Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Los ojos azules de la muñeca rota (1974)

... aka: Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll
... aka: House of Doom
... aka: House of Psychotic Women

Directed by:
Carlos Aured

Out-of-work drifter Gilles (Paul Naschy), an ex-con haunted by visions of strangling women, hitchhikes his way to a small French village called Perrouze. He runs into a mysterious woman with a crippled hand named Claude (Diana Lorys) who claims she and her two sisters are looking to hire a handyman and groundskeeper to do odd jobs at their large, secluded country home. Gilles takes Claude up on the offer, is introduced to the sisters; youngest Nicole (Eva León) and eldest Ivette (Maria Perschy), and gets to work milking cows, chopping firewood and tending to the yard. Everyone in the home seems to have their issues. Ivette is paranoid someone's trying to poison her, is still pining for a man she lost many years earlier and is confined to a wheelchair (possibly due to psychosomatic reasons), Claude is sexually repressed, bitter about her mangled arm and seems jealous of younger sister Nicole, who's something of a nymphomaniac and claims her siblings are forbidding her to leave the home. It seems like Dr. Labor (Eduardo Calvo) and his nurse Michelle (Inés Morales) have their work cut out for them tending to this lot.

It isn't long before the plot complications starting piling up. Nicole seduces Gilles. Gilles seduces Claude. Nicole tries to seduce the doctor. Out of nowhere, a man named Jean (who may be one of Nicole's disgruntled former lovers) attacks Gilles with a knife. Michelle might not be who she claims to be. Gillies definitely isn't who he claims to be. He's actually Alain Dupre, a convicted rapist who tried to strangle a woman and is still fighting off homicidal urges. Meanwhile, a serial killer is running around killing blue-eyed blondes and removing their eyeballs. Just when you think you've got it figured out and all will be revealing during a police pursuit around some snow-covered mountains, the film then begins plot twist mode as several of the suspected killers are offed in quick succession until we come to the out-of-left field resolution.

This complicated horror-mystery is often classed as a giallo. While there are similarities between it and the more popular Italian entries from this time (namely a black-gloved killer and lots of twists near the conclusion), there are also quite a few differences. For starters, it's not nearly as stylish as some of its Italian counterparts. Aside from Gilles's strangulation fantasties, often set to misty, all-white or all-red backdrops, the film may disappoint those looking for more stylish set-ups and elaborate camerawork. Secondly, the film (thankfully) doesn't waste too much time delving into any typically dull and woefully redundant police investigation, which is something I consider a blight to the subgenre and something that keeps the majority of these films from rising above mediocrity. Instead of the cop nonsense, here we get an array of more interesting and better-defined characters, which is certainly a good thing. Naschy and the director (who co-wrote the film together) at least deserve credit for that, even though they let the film get away from them during the final twenty minutes. It's still an involving, entertaining effort with decent acting and better English dubbing than usual.

The original cut U.S. theatrical release title was House of Psychotic Women; a print and moniker retained for most of the VHS prints. What I watched was the original European version (released on the Dutch Midnight Video label), which contains nudity and gore, though actually not a whole lot of either. It does however feature a completely pointless insert scene of a farm family tying up a pig, killing it, slitting its throat and then collecting the blood in a bucket, which serves no purpose other than cheaply attempting to up the shock value. The 2008 DVD release from BCI/Deimos is uncut (and supposedly the best looking print available).

The cast includes Antonio Pica as the obligatory inspector (though as previously mentioned, he's relegated to the sidelines until the end), Pilar Bardem as a gossipy barmaid, Luis Ciges as a drunk and Sandra Mozarowsky. Aured and Naschy also teamed up to make CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973), HORROR RISE FROM THE TOMB (1973) and THE MUMMY'S REVENGE (1973).


El gran amor del conde Drácula (1973)

...aka: Cemetery Girls
...aka: Count Dracula's Great Love
...aka: Count Dracula's Greatest Love
...aka: Dracula's Great Love
...aka: Dracula's Virgin Lovers
...aka: Great Love of Count Dracula, The

Directed by:
Javier Aguirre

Somewhere in Europe in the late 19th Century, a coach full of passengers (four women and their male escort) are traveling through a mountainous region when they lose a wheel. It rolls downhill, a horse kicks their coachman in the head (killing him) and everyone else hikes to a local sanitarium before nightfall. The sanitarium, where we've already seen a guy get his throat ripped out and another get an axe to the head during the pre-credit sequence, is home to Austrian doctor Wendell Marlowe (Paul Naschy). Rumor has it he's going to fix the place up and start using it again despite its sordid history. Wendell invites the travelers inside and allows them to stay until they can make arrangement to get their coach fixed. But obviously Wendell's not who he claims to be. If you haven't already guessed from the title, Wendell is actually Count Dracula... and he needs a virgin to fall in love with him. It all has something to do resurrecting the skeletal "Countess Dracula," who's being kept tucked away downstairs in the coffin room until the Count gets what he needs.

