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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Living Dead Girl marks the second film I've seen by the cult French
director Jean Rollin. The first was the oddly titled The Shiver Of The
Vampires. From this pair and browsing through his filmography, he seems to
be a man obsessed with naked female vampires which from a male perspective
is not a bad thing.
In comparison Living is the better film than Shivers . It has more depth in terms of story and lead characterisation, the players are not as obtuse, and the gore is upped considerably. Both films are deftly filmed, present more than they explain, and replace scares with a surreal dreamy ambience.
The Living Dead Girl opens with a trio of unscrupulous workmen dumping barrels filled with chemical waste in the cellars of a deserted chateau. In an adjacent chamber (helpfully lit with bracketed torches) rest the chateau's former owners in two immaculate coffins. Two of the workers elect to do a bit of tomb robbing, which is unfortunate, as they stir one of the coffins occupants, who is not quite at rest.
*minor spoilers for four paragraphs*
The titular girl is one of the more unique interpretations of Undeath on film. Not quite a vampire or a zombie, she is literally living death'. Surprisingly she invokes a degree of viewer empathy for her plight, she is not evil incarnate but the unfortunate victim of a past event. Few horror films cast vampires or zombies in a sympathetic light, the girl/story has more in common with a ghost tale, which are usually founded on an injustice or unfulfilled pact.
A less sympathetic character is the girl's childhood friend. Is she too bound by the past event into helping her friend or does she have a moral choice (which she rejects)? The process of her obtaining fresh victims for the girl' is similar to events in Clive Barker's Hellraiser, although in that film the characters involved were irredeemably evil'.
The film has two major faults, the second I will mention in the closing two paragraphs. The first is the thin portrayal of all the characters save the two friends. The American couple are acutely annoying, especially the grouchy boyfriend. (Still they are not as bad as the couple in The Howling Part II).
Also there is a decidedly daft moment where a victim has a lit torch thrust at her face a couple of times. In the next scene she is a veritable human inferno, perhaps she overdid the hairspray and perfume.
Finally on a caustic note, the UK version of this film has been cut by about 2.5 minutes. Most of the gore has been removed although what remains is still relatively bloody by UK standards. Hence scenes of the girl feasting on her victims are absent. If intact I might have rated the film higher (vampire that I am) although admittedly this is not the films fault.
This censorship does mark a certain inconsistency within the BBFC. For example, I saw The Day Of The Dead on video about twelve years ago (a time when UK censorship was even more restrictive). This film had numerous intact scenes of zombies disembowelling victims and eating their intestines, so why have similar scenes been cut in this film? Anyway, between two to three minutes of cuts may seem harsh, but at my local library rests a copy of another Rollin film A Requiem For A Vampire. This has been cut by a draconian six to seven minutes! As a result I'm not too keen on viewing that one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**SPOILERS**There is a tendency for Italian horror films to draft in
American actors to broaden their international appeal. Easy examples being
John Saxon in Tenebrae and Rupert Everett in Dellamorte Dellamore.
(which should have been distributed in the UK as Spectres (lazy)) ropes in
veteran horror actor Donald Pleasance. It marks the second Italian film
I've seen in him, the first being the rather mediocre thriller Nothing
Underneath. Optimistically I reckoned that Specters would easily be the
better film and it is, just, although that isn't much of a
In an undisclosed Italian city a group of archaeologists led by a Prof. Lasky (Pleasance), are exploring a series of ancient catacombs beneath the remains of a Roman bath system. Their dig' is augmented by the local construction of a subway, the tremors from which cause a new series of chambers to be revealed. Unfortunately archaic writings in the first new chamber warn of an ancient evil that will be invoked. Of course, this being a horror film, the etchings are no idle threat
Most Italian horror (and perhaps horror films in general) emphasise style over content and Specters does not deviate from this tradition. Alas, the style aspect of the film is below par and fails to redeem it from its meagre content and any potential is lost. Part of the problem is that the film consists of too many inchoate strands, another that the killing scenes are mostly rushed and could have been easily improved (N.B. wind and fissures in the ground are not particularly scary).
