Monday, November 4, 2013

L'amante del demonio (1972)

... aka: Amante del demonio, La
... aka: Ceremonia Satanica
... aka: Demon Lover, The
... aka: Devil's Lover, The
... aka: Lucifera: Demon Lover

Directed by:
Paolo Lombardo

Of all the dumb "I'm just asking to be killed" set-ups I've seen in my day, this one registers pretty high on the ole totem pole. In modern times, three young women in miniskirts go to visit an old castle because - get this - they heard a rumor that it belonged to the devil and want to see if that's true or not. Not only that, but once they get there they insist upon spending the night. These ladies are just asking for it, no? The only person around seems to be a strange butler (an unbilled John Benedy). He serves them dinner and, strangely, there's an extra place setting at the table for an unaccounted fourth guest the butler claims isn't coming. Each girl is put into a separate bedroom and, as a thunderstorm rages outside, one of them - Helga (Rosalba Neri) - moseys on out to the corridor with a candelabra. She finds a painting on the wall in her likeness, starts complaining about her skin burning, hears strange noises, screaming and then laughter coming from a hole in the ground and then promptly passes out. What follows is a lengthy dream sequence which lasts until the last few minutes and tells what happened to Helga in her previous life as we're then swept back to the 16th Century for a little cut rate Satanic soap opera.

The 16th Century Helga is set to be married to the strapping nice guy Hans, but bosomy blonde barmaid named Magda (Maria Teresa "Pietrangeli" / Pingitore), who's also in love with him, becomes intent on destroying the union. Helmut (Robert Woods), who's in love with Magda, decides to help her out, but for a price: sex. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure in a black cloak and red hood is lurking around. He sees Helga's wedding gown, thus "contaminating" it and cursing her, leading Helga to seek the aid of a backwoods sorceress. The evil old woman has Helga gather up two of her virginal gal pals, Eva and Wilma, and tells them to go to a mountaintop. When they arrive, Helga looks to the sky and utters something to someone named "Selena;" which promptly scares her friends away. The witch then leads Eva and Wilma into the woods, where two masked men grab them and drag them into a cave. Suddenly, the two actresses become two other actresses and a bunch of dirty people in rags strip them naked for a rape / orgy in scenes clearly grafted on later. A blonde, caped woman (who we never again see after this one brief scene) then enters, bears her fangs and drinks their blood.

Helga's friends show up as silent, pale-faced vampires trying to nibble her neck, but it may all just be a nightmare. Our heroine also learns the identity of the man with the red hood. He's Gunther (Edmund Purdom) and he's determined to seduce her over to the dark side because he's actually Satan. Meanwhile, the scorned, jealous barmaid tries to convince Helmut to murder Helga. He refuses so she also goes to the old crone. The witch gives her a special necklace that will cause a heart attack to whomever wears it but before she has a chance to give it to Magda, Gunther shows up to murder her. Helga - now not quite herself and in an aloof, trance-like state - goes through with the wedding ceremony, but Gunther shows up with a special gold dagger and an ultimatum; it's either him or Hans.

By 70s Italian Gothic / period horror standards, this is not only disappointing, it's downright pathetic! There's some, but not a whole lot of, nudity and the bloodshed in incredibly mild. Even stabbings, axe blows and tongues being cut out don't register more than small trickles of blood. Worst of all, the costumes and sparsely-decorated sets both look extremely cheap. I'm talking small town community theater cheap. And just so the filmmakers don't have to worry about pesky things like props and art direction, the majority of the action is filmed in fields, on dirt roads and in forests. Hell, even the background scenery in this one isn't any good. 

As far as the photography's concerned, we have yet another problem depending on what version you watch. Some prints appear to be OK, but on others (including the one I watched), there's a serious screw up involving the print, and I'm not just talking about the flickers, missing frames, jumps, abrupt cutaways and grain which are all here in abundance. The entire film was shot during the day, and clearly many of the scenes taking place at night were meant to be tinted at a later point. On one of the well-circulated prints, all of the scenes are in broad daylight. That not only makes lines of dialogue like "It's so dark!" unintentionally comic but it also makes the overall cheapness of this production even more glaringly obvious than it otherwise would have been. Still, night scenes or no, this is still one of the least atmospheric Italian genre films of its time.

All that said, I didn't have a huge issue sitting through this. Despite the ultra low-budget, unconvincing period detail and other issues, worse scripts have been filmed. I liked how the story was framed and set-up and it's all mildly entertaining if your expectations are low. Neri is so smoking hot she could command attention on that alone, but she should also be given credit for her skills as an actress; evident even in a low grade production such as this one (which she almost single-handedly manages to hold together). This film (finally on DVD from Mya Communications in 2009) is recommended mostly for her fans... Well, after they've already seen just about everything else she's ever been in!

