Perverse and enjoyable sleaze quickie from Jess Franco.
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. It is a confident 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.
This is a rich, fruity, beautifully made British horror film directed, written by and starring Andy Nyman as Philip Goodman (co-director Jeremy Dyson has an uncredited cameo as a DJ). Goodman is a solitary investigator committed to debunking the 'myth' of the paranormal. After meeting his hero, former paranormal investigator Charles Cameron (a deeply unpleasant individual reduced and ill, living in squalor) he is offered three cases and challenged to investigate them. Thus we are supplied with the trilogy of tales in this anthology.
Paul Whitehouse plays Tony Matthews, night watchman, haunted by something nasty in an empty warehouse. Alex Lawthur is Simon Rifkind, a teenager who stumbles across a rattled demon whilst driving through woodland. Mike Priddle, played by Martin Freeman, brings the trilogy to a close troubled by a poltergeist whilst waiting for his son to be born.
Of course, things are rarely as they seem, and it is only after these stories are told that things become really weird, and there's a pleasing smattering of MR James-inspired moments. It is possible that the dénouement might be seen by some as disappointing, but the slow-burning lead-up to that moment is very effective.
Just to make sure we all know where we are, this reviews focusses on what I believe is the original version of the film.
When this Jess Franco directed film was first released, the producers at Elite Films felt it needed spicing up somewhat and, entirely against Franco's wishes, elected to insert scenes from an earlier film to pad out the running time and offer some variety to the somewhat minimalist visuals originally on-screen. Although Elite's idea to use inserts of a younger Vernon from 'The Awful Doctor Orloff' from 20 years earlier seemed too intriguing to resist, there's no doubt that this original, unmolested version of the story, is a more intense and haunting study of the insanity of the titular character, and a more undiluted showcase of what is one of Vernon's most triumphant performances. As Usher, he snarls and spits out his lines, heavy with the malice of the incurably disturbed, only to soften his approach alarmingly when his faculties momentarily return to him.
This is a more condensed version of the story Franco wished to tell. In it, Lina Romay is Maria, a questionably faithful retainer, who looks lovely throughout. Interesting then, that very same year, with what appeared to be a minimum amount of make-up, she looked bloated and ravaged as the dying Hermine in 'Diamonds of Kilimanjaro'. Poor Mathias the butler (Jean Tolzac), gets a rough trot at the hands of his master.
The string-led musical score by Pablo Villa, otherwise known as Franco and regular collaborator Daniel White (who also appears briefly as Dr Seward), is unrelenting. It accompanies everything and occasionally becomes overpowering, adding immensely to the persuasive nightmarish quality to it all. It's a tale of delirium, of madness, of betrayal and of paranoia. This is pain-stakingly reconstructed; I would love there to be a cleaned-up DVD/Blu-Ray version of this film because, as with the release of 'The Sadist of Notre Dame' (another film released as Franco ultimately wanted it to be), this new version has elevated the project into my list of Franco favourites.
The nasty blood-red delights of Hammer films a few years before had instantly rendered horror adaptions like this somewhat genteel (which is one alleged reason why Hammer themselves slid out of favour about a decade later). Indeed, one of the joys of this 20th Century Fox production is the glimpse it shares of another, softer world - a world of crisp manners, phrases like 'stuff and nonsense', elegant houses and rolling summer gardens. Not a tracksuit or a gold chain in sight.
Away from this fond reminiscing, 'The Innocents' is a terrific and beautifully acted horror story about two demonic children. And yet the youngsters, so well-played by Martin Stephens (as Miles) and Pamela Franklin (as Flora), may be somewhat mannered, but never brattish as young performances can be (relentlessly chirpy, if anything). Deborah Kerr (as naïve Miss Giddens) and Megs Jenkins (Mrs Grose) are wonderful as the two extremely well-meaning women placed in charge of the juveniles, who gradually, are revealed to possess extraordinary perceptive powers. Peter Wyngarde, the unofficial face of the late 1960s, is unnerving as the sombre Peter Quint.
Director Jack Clayton and cinematographer Freddie Francis extol the virtues of the black-and-white world and pack each scene with detail of comfort and splendour, only to offshoot them with moments of increasing unease.
Standard Jess Franco - take from that what you will.
