Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Devil’s Wedding Night / Il plenilunio delle vergini (1973)

For me, The Devil’s Wedding Night is kind of like a Dracula movie but with Rosalba Neri playing Dracula, which is just a prepossessing idea. However, that’s not quite what it is, as it plays more like a spinoff, fanfic, or sequel to Dracula, where Count Dracula is the stuff of legend, with his power being the focus of archeological research. It’s interesting that in the film’s story Edgar Allan Poe seems to be an upcoming new sensation, which sets it around the first half of the 19th century, making it predate the events in Bram Stoker’s novel that occur around the 1890s. So, The Devil’s Wedding Night could actually be a prequel to Dracula. I mean, who was that mysterious smirking man in the woods, at the tavern, and on the castle grounds we kept seeing? The mysterious man is a nice touch who’s most likely a servant to the ring, but there’s nothing ruling out that he could have been Dracula the whole time, perhaps a powerless Dracula who needs the black mass wedding ceremony to be reborn.

Farfetched theories aside, The Devil’s Wedding Night is not a perfect film, but it makes for a perfect gothic horror experience. Just about every kind of gothic hallmark fans expect and revere are here, and they are executed exquisitely, but it is likely that the biggest reason most seek out this film is because of Rosalba Neri as the erotic La Contessa Dolingen de Vries. She does not disappoint here. The countess holding up her red light emitting ring to the moon atop the castle has always been the primary image that comes to mind when I think of this film.

This is one of Rosalba Neri’s most celebrated roles who, alongside Mark Damon, really arrests herself to the part. I would say that Mark and Rosalba have chemistry, but the show stealing chemistry is really between Mark Damon and Mark Damon. That’s right, Damon has an amusing dual role, playing two brothers Karl and Franz Schiller. One is just a little more goth and mischievous than the other. The two scenes where both brothers interact are entertaining, especially when Damon really hams it up as the less virtuous, Poe quoting brother, Franz.

The opening grabber is a shot of a woman in one of those big white night gowns running in the woods, being chased by something off camera. It’s quick and feels detached from the rest of the movie, almost interchangeable, like it could be attached to the beginning of almost any horror movie twenty years before or after this one. Probably because it reminds me of the opening flashback from Ernest Scared Stupid (1991), I kind of like the way the person holding the camera is also running behind the fleeing woman, working like a shaky POV cam shot from the pursuer.

The following credit sequence kicks off with an exciting, epic theme by Vasili Kojucharov set to visuals of the great Castle Piccolomini in Balsorano, color filtered lesbian orgies, ritual sacrifices, and that tunneling camera effect, which I still don’t understand. I’m not sure if this is the first time the tunneling camera was used, but it did become trendy in the 1990s, being used in Stargate (1994), Spawn (1997) as well as the ending to Final Fantasy 7 (1997) to name a few, although quite impressive for being pre-CG in The Devil’s Wedding Night.

The movie is supposed to be based on an original story (a book?) called “The Brides of Countess Dracula” by Ralph Zucker and Ian Darby. Judging by that title, it kind of makes sense why this feels a little like Dracula fanfic with Rosalba Neri in the role of Dracula, or at least substituting the Dracula figure.

Karl Schiller (played by Mark Damon, an actor who eventually became a producer with an impressive range of production credits, such as The Never-Ending Story (1984) and The Lost Boys (1987)) is an archeologist researching a mystical ring that was responsible for Dracula’s powers. The ring actually has an intriguing history, as it was passed between different powerful figures, such as Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun. It is known as the Ring of the Nibelungen, which is supposed to date back much further than Wagner.

What’s also charming is the cozy little gothic library/study set that I find to be inspirational. When I find myself stuck with a lot of work to do, I like to pretend I am Karl Schiller in his library surrounded by encyclopedias and mystical tomes.

Now, Karl manages to get a lot of useful information from one of those “McGuffin” books, most particularly on where to go to find the ring, the most obvious of places, Castle Dracula in Transylvania. His brother Franz crashes his research session, almost belittling him for his superstitious fancies but still lends an ear to Karl’s predictions and learns of his “plant and payoff” protective amulet of Pazuzu

Karl makes known his intention to journey to a castle in Transylvania to find the ring, which does end up feeling like a counterpart to Jonathan Harker’s diary.

Now what got me more than once in this movie is that despite Karl planning on making the journey to Dracula’s castle, without warning Franz takes the protective amulet and starts off instead. Franz did allude to having gambling debts, so perhaps he cleverly let his brother only think he didn’t believe him only to leave early to get to the ring before his brother. It was unexpected, and I had to rewind it a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t confused.

