Justine Marat

Save the Last Bite For Me - Count Dracula (1970)

Severin Films has recently released a blu-ray of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula that is fully restored, uncut, and remastered in high definition. Along with a couple of worthwhile bonus features, this disc is probably the definitive version you will want to purchase of this film.  You even get the much censored baby stealing scene from a 16mm print lent to Severin from Cinefear.
Firstly, let’s look at the film itself. While attaining to adhere closely to Bram Stoker’s actual novel, it succeeds on many levels but fails on others. It does follow Bram Stoker’s storyline pretty faithfully without too many digressions. One of the attributes this version is credited with is that it is the first film version where Dracula starts out older and gets younger as he drinks more blood. Christopher Lee once again plays Dracula, but this definitely isn’t the Hammer bloodsucker we all know and love. In fact, this Dracula has quite a different feel from all the other versions. 
This movie is good enough and has so much potential that you wish it could have been better. It has all the ingredients to being the ultimate Dracula movie but it falls a little short unfortunately and I’m not quite sure why. The personnel seems ideal, Jess Franco at the helm, Christopher Lee as the titular evil one, the elegant and steely-eyed Herbert Lom as Lee’s quintessential nemesis Van Helsing, Klaus Kinski as Dracula’s crazed servant Renfield, and Fred Williams, Soledad Miranda, Paul Muller, Maria Rohm, and Jack Taylor rounding out the impressive cast. So what prevents this film from being a classic? Let’s do some exploring and see if we can find the answer.

Please excuse the mess, my cleaning lady is on vacation.
There were money issues which prevented Jess Franco from getting the budget he should have gotten to maintain high production values. But yet there are so many films with low budgets that still surpass their limitations and are amazing. So the budget issue doesn’t explain the problem either.

There are many points in the film where there is a lull. I don’t know if this is a problem with the direction or some other issue. Maybe the film needed more confrontations between Dracula and Van Helsing? The paltry scenes we do get of the two foes lack immediacy and intensity. Supposedly, Lee and Lom were never on set together, all their joint scenes were shot separately. So maybe this explains the anti-climactic feeling when the two face-off.

I've got first dibs on him.
But don’t let these misgivings prevent you from viewing and enjoying this film. There is much to relish, including fine performances from most of the cast, atmospheric sets, and enough interesting things going on to keep viewers entertained. In spite of my previous criticisms, I still consider this one of my top ten Dracula films, and certainly far better than Francis Ford Coppola’s over expensive bore fest.

Bruno Nicolai, composer of many gialli and spaghetti western scores, does a beautiful job with the score, ominous and haunting, memorable yet never redundant. Nicholai deserves more credit than he gets, his music for such films as The Mercenary, The Bloody Judge, Adios Sabata, and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, is very atmospheric and provides the perfect moods for those films. Because the soundtrack is so good and Nicholai is certainly a maestro, I was surprised that there weren’t any extras focusing on him, and there's very little mention of him in the extras on this disc.

Is that a stake I see before me?
And speaking of extras, here's the breakdown of goodies: an audio commentary with David Del Valle and Maria Rohm, The Beloved Count which is an interview with Jess Franco, A Conversation with Jack Taylor, Handsome Harker where Fred Williams is interviewed, an audio of Christopher Lee reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Stake Holders – An Appreciation of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula by Christophe Gans, a German trailer, and the rare Cuadecuc Vampir – Pere Portabella’s Expressionistic Behind-The-Scenes Feature.  A nice package indeed!

Reviewed by Justine Marat 


Beauty Killed the Beast - Beauty and the Beast (Panna a Netvor) (1978)

This Czech film, directed by Juraj Herzis, is probably the best version of the French fairy tale, even outshining the classic 1946 French version, La Belle et la Bete, directed by Jean Cocteau  with Jean Marais as the Beast.  Don't misunderstand me, Cocteau's adaptation was outstanding but there is something about the Czech version that really captured the spirit of the story.  I recently viewed the Faerie Tale Theatre's version with Klaus Kinski as the Beast (who you would think would be ideal as the Beast!) but it just doesn't hold a candle to the Czech one.  Kinski is good as the Beast but I just couldn't buy him as a handsome young prince at the end of the story.  He actually looked quite ridiculous after the transformation with his frilly suit, freshly blown out hair, and plenty of makeup to hide the fact that the young prince is actually 58 years old!  I thought he looked better as the Beast (I'm sure some of his lovers thought he was a real beast!)

