Thursday, 31 December 2009

Wish you were there?

Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair / The David Galaxy Affair / Sex Star

During the 1970s the bottom pretty much fell out of the British film industry. One of the few genres to remain profitable was the sex film. Because of the strictness of British censorship laws hardcore porn, never became the dominant form as in the US and in continental Europe. Instead, a particularly British kind of softcore sex film continued to dominate, much as it had done in the previous decade.

At the same time new players entered the game. Some were established filmmakers struggling to find work in even more marginally respectable genres such as horror – take a bow Val Guest, for instance. Others were part of the emergent pornocracy. Of these the most important was arguably David Sullivan, the UK’s answer to Penthouse’s Bob Guccione. Unlike Guccione, however, Sullivan had no pretensions to art: The idea of producing a Caligula, of making a serious and would-be respectable X film, would never have crossed his mind. Gore Vidal, John Gielgud and so on cost real money.

Rather, Sullivan was a master of bait and switch, promising the dirty mac brigade more than his films ever delivered and taking them for a ride. There was no benefit, after all, in either telling the truth or endeavouring to actually offer punters the hardcore they wanted, as demonstrated by the fates of John Lindsay – sent to jail for openly selling hardcore – and Mary Millington– hounded to suicide for believing in sexual liberation as a freedom issue and practicing what she preached.

Instead, it was always about reaching a comfortable and profitable arrangement with the established order rather than really challenging it.

The mark of quality - not!

But Sullivan was also like Guccione in another way: An early master of media synergy, he promoted the films he produced via his porn magazines and vice versa. Though Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair doesn’t go as far as The Playbirds – a nasty, giallified remake of The Cover Girl Murders with a title derived from one of Sullivan’s magazines and Millington’s policewoman going undercover as a model – it nevertheless again features Millington alongside other models from his stable such as Vicky Scott.

In truth, however, this is the first con aspect of Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair, insofar as the roles played by Sullivan’s models are relatively minor.

Or perhaps it isn’t a con, in that the title at least foregrounds Galaxy himself, even as it alludes to the Confessions of series that it has nothing whatsoever to really do with, alongside throwing in a general purpose Affair for good measure.

This only leads to a larger problem, however, inasmuch as Galaxy, as played by Alan Lake is really a pretty repulsive individual that its difficult for anyone to feel much for; indeed in the course of the narrative he telephones his mother, who tells him in no uncertain terms to fuck right off.

He’s a sexist, racist, homophobic unreconstructed example of 1970s machismo with a profitable sideline in fortune telling. He may also be guilty of involvement in a bank robbery some five years ago, a robbery in which a guard died.

This last aspect is the thing that amounts to a narrative drive, although it doesn’t exactly propel the story along at pace. Rather, we have subplots involving Galaxy’s new potential landlady, played by Lake’s real life wife Diana Dors – she also contributes vocals to the truly awful theme song – and his attempt to raise some cash by being the man who can give the woman who’s had 1000 lovers what she’s never had, namely an orgasm. (Hence the opportunistic “Mary Millington meets Super-Stud!!” tagline.)

Somewhat incongrously, we also have a trip to a VD clinic – a strange interjection of reality, albeit a strangely comforting one from a time when everything could be cured by a quick course of penicillin – and a visit to the racetrack.

Dors, the British Marilyn Monroe (or Jane Mansfield) was actually a pretty good actress, as demonstrated by her work in Yield to the Night. Unfortunately by this point in time – four years before her death from cancer and Lake’s suicide soon after – her talent was very much in decline.

Much the same might be said for Lake, though it’s questionable how much talent he had in the first place. Had it not been a David Sullivan production one could almost imagine his intention in playing Galaxy as being to alienate the audience, to set them against the character or make them begin to question their own assumptions and attitudes.

Alan Lake - sex god or Mr Self Destruct?

But Sullivan certainly didn’t do irony; as we’ve said, gold was all he was interested in.

