Hammer's most famous and greatest 'mad science' franchise is, of course, the great Frankenstein series starring the almighty Peter Cushing as the ruthless and yet somehow very likable Baron Victor Frankenstein. While THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) is by no means as great as Hammer's Frankenstein films it is a very atmospheric mad-scientist-flick with an excellent cast. Directed by Hammer's Number one, Terence Fisher, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH is an adaptation of a play that was first filmed as THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (1945) which I haven't seen yet.
The mad scientist in this film is played by the always-sinister Anton Diffring, who had played Baron Frankenstein in Hammer's own TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN, a 1958 pilot for a planned Frankenstein TV-show that wasn't made. Actually, Diffring's character in this movie, Dr. George Bonner isn't really that 'mad', regarding his situation: In Paris of 1890, Dr. Bonner is a man who seemingly is in his 40s. However, he is in fact 104 years old and keeps his youth with the aid of a serum. In order to survive, he needs periodic gland transplants from young and healthy victims. Needless to say he is willing to kill for his life...
THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH co-stars two Hammer icons, British Horror-beauty Hazel Court and the inimitable Christopher Lee. Both deliver great performances as usual. Personally I like Christopher Lee most when he is evil, but hero-roles such as in this film also fit him well. Anton Diffring is a specialist for sinister and macabre characters, and he is once again excellent here. 19th century Paris is a good setting for a Hammer film; even though most of the movie plays indoors here, director Fisher once again makes great use of the Hammer-typical visuals, creating a thick Gothic atmosphere. Overall, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH offers few surprises and may not be an essential must-see, but it is tense and atmospheric Gothic Horror and should not be missed by my fellow Hammer-fans.
Truly Disturbing and Unsettling British 70s Horror
DEATH LINE aka. RAW MEAT (1973) is an unusual and genuinely disturbing British 70s Savagery/Cannibal Horror film that no true genre lover should miss. The film by American director Gary Sherman (who is also known for the 80s Horror classic DEAD & BURIED of 1981) is an adaptation of an original story written by Sherman himself, which was allegedly loosely based on the real-life case of the cannibalistic Beane family in 16th century Scotland.
Set in contemporary (70s) London, DEATH LINE is about a cannibal fiend who dwells in the Underground tunnel system. A young couple stumble over an unconscious man on the stairs of an Underground station; when they come back with a police officer in order to help, the man is gone. Shortly thereafter, more people disappear from the same Underground station by night...
The film's premise and its execution are exceptionally disturbing. The gory makeup effects are very grisly, and the Underground tunnel system is a genuinely creepy and unsettling Horror location. The menacing and truly scary fiend's persona which is something in-between cannibalistic monster, human being and animal is maybe the most disturbing aspect of the movie.
The performances are very good, especially the magnificent Donald Pleasence is once again great in the role of the eccentric and overall not very friendly investigating Scotland Yard Inspector. The Inspector's cynicism and eccentricities provide some humor in the otherwise disturbing film. Sharon Gurney, who plays the female lead, is also known for another British Horror film, THE CORPSE of 1971. Horror icon Christopher Lee has a cameo as an MI5 agent. Hugh Armstrong is incredibly creepy as the Cannibal fiend. His role reminded me of the Italian Gore-classic ANTROPOPHAGUS (1980), to which it may or may not have been inspirational; while I love ANTROPHAGUS, DEATH LINE is much more subtle and intellectual in its explanation of the reasons for people turning to Cannibalism.
DEATH LINE is a highly disturbing and unsettling film that nobody who likes true Horror should miss. Highly recommended.
Frankenstein's Castle of Babes and Vastly Entertaining Nonsense
The Italians were the kings of the Horror genre from the 60s to the 80s, and, as far as yours truly is concerned, the combination of this genre, era and country is as great as cinema can possibly get. The rise of Italian Horror/suspense cinema started with atmospheric Gothic tales (such as the brilliant films by the ultimate master Mario Bava, Antonio Margheriti and Riccardo Freda) in the late 50s and early 60s. In the 70s, a time when the Giallo genre had replaced the Gothic tale as the dominant sub-genre Italian suspense cinema, some (but by no means all) of the Italian Gothic Horror films that were still being produced were very low-budget and sleazy, but nonetheless elegant Exploitation efforts.
TERROR! IL CASTELLO DELLE DONNE MALEDETTE aka. FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1974) is a super-cheesy slice of 70s Italian B-movie Gothic Horror which will certainly not give anybody the creeps, but which is incredibly entertaining nonetheless. Directed by the American Dick Randall, the movie puts a lesser emphasis on the typically Italian elegance and atmosphere, and, sometimes looks more like one of the many contemporary Spanish Gothic Horror films (which is probably due to the low budget). Sleaze-fans should not be scared off by the PG rating (as according to IMDb), since this little trash gem contains plenty of female nudity, perverted characters and some very cheesy gore effects. The film doesn't take itself too seriously, and the demented characters alone make it worth a look for my fellow Euro-Exploitation fans.
Count Frankenstein (Rosanno Brazzi) lives in a castle with a bunch of freaky helpers including a necrophiliac midget, a hunch-back who has rough sex with the housekeeper when her sadistic husband (Luciano Pigozzi) is not around. His hot daughter (Simonetta Vitelli) comes to visit with her fiancé and an equally hot friend (Christiane Rücker). Both of the women have exhibitionist tendencies. What follows is a sleazy and incredibly entertaining succession of very absurd horrors.
While FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS is below-par in terms of style and elegance by the high Italian Gothic Horror standards it is still very stylish for a rather nonsensical B-Movie of the kind in international comparison. The most well-known faces in the cast are former strongman and B-movie regular Gordon Mitchell (in the role of the undertaker) and the Peter-Lorre-lookalike Luciano Pigozzi, a great supporting actor who was in all sub-genres of Italian cult-cinema, including several films by Mario Bava and Umberto Lenzi.
Overall FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS is a sleazy, very cheesy, and often unintentionally funny trash-gem that is incredibly entertaining and should not be missed by true lovers of European Trash flicks. However, one should definitely be acquainted with the many great Italian Gothic Horror films before watching fun trash like this one. For Italo-Cult buffs like myself this film is often hilarious and vastly entertaining.
Amando Crispino's L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA aka. THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN is an interesting and somewhat unusual Giallo from the greatest Giallo-year 1972. 1972 was the year of several of the greatest genre masterpieces including Sergio Martino's YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY, Fulci's DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, Massimo Dallamano's WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE and Emilio Miraglia's THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES. While L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA is not as essential as these aforementioned titles it is highly interesting and creepy as the sight of this Giallo's mandatory murder series is an ancient Etruscan burial ground, which gives this particular Giallo a supernatural atmosphere.
The American archaeologist Jason Porter (Alex Cord) is head of a team that has discovered an ancient Etruscan burial ground including fascinating and mysterious pieces of mural art. Shortly after the discovery, a young couple is murdered in the same manner as depicted in the Etruscan tomb, which had not been opened for 2,500 years. It seems as if someone is trying to point out Jason, a womanizer with a drinking problem, as the murderer. Is the culprit one of the eccentric people in Jason's surrounding, or has an Etruscan fiend risen from tomb to perform his bloody deeds? As in most good Gialli, almost every character in the movie is a suspect.
L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA is elegantly filmed in nice Northern Italian locations and accompanied by a very good and intense score from the great Riz Ortolani. The murders are quite bloody and well-made, most of them being Giallo-typically filmed from the murderer's perspective. The female cast members are all lovely to look at, especially Samantha Eggar and Christina Von Blanc, who is known for her mostly exhibitionist roles in some of the Spanish Exploitation-icon Jess Franco's movies. Besides Alex Cord, the cast includes several other well-known actors including John Marley (THE GODFATHER) as a sadistic elderly orchestra conductor and the always-sinister Horst Frank who plays a flamboyantly homosexual designer here.
