Death Laid an Egg
Director: Giulio Questi
Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) run a fully automated chicken farm on the grounds of their luxury villa. With them lives their Barbie-doll gorgeous secretary Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin), who is also Anna’s cousin. Ambitious, icy, tough-as-nails Anna also ‘runs’ Marco and Gabrielle – Marco is treated like a trophy husband by his independently wealthy spouse, and Anna openly admits to him that she’s afraid of her cousin. Gabrielle’s presence has also created a love triangle between the trio – she is secretly having an affair with Marco, who wants to “run away” with her, and it’s implied that Anna has much more than a familial interest in the young woman. Meanwhile, Marco has been taking out his frustrations regarding his marriage out on prostitutes, whom he engages in kinky S & M acts with. Mondaini, a dynamic young advertising executive who’s been hired to promote the farm’s produce, enters the picture. Marco is immediately suspicious of ‘hip’ Mondaini, particularly when he notices he and Gabrielle often involved in hushed meetings. Are the pair an item, or in some sort of cahoots? Strange goings on at the farm are also afoot when a couple of unintended accidents in the science lab create a batch of hideous mutant chickens, devoid of head or wings, but still living. Marco is repulsed and wants the mutations destroyed, but Anna is thrilled as this new breed of ‘Franken-chickens’, with their higher meat content, will guarantee the coop owners a significantly increased profit margins. Will the literally hen-pecked Marco get his way? And is there more than meets the eye to the seemingly ditzy, naive Gabrielle and easygoing Mondaini?
Director: Serge Leroy
An engrossing Eurocrime outing, Le mataf is considerably more understated than its more raucous, brawny Italian poliziotteschi cousins of its day, but still provides 95 minutes of solid entertainment. Rugged Michel Constantin’s super cool, calm and collected gangster carries the show nicely; he is reminiscent of a suave anti-hero from the world of film noir. Georges Geret, Pierre Santini and the treacherous Adolfo Celi all offer good support in emoting the complex, but never confusing, plot. Serge Leroy’s confident direction shines as the action takes place in a range of cosmopolitan and gritty industrial locations, accompanied by a stirring Stelvio Cipriani score. Gripping and tense, Le mataf is an ideal introduction to the significantly undiscovered 1970s French crime genre.
Director: Mario Gariazzo
Marco (Alberto Lupo) is fed up of leading a penniless, luckless life and wants to set up a prosperous future for himself and his new wife Helen (Helene Chanel). He and three war buddies conspire to commit an armed holdup which would net them a small fortune each, however due to Marco’s bumbling the payroll heist goes disastrously wrong and results in the deaths of his friends being shot by guards. Marco escapes with the cash and plans to evade police by fleeing to France, where he will meet Helen at an arranged location. Things go from bad to worse as Marco, after enduring an arduous trek to the French-Italian border, discovers that it has already been heavily reinforced. He steals into a nearby checkpoint office, where an unsealed coffin will soon be delivered to its destination over the border. Marco makes a snap decision to remove the corpse currently awaiting burial and get into the coffin himself, despite all risks. At the end of the excruciatingly tense journey, Marco opens the lid of the casket and finds himself ensconced, to his ultimate horror in THE MORGUE...IN ITALY. He realises he is still in Italy as he is surrounded by the bodies of his friends on the slabs. But why did the coffin end up delivered here? And who is the beautiful but strange, black-caped woman (Linda Christian) who keeps reappearing wherever he goes, and now even in visions, laughing mockingly? But firstly, to try and escape the rapidly approaching frostbite and the securely locked morgue and be reunited with Helen in France. Will a gun, screwdriver, matches and a stack of cash be of any use to our anti-hero?
The Burning Court
Brothers Stephane (Claude Rich) and Marc Desgrez (Jean-Claude Brialy), along with the latter’s wife Lucie, arrive at their uncle Mathias’ (Frederic Duvalles) grand, centuries old chateau to visit and host a ball. The chateau has a dark history. In the 17th century, Marie d’Aubray, the Marquise de Brinvilliers and her two brothers were burnt at the stake for practicing witchcraft. The Marquise’s last words were a curse, put on her lover who betrayed her by informing the authorities, that he and all future generations related to him would be doomed to die horrific, violent deaths. Mathias is a descendant of de Brinvilliers’ lover, and is fascinated with the macabre history of his ancestors. This intrigue has resulted in his collecting of an entire library of books and papers on the subject, as well as on the occult and witchcraft in general. Historian Michel Boissand is also at the chateau, to write an article on the legend of the curse. Accompanying Michel is his wife Marie, who by sheer coincidence is a descendent of the Marquise. Both Stephane and Marc are money-hungry, amoral slimebags, and the underlying reason for their visit is due to their uncle being gravely ill, assuming they will have hit the jackpot once he passes. Lucie is also excited about the prospect of instant wealth. Something that the shrewd Mathis is more than aware of, and he flat out refuses to speak to them. During the night of the ball, the bedridden Mathias passes away. But it transpires that Mathias’ death was not a natural one, when a drinking glass laced with arsenic is found beside him. Even more bizarrely, a maid claims she happened to glance through Mathis’ window on that fateful night, and saw a strange, ghostly looking woman, give the old man the poisoned drink, then vanish through a wall! All matter of accusations began flying between the parties, and in between all the bickering, Mathias’ corpse vanishes from its coffin. Has an elaborate murder plot unfolded, or are there genuine supernatural forces linked to the curse at work?
