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.

Early on, I felt that ‘80s Jess Franco films tended to be a bit iffy at times, so I would mostly play it safe by staying in the comfort zone of Franco’s ‘60s and ‘70s output (I’m so terribly behind with the ‘90s, ‘00s, and ‘10s material), but there are treasures to be found in the ‘80s, such as Macumba Sexual, Sinfonia erotica, Faceless (I’m really curious about Bahia blanca), and I’m happy to add Night of 1,000 Sexes to the list of worthwhile ‘80s Franco. I’m having trouble deciding if it’s a masterpiece, but for me it felt like a return to a type of form that matches nicely with Succubus, Nightmares Come at Night, She Killed in Ecstasy, and Female Vampire.

It was filmed in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and in Costa del Sol, so as usual the evocative natural locales help to elevate the film beyond its super low budget. The music is by Jess Franco and Daniel White, whose hauntingly beautiful Female Vampire theme is brought back, which is something I’d normally gripe about, but it kind of feels appropriate here, with Lina playing another cursed killer, also named Irina, who deep down is actually a benevolent soul.

Irina is not a tragic vampire this time around but a performing medium of sorts. She and her partner, Fabian (Daniel Katz), have a traveling nightclub act in which Fabian blindfolds and hypnotizes Irina, and, upon asking, is able to have her describe any item someone from the audience might hand him. This would be pretty freaking cool to actually witness in a club, although I would probably remain skeptical myself and assume they had some sort of camera trick going on. It goes on a little long, but it’s a memorable segment and is also the film’s way of introducing a number of relevant faces (the dramatis personae?), some of which will show up later to have the special honor of being Lina Romay’s victims during Jess Franco’s brand of languid but hypnotic murder/sex scenes.

Later on during this 1,000 sexes night, before the killing starts, Fabian evades Irina’s affectionate bedtime advances, as he seems to be more interested in reading The Necronomicon instead of snuggling with her. He suggests they break up, because he’s apparently not happy living in her shadow. Or so he says, because he never really goes away. He and a witch princess of sorts, Lorna (Carmen Carrión), seem have an agenda that involves metaphysically exploiting Irina.

The premise becomes similar to Nightmares Come at Night, with Irina usually on the brink of a mental breakdown from memories of having killed certain individuals without being entirely certain if it was a nightmare. Plus it becomes apparent that she is either mad or under someone’s mind control spell. In erotic dreams, an eerie voice chants in her ear (who I think sounds like Jess). She’s summoned by the evil sounding voice in her head to a sunny temple, where in a sort of catatonic/hypnotized state; Irina occasionally visits Lorna the witch princess, who enchants Irina with the warm and tender witch’s kiss on her forehead. Could it be a blessing or a curse? These scenes where Irina meets with Lorna are quite spiritual and in these instances Lina is usually seen in non-erotic, almost more religious, attire, and her performance is still captivating, especially when she’s passing through the dark set with the colorful stained glass window backdrop that reminds one of sleepwalking in a dream.

Lina is a skilled screamer, and she does let loose a couple times here with fits of soul piercing screams; think of the closeout to Macumba Sexual, but a lot more animated. There are also a couple of moments, that I like to think are self-referential, with Lina slowly walking towards the camera from a distance, evoking memories of a similar visual ten years prior in Female Vampire.

Although sex and murder make up the main platter, the film isn’t really all that pornographic, not nearly as much as Female Vampire, nor is it really all that violent. Irina does penetrate victims with a curved dagger, but it’s implied, off camera with no wounds, just a little blood on the blade and a good measure of jazz music. This may not be enough to really satisfy anyone looking for riveting, visceral kill scenes.

The murder scenes are still pretty remarkable, slowly playing out with a certain feeling of inebriation and languor. They could just hypnotize you to sleep if you are watching while tired after a long night at work. The best one takes place in a snazzy boudoir of sorts, where Irina, looking a little like an escort, visits the man from earlier at the nightclub who always has his two short-haired ladies with him. I’m imagining they are in some sort of three way relationship, sort of like Thom, Toni, and Laura from Messiah of Evil. When Irina arrives, the guy passes her a joint, and she looks quite apathetic in what is probably one of the most remembered scenes from this movie of Lina eerily staring off into space. A foursome ultimately plays out, where the unnerving sounds (including distorted moaning that I think is Lina and Jess), multiple camera angles, and visuals fuse into one hell of a fever dream. Lina owns this scene (in fact she own the entire movie), but you’ll also have a hard time forgetting those purple, white-striped couches.

