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Justine (1979)

Uninhibited and melancholy. This production isn't just a vehicle for Lina Romay, it's more of an invitation to spend over 90 minutes in her company. Always an uninhibited performer, this is undoubtedly the most erotic film I have seen her in. Erotic as opposed to 'featuring lots of sex', that is.

Director Joe D'Amato has taken three films by legendary Spanish auteur Jess Franco and edited scenes from them together. The main umbrella theme of Romay as Justine on the verge of committing suicide, is taken from an unfinished film. All other scenes, mainly of a fairly graphic sexual nature, are from 'Midnight Party (1976)' and 'Shining Sex (1977)'. Instead of Franco's preferred jazzy incidental scores, the music comes from various Emanuelle films, also directed by D'Amato. As accompaniment, it works very well.

To review this is a challenge. It is a collage of Romay moments, often seeing her entangled with various other actors - but not, strangely, Alice Arno, who is in the credits here. If Romay did not have such presence, this would undoubtedly be a chore to watch. The intrusive shots of genitalia that Franco loved so much robs it of any mere titillation value, but despite everything, Romay looks beautiful. Perhaps it is her complete ease in front of the camera that makes her so remarkable, but she remains a true vision. And there are no limits here - straight, lesbian, S&M. Even Jess himself shows up as a 'strange man' (typecasting?) who barely has time to draw breath - and who wouldn't? - before Justine relieves herself of her drawers.

What lifts this above a traditional porn film is in some ways quintessential Franco (and not shied away from by D'Amato), is the world of loneliness and tragedy that Justine inhabits. Her story celebrates a virile, unshackled existence, and her death is typically quirky, but for all her wild company, an unhappy and lonesome one.

Nadie oyó gritar (1973)

Drags a bit, but good twists toward the end. Lovely blond haired Carmen Sevilla plays poor Elisa, a high class call girl who is simply going about her business when, in the isolated apartment where she lives, she witness a neighbour Miguel (Vincente Parra) disposing of his wife's body down a lift shaft. Not the greatest way to make their acquaintance, which Elisa tries to ensure is confined to that moment. Miguel has other ideas, of course, and coerces her into helping him dispose of the body.

Although we are treated to Elisa's reactions to the repulsive nature of the situation, we never really see the state of the corpse. At one point, Miguel is seen replacing a missing shoe to the foot, which is sticking out of the lift door. The often improbably scrapes these two get into whilst trying to dispose of the body demonstrates a very dark comedy, with Elisa seemingly beginning to enjoy Miguel's growing frustration and uncertainty. As the mis-matched couple continue their gruesome exploits, its impossible to deny how enjoyable this all is. Director and co-writer Eloy de la Iglesia makes the most of wonderful locations and the two leads invest their roles with a certain appeal, which is surprising considering what they are doing. Also, F. García Morcillo's soundtrack as by turns light and breezy and foreboding when the situation requires it.

The arrival of young Adonis Tony (Tony Isbert) stirs things up a little, but not enough to stop the mid-section of the film dragging somewhat. Elisa is happy to support him and his lifestyle, but there is a suggestion of a relationship between him and Miguel, who is also beginning to become romantically involved with Elisa. The twists don't stop there of course, and luckily the final act contains a number of genuine shocks that remind us we are watching a giallo/thriller and not a character study. Suffice it to say, the flawed characters are mostly very interesting, as are the ever-changing situations poor Elisa finds herself in.

Convoi de filles (1978)

Underrated Franco extravaganza. After being treated to some spectacular WWII footage of desert warfare (that would later crop up in 1982's 'Oasis of the Zombies'), the first thing that strikes me is the presence of terrific Jean-Marie Lemaire (as Erich von Strässer). In 1979, the strikingly handsome Lemaire would play a lead in Jean Rollin's wondrous 'Fascination'. As fallen heroine Renata is the extraordinarily pretty, blue-eyed Brigitte Parmentier, while talented regulars Monica Swinn (in a fairly unconvincing wig - no brunette girls allowed in this depiction of Nazi Germany) and the wonderful Pamela Stanford play Greta and Helga respectively. Parmentier's acting is a fairly distant second to her looks. It would be unkind of me to mention how she appears to be looking around at cue-cards during her speeches.

This is a little-known Jess Franco film. He is billed as A.M. Frank (one of a number of aliases he adopted throughout his lengthy career), and this is a typically cheap Eurocine production. (although many of the locations are impressive and there is good attention to period detail). It is essentially a doomed love story between Strässer and Renata, but it is typically difficult to define.

