young Bela Lugosi). Of those, only the the 1916 version (directed by Fred W. Durrant and starring Henry Victor) remains. What most rightfully consider the definitive screen version of the tale came in 1945. Directed by Albert Lewin for MGM, it starred Hurd Hattfield as Dorian, featured scene-stealing work from George Sanders and Angela Lansbury and was gorgeously photographed by Harry Stradling Sr., who received a well-deserved Academy Award for his work. The tale then layed dormant for about twenty-five years until it was resurrected once again by producers Harry Alan Towers and Samuel Z. Arkoff, two pioneering forces in the exploitation business. They tapped Italian-born Massimo Dallamano (who'd go on to make the popular giallo WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO SOLANGE? a year later) to direct and co-write the film, and brought along a cast of familiar faces for a version so over-the-top trashy that it was critically annihilated upon release.

Aesthetically speaking, Helmut Berger was an ideal casting choice as Dorian, the man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Blonde, blue-eyed Berger is about as non-threateningly pretty as any man can be, which is crucial here because his allure is supposed to captivate men and women alike. His Dorian begins as a naive, well-meaning sort who has simplistic views on everything but quickly becomes victim to his own ego. Herbert Lom, surprisingly great in his off-beat role, co-stars as Henry Wotton; here an intelligent, gay, wealthy, worldly art collecter who cleverly manipulates those around him to get exactly what he wants. He has his eye on Dorian; slowly and methodically chipping away at his flimsy, half-formed ideals about life and love, and ensuring Dorian's budding relationship with virginal young actress Sybil Vane (Marie Liljedahl) stops before it really has a chance to begin.

Henry scares Dorian with his comments about aging ("One day you'll be old, wrinkled and ugly... We degenerate into hideous puppets."), encourages Dorian to be sexually experimental, not tie himself down, accompany him to parties where he can hobnob with filthy rich swingers and use his good looks to get whatever he wants. Henry's comments have also prompted Dorian to swear away his soul for eternal youth by a portrait his painter friend Basil Hallward (Richard Todd) has just made of him. Sybil is hit and killed by a car and once Dorian is exposed to the new jetset lifestyle and its kinky players, he's hooked and things begin spiralling out of control. Just as in most of the other adaptations of the story, Dorian remains his youthful self throughout the years as his painting tells of his true age.

Some have brushed this off as a silly piece of soft-core Euro-porn and I'm not going to argue with that sentiment. However, I have to say that I quite enjoyed the amped-up sexual compotent of this film and the places the director goes. The set-ups for the skin scenes, which range from innocent and sexy to seedy and discomforting, are sometimes so gloriously campy that you can't help but laugh. During one scene, Berger bends a wealthy old bat (Isa Miranda) over in a stable and has anal sex with her right next to a horse! My favorite bit though has to be when Berger (immediately after having sex with two different women) hops in the shower, drops the soap and a hand is shown grabbing it off the floor, only to reveal it's a heavily rouged/ mascara-wearing Lom using the opportunity to hop into the shower with him! And yes, Dorian does reciprocate.

One of Dorian's other lovers is Henry's equally predatory sister Gwendolyn (Maragaret Lee), who is bisexual and likes to be smacked around with a belt. Dorian also becomes an adult film star (!), has sex with a muscular black dude in a public toilet and attends a candlelit orgy at "The House of Pleasure," among other things. There's a cabaret musical number with a drag queen stripper, a nightclub called "The Black Cock" and sex scenes on a theater stage, in a field, on a yacht and on a beach. The porno director who Dorian works for is, interestingly enough, played by a black actress (Beryl Cunningham). While there is plenty of nudity, some of the sex is done subtlely or implied, and many of the scenes are strangely obscured when the camera dips behind tree branches, potted plants and curtains. The slapdash sexuality in this movie was unexpected (certainly pretty risque for the time) and actually kind of wonderful.