Overall, L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA may not be an outstanding Giallo-masterpiece, but it is definitely an elegant and creepy specimen of the genre that should not be missed by my fellow Giallo- and Eurohorror fans. My rating: 7.5/10
Eerie Gothic Beauty, Demented Perversion and the Wonderful Barbara Steele
Riccardo Freda's L'ORRIBILE SEGRETO DELL DR. HICHCOCK aka. THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK(1962) was only the third Gothic Horror film starring the wonderful genre-goddess Barbara Steele, the first two being two masterpieces, Mario Bava's LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO (BLACK Sunday/THE MASK OF Satan) of 1960 and Roger Corman's PIT AND THE PENDULUM in which she starred alongside fellow Horror-deity Vincent Price. While this is not one of the most notable among the nine Italian Horror films starring the divine Miss Steele it is yet another creepy must-see for fans of Italian Gothic Horror and Barbara Steele in particular.
In 1885, Doctor Hichcock (Robert Flemyng) leaves London after accidentally killing his wife with an overdose of an anesthetic. He returns several years later with his new wife Cynthia (Barbara Steele). It soon becomes clear that the Doctor has necrophiliac tendencies and that his weakness for anesthetics has to do with his own perverted desires...
Director Riccardo Freda was one of the pioneers of Italian Horror cinema, having directed the first post-WW2 Italian Gothic Horror film I VAMPIRI (1956), which was, in fact, finished by the ultimate Italian Horror director Mario Bava (my personal choice for the greatest Horror director of all-time). While Freda's Gothic Horror films are very good they don't quite reach the quality of those by the incomparable Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti, in my opinion.
The most convincing reason to watch the film is, of course, Barbara Steele, who simply is the greatest Horror actress of all time in the humble opinion of yours truly. It is regrettable, however, that her role is restricted to that of the damsel in distress here. She played double-roles in many of her Italian Horror films (LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO, I LUNGHI CAPPELLI DELLA MORTE, AMANTI D'OLTRETOMBA, UN ANGELO PER SATANA) in which she combined the innocent and pure evil, and was always brilliant in doing so. In some other Italian Horror films her characters always had something mysterious and eerie about them. Not so in L'ORRIBILE DR. HICHCOCK, in which she has the role of a pure scream-queen. Personally I would have rather seen her as the villainess. However, she is still great and stunningly beautiful and her performance alone makes the film worthwhile.
Another great aspect is the thick Gothic atmosphere which is created by the typically great use of camera-angles, darkness and shadows, the superbly creepy set pieces in an eerie old mansion and a nice, eerie score. Cinema does not get more elegant than Italian Gothic Horror from the 60s, and this film is yet another example for that. The film's theme of perversion and necrophilia is typical for early 60s Italian Gothic Horror, which wasn't yet quite as explicit as the Gialli and Horror films of the late 60s and 70s but was already thematically exploring the perverse and controversial.
For quite some time, DR. HICHCOCK was the last Italian Horror film with Barbara Steele that I had yet to see. Freda made a sort-of sequel to this film one year later with LO SPETTRO (1963), which easily surpasses this one as it is even more atmospheric and Barbara Steele's role is way more sinister and macabre. Overall L'ORRIBILE SEGRETO DEL DR. HICHCOCK is not one of the highlights of Italian Gothic Horror but it is definitely a must-see for my fellow fans of the Genre and the wonderful Barbara Steele. For absolutely essential Italian Gothic Horror masterpieces starring Barbara Steele, watch Bava's LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO and Antonio Margheriti's DANZA MACABRA (CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964).
Predictable and Somewhat Tedious Werewolf Flick With a Great Setting
MOON OF THE WOLF (1972) is an OK-at-best, made-for-TV werewolf flick that has one outstanding quality: the setting in the Louisiana Bayou. I tend to love Horror films set in the Deep South and the setting in this one seems very genuine. After several locals turn up murdered, the sheriff (David Janson) of a rural Louisiana Bayou community suspects a werewolf to be responsible... MOON OF THE WOLF offers no real surprises, to me personally the identity of the Werewolf was clear pretty soon (actually, it was too obvious, which gave me a lick of doubt). A romance between the sheriff and his high-school sweetheart is thrown in as a filler. The film occasionally becomes somewhat boring, which, regarding the screen time of 75 minutes, is quite an accomplishment. Yet, the film has its qualities. As mentioned above, the setting is awesome. The Bayou landscapes all look very genuine, as does the small-town, and a vital part of the movie takes place in a Colonial mansion. Some of the bit-part players make a genuine redneck impression, one of them the prolific Geoffrey Lewis, a great supporting actor whose filmography includes great films of many genres, including MY NAME IS NOBODY, Clint Eastwood's HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, DILLINGER and Tobe Hoopers SALEM'S LOT. MOON OF THE WOLF may be enjoyed for the Deep Southern atmosphere, but overall nobody who hasn't seen it has missed anything.
ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975) is doubtlessly one of the most notorious Exploitation movies of all-time, and for good reasons. There is no doubt that the film is sick and sadistic, and it is understandable that many find it to be despicable. Yet it is also undeniable that this is classic Exploitation stuff and that every hardcore lover of cult-cinema (such as yours truly) kinda has to see it. Along with Tinto Bras' SALON KITTY (1976), director Don Edmonds' film which was produced by the prolific David F. Friedman (who also produced Hershell Gordon Lewis' early gore films) spawned the Nazisploitation (or Nazi-Exploitation) sub-genre (which practically is a sub-sub-genre of the WIP or Women In Prison movie). These films, mostly from the otherwise best Exploitation country Italy, usually managed to be extremely sleazy and brutal, yet very boring at the same time. ILSA is the undisputed classic of the Nazisploitation genre, and certainly the most memorable film of its kind. Whether that is a recommendation lies in the eye of the beholder. While ILSA (and all the other Nazisploitation films) are strongly against the Nazis who are entirely portrayed as evil, it also trivializes this very sensitive topic, which is of course even more questionable since way more Holocaust-survivors were still alive in the 70s. (Then again, the producer's name is Friedman, and I recently saw a documentary about the popularity of Nazi-porno novels in 70s Israel, so who am I to judge...)
The eponymous sadistic female Nazi-villain Ilsa (played by the huge-breasted blonde Dyanne Thorne) is the commander of a Nazi experiment camp. In order to prove that females are better soldiers than men, she conducts gruesome experiments on the female prisoners. She also has sex with the male prisoners, whom she castrates after being disappointed in the can. This changes when the super-potent American prisoner Wolfe is brought to the camp and satisfies her non-stop...
Apart from the idea of Nazi-exploitation as such being questionable, ILSA also has a somewhat anti-feminist message: Even the man-eating villainous bitch gets tamed when she is properly getting... err... satisfied. The film is incredibly perverted and gruesome, and while the violence is often exaggerated to a ridiculous point and hard to be taken seriously it is yet very disturbing. The female cast members, most of which are naked for the majority of their screen time, are beautiful, but the setting and sadistic violence makes that impossible to enjoy. Without getting into detail, I can say that there are plenty of notoriously gruesome sequences, some of them hard to look at even for experienced exploitation fans, others more ridiculous than truly disturbing.
