Monday, August 17, 2015

Les gloutonnes (1973)

With the French productions The Lustful Amazons (1973) and Les gloutonnes, Jess Franco wrote and directed two brazenly erotic takes on Italy’s own Hercules counterpart Maciste, a recurring cinematic hero from the peplum genre with respectable origins dating back to the silent film era, starting with Cabiria (1914). A different character altogether, Franco’s Maciste, played by Wal Davis, is more of a medieval playboy, adventuring to new lands full of sex hungry Amazons, randy mythical queens, and horny Atlanteans, saving the day, satisfying entire tribes, and living to tell about it.
The Lustful Amazons contains some of the most entertaining comedic sex scenes, with top tier Franco babes Alice Arno, Kali Hansa, and Lina Romay, that are quite arousing to watch, and they manage to keep an otherwise underwhelming film lively enough to sit through with a minimal level of enjoyment. On the other hand, the longer sex interludes in Les gloutonnes manage to drag down what is actually an intriguing erotic fantasy/adventure film. The settings for some of the more detached porn scenes, seemingly edited into the film, are dark and surreal (done with Franco’s tendency for up-close body worship) but couldn’t be more unnecessarily drawn out, even in a Jess Franco film, where I’m usually conditioned for such lengthy interludes.

Les gloutonnes and The Lustful Amazons share a lot of the same cast and were both shot back to back. The production values for both films are on the same level, for the most part, but the low budget costumes and natural locales seem to serve Les gloutonnes better, with the exotic, rocky, almost isolated, Madeiran coastline making for a convincing and even surreal mythical realm. Something about the background ocean immensely compliments the Atlantis theme.

The good and evil dichotomy that is the base of the film’s central conflict is embodied by the benevolent Atlantean queen, Arminda (Alice Arno), and her people against the wicked sorceress, Parqua (Kali Hansa) and her accomplice, Caronte, (Robert Woods). Maciste is a sort of chosen champion, commissioned by the magician Cagliostro (Howard Vernon), to aid the refugees in their time of need. Maciste is guided to their land through a mystic water passage by a young nymphet, Bianca (Lina Romay). Needless to say, Maciste’s heroic prowess doesn’t show until much later, as he spends a lot of his time copulating with the queen and her sexy subjects.

With her sinister beauty, gothic fantasy look, and long sinewy figure, Kali Hansa’s evil, dark sorceress, Parqua, has become emblazoned in my memory. She’s like something out of a Frank Frazetta painting.

This one in particular:

She’s initially in some kind of powerless state, a mystical blind lady living alone in a clearing deep in the woods, who’s, in a way, pure evil in the guise of a beautiful woman. When a traveler, Caronte (Woods) comes along and discovers her, he is quite besotted with her and willing to guide her on a journey to some sort of magic spring, which will restore her eyesight and assumedly her power. Caronte, seduced and corrupted by Parqua, aids her in an attempt at conquering the Atlantean refugees and their realm. To achieve this aim, they will need to capture the queen and sacrifice her in a ritual that will summon Parqua’s army of creepy sheet-men, the exact same ones used in Franco’s The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, who despite being a near humorous representation of otherworldly hooded beings, actually manage to be quite haunting.

Oddly, comic relief comes in the form of the magician Cagliostro (Vernon) and his buffoon servant, Bigotini (Richard Bigotini). Cagliostro calls on Maciste to send him on his adventurous quest to save the lost race of oversexed Atlanteans. He lives in a castle, but the inside of Cagliostros’ abode, for some reason, reminds me of a hobbit hole. There’s a comedic talking jug that’s not all that funny, but what is really curious is Cagliostro’s magic ball that lets him view what is happening in the realm of the Atlanteans, and like most people, Cagliostro uses it to watch porn, seriously. What makes his magic ball better than the typical porn streaming device is that it can summon up an Atlantean woman, Bianca (Romay) in this case, who’ll willingly go to bed with the user. When Cagliostro’s servant sees this, he abuses the magic ball to summon a girl for himself but mistakenly bites off more than he can chew by accidently conjuring up two women (Franco’s stepdaughter, Caroline Riviere and Pamela Stanford), who take an apprehensive Bigotini to bed and basically tickle him to sleep. It’s a fun scene, and I like the way Riviere and Stanford each take a turn to wink at the camera after removing their garments.