As such, the hints of self-hatred that may be detected in Lake’s performance must be ascribed a darker, more personal motive. One moment that encapsulates this, as Lake’s own De Niro/La Motta moment, comes at the end of the film when he’s in a cell, Lake having himself been imprisoned for his part in a pub brawl. Revenge will be his...

As is often the case in this kind of production the supporting cast, the kind simply grateful for the chance of some work, provide less troubling relief. Euro-horror fans will note John Moulder-Brown of The House that Screamed and Vampire Circus, the most fantastique of Hammer’s vampire outings. Followers of British TV of the time will surely recognise Glynn “Dave” Edwards; in a possible in-joke the apartments where Galaxy lives are called Winchester, just like the club ran by Edward’s character in the long-running series Minder.

Willy Roe’s direction is functional and efficient, certainly more than this was too much to ask for, but perhaps thankfully he at least doesn't give us any less.

In the final analysis, Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair can be recommended to scholars of British sleaze and low culture, if no one else.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Killer Crocodile 2

There used to be an advert on British television for a wood sealant, in which a no-nonsense guy would do a no-nonsense spiel for the product, that it does exactly what it says on the tin.

For some reason this phrase came to mind when watching this unimaginatively titled sequel to Killer Crocodile: Yes, there's another crocodile and, yes, it kills and eats people.

Man 1, crocodile 0

The sequel label perhaps isn't entirely applicable, however, inasmuch as the film was shot at the same time as its predecessor, suggesting that producer Fabrizio De Angelis either saw the first film as immediately demanding a sequel or that there was no real financial risk involved in doing one anyway given they were already on location and had the crocodile.

The rematch

But whereas De Angelis's earlier Zombie Holocaust merely reused locations from Zombie, to which it represented a hasty cash-in, Killer Crocodile 2 also incorporates some of the same actual footage as its predecessor.

Indeed, the dramatic destruction of the previous killer crocodile via its enforced consumption of a spinning outboard motor (shades of Zombie Holocaust's zombie beach death meets Jaws) is later played back once more as a flashback within the context of the unfolding new narrative.

Besides the crocodile munching on anyone who crosses its path, said narrative also involves some barrels of radioactive waste which have gone missing – curiously never presented as having any direct relationship with the unnatural size of the killer crocodiles – an investigative journalist and a ruthless property developer determined nothing will stand in the way of his plans for a new tourist resort.

If the last aspect recalls Sergio Martino's Big Alligator River along with the self-interested business and political types in Jaws, Tentacles and so on, one way in which Killer Crocodile 2 differs is in the absence of anyone foretelling doom if action is not taken.

Indeed, despite the crocodile first chowing down on one of a pair of windsurfers and then on assorted nuns and schoolchildren, everyone except the first film's crocodile hunter seems oblivious to its existence.

This gives the film a curious lack of resolution as the main bad guy isn't punished and it's entirely possible that, unless there is another crocodile out there – a sequel too many as it proved – the main obstacles to their development, namely the crocodile and the missing waste, are no longer issues.

Hmm, a clue

The investigative reporter, meanwhile, perhaps has her ultimate origin in Zombie, although by virtue of her gender is more immediately prefigured by Sherry Buchanan's character in Zombie Holocaust, although tougher and no where near as much of a bitch whom you want to see die slowly and painfully.

The crocodile

Nonetheless, in the end the person who you feel most sympathy for is special effects man turned director Giannetto De Rossi. While certainly limited by constraints of budget and time, his work on both the crocodile and at helming the film is decent, particularly giving the logistical demands of working on location and in the water for much of the film. Unfortunately by 1990 the game was more or less up for the Italian popular cinema...

A slumming or desperate for work Riz Ortolani provides the score, complete with inevitable Jaws-styled crocodile attack theme alongside some of his distinctive syrupy to sickly strings.

Monday, 21 December 2009

House of Psychotic Women poster

AKA Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll

April Fool's Day / Slaughter High

As a late, cheap and derivative entry in the original slasher film cycle, the essential challenge that Slaughter High presents the reviewer with is that of saying something original.

