Cupfuls of Kupfer

Allen Kupfer is an acclaimed author and full time cult film fanatic. His two most recent novels, The THE JOURNAL OF PROFESSOR ABRAHAM VAN HELSING and A MEAL TO DIE FOR (co-authored with Joseph Gannascoli of THE SOPRANOS) testify to Allen's cinematic influences. Here he is going to be reviewing films available on the Cinerfear website for your reading pleasure. We will be providing links to the pages featuring the films from the Cinefear website. Quality and source information is available in our capsule plot synopses for the given film. Now, sit back, put on your reading glasses and enjoy the ride!

 BLUEBEARD'S TEN HONEYMOONS (1960)
Directed by W. Lee Wilder






Grisly Murders : not shown but grisly
 Ironic Dialogue: Oodles
Atmosphere: Dark
Sanders: In top form
2 1/2 Body Parts out of four 
George Sanders was usually great in whatever film he was in, even when the film was a bomb, like some that he made toward the end of his career. This mystery/crime film -- which borders on being a horror film -- is a sleazy but well-done film that gives Sanders a vehicle to show just how versatile an actor he really was. He plays Henri Landru aka Bluebeard, the legendary murderer of women he first seduces into a love affair. The film, released by Anglo Artists, begins with him following a slutty, conniving blond (Corinne Calvert) and actually falling in love with her. But to win her over, he has to have some money, so he spends the rest of the film seducing other women, hurriedly marrying them, killing them, and finally acquiring their wealth. In the meantime, Calvert is carrying on with another con artist and playing Sanders literally for all he's worth. Some of the murders are pretty gruesome: one "ex-wife" is beheaded by a train, another's choked while in the bathtub, and several are cut up into pieces and burned in a stove in his country house. This being a 1960 film, none of this is graphic, but it's presented in chilling fashion, thanks to W. Lee Wilder's matter-of-fact but effective direction. The film is low-budget, but the cheap sets don't hurt; in fact, they force you to pay more attention to Sanders, who's startlingly business-like (but charming) in the execution of the murders. Also in the cast are Jean Kent, Patricia Roc, Greta Gynt, and George Coulouris, playing his usual sleazebag. This 92-minute movie is a must if you're a Sanders fan, and even if you're not but you love a "nice" movie about a serial killer -- one who's basically a "romantic" -- this film's for you. 









 FURY OF THE APACHES (1964)
 directed by Jose Maria Elorieta



 Violence: moderate
Ethnic stereotypes: surprisingly few
Acting: very good
Apaches: loads of them
FURY OF THE APACHES (1964). Released before Leone’s “Fistful of Dollars,” FURY OF THE APACHES is a Spanish/Italian western full of energy and one that benfits from a great set-up. Many disparate people – some who had connections between them in the past – are holed up in an abandoned fort that a very jaded man (Frank Latimore) calls his own. Among them are a beautiful woman (Nuria Toray), her brother, her husband (a crooked judge), a gambler, and assorted gunmen. They’re banded together, fending off an attack by Apaches who want revenge for the murder of one of their own for no reason. A well-produced film, nicely-directed by Jose Maria Elorieta, there’s tension and action a-plenty. The characters are well-drawn and interesting, especially Latimore’s, a real loner with a chip on his shoulder. Surprising is the fact that this is one of the few Euro-Westerns (besides the German “Winnetou” series) that prominently features American Indians – and they’re not portrayed as being “in the wrong.” Also, unlike the usual Mexican stereotypes in most Westerns, a Mexican kid here is portrayed as a brave and heroic figure. Even the soundtrack music is interesting: it’s a cross between U.S. “western” music and the soon-to-come Morricone-like twangy, reverbed guitars. Elorieta provides some sweeping shots during the Apache attacks, and there’s a very good Apache/stagecoach chase. There are a few weak points: the predictable ending, the barely- passable dubbing, and the phony-looking uniforms on the cavalry. But despite these flaws, this is a very unknown, very under-appreciated Euro-Western that rarely gets discussed. However, it’s an important, very satisfying early entry in this subgenre. You can get a neat copy (off a 16mm print from Cinefear. It’s a rarity Euro-Western fans should have. 

 


  
TRUNK TO CAIRO (1966)
Dir:  Menahem Golan
Audie shouldn't have done it!  




 I have always been a big Audie Murphy fan, but Murphy must have been desperate (or wanted a vacation in Israel and Rome) when he decided to star in this obscure, completely incoherent, incompetent drivel. He plays an American agent posing as a German agent trying to stop a German scientist (George Sanders) from developing nuclear warheads for Egypt. (Huh?) He meets Sanders' daughter (Marianne Koch) on a plane and (sort of) team up. Meanwhile, her German boyfriend (Hans von Borsody), also working for Egypt, doesn't like the idea. This Israeli/German co-production is a perfectly lousy attempt to cash in on the "secret agent" craze in the mid-60's stemming from the success of James Bond. There's really no plot; there's simply a situation, and the filmmakers seem to make up the sequence of scenes as they go along. There's a lot of climbing, running, fighting, etc., but it's all stupid and very boring. (However, it does appear that Murphy is doing most of his own stunts.) Worse, director Menahem Golan seems to be winging it too in very careless fashion. (The overhead mic is clearly visible in some scenes.) The music in the film is ridiculous and doesn't fit, and it seems halfway through the film someone decided this wasn't working as a "drama," so there are "comedy" sequences -- like a motorcycle/horseback chase -- that are accompanied on the soundtrack by music that sounds left over from some old 30's Hal Roach short. Unfortunately, none of that is funny. It's all just pathetic. The Professor hopes Murphy and Sanders at least enjoyed their trips to Israel and Italy. Unfortunately, YOU won't enjoy their trips to Israel and Italy. Even the title is inept and inaccurate: it refers to a relatively unimportant scene in the last 10 minutes of the film. Despite all this, the PROFESSOR is glad he got to see this disastrous fiasco, thanks to the dvd he ordered from CINEFEAR.COM, where you too can order your copy. (Collectors take note: it's a very nice print of this film.) It's nearly impossible to find anywhere else . . . probably for good reason.






 AWKWARD HANDS (1970)
Dir: Rafael Romero Marchent
Violence: A plenty!
Peter Lee Lawrence: His best yet!  