What a lovely throat you have my dear.
Anyway, I digress.  Panna a Netvor had many nice moments.  Firstly, it captured that fairly tale feel of enchantment and wonder, while simultaneously exuding menace and malevolence.  At times it was reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera where yes, the phantom loves Christine and seems quite cultured and debonair, but he is also capable of cruelty and wickedness.  The Beast in this version can also be a sick bastard as he slaughters and devours a group of travelers.  He offers hospitality to Beauty's father but when he plucks a rose to bring back to his daughter, the Beast goes on a rampage and demands the father's life to compensate for the flower.  The Beast allows the father to see his family one last time but Beauty decides that she'll go to the Beast so that her father will be saved. And so begins our love story involving a lovely lady and a hideous monster who really has a sensitive side buried underneath his ferocious exterior.

Experience art.
The set and costume design for this film are spectacular and well thought out.  The Beast's castle is a mass of Gothic ruins enveloped in wisps of perpetual fog.  Eerie, surrealist sculptures and  paintings adorn this chamber of horrors.  Hiding among these strange antiquities are evil little imps, little scumbag creatures that like to create mischief and encourage the Beast to do bad deeds.  And speaking of the Beast, this isn't the well groomed creature with the exquisite lace laden suit fitting for a prince.  Instead, this Beast is a bedraggled half bird, half beast, half man fusion who looks something the cat dragged in (very much like our own Larry Koster).  In Cocteau's  La Belle et la Bete, the Beast with his lion head and beautiful finery looks very regal and really isn't that menacing. At no point do we ever feel that Beauty's life is threatened by this creature.  But in Panna a Netvor, the Beast is clearly tormented, he can't decide if he would rather romance Beauty or rip her throat out. There are several moments where he is very close to killing beauty (egged on by the little scumbags), his inner turmoil is quite visible.
Little scumbag waits to cause mischief.
There are other monsters besides the Beast and his scumbag friends.  Beauty's two sisters are more vile and greedy than even our presidential candidates.  No wonder Beauty rather stay with the Beast than be home with those two witches.  It's interesting how so many fairy tales portray family members as loathsome creatures, I'm sure many people can relate.

So if you like the Beauty and the Beast tale, quirky romances, or just want something good to watch, I highly recommend this unsung film.


 Reviewed by Justine Marat

Don't Call Me Waldemar - El Ultimo Kamikaze (1984)

Paul Naschy just isn't about werewolves, though he makes a damn good one.  The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) is one of my favorite films in that genre, even after seeing it multiple times I never tire of it.  Its remake, Night of the Werewolf aka The Craving (1981), is also exceptional, just as enjoyable as the original and the DVD has such lush and ardent colors that it makes the picture look like 3-D.  In fact, I would have to admit that Naschy is my favorite wolfman of all time.  Brutal and vicious one minute, yet capable of genuine tenderness and sensitivity the next.  Sort of like our very own Larry Koster (just teasing!).  Most of his wolfman films are excellent, there are a few clunkers but even they are watchable.  Even though Naschy made a name for himself in these werewolf movies, his filmography is comprised of so much more.  This man was so versatile it's not even funny.  He covered everything from giallo/mystery (Seven Murders for Scotland Yard and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll) to Eurocrime where he's a sleazy drug dealer (Disco Rojo) to witch hunting (Devil's Possessed) to zombies (People Who Own the Dark) to a children's film (My Friend the Vagabond).

In El Ultimo Kamikaze, Naschy plays a hired assassin who doesn't mess around.  Not only is Naschy one of the main actors, he also directed and wrote the screenplay for this film.  It's kind of an odd film, we don't know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, or what either side is fighting for or why.  The Naschy character, Sergio "El Kamikaze," seems pretty bad ass but his opposition won't win any good citizen awards either.  Ideologies, nationalities, none of that seems to matter.  The only goal both sides strive for is to eliminate each other as much as humanly (inhumanly?) possible.
Make my payday.

Naschy plays a real oddball in this one.  He lives a couple of different lives, is involved with a few women, has weird dreams/visions of Nazis, creates art, brutally murders people, he's just an ordinary guy, NOT!  He's really not too sympathetic in this film, there are points when he's gentle and kind to his women, but aside from those moments he's not someone you would want to have at a party.

