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.




Although married, Dr. Kellogg was celibate; his marriage was never consummated, and he and his wife adopted children, which was because he abhorred sex and, most of all, masturbation (he published a number of anti-sex books, one of which he supposedly worked on during his honeymoon). When his various treatments, such as hydrotherapy, enemas, and intestine removal, would fail to cure a patient, he would attribute the lack of progress to excessive masturbation, something he believed to be a major cause of physical and mental health problems. Aside from sticking with bland foods, to try and keep his patients refraining from self-satisfaction, he developed questionable remedies to deter masturbation, such as circumcision without anesthesia for males (the pain was supposed to play an important role in the treatment) and administering pure carbolic acid to the clitoris for females.

Of course, when the pancakes arrived and pulled me from this somewhat odd Corn Flakes trivia, being a giallo junkie, the first thing I could think about was a sleazy yet somehow tasteful giallo by Fernando Di Leo: Asylum Erotica (a.k.a Slaughter Hotel and La bestia uccide a sangue freddo). The movie had some strange parallels to my Corn Flakes browsing experience.




It is obvious, Asylum Erotica was made with every intention of creating a commercial product. Sex and violence is what it promises, and sex and violence is what it delivers. There’s really nothing to the story premise, other than: a killer wearing a mask and cape stalks the halls of a castle asylum at night that’s full of attractive female patients – sex, murder, and masturbation scenes ensue. It’s almost like there was some kind of Playboy Mansion-like requisite for the patients, which is absurd, but this is practically half the fun, especially when the inmates consist of Rosalba Neri and Margaret Lee (someone you can usually find me praising in several Eurospy reviews over at Italian Film Review).

The asylum in question is a beautiful isolated mansion in the country side. It looks ancient and almost uninhabitable from the outside (the beautiful, decayed, and rotting mansion – I aspire to own one, some day). The entire story is practically limited to this secluded setting, a trope I like because it makes the rest of the world seem nonexistent and generates a bit of an escapist sense of isolation, kind of like a hotel resort.




A chain smoking, socially awkward Klaus Kinski is the director of the asylum, which apparently specializes in curing the mentally ill of their antisocial, violent, suicidal, and excessive sexual behavior. Kinski suspiciously wanders the halls with an ambiguous demeanor that provides a very obvious red herring that can be quite convincing, just because it’s Klaus Kinski. When I first saw it, I found myself saying, “We know it’s you, Klaus!,” whenever the masked killer would spring into action.

When all is said and done, the killer seems to lack much of a motive, other than being a kind of sex maniac, and just seems to be here because the movie calls for a killer, but despite its shallow premise Asylum Erotica is not without its merits. For one, the murder scenes are brutal and perverse, and the way the killer resourcefully uses the medieval weapons and torture devices on display in the castle asylum is fun; they’re like some kind of medieval killer ninja. The killer wears a cape, which I thought echoed Dracula a little, since they sometimes visit the victims in their rooms while they’re asleep, kind of like Lucy and Dracula. In hindsight, re-watching the movie while knowing who the killer is, it does end up making sense.




Also, the film is stylish (how about that weird, green opening credits sequence?), and Asylum Erotica is probably the hottest giallo I’ve ever seen; this is probably the most uninhibited I’ve seen Rosalba Neri. She plays a sexually out of control character, who’s being treated for her excessive desire to make love. In the greenhouse, she seduces and has sex with the gardener (John Ely), who slaps her when she won’t leave, but she admirably turns that tired cliché of men slapping women right back at him. This is Neri at her sexually best. Some may feel like celebrating after finding out she has a masturbation scene (where’s Dr. Kellogg when you need him?).




It’s always great seeing British actress Margaret Lee, who plays a suicidal character and who does appear nude in a few scenes, which I believe is a rare instance for Lee. She also plays a brunette here, something in contrast to her usual blond Marilyn Monroe look. She and Klaus’s character provide a bit of uncertain soap opera dramatics, and the two have strange chemistry, which is on purpose since Klaus is one big red herring.