Visually, there are some very nice touches here. The film opens with an intriguing shot of bloody hands stretched out in front of the camera as it travels down stairs up to a kitchen sink followed by another elaborate camera shot tracking through a house with swank 70s decor. Dallamano also seems to have a way of making certain colors literally jump out of the screen at you, such as when Dorian takes his very red car on a drive through the lush green countryside. The settings are nice, the costuming is really interesting and they even throw in several disco scenes for us to snicker at.

Co-stars include Renato Romano as Dorian's former college friend, Maria Rohm (who is pitifully wasted here) as his wife, Eleonora Rossi Drago as a swinger and Stewart Black as Sybil's over-protective brother, who likely has incestuous designs on her and blames Dorian for her death. Liljedahl also gets to return after her death playing a woman named Gladys, who's a dead ringer for Sybil. It was filmed in London with Italian and West German backing. A cut VHS version was released here in America through Republic Pictures, but there's no official DVD for this one. The version I saw ran 98 minutes and uses the alt. title THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY (though it was packaged as the title I have listed here).

"Today, beauty is more important than genius." Indeed.


La casa del terror (1960)

... aka: House of Terror, The
... aka: Tin Tan in the House of Terror

Directed by:
Gilberto Martínez Solares

Never released north-of-the-border in its original form, this blends horror and comedy fairly well on a low-budget while also affectionately paying tribute to several Universal genre classics, most obviously King Kong (1933) and The Wolf Man (1941). It had the misfortune of getting "The Jerry Warren Treatment;" Warren took scenes from this and scenes from the schlocky The Aztec Mummy (1957-58) films, blended them together with new footage and released it to the unsuspecting public as Face of the Screaming Werewolf back in 1964. That mess naturally is widely available on VHS and DVD, while this one isn't. And that's a shame because this is actually a pretty fun film. The Spanish-language version is still worth a look even if you don't speak the language. It's easy enough to follow and was released by both Sinister Cinema and Something Weird Video on VHS.

Ne'er do well Casimiro (Germán Valdés aka 'Tin Tan') works as night watchman and caretaker of a museum of horrors exhibit. His boss, known only as the Professor (Yerye Beirut), keeps busy in the back room of the establishment in his lab, where he experiments with corpses he and his two assistants (who refer to him as "maestro") swipe from a local cemetery. Whenever the mad doc needs some fresh blood, he simply goes up to Casimiro with his Pringles can-sized syringe and takes it, causing Casimiro to be lazy and constantly drowsy, and pissing off his girl Paquita (Yolanda Varela), who is holding down two jobs. Failed "experiments" are passed off as wax dummies in the museum. A mummy display comes to town, so the Professor and his henchmen attend, steal the mummy (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and decide to try to revive it. They redress it and stick it in some huge spinning contraption. During the next full moon, the mummy comes to life... as a werewolf. When he returns to human form, he's put in a cage, transforms back to the wolf, manages to escape, runs alongside a busy highway, attacks a woman and a policeman at a a park, kills another woman and scales up the side of a building to the roof! It eventually gets its paws on Paquita and Casimiro must save the day.

While the mummy make-up is awful (it looks basically like Chaney smeared with mud), the wolf design, as well as the black wardrobe, is actually fairly faithful to the original wolf man design. In fact, it looks almost identical to the design the actor wore for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Chaney didn't speak Spanish and only gets to utter one word ("No!") but he's actually better used here than he was in the majority of his other 50s and 60s films and even gets an opportunity to play his role for sympathy during one scene. The other actors are fairly good. Beirut is a great Karloff-like presence as the mad scientist. Valdés (a famous comic actor on his home turf) has to yawn, sleep, fake cry, stutter and bumble his way through the film in sometimes annoying fashion, but he has his moments. The end sequence of him pursuing the were-mummy, who has his girl draped over his shoulder, up a tall building in the city has that pleasing silent era slapstick feel to it. He also gets to sing (or lip sync?) a strange musical number that comes out of nowhere, along with his female co-star (who was married to the film's producer, Fernando de Fuentes hijo).