Interestingly, this is a German-American co-production, even though the film was banned in Germany (probably both for the violence and the controversial Nazi-topic). Apart from the countless rip-offs, the movie also spawned two sequels, ILSA: HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1976) and ILSA THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA (1977), as well as the unofficial sort-of-sequel GRETA: HAUS OHNE MÄNNER (aka. ILSA THE WICKED WARDEN, 1977) by the Spanish Exploitation deity Jess Franco.
In a nutshell, ILSA is highly questionable and I can understand everybody who finds it despicable to make such a trashy movie about such a sensitive topic. However, it is a must-see for my fellow Exploitation fans (even though nowhere near as essential as other super-notorious classics such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or MARK OF THE DEVIL in my opinion). Definitely not for the easily offended.
Controversial, Uncompromising and Unforgettable Masterpiece by Ken Russell (R.I.P.)
The great Ken Russell, who just passed away at age 84, was doubtlessly one of the most uncompromising filmmakers, who enriched cinema with a variety of often controversial and bizarre cult films including SAVAGE MESSIAH and ALTERED STATES. Even though I am not (yet) an expert on the man's filmography (having seen seven or eight of his films), I think it is save to say that THE DEVILS of 1971 is one of his most unique, imposing and unforgettable works. An atmospherically overwhelming cinematic experience, THE DEVILS is Russel's brutal and brilliantly bizarre biographical story of the real-life unorthodox 17th century French priest Urbain Grandier. Due to its criticism of the Catholic church, bizarre sequences of religion paired with violent excess and orgiastic sexuality, THE DEVILS was heavily censored and only available in mutilated versions after religious moralists had stirred controversy. As always, the controversy stirred by reactionary institutions had opposite effects: THE DEVILS is maybe the most important film for the the rise of Nunsploitation, a sub-genre of mostly European and generally sleazy films about naughty and possessed nuns that engage in all sorts of sexual, violent and blasphemous behavior.
In the 1630s, the infamous French Cardinal Richilieu orders the destruction of French towns in order to prevent a rise of the Hugenots (French Protestants). The charismatic Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is the priest of the French town Loudoun, and a womanizer whom women generally can't resist. Grandier sleeps with nuns and noblewomen alike, and manages to temporarily prevent the destruction of his town. The crippled, deformed and mad mother superior of the Loundon convent, sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) has fallen in love with the priest, and when he secretly marries another, hell hath no fury like this nun scorned. The nun's accusations against Grandier are welcomed by his powerful political opponents who send an obsessed Exorcist (Michael Gothard) who is to prove Grandier's association with the devil...
THE DEVILS is a remarkable in many aspects. It arguably marks Ken Russell's, Oliver Reed's and Vanessa Redgrave's finest hour. Oliver Reed was doubtlessly one of the greatest British actors in the history of the country's cinema, who is far too often remembered for his (cool and highly original) drunken antics instead of his brilliant performances. His charismatic performance as Urbain Grandier here is one of the finest ever given. Vanessa Redgrave is fantastic in her display of a disturbed woman who dabbles between devilishly vengeful intrigue, pure evil and pathetic desperation and insanity. Equally great is Michael Gothard in the his role of the obsessed religious fanatic Father Barre. The film is visually overwhelming, often beautifully disturbing and bizarre. Some sequences, such as the 'Christ' dream sequence are highly surreal to a unique point, comparable maybe only to Alejandro Jodorowsky's films.
While it has some lengthier parts, THE DEVILS is generally a film that overwhelms in all regards. It is a bizarre, often brutal and always uncompromising masterpiece that is visually stunning and magnificently acted. Along with Michael Reeves' equally uncompromising WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968, starring the great Vincent Price) and Michael Armstrong's ultra-gruesome HEXEN BIS AUFS BLUT GEQUÄLT (MARK OF THE DEVIL, 1970), THE DEVILS was one of the films that spawned a trend of (especially European) Exploitation films about Inquisition and (mass-)murder in the name of religion. It is beyond me why decent DVD-copies of this great film are still difficult to purchase as it was mostly released in mutilated versions. A true must-see for every lover of uncompromising cinema, one of the great British films of the 70s.
R.I.P. Ken Russell, a truly fearless and uncompromising filmmaker has passed away.
The Philippino B-movie maker Eddie Romero is probably best known for two WIP (Women in Prison) flicks starring the gorgeous Pam Grier, BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (1973), which he directed, and fellow cult-director Jack Hill's THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972), which he produced. The prolific Mr. Romero has been active in various sub-genres of low budget Exploitation cinema. His filmography includes several gory Horror films including this awesomely titled BEAST OF BLOOD (1971). While this incredibly cheesy but quite gory Horror effort is certainly not what one would call a 'good' film, it is certainly recommendable to my fellow fans of low-budget-Horror, and especially to admirers of Eddie Romero. BEAST OF BLOOD is actually a sequel to Romero's earlier Horror film MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968), which I have yet to see.
After some mysterious attacks, the protagonist Dr. Bill Foster (John Ashley) returns to an island where an evil scientist is keeping his monstrous creation alive. Among his traveling companions are the sexy journalist Myra (Celeste Yarnall) and the equally sexy native chief's daughter Laida (Liza Belmonte)... BEST OF BLOOD is cheesy as hell, in an incredibly entertaining manner. Considering this is a very-low budget movie, the gory outbursts are very gory and very well-made. Especially the eponymous monstrous creature is made very well, even if its depiction on the supremely cool cover art is a little exaggerated. Both female leads take their clothes off for no real other reason than nudity at one point in the film. The acting performances are B-movie-standard-bad, but not abysmal, which adds to the trashy charm of the film. The one complaint I have about his amusing slice of sleaze-cheese is that BEAST OF BLOOD is quite a bit too long for its own good. Whit a running time of about 90 minutes a film like this one will inevitably get tedious at times. Still it is entertaining and shouldn't be missed by my fellow trash fans. One to avoid for those who find fascinating plots, logic and great performances essential in a movie, but warmly recommended to everyone who can enjoy low-budget cheese.
P.S.: The poster/cover artwork which shows the monster holding its own severed head must be one of the coolest B-movie posters ever.
Slow-Paced But Very Atmospheric and Eerie Mexican Haunted House Flick
I cannot yet claim to be an expert on Mexican Horror films, but I'm becoming more and more of a fan of the country's Horror output with every movie I see. Personally I'm a fan of the classic Mexican Gothic Horror tales such as the masterpieces MISTERIOS DE ULTRATUMBA (aka. THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M, 1959) or LA MALDICION DE LA LLORANA (CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN, 1963), as well as the weird Exploitation flicks of the 70s such as Juan Lopez Moctezuma's bizarre cult flick ALUCARDA, LA HIJA DE LAS TIENEBLAS (1978).
Carlos Enrique Tabadoa's Haunted House flick MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE (BLACKER THAN THE NIGHT) of 1975 is yet a completely different style of Mexican Horror film. As opposed to any of the aforementioned representative films, this film is rather slow-paced, and furthermore very sleaze- and gore-less for a mid-70s Horror film. This is not to say that MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is not recommended, however: the beautifully shot movie oozes creepy atmosphere from the beginning to the end, continually getting eerier and more tense.
After a mysterious old lady has passed away, her niece inherits her eerie mansion and moves in with a bunch of other young women. They disregard the aunt's will that the house belongs to her true heir, her black cat, and strange things begin to happen. When the cat gets killed, hell breaks loose...
MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is a classic Haunted House flick in which many of the Horror remains unseen. In her essay ON THE SUPERNATURAL IN POETRY, the famous English Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) once distinguished between the terms Terror and Horror in that Terror is the obscure, the anticipation of something horrible that is about to happen, whereas Horror is the actual experience of the horrible. MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is doubtlessly a film that mainly (though not merely) lives off the Terror according to Radcliffe's definition. The events in the film are not surprising, but somewhat predictable (in a positive sense), the tension being built up through their anticipation. The film's strongest point is the thick, truly creepy atmosphere, a lot of which is built up by the super-eerie mansion setting and creepy set-pieces, great camera work and a fantastic usage of different colors of darkness. Set pieces such as the portrait of the old lady alone build up an incredibly gloomy mood.
Even though it is very slow-paced in the beginning MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is highly recommendable film. Fans of rather suggestive Haunted House flicks such as THE HAUNTING (1963) should love this one.
The Best and Creepiest of the Italian Exorcist-Rip-Offs
William Friedkin's Cult-milestone THE EXORCIST (1973) spawned quite a number of European rip-offs, or at least of European films that treated the subject of daemonic possessions. As far as European Exorcist-rip-offs go, Alberto De Martino's L'ANTICRISTO aka. THE ANTICHRIST of 1974 is doubtlessly the creepiest and best I've seen. (There is one Italian movie with a similar possession topic, which, in my opinion, is better than this one, Massimo Dallamano's great IL MEDAGLIONE INSANGUINATO aka. THE NIGHT CHILD of 1975. That movie is far too different to label it an Exorcist-rip-off, however.)
The possessed here is not a little girl but a young woman, Ippolita (Carla Gravina) who has been paralyzed since the car accident that killed her mother. Since her paralysis has no medical foundation, her father (Mel Ferrer) assigns a psychiatrist to help his daughter. The hypnosis therapy, however, has unwanted results...
The storyline is not merely based on THE EXORCIST, but has similarities to a classic Italian Horror formula: An innocent young woman being possessed by an evil ancestor who is her spitting image (and, in this case, even has the same name). The innocent/evil female double role was started in Italian Horror film in Mario Bava's 1960 masterpiece LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO (BLACK Sunday/THE MASK OF Satan), which first brought Italian Horror film to international attention. Barbara Steele became famous for such a double role in that film, and continued to play comparable roles in several other Italian Gothic Horror movies. In L'ANTICRISTO, it is Satan who, centuries after possessing an ancestor who was subsequently burned at the stake, takes possession of a wheel-chair-bound young woman.
The film is a good example for the stylistic and visual elegance of Italian Horror cinema. The settings are beautiful and eerie alike, the camera-work (done by the one and only sleaze-filmmaker Joe D'Amato) is great. The score is a collaboration of masters Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, needless to say that its brilliant and increases the thick atmosphere. The film has a good ensemble cast including Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, the great and beautiful Cult-regular Anita Strindberg, Alida Valli, who would appear in the probably most famous Italian Horror film, Dario Argento's masterpiece SUSPIRIA (1977) three years later. Carla Gravina is believable in the lead and the eerie-looking George Couloris fits well in the role of the Exorcist.
Some people seem to dislike the somewhat bizarre first 5 minutes of the movie, but I actually found them to be highly atmospheric. In my opinion, the film got slightly less interesting in the second half, when some of the EXORCIST references became too obvious. The only real complaint one could have are the clumsy effects when objects and people are floating in the air; from today's point of view, they should probably just have left these sequences out, but then, any cult-cinema lover will be willing to look past that in the light of the great style, atmosphere and creepiness of the rest of the film. Overall, this is a very stylish slice of Satanic Horror and highly recommended by yours truly, especially to my fellow fans of Italian Horror.
I bought LEGACY OF BLOOD aka. BLOOD LEGACY (1971) as part of a 100 movie Horror pack and was somewhat looking forward to it because I am a fan of ultra-low-budget B-movie Horror, and because it has B-movie legend David Carradine in it. I began watching it several times late at night and must confess that it took me several takes to watch the movie all the way through, because i fell asleep several times.
After the death Christopher Dean (David Carradine), a sinister and rich old man, his family and servants gather in his mansion to hear his will. To their surprise, the crazy old man has ordered that only after spending a week in his mansion they will be allowed to share his inheritance. They all reluctantly accept and move on to stay at the mansion. Then, one by one gets killed... Or, actually, every now and then one gets killed, with endless periods of nonsensical dialogue and tedious sequences in-between. LEGACY OF BLOOD has some fun aspects, such as rather explicit gore-scenes and super-demented characters such as a super-masochistic House servant or a demented veteran (played by John Russell of LAWMAN and PALE RIDER) who collects corpse parts as macabre souvenirs. But overall, the movie is incredibly boring for about 80 per cent of the time. Watching it for David Carradine alone will turn out a waste of time, as he has less than 5 minutes of screen time.
This film might be be better if it was only an hour long, but a large part of its 90 minutes are very boring. Hardcore Trash-lovers such as myself might still find it enjoyable for some truly demented characters and weird scenes. All others avoid.
Macabre and Atmospheric New Italian Low-Budget Horror With Gore-Effects by Sergio Stivaletti
In my humble opinion, Italy is the greatest country for Horror film. That being said, it is undeniable that the country's Horror cinema has seen better days (as has international Horror cinema in general). The only true Italian Horror masterpiece made since the 90s is Michele Soavi's DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (1994), and while there are several good contemporary Horror films (such as those by Sergio Stivaletti who also did the gore effects for this film), today's Italian Horror industry is not comparable to the Italian Horror heyday between the 60s and late 80s in which directors such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci delivered their masterpieces. UBALDO TERZANI HORROR SHOW of 2010 is therefore a refreshing film that proves that Italian Horror is not yet dead. While director/writer Gabriele Albanesi's film is certainly no essential masterpiece, it is macabre and atmospheric in spite of an obviously low budget.
The aspiring young filmmaker Alessio gets the chance of writing a script together with the famous Horror-writer Ubaldo Terzani (Paolo Sassanelli). The famous author who lives in a typically eerie mansion is fascinating and highly sinister...
The story does not offer any real surprises but rather slowly approaches an inevitable Horror-climax. However, it does so in an atmospheric and creepy enough manner. Paolo Sassanelli is highly sinister in his macabre role. The gore effects by Sergio Stivaletti are great, which anyone who has seen the man's movie LA MASCHERA DI CERA (1997) might have guessed. Stivaletti, who has also worked as a special effects guy for Dario Argento (OPERA), Lamberto Bava (Dèmoni 1 and 2) and Michele Soavi (DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, LA SETTA, LA CHIESA) truly is an enrichment to any film that has gore in it, and to a rather low-budget one such as this one in particular. Apart from being a very decent low-budget Horror film as such, UBALDO TERZANI HORROR SHOW is also a giant tribute to Italian Cult-cinema. The central character Alessio's flat is covered with movie-posters of Fernando Di Leo's IL BOSS and LA MALA ORDINA (both from 1973), Andrea Bianchi's NUDE PER L'ASSASSINO (1975), Dario Argento's OPERA (1987) and others, as well as a giant portrait of Sergio Leone; he also wears Italian Horror T-shirts throughout the movie (including one that says "Fulci Lives" and a shirt of Sergio Martino's TUTTI I COLORI DEL BUIO of 1972). This shows the filmmaker's great devotion to Italian Horror cinema as do many other aspects of the movie.
While it would be exaggerated to call this movie a great new hope for Italian Horror cinema it is refreshing to see another solid, creepy and gory Horror film from a rather young Italian director after a while. Definitely worth a look for my fellow fans of Italian Horror. I am now eager to check out Albanesi's other feature-length film, IL BOSCO FUORI (THE LAST HOUSE IN THE WOODS) of 2006. Recommended.
