Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tempi duri per i vampiri (1959)

... aka: Agárrame ese vampiro (Grab Me That Vampire)
... aka: Dracula Is My Uncle
... aka: Hard Times for Dracula
... aka: Hard Times for Vampires
... aka: Les temps sont durs pour les vampires
... aka: My Uncle, the Vampire
... aka: Uncle Was a Vampire

Directed by:

After inheriting a huge seaside castle, Osvaldo Lambertenghi (Renato Rascel) decides to sell his ancestral estate to the Atlas Corporation, who want to turn it into a resort hotel. He gets 80 million lira out of the deal, which doesn't do much for him since he has to immediately hand the entire check over to the treasury to pay off a family debt. To be kind, the castle's new owners decide to keep him on there as a bellboy after they renovate and open the hotel. That same luxury may not be afforded to the sweet gardener Lilena (Antje Geerk), whose family has tended to the castle grounds for over a century, and she may now lose her job. Osvaldo receives a letter from his estranged uncle, Baron Roderico da Frankurten (Christopher Lee), who's currently living in Carpathian mountain region of Germany and says he'll be stopping in at midnight for an extended visit. Since the letter refers to him as his "heir," Osvaldo assumes some good luck (and money) may finally be coming his way. Instead, he just gets a heavy, coffin-shaped box with his bloodsucking relative inside. And Uncle isn't too happy about the current state of the family home; particularly that the crypt he was so looking forward to resting in has been converted into a bar.

Other guests fill in to the hotel for the weekend. We get two glamour models; redhead Kay ("Kay Ficher" / Kai Fischer) and platinum blonde Susan (Susanne Loret, star of the following year's ATOM AGE VAMPIRE) and their dates Paolo (Angelo Zanolli) and Nino (Franco Giacobini), who are both hoping to get lucky. And then there's teenager Carla (26-year-old Sylva Koscina), whose disapproving parents Luigi (Federico Collino) and Letizia (Lia Zoppelli) have drug here there to keep her away from her boyfriend Victor (uncredited Rik Van Nutten). Victor, who's a musician with hit records like "Okie Dokie Calypso," shows up at the hotel anyway and the two lovebirds plot to run away together. There's also some old military dude named "The Commander" (Carl Wery) and, rather conveniently, Dr. Hans Strickler (Franco Scandurra), a German professor whose plans for a relaxing weekend are continually interrupted when he's forced to translate an old German book on vampires the Baron has brought along with him.

Because his nephew keeps getting in his way, hangs garlic all over the place, draws crucifixes on the walls and attempts to stake him while he's sleeping, Roderico turns him into a vampire simply so he'll leave him alone. Osvaldo then spends his entire first night as a bloodsucker sneaking through windows and biting every single attractive woman in the place. The next day, wives and girlfriends are all in daze and want nothing to do with their significant others. Instead, they desire Osvaldo and want him to keep on biting them. The finale features the scorned males running around the hotel with stakes and hammers on a vampire hunt and Osvaldo - who's actually in love with nice girl Lilena, of course - having to save the object of his affections from Roderico. But let's be real here: the real hero is a rooster named Giovanino.

This extremely silly screwball comedy - which had seven (!) credited writers - is a difficult one to evaluate. There are a few genuinely funny moments in here, many more jokes that misfire and, because the English-language dubbing is so wretched, sometimes it's hard to tell what's funnier because of the awful dubbing and what gags would have worked better in the original-language version. The VHS print I viewed was presented in annoying pan-and-scan and the poor print quality made the already-muted Technicolor look even murkier. The laughs rely heavily on slapstick and sight gags, with lots of 'old dark house' trappings like trap doors and secret passageways, and the 6'5" pale-faced Lee towering over the entire cast, particularly the 5'2" lead. Rascel mugs and goofs his way through his bumbling idiot role (whoever dubbed him is a really awful actor), while Lee (also dubbed even in the English version) plays the vampire completely seriously yet is actually the funniest person in the movie.

Steno (born Stefano Vanzina) directed and / or wrote over 100 films from 1939 until 1988 and is best known for his work in the comedy genre. His one other horror-comedy was the Edwige Fenech vehicle Dr. Jekyll Likes Them Hot (1979). I think I actually spent more time cross-referencing and researching the cast trying to figure out who played who than I did actually watching the film. On numerous sites (including IMDb), most of the characters aren't listed, and some of the wrong actors are assigned the wrong parts. I think I finally got it all worked out, but I wish I could say the same thing for the crew. Again, the credits on the film don't match up with the credits on IMDb. The name Steno is nowhere to be found on the credits of the film I watched (though he uses his real name as one of the writers) and it's Pio Angeletti (listed as production manager on IMDb) who is credited director on the actual film. Future director Emilio P. Miraglia - who later made The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971) and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) is credited as the assistant film editor on the movie but as script supervisor on IMDb. Rascel was one of the writers, plus gets credits for the music and "songs" (though there is only one song in the movie and none listed on IMDb). I'm not sure what is what there.

