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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Dracula Saga (1973)

Count Dracula seems to have a habit of always being reborn, both within the stories themselves as well as in different incarnations across the board of entertainment media. He’s become so synonymous with horror and Halloween that he will never leave the public consciousness. You can kill him off with a wooden stake or by overexposing him with so many variations, adaptations, tie-ins, or spin-offs, but he’s never going away; he’ll always be reborn. And why shouldn’t he? Like most great ideas, there always seems to be plenty more to explore. I wonder if Bram Stoker knew just how immortal his creation would turn out to be and that killing him off at the end of the novel was only the beginning.

Much like Hammer’s Dracula films, the Spanish horror film The Dracula Saga / La saga de los Drácula is a take that explores further possibilities with The Count. With a stretch of the imagination, it kind of works as an unofficial prequel to Stoker's Dracula, but it’s rather more of an alteration of sorts that disregards the events of the original story and takes liberties to imagine what Dracula’s family would be like, with a story told primarily through Dracula’s estranged granddaughter, Berta (Tina Sáinz – I could’ve easily seen Emma Cohen in this role as well). Although there are narrations from Dracula at the beginning and at the end, telling the story at the end as if it was his story all along, while the English trailer is narrated by Berta, who claims this is her story, so it's a bit of a toss up as to whose story this really is. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Monster of the Opera / Il mostro dell’opera (1964)

Il mostro dell’opera is not quite what you’d call an adaptation but more an experimental variation of The Phantom of the Opera. But it’s unlikely that viewers will come to this side of Eurocult obscurity just to see what replacing The Phantom with a Count Dracula-esque vampire in a beloved and well-known canon would be like; most probably seek this out because of the movie’s co-writer/director Renato Polselli. I know I did.

If you’re a fan of Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), of which this makes a good double bill with, you are going to love this, and if you’re a fan of Polselli’s delirious S&M fever nightmares from the early ‘70s, you’ll love this too, because Il mostro dell’opera is like a predecessor to Delirium (1972) and Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century (1973) aka The Reincarnation of Isabel – minus the turbulent editing. It builds on everything that made The Vampire and the Ballerina a fun time but is progressive in a sense with certain erotic and expressionistic elements that in contrast to its old-fashioned, classic look makes it feel ahead of its time.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “oh no, he’s reviewing another freaking giallo again,” but this isn’t just another giallo.
  
Short Night of Glass Dolls, Aldo Lado’s directorial debut, is actually quite the surprise, in that it manages to meet, defy, and exceed expectations right up from its mellow start to its killer climax. It interweaves elements from occult horror and the detective thriller into a nonlinear narrative that has a little bit of a Citizen Kane (1941) format and a plot that’s driven by the interesting mystery of what could’ve befallen its unfortunate protagonist. The explanation is pretty much what you’d expect, but the sheer weirdness and the way it plays out, not to mention the alternate Prague setting, causes Short Night to be refreshingly different from the more common giallo of the early ‘70s and yet still look and feel very much like one.

The success of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) was still freshly permeating its influence around this time, and it’s no surprise that numerous films continued to capitalize on its black magic, occult, and conspiracy themes, and Short Night is no exception, with murders, kidnappings, and sanity breakdowns feeling orchestrated by some sort of secret order, also bringing to mind The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974).

Monday, August 17, 2015

Les gloutonnes (1973)

With the French productions The Lustful Amazons (1973) and Les gloutonnes, Jess Franco wrote and directed two brazenly erotic takes on Italy’s own Hercules counterpart Maciste, a recurring cinematic hero from the peplum genre with respectable origins dating back to the silent film era, starting with Cabiria (1914). A different character altogether, Franco’s Maciste, played by Wal Davis, is more of a medieval playboy, adventuring to new lands full of sex hungry Amazons, randy mythical queens, and horny Atlanteans, saving the day, satisfying entire tribes, and living to tell about it.
  
The Lustful Amazons contains some of the most entertaining comedic sex scenes, with top tier Franco babes Alice Arno, Kali Hansa, and Lina Romay, that are quite arousing to watch, and they manage to keep an otherwise underwhelming film lively enough to sit through with a minimal level of enjoyment. On the other hand, the longer sex interludes in Les gloutonnes manage to drag down what is actually an intriguing erotic fantasy/adventure film. The settings for some of the more detached porn scenes, seemingly edited into the film, are dark and surreal (done with Franco’s tendency for up-close body worship) but couldn’t be more unnecessarily drawn out, even in a Jess Franco film, where I’m usually conditioned for such lengthy interludes.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973)

Beyond the Darkness (1979) was my first Joe D’Amato experience and one of my earlier Italian horror revelations, and it quickly ramped up my respect for D’Amato, who, for me, at the time was like the ‘other guy’ who seemed like he was going to be my new grimier gore-master alternative to Fulci and Argento.