The Italian Horror deity Dario Argento is probably my choice for THE greatest living Horror director (and one of the greatest of all-time). A master of the Italian Giallo, Argento helped define the genre in its heyday in the early 70s with his animal trilogy (L'UCCELLO DALLE PIUME DI CRISTALLO, IL GATO A NOVE CODE, 4 MOSCHE DI VELUTO GRIGIO) and perfected it with the 1975 masterpiece PROFONDO ROSSO (1975), the most famous Giallo which is widely regarded to be the highlight of the genre, and kept the Genre alive after its heyday with brilliant and bloody films such as TENEBRE (1982) or OPERA (1987). Even when doing supernatural Horror films, Argento always gave them a touch of the Giallo, be it supernatural Horror films with Giallo-elements like SUSPIRIA (1977) and INFERNO (1980), or a Giallo with supernatural elements, such as PHENOMENA (1985). Argento's unique talent to build up blood-curling Horror and suspense through atmosphere, and to combine gruesome and gory acts of violence with elegance and beauty make Argento's films so essential.
His 2009 film GIALLO was generally negatively perceived by my fellow fans of the man, which is the reason why I delayed the viewing for quite a long while. The first observation to be made when watching GIALLO is the fact that this is technically not really a Giallo. A typical Giallo generally revolves around a murder series (the victims typically being hot young women), in which a protagonist is a possible next victim, the murders often being spectacular and gory, and the killer's identity remaining hidden until the end. Actually, the phantom identity of the killer (and guessing who it could be) was one of the main points of the Giallo (with some exceptions such as the great Mario Bava's IL ROSSO SEGNO DELLA FOLLIA, Luigi Cozzi's L'ASSASSINO È COSTRETTO AD UCCIDERE ANCORA or Rentao Polselli's DELIRIO CALDO).
GIALLO is also about a murder series, the victims of which are young women. However, guessing the killer's identity is no central point of the movie, it actually gets revealed half the way into the film. There is no guessing who the killer could be, none of the other characters is suspicious. We know who the killer is when we first see his face. Also, the murders are not in a typical gory but elegant Giallo-fashion. The killer poses as a taxi driver and kidnaps his victims in a cab, then tortures them to death, making GIALLO closer to 2000s 'torture-porn' of the HOSTEL-type than a typical Giallo.
In Turin, Linda (Emanuelle Seigner) reports her model sister Celine (Elsa Pataky) missing. Half New Yorker Homicide detective Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody) soon realizes that the disappearance of the beautiful young woman must be the work of a pattern killer whose objective is to destroy beauty...
Generally speaking GIALLO has its highs and lows. Many fellow Argento-fans seem to despise this film. I can understand the disappointment; however, something being disappointing by Argento's high standards does not necessarily make it bad, and GIALLO is definitely an above-par present day Horror film. There are two childhood-flashbacks in the movie, one of which i found to be good, the other bad. Way before the movie ends, the killer's motivations are explained by childhood trauma; this is something I generally hate because it lessens the creepiness of the murderer. Argento's fame obviously allowed a high budget and the hiring of famous international actors Adrien Brody and Emanuelle Seigner. Both are good actors, and both are good in their roles, even though the characters are very stereotypical. Brody's chain-smoking Inspector with a super-rough voice is the walking stereotype of the disillusioned homicide detective who is eaten up by the horrors he has experienced. The movie was filmed in English, which shows. Even though the entire film is set in Turin, there is barely a word of Italian spoken. The score by Mario Werba is OK, but it doesn't even nearly play in the same league as the brilliant scores by Goblin/Clauio Simonetti, that were part of what made Argento's masterpieces so great. The gore is brutal but not as elegant as in Argento's old films. As any Argento movie, this was elegantly shot, but, again, there is no comparison to his 70s and 80s films; and while the film is suspenseful and gloomy enough is is nowhere near as scary as Argento's many masterpieces.
I was not really disappointed with GIALLO, because other Argento fans had previously (and exaggeratedly) complained about it. GIALLO is a solid and suspenseful Horror thriller, it is just not good by Argento standards. Argento made a great Giallo as recent as 2001 with NON HO SONNO. GIALLO just isn't one. But while this is a below-par Argento movie, it is still a more than decent thriller. I'm now curious about how Argento's Dracula 3D project (which is due in 2012) will turn out.
Tedious and Disappointing For Valerii/Gastaldi/Nero
A movie directed by the great Tonino Valerii, scripted by the great Ernesto Gastaldi and starring the great Franco Nero raises high expectations. In the case of SAHARA CROSS (1978), I regret to say that mine were not nearly met. Director Valerii is best known for his Westerns including I GIORNI DELL'IRA (DAY OF ANGER, 1967), IL PREZZO DEL POTERE (THE PRICE OF POWER, 1968) and, especially IL MIO NOME E NESSUNO (MY NAME IS NOBODY, 1973). His filmography also includes great contributions to other genres, such as the fantastic Giallo MIO CARO ASSASSINO (MY DEAR KILLER, 1972). Ernesto Gastaldi is one of Italy's most prolific screenwriters, his oeuvre including such masterpieces as Sergio Martino's Gialli or Umberto Lenzi's brilliantly brutal Poliziottesco MILANO ODIA: LA POLIZIA NON PUÒ SPARARE (1973). And Franco "Django" Nero is one of the most widely respected Italian actors, for very good reasons. With such a great director/screenwriter/star team, it is even more disappointing that the monotonous Action/Adventure SAHARA CROSS is such a bore.
Nero plays the leader of a bunch of mercenaries who help with the investigation of oil in the Sahara Desert. When one of them is killed in an attack by a bunch of terrorists, the group decide to follow the evildoers and avenge their friend... which results in a very tiresome hunt.
Overall, SAHARA CROSS is far too slow-paced and, in some parts, actually boring. None of the characters are likable, nor are they selfish or ruthless enough to be interesting for that. There is far too little gore and violence (even though there is some), and no sleaze or nudity (one sex-scene takes place off-screen. For a movie with a rather uninteresting plot, this is not much. The score by Riz Ortolani is great as all his works, and Franco Nero is cool as always, but that's pretty much everything there is to recommend SAHARA CROSS. Not necessarily a bad film, but doubtlessly disappointing considering the talent involved in it, and actually quite tedious at times. Not recommended.
Fernando Di Leo's Last Film Is Far Below His Standards, Yet Very Entertaining
Along with Umberto Lenzi, the great late Fernando Di Leo is doubtlessly the greatest filmmaker of the gritty and violent Eurocrime/Poliziotteschi genre that became popular in Italy in the 1970s. Especially the masterpieces of his milieu-trilogy (MILANO CALIBRO 9 of 1972, LA MALA ORDINA of 1972 and IL BOSS of 1973) rank among the greatest gangster/crime flicks ever brought to screen. While Di Leo's last movie, KILLER CONTRO KILLERS aka. DEATH COMMANDO of 1985 comes nowhere near the quality of his 70s films (few movies do), it is yet a highly entertaining Action/Crime effort.
The great Henry Silva, who had previously played the most bad-ass mafia hit-man Lanzetta in Di Leo's 1973 masterpiece IL BOSS, is once again playing a stone-faced and cold-blooded hit-man, Mr. Sterling. A bunch of professionals including Sterling, a hot woman, a fat guy, an annoying jokester with a mustache and a sleazy old guy who pays young women to dance around naked in his apartment, are hired in Monte Carlo and assigned to steal a new synthetic fuel from a high-security facility. After a successful mission, they are to be given a million Dollars each. However, their powerful employer decides to kill them in order to conceal his involvement. Of course, Sterling won't go so easily...