One could argue that Night of 1000 Sexes doesn’t have the greatest wrap-up, although it does involve Jess Franco’s brief role as a psychiatrist, and I kind of like the two antagonists as well as the main idea of the story, however familiar for Franco, despite its conclusion seeming rather abrupt. In the end it’s the experience of the film that counts. I’m pretty sure none of it was filmed at night, although there is a good measure of dreamy day for night, like living life in blue. Lina is sometimes rocking the ‘80s hair, which can be hideous on others, but she pulls it off, although I’m not sure if it’s a wig; she’s known to wear wigs at times.

If it’s getting to be about that time when those warm, oneiric memories of Lina Romay resonating with Jess’s camera in some exotic, touristy locale start calling your name, than be sure to give Night of 1000 Sexes a look. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

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.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ten Films That Describe My Aesthetic

Terence from Chicks with Candles has tagged me to “list ten films that describe my aesthetic.” I believe this is a Tumblr game that has leaked into Blogger in my case. Before me, Terence was tagged by @alfredsnightmare. So what does it mean to say “my aesthetic”? With movies, I think of it as a familiar visual and emotional theme that still resonates with me irregardless of how many times I experience it. 

But perhaps the included images might speak a little more than words.

1) The Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion (1973): Colorful liquor bar carts, ‘70s giallo glamor, Euro-nightclubs, Technicolor, small cars, cigarettes, Edda Dell’Orso, Ennio Morricone – So these features could describe a lot of movies, but this one has one of my favorite titles and Nieves Navarro in a black high split open side dress. I thought that Navarro’s proud and confident sexually liberated character Dominique felt like a proto-Samantha from Sex and the City.

2) Succubus (1968): Provocative muses, looming castle destinations, mannequins, inner personality conflicts, nightclub faux torture scenes, dream sequences, trippy acid parties – The hazy soft-focused sequence when Janine Reynaud’s Lorna Green drifts out of bed and ventures to the limestone river castle in Lisbon and the questionable perspective of dream or reality remains a gold standard for surreal film experiences for me. Is she mad, or just not of this world?

3) The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973): Erotic madness, mountainous terrain, spaced out looking actors standing around the Castle Balsorano, Eastmancolor, expressive sadomasochism, comical sex scenes, day and night merging, excessive use of grandiose set pieces – This movie’s a chaotic mess, but it’s also an expressionistic masterpiece that thrives on account of its aesthetic and not its narrative.

4) The Blood Spattered Bride (1972): Ancestral mansions, sapphic vampires, Carmilla influenced, bloody daggers, blurred line between dream and reality, bloody mariticide, gothic candle lit dinner scenes, sylvan settings – Beautiful but disturbing with several uncomfortable parts, The Blood spattered Bride still works as a great Spanish horror film despite being pretty heavy with its tones of misogyny and misandry.

5) The Spider Labyrinth (1988): Conspiracy theory – How can conspiracy theory be an aesthetic? Well, have a look at the included screen grab below. That realization that you were in the lion’s den the entire time makes for a uneasy experience in denouements to films such as The Perfume of the Lady in Black, Short Night of Glass Dolls, and Rosemary’s Baby.

6) Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987): ‘80s Filmation nostalgia, inappropriately scary for intended kid audience, creepy carnivals – This unofficial sequel to Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio did give me nightmares, particularly on account of one scene with Pinocchio at The Neon Cabaret, some sort of kid disco (the Playland counterpart), where the kids' faces start to horrifically distort after he drinks the sparkly green liquid, which I like to think is carbonated Ecto Cooler spiked with absinthe.

7) All the Colors of the Dark (1972): Black Masses, Edwige fenech (yes, she counts as an aesthetic), looming mansion destinations, Bruno Nicolai, staying classy and fashionable (like something out of a JCPenny’s catalogue) while being stalked by your killer. I love black mass scenes and All the Colors of the Dark easily has my favorites.

8) The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (1971): Vampires moving through space in slow motion, classic monster mashups, Paul Naschy, gothic ambiance – With the right amount of fog and dread, slow motion framing can make your monsters seem to exist outside of space and time, and the effect is quite startling, so much so that Amando di Ossorio would mimic it for his Blind Dead Templars.

9) Queens of Evil (1970): Horror movies with a fairytale exterior, provocative situations that aren’t what they seem, ancient witches in touch with modern ‘70s fashions, Snow White, free spirited hippies with a lot of crazy ideas about free loveQueens of Evil is a fantastic horror film with a biting social message.

10) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988): Classic cel animation juxtaposed with reality, nourish style set in 1940s LA, inappropriate for kids despite being one of my favorite movies as a kid – There couldn’t be anything more awesome than cartoons being real and the existence of a place like Toontown and not to mention a chance to meet Betty Boop.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Adrift / Touha zvaná Anada (1971)

Adrift was one of the last, if not the last, Czechoslovak New Wave films before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Filming was actually interrupted by the invasion, with a military bridge being temporarily erected at the filming site on the banks of the Danube River. Adrift’s co-director and co-writer (academy award winning filmmaker Ján Kadár) then fled the country and made another film in the US, The Angel Levine. After the loosening of Soviet control in Czechoslovakia in 1969, Kadár returned, and, after getting everyone back together, filming for Adrift resumed.

I became interested in Adrift (or my preferred title: A Desire Called Anada) at random while scanning for new older foreign films to watch. One drew me in by its poster design (I know, typical) that put me in the mood for a haunting, surreal fantasy about a water nymph. I also saw that it was Czechoslovak, which had me recalling At the Mansion of Madness favorites Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and Morgiana (1972). I’ve also been meaning to explore more Czechoslovak New Wave films, especially for this site, so I kind of committed myself to Adrift for review before even watching it. I decided not to read anything about it and go in fresh without knowing what it was about or if it was any good. (Yep, that’s how this blogger sometimes picks movies). Spoiler: it’s good.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marta (1971)

Austrian actor Marisa Mell (born Marlies Theres Moitzi) is remembered by most as a sexy ‘60s cult icon, particularly as Diabolik’s girlfriend/partner-in-crime, Eva, in Mario Bava’s comic adaptation Danger: Diabolik (1968), but Mell also starred in a fine line of Euro-thriller dramas, usually playing the seductive swindler-murderess type – Death will Have your Eyes (1974) and Diary of an Erotic Murderess (1975) to name a couple. Her particular attention-grabbing, statuesque presence could make the most routine mystery plot a delight to sit through. However, she was underutilized in her movie career in certain respects; considering her demigoddess-like physiognomy, it’s unfortunate that she didn’t play more fantastical or otherworldly characters in fantasy or horror films; and along with Margaret Lee, I thought of her as a Eurospy girl that should’ve eventually been a real Bond girl.

A number of Marisa Mell starring vehicles currently suffer from not having proper releases, such as a little seen Spanish/Italian mystery thriller, directed and co-written by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, called Marta aka …dopo di che, uccide il maschio e lo divora. I had been interested in checking it out for a while, and when a reader mentioned the film to me, I was finally driven to track down a copy and watch it. The version I first watched didn’t have the best image quality, but even worse was that it had all of Marisa Mell’s nude scenes edited out (the nerve), but I liked it enough to buy a DVD-R of the uncut version, which, sadly, was of even lower image quality; Marta is obviously in need of proper restoration.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spasmo (1974)

I know now that it’s Italian for ‘spasm’ (or a name giallo fans might give their pets), but when I first watched this film’s delirious trailer, I remember thinking: “who or what is Spasmo?” and after I saw the movie, I still didn’t know what Spasmo was. It’s just one of those appealing one word titles that, like Orgasmo, somehow complement the film rather well.

You don’t forget a title and a film like Spasmo. As for the details of the story and characters, that can get a little hazy, not just with time but even upon reflection the following day, since there’s so much to it. Images of assaulted mannequins meld with memories of murdered characters that may or may not have been real from the perspective of the protagonist, who is either losing his mind or is in the worst company ever. It really makes you wonder if Umberto Lenzi’s experimental giallo is either a confusing mess or a labyrinth of mysteries and riddles for the viewer to explore and analyze.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Devil of Kreuzberg (2015)

It’s always been interesting to get to know fellow film bloggers through their writing or vlogs. You come across a lot of great writers with a mutual passion for European genre and horror movies, yet some of them have a passion that goes beyond just talking about the movies; they make them too. Now, I confess to knowing nothing about filmmaking and I probably never will, but I can only imagine what kind of intense commitment and passion must go in to making a genre love letter like The Devil of Kreuzberg, a medium-length German gothic horror film from indie filmmaker, and I might point out fellow film blogger, Alexander Bakshaev.

I’ve followed Alex on Trash Film Addict for a few years now, so I was familiar with what kind of films he’s interested in and looking forward to how someone who knows a lot about vintage gothic horror would tackle a low-budget gothic horror film in 2015, and I’ve got to say I was impressed.

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