Thursday, December 1, 2011

Las amantes del diablo (1971)

... aka: Feast for the Devil
... aka: Feast of Satan, The

Directed by:
José María Elorrieta

After going away for a month-long holiday, a young nurse named Maria (Verónica Luján) has an experience so frightening that she emerges from it crazed, prematurely aged (wrinkled and with white hair) and blubbering incoherently about "Sheba!," "The music!" "The medallion!" and "Those eyes!" She's taken to an insane asylum for observation, undergoes tests and is diagnosed with something called "The Hammer Syndrome." Someone manages to sneak inside the hospital later that night and, with help from a patient (who later has his throat ripped out by a dog), kidnaps her. Maria's sister Hilda (Krista Nell) decides to get to the bottom of things and travels to the same coastal resort village Maria had gone to before going crazy. She checks into a hotel under an alias ("Hilda Torras") and almost immediately receives a beautiful bouquet of flowers from one Tills Nescu (Espartaco Santoni), a former medical doctor who stopped practicing. He's obscenely wealthy, popular with all of the ladies, seems to possess superhuman hypnotic powers ("Magic is the art of using means which are invisible to produce effects which are physical.") and may be involved in the black arts.

Initially believing that Tills has something to do with Maria's disappearance, Hilda begins indulging in the jet-setter lifestyle with him, his loyal "secretary" Andrea (Teresa Gimpera) and his current lover Paola (Carla Conti). They sit around on his yacht sipping drinks laced with "Indian herbs," go to a cocktail party and attend a nightclub where Tills seems to be able to make a singer forget his lyrics by simply staring at him. Against her better judgment, Hilda finds herself drawn to the seductive Tills and then the two begin getting romantic. Sure, he has intense eyes whose stares seem to make anyone do his bidding ("Those eyes!"), wears an ornate medallion around his neck ("The medallion!"), plays creepy tunes on the organ ("The music!") and is linked to the female reincarnation of the devil ("Sheba!") on more than one occasion, but is he really the one who's terrorized and then abducted Maria? Well yeah, actually he is. And it seems pretty obvious to everyone except for our heroine.

I reckon we're supposed to believe that Hilda has somehow been placed under Tills' spell, except for the fact that at one point she clearly manages to break free from him only to senselessly allow herself to get suckered right back in. Andrea warns her not to get too close (though Hilda assumes she's just jealous), a psychic woman (Elsa Zabala) warns her that he's evil (though she's told that the woman is a psycho) and all of the possible signs are there that he did terrible things to her sister... and yet Hilda still cannot keep away. Eventually, she finds herself at Tills' castle home sucking down some cloudy drink ("a mild sedative"), having nightmares of cultists sacrificing a goat and chanting "Hail Satan! Hail Sheba!" and at the mercy of her host and his voyeuristic Asian butler, Britta. Flashbacks show that as a child, Tills had an evil mother (Inés Morales) who flaunted her infidelities in front of his father and liked abusing daddy with a whip. Because of the abuse, Tills' pop hung himself and now Tills hates women.

I can usually find redeeming qualities in these European Gothics, but this lethargic film fails on just about every level. The writing is poor, the plot is uneventful and the pacing is slow. The Satanism scenes are underwhelming and mostly saved for the conclusion where, truth be told, they don't have much of anything to do with our antagonist's motive for killing. Unless you thrill to gratuitous slow zooms into eyeballs, the film is seriously lacking in style as well, especially when compared to other Gothic films from the era. If it's not bad enough to have a film weak on story and weak on visual presentation, the film also decides to skimp on blood and sex. There's nary a drop of the red stuff, leaving only a handful of nude scenes as compensation. Even those are rather brief.

Ennio Girolami (billed as "Thomas Moore") co-stars as Carlos Ferrer, Hilda's doctor friend who is secretly in love with her and gets jealous that she's spending all of her time with Tills. Julio Peña is the police inspector on the case (who doesn't decide to really "inspect" anything until the last few minutes of the film) and Tomás Blanco plays another doctor. Star Santoni also co-produced and co-wrote the film.

