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Open razor throat slashing and dumb humour - like oil and water.
After the murder of a young woman on a train from Istanbul to Athens, five people are questioned by the police, the main suspect being photographer Luciano (Leonard Mann). With the law breathing down his neck, Luciano tries to prove his innocence while the killer continues to rack up the bodies.
Death Steps in the Dark has got a convoluted plot, a killer who wears black gloves and uses an open razor, plenty of attractive young women, bright red gore, gratuitous female nudity, and cool close-ups of the murderer's twitchy eyeball - but it's still not a typical giallo: in addition to the usual genre ingredients, this one also includes quite a lot of comic relief. The tongue-in-cheek humour is incongruous with the nasty slayings - one second we have a graphic shot of a razor slicing through flesh, and moments later there'll be some daft comment from the hero's ditzy Swedish girlfriend Ingrid (played by Vera Krouska - easy on the eye, but oh-so-irritating) or some craziness that involves the police's prime suspect dressing in drag. No matter how hard director Maurizio Pradeaux tries, his mixture of sadistic killing and silly comedy doesn't work
The murders are well-handled by Pradeaux, but the actual story is a mess, so much so that that it is necessary for some lengthy exposition at the end, courtesy of the police inspector (Robert Webber), so that the viewer can make some sort of sense out of what they have just seen. That said, no amount of explanation could make the final scene seem less asinine: Death Steps in the Dark has one of the most ridiculous climaxes ever, so stupid that it almost makes one admire its chutzpah.
4.5/10, rounded up to 5 for IMDb.
Cellar Dweller (1988)
A man's got to know his limitations.
When I was young, I wanted to be a professional comic artist. I practised and practised into the wee small hours, honing my skills with brush and ink, and I got pretty good, but, even so, I knew deep down that my work still wasn't good enough. I was, however, a damn sight better than Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino), the comic artist in Cellar Dweller, whose crappy drawings (and equally bad lettering) leave an awful lot to be desired. The film starts off promisingly enough, with '50s artist Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs) inking some pretty good horror comic art before being killed by his creation, the Cellar Dweller, which comes to life off the page. But when the action moves to the present day, with Whitney joining an artist colony to resurrect Childress's monster, the standard of work goes way downhill. It's impossible to believe that anyone would give her childish drawings more than a cursory look.
Sadly, the script and direction for this movie are as laughable as Whitney's art, with no scares and zero atmosphere, while director John Carl Buechler wisely keeps his titular monster hidden in the shadows for the most part. The plot makes little sense, Whitney unwittingly controlling the monster at first by drawing it's actions in her comic strips, but, later on, the monster acting of its own free will, the comic pages materialising out of thin air. Whitney is also able to bring dead people back to life by drawing them, but kills them again by burning the pages. And why does she bring Cellar Dweller back to reality, albeit in chains. What purpose does that serve?
About the only good thing about this mess of a monster movie is a juicy decapitation and some munching of victims' body parts. If only Buechler had taken a leaf out of my book and just admitted to himself that he wasn't good enough, he would have saved us from his subsequent crap-fests like Ghoulies Go To College and The Curse of the Forty-Niner.
Why does a demon need a Black & Decker?
Andreas Bethmann's Demon Terror starts off in extremely muddled mode, the director jumping from one scene to another in totally random fashion, the result being utter confusion for the viewer. A rat catcher is attacked by a juice-squirting tentacle and has his face dissolved; a naked woman takes a break from her book to pleasure herself (given the lighting, I'm amazed that reading was even possible), but is also attacked by a tentacle; armed bank robbers Riccardo (Thomas Riehn) and Antonio (Carsten Ruthmann, who annoys by holding his gun in a side-grip) kill everyone in a bank (including a toddler, played by a child's toy doll) and make off with a tiny sack of money; a naked woman in the sea is attacked by a shark; a girl takes a shower after sex, and returns to find her lover has been drilled in the stomach; and several women in hell are tortured by a demon (graphic tentacle penetration shots and a drill to the skull).
Bethmann, a film-maker with a Jess Franco fixation, gives us graphic gore and gratuitous female crotch shots, but makes Franco look like a cinematic genius by comparison, the cack-handed first hour of his film making less sense than even the most esoteric '70s Euro-horror.
The last half an hour is much better (not exactly difficult, I know): the bank robbers, their accomplice Magdalena (Marion Ley), and a female hostage land on a seemingly deserted island, unaware that it is home to bloodthirsty demons that plan to take over the planet. A group of soldiers also arrive on the island, and are attacked by the fanged creatures, which leads to a gore-filled final act in which everyone clearly suffers from high blood pressure, since their claret gushes like a fountain when they are bitten or shot. Bethmann only takes time out from the carnage for the occasional bit of breast fondling. If you can imagine Lamberto Bava's Demons, but on a tighter budget with less talented performers and more blood and boobs, then you'll have a good idea what this part of the film is like.
After much messy violence, including gutmunching, dismemberment, and a sickle to the skull, the film closes with demon Maria (Katja Bienert) making it to the mainland to spread her evil across the land...