Based on a novel by John Dickson Carr, The Burning Court is a fine, and for the most parts worthy, movie adaption. Apparently it’s a much more ‘simplified’ version that that of the original source, but there is still plenty for the viewer to take in. Essentially a murder mystery of with splashes of Gothic horror and film noir, The Burning Court’s plot twists and turns and movements of its lively cast take place in an appropriate ‘old dark house’ setting; the illustrious but also foreboding chateau. Interpreting this classic tale of greed and deception are a more than capable cast, particularly Claude Rich and Jean-Claude Brialy as the wonderfully loathsome, obnoxious brothers, and Frederic Duvalles as the eccentric but canny Uncle Mathias. Edith Scob as Marie Boissand has been given little to do, a wasted opportunity as her character has the de Brinvilliers connection. The supernatural/de Brinvilliers subplot adds some fun to the mystery as well as the multiple possibilities as to who or what caused Mathias’ demise. Director Julien Duvivier manages to keep the suspense and intrigue going until the closing frames. At this stage, Duvivier, previously renowned in his field, had fallen out of fashion with highbrow critical circles and viewed as a ‘has-been’.The Burning Court is generally seen as a second–rate work in Duvivier’s filmography, however his cinematic and narrative skills did not desert him with age, as is evident in this classily shot whodunit.
Night of Violence
Carla, a prostitute working for a call-girl ring whose clients are exclusively wealthy men, is strangled to death by an unknown figure (in the classic giallo uniform of trenchcoat and hat) on her way home one night. Franca and Linda, also part of the ring, find themselves terrorised and nearly killed by the maniac, who has a habit of frantically attacking his victims in public, fortunately within the vicinity of strangers who rescue the women in peril just in the nick of time. One witness identifies the killer as a famous actor, Mario Vivaldi However, following a police interrogation, it transpires that Vivaldi has a solid alibi, as he was shooting a film during the time of the assault. The case becomes even more bizarre when two teenagers are the maniac’s next target, and one of the girls recognises him to be another popular celebrity, Sandro Mani. Again it is found that there is no way Mani could have been involved, as he was out of the country at a movie location during the latest attack. The villain is wearing incredibly realistic looking masks, perhaps to disguise his evil deeds, but could there also be another reason? Meanwhile, the detectives investigating have simultaneously uncovered a major drug dealing syndicate operating within the prostitution racket...
An early entry in the Giallo cycle, Night of Violence (aka Call Girls 66) is a simplistic, pedestrian offering in comparison to other titles of the genre. With many underdeveloped plot threads and talky scenes (especially the many interrogation scenes), it’s hardly a rival to, say, Blood and Black Lace. One plus factor is the ‘look’ of the film, which appear to be very much Film Noir influenced, presenting 1960s Rome’s nightlife with a dark, shadowy, smoky appearance commonly found in Noir movies. Still, Night of Violence is one of the rarest, little-known gialli that’s best recommended to obscure film freaks and Italo horror/thriller/mystery completists like myself.
The Vendetta of Lady Morgan
Lady Susan Blackhouse (Barbara Nelli), the wealthiest heiress in 19th Century Scotland, is deeply in love with young architect Pierre Brissac. Unfortunately for Susan, she has been paired off by her well-meaning Uncle Neville to marry an old family friend, the aristocratic but much older and staid Lord Harold Morgan (Paul Muller). Susan has no interest in Harold, and breaks off her engagement with him to be with Pierre. This pivotal decision results in Pierre being thrown overboard by an unseen figure and is assumed dead – however unknown to everyone, he barely survives and is ensconced in a hospital suffering amnesia. Faced with no other choice, an extremely reluctant Susan marries Lord Morgan (thus becoming Lady Morgan). Deeply depressed, she goes away for some time on her own to recover, and upon returning to the family castle, finds Harold has replaced the old servants with a sinister new group of employees, including the brawny, thuggish manservant Roger (Gordon Mitchell), and the eerie, hypnotic Lillian (Erika Blanc). Susan immediately feels unnerved by the new staff and has every reason to – they are in cahoots with Lord Harold to drive her insane, so he can fully obtain her wealth and status. Via an elaborate series of pranks involving disembodied voices, snakes and locked doors, the scheming group aim for the unsuspecting Susan to gradually lose her mind. The plan appears to work and Susan’s deteriorated mental state leads her to fall to her death from the roof. However, the tables are about to turn and the tormentors will become the tormented when the wrathful spirit of Lady Morgan, hell-bent on revenge, vows to make her killers’ lives as much a misery as they did to her. Meanwhile, Pierre’s memory has returned and he rushes back to the castle in the vain hope of reconnecting with his long lost love. Never in his wildest dreams would he expect to be crossing the threshold into a living nightmare of evil ghouls, vampirism, chained up corpses, foggy graveyards and all matter of murder and mayhem!
A lost Italian Gothic sleeper (due to poor overall distribution from the time of its original release), The Vendetta of Lady Morgan is a highly entertaining blend of ghostly chills and period crime thriller. Though the ‘Scottish’ setting in a very Italianate looking castle is not exactly convincing, there is still atmosphere to burn with plenty of the subgenre’s staple trappings of thunderstorms, shadowy hallways, candlelight, mist, betrayal and human and supernatural tragedies. Legendary Jess Franco regular Paul Muller, as the cold, calculating, lizard-like Lord Morgan leads the salacious machinations with panache, while Erika Blanc is in wonderfully creepy yet seductive form in one of her earliest roles. Also worth mention are Gordon Mitchell as the loathsome and smarmy Roger, and Barbara Nelli as the lovely, innocent Lady Susan. If you’re in the mood for some classic overblown Italo-Gothic fun, you can’t go wrong for this near impossible to find - never officially released anywhere on VHS or DVD – bump-in-the-night spookfest.