Alfredo Wally Barrón (a veteran of Blue Demon and Santo flicks) and Agustín Fernández co-star as the doctor's assistants. Director Solares, whose career lasted from the late 30s until the late 90s, made many other films (including quite a few others with Valdés) but is probably best known here in America for the horror-exploitation film Satanico Pandemonium (1975).


Échenme al vampiro (1963)

...aka: Bring Me the Vampire

Directed by:
Alfredo B. Crevenna

Insanely wealthy businessman Henry McDermott (Carlos Riquelme) has just died under mysterious circumstances. In fact, a painting of him over the fireplace clearly shows a knife stuck in his stomach! Henry's son Harold (Héctor Godoy) is in charge of rounding up a series of potential heirs and getting them to stay in Henry's creepy old mansion, which has supposedly been built atop an ancient cemetery. The catch is that they have to stay there for an entire month to collect a million dollars apiece. Among those mentioned in the will are Harold's girlfriend Martha (María Eugenia San Martín), inventor Thomas Alva Madison ("Arriolita"/ Armando Arriola), budding actress Lulu (Lulú Parga), starving artist Oscar (Pascual García Peña), pickpocket Joe Benjamin (Pompín Iglesias), pianist Anastasio Superstein (José Jasso), wanna-be ladies man Aldos ("Borolas"/ Joaquín García Vargas) and singer and dancer Albert Lambert ("Calambres"/ Roberto Cobo), who performs a funny musical number called "Chicago Mambo" with a handkerchief in his back pocket. Too many central characters? Yep, and there's more. Throw in a stern housekeeper, a hypnotized maid named Amy (Celia Viveros), an inept police inspector named Bobby ("Mantequilla/ Fernando Soto), an attorney (Ramón Bugarini) and Henry's mentally imbalanced brother into the mix. Said characters basically run around the mansion for an hour and a half while being killed off one-by-one. A man is hung, another is drowned, a head is served on a platter, one guy disintigrates because of poison milk, etc. Each time someone dies, a note is left behind stating the inheritance has increased by a million dollars.

This is a 1930s-style b/w old dark house horror-comedy full of annoying overacting, bad physical comedy, lame sight gags, constant mugging, double takes, over-the-top hysterics and comic sound effects. Yes, we're talkin' kazoo and "Boi-i-ing!" here, folks. The cast boasts having eight comedians, but strangely what there is to steal here is stolen by two actors who have to play their roles mostly straight. The first is Yerye Beirut as Julius, Henry's brother, who fancies himself a vampire but is actually just insane and sleeps downstairs in a coffin. The second is Hortensia Santoveña, who's perfect as the Danvers-like witch/housekeeper Eloise. Henry's ghost plays frequent visits to the cast, there are some black-robed bad spirits running around, a talking skeleton, a mummy and a surprise ending. Elsa Cárdenas appears in one scene as a "decoy," and there are lots of "witty" lines such as "If we gotta die in order to get money, after your death instead of spending money you'd be spending bones!"

K. Gordon Murray brought this to America, had it horribly English-dubbed at his Coral Gables, Florida studio for TV and matinee showings (which changes the character names) and added a new title sequence featuring a drawing of a vampire standing on a hill looking at a stagecoach. The English-language version is credited to director "Manuel San Fernando," and it's very poorly done ("George McDermott" in the first scene becomes "Henry McDermott" from then on out; they keep saying there are "seven heirs" when there are clearly more, etc.). The sequel LA CASA DE LOS ESPANTOS (1963; aka HOUSE OF THE FRIGHTS) was never officially released in the United States.