 

Here's a first-rate Spanish/Italian western that is a perfect blend of U.S. and "spaghetti western" styles (which are quite different). Parts of it resemble an American western from the 50's (its "love story" and its romanticism), but the plot's cruelty and treachery, and the movie's cinematographic style are very "European." The plot's also a weird mix of romance and revenge, with a couple of very interesting asides: the gunfighter Latimore (played wonderfully by Alberto de Mendoza) who helps the "hero" (German actor Peter Lee Lawrence, who's very good too) learn "vengeance"; and the old Chinese man who teaches Lawrence how to use a gun and his fists. (In this "training" sequence, the film, in a weird way, resembles many martial arts films.) As the film begins, Lawrence is a non-violent pushover who works on a ranch and is bullied and ridiculed by almost everyone. When he is caught with a young woman (Pilar Velasquez) who a rich landowner wants, the woman's father (Antonio Casas) whips him ferociously. (There are two more whipping sequences in this film -- all with the same whip!! -- and all three are fairly brutal.) Lawrence is left for dead, but he isn't, and after being saved by Latimore and taught by the old Chinese man (played by Gene Reyes in very convincing makeup), he turns into a hellbent avenger. The film alternates back and forth between somewhat melancholy scenes and others of stark violence, and director Rafael Romero Marchert does great work here. And just when you think things are wrapped up, well, without giving too much away, let's just say Latimore figures back in the plot, and there's a terrific freeze-frame ending that is wonderfully ambiguous. There is also one unforgettably gruesome scene in which a "bad guy" is tied to a corpse that has died from "the plague"; it is both horrifying and "sick/funny" This is a great film, gorgeously-filmed and terrifically-acted, and the dubbing is quite good. It's also a very rare Euro-western that is difficult for collectors to get a copy of, but a beautiful widescreen copy is available from CINEFEAR.COM. I suggest serious Euro-western fans pick up a copy.

 





 THE DEAD DON'T DIE (1975)  75 mins. Color.

 



Dir: Curtis Harrington
Scary: Has it's moments for a TV movie
George Hamilton's Suntan: Perfect!
A good number of (pre-cable) made-for-television movies were produced for the major networks, and a lot of them are not particularly good. That is NOT the case with this one, directed by the always-interesting Curtis Harrington. This moody, period-piece (the 30's) horror film is fairly daring -- even nasty -- for television. Seems a dead man isn't really dead, and this leads star George Hamilton (surprisingly good in this role) to investigate. There are some wild scenes: a fairly gruesome electric chair sequence; a corpse rising from its coffin (a la "Nosferatu"); and another grisly scene in a meat locker. The film is very well-written and based on a story by Robert Bloch, author of "Psycho." This "zombie/undead" tv feature also has a strong, intriguing cast: Linda Cristal, Joan Blondell, Ralph Meeker, Reggie Nalder, Yvette Vickers, and the great Ray Milland. Again, this a pretty heavy feature for a 70's television film, and after recently seeing it again, I was surprised at just how well it held up! 







 DAFFODIL KILLER (1961) 100 mins. B/W






Dir: Ákos Ráthonyi 
German: Yah
Kinski: Scene Stealer 


For a bit over a decade, the Germans cranked out "krimis," crime films almost always based on stories or novels by Edgar Wallace. They were fairly outrageous (for then) mostly black and white films that often featured a masked killer. This film is a British/German co-production and was actually shot in England (unlike most of the others, which were shot in Germany but took place in England). It's a tale of heroin smuggling and a murderer who kills women, and an airline inspector (Joachim Fuchsberger) who works with a Chinese drug agent (Christopher Lee). And there's a sleazeball/junkie featured too, played by Klaus Kinski. The film is a mix of good and bad . . . but mostly good! Lee's Chinese agent is the most interesting character, but if you're one of those "politically-correct" viewers, be warned: his depiction is strictly, shall we say, "old-fashioned." Fuchsberger's good, but Kinski steals the show, especially towards the end of the film. There are explosions (done as cheaply as possible), stabbings, some nice (though outrageous) twists in the plot, and in general the movie is nicely done in an almost "noir" style. Best of all are the great outdoor location scenes, filmed in Piccadilly Circus. Worth watching for the great cast, all the sexual innuendo (this is the early 60's, folks), and the twisty-turny plot.

  

 

 

INVINCIBLE MASKED RIDER (1963) 100 Mins. Color.

Dir: Umberto Lenzi
Cleavage: More than you can shake a sword at!
Violence: Torture Chamber, can you ask for more?

 Director Umberto Lenzi is best known for some of the goriest, most mean-spirited horror films ever made, but this swashbuckler could actually be one of his best movies.Pierre Brice stars as a Zorro/Robin Hood-type whose stepfather is an evil dictator in Spain. And he's really bad: he and his soldiers torture opponents, torment and rape (offscreen) women, and refuse shelter from the ongoing plague (from Portugal)to his countrymen. He has a nobleman killed and holds his daughter prisoner, hoping to inherit the man's fortune. But then his stepson -- on the surface an idiot and a fop -- goes undercover to thwart his stepdad's plans. (Daniele Vargas, as the evil Don Luis, virtually steals the film!) What's interesting about this very entertaining, very well-written but ultimately derivative costume film is how Fulci incorporates scenes that would easily fit in in a spaghetti western and others that would be right at home in a giallo. (The hero wears a full black mask, typical of giallo "psycho" characters; the scenes of bandits robbing coaches look almost like scenes from westerns.) Some scenes involving plague victims, other scenes of torture (a red hot poker is used), and a scene of mourners marching with their dead through the streets are genuinely creepy. Another plus is the dueling scenes are very good, especially those involving evil henchman Massimo Serato, who's also excellent. Other items of interest: Don Luis' evil Muslim henchman, played by Carlo Latimer, and the beautiful Helene Chanel in the female lead. Although the Pierre Brice hero is called "Robin Hood" in the subtitles, one suspects that in Spanish versions of the film he might have been called Zorro (or whatever). The film is in some ways a mess, but it all holds together beautifully, even if it does have some dialogue like this: "You are disgusting," our heroine declares to Don Luis, " . . . like a rat!" And the bizarre Lenzi touches are unique. Who else, during a masquerade scene in Spain centuries ago, would have the camera dwell on a character wearing a huge Richard Nixon mask?
This is a one-of-a-kind swashbuckler -- and a terrific Lenzi film -- and I absolutely loved it. (The subtitles were obviously written by someone not all that familiar with English, though. You'll see . . .) The film is also known under the title "Terror of the Black Mask" and several others.

 

 



  
DANGEROUS LOVE (1981) 90 Mins. Color.



  
Dir: Mario Siciliano
Nudity: Much! 
Sex: Plenty but mild
Lame Gay Jokes: Watch for the ending
Rating: 1 1/2 Gropes (out of 4) 

 "Dangerous Love" (U.S. title) is one of those softcore quickies that seemed to jump out of Italy faster than a flea from a donkey's backside in the late 70s-early 80s. I found this VHS tape in a store that was closing. The number of laughs (unintentional, of course)that I had while I watched it justified the buck I paid for it.

There's a lot of groaning and groping, none of it hardcore. Director Siciliano likes cheap zoom shots and cutting away to sculptures who seem to be frowning on the goings-on on the couches, beds, etc.

Plot? You want a plot too? Don't hold your breath trying to untangle the dozen or so plot threads that tangle and wind up nowhere except . . .well, tangled.

Siciliano should have stuck to Euro-westerns. Some of his were damn good!

 



 

HELL’S BELLES  (1970).  95 mins. Color.

