Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Man with Icy Eyes (1971)

Although commonly referred to as a giallo, Alberto De Martino’s The Man with Icy Eyes would have to be a rather atypical example of the genre, if not an ostensible one. It is set and filmed in a southwestern desert city called Albuquerque, NM (where I’m from, but we’ll get to that later). It doesn’t follow the violent murder mystery plot set forth by Mario Bava and popularized by Dario Argento, nor does it have any of the attractive gothic horror crossovers with ultramodern psychedelic fashions or drug-induced delirium. If anything, the film is more of a rustic detective story with a smattering of the crime thriller and a climax not entirely unlike that of Lucio Fulci’s One On Top of the Other (1969). Given the film’s mystery element, tense soundtrack, and early ‘70s era, and considering the presence of key players like Antonio Sabato (Seven Blood Stained Orchids 1972) and Barbara Bouchet (Don’t Torture a Duckling 1972), I can still dig the giallo tag. It also flirts with the supernatural, just a little, and there’s a colorful nude photography scene with Bouchet to give the film a minimally erotic edge.

De Martino really seemed to savor the chance to film the movie’s lead Eddie Mills (Sabato) riding around town on his motorcycle, an image that figures prominently in the earlier half of the film, which feels a little like an embodiment of the traditional western hero in modern times, with a bike in place of a horse and a cool brown leather jacket replacing the duster coat. He’s a journalist for the Albuquerque Sentinel and also a lone Italian looking to ‘make a name for himself’ in an American town by covering the recent murder of a politician.

A suspicious man, Valdez (Giovanni Petrucci), who was picked up by the police while fleeing the scene of the murder was identified by a stripper, Anne Saxe (Bouchet), as the killer who also had a mysterious accomplice, described as the titular character, a man with eyes like two pieces of ice. Based on Anne’s testimony, Valdez is sentenced to death. The murder story makes headlines, but new leads in the case cause Eddie to suspect that Anne’s testimony was false, and an innocent man may be headed for the gas chamber. The possibility of a false headline weighs on Eddie’s conscience as a journalist, so he takes it upon himself, with the invaluable help of his editor, John Hammond (Victor Buono from the original Batman series and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962), to get to the bottom of things. Not only that, an occultist astrologer predicts that Eddie will die before midnight. With the execution of Valdez set for midnight as well, the clock is ticking.

This movie gets a lot of flak for its pacing problems and for being too talky, making it less of the exciting thriller it’s supposed to be. It’s perhaps better to think of it more as a somewhat restrained detective story that doesn’t necessarily pride itself on delivering the most riveting conclusion.

Indeed, the clock is counting down in the third act, with a falsely convicted man’s life at stake, but time seems to be moving slower than natural in the film’s world. While under immense pressure, an hour can just fly by, but the final hour before midnight (when a lot is happening and the pressure is up) moves at an unnaturally convenient speed for everything to fall in place in just the nick of time - providence when you need it the most. However, I kind of like this. Whether or not it was a flaw, I think it is suspenseful, in a way, to constantly feel like you’re at the edge of a fatal deadline for an elongated period.

The plot might seem a little bit stuffed and convoluted, especially when watching the film for the first time, but I liked the way things turned out in the end; although, if you shave off the last three minutes, the movie would have a gloomy wrap-up (could that have been what they were originally going for?). None of the mystery clues and twists ever seemed all that shocking, but they’re still decent enough and do not end up being bad or too confusing. If you allow yourself to get absorbed in the movie, without distractions, kind of like a book, The Man with Icy Eyes does end up being enjoyable.

Sabato may not be the most charismatic lead here, but there’s still something cool about him, in look and in attitude. He and Buono’s character, who’s also cool and stylish in his own way, made an 'alright' team despite their quibbling in the newspaper office.

There are a couple of well-placed street fights that might seem a little routine, with Eddie and John somehow being great fighters, able to fight off groups of thugs that arrive on the scene to turn up the excitement for a short time before being somewhat easily fought off, like the putty patrol from Power Rangers or the foot soldiers from TMNT.

I liked Bouchet’s role as a stripper who’ll do anything for money. It could be said that she was a little underused, but what we do get of her scandalous character is still memorable if rather minimal.

Some of the more tense and exciting moments are aided by certain cuts in the film’s cool soundtrack by Peppino De Luca, which also features a couple exquisite female vocal layers with the legendary voice of Edda Dell’Orso.