Also in the cast are spaghetti western star Spartaco Conversi, Maria Teresa Vianello (The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) and Laura De Benedittis (Dr. Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks).

Daikaijû kettô: Gamera tai Barugon (1966)

... aka: Dragonwars: Krieg der Monster
... aka: Gamera Strikes Again
... aka: Gamera vs. Barugon
... aka: Godzilla, der Drache aus dem Dschungel
... aka: Great Monster Duel: Gamera vs. Barugon, The
... aka: War of the Monsters

Directed by:
Shigeo Tanaka

Gamera was Daiei's answer to rival studio Toho's massively popular Godzilla. The series began with Daikaijû Gamera (or GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER) in 1965. A year later, the rights were purchased up by Sandy Frank, who removed some of the original footage and had new American scenes added for release under the title of Gammera the Invincible. That same year in Japan, Daiei produced its first Gamera sequel; Daikaijû kettô: Gamera tai Barugon (1966). The film was dubbed again for release on American TV by AIP as War of the Monsters, and was re-issued theatrically later on (again by Frank) under the title Gamera vs. Barugon. Unlike its predecessor, no new scenes were added to it. Things open with a recap of the first film and Gamera's origins. Resurrected by an atomic blast in the Arctic, Gamera was released from his icy prison, where he'd been "almost since the beginning of time." After laying waste to much of Japan, the giant, fire-loving turtle was lured into a rocket, which was the sealed and shot to Mars. This film picks up right there; only instead of actually reaching Mars, the rocket carrying the creature is hit by a meteor and split open. Gamera is then hurtled back to Earth for Round 2.

Gamera wastes no time causing death and destruction. He destroys a dam and then goes to a volcano to feast on molten lava. Meanwhile in Osaka, Keisuke Hirata (Kôjirô Hongô) decides to give up his job as a pilot because he wants to own his own airline company, and he's found just the way to make some quick cash. A few decades earlier during the war, Keisuke's crippled army vet brother Ichiro (Akira Natsuki) had stashed a giant opal worth at least 4 million dollars inside a cave in New Guinea. Now he wants some able-bodied men to go get it. Keisuke, along with two other men; Onodera (Kôji Fujiyama) and Kawajiri (Yûzô Hayakawa), make the long boat trip to the island. Once they arrive, they learn their destination is nicknamed "The Hill of Death" and that the villagers forbid them from going. They venture into the jungle, anyway, survive quicksand, snakes and bats and finally located the cave and the opal. Kawajiri is bitten by a scorpion and quickly dies. Onodera decides that he wants the opal all to himself, so he tosses a grenade at Keisuke and runs off. The native villagers manage to save Keisuke, but by the time they do Onodera is already on a boat headed toward Japan. Because removing the opal from the cave will release a yet-to-be-determined curse, beautiful native girl Kara (Kyôko Enami) must leave her island home for Japan to try to get it back.

As Onodera's ship docks in Kobe, Japan, the jewel is exposed to a powerful heat lamp, which reveals it to not actually be an opal at all, but a petrified egg. It hatches and a slimy little lizard-like creature crawls out. An explosion occurs, the ships sinks and then from the depths of the water comes a giant alligator-like horned monster called Barugon. It crawls on all fours, stomps some buildings, shoots a rainbow that can blow stuff up out of glowing spikes on its back and has a battering ram-like tongue that shoots out snow which will freeze anything it touches. Tanks, jets and missiles don't phase the beast. Drawn in by the heat, Gamera also proves to be no match as Barugon, who freezes him after a scuttle. Kara and Keisuke arrive from Japan, must deal with the evil, insanely greedy Onodera (who has since murdered Keisuke's brother and his wife [Kazuko Wakamatsu]) and then must save Japan from the rampaging lizard. Barugon has a diamond fetish, so they first attempt to lure the beast into a lake with a 6-thousand carat diamond. When that plan fails, they attempt to use a giant mirror satellite dish to reflect Barugon's rainbow back onto him. When that plan fails... well, there's always hope that Gamera will thaw out in time for the finale.

Despite the general consensus, I actually found this far more enjoyable than the original. It's a lot of fun, better paced and seems more geared toward an adult audience. The lost world-style adventure scenes (albeit a bit brief) are a nice way to break from the usual formula and there's plenty of smashing, explosions, monster action, highly variable special effects and charming, clever and / or colorful little touches throughout. It was followed by Gamera vs. Gaos (1967; aka Return of the Giant Monsters), Gamera vs. Viras (1968; aka Destroy All Planets), Gamera vs. Guillon (1969; aka Attack of the Monsters), Gamera vs. Monster X (1970) and Gamera vs. Zigra (1971) in the original run. The series saw a resurgence years later with the release of Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (1995), which also led to numerous sequels. This and many others in the series are now in the public domain and easy to find.

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