Dir: Maury Dexter                    
Bikes: Cool
Violence/Sex: moderate
Jocelyn Lane: oh yeah!
Acting: Pretty good
Rating: 2 ½ “hogs” (out of 4)
This entry in the “motorcycle gang” genre of the 60’s/70’s is passable, maybe even a notch better than most of the others.  Directed by Maury Dexter, this is less a biker movie than it is an updated western, focusing on the rivalry of two men over a “special” cycle. (What? With Jocelyn Lane hanging around?) Like a lot of westerns, the film ends with a showdown . . . only here it’s shown biker-style. Unlike other films in this genre, the hour and a half is not filled with endless shots of cycles riding through the desert, beer being swilled, or make-out sessions in the woods. (Although there are SOME.) The acting is better-than-average for one of these films, with Adam Roarke and (especially) Jeremy Slate giving good performances as the opponents. It’s Jocelyn Lane who you can’t take your eyes off, though, whenever she’s on screen: she’s stunning!  This is not a great movie, but it’s more than just watchable. When I popped this into my dvd player, I was expecting much worse – maybe I had a couple of Al Adamson’s abominations in my memory – so I was pleasently surprised at this film’s quality. You can get a copy of this on CINEFEAR. Biker film fans should order one NOW!

 

 

 

CRAZY JOE (1974) (It./U.S.) 100 mins. 

 

Director: Carlo Lizzani  
Color
Violence: A lot for this genre
Acting: Great all around
Italian accents: didn’t really bother
 Un- “PC” vocabulary: amazing
Rating: 3 ½ protection payment (out of 4)
This Italian crime drama was written off in its day as a “Godfather” ripoff, but that assessment is totally wrong and unfair. CRAZY JOE is a completely different film in most ways, particularly in its style, its tone, and its presentation. Peter Boyle plays the hyper, violent, yet philosophical Crazy Joe Gallo (although his last name is never mentioned), and he is accompanied by a great cast including Eli Wallach (great as a “don”), Fred Williamson (perhaps his best performance), Rip Torn, and the film debut of a young, skinny Henry Winkler. If that weren’t enough, diminutive Herve Villechaise is in the mix too, along with Paula Prentiss, very good as Joe’s woman. The film documents (none too faithfully) Joe’s battle with the “bosses,”his aligning himself with Black gangsters (not very popular with those “bosses”), and his ultimate decline and execution. Director Carlo Lizzani does a wonderful job weaving news footage (and pseudo news footage) into the drama, and even throws in a “movie-within-the-movie.” The film is violent, well-written, and unlike most other “mob” movies of the 70’s.  Also, there’s an early scene of Joe, his brother, and a couple of other “soldiers” in a car singing along to “Figaro” on the car radio that MUST have been the inspiration for the “Wayne’s World” scene of Wayne, Garth, and two other guys singing along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This film is fantastic, excellent in all departments, especially the tour-de-force performance of Peter Boyle. The New York City locations are great too. The only flaw in the film is the rather rushed, abrupt ending. But that’s a small complaint, really. See this great movie . . . and get it from CINEFEAR, the only place (as of this writing) you CAN get it. CINEFEAR’s print is flawless too: clear and beautiful. 


 

 

Iguana With a Tongue of Fire (1971) (It/Ger/Fr) 91 mins. Color.

  

Dir: Riccardo Freda
Violence/Gore: nasty.
Sex: suggested more than shown
Acting: mostly good, especially Anton Diffring                   
Freda Fright Factor: medium
Rating: 2 ½ straight-razors (out of 4)       
This Italian/German/French production, directed by the talented, tempermental Riccardo Freda (who had his name removed because of his dissatisfaction with the finished film) is an interesting but flawed “giallo” film. Like other giallos, it has a mysterious murderer, lots of sex and sex deviates, and a series of gruesome, graphic murders. What makes this one slightly different is the Dublin location and the great performance by Anton Diffring as a horny ambassador. There’s blackmail in the film, along with throat-slicings (very realistic), acid throwing, head smashing, attempted suicide, a wound being stitched-up in closeup (thoroughly, realistically, disgustingly shown) and a beheaded cat in a refrigerator. The cops are baffled! The ambassador’s wife is always stoned! The plot is tangled and outrageous! And, like a lot of giallos, the resolution is not particularly satisfying or logical. But, the again, the strong point of this subgenre was never plot resolution; it was the display of the murders and the mood created throughout. Freda directs this film with style, although at times that style tends to get silly. (There’s a loud blast of music every time we see sunglasses or a razor, two items associated with the black-garbed (of course!) killer.) The film benefits from good performances by Diffring, Luigi Pistelli, and Dagmar Lassander. Fans of giallos will enjoy this nasty giallo with a REALLY nasty ending.  You can get a copy of the film from CINEFEAR.COM.
 






Arthur? Arthur!  (1969) (British)  94 mins. Color.

Acting: Excellent

Violence/Sex:  Mild

LSD Influence: Seemingly “high”

Shock scenes: Don and Shelley in bed!!

Rating: 3 (out of 4) cups of Earl Grey

This is a most bizarre British “black comedy.” It stars the great Donald Pleasence as a namby-pamby inventor who’s disrespected by his insufferable, rich wife. Meanwhile, he has a secret life as a bearded, bewigged “gigolo” who runs a “matrimonial agency.” He plots to kill his wife, and, after a failed first attempt, gets the job done. He then moves, is tormented by rich hippies who know he’s guilty, and later picks up Shelley Winters, an obnoxious gold-digger after his money. This winding plot line is all filmed in 60’s-style jump cuts, dream sequences, and other 60’s tricks-of-the-cinematic-trade. It’s all very funny in a very dark way, and Pleasence gives a great performance in his “dual” role. One highlight is the scene when Pleasence jumps on top of Winters in bed, his wig falls off, he rips off his phony moustache, and a shocked Winters asks him, “Does anything else come off?” Also in the film are a wasted Tammy Grimes and a very weird Terry-Thomas, playing a crooked investor. This is a real 60’s timepiece, much like the 60’s/psychedelic films of Richard Lester. This one was directed by Samuel Gallu (“Theater of Death’), and quite nicely, given the modest budget. (Interestingly, both Gallu and Lester, so associated with British films, were Americans!) This film was considered lost for many years, but CINEFEAR’s got it in a fairly-good print – which is better than NO print; CINEFEAR’s print might have been slightly edited: I noticed a “bad word” spoken by Winters was edited out near the end. (I noticed no other edits, though.) Again . . . as of this writing, ARTHUR? ARTHUR! isn’t available anywhere else. And it’s great. Get yours from CINEFEAR now, especially if you love Donald Pleasence. And who doesn’t? 




BLOOD FOR A SILVER DOLLAR (1965) (ITAL.) 98 minutes. Color.

