Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Devil’s Lover / L’amante del demonio (1972)

Now I have you with me, under my power. Our love grows stronger now with every hour. Look into my eyes, you will see who I am. My name is Lucifer, please take my hand.” – Black Sabbath 

When Satan comes to town, he sets his sights on the biggest catch in The Devil’s Lover, or my personal favorite alternate title Lucifera: Demonlover

I don’t know why, but it’s taken me many years to revisit this Italian gothic horror. The last time I watched it was in 2009 when I picked up the pan-and-scan Mya DVD. Despite the poor picture quality, I was happy to have it, as I probably wouldn’t have ended up knowing about it otherwise, but I am surprised the film never had an upgrade since. As far as I can tell, the only way to see it in 2022 is still as a censored and murky full screen film. 

Even though it was restrained, my fondest memory of this film was the grand love scene between a nude Rosalba Neri and a clothed, caped Devil figure, played by Edmund Purdom. I was in awe at the visual of Rosalba’s sideways lying profile figure that was partially shrouded by the devil’s cape as he embraced her. It certainly has the same kind of energy as the classic reclining nude paintings, such as La Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1814) or The Rokeby Venus (1647-1651) by Diego Velázquez.

A colorful looking ‘70s gothic horror like The Devil’s Lover is an easy sell given the look, title, poster art, and cast of the film, but the film itself does feel incomplete and amateurish. It tries to deliver the goods, but it’s usually not enough. For me personally, it contains everything I usually want, but it doesn’t go as hard with it as I’d like. Just as it starts to show promise, it usually pulls back. This might have something to do with the censorship the film was subject to. Despite this, it still has its moments as well as a few nice touches and a fun playfulness at times. It checks off most of the gothic Eurohorror boxes, so it is a comfort film for me. The film’s also of note for featuring Italian movie goddess Rosalba Neri in a double lead role of sorts. Fortunately, Rosalba doesn’t disappoint and her heart seems to be in it. She does deserve better and has certainly been in better, but she’s a delightful and evocative presence that does make this movie more noteworthy than it otherwise would’ve been. We’ve also got Edmund Purdom as a lustful devil figure with some seriously formidable sword dueling skills. These kind of romantic but perilous Satan characters were a thing in the late ’60, early 70s, especially as a substitute for the love interest in gothic romance novels.

The mood and setting do get your attention at the start. Young, beautiful, and chic women vs. a creepy antique castle, it’s definitely what we’re here to see, but it does take an unexpected yet interesting turn as a flashback story. 

Rosalba Neri and her two other gorgeous lady friends make for a lovely entrance onto the grounds of a castle (the Castello Ruspoli). They are crashing this castle because they heard it belonged to the devil and are looking to debunk this legend by staying the night. Seems reasonable enough.

They find a hospitable intendant who treats them to an atmospheric candlelit dinner. After being spooked at dinner, Rosalba (her present-day character isn’t named, so I’m calling her Rosalba) retires to her room and slips into a gothic night gown for bed. Later that night, she explores the castle halls with candelabrum in hand before being startled by an old portrait of a woman in flames, who Rosalba believes is herself. The castle seems to menace her at this point, causing her to pass out and awaken in the Middle Ages, into a kind of dream that’s taken possession of her, as the movie makes an abrupt tone-change here, transitioning in to a period piece that actually makes up the bulk of the film. That’s right, we’re not coming back to the castle for a long time.

Despite being bewildered at first, she becomes the soon-to-be-married virgin Helga from a small (German, judging by the names of the characters) village. What’s interesting is that in the present Rosalba has fallen into a dream to now become her counterpart from centuries prior, who is waking up from a dream in a sunny open field (that surreal and disorienting shift from a night to a day perspective always gets me). As Helga, she is a maiden engaged to a man named Hans (Ferdinando Poggi). There’s also a mystery fellow in a red hood that sometimes shows up in the background to disturb the otherwise idyllic scenario.

