Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A.A.A. Massaggiatrice bella presenza offresi... (1972)

... aka: A.A.A. Masseuse, Good-Looking, Offers Her Services
... aka: Caresses à domicile (Caresses at Home)

Directed by:
Demofilo Fidani

Teenager Cristina Graziani (redhead Paola Senatore, in her first major role) has had it with living at home and makes arrangements to live elsewhere with a friend. Her mother (Yvonne Sanson) isn't too happy about it but she's resigned herself to the inevitable. The major problem is that her overworked father Enrico (“Hunt Powers” / Jack Betts) is a controlling, neurotic asshole who's constantly complaining and stressed about money. He's also spoiled Cristina by essentially giving her everything she wanted, whether that be fur coats, a new car or luxurious holidays to other countries. Cristina decides to avoid the drama and not to tell pops before splitting; leaving that unpleasant task to her poor mama. Cristina's new roommate is Paola (“Simone Blondell” / Simonetta Vitelli, real-life daughter of the director), who's currently a window dresser but working toward a better job in the art department. Now Cristina herself needs a job. And fast.

Enrico worries his little girl will pose for nude photographs to get by but Cristina manages to exceed his expectations by placing an ad in the paper claiming to be an “expert masseuse” which is code word for high-priced call girl. She tells everyone else she works in “public relations.” When she arrives to see her very first client (muscleman Armando Bottin) she strips off her clothes only to discover he's looking for an actual masseuse for his elderly mother. Oops. Thankfully, the rest of her clients know what they're getting themselves into. Her next client (Giancarlo Prete) informs her “you weren't that great” after sex, but promises to teach her to be better before stiffing her by giving her a box of soap in lieu of full pay. Cristina then meets the shady Oskar (Howard Ross), who knows she's a beginner and promises to be her “business administrator.” That's code word for pimp. He promises to set her up with only the wealthiest clients for a 50/50 split in profits.

Cristina's first hook-up through Oskar is Professor D'Angelo (Franco Ressel), a New Age type who doesn't even want sex. He just wants to dance with her and give her a bubble bath. After Cristina leaves someone wearing the most cliché disguise imaginable (trench coat, gloves, bowler hat) sneaks into his apartment and murders him with a straight razor. Investigators on the case led by Ettore Manni decide to use his contact book to search for possible suspects. Her second client, insurance agent Santino (Carlo Gentili), gets his throat slashed with a razor after he asks Cristina to model shoes for him. The list of possible suspects is pretty much the entire rest of the cast.

We have Paola, who's pissed her sleaze bag boyfriend Franco (Jerry Colman) keeps coming on to Cristina, even going so far as to try to blackmail her for sex. Worried about his reputation once word starts getting around, Cristina's father shows up in hysterics and slaps her in the face when she refuses to come back home with him. Cristina also still kinda has a nice guy boyfriend, Marco (Raffaele Curi), whom she chastises for not making love to her satisfaction. Oskar ends up fitting the pimp label all too well with his major gambling problem and increasingly abusive behavior toward Cristina. He also plans to put her to work more so they can make enough money to get out of town before the police link them with the murders. That doesn't end up working out when another of her clients, engineer Favretto (Mario Valdemarin), turns up dead and both Cristina and Oskar are hauled into the police station for questioning.

This is an average, forgettable and overly talky, though watchable and competent, giallo with tame murders, unlikable characters and loads of T&A shots of the lead actress (plus more from some uncredited blonde). Usually in these movies the culprit is one of the peripheral, underwritten side characters who isn't given a whole lot of screen time; one the filmmakers hope you forget is even in the movie until the end. This one at least doesn't use that particular cop out. It's surprisingly coherent as far as these things go. The best part for me didn't even come until the movie was over and that's the great end theme song called “Circus Mind” by Mack Sigis Porter, who sounds a lot like Jimi Hendrix. I liked this enough to try to find it for my music collection but the damn thing is impossible to find. It's also not on the film's soundtrack album, which is just Lallo Gori's instrumental score.

Senatore is in her early 20s here but still looks far too old to be playing a teenager. Not to be rude, but if she were to play a more youthful-looking actresses mother I probably wouldn't bat an eye. She just has that 'mature' look about her. Either way, she'd go on to a busy career in Euro exploitation over the next decade in such sleaze "classics" as Salon Kitty (1976), Emanuelle in America (1977) and the cannibal gore-fest Eaten Alive! (1980). In the mid 80s, heroin addiction led her to appear in her first and only hardcore porno movie. Soon after, she was arrested for drug smuggling, spent a year in prison and hasn't been seen since. In thirty years' time, no one has even landed an interview with this woman. I wonder if she's even still alive.

Likely because there are no internationally famous names in the cast, this was never released here in America. It did receive a theatrical release in both France and Italy. The director is best known for his Sartana spaghetti westerns and doesn't appear to have much interest in thrillers seeing how he rushes through the murder sequences and shows little affinity for building suspense.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Don't Panic (1988)

... aka: A Maldição de Ouija (The Ouija Curse)
... aka: Dimensiones ocultas (Hidden Dimensions)
... aka: El secreto de la ouija (The Secret of the Ouija)

Directed by:
Rubén Galindo Jr.