Technically, well, it's all over the place. Mis-matched shots mixed with footage including glaring difference in film quality and weather conditions, and Ms Stanford's hair seems to change from plaits to loosely worn, and back again, in between shots. In fact, I'm not sure she isn't playing two characters. A scene toward the end features in a brothel with 'the entertainment' featuring the same song performed more times than is good for anyone.

How much is directed by Franco, and how much by co-credited Pierre Chevalier is unknown. But it doesn't really matter: the results are drawn out in places and confusing in others. There's not much sex and no gore to speak of, but the overall look of the film is mainly very effective (the scenes set in Russia during heavy snowfall are wonderfully bleak, in particular). It is a mish-mash, though, and there's no pace at all - and as with a lot of Franco projects, I'm not sure why I enjoy it so much. And I unashamedly do. There is something here that is very watchable, that insists you stick with it just to see what happens.

Take from this contradictory review what you will. In short, despite its flaws, I found this to be very enjoyable.

The Harvesting (2018)

Decent 'folk horror.' After a prologue that is almost sunk by some uncertain acting, the film proper begins with Dinah (Elena Caruso) and Jake (Chris Conner) attempting to patch up their marriage by moving to Amish country. Inevitably, they bring with them their two young children. But worry not - no petulant brats here: Steven (Noah Headley) and Michaela (Accalia Quintana) are appealing, especially the little girl, whose genuine delight about the wide open spaces in their new home becomes something else entirely as the story moves on.

This low budget feature is, however, possibly too restrained in its imagery. Happy to be creepy rather than terrifying, that's fair enough - Director Ivan Kraljevic at least resists the monotony of constant jump-scares few films feel they could do without.

What we have is an enjoyable slow-burner that dips more than one toe into the 'folk horror' category. The nature of the horror, together with the location and the family's new neighbours provide a different spin on things. This, together with genuinely sympathetic characters, makes a superficially tame production worth seeing.

Suor Omicidi (1979)

Underwhelming. I wasn't massively impressed with this. With a title like 'Killer Nun', it is no great surprise to find Anita Ekberg's Sister Gertrude behaving in a continually unorthodox manner, indulging in brief sexual dalliances (with both genders), drug taking and being horrible to those in her care. Ekberg plays the deterioration well, and Paola Morra is also excellent as Sister Mathieu - but on the whole, this is a very dull affair.

Director and co-writer Giulio Berruti lets some sub-par visuals pass, with background characters glancing at the camera and occasional scenes that would have benefitted from another take. Only towards the end do events become disturbing, and effectively so. At last Gertrude's hallucinogenic events are increasingly frenzied and you get the feeling the film is finally getting somewhere. Sadly though, this feeling doesn't last long, although there is a good twist at the end.

I get the impression 'Killer Nun' is quite happy simply to feature controversial scenes of a Nun (or Nuns) behaving badly and doesn't really seem interested in progressing any further than that.

The Dead the Damned and the Darkness (2014)

Good low budget zombie action. This low budget zombie project makes a good stab at convincing us the world has become an apocalyptic wasteland ravaged by the living dead. The dialogue over-eggs the story being told, with every (otherwise impressive) twist and turn being spelled-out to us. The zombie make-up comprises of actors wearing masks. Gruesome and detailed, yes, but they are masks all the same.

Lieutenant Colonel Sawyer (Robert Tweten) equips himself with so much armour and weapons, he resembles a kind of Robocop prototype. His mission is to bury the ashes of his family, and he travels across cursed, barren land to do so. On the way, he meets with hard-of-hearing Stephany (Ire Levy), who is being stalked by both the living dead, and sex-starved males throughout. They meet up with elderly Wilson (John J Welsh), and here, typical horror-character-stupidity comes into play, when Stephanie decides to continue her journey without them. Her deafness, as you may imagine, makes for a perilous situations as she changes her wardrobe for a short skirt, before she is rescued and brought back into the fold. Some things never change.

Director and co-writer Rene Perez does a good job with this. Visually, it is very good, with nice panoramic views of deserted streets and the like. He also provide the terrific score, as 'the Darkest Machines'. Where things occasionally fall down is due to some very slow scenes, often dialogue-lead, which seriously drag things down (the potentially interesting explanation of events from the President, outstays its welcome). The pleasing action sequences are worth seeing, however, with the zombies exploding gobbets of green gunk, reminding us how putrefied they are throughout.

Hangman (2015)

Enjoyable slow burner. Director Adam Mason's found-footage-type horror begins with the actions of a thief/stalker taking an unhealthy interest in a family returning from a holiday. Not only does he trace their return, but also gets to their home before they do, and sets up surveillance equipment so he can watch their every move.