The most convincing reason to watch this is, of course, Henry Silva, who is once again great and supremely bad-ass in his role of the rocket-launcher-wielding Sterling, who owns a private zoo full of blood-thirsty beasts. As opposed to the brilliant soundtracks to Di Leo's 70s films, the score to this film consists of almost stereotypical 80s music. One (very 80s) song performed by leading actress Dalia Di Larazzo in thick Italian accent is unintentionally hilarious. The beautiful Miss Larazzo will look familiar to Eurocult fans due to her roles in masterpieces like Paul Morrisey's FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (aka. ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN) of 1973 and Dario Argento's PHENOMENA of 1985. The action sequences are very cool, Henry Silva constantly blasts people to shreds with a rocket-launcher, etc. Overall, this comes nowhere near the brilliance of Di Leo's 70s films, but it is nonetheless an entertaining film that is worth the while for my fellow Eurocult-fans. Just make sure to see Di Leo's masterpieces before this one.
Cheesy but Entertaining Spanish Giallo with Paul Naschy
The Italian Giallo is doubtlessly one of the intriguing sub-genres in Horror/Suspense cinema. As it was the case with many cult-cinema sub-genres that became popular in Italy, the Spanish also contributed some films. While the only somewhat Giallo-esque Spanish masterpiece remains Narcisco Ibanez Serrador's brilliant Gothic-gem LA RESIDENCIA (THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, 1969), several other grands in Spanish Exploitation/Cult cinema have delivered Gialli that were, at least, highly entertaining. Spain's great late Horror icon Paul Naschy starred in, wrote and directed a vast variety of films, being most famous for his role as the Werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in 14 'HOMBRE LOBO' movies. Being a great fan of Paul Naschy, I have to see everything he is in, any Giallo that he starred in in particular.
In the particular case of JACK EL DESTRIPADOR DE LONDRES aka. SEVEN MURDERS FOR Scotland YARD, which is a modern version of Jack the Ripper set in the 1970s, Naschy plays a Spaniard in London who becomes a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. More women are found dead and missing body-parts. A very corny-looking Scotland Yard commissioner investigates...
As a Giallo, one might say that José Luis Madrid's movie fails, since the identity of the murderer is not exactly the biggest of mysteries. Then again, the movie is suspenseful enough, and the murders are gruesome and gory (even if cheaply made). Naschy plays a somewhat naive character (which he often did). As in many of the films he starred in, he also co-authored the script to this one. Some may disagree, but for me personally a movie starring Naschy is always worth the while. The man simply was an icon and any fellow Eurocult lover should watch any of his films that they get the chance to. This being a Spanish/Italian co-production, chances are good that there are different versions. The version I saw must be the Spanish one, as there was no nudity in spite of many beautiful actresses (the reason for which is no nudity being permitted in Spain under Franco). Even though I haven't seen it, I have no doubt that the Italian version is a lot sleazier. Overall, this is a worthwhile film for fans of European cult-cinema. As far as Gialli starring Paul Naschy go, however, I would recommend LOS OJOS AZULES DE LA MUNECA ROTA (aka. BLUE EYES OF A BROKEN DOLL/HOUSE OF THE PSYCHOTIC WOMEN) of 1976 over this one.
Martino Violento - Gritty And Great Poliziottesco from the Giallo-Master
The great Sergio Martino is doubtlessly best known for his Giallo masterpieces such as the elegant LO STANO VIZIO DELLA SIGNORA WARDH (THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH, 1971), the convoluted IL CODA DELLO SCORPIONE (THE SCORPION'S TAIL, 1971), the insanely brilliant IL TUO VIZIO È UNA STANZA CHIUSA E SOLO NE HO LA CHIAVE (YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY, 1972, maybe my choice for my all-time favorite Giallo), the dark and obscure TUTTI I COLORI DEL BUIO (ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, 1972) or the delightfully nasty I CORPI PRESENTANO TRACCE DI VIOLENZIA CARNALE (TORSO, 1973). A true master of the Giallo-genre Martino has also delivered great films in many other (sub-)genres of Italian cult-cinema, be it Western (MANNAJA, 1977), Cannibal-flick (LA MONTAGNA DEL DIO CANNIBALE, 1978), Post-Nuke Action (219 - DOPO LA CADUTA DI NEW YORK, 1983) or weird monster movie (L'ISOLA DEGLI UOMINI PESCE, 1979). The gritty and violent MILANO TREMA - LA POLIZIA VUOLE GIUSTIZIA aka. THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS of 1973 is another great example for Martino's versatility as a filmmaker.
Many of the greatest Poliziotteschi of the 70s were set in Milan, and while MILANO TREMA can not quite compete with the two greatest genre-masterpieces that carry the Northern Italian city's name in their title (Fernando Di Leo's MILANO CALIBRO 9 of 1972 and Umberto Lenzi's MILANO ODIA: LA POLIZIA NON PUÒ SPARARE of 1974) it is a wonderfully gritty, violent and uncompromising example for the genre that my fellow Eurocult fans should not miss.
Regular leading man Luc Merenda plays Commisario Giorgio Caneparo, a rough Milan cop whose unorthodox methods and willingness to take the law in his own hands are under-appreciated by his superiors. The film already begins brutally promising, when two violent criminals escape from a con-train, killing a bunch of innocent people and soon thereafter meed their fate at the hands of the Commissario. When the tough cop's more mild-natured superior and friend is murdered, he decides to go undercover for vengeance...
The Italian Poliziottesco is a violent and gritty genre that defies political correctness, and MILANO TREMA is a great example for that. While the level of sleaze and sexual violence is relatively low (in comparison e.g. to Lenzi's movies), the movie is brutal as hell, and uncompromising in its brutality. The (anti-)hero cop played by Luc Merenda does not scant to bend the law and execute evildoers on the spot, the victims of violent crimes in the movie include innocent children and pregnant women. The rest of the cast includes the great Richard Conte, Italian cult-movie regular Silvano Tranquilli and Martine Brochard in the female lead. The movie is full of the genre-typical car-chases and violent shoot-outs, all of which are very-well made. The score by the De Angelis brothers is very good and the camera-work is amazing, especially during action-sequences. Overall MILANO TREMA is a violent and highly rewarding Poliziottesco. It does rank slightly below the ultimate genre-masterpieces like Lenzi's MILANO ODIA, but it is definitely a must-see for any fan of the genre. Highly recommended!
LIBERI ARMATI PERICOLOSI aka. YOUNG VIOLENT DANGEROUS of 1976 seemed promising to me for a variety of reasons. Being a hardcore fan of Italian cult-cinema I am always looking forward to watching gritty Poliziotteschi from the 70s, in particular when the script was written by master filmmaker Fernando Di Leo (MILANO CALIBRO 9, LA MALA ORDINA, IL BOSS,...) and the credited star is the great Tomas Milian, whose impressive career covers the leads in all sorts of Italian cult movies, and Poliziotteschi in particular (most notably Umberto Lenzi's films such as the brutal 1974 masterpiece MILANO ODIA: LA POLIZIA NON PUÒ SPARARE).
While YOUNG, VIOLENT, DANGEROUS (which is a wrong translation as the original Italian title translates "Free, Armed, Dangerous") is an entertaining and worthwhile film, I cannot deny that I was slightly disappointed in director Romolo Guerriri's movie. My two main complaints are the fact that Tomas Milian had far too little screen time, and that the musical score was crap (by the high genre standards). The Italian Poliziottesco is a politically incorrect, brutal, gritty and testosterone-driven genre, and a large part of the greatness of its violent and sleazy masterpieces consisted in the greatness of its scores which accentuated the grit and action. The score to this movie is the constant repetition a boring and wussy-sounding hippie-song which seems terribly out of place.