This is a fairly routine jungle drama directed (and co-written) by prolific 'schlock' auteur Jesús Franco. It is produced by Eurociné, who are well known for their extremely low-budget projects. And so, amidst the Spanish-shot 'jungles', there is (too) much footage of real jungles determined to convince us of more exotic/expensive location filming.
Franco regular Antonio Mayans, also known as Robert Foster, plays Fred Pereira (much later on in his and Franco's career, he would play Al Pereira - no relation, I'm sure) who as is often the case, gets to have onscreen sex on a number of occasions. Watching him procreating is 18 year old Diana (played by 17 year old Katja Bienert), who is central to the story. A female Tarzan of sorts, she and her father are treated as Gods by a fairly gentle tribe, who were on hand when, at the beginning of the film, they arrived in the jungle as a result of a charmingly unconvincing plane crash. She is also the reason why Pereira and his small hunting party are here - to take her back to her ailing, aged mother (played by 29 year-old Lina Romay).
It is difficult to avoid the fact that 'Diamonds of Kilimandjaro' gets a lot of negativity. Like a lot of Franco's stuff, the story meanders and the budget is clearly tiny. But I found it to be well filmed, with good use made of the lush locations. What story there is, is enjoyable. There are a few sex scenes but they are brief and not distracting as is sometimes the case with Uncle Jess. It is standard Franco fare, and I have no problem with that whatsoever.
Originally known as 'Adaline', this was repackaged and retitled 'The Conjured'. This blatant similarity to the popular 'The Conjuring' films gives you some idea of the originality on display here.
I wouldn't wish to do Bidisha Chowdhury's project a disservice; this is modestly budgeted and appears to be a labour of love, but despite the goodwill, and the cast doing their best, there isn't anything remotely new attempted.
The film opens in a gory way, which is out of place with the more sedate nature of what is to come. When Daniela (Jill Evyn) inherits a mansion from an Aunt in the middle of nowhere and her friend exclaims, "I didn't even know you had an Aunt," you are sure what the next line will be ("I didn't know I had an Aunt either," in case you're wondering). Nice bloke John (Lane Townsend) turns up and proves inordinately helpful one way or another. He'll be the main villain then, will he? Well, will he? No-one smiles like that all the time.
There's an abusive ex-boyfriend and a mentally handicapped character as further possibilities, but really, things are extremely predictable here. It won't keep you guessing. Undemanding chills, with occasional scenes of sex and gore to keep you from picking up the crossword.
Dario Argento's daring interpretation of Gaston Leroux's famous horror/tragedy/romance foregoes the traditional disfigured character of Erik (the absence of mask makes a nonsense of the DVD cover and promotional blurb), the Phantom. Instead, Julian Sands plays him as a handsome, tortured, long-haired whisperer unexplainably raised ... by rats. It is a curious development. Instead of being ugly to look at, he is ugly in the way he deals with anyone who gets in his way, or in the way of his relationship with Christine Daaé (Asia Argento). Also, of course, the film is robbed of one of its previously defining moments: the unmasking scene and reveal of the cruelly misshapen mass beneath.
So is it political correctness that informs the lack of scarring? Good grief no, for we have much nudity, horrible things done to rats and the overweight, not to mention the rat catcher himself and comedy dwarf side-kick. We have a telepathic Phantom who instantly falls in love with Christine, and she falls instantly in love with him too. With all the eccentrics around him, Erik is saved from becoming the least interesting character by the great and violent rages he displays, at one point raping Christine, for which she appears to forgive him.
Production-wise, this is an impressive gala of colour and spectacle. Certain scenes in which the camera flies around the spacious theatre remind me of James Whale's joyful exploration of Frankenstein's laboratory during the creation of the monster's Bride in the 1935 classic. The murky catacombs where bad things happen to ne'er-do-wells, the expanse of the theatre and the Phantom's lair, all look wonderful and are effectively lit.
'Tonally', as the phrase goes, 'this is all over the place.' Despite some very exuberant singing miming, Argento's Christine is a naturally played beauty, yet most of those around her are grotesques. The awkward sex-scenes don't do much to convince us of the central love and romance. And yet, this is bizarrely enjoyable. Lots of silliness, some moving moments and mixed interpretations of gore. A fine central performance from Sands, in a look that occasionally invites unfavourable comparisons with 80's wailer Michael Bolton; an array of special effects, sometimes convincing, sometimes not so much, and a strangely distressing ending involving a cavern full of heartbroken rats.
