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.

While horror made up a very small portion of her filmography, many Euro-horror fans today fondly remember Aurora as the seductive lady vampire in Naschy’s first Spanish werewolf movie, the werewolf vampire mash up La marca de hombre lobo (1968) – AKA Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror. Aurora plays the venomous vixen Wandessa Mikhelov alongside Julian Ugarte, who plays the Dracula-like Dr. Janos Mikhelov. Dr. Mikhelov is called upon to help Paul Naschy’s iconic cursed lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky with his werewolf malediction, but when the doctor arrives with his wife, they turn out to be vampires who have other plans for the two werewolves in the film, in what seems to be the start of a tradition of vampires and werewolves not getting along; Aurora’s Wandessa Mikhelov is one of three lady vamps that made Waldemar Daninsky’s cursed life more difficult than it already was, with Patty Shepard playing Countess Wandesa Darvula de Nadasdy in The Werewolf versus the Vampire Woman (1971) and Julia Saly playing Countess Elisabeth Bathory in Night of the Werewolf (1981).

Not only is Aurora stunningly beautiful in this role, but what also stands out is her maturity; she does look a little older, but it’s a sexy maturity, and I think it is part of what makes her vampire character work here, in an ageless beauty sort of way. I’d guesstimate Aurora was about forty, at the time.

What primarily makes Aurora’s performance in La marca de hombre lobo as memorable as it is is her seduction scene with Manuel Manzaneque. The scene itself, where the two of them are on the bed and the vampiress is dominating and preying on her victim, is sexually stimulating to watch, considering the way she holds his arm down and goes for his neck. There’s a really nice stylish touch where a shroud floats in from the left to cover the couple, leaving a terrific gothic visual to close the scene with.

A nice little visual that emphasizes Wandessa's seductive power over Rudolph (Manzaneque), after she had been nibbling at his neck a little

Also with Paul Naschy, Aurora appeared in a moody, supernatural gothic drama with zombies, La orgía de los muertos (1973) AKA The Hanging Woman, directed by José Luis Merino, where she worked with her cousin, Jose Garcia Galisteo, who worked as camera operator. Aurora plays the character mentioned in the film’s English title, and, as such, she spends most of the film as an inanimate corpse but is still significant to the storyline. The movie is rather steadily paced but a treat for vintage gothic horror fans. Despite being very low budget, the nineteenth century era setting feels authentic and the corpses and zombies look impressively gruesome.


Aurora has a bit part as a roommate, trying to get some sleep, who has to witness an unpleasant beating from mobsters on Erika Blanc’s character, in the somewhat violent, Ernesto Gastaldi penned, mystery crime movie L'uomo più velenoso del cobra (1971) AKA Human Cobras (1971), starring Giorgio Ardisson in a real good tough guy role.


Aurora appears in another small but memorable role in Paul Naschy’s voodoo-themed La rebelión de las muertas / Vengeance of the Zombies (1973) as a mind-controlled zombie (more White Zombie than Night of the Living Dead), and Aurora also has a titillating nude scene. There’s a lot going on in the film, and it is quite fearsome, macabre, and entertaining, combining elements of giallo, zombie, gore, crime, and the cinemafantastique. It was written by Naschy and directed by Leon Klimovsky, and it is known for its sassy, giddy, and deadly zombies in see thru negligees, which is where a lot of the fun comes from. I do believe that Aurora’s smile outshines here.

As said before, Aurora danced at the Venice Film Festival: The oldest and most prestigious international film festival in the world. It is now on its seventy-first year; Aurora de Alba appears briefly in a documentary/publicity video dedicated to the fourteenth annual festival in 1953, where she can be seen (at the 5:45 mark) boarding a plane before giving the pilot a kiss.

Aurora de Alba at the Venice Film Festival in 1953:

Nowadays, with the internet, it seems bold to throw the word obscure around, but in this case, as far as Aurora’s life and most of her films are concerned, obscure definitely applies. The mini-biography I made is unfortunately incomplete, but I hope we someday can learn more about this wonderful but elusive entertainer. A place and date of birth would be a good start. Anyone is welcome to help out if they happen to know more about her.

(There’s an enthusiastic thread featuring Aurora de Alba on The Latarnia Forums with fans sharing their admiration and photos, including some humorous photoshopped work.) 

© At the Mansion of Madness

Aurora de Alba with her husband Chico Scimone during a magical evening at the La Giara Restaurant. This photo is used with the kind permission of Mirko Malambri of Archivio Fotografico Malambri V.

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

(Click the image below to check it out)

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.

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.

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