Most horrors incorporating archaeology either involve Ancient Egypt or a long-buried UFO. The use of Ancient Rome (and paganism) in this film is refreshing and one of its initial strong points. The baths, catacombs, zoology department of a museum, and other locales are well realised and created with some attention to detail. A big problem however is that little is made in terms of dialogue, backstory etc. of the Roman angle. The bloody history and mythology of Ancient Rome should have been emphasised a lot more to add flavour and atmosphere to proceedings. Instead, we have banal one-liners, an annoying hero' figure, and not much explanation for anything. Even the monster' itself is given scant explanation or detail; nothing transpires about what it is or its motivations.
*spoilers to end*
Another gripe is the on screen realisation of the said monster'. (The title should be Specter or Spectre as there is only one of the blighters!). The film takes the classic method of slowly and tantalisingly revealing the creature scene by scene, i.e. firstly from the monsters line of sight, then a glimpse of its claws, then its eyes in the darkness, and so on. No complaints there. But at the finale, when it should be revealed in all its glory, it only gets a few seconds of screen time. In the dark. It leaves the viewer with no impression of what it looks like (unless you play around with the VCR controls). I suppose this approach hides any limitations in the SFX and make-up but it is a rum deal for a film that relies on its monster.
The ending itself is pitifully executed. It is rushed, involves no real confrontation with the beast and over in seconds. A character who could offer some explanation for the events makes an appearance only to be butchered instantly, whilst the main characters run around avoiding the scary cracks in the earth and the oh-so-frightening gusts of wind. The reasons why the beast haunted and abducted one specific character are also given no explanation either.
Now I shall mention some of the films good points (there are some thankfully) aside from the aforementioned Roman setting. The film briefly touches on the matter of whether history and artifacts should be the domain of private collectors or museums (or the dead!). The scene where Lasky shines his torch over a series of emotionless' Roman statues to finally reveal is impressive and invokes a sense of doom connected with a centuries dead civilisation. Finally, a character gets his head squelched against a wall (it was great!).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The British anthology horror film dates from the classic Dead Of Night to
its last gasp, thirty-five years later, with The Monster Club. From around
1965 to 1975 Amicus was the most productive studio within this subgenera.
Torture Garden was one of its earlier and lesser efforts, even though it was
directed by (cinematographer turned director turned cinematographer) Freddie
Francis and written by Robert Bloch (who also wrote Psycho). Better entries
include Dr. Terror's House Of Horror, Vault Of Horror and From Beyond The
The titular Torture Garden is a fairground sideshow hosted by the flamboyant Dr. Diablo (subtlety not his strong point). It seemingly consists of a waxworks display, but for an extra 'cost' patrons are allowed into the backroom, the 'torture garden' proper. Here a statue of a Greek mythological figure, Atropos, holding shears (!) and strands of thread, has the ability to predict the future of the hapless punter. Diablo coaxes five customers into this chamber to be scryed, each premonition being one of the stories in the film.
The first notable aspect of the film is its trans-Atlantic cast. Most are British, including the ubiquitous Peter Cushing, but Burgess Meredith stars as Diablo (it's actually the best horror I've seen in him) and one of the patrons is played by Jack Palance (not someone you'd readily associate with horror films).
Secondly, only the final story and the linking story (thanks to Meredith's camp performance) really succeed. The first three stories, albeit reasonable, are too predictable and as a result lack any real surprises or menace. Admittedly, the final story can also be sussed out early on, its raison d'être is hinted at, but its secret is so outlandish that the overall effect is not spoilt. Cushing and the obsessive Palance help contribute to this section, building up a palpable sense of doom. At first I thought the story would be another retelling of Poe's The Cask Of Amontillado but happily it was different and strikingly original.