1/10 for the first hour; 5/10 for the last thirty minutes or so, which averages out at 3/10.
Dream Demon (1988)
One, Two, 'Crocodile Shoes', Three, Four, 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore'.
Well-heeled virginal bride-to-be Diana (Jemma Redgrave) is anxious about her impending nuptials and suffers from nightmares in which her Falklands hero fiancé Oliver (Mark Greenstreet) is far less perfect than she thinks. When Diana is hounded by two muck-raking reporters from the gutter press, spunky American Jenny Hoffman (Kathleen Wilhoite) steps in, seeing the journalists off by cracking one of them in the family jewels. Diana and Jenny soon become good friends, but there is a dark secret in Jenny's past that is somehow connected to Diana's new home and which plunges the women into a nightmarish world of shadows and demons.
If Dream Demon was intended to be Britain's answer to A Nightmare on Elm Street, director Harley Cokliss seriously dropped the ball: his film has none of the energy, fun or imagination of Wes Craven's film, and instead of an iconic movie monster, Cokliss gives us a pair of crap villains in the not-very-terrifying form of its loathsome supernatural news-hounds, played by Jimmy Nail and Timothy Spall. The film also doesn't make a lick of sense: one might argue that a movie dealing with the world of nightmares doesn't need to adhere to standard storytelling conventions, but 'dream logic' can only excuse so much, and this one goes way beyond what is acceptable, failing to give any kind of explanation for Diana's dreams, or for the presence of the disgusting demonic duo of Nail and Spall.
There are some impressively gory make-up effects along the way, including a splattery decapitation, a juicy punch through the skull, and an ear yanked off, but they are wasted on this dreadful mess of a movie that delivers little in the way of scares. If only Jimmy Nail had started singing... ain't no doubt THAT would have been truly disturbing!
Wa-hey! It's Brigitte Lahaie.
An image in one of my horror movie books - a scantily clad Brigitte Lahaie wielding a massive scythe - has long been a source of fascination for me (see what I did there?): I imagined many a gruesome death dealt with the wickedly long blade. I've finally caught up with the Jean Rollin film in question - Fascination - and the lovely Lahaie does indeed dispatch several characters with her impressively large farming implement. However, the slayings aren't anywhere near as gory as I had hoped, especially the slaughter of two men which could have allowed for an amazing double decapitation but instead results in just a bit of blood smeared on their necks.
But while Fascination is definitely a little disappointing in terms of the splatter, it at least compensates with lots of nudity from some very attractive ladies, not least Lahaie, who is easily one of Euro-horrors most physically impressive stars. Buxom blonde Lahaie plays Eva, one of two women living in a grand chateau who give refuge to desperate thief Marc (Jean-Marie Lemaire), who has double-crossed his gang and is running for his life. While waiting for darkness to fall, Marc entertains himself by flirting with Eva and her friend Elisabeth (Franca Maï). Eventually, Marc's miffed partners-in-crime arrive and launch an assault. Eva tries to placate the thugs by offering them the gold that Marc has taken, but when they fail to leave she gets busy with the scythe, cutting the gang down to size.
The film then introduces us to five female friends of Eva and Elisabeth, who arrive at the castle to take part in a secret ceremony. Unperturbed by their creepy antics, Marc hangs around to see exactly what they are up to, but regrets his decision when it turns out that they intend to drink his blood as part of an extreme cure for anemia. Rollin conjures up some amazing imagery - most notably his scantily clad sirens (wearing Rollins' trademark coloured chiffon gowns) standing on the windy bridge that crosses the castle moat - and manages quite the creepy ambience, but, on the whole, Fascination isn't as strong as his previous horror The Grapes of Death or his later The Living Dead Girl, both of which combined eerie atmosphere and graphic gore to great success.
La morte vivante (1982)
One of Rollins' best.
As children, Catherine Valmont and Hélène are inseparable, pledging their love for each other with a blood oath; unfortunately, Catherine carks it as a young adult and is interred in the vault below the Valmont family castle. Two years later, the tunnels beneath the chateau are used as a dumping ground for barrels of chemical waste, which spring a leak during an earth tremor, the toxic sludge bringing Catherine (Françoise Blanchard) back from the dead with a taste for human blood (her first snack being the chemical company workman who breaks open her coffin to steal her jewellery).
Hélène (Marina Pierro), who is now working as a realtor, visits the Valmont estate and finds her dead friend seemingly alive, having just killed and fed upon a couple who broke into the castle to have sex. In order to protect her friend, Hélène cleans up the mess and hides the bodies, and then proceeds to find more hapless victims for Catherine to drain of blood. Meanwhile, American photographer Barbara Simon (Carina Barone) pokes her nose (and lens) where it's not wanted, and risks becoming Catherine's next meal.
Jean Rollin's atypical zombie film is a haunting tale that will appeal to fans of emotive horror, the film's 'monster' a tortured soul whose humanity is gradually restored as she continues to feed. As Catherine becomes more aware of the horrific nature of her acts, she longs to return to the oblivion of death. In contrast, Hélène becomes the real monster, luring innocent girls to their death in the Valmont vaults. Rollin's treatment is largely poetic, but there are also moments of graphic gore to please those who like the splattery stuff: eye gougings, throat rippings, an axe in the head etc. - the blood flows freely (and often spurts all over the perpetrator and victim). And his being a Rollins film, the women are all attractive and frequently naked - which doesn't hurt.