I actually didn’t know it going in, but when I first watched The Man with Icy Eyes, it was a pleasant surprise when I noticed, right away, that it was shot in Albuquerque, NM. I’ll admit that this was an enhancing factor, as it personally appealed to me to see the city I grew up in circa 1971 (twelve years before I was born) and as the setting for a giallo with Barbara Bouchet, no less.

I dig the way Eddie Mills' outfit blends in with the desert setting

OK, so it excited me a little more than it should, but you got to admit that it is a rather unusual location for this kind of genre (I can’t help wondering what made these Italian filmmakers decide to shoot a film in Albuquerque all of a sudden). By seeing a style of film that’s near and dear to me in a location that’s just as near and dear to me, it almost became like a personalized experience. Since I am familiar with a lot of the locations in the film, I couldn’t resist doing a ‘then and now’ comparison sort of thing.

I actually didn’t recognize any interiors just the outdoor, mostly street side, locations. However, instead of just merely using Google Street View, I decided to visit these locations personally and try and capture present day counterpart images of different screen shots from the movie, all the while remembering that over forty years ago, in a very different era, Alberto De Martino and his cast and crew were once standing in the exact same locations creating this little southwestern giallo that would become a diverting time capsule to someone like me. It’s also my neck of the woods, so I figured, “why not?”

Top (then): A scene from the film with a view of Historic Route 66 facing west at the Central and Broadway intersection at the eastern tail end of downtown Albuquerque that is very recognizable
Bottom (now): That large building seen in the movie directly to the left of the intersection is no longer there (it looks to be a parking lot now). Visually not much else seems to have changed between now and then except for the new stoplight and the J-style light poles and of course the untimely construction barricades. The railroad bridge seen further back down the street in both shots is for the rail runner train to Santa Fe.

Top (then): Antonio Sabato parks a motorcycle across the street from the First Baptist Church at the corner of Broadway and Central, with Barbara Bouchet riding in back
Bottom (now): Well, the pole is obviously different now, and I’m glad there was a car parked nearly in the exact same spot as the older car in the movie (a modern counterpart). The services of this church have since moved to a different location on the west side of the city; it has been empty for a long time now, but the University of New Mexico purchased the building this year with plans of making it an innovation site dedicated to hosting new companies and ideas for downtown.

Top (then): A small backstreet leading from Old Town to Rio Grande Boulevard included as part of the intro credits montage of Sabato riding around town on his motorcycle
Bottom (now): When I saw this alleyway in the film, all I could think of was Walgreens. Well, after searching around Old Town a little to find it, I see why, as the side of a Walgreens can be viewed when looking down the street. Not surprising, being that it’s Old Town, everything looks practically unchanged; even the parked black car on the left in both images looks similar; and I think I took the picture at the same time of day the scene from the film was shot, because the tip of the pointed shadow, spreading from the left, is touching the gutter in almost the exact same spot, in both images.

Top (then): Sabato consults with a paranoid correspondent, over spirits, in rustic Old Town, regarding the assassination of a senator
Bottom (now): It’s not perfect, but I tried to get the exact same angle with the stop sign and everything else (I realize now that the movie camera was situated a little further back and to the right). Unfortunately, in the present day shot, the tree overgrowth is blocking the view of the two towers from the San Felipe de Neri Parish Catholic Church, which serve as a remarkable backdrop to this particular shot in the movie.

Top (then): Sabato looks on as his paranoid correspondent flees the scene at the sight of three approaching thugs right before a street fight scene stirs things up - the La Placita Dining Rooms restaurant sign can be seen above Sabato’s shoulder.
Bottom (now): The La Placita Dining Rooms restaurant is still in operation today and is supposedly haunted.

Top (then): Sabato successfully parries a knife lunge from his attacker
Bottom (now): What can I say about this shot other than that the white bench is still there? I once sat in that bench and read three chapters of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. It’s also interesting to note the time lapse involving the sidewalk tree, which appears to be in its infancy in the film.