*spoilers to end*
The first two patrons readily deserve their fate; viewer sympathy is not at a premium. The third patron could be considered innocent; a rarity for such a film, but it is hinted at that she is a 'gold-digger'. Finally, Palance's fanatical collector invokes little sympathy, his sins surmounting to that of the initial patron. Perhaps a more likeable set of customers would have engaged the viewer more.
The film has numerous daft moments. These include the vivid red 'paint' used for blood; the fact that two characters who had no intention of eating at a restaurant still ordered food and drink for themselves anyway; and the actress who played the statue who could hardly keep still, she was twitching and breathing continually. Finally, the 'smooth' bit of editing at the end for the final 'scare' is just priceless.
To finish, any film that pokes fun at the 'Masonic' like inner world of filmmaking and has a moving, killer piano (!) is alright in my book.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of the best horror films of
the Seventies and could be construed as that decade's answer to Psycho.
Both films were inspired by/loosely based on the murderer Ed Gein and both
hold up a dark mirror to the conventional all-American family. The second
murder in Psycho, which is more startling and horrific than the infamous
initial murder, was stylistically the template for the initial batch of
killings in Texas.. About a dozen years after Texas. director Tobe Hooper
returned to make it's first sequel that, alas, has more in common with the
typical horror franchise sequel than its two previously mentioned
The film opens with two idiotic young men travelling by car to a party in Dallas. A number of makeshift roadsigns they pass and shoot, advertise 'museums/theme parks' based on savage military battles fought in the titular state e.g. the Alamo. This is a nice touch, depicting slaughter as cultural entertainment and hinting that the states history (all history in fact) is based on killing. OK back to the film's premise, the two goons fail to reach their destination but their fate is overheard and recorded by a local radio DJ whom they were pestering via a phone-in. The next day at the 'accident' site, Dennis Hopper (of all people) turns up as a vigilante policeman out to avenge his siblings who died in the first film. He teams up with the DJ to locate the killers. Guess who does the searching?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II is a mixture of the good and the bad. Only Hooper himself could have got away with ripping off his classic to such a degree. Some of the scenes and dialogue are lifted almost unchanged from the original. The film ups the gore quotient considerably (good) and the number of chainsaws, to the point of fetishism, compared to the original. But to the films detriment the atmosphere, menace and violence of the first are much diminished. Most of the film occurs in one of the aforementioned theme parks, a setting too fantastic and unreal compared to the original's run-down farmhouse (everyone knows some local desolate, run-down building). The 'cannibals' are portrayed in a comedic light, which dispels the sense of their perversion and evil so evident formerly. The `Cook' (note all the characters have nicknames) and `Chop-Top' (who I 'assume' was in Vietnam when the first film occurred) babble on endlessly - at times amusing, but mostly annoying or incoherently.
*spoilers to end*
The worst victim of this volte-face is `Leatherface'. Formerly he was a grunting vortex of destruction savagely wielding his saw with impunity and no concern for personal safety (OK he still wields it well but spends too much time harmlessly sawing up furniture. On a similar note, Lefty's chainsaw shenanigans were pitiable. How many scenes were there of him sawing through wooden supports with no resulting damage to the 'caverns' infrastructure?). This time round `Leatherface' is more like a lovesick bear, what with his forlorn eyes rolling about. The 'Beauty and the Beast' aspect is quite appalling. At what point did he fall for the girl exactly? Was it when he came smashing out of the record vault (love at first sight) or (my hunch) when she fired CO2 into his maw?
Now for some good points. There are some memorable setpieces especially the initial chainsaw attack. The puppet-like corpse wielding the saw on the top of the pick-up is both surreal and eerie. Whose corpse was it exactly, I thought `Hitch's' cadaver might make an appearance as a few bodies from the original have cameo appearances. The DJ's initial confrontation with `Chop-Top' was also memorable. He turns up like a loopy fan or stalker at the radio station - any public figure's worst nightmare. His dialogue here is his best in the film, both amusing and filled with menace. His request for Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is suitably off-kilter. All eighteen minutes of it, no hope on a commercial radio station, but she did play `Lefty's' 'request' so perhaps he thought he might be in with a chance.
