Sunday, December 4, 2022

Bloody Pit of Horror / Il boia scarlatto (1965)

Fun is only partially the name of the game with a film like Bloody Pit of Horror. With its comic book style influence, there’s lots of fun to be had, but it’s got a mean side too, as sadism is also the name of the game. The mix of fun and dark in the film is an influence from a style of Italian adult-oriented superhero, crime, and erotic comics known as Fumetti Neri, which consists, among many others, of flamboyant masked super heroes/villains: Diabolik, Kriminal, Mister-X, and Satanik. The antagonist in Bloody Pit of Horror could’ve easily come out of this subgenre, but he’s no fantastic masked superman. He’s a fantastically cruel masked super-sadistic-madman, the Crimson Executioner, played with love, enthusiasm, and high energy by a chiseled Mickey Hargitay. 

 

The trailer and the intro to the English edited version of Bloody Pit of Horror wants you to believe that the film is based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. This is fair, since it is surprisingly sadistic at times, with a fair share of medieval dungeon torture devices, but it’s a lot more on the Fumetti Neri side, consciously so, as the characters in the film include a photography crew and a company of lovely cover girl models in an old castle shooting some violent and sexy material for a fumetti style photocomic book called Skeletrik. It is also influenced by the more sexually playful gothic Italian horror of the era, such as The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), The Vampire and The Playgirls (1960), and The Monster of the Opera (1964), with an introduction bringing to mind Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960). It was Massimo Pupillo’s second stab as director of a horror film, the first being Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965) with Barbara Steele.


 

Despite displaying a knack for it, horror was not where Massimo Pupillo wanted to be. He started making horror movies so he could transition from making documentaries to making commercial films. To his disappointment, from his horror efforts, he ended up classified as a horror director in Italy. Concerned he wouldn’t be able to escape this label, Pupillo gave up making horror films, which is really too bad, because the trio of horror films he did direct, which also included Lady Morgan’s Vengeance (1965), are quite interesting and notable. I always thought this small body of horror work from Pupillo would make a nice Blu-Ray boxset.

 

I feel like Bloody Pit of Horror is by no means obscure or even underappreciated, as it does seem to have a fan base who love it for many different reasons. It gets docked by some for cheap practical effects and minimal gore, but it is still interesting to note that the special effects are by the legendary Carlo Rambaldi (E.T., Alien, Deep Red, Tragic Ceremony, Barbarella, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, etc.) in the earlier phase of his career.

Over the years, Bloody Pit of Horror was a film I rarely went looking for, but it just kept finding me, first as an inclusion on one of those 50 movie bargain bin DVD collections, then later as a RiffTrax episode, next on a so-so DVD, and then finally as a beautiful looking uncut Blu-Ray from Severin. It feels like an old friend at this point who’s come a long way, and I’m happy to see it still thriving. The film itself was ballsy for its time, considering the torture spectacles in the last third of the film, but it also fits right in with the Italian gothic horror of its day while also offering a standout exuberant performance in Hargitay’s role as the Crimson Executioner. It’s easily rivalled by Antonio Margheriti’s The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963) and Mario Bava’s Baron Blood (1972) in the medieval torture department, but this one has a higher level of energy, playfulness, and camp.


 

After the obligatory flashback intro to Bloody Pit of Horror, the setup with a sizeable group of about ten characters arriving to a castle (the famed Castello Piccolomini in Balsorano) in several vehicles almost feels like an Eastmancolor Italian counterpart to a similar setup at the start of the black & white House on Haunted Hill (1959). The movie doesn’t waste too much time populating the creepy old castle with a high volume of fun characters, such as models, assistants, a greedy business man (Alfredo Rizzo), a mild-mannered writer (Walter Brandi), striped t-shirted henchmen (Gino Turini and Roberto Messina), and a has-been actor going full misanthrope in his old castle to protect his ideals and, as he puts it, his “pure body” from the corruption of the outside world. It’s also supposedly haunted by the ghost of a 17th century executioner (the castle interiors were filmed at Palazzo Borghese in Artena).

 

The characters are sometimes annoying, sometimes likeable, but always fun, especially the lovely and comical models, who all seem to be having a good time while preparing and shooting a number of horror scenarios for the magazine using the castle dungeon as a photography set.

Kudos have to go to Femi Benussi, Luisa Baratto, and Rita Klein for really selling their anguish during the climactic torture scenes at the hands of the movie’s monster. A peplum actor turned dungeon sadist is just a marvelous concept, especially when he ends up looking like a mix between a wrestler and a super hero. He’s entertaining, flamboyant, and really cool, but he’s also a real dangerous prick who likes to hear himself talk, almost like a de Sadean libertine but maybe more clown-like here.