My second complaint about the movie is Tomas Milian's role. Milian is cool as always, but his role is far too small. Also, Poliziotteschi-cops are meant to be unorthodox ruffians who hate criminals and take the law in their own hands, as opposed to sensitive social workers who blame society for the evil-doings of criminals. The movie is about a bunch of spoiled kids from good families who start robbing and killing people just for the heck of it. Their trigger-happy leader is played by Stefano Patrici, who is best known for being offed by tough-cop Maurizio Merli in Umberto Lenzi's ROMA A MANO ARMATA (1976). The youths are violent all right, but they are also quite annoying, especially one idiot with a stupid grin who constantly cracks painful jokes. The 'good' female lead is played by the beautiful Elonora Giorgi, who is best known for her role in Dario Argento's INFERNO (1980).
In 1974, Tomas Milian had played one of the all-time greatest villains as the diabolical Giulio Sacchi in Lenzi's masterpiece MILANO ODIA. Also a murderous psychopath on the loose, Giulio Sacchi was sadistic and purely evil, and believable in just that. The baby-faced killers in this film tend to annoy. Nonetheless, the film has its qualities. It is gritty and sometimes quite suspenseful, and it has several outbursts of sleaze and bloody violence. The cinematography is great, especially the car-chases are very well-filmed.
Overall, LIBERI ARMATI PERICOLOSI is a decent-enough film that should entertain my fellow Eurocrime fans. However, the genre has brought forth many films that are far better; people who are not yet too familiar with Poliziotteschi are well-advised to check out anything by Umberto Lenzi, Fernando Di Leo or Enzo Castellari before this.
The great late Paul Naschy (aka. Jacinto Molina) was doubtlessly one of the most influential figures in European Horror/Exploitation and Cult Cinema, and while the majority of his movies may not be brilliant masterpieces, they all have a very specific charm to them that (for me) is impossible not to love. Naschy is probably best known for playing the Werewolf Waldemar Daninsky in 14 HOMBRE LOBO movies, but his filmography includes many other demented, macabre, often sleazy and sometimes (wonderfully) trashy gems, for which he often also served as writer and director.
INQUISICION (aka. INQUISITION) of 1976 was the first movie for which Naschy is credited as director (he wrote the scripts to some of his earlier films). A typical example for the Hexploitation sub-genre, INQUISICION follows the tradition of films like Michael Reeves's 1968 masterpiece WITCHFINDER GENERAL (starring Horror-deity Vincent Price in his most diabolical role) or the notorious 1970 Exploitation Classic HEXEN BIS AUFS BLUT GEQUÄLT (aka. MARK OF THE DEVIL). While INQUISICION is not nearly as disturbing, impressive, serious or notorious as the aforementioned movies, it once again has the specific charm to it that can only be found in Spanish Horror productions from the time, and in Naschy-flicks in particular. The main difference hereby lies in the fact that INQUISICION focuses on sleaze and female nudity rather than the more serious WITCHFINDER GENERAL and the ultra-brutal MARK OF THE DEVIL which is known for its grisly torture scenes.
Naschy plays Witchfinder Bernard de Fossey who comes to a French village inhabited by somewhat exhibitionist beauties, whom the religious fanatic proceeds to interrogate, torture and burn at the stake... until he falls in love with one particular beauty...
The story is somewhat similar to that in MARK OF THE DEVIL, only cheesier. Still, this is one of the more serious Naschy flicks, and while sometimes cheesy, it is uncompromising as a film about the topic should be. There are some rather grisly torture scenes, the victims being beautiful young women. The burnings mostly happen off-screen, which is probably due to the budget which must have been spent for gory torture effects and actresses willing to engage in the sleaze taking place on camera. Naschy is awesome as always, and the female cast consists of stunning beauties all of which seem to be very keen on taking their clothes off. Overall, INQUISICION is a sleazy yet rather serious period piece, which is brutal and quite suspenseful at times. Recommended to all Eurocult lovers, and not to be missed by my fellow Naschy-fans.
Soledad Miranda Kills in Ecstasy, and is Divine in Doing So
The Spanish Exploitation cinema icon Jess Franco is doubtlessly one of the most eccentric, prolific and controversial European filmmakers. Whil his impressive repertoire of almost 200 directed films includes everything from brilliant to awful, his masterpieces are clearly those from the earlier decades in his career, especially the "Dr Orloff" films from the 60s and the psychedelic Erotic Horror gems from the early 70s. The films he made with the stunningly beautiful Soledad Miranda in the late 60s and early 70s are doubtlessly among his most memorable ones. One of the most mesmerizing beautiful women ever to bless the screen with their presence, Soledad Miranda tragically died in a car accident at the age of 27 in 1970. Her best-known films directed by Franco were released only after her death. The most widely known one is probably the Erotic Horror classic VAMPYROS LESBOS (1971). While that film is doubtlessly a must-see for my fellow Eurocine-lovers, this sexy, insane and incredibly groovy slice of classic Eurocult SIE TÖTETE IN EKSTASE aka. SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (1971) is easily as memorable and entertaining.
The sublime Soledad plays the beautiful young wife of a Doctor (Fred Williams) who makes dubious experiments with fetuses. When a science-committee (consisting of cult-actors/Franco-regulars Howard Vernon and Paul Muller, the blonde Ewa Strömberg who also co-starred in VAMPYROS LESBOS, and director Jess Franco himself) condemn the Doctor's work and cause his debarment, he attempts to kill himself. His sexy young wife is now out for revenge - sexy revenge.
This is Jess Franco at his most prototypical greatest. A weird but exquisite combination of shameless sleaze and elegance, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY epitomizes what Franco-admirers admire about Franco. Sleazy perversions and relatively perverse acts of violence, gorgeous naked women, incredible elegance and an insanely brilliant score (which is partly the same as in VAMPYROS LESBOS and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA), fantastic settings and an overwhelming visual style are unified in an inimitable Jess Franco manner. The story is secondary, but still making more sense than in your typical Franco-flick. For my fellow Eurocult-fans, appearances by Franco's favorite macabre actor Howard Vernon or by Paul Muller are reason enough to watch a movie. Horst Tappert, who is best known as TV-detective "Derrick" in German-speaking countries once again has the minor role of a cop. The most convincing quality of this film (or any other that she starred in) is, of course, the divine Soledad Miranda. A true must for all fans of Jess Franco, Soledad Miranda and Cult-Cinema in general. My rating: 8.5/10
Interesting Though Rather Gore-Less Giallo from Lenzi
The great Umberto Lenzi is undeniably one of the most versatile and multi-talented Italian genre directors, having contributed to almost all (sub-)genres of Italian cult-cinema. While he is probably best-known for his notoriously brutal Cannibal movies MANGIATI VIVI (EATEN ALIVE BY THE CANNIBALS, 1980) and CANNIBAL FEROX (MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY, 1981), his greatest films (in my opinion) are those from the 70s. For my money, Lenzi's greatest films are his Poliziotteschi, above all the gritty and brutal masterpiece MILANO ODIA - LA POLIZIA NON PUÒ SPARARE (ALMOST HUMAN, 1974), followed by his Gialli, most notably the great and incredibly elegant SETTE ORCHIDEE MACCHIATE DI ROSSO (SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS, 1972). While Lenzi's films have the just reputation of being among the grittiest and most uncompromisingly violent ones in Italian cult-cinema, this is not necessarily true for his Gialli. The great Giallo-genre is generally a violent, sleazy and often sexist one, and while Lenzi's genre-contributions do employ sleaze and violence, they are comparatively tame withing the Giallo genre. Especially this IL COLTELLO DI GIACCHIO aka. KNIFE OF ICE (1972) is a convoluted and plot-based Giallo which is practically sleaze-less and rather low on brutality.