Finally having an explosion to wipe out most of the film's players is just lazy storytelling and filmmaking. Anyone could have come up with something better. Thankfully, the closing image of the 'victor' triumphant on the 'fake mountain' whirling the chainsaw in madness is effective. This hints at a potential starting point for Part III, which I have not seen but I don't think was advanced upon. `Dog eat dog'.
The Beast With Five Fingers predates any other disembodied' hand film I've
seen by a good twenty years. Such films include Dr. Terror's House Of
Horror, The Hand, Evil Dead II, Severed Ties, and the two Addam's Family
films and television series. This selection illustrates the gamut of horror
film quality, from the delightful Evil Dead II to the atrocious Severed
Ties. Happily, their precursor, The Beast With Five Fingers is hands down'
one of the better entries in this sub-genre.
The Beast is set in an Italian village, home of the successful pianist, Francis Ingram, who resides in a sumptuous villa. Ingram is wheelchair bound as his entire right side is paralysed, and is forced to play piano using his single left hand. His style is suitably heavy and melancholic. He is a haunted figure, heavily reliant on his young nurse to the point of obsession, and fixated on his own death. Therefore, he summons his companions to dinner to witness the signing of his will. Amongst them is his personal secretary Hilary (Peter Lorre), a man with his own obsessions; astrology and the occult. It is not long before the Grim Reaper arrives as a belated dinner guest.
The film's most prominent actor is Peter Lorre. Lorre's career in horror fare has seen a slight regression over the years, though not as profound as some of his contemporaries such as Bela Lugosi and John Carradine. In the Thirties, Lorre starred in Fritz Lang's classic M and the rather good Mad Love. However, by the Sixties he was resigned to playing second fiddle to Vincent Price in horror-comedies The Comedy Of Terrors and The Raven. These two films are reasonable enough but eclipsed by his formative work. The Beast makes a fitting mid-point between these two eras.
Lorre is an engaging actor, his childlike physique and strange manner always invoke some degree of viewer sympathy no matter how heinous his crimes (cf. M). J. Carrol Naish who plays the affable police inspector (yep, never heard of him before) is also notable but his more comedic moments do lessen the film's impact.
The special effects used to animate the hand are impressive for their time, although as the film is in b&w this helps mask its inadequacies somewhat. The rubber hand in Dr. Terror's House Of Horror is pitiable in comparison, and that was made twenty odd years later. The interplay between Lorre and the hand as he alternatively soothes and struggles with it are reminiscent of Ash's plight in Evil Dead II.
The majority of the players seem primarily motivated by avarice. It is somewhat surprising then that the final bodycount is so low. A modern horror would have casually knocked off such sinners' with glee. Perhaps, this highlights a rift between vintage' and modern horror. The vintage film has a more human approach to its characters, although they do suffer in terms of danger and scares, they do not die. The usual modern approach is to emphasise the killings, the characters are just fodder for the killer's and the audience's whimsy. Of course this reasoning parallels the change in audience expectation and tolerance with time, and also what the changes the filmmakers could get away with in terms of censorship and decency'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The diabolic Dr. Frankenstein has a knack of escaping near-death
at the hands of the authorities, lynch mobs and his own creations. Thus
chances of his titular destruction are admittedly slim especially with
potential for another sequel. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is the
and penultimate instalment in Hammer's Terence Fisher/Peter Cushing
Frankenstein series. This classification excludes The Evil Of
(which was directed by Freddie Francis instead) and the widely different
Horror Of Frankenstein (directed by Jimmy Sangster and starring Ralph
as the eponymous doctor).