I do love the Transylvanian setting in this movie that was actually filmed in L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. There’s a certain magic to the Castle Piccolomini. Around the same time, Renato Polselli was filming one of my favorite films at the same castle, The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973). A couple other great films made there were The Lickerish Quartet (1970) and The Bloody Pit of Horror (1965).

Franz stops at the village inn and manages to take the Innkeeper’s daughter’s virginity, supposedly exempting her from a curse involving virgins vanishing in the castle every 50 years. (The moral of the story: don’t be a virgin on the night of the virgin moon). 

After he arrives to the castle he meets with the countess’s beautiful servant Lara (Esmeralda Barros), who’s in a lethargic almost hypnotic state. She’s a zombie and her slow languid talking is most peculiar. Also, the castle interior is suitably colorful, with plenty of lit candles in the foreground and background.

As to be expected, since it is daytime when Franz arrives, the Countess is nowhere to be found until night. It works as a nice buildup to when the film finally reveals its main attraction, Rosalba Neri. Franz finds her at the piano (that sounds like an organ synth), a beautiful and subtle way of introducing her. They connect over a splendid gothic dinner setup where the countess speaks some great lines. One of them feels like a poetic ode to introversion.

"The peace and quiet, this marvelous sense of solitude and eternal tranquility, which permeates everything around here. It makes me feel more alive." The Countess / Rosalba Neri 

The Countess and Franz make love before she turns into a bat and imprisons him. Karl eventually shows up, and knowing his missing brother was there before him, he begins his own investigation. 

The movie falls off its rocker at about the halfway part, and it is freaking fantastic. Shit gets real during the delirious laughing part, an inebriating segment of hyperactive editing and nightmare visuals.

That memorable scene when Rosalba Neri rises nude and bloody among smoke/fog from her coffin is what it’s all about. If there’s any one moment I’d pick to represent Eurocult, this is it. The “be-all and end-all."

The narrative builds up to an exploitative occult ritual with multiple crimson executioners in what is a kind of black mass wedding where things get sleazy and bloody. During the ritual, Rosalba Neri on the throne emits a sense of power and majesty – a queen of Eurocult presiding over the exploitation black mass. Being a fashion accessory kind of person, I have to say that I love her crown and black attire here.

The closeout isn’t anything too memorable, but it could almost work as sequel bait, would a sequel had happened. Considering my previous theory on the mysterious man in the woods, perhaps Dracula could be thought of as the sequel. 

If you’re looking to get your Rosalba Neri and Italian Gothic Horror fix, you really can’t do wrong with The Devil’s Wedding Night. It took years for me to come back to it, but it is worth rewatching and should be considered a cult classic. It was directed by Luigi Batzella and an uncredited Joe D’Amato – which means that Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973) isn’t the only time D’Amato went Gothic, as I formerly thought. 

Something about this movie always makes me want to listen to Mercyful Fate’s Come to the Sabbath, or maybe even Black Masses, but that song has some real fucked up lyrics. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Help for a Friend in Need

A dear friend of mine has fallen on to hard times and is in danger of losing her job now that her car has broken down. It’s looking to be a costly clutch repair. I’ve never asked for any money in the past for my work here, but please, if anyone has appreciated anything I’ve written on this site, the best tip to me would be to help my friend with a GoFundMe donation by clicking HERE or on the image above.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Manhattan Baby (1982)

Manhattan Baby marks the end of an era, which was Lucio Fulci’s most prolific filmmaking period that included classics such as Zombie (1979), The Gates of Hell (1980), The Beyond (1981), and The House by the Cemetery (1981). This isn’t to say these were Fulci’s best films; they were just some of the most commercially successful, not to mention big hits with the general horror audience. 

With Fulci being synonymous with gore, zombies, and various sorts of gateways to hell, viewer expectations of Manhattan Baby were probably different than what they got, as it abandons the gothic, supernatural zombie film altogether. It was scriptwriter Dardano Sacchetti’s attempt at moving away from what he considered conventional horror, to try and close up the gates of hell and open new gates of time and space. Although there are obvious influences from The Exorcist (1973) and The Awakening (1980) (and surprising similarities to Poltergeist which came out the same year), Sacchetti wanted to create something different, and for the most part he succeeded.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Something Creeping in the Dark / Qualcosa striscia nel buio (1971)

Mario Colucci’s Something Creeping in the Dark has been off the radar for a long time. I didn't even know about it until recently, and this is the kind of stuff I live for. This might be because it is rather mediocre in certain aspects, some might even say a little boring if this isn't your kind of thing. It's a curious little low-key Italian horror, and even though it's not that scary or original, it has its creepy moments. The ambiance and familiar setting is comforting if you’re in the mood for this type of movie. Also on the plus side, all the genre traditions we know and love are here: séances, portraits, fleeting shades of black magic and the occult, contrived gathering of suspicious characters, spirits, candles, storms, murders, babes, a spooky but marvelous gothic mansion, and night gowns. It really is a beautiful looking gothic thriller despite being routine in the story department, but there’s a lot to chew on with its concept, and there’s so many nice touches that keep it afloat. At times, it’s got a strange charm to it, with near Polselli-like moments with actors looking spaced out, standing around like model figurines.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