Four 'young friends' travel to the snowy Utah mountains so they can be alone to argue, make up and argue a little more. As things go, this low-budget horror is something of a roller-coaster. Normal conversations are punctuated with sudden moments of sullen anger, which immediately disappear, allowing the conversations to continue as normal. The outbursts, and reactions to them, come and go and then vanish. Such disjointedness is either an inconsistent script, or director/writer Brandon Scullion trying to persuade us that, out in these freezing wastes, evil lurks.
So these kids: Mallory (Arielle Brachfeld, probably the best performance here) self-harms, Eric (Chris Dorman) is an alcoholic, Becca (Sarah Greyson) might be pregnant and the other? Seth (David Lautman) has secretly come all this way to bury to dismembered body-parts of his mother. That he returns to the cabin to find his mother (Maria Olsen) alive and well and waiting for him is a good scare.
This eerie tale is cursed by some typical low-budget trappings - often stilted acting and sound issues resulting in dialogue being drowned out. The locations are excellent however, the snow adding an extra degree of isolation so important in conveying the levels of danger the characters find themselves trapped in.
This is an above average teen-based horror that taps into an interesting premise. Social media. Unwanted attention. Who exactly are you accepting as a 'friend' on what is to all intents and purposes Facebook? And especially pertinent - how social media has become a vital part of our lives; a few years ago, a subject like this wouldn't have existed.
Laura (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is being cyber-stalked after accepting a friend request from the classroom outcast, who sees her as a 'sister.' Marina (Liesl Ahlers) is something of a textbook 'weirdo' - on one hand she is just another pretty girl who chooses to dress down and indulge herself in goth imagery. On the other, she is genuinely fragile, stigmatised by a hair-pulling disorder. Things become typically intense, with Marina taking her subsequent rejection extremely badly and displaying she possesses certain demonic qualities.
What I thought was going to be blighted by depictions of the youngsters as massively irritating (teensploitation?), actually takes various satisfyingly dark turns and provides some successful mood-pieces and jump-scares. However, it is content to follow the paths of other horrors before it (particularly 'The Ring', I thought), and although the characters are fairly likeable, there's little to distinguish them. That said, what this does, it does well.
This 2009 production is set in the 1980s and as such, gives a pretty accurate depiction of those times, minus many of the peroxide and fashionable extremes. Even perennial musical entrepreneur Thomas Dolby's magnificent 'One of our Submarines' can be heard at one stage.
This Ti West scripted/directed film features the appealing Jocelin Donahue as Samantha, whose search for employment leads her into some increasingly dark directions. Baby-sitting a non-existent child doesn't fill anyone with optimism about her current job, but she perseveres.
A fairly pedestrian storyline isn't helped by the unevenly slow pacing of events. There are some gory moments, and some effectively staged set-pieces, but these are infrequent, and far too much time is spent setting things up that never seem to come to anything. This changes in the last act, when Samantha's plight becomes more than slow-burning teasers, and something manifestly evil. Herein, the more traditional moments of horror are welcome after a long time waiting.
This French/Romanian film features Olivia Bonamy and Michaël Cohen as Clémentine and Lucas, a couple whose lives are about to get very unpleasant. Torture, ritualistic brutality and an increasing atmosphere of 'we're not going to get out of this' permeates throughout this intimately told story of genuine horror. This is all the more frightening because, if the blurb is to be believed, it was based on true events.
Feral, murderous children is a theme that isn't new. But if handled well, it can be shocking. And so it is here. That the atrocities occur so close to 'respectable' civilisation injects and extra dimension into it. As Clémentine impotently screams for help by a roadside full of commuters too busy to see or help, it is frustrating for the viewer that she is in such continual straits.
Set up as one big, futile rush for freedom amidst moments of graphic horror and overwhelming hopelessness (courtesy of directors/writers David Moreau and Xavier Palud) the story might prove to be too thin for some. However, the 77-minute set-piece contains enough jeopardy and nastiness to appeal to me. Recommended.
I was initially attracted to this French film because of the highly-billed inclusion of Brigitte Lahaie. Sadly, however, she's barely in it, and plays an entirely peripheral character. With that disappointment out of the way, there is a huge amount to enjoy here - however, I think 'The Ordeal' is something of an acquired taste.