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed commences with two separate events, a sickle decapitation and a thief discovering a secret laboratory in a fire-gutted mansion. The petty criminals in Fisher's films always seem to be portrayed in a comedic light. It is not surprising who links these two events. Frankenstein is still having trouble with transplanting brains (although he himself is evidence of his expertise in this field). However, he learns of a brain expert and former colleague, a Dr. Brandt, who has gone insane and has been committed to an asylum. The film involves Frankenstein's attempt to reacquaint himself with Brandt so he can exploit his knowledge. Of course, this involves further experiments and a rising death toll.
Unlike the diminishing returns (in terms of quality) evident in most horror sequels, Fisher's Frankenstein series, from The Curse Of Frankenstein to Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, has remained relatively consistent. With the focus on the doctor as the source of 'evil', the series has always managed to produce new variations and progressions on his character and his work. Can you think of any other horror series that has remained as good right up to the fourth sequel? However, the aforementioned The Horror Of Frankenstein proves that the studio was not infallible. But this did not involve Fisher or Cushing; its storyline was a basic retread of earlier films, the only novelty being that it concerns Frankenstein as a young man.
Some familiar faces pop up in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Windsor Davies has a minor role as a police sergeant. Hammer regular Thorley Walters appears as the bumbling police chief. His characters features are reminiscent of Inspector Lohmann in Fritz Lang's M and The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse. But his irritating mannerisms and constant snuff taking (which refers to the cocaine dealers) are very disparate.
*spoilers to end*
The film contains some memorable setpieces. The highlight is the burst water pipe and the nightmarish vision it reveals. The finale is also impressive. It is ironic that here the 'creation' was mad originally and 'cured' by the experiment. Usually the test subject is originally 'normal' but is driven insane by the experiment. Madness, however, is a qualitative term; here the 'monster' could be considered slightly unhinged, as it is hell-bent on revenge. This is understandable but alternatively he could have been more grateful for being cured of his 'madness'.
*also includes spoiler for Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell*
The most surprising and sinister moment is the rape scene. From previous films, Frankenstein has seemed obsessed entirely with science to the point of asexuality; also he has appeared too urbane and self-controlled for such an act. But as the series progresses, its protagonist has become increasingly unhinged, so this surrender to lust and hatred is perhaps not that unexpected. In the final film, Frankenstein is the resident at an asylum, as Brandt is here, taking his obsessions to their logical conclusion. Also compare the crude 'monster from hell' he creates compared to his earlier experiments: a definite regression. It is perhaps unfortunate that the consequences of the rape did not directly effect Frankenstein's downfall. I thought a more decisive retribution would be in order.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first slasher' film and thus one of the earliest horror films I saw was
Halloween II. At the age of twelve I was mightily impressed and equally
enjoyed the subsequent viewing of Parts I and III (hey, it's different).
Throughout my mid-teens I had an unhealthy diet of similar fare such as the
numerous Friday The 13th's and A Nightmare On Elm Street's. But by the time
I saw Halloween IV in the early Nineties, my slasher bubble' had burst. I
found it predictable and daft. The genre reached its nadir with Friday 13th
Part VIII which I saw at about the same time and compounded my
disillusionment. So after about ten years I've returned to the Halloween
franchise with instalment number five. I wasn't expecting much and
unfortunately my foresight was correct.
Halloween 5 begins exactly where Part 4 left off (plus points for continuity). After being shot repeatedly and falling down a mineshaft, Michael Myers (not the guy from Austin Powers and Wayne's World, alas) crawls away to a remote log cabin. The old man within assists the unconscious and wounded Myers in his ignorance (shades of Bride Of Frankenstein here). A year later, to coincide with All Hallows, Myers' niece, Jamie, who is now resident in a children's institution goes into an epileptic fit. Her doctors are baffled and helpless, all except the ever present Dr. Loomis (and the viewer), who know what is about to happen.