Of his guests, there's Marlene (Ingrid Garbo), but she's already given up her virtue to their lone male traveling companion Imre ("Vic Winner" / Victor Alcázar). Then there's Senta (Rossana Yanni), who has the hots for Wendell/Dracula, but her sexually aggressive behavior doesn't quite spell out "untouched maiden." Elke (Mirta Miller) is a cowardly whiner, so that's leaves friendly-but-prudish Karen (Haydée Politoff) as the count's primary target. The two go on moonlit walks as he attempts to court her, one by one each of the guests is bitten and transformed into a vampire and a creepy guy named Karkov (José Manuel Martín) lurks the hallways. Eventually, the new vampire gang are taking midnight trips to the nearest village to munch on young ladies, while Karen is kept locked in a cell to function as a convenient blood pump.

This Spanish spin on the overcrowded vampire/Dracula subgenre has some problems (including a sloppy/rushed finale and clumsy use of narration), but for the most part it's a fun, stylish and very entertaining effort. The plotline is old-fashioned in the extreme (not necessarily a bad thing), but spiced up with lots of female nudity (including some mild lesbianism) and blood. The sets and locations are both good, the cast is attractive, it's atmospheric and the camerawork is sometimes great, including wonderful panning shots across the foggy forest. The night scenes are also shot with a handsome blue hue.

This is one title you need to do your homework on before purchasing. A few years ago I bought a copy from a company called Sinema Diable, who used a substandard, dark VHS source print. Their version has complete audio fallout on at least three occasions, several picture rolls and is horribly cropped, beginning as fake widescreen (likely to cut out another company's logo on the bottom) and suddenly switching to full-screen mode a few minutes later. On the plus side, not that I actually want to give them any credit, it seems to be the mostly uncut, 82-minute version of the film. Some of the earliest video and DVD releases run just 72 minutes and remove all of the nudity and some of the violence. BCI/Eclipse eventually stepped in and released the best quality version yet in 2008 under the alternate title Cemetery Girls. It's double billed-with the almost completely worthless Filipino "comedy" VAMPIRE HOOKERS (1978).


Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (1965)

...aka: Die Handschrift von Saragossa
...aka: Saragossa Manuscript, The

Directed by:
Wojciech Has

Review coming soon.


R.I.P. Paul Naschy (1934-2009)

Spain's #1 horror star, Paul Naschy (born Jacinto Molina Álvarez on September 6rd, 1934 in Madrid) is also a frequent scriptwriter and director of his own badly-dubbed, but usually entertaining and atmosphere-heavy films. Like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee before him, Naschy has played the gamut of movie monsters, tackling the roles of vampires, mummies, werewolves, hunchbacks, necrophiles, grave-robbers, serial killers, Satanists, phantoms, man-servants and such classic literary horror figures as Count Dracula, Quasimodo, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Moreau, Fu Manchu, Mr. Hyde and many others. The bad dubbing in these films often makes it a bit difficult to gouge Naschy's actual acting ability to us non-Spanish speakers, but he has a true presence, often tackles his horror roles with an appealingly old-school air of doomed romanticism and, with his short and stocky build, has perhaps a more relatable and 'everyman' presence than usual for this genre. Mr. Naschy passed away earlier today at the age of 75 after a long battle with cancer. It's a great loss to the horror community, but Naschy has left behind a wealth of work spanning a nearly 50 year period; much of which remains unreleased here in America and is still waiting to be discovered.

Before beginning his film career in the early '60s, Naschy attended the School of Architecture in Barcelona, designed record covers, wrote several Western novels under the name Jack Mills and was a champion, record-setting weight lifter. After being an extra in KING OF KINGS (1961), MESSALINA AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1964) and several other features, Naschy made his horror film debut in a supporting role in AGONIZING IN CRIME (1967). Just one year later, he began his stint playing what would become his most famous and recognizable character; that of tragic, yet often heroic, werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, in the misleadingly titled (in the US, anyway) international hit FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR (1968 aka MARK OF THE WOLFMAN). Over the years, Waldemar (who is heavily influenced by Lon Chaney, Jr.'s brooding Larry Talbot) has been resurrected many times, much to the character's own disdain, to take on the forces of evil in many films such as NIGHTS OF THE WEREWOLF (1968; the only entry in the series that seems to be a 'lost' film), ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1969), FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1970), THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1970), DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN (1971), CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973), NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST (1975; facing off against a Yeti), THE CRAVING (1980; facing off against Elisabeth Bathory), BEAST WITH THE MAGIC SWORD (1983) and LYCANTROPUS: THE MOONLIGHT MURDERS (1996). In addition, Naschy also scripted every single one of those, directed two of them and produced one.

