Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Mummy’s Revenge / La venganza de la Momia (1973)

When looking over the lengthy cycle of mummy movies, one in particular often goes heavily unmentioned, and that’s Spanish actor, filmmaker Paul Naschy’s take on the mummy myth, The Mummy’s Revenge / La venganza de la Momia.

Being somewhat of a tragic love story, The Mummy’s Revenge is rather faithful to the original Universal film and is also easy to compare to the 1959 Hammer reboot as well. What sets The Mummy’s Revenge apart is that it’s a Paul Naschy film, meaning it’s going to be a little more erotic, a little meaner, more fearsome, more violent, and more personal. There is also a sadomasochistic element too, with a number of maidens strung up for both amusement and sacrificial purposes.

The film is directed by Carlos Aured and is written by and stars Naschy. It is one of four collaborations between Naschy and Aured, with the other three being the seminal Horror Rises from the Tomb (1972), part of the Waldemar Daninsky Werewolf cycle Curse of the Devil (1972), and the Spanish giallo Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1973). The Mummy’s Revenge is Naschy’s second, and more focused, take on the mummy, as the creature did appear in Naschy’s horror/sci-fi monster mashup Assignment Terror (1970), along with aliens, a werewolf, Frankenstein, and Dracula.

Just like in Vengeance of the Zombies, Horror Rises from the Tomb, and Howl of the Devil, Naschy plays multiple roles, an Egyptian cultist Assad Bay, his ancestor the pharaoh Amenhotep, and the mummy – bad guys across the board in this case. During the prologue, set in ancient Egypt, the pharaoh is painted as a sinister, sadistic tyrant, which is more in line with the mummy’s killer appetite. Owing to some elaborate makeup and Naschy’s muscular frame, the movie’s monster is an imposing, powerhouse of a mummy that can talk, climb, and move with ease, somewhat breaking the stereotype of the standard skinny, shambling mummy.

While gore may not be front and center, the film does have some gory moments, particularly a nasty head crushing part, where the mummy effortlessly, and quite wastefully, smashes the skulls of kidnapped virgins, one after another, in a line of rejected vessels for the rebirth of his beloved, because they aren’t perfect enough (it’s definitely one nasty mummy).

With a Paul Naschy film, one can almost always count on the presence of top-tier babes, with Eurocult fan favorite Helga Liné and exotic looking Rina Ottolina being the main attractions, who viewers can admire in both Egyptian and Victorian costumes. Despite having an erotic angle, there is surprisingly no nudity in The Mummy’s Revenge, which is unusual being that the other Aured/Naschy collaborations had their fair share of it (apparently there is a highly elusive "hard" version).

Liné has an interesting different look to her in this one, playing the villainous role of Sanofed, the lover and assistant to the cultist Assad Bay. She has both either a brownish red-haired or black-haired look at different times in the film. I’m a little more accustomed to seeing Liné as a sultry redhead, but seeing her with banged black hair, playing an Egyptian woman, is an enticing variation to her usual look. In contrast to her more conservative Victorian garb, she definitely breaks out the sexy when adorned in her belly dancer getup.

Ottolina plays a dual role, as well, playing the pharaoh’s concubine Amarna, from the ancient Egypt segment at the beginning of the film, and her descendent Helen. Anyone that has seen most other mummy films will probably know where the movie is going by having a descendent character that bares an exact likeness to the pharaoh’s beloved from thousands of years ago. When Helen and the mummy cross paths, the soul-mate like connection is actually something that works really well in this film, being a kind of inevitable return to ancestral romance.

I also like the tender connection that slowly develops between Helen and Sanofed. It's something that adds an air of ambiguity to the otherwise venomous Sanofed, who has a soft side when she’s around Helen. They meet up together alone in a lotus flower greenhouse and confide in one another (Helen is half Egyptian and was raised by her English father (Eduardo Calvo -- a familiar face in Naschy films) in London). It’s the start of an interesting atavistic development in Helen, who knows little about her heritage and is somewhat socially distant around most everyone else in London but seems to warm up to another Egyptian woman. Being that Helen’s mother is deceased, Sanofed ends up being like a mother figure to Helen, filling a void, telling her of the lotus flower and its significance in Egyptian culture. The theme of atavism explored herein strengthens the idea of Helen’s retrogression to a reincarnated Amarna after she meets the mummy for the first time, in what results in a hypnotic, bizarro kiss scene between human and monster. Being that this kiss is poignantly significant to the outcome, it perhaps would have also sufficed to call the movie The Mummy’s Kiss.

The traditional mummy myth in horror films was influenced by the fatal so called ‘curse of the pharaohs,’ a supposed real curse placed on those that would violate the pharaoh’s tombs, never meant to be touched or opened, with the killer mummy being the most recognized manifestation of the pharaoh’s curse in popular culture. An objection to the excavation of Egyptian tombs by western archeologists, with discovered artifacts being removed and transferred to museums in different countries, is very clear in The Mummy’s Revenge. Paul Naschy’s character delivers an inspirational line: “It’s paradoxical that we, the native Egyptians, have to travel around the world to study our own civilization”. The mummy’s revenge, here, not only has to do with the pharaoh being betrayed, dethroned, and entombed alive thousands of years ago by his own people, but the curse itself is also a kind of vengeance on the archeological “violation” of sacred tombs.