There are certain dramatic tones in the story. The Atlantean Purpure (Chantal Broquet) betrays her people to Parqua for her love. Purpure’s plan is to use her womanly lasciviousness to lure Maciste to the woods and sexually de-energize him (which you can’t do because he’s freakin’ Maciste) so Parqua can begin her domination. What actually diverts Maciste’s attention instead is the more personal and mental connection he begins to develop with another girl, Marie (Montserrat Prous), curiously another blind character, who is practically the only celibate character in the entire story. The chemistry between Davis and Prous develops a little as Maciste helps Marie to regain her sight in the magic spring. As this distraction has nonetheless driven Maciste’s away from the city of the Atlanteans, Parqua and Caronte are able to kidnap the queen and begin the film’s climactic sacrificial ritual. Will Maciste arrive in time to save the queen? And will viewers care enough amidst all of the intercourse on display?

It’s rather obvious that Les gloutonnes, as it’s known, is missing a number of scenes, as it does feel like there are gaps in the story (at one point Purpure talks about her sister Alba whom I don’t believe we ever get to meet) that were likely replaced with the aforementioned dark, up-close sex scene padding. Its original shooting title was The Erotic Exploits of Maciste in Atlantis, which would likely have been more focused and complete.

It’s reasonable to believe that The Erotic Exploits of Maciste in Atlantis was modified to become Les Gloutonnes with the additional sex scenes and modern day shots of Alice Arno reading a book in bed, writhing around, and fantasizing about the story that makes up the main narrative of the film (a la The Hot Nights of Linda (1975)) being added at a different time. I like to think of the sporadic sex tangents as being a part of the narrator’s (Arno’s) sex fantasies that tend to diverge from the story. Because she’s so titillated, it’s like the adventure story in her mind keeps loosing focus to more carnal passions. 

A massive thanks goes out to rulesofachia (Terence) and Aloysius 70 for putting together the English subtitles for this curious Franco fantasy/adventure film. It’s still in need of restoration, preferably in the form of The Erotic Exploits of Maciste in Atlantis, yet at this point we can only hope, because as it stands today, its existence is unconfirmed. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

Monday, July 20, 2015

Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973)

Beyond the Darkness (1979) was my first Joe D’Amato experience and one of my earlier Italian horror revelations, and it quickly ramped up my respect for D’Amato, who, for me, at the time was like the ‘other guy’ who seemed like he was going to be my new grimier gore-master alternative to Fulci and Argento.

D’Amato's Anthropophagus (1980), despite its notoriety, didn’t quite measure up to the expectations I had based on what I experienced from Beyond the Darkness. Incidentally, I did end up ultimately enjoying D’Amato’s line of odd, softcore (sometimes hardcore) Emanuelle films, most of which starred the exotic and goddess-like Laura Gemser. Somewhere along the way, I got ahold of D’Amato’s poetic and beautifully gothic Death Smiles on a Murderer / La morte ha sorriso all'assassino, his first horror film as sole director. I didn’t quite connect with it on the first run, but I’ve really come to appreciate it today.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960)

I’ll admit that about three years after seeing The Vampire and the Ballerina (L’amante del vampire) the only thing I could seem to remember about it was the dance numbers. The movie had left a good impression on me for some reason, and I don’t think it was just because of the dance scenes, which were surprisingly sexy for 1960. During a recent re-watch the rest of the movie was like viewing it for the first time. It’s a fun, atmospheric Italian vampire piece from the gothic horror golden age, and after seeing a lot of those, they tend to get lost in the memory over time if you don’t re-watch them on occasion.