*spoilers related to Halloween 2*
This brings us to the first of many inconsistencies in the film. A year later', so for all this time Myers has been comatose in the old hermits hut as if he was part of the furniture! A continuity error from earlier films is the recuperative power of both Myers and Loomis. Both were torched at the end of Part 2, but only Loomis appears to have any burns (albeit not as bad as expected). Also Myers had his eyes shot out in the same film, here the film has numerous close ups of his eyes which are in perfect condition!
Horror veteran Donald Pleasance who has been in an inexhaustive list of horror films returns as Loomis. The good include The Flesh And The Fiends, Death Line, From Beyond The Grave, Prince Of Darkness, and the first two Halloween films. The bad includes Nothing Underneath, The Uncanny and Halloween 4. The ugly' is Buried Alive. Throughout Halloween 5 Pleasance appears quite fatigued which adds weight to his portrayal of Loomis, a man who has suffered a lot. It is odd that anyone would let Loomis near a children's hospital, he is as obsessive and as freaky as Myers. The only person he can relate to is his former patient, his worldview narrowed(cf. the mad' scientist of most horror). His relationship is quite paternal, note the softness (love) in his voice as he talks to Myers.
*spoilers for this film (to end)*
As Myers was incarcerated as a child he could be considered a youth in adult form. He gets up to his normal tricks and treats here, but seems to have reached adolescence. To wit; he drives his date' around town, discusses' sports cars with his peers, and treats a young couple making out to his own peccadillos (involving a garden fork and a scythe). If the prongs on the fork had been longer we would have had another double slaying sans A Bay Of Blood and Friday 13th Part 2.
The character of Jamie, although well acted, seems ill thought out. Her psychic link is quite whimsical, some killings she can see, and others she can't. Thus the linking falls to the level of a poor plot device used to link scenes and characters. Also her relationship/confrontation with her uncle does not reach any sort of conclusion, it just becomes an excuse for a young girl to be in peril.
Finally, the film features a mysterious man in black waltzing around whom reminded me of Max von Sydow in The Exorcist (the black coat and case). I assume he is involved in the final scenes at the police station (cf. The Terminator)(also the police in the film seem to be based on the Keystone Kops!) but his motivations and identity are not resolved. This of course paves the way for yet another sequel but leaves a rather unsatisfactory ending to this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film reviewer in the Guardian newspaper once dismissed Bert I. Gordon as
`a man who has forgotten more about film-making than he ever knew'. Cruel,
yes; amusing, certainly; and the statement also has a slight modicum of
truth about it. Gordon is most famous for churning out cheap and cheerful
sci-fi films in the Fifties, most famously The Amazing Colossal Man. By
Seventies however, his output was pretty much the same still obsessed
giant people, animals and the like.
The Food Of The Gods tells the tale of a professional American football player, called Morgan, and his two chums who take a break on a rural island. One of the friends becomes separated (yawn) and has an unlucky encounter with a rather large wasp. Whilst searching for help Morgan has his own meeting with an over-sized beast. After saying hello' to a giant rooster (the film's highlight!) Morgan meets an ageing farmwife who is concerned about ratholes in her larder. It seems the rats have been eating her special' foodstuff reserved exclusively for the poultry.
Food is based on a `portion' of a story by H.G.Wells. Some decent films have been adapted from Wells' sci-fi fables such as Things To Come and The Time Machine. Needless to say, Gordon's two efforts, this film and the later The Empire Of The Ants, are not among them. Still, I personally consider Food to be the better of the two, in all respects from sound balance (a major problem in Empire's early scenes), special effects, model work, pacing and story.
Sidenote: Joan Collins who starred in Empire often cites it as her worst film. This is not so. The Monster, which was made in the mid-seventies, is much worse. Here she plays a stripper who rejects the amorous advances of a dwarf! The dwarf curses her so that her baby is born evil. Also consider her films based on her sister Jackie's novels.