Director: Jean-Claude Roy
Madame Cloe runs a successful high-class brothel, sending her call-girls on international assignments to tend to well-to-do clients such as diplomats. However, it soon transpired that a black gloved, razor wielding maniac has been murdering Madame’s favourite girls after they have been discovered missing. Inspector Lefin is assigned to investigate the case, and in the course of this undercover work discovers a shady world of espionage and secret dealings with the then U.S.S.R, linking the diplomats, call girl ring and the creepy mustachioed, neck brace wearing killer. Lefin’s uncoverings soon find himself in mortal danger. Who will survive the seedy circus of sex and corruption, and will justice be delivered to the murdered escorts?
A mind-bendingly bizarre hybrid of spy thriller, Gallic giallo and hardcore porn, Brigade Call-Girls certainly wastes no time getting to the ‘porn’ side of things – the viewer is thrown straight into the fucking and sucking before being assaulted being both aurally and visual by tacky disco music and massive red letters flashing the movie title. Yep, subtlety is a dirty word in the universe of the Brigade Call Girls, and that goes for the screenwriters attempting to bother with any sense of mystery as to who the killer is, or the minds behind the espionage plot, - it’s all pointed out to us with the simplicity of a paragraph constructed entirely of words with one syllable. Reminiscent of something from the garish depths of the Eurocine vault, indeed Brigade Call-Girls is filled to the brim with horrendous 1970’s apparel and decor (white fur-covered walls, purple bathrooms and lurid brown and white patterned bedspreads that match with the wallpaper – and even the doors are covered with this visual vomit). Not to mention our hero’s threads - Lefin is decked out in a circulation-cutting beige turtleneck, while his assistant is resplendent in his black and white check-patterned blazer, pink shirt and wide red tie. There’s something for everyone in this INCREDIBLY rare reel of madness – not interested in the porn? You’ve got the plot (as doltish as it is). Not interested in either? Revel in the retina-searing kitschiness. Yet another jaw-dropping find from the folks at Cinefear...
Interwoven with this scenario are a series of documentary-like vignettes, each involving a teenage girl and how - often nightmarish – life circumstances led them to become entrapped in the horrific world of underage prostitution.
Albertina, a prostitute from a poor Catholic family of ten brothers and sisters (do we sense a pattern here?), is arrested and sent to live in a convent. Albertina was originally a nun herself, but turned to a life on the streets after being raped by a male employee. At the convent she meets Laura, whose background is equally tragic. Laura, again from a destitute family from the South, had hoped to attend university. But her thuggish, wife-beating peasant father mocks her ambitions, declaring that “studying is for boys” and that women’s purpose in life is to become housewives and menial factory workers. Still, she tries to study to become a secretary. But things only go from bad to worse for Laura when her mother, the sole breadwinner, becomes ill and Laura can’t afford to complete her course. The first boy she dates is a creep who breaks her heart by just using her for sex, then dumping her soon after. Laura then signs up to a job agency which turns out to be a front for an escort agency. Scarred and repulsed by all men, she becomes a prostitute as her way of getting back at them – she humiliates and rips off her clients. The love-starved Laura falls for Albertina, and the pair abscond from the convent and go on the game together. Laura has finally found some happiness, but one day Albertina unexpectedly leaves her when she goes to live with a wealthy client. The shattered Laura is completely pushed over the edge when she finds her beloved pet dog – now her only friend - killed by the same disgruntled pimps who are chasing the grandmother and her 13-year-old charge, and the defeated girl takes her own life.
Varlin vows to track down his wife and daughter’s killers and tries in vain to assist the generally unsympathetic police investigation, though due to being knocked unconscious his knowledge is sparse. The bikers are tracked down, but to Paul’s horror and frustration are soon let go after an unknown informant provides an alibi for them. In the meantime Paul’s sister-in-law Sarah (Catherine Deneuve) arrives on the scene. Unhappily married and desperate to break free from her dull bourgeois existence, she embarks on an affair with Paul, whom she has always had feelings for. Not only does Sarah act as a support to the broken Paul, she is also a replacement for Helene. The couple embark on their own investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice. While Sarah is transforming herself from refined lady to assertive ball-breaker, Paul is also acting out from the stereotypes of his class and his reserved, polite demeanour is giving away to a short fuse, lashing out at journalists, the bikers at the police station and whoever else gets in his way. He will stop at nothing to avenge his family’s killers and takes the law into his own hands, acquiring a shotgun along the way...
A motorcycle/revenge/drama picture, as well a critique on French middle class values, Act of Aggression is a talky obscurity which focuses more on the mystery and characters of Trintignant and Deneuve (both who deliver fine, typically classy performances) rather than salacious details of the murders and subsequent revenge. However, the ‘talky’ scenes are nicely interspersed with ‘short sharp shock’ stabs of aggression and violence, driving in the subplot of the restrained middle-class descending into ‘uncivilised’ behaviour with subtlety rather than gratuitously. A little slow-moving, but well-shot and solidly acted all around, and still worth a look for fans of ‘revenge’ cinema.
