Chelle's Hotbed of Hades


Ok Ladies and gentleman, covering the horror/exploitation angle from the female perspective, we have Michelle Alexander. Michelle helms from the land down under (that's Australia for all you unfamiliar), and Michelle's writing credits date back to the days of when zines were printed, not uploaded, with the movie/music/alternative culture zine 'Archetype Malice'. She's also a former reviewer for Australia's #1 horror website, 'Digital Retribution' and currently also writes for Robert Monell's 'Cinemadrome' forums and 'I'm in a Jess Franco State of Mind' blog. As well as having written articles for several print publications including ART DECADES and CRIME FACTORY, Michelle has her own blog, 'Chelle's Inferno', and she's an Eurohorror film fanatic. So strap yourself in, you're about to take a ride of Oz wild style!


What the Peeper Saw



1972
Spain/Italy/UK/West Germany
95 min
Director: James Kelley & Andrea Bianchi


Elise, a stunningly beautiful young woman (Britt Ekland) marries Paul (Hardy Kruger), a widowed author 20 years her senior. One day at their chic, sprawling but isolated rural Spanish villa, the new bride meets Paul’s 12-year old son Marcus (Mark Lester), who’s been sent home from his boarding school apparently due to an outbreak of chickenpox. Elise attempts to bond with the boy, however from day one it’s strongly apparent that the precocious Marcus is going to be a ‘challenge’ in more ways than one. His intelligence is on par with a child genius. He is patronising and manipulative. And alarmingly, he displays a sexual attraction to his stepmother – he feels her up when she’s not looking.


When Paul arrives home from a business trip, the tension and unbalanced atmosphere orchestrated by Marcus ascends. Elise discovers that Marcus was not sent home from school due to illness, but that he was expelled due to disturbing incidents involving nude drawings, Peeping Tom-ism and animal killings. Horrified, Elise tells Paul about this, but he is nonchalant as Marcus can do no wrong in his doting father’s eyes. Elise’s fear builds as she learns that Marcus’s late mother and Paul’s first wife died in mysterious circumstances – an electric shock from a portable heater falling into the bath caused a fatal heart attack. Marcus takes a perverse delight in feeding Elise’s paranoia and causing a growing rift between her and Paul. Anxious and overwhelmed, Elise turns to heavy drinking, becoming more and more terrified and unbalanced as each day at the lonely villa passes. She is utterly convinced that her stepson killed his own mother, and that she will be his next victim. However, could Elise’s anxieties simply be the product of an overwrought imagination, or could she be indeed the target of a pre-pubescent psychopath?



Firstly and frankly, What the Peeper Saw is a film that could never be made today. There are a few VERY uncomfortable scenes between the then 14 year old Mark Lester and 29 year old Britt Ekland, not to mention some very unsubtle phallic imagery, which create a queasy atmosphere given the age of the participants. Otherwise, the movie is an intriguing psychological thriller that keeps the viewer guessing and thinking at all times with its ambiguous nature, and it’s capped off with a truly shocking ending. Unsurprisingly, What the Peeper Saw was co-directed by the King of Scuzz himself, the notorious Andrea Bianchi, which is hardly surprising given the more unsavoury themes and moments of the film. I personally recommend this sick puppy, but proceed with caution...






Blood Delirium


1988
Italy
90 min
Director: Sergio Bergonzelli



Sergio Bergonzelli is probably best known for his bizarre giallo In the Folds of the Flesh (1970) and for co-directing the jaw-dropping XXX/crime shocker Apocalipsis sexual (1982). With Blood Delirium the viewer gets the best of both worlds – it’s both bizarre and devoid of anything resembling good taste. Deranged artist Charles Saint-Simon (John Phillip Law) is in mourning for his beautiful wife and muse Christine, who had died unexpectedly. Aside from being mentally unbalanced, Saint-Simon has convinced himself that he is the reincarnation of Vincent Van Gogh, and also has premonitions of future events. Saint-Simon mopes around his crumbling, isolated castle, while his grotesque sex-crazed manservant Hermann (Gordon Mitchell), who’d attempted to defile Christine’s corpse as soon as the poor woman had passed on, lurks around in his cadaver filled lair. A year passes and Saint-Simon still intensely grieves for his late wife, and a creative block is hindering his ability to paint. Thus the artist decides to dig up her corpse and bring her home, as you do. By now the body is a rotted, maggot infested affair, so Saint-Simon sticks a ludicrous latex mock-up face over the skull and plonks a wig on top. The presumably unimpressed ghost of Christine shows up (rendered by her face superimposed over the screen and some spotlights flying around) and mockingly laughs at her husband. Saint-Simon has a tantrum, throwing his paintings around and gesticulating wildly.    


Meanwhile, Sybille, a talented pianist who coincidentally is the spitting image of Christine (Christine was also a pianist), attends a gallery exhibition showcasing Saint-Simon’s artworks. Saint-Simon is immediately entranced by Sybille, as he sees her as a reincarnation of his beloved wife. Later Christine’s car breaks down and who should she run into but Van Gogh Mark II himself. He invites her to the castle while the car is being repaired by Hermann. Revitalised by Sybille’s presence, Saint-Simon feels inspired to paint again. At first Sybille is charmed by the artist’s attentions, but understandly is creeped out when Hermann nonchalantly tries to rape a woman while fixing the car, then discovering the butler’s collection of body parts. She tries to escape but she is caught and subsequently faints.  Kept sedated by Hermann, who of course is all class, administering injections via the vagina then having his way with her while she’s unconscious, Sybille again makes an attempt to escape from the madhouse when she wakes up. But Saint-Simon has another stroke of genius and discovers incorporating human blood into his latest masterpiece helps dislodge the creative block even more. And he’s very keen to use Sybille’s blood...


Wow. Just wow. In terms of wacky storylines, Blood Delirium definitely takes the cake. Bad movie lovers rejoice – this one’s got the lot. John Phillip Law shamelessly overacts - complete with overwrought mugging, bulging eyes and maniacal ‘crazy’ laughter, and the howlingly ridiculous dialogue he’s saddled with doesn’t help either. Gordon Mitchell joins Law in the overacting stakes with his truly repugnant sex maniac evil butler. Props to him though for portraying what would have to be one of the most repulsive characters in Eurohorror history. Brigitte Christenson’s performance is of the other extreme, incredibly bland and expressionless. Despite opening with film with a ten minute 100% gratuitous topless scene, she still fails to register – her scrawny skinny body isn’t exactly appealing. What else...we have tonnes of bad 80s fashions and hairstyles, a cheesy dated music score, and some very dodgy effects (read: Christine’s ‘ghost’). Shoddy lighting and cinematography unfortunately drag down the atmospheric medieval castle location setting, making what could have been appealing visuals dreary and washed out. Argento or Bava Sr this is not, but those in the know will have a field day with Blood Delirium.