Naschy also appeared in dozens of other non-werewolf genre films such as SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD (1971; playing an alcoholic ex-circus performer and suspect in Jack the Ripper-style slayings), BEYOND THE LIVING DEAD (1972; a necrophile assistant to a mad doctor), COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (1972; the title role hiding under the guise of an Austrian doctor), VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972; a Krishna cult guru and his evil, disfigured brother), HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1973; one of his very best roles, playing a depraved but sympathetic grave robber) and THE MUMMY'S REVENGE (1973; the title role). Naschy also played a dual role in HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1972) and gave one of his better performances as both a sadistic, resurrected Satanist and his descendant. In the awful EXORCISMO (1974), he stars as a troubled, guilt-stricken priest who tries to redeem himself by saving the life of a young woman (Grace Mills) possessed by evil spirits. Naschy co-wrote the script with director Juan Bosch and claims it was written before The Exorcist (1973). Ironically, several of Naschy's personal favorite films, and likewise favorites of his die-hard fans, are more atypical of his usual work and have never officially been released in America. These include THE PASSENGERS (1974), THE FRENCHMAN'S GARDEN (1977) and THE TRAVELER (1979).

After an impressive 10+ year run, 1980's THE CRAVING (recently reissued on DVD as NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) marked a pivotal moment in Naschy's career. Although the film was solidly made and had incredible sets and atmosphere to burn, the sort-of remake of his international hit WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN was a big flop in its home country and caused him to seek funding in Japan for further projects such as THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD (1983). While there, he directed around ten documentaries for Japanese TV. A few years later, he appeared with fellow cult stars Caroline Munro and Howard Vernon in HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1987), a film he also directed, wrote and co-produced. There, Naschy got to display his versatility by not only playing conflicted brothers Alex and Hector, but also portraying Mr. Hyde, The Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf Man, Quasimodo, The Phantom of the Opera and more! Unfortunately, that film never received a U.S. release either. Naschy played Fu Manchu (in 1990's comedy short THE DAUGHTER OF FU MANCHU), returned to the director's chair for NIGHT OF THE EXECUTIONER (1992), appeared in the Belgian psycho-thriller STATE OF MIND (1992; which is now being distributed by Troma) and received top-billing as "The Watchman" in the slasher SCHOOL KILLER (2001).

In 2003, Naschy came to the US to appear in two films; one for cult director Fred Olen Ray (TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF, where he played Waldemar yet again, this time speaking just a few lines in English and facing off against Michelle Bauer's Countess Bathory) and Donald F. Glut's T&A-heavy COUNTESS DRACULA'S ORGY OF BLOOD. Back in Spain, he continued to appear in both film and TV productions and on the stage. Naschy sometimes used the aliases Paul Mackey, James Molin, David Molva and Jacinto Alvarez throughout his career. If you want a more in-depth look at the life and career of Naschy (plus information on all of his newest projects), please take time to visit the excellent site The Mark of Naschy.

Naschy Horrorography [1950-1990]


I've seen People Who Own the Dark and The Craving but still need to write reviews for them. This week, I'll set aside some time to review several Naschy films I have in my collection that I haven't gotten around to yet.

Lo strangolatore di Vienna (1971)

...aka: Mad Butcher, The
...aka: Mad Butcher of Vienna, The
...aka: Meat Is Meat
...aka: Strangler of Vienna, The
...aka: Vienna Strangler, The
...aka: Würger kommt auf leisen Socken, Der

Directed by:
Guido Zurli

Otto Lehman (Victor Buono), the self-proclaimed "best butcher in Vienna," has just been released from a lunatic asylum and into the care of his unloving wife Hannah (Karin Field), who can't wait to start nagging him about being overweight and fretting over what the neighbors will think of him being institutionalized for three years, amongst other things. Otto immediately returns to his butcher shop, shoos away his incompetent brother-in-law Karl ("Carl Stearns" / Luca Sportelli) and gets back to work, taking a break every once in awhile to take a gander at his sexy neighbor Berta Hensel (Franca Poleselli), who likes to strip at her window every night. Some neighborhood cats get on his nerves with their constant wailing, so he kills one with a wine bottle. His shrill wife doesn't let up on him either, so he snaps again, breaks her neck, puts her through his trusty industrial-sized grinder and makes sausages out of it. To his surprise, the new human meat product become an instant hit with customers and he has lines around the block, which means he now has an ideal way to dispose of any person who gets on his nerves.

Across town, bored reporter Mike Lawrence (Brad Harris) is so bored that he finds a news story in another town about a 15 year old boy raping an 80 year old woman to be "beautiful." He begins dating Berta, while getting on the nerves of an incompetent local police inspector (Dario Michaelis) investigating the disappearances of several local women, including a prostitute named Frieda (Hansi Linder) that Karl brings home one night. Otto gets fed up with Karl, kills him and then invites Berta to spend the night after her landlord throws her out. Can Mike come to the rescue before his new girl is turned into a sausage link?

