Monday, January 23, 2012

Il castello dalle porte di fuoco (1970)

... aka: Altar of Blood
... aka: Blood Castle
... aka: Castle of Blood
... aka: Castle of Frankenstein, The
... aka: Ivanna
... aka: Killers in the Castle of Blood
... aka: Scream of the Demon Lover

Directed by:
José Luis Merino

A drunk discovers the bloodied body of a young maiden... the sixth such victim in less than a year. While the funeral procession is going on through the village the next day, Dr. Ivanna Rakovsky (Erna Schürer), a biochemist fresh from her university studies, arrives by coach. When she mentions she's there to take up a position at Castle Xenia, the villagers snub her and walk away. She does finally manage to find someone to take her there; the sleazy Fedor (Ezio Sancrotti). On the way, he tells her about how the murders began shortly after the death of the castle's previous owner, a scientist named Igor Dalmar, who was killed in a lab explosion. He also claims the new owner she's there to work for, Igor's brother Janos ("Charles Quinney" / Carlos Quiney), is a madman just like the rest of his family and warns she'll be the next victim if she stays. After narrowly avoiding getting raped by her transport, Ivanna makes her way to the castle, only to get a chilly reception from the housemaid, Olga (Cristiana Galloni). The baron finally shows up and demands that Ivanna leave. Since the weather's bad out, he allows her to stay one night.

Another young lady working there - a beautiful young maid named Cristiana (Agostina Belli) - draws a bath for our heroine, after which someone peeps on her as she's changing clothes. At dinner, Ivanna notices lashes on the baron's prized dogs and that her employer and the nubile Cristina don't even try to conceal their attraction for one another. Olga - the Baron's former mistress - is catty, bitter, nosy and jealous of any woman making eyes at Janos. Eventually the baron has a change of heart about Ivanna, and decides to convince her to stay. He shows her around the lab (including a bubbling bathtub full of muck which contains his dead brother's remains), claims he's experimenting on the origin of life and on the regeneration of carbonized matter and hands her a book with research from four generations of his family for study. His wish is to revive his brother, and he can only do so with Ivanna's knowledge of chemistry.

After drinking some milk, Ivanna passes out, wakes tied up topless to a rack and is threatened by someone brandishing a red hot fire poker. The same thing happens yet again the following night, but this time someone pumps fumes into her room. When she awakens the voice tells her to "stay pure" or else she will die. Yes, Ivanna is unsullied, and as it turns out all the young women who've been recently murdered (with a spiked glove) were killed immediately after losing their virginity. In fact, each had fallen in love with the tall, dark and handsome Janos right before getting it. The rest plays out as a mystery as to who the killer is. Could it be Olga, whose first inclination after seeing the Baron flirt with his new assistant is to whip out a knife? Or Cristina, who's in love with Janos herself, and says "I'll laugh at your funeral" under her breath at Ivanna. Or Janos, who is rumored to be mad anyway... And what gives with the books about lycanthropy in the library? How about the presumably dead Igor? Is he really dead, or has his vengeful ghost returned to prevent his brother from having a normal, healthy relationship? Whoever it is, they want to make sure the Baron never falls in love.

You could go down a checklist of the expected Euro Gothic horror trappings (castle, secret room, torture chamber, scientist, lovely damsel in distress, etc.) and this would check almost all of the boxes. Set sometime during the 19th Century, it's technically well-made, with a decent score, above average English-dubbing and effective art direction, lighting and photography. It's about average on nudity (with all three lead actresses going topless) and low on violence (with just a smattering of blood). This one benefits somewhat from having a spunkier, smarter, stronger-willed central female than what you'll usually find in these films, though the actress playing her still has to compromise. Sure she's educated and bookish... but who's to say she can't lie in bed studying chemical formulas... with her breasts hanging out of her nightgown! The first hour is fairly strong, but the final half hour becomes ridiculously convoluted. The revelation of the killer also isn't much of a surprise.

Director Merino also made the difficult-to-find The Five Warnings of Satan (1970) and the Paul Naschy vehicle THE HANGING WOMAN (1972; which also featured Quiney). The cast includes Antonio Jiménez Escribano as Fritz the butler (he's also Cristina's father and doesn't want her daughter getting involved with Janos) and Mariano Vidal Molina as the obligatory police inspector.