Overall, I found this to be one of Rollins more satisfying films - beautifully lyrical and atmospheric, but also nice and bloody, with a wonderfully tragic and grisly ending (and a shockingly fiery demise for one of the major characters).
8/10. Not a bad place to start for those new to Rollins' work.
El secreto del Dr. Orloff (1964)
Jess Franco's The Mistresses of Dr. Jeckyll is a sequel of sorts to his 1962 horror The Awful Dr. Orlof, although the character of Orlof only appears in the opening scene, in which he reveals to his associate, Dr. Conrad Fisherman (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui), his secret theory about reanimating a corpse. Unless I missed something, there is no-one called Dr. Jeckyll in the film (perhaps Fisherman was called Jeckyll in the original language version; the copy I saw was dubbed).
When Fisherman learns that his wife Ingrid (Luisa Sala) has slept with his brother Andros (Hugo Blanco), the doctor slays his sibling by stabbing him with a scalpel, bringing him back from the dead as a robotic slave who can be controlled by ultrasonic transmissions. Conrad proceeds to punish wayward women by sending Andros out to kill, finding victims in the jazz clubs and bars of Holfen. Meanwhile, Conrad's niece Melissa (Agnès Spaak) arrives at Conrad's castle to take control of her inheritance, unaware that her dead father wanders the corridors at night.
Although not nearly as good as The Awful Dr. Orlof, this is still one of Franco's more coherent and therefore more enjoyable films, made before the effects of the psychedelic '60s took hold and he started to churn out incomprehensible garbage like Succubus and Nightmares Come At Night. The plot mightn't be the most inspired - it's formulaic 'tragic monster' fare - but Franco creates lots of contemporary gothic atmosphere, delivers some nice black and white imagery, and gives us a couple of cool jazzy musical numbers to boot.
5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.
The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)
That's it... I'm done with McG.
The Babysitter was a fun teen-oriented horror film that actually made me feel vindicated for having defended McG in the past (I'm not ashamed to say that I like Charlie's Angels). Killer Queen makes me feel sorry that I ever said good things about the man.
Set two years after the first film, this sorry-ass sequel sees Judah Lewis returning as Cole, who is now in high school, considered a weirdo for his outlandish tales of killer babysitters and blood cults (and for the fact that he wears a brown, three-piece corduroy suit with pin badges on the lapel). History repeats itself when his best friend Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind) also turns out to be evil, having made a pact from beyond the grave with the deceased psychos from the first film to complete their Satanic ritual using Cole's blood.
If McG's music video style has rankled in the past, this film is guaranteed to annoy, the director going into overdrive with trendy stylisms that make Edgar Wright look positively reserved. As if the puerile script wasn't bad enough (lame humour and numerous pop culture references), the use of computer graphics, grainy VHS style flashbacks, and various other random nonsense is atrocious. A sex scene plays out through the use of obvious visual metaphors; a fight scene is done in the style of a beat-'em-up computer game; there's a pointless dance routine. None of this makes any sense within the context of the film; it's just there for the sake of it.
To be honest, the only good thing about this whole dreadful mess is the excessive gore, which is cartoonish but fun.
To add a final insult to injury, Samara Weaving (a BA_Harrison pet peeve) returns at the very end as babysitter Bee, who turns out to be good, saving Cole and his love interest Phoebe (Jenna Ortega) from the bad guys. At least she doesn't get to do one of her horrible warbling screams: I guess we should be thankful for small mercies.
We Summon the Darkness (2019)
Commits the sin of making me dislike Daddario for the duration.
Three friends, Alexis (Alexandra Daddario), Val (Maddie Hasson) and Beverly (Amy Forsyth), travel to a heavy metal concert where they meet three guys who they invite back to their place for an after-gig party, despite there being a group of murderous Satanic cultists at work in the area.
I didn't think it was possible for anyone to make a completely worthless film starring the gorgeous Alexandra Daddario, but director Marc Meyers has proven me wrong; in We Summon The Darkness, the usually captivating Miss Daddario (who is at least ten years too old for the part) is utterly atrocious and thoroughly irritating, and doesn't even compensate by donning a tight vest or skimpy red swimsuit. Perhaps it dawned on her just how risible the script was and she figured she had nothing to lose by hamming it up to the max; but while she might have had fun playing the villain to the hilt, the viewer is unlikely to find her maniacal over-the-top performance as enjoyable.
Daddario's dreadful acting aside, there is still much to hate about this lamentable horror/thriller that neither horrifies or thrills: the dumb script with its predictable twist, the pathetic attempts at 1980s heavy metal fashion, the uniformly useless male characters, and the lack of decent music on the soundtrack (instead of a cool collection of metal classics, we get T'pau and a cover version of a Belinda Carlisle song) -- all serve to grate on the nerves. Chuck in Johnny Knoxville, only good when he and his friends are being hit in the balls, and what you have is a really bad film that fully deserves the lowest rating for making me dislike Daddario, if only for a while.