Elena Bardi, a beautiful, independent schoolteacher (Jennifer O’Neill) arrives in a provincial Sicilian town dominated by poverty, old traditions and a medieval peasant-like village mentality. Elena has been assigned a post at the local school, having been transferred eight times previously from other learning institutions due to her being “strong minded”. Predictably, she makes waves literally as soon as she sets foot in the town, with her ‘modern’ style of dress (trousers and blazers), moped and vocal way of dealing with lecherous males propositioning her attracting all amount of stares from bemused townspeople unaccustomed to such a sight. The school’s headmaster immediately disapproves of Elena’s progressive teaching methods and advises her to stick to the ‘traditional’ teaching program. Drawing further attention to the brash young woman is that only a few hours after being harassed by a particularly disreputable local man, he is found murdered, his body tied to a chair and placed on public display in the main piazza. A flower is found stuffed into his mouth – a symbol recognised by onlookers that it is a revenge killing. The police immediately suspect Elena, who they target for her outspokenness and mannerisms, rather than the dubious group of Mafiosi types who intimidatingly lord over the town. Unnerved, Elena confides in her elderly, reclusive landlord, Antonio Bellocampo (James Mason) who takes a shine to her, and soon after to her lover, fellow teacher Michele Belcone (Franco Nero). The strange ritual-like murders continue, when the corpses of two men who had assaulted Elena are found in the same manner. The presence of the unseen vigilante makes the baffled Elena a both respected and feared town celebrity, and the awestruck, impoverished villagers beg her to use her influence to ask the corrupt Mayor to help them. This throws the sympathetic teacher into a hotbed of political mind games, in which even the Mayor and organised crime kingpins bow down to her demands. It soon becomes apparent that there is just one grand ‘master’ manipulating and controlling the entire town, above everyone else. Is it the complacent Belcone, who though disgusted with the village corruption, has resigned to turning a blind eye to it out of fear of retaliation? Or Bellocampo, who loathes the ‘backwardness’ of the village - “This is a small town with a noble but primitive past. But what is happening today is no longer noble – it’s just primitive”. Or perhaps a disgruntled Mafia man or politician rebelling against the system. One thing is for certain – the arrival of the hard-headed Elena sets off a completely unpredictable chain of events, unearthing some long-buried skeletons in the process.
Surprisingly, A Flower in His Mouth is one of the more obscure Italian 1970’s crime thrillers, considering its trio of internationally famed leading actors (James Mason, Franco Nero, Jennifer O’Neill). Perhaps its occasionally pondering nearly 2 hour running time and regional setting wasn’t well received by its target international audiences expecting a more violent, fast-paced potboiler, and subsequently forgotten amongst the glut of more successful Umberto Lenzi and Enzo G. Castellari shoot ‘em ups. Yes, those expecting this sort of picture will probably be disappointed. But those in the mood for a slow-burning, highly atmospheric political thriller will be in for a treat. Filmed in Ragusa, Sicily, this ancient city with its many intact medieval buildings and tiny laneways provides a perfect, insular setting for the town’s hothouse of secrets, frustrating apathy and passiveness towards its corrupt, self-appointed rulers. Ennio Morricone’s stirring score is typically superlative. James Mason, as always, also adds class to the production and is faultless as the wealthy, distinguished landlord who, like Jennifer O’Neill’s character, is like a fish out of water in the rural surroundings. Though former supermodel O’Neill is somewhat miscast in her role as the assertive, educated ‘city girl’, she is still capable and interesting. Franco Nero however, has definitely been miscast in a secondary role as O’Neill’s submissive loverboy; most of his presence in the movie consists of being yelled at by O’Neill or tedious sex scenes with the actress which are even slow going for a rabid Nero appreciator like myself. But, faults aside, this is a very intriguing ‘lost’ Italian crime drama/thriller, focussing on the ugly side of small town village closed-mindedness.
Director: Beppe Cino
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4
The House of the Blue Shadows is a stylish and elegant thriller very much in the tradition of’ those wonderfully eerie, haunting slow-burners The House of Laughing Windows and The Perfume of the Lady in Black. Though not as masterful as those two films, ...Blue Shadows is still a decent, atmospheric mood piece, nicely lit (indeed the villa is bathed in pale blue light and shadows), and featuring some slick, prowling Steadicam shots that Dario Argento would be proud of. The two lead actors, resplendent in ultra-chic fedoras, leather jackets, scarves and Vespas visually seem to have been plucked straight out of a ‘Vogue’ magazine layout, however Stefano Gabrini is unfortunately no match for Mimsy Farmer’s and Lino Capolicchio’s memorable lead roles in Laughing Windows and Perfume respectively. But, also as with Argento’s films, the visuals are the main star of the show and the thespians secondary. If you can forgive the acting, just allow yourself to become immersed in the mystery. Surprisingly little-known even amongst hardcore Italian horror movie buffs (I’d never heard of it myself until stumbling across it in the Cinefear catalogue), don’t expect a DVD or Blu-Ray release of it any time soon. In the meantime, you can get it in a gorgeous English subtitled print from guess where?
Last House on the Beach
One of the more stylishly filmed and overall better-produced post ‘in the tradition of’ Last House on the Left’s cinematic outings, Last House on the Beach is a bleak, humour-free ‘vacation to Hell’ which doesn’t overstay its 90 minute running time. The simple message it conveys, and communicates successfully, is that violence is brutal. Violence is ugly. And violence is sure as hell painful. Well worth a look and available in a pristine print from Cinefear.
In regards to Doctor Gore’s showcase pre-prosthetic splatter highlights (leg sawing, hand chopping etc) Patterson used the simple technique of the actresses putting her arm or leg in a hole cut into the lab operating table to quite realistic effect. But as I said, the film’s a happy disaster – there’s wunderkind director William Girdler’s grating score to endure and the aforementioned C&W aural assaults such as ‘A Heart Dies Every Minute’. Also during the half hour the film derails into tedium and incohesion (most likely due to funds running out or the director’s passing in 1974), and padded out with montages and flashback sequences. For fans of this sort of cinema its worth checking out at least once to make up your own mind. I’ll leave the final word to the great H.G. Lewis: “Don't look for highly sophisticated filmmaking here. You might not like the acting, you may not like the storyline. For all I know, you might not like the gore. But if ever a film was the reflection of one person, it's this film - the lost film of the master of gore, Pat Patterson."