The extended dance scene between the antisocial patient, Mara (Jane Garret –sadly her only movie credit) and Nurse Helen (Monica Strebel) is diverting but still an enjoyable highlight. There’s a very innocent and adorable connection that develops between nurse and patient here, and these two characters actually do have chemistry. There’s a very peculiar editing sequence that happens after their dancing scene, and I can’t decide if it’s artistic or sloppy. One of the girls is staring out the window, and we hear a voiceover of the professor (John Karlsen) talking about the aftermath of her death, and frenzied cries from the nurse, before she is shot through the neck by the killer with a crossbow outside. Redundantly we hear the professor’s speech again while they stand over her body. It’s a little disorienting and hard to forget.




I want to say that characters are murdered for committing capital vices, such as lust, being the most common, and gluttony, made apparent after a chauffeur wanders into the empty lounge, late at night after everyone is asleep, and starts to drink every leftover glass of alcohol sitting around before being killed, shortly after, by being pushed into a Virgin of Nuremberg device by the killer. The seven deadly sins are an apparent obsession with the giallo, considering how often the number seven is used in titles (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times), and it’s interesting to compare this to the giallo offspring, the ‘80s American slasher and its stereotype, where characters are killed for having sex and doing drugs.




As usual there’s the obligatory police procedural that is introduced in the last ten minutes of the film, which feels a little late, and the inspectors that arrive on scene are comic book versions.

Soundtrack-wise, we do have some excellent cuts from Silvano Spadaccino, particularly the elegant and pleasant lounge tune that compliments the natural beauty of the countryside and is top-quality and relaxing during a few of the outdoor shots.


 photo AsylumErotica8-HEARTS.gif

  
Asylum Erotica is one of the more low-key gialli that hasn’t really risen to the top of anyone’s favorite giallo list. There really isn’t much of a brilliant story or shocking reveal, but its strengths lie in a number of memorable sequences, like the epic slow motion gun-down at the end, its cozy, lovely, secluded countryside setting, Klaus Kinski looking suspicious, and an overload of Euro-babes.

© At the Mansion of Madness


                

Oh, and no need to worry, Corn Flakes do not have a deleterious effect on sex drive. 


      

Friday, July 11, 2014

Daughters of Darkness (1971)

“Genre rules” seem to be most common in zombie and vampire films, and it’s with these particular genres that breaking the “rules” ends up being the most controversial. Yet, these so called rules are non-existent, and filmmakers can do whatever they want. Of course, the big risk with breaking too many rules is that so many people will already hate the movie before/without even bothering to see it. On the other hand, sticking with the rules and relying too heavily on clichés is too easy and contributes to oversaturation of a genre. I personally enjoy the best of both worlds, classic and innovative, the best of the old with the best of the new. Give me what I came for, but surprise me too. Clichés are important but more for the sake of maintaining a basis of familiarity.

Harry Kümel’s emblematic, chic, and sensual vampire seduction Daughters of Darkness falls somewhere in the middle ground between familiar and different. It probably isn’t even worth mentioning the many parallels between this movie and The Blood Spattered Bride or The Shiver of the Vampires, other than to note they were made around the same time and manage to be so different from one another, even though they tell similar stories. They all contain a common sapphic vampire story that owes a lot to Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel Carmilla, which was adapted a year earlier with The Vampire Lovers in 1970 and ten years before that with Blood and Roses.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Zombie / Zombi 2 (1979)

I used to not be able to stomach gory zombie films very well. Despite being excited and thoroughly fascinated after watching zombie films in my youth, I suffered from a loss of appetite for a while. Anytime I was trying to eat, my brain would be like “you know what’s a good movie? Dawn of the Dead (1978),” and images from the scene with zombies eating in the cellar would pop into my mind, and I would be turned off to eating meat or anything savory for that matter. Sweets or French fries were fine, but my mind just would not cease to relate the taste and consistency of anything else, especially if it was slimy, to what it was the zombies were chomping on. I was disgusted by zombie carnage but still thought it was so cool.