Hopefully, it'll be the final countdown (da da da da, da da da da da!).
A mobile phone app tells users how long they have left to live; those who try to avoid the inevitable are pursued by a demon that ensures all deadlines are kept (pun intended). Having downloaded the app, Nurse Quinn Harris (Elizabeth Lail) realises the horrible truth and tries to find a way to cheat death before her countdown clock reaches zero.
I struggled with this film, its Final Destination-esque plot leading to some very lacklustre scares, the film not even benefiting from the type of inventive and gory death scenes that make the FD movies so much fun. Writer/director Justin Dec manages some moderately creepy moments when various people's countdowns approach zero and the demon comes a-calling, but with no decent payoffs, the film will no doubt disappoint avid horror fans. Furthermore, I imagine that the app-driven plot is destined to feel very dated very quickly as mobile technology advances - watching this ten years down the line will probably be more funny than scary.
Lail does admirably with the material, but she cannot do much to help what has clearly been aimed at a younger horror audience. It's all so frustratingly tepid (even the sexual predator sub-plot), and, worse still, Rachel Riley is nowhere to be seen.
Un urlo dalle tenebre (1975)
"I hate you" screams possessed teenager Peter at the beginning of Naked Exorcism. It's a particularly ineffectual insult, hardly the most profane language to come from one affected by a malevolent demonic force, but then this Italian The Exorcist rip-off is weak in so many ways.
Director Angelo Pannacciò goes through the possession movie motions, as Peter finds a Satanic amulet and wears it as a lucky charm, only to fall under the power of an evil spirit as a result. The lad develops a mild case of potty mouth, fires a champagne cork at his girlfriend Sherry (a dick move, but not exactly the work of the devil), and appears to his mother and sister as the maniacal woman whose spirit now possesses his body. This is interspersed by footage of a Satanic ritual, those in attendance writhing on the floor in orgiastic bliss.
The woman who possesses Peter also causes the death of Sherry, and pushes his mother down the stairs, driving his sister Elena (Patrizia Gori), a nun, to arrange for an exorcist (Richard Conte) to pay a visit. The final twenty minutes consists of the usual flying ornaments, rotating furniture, vomit spewing, and more vile taunts, including such 'offensive' remarks as "Go away!", "I spit on you and all your mumbo jumbo", and "Go lick your master's feet".
Eventually, the evil spirit is driven out of Peter, only to enter the body of Elena, who does a 'Karras' and throws herself off a precipice.
2.5/10, rounded up to 3 for IMDb. Not scary, occasionally unintentionally funny, with lots of nudity but absolutely no originality.
Sexy Cat (1973)
Spanish giallo with a comic-book killer.
A fumetti-inspired giallo, Sexy Cat stars Germán Cobos as private eye Mike Cash, who is hired to help prove that artist Martin Graham is the true creator of popular comic book character Sexy Cat, and not Paul Karpis, the man who is currently making a mint by selling the TV rights. However, the case turns into a murder investigation after Graham is found with his throat cut, just like in one of the Sexy Cat stories. More murders follow, identical to those in the comic strip, the killer described by a witness as a woman wearing a black costume, black gloves, a mask and with blonde hair. Who is the purr-petrator (I had to get at least one cat pun in) and why are they on a killing spree?
While there are plenty of vicious murders in Sexy Cat - snake attack, suffocation by plastic bag, poisoned clawed glove attack - the whole thing is far more breezy than your average giallo, with a central character who casually encounters death on a regular basis, but never loses his cool, even when one of the corpses is the beautiful woman he has just had a romantic encounter with, He's that easy going! There are plenty more babes in the sea, it would seem.
Mike's investigations go nowhere, during which I admit to getting a little lost about the relevance of some of the characters (Liz St. James?); every avenue ends with another dead body, until a rather ingenious plot development (albeit one that I figured out minutes earlier) helps the investigator to finally work out who the killer is. The film ends with a showdown between Mike and Sexy Cat, the murderer meeting a nasty fate via harpoon and a whopping big metal chopping machine.
As is de rigeur for the giallo genre, there is a fair amount of female nudity and some bright red (albeit not very convincing) gore, plus a gratuitous flaming homosexual for laughs.
5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.
Dr. M schlägt zu (1972)
A not-so-great retread of one of Franco's better films.
Jess Franco directed over 180 movies in his lifetime, so it's not very surprising that he occasionally lacked inspiration. The Vengeance of Dr. Mabuse sees Jess imitating his own 1962 movie The Awful Dr. Orlof, which itself was inspired by George Franju's classic Les Yeux Sans Visage.
As with The Awful Dr. Orlof, the plot concerns a crazy scientist, the titular Dr. Mabuse (Jack Taylor), who abducts women with the help of disfigured servant Andros (Moisés Augusto Rocha) in order to subject them to a powerful ray, the aim being to create an army of robots. Parallels with The Awful Dr. Orlof abound, from the police inspector (here played by Fred Williams) whose girlfriend is called Wanda (same as in Orlof), to the woman lured to an abandoned building where she is accosted by Orlof's servant (as in Orlof), to the vagrant who catches a vital clue on the end of his fishing pole (as in Orlof). Needless to say, the film ends in the same way, with Andros carrying off Wanda, the inspector arriving just in time to kill the 'monster' and save the girl.