Director: Alberto De Martino
Rating: 2.5 out of 4
Formula for a Murder was hit-and-miss director Alberto De Martino’s final foray into the cinematic world before retirement (thankfully this was his swansong rather than the atrocious Miami Golem, shot earlier the same year). An almost-forgotten latter day entry in the giallo subgenre, the film sticks to a tried-and-tested plot but is filled with neat twists (including a genuinely surprising one midway though), genuine suspense and jarringly violent murders, including a bloody New York Ripper inspired face slashing. Not to mention the disturbing paedophilia subplot (thankfully the pre-credits rape scene is implied). The much missed and underrated David Warbeck delivers a strong performance, as do lead actresses Christine Nagy and Carroll Blumenberg (very surprisingly, this is both ladies’ sole feature film credit). As mentioned, former matinee idol Rosanno Brazzi is the weakest link, competing with Edmund Purdom in Absurd for the ‘Best Living Waxwork’ award. Unfortunately native English speakers Warbeck and Nagy have been dubbed, saddling them with the usual grating phony voices.
Most likely due to the hectic 18-day shooting schedule, Formula for a Murder lacks the visual appeal and artistic flourishes of earlier giallos, and is visually very static and bland to look at. And if some of those music cues are giving you déjà vu, that’s correct, they’re recycled Francesco De Masi tracked culled from the aforementioned New York Ripper and Bronx Warriors 2, and rather hamfistedly added to the soundtrack, adding to the overall ‘cut-price’ feel of the production. Still, it’s not a bad murder mystery at all, and giallo and Warbeck fans certainly won’t regret seeking this rarity out. Yes, I said rarity, it’s damn near impossible to find a decent copy BUT you can get it right here, right now, exclusively from Cinefear.
Director: Robert Hossein
Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Based on a true story of the brutal reign of terror German serial killer Peter Kurten held over Dusseldorf when he embarked on a vicious series of sex attacks and murders on local women and young girls.
Dusseldorf 1929: The Sturmabteilung (SA) is imposing its evil regime on the city and throughout Germany. Amongst the devastation of the persecution of Jewish citizens, chronic unemployment and rising destitution, Peter Kurten (Robert Hossein) lives a double life. By day Kurten exists as a meek labourer; by night a depraved predator skulking the dingy alleys and seedy nightspots of the less reputable parts of the city. Kurten blends into society as outwardly he appears to be the antithesis of the stereotypical murder – handsome, immaculately attired and gentlemanly. This facade is the perfect guise to lure his unsuspecting victims, such as Rosa, who he meets at a dancehall and ferociously stabs and rapes when walking through a deserted park with him. He ups the ante on his killing spree, audaciously murdering his prey within metres of crowed bars and roving police officers, then each time vanishing off into the night like a ghost. His other obsession is the beautiful, vivacious nightclub singer Anna (Marie-France Pisier), who’s every performance he shows up at like clockwork. Initially Anna plays hard to get, then eventually begins seeing Kurten, who seems placid and shy to her. Her free-spiritedness blinds her from seeing the mortal danger she’s flirting with...
Part film noir and part true crime drama, The Vampire of Dusseldorf is an undeservedly obscure gem, directed, written by, and starring esteemed French actor Robert Hossein. Instead of simply shooting a straight-out ‘bio-pic’ about Peter Kurten, Hossein instead fused the tale of the killer with a political context. A particularly effective example is when Kurten is slinking down a quiet street in the dead of night, then suddenly from out of nowhere, SA members emerge to smash the windows of a Jewish bookstore, throwing the condemned texts out on the street to be burnt. The political subtext also explains why Kurten was able to successfully evade police for so long while committing such brazen crimes right under their noses – they were preoccupied with the rising threat of war.
Hossein has clearly done his research on his subject – his portrayal of Kurten is very much true to life, transforming from dapper, mild-mannered labourer to cold, ruthless killer. It is best recommended that the viewer familiarise themselves with the horrifically depraved background of Kurten, as it is only hinted at once that he was cruelly abused as a child. The real-life Kurten was born into a poverty-stricken family of 15, raised in an overcrowded apartment where he would repeatedly witness his alcoholic father sexually assault his mother and sisters. Peter would go on to emulate his father by also molesting his sisters and becoming a petty criminal at a young age. As a teenager he was employed by a local dogcatcher who would ill-treat the animals. Kurten in turn willingly also began torturing as well as masturbating the dogs. Soon after he was to go from animal cruelty to attacks on people. So, an extraordinarily grim story for any filmmaker to take on, which Hossein has in an innovative and interesting way. Finally, the striking black and white cinematography also deserves a mention (with Madrid convincingly disguised as Dusseldorf). Class A filmmaking!