Travelling cabaret singer Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) becomes stranded in the formidable, rolling forests of the Ardennes, but Mr Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), a kindly inn-keeper offers not only to put him up for the night but to fix his van the following morning. Also along the way, Stevens comes into contact with the distracted Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard ), who is dejectedly looking for his dog, lost in the snow. That Boris then turns up at the inn, and is clearly a good friend of Bartel, doesn't bode well: one would hope Boris's broken mind is a lone malady that separates him from the nearby villagers - in fact, the whole community is similarly unstable.
Quite why this should be is never explained: it just is. Why the village is allowed to operate in the way it does without interference from the law is equally unfathomable. But if you don't mind the lack of explanations, this is an enjoyably hellish ride. Poor Stevens makes every attempt to reason with and placate those who wish him harm, and also carries out valiant escape attempts - but things continue not to look good for him.
This reminds me of a 'straight' version of quirky UK dark comedy 'The League of Gentlemen', and shares with it a nightmarish environment - but there are no laughs here. The endless surrounding area could not be more isolated, with the punishing weather only compounding that. Bartel's compulsion to turn his guest into his dead wife Gloria is carried out in a surprisingly nasty way, and that fact that the villagers share his wishes give the viewer the overwhelming idea that things are going to turn very nasty for Stevens. And they do.
David Arquette plays Robert Mars, who provides a welcome antidote to the rather saccharine family unit who make the mistake of allowing him to rent the cottage behind their house. Before long, this quirky, dashing newcomer is displaying qualities that are not quite what you would look for in a neighbour. Arquette plays this very well, accompanying many a questionable statement with a winning smile and charming demeanour; before long, however, these traits become simply unnerving accompaniment to increasingly threatening, weird behaviour.
The most disturbing thing about this is Mars' predilection for apparently under-rage girls. They are easily manipulated by his ways, but even his smooth line in smarm doesn't adequately explain the lengths they are prepared to go for him. Although the gore is very lightweight, there is much that is nasty here. He is a Charles Manson prototype, but in a production that never quite jumps into top gear.
There are occasional moments of tension, but overall this comes across as weird, rather than frightening, and all in suburban surroundings, which sanitises things a little. The scenes with Mars and his very young concubines remain effective, though, but having toyed with the older man/younger girl syndrome, 'The Tenant' doesn't do a huge amount that is interesting with it.
Twits will insist on breeding, won't they? Back in the 1980s, the adults represented here would have been known as Yuppies, young and upwardly mobile characters who do terribly well in business. This allegedly successful bent is balanced by possessing personalities smug and self-serving coupled with an inability to cope with the challenges of raising their young. I don't wish to enter into the debate of child discipline too strongly, but "We don't smack children here," is the mantra extolled by the adults and possibly this stretches to "we don't discipline children at all." The reason I say this is that most of the youngsters are brattish, and whenever they misbehave, their behaviour is met with an 'understanding' gaze and a "What's the matter, sweetheart?" line of soothing questions. When the children's behaviour deteriorates further and they actually start killing people, the remaining parents are still trying to empathise with them, which leaves this viewer wondering who is more deserving of a slap?
Anyway, with that out of the way, what we have here is a New Year's Eve smug-off celebration where two attractive young families can outwardly hug and adore each other, while privately slate each other for lack of business acumen. The idyllic surroundings are spoiled when the children seem to become possessed and start killing the hapless adults. It is never explained why this happens.
Most brattish of all is sexy teen strop artist Casey (Hannah Tointon), who emerges as the true hero of the piece, having been wrongly accused of all sorts by the idiotic adults. The mix of their stupidity and her precocious, inappropriately flirtatious manner doesn't help anyone, but she displays sense and a stoical attitude whilst all about her are whimpering and floundering.
In many slasher-type films, we find ourselves willing for the death of the alleged 'good guys', but such a (surely) deliberate decision to make the parents this stupid is an interesting expansion of reasons for dislike. And whilst the children never quite become the threat we are supposed to think they are, their looks of angelic distraction works well in a creepy kind of way - as does the revelation of yet more juveniles scattered throughout the unforgiving snow and frosty woodlands.
