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.
                              
  
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. 


      

9 comments:

  1. Really excellent write up ! I love this movie. Rosalba looks absolutely drop dead gorgeous here and I think its wonderful how an asylum for mentally disturbed people has walls full of easily accessible weapons. It's suppose to be coming out on blu-ray from Raro later this year.
    Although its pretty well edited there's a body double used in the the REALLY up close and personal scenes of Rosalba's masturbation sequence and I've always thought her stroll through the greenhouse is one of the true highlights of Italian exploitation cinema. Although while oddly the Shriek Show disc contains the full on masturbation sequence, its missing a few frames of some full frontal stuff of her in her greenhouse stroll,striptease. Great Stuff !


    Dick

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    1. Hi Dick, thanks for the compliment/comment and for reading. I’ve had a soft spot for this movie for a while, but it’s always been a little hard to recommend outside of the giallo/exploitation/Neri fan base. I loved the medieval weaponry decorating the asylum, and it’s just as wonderful that it’s left out even after people start getting killed.

      Yes, the version I reviewed is the Shriek Show DVD from my personal collection. It looks fair enough, but it could use some improvements. There’s a strange fringing effect that is easily noticeable any time there’s motion, and it’s more noticeable while pausing, and it made getting screen grabs a little difficult. I didn’t know there was more Rosalba Neri goodness in the greenhouse; I’ll be looking out for Raro’s release.

      I had mentioned that it was probably a “stand-in” for the up-close shots with Neri, in an earlier draft, as the legs look a bit skinnier, the skin tone is lighter, and the hand looks different. I had a hard time confirming it and was a little worried I might be wrong, so I omitted it, but I’m glad you were able to confirm it. Thanks again :)

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    2. You can see Rosalba's appendectomy scar disappear in some of the shots (OK - I admit I've watched this way too much !). The Shriek Show disc also has some weird audio sync problems at a couple of points. I have the Italian Raro DVD and its beautiful, so I have high hopes for their upcoming blu ray.

      Your right its an odd bird of a film and not a good one for the uninitiated. I actually saw it at some fleabag theatre in Detroit back in the 70's on a double bill (I think with LOVE TRAIN FOR THE S.S. or something of that ilk)

      There's also a really good interview with Rosalba on the Raro disc that covers her entire career. It's up on You Tube with subtitles:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lqX44oXM7M

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    3. In the review, I assumed the weird audio sync problem where Mara is killed with the crossbow was deliberate, but it makes more sense that it was a defect, because I couldn’t make a whole lot out of it. Thanks for the interview link. I really need to start making use of video references more often.

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  2. I recommend the 1993 novel The Road To Wellville by T. Coraghessan Boyle. It's an historical fictionalization about John Harvey Kellogg. For the love of all that is holy, do NOT seek out the 1994 film adaptation.

    Great post, of course. Loved that cornflake tangent!

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    1. Thanks, Brandon! I really must have had a sheltered life, because I hadn’t the slightest hint about the eccentric Dr. Kellogg. This cereal history is like some kind of fascinating revelation for me, and I honestly can’t see why.

      I hope you can forgive me, but your earnest warning for me to stay away from the film adaptation of The Road to Wellville ended up processing as total reverse psychology on me. I couldn’t resist when I googled it and found the full movie on YouTube staring me in the face (and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Kellogg made it even more tempting). I honestly thought it was a fun time, albeit a ridiculous one. It really was interesting to see all that stuff I read about Dr. Kellogg adapted to a fictionalized comedy. Don’t know where I was when this came out. Probably watching Forrest Gump or The Lion King.

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    2. I suppose I took offense because the movie adaptation - more so than is usually the case with movie adaptations - is considerably less than the source material. One of those rare instances wherein I read the book first. lol I expected (hoped for) a lot more from the movie of what I thought was a fine, smart, and funny novel.

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  3. Excellent review, love the Corn Flakes intro. Chances are I would have never learned that otherwise. I loved this movie when I watched it awhile back, mainly because of Klaus Kinski's role. Only seen it once, but now your writeup has inspired me to get a hold of it again for a second watch.

    On a random note, for the longest time I thought Asylum Erotica and Slaughter Hotel were two different movies. I'd seen the Asylum Erotica DVD at a local trading store but not picked it up, and then watched that Slaughter Hotel Shriek Show DVD, and it took me way too long to realize they were one and the same.

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    1. Thanks Jonny! Much appreciated. I knew this movie under Slaughter Hotel for a long time, but I ended up liking Asylum Erotica better, though both titles work. The translation of the Italian title is The Beast Kills in Cold Blood. It’s definitely become an issue with me with international cinema and hearing new titles only to find out I’ve already seem them under a different name, but the editing can be significantly altered, as is the case with The Obscene Mirror / The Other Side of the Mirror.

      Asylum Erotica makes for a good rewatch. I had rewatched it a couple times, about 2 years apart, and each time I couldn’t remember who the killer was, although like I said in the review, the murder mystery itself isn’t particularly this film’s strength.

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