Thursday, February 19, 2015

Il mostro di Venezia (1965)

... aka: Embalmer, The
... aka: Le monstre de Venise
... aka: Monster of Venice, The

Directed by:
Dino Tavella

Filmed very early in the Italian giallo cycle - just a year after the defining film in this movement; Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) - this slow, boring and utterly forgettable time-waster was made by a completely unknown director (whose only other credit was a long-forgotten and seldom-seen war drama filmed the same year) and features a cast of mostly unknown actors. With its mystery killer plot, mild off-screen violence and shadowy black-and-white photography, it actually comes off less like a prototypical giallo and more like one of the krimi crime-thrillers popular in West German at the time... well, minus the sense of humor, decent writing, good acting and polished production values the krimi usually possessed. Reading over a plot description of the earlier krimi Inn on the River (1962) - "A serial killer named The Shark is terrorizing London by killing his victims with a spear gun and then, dressed in a scuba-diver's wet suit, using the city's sewer tunnels to make his getaway." - almost makes this sound like a complete rip-off as this also features a serial killer dressed as a scuba diver using an underground tunnel system to hide out in.

The plot is a rather simple one - "beautiful young women," all 17 or 18 years old, are turning up missing in Venice and the police are baffled. Handsome reporter Andrea ("Gin Mart" / Luigi Martocci, a popular male model at the time) has a hunch there's a "maniacal sex fiend" hiding out somewhere in the city, but his editor refuses to publish his hypothesis in the paper without first having concrete proof. Andrea also runs his ideas by the city police commissioner but he writes the idea of a killer off as being pure fiction. Andrea does at least find one ally in Detective Shira, who's skeptical but at least willing to listen and help.

Teacher Maureen (Maureen Brown), who's escorting a dozen or so teenage girls (uh oh) on a school trip along with elderly fellow teacher Catherine and Catherine's shady archaeologist nephew Nicky, soon arrive in the city. Right as they get to their hotel, both the manager, Mr. Torray, and sleazy desk clerk Franco start leering at the young ladies, with the latter intentionally putting flirtatious student Grace (Anita Todesco) on the first floor all by herself and away from the rest of her group just so he can watch her undress through a hidden two-way mirror. Andrea bumps into them one day and he and Maureen quickly fall in love. Andrea takes her and the girls on a sight-seeing tour (that never seem to end) and boat rides (ditto), then accompanies Maureen out for a romantic dinner and dancing and... Oh screw this... Where's that psycho again?

Rest assured the killer is still on the loose and every once in awhile slaps on his wet suit and scuba gear and hits the streets looking for young prey. After setting his sights on and stalking a potential target, he waits for the right moment to leap from the water and drag a victim down into the water with him. She's then drowned and taken back to a series of catacombs underneath the city (a former submerged monastery) where the "Embalmer" lies them on a slab, injects them with his "special potion" to preserve them, dresses them in togas and then adds these "alabaster goddesses" to a set of upright glass coffins he dubs his "temple of beauty." Yes, the sick-o has his own ever-growing collection of freshly-preserved teen girl corpses. The killer also loves talking to the bodies, proving himself to be both selfish ("You shall stay here with me always. No one else will have you!") and arrogant ("Only *I* can defy the laws of nature!"... "No one can duplicate my secret formula! Hahahaha!") in the process.

I've always been a fan of this film's various posters, which are usually graced with a skull-faced fiend in monk garb, but the film itself is unfortunately a big disappointment. Not only are the actors and direction both forgettable and bland, but this thing is loaded down with filler (lots of touring the city, a musical number by an Italian Elvis impersonator [!!], etc.) since there's not nearly enough story to keep it afloat. You'd figure that with young girls disappearing left and right (not to mention the archaeologist character's murdered corpse turning up in place of the hotel's scheduled entertainment one evening) would prompt Maureen to keep a tighter leash on her girls, if not cancel the vacation and leave the city altogether, but nope! She's too busy taking romantic, carefree gondola rides with her new beau in the canals. After a slow and almost entirely useless first hour+, this finally becomes somewhat entertaining in the final fifteen minutes, with some nice creepy imagery, but by then it's far too late for this to rebound.

In America, the film was horribly dubbed, re-titled The Embalmer and then released on a double bill with the goofy THE SHE-BEAST by Europix Consolidated Corp. in 1966. In the early 70s, it was reissued, this time as part of a drive-in triple feature that included The Undertaker and His Pals (1966) and The Corpse Grinders (1971), and then became a staple on late night TV for years. The run time of this U.S. print (copyrighted 1966 by Walter Manley Enterprises and the most common source print for cheap DVD releases from Alpha and other companies) is 78 minutes. There are better-quality prints on the market than what I watched (notably Retromedia's DVD release) that also run 78 minutes but I wouldn't bother with this one unless you're a very forgiving Italian horror buff who just has to see everything.