I was intrigued to see that Robert Woods, who I know from several Jess Franco films, is on hand as Helmut, a sword dueling romantic in tights. Helmut loves and pursues a woman named Magda (Maria Teresa Pingitore), who is instead in love with Hans, but Hans loves his bride-to-be, Helga. This love square is the central conflict for a while, so we do get a little in to soap opera territory for a time before the more fantastical elements come forward again to put the film on its path to a promised “grand guignol” finale. 

The more fantasy and sinister side of the plot is set forth when Helga learns of the superstitious belief from her mother that if any other man were to see Helga’s wedding dress before the future husband, the marriage would be cursed with the evil eye. And of course, shortly after, the mysterious man in the crimson hood sees Helga’s dress while peering into the window, cursing the wedding dress for certain. The bad vibes need to be lifted, so Helga seeks a witch in the woods to cleanse her contaminated wedding dress. The outcome to this solution is unsavory but still entertaining since it somehow leads to a ritualistic cave orgy scene with witches and vampires that passes faster than I would’ve liked.

Helga seems to become more enchanted by the curse, ending up in an apathetic state during the pre-wedding celebration after the red hooded man eventually reveals himself to be a handsome Dracula looking gentleman named Gunther (Purdom), who Helga seems to have an attraction to despite her better judgement. What’s a girl to do when the devil is after your virginity? I do like the cutaway effect before she first meets him, where Helga’s vampirized friends accost her only as a means to magically whisp her away to his lair, an old desecrated church, where he can introduce himself and incite her to ambivalent temptation and plant in her an unhealthy obsession for him. In other words, put her under his spell.

The Devil’s Lover is a winner in style but falls short in execution. An affair with the prince of darkness himself is a neat idea that really works for this kind of movie, but alas the chemistry between Neri and Purdom is superficial at best, which I don’t think is the actors’ faults. The story just doesn’t really give them enough time to be around each other enough to generate much chemistry. She met him once and is ready to forget her marriage and do his bidding to prove that her love for him is real. It’s a spell, so it requires some suspension of disbelief. Their more intimate encounter towards the end is more or less a set piece/spectacle that I thought was still the most memorable part. 

The music from Elvio Monti isn’t bad and is as low budget sounding as the film itself. I personally like it, as it has a charming kitschy quality to it as well as a folk sound at times that works well for the flashback setting. It doesn’t really quite save the film, but the cheap, almost stock sounding, music does weirdly complement the overall cheapness of the film. There's a story teller jester who enters a scene by dancing down the road while playing the film's recognizable main theme on the flute, so it convinces me the music was composed for this film and is not stock music. 

The medieval flashback setting has all of the production value of a backyard Renaissance Faire, but for viewers in the right mindset this is one of the film’s charms. The sword fighting choreography isn’t bad, but unfortunately, the special effects are very minimal (perhaps another casualty of censorship?), and the vampires are on screen for only a few seconds, but as a supernatural period-piece with exploitation trappings, there’s still some fun to be had for patient fans of satanic Eurohorror and Rosalba Neri. However, the fun parts are short and tend to underdeliver. 

Like I was saying earlier though, this one’s easy to package and sell but also difficult to recommend. 

© At the Mansion of Madness



Saturday, January 15, 2022

Justine and the Whip (1979)

Around the late ‘70s, Joe D’Amato got his paws on three Jess Franco films and, with editing help from Bruno Mattei, combined separate footage from each film into a single film called Justine and the Whip, starring Lina Romay, with Alice Arno receiving top billing. The dialogue from the original films was changed and redubbed in Italian, and the soundtrack was reworked. 