Sadly, this time around, the formula doesn't result in such a great film: Franco's direction is sloppy, the performances aren't very good (Howard Vernon's presence would be beneficial), and Eva Garden as Wanda isn't anywhere near as sexy as Diana Lorys, who played the inspector's fiancé in The Awful Dr. Orlof.
Q. Did the same artist who drew the police sketches in The Awful Dr. Orlof also design the sign for The Red Garter cabaret club? It's just as terrible.
La maldición de Frankenstein (1973)
A silver-skinned Frankenstein's monster - now that's different. One thing is for sure, this isn't your bog-standard Frankenstein film. Whereas most movies based on Mary Shelley's legendary creation are content with one mad doctor and one monster (two at a push), Jess Franco's The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein features three insane scientists - Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price), his daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón), and the villainous Cagliostro (Howard Vernon) - plus a whole slew of strange creations, including a blind bird-woman called Melisa (Anne Libert), a bloke with pointy ears, some living skeletons, and assorted ghouls.
In the film's opening scene, Doctor Frankenstein is murdered by Cagliostro and Melisa, who make off with the scientist's shimmering, shambling monster, intending to mate it with their creation, a perfect woman, to create an entirely new race. To be honest, the shambolic plot doesn't make a lot of sense (like a lot of Franco's stuff), and the film's limited appeal is its sheer insanity and some gratuitous nudity. The most bonkers scene sees the shiny monster flogging a naked Vera and an equally starkers man, who are bound together, until they fall on a floor of rubber spikes. If that sound like fun to you, then by all means give it a whirl, but this isn't one of Franco's better efforts.
Gritos en la noche (1962)
This is the 30th Jess Franco film that I have seen, and it's my second favourite, just behind Faceless (1987). Both films were clearly inspired by (ie., ripped off from) Georges Franju's Le Yeux Sans Visage, but in my opinion Franco's films far surpass Franju's better known and more highly regarded movie: Faceless is super gory (and I do love my splatter) and The Awful Dr. Orlof is simply a whole load of fun.
Franco regular Howard Vernon plays the titular doctor, who is, as is often the case in this type of film, as mad as a box of badgers. Assisted by a lumbering, blind freak called Morpho (Ricardo Valle) and loyal housekeeper Arne (Perla Cristal), Orlof kidnaps a series of beautiful young women and attempts to graft their skin onto the face of his daughter, who was disfigured in a fire. Police inspector Tanner (Conrado San Martín) tries to solve the case, but his fiancé Wanda (Diana Lorys) is several steps ahead, placing herself in mortal danger in an effort to identify the killer.
Admittedly, this is all extremely clichéd stuff, but Franco executes it in such a way that it is never boring: his black and white cinematography is stunning, Vernon makes for a great villain (which explains why he appeared in so many subsequent Franco films), Valle is wonderfully creepy with his blank, bug-eyed stare, and Lorys is quite simply one of the most stunning women to appear in a Franco film (and there's quite a few to choose from). Franco also adds some comedy to proceedings, with an amusing supporting turn by Venancio Muro as drunken fisherman Jeannot, and a hilarious bit-part for Fernando Montes as a crazy man called Malou. Also good for a few laughs are the dreadful portraits drawn by a police sketch artist, but I'm not so sure that they were intended to be funny.
If you've been put off Franco by some of his more slapdash or surreal efforts from the '70s and '80s, I strongly suggest you give this one a go: it might give you a greater appreciation of the man's talents.
7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.
Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968)
Zoom past this one.
This film made me feel nauseous, not because of the messy gore, but because every time its 'half human/half brussel sprout' monster makes an appearance, director Eddie Romero goes crazy with the zoom. In and out, in and out, shaking it about - it's enough to bring on a migraine.
Perhaps the intention was to prevent the viewer getting a clear look at the creature, but to be honest, when we do get to see it, it doesn't look THAT bad. Eddie should have concerned himself more with the plot - which is uninspired 'mad doctor' nonsense - and the pacing, nothing of interest happening between the zoom in, zoom out monster attacks.
Some effort is made to distract the viewer from the sheer mundanity of the narrative with T&A, Filipino cutie Alicia Alonzo, as Marla, stripping off for a naked swim and buxom beauty Angelique Pettyjohn getting her puppies out. There's also the aforementioned gore, the monster's victims torn apart, limbs over there and intestines over here. Unfortunately, the dreary plot and plodding pace mean that all the gratuitous bare flesh and blood and guts cannot prevent this from being a rather tedious watch.
La rebelión de las muertas (1973)
Three times the Naschy, but not three times the fun.
Stealing from the dead... that's bad ju-ju! Sure enough, a pair of tomb-robbers are soon pushing up daisies themselves, killed by the reanimated corpse they were pinching stuff from. Raised from the dead via voodoo, female zombies are being used by a masked maniac intent on retribution and immortality. Can he be stopped before he completes his diabolical mission?