Plot: twisty, but predictable

Acting: good, by the leads

Violence: mild

Stunts: not the best

Rating: 2 out of 4 Silver Dollars

This is a fairly early entry in the Italian Western subgenre, and even though it was directed by a very interesting director -- Giorgio Ferroni, who directed the very eerie “Mill of the Stone Women” (1960) and the cool peplum “The Trojan Horse” (1961), it isn’t particularly good. Star Giuliano Gemma is always fun to watch, and made several really good westerns, but this one lacks the edge of the later ones. Here he plays an ex-Confederate soldier who goes west to start a new life and meet up with his brother who headed west earlier. When he gets there, he finds his brother is considered an outlaw – named “Black Eye” (!!) – but in reality he is a hero trying to help the ranchers keep their land from being repossessed by the corrupt Mr. McCory (played effectively by Pierre Cressoy). McCory thinks Gemma is dead after a shootout, but he isn’t, and Gemma picks up where his brother – who IS dead – left off. While the film has plenty of twists and turns – some of them outlandish – the film just doesn’t get high grades the way some other Italian Westerns do. Some of the stunts are just plain bad; some of the fights look like “first-takes” that should have been re-shot. To make it worse – although this isn’t the filmmakers’ fault – the subtitles were written by someone obviously not all that good in English. For example one howlingly funny subtitle reads, “You have to sing a statement.” And throughout the film, Southerners are referred to as “Southerns.” Yeow! (Someone call the proofreader!!) But for all these weaknesses, the film is still passable, and Gemma is very good, as is Ida Galli (Evelyn Stewart) as his wife. This is a fairly rare Italian Western. You can get a visually beautiful print here at Cinefear.com.  In short, if you’re a Euro-Western fanatic, you should add this one to your collection.





NAKED PEACOCK (1975) Canadian 80 mins (color)


 


Dir: Denis Hargrave   

Plot: the plot is naked

Acting: nude

Nudity: I said “Nude,” dude!

Sex/violence: none

Dumbass “hippie” philosophy: endless (and nude)

Rating: 0 out of 4 (unclothed) genitals

After viewing this endless parade of (mostly) ugly human flesh, I felt like I should have watched it in a sticky-floored, pee-odored theater and not my apartment. Unless you’re into watching this sub-genre (Nudist films), you may feel the same way. Maybe not, though. Maybe you enjoy looking at fat, flabby guys enjoying outdoor and indoor activities like swimming, playing volleyball, and parachuting. (The most bizarre shot in the film is a naked guy sitting, waiting to parachute out of the plane, and the camera dwells on his penis bouncing-up-and-down! On the front of his helmet is the word “Dick.” [Which MIGHT be his name!] Now THAT’S entertainment!!) The ladies swim, play volleyball, hike in the woods, and swim some more. A naked, hairy, overweight guy sings a terrible song at an apparent “hootenanny.” Later, there’s another shitty song. There are interminable scenes of folks getting their bodies “painted.” Most of the outdoor scenes are shot through flowers and vegetation in a lame attempt at “art.” Newcomers have to attend a seminar, strip naked and bounce up and down in a particularly dull scene filled with endless “philosophizing.” And there’s a yoga scene that’s just ridiculous, followed by scenes of people freaking out.  There’s also a nudist marriage conducted before our eyes. At least the bride didn’t have to worry about a gown! And – no surprise to me – there are NO peacocks in this film. Lots of . . . well, go on . . . make your own joke!

Someone named Ian Seeburg wrote and narrates this rarely-seen 80-minute Canadian production, which is available at CINEFEAR.COM. Lovers of nudist films and truly god-awful philosophical ramblings will love this “documentary.”

Or should I say . . . “dickumentary?”




DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE (1973) (SPAN.) 85 mins. Color.

Dir.Javier Agguire                                                    


Dialogue: an endless amount

Mood: moderately creepy

Nice-looking babes: yes

Gore: some

Rating: 1 ½  stakes (out of 4)

Another film in the universe of Paul Naschy, DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE (sometimes entitled COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE) doesn’t hover as brightly or rotate the cinematic sun as brightly as some of his others. While it does try to bring something new to the Dracula film canon, it ultimately fails because the film is so damn slow-moving.

Four women are stranded at a castle in the Borgo Pass, and they are welcomed by a strange man named Marlow (Naschy). Little do they know that if one of them willingly falls in love with him, he will “transform” into the Count himself and live forever (with her). Since this is a Naschy film, and he, of course, had a hand in co-writing the screenplay, he gets to have sex with all of them,  hoping the fourth (Kaydee Politoff) will unite with him in eternal, supernatural bliss. Well, think again, Mr. Marlow!!!!

There’s some decent atmosphere in the film, and the actors are all very sincere. But the direction by Javier Aguirre is bizarre and, at times, almost incoherent. The main problem with the film, though, is that there’s not enough plot development revealed through cinematic action and far too much through seemingly interminable dialogue. A more appropriate title for the film would have been DRACULA’S BIG MOUTH.
Fans of Naschy won’t be disappointed, but most others will. The film is a noble attempt; however, it falls flat and is, ultimately, a bloody (in all senses of the word) bore. For Naschy/Eurohorror completists only. Get it from Cinefear! 
 

MANIAC KILLER (1987) (FR.)  80 MINS. COLOR

Dir.Andrea Bianchi                                       


Torture: bloodless & not gory

Acting: Connors tries, the rest . . . not.

Plot: Gimme a break!

Nudity/sex: mild nudity, no sex

Rating: 1 hot poker (out of 4)

Director Andrea Bianchi is capable of decent work – like his giallo STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER – but this dogshit should have been scooped up by Eurocine when the mongrel who shit it out finished the script. You get a Satanic cult (a dumb one . . . very dumb! . . . led by Robert Ginty), an ostracized scientist/red herring (Chuck Connors, who gives the only decent performance in the film), and a Count (Bo Svenson), whose wife is kidnapped by the cult. These plot-threads intersect in the most random fashion; one suspects the script was patched together as they went along.

There’s also a mentally-challenged kid who can’t speak, some useless dialogue about vivisection (where’s H.G. Wells when you need him?), and incredibly wooden performances by everyone else in the cast. Ginty, who I always liked – he’s from the same section of Brooklyn I’m from – is just awful here, walking through his part just to collect his, I’m sure, measly check at the film’s completion. Svenson at least looks good. Connors manages to maintain his dignity. I hope these gentlemen enjoyed their European vacations!

The film’s expected gore/torture/bloodshed never materializes, nor does anything resembling sense or logic. All the cops are assholes; the cult members remind me of a lousy death metal band (though there’s no metal music on the film’s soundtrack); and the women, who are partially naked, are quite unattractive, looking for all the world like actresses who didn’t get a part in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

This movie is a great example of a waste of talent and missed (plot) opportunities. However, bad movie fans will want this in their collection, if only to shock and awe your friends! Get this obscurity from Cinefear!!!!    
 







Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974-Span.) 89m.  Color.



Dir.  Carlos Aured                                                      


Acting:  Not bad

Plot: Not much

Sex/nudity: Lots

Giallo-isms: Many

Rating: 2 psychotic women (out of 4)

Paul Naschy is an acquired taste. As a young man seeing his films in a theater (including this one -- under the title HOUSE OF THE PSYCHOTIC WOMEN), I thought Paul Naschy was pretty ridiculous. Older now, I still think many of his films are mediocre at best, but the man was so determined to be a horror star and make his mark in the world of cine-fantastique that you have to give him credit.

BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL is mid-level Naschy. In this giallo-like film, Naschy plays a convict/drifter who takes a job in a mansion inhabited by a bevy of “broken dolls,” three disturbed sisters. He has dreams that he strangles women; the sisters have worse problems. Of course, this being a Naschy film – he co-wrote the screenplay – nobody’s problems are going to stop him from having sex with all of them and creating even more sexual tension in the “house” of the title.

     Director Carlos Aured’s direction is clearly influenced by Italian sleaze contemporaries Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, with a healthy dash of Jesus Franco in the mix too. The film veers from sex film to “giallo” smoothly and there is a healthy dose of dread throughout. The acting is pretty good, but one wishes the characters were a bit toned-down; as it is, they’re overwritten and at times come off as ridiculous. But Aured’s derivative but effective direction keeps things moving and interesting, even if it’s all pretty predictable.

I saw this on a double-bill with Al Adamson’s dreadful NURSE SHERRI in the 70’s; next to Adamson’s wreck of an EXORCIST-spinoff, this film came across as a welcome – if far from perfect -- delight. Fans of Naschy or Eurotrash/horror should pick this one up.




JOE DYNAMITE    (1967) (Ital/Span)  98 mins. Color.


Dir.:  Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson)


Plot:  Nothing special

Sex and Violence: mild

Saloon Musical Sequence: hoo-boy!!

Van Nuttiness: at least he looks good

RATING:  2 ½ sticks of TNT (out of 4)



DYNAMITE JOE is a fairly obscure spaghetti western, rarely seen in the USA, probably because there are no American actors in it. It’s a lot more light-hearted than many Italian westerns, but it doesn’t work too well as either a comedy or a western. Rick Von Nutter stars as “special agent” Joe Ford, better known as Dynamite Joe. The character (and the film) seems to be influenced by both the James Bond films and the tv show “Wild, Wild West.”

Joe’s hired by the government to get a gold shipment safely through dangerous territory and past a group of “comancheros.” He does this when an entire wagon is made from the gold. (Yeah . . . that’s believable!) Along the way we’re told Joe has “an obsession with the letter G: gold, girls and gunpowder!” The audience is also treated to (or tortured by) a couple of songs by a saloon girl (who looks a lot like Annette Funicello).

There is the usual – for spaghetti westerns – backstabbing and corruption of supposedly noble characters  and a number of mostly predictable plot twists. And then there’s director Margheriti’s trademark special effects work with miniatures during a sensational flood sequence. As usual for him, the quality of those effects alternate from spectacular to dreadful, often within seconds.

Cinefear’s the place to get this rarity. The print is clear and bright.

In short, DYNAMITE JOE is watchable, but is far from the apex of Euro-westerns. And Von Nutter just walks through the title role on what I presume is supposed to be charm. (Note to Mr. Von Nutter: it ain’t happenin’, dude!)

 




PRAY TO GOD AND DIG YOUR GRAVE (1968) (Ital.) 83 mins.  Color.



Dir.: Edoardo Mulargia (Edward G.Muller)                                                                                    




Plot: good start, then confusing

Violence: mild but shocking

Acting: good, especially “Mom”

Bad guys: REALLY bad!

Rating: 3 Banditos (out of 4)

This is a pretty good Italian western for the undemanding viewer. The first half of the film is extremely intriguing and violent: there’s a man buried up to his neck whose head gets trampled by horses in a most gruesome fashion, rape of an innocent woman, and much time devoted to the mournful mother of the victims. She walks across the border to Texas to find her other son  Fernando (Robert Woods), who, along with his sidekick Paco, will avenge his siblings’ deaths and kill the evil tyrant Don Enrique, who is responsible for these deaths and many other atrocities. Fernando returns to find Don Enrique tossing loaves of bread to the poor, oppressed villagers in a most condescending fashion, and one of the tyrant’s men goes so far as to shoot at an baby.$ Fernando tries to recruit his friend Cipriano, but Cipriano has become a notorious “bandito,” so Fernando has second thoughts. But they do team up and that’s when things get complicated . . . too complicated for the film. From this point on, despite some great scenes and interesting gun battles and fistfights, the film just gets “too busy.” Characters disappear; a Gatling Gun comes out of nowhere; and we see many gallows in Don Enrique’s town but no hangings! The English-dubbed version of this film – available from Cinefear – may be an edited one, but the jumpy and somewhat illogical second half of the film disappoints a little after a promising, somewhat stylish first half.

Robert Woods is quite good as Fernando and the supporting cast is effective too, despite their sometimes confusingly-motivated characters. All-in-all, this isn’t a top-notch Euro-western, but fans of the genre will enjoy it despite its flaws.

Cinefear’s print has a running time of 83 minutes. It may be an edited cut, but as far as I know, Cinefear’s edition is the only one available stateside. It’s worth seeing. 




Caltiki, the Immortal Monster. (aka Caltiki, the Undying Monster)   1959 (Ital.) B&W  76 mins.


D: Riccardo Freda(Robt. Hamton) & (uncredited) Mario Bava.                                                                        Plot: surprisingly complex
Acting/Dubbing: passable
Special Effects: vary in quality

Tension: lots

Rating: 2 1/2 natives (out of 4)


This is one hell of a movie. Once the flood of “foreign” genre films began in the late 50s, it was like a breath of very fresh air to kids like me who saw (in a theater) – and were terrified – by Caltiki.  There were many sci/fi-horror films in the theaters back then, but this one was just . . . weird. Or maybe “eerie” is a better adjective.

A bunch of archaeologists discover a blob-God-creature in Mexico, and it, of course, begins to cause a great deal of havoc. There are subplots too of the “romantic” and also the “maniac” types, so there’s a lot going on in this 76-minute thriller.  Perhaps the only real weak spot is the ridiculous time-filling dance/ceremony the Mexican “natives” take part in. It looked more “African” than “Mexican” to me.

Director Freda walked off quite a few features, and this is one that his special effects man – Mario Bava – finished up. You can tell the Bava-directed scenes: they’re tense, fast and creepy. The aforementioned effects vary from extremely cheap to very impressive, but they’re all pretty inventive and scary for 1959.

Many commentators have compared this film to the 1950’s “The Blob.” But in truth it’s closer to the couple-of-years-earlier “The Crawling Eye” (aka “The Trollenburg Terror”): For example, there’s a guy who goes mad; there’s the attacking monster; and Bava’s effects – particularly those involving fire and miniatures – are reminiscent of “Eye.”

This film scared this 9-year-old back in 1960 (the U.S. release date); way older than 9 today, I can report that the film is still entirely enjoyable and clearly reflects the “developing” genius who would go on to direct “Black Sunday” and many other masterpieces of horror.

And . . . I almost forgot . . . the women in this movie were smoking hot.

Cinefear’s got the movie; you need to order it, especially if you’re a Freda/Bava completist.






Gang Wars. (aka Devil’s Express, aka Death on the Subway) 1976. Color. 


Dir.  Barry Rosen   82 Mins.

Plot: nutty, but brilliantly mixed 
Acting/dialogue: not great  
Kung Fu fighting: frequent, fun 
NY City Locations: great 
Rating: 2 subway cars out of 4                                                                  
                                                                     
                                                                      

Okay, so I’m being a bit generous here . . .