Director: Tom Cowan
Rating: 2 out of 4
Journey Among Women is inspired by a true story about a band of female convicts who escaped from a Parramatta, New South Wales, stockade during colonial times. Initially intended to be a ‘feminist epic’ (director Tom Cowan collaborated with a feminist collective), the film’s extensive nudity, lesbianism and violence places it squarely in the category of Ozploitation. As well as the at times both hilarious overacting and underacting - all ingredients that made this faux-‘art’ film a profitable box office success in its home country. A large portion of the script, dialogue and performances was improvised by the actors – and this is painfully apparent. Still, I couldn’t stop watching this from beginning to end. But be warned, these ladies are NOT your usual sexy, glamorous WIP types - their appearance is similar to how convict women of the era would have looked. Think matted hair, filthy rags for clothes, dirt ingrained into scabby skin, and voices which can only be compared to a bunch of screeching banshees. Their look, and the location settings, are the most realistic aspects about this cinematic ‘experiment’. Experiment in that Cowan had initially brought the women’s collective into the bush for acting workshops and filming over a period of several weeks. However whatever was going to pass as feminist ideology got lost as Cowan failed in his director’s chair to control the shoot, and the women took over the way their characters were depicted in the film, thus leading to the large slabs of unintentionally laughable ‘thespianism’ and dialogue. Cowan was pretty much left with not much else to do but film an acting workshop of not particularly distinctive talent. Well, it has to be said, it certainly remains a unique film in the history of Australian cinema.
Rating: 3.5 out of 4
An excellent little-known Spanish psychological thriller, The Corruption of Chris Miller is an intriguing, never-dull blend of Hitchcock, giallo and slasher elements. All elements of the film are first class – a skilfully written, multilayered plot full of twists and turns, fine performances all around, attractive location settings and camerawork, and a lush, elegant music score from which contrasts perfectly with the film’s hysterics. Shrouded in a deliciously foreboding atmosphere, ...Corruption is compelling from its sinister opening to its revelatory final frames. Jean Seberg is perfectly cast as the vengeful Ruth, as is Marisol as the lonely, disturbed Chris. Barry Stokes also deserves a mention as the mysterious, cocksure drifter. Apparently Ms.Seberg was ashamed to appear in the movie due to its lurid subject matter, and only accepted the role for the money. Whatever feelings she had, she really did give it all her best in the part. Another tidbit of trivia is that two alternate endings were shot: one for the Spanish market, and one for the international market (I saw the latter ending). I can’t say too much as I don’t want to give the game away, but you can delve into the mystery of Chris Miller here at Cinefear!
Director: Amando de Ossorio
Rating: 0.5 out of 4
Well, as you’ve probably guessed, Hydra: Monster from the Deep is not just horrible, it’s H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. An absolute career nadir for the likes of Amando De Ossorio, Timothy Bottoms and former Hitchcock thespian and Oscar winner Ray Milland. It’s hard to believe that this tripe was directed by the same man who brought us the wonderfully creepy and atmospheric Blind Dead films, as none of Ossorio’s demonstrated talent is evident on Hydra. Flatly directed and acted (though Milland, who was ill during shooting and would pass away soon after, does try his best) with no visual flair whatsoever. Taryn Power has been saddled with an very unflattering, frumpy 80’s ‘power’ wardrobe and short haircut that doesn’t suit her at all, and Timothy Bottoms an unappealing handlebar moustache to presumably try and make him look more ’Spanish’. And the same shots over and over again of our showcase Sock Puppet monster gets mighty old very quickly. Some bloody carnage would have spiced things up, but De Ossorio preferred to keep things strictly PG-rated to try and grab a slice of the Jaws pie. And don’t ask me to explain further about that ‘military mission’ subplot, as it was only very briefly explained (a quick excuse to chuck in the radioactive bomb which kicks off the ‘monster’ storyline). For me this was just painful, but others may get a kick out of the primitive effects . Proceed at your own risk!
Rating: 3 out of 4
Following his fun 1997 Super-8 trash masterpiece The Bloody Ape, director/producer/writer Keith Crocker has created a miracle out of a micro-budget with Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 yet again. Aside from being a throwback to the short-lived Nazisploitation craze of the mid-late 1970’s (with references to the Ilsa films and The Beast in Heat amongst others), Blitzkrieg was also inspired by the classic WW2 play-turned movie Stalag 17, a character-driven satire. Hence rather than sticking to the usual Nazisploitation formula of the maniacal SS commandant torturing and degrading a procession of helpless screaming Nazi experiment fodder, strung together by the flimsiest of plots, Crocker has added something new to the mix by adding a meaty story and dialogue as well as a cast of unique, standout characters. As well as a good dose of satire – Blitzkrieg sends up the over-the-top clichéd stereotypes of ‘the evil German/Japanese’ and other races often found in older movies. But that’s not to say that Crocker has toned it down in the good old sex and violence department. There’s more than enough of that to keep horror/trash fiends satisfied and indeed there are some incredibly nasty gore scenes, including a bathtub castration that easily tops I Spit on Grave’s similar scene for squeamishness, a particularly painful cock-bandsawing scene, messy throat-slashings and eye-gougings, and other random male and female genital mutilations. Amongst a cast of solid performers, Charles Esser is perfect as the grotesque caricature camp commandant Helmut Schultz, who acts like a petulant child when things don’t go his way but at the same time is capable of infinitely barbaric cruelty. The stunning Tatyana Kot is a revelation in an uninhibited, gutsy performance as the revenge-crazed heroine Natasha. The depravities inflicted upon her only further fuel her rage towards the enemy and she gets her comeuppance with gusto at the film’s conclusion.