An Italian / Spanish co-production, this was released as Il castello dalle Porte di Fuoco ("The Castle with Doors of Fire") in Italy and as Ivanna in Spain. Alternate "clothed" scenes were shot for more restrictive markets (Spain, the U.S., etc.). It was first released in America - sometimes double billed with Stephanie Rothman's The Velvet Vampire - by New World Pictures under the somewhat misleading moniker Scream of the Demon Lover. Fake Anglacized credits (starring "Jeffrey Chase" and "Jennifer Harvey") were added. Elsewhere it was given the even more misleading title The Castle of Frankenstein.

To my knowledge, all of the legit American releases (the VHS from Charter, the DVD from Retromedia...) are of substandard quality, and some of them are censored. I was lucky enough to see the remastered, uncut version released by the German company E-M-S, which is an decent (though full screen) print and uncut.


Fée sanguinaire, La (1968)

... aka: Bloodthirsty Fairy, The 

Directed by: Roland Lethem An interesting 25-minute short, shot in grainy 16mm and in black-and-white; almost dialogue-free and full of "shocking" images and student film-esque button pushing (and, ultimately, some sort of political message). Two mysterious men dressed in black and with cigarettes dangling from their mouths drop a large, presumably heavy (since it takes two to carry it) package off on a doorstep and walk away. When the home's owner (Pierre Lampe) returns he drags the package inside, then goes about doing a few more activities before deciding to finally open it. Upon removing the paper, he notices it's a large steel barrel. Using a blowtorch, he gets the lid off and sees it's full of oily water... but rising out of the water is a nude, voluptuous, smiling woman (To Katinaki), who immediately starts to entice the man by massaging her breasts. Naturally, being in a barrel for who knows how long, she needs to get cleaned off and hops into a bubble bath. While she's lounging in the tub, the man gets into bed, lights a cigarette and starts to remove him clothes in anticipation. We get to see fantasies from both the man and "the fairy."

His fantasies are completely sex driven, but despite her smiling face and joyous demeanor, the woman's are a little on the sick side. She first goes up to a policeman and beats him to death with his Billy club. Next up, she goes up to a nun on a park bench, starts feeling her up and strangles her to death with her rosary. She pokes a little boys eyes out with her fingers and then has sex with a black man in a public park. After finishing up in the tub, the woman then joins the man in bed, where his pleasure quickly turns into pain as the woman whips out a straight razor and cuts off his penis (all of this is cut with a chicken getting its head cut off and two men dribbling the blood on themselves). The man then dies a bloody death on the floor.

The woman then drops the penis into a jar. Seems she has a whole collection of penises... and they're of some rather famous people. Some jars have penises in them, some do not. Amongst the jars with dicks are "Luther-King," "Diem" (the first president of South Vietnam), "Kennedy," "Rockwell," "Verwoede" (a South African prime minister) and "Strobel." Amongst the ones without dicks: "Franco," "Kossygine" (Soviet premiere Aleksei Kosygin), "Waldeck-Rochet" (a French communist), "Johnson," "Paul VI," "De Gaulle," "Salazar" and "Kiesinger." So the "fairy" has been neutering famous political leaders (we can assume her latest victim is one, as well). What does it all mean? I'm sure the "neutering" of various political figures is pretty self-explanatory, especially considering that all of the emasculated figures had been assassinated before this was made. The short ends with the delivery guys dropping the package off at some gated military facility and then a picture of a swastika with Nixon's face in the middle.

The director did some acting (he appeared in the horror-comedy Mama Dracula in 1980) and directed other short films; many of them horror-themed (or just gory). Jean-Pierre Bouyxou (who plays one of the package deliverers) later went on to appear in a half dozen films for Jean Rollin and several for Jesus Franco.