Death Laid an Egg




 



1968
Italy/France
86 min
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?

 

With its arthouse flourishes, one would be hard pressed to find a genre thriller that’s more unique than Death Laid an Egg. Released a year prior to Dario Argento’s groundbreaking The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Death Laid an Egg is best defined as a ‘proto-giallo’. Though there is certainly a mystery and whodunit element, the main focus of the movie is the love triangle and the vileness of factory farming. This complex mix of betrayal, greed, double-crossings and triple-crossings,   is complemented by an appropriately cacophonic, experimental soundtrack which veers wildly from bossa nova to wild piano bashing to violins to random plucking at guitar strings. Dizzyfying editing and weird flashbacks add to the disorientating, paranoid atmosphere, and the lush cinematography and pop-art look of the film is a joy to behold. But look beyond the ultra-modern, shiny, new exteriors of the sleek office buildings, motels and other commercial buildings and note the tired-looking interiors of the aforementioned buildings, the careless marks and dints on the walls, the dated furnishings, the general ‘lifeless’ look. In director Questi’s picture, the glossy facade is just that – a facade. Things are far from what they seem when one looks beyond the superficial attractive surfaces of the aforementioned buildings, the chicken farm and of course the characters. This could be Questi’s message to his audience not to judge people solely on surface value. However, the strongest point Questi is a non-too-subtle critique of capitalism.  As writer Andrew Pragasam notes, “... the film draws none-too-subtle parallels between the scheming characters, the monstrosities wrought by the hi-tech chicken farm and the gradual mechanization of modern life which has led to the dehumanization of society.” The ruthless, inhumane processes utilised at the farm can also be reflected in the main characters, who are an unlikable, scheming, amoral, and indeed ruthless lot. Though at times Death Laid an Egg is slow moving and confusing, bear with it, as it is indeed a richly rewarding film.





Le mataf




 



1973
France/Italy
95 min
Director: Serge Leroy

Bernard (Michel Constantin), Basilo (Georges Geret) and Frank (Pierre Santini) commit a carefully planned diamond heist at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris. However, their mission fails when two men unknown to the trio murder the station employee who was transferring the diamonds to a safe locker. Three months later, Bernard returns to his apartment from a sailing holiday and discovers an old newspaper with a story of the attempted robbery and murder on the front page in his mailbox. He continues to get ‘friendly reminders’ of the crime in the next few days in the form of postcards and incriminating photos. The mysterious blackmailer is revealed when Bernard is accosted by the same two men who killed the station guard. They are the goon-like henchmen of a shonky lawyer, Desbordes (Adolfo Celi). Desbordes has many ‘friends’ in the criminal underworld and is aware that Bernard and his friends are seasoned small-time robbers. He is also aware that all three have a price on their heads. Desbordes makes an offer to Bernard; if he and the others are able to retrieve some microfilms containing some extremely important documents from a securely guarded office safe, they will be rewarded with a large sum of money. If Bernard refuses, Desbordes will report him to the police as the mastermind of the diamond heist and thus he will also be framed as the killer. Bernard discusses the job with Basilo and Frank without disclosing the outcome if they decline. Both immediately accept as both are in urgent need of cash. The night of the heist arrives and the three steal into the office to attempt to obtain the microfilms. Little do they know that this will set the scene for many twists and turns, double-crossings, romance, appearing and disappearing suitcases of dough, adventures across the border, car pursuits and many casualties along the way.
 

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.








 Passport for a Corpse



 



1962
Italy
93 min
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?


Although Lupo’s character’s decision to smuggle himself inside a coffin was, no need to say, unbelievably daft,  the film itself is most assuredly not. A combination of crime thriller, noir, horror and even a touch of the supernatural, director Mario Gariazzo keeps the suspense cranked up to eleven until the end.  Much of the screentime consists of following Lupo’s plight, and the viewer really feels his character’s desperation as he stumbles from one mishap to another. A voiceover helpfully explains his internal thoughts, such as when he is being transported in the coffin. This narrative device is very effective in keeping the audience engrossed, especially in the minimal, claustrophobic surrounds of the wooden tomb and the morgue, and is thankfully neither cheesy nor irritating.  


 
Passport for a Corpse is a bleakly ‘fun’ film and outstanding debut from Gariazzo whose career in that field unfortunately only went downhill, turning out such tedious dreck inferior of his talent such as The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, Play Motel and Eyes Behind the Stars.




The Burning Court



 



1962
France/Italy/Germany
110 min
Director: Julien Duvivier

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



 



1965
Italy
77 min
Director: Roberto Mauri


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



 



1965
Italy
79 min
Director: Massimo Pupillo

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.




Red Light Girls


 



1974
Italy
105 min
Director: Rino Di Silvestro
Giselle, a pretty, fresh-faced third year chemistry student, pays for her studies by selling her body at night. After servicing a client in a quiet area away from the ‘red light’ part of the street she frequents, the young girl is stabbed to death. Rossi (Umberto Raho), a creepy middle-aged voyeur, witnessed everything while spying on the couple during the act, however does not report anything to police. An investigation ensures when her body is eventually discovered. It soon transpires that Giselle was working for a high-class prostitution ring, and she would permit Rossi to let her watch her with customers for a fee. Rossi himself is being blackmailed by a sleazy photographer named Faustino (Luciano Rossi), who has photos of him with Giselle and threatens to send the photos to the investigating detectives unless he hands over a large sum of money. However, Rossi is just one of a number of possible suspects as to who could have committed the murder. In the meantime, the weathered, jaded ‘girls’ who work the streets near where Giselle died, have their own trials and tribulations to deal with. Benedetta (Orchidea de Santis) is brutally gang raped and left for dead by a group of bikers; Primavera, one of the older prostitutes, is distraught about both her fading looks and her younger boyfriend leaving her for her daughter; and there is no shortage of oddball clients, including Krista Nell’s encounter with a bespectacled, combover-coiffure dweeb who conducts a mock black mass while wearing a gigantic false nose (!!!)

Red Light Girls, directed by the notorious Rino Di Silvestro (Werewolf Woman), is certainly a...unique film. A peculiar mix of police procedural, mystery, soap opera and slice-of-life ‘realism’ with comedic moments and hardcore inserts sandwiched inbetween, the film is a cinematic equivalent of a join-the-dots puzzle filled out completely wrong. The various plot elements veer all over the place, and the typically jarring additional sex scenes only serve to make matters more bizarre and confusing. Two particularly jaw-dropping moments are the aforementioned ‘black mass’ vignette and the disturbing gang rape violation of Orchidea de Santis’ character – ridiculously out of place jaunty music plays on the soundtrack leading up to this scene. In fact, painfully unsuitable music cues are heard for much of the film, unfortunately having a significant impact on what are meant to be the ‘serious’ moments of the production (save de Santis’ demise). But, if you’re familiar with the name Rino Di Silvestro, you’ll no doubt know what you’re getting yourself into, one of his typically grubby brain-fryers that you’ll either love or hate.

NB. Cinefear is offering the longest print of Red Light Girls available, the 105 minute composite version.   