S & M: Les Sadiques (2016)

It seems like only yesterday when we were checking out The Devil of Kreuzberg (2015), a respectably accomplished modern gothic horror film directed by Alexander Bakshaev that’s gotten a lot of due praise, and now, seemingly out of nowhere, Alex and the great folks involved follow it up with a killer Jess Franco tribute S & M: Les Sadiques.

I had viewed a lot of compelling images of this film when it was in production, and one of the images, which did not end up in the cut of S & M that I watched, displayed lead actor Nadine Pape channeling an iconic image of late ‘60s, early ‘70s Franco lead Soledad Miranda, and I thought it looked cool. It captured the original spirit but also had a different energy about it that was trying to impart a new vision, something that’s not only a great tribute but also works on a number of other levels, which is something that could also be said about the overall film.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Night of 1,000 Sexes / Mil sexos tiene la noche (1984)

Despite there being a finite number of Jess Franco films, it virtually feels like I won’t ever run out of Franco movies to choose from, since there are so many (over 200) and from many different eras (from the ‘50s up to 2013). I’ve explored and hunted for Jess Franco films for close to a decade now and still have quite a journey ahead of me, which will probably only end for me if I ever lose interest. The selection pool is deep enough to be a lifelong endeavor, especially if you plan on really absorbing, studying, and digesting most of them. I’ve got my favorites that I return to when I can, but more frequently I always get an itch for a new one, but the list is long, which is equal parts comforting and overwhelming.

When it comes to the large selection of erotic Lina Romay featured Franco titles, it can be difficult to make a selection. You want something that goes beyond just lengthy porn scenes; you want something worth keeping, something that’s erotic but also dark, ethereal, metaphysical, with a dreamy ambiance, emotion, and artistic merit. Well, if you haven’t seen it yet, and you’re looking for a sweet Jess Franco and Lina Romay fix, the film I’m pulling out for you tonight, Night of 1,000 Sexes, will meet your demands.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

I first saw Horror Rises from the Tomb many years ago (around 2003) as part of a four movie bargain set of zombie movies, and my initial thoughts were, “too slow and not enough zombies.” I had no idea who Spanish filmmaker Paul Naschy was at the time, nor would I have probably cared. I was disappointed I didn’t get the zombie movie the misleading box cover promised. I then cast it aside as an irrelevant film that was best forgotten. (Boy is adult-me really annoyed at teenage-me right now.)

In the midst of my giallo collecting craze around 2008, I eventually came upon a Naschy thriller called Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (1974). Needless to say, I dug it and finally became interested in director/writer/actor Paul Naschy. My next Naschy film was Human Beasts (1980), which to me was an even greater experience. Then, after having fun with a couple of Naschy’s werewolf movies, I thought, despite my disconcerting memories of the film, I’d give Horror Rises from the Tomb another go with a new perspective as a Naschy fan and without my zombie film bias.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Blow Job – un soffio erotico (1980)

Not to be confused with Andy Warhol’s Blow Job (1963), Alberto Cavallone’s Blow Job is a witchy Italian horror film with a fairly meagre start that escalates into a reality transcending experience that was influenced by Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1952) and the shamanistic writings of Carlos Castaneda. One similarity between both films is the titular blowjob and its ambiguous nature. Warhol’s Blow Job is a thirty five minute still-shot of a young man’s (DeVeren Bookwalter) face while he is supposedly receiving fellatio, allegedly by experimental filmmaker Willard Maas. Because the sexual act itself takes place off camera, it is never absolutely certain if the fellatio is legitimately happening, which along with conflicting accounts of the filming itself adds a curious air of mystery to it.

The blowjob in Cavallone’s film only makes up a fraction of the movie during the third act and coincides with a mescaline (the main active hallucinogen in peyote) trip, and so the fellatio is also presented indirectly. The mescaline aided “blowjob” sort of doubles as a gateway act to a higher form of perception, but the fascination in this case comes more from how the filmmakers choose to represent “suchness” or “the absolute”, the ultimate nature of reality without reduced awareness. One of our lead characters Stefano (Danilo Micheli) transcends reality, under the guidance of an erotic witch Sibilla (Mirella Venturini), to take a trip through the spirit world, aka tripping balls. It involves dancing and low budget experimental set pieces and was more memorable than I was anticipating it to be.

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