D’Amato's Anthropophagus (1980), despite its notoriety, didn’t quite measure up to the expectations I had based on what I experienced from Beyond the Darkness. Incidentally, I did end up ultimately enjoying D’Amato’s line of odd, softcore (sometimes hardcore) Emanuelle films, most of which starred the exotic and goddess-like Laura Gemser. Somewhere along the way, I got ahold of D’Amato’s poetic and beautifully gothic Death Smiles on a Murderer / La morte ha sorriso all'assassino, his first horror film as sole director. I didn’t quite connect with it on the first run, but I’ve really come to appreciate it today.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960)

I’ll admit that about three years after seeing The Vampire and the Ballerina (L’amante del vampire) the only thing I could seem to remember about it was the dance numbers. The movie had left a good impression on me for some reason, and I don’t think it was just because of the dance scenes, which were surprisingly sexy for 1960. During a recent re-watch the rest of the movie was like viewing it for the first time. It’s a fun, atmospheric Italian vampire piece from the gothic horror golden age, and after seeing a lot of those, they tend to get lost in the memory over time if you don’t re-watch them on occasion.

This one, along with the same year's The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), does have enough sexy gimmicks to help it standout in the mix; and what might also make it a little more interesting to some is that it is an early effort from Renato Polselli, someone whose particular brand of erotic, expressionistic madness touches my heart. Polselli’s cinematic characteristics seen in films like Delirium (1972) and The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973) aren’t quite as apparent in The Vampire and the Ballerina as they would be in Polselli’s Vampire of the Opera (1964) later on, but it’s still a charming attempt at a gothic horror film, in romantic B&W, that Polselli co-wrote with prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi as well as Giuseppe Pellegrini.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

5 Dolls for an August Moon (1970)

It’s amazing what Mario Bava could accomplish when he had free creative reign considering films like Lisa and the Devil (1973) and Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), but with 5 Dolls for an August Moon (5 bambole per la luna d’agosto), we have an example of Mario Bava as a director for hire, being pressured to return to the newly booming giallo genre he helped create with the previous entries Blood and Black Lace (1964) and The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963).

Admittedly, 5 Dolls is a more conventional affair in comparison to Lisa and Twitch and is obviously influenced by Agatha Christie’s seminal Ten Little Indians. I wouldn’t call it an adaptation but more of a self-conscious tribute with several trendy updates and sly nods to the source material. It turns out that Bava didn’t think highly of Ten Little Indians at all. When he was approached with the script, written by Mario di Nardo, and asked to direct the film he mainly accepted the job, despite some apprehension, because he would get paid up front, which disputes a previous notion I had that 5 Dolls was Bava’s own take on Christie’s classic novel. Making an Agatha Christie inspired giallo was the fashionable thing to do at the time, and, not being able to add much to the script, Bava directed a giallo he would end up having very little regard for, which is unfortunate because it’s one of my favorites. It also has one of my favorite soundtracks, by Piero Umiliani.

The story concerns ten characters, five of them women (most likely the titular 5 dolls), on an island. In the spirit of Ten Little Indians, with no way of presently leaving the island, they are killed off one by one by an unknown assassin whom they eventually realize has to be one of them.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Succubus / Necronomicon (1968)

During an interview included on the 2006 Blue Underground release of Succubus, Jess Franco spoke of a sixteenth century book he had come across on a bookshelf entitled Necronomicon that had belonged to a wealthy actor and film producer Pier A. Caminnecci, who had invited Jess over to his house to indulge in his extensive jazz collection, as the two were mutual jazz fans. Jess read a short story from this particular book that was so extraordinary he had to make it into a movie. Of course, this incarnation of the Necronomicon was most likely an imitation since this popular mythical tome came entirely from HP Lovecraft’s imagination in the early twentieth century, but it’s still fun to think that Jess may’ve been influenced by the actual ‘book of the dead’ written by the “Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred. Jess blended the material from the book with a script for a horror movie he had previously worked on, and the result is one of his most provocative films.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interrabang (1969)

Considering movies like Barbarella (1968), Top Sensation (1969), and Russ Meyer’s Vixen! (1968), it would seem that the late ‘60s, the peak of the sexual revolution in the western world, was a turning point for erotic movies. Sexually charged films from this era were not only challenging censorship but were also challenging the monolithic wall of puritanical behavior that associated sex solely with marriage, which also mirrored the changing attitudes towards sex during the revolution.