It was a rare lead role for Nell, an attractive Austrian actress who tragically passed away in a car accident not long after this was made. Usually cast in support roles, Nell's brief career saw her filming movies in Egypt (1970's Shadow of Illusion), Turkey (1971's The Red Headed Corpse), Spain (this one) and Italy (1972's The Slasher Is the Sex Maniac!). Though she looks great here, her character is so naive and boneheaded that's it difficult to really get behind her.

Director Elorrieta (billed as "Joe Lacy" here) also made The Witch Without a Broom (1967) and Curse of the Vampyr (1972).


Tower of Evil (1972)

... aka: Beyond the Fog
... aka: Devil's Tower
... aka: Horror of Snape Island, The
... aka: Horror on Snape Island

Directed by:
Jim O'Connolly

Higher levels of sex and blood than usual, plus its possible influence on later slasher flicks, are all that separate this from the pack. Two fishermen; elderly John (George Coulouris) and his son Hamp (Jack Watson), venture onto Snape Isle, a small, fog-bound, rocky island that's barely big enough to house a single lighthouse. As soon as they step foot off the boat, they find a naked, dead man face down in a puddle of water (plus a crab chowing down on his dismembered hand). Upon further investigation, they find a decapitated girl and another dead man pinned to a wall with a spear. Suddenly, a crazed young woman pops out, stabs John to death and is then knocked unconscious by Hamp. The girl - Penny (Candace Glendenning - star of the sleazy SATAN'S SLAVE) - is taken to a psychiatric clinic and subjected to tests that are supposed to unlock the secrets to what happened there. Though in a "complete state of catatonic stupor;" doctors are able to use a drug and multi-colored lights to kick start Penny's brain long enough to get some information out of her. Too bad the next batch of visitors to Snape Isle aren't privy to the info before they head there...

Because one of the murder weapons was an ancient, solid gold Phoenician ceremonial spear, "one of the most exciting archeological discoveries" in years, and that confirms rumors that a wealthy explorer died there and was buried with his treasure years earlier, Professor Lawrence Bakewell (Dennis Price, in a one-scene cameo) decides to put together an expedition to be headed by Dan Winthrop (Derek Fowlds). Also coming along are Dan's wife Nora (Anna Palk), art expert Rose Mason (Jill Haworth), Rose' ex-fiancé Adam Masters (Mark Edwards) and investigator Edward Brent (Bryant Haliday, from the memorable DEVIL DOLL), who's been hired by Penny's parents to find out what actually happened on the island. Hamp, whose brother Saul and his family used to live on the island (before they mysteriously drowned), and his first mate Brom (Gary Hamilton), are in charge of captaining the boat to get them there.

After the expedition arrives, someone, or some thing, manages to blow up their boat, stranding them there. And then the movie plays out as your standard stalk-and-slash where those dumb enough to wander off by themselves - when they should know better - get killed off. Someone's pushed from the top of the lighthouse. Another gets a sword stuck in their head, a neck is snapped and someone's burned alive. Underneath the island are a series of caves containing the treasure and a giant gold statue to an ancient God.

It opens strongly, with an opening sequence that pulls you in and well-edited scenes of Penny recollecting her horror vacation afterward, but once the expedition arrives on the island it becomes a bit too routine. The characters are neither sympathetic nor interesting, and the identity of the mystery killer isn't much of a surprise. Still, there's much here to admire: an unusual island setting, decent art direction, handsome photography courtesy of Desmond Dickinson, and, of course, plenty of bloody moments, as well as some nice eye candy provided by Glendenning, John Hamill and Seretta Wilson. Palk doesn't get naked, but she runs around in little more than a bra for the duration of the movie. The cast also includes Anthony Valentine as a psychiatrist, William Lucas as a police inspector, Robin Askwith (of "Carry On" fame) and UK cameo queen Marianne Stone.

Director O'Connolly had previously made BERSERK! (1967) with Joan Crawford, which was also considered quite violent for its time, and the cowboys vs. dinosaurs film THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969).

Original theatrical version THE HORROR OF SNAPE ISLAND runs 85 minutes and had five minutes removed. It was also on video as BEYOND THE FOG.

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