While not my favorite Naschy movie, it is quite enjoyable.  If you like slaughterfests that aren't ridiculously graphic, this will be right up your alley.  The assassinations are over the top, rollicking good fun.  Naschy shows a decent range of emotions as we see him as a devoted lover, brutal, emotionless killer, and tortured artist.  After you have seen all of Naschy's wolfman movies, check out the monster he portrays in this one, it'll make his werewolf look like Lassie.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Buried Treasure - Awkward Hands aka Manos Torpes (1970)

I have been thinking about what film to review next when this gem showed up like a St. Bernard with a little barrel of whiskey in a blizzard.  I had heard good things about Awkward Hands (my favorite alternate title for this is When Satan Grips the Colt), but I didn't expert to see what transpired on my TV.  This is truly an unsung jewel in the spaghetti western genre.  Why this isn't talked about more is beyond me.  I would rank this in my top 15 spaghettis of all time, and believe me, I have seen more of these movies than you can shake a cactus at.

What makes this one so darn good?  First of all, the story is quite cohesive and makes sense (for the most part).  With some of these flicks, there are five writers who can't put together a decent storyline for a hill of beans.  The character development is pretty good and the narrative is extremely engaging.  As the film was heading towards the finale, I was actually sweating due to the incredible buildup of tension.

Peter Lee Lawrence (in one of his best roles) plays the role of Peter, the wet behind the ears ranch-hand who has fallen in love with the ranch owner's daughter.  As you can imagine, Mr. Warren (played by Antonio Casas who was in the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) isn't too pleased that his daughter is messing around with the hired help.  This vile, despicable opportunist would rather pimp his little girl to Johnny (played with wicked relish by Manuel de Blas) in order to get into his good graces and continue getting the water that Johnny has control over.  If spoiled Johnny doesn't get his own way, he can prevent Warren's ranch from getting water.  I don't want to give away too much of the plot but you can guess that Warren doesn't make life too pleasant for Peter, including giving him an extremely painful whipping (this scene is truly agonizing as you can feel the lashes) as a sendoff.  But you all know that it doesn't end this way.  Peter gets thrown out of town with his tail between his legs but though he leaves as a boy, he returns a MAN!  Time to kick some serious butt (oh how I love these type of westerns!).  Revenge is sweet....

The cast is excellent, everyone does a fantastic job.  Peter Lee Lawrence does a superb job of progressing from a naive non-violent boy to a world weary man who desires revenge.  Manuel de Blas is perfect as the slimy, lecherous Johnny.  You might remember him as Count Janos de Mialhoff from Assignment Terror, a fun monsterfest with Paul Naschy and Michael Rennie from 1970.  Pilar Velazquez is perfectly cast as Peter's girlfriend Dorothy who starts off as a sweet young maiden and ends up a _____, sorry I can't tell you!  And finally, I must talk about the talented Alberto de Mendoza who plays the role of Latimore, the enigmatic bounty hunter who helps Peter.  Mendoza is a wonderful actor who was in such films as a Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Psychout for Murder, and Open Season.  But his absolute tour de force was playing the Rasputin like character Father Pujardov in Horror Express (one of my favorite horror films). If you haven't seen this one, stop whatever you are doing and do so immediately.  I mean it, don't disobey Justine or she might just have to get rough with you. 

Anyway, Awkward Hands is a near perfect western that should be seen by all fans of the genre (and others as well).  Kudos to the director, Rafael Romero Marchent, and all others involved with this production.  This memorable western is just a slight notch below a Leone, add it to your collection, you won't be disappointed. 


Dr. Lao?  No, it's Peter's spiritual and weapons guru.

 Reviewed by Justine Marat 

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Seven Times the Fun! Seven (1979)

In the last review, I covered the Magnificent Seven wannabe Seven Guns For Timothy.  In keeping with the "seven" theme, today I'm going to discuss the phenomenal Andy Sidaris film Seven.  This movie is surprisingly entertaining from start to finish.  No, it's not Shakespeare nor will it change the world, but it's something where you sit in your comfy chair, put your feet up and just get ready for a really fun ride.  In a crappy mood, no problem.  Just put this film on and you'll be feeling great in no time.

Here's the premise, seven mean as hell gangsters decide that Hawaii is theirs for the taking and will be used to increase their bank accounts.  They set up several illegal businesses such as prostitution, drug dealing, and anything else guaranteed to bring in mega cash.  They also slaughter anyone who gets in their way, including a senator (played by Terry Kiser) and his assistant.  These thugs are so despicable that just thinking about how they will receive their comeuppance (and you know they will) brings enormous delight.