La casa de los espantos (1963)

... aka: House of the Frights
... aka: Spook House

Directed by:
Alfredo B. Crevenna

At the end of BRING ME THE VAMPIRE (1963), all of the haunted house shenanigans turned out to be a hoax as the "dead" man - Marcos Méndez aka Henry McDermott in the first dubbed film (Carlos Riquelme) - only wanted his "heirs" to perfect their talents before deciding to finance their careers. In this immediate follow-up (filmed the same year), everyone from the first movie - the kooky inventor, the painter, the thief, the budding actress, the dancer, etc. - are called back to the creepy mansion home for a revision of the will and it seems most of them have been unsuccessful in their endeavors. After everyone packs into one room, the lights flash off and someone kills Marcos (for really this time) by stabbing him in the stomach. The body promptly disappears and the gate outside becomes electrified, trapping everyone inside. The two maids (Hortensia Santoveña and Celia Viveros) have a seance in the cellar and call up the dead man's spirit, who shows up on occasion to warn people. A doctor is shot, Marcos' nutty "vampire" brother Sergio aka Julius (Yerye Beirut) is still lurking around causing trouble, there are three dance sequences (Roberto Cobo does some crazy dance, María Eugenia San Martín does the hula and they do the mambo together) and during the stirring (not!) finale, someone goes around bonking people over the head with a mallet (complete with a cartoon sound effect). Everyone's eventually tied up to some spiked contraption as our hero Carlos aka Harold (Héctor Godoy) battles it out with a mystery killer whose identity won't be surprising anyone.

Just like the original, this is little more than a bunch of people frantically running around making goofy faces. It's talkier than the first and almost completely deemphasizes the dime store horror props. A few moments, such as when the policemen sees the same crew gathering together and starts to dust off his gun and magnifying glass in preparation, are mildly amusing. During one scene, a dog gets fried on the fence and there's a weird hallucination scene where Aldo (Fernando Soto) is drugged and envisions an angel strumming a harp and a demon poking him with a pitchfork while he's dressed in a flesh-colored suit and bent over fire (!) I did get to see a great quality version in its original language with fan-made subs (meaning the cast don't sound nearly as annoying), but it still isn't very funny. Or as Sergio so eloquently puts it "Todos idiotas!"

There's no official U.S. release for this one, but you're not missing out on anything. Though Crevenna is given sole credit for his dirección in the credits, Alberto Mariscal is listed as co-director (which may be more like "assistant director" here). Ramón Bugarini, Lulú Parga, Joaquín García Vargas, Armando Arriola, Pompín Iglesias, José Jasso, Pascual García Peña and Elsa Cárdenas all return from the first film in the same roles.


Friday, December 4, 2009

La orgía de los muertos (1973)

... aka: Beyond the Living Dead... aka: Bracula
... aka: Dracula: Terror of the Living Dead... aka: Hanging Woman, The... aka: Orgy of the Dead, The
... aka: Return of the Zombies
... aka: Terror of the Living Dead... aka: Zombie 3: Return of the Living Dead

Directed by:
José Luis Merino

After receiving a telegram informing him that he's been remembered in his late uncle's will, Serge Chekov ("Stanley Cooper" / Stelvio Rosi) travels to a remote Russian village to see what he's inherited. The first thing he bumps into upon arriving is a murdered young woman hanging by her neck in the cemetery. The dead girl, Mary (Aurora de Alba), happens to be his cousin, the daughter of Count Mihaly (the uncle), and primary heir. Now that she's out of the way, Serge is getting everything much to the dismay of Nadia (Maria Pia Conte), Count Mihaly's much-younger wife, who looks about the same age as her stepdaughter. Nadia's about as nasty as they come. She's likely behind the questionable deaths of both her husband and Mary and, as if one affair isn't enough, she's been carrying on with two separate men. The first is Ivan (Charles Quiney) the butler, who probably had his hand in the murders. The other is Igor (Paul Naschy, credited as "Carl Mansion" on some prints), an unhinged grave digger with a rather odd sex life, but more on that in a minute. Also living in Mihaly Manor are Professor Leon Droila ("Gerald"/ Gérard Tichy), a scientist friend of the Count's who's been experimenting with using electricity to revive the dead, and Leon's kind daughter Doris (Dyanik Zurakowska), who functions as the maid.