The 2015 Orloks - 1997 Results

Started many moons ago by Prof-Hieronymos-Grost, the Orloks were a yearly poll on the IMDb horror boards where users submitted Top 5 lists of their favorite horror movies for each year. All of the results were then tabulated to come up with a definitive list of the year's most-liked genre offerings. Alas, when the good Professor decided to depart the boards years ago, the awards went with him... that is until now. IMDb-er seth_yeah - taking on responsibilities as both host and calculator - has decided to bring back this long-standing tradition in 2015, and now the awards will have a permanent place right here on this blog. Scoring is rather simple and done on a weighted system where first choice receives 5 points, second choice 4 points, etc., with a +1 bonus then awarded to the #1 selection on each list. IMDb release years are being used, but it is left up to voters to determine what they may or may not consider horror (which may be in conflict with IMDb's genre labeling system). If you'd like to participate, head on over to the IMDb HORROR BOARDS to vote! So without any further ado, the results...


Top 5
* * * * * * * * * *
1. Cube
Canada / 49 points / Vincenzo Natali
* * * * * * * * * *
2. Parfekuto buru (Perfect Blue)
Japan [animated feature] / 43 points / Satoshi Kon
* * * * * * * * * *
3. (tie) Event Horizon
UK, USA / 30 points / Paul W.S. Anderson
* * * * * * * * * *
3. (tie) Lost Highway
France, USA / 30 points / David Lynch
* * * * * * * * * *
4. Funny Games
Austria23 points / Michael Haneke
* * * * * * * * * *
5. Cure
Japan / 22 points / Kiyoshi Kurosawa


Making the Top 10:

6. (tie) Devil's Advocate / GermanyUSA / 21 points / Taylor Hackford
6. (tie) Night Flier, The / ItalyUSA / 21 points / Mark Pavia
7. Wishmaster / USA / 17 points / Robert Kurtzman
8. Mimic / USA / 16 points / Guillermo del Toro
9. (tie) Regarde la mer (See the Sea) / France / 13 points / François Ozon
9. (tie) Relic, The / Germany, Japan, New Zealand, UKUSA / 13 points / Peter Hyams
10. Jack Frost / USA / 9 points / Michael Cooney


Others receiving votes:

- Alien Resurrection / USA / Jean-Pierre Jeunet
- Anaconda / Brazil, Peru, USA / Luis Llosa
- Campfire Tales / USA / Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert and David Semel
- Creeps, The / USA / Charles Band
- I Know What You Did Last Summer / USA / Jim Gillespie
- Intensity / USA [TV] / Yves Simoneau
- Kichiku dai enkai (Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts) / Japan / Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
- Les deux orphelines vampires (Two Orphan Vampires) / France / Jean Rollin
- Nejasná zpráva o konci sveta (An Ambiguous Report About the End of the World) / Czech Republic, Slovakia / Juraj Jakubisko
- Night of the Demons III (Demon House) / Canada, USA / Jim Kaufman
- Nightwatch / USA / Ole Bornedal
- 99.9 / Spain / Agustí Villaronga
- Perdida Durango (Dance with the Devil) / Mexico, Spain, USA / Álex de la Iglesia
- Premutos - Der gefallene Engel (Premutos - Lord of the Living Dead) / Germany / Olaf Ittenbach
- Scream 2 / USA / Wes Craven
- Snow White: A Tale of Terror / USA / Michael Cohn
- Spawn / USA / Mark A.Z. Dippé
- Ugly, The / New Zealand / Scott Reynolds
- Under Wraps / USA / Greg Beeman
- Vampire Journals / Romania, USA / Ted Nicolaou

Links here will be connected when the time comes.

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Il boia scarlatto (1965)

... aka: Bloody Pit of Horror
... aka: Crimson Executioner, The
... aka: El verdugo escarlatto (The Scarlet Executioner)
... aka: Il castello di Artena (The Castle of Artena)
... aka: Io... il marchese de sade (I... the Marquis de Sade)
... aka: Red Hangman, The
... aka: Scarletto - Schloß des Blutes (Scarletto - Castle of Blood)
... aka: Tale of Torture, A
... aka: Torturbødlen (Torture Executioner)
... aka: Virgins for the Hangman
... aka: Vierges pour le bourreau (Virgin to the Executioner)

Directed by:
"Max Hunter" (Massimo Pupillo)

'Bout time I got a review for this one up, eh? *hangs head in shame* Filmed as Il boia scarlatto ("The Crimson Executioner") and known by a whole host of different titles depending on the country, this boasts of being filmed in "Psychovision" and mixes up Gothic horror, fetishistic torture and scantily-clad girls (and a guy) in a way that was considered extremely trashy in 1965. While the opening credits claim it was "Based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade" it's really not aside from having some Sadean themes that were already common and somewhat generic in this genre without the de Sade name-dropping. Things open with a brief prologue set in 1649. The musclebound, hooded "Crimson Executioner," who gets his jollies kidnapping, torturing and killing innocent people, is sentenced to death by means of one of his favorite torture devices; a iron maiden with long, sharp knife blades inside its doors. Before dying, the Executioner vows "I shall have my revenge!" A seal is then melted over the lock to entomb both his body and his evil soul. His mountaintop castle, a shrine to his barbarism and cruelty, is then locked up and forgotten for many years.