The always well composed Jack Taylor and Maria Silva are on hand as the primary archeologists and eventual heroes. There isn’t a whole lot to love or hate about Taylor’s role in the film; he’s still always a welcome presence for me. He naturally falls into more laid back, poetic, and intellectual roles, but he’s given a bit of a chance to breakout with some action scenes at the climax.

The set for the climax is awesome, but it does end up feeling like a hasty wrap-up, that feeling that it’s time for the main monster villain to die because the movie’s almost over. It’s an ending seen numerous times save for a nice little tragic inclusion at the closing.

The music by Alfonso Santisteban is terrific, especially the main theme, an epic piece that plays over the credits and the montage of London exteriors that nicely pulls one into the London location after the film’s prologue in Egypt. In a roundabout sort of way, the theme reminds me a little of The Legend of Zelda theme.

It has to be said that this is one beautiful film, with a number of sets that are a pleasure to behold, such as the nicely decorated Egyptian sets and the Gothic Victorian London interiors, where numerous characters usually stand and sit around in some of the more talkative scenes, which can be a little unexciting to those not digging the gothic vibe. Aside from a few exterior shots in London where traffic can sometimes be seen in the far background, The Mummy’s Revenge is an appealing and convincing era piece, both in nineteenth century England and ancient Egypt. It also makes for a cool, more adult, classic monster movie, with a little more of a Spanish horror style to it that might be of interest to anyone with a sudden urge for a mummy movie this coming Halloween. And most importantly, it will no doubt appeal to fans of Paul Naschy

What are your favorite Paul Naschy films? 

© At the Mansion of Madness

This article is part of Movies at Dog Farm's Pre’ween 2014. 

(Click the image below to check it out)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Venomous Vixens: Aurora de Alba

At present, very little is known about the European actress and dancer Aurora de Alba. Her film career is varied, although consisting mostly of rare, hard-to-find movies, with a handful of Spanish horror films being the most well-known and accessible. What little I could find out is that her name was Aurora Galisteo before being known as Aurora de Alba, and she is the cousin of famed Spanish dancer/actress Carmen Sevilla, who was born Maria del Carmen Garcia Galisteo. This would also make Aurora cousins with Spanish cinematographer Jose Garcia Galisteo. Aurora danced at the Venice Film Festival in 1953, from which a number of historical photos were made. She married Chico Scimone on June 23, 1954, in Taormina, Sicily, and later had a son, Gianfranco Scimone on March 11, 1955. She died February 24th, 2005.

Throughout the ‘50s, Aurora starred in a number of Spanish/Italian comedies and dramas, most of which seem to either have been forgotten or fallen into obscurity. As the Euro film industry shifted its output to different genres in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Aurora managed to land roles in Euro-westerns: Un hombre vino a matar (1967) and Su le mani, cadavere! Sei in arresto (1971) (under the direction of Leon Klimovsky); Euro-spies, Agente X 1-7 operazione Oceano (1965) and Top Secret (1967); and Euro-horrors La Marca del Hombre-lobo (1968), La rebelión de las muertas (1973), and La orgía de los muertos (1973). The three aforementioned horror films also starred Paul Naschy and seem to have been the most accessible. In addition, she was frequently directed by José Luis Merino. After starring in a line of comedies and dramas in the latter half of the ‘70s, her movie career seemed to have taken an abrupt halt at the end of the decade. What she was up to after that is probably anyone’s guess.

Some sources list her as an Italian actress, while others show her as a Spanish actress. Aurora is actually of Spanish origin, however she did get married in Italy and most likely lived there for a time. Another source lists her birth date as February 2nd, 1948; this cannot be true, however, because, as was mentioned before, she was married in 1954, and the following image of her below is from the 1953 Venice Film Festival, and looking to be somewhere in her early twenties at that time, it is probably not a far cry to assume she was born sometime in the ‘20s or ‘30s.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

City of the Living Dead / The Gates of Hell (1980)

City of the Living Dead is part of a high point in Lucio Fulci’s career that would make him synonymous with gore, zombies, and splatter and also cause him to be more generally regarded as a horror director, despite having worked in numerous other film genres. Being the first film in what has become known as The Gates of Hell trilogy, which also includes The Beyond (1981) and House by the Cemetery (1981), City feels a little rough around the edges, a step down from the previous Zombi 2 (1979) but at the same time a stepping stone or prototype to The Beyond, a film that masterfully embodies a dreadful but surreal atmospheric ascetic that I like to call nightmarish horror, which abandons logic to create a sense that anything can happen, usually something bad involving the eyes.