In the Eye of the Hurricane

 



1971
Spain/Italy
90 min
Director: Jose Maria Forque
Wealthy, bored Ruth (Analia Gade) leaves her husband Michel (Tony Kendall) for the dashing, younger Paul (Joan Sorel), whom she has only known for two months. Michel is devastated and begs Ruth to reconsider, but she has made up her mind and moves with Paul into her luxury beachside villa, where the two spend an idyllic, romantic summer. Paul’s enigmatic, somewhat dubious friend Roland turns up and stays with them. Soon after, strange ‘misfortunes’ begin occurring, such as the breaks on Ruth’s car failing, almost causing her to crash, and her oxygen tanks strangely being empty during a scuba diving excursion. Michel unexpectedly visits and although Ruth makes it clear that she has no interest in reconciling, she allows him to stay overnight.  The serenity and lazy, hazy days of the holiday home are shattered when Ruth stumbles across Michel, Paul and a vampish ‘other woman’, Daniele (Rossana Yanni) in cahoots discussing a murder plot. Realising that the previous accidents were deliberately set up, Ruth becomes increasingly paranoid knowing that at least one of the party is determined to eliminate her. But who, and why? And what does the mysterious Roland have in store for her?
 
In the Eye of the Hurricane is a chic slow-burner entry in the cluster of ‘decadent idle rich’ giallos produced/co-produced in Italy in the late 60’s to early 70’s. Anyone who’s seen Umberto Lenzi’s superlative 1969 thriller Orgasmo, of the same subgenre, will immediately recognise similar plot elements in this picture.  The gorgeous, sun-drenched French Riviera location settings and breezy Piero Piccioni soundtrack provide a pleasant visual and aural backdrop to the onscreen machinations. All of the cast turn in fine performances, particularly Analia Gade as the moneyed and worldly turned psychologically tormented victim-in-peril  Ruth, and Rossana Yanni in a memorable ‘bitch from hell’ role. Though not without admittedly a few tired clichés, In the Eye of the Hurricane still is a more than entertaining giallo from the era which really kicks into fifth gear during the second half, when the viewer is thrown headlong into the plot’s twists and turns. With oodles of style to burn, this is one hurricane worth getting caught up in. Oh, and did I mention this has one of the best psychedelic opening credits sequences I’ve ever seen?




   
The Third Eye



 



1966
Italy
98 min
Director: Mino Guerrini

Mino (Franco Nero), a handsome young nobleman, is engaged to and deeply in love with Laura (Erika Blanc), but he is under intense pressure by his jealous, domineering mother (Olga Solbelli) to leave her, as the pretty young woman has “separated them”. The housekeeper, Marta (Gioia Pascal), who is secretly infatuated with Mino, also hates Laura. The beleaguered Mino flat out refuses to listen to his evil hag of a mother, who is infuriated. Mother plots with Marta for an ‘accident’ to be arranged to be rid of Laura, and Marta happily obliges.  Laura’s car is sabotaged and she is killed in a fatal crash. At the same time, Marta has an argument with Mother, resulting with Mother falling down a flight of stairs. In a blind rage about being treated like a lowly servant throughout the years she has been living with the family, Marta stabs the old woman to death. Under an intense spell of grief and shock, as well as being dragged closer and closer towards the whirlpool of insanity his life has descended into, Mino, a taxidermist, covertly retrieves Laura’s corpse and preserves it – thus they will be ‘never apart’. The desperately lonely Mino picks up a few random women and takes them home, and each are understandably mortified when they realise Laura’s corpse has been ensconced in the bed next to Mino’s. Realising that his actions will be discovered, Mino murders the women, begging Marta to help him. The opportunistic Marta takes evil advantage of Mino’s rapid descent into madness and asserts that she will only assist Mino if he agrees to marry her. Seeing no other way out, he reluctantly complies. The twisted madness of the situation is only further heightened when Daniela, Laura’s lookalike sister, arrives out of the blue to stay...


Firstly, if anyone reading this review has seen Joe D’Amato’s Buio Omega/Beyond the Darkness (1979) and is having an uncanny case of déjà vu, yes indeed, it’s a modern uncredited remake of The Third Eye, with the gore and grue amped up for the splatter crowd. The Third Eye itself is often unfairly criticised as being a cash-in on Psycho and Franco Nero’s portrayal of Mino dismissed as a poor man’s Norman Bates. However, go in without these expectations with the (well deserved) viewpoint that The Third Eye is an entirely different film in its own right, with its own merits, and you will discover a beautifully shot, hauntingly atmospheric Gothic chiller. Though Mino’s estate is spacious and stately, the many artful shots of pondering corridors and lonely rooms overstuffed with antiquated furniture create a macabre, claustrophobic mood. As do the performances by Nero, who demonstrates his now long internationally acclaimed acting talent in one of his earliest roles here, and in particular those of Olga Solbelli and Gioia Pascal  in their repugnant parts as the seething, venomous women who have the tormented Nero in their stranglehold. A – surprisingly – little known, enjoyably perverse and creepy slice of vintage Italian Gothic horror, this is well worth a look by fans of the subgenre, Franco Nero completists and even Buio Omega enthusiasts (like myself) who really should acquaint themselves with its more than worthy original source.



Brigade Call-Girls


 



1977
France
78 min
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...

 
  
The Teenage Prostitution Racket


 



1975
Italy
97 min
Director: Carlo Lizzani
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4 (**original Italian version only)
Amongst the backdrop of a grey, smoggy and relentlessly ugly Milan – the absolute antithesis  of the glitter and glamour most associate with the fashion capital – a weathered looking woman hitchhikes with her 13 year old granddaughter on rubbish strewn industrial roads. But, to the surprise of the male drivers who offer them a lift, the pair are not just after a ride into town. The young girl is being offered to men for sexual services by her own grandmother – and unfortunately there’s no shortage of willing motorists. As they flit from vehicle to vehicle, a group of angry pimps are in hot pursuit, enraged that the duo are intruding on their turf.


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.
Innocent, naive Rosina travels from Sardinia to find work in Milan – her improvised mother has five other children to support and wanted to marry the sixteen year old off to a family friend several decades her senior. Rosina meets Salvatore at a disco – he sweeps her off her feet with silver tongued declarations of love and plays the devoutly religious nice boy, when the truth is that he’s a slimy pimp involved in the racket, looking for ‘fresh meat’ to recruit. Salvatore quickly proposes to Rosina and manipulates her into selling her body with poor me tales of being penniless and sickly sugar-coated promises, that the customers won’t hurt her, blah blah blah...After endless abuse from clients, including one who dips bread rolls into dirty toilet water and forces her to eat them, and a number of failed escape attempts, Rosina resigns to her fate and has transformed into a jaded, hardened, coarse streetwalker. As they drive into the night, Salvatore asks her “When are you going to introduce me to that little friend of yours?”

Lonely Gisela desperately wants friends her own age. Her stiflingly strict, God-fearing mother forbids her to even look at boys (“none of them EVER just want to be ‘friends’!!!), and her father is too busy working to pay for the latest ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ consumer goods to notice his daughter. Much to Gisela’s horror, her mother hopes to pair her off with the local priest’s nephew, a painfully dull middle-aged lawyer. So when a schoolfriend invites Gisela to a party her older sister is hosting, she happily goes along. But it’s not the kind of party Gisela is expecting. The older sister is part of the sex ring, and  lecherous pigs take photos of Gisela and other girls in compromising positions, then using the photos to blackmail them into attending more of the ‘parties’. Though initially fearful, Gisela becomes accustomed to the sordid lifestyle, as to her she is receiving the attention and companionship lacking at home. But when Gisela goes to live with her female pimp, she has no idea that she will be just as restricted as when she was living with her parents, as she is now ‘owned’ by the sex gang.   