Centuries later, pulp horror publisher Max Parks ("Alfred Rice" / Alfredo Rizzo), who's scouting around Italy looking for a suitable castle to shoot book jacket art at, stumbles upon the Crimson Executioner's former pad and realizes it's perfect for his needs. After no one answers the front door, he, his crew and a handful of cover girl (and guy) models decide to sneak in. They soon meet the castle's unfriendly current owner, Travis Anderson (Mickey Hargitay), who promptly tells them to shove off. That is, until he sees one of the ladies - costume girl Edith ("Louise Barrett" / Luisa Baratto) - and realizes she looks a lot like a girl he was once engaged to... because she is the girl he was once engaged to. Caught up in a moment of weakness for his former flame, Travis agrees to let the crew spend the night and shoot pictures in a few of the chambers but informs them that his dungeon is strictly off limits. Of course, a couple of the male models - Perry ("Nick Angel" / Nando Angelini) and Raoul (Albert Gordon) - are down there just minutes later and accidentally knock over an axe that manages to slice the seal off of the Executioner's coffin.

The crew, also including frustrated reporter-turned-novelist Rick (Walter "Brandt" / Brandi), photographer Dermott (Ralph Zucker, also one of the producers) and a quartet of models; dumb blonde Nancy (Rita Klein), snobby Annie (Femi "Martin" / Benussi), Perry's girlfriend Kinojo (Moa Tahi) and Suzy (Barbara "Nelly" / Nelli), who can't seem to keep Raoul off her tail, begin a late night of photo shoots that's interrupted only briefly when Perry is "accidentally" killed after one of the props falls on and impales him. Parks offers the ladies three times their normal salary to stick around and finish, so that takes care of that. Not long after, Raoul and Suzy sneak down into the dungeon again and encounter the Executioner, who promptly snaps Raoul's back with a bear hug and then has Suzy take his place inside the iron maiden. Many more will die, thankfully in much more imaginative and entertaining ways.

There are lots of shots of the girls in bras and panties and loose-fitting tops showing off their bare backs and shoulders as they change, but the only full chest shot you'll be getting here is of Hargitay, in a hilariously camp role as a former muscleman actor turned deranged egotist who now lives by the Executioner's nihilistic philosophy. The very tan former Mr. America / Mr. Jayne Mansfield gets to strut around shirtless and in red tights or wearing a purple and pink silk floral robe (!) while gritting his teeth, laughing maniacally and spouting various nonsense. During one scene he proclaims "Mankind is made up of inferior creatures... who would have corrupted the harmony of my perfect body!" and then drops his robe and starts rubbing oil all over his chest. Hilarious! Hargitay would later lend his "talents" to other Italian sleaze-horror flicks like Lady Frankenstein (1971), Delirium (1972) and The Reincarnation of Isabel (1972) but surely this here is the over-the-top role he'll forever be best-known for.

The various torture devices and death traps the psycho puts the characters in have a decidedly kinky slant to them that I can only describe as being "bondage-y." Bondage-y? Yes, bondage-y... because sometimes I cannot corrupt my perfect harmony long enough to stop writing and consult a thesaurus. There's a ridiculous booby trap where one of the ladies is tied up to a web, with a giant mechanical spider headed toward her and dozens of wires attached to bows that will shoot off arrows whenever they're triggered. Travis ties two women to a spinning contraption that slices up their breasts with a blade and then ties Rick to a dead body on a bed with a canopy of nails slowly lowering down on him. There's also torture with ice cold water and hot tar, a stretching out on the rack, a hanging, a guy put in a steel cage and burned alive, a chain whipping, a strangulation, an arrow through the chest, a poison doll called "The Lover of Death" and much more.

While this is far from a good movie (the acting, English dubbing and dialogue are awful and it can't even seem to decide whether the killer is possessed, insane or a combination of both), there's enough action, torture and unintentional laughs to make the whole thing extremely entertaining. The final 20 minutes are especially fun and lively. Therefore this mash-up of the good and the terrible ends up being one of those rare films that almost defies a rating on my star scale. There's ample reason to give it both a low and a high score, so I'm going right down the middle with a side of SBIG.

Pupillo also made TERROR-CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE starring Barbara Steele, Brandi and Rizzo and the very rare THE VENDETTA OF LADY MORGAN starring Nelli, Paul Muller, Erika Blanc and Gordon Mitchell. All three are Gothic horrors made the same year for the same production company. Pit and Terror-Creatures played on a double bill here in the U.S. with the tagline "2 bone-chilling shockers of unbelievable horror!" Both also joined 1968's The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood (a lousy British monster movie starring Peter Cushing best known as THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR) and Curse of the Blood Ghouls (an Italian vampire movie best known now as Slaughter of the Vampires) for a quadruple feature. They got even more mileage out of Pit later on when it was put on the bottom half of yet another double feature with Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (1968) headlining.

Now in the public domain, this is extremely easy to find, either cheaply on DVD or for free on the internet. However, most of the public domain prints are in terrible shape and completely washed out. Your best bet is to go for the Something Weird / Image "special edition" DVD, which is a nice widescreen print boasting very vibrant Eastmancolor photography completely lost in most of the other versions. The release also comes with some additional bonus footage from the longer A Tale of Torture version.

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