While the slime buckets are having their way with Hawaii, a government agent hires mercenary Drew Savano (played by William Smith) to round up a crew to take back the Aloha state (aloha to the baddies that is).  At first glance, the friends Drew recruits for the mission don't seem like much, but they each have unique talents that will do in the particular baddie they are assigned to eliminate.  The film really kicks into high gear when Drew's crew begin enacting their plans and the criminals start falling like dominoes.

Hawaii's Heroes
What really makes this movie fun are the talented character actors, they bring lots of personality to their roles.  They especially shine during the one-on-one individual match-ups when the heroes confront the villains.  Reggie Nalder (Mark of the Devil) is outstanding as a slimy sex pervert, his battle with Alexa (played by Barbara Leigh) is quite nauseating (especially for us females) but ultimately satisfying.  Martin Kove (Last House on the Left, Cagney & Lacey) is another standout as a heartless killer who meets his match with a comic who tells the worst jokes (he could bore people to death with his routines alone!).  The showdown between the so called martial arts expert (who is as out of shape as Larry Koster) and the criminal kung fu master is a scream, I was in tears. What's interesting is that the creeps don't get wiped out all the same way, each set up is quite unique.  Also, not all the good guys escape unscathed.

Also of note is America's national treasure, the incomparable William Smith.  This multi-talented
Will Smith carries a large gun.
actor who has both brain and brawn, has film credits going back to the 1940s.  Coming from sturdy stock (he and his family lived in Missouri during the Dust Bowl years), Mr. Smith just about did it all, including having served in the Air Force during the Korean War, graduated with honors from UCLA, and then racked up over 300 TV and film credits covering such genres as horror, sci-fi, westerns, and of course his especially memorable biker roles.  In this film, he is the glue that holds everything together.  He's the sun that the other characters obit around, he's got that much of a presence.

Now here's the worst crime, this amazing film has not been released to DVD!  While the majority of this director's movies have been released on DVD, check out Girls, Guns and G-Strings: The Andy Sidaris Collection, for some strange reason his earlier films (and in my opinion, his best work) like Stacey and Seven have not had official DVD releases.  Seven was released on VHS uncut but the quality isn't so hot.  It was shown on the MGM HD channel in beautiful quality but for some stupid reason it was butchered.  Almost 12 minutes was missing, they trimmed down much of the nudity/sexual situations and the violence (all the fun parts).  But most shockingly, they left off the ending!  How could they eliminate an essential part of the film like that?  Censorship at its worst, sad but true.  But Justine Marat, being the movie completist that she is, tracked down a composite print that is comprised of the beautiful HD print but has the missing footage from the VHS version inserted back where it belongsSo until there is an official complete DVD release, this is the best copy available.  Of course, Cinefear can supply this ultra rare version to fans.  Definitely check out this flick, it's a gem.


Reviewed by Justine Marat

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Sean Flynn Double Feature Part 2 - Seven Guns for Timothy

Wrapping up our Sean Flynn double feature is the Italian/Spanish western entitled Seven Guns for Timothy aka Seven Magnificent Guns (1966), directed by Romolo Guerrieri, who helmed such fare as Johnny Yuma, The Sweet Body of Deborah, and The Final Executioner.  While these three films all kicked ass, Seven Guns for Timothy finds itself falling short.  The whimsical opening credits, though cute, herald the lightweight nature of this movie.

Obviously inspired by the far superior Magnificent Seven, which in itself is a takeoff of the real masterpiece, The Seven Samurai, this flick has Sean Flynn in the role of Timothy Benson, a milquetoast lawyer who has inherited a gold mine from his uncle.  Unfortunately, Sancho Rodrigo Rodriguez (played by the consistently amazing Fernando Sancho) has designs on the mine and doesn't plan on allowing anyone getting in the way.  Sancho and his men slaughter all the mine workers save for the foreman, Corky, who is left alive for the sole reason of reporting back to Timothy what went down and what will happen to him if he doesn't hand over the mine.  Luckily for Timothy, Corky (played by Poldo Bendandi who was in Duck, You Sucker) decides to recruit some bad asses to defend the mine.