Spanish horror star Paul Naschy smears some coffee on his face (or perhaps he just has a good tan) to play the part of an Indian guru named Krisna. Naschy also takes on two other roles in this cheesy piece of Euro-schlock: the devil (in a brief dream sequence), and Krisna's disfigured older brother Kantaka, who is seeking revenge on those responsible for his hideous countenance.
Directed by León Klimovsky, who also helmed Naschy's The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman and Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf, this is quite the mash-up, the muddled script by its star featuring Eastern mysticism, voodoo rituals, and a giallo-style masked killer, with nudity and gore, all accompanied by a totally inappropriate jazzy soundtrack. It sounds like there's something for everyone, but the film suffers from a plodding pace and a lack of focus that makes it hard to give a damn. By the end of the film, I didn't have a scooby what was going on (who was that woman who kills Kantaka? I must have nodded off somewhere).
The action supposedly takes place in England, although the sound of chirping crickets at night suggest that it was actually filmed somewhere a little warmer, like Spain perhaps (the countryside certainly looks more Mediterranean than anywhere in the UK). A security guard also carries a gun - not in good old blighty - and the locomotive that pulls into the fictional village of Llangwell doesn't look like any British train I've ever seen (not that I'm a 'spotter'). I'm not looking for absolute factual accuracy in my Euro-trash, but a little effort could have been made.
On a more positive note, the women are attractive, and there's a smattering of gore: a man gets an axe in the face, there's a juicy close-up of a stabbing, and we get a surprisingly impressive decapitation (the severed head tilting over to reveal the spurting neck wound!).
3.5/10, rounded up to 4 for IMDb.
Les raisins de la mort (1978)
Back up, back up, tell me what you're gonna do now.
Jean Rollin's Les Raisins de la Mort (The Grapes of Death) is often classed as a zombie movie, but it's actually more along the lines of an 'infected' film (a la The Crazies, 28 Days Later), featuring human 'monsters' who have not risen from the dead, but who are slowly deteriorating, physically and mentally, due to chemical contamination, their unfortunate condition driving them to kill.
Pesticides sprayed on a vineyard are responsible for the outbreak, the workers having breathed in the fumes and the locals having drunk the contaminated wine produced from the harvest. One of the vineyard's infected employees boards a train and attacks two friends, killing one and chasing the other, Élisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal), after she pulls the emergency cord and runs away. The remainder of the film follows Élisabeth as she wanders the countryside, trying to find the vineyard where her fiancé works. Along the way, she encounters several crazed villagers, a blind girl called Lucie (Mirella Rancelot), and two men who only drank beer at the local festival, and so are unaffected by the illness.
Rollin successfully conjures up quite the creepy atmosphere, making great use of the rugged French countryside (Élisabeth running across a foggy railway bridge is like something out of Silent Hill). His approach is measured - perhaps a little too slow for some - but he punctuates the funereal gloom with bursts of graphic violence guaranteed to satisfy the gorehounds, grisly highlights including a topless woman pinned to a kitchen table by a pitchfork, and another victim nailed to a door before having her head chopped off with an axe.
This being a Rollin film, there is gratuitous nudity to go with the splatter: there's the aforementioned topless pitchfork victim, Lucie being stripped by her crazy aide Lucas (Paul Bisciglia), and sexy Brigitte Lahaie, who steals the show as 'La grande femme blonde', obligingly removing all of her clothes to prove that she isn't infected.
A suitably downbeat ending closes what is easily the most entertaining Rollin film I have seen so far.
7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.
A film about perverts for perverts.
Anyone who is familiar with the work of director Bruno Mattei isn't going to be fooled by the opening spiel of his mondo movie Libido Mania, which claims that the purpose of the film is to explore the subject of sexual aberrations, help us to understand them, and possibly cure them. The real reason for this film is to titillate, making the viewers of this exploitative trash-fest (myself included) guilty of at least one of the 'perversions' described in the film: voyeurism.
Amongst the other '-isms' featured in the film are sadism, pygmalionism, exhibitionism, cannibalism, troilism, narcissism, masochism and nudism. The film also ticks off a few '-philias': necrophilia, coprophilia, and zoophilia. All of these are discussed by 'experts' and depicted for our viewing pleasure. Most of the acts shown are relatively innocuous (by mondo standards, at least), and are obviously simulated (the poop in the coprophilia scene is clearly fake... thankfully, and a sex-murder is nasty in tone but laughably inept). However, there are one or two scenes where Mattei goes the extra mile to push the boundaries of taste, with unsimulated water sports, a spot of messy sex-change surgery footage, and a bestiality scene featuring a German Shepherd that fortunately stops short of showing the actual act.
The director also chucks in quite a lot of footage from the third-world, as per many a mondo movie, including deflowering rituals, a nasty but presumably fake emasculation (a native getting his tallywhacker sliced off in a gory scene that brings to mind the cannibal craze of the same era) and the bizarre sight of tribesmen sticking sharp sticks up their nostrils to cause severe bleeding.