Top (then): The movie theater exterior seen in the background is used more than once in the film and plays a role in solving the story’s mystery. Looking closely at the marquee, a double bill of Elvis Presley films can be discerned: Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (1970) and Speedway (1968). This one was a bit of a challenge. Just by looking at it in the movie, I couldn’t quite pin down the location of this theater. At first, I thought it was the Lobo Theater, which ceased its movie showing operations in 2001, but when I visited the site of the Lobo Theater, it just didn’t match. Through a bit of Internet searching, I found out that the theater used in the film was actually known as the State Theater at the time, now long closed. The gray-green (xanadu) colored building to the left with the interesting arch way wall panels really fascinates me; it’s not a typical example of the more recent architecture but rather one of the 19th century style buildings from downtown that still stand today.
Bottom (now): I was surprised to find out that today the ground level of the former State Theater is now the New York Pizza Dept., a restaurant I’m actually familiar with. As can be seen in the present day image, though no longer having that peculiar xanadu color, that interesting old building with the arch ways is still there, and it consists of a Chicago Dog restaurant and a company called PRISM Technologies. The upper stories of both the adjoined buildings are mostly offices. 

© At the Mansion of Madness 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Simona / Passion (1974)

You might not know it from looking at the playful erotic movie posters and DVD covers, but Simona is no sex comedy. Though still playful and sexy in certain parts, Patrick Longchamps’ Fellini-inspired adaptation of the French novel Story of the Eye (1928) is a dark oddity of avant-garde filmmaking, with a heavy undercurrent of social alienation.

At the time the film was released its lead actress Laura Antonelli had recently achieved overnight fame from her award winning role in Salvatore Samperi’s sexy, controversial dark-comedy Malizia (1973). She had made such an impact that moviegoers flocked to see Antonelli in Simona, which was actually shot about a year before Malizia (Simona was shelved for a while before being released).

Simona was unfortunately confiscated in Italy for its explicit content. One-time Belgian filmmaker Longchamps had a friend with connections in the Vatican who organized a private screening of the banned film for four priests, and after finally being approved by the church, Simona was released in Italy, where it made a lot of money (the film was never released in its native country of Belgium). Eventually the original film negatives were acquired by "distributors of ill-repute," and as it currently stands, a properly restored version of Simona, as far as I know, remains unrealized.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Night of the Walking Dead / El extraño amor de los vampiros (1975)

"The sun shining in my dreams 
  The light is getting hot
  Saved by eternity
  I have seen death so close
 Away, awhile the angels crossed the sky
 But I'm condemned to stay here." -- Heavenly  

In his memoirs, Paul Naschy said he had referred Argentine film directing stalwart Leon Klimovsky to be director of his seminal Spanish horror classic La noche de Walpurgis, AKA The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), because one of the film’s financers wanted a quick and reliable director.

It would seem that Klimovsky was known for his fast shooting and workmanlike skills, and yet he managed to direct some real atmospheric classics of Spanish horror, often on low budgets and high pressured shooting schedules, and he introduced an oft-imitated technique of filming vampires and zombies in slow-motion, capturing a uniquely nightmarish plane of existence in the process.
Klimovsky’s vampire films are exceptional and interestingly varied, and they belong alongside the best of Jess Franco and Jean Rollin. The aforementioned The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman was a record breaking box office success that revived the Spanish horror fantasy genre. The other Klimovsky directed vampire films that followed were the epic The Dracula Saga (1973), the more grindhouse flavored The Vampires’ Night Orgy (1974), and the romantic, adventurous, and somewhat eclectic Night of the Walking Dead / The Strange Love of the Vampires, the topic for tonight

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shock / Beyond the Door II (1977)

Mario Bava’s final full-length film as director Shock (AKA Beyond the Door II) is like The Amityville Horror (1979), Repulsion (1965), and The Shining (1980) combined into a progressive-rock tinged haunted-house Italian horror/mystery thriller that does manage to be scary. Bava again employs the vengeful ghost story, as in his child-themed Kill Baby Kill (1966), but keeps it in the family, creating a ghost story about marital vengeance, which was based on a true story that Bava weaved in to an already existing script, about a living house, he had co-written with Dardano Sacchetti several years prior. The end product is a slow-paced but ultimately exhilarating experience that succeeds at being one of the creepier Italian horrors. Bava’s son Lamberto Bava, who also contributed to the script, said they were influenced a little more by Stephen King and were attempting to make a modern horror film.

The film also has a possession angle that takes a few cues from The Exorcist (1973), which might have been in response to the success of The House of Exorcism (1975): producer Alfredo Leone’s revamping of Bava’s Lisa and the Devil (1973), with newly filmed possession scenes spliced in.

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, the werewolf, Frankenstein's monster, and Dracula.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Venomous Vixens: Aurora de Alba

At present, 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.

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