Because of a father who's always away on business, teen Michael Smith (Jon Michael Bischof) has been yanked out of Beverly Hills High and taken down to Mexico City to finish out high school. After his 17th birthday party clears out, his depressed drunk of a mother (Helena Rojo) goes to bed and six of his friends pop out with a surprise b-day present: his very own Ouija board! And it's the same Parker Brothers Ouija board pretty much everyone had back then. Though Michael's more interested in the unibrow charms of sweet new girl in school Alexandra (Gabriela Hassel), he's eventually talked into messing around with the board by his obnoxious best friend Tony (Juan Ignacio Aranda). They ask it a few basic questions and then Tony, who's really into occult stuff, decides to summon a spirit called Virgil, which may or may not be Satan himself. We all know that's gonna spell trouble. But first! The most cliché 80s love montage imaginable that includes balloons, bike rides, pictures in the park, sitting by a lake throwing bread to ducks, feeding each other ice cream and sunset canoe rides. All that's missing is a shot of him giving her a rose as she blushes. Oh wait...

Michael goes to visit Tony, who takes a break from puking to give him a “magic rose” that supposedly will stay fresh and beautiful as long as the love between him and Alexandra is pure. It's enough to get Alex to sacrifice her virginity to him but otherwise things are anything but rosy. Michael begins suffering from terrible headaches, nightmares, blurry visions of things like a bloody hand bursting out of his ceiling and then begins sensing an evil presence is around. His eyes sometimes turn red and then he starts hallucinating a face emerging from a TV set, a girl in his classroom gushing blood and a teacher warning him that he needs to take one of his friends, Cristy Higgins (Melinda McCallum), out of the city before midnight or else she'll die.

After learning from a news broadcast that two of his other friends who messed with the Ouija have been mysterious murdered, Michael rushes to the hospital but is too late to save Cristy, who get stabbed to death with a large sword. He does however succeed in making himself a suspect in her death and making people think he's gone crazy. Michael goes home in hysterics and finds that his mother doesn't believe his story. Instead, she calls a doctor, who comes over and sedates him. Michael's estranged father Fred (Eduardo Noriega) comes back and gets into a huge fight with the mom. While that's going on, Cristy's foul-mouthed brother John (Roberto Palazuelos), who's been bullying Michael in school, sneaks in and kidnaps him. He takes him out in the woods and threatens to shoot him unless he tells him what happened to his sister.

As expected, the night of Ouija birthday fun had left Tony open to possession and now his body's been taken over by Virgil. Tony's spirit however has its own life and sometimes shows up to give Michael advice a la An American Werewolf in London. So what does Virgil want to accomplish? Well, other than killing off everyone who played with the Ouija, hell if I know.

This has clearly been heavily “inspired” by the Nightmare on Elm Street series, from the hallucinations / nightmares to the drunk mother to the “don't make me sleep” scene to the facially-scarred killer having a deep, Freddy-like voice and making dumb wisecracks. The end even takes place inside a dark warehouse / boiler room. What this lacks in creativity it hardly makes up for in other areas as the plotting, dialogue and most of the acting / dubbing is downright terrible. I couldn't even tell what language this was shot in as some of the actors appear to be speaking their lines in English while others don't. Screaming Mad George was imported in to do the special effects and, while he does a typically solid job, the kills themselves (all stabbings and throat slashings) are unimaginative. The man does use a hilarious amount of blood at times, though!

What may save this for certain viewers is the generous amount of 80s cheese on display. The funniest part for me was that our hero runs around wearing dinosaur pajamas (I thought he was seventeen... not seven!) half the time. Like with Dream Warriors, this also has its own title theme song, which is performed by the lead actor (who also wrote it) and is pretty catchy if you're a fan of music from this time. The director also makes sure to plug his previous, and much better, CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985); clips of which are seen multiple times playing on TV sets. The cast also includes Jorge Luke (TREASURE OF THE AMAZON) as a police lieutenant looking into matters, Edna Bolkan (GRAVE ROBBERS) as a teacher and Raúl Araiza. The copyright date in the credits is 1987.

There's some confusion and misprinted information about the home video releases for this one so hopefully I can clear that up right now. Mogul released a video titled Don't Panic here in America (above, top) in 1987, but it wasn't this Don't Panic. Instead, that was their new title for Carlos Puerto's trashy Satanism flick Escalofrio (1978), which is better known now as Satan's Blood. However, in the UK, another company called Colourbox used the same exact cover art and tag line (above, bottom) Mogul used for Escalofrio for their release of *this* Don't Panic. Several other countries (including the Netherlands) did the same. Though an English language version was always available (this appears to have been at least partially shot in English), I'm not quite sure if there even was an official U.S. release until the 2008 DVD from BCI / Eclipse.

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