This intro goes on for such a long time, I thought the whole film was going to be blurred, juddering close-ups so beloved by found-footage film makers. But persevere! Once the family (mum, dad and two youngsters) return, we only view them as the stalker views them. We watch them sleep, react and go about their daily chores. And without warning, we see the masked figure standing in the bedroom, silently witnessing their slumber, helping himself to their food. It is very effective: the dangerous, unstable visitor just moments away: the shadows in the background, watching everything. He gets more confident too as the film rolls along, like a fifth family member.

This isn't without some high-scores on the Stupid counter, however, mainly Dad Aaron (Jeremy Sisko) and his initially cavalier attitude to events. And yet many enjoyable horror films rely on the flaws of the main characters to perpetuate the tension, and so I have a choice between overlooking this, or not allowing myself to enjoy 'The Hangman'. And that would be a shame. Also, characters have done far more stupid things than this appealing, believable family. A word for the cast - Kate Ashfield as British wife Beth, Ryan and Ty Simpkins as kids Marley and Max - who are terrific throughout. Eric Michael Cole is also formidable as the titular bad boy.

This is a very slow-moving story much of the time. Some people don't like that. But when the final act comes, it does not disappoint. And it shocks too.

Scream... and Die! (1973)

Murky, low-budget and seedy goodness. Appalling, brutish, condescending photographer and petty thief Terry (Alex Leppard) has to 'pick up a few things' and therefore leaves girlfriend Valerie (Andrea Allen) alone in the car, in the middle of a forest, one cold, foggy night. There they witness a scene that has ramifications for the rest of the film.

Playing the character of Paul is Karl Lanchbury, who I keep mistaking for Shane Briant, who was making a name for himself at Hammer films around this time. Lanchbury starred in a handful of films directed by José Ramón Larraz - who is once more behind the cameras here - before disappearing. No way does this compare to Larraz's best known horrors ('Vampyres' or 'Symptoms' from the following year). But it is good, murky, low-budget, slightly seedy stuff.

Heroine Valerie is a solid, independent 70's lass; she and many of her friends are young, strikingly attractive and frequently getting undressed. Whilst the atmosphere is enjoyably (and increasingly) sinister, the very slow storyline meanders, especially during the mid-section. And yet, such a slice of nostalgic, foggy fare is this, that doesn't detract too much.

Ultimately, this is a whodunit that is probably more famous for its trailer (with its repeated mantra 'It's only a movie ... it's only a movie ...'), and it is given a very convincing, sleazy horror treatment from Larraz.

Animals (2008)

Good, but a shame about the CGI. "Bite me," instructs Nora (Nicki Aycox), and floundering decent guy Jarrett (Marc Blucas) isn't sure he wants to. But Nora's highly charged, insatiable sexuality doesn't seem to accept uncertainties. These two performers are excellent in what is little more than a series of passionate sexual encounters and gore. Her 'other beau' Vic (Naveen Andrews) also shares her feral instincts and is clearly not someone with whom you would wish to 'mess.'

Stylistically, this reminded me of a kind of cross between the slinky sexiness of 'Underworld (2003)' and the trailer-park atmospherics of 'Near Dark (1987)'. Not a bad pedigree, and Director Douglas Aarniokoski ensures that visually things are interesting even if the story is somewhat thin - and strangely, gets thinner as events take their course. With a lessening of the sex, we are bombarded with more CGI effects the limited budget cannot sustain. This is a shame - with a more physical manifestation of the finale, it would have been more successful. CGI, unless expertly (and expensively) handled, robs a scene of atmosphere and reduces it to cartoon theatrics, and that is what happens here unfortunately. As such, it lessens the otherwise successful interpretation of John Skipp's original story.

Die toten Augen von London (1961)

Good remake of a murky classic. This is prolific director Alfred Vohrer's remake of 'Dark Eyes of London' (aka 'The Human Monster', 1941), itself an adaption of Edgar Wallace's 1924 crime novel. Happily, the murky, unglamorous sense of horror has been maintained - one of the first scenes is of a milky-eyed Tor Johnson-type emerging from the smog intent on another murder.

This version doesn't boast Bela Lugosi, but it does feature Klaus Kinski as Edgar Strauss. Mirrored dark glasses help to ensure Kinski's idiosyncratic wings are clipped a little by the brevity of the part, but he certainly adds to the line-up of grotesques on display here. Playing Reverend Dearborn is Dieter Borsche who, whilst effective, doesn't possess the presence Lugosi displayed in the 1941 production (despite Lugosi often being be-wigged and his voice dubbed by OB Clarence), and that robs this film of a really hateful villain.