Review Continued: *spoilers to end*
Food Of The Gods has two similarities to The Night Of The Living Dead. The rodent siege on the isolated farmhouse is an obvious likeness. Also consider the arguments between the characters as to how to deal with the situation. Morgan is quite a gung-ho person; he likens the rat attack to some sort of personal feud or battle of wits. Concern for his fellow humans does not seem to be a priority. Perhaps Bensington's idea of escaping in the car would have been a better option than reinforcing the farmhouse (cf. Night ).
I liked Morgan's idea that the rats would not be able to swim, as they were too big. Perhaps he should have explained some tenets of biophysics to all the infected animals. The drastic increase in body size would have to be compensated by gross changes in bone structure, blood circulation, organ size and other aspects of physiology and morphology. The rats and chickens would be unlikely to support their own weight otherwise and as for the wasps flying and their nest
Finally, the film did not proceed in a direction I anticipated. The farmwife explained that the food' only effected young animals not adults. As a pregnant woman was introduced to the story, I thought she would somehow ingest the food'. This would result in her giving birth to an oversized baby as an extra shock' near the end. The strain of such an unnatural parturition would probably kill the mother. A wasted opportunity perhaps. Still, the films actual ending did raise concerns over food safety and contamination. Such issues are always topical here in Britain, land of BSE, listeria, salmonella etc.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chopper Chicks In Zombie Town is the typical Troma mix of light horror,
adventure and bad gags. Methinks the film was thought up during a heady
night of boozing in front of the video recorder. Films viewed being Easy
Rider, The Magnificent Seven, Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!, and of course
The Night Of The Living Dead. However, the resultant film is no way in
same league as its 'inspirations'.
The film is about a gang of leather clad female bikers who ride from town to town to escape the grind of everyday life and their diverse pasts. At the films beginning they are riding into the dusty, desert backwater of Zariah (population 128 (no sorry 127!)) in search of `meat' (both senses of the word are applicable). After the typical cliché of the frosty reception from the locals, the girls discover that Zariah has an alarmingly high mortality rate. Yes, a 'mad' scientist is at work bumping off the locals and raising them as zombies. Cue confrontation between the 'chicks' and the shambling undead.
On a sidenote: The term chopper has three meanings. Here the usage is obviously as slang for a motorbike, but chopper also means axe and also has a phallic resonance. I think the filmmakers wasted the opportunity to make a film (the only film) about axe wielding transvestite bikers. The resulting film being a sort of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert meets George A. Romero!
Back to the review proper: 'Chopper Chicks' also has themes/moments similar to two much better zombie films namely Dead & Buried and The Plague Of Zombies. Using the undead as slave labour, here to work in a radiation contaminated mine (hey, it's a Troma movie - they have to get a radiation link in somewhere), is lifted straight from 'Plague'. I won't mention the Dead & Buried link as it would overtly spoil that film.
Suffice to say I was not particularly impressed with 'Chopper Chicks'. For starters, the film fails to make the zombies threatening or frightening. Zombies work best in claustrophobic settings, when they pop up unexpectedly and when there are vast numbers of them. They are not much good ambling down a high street or along a desert road where they just become fodder for a baseball bat. Also, the evil protagonist did not have much of an impact, being reduced to the level of a fall guy for bad slapstick humour. There isn't even a confrontation between him and the biker women.
But 'Chopper Chicks' is also a comedy-adventure so the horror aspect could take second place. Fair enough, but the film mostly fails here as well. Moments that I found amusing were as sparse as the desert setting. The characters too easily fall into the realms of crude caricature and the viewer ends up with more empathy for the cadavers. Any pretence of a veneer of female solidarity/empowerment in the film is quickly scraped away. The inclusion of a blind troupe of children adds nothing to the film. Here the potential for moments of both horror and comedy as the kiddies mingled with the undead was lost. Finally, too few of the humans die whilst the zombies are massacred. The only biker to die in battle does so stupidly, just becoming another plot mechanism for another explosion.