The opening gambit is itself a cliché: The traumatic scene in the past, on a significant calendar date, as class nerd Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore) is horribly disfigured by his jock and cheerleader classmates when one of their April Fool's Day pranks goes wrong. (Haven't these kids seen Pranks or Terror Train?)

Alien brand beer



One of the cheerleaders, Carol (Caroline Munro), then wakes up from this scene just as she is pleading Marty for forgiveness.

It's a spark of inspiration, useful for situating her as a probable final girl alongside placing the film's oft-criticised shock ending within a wider narrative context.

The phone rings. Her agent, Manny (Dick Randall) has a job, but it sounds suspiciously like a porn film. Accordingly she declines and goes to her ten year class reunion instead – on the night of the 31st March and 1st April...

In this we again see the film playing to its strengths, or at least doing what it can to acknowledge and neutralise its weaknesses:

The filmmakers seem to be saying that, yes, they know that their cast are way too old to be playing high-schoolers, and are thus now keen to move things on to their late twenty-something present.

Then there's that Randall was the film's co-producer, got his start in nudie films, and has his office walls lined with posters for the trashy likes of Pieces and Supersonic Man.

Then there's that Munro's shower scene, which allows for the obligatory nod to Psycho and some early use of the stalker cam, is itself devoid of nudity.

Randall and his frequent co-production partner at the time, Steve Minasian, obviously weren't paying her enough for that. (Anyone wanting a giallo/slasher/trash triple threat triptych could do a lot worse than watch this film, Pieces and the Santa Claus slasher Don't Open Till Christmas.)

This said, we have already had some full frontal male nudity courtesy of Simon Scuddamore as Marty. Likewise, before the hour and a half is out we will get also get some exposed breasts courtesy of a couple of the female no-names later on.

As Carol and the others arrive at the now-abandoned high school someone watches them from inside.

With a storm erupting outside, they decide to break into the building to take shelter and have a look around.

Marty as he was - bad hair, glasses, desperate to be one of the cool kids

Marty as he is, with jester's cap, mask and psychosis

One of the jocks jumps out wearing a hockey mask, a la Jason (Minasian was involved with the Friday the 13th series, as was composer Harry Manfredini, who contributes a rather sound-alike score) while someone else makes comments about Halloween.

Again, no sense in pretending that you're original seems to be the message.

The group find a copy of their yearbook and are thus reminded about Marty. They never worry about the fact that no-one else from their year has shown up, but that's pretty much par for the course. After all, the now abandoned school also still has a caretaker on its grounds, or rather had – as he's Marty's first victim, being impaled on a coat hook. Again the inconsistent logic – why does the revenge seeking nerd kill someone who didn't do anything to him – doesn't really matter.

The next to die is one of the group, a jock who drinks some acid-spiked beer and promptly suffers from an exploding chest, Alien style.

Maniac Meets Dawn of the Dead?

While one of the girls goes to have a bath – cue beginnings of idiot plot wanderings around in the dark, getting picked off one-by-one – the others look for a way out. They find they have been locked in. One of the guys manages to get out and to his car, but is then speared from behind by Marty, following which he tops up the bath with acid...

By now we're forty or so minutes in, with an equal number to go and can pretty much predict the shocks and splatter and so forth by the clock: Couple go off to have sex, get electrocuted via metal bed frame; guy goes off to try to fix car, gets a rotor blade to the chest, etc., etc., until the slightly more extended final showdown (most quotable line: “April Fucking Fool, You Motherfuckers!”) and sequel-raising coda.

It was not to be, however, with Scuddamore committing suicide shortly after the film's completion. One very much hopes that it had no bearings upon his actions.

Though US-set the film was clearly made in the UK, with some of the accents veering from one side of the Atlantic to the other. The effects are satisfactory given the era and budget. While the cinematography is perhaps a bit dark in places, this adds atmosphere. The stalker cam work is plentiful and pretty decent, while the direction as a whole is better than might be thought considering that three men are credited with it. Certainly the production values as a whole are at least those of a 'proper' movie, unlike, say, Michael J Murphy's Last Night.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Contamination - Alien arriva sulla terra / Contamination / Alien Contamination

While not one of Luigi Cozzi's better films, Contamination rarely fails as far as entertainment is concerned, not least on account of being an opportunistic cross between Zombie and Alien.