The zombie film that grossed me out the most, which is really saying something, was Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. As a kid, I used to hate looking at the VHS cover with the iconic, rotting, worm eyed, conquistador zombie (Ottaviano Dell'Acqua). I wasn’t scared; I was repulsed. Being a growing boy on the verge of puberty, I didn’t think it wise to be turned off to protein, either. And so, the tape just sat on my movie shelf, after only being watched once, collecting dust, never to be touched again for quite some time.

Needless to say, I eventually overcame this sort of appetite-loss problem and no longer felt sick after watching zombie films. I don’t know if it is enhanced mental discipline or desensitization, but I can now eat pizza while watching movies like Zombie and Burial Ground without getting nauseous.

Anyone who may have read my article for The Beyond during last year’s gore-a-thon may recall that I wasn’t a fan of Zombie for a while. It took seeing The Beyond for me to re-evaluate what was my negative stand on Zombie. I was guilty of hoping for another Dawn of the Dead, ignorantly overlooking every one of the film’s strengths.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Wax Mask / M.D.C. – Maschera di cera (1997)

The last film Lucio Fulci ever worked on, The Wax Mask, was supposed to have been the grand collaboration between Fulci and Dario Argento, had it not been for Fulci’s tragic death some few weeks before filming was to begin. The project came about after Argento had approached Fulci at a 1994 film festival in Rome and suggested they work together on a new film. This was more of a sympathetic gesture from Argento who had intentions of reviving the spirits of an ailing Fulci in a wheelchair, who, at the time, had not worked on a new film in years. The two were never the best of friends, as Argento always thought Fulci imitated his filmmaking style (the separate camps weren’t only with the fan base it would seem).

Differences aside, they mutually agreed upon recreating House of Wax with Fulci directing. Along with Daniele Stroppa (The House of Clocks), they wrote the script for The Wax Mask, an alternate take on the wax museum myth that doesn’t necessarily feel like a remake of House of Wax (1953), even if it is.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Announcing the Second Annual Gore-a-thon


“Do you hear the clarion call? It’s calling out to one and all.” –Falconer

The horror blogging clarion call sounds again! That’s right; it’s almost time for Blood Sucking Geek’s second annual Ultimate Gore-a-thon 2014 -- Another Splatterific Extravaganza! I hope a fraction of you fantabulously awesome readers remember this event from last year, when nine sites came together to embark on an ultimate gore-centric blog-a-thon! The event will run from June 15th to the 21st. Including At the Mansion of Madness, there are, so far, twelve sites. The other blogs/sites taking part in the upcoming Gore-a-thon are as follows:

90s Horror Movies

Blood Sucking Geek 

Candy-Coated Razor Blades

Craft Fear  

The Info Zombie 

Love Horror 

Midnight Cinephile 

Movies at Dog Farm 

Slasher Studios 

Terrorphoria 

Wide Weird World of Cult Films 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chicks with Candles (Tumblr Page)

My good friend, and fan of this site, Terence, has a cool Eurocult Tumblr I just found out about yesterday, Chicks with Candles! Not only does it live up to its title, celebrating the beloved gothic film trope of beautiful maidens with candelabras from movies like Tragic Ceremony and Baba Yaga, the page also features posters, cover art, deleted scenes, trivia, interesting but concise observations on Eurocult films like Jess Franco’s Lorna the Exorcist, and, most importantly, a lot of attractive films I’ve never heard of but really want to look at. I believe that me and Terence share an affinity for the use of lit candles as a mood enhancing aesthetic on film sets, and it's an elegant idea for a Tumblr page.

Check it out by clicking the delectable image of Rosalba Neri below, and be prepared to stay a while!  


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