The reasons for why a patchwork movie like Justine and the Whip exists aren’t clear. Some have said that it was because D’Amato was salvaging an unfinished film from Franco that was originally intended to be another version of De Sade’s Justine. But I read in Stephen Thrower’s The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco: Volume Two that the original film was called Julietta 69 and was completed and actually had a 1976 French cinema release before becoming inaccessible. It’s speculated that Jess Franco sold Julietta 69 to an Italian production company, and D’Amato and Mattei were eventually commissioned by Franco Gaudenzi to make the mashup Justine and the Whip. Thrower also points out that D’Amato claimed in an interview from Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut (1999) that they were trying to make Franco’s films more “usable”, but the result here is an incoherent mess that seems quite unusable, at least by comparison to what the completed Julietta 69 must have been like. Maybe by “usable” D’Amato meant more commercially appealing for the time by possibly increasing the number and frequency of love scenes in the film.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Nude for Satan / Nuda per Satana (1974)

“Think of nothing but the fact that you are marrying me, and are promising to love and obey me forever, past death, into eternity!” – Vincent, Lord Satan (Louisa Bronte)

A movie called Nude for Satan already sounds pretty good without even knowing the plot. The notion of satanic panic combined with Italian exploitation resulted in an impulse buy for me. When I looked the DVD case over, I was like, “yes, please!” Plus, it’s from the same director, Luigi Batzella, of The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) and The Beast in Heat (1977). And, it stars one of the most amazing Italian scream queens, Rita Calderoni. There’s lots of promise here. 

If you are watching the Dutch Sodemented DVD version of this film, there will be p#rn, as in hardcore inserts of other actors and body-doubles legitimately bumping uglies. If you think that will take you out of the movie, I would recommend one of the DVDs released by Redemption instead, or check it out on Redemption TV.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Demons 5: The Devil's Veil / La maschera del demonio (1989)

Lamberto Bava’s made for television Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil really took me by surprise when I first saw it. Historically, it’s been pretty rare, so, years ago, when a friend pointed out to me that the film had been uploaded to their YouTube page, I initially watched it as a curiosity (always going the extra mile when it comes to Italian horror). Being somewhat forgotten and without much praise and recommendation to go off of, I was expecting a mediocre ‘80s horror film, but the experience was really quite technically impressive and entertaining, with several memorable horror sequences. Story wise, I’ll admit, it was a little hard to stay invested the entire time, but I loved Sergio Stivaletti’s creature effects, and I really appreciated the sometimes subtle and sometimes startling approach the movie took to demonic possession. There’s just a number of really nice touches in how peculiar the characters act when it’s apparent some kind of demonic force is acting on them, a similar kind of peculiarity that I appreciated in The Church (1989) from Michele Soavi, who also stars in this.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Zeder / Revenge of the Dead (1983)

Pupi Avati’s Zeder has been an odd enigma of an Italian horror film to me. I’m not really sure what it is trying to do, but its mystique and mismatched place in the genre are part of what make it special. While watching it, I usually wonder what it is we are looking for or what the lead character is so obsessed and serious about, and yet I can't help always feeling drawn in. It’s a movie searching for something deep and menacing, and it does eventually find it, but the journey along the way is a challenging, unsettling, and memorable one with an impressively creepy payoff and a serious lead performance from Deep Red’s (1975) Gabriele Lavia. I also like the way it alludes to a kind of sinister underbelly to the city in a way that is similar to Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974). 

What I buy most about Zeder is the academic and research side, fixating on knowing and overcoming death. The scientific field approach, with shady occultist researchers and their cameras and experimental equipment is pivotal to one of the best scenes. 

Stefano’s (Lavia) investigations become a paranoid obsession that he never really lets up on once he starts on it. Being a writer and a college student (overdue for graduation it seems), his focus feels like a thesis from hell.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

There’s no other experience quite like Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, or even the alternate clothed Spanish version Las Vampiras. I recall coming across the DVD of this film on the shelf in the foreign-film section at (the now defunct) Hastings Entertainment, and, being a newborn Jess Franco fan at the time, I knew I wanted it. I had just come off of Jess Franco’s Macumba Sexual (1983) and was ready for more. Only problem was I remembered being a little too self-conscientious about looking like a weirdo bringing a film called Vampyros Lesbos up to checkout, but I bit-the-bullet and proudly made my purchase. 