The opening sequences recall Fulci's film, but clearly aspire to be bigger and better on every level: Rather than a boat, we have a bona fide ship heading up the New York coastline. Rather than two cops going on board, we have a four man team. And, rather than finding evidence of one or two deaths, they uncover a score or so of bodies – the entire crew of the Caribbean Lady.

The cause of these deaths, however, is less obviously threatening than Zombie's flesh eater, instead looking like a “giant squash, avocado or mango,” albeit one that pulses with light and emits a curious whining sound.

But it soon proves just as deadly as one of the men ignores advice and picks it up.

The thing reveals itself as an alien egg as it explodes and covers three of the men in goo. Seconds later they explode – in messy slow motion...

It's a fairly crappy effect, but one that has a certain shameless charm to it. And, besides, you're going to be seeing a lot more of it, and the eggs themselves, as the plot unfolds.

Having escaped, the sole survivor, Lieutenant Aris (Marino Mase) is placed in quarantine and decontaminated. He's then visited by Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau), a government agent, who is first interested in what he has to say for himself and then understandably concerned.

They go to the company responsible for importing the eggs – purportedly a consignment of coffee – into the city and there discover a warehouse full of zombie-like men who explode when shot. (Amongst them is Martin Sorrentino, the sceptical detective in City of the Living Dead etc.)

Prior to pursuing the eggs to their Caribbean plantation source, Colonel Holmes decides to call upon alcoholic ex-astronaut Commander Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch, further reinforcing the Zombie connection now that we've moved in a more Alien direction).

Holmes had previously dismissed his stories of alien eggs on Mars and the death of his colleague – let's call him Kane, since that's his role – as rubbish, but is no longer so sure.

Having recruited an initially reluctant Hubbard to the team, Holmes and her men head for the source of the eggs and all the trouble.

Eventually they discover in encounter the Alien Cyclops, a monster important enough to have its own billing in the credits and clearly the place where a considerable proportion of the overall budget went.

Who will triumph? Is humanity doomed?

Though once on the banned list in the UK, Contamination is really a pretty innocuous film. While there's a fair bit of gore – albeit only enough to warrant a 15 certificate on the film's UK re-release, rather than the 18 given Alien and Zombie – it is hardly mean spirited or laden with dubious psychosexual subtexts.

Luigi Cozzi simply isn't that sort of filmmaker, the atypical The Killer Must Kill Again somewhat excepted. Rather, he's just someone who likes his science fiction and his monsters and would do whatever he could to bring them to the screen.

And there's the rub: His direction isn't too bad all things considered, but as usual he suffers from a lack of budget and quality collaborators that prevent him from realising the vision that was probably in his head.

The exceptions are Goblin, who provide the score, portions of which were later recycled in Hell of the Living Dead.

L'ultimo guerriero / The Last Warrior / The Final Executioner

The bomb has fallen – cue a montage of stock footage of nuclear test explosions and volcanoes (?!) – and the survivors have split into two groups: The elite, who have managed to avoid radioactive contamination and stay in enclosed, fortified and guarded communities, while the masses, who are contaminated, live wherever they can, and are hunted for sport by their superiors.

Post apocalypse wasteland...

... and volcano

Alan Tanner (William Mang) is one of the elite, but is banished from his community along with his wife as “expendable material”.

His crime was discovering and threatening to reveal the truth, that the masses are no longer contaminated. This isn’t a spoiler, since it’s revealed in the opening voice over and, one suspects, was included at least in part because the film’s budget clearly didn’t extend to doing mutant make-up jobs.

Some of the hunters

Not having honed their survival skills through necessity, the Tanners are soon hunted down. Alan’s wife is gang raped and killed, while he is left for dead.

Not Last House on the Left

Not Kurt Russell

He is then found by old timer Sam (Woody Strode), who nurses him back to health and equips him with the skills he needs to evade the elite’s defences and take his revenge.