I have to admit that this film just didn't do it for me.  The saving grace is Fernando Sancho who steals every scene that he's in, he's the focal point of this entire film.  Sean Flynn just doesn't match up to Sancho in terms of acting chops or charisma.  I'm seen mannequins with more vibrancy than Flynn had in this film.  He was annoying as a wimp, and after he got his manhood/survival skills training from his protectors, one still got the feeling that he couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag.  Whenever Flynn was on the screen, I kept longing for Sancho's return.  I was in stitches every time Sancho shouted "caramba!"  He was truly a gem, villain or hero, he always brought an enormous presence to every role he played.

My other criticism is that the so called heroes were just not that magnificent.  They didn't appear to do that much or perform any amazing feats.  They mostly goofed around and drank booze.  The only memorable character out of that bunch was some fat guy who guzzled down pitchers of beer,  he wasn't very different from our very own Larry Koster.  Otherwise I couldn't tell you much else about the other ones, they were that forgettable.
So while this is not an essential western, check it out for Fernando Sancho's performance, this man cannot do any wrong.  If you want a better Sean Flynn role, stick with Duel at the Rio Grande, he's so much more likable.  In this film, you just want Sancho to tie him to a mule and have it run around Mexico until he shakes off that wooden acting.  Seriously, while not a good actor, Sean Flynn was an excellent photo-journalist whose life was horribly cut short by thugs.  May he rest in peace.

Next time, we'll be reviewing another film with "seven" in the title, the surprisingly excellent Andy Sidaris film Seven (1979) starring William Smith.   Now this film is truly a smoker!


Reviewed by Justine Marat 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Sean Flynn Double Feature - First Up - Duel at the Rio Grande

Before you ask who is Sean Flynn, think Errol.  Sean was the son of one of the best action/swashbuckling actors of the 1930s to 1950s.  Seeing Errol in those green tights easily made The Adventures of Robin Hood one of my favorite movies when I was a young lass.  Sean, who inherited the good looks of his father, unfortunately didn't measure up to dear old dad in the acting department.  Sean made only a handful of films before becoming disinterested with the industry and eventually became a photographer-correspondent.  While covering the Vietnam War, Sean and a colleague disappeared in Cambodia in early April 1970.  It is assumed that they were executed by the Khmer Rouge.

After appearing in The Son of Captain Blood (a sequel to dad's Captain Blood), Sean starred in Duel at the Rio Grande aka Il Segno di Zorro (1963).  Directed by Mario Caiano (Nazi Love Camp 27), this Spanish-French-Italian co-production is supposed to be a take-off on Zorro.  Other than a brief scene of Flynn with a blindfold type of thing covering his face and a seemingly suddenly out of nowhere shot of the letter "Z" drawn, this film didn't have any other Zorro connections.  Sure, it has the basic plot of a young man who fights corruption and evil government officials, but unlike in the true Zorro movies where the hero dons a mask with his true identity unknown, Flynn's character doesn't do too much to hide the fact that he's a rebel and wants to kick the asses of the baddies.

Flynn's character, Don Ramón Martínez y Rayol (try saying that 5 times), is the son of a Basque noblewoman who finds out that his long lost father is living in Mexico and is requesting his son's help due to some sort of trouble.  Flynn goes to Mexico to find his father dead and lots of uncooperative people who appear to know more than they profess.  Also, there to greet young Flynn is the corrupt and greedy Governor Gutierrez who imposes unbearably high taxes on the common people.  You can bet your bottom dollar that Flynn will avenge his father's death and bring salvation to the oppressed.

Sean Flynn undertakes the sword fights very well, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in that department.   He's very agile, his thin limber body allows him to jump and swing all over the place with apparent ease.  His acting does leave something to be desired as he comes across a bit wooden and a bit too goofy at times (especially when he does a Basque yodel which sounds more like a wolf being tortured).  He does come across as very likable in this film, and his striking good looks makes him nice eye candy for us ladies.  As an interesting side note, the actor who plays his sidekick Jose (Mama sends him to watch over her baby) is Folco Lulli who was in the krimi The Murderer with the Silk Scarf and several of the sword and sandal films. He was also the brother of Piero Lulli who had a long and fruitful film career appearing in several pepla and also in spaghetti westerns, including My Name is Nobody, Cjamango, and a few of the Sartanas.

While being no classic, this film was quite enjoyable.   The tone is mostly lighthearted but there are a few brutal sequences that prevents the film from being too whimsical.  The bad guys are appropriately scummy and there's plenty of slaughter and bloodshed.  Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.  If you like Zorro type of flicks with a revenge theme, this will be right up your alley.  Next post will be the second feature, Seven Guns for Timothy.


Reviewed by Justine Marat