Precocious, educated, upper-middle class Daniela entered the world of prostitution voluntarily as a sixteen year old to rebel against her parents. Sickened when she hears her father recommending to a friend the underage girls he frequents, and knowing that her mother never even wanted her (“she didn’t want her body to fall apart”), Daniela considers this the ultimate act of revenge. Daniela’s parents’ hypocrisy – keeping up appearances as the ‘perfect bourgeois family unit’ to the outside world, while underneath the genteel veneer her father is a deviant paedophile and mother pathetically shallow and vain – revolts her. Her final ‘Fuck You’ to her parents is when she blackmails them to pay her pimps 10 million lire to ‘free’ her from them.



 Pregnant fifteen year old Antonietta flees her miserable, poverty entrenched existence when the glamorous Tina returns from the big city to visit their provincial village. Antonietta, relentlessly harangued by her mother who screams that she has brought shame to the family (if only the mother knew that it was her own HUSBAND who impregnated the poor girl), begs Tina to let her work at her ‘hairdressing salon’. Tina agrees and of course the ‘salon’ turns out to be a front for the racket. But Antonietta is just happy to have escaped her hellish family life. Due to her advanced condition, she is only offered to clients with pregnancy fetishes. After a particularly traumatic birth where she refuses to keep the child, she continues to sell herself, her self-worth completely diminished. After she is arrested for soliciting, she suffers a complete mental breakdown and is institutionalised.





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.







Needless to say, if you’re looking for a titillating sex romp, you’re best looking far FAR away from Carlo Lizzani’s devastating masterpiece, because, despite the lurid title, The Teenage Prostitution Racket was never intended to be that. Thankfully, Cinefear’s version is without the jarring softcore and hardcore footage which detracts from the film’s disturbing, powerful realism. In regards to the sex inserts, Lizzani had permitted assistant director Mino Giarda to shoot the softcore sequences for foreign markets, but had no knowledge of the additional hardcore scenes, which he was less that happy with. For those inclined, these scenes are included in the extras of this Cinefear release.


Some critics see The Teenage Prostitution Racket  as another run-of-the-mill slice of sexploitation with some social commentary thrown in as a pretext (I am assuming most of these critics saw the ‘foreign market’ version). But there is much more to Racket – it’s much closer than the bleak grittiness of Christiane F or Lilya-4-Ever than some Schulmadchen Report fluff. Aside from the film’s series of documentary-style reconstructions (each based on co-writer Marisa Rusconi's research on real-life case studies), Lizzani has a few points he wants to make and he sure as hell means to get his messages across in as uncompromising and  as harsh a way as possible. Aside from his obvious disgust at the vile underage prostitution rings, Lizzani takes unsubtle aims at the Catholic church (the parents of the impoverished  girls featured all blindly follow this religion, thus avoiding contraception and worsening their situation by creating more and more mouths to feed; Gisele’s devoutly religious mother alienates her to such an extent that she turns to the world of underage prostitution for acceptance and ‘love’);  the hypocritical bourgeoisie who disguise themselves under a veneer of respectability, yet in some cases are just as depraved as the pimps themselves; and boorish, sexist males in general (just about every man in the film is corrupt, depraved, sleazy or violent – often all four of these). A combination of poverty, lack of education and employment prospects leads many of the girls from the often maligned South of Italy to the more ‘urbane, educated’ North hoping for a better life; yet they find themselves enslaved by human garbage that should be drowned in the infinite gallons of lethally toxic waste dotted around the foot of the country.  




It should be noted that in no way does the movie glamorise the lifestyles of the teenage girls, their pimps and clients. Everything is ruthlessly realistic and ugly – the tears, exhaustion and overwhelming depression of the young women, the abuse they endure from their Neanderthal-like keepers, the repulsive and pathetic clients. While The Teenage Prostitution Racket  is certainly a passionate film, it avoids over the top melodrama and Lizzani wisely avoids passing judgement.
Finally, mention must be given to the location settings of mid-1970’s Milan; like other major Italian cities it was under the stranglehold of terrorist attacks, corruption, high crime and unemployment at the time. This downbeat reality makes for the perfect setting, providing the film’s hard-edged, jaded, grungy look. The Teenage Prostitution Racket  presents a ruthlessly, brutally honest treatment of its subject matter. Highly recommended – but be warned, this is grim stuff that is light years away from, say, the ludicrousness of Rino Di Silvestro’s brain-fryer Red Light Girls (which I’ll be reviewing soon).




Act of Aggression

 




1975
France/Italy
101 min
Director: Gerard Pires
Rating: 2 out of 4

Mild-mannered Paul Varlin (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is on holiday with his wife Helene and daughter Patty. Varlin’s idyllic middle-class existence with his picture-perfect family however, is soon to be shattered when a trio of boorish bikers harass Helene at a roadside cafe. Paul gives them the middle finger when driving off, and, taking offense to this gesture, the bikers give chase by surrounding and intimidating the terrified young family’s car, and eventually running them off the road. Worse is still to come – Paul is bashed by the thugs and blacks out, and when he comes to, he discovers the murdered bodies of Helene and Patty nearby, the former evidently violated.


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.



Murder Obsession











1981
Italy
92 min
Director: Riccardo Freda
Rating: 3 out of 4

After almost accidently strangling his co-star Beryl (Laura Gemser) during the shooting of their latest film, ‘tired and emotional’ actor Michael Stanford (Stefano Patrizi) decides to retreat to his mother’s lonely, secluded country villa with his girlfriend Deborah (Silvia Dionisio). Though this is hardly the wisest decision for Michael to catch up on some much needed R & R, as he’s also haunted by flashbacks in which he apparently stabbed his father to death as a child to defend his mother. Arriving in the dead of night, Michael and Deborah are greeted by Oliver, (John Richardson), the ominous, ever-lurking housekeeper who leads them into the pitch-black house, which has had one of its frequent power blackouts, thus forcing a reliance on candlelight and old-fashioned lanterns. In the bowels of this spooky Gothic mansion, Michael reunites with his beautiful, frail mother, Glenda (Anita Strindberg). But from the outset it appears that there is something not quite right with this mother-son relationship – Glenda embraces and kisses Michael with unsettling passion, gasping “Oh Michael” over and over again as if she was addressing an intimate lover. Adding to the creepy incestuous overtones is that Michael introduces Deborah to Glenda as his secretary rather than his girlfriend. An unimpressed Deborah later grills him on this while pointing out the “hostile, sinister, threatening atmosphere” of the deathly silent villa. They are distracted when some of the cast and crew from the movie Michael has been working on arrive to film some location shots. However, things only become more sinister and downright dangerous when the crew members begin to be viciously murdered – Beryl, whom Michael is having an affair with, is brutally knifed. Naturally Michael is the prime suspect due to his alleged past. There is a myriad of dark secrets about to overflow from Pandora’s Box though...why is there a satanic alter in the cavernous dungeons, and who is practicing black magic rituals there? Are the terrifying nightmares Deborah has been plagued with in which she is forced to participate in the rituals in fact reality? What is the truth behind Michael’s peculiar relationship with his mother? Does the ever-present Oliver hold the key to the mystery? And could Michael’s past memories be a morbid fantasy, or distorted somewhere along the way?