This cheapo production shot in New York City isn’t very good. In fact, parts are laughable. But it’s a tough film to dismiss as crap, so I won’t. In some ways, it’s brilliant: director Barry Rosen and his 2 co-screenwriters manage to blend elements of blaxploitation, martial arts, and horror films in a not always believable, but always entertaining, manner.

A demon is brought to New York from China, where our hero, played by the incredibly-named, Harlem-residing Warhawk Tanzania, and his fellow student go to study martial arts. The demon possesses a guy as soon as their ship (nice use of the NYC waterfront) hits shore. Then all hell breaks loose . . . literally. Meanwhile, there’s a gang war breaking out between a Chinese gang (from Chinatown, natch!) and the Harlem guys. The Chinese gang is blamed for murders that the demon – now residing in the depths of a Harlem subway station – has committed. The cops are baffled, and eventually Luke (Tanzania) and the cops work together to find and defeat the demon (a dude in a monster suit).

The fight scenes vary, with some featuring some very clear misses and others revealing actors who apparently forget what they’re supposed to do in the scenes.  The lead actors try hard but tend to overplay their roles; this, however, just adds to the fun of this over-the-top, crammed-with- craziness actionfest. New York crazy icon Brother Theodore appears as a priest in a couple of scenes. What??? You need more than that????

This is a real rarity, so get your copy from Cinefear . . . before the demon gets you!!!  A have a couple of drinks before you watch it.




 


Strike Commando  (1987) (Ital.) 104 mins. Color.


Dir.: Bruno Mattei
Synthesizer music: lots
Plot:“Rambo”nctious                                                                       
Acting: Pretty bad
Screaming in rage: lots
Rating: 2 grenades (out of 4)                                                                       
                                        

Here’s another in a long string of Euro-variations on the mercenary/Rambo films, and while it’s really a load of rubbish, it sure is enjoyable to watch! Reb Brown stars (under Bruno Mattei’s direction) as a strong-willed soldier betrayed in Vietnam by his commanding officer, played by a wooden Chistopher Connelly. (When a film stars these two, you should know you’re not going to see the splendor of good acting!)

But the film has lots of action, an extended (and ridiculous) torture scene, some horrible special effects (check out the scene when the Russian bad guy blows up!!), a superfluous cockfight, and dialogue that is truly cringe-worthy. Throw in some stereotypical natives, a totally incompetent Vietcong army, and not one, but two discussions of Disneyland and you have a stew that only the amazingly-demented Mattei could have cooked.

The film is a bit overlong and begins to test one’s patience until the final (crazed) scenes when the war is over and Brown finally catches up with Connelly in the Philippines. (Are there NO cops on those islands?? Brown must kill about two dozen people and then just walks away!) (Was Vic Diaz unavailable to play a cop for this film??)

For dumbass action, this film rates high. In all other departments, it’s god-awful. But Cinefear has it, and if you’re a fan of Mattei, you need this fairly unknown film.




Suicide Patrol. (aka Hour X-Suicide Patrol, aka Wings of War) (1969) 85 mins. Color. 



Dir.Gaetano Quartararo
Plot: not bad
Acting: passable

Sex/Violence: minimal/mild
Gordon Mitchell-isms: few

Rating: 2 hand grenades (out of four)                                                          

                                 

This is a very obscure Italian WW2 film about a platoon of American GI’s left behind to “take out” a German radio compound. The GI’s are assisted by local monks who permit them to stay “undercover” in their monastery while the soldiers carry out their acts of sabotage. Naturally, the Nazis don’t like this and take out their frustrations on the locals.

The Americans are led by Pierre Richard and their tough-talking, insult-wielding sergeant, played by the always fascinating Gordon Mitchell. One wishes Mitchell had more screen time; he’s mostly wasted here, looking tough and chomping on cigars. (Watching this film made me realize how Mitchell would have been the perfect guy to play “Sgt. Rock,” the DC Comics WW2 hero of a couple of decades!)

The film is entertaining in its first half, but then trails off into sleepville until the final, too brief shootout. And then there’s the weird final shot: are all the victims – American, German, locals – walking off to the afterlife???? Huh? Yipes!

The film is clearly low-budget, but there’s nothing seriously wrong with it; there’s just nothing all that great about it either. Euro-war film fanatics will want to order this from Cinefear since this obscurity is, to my knowledge, unavailable anywhere else. 




The Female Bunch  (1971) 86 mins. Color.

Dir.:  Al Adamson
     
Plot: not Peckinpah, more Peckinpuke
Acting: lame, but Lon Chaney tries
Nudity/sex: plenty
Violence: fetishistic

Rating: 1 ½ spurs out of 4

Fans of Adamson – there are some! – don’t need me to tell them what they can expect here. This “bunch” – women who have all been spurned by men and now have no use for them except for sex – live on a “secret” ranch and live by their own set of rules. They ride horses, have initiations, and forbid any male visitors to the ranch. They also terrorize local Mexican immigrants, ride into Mexico to cavort with men, and spend a lot of time being bitchy.

Although men are verboten on the ranch, Lon Chaney, Jr. works there. Later, Russ Tamblyn breaks the “rule” and slips into the ranch to mess around with one of the bunch; he is branded on the forehead for his trouble. Then all hell breaks loose. I won’t reveal the developments of the second half of the film; I’ll let you go through that excruciating pain by yourself.

This film is typical Adamson, filled with sex, violence, sadism, and fetishism. (Lots of close-ups of whips, boots, and spurs . . . sort of like watered-down Russ Meyer.) Also, typically, it’s ridiculous. But unlike many other Adamson efforts, this one is moderately entertaining. There are ridiculous outfits on the women, stupefying dialogue (“What can you lay in a barn besides eggs?”), and a wrap-around narration that actually works. There is a real “druggy” aura to this film too, enhanced by a “heroin” subplot.

But this is better than average Adamson, which means it sucks, but doesn’t REALLY suck.  Cinefear’s print is a nice one, by the way: clear and complete.  







 

Almost Human (aka The Death Dealer) (Italian) 99 mins. Color.

Dir: Umberto Lenzi

Plot: Simple, yet complex

Acting: great Milian, cool Silva

Violence: almost constant

Music: bizarre Morricone

3 ½ machine guns (out of 4)


When I saw this in the 70’s in a Brooklyn theater, most of the audience felt cheated because the film was advertised as a horror film. After we sat through it, we no longer felt cheated: this was an Italian police film that delivered the horrifying goods.

This is one brutal beast of a film!! Director Umberto Lenzi delivers one of his best films here, and his stars – Tomas Milian and Henry Silva – are just great in their respective roles as psycho/scumbag and rogue cop.  Milian, in particular, is totally convincing as a small time crook with a real self-image problem and a complete disregard for human life. He kills his girlfriend, some kids, old people, his friends . . . he is one son of a bitch! Henry Silva – great, as always – refuses to let him get away with all this.