Still 'Chopper Chicks' does have some redeeming features. The initial victim is a child - a welcome break from the typical rose-tinted treatment of children in most horror films. The use of a stapler to seal the zombies' mouths to stop them biting is inspired. As is the fact that the local townsfolk refuse to fight the zombies as they're 'family'. The best moment in the film is the reaction of one biker to a proclamation of love from an ex-boyfriend. Her response to the words `I love you' is superb, a cinematic classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jesus Franco is Spain's most prolific and infamous director of horror
Often accused of misogyny and sadism, a lot of his films are therefore
unavailable/banned or cut in the UK. Vampyros Lesbos marks the fourth
Franco film that I have seen. The other three are, from best to worst,
Awful Dr. Orloff, The Female Vampire, and The Blood Of Fu Manchu.
The version of Vampyros Lesbos I watched was rather odd. It was in German with English subtitles, surprising with a Spaniard as director. Apparently this is the best/most complete version available, bearing in mind that I saw a television transmission so I wouldn't be surprised if bits were edited out. Still it is a relief to watch a foreign language horror (excluding American!) that has not been dubbed into English.
In Turkey, a young woman, Linda, witnesses a strange, sapphic stage act whilst at a nightclub with her boyfriend. The act also incorporates themes of narcissism and domination/submission. Linda is fascinated with the act's protagonist - a beautiful dark-haired woman. Linda soon has strange dreams and visions about the mysterious woman, which both excite and frighten her. By coincidence (fate) a work assignment entails her travelling to a local island to meet a Countess Korody, who just happens to be the subject of her obsession.
Jesus Franco was clearly influenced in his output by the films of Hammer studios. At one point he even ended up in their employ working with Christopher Lee on two Fu Manchu films. However, from the outset with The Awful Dr. Orloff, Franco upped the ante in terms of onscreen sex and sadism. Around the time Vampyros Lesbos was made Hammer was also producing lesbian themed vampire films such as The Vampire Lovers and Lust For A Vampire. Needless to say Vampyros Lesbos eclipses Hammer in terms of salacious content, to the point of borderline softcore pornography. On the other hand, the hammer offerings eclipse Vampyros Lesbos in terms of characterisation and story, even though these films are amongst the studios lesser offerings.
*spoilers (to end)*
The film has similarities to other vampire films outside Hammer. The ubiquitous Renfield character here takes the form of Agra, a woman at the asylum. Also the fate of Morpho is identical to his counterpart in the modern vampire tale Nadja.
Of the handful of Franco films I have seen Vampyros Lesbos is most similar to The Female Vampire, which could be seen as its companion piece. Both films explore themes of frustrated sexuality, loneliness and unrequited love. Both films contains copious amounts of nudity, sado-masochism, and could be considered as cheap exploitation. The central vampire figure is similar in terms of appearance, social standing and sexual appetite. Also in each an educated man desires to cross over to the 'darkside'. However, I would rate Female Vampire as the better film. It's take on vampirism is quite novel with the Countess subsisting on a far more intimate bodily fluid than blood. Vampyros Lesbos does not add anything to the vampire mythos save an unorthodox method of undead slaying.
A central problem of Vampyros Lesbos is that the vampire is not at all horrific or evil, even though she is named `The Queen of the Night'. The only frightening aspect of the film comes in the form of the hotel valet played by Franco himself. When his character explains his motivations to Linda, the statements could easily be construed as the director's own outlook on women and sexuality judging by the content of his flimography. None of the male characters are shown in a decent light. Linda's lover and Morpho are both 'inadequate' and the rest mistreat women (the doctor and his assistant, the valet). No wonder Linda escapes into the dreamlike, homosexual world of the Countess.
Some aspects of the film quickly start to grate. The music, a mix of Euro pop, psychedelia and jazz, although initially absorbing is repeated ad nauseum. Also the crude animal symbolism is a bit overdone. The dog being Morpho (a bit of self-referencing here as it is also a character in 'Dr. Orloff'), the lacewing being Linda and the scorpion being the Countess. The arachnid is seemingly drowned towards the end for real - not right.
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