To tell you the truth, I’d like to relate my first-time experience watching Vampyros Lesbos, but I honestly cannot seem to remember a lot about it, other than that I noticed some similarities to Macumba Sexual. I do remember that afterwards, I quickly picked up Jess Franco’s She Killed in Ecstasy (1971), which was made around the same time and also starred the sultry Spanish beauty Soledad Miranda in another arousing but also sympathetic role. 

While re-watching Vampyros Lesbos more recently, despite seeing it several times before, I noticed that I had forgotten a lot of specifics to the storyline, but I still remembered my favorite parts quite well while also realizing new favorite parts. It just seems to become more enriching upon each viewing, opening itself up further each time I revisit it. It never feels old, overwatched, or stale. Basically, it’s a real keeper that should be kept close and revisited at least once a year. Every scene is worth savoring.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Blood and Roses / Et mourir de plaisir (1960)

Roses always fade in a Vampire’s hand.”-Carmilla (Annette Stroyberg

I’ve always loved the supernatural femme fatale Carmilla since I was first introduced to her in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (1972). There was something so appealing about the sapphic predatory vampiress from J.S. Le Fanu’s 1872 novella, whose influence was all over the erotic vampire films from the 1960s and 1970s I loved, and more. After I reviewed The Blood Spattered Bride, naturally, I felt compelled to read Carmilla, a short but marvelous piece of gothic literature. I loved the dark, forested isolated castle setting and the peculiar relationship that develops between Laura and Carmilla. After reading it, I felt I had hipster boasting rights to tell people who never heard of it that I knew of and read a vampire book that was written twenty-five years before the more well-known Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Now, the book, Dracula is much more developed, but it is astounding how many story similarities there are between Dracula and Carmilla (itself sharing similarities to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished Christabel (1816)). I don’t think there can be any doubt that Carmilla heavily influenced Dracula. 

It’s been a delight to explore different adaptations of Carmilla, such as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Crypt of the Vampire (1964) as well as movies influenced by Carmilla like Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and Daughters of Darkness (1971). I remember thinking back in 2013 that the time was right for new Carmilla movies. I must have been asleep the last seven years, because I only recently learned that there have been new Carmilla films being made, such as The Unwanted (2014), The Curse of Styria (2014), Carmilla (2015), a Carmilla web-series that eventually got a follow-up movie called Carmilla the Movie (2017), and most recently Carmilla (2019) from Emily Harris. I just recently checked out the 2019 movie, and all I can say is, what a powerful ending. I’d say it comes pretty close to the modern Carmilla film I was hoping for.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Emanuelle and Joanna / Il mondo porno di due sorelle (1979)

So, here we are, nearly ten years in to writing for this site, and it would look like I’m finally getting around to covering an Emmanuelle movie… Well, not quite… In fact, Emanuelle and Joanna seems to me to be an anti-Emmanuelle movie, since I believe the literary Emmanuelle is mainly about embracing and normalizing sexual taboos. Whereas the protagonist in Emanuelle and Joanna is haunted by sexual taboos and is seemingly punished for her altruism by providence, or the scriptwriter if you prefer. I felt it was much too negative to be in line with the sexually positive but still iconoclastic spirit of the writings of Emmanuelle Arsan (Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane) and to me had a little more in common with the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Emanuelle and Joanna, who I’m assuming are the two women seen on the movie poster engaging in what is surely a kind of esoteric sex ritual, aren’t even in the movie. The lead sisters, alluded to in the film's Italian title, are Emanuela (Sherry Buchanan) and Giovanna (Paola Montenero). I don’t feel duped at all though, because this is the kind of shit I go for, a pleasing dark piece of dated erotica that sends its protagonist down a rabbit-hole of perverts.