This Italian/West German co-production aspires to be an outrageous and quirky black comedy but it misfires in the worst way possible. The movie is short on story as it is, but the filmmakers do absolutely nothing clever to help spice up an already simplistic scenario. The script, courtesy of producers Dag Molin and "Robert H. Oliver" / Dick Randall, is, in a word, terrible. There's not a single good one-liner or visual gag at any point in the film, it's not ambitious enough to bother finding something to actually satirize and it's not even up to the task of being in such bad taste that the premise can be worked for sick humor. We not only have a film that's not the least bit funny, but one that also fails at being horrific, with the few horror elements very restrained (off-screen, bloodless kills and 'light' music plays during them) throughout. The only thing it really has to offer are a few pairs of bare breasts and that's certainly no reason to sit through it.

Mr. Buono (who does what he can here under the circumstances) was one of Hollywood's most unique and wonderful character actors while he was around, but it's a shame to see him being wasted here on substandard material. If you want to see him utilized to his full potential, check out What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) or the underrated sleeper THE STRANGLER (1964). And if you want to see a dark comedy involving cannibalism done the right way, check out Eating Raoul (1982) or Delicatessen (1991).

The Something Weird DVD release, which retains the original U.S. theatrical release title The Mad Butcher for the packaging though Meat Is Meat is the actual on-screen title, is a surprisingly sharp, colorful, good-looking print of the film. Aside from Buono and Harris (whose real voices are used), the cast have been English-dubbed.


Asylum of Satan (1972)

... aka: Satan Spectrum, The

Directed by:
William Girdler

Bill Girdler's dubious debut (originally titled The Satan Spectrum) was shot on 16mm on a budget of just 50,000 dollars in his usual stomping grounds of Louisville, Kentucky. Attractive pianist Lucina Martin (Carla Borelli) checks into an ordinary county hospital for fatigue but wakes up in a nuthouse called Pleasant Hill Hospital where she's told she's had a breakdown. Lucina's first introduced to the "butch" head nurse Martine, who speaks in a thick dubbed German accent and is obviously played by a man in drag! It isn't long before Lucina realizes she's being held there against her will. The doors and windows are locked, most of the wheelchair-bound patients are dressed in hooded white robes and hospital director Jason Specter (Charles Kissinger) refuses to let her leave or speak to her primary care physician. He also sends away Lucina's fiance Chris (Nick Jolley) when he shows up there looking for her. Good thing Lucina has Martine's loving touch to fall back on as she gently scrubs her back during a touching bath time interlude while someone spies on them through a peephole.

Chris goes to visit Lucina's real doctor, who claims his patient's father signed her release and that Dr. Specter is at least eighty years old. Knowing his future bride's father passed away when she was a child and couldn't have authorized a transfer and that Dr. Specter isn't anywhere near the age he's supposed to be, Chris suspects foul play and enlists the aid of copper Lt. Tom Walsh (Louis Bandy) to find out what's going on. Meanwhile, some of the patients at the asylum are being killed off. A woman in a wheelchair is pushed into a room, smoke pours from a vent and rubber bugs (I think they're supposed to be tarantulas) crawl all over her. Some of the hooded inmates burn a guy to death with torches and a blind girl (Sherry Steiner) is ambushed by snakes while taking a dip in the indoor pool. In case you haven't figured it all out already, the doctor, staff and some of the patients at Pleasant Hill are actually devil-worshippers sacrificing people to the almighty dark lord down below, who makes an eleventh hour cameo appearance here looking a paper mache creation designed by a 3rd grader.

Combining Satanism with loony bin antics is potentially a fun idea, but this is a poorly done movie regardless of the meager budget. It's badly written, badly directed, badly acted and badly lit and photographed. I also decided against giving it a "SBIG" merit badge. Despite a few cheap chuckles and moments of redeeming weirdness, most of the time it's just dull. I kept checking the clock to see when the 78 minutes were going to be up and the drawn-out finale seems like it lasts for an eternity. There are a couple of twists; one of which is completely predictable while the other is downright stupid. Though Kissinger has a few good moments, most of the rest of the cast is overwrought and annoying. But I guess I'll give Schupp and Snyder, Inc. a shout-out for their fabulous 70's fashions, including a stunning turtleneck with plaid bell bottoms ensemble.

Mimi Honce (Scalpel) and James Pickett (who also did the special effects and starred in Girdler's THREE ON A MEATHOOK next, along with Kissinger and Steiner) co-star. It was filmed in 1971 but not released until four years later. The DVD from Something Weird pairs it with the equally-awful (but much funnier and more interesting) SATAN'S CHILDREN (1973) and the utterly worthless short subject THE SOUL SNATCHER (1965).

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