The film is brimming with violence of a very nasty sort throughout the its 99 minutes. Lenzi, of course, was a master of presenting this mayhem, and here he is at his best. Lenzi’s poliziotteschi are among the best in this genre, and Almost Human is probably the best of the best.

You need to own this incredible, but shocking – even today! – film. But don’t say I didn’t warn you: you’ll be squirming from the violence if you’re not used to 70’s nastiness. But most fans of Cinefear will enjoy this disturbing masterpiece. 
 



Emanuelle – Black and White

(aka Black Emanuelle, White Emanuelle) (1976) (Italy) 82 mins.

Dir: Mario Pinzaut                       
Plot: “Mandingo”-esque

Acting: some okay, some bad
Sex and violence: lots, but mild
Dialogue: laugh-inducing

Rating: 2 whips (out of 4)

Hardly an “real” Emanuelle film – not even a “real” “phony” Laura Genser Emanuelle film -- this belabored Italian film is more like a cheap variation of the U.S.-produced “Mandingo.” It has all the same ingredients, but not much of its gloss. Oddly, although there’s lots of interracial sex, nudity, rape, and whippings, it’s hero (Antonio Gismondo) becomes a freedom-fighter for the slaves when a female slave saves his life and he falls in love with her. It’s pretty clear, though, that the filmmakers were far more concentrated on the exploitative aspects of the story than the sentimental message.

    The acting’s not good, and it’s not helped by the fairly bad dubbing. The direction is of the sub-Jess Franco (at his worst) variety, filled with zoom-ins and -outs and fuzzy camerawork. The sex scenes are typical of European films of the era: lots of gliding hands and tossing and turning and heavy breathing, but nothing that resembles anything beyond foreplay. And the dialogue is quite obvious and silly: “I’ll dance on your grave!” screams Emanuelle to her unfaithful husband. “They would have cut my balls off!” says a slave to his friend. Lines like these – and the more preachy ones – will have you shaking your head and laughing out loud.

All in all, the film’s not good, but it picks up in the second half and is both amusing and mildly offensive. Fans of Euro-exploitation films will want this in their collection of funky schlock. 
 



 

Five Bloody Graves (aka Gun Riders) 1970. Color. 88 mins.




Director: Al Adamson



Plot: nonexistent

Acting: Uniformly bad, except Jim Davis

Locations & Cinematography: terrific

Violence: dumb and fairly nauseating

Rating: one scalp (out of four)
 









Even an Al Adamson fan must admit this western is one giant horse turd. Director Adamson’s made some real crap, but this one is exceptionally awful. There is no plot whatsoever; the film is more like a bunch of set pieces (sort of) strung together by the voiceover narration of Death, who rambles on spouting nonsense that would make Ed Wood proud. Plotwise – such as it is – you get fierce Yaquis, prostitutes, a wooden hero (Robert Dix), a crazy preacher (John Carradine), a mean lecher (Jim Davis, who acts as if he thinks he’s in a “good” movie),  Scott Brady as . . . as  . . . actually I couldn’t figure that out, and the usual cast of Adamson cronies in smaller roles.

There are attempted rapes, actual rapes, stabbings, scalpings, shootings – all clumsily staged. At least two characters mouth the memorable line “Shut your yap!” And the ending features a perfectly lousy knife fight in a river. The final shot shows Dix riding away from FOUR graves. (Someone couldn’t count!) Plot? Logic? Continuity? You must be kidding!

All of this is shot on gorgeous locations in Utah. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is far better than this movie deserves.

So why add this to your collection? Lovers of real Grade Z trash know why already. The rest of you – get wise!
 

 
Planet of Blood. (aka Queen of Blood) (1966) (U.S.) 81 mins. Color.


Director: Curtis Harrington
                                                          Special Effects: yeah, sort of . . .
Acting: good enough

Vampire woman: very weird
Filler footage: of the Russian variety
Rating: 2 ½ vials of plasma (out of 4)



This film is but one of many cranked out by AIP to fill double features and drive-ins back in the 60’s, and like many of that company’s output the film is cheaper than dirt but hugely entertaining. A spaceship is sent to Mars to investigate a crashed alien ship. And what does the crew find? Yep, a weird green alien woman with a hairdo from hell. And, oh yeah, they won’t find out till later after they bring her aboard their own ship  that she craves blood.

It’s pretty easy to see how this film – and others like Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires and Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space -- influenced Ridley Scott’s later Alien. The plots and atmosphere are remarkably similar. But Curtis Harrington’s film had a miniscule budget, not surprising when one notes that Roger Corman produced. The film starts out pretty slow, but picks up steam about 1/3 of the way in. And the cast is a cult film fan’s delight: John Saxon, Dennis Hopper, Basil Rathbone (looking frail and old) and the very odd Florence Marly at the “green lady.” All this and footage from a Russian science fiction film Corman owned and used in this and other films.

If you’re a Harrington and/or Corman fan, this is a must to own.







Astro-Zombies (1968)  (U.S.) 91 mins. Color.


Director: Ted V. Mikels


Acting: mostly ridiculous
Plot: entirely ridiculous
Gore: some, but surprisingly mild  

Ethnic atrocity: Rafael Campos

Rating: 1 ½ flashlights (out of  four)


Ted Mikels is one of those directors that you just have to love. Give him a germ of a plot, a few actors having a tough time in their career, a camera, and fifty bucks – and Mikels will crank out a movie.  I saw this as a kid on a bill with “The Corpse Grinders” and “The Undertaker and His Pals” in a theater in Brooklyn when I was a kid, and life was never the same for me. This is one of those Grade-Z productions you never can forget because despite the fact that it’s dreadful, it’s also so damn entertaining that it stays with you like some cheap beer with a strong aftertaste.

John Carradine stars as the creator of  the “astro-zombies,” a race of . . . well . . . astro-zombies! Wendell Corey plays a CIA guy (I think), and Tura Satana and her go-fer assistant Rafael Campos want the astro-guys for their own purposes. Complications ensue, with some violent murders. The real crime in this film is the character played by Campos. I can’t recall seeing a more horrendous Latino stereotype in ANY film. It’s offensive . . . but it’s also unintentionally hilarious. He must have really needed the cash.

The film is as slow as a snoozing snail, but still fun in its own cheap-ass way.







Brennus: Enemy of Rome(1963)(Ital.) 90 mins.  Color.


Director: Giacomo Gentilomo
                                                            Gordon Mitchell “craziness”: mucho.
Violence: moderate yet sadistic

Togas: unusually short

Plot: not unusual peplum plot

Rating: 2 ½ whips (out of four)



Peplum fans – and particularly fans of Gordon Mitchell – will enjoy this good but unexceptional entry in the genre. Mitchell steals the show as the crazed, sadistic “enemy of rome,” ordering troops, ladies, and slaves around, all the while sneering with that classic “mad grin,” which highlights most of Mitchell’s performances, but is unusually well-displayed in this film. And he is blessed with abominable yet totally memorable lines to recite as he becomes a major nuisance to the Romans: “Woe to the vanquished,” he exclaims. And later the classic line: “Bring me some meat!!” No one can deliver lines like those the way the threatening, menacing Mitchell can. (Well . . . maybe Jack Palance . . . .)