With both “the pill” and penicillin on the market, pregnancy and STDs were less of an issue, and a woman’s sexuality outside of marriage was becoming more widely accepted, unlike the vicious double standard from before when it was more permissible for unmarried men to have sex. Naturally, sex began to saturate the media, was used to sell products, and became a big part of mainstream culture. In addition, more and more married couples began experimenting with extramarital sex.

After the Hays Code was put to sleep in 1968 sexploitation cinema would really begin to thrive. With hopes of being free from the restraints of censorship, erotica would be used to explore new creative avenues of film making.

Inevitably, a lot of these so called sexploitation movies were taken to court, but a good way erotic filmmakers could get passed this was to not only make their movies sexually explicit but to make them intellectual and artful as well, which was particularly more common in foreign sex movies. On the VH1 documentary Sex the Revolution, John Waters said that in order to win in court you had to prove that a prosecuted sex film was socially redeeming, which would then make it acceptable.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Maniac Mansion (1972)

The Italian-Spanish co-production La mansión de la niebla / Maniac Mansion was the directorial debut of Spanish filmmaker Francisco Lara Polop, who had been previously working as a unit production manager for about ten years. He would also produce the Paul Naschy classics The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) and Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973).

Made at the height of the Spanish horror boom, Maniac Mansion really is quite the fanciful gothic horror film with enough giallo and murder mystery influences to make it appealing to all Eurocult fans.

The fiery intro credit sequence is hypnotic and a nice mood setter, featuring a killer theme and a couple of chilling evil-witch cackles. The beginning of the story is a lot more grounded in reality with a somewhat unremarkable setup involving numerous shady characters, among which are a few familiar faces including Jess Franco regular Alberto Dalbés, before derailing into a foggy nightmare world, where things get a lot more interesting. Initially, you might start feeling better off just reading an Agatha Christie novel instead, but it does start to get good when all of the characters seemingly enter what feels like Silent Hill all of a sudden.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Man with Icy Eyes (1971)

Although commonly referred to as a giallo, Alberto De Martino’s The Man with Icy Eyes would have to be a rather atypical example of the genre, if not an ostensible one. It is set and filmed in a southwestern desert city called Albuquerque, NM (where I’m from, but we’ll get to that later). It doesn’t follow the violent murder mystery plot set forth by Mario Bava and popularized by Dario Argento, nor does it have any of the attractive gothic horror crossovers with ultramodern psychedelic fashions or drug-induced delirium. If anything, the film is more of a rustic detective story with a smattering of the crime thriller and a climax not entirely unlike that of Lucio Fulci’s One On Top of the Other (1969). Given the film’s mystery element, tense soundtrack, and early ‘70s era, and considering the presence of key players like Antonio Sabato (Seven Blood Stained Orchids 1972) and Barbara Bouchet (Don’t Torture a Duckling 1972), I can still dig the giallo tag. It also flirts with the supernatural, just a little, and there’s a colorful nude photography scene with Bouchet to give the film a minimally erotic edge.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Simona / Passion (1974)

You might not know it from looking at the playful erotic movie posters and DVD covers, but Simona is no sex comedy. Though still playful and sexy in certain parts, Patrick Longchamps’ Fellini-inspired adaptation of the French novel Story of the Eye (1928) is a dark oddity of avant-garde filmmaking, with a heavy undercurrent of social alienation.

At the time the film was released its lead actress Laura Antonelli had recently achieved overnight fame from her award winning role in Salvatore Samperi’s sexy, controversial dark-comedy Malizia (1973). She had made such an impact that moviegoers flocked to see Antonelli in Simona, which was actually shot about a year before Malizia (Simona was shelved for a while before being released).

Simona was unfortunately confiscated in Italy for its explicit content. One-time Belgian filmmaker Longchamps had a friend with connections in the Vatican who organized a private screening of the banned film for four priests, and after finally being approved by the church, Simona was released in Italy, where it made a lot of money (the film was never released in its native country of Belgium). Eventually the original film negatives were acquired by "distributors of ill-repute," and as it currently stands, a properly restored version of Simona, as far as I know, remains unrealized.

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