Monday, October 19, 2009

Beast of Morocco (1966)

...aka: Hand of Night, The

Directed by:
Frederic Goode

British architect Paul Carver (played by American William Sylvester) is haunted by the passing of his wife and children in a tragic car accident that occured two months earlier. Desperate to escape, he decides to flee to Morocco for an extended stay. On the plane there, he suffers from a strange nightmare/premonition blending the past, present and maybe even the future and meets French archeologist Otto Gunther (Edward Underdown), who's there to explore an old tomb and offers Paul the opportunity to visit the excevation site. Paul decides to drown his sorrows in a bar instead, meeting a strange drifter named Omar (Terence de Marney), who brings him to a lavish palace to watch some belly dancers. There, Paul meets beautiful young Marisa (former Miss Israel Aliza Gur) and the two instantly seem to fall in love. He passes out, awakens to find himself lying in the middle of the desert and discovers the palace he visited the night before is abandoned and in ruins. Visiting the archeological dig, Paul is introduced to Otto's assistant Chantal (Diane Clare), who can relate to the loss of a loved one, also quickly falls for our troubled hero and is concerned about his mental well-being since he's visiting places and seeing people that don't seem to exist.

A British production originally filmed as THE HAND OF NIGHT and released to U.S. theaters and TV under the misleading Beast moniker, this is a very difficult-to-find film that's not on DVD, and may not have even received a VHS release (at least here in the States). As with many other very obscure genre films, I've seen this one receive some wholly-undeserved, mystique-building praise from a couple of fanboys apt to spooge themselves over anything rare simply to make others who can't find it jealous. Sadly, this bland film really isn't worthy of much adoration at all. Though watchable, it's also dull, predictable and stiffly acted by the lead. Obvious parallels keep being drawn between "the light" (aka a healthy relationship with a caring woman), and "the dark" (aka a destructive relationship with a dark, sensual and mysterious woman). The latter happens to be an ancient princess who was buried alive centuries earlier and has returned as a fangless "vampire" (essentially just a spirit).

On the plus side, there are great opening credits featuring a smoking skull and a skeleton hand impaling a bat (which apparently are only used in the American version), nice-looking Moroccon locations, a competent supporting cast (the standouts being Underdown and de Marney) and a cool scene where ghostly henchman Otto withers away to a skeleton in the sun.


Frauen für Zellenblock 9 (1978)

...aka: Cellblock 9
...aka: Flucht von der Todesinsel
...aka: Tropical Inferno
...aka: Women of Cellblock 9

Directed by:
Jesus Franco

After unsuccessfully attempting to sneak across the border in a banana truck, three female freedom fighters suspected of palling around with "terrorists" are captured and brought to a South American prison located deep in the jungle. There, all three ladies - full-bodied prostitute Karine Laverne (Karine Gambier), stong but silent Aida Morgan (Aida Gouveia) and sweet n' innocent Barbara Taylor (Esther Studer) - are stripped nude, chained up by their necks in a cell and are subjected to various sadistic tortures cooked up by deranged scientist Dr. Milton Costa (Howard Vernon) and butch warden Loba (no actress credited), who want the ladies to spill the beans about their associates. These tortures (which seem heavily influenced by the ILSA films) involve sitting spread eagle on razors, having electric jolts sent through the nipples, being violated by a rhinosaurus horn and something involving a large metal tube and a gerbil that requires no further explanation. Wrongfully imprisoned student Maria (Susan Hemingway), Loba's "pet," finds herself thrown in the same cell as the revolutionaries.

The captives manage to entice a guard with a four-girl lesbian sandwich, get him to unlock their chains and escape into the jungle, where they're hunted down Most Dangerous Game-style as they look for an ancient temple to hide out in. The catch? They're all buck naked the entire time! Once the ladies clothes come off around the 10 minute mark, they stay off for the rest of the film. In fact, Hemingway (star of Franco's Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun) never once has clothing on. The warden promises her soliders "...a special fifteen days leave of absence. You also have my permission to rape them first!" if they locate them. The nude jungle adventures involve bullet removal with a couple of twigs and a slow swim through a stock-footage-alligator-infested swamp.

Horribly written (what country is this even supposed to take place in?) and acted trash exists for one reason and one reason only - to showcase nude women. It certainly accomplishes that much, and provides some unintentionally hilarious moments along the way. It was one of fifteen films Franco made for Swiss producer Edwin C. Dietrich in the mid/late 70s.

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