Sinister Cinema initially distributed this one on VHS and there have been several DVD releases in recent years. The one from PR Studios, which pairs it up with Horror Express (1972) and was released in 2011, presents a black-and-white version of the movie. The one from GI Studios, titled Dracula Is My Uncle and released in 2013, is in color.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mania (1986)

... aka: Mania: Episodes in Terror
... aka: Mania: The Intruder (maybe)

Directed by:
Paul Lynch
David M. Robertson
John Sheppard

I know nothing about the history of Mania - and there's next to no information about this forgotten film online - but it has all of the hallmarks of having at one point been an attempt at developing a TV series. For starters, it's an anthology featuring four unrelated tales with no linking segments. Two, it opens up with a flashy credits sequence announcing that it was “created by” Peter Simpson and then lists four other producers. Three, each segment falls well short of the 30-minute range and cut to black about every 8-10 minutes, clearly because they were intended to be wedged into 30-minute time slots and accommodate commercial breaks. Four, each segment opens with the title in quotes and lists just the primary star(s) and writer / director. And last but certainly not least, it's from Canada. Canada? Yes, Canada. Canada was pretty much the master domain of syndicated horror television in the 80s and 90s. “The Hitchhiker,” “Friday the 13th: The Series,” “The Outer Limits” revival, “Poltergeist: The Legacy” etc. etc. Mania does not show up on the TVarchive database for Canada; meaning the separate episodes never played on TV. My best guess is that to salvage what was shot, someone decided to throw the completed shorts together and then released it as a feature. It likely debuted either direct-to-video or on Canadian TV.

Vista Home Video release [USA]

C.B. Films VHS release [Spain]

We open up with “See No Evil;” written and directed by John Sheppard. Accountant Steve Harold (Wayne Robson) has just spent some quality time with a hooker he frequently hires. As she's leaving his home at 2 in the morning, a bearded guy in a trench coat (Deryck Hazel) stabs her to death right outside in the courtyard. Hearing her screams, Steve looks out the window and sees the killer. The killer sees him. Steve rushes to the phone and starts to call the police but then hangs up. I mean, how would he explain having a hooker over at his place in the middle of the night to the police without getting into some major trouble himself? A police inspector (David Petersen) shows up, Steve lies to him, claims he didn't see or hear anything and then tries to go about life as usual... but the murderer begins stalking and then trying to frame him for the murder using various tactics. This has some sketchy acting and is basically just Hitchcock lite, but the twist at the end is at least a little amusing.

Story #2 is “The Intruder,” written by Sheppard (he actually wrote all four of these) and directed by David M. Robertson. Wealthy couple Jack (Richard Monette) and Ruth (Cheryl Wilson) Benson are worried about three recent burglaries in their area. Ruth wants a guard dog. Because of a traumatic childhood incident where he was attacked and nearly killed by a dog, Jack is deathly afraid of them, but doesn't want his wife to know because he's embarrassed. After some nagging, Ruth ends up finally getting her way, so the two go to a kennel and purchase a big Rottweiler named Dox. Dox immediately begins annoying (and scaring) Jack by sitting in his favorite chair, constantly barking and staring him down in an intimidating way. When Ruth goes away to visit her sister for a few days, things take an unexpected turn. Much better performances than in the first segment and this builds up to a shocker of an ending.

Paul Lynch's “Have a Nice Day” is up next. Kelly Foran (Deborah Grover) sends her young daughter Hillary (Rikki Lynn Wosnack) off to school and, soon after, receives a phone call from someone saying every parent's four least favorite consecutive words “we have your daughter.” The kidnapper (Bill Croft) claims her phone is tapped, she's being watched and if she doesn't do everything he says or attempts to inform the police, her daughter will be killed. The caller also seems to know things only someone very close to her would know, like that she has some valuable jewelry in a safety deposit box at her bank. She's instructed to go into town and retrieve the jewels and then return home, where a few surprises await her. While I kind of figured out the big twist ending, this is a decent piece of suspense about a sociopath using (then brand new) technology to ensnare his victim and cleverly playing up a parent's inherent paranoia to their own benefit.

"The Good Samaritan;” again directed by Lynch, is the fourth and final story. After leaving a bar, divorced advertising executive Dan Weston (Stephen  B. Hunter) stumbles upon a young woman - Julie Somers (Lenore Zann) -  being attacked by a guy with a knife (Dwight McFee) in the subway. He helps her escape and the two run back to his home, but they've been followed there by the mugger. Julie calls the police and, as they wait for them to arrive, the attacker tries to gain access to the home. The least of these stories, this has two twists at the end that don't really work because they requires at least one of the characters to behave in a bone-headed fashion in order to pull off.

As with all anthologies, some stories work better than others. The two in the middle (which feature very good performances from Monette and Grover) were easily the standouts for me. The whole thing is quite glossy in that special 80s kind of way and vividly lit, with lots of bold lighting choices and a handsome blue tint to the night scenes (especially in the first segment). Many of the people involved in this one were involved in the Canadian Prom Night slasher series. Simpson produced all four of those, Lynch directed the original, Monette appeared as a priest in the second and director Robertson, producers Ilana Frank and Ray Sager, composer Paul Zaza, cinematographer John Spooner and others in the crew worked on at least one of the sequels.

No, no, no...

IMDb erroneously claims this played at the 1986 Berlin International Film Festival (!!), but someone has just confused it with a seldom-seen Greek film also called Mania (1985). Yes folks, take the info you see over on IMDb with a grain of salt and always, I repeat always, cross-reference the data you get there before using it. I've learned that lesson the hard way myself, and as much as I love and use the site, it's time we stop treating it like the one-stop-shop for film particulars and continue spreading their misinformation as fact. IMDb also claims this debuted on TV, but it doesn't list when or where, nor have I found proof it was released as "Mania: The Intruder" as they currently list it (none of the videos have that name and the title screen just calls it Mania). What is easily verifiable is that it received a VHS release here in America in the late 80s by Vista Home Video, which unfortunately came in a box so generic and nondescript that even I wouldn't have rented it back then. It was also released in Spain on the C.B. Films label. The only country I'm aware of that's gotten a DVD is Germany, courtesy of CMV Laservision.

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