Pupillo had kind things to say about Mickey Hargitay as a person while also claiming that he couldn’t act to save his life. Perhaps that’s true with regards to dialogue, but as far as body-language goes, the man is on fire in this film. He is dubbed in both the English and Italian versions, so I personally couldn’t tell that he was a bad actor, but I do know that I also loved him in the two Renato Polselli films he was in: Delirium (1972) and The Reincarnation of Isabel (1973).

 

In addition to the antique castle ambiance, the supervillain killer, and the bevy of beauties, the torture set piece spectacles in the film are another draw. They consist of real and fictional torture devices that are not just all show, as some are put to surprisingly brutal use. Some are quite simple while others are overly elaborate, like the spider web with the mechanical spider, which is a great excuse to put a provocative woman (Moa Tahi) in spider web bondage that certainly is one of the film’s more memorable set pieces. (This scene and Hargitay’s costumed character seem to be used the most to sell the movie.) Even though it is referred to as a poisonous mechanical spider in the film, it is still quite laughable (in a fun way) though not quite as a laughable as the spider in Nude for Satan (1974).


 

Every time I hear the strange music by Gino Peguri (that’s a little reminiscent to that in The Devil’s Nightmare (1971)) over the castle visuals towards the start of the film, I’m immediately pulled into the film’s isolated world and am usually reminded of how much I like this film more than I thought.        

The camp is maintained throughout Bloody Pit of Horror, but the movie purposefully goes from playful and innocent to deadly with a terrifically high body count. I initially thought that the nature of the sadism was kind of distasteful and mean, but it’s theatrically entertaining, and I feel that everyone gives it their all. I do believe the film is self-aware of its camp value as well and is not meant to be taken seriously. It’s not like a, 'we tried so hard and failed,' but rather, 'we know this is kind of wacky and absurd, but we’re all having a fun time and hopefully the viewers are too.'

© At the Mansion of Madness




Thursday, September 8, 2022

Marquis (1989)

Only Marquis’ literature can give me a taste for living.” –Justine (Isabelle Wolfe

Marquis is quite the creation. I never knew of its existence until recently. It’s a little like the movie Quills (2000) but with anthropomorphic characters who look like they’ve escaped from Alice in Wonderland. It is set in 1789, shortly before the Storming of the Bastille, in Paris France. The lead character (Francois Marthouret) is an inmate of the Bastille, who is referred to as Marquis and is a talented writer of erotic, violent, and depraved manuscripts. He is not necessarily alone, for his sizeable member who goes by Colin (Valerie Kling) is his close companion, consultant, and conversationalist. In between writing various pieces of salacious stories, Marquis finds himself participating in a ploy to help free a political prisoner, Lupino (Roger Crouzet), for the sake of the Revolution. Another imprisoned woman, Justine (Isabelle Wolfe), who was raped and impregnated by the king, is eventually thrown into the same cell as the Marquis, as a corrupt priest, Dom Pompero (Vicky Messica), intends to divert the blame on to him and cover up the king’s misdeed, but Justine instead finds the Marquis to be a gentleman and an enthralling storyteller. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll / Los ojos azules de la muñeca rota (1974)

The sadistic and awesome poster art is certainly deceptive, but the US title House of Psychotic Women isn’t too far off. Perhaps it should be, ‘house of sisters who probably should learn to communicate better’? Can’t say it doesn’t really sell the film though. Oddly enough, I was sold on the movie’s original title Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, which works for the film as well, so feel free to pick your favorite title for this Spanish thriller, written by and starring Paul Naschy, and directed by Carlos Aured. It was also known as House of Doom for US television. 

Carlos Aured originally knew Paul Naschy from working as assistant director for Leon Klimovsky. Aured would be hired on to direct Naschy in Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973). They would collaborate in the ‘70s on three more films, with Naschy starring and Aured directing: Curse of the Devil (1973), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, and The Mummy’s Revenge (1975). 

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll was pivotal in my becoming a Paul Naschy fan. It was my second Paul Naschy film. My initial interest in it being that it looked and sounded like a giallo, and I certainly wanted it for my giallo collection that at the time was just starting to grow beyond Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. I had also remembered Paul Naschy from a previous film I saw as a teenager, the aforementioned Horror Rises from the Tomb, which at the time disappointed me, so I was feeling slightly dubious. After watching Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, I had a much better time with it, and I loved Naschy’s character in the film, Gilles, which resulted in my eventually collecting many more Paul Naschy movies and becoming an ardent fan of his. Plus, I would end up realizing a new love and fondness for Horror Rises from the Tomb as well.

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.

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.