However, like a lot of foreign made films, this really conveys an atmospheric image of London as a cold, distant place steeped in history and bustling with activity, but hiding a 'Holmesian' underbelly of dark and diabolical doings. True to say, the pacing is just as turgid at times - not that that presents a huge problem, as the foggy atmosphere is laid on so thickly.

Slightly less of a traditional horror, more in keeping with the crime-caper aspects of the novel (but with plenty of nasty moments), this may not be as potent as the Lugosi vehicle, but is well worth seeing.

La chica de las bragas transparentes (1981)

Mystifying and sleazy. Spanish director Jess Franco and regular leading man Antonio Mayans must have been really good friends. Not more than a few minutes into this, and Franco's partner Lina Romay (playing prostitute Suzy) and Mayans are getting very intimate, as they would continue to do at regular intervals throughout the ensuing 100 minutes.

Mayans here plays Private Eye Al Crosby (but he may as well be Al Pereira, a similar role he would play more than once later on in his career). His current situation involves him in various sexual dalliances and dangerous liaisons involving Susy, Bijou (Doris Regina) and Harry and Carla, two gangster-types who are in the process of splitting up. He's also beaten and drugged in a series of events interspersed with plenty of muggy sex.

So what is this? A sex-thriller. A sleazy spy romp. Pornography with a vague storyline winding through it. As with most of Uncle Jess's projects, it falls between several definitions without claiming to be wholly one or another. And that is why his work is fascinating to many - certainly for me, even a grainy 'skin flick' like this is engaging in an, er, impenetrable way. The dialogue (dubbed, of course) is coarse and unnatural, and the editing is somewhat choppy and inevitably this is a very low budget production. And yet the acting is convincing throughout, more so than is usual with this kind of film, with curly-wigged Lina Romay, constantly under-dressed and proving extremely watchable as always.

100 minutes is a very long time for this kind of film, and just when you question what exactly it is you are watching, the twist/revelation in the plot hits you with a sharp incredulity. "I hate looking like an ***hole," complains Crosby at one stage. If only he knew what his mission truly entailed!

An Enjoyably mystifying, sleazy flesh show.

Linda (1981)

Enjoyable, controversial, Franco sleaze. In what I suspect was a fairly routine quickie by the uncle of cinematic sleaze, Spanish Director Jess Franco, what storyline there is is stretched and pummelled by much frolicking and graphic, elongated, sexual activity. But at least there is the distraction of a naked Lina Romay (AKA Candy Coster) wearing a spangly wig and being treated, quite willingly, as a dog ... called Sultana. Romay, in a second alias Rosa Almirall, is also the assistant director, as is co-star Antonia Mayans. You know exactly the kind of experience you are in for from the opening credits, featuring sand sculptures on a beach, depicting various female bodies in sexual positions (these creations also close the film).

Linda, referred to as Eugenie in this, is played by Katja Bienart, who was 14 years old at the time. Notable for her unshaven body apart from anything else, it is a confident and often naked performance, but controversial even then, given her age. She is lusted after by Mayans (billed as Robert Foster) as Ron, whom she doesn't entirely reject, despite her purpose in the story to rescue her sister from a sex ring (this plot only ever hovers in the background and never given prominence).

The plot keeps Bienart away from the many sex-scenes, and sadly Romay/Coster is often on the periphery (the intimate scene between her and Mayans, with her howling like a dog, is bizarre, even by Franco's standards. The majority of the running time, which seems a lot longer than its 88 minutes is made of a lightly focussed erotica, which is either 'dream like' or extremely dull, depending on your mood.

Portugal provides a stunning set of locations, as always masterfully shot by Franco. Of especial note, once again, is the egg box-like Xanadu building by Ricardo Boefill, which previously featured in 'She Killed in Ecstasy (1971)' and 'Countess Perverse (1974).'

As with every Franco film I have seen - and it is quite a few now - I can't imagine why I like 'Linda' so much. It appeals despite itself. Even the ending is perfunctory and very abrupt. And Gerhard Heinz's musical score exists constantly in the background as an almost endless suite, only very occasionally suiting the mood of any particular scene.

Deviation (1971)

Confounding creeps from Jose Larraz. Malcolm Terris stars as Paul, who alongside his girlfriend Olivia (Lisbet Lundquist) are involved in a night-time car crash. For all Terris' many fine performances over the years he is perhaps best known, in some quarters at least, as 'Co Pilot' in the 1979 Doctor Who story 'The Horns of Nimon', whose death scene inadvertently lead to the involuntary tearing of the backside of his trousers! No such indignities here, but a whole host more creepy goings-on in Jose Larraz's effective but confounding British (ish) horror yarn.