5/10. While not essential viewing for fans of mondo madness (all of the 'serious' discussion drags it down), it at least delivers a few moments that might shock and surprise. Followed by Sesso perverso, mondo violento (1980), AKA Libido Mania 2.
Apparently, this film was considered lost for decades; damn the person who found it!
IMDB's synopsis for The Reincarnation of Isabel makes the film sound like fairly standard '70s Italian gothic horror: a group of satanists/vampires in a creepy castle attempt to restore life to a witch burnt at the stake several centuries before. In the hands of director Renato Polselli, however, the film is far from routine. In fact, it's downright bizarre (some might say totally inept), the erratic editing, 'unusual' directorial decisions, and eccentric performances meaning that, despite my best efforts, I soon lost track of what was happening, to whom, and why.
There's evidence to suggest that Polselli was a film-maker for whom nudity and sleaze was more important than a cohesive narrative (anyone who has seen his bonkers giallo Delirium and his incomprehensible pornographic 1980 film Quando l'amore è oscenità will know what I mean), and The Reincarnation of Isabel only reinforces that notion, the film making not a lick of sense but featuring a lot of hot women in the altogether. The high totty quotient just about makes the film bearable, although for some strange reason, most of the women have really bad hair-styles.
Terrible hair-dos (or should that be hair-don'ts?) aren't the only weird thing about this film: loopy lass Steffy (Stefania Fassio) wears inexplicably large fake eyelashes and falls over a lot; her friend has strange eye make-up (even for the '70s); kaleidoscopic coloured lighting illuminates random characters; the witch's body is stored in the castle's basement, remarkably well preserved given the passing of time and the fact that she was burnt at the stake; Donald Pleasence's Italian scar-faced counterpart aimlessly wanders the castle corridors; and there's a man with facial tics. The choppy, seemingly random editing (with a series of quick cuts replacing zooms) and shots taken at extreme angles (90 degrees and upside-down) only serve to make everything that much more impenetrable.
If Polselli has made a film that actually makes sense, I'll be more than happy to watch it; until I hear of one, I think I'll give his work a wide berth.
2/10 for the gratuitous nudity, and for a smidge of gore, and that's being generous.
Quando l'amore è oscenità (1980)
So filthy, even the Italians banned it (for a while).
Renato Polselli's Oscenita is chock full of sex, depravity and perversion; if you want to see some messed-up filth, then this film well and truly ticks that box. Somehow, though, Polselli still manages to make his film incredibly boring, the director attempting to justify his on-screen deviancy with pseudo-intellectual feminist claptrap about how badly men treat women, when his film is ostensibly a catalogue of vile, demeaning acts perpetrated against the fairer sex in the name of entertainment.
Much of the film involves a group of people gathered around a dining table talking absolute b******ks, their dull, incomprehensible conversation intercut with the marginally more interesting (if you're a bit twisted) scenes of debauchery and obscenity. It starts with a spot of rape, followed by sadism, female masturbation (using trees, branches, candles, and a corn on the cob), hardcore sex, and some fun on the farmyard with Cicci the donkey and a woman with absolutely no self-esteem. The filth is kept fairly brief, allowing more time for pretentious waffle from the annoying party guests.
I managed to find a copy of the film with English subtitles, but I can assure you that, even with subs, the film makes very little sense and is barely worth a watch, even out of curiosity.
A Woman's Torment (1977)
A viewer's torment.
Married couple Estelle and Otis (Jennifer Jordan and Jake Teague) are unsure how to deal with Estelle's emotionally disturbed sister Karen (Tara Chung). While the couple try to decide what to do with Karen, the crazy woman turns homicidal, killing those who visit her at the beach home where she is living.
Before becoming a director of low-budget horror, Roberta Findlay was a maker of low-budget porn; a Woman's Torment straddles both genres. Some have likened it to Roman Polanski's classic psychological thriller Repulsion (1965), but Findlay is no Polanski and Tara Chung is no Deneuve.The acting is terrible: I assume that it's a cast of porn stars trying their hand at acting, rather than actors giving porn a go. They might be pros when it comes to sex*, but they're shockingly amateurish when it comes to delivering lines.
Findlay's attempts at Polanski style-hysteria and madness are laughable, largely thanks to Chung's lamentable central performance, and the hardcore sex is unimaginative, with several scenes going on for way too long (Karen with workman Larry - so tedious!).
3.5/10, rounded up to 4/10 for IMDb. Just about worth a watch for curious Findlay fans.
*The use of a not-very-well concealed tube spurting presumably fake ejaculate suggests that one performer wasn't quite ready for another pop shot.
What's the story? Not too gory.
1943: Allied officer Captain Blabert (Javier Maiza) and his men intercept a German convoy transporting a fortune in Nazi gold; only Blabert survives the battle, and is later found wandering the desert by nomads. Nursed back to health by Sheik Mohamed Al-Kafir (Antonio Mayans), Blabert falls for the sheikh's sexy daughter Aisha (Doris Regina), knocking her up before heading back to war. Years later, Blabert reveals the location of the lost Nazi gold to a rascal named Kurt, who promptly kills the captain and hotfoots it to the oasis. Meanwhile, Robert Blabert (Manuel Gélin), having heard of his father's death, reads some of his old man's notes and also learns about the gold; together with a handful of his college pals, he goes to meet Sheikh Mohamed, who points him in the right direction. The only problem is that the horde ($6m of it) is guarded by the undead German soldiers, who rise from the sand at night to kill!