Alan has become The Final Executioner

Delivering the goods

As a mixture of sundry post-apocalypse films, Escape from New York and The Most Dangerous Game amongst others, The Final Executioner could hardly be called original.

Neither is it particularly well made or well thought through, being the kind of film where almost all the high-tech on display is of 1980s vintage, and where a gang supposedly eking out a marginal existence doesn’t try ambushing their rivals but instead race in doing wheelies and jumping over cars. (An amusing inadvertent sight gag: A motorcyclists has an Oakley helmet, the brand proclaiming to offer “thermonuclear protection” if memory serves correct.)

Yet, amid the general stupidity and unpleasantness – the gang rape is ordered by a woman and is then repeatedly watched by one of the elite, like Otis’s home movie in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – there are some interesting subtexts.

The relationship between Mang and Strode’s characters is reminiscent of those between Lee Van Cleef and Guiliano Gemma or John Philip Law in the spaghetti westerns Day of Anger and Death Rides a Horse, but purer in motive. Rather than being compromised for a personal vendetta, Strode here just wants to pass on his skills to “junior” so that the younger man might accomplish what he no longer has the will to do, namely pursue justice.

The male gaze

Then there’s the class conflict aspect. The filmmakers make it clear whose side we are supposed to be on and who the bad guys are. But the ways things are worked through and resolved is unlikely to pass muster with politically minded critics attuned to the debates initiated by Cahiers du cinema in the late 1960s and continued by Screen in the 1970s.

We’re most certainly not talking a film that is radical in terms of both form and content, rather one which has the right (i.e. left) sentiments but whose approach subverts or even negates these.

A good composition, but a bad dummy that falls into the eye

Specifically we have the individual protagonist motivated by the classic personal goal of revenge. He takes no interest in the wider class that he is now a member of, failing to help it change from a class in itself into a class for itself through his words or his deeds.

Cast thus, the film seems the polar opposite of Cahiers' “Category E” film, the film which at first seems conservative but whose excesses and contradictions open up space for more radical readings. This is, of course, a grouping that I would argue many Italian exploitation films can be positioned within.

Or perhaps there is an area where The Final Executioner is radical, albeit in a reactionary way. This would be its misogynistic / anti-feminist stance, that (elite) women are just as bad as (elite) men; see also the likes of Cannibal Holocaust’s Faye and Macha Meril’s character in Late Night Trains.

Is the myth of universal sisterhood just that, a myth?

Saturday, 12 December 2009

RIP Paul Naschy

Just found out about this :-(

Weird that only last Thursday I watched Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll again...

La mano che nutre la morte / The Hand that Feeds the Dead / Evil Face / Ölümün nefesi

Even if it had nothing else going for it, The Hand that Feeds the Dead is a worthwhile view for the Italian horror fan for one of the funniest in-jokes ever: The deceased mad scientist, whose coffin remains prominently displayed in the dungeons of the mansion, is none other than Ivan Rassimov.

The actor himself doesn't appear in the film, however, making one wonder if the use of his name was a vague attempt at revenge on the part of the filmakers for his declining to work with them or similar – a motive that was behind the naming of a grave as that of Sam Peckinpah in Sergio Leone and Tonino Valerii's My Name is Nobody.

Thankfully, however, The Hand That Feeds the Dead does have plenty of other things to offer the more tolerant viewer – precisely the type who reads this and who is in a position to get the Rassimov reference straight away.

Most obviously, the film features Klaus Kinski. He probably didn't think much of the film or its companion piece, The Lover of the Monster (both were shot at the same time, on the same locations, with virtually the same personnel, and even have footage in common) but even going through the mad scientist motions as Dr Nijinksy (another in-joke, perhaps) he elevates the production somewhat.

Kinski's patented manic stare

This is something it needs more than most examples of its type on account of being an Italian-Turkish co-production, co-directed by Sergio Garrone and Yilmaz Duru: If this combination undoubtedly helped as far as the Turkish side of things went, giving a professional gloss often lacking in comparable domestic productions, it came at the cost of weakening the Italian side of things.