 
The final feature directed by Italian horror-fantasy pioneer Riccardo Freda, Murder Obsession is a marriage of the old-school gothic horror and 1980’s nudity-packed gory slasher subgenres. Though this entwining by Freda is not completely successful – the special effects are jarringly primitive (including a gigantic rubber spider straight out of Nude for Satan and a very obvious faulty dummy used in an axe to the head scene). Also, the leading couple of Stefano Patrizi and Silvia Dionisio are also remarkably bland, Patrizi in particular wandering around as if in a semi-coma, and there is some admittedly plodding sequences and choppy editing. However Murder Obsession’s  successful elements manage to overcome its flaws. It’s a truly unique concoction of gothic horror imagery, graphic violence, black magic, bizarre dream and flashback sequences, and queasy oedipal themes that stays in the mind long after the film’s enjoyably mind-boggling conclusion. Of particular note is the gorgeous, sumptuous but at the same time decaying and antiquated look of the film. All the classic cinematic gothic staples are present in spades – old dark mansion, candlelight in abundance, dramatic thunderstorms, billowing curtains, fog, eerie shadows, dungeons of doom and an overblown classical piano score. Anita Strindberg provides the standout performance of the cast as the sickly and frail, yet sexy and smouldering Glenda. Her disturbed, anxious and at the same time manipulative character could have easily been overacted by less capable hands, but Strindberg portrays this odd role perfectly, adding an uneasy extra dimension with the incestual implications.


Most viewers of Murder Obsession either see it as a failed effort by Freda to recreate the magic of his gothic chillers whilst haphazardly throwing in sex and blood in a tryhard attempt to lure in a modern audience, or as a worthy swansong crammed to the brim with eerie atmosphere, lush visuals and intriguing and salacious plot twists, executed by an underrated master of the genre. Personally, I definitely take the latter opinion. 




A Flower in His Mouth (aka The Masters)

 





1975
Italy
115 min
Director: Luigi Zampa
Rating: 3 out of 4

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.


The House of the Blue Shadows




 
 



1986
Italy
90 min
Director: Beppe Cino
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 4

A young girl, Lola, is playing hide-and-seek with a group of neighbourhood children in her friend Luca’s house. The girl dies in mysterious circumstances when she is seemingly pushed from a balcony by an unseen person. Fifteen years later, Luca (Stefano Gabrini) returns to the house with his fiancée Margit (Amanda Sandrelli, daughter of Stefania). Luca and his family abandoned the countryside villa shortly after Lola’s death, and returning there soon opens a Pandora’s Box of painful memories for him. He obsessively delves through dusty old childhood photos and mementos, and friends who were at the house on the day of the tragedy ‘drop by’ in a disconcerting manner (the passing of time has transformed them into creepy, lurking provincial villagers). It becomes clear that Luca never got over Lola’s passing, and begins to seemingly have visual and aural manifestations of the girl. He also becomes unhealthily obsessed with a mannequin that reminds him of her, even locking lips with it... Unnerved by Luca’s increasing unhinged behaviour, Margit questions him about the past but Luca becomes enraged at her whenever she tries to go there. Is Luca being haunted by the dead girl’s ghost, is his mind simply playing tricks, or is it a vengeful villager who’s convinced that he was the murderer? And indeed, who was the killer? Events take a further sinister turn when both Luca and Margit start being stalked by a murderous, hooded black figure in an Onibaba mask...


 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
 

1978
Italy
86 min
Director: Franco Prosperi
Rating: 3 out of 4

Upon the success and notoriety of Wes Craven’s disturbing rape-revenge classic Last House on the Left, Italian producers and directors predicably sniffed out a money-making opportunity and followed suit with a number of typically more amped-up and exploitative rape-revenge flicks appearing in that country’s cinemas. Amongst these cash-ins were Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders, Ferdinando Baldi’s Terror Express, and Franco Prosperi’s Last House on the Beach. N.B. To save confusion, this is NOT the Franco Prosperi of Mondo movie infamy.

Three crims, Aldo (Ray Lovelock), Walter (Flavio Andreini) and Nino (Stefano Cedrati) are on the run with a large sum of cash following a violent bank robbery. Desperate to hide out after their car breaks down in a seaside town, the gang stumble across a remote beachside villa where five teenage Catholic schoolgirls and their teacher, a nun, Sister Cristina (Florinda Bolkan) are staying as a study group. Immediately upon crossing the threshold the trio go about terrorising and intimidating the petrified females over the course of three nightmarish days. It also soon established that the handsome, seemingly more ‘refined’ Aldo is the leader of the gang, and the constantly sweating, animalistic, sex-crazed Walter and equally Nethanderal Nino are his followers. Before long Walter tries to molest one of the girls, Elisa (Sherry Buchanan) when she is changing; she fights back and wincingly stabs him in the crotch with the sharp handle of a comb. The innocent Elisa is overcome with guilt, and she is comforted by Aldo, again demonstrating his apparently more ‘gentle, civilised’ side. Aldo pretends to be an innocent tag-along who’s been waylaid into the depravity by his fellow low-life thugs, but the reality is that he is just as vicious as his co-conspirers and in fact subtly goads and encourages Walter and Nino to commit heinous acts of sexual depravity towards the students and Sister Cristina. The nun is humiliated by being stripped naked in front of the horrified girls, and forced to wear her traditional habit for the gang’s sick pleasure. After being raped by Walter, who discovers that she isn’t a virgin, the men get a further kick out of demeaning the Sister about this, even though it was an act that occurred in the past before committing to her vows.  Incredibly, the nun maintains a quiet strength and dignity throughout the ordeal, keeping a clear head amongst the madness. But how much more will Sister Cristina be able to take when Lucia, the most timid of the girls, is viciously sodomised by Walter and Nino and left a catatonic wreck, and Elisa horrifically violated via a cane, resulting in the poor girl’s death? Will she abide by the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, or transform into an avenging angel to save herself and the remaining students?

Last House on the Beach is an effective, slickly photographed and executed entry in this controversial subgenre. Though hardly the most original or innovate effort (recycling the old tried and tested stereotypical nugget yet again of extremely vicious, oversexed trio of hyper-feral males versus sweet, virginal wide-eyed Catholic schoolgirls), there are enough strong acting performances, general unpleasantness and a genuine tense, grim atmosphere  to keep the viewer watching until the end. Florinda Bolkan as always is pure class, holding on to a front of stoic toughness whilst doing her utmost to protect her girls from appalling sexual, physical and verbal abuse, even whilst enduring equally cruel degradations herself. Bolkan manages to communicate so much just by simple, subtle eye glances.  Also worth noting is Ray Lovelock as the sickeningly manipulative lead villain who goes to great lengths to paint himself as some sort of diamond in the rough, yet he’s just as much a repulsive degenerate as his  friends. And yes, even though the characters of Walter and Nino could be described as identikit bad guys, at least they provide enough ugly, sheer hate-filled, obnoxious presence to not be easily forgotten once the final frames of the film roll by. The schoolgirls are difficult to distinguish from each other, having being delegated personality-free, cardboard cut-out roles (we don’t even learn all of their names),  however are still believable and convincing enough for the viewer to feel sympathy for them.