This one, along with the same years’ The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), does have enough sexy gimmicks to help it standout in the mix; and what might also make it a little more interesting to some is that it is an early effort from Renato Polselli, someone whose particular brand of erotic, expressionistic madness touches my heart. Polselli’s cinematic characteristics seen in films like Delirium (1972) and The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973) aren’t quite as apparent in The Vampire and the Ballerina as they would be in Polselli’s Vampire of the Opera (1964) later on, but it’s still a charming attempt at a gothic horror film, in romantic B&W, that Polselli co-wrote with prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi as well as Giuseppe Pellegrini.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

5 Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

It’s amazing what Mario Bava could accomplish when he had free creative reign considering films like Lisa and the Devil (1973) and Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), but with 5 Dolls for an August Moon (5 bambole per la luna d’agosto), we have an example of Mario Bava as a director for hire, being pressured to return to the newly booming giallo genre he helped create with the previous entries Blood and Black Lace (1964) and The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963).

Admittedly, 5 Dolls is a more conventional affair in comparison to Lisa and Twitch and is obviously influenced by Agatha Christie’s seminal Ten Little Indians. I wouldn’t call it an adaptation but more of a self-conscious tribute with several trendy updates and sly nods to the source material. It turns out that Bava didn’t think highly of Ten Little Indians at all. When he was approached with the script, written by Mario di Nardo, and asked to direct the film he mainly accepted the job, despite some apprehension, because he would get paid up front, which disputes a previous notion I had that 5 Dolls was Bava’s own take on Christie’s classic novel. Making an Agatha Christie inspired giallo was the fashionable thing to do at the time, and, not being able to add much to the script, Bava directed a giallo he would end up having very little regard for, which is unfortunate because it’s one of my favorites. It also has one of my favorite soundtracks, by Piero Umiliani.

The story concerns ten characters, five of them women (most likely the titular 5 dolls), on an island. In the spirit of Ten Little Indians, with no way of presently leaving the island, they are killed off one by one by an unknown assassin whom they eventually realize has to be one of them.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Succubus / Necronomicon (1968)

During an interview included on the 2006 Blue Underground release of Succubus, Jess Franco spoke of a sixteenth century book he had come across on a bookshelf entitled Necronomicon that had belonged to a wealthy actor and film producer Pier A. Caminnecci, who had invited Jess over to his house to indulge in his extensive jazz collection, as the two were mutual jazz fans. Jess read a short story from this particular book that was so extraordinary he had to make it into a movie. Of course, this incarnation of the Necronomicon was most likely an imitation since this popular mythical tome came entirely from HP Lovecraft’s imagination in the early twentieth century, but it’s still fun to think that Jess may’ve been influenced by the actual ‘book of the dead’ written by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred. Jess blended the material from the book with a script for a horror movie he had previously worked on, and the result is one of his most provocative films.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interrabang (1969)

Considering movies like Barbarella (1968), Top Sensation (1969), and Russ Meyer’s Vixen! (1968), it would seem that the late ‘60s, the peak of the sexual revolution in the western world, was a turning point for erotic movies. Sexually charged films from this era were not only challenging censorship but were also challenging the monolithic wall of puritanical behavior that associated sex solely with marriage, which also mirrored the changing attitudes towards sex during the revolution.

With both “the pill” and penicillin on the market, pregnancy and STDs were less of an issue, and a woman’s sexuality outside of marriage was becoming more widely accepted, unlike before when it was more permissible for unmarried men to have sex, the so called “double standard.” Naturally, sex began to saturate the media, was used to sell products, and became a big part of mainstream culture. In addition, more and more married couples began experimenting with extramarital sex.

After the Hays Code was put to sleep in 1968 sexploitation cinema would really begin to thrive. With hopes of being free from the restraints of censorship, erotica would be used to explore new creative avenues of film making.

Inevitably, a lot of these so called sexploitation movies were taken to court, but a good way erotic filmmakers could get passed this was to not only make their movies sexually explicit but to make them intellectual and artful as well, which was particularly more common in foreign sex movies. On the VH1 documentary Sex the Revolution, John Waters said that in order to win in court you had to prove that a prosecuted sex film was socially redeeming, which would then make it acceptable.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...