Where things don't work quite as well is in the kids' physical power. Possibly more time and money would have been needed to successfully make them more formidable and whilst the effects here are good, they rarely quite convince, often making the adults suffering at their hands even more inept. With a heightening of the actual brutality, this would have been more successful. What he have is a well-made thriller with good performances and as such, is worth seeing.
Having read some reviews of this film, it seems either to bring out extreme reactions (lots of 10s out of 10, lots of 1s also) or there is some political work at play. I quite enjoyed it: it's a very slow burner, and what scares there are, are subtle and involve a minimum amount of special effects.
Caity Lotz is Annie, a formerly wayward single mother who is also a bikie (when she can prize her motorbike helmet over her constant pout). Casper Van Dien is Bill Creek, an officer even prettier than she is. He takes her seriously when she reports a series of hauntings at her mother's house, and also that her sister Nicole, appears to have gone missing (along with her cousin Liz).
'The Pact' is a modestly budgeted ghost story written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy. It was successful enough to spawn a sequel. The scares won't be 'jumpy' enough for some, and fiercely independent Annie is initially difficult to like. The story is thinly stretched, but it is worth sticking with: there are moments that are genuinely frightening, and the lack of spectacular effects doesn't detract from an overall feeling of unease.
Much of Richard Driscoll's latest endeavour is a mixture of real-life and comic-strip. The story involves disillusioned, ageing cop Frank Macmillian (Michael Madsen) who becomes masked avenger 'The Enforcer', a vigilante who takes the law into his own hands.
The comic-strip feel extends to the majority of street scenes bewing obscured by a cartoon-like video effect reminiscent of the kind of thing used in early 80s music videos. It is also employed to hide the fact the streets aren't in New York - or even America - at all? Some of the dialogue is pretty ropey, and grammatically challenged. 'Death to the innocence', 'as the city sleep', and 'the pain hurts'. Well, it would, wouldn't it?
Steven Craine (Driscoll's own stage name) plays William Bard, a criminal - how about that? - who greets his newfound freedom with an instant return to a life of crime. He becomes injured and needs surgical assistance on his face. After this, he is known as - wait for it - The Jester. Just as non-actor Craine channelled Sir Anthony Hopkins in 'Kannibal', his performance here is 'inspired' by the mighty Jack Nicholson in this leading role. Whereas Nicholson's appearance in 1989's 'Batman' was augmented by a soundtrack by Prince, here we have what sounds like Craine 'rapping' to a version of 'Money makes the world go around.'
During one scene, which like all the others, lasts far too long, Craine is doing his Joker routine in front of a class full of children. We know they are children because the teacher, also tied up, keeps reminding us all, "They're children, they're just children!" Whilst watching Craine prattling on about Shakespeare (his name is Bard, you see), it's difficult to imagine what is going through the minds of the youngsters hauled in to take part in this embarrassment. They look confused. And so they might, because Craine's every moment is excruciating. Like the rest of the cast, he sports an American accent, and his is by far the least convincing. Incidentally, the hapless teacher in this scene is named Mary Shelley. Elsewhere, stalwart Eileen Daly plays Elizabeth Bathory. There's a comedy computer called Tenyson. Possibly his name is a misspelling.
At one point, Barack Obama makes a cameo. Driscoll's casting endeavours know no limitations. I wonder if the ex-Presdient is aware of his involvement.
Regarding the story, which could be said to meander, events appear often to be told in flashback. There's one where The Jester wipes out a room full of criminals. Patrick Bergin, who plays Patrick O'Donnell, is represented by a series of close-ups that seem to be cut in from a different recording.
I like Richard Driscoll. I like the fact he has no sense of self-awareness, and a confidence that ensures his film-making seems set to continue despite the results being so appalling and badly-received. His ego, in the face of all, continues to endure.
This Polish werewolf/ghost story is so bleak and unforgiving, that during the first few minutes, in which a woman is dying from an abortion (Maryna Wosinska, played by Iwona Bielska), bloodstained and miserable, in a remote snow covered shack, I wasn't sure whether I could stomach it! This comes from someone who has watched horror films for decades. It's a subjective thing is horror, and that's why I love the genre - if it affects you, it affects you strongly, and you can't always explain why.