Olivia is dissatisfied with her lot, being Paul's 'other woman', so when the two of them take refuge in a dank old mansion after the crash, rather than run away screaming from the place, she becomes strangely taken with it. Julian (Karl Lanchbury) and sister Rebecca (Sybila Grey) appear to run the house, and are also at the head of many grubby gatherings involving those shabby old bed-fellows, sex and drugs - in fact, it is the heavily administered narcotics that are responsible for Olivia's reluctance to leave. Lanchbury is a dead ringer for rising Hammer star at the time, Shane Bryant.

Amongst the suggestions of cult, debauchery and murder along the way, little is specified, and events become rather murky, both in comprehensibility and realisation. And yet, this isn't unusual for Director Larraz, who was also responsible for cult horrors 'Vampyres' and 'Symptoms (1974)', both of which had a similar style.

There are also some very unusual side-steps in this already curious production. Both Paul and Olivia take a backseat from the narrative (for various reasons), and we spend time with the perverse siblings and their orgies. And a mad, terrifying Auntie chained to a bed. When Olivia returns to the main storyline, it is to help bring the confusing proceedings to a very final end. Lying in a hospital bed, her doctor and nurse morph into very familiar figures.

Foggy and bizarre but definitely worth seeing.

Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile (1972)

A little unfair to the ladies. The formula for the film, steeped with spoilers, is this: unfaithful women are targeted by a masked man dressed in black, and are stabbed to death. The men these women are having an affair with are left entirely alone, which strikes me as being a little unfair - but who am I to rationalise the thinking behind that stocking face?

Although director Roberto Bianchi Montero keeps things moving and provides a few stylish moments, there is no escaping the fact that much of the 88 minutes running time is devoted to watching sex scenes involving promiscuous couples followed by creepy knife deaths. By its very natures, this creates a certain repetition. The killer has a certain style, however, scattering his murdered victims with photographs of them in flagrante delicto.

Among the cast, giallo royalty Nieves Navarro (or Susan Scott if you prefer) makes a brief appearance as short-lived Lilly; Farley Granger is suitably grouchy as Inspector Capuana trying and failing to apprehend the killer, Angela Covello is very endearing as young Bettina Santangeli, who you feel certain is going to be added to the growing list of corpses.

Not the greatest giallo film I've ever seen, but definitely worth your time.

Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile (1972)

A little unfair to the ladies. The formula for the film, steeped with spoilers, is this: unfaithful women are targeted by a masked man dressed in black, and are stabbed to death. The men these women are having an affair with are left entirely alone, which strikes me as being a little unfair - but who am I to rationalise the thinking behind that stocking face?

Although director Roberto Bianchi Montero keeps things moving and provides a few stylish moments, there is no escaping the fact that much of the 88 minutes running time is devoted to watching sex scenes involving promiscuous couples followed by creepy knife deaths. By its very natures, this creates a certain repetition. The killer has a certain style, however, scattering his murdered victims with photographs of them in flagrante delicto.

Among the cast, giallo royalty Nieves Navarro (or Susan Scott if you prefer) makes a brief appearance as short-lived Lilly; Farley Granger is suitably grouchy as Inspector Capuana trying and failing to apprehend the killer, Angela Covello is very endearing as young Bettina Santangeli, who you feel certain is going to be added to the growing list of corpses.

Not the greatest giallo film I've ever seen, but definitely worth your time.

Miss Muerte (1966)

Graphic, early Jess Franco black and white mosnter mash. Reckoned to be the strongest of Spanish director Jess Franco's stark black and white output, this very stylish sci-fi horror is bulging with memorable set-pieces. The story as a whole, as with many Franco projects, comes second to this - it meanders somewhat and lacks a true focus. But that's alright; the lack of traditional linear story-telling only adds to the weirdness on display here - and there is a great deal of weirdness indeed.

Antonio Jimenez Escribano plays elderly Doctor Zimmer, albeit briefly, leaving his daughter Irma Zimmer (Mabel Carr) to continue his experiments, using some charming low-budget laboratory equipment no respectable mad scientist would be without. Even in 1965, Franco's predilection for sex appeal comes in the form of Miss Death, or Nadia (Estella Blain), who performs various exotic dance routines in a titillating costume. Jesús Franco himself, young and animated, plays Inspector Tanner. Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui who played Doctor Jekyll/Orloff in 1964's 'The Mistresses of Doctor Jekyll', plays doomed Doctor Moroni here. Equally short-lived is Doctor Vicas is played by prolific Howard Vernon, a Franco regular even at this early stage.

Some of the effects are truly wince-inducing - simply carried out but none the less teeth-clenching for that, and, as has been said before, Jess had a real feel for black and white imagery - each scene is stark and interestingly laid out, often expressionistic in tone. The 'heavy' here is augmented criminal Hans Bergen (Guy Mairesse), who although suitably ruthless and solid, isn't quite upto the standard of Andros or Morpho from Franco's previous horrors.