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. 

Doctor Gore



1973 
USA
Director: J.G. ‘Pat’ Patterson Jr.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4


Eminent plastic surgeon and scientist Dr Brandon (Pat Patterson) loses his beloved wife Anitra in a freak accident. The heartbroken doc soon dreams up a way to create a new ‘dream woman’ – essentially a new and improved upgrade of Anitra. With the assistance of his faithful hunchback assistant Greg (yep plain old ‘Greg’, not Igor or Quasimodo), he initially begins by conducting experiments on female corpses graverobbed from the cemetery which is handily located next door to his rambling castle. When the good doctor has perfected his corpse-reanimating experiments (consisting of aluminium foil, duct tape, electric shocks and brightly-coloured children’s chemistry set elixirs), he graduates to hypnotising various women of his choice and helping himself to the body part(s) he requires, whilst neatly disposing of the remainder of the corpses in a nifty acid bath. After much toiling away in his 1950’s backlot D-grade sci-fi film lab, finally comes the day when Dr Brandon can enjoy the fruits of his labour. He successfully resurrects Anitra Version 2.0, then devotes his time to teaching her that “a man needs to be loved”...and little else. All set to an endless montage of the happy couple frolicking and holding hands in fields of flowers, accompanied by the excruciating country and western warblings of one ‘Bill Hicks’ (no, NOT ‘the’ Bill Hicks).  Well, the new Anitra may be perfect on the outside, but she’s literally empty-headed on the inside, leading to disastrous consequences for our hero and his right-hand man...    

Admittedly I couldn’t help but like this happy disaster of a modern Frankenstein update by Herschell Gordon Lewis associate and former TV horror host Pat Patterson (Lewis himself provides an hastily improvised introduction to his late friend’s film, so take everything he says – such as Doctor Gore being a “lost” film utilising “15 gallons of blood” – with a very large grain of salt). Cobbled together with obviously extremely limited resources and Patterson wearing director’s, producer’s, writer’s, lead actor’s AND special effects hats, one has to give the man kudos for trying. Also my impression was that this was never intended to be a ‘serious’ horror film anyway (which most detractors seem to mistake it as) as Patterson is obviously hamming it up to the max, so I took the whole thing as a bizarre comedy. A key moment of genius was Patterson and his sidekick Greg (who’s entire dialogue consists of “GNNAAAHHH” and “AAAGGNNN” flapping about pointlessly when a fire starts in the lab following an experiment gone wrong, flipping switches amid a shower of randomly thrown fireworks. And let’s just say that in this film Patterson isn’t exactly a Franco Nero in the looks department (complete with bad comb-over), thus his extremely unlikely and cringeworthy characterisation as an aging Lothario, pawing at and making out with young cuties at least half his age is conveniently explained by writing in those instantly seductive powers of hypnotism (rendered by hilarious close-ups of his exaggerated, bulging eyes).


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."



Formula for a Murder

1985 
Italy
96 min 
Director: Alberto De Martino
Rating: 2.5 out of 4


Boston, 1960: Joanna, an 11-year-old girl, is raped by a sex predator disguised as a priest. Attempting to escape from the pervert, she falls down a steep flight of stairs, her injuries resulting in her becoming paralysed from the waist down. 25 years later: Joanna (Christina Nagy), as an adult, is confined to a wheelchair. Having inherited a family fortune, she has founded a clinic for paraplegics and is intending to donate half of her wealth to the Church according to her father’s wishes. At the clinic, Joanna’s handsome fitness instructor Craig (David Warbeck) has taken a romantic interest in her, much to the resentment of Ruth (Caroll Blumenberg), her personal assistant who also appears to be attracted to her employer. Joanna’s psychiatrist, Dr Sernich, (Rossano Brazzi, strictly in paycheck mode) warns Craig that his patient has a weak heart and that any sudden shock or trauma may cause a fatal heart attack. He also informs Craig that Joanna has completely blocked out the rape and any memories or reminders of the incident could kill her. After a whirlwind courtship, Craig and Joanna marry. It soon becomes clear that Craig is a ruthless gold digger, and with Dr Sernich’s advice in mind, sets about trying to invoke a cardiac arrest via excessive lovemaking and donning clerical dress to scare Joanna (not realising it’s Craig, she is convinced she’s suffering from hallucinations). In the meantime, a priest-murdering maniac is on the loose, brutally slashing and beating to death two clergymen who had recently discussed with Joanna her promised donation. This is only the beginning of a living nightmare for Joanna, who, like the viewer, is about to be put through a wringer of shocking twists and startling revelations...       


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.        




The Vampire of Dusseldorf

1965 
Spain/France/Italy  
89 min
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!


Journey Among Women
 
1977
Australia
93 min
Director: Tom Cowan
Rating: 2 out of 4
 



Late 18th Century, Sydney, Australia: A group of wild female convicts are imprisoned in an unnamed penal colony. Amongst the inhumane, barbaric conditions in which the women are forced to survive in, they are routinely raped and humiliated by the sadistic guards. Elizabeth Harrington (June Prichard), the well-to-do daughter of a judge, is engaged to the captain of the guards, Richard McEwan (Martin Phelan), who’s treatment of the convicts is as equally repugnant as his men. Increasing concerned with the women’s plight, Elizabeth reaches her breaking point when she witnesses her fiancé molesting a prisoner on the night of a boozy celebration, then discovers her maid Meg being assaulted by a paralytic guard. The genteel noblewoman shoots and kills the guard, then joins the prisoners in a breakout, fleeing into the harsh bushland with them. After days of fruitless wandering though the wilderness, evading the guards who are hot on their trail, the near-starving prisoners discover a friendly Aboriginal women who teaches them invaluable survival skills, such as building shelter, making primitive weaponry, and sourcing food and water. Empowered, the women live a primitive utopia-like existence. Except for an increasingly disillusioned Elizabeth, who declares to Meg that she “doesn’t want them to live like savages”. However, she and the rest of the women are horrified when they discover the youngest of the group, a 13-year-old girl, raped and killed by two men who had been lurking around the encampment. Stripping naked, donning body paint and arming themselves with their makeshift crossbows, axes and spears, the women declare War against the soldiers. Will Elizabeth join the women vs men battle, or return to the ‘civilised’ sanctuary of her home?


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.