So what kind of other horrors befall our characters? For starters, a seance seems to calls forth Count Mihaly's vengeful spirit, and he obviously has a bone to pick with his wife and which ever of her lovers killed him and his daughter. If that isn't enough, a handful of zombies show up as a result of Professor Doila's experiments. That means elements of murder-mystery, ghost story, zombie flick and mad scientist opus wrapped into one. It's a bit slow going at times (particularly in the middle) and the plot's pretty busy, but the movie is surprisingly well-made and things are all neatly tied together during a finale. There's ample nudity provided from the two female stars and plenty of gore, including a decapitation, maggoty corpses and a bloody autopsy. The zombie makeup designs vary, but a few of them are really creepy looking. I'm not sure where this was filmed, but it's a gorgeous old village at the base of some mountains and it's a great setting.
As an added bonus, Naschy's character is a complete degenerate. To keep him loyal to her cause, Nadia is willing to indulge Igor in his necro fantasies by lying completely still as he paws at her. Yes, this woman is completely shameless, but even she is not enough to satisfy Igor. He also robs graves, takes the female corpses to a tunnel located underneath the Mihaly home and professes his love to them, removes their clothes, touches them and takes pictures of them to enjoy later on. This is a rare movie where Naschy was not involved behind-the-scenes. He didn't write it, he didn't produce it and he's around solely to play the part. It's a smaller role than usual for him, but he does an effective job with it. The rest of the cast, which includes Pasquale Basile as a police inspector and Isarco Ravaioli as the mayor, are solid.

Director / co-scripter Merino also made SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER (1970) featuring Quiney as the male lead. In America, this first hit theaters as The Hanging Woman in 1975 (with a tag line emulating the popular one just used for The Last House on the Left), was first released to video by Unicorn as Beyond the Living Dead and in 2009 received a DVD release through Troma (again under the Hanging Woman title). It's a full screen print that looks sourced from VHS so it's nothing to write home about quality-wise, but it's well worth picking up anyway since it includes interviews with Merino and Naschy, as well as a second bonus feature, the seldom-seen Sweet Sound of Death (1965).


La huella macabra (1963) [filmed in 1961]

... aka: Macabre Mark, The

Directed by:
Alfredo B. Crevenna

I had to watch this one in Spanish - it has never been English dubbed or subbed for any kind of release outside of Spanish-speaking countries - so please bear with me as I try to fumble my way through the plot. (For the record, while I do understand some Spanish, it's not good enough to understand everything.) A man and a caretaker enter a cemetery and open up a tomb. Inside the coffin, the rotten-faced corpse (Eric del Castillo) is lying there alive and awake (!) He rises, hypnotizes the caretaker, forces him to take his place in the tomb and then tries on a couple of human face masks the other guy (who's actually his servant) has brought him. He, a vampire named Count Brankovan, selects the favorite one (and is now played by the handsome Guillermo Murray) and then resurrects his little vampire son Erik (Humberto Dupeyrón) with some kind of serum; letting him feast on a woman he's kidnapped and tied up. The two return to their mansion home along with the servant, where they keep two white-haired albino robot men (?) in frozen chambers just in case things get out of hand.

Now I need to stop here for a second to point out that this is a follow-up to Rostro Infernal (aka The Incredible Face of Dr. B) and has many of the same characters. Now I may be mistaken, but I believe Brankovan - with the new face and identity - is trying to pass himself off as the brother of the vampire killed in the previous film when in fact he's actually the same guy. He seems to want revenge on certain characters here; giving a professor a heart attack by pointing some gadget that looks like a pen light at him. While the count is cool, collected and doesn't want to attract too much attention, the son (who is able to transform into a bat) is constantly blood-hungry and has little control over his vampire tendencies. There are two attractive women who get involved with the duo; Vicky (Rosa Carmina), who seems to be playing surrogate mother to the boy and may be a vampire herself, and Berta (Elsa Cárdenas), the dead professor's distraught daughter. Jorge (Ramón Bugarini), who is love with Berta, is pissed off that she's cozying up to the Count and has been staying in his home. An obligatory police inspector (Jaime Fernández) is snooping around. And what would one of these things be without a gratuitous wrestling match that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot? This one's got one of those, too!