'The Diabolical Doctor Z' sits very comfortably alongside 'The Awful Doctor Orloff (1962)' and 'The Mistresses of Doctor Jekyll (1964)' (possibly, the former still has the edge for me, primarily due to Vernon's untouchable central performance).

La mansión de la niebla (1972)

Quite enjoyable for what it is. Some cinematic productions seem happy to minor entries in their particular genre - and there's nothing wrong with that. I often enjoy a traditional, by-numbers horror story much more than a more ambitious, spectacular entry. 'The Murder Mansion' is, in my view, a good example of this. There's little that is sophisticated or witty about this, it certainly doesn't try anything new or unexpected with the story. But what it does, it does well.

There is a bit of titillation (some cuts may have been made), and a nice balance between warm indoors and cold, foggy 'out there'. The results are entirely unmemorable, but fine for undemanding viewing for fans of obscure horror.

Dr. M schlägt zu (1972)

Excellent, little-seen Jess Franco caper. This is a hidden gem, even by Jess Franco's standards. Never receiving a cinematic release, it has cropped up on German television during the 1990s. It is a kind of sci-fi horror, a partial return to the saga of Doctor Orloff from Uncle Jess's earlier films - there's even a Morpho-type character, Andros, a disfigured henchman nicely played by Moisés Augusto Rocha. Rocha labours under make-up that is effective from a distance, but not so much during the many close-ups Franco has chosen to give him. The mute is regularly beaten and chastised by leather-clad Leslie (Beni Cardoso).

Music comes from Jess and Rolf Kühn and is either ubiquitous levels of jazz, or more haunting piano-lead refrains. It gives the production a sophistication it may not otherwise have. The location may be the Mexican border, but nothing is specified. You didn't think it would be, did you?

And yet a gem this is. Jenny Hering (Ewa Stroemberg) and her partner (who is reading 'The Island of Doctor Moreau') are enjoying dressing up for each other one evening, when Jenny spots Andros outside dispatching the apparently dead body of a young woman. This she reports to Stetson-sporting Inspector Thomas (Fred Williams) who shares a tempestuous double act with boss Crosby (played by Jess Franco, who also plays a drunk in a nightclub - I don't think it is supposed to be the same character). The mad scientist is villainous Farkas, played by a shaggy Jack Taylor, who is developing some Death Ray or other.

The version I watched is dubbed into German, with English subtitles. The dubbing is surprisingly meticulous. In one scene, a beagle (Carlos) is seen to yawn in the way that dogs do, with appropriate noises overlaid! This kind of attention to detail, in a film for which details are a secondary thought (like Farkas's specific plan, and whether or not he is actually Mabuse or not), is charming to me.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. The pacing is refreshingly quick, although perhaps we spend too much time in the company of the policemen who fail to make much in the way of progress. The locations are exceptional, the whole production shines with beautiful shots and ultimately, I find it curious that when lesser Franco films are available on DVD, this languishes in the 'hard to find' corner of the internet. Well worth tracking down for lovers of sleazy sophistication.

L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone (1974)

Talky but enjoyable. Giuseppe Bennati's somewhat overlooked thriller/horror features an effective theatrical setting, and some very 1970s clothing which, although extravagant and dated, looks generally great. Distinctive looking Eva Czemerys from 1972's 'The Cat in Heat' plays Rebecca, wife of rich Patrick (Chris Avram) and jealous lover of Doris (Lucretia Love). Inspired by Agatha Christie's 'Ten Little Indians', 'Nine Seats' features a group of rather prickly people, often having some rather casual affairs, who are all in the thrall of Patrick because of his money. Enter a black clad villain, whose murderous intent seems to be treated rather arbitrarily by the characters.

This is a very talky film and for a production dubbed in English, there are lengthy scenes spoken in Italian with subtitles. Strange. However, there is enough incident to keep things interesting. True to the giallo genre, whilst the women are uniformly beautiful (especially Kim, played by Swedish Janet Ågren, typically the first to be dispatched), the men are no less coiffured and glamorous.

The only element that lets the production down in any way is Carlo Savina's unusually unmemorable music score. The characters behave somewhat stupidly at times too: at one point, lone Doris tells the killer she knows of his activities, but not to worry, because she won't tell anyone. Do you think she lives to see the final curtain call? The irrationality of the players is, however, nothing new in horror, and with that in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Byleth (Il demone dell'incesto) (1972)

A minor horror. In many ways, this could be the latter-day Hammer film you never saw. And yet, despite the provocative title, it is actually quite insipid, although visually rich (hence the Hammer comparison). Equally, although there is a fair amount of nudity on display, this never really becomes as sleazy as the title might suggest.