Blitzkrieg’s key location setting (a former psychiatric hospital, abandoned in the 1960’s) is of course economical but perfectly effective in doubling as a WW2 prison camp, and K.C. Allen’s subtly atmospheric, eclectic soundtrack is another plus. Extras-wise, Wild Eye Releasing have once again outdid themselves, including a lively commentary with Keith Crocker, production designer Keith Maturro and Tatyana Kot; a making-of featurette including interviews with the key cast and filmmakers; the 16mm prototype extended trailer Schindler’s Lust (with the infamous Larry Koster in the lead role); cast and crew Q & A from the film’s sold-out NYC world premiere; the Milligan-esqe short film De Sade ’88 (‘dedicated to Nathan Schiff’); bloopers and stills.
An incredibly ambitious, entirely self-funded low-budget horror/exploitation film, Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 is another winner from Keith Crocker. Though some critics have complained about the film being “too talky”, “overly long” and it not being a wall-to-wall bloodbath, keep in mind that Crocker never intended this to be a carbon copy of Ilsa, Nazi Love Camp 27 et al, nor an obnoxious fanboy torture-porn wankfest. Crocker has successfully and competently added a worthy latter-day entry to the notorious subgenre with his own unique touch. Definitely looking forward to seeing Crocker’s future projects as this is one director to look out for.
Director: Keith J. Crocker
Rating: 3 out of 4
Forget Quentin Tarantino’s and Eli Roth’s glossy, annoyingly smug nods to the grindhouse films of yesteryear, if you want the ULTIMATE homage to sex and violence soaked exploitation cinema, go no further than Keith Crocker’s feature film debut The Bloody Ape. Shot on Super-8 film, Crocker sticks two fingers up to the ‘keep it safe, keep it politically correct, keep it pretty’ brigade by giving his film an intentionally ugly, flawed, scuzzy look and atmosphere. The authentic no-budget ‘grimy’ look is welcomingly reminiscent of the works of such aueters as Andy Milligan, H.G. Lewis and S.F. Brownrigg, when one didn’t need $100,000,000, CGI every 2 minutes and daddy’s connections to make an entertaining film. Crocker goes to town packing in as much mayhem as possible in its 77-minute running time – the cast of scummy, repulsive charmers hurl bile-filled insults around whilst the blood and sex-crazed Ape crashes around suburbia tearing limbs and pawing naked girls (and commandeering the odd car to help him get around (!) Those in the know will have fun spotting nods to Z-Grade masterpieces such as Night of the Demon, Carnival of Blood and of course the legendary Night of the Bloody Apes. And do I really have to explain ‘Duane Jones’???
Fans of ‘The Exploitation Journal’ are in for a treat as several collaborators of the legendary fanzine are in the cast – including co-editor George Reis as both the ‘Ape’ and vile cop LoBianco, and contributing writer Paul Richichi as the vengeful anti-hero Lampini. Also another regular EXJ contributor, “trash film historian” and prolific IMDB mini-bio author, Joe Wawrzyniak, (aka Woodyanders) gives an informative interview discussing the film and its various influences in the extras section. Speaking of extras, Wild Eye releasing have included a great parcel of goodies; an entertaining commentary featuring Crocker, Reis and Richichi, behind-the-scenes interviews, Crocker’s atmospheric short film “One Grave Too Many”, trailers and more. In the commentary, the trio provide lots of nuggets of trivia regarding the making of the film (a particularly funny scene was ad-libbed - where Lampini is rushing from carnival stall to stall searching for the escaped gorilla, much to the bemusement of the stall owners who had no idea of what was going on – one even tries to seriously sell Richichi some ultra-tacky nick-nacks), the many homages included, and the reason behind the out-and-out ugliness of most of the characters. In case anyone from the ultra-PC police happens to watch the film and jumps to the entirely wrong conclusion that the filmmakers are ‘racist’, the actual message is the inability of people being able to communicate effectively. Despite all the advances in technology the sheer ignorance, stupidity and narrow-mindedness of supposedly ‘civilised’ people of all races and creeds will always be a major barrier in effective communication and human relations. As Crocker points out in the commentary the most resourceful, level-headed character is Duane Jones while the rest have character traits which create communication blockages. The audience is meant to laugh at, not sympathise with these idiotic asshats, and see exactly ridiculous these bigoted clowns look in real life, because the unfortunate reality is there’s a hell of a lot of them out there (a horror story on its own!)
So if you didn’t stop reading this review upon seeing the names of the unholy trinity Milligan, Lewis and Brownrigg, chances are you’ll savour The Bloody Ape. This is true first-class trash cinema which serves up something for everyone – blood, boobs, bad humour...and how could you resist a film with such howlers as “My love for you is as deep and as wide as the expansions of your vaginal cavity”?
Rating: 1 out of 4
On paper Exorcism/Sexorcisms has all the makings of an intense, salacious potboiler, punctuated with Franco’s bleak view of the Catholic church and the jaded, cashed-up swingers scene. However in execution, the film is rather threadbare and tedious, failing to reach its potential. It simply lurches ineptly from one dull sex or torture scene to the next, bypassing any much needed suspense or character development. The only background to Vogel is provided by a two-line Interpol report (though admittedly I haven’t seen the other alternate version The Sadist of Notre Dame, which does include footage shot several years later that provides some background and history of the psychotic priest. On the plus side, Franco is capable in an effectively subtle performance as the tortured madman Vogel, lurking creepily around in the shadows. Lina Romay is attractive and vivacious as exhibitionistic Anne, and the two are actually the best actors of the lacklustre cast. A sinister, atmospheric organ score helps relieve the stretches of boredom.