There are some genuine surprises here (especially the fate of the vampire boy) and enough kooky touches to get things entertaining throughout. I've seen it listed on various websites as a horror-comedy, but the whole thing is played completely seriously. The performances are good (Murray played another bloodsucking count in The World of the Vampires), it's well-made and nicely photographed in black-and-white. I haven't been able to track down the first movie yet, but it might help to fill in some gaps once I do. Neither was released until two years after they were made and I've read elsewhere there was a bit of controversy surrounding the portrayal of the child character.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Indestructible Man (1956)

Directed by:
Jack Pollexfen

Charles "Butcher" Benton (Lon Chaney, Jr.) is a ruthless underworld thug on death row at San Quentin who's about to fry in the chair for his criminal dealings. Butcher swears to get even with both his slimy lawyer Paul Lowe (Ross Elliott) and a pair of low-life criminals; Joe Marcelli (Kenneth Terrell) and Squeamy Ellis (Marvin Ellis), for turning over state's evidence that helped to convict him. He also knows the whereabouts of 600 thousand dollars stolen during an armed car robbery, but refuses to cooperate with the authorities. Butcher's fried in the electric chair and his corpse is shipped off to a medical facility in another state when Dr. Bradshaw (Robert Shayne) is conducting cancer research. Despite an ad campaign promising "300,000 Volts of Terror!," Bradshaw sends 280,000 volts of electricity into Butcher's body instead, but that's plenty to create a monster. Now revived with super-human strength and skin tough enough to deflect bullets, Butcher strangles the doctor and his assistant (at the same time!), escapes the lab, kills two policemen and then chokes a used car salesmen, steals a car from the lot and heads toward San Francisco so he can kill the three men he vowed to kill before being executed.

Lt. Dick Chasen ("Casey Adams" aka Max Showalter) gets involved in both the case and with Butcher's former mistress Eva Martin (Marian Carr), a failed actress now working as a dancer at a burlesque house. Eva is also unknowingly in possession of a map leading to the hidden money. When Butcher shows up looking for it, the cops get word that's he's miracularly returned to life and attempt to hunt him down while he tries to hunt down the three men who betrayed him. Yes, there's a lot of running around in this one. Eventually a posse is organized to chase the revived killer around in the sewers toward an electric power plant for the predictable finale. Giving this a slight noir touch, Lt. Chasen narrates the entire film.

I guess this could be considered a pretty plum latter-day Chaney role. He's given little dialogue; only speaking during his first scene... but hey, that's more than what he was asked to do in either THE BLACK CASTLE (1952) or THE BLACK SLEEP (1956), and gets to make some odd, intense faces while knocking other people around. He picks up one guy and throws him down a flight of stairs, throws another from a high rooftop and even picks up a car at one point! There's some amusing dialogue ("You stinkin' rotten mob piece!"), a couple of nice camera shots, including one inside a trolley car as it goes downhill and some slight makeup effects on Chaney's mug as he becomes disfigured toward the end. Sure, it's silly, low-budget schlock, but it's entertaining enough for what it is, reasonably paced and short (clocking in around just 70 minutes). It originally played theatrically on a double bill with WORLD WITHOUT END (1956).
Director/producer Pollexfen and writers Vy Russell and Sue "Bradford" / Dwiggins also teamed up to make the schlock-fest THE ATOMIC BRAIN (1964). Lots of DVD releases for this one: It's part of Retromedia's "Lon Chaney Jr. Collection" set (which also contains 1956's non-horror MANFISH and Chaney special guest episodes of the TV shows Lock Up and Telephone Time). It's paired with THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN on Roan Group's "Horror Classics 2" and is also on Rph Productions' "Horror Classics Triple Feature, Vol. 4" along with DEAD MEN WALK (1943) and SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (1943). In addition, it's available with Mystery Science Theater 3000 "commentary" on a Rhino-released DVD.

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