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 the second Paul Naschy film I had ever seen. 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.


 

Some refer to Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll as a Spanish giallo, while others feel it isn’t really a giallo but more of a Spanish thriller. I personally feel it is fair to call it a Spanish giallo that’s more rustic and low-key in comparison to the more chic and stylized Italian giallo like Blood and Black Lace (1964) and The Case of The Bloody Iris (1972). I like to think the film is a part of Paul Naschy’s own Spanish giallo trilogy that he wrote and starred in: the Sitges Festival award-winning Seven Murders for Scotland Yard (1972), Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, and A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1975). For me, they all succeed as great gialli, but Blue Eyes resembles and feels more like the kind of Paul Naschy horror/thriller film that I am more attached to. This usually includes an isolated setting in a time-frozen country mansion, Naschy as an ostracized but still sympathetic and relatable romantic character with a repressed monster side, and a cast of beautiful potential love interests, of which one or more will likely make their way in to bed with him. It fits alongside other Naschy films with similar themes such as The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), Vengeance of the Zombies (1973), Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), and Human Beasts (1980). Most of these Naschy films include a familiar (and even iconic to ‘70s Spanish horror fans) old Victorian-looking country mansion, which was used in quite a few Spanish horror films of the era, including Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley’s Grasp (1973), Night of the Walking Dead (1975), and The People Who Own the Dark (1976). I’ve always liked to call it ‘The Spanish House of Usher’. I read in an article by Mirek Lipinski that was included with the Deimos Entertainment release of Blue Eyes that this mansion was eighteen miles outside of Madrid but sadly, in true House of Usher fashion, no longer stands today.


 

When I was listening to the DVD commentary for this film with Paul Naschy and Carlos Aured, I was intrigued by the two different interpretations to the isolated, closed setting of the country house in the film. Naschy felt that Aured liked to create a real claustrophobic world in his films, but Aured intervened, claiming that he was more of an agoraphobic and that he found the closed setting to be comforting. I have always personally enjoyed the comfort of this kind of setting, so maybe I may be a bit of an agoraphobic myself, but I certainly can see how the film works as a claustrophobic setting as well. I also love the setting in this film as its own sort of art spectacle, as is nicely illustrated when Nurse Michelle (Inés Morales) is making her long walk up the trail to the house, as we see it, up on the hill, all by its lonesome, in the distance. This is just poetry to me and certainly inspired the header to this blog.


  

Blue Eyes succeeds at being an unpredictable murder mystery with quite a memorable setting. Naschy is Gilles (one of Naschy’s references to Gilles de Rais), a rugged, lonely drifter, somewhere in Northern France, who stops at a bar to spend what looks to be his last few francs on a cheese sandwich and a glass of wine (that he virtually wastes). He unsuccessfully asks the bartender, Caroline (the late Pilar Bardem Javier Bardem’s mother), about potential work before heading back out on the road. By chance, he is picked up late at night by an intriguing woman with a burned arm and an orthopedic hand, Claude (Diana Lorys), and offered a live-in job as a helper and groundskeeper at her isolated villa where she lives with her two beautiful sisters, Nicole (Eva León) and Ivette (Maria Perschy). Ivette suffers from some kind of psychosomatic paralysis and is taken care of by a home nurse, Michelle, and is routinely seen by Dr. Phillipe (Eduardo Calvo). The other sister, Nicole, is the young, hard-to-contain type who takes an immediate interest in Gilles, later visiting him in bed for some night time fun, much to the dismay of Claude. She doesn’t fire Gilles for this because she likely has harbored feelings for him, hinted at by the tension between them. Gilles has a smooth way of making Claude feel desirable despite her hand mutilation, which otherwise causes her to feel undesirable.

 

On the DVD commentary, Paul Naschy did mention several times that Gilles has a fetishistic attraction to Claude’s orthopedic hand. Though, when I first watched it, I didn’t really interpret it this way but rather as Gilles thinking she’s being silly to think that a hand mutilation could deter him from being attracted to such a magnificent woman. The moment he kisses her and then kisses her orthopedic hand, to me, it’s like he’s telling her I love and desire you the way you are; no need to be self-conscientious anymore when you’re with me. 

Despite getting hot and heavy at one point, Gilles and Nicole purposefully seem to lack chemistry, whereas there is a warm and romantic connection that develops between Gilles and Claude that I fondly remember the movie by.


 

Meanwhile, an unseen killer is murdering women with blond hair and blue eyes in the village to the tune of Frère Jacques. Given Gilles’ implied repressed sadistic desire towards women and the revelation that he’s actually an ex-con, and that the murders started after his arrival, it is easy to assume that he could be the murderer. The police inspector Pierre (Antonio Pica) (who’s usually near a louched glass of absinthe at the film’s bar) certainly thinks Gilles is the killer after he finds out about Gilles’ past. It leads up to a satisfying conclusion that’s farfetched but not terribly confusing.

 

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is a subtle and quite basic murder mystery. Although the first stalk-and-slash murder isn’t until nearly halfway in to the film. The killer quickly murders their victims with a hatchet and takes their eyes and drops them into a preserving solution of some kind. These murders don’t necessarily feel like the main focus, as there’s also a good story involving Naschy’s character, the red-herring who doesn’t preoccupy himself with solving the murders. Most of the viewer interest centers on him and the intriguing but still at times jarring situation he is in. He just wants to move on and find happiness, but his past catches up to him, because society never forgets.

 

I initially thought that Naschy was going to play some kind of sadist with a fixation on blue eyes, which is not quite the case. Fortunately, Gilles turned out to be a lot more nuanced and interesting, written and played by Naschy from the heart. Naschy realizes that no one is entirely good and wrote the ostracized Gilles as an antihero that, despite his unescapable evil past, does have a good measure of audience interest and sympathy. 

It’s a bit confounding when the police come to question Gilles; he initially assumes they are coming after him to take him back to prison, so he grabs his hidden gun and ammo and literally heads for the hills. When they catch up to him, without any real prompting, the police start shooting at him. It’s likely an excuse to have all guns blazing with a good old fashioned gun fight. Naschy stated that the intention was to portray Gilles hunted like an animal or a monster, no trial, no questions, with the police coalition resembling the classic angry mob coming for the “monster.”


 

I know it was done in a traditional manner, but the film does contain a harsh scene where a pig is legitimately killed by being drained of blood at the neck. I saw it once, but I skip past the scene on rewatches, as it was too much of a downer for me. 

Of note is the stellar jazzy score from Juan Carlos Calderón (Eres tú) that also includes surprisingly effective uses of the nursery rhyme Frère Jacques, my favorite being the grand closeout arrangement that helps end things on a real emotional note. Paul Naschy said that even at a young age he found something unnerving about Frère Jacques and thought to include the theme as the killer’s leitmotif. It was also used with real doomful portent in A Bell from Hell (1973).

  

Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll has a little something for the giallo and Paul Naschy fan and doesn’t disappoint on either front; plus, we get some great personalized Paul Naschy romance and tragedy that characterizes many of his films. Despite a few absurdities the story is quite solid. I’ve always loved and fondly remembered the closing scene that’s kind of demented and heartfelt at the same time. It manages to satisfy without being all that shocking. 

Like I said, it’s not the first Paul Naschy film I saw, but it was the first film to turn me on to Naschy, where afterwards much more DVD, and sometimes DVD-R, collecting ensued. Exploring Naschy on the internet would eventually be the main reason I got into writing about movies as well. So, in its own way (and I’m just realizing this) this movie was a partial life shaper of sorts for me. 

© At the Mansion of Madness 




 

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.

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.