While there is an interesting Lovecraftian story (co-written by Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti) and plenty of dialogue and characters to fill it, City feels a bit like a compendium of gore scenes and set pieces, most of which exemplify Fulci in top form. It has its flaws and issues, yet it’s one of those films where you can talk just as much about what’s wrong with it as you can about what’s right with it, and what’s right is pleasing enough to supersede what’s wrong.

Despite having a dodgy narrative, a few silly moments, and somewhat shallow characters, who have grown on me with time, such as Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), the film is quite a macabre experience that has become known for its top-notch ambiance and gore FX (by Gino De Rossi), as well as succeeding as a horror film overall. It’s like a product of low quality that nonetheless continually hits the sweet spot throughout its runtime so that you just can’t help loving it. It’s almost the masterpiece The Beyond is.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Female Vampire / La comtesse noire (1973)

If you haven’t noticed, Female vampires in movies have been a long-running theme I’ve enjoyed exploring with this blog. It’s an appealing aspect of fiction to me, and I just can’t get away from the archetypical idea of the vampiress: her gothic image, seductive power, hidden feral side, and deadly sexuality. Some time ago, around the time I reviewed The Blood Spattered Bride, I finally gave Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla a read and wasn’t too surprised at realizing how much Carmilla’s influence is felt in a large number of cult female vampire films. Although, there seems to have been a bit of a debate as to whether or not the perceived erotic subtext in Le Fanu’s novella has been misinterpreted by non-Victorian readers, yet many filmmakers have nonetheless taken the subtext at face value, taking whatever supposed eroticism is there in the writing of the book out of the implicit and into the explicit; and, for its time, Jess Franco’s Female Vampire (a.k.a. La comtesse noire, Bare Breasted Countess, Erotikill, and many more) has to be the most erotic lady vampire piece, even more so for the XXX version Lüsterne Vampire Im Spermarausch. (On the opposite end of the spectrum is perhaps, and also recommended, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death — a Carmilla influenced movie that hardly features any eroticism).

Friday, August 15, 2014

Spirits of Death / A White Dress for Marialé (1972)

With Spirits of Death, I’m reminded of how pleasing it is to keep discovering new worthwhile Eurocult movies of the vintage variety. Years ago I thought that I might have been coming close to exhausting my selection of every notable Eurohorror / giallo / surreal-art-house-drama film. However, that notion seems to become more and more untrue with time, which is counterintuitive, as it would seem that the more movies of this type you see the closer you would be to seeing them all, but it nonetheless keeps opening up a world that always seems bigger the further you go in.

Spirits of Death is one of those arty, Eurohorror, giallo movies of a particular brand that I can’t believe I went so long without knowing (let’s see if we can coin the term “Sleeping Eurocult” – in winking reference to Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder). Spirits of Death is directed and cinematographed by Romano Scavolini, who many may know as the director of an infamous Video Nasty from the early ‘80s, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain. He is also the brother of Sauro Scavolini, director of another marvelous “Sleeping Eurocult” Love and Death in the Garden of the Gods.

The film is essentially a gathering of colorful guests, who have been invited by one of the proprietors, Marialé (Ida Galli aka Evelyn Stewart), with mysterious motives, to a spooky old castle. It might sound familiar, and it is, but the gathering turns into a fascinating, candlelit journey into the underground caverns of the castle as well as a delirious entertaining descent into a batshit crazy Fellini-esque masquerade dinner party before things turn over to a more traditional murder mystery, as party guests start getting knocked off by an unseen assailant in the latter half.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Asylum Erotica / Slaughter Hotel (1971)

I was charmed the other day by a 1915 vintage, almost Victorian looking, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes advertisement poster I spotted amongst the old-fashioned-decor adorned on the walls at a local Cracker Barrel diner. While staring at the ad, for some reason, I became curious as to the origin of Corn Flakes. Where were they invented, and how did they come about? I previously had a stereotypical notion that they may have originated in farming communities, due to the rooster, Cornelius, usually observed on the boxes. After ordering pancakes (not the multigrain or wheat ones but the regular pancakes), I googled “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes history” on my phone, and the results were a little startling.

It appears the invention that brought about Corn Flakes was discovered by accident in 1894, at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan by health reformist Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg as part of a bland diet to keep the patients from having increased passions, i.e. to keep them from masturbating.

One day, the Kellogg brothers left a batch of cooked wheat out to sit, when they were diverted by urgent matters at the sanitarium. Upon their return, they’d found that the wheat had gone stale, but because they were under a strict budget, they decided to salvage the wheat. After pressing the wheat through rollers, it formed, to their surprise, wheat flakes that were subsequently toasted and served to the patients; it ended up being a hit. Later Will Keith Kellogg experimented with flaking corn, which he eventually made into a successful business.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was a pioneer surgeon, who succeeded in having exceptionally low mortality rates with his surgery practice. He was the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium and pioneered numerous health reform treatments, some of which still hold up today. However, the good doctor sometimes missed the mark.

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