Perhaps inevitably, the grimness of the piece is the real star here, although Maryna and Krzysztof Jasinski (who plays Wosinska's husband Kacper Wosinski) are very well played. The English subtitles can be confusing though, and don't lend themselves to much character building.
The story, based on Jerzy Gieraltowski's 1977 novel 'Wadera' is deceptively simple - I say deceptively, because the film is very talky and at 98 minutes, is really too long to sustain interest throughout. This is a shame, because there are moments that are shocking (especially towards the finale), haunting and melancholy, and of course the atmosphere, established as completely barren and frozen right at the beginning, does not let up for a second.
Regarded as a classic Polish horror film, 'Wilczyca' is slow going, but intense, harrowing, and highly effective in places.
This is a modestly budgeted, black and white film directed, produced, written by and starring Herk Harvey. Often, when an entire production is placed in the hands of one person, the results can be questionable, with no-one available to advise the auteur that his ambition may need fine tuning. Happily, this is far from the case here. 'Carnival of Souls' has gained a huge cult following over the years, and quite rightly: it is excellent.
Beginning very much in the style of Hitchcock's 'Psycho (1960)', the narrative follows Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) as she stumbles from the sea after a car accident in which she appears to be the sole survivor. Trials and tribulations inevitably follow as she finds it difficult to continue her normal life, and her challenges in forming any emotional attachment - although having said that, her pursuer, greasy, arrogant John Linden (Sidney Berger) is an unpleasant, bullying character who doesn't disguise the fact he only wants to have sex with her. She sees figures, spectres, faces - the main ghoul is played, uncredited, by Harvey. His is the face most people remember from the film: pale, blackened eyed and leering, his is a truly unnerving presence.
The direction is first rate. Not only is a seaside town given a genuinely unnerving atmosphere, but the finale, filled with stuttering, staggering undead figures emerging from the abandoned carnival stays in the mind long after the credits have rolled.
If you have an interest in horror, you owe it to yourself to see this.
By 1988, giallos had been around for a long time and had understandably passed their peak. Here we have a good concoction of the usual ingredients - a whispering voice on the phone, a shambling police agent and some gory set-pieces set amidst elegant backdrops.
Directed by Ruggero 'Cannibal Holocaust' Deodato, this production is a showcase for the lesser appeals of the 1980s. An occasional backdrop of soulless, Linn-drum 'pop' music that typified the latter half of that decade and outsized shoulder pads and garish colourful fashion, and an expansive gloss that reminds me of the increasingly preposterous America soap giants like 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty' - luckily the three leads are not too blighted by such elements.
Dependable Michael York plays lady-magnet and pianist Robert Dominisci as well as he plays all his roles; Edwige Fenech has nothing much to do as Hélène Martell, his stunning girlfriend and a disinterested Donald Pleasence shuffles around as Inspector Datti, forever on the trail of the mysterious killer. His performance falls because he has no character, and his rant in the street ("You murdering b******! I kill you! I kill you!") amidst shoppers who don't bat and eyelid, is very odd in particular.
Pino Donaggio's score is good, but doesn't possess the stirring majesty of Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, and the smooth veneer of the production takes away many elements that personified giallo films at their peak. As such, this leans towards police procedural featuring a sympathetic, deformed killer, albeit with some beautiful locations. Dominisci's Jekyll/Hyde-like degeneration has a tragic permanence to it. Sadly for Datti, here is a criminal who did everything he could to get caught - and still the inspector failed to catch him.
One of the great things about going into horror films without knowing anything about them is the realisation, at a certain point somewhere down the line, that it's going to be 'a certain kind of film.' That point came pretty quickly with this Ari Kirschenbaum directed/written oddity. And I was still wrong. Initially, I quite liked it, but I imagine that such an abstract approach might come across as a series of set-pieces and effective imagery - because that's exactly what it is, at least in the first half. Sadly, the second half degenerates into a kind of wacky comedy.
Charlene Amoia plays Deputy Hancock who, alongside Sherrif Pete (Vladimir Kulich), come to realise that some demonic force has infiltrated their small-town jail and its inmates. Apart from the slow but often effective story-line and insistent electronic score, there is a lot of reliance on CGI. Whilst none of it breaks the spell Kirschenbaum is striving to weave, some leaves a lot to be desired, while much of it is more effective than you might expect. Events are divided into Tarantino-like chapters.