In his only horror outing, director Leopoldo Savona takes advantage of his locations and infuses them with a nice gothic atmosphere, but fails to inject any pace to the proceedings. Leads Mark Damon and the wonderfully named Claudia Gravy are fine in their roles, and the revelation at the (very abrupt) end is hardly surprising.

A minor horror that fails to live up to its lurid title.

El ojo del huracán (1971)

Hard to sympathise with this gang. Married Ruth and Miguel separate after Ruth finds a new man, Paul, whom she flaunts in front of her soon-to-be ex with not a care in the world. Thus she embarks on her fling, with which Director José María Forqué is far more interested in than we are. The pairing is smugness personified, and gorgeous looking as they may be, Analía Gadé and Jean Sorel, don't invest the characters with anything much more than self-satisfaction.

Although it is difficult to sympathise with Ruth even when mysterious 'accidents' start occurring, there's no doubt that Paul is a first rate twit whom you wouldn't wish on anyone. Yet, when they inevitably make-up once more and we are treated to more overlong, 'tasteful' scenes of lovemaking - mere sex is too commonplace for these two - we realise they are as bad as each other.

When Miguel (Tony Kendall) turns up once more, Paul's reverie appears to become fractured and, although things never really take off, events become slightly more interesting. Are Miguel and Paul plotting to kill Ruth? She gets the distinct impression they are.

Putting to one side the saturation scenes of the pairing, and some very unconvincing day-for-night shots, this is a very good looking film, quite aside from the gleaming blandness of the leads. The locations and landscapes, not to mention the buildings and décor, are breath-taking. Aside from that, however, we're left primarily with three smug twits (or five if you include the more peripheral Rossana Yanni's Danielle and Roland, played by Mauricio Bonuglia).

There are some interesting twists toward the end, when the audience is continually wrong-footed, but this rewarding pay-off doesn't quite justify the tediousness that fills much of the running time .

La muerte incierta (1973)

Routine at best. What is it about Rosalba Neri? Alongside the equally fascinating Edwige Fenech, Neri (or Sarah Bey as she is sometimes billed), Neri rules the screen whenever she is on it. Her combination of sexuality, intensity, deportment, acting and sense of presence ensures that whomever shares a scene with her, it is Rosalba that holds your attention. So it takes a certain skill to cast her in a film that is as drab as this. Right, with that out of the way, here she plays scorned Shaheen who has a sordid relationship with white planter Clive Dawson (a commanding performance from Antonio Molino Rojo), only to be discarded in favour of new bride Brenda (lovely Mary Maude). This rejection pushes Shaheen to suicide, but not before she curses the mansion in which they live.

José Ramón Larraz, who brought us cult favourites 'Vampyres' and 'Symptoms' (both 1974) and 'Deviation (1971)', here fuses footage from India (although not, as the subtitles tell us, from 1930) with Spain with moderate results. Much spliced wildlife is on display, but it never poses a real threat to the characters, who are clearly in a different country! Also, the footage is often intrusive and usually inserted at moments of great drama destroying the potential excitement and interest generated.

As a story (written by Larraz), this is really thin on the ground, with Dawson hearing Shaheen's distinctive footsteps fairly regularly throughout. They don't exist as a premonition of anything else happening, so simply provide a ghostly reminder of the curse. And sadly, for at least two thirds of 90 minutes running time, that's all that happens. An attempt to spice up events comes with Dawson's pretty son Rupert (Curi Rafaelle) and his rather dull libido. Despite Neri's presence, this is routine at best.

Il coltello di ghiaccio (1972)

Terrific theme song! There is a disturbing obsession with gored animals in 'Knife of Ice'. For all my viewing of horror and giallo films, I have become somewhat immune to the shrieking and howling of human stock, but animals - especially when real footage is concerned as in the bullfighting scenes in the opening credits - is genuinely upsetting.

Carroll Baker plays Martha Caldwell, struck dumb as a child as a result of witnessing the death of her parents. An appealing character, she becomes an ongoing victim in an unsettling string of murders, seemingly at the hands of a man with strangely piercing eyes (a recurring theme films of this genre). Cute as a button, gesticulating throughout in her lovely chunky sweater, she has a vulnerability that makes you hope, really hope, that she doesn't come to harm. She's like a giallo Doris Day.