The Corruption of Chris Miller
1973
Spain
107 mins
Director: Juan Antonio Berdem
Rating: 3.5 out of 4

 
Ruth Miller (Jean Seberg) is a repressed woman residing in a lonely, rambling Spanish country estate with her teenage stepdaughter Chris (former Spanish child star Marisol). Both are struggling to fight their own demons – Ruth harbours intense hatred for her ex-husband and Chris’s father, who abandoned them a year earlier, and Chris suffers from severe anxiety and PTSD from a brutal rape inflicted by a weightlifter in a public shower several years earlier (interestingly, some critics have interpreted this to be a comment on the state of Spanish cinema at the time; ex-weightlifter Paul Naschy was immensely popular at the time). Whenever it rains, Chris has flashbacks of the assault and suffers from hysterical panic attacks. Oddly, Ruth seems to encourage Chris’s anxiety during these times by turning all the lights off to frighten the girl, who relies on Ruth to comfort her during these times. Both women are also waiting for Ruth’s former husband to return one day. Ruth hopes to somehow get her revenge on him for deserting her, and Chris misses her father dearly and longs to see him again. In the meantime, a hooded, scythe-wielding figure is terrorising the region, bloodily hacking to death innocent victims in their homes. Ruth and Chris’s lives are further interrupted by a dashing young English drifter, Barney Webster (Barry Stokes), who Ruth discovers sleeping in their barn. Ruth initially attempts to shoo Barney off, but is won over by his cocky, confident charm. Ruth and Barney soon become lovers, but Barney is also attracted to the beautiful Chris. The three soon become entangled in a complicated love triangle, with Ruth’s peculiar mind games holding court. But is there more to Barney than the women realise? And who is the killer rampaging through the tranquil countryside?


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!   
 


 Hydra: Monster From the Deep 

1984
Spain
92 mins
Director: Amando de Ossorio
Rating: 0.5 out of 4


  
Due to an aborted military mission, an Air Force jet is forced to jettison a newly patented atomic bomb into the Atlantic. The subsequent – stock footage rendered – detonation in the Atlantic revives a prehistoric ‘sea serpent’. Cut to Galica, Spain, 1.985 (yes, the year is 1.985, according to our introductory title). Disgraced, alcoholic sea captain Pedro Fontan (Timothy Bottoms) is on night watch on his fishing boat, when from out of nowhere our sea serpent arises from the ocean, accompanied to the strains of an almost carbon-copy cut-price rendition of the JAWS theme. A truly menacing creature which resembles a giant sock puppet with giant ping-pong ball eyes and plastic fangs. Emitting a curious screeching sound, Sock Puppet lurches forward into the side of the boat, causing it to sink. The crew escape on two separate lifeboats, but only one manages to get to the shore as the occupants of the other boat are all bloodlessly devoured by Sock Puppet out of sight of the other lifeboat. Despite his pleas that he saw a sea monster, Fontan loses his sea captain license and has a prison sentence hanging over his head, as it is assumed that he was drunk and caused the boat to crash and sink. Meanwhile, over in Estoril, Portugal, cashed-up tourist Margaret (Taryn Power) is holiday with her best friend Jill. Jill has a bit too much to drink one night and unwisely climbs into a paddle boat at the beach. She’s predictably eaten for dinner by Sock Puppet in front of Margaret, who is promptly carted off to a psychiatric hospital after telling her story to the media. Fontan reads the news report and after sneaking Margaret out of the hospital, teams up with her and a respected oceanographer, Professor Wallace (Ray Milland) to destroy the monster. But before they can do this, how many more miniature lighthouses, helicopters and trains will Sock Puppet obliterate on its rampage?


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!


Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69

2008
USA
135 min
Director: Keith J. Crocker
Rating: 3 out of 4
 
Argentina, 1955: Helmut Schultz (Charles Esser) is ambushed in his home by Mossard agents who demand he give himself up for his crimes against humanity during his tyrannical reign as head of a POW camp in Germany from 1942-1945. Schultz despatches of the agents and takes refuge in a church, where he suddenly has the urge to confess everything to a priest (Paul Richichi). Cut to Germany 1945, where the evil Schultz is terrorising and systematically butchering prisoners at Stalag 69, one of the last surviving but still infinitely brutal Nazi camps. Aside from inflicting sadistic tortures on the hapless captives to try and extract information from them, Schultz is conducting horrific experiments under the guise of ‘warfare research’  in a deranged attempt to live up to his failed dream of becoming a doctor. Schultz is particularly intent on breaking a tough-as-nails Russian front fighter, Natasha, (Tatyana Kot) who refuses to spill the beans even after enduring being stretched on a medieval-like rack, burning by branding iron, electrocution, vice finger-crushing, and sharp bamboo shoots stuck under her fingernails. The ultra-ballsy Natasha bands together with other prisoners who plot to break out of the hell camp.  The ragtag group of American and Russian POW’s, as well as some plucky USO girls, manage to overpower the guards and the U.S. Army arrives in time to liberate them, but amongst the mayhem Schultz manages to escape and lay low in Argentina. Meanwhile in the present, the seemingly mild-mannered priest is becoming more and more enraged by Schultz and his cohorts’ past inhumane depravities...


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.



The Bloody Ape

1997
USA
77 min
Director: Keith J. Crocker
Rating: 3 out of 4
Eccentric carnival barker Lampini (Paul Richichi) has an extraordinary run of bad luck. His dodgy sleazebag of a mechanic Vic White (Larry Koster) does some incredibly shonky ‘work’ on his car (after insulting Lampini and sexually harassing his girlfriend Ginger), leaving it in worse condition than when it was brought in but still charging Lampini an extortionist fee.  A scheming rabbi almost cons Lampini into forking out thousands of dollars for a glass engagement ring, then when Lampini finally finds a suitable ring Ginger walks out on him when he proposes.  Fed up with being abused, cheated and generally screwed over, Lampini  lets his 400 pound gorilla Gorto (George Reis) loose on those who’ve done him wrong (Gorto has been trained to attack on cue at the smell of bananas). Lampini sends his adversaries bushes of bananas and banana soap to attract the ravenous gorilla, who lumbers on a grisly sex-starved rampage throughout Long Island, mutilating, disembowelling and violating his victims. Moronic, racist cop LoBianco (also played by George Reis), finds the case too difficult to solve so tries to blame the killings on a innocent black man, Duane Jones (who earlier the equally racist Vic White had point-blank refused to fix his car entirely on the basis of his skin colour). While Jones attempts to clear his name, the body count rises as Lampini loses control of Gorto, who is starting to chow down on whomever he pleases...


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 DemonCarnival 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”?

Sexorcisms

1975
Belgium/France/Spain
81 min
Director: Jess Franco
Rating: 1 out of 4

Ladies and Gentleman, we have a true Cinefear exclusive here – Sexorcisms, the rarely seen hardcore version of Jess Franco’s Exorcism. Yes, the one with the much-missed Franco and Lina Romay as participants in the sex scenes. I’d heard talk for years about this alternate version, but never been able to source a copy. Finally thanks to Cinefear Video, I’ve finally had the chance to see this, um, opus for myself. Essentially this a re-release of Exorcism with the violence toned down and a few talky scenes edited out and replaced with XXX inserts. For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the original cut, the plot is as follows.
Defrocked and deranged priest Mathis Vogel (Jess Franco) writes popular sadomasochistic stories for porn mag ‘Venus Editions’. The magazine’s editor, Raymond Franval (Pierre Taylou) and his girlfriend Anne (Lina Romay) are swingers who are part of a circle of wealthy S & M enthusiasts. The group perform regular live shows, incorporating black mass rituals into their performances. Vogel, obsessed with Anne, begins stalking her obsessively. Horrified when he sees what he mistakenly believes is a ritual killing at one of the sex shows, Vogel believes the members, particularly the women, of the circle are possessed by the devil. Convinced that he must free them from Satan and purify their souls, Vogel ‘exorcises’ them by way of chaining up his victims and torturing them to death. He captures Anne, but is torn between murdering or sparing her. Will she escape the evil Vogel’s clutches alive?     