Now what of the infamous hardcore scenes? Predictably these are jarring, intrusive and not exactly the most visually exciting stuff (yep the black socks stay on). Even the usually reliable Lina Romay looks goofy and awkward during her scene with Pierre Taylou (who keeps one black sock on the entire time). And as for Senor Franco...during his oral scenes I had a rather unfortunate recurring image of a dog slobbering over its dinner - and thankfully he keeps his trousers on during the penetration scenes. To add to the crudiness the soundtrack music from the opening credits has been overlayed for most of the inserts - including the screams from the introductory S & M show, which are completely mismatched from the onscreen action. I always found Exorcism to be a thoroughly average work in Franco’s filmography, and the addition of embarrassingly awful porn inserts (an endless orgy scene is particularly ghastly) does nothing to save the film. Recommended only as a curio to Franco completists - and for those who simply must see Franco and Romay ‘performing’.
Director: William Girdler
Rating 2.5 out of 4
Basically a blaxploitation take on The Exorcist, Abby is a fun potboiler from low-budget wonder William Girldler (Grizzly, 3 on a Meathook). An unexpected box-office hit, Abby earned almost $4 million during its first month of release. However this caught the attention of Warner Bros, who sought legal action against the film’s producers (and distribution company AIP) due to its alleged similarities with The Exorcist. The case was settled out of court (a few weeks before Girdler’s untimely death) and all prints of the film eventually vanished from circulation. Abby finally saw the light of day again with Cinefear’s ‘Collector’s Edition’ DVD release in 2006. Although there are some similarities with The Exorcist, there are also some notable differences, particularly the incorporation of ancient African spiritualism into the plot, as well as setting the possession in an African-American minister’s family. Carol Speed is unforgettable in her manic performance as Abby, tearing into her role with gusto. A sneering, puking, man-eating she-demon, Speed gives it her all and more. Velvet-voiced William Marshall adds a touch of dignity to the proceedings in his role as the charismatic yet commanding Bishop Williams. Though there are a few overly talky scenes, considerable effort has been made to establish the leading characters and show the demoralising effect Abby’s transformation has on her marriage, with her close-knit family and the local community she works with, rather than simply presenting them as anonymous, disposable demon-fodder. The constant stream of gruff-voiced profanities does provide some unintended laughs (particularly when possessed Abby dishes out lurid sex advice to a couple when marriage counselling), however unlike The Exorcist the film doesn’t take itself deadly seriously anyway. The demon makeup (shown in quick, almost subliminal flashes a la The Exorcist) is basic but effectively creepy and grotesque, providing some effective chills. Blaxploitation and 70’s disco fans will get a kick out of the pure time-capsule fashions (lotsa afros, pimp hats and bright polyester), out-of-place but funky soundtrack, and dialogue (“Are you trying to say that Abby has flipped out???”) Though not without its flaws, Abby is an entertaining ride to hell and back and indeed superior to many of the Exorcist cash-in released around the same time.
At ‘Johnson’s Temple’ in San Francisco, ‘Reverend James Johnson’ (Stuart Whitman) is preaching a sermon railing against fornication and drugs. He implores his followers that they must leave the country to escape these ‘evil influences destroying the youth of America’ and that he has developed the compound ‘Johnsontown’ as a reward for their faith in him. Many of his flock uproot to Guyana, however it isn’t long before things turn grim in their supposedly idyllic paradise, where the followers find themselves entrapped in a brutal regime of malnourishment, sleep depravation and slave labour. The most minor transgressions result in sadistic, humiliating punishments, with children not spared from this (a trio of young boys caught stealing food are each tortured with snakes, freezing water and genital electric shocks – thankfully these scenes are only showed briefly). Upon hearing of unsettling rumours from Johnsontown, Congressman Lee O’Brien (Gene Barry) flies to Guyana accompanied by reporters, photographers and concerned relatives and demand to enter the compound to find out the truth. Before long the facade of a happy, content communal life slips after the visitors discover a sanatorium full of starving, critically ill slave labourers and several followers beg for the group to take them back to the U.S. Completely losing control, Johnson arranges for the Congressman’s party and deserters be shot, informs his followers that they will soon be murdered by the CIA, and that they have no choice but to ‘die with dignity...’
Giallo in Venice
Director: Mario Landi
Rating: 2 out of 4
Shadow of Illusion
Director: Mario Caiano
Rating: 3 out of 4
Inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Shadow of Illusion is an enjoyable, atmospheric occult thriller provided the viewer is willing to suspend disbelief and forgive/forget many plot holes. Director Mario Caiano was probably hoping to appeal to the cashed-up bohemian market at the time with the films by including counterculture actors William Berger and Daniela Giordano, lots of groovy 1960’s decor, music and fashion (retro heaven or hell depending on your sensibilities), and the cast swanning around the exotic locale of Cairo in flashy-looking hippie threads and Rolls-Royces. As well as the requisite ‘transgressive’ drug-taking scenes and subsequent hallucinations. Giordano’s performance is good but her character frustratingly naive for a supposedly ‘worldly’ businesswoman – her sometimes downright stupid decisions seem to act as an easy excuse to push the plot along, but this wouldn’t exactly be the first Italian genre film guilty of doing this. Fans of talented Eurocult favourite William Berger will be interested to spot cameos from his daughter Debra and then-wife Carol Lobravico (in a startling role as the high priestess of the cult). Some of the sex-and-drug fuelled antics at the hotel nightclub and Osiris-worshipping ceremony are reminiscent to those at the Bergers’ real-life notorious parties from the era...but that’s another story. A truly unique mystery full of bizarre touches, dizzying but effective camerawork and gorgeous location photography that trots along at a decent pace, Shadow of Illusion is nearly impossible to find but worthy of a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release (the only English-language-print available is a fullscreen release with Japanese subtitles). Until then, get it from CINEFEAR!