The final revelation is a wonderful surprise. Director and co-writer Umberto Lenzi expertly handles the lead-up and yet sprinkles the running time with clues as to the truth - it is subtle, but definitely there. A distinct lack of sex and gore doesn't detract from how effectively the story is handled: you are given no firm handle on what is happening, what with red herrings and enjoyable wrong-footing for the viewer. And, just for the record, Marcello Giombini's opening theme music is among the best I have heard in this genre, and that's some feat. I just wish it was available to buy.

Qui? (1970)

Blisteringly good. This is a blisteringly good French/Italian giallo thriller with stunning cinematography, a rock-tastic, groovy soundtrack and some excellent performances. To discuss the story, I'll have to give an extra SPOILER warning, on top of the usual, because it would be a genuine shame to see this knowing what is going to happen.

Firstly, the music by Claude Bolling includes a few vocal numbers, both in the background and to the fore (including the repeatedly played 'Strange magic' and 'Who Are You?', which have the desired effect of staying with the listener). Elsewhere, the score is often equally rhythmic, but atmospheric when it needs to be. In places, it is very reminiscent of Manfred Hübler & Siegfried Schwab's soundtracks for Jess Franco films from this period.

There are mainly four characters. We meet Marina (played by the incredible Romy Schneider) and partner Claude (smouldering Gabriele Tinti). I use these one-word descriptions because that's what they are. And yet the superficiality of these attributes doesn't detract in any way from their fine performances. Also, there is intense but kindly Serge (Maurice Ronet) and his ex-wife Dorothée (Jodie Whittaker-like Simone Bach). Wonderful performances all.

This gang naturally dovetails into the story, where, once again, there is a spoiler warning. Marina and Claude are arguing whilst driving along windswept, rocky, coastal Brittany heights. The car is seen tumbling into the sea, and only Marina has escaped, with Claude presumably drowning. Was she responsible? We don't know. Serge is Claude's brother and is very suspicious that Marina killed him. Her persistence and vulnerability ensures that they develop a closeness despite everything, yet she remains mysteriously coy about the actual events. Dorothée initially annoys, but seems genuinely happy that the couple have found a kind of happiness together.

Imagine, then, Claude reappearing from nowhere, having secretly been following the newly-formed couple around. And yet, he appears and disappears like a ghost, and only Marina sees him. In a magnificent chase through a busy shopping arcade, the commuters seem oblivious. Appearing not to have given up his brutal, bullying ways, Claude is stabbed by Marina as he waits for her in Serge's empty house. Panicking, having killed him (again?), she buries him just as Serge turns up saying Claude's body has been found by the wreckage of the original crash, and despite everything, the future seems bright for Marina and Serge.

However, Claude's burial ground has been wrecked by a rain storm and the body is revealed. It seems the police are awaiting Serge and Marina after their latest holiday. Thing is - who are they here to arrest? Claude was buried at Serge's home. And who was the body that Serge identified? Did he lie to absolve Marina from the shadow of what had happened so he could remain with her?

These questions are left to the viewer, but in a wholly satisfying way. Often, in dubbed films, the acting can appear stilted and the characters thinly sketched. Here is proof that dubbing need not be a barrier to really layered, believable, even compelling performances. The characters carry the action, which is expertly directed by Léonard Keigel and written by Paul Gégauff. Thoroughly recommended. I had a ball.

Fieras sin jaula (1971)

One of Rosalba Neri's best performances - but does the rest of he film measure up? The extraordinary Rosalba Neri plays the titular character, an insatiable woman who has an affair with virile young Pietro (Juan Luis Galiardo). Not that either of them care, but she is married to the elderly Ronald Marvelling (Curd Jürgens) at the time. For the first twenty minutes or so, the audience could be forgiven for thinking it was watching a pornography 'flick', for we are treated to relentless and lingering sex scenes between the two hot-heads (unlike the original Italian version, the Spanish print had Neri clothed throughout), while a constantly furious Ronald skulks in the shadows of his mansion. Importantly, he is holding a gun, and it seems inevitable as to what will happen when he finally confronts his wife and her lover, writhing around in his bed. We wait a long time to see what he will actually do, but what happens kick-starts the drama and changes the nature of the story completely.

In a SPOILER, he appears to blow his brains out. As he dies, the windows and doors instantly become sealed, impossible to open. In a voice-over that Pietro and Alexa can both hear, Ronald explains that this is his ultimate trap. As his body putrefies, Alexa will still love him, he says. They will never escape. Clearly, as a result of this revelation, the first thing the young couple do is spark up a cigarette.

Emma Cohen plays Catherine, Ronald's daughter. Sadly wasted, she's the reddest of herrings, for when the end of the film comes - and I speak as a fan of open-ended finales - it is far from satisfactory, which casts a shadow backwards over what has just been watched. It is as if Director Juan Logar ran out of cash.

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