To say that Oasis of the Zombies is Jess Franco's worst film is quite the bold statement - there are, after all, quite a few serious contenders for the title - but it definitely isn't one of his better films. While the zombie scenes themselves are reasonably fun, with quite a few craptabulous examples of the walking dead to delight fans of trashy Euro-horror, almost everything in between is pretty dire. The flimsy plot is fairly diabolical, and Franco resorts to padding out his film with a prolonged battle flashback, some local colour (including a visit to a souk for Robert and pals), and a spot of skinny-dipping and sex for Robert's pal Ronald (Eric Viellard) and documentary film-maker's assistant Erika (France Lomay, who provides the obligatory nudity). Franco also seems obsessed with a spider in a web that has zero bearing on the story, giving us lots of out-of-focus shots of the arachnid for no apparent reason.
The amazingly bad script includes these unintentional howlers: "Let's get some bottles and make molotov cocktails - like in school." and this cringe-worthy closing exchange of dialogue "Did you find what you were looking for?" "I mainly found myself." Wow, that's deep!
In terms of splatter, the film is rather disappointing, the only gory scene being the removal of one victim's innards by the hungry zombies (the zombie extras enthusiastically yanking out animal offal).
As bad as Oasis of the Zombies undeniably is, the worm-eaten zombies - some with bug-eyes, some with pin-hole eyes, and some without eyes - and the occasional spot of nudity (sadly, not from cutie Caroline Audret as Robert's friend Sylvie) stop this from being totally worthless.
3.5/10, rounded up to 4 for IMDb.
Not as sleazy as it sounds.
Countess Barbara (Claudia Gravy) returns home after a year of gallivanting around Europe, much to the delight of lovestruck Duke Lionello Shandwell (Mark Damon, who looks like a cross between Doug McClure and Martin Landau). A couple of problems: 1) she announces that she has got married, and 2) Lionello is her brother (Barbara is a total babe, but that's no excuse). Jealous Lionello proceeds to spy on his sister and her new husband Giordano (Aldo Bufi Landi), including when the couple are making love; meanwhile, a mysterious figure is killing local women with a three bladed weapon. Giordano comes to suspect that Lionello is possessed by the demon Byleth, who causes its victims to kill and live in incest.
Byleth: The Demon of Incest features plenty of nudity and sex, with some very attractive actresses revealing all for their art, but despite the film's salacious title, it really isn't all that depraved. Shame. With a little more deviancy and a lot more gore (the murders are extremely tame, with just a few trickles of blood), this could have been a classic of Italian sleaze, but as it stand. it's actually surprisingly bland, nothing much of interest happening between the soft-core romps and lacklustre deaths.
The incest angle finally comes into fruition moments before the end, when Lionello gives in to his urges and Barbara willingly obliges (he's possessed by a demon... what's her excuse?), but the sex is only suggested (keeping it 'tasteful'). Lionello wakes to discover Barbara dead, three wounds on her neck, and goes in search of Byleth for revenge, leading to a rather confusing climax in which the demon appears, looking like Lionello in drag-queen make-up. As erotic gothic Euro-horrors go, this one is merely run-of-the-mill, not nearly as controversial or taboo-busting as the title suggests.
Jim-jam flim flam.
Flavio Mogherini's crime thriller The Pyjama Girl Case comprises of two seemingly separate plot-lines: the investigation of the murder of an unidentified young woman, whose charred body is discovered in a sack in a car wreck on a beach; and the complicated love-life of beautiful but promiscuous waitress Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro), who is married to Italian Antonio (Michele Placido), but is also sleeping with his friend Roy (Howard Ross) and sugar daddy Henry (Mel Ferrer). Enquiring minds will soon ask 'How are these two stories connected?', and I expect most will arrive at the logical conclusion long before the film reveals its secret, making the whole thing far less effective than was presumably intended.
Matters get a little preposterous when the murdered girl's body goes on display in a glass case for the public to gawp at (would this really be allowed?), but the script does deliver a nifty unexpected turn of events at around the hour mark which adds a little zest to proceedings. Mogherini's direction is stylish, with nice cinematography, and his cast are solid, Milland putting in a fun turn as the grouchy old detective, and Di Lazzaro looking gorgeous throughout. Riz Ortolani provides a terrific score with pulsing synth beats - particularly effective when Glenda sells her body to a pair of sweaty fat guys and a dorky 13-year-old for $100- and there are a couple of groovy songs performed by transexual songstress Amanda Lear.
With a deliberate pace, a 102-minute runtime, and a final revelation that is far too easy to figure out, The Pyjama Girl Case is far from an essential giallo (and many might reasonably argue that film doesn't even qualify as part of that genre). Give it a look if Italian murder mysteries are your thing, just don't expect anything that special.