Caroll Baker, the star of Lenzi's early Gialli ORGASMO (1969) and PARANOIA (1970) plays Martha, a woman who was traumatized and left mute after witnessing the death of her parents at age thirteen. She lives with her uncle in a mansion in the Spanish countryside when her cousin is stabbed to death by a maniacal killer. What first appears to be the deed of a sex-maniac turns out to become a series of attacks with everybody involved being a possible suspect/victim...
1972 was probably THE golden year for the Giallo-genre with several of the greatest genre-masterpieces being released (e.g. Sergio Martino's IL TUO VIZIO È UNA STANZA CHIUSA E SOLO IO NÈ HO LA CHIAVE, Lucio Fulci's NON SI SEVIZIA UN PAPERINO, Massimo Dallamano's COSA AVETE FATTO A SOLANGE?, Emilio Miraglia's LA DAMA ROSSA UCCIDE SETTE VOLTE, etc). While KNIFE OF ICE is not one of the absolute highlights of this great year of the Giallo, it is a good and very suspenseful one. As usual for the genre, the film is elegantly filmed and supported by a good (though not exceptional) score. The film has a gloomy atmosphere, and many the protagonists are likable, which makes the easy to root for. The fact that most of the murders are off-screen is one of the major letdown, especially for fans of the Giallo-typical elegantly gory murders. This is one of several Gialli that touch the subject of Satanism, even though it isn't as important as in some others (such as Sergio Martino's TUTTI I COLORI DEL BUIO). Caroll Baker is good in her role, as are most of the other actors. Overall, this isn't one of my favorite films from Lenzi, but it is a more than decent Giallo that my fellow fans of the Genre shouldn't miss.
The prolific Spanish Exploitation deity Jess Franco made some of the most famous cult gems in his repertoire of almost 200 films with the gorgeous cult-goddess Soledad Miranda, who tragically died in a car accident at only 27 - an accident which robbed the world of cinema of one of its most stunning beauties. Sadly, the majority of their collaborations were released only after Miranda's death in August 1970. Being a big fan of both Jess Franco and his most beautiful muse, I am always looking forward to seeing one of their collaborations. Their most famous one is probably the brilliantly titled VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970) in which Miranda plays a Lesbian Vampire Countess, others include NACHTS WENN Dracula ERWACHT (COUNT Dracula, 1970) the cast of which also includes Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski and Herbert Lom, SIE TÖTETE IN EKSTASE (SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, 1971) and EUGENIE DE SADE (1974). DER TEUFEL KAM AUS AKASAVA aka. THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (1971) is probably the most shamelessly nonsensical of their collaborations and yet Soledad alone makes it an absolute must-see for any admirer of beauty.
THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA seems like a very-low budget, but stylish James Bond rip-off, only that it is a female Bond with exhibitionist tendencies, played by one of the most mesmerizing women ever seen on screen. The sublime Soledad plays a foxy British secret agent who poses as a stripper. She comes to a tropical island in order to solve a bunch of disappearances... without giving too much away I can promise that the 'mysterious' motivation for the disappearances is hilariously nonsensical. The entire film makes hardly any sense, and yet it is incredibly entertaining. Once asked about the reason for film-making, the admitted sleaze-lover Jess Franco stated "showing the female body naked". And many parts of the plot here seem to be an excuse for the stunning Soledad Miranda to take her clothes off (which is more than welcome). The nudity in this film is very tasteful nudity (as opposed to many of Franco's rather pornographic 80s outings); as almost all Franco flicks from the early 70s, this a very stylish and groovy flick with a cool jazzy soundtrack. The rest of the cast includes many familiar faces, such as regular Franco-flick eerie-man Howard Vernon, Paul Muller and Horst Tappert, who is primarily famous in German-speaking countries for his role of the TV-inspector Derrick.
Overall, THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA is certainly not Franco's masterpiece, but an incredibly entertaining flick that doesn't take itself seriously, and a must-see for the goddess Soledad Miranda alone.
Dr. Moreau's More than Slightly Sick Japanese Counterpart
The title to this review may be slightly confusing: Teruo Ishii's KYÔFU KIKEI NINGEN: EDOGAWA RAMPO ZENSHÛ aka. HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN (1969) is not an adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU nor some sort of remake of the adaptation THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1933). It simply also deals with a maniac who rules an island on which he does EXTREMELY maniacal things to other living creatures. The late Teruo Ishii is one of the most notorious Japanese Exploitation directors of the 60s 70s, and HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN is maybe his most notorious work. For understandable reasons as this highly bizarre and brilliantly demented flick just screams controversy.
HORRORS OF MALFROMED MEN starts out as a mystery, in a 19th century Japanese Insane asylum, from which the doctor Hirosuke Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida) escapes after several disturbing hallucinations. After being wrongly suspected of a murder, fate takes him to a seaside estate the proprietor of which was his spitting image... Without giving too much detail about the storyline as such i can say that the second part of the movie which takes place on an island ruled by a madman is more than a little weird and disturbing.
Tatsumi Hijikata, who was primarily a dancer and choreographer, delivers an incredible performance as one of the most scary-looking, bizarre, insane and diabolical villains ever seen. Unlike fellow mad island-ruler Dr. Moreau, the insanity of Hijikata's malformed Jôgorô Komoda is not driven by scientific interest, but by pure vengefulness and bizarre perversion. Disfigured himself, he enslaves 'normal' people on his island and turns them into 'malformed men', e.g. by sewing a beautiful female baby to an ugly male baby, and hence creating a male/female, ugly/beautiful Siamese twin. This is just one of the many nasty, bizarre and utterly perverse ideas in the second part of this film.
HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN is a haunting, sometimes beautiful and often truly disturbing and disgusting, highly bizarre and utterly unique viewing experience that can not quite be compared to any other film. This film has the reputation of being a forerunner for the Toei Company's (and particularly Teruo Ishii's) Pinku Eiga/Pinky Violence films of the 1970s. It is definitely the most bizarre flick from Ishii I've seen thus far, and also my new personal favorite (FEMALE YAKUZA TALE and THE EXECUTIONER sharing the second place). For lovers of Japanese Exploitation Cinema or any kind of Bizarre stuff in general, HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN is a true must-see. Definitely not for the squeamish, and a truly unique viewing-experience.
There is no denying that MIL GRITOS TIENE LA NOCHE aka. PIECES (1982) is a bad film; however, it is also a highly entertaining one for any lover of brainless and gory Schlock-Slashers. Storywise, this Spanish-American co-production is silly even for 80s slasher standards. In Boston of the 1940s, a boy gets caught playing with a puzzle that has a picture of a naked woman on it. When the enraged mother yells at the boy, he hacks her into pieces with an axe. Four decades later, beautiful girls suddenly fall victims to a crazed killer who uses their body parts to build a flesh-puzzle... As said before, the story is laughable and highly predictable. The identity of the "mystery" killer is clear from the very beginning, and the characters are too silly to give a damn about. The film stars the well-known Exploitation regular Christopher George, who is best known for Lucio Fulci's PAURA NELLA CITTÁ DEI MORTI VIVENTI (aka. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1980) and THE EXTERMINATOR (1981) and who died only one year later at the age of 54, as the investigating cop, as well as George's wife Lynda Day George in the role of a sexy undercover policewoman posing as a tennis teacher. The gore effects are very well-done, and while the film is never disturbing or the least bit scary, it sure is fun to watch for anyone with a soft spot for brainless gore.