The film obviously has a low budget, but interesting sets (mostly outdoor) and good supporting work by Tony Kendall  and Massimo Serato make this sword-and-sandal a notch above average. And there is at least one absolutely bizarre moment – when Brennus  unknowingly drinks perfume and thinks it’s a rare wine – that you will not soon forget.

All-in-all, this is a fairly rare film that you will enjoy, peplum fanatic or not. For sword-and-sandal maniacs, it’s a must.








Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967) (German) 85mins. Color.

Director: Harald Reinl

Atmosphere and Sets: Outstanding
Creepy Castle: A Good One!
Acting: Everyone's Great!
Lee's Makeup: Weird
Rating: 3 1/2 Razor-Sharp Pendulums 




This German horror film is supposedly  based on Poe’s “Pit and the Pendulum,” but forget that. It’s a good enough film to exist without that bogus claim. In fact, this one -- also released as “Blood Demon” and “Torture Chamber” – is one damn good Euro-horror film. There’s a very effectively creepy Christopher Lee here as Count Regula, who has to kill pretty Karin Dor and . . . oh, hell . . . you figure out the plot! Lex Barker’s the romantic hero, all dressed up and looking sharp until he’s put under the swinging pendulum of the Poe variety.

The acting’s quite good, but what makes this film outstanding is the atmosphere and sets. Although this is a German film, director Reinl – a prolific and mostly competent director, with lots of films to his credit – seems to have absorbed some of the great Mario Bava’s visual style and flair for set design. In fact, some of the “forest” exteriors wouldn’t be out of place in one of Bava’s gothic films.

This one is not to be missed! Easily one of the best German horror films made in the 60’s and a must for Christopher Lee fans.


 
   

El Conde Dracula  (1970) (Sp./Ger.It./Leich.) 98mins. Color.

 


Director: Jess Franco

Atmosphere: creepy
Acting: Understated & Terrific
Blood-letting: some . . . 
Lee’s mustache: frightening 
Kinski kraziness: restrained 
Rating: 3 Zoom Shots (out of 4)

This is easily one of prolific, demented director Jess Franco’s best films.  Unlike many of his films, this one does NOT just seem like a bunch of images thrown together according to the director’s whims (and budget limitations). This one seems well thought-out, though it also has that “spur-of-the moment” improvisational feel that many of Franco’s films have. For this film he gets wonderful, moody results.

Filmed almost entirely in a creepy mansion, the film oozes suspense and a feeling of claustrophobia, which augments the terrific, low-key performances of Christopher Lee and Herbert Lom.  Even Klaus Kinski’s lazy, crazy Renfield is uniquely presented, though it seems like Kinski’s scenes were probably shot in a day or two.

Many reviewers have commented on how “faithful” this version is to Stoker’s novel. Well, that’s nonsense. It is closer to the book than some versions, but it’s still many bat-flights away from the original source.

If you’re like me and have a love/hate relationship with Franco’s prolific output, you need to see this one. The Franco craziness and recklessness is here, but this film shows just how good a Franco film could be!



Carnival of Blood (1970) 87 mins. Color.


Director: Leonard Kirtman       
                       
Direction: a W T F ? mess
Acting: horrendous
Gore: laughably bad
Nudity: none
Rating: one Nathan’s hot dog (out of 4) 

Let’s start by stating it bluntly: this film sucks. In every department. In every way. With maybe one exception: the location shooting – as fuzzy and jerky as it is – of Coney island in the late 60’s/1970 gives the film some interest to a Brooklyn-born boy like me. But in every other way, this is one stinking pile of manure of a film.

There’s a lunatic killing women in Coney Island, and throughout the film you’re supposed to think it’s the poor hunchbacked, crater-faced freak Gimpy (nice name!!), played by Burt Young (of the Rocky films), here going under the ridiculously bland name “John Harris.” Well, it’s someone else, as you’ll find out if you can last until the end.

The acting is horrendous, the dialogue as obvious and dumb as they come, and the cast is made up of mostly repulsive-looking non-actors, including the (alleged) “hot” women. Director Kirtman made mostly grindhouse “pre-porn,” so he’s a real disappointment in that way here. And his attempt at “gore,” obviously inspired by the films of H.G. Lewis, is pathetic. (Check out the lousy job of gore on and around the villain’s head at the conclusion.)

There are, though, numerous unintentional laughs to be had here. So you might add it to your collection for that reason. But it’s a really torturously long 87 minutes.  


Goliath and the Dragon    (1960) (Ital./Fr.) 87 mins.  Color

Director: Vittorio Cottafavi

Violence: mild but sadistic
Nudity: none 
Phony-looking monsters: lots
Sex: implied 
Special effects: so-so, even for 1960
Rating: 2 ½ Swords (out of 4)
                            
If you’re a peplum fan, you can’t pass this one up. Mark Forest – arguably the best of the musclemen in Euro-peplum films, tries his best to look serious fighting tyrants and weird beasts. In this film, he gets to fight horrible monsters like a dragon; Cerberus, the 3-headed dog; a giant bat; an evil “wind goddess”; and the most horrible creature of all – Broderick Crawford in a toga.

All the usual heroics are here, all done colorfully and with flair. The special effects are okay for their time although the limp dragon head is somewhat reminiscent of the droopy-headed giant bird of THE GIANT CLAW (1957). Some stop-motion effects by Jim Danforth were clumsily inserted by American distributors.

The direction by Vittorio Cottafavi is workmanlike and suitable. The female leads are appropriately attractive.  Forest is earnest and works hard. So there are a lot of reasons to like this film. But the real “attraction” is seeing Broderick Crawford in a toga, barking orders and spewing nasty remarks, all the while picking up a few lira and getting a free vacation in Italy. 

 

Bamboo Gods and Iron Men  (1974) (Philippines/U.S.) 93 mins. Color

Director: Cesar Gallardo

                                                           
Kung Fu Fighting: lame
Coincidences in Plot: too many
Sex: Off-camera
Nudity: Don’t blink . . .
Special Effects: none to speak of
Annoying Chinese mute guy: yes.
Rating: 2 nunchucks (out of 4) 


This is a blend of blaxploitation and kung fu genres but not one of the better ones, but at least it doesn’t take itself too seriously and does provide a passable level of entertainment.  James Inglehart plays a heavyweight boxing champion who gets mixed up in in all sorts of intrigue when he and his newlywed wife buy a statue of Buddha in a local store. From that point on, the “bad guys” try to get it from him by any means – including lots of kung fu/boxing fights, and he doesn’t have a clue why.  There’s also a Chinese mute who tags along after him, since he feels he owes the champ servitude after the champ saves his life. Naturally, the mute is also a kung fu expert. (And he gets very annoying after a while. Most of the cast slap him around a lot; you’ll want to also!)

It’s all pretty tame stuff – the violence is tame by 70’s standards and there’s only a moment of nudity. It’s all very PG. But as time-wasters go, this isn’t a bad way to spend 93 minutes. It’s certainly a notch above most of the Phillipine action films.