Erol Tas

For while Erol Tas, who plays Nijinsky's lurching, limping assistant, Vanya, might have been the most famous villain in Turkish cinema, these associations are likely lost on the foreign viewer.

Cue zoom in on the gore

But factoring in all the other ingredients, the film does enough anyway: There's a surgical horror scenario, derived from Eyes without a Face and The Awful Dr Orloff; gratuitous violence, nudity and lesbianism; rape and revenge; a doll; mirrors; and some dialogue that's retrospectively telling without being blatant signposting (“Our minds refuse bad things”).

The Three Mothers style lady, complete with mirror and doll

It also throws in some surprises towards the end, albeit perhaps at the loss of some coherence and consistency, and features some decent production design and locations.

The other woman's head is out of shot, down there...

Sergio Garrone's direction is very much of the point and zoom variety, understandable in the circumstances but something of a let down compared to Django the Bastard.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Some less impressive giallo posters

The La casa della paura one isn't bad, but I tend to avoid posters with the box at the top and which are more photograph based.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009


I hadn't noticed how strongly Noshame seems to have come back:

Lucifera looks particularly interesting - does anyone know if it has anything to do with the fumetti of the same name? And doesn't the man's face come from the poster for Lo spettro?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Il fiore dai petali d'acciaio / The Flower with Petals of Steel

Although I had seen The Flower with the Petals of Steel before, it was only via a rather fuzzy bootleg video copy. As such, I hadn't felt comfortable about discussing it until now, when the opportunity to see the film via a considerably better looking Italian television sourced rip emerged courtesy of Cinemageddon.

As it turns out, my feelings about Gianfranco Piccioli's giallo remain much the same.

The enigmatic opening sequence takes place under water

Visually many of the scenes are still dark, though it is a film with a lot of skulking around at night. Aurally Marcello Giombini's score, while at least distinctive from the dominant Morricone/Nicolai idiom of the time by virtue of following his own style, still seems that bit out of place.

It has a decent cast, headed by Gianni Garko and Carroll Baker; some nice production design – especially the titular sculpture and a broken doll scene – along with plenty of early 70s fashions; some nudity – the ever-game Baker in the shower, plus more from Paola Senatore and Pilar Velazques – and, to top it all of, prominent J&B placement and use.

There's plenty of this sort of thing from Senatore and Velazques, a bit less from Baker

In the main the film can perhaps best be compared to Four Flies on Grey Velvet, in that it's a study of a guilty protagonist and places suspense over surprise.

The obvious difference is in what happens immediately after the pivotal death upon which the narrative rests:

In Four Flies' Roberto Tobias flees the theatre after accidentally stabbing the man who has been following him and causing his fall into the orchestra pit.

Doctor Andreas Valenti (Garko) here is not in a position to flee, the accidental impalement of his lover Daniela (Senatore) onto the sharp metal flower sculpture occurring in his own home.

An accident waiting to happen

Valenti's immediate provides for one of the film's more shocking sequences, as he calmly dismembers Daniela's body, bags up the pieces and drives off to dispose of them in a grinder.

But these actions also make sense, as we later learn that his ex-wife – whom he inherited a considerable sum from – was committed to an asylum shortly after their marriage, vanished from the institution, and has not been seen since.

A Spasmo-esque moment

Still, no body equals no crime – but for a few complications:

Someone saw Valenti in the act and soon starts sending him the evidence to prove it.

Another ex-lover, Evelyn (Baker), who is presently in a relationship with Daniela, wonders where she is, especially since her car is still parked outside Valenti's house, and duly involves the police...

This narrative is bookended by two underwater sequences, with the opening one remaining absolutely detached from the main narrative and remaining unanswered until the end. This in itself isn't necessarily a problem, if one thinks of the similar fragments in, say, Rabid Dogs, but there the beginning, middle and end at least cohere into one film. Here, by contrast, the linkage between the parts just feels arbitrary and strains credibility, even by the already tolerant standards of the filone.