Jiang shi shu shu (1988)

... aka: Geung si suk suk
... aka: Mr. Vampire 4
... aka: Mr. Vampire Saga
... aka: Mr. Vampire Saga 4

Directed by:
Ricky Lau

Buddhist monk Yi-Yu (Ma Wu) is an elder man of the cloth living in a desolate mountainous region who's just brought in a female wanderer named Ching-Ching (Loletta Lee) as his assistant and pupil. Right next door lives an unnamed Taoist priest (played by Anthony Chan), who's referred to only as "Master" or "Four-Eyed Taoist" because of his glasses. Unlike the monk, who prefers a quiet life of discipline and meditation, the priest is a bit on the arrogant side and is in the not-so-quiet business of capturing and controlling vampires. Using spell paper attached to the forehead, he's able to keep the dangerous undead docile and safely stored away in the morgue. The taoist is also aided by his clutzy pupil Chia-Le (Kar Lok Chin), who falls in love with the spunky Ching-Ching at first sight. Unfortunately, their masters don't get along at all. Both elders have some kind of rivalry going on and can't even sit down to have tea without it turning into a fight. At breakfast, the two get into a food fight, which ends in one shooting peanuts from his nostrils into the other one's mouth.

The monk's morning ritual of getting up before dawn to pray and loudly bang on his gong doesn't sit well with the priest. In retaliation, he gets the monk's thumb print and uses it to create a voodoo doll, which he then uses to make the monk bash his head into the wall and rip out his tooth with pliers. Not one to let the his rival get the better of him, the monk does a magic act of his own to freeze the priest. He and Ching-Ching then have some fun with firecrackers, blowing one up inside his mouth. Back and forth it goes from one "comic" slapstick gag to the next and the next thing we know we're 50 minutes into the movie and nothing of note has even happened. The only real action occurred in an earlier throwaway scene when the priest is marching a dozen or so obedient vampires through the forest and encounters a woman (Pauline Wang Yu-wan) who tries to seduce him and turns into a fox.

Things finally pick up toward the end when a royal funeral caravan (headed by Fat Chung as Taoist Crane) on their way to deliver a corpse to the nearby town stops in for a brief visit. That evening while the travelers are setting up camp, a thunderstorm erupts, which blows the spell paper off the casket and washes away all of the black ink (a preventative measure to keep the body inside). The super-strong, nearly indestructible vampire / corpse returns to life, busts out of its coffin and starts killing everyone in sight. A flamboyant, annoying, stereotypically cowardly gay guy named Wu-yuan (Wah Yuen) manages to scoop up a young prince and make it back to the temple. The rest is basically a bunch of kicking, punching, flipping, fighting, biting, clawing and various comic gags as the monstrous main vampire and those infected with bites attack. No piece of furniture is left intact.

Just as MR. VAMPIRE II (1986) was a significant drop in quality from the original MR. VAMPIRE (1985), #4 in the popular series is a significant drop in quality from MR. VAMPIRE III (1987). Not only does the film take forever to get going, but the main characters are either too mean-spirited, or just plain stupid, to take much of a liking to. Things do change somewhat in the second half when the rivals must work together to defeat the vampires, but Ching-Ying Lam's one-eyebrow priest (a perfect grounding point for the over-the-top gags in the other entries) is still sorely missed here. The laughs are sporadic at best, with childish slapstick involving poking asses, slipping in cow shit, getting whacked over the head with bamboo sticks, getting hit in the crotch repeatedly, breaking furniture, being constipated after having to suck down a vat of oil, etc. Particularly embarrassing is the gay "comic relief;" as the "sissy man" screams, flails, develops a crush on our hero and proves to be utterly useless when the vampires lay siege on the temple.

To be fair, some cool things do occur now and then. The crazy mythology in these things always provides passing interest, such as eating whole cloves of garlic to break curses and bathing in rice milk to heal vampire wounds (and keep those bites from transforming you into a vampire). In another scene, the priest and his line of vampires do the limbo under a tree branch and, when he gets lazy, he has a frog lead the process of the dead (which naturally backfires on him). Imaginatively choreographed action and impressive stunt / wire work (showcased primarily in the last third) remain the highlight, of course.

To my knowledge, there are three additional films sometimes seen as parts of this series; the unofficial fifth entry (which is known primarily as MAGIC COP, but also as MR. VAMPIRE 5), as well as the unofficial spin-off series NEW MR. VAMPIRE (1987 and aka "Kung Fu Vampire Buster") and NEW MR. VAMPIRE 2 (1989 and aka "Vampire vs. Vampire"). Ricky Lau (who directed the first four) had nothing to do with the others.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...