A switch to colour from the greyed-out imagery some way into the running time threatens to rob events of their sinister intimacy but actually, this is not the case. The colours used are bleached-out and sickly in hue and create their own sense of unease. And yet there is a growing through-line of sardonic humour here that suggests not everything should be taken seriously - and many of the possessed zombie-types invite hilarity rather than terror (in black and white, they look frightening - reminiscent of 'Salem's Lot (1979)' in some scenes; when in colour, they degenerate into the kind of cartoon menace you see on the cover of Iron Maiden albums). Sadly, this threatens to render everything we've seen thus far inconsequential.
So, tonally, I am not sure what this is aiming for. Again, it seems a deliberate nod to the Tarantino style of occasionally 'heightened' film-making. In this case, I am honest enough to say that whilst it must have been great fun to make, I do not know what kind of film this strives to be, and as such, the result are baffling.
This latest offering from North Bank Entertainment takes place in Dunwich - or Jonesworld - a Neverland that occasionally features in Andrew Jones' films, where some people speak with American accents, and some people don't. The very British décor indicates we're on UK soil, but I get the impression the film is supposed to be set Stateside. The most American American is Beckham-browed policeman Brodie Sangster (Jamie Knox). He is seeing potty-mouthed Jennifer (Sarah John), daughter of Frank, Sangster's boss.
This isn't one of North Banks' best. It's inevitable that with such a prolific turnover, not every release will be a zinger. There's a bigger cast here than usual, and none of the characters are particularly interesting. Also, sound problems that plagued certain scenes in earlier films is still an issue which, after all this time, is irritating. I enjoy the way clips from black and white horror films are sprinkled throughout the action (I recognised 'White Zombie', 'Carnival of Souls' and 'Nosferatu' amongst others), but ultimately the story of resurrected wrong-doer Jack Cain misses the mark more often than not.
This film puts meat on the bones of Jess Franco's 'Demoniac' (1975) in that the notorious director, never happy with the restrictions placed on his earlier production, revisits his character of Vogel and shapes the story into something more to his liking. One of the inherent joys of being a fan of Uncle Jess is constantly rediscovering new/old things. What other director would have the freedom to re-edit a film from four years earlier? And yet, that is exactly what he did - combed through the scenes, re-dubbed them, re-named some characters, moved scenes around and added 25 minutes of new material.
We begin with such newly filmed sequences featuring Vogel, seemingly desolate and outcast, existing in the gutters and backstreets of Paris, a diminutive, ramshackle outsider shuffling through freezing streets unseen by respectable passers-by. After he is (improbably, perhaps) propositioned by a working girl, his latent rage and religious fervour gains hold and she is quickly done away with. This and subsequent killings are beautifully, unspectacularly shot, with Vogel emerging from night-time shadows that have long been his stomping ground. The city has rarely been a creepier, lonelier place (some of these scenes might have been shot in the same locations as Franco's earlier 'Death Avenger of Soho.' They certainly look similar, and locations included Paris and Portugal, so it is possible).
I have always felt that Franco is a pretty wooden actor. It is amusing and self-deprecating of him to cast himself usually as perverts and lunatics in what are little more than cameos most of the time. Here though, he is not only the main character (Vincent Price was originally envisaged), but he shines. His weariness, his looks of longing/revulsion at Lina Romay's Anne are striking, and his general beaten demeanour is terrifically conveyed. He is at one with the bleakness that surrounds him. And yet his rage - a shuddering, frantic, desperate violence - is expertly balanced. The performance was always there, but with this revisit, Jess has added much to it, and the result propels this onto the top tier of my favourite Franco productions.
It isn't all great of course: the elongated, passionless orgy scene is still present (although may have been trimmed). A whirl of pale limbs set to Daniel White's out-of-place budget jazz dirge - in fact, White's work here is patchy, reminiscent in some places of 'Zombie Lake's cheap keyboard plonkings. It is not surprising that the film meanders, also; this is, after all, the director indulging himself.
I am not familiar enough with the original material to identify where edits have taken place, what has been taken out and what has been added. But I do know that this is the definitive version of Franco's story. The characters are fleshed out, the beginning and the ending of the film have been massively improved, and Franco himself must take huge credit for a terrific central performance. An excellent film.
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.
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.
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.