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’.

 
Abby

1974
USA
89 min
Director: William Girdler
Rating 2.5 out of 4
On an archaeological research trip to Nigeria, Bishop Garnet Williams (Blacula star William Marshall) unintentionally releases an evil spirit, ‘Eshu’, when he discovers an ancient carved box in a cave and opens it. At the same time in the States, the bishop’s son Reverend Emmett (Terry Carter) and marriage counsellor daughter-in-law Abby (Carol Speed) move into their new house – with an uninvited third resident. It isn’t long before Eshu makes his presence known by way of objects flying about and an invisible force attacking Abby in the basement. Worse still, this ‘demon of sexuality’ has his eye on sweet, prim and proper Abby, who beings having fits, self-mutilating,  spewing out vulgarities in a gravelly voice, and seducing men in sleazy bars, amongst other increasingly bizarre and dangerous behaviour. Baffled by her rapid change to chaste innocent to sex-crazed, murderous monster, Emmett calls his father in despair, who realises his release of the demon has caused Abby’s possession. Bishop Williams rushes home to join forces with Emmett and Abby’s brother Cass in a frantic race against time to attempt to exorcise Abby...


Basically a blaxploitation take on The ExorcistAbby 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.



Guyana: Cult of the Damned

1979
Mexico/Spain
115 min
Director: Rene Cardona Jr
Rating: 2 out of 4


Guyana: Cult of the Damned is based on the 1978 Jonestown tragedy, where over 900 followers of tyrannical cult leader Jim Jones fatally drank Kool-Aid laced with cyanide upon his orders at the People’s Temple compound in Guyana, South America.

Always one to sniff out a quick cinematic moneymaking opportunity, Mexican low-budget dynamo Rene Cardona Jr rushed full speed ahead into production while news headlines were still burning with the story. Cardona gained much of his research from news reports and a cassette tape of Jones’ speech to his followers at the time of the mass suicide - so those expecting an 100% accurate retelling of the events may be disappointed, but Cardona covers himself by including a pre-credits title stating the movie is ‘based’ on what occurred.

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...’


Compared to his previous efforts, Cardona has aimed with Guyana: Cult of the Damned to complete a straightforward, serious retelling of the appalling events and toned down the overtly exploitative elements usually found in his films. Whittled down to 90 minutes for its U.S. theatrical release, the elusive 115 minute uncut version does tend to drag on in parts with far too many talky scenes, a general lack of drama or tension, and some wooden supporting actors further hamper the proceedings. It has to be said that the lengthy mass suicide climax, though effective, is incredibly disturbing and upsetting, including infants and small children being forced-fed or injected the fatal Kool-Aid. Stuart Whitman gives a credible performance as the megalomaniac, drug-addled Johnson, as does Gene Barry in the role of the ill-fated Congressman. Also on the plus side, the ‘Johnsontown’ village settings are convincingly comparable to the look of the real-life compound.  Despite the film’s shortcomings, the morbid curiosity of the subject matter, the impressive recreation of the camp considering budget constraints, and some strong performances help keep things afloat.

 


Giallo in Venice

1979
Italy
98 min
Director: Mario Landi
Rating: 2 out of 4

On face value, Giallo in Venice may sound like a glamorous title, but warning bells will be ringing for those in the know once the names ‘Mario Landi’ and ‘Gabriele Crisanti’ appear in the opening credits, and the first scene consists of one of the lead actors being stabbed in the crotch in close-up. Having the dubious honour of making The New York Ripper look classy and restrained in comparison, Giallo in Venice is incredibly grubby and brutal, choosing to up the ante on explicit sex and violence rather than the stylish flourishes that usually punctuate the genre. The plot involves the murder of a young couple, a subsequent investigation uncovering the kinky sex-and-drug fuelled lifestyle of the pair, and a killer on a bloody rampage. Thus providing Landi and Crisanti the opportunity to pack in its 91 minutes masturbation, buggery, voyeurism, prostitution, rape, whipping and group sex. Yes, good old-fashioned family entertainment here! As well as their signature jaw-dropping creative kills (including vaginal mutilation via scissors and a leg messily sawed off in loving close-up) – shocking and disturbing on paper but in execution the effectiveness of these scenes is severely hampered by the tawdry production values. Poor cinematography and lighting makes one of the world’s most picturesque cities in the world, Venice, look like a drab and seedy backwater, and Berto Pisani’s anachronistic grand orchestral score sounds hilariously out of place, most likely recycled from another production. A cast of unprepossessing and untalented actors add another layer of grime to the proceedings (including a constantly hard-boiled egg eating police inspector who nonchalantly remarks “Too bad for her” upon discovering the violated corpse of a female victim).  


But I certainly wasn’t bored during the film’s duration - the genre films of Gabriele Crisanti and his collaborators never pretend to be anything that they aren’t - derivative trash - but at least Crisanti and co go out of their way to ensure that their output is entertaining derivative trash. Unashamedly outrageous and audacious, Giallo in Venice gives the target audience exactly what they want – blood, boobs and bush in spades. Thanks to Cinefear Video I was granted the opportunity to view this rarity in a clear uncut print with English subtitles. Just don’t have ANY politically correct expectations whatsoever!



Shadow of Illusion

1970
Italy
88 min
Director: Mario Caiano
Rating: 3 out of 4



New York advertising executive Gail Bland (Daniela Giordano) is summoned to Cairo for a business meeting with ‘Isis Cosmetics’. Upon arriving in Cairo, Gail makes some enquires and finds that no-one has heard of the company. However a hotel room has been booked for her by “someone from the tourist board”. At the hotel she meets a strange procession of characters – Seth and his sister Sara who claim to know who she is, but that “It’s better you don’t ask too many questions. It’s dangerous”, and charismatic but mysterious Caleb (William Berger), who warns Gail to stay away from the creepy siblings. Caleb offers to take Gail to the address she was given for ‘Isis Cosmetics’, which turns out to be a deserted building where a young girl (Debra Berger) suddenly appears warning her of danger there.  Unnerved, Gail tries to make arrangements to return to New York but is unable to due to a dead phone line and flight delays. Caleb advises her that she should spend the time she has to wait to return home as a vacation and takes her sightseeing to the pyramids. He tells Gail the legend of Isis and Osiris. Gail makes a number of uncanny connections between the legend and the recent odd occurrences. It soon transpires that Caleb and Gail are the modern incarnations of Osiris and Isis respectively (according to the legend Osiris is meant to return to Earth to find his bride). Seth and Sara are members of a murderous, drug-addled cult who, due to Gail’s uncanny resemblance to Isis, have lured her to Cairo as part of an elaborate plan to sacrifice the doppelganger, which they believe will unleash great powers. The siblings invite Gail to an Osiris-worshipping ceremony at a ruined temple, insisting that she go. Despite all previous warnings, she unwisely decides to accept the invitation, without realising she is to be the main attraction of the ceremony...


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!