Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Italian Film Review

I am feeling burnt out at the moment; unable to write. So I will just direct you towards Italian Film Review for now / ever.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Zombie mini-season

Yes, it's yet another mini-season idea. As before, the idea is to showcase some of the less well known films out there...

The Zombie
Mention the zombie film to most people and they’re likely to think of George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and its ever-increasing list of sequels, remakes, re-interpretations and so on. While Romero’s impact on the zombie film is hard to overestimate, there were zombie films before him and since which have taken a different approach. In this mini-season we showcase something of the history and diversity of the movie zombie, with films from the US, UK, Italy, Spain and France ranging from the 1930s to the 1990s.

White Zombie
Victor Halperin | USA | 1932 | 69 minutes
The earliest zombie film foregrounds the voodoo aspect of the zombie legend, blending German Expressionist inspired visuals and design with a Haitian setting. Bela Lugosi stars as the evocatively named Murder Legendre.

The Plague of the Zombies
John Gilling | UK | 1966 | 91 minutes
Two years before Romero’s epochal The Night of the Living Dead, Britain’s Hammer films presented their take on the traditional Haitian zombie legend, as a Cornish Squire uses voodoo to murder villagers in order to reanimate their corpses as labourers for his tin time. Colonialism, exploitation, the return of the repressed – this one has subtexts galore.

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue
Jorge Grau | Italy / Spain | 1974 | 95 minutes
One of the first and best films to show the influence of Night of the Living Dead, this Spanish-Italian co-production, set in the Lake District, is felt by some to actually surpass its model in imagination, direction and gore.

The Grapes of Death
Jean Rollin | France | 1978 | 85 minutes
Jean Rollin made two zombie films around the time of Dawn of the Dead. While there is little good that can be said about the Nazi zombie themed Zombie Lake, The Grapes of Death sees the French horror auteur combine personal and commercial concerns to good effect. Horror/porn crossover legend Brigitte Lahaie stars.

Zombie
Lucio Fulci | Italy | 1979 | 91 minutes
Dawn of the Dead inspired numerous imitations in Italy. The most famous of these - although the exact degree to which it is a rip-off has long been debated - is probably Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. Coming across as simultaneously a quasi-prequel to Dawn of the Dead and a return to the voodoo zombie, Zombie features two of the most iconic set piece moments in horror history in a shark vs zombie underwater duel and an enucleation by wooden splinter that was enough to see it banned in the UK as a “video nasty”.

Return of the Living Dead III
Brian Yuzna | US | 1993 | 97 minutes
The 1980s saw the emergence of the Living Dead franchise alongside Romero’s Dead films. Their theme of fully conscious zombies who find some relief from their pain by eating brains reached a point of surprising sophistication in this early 1990s crossover with the teen romance genre from Brian Yuzna: After the girl gets unwittingly turned into one of the living dead she finds that body piercing and self-mutilation provides a way to stave off the cravings for the boy’s brains. No, really.

Other contenders: The People Who Own the Dark, Shock Waves, Bio-Zombie, City of the Living Dead.

Friday, 17 December 2010

RIP Jean Rollin

Sad to learn of Jean Rollin's death.

Only last week I was discussing Grapes of Death and Zombie Lake with some friends :-(

Monday, 13 December 2010

Spanish horror film season

I am involved with programming films for the Edinburgh Film Guild, my local film society. As part of this we do some Friday night screenings which feature cult and B-movies, the sort of things which film societies traditionally have stayed away from, at least in the UK.

As part of next year's programme, I'm thinking of a Spanish horror season, looking at films produced during the final decade of the Franco regime.

What do you, as fellow cult / horror fans, think of the following? What should be added, and what should be removed?



Spanish Horror, 1969-1976

Following the success of The Mark of the Wolf Man in 1968 (shown last year as part of our werewolves mini-season) it's not too much of an exaggeration to say that Spain went horror crazy. That film's unlikely star, weightlifter Jacinto Molina/Paul Naschy made himself into a one-man horror factory playing almost all the famous monsters. Amando De Ossorio created the figures of the Blind Dead and brought them back for three sequels, while Jorge Grau and Jose Larraz ventured to Britain for the likes of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue and Vampyres. Back home, Narciso Ibanez Serrador, who had earlier scored a hit with the TV series Tales to Keep You Awake made The House that Screamed and Who Can Kill a Child. Elsewhere more avowedly political figures like of Juan Antonio Bardem, with The Corruption of Chris Miller, and Eloy de la Iglesia, with Apartment on the 13th Floor and Murder in a Blue World, found the genre a useful way to sneak subversive content past the censors. But look more closely at De Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead and you can still see a subtext, given that the undead medieval knights are blind and rely upon their young victims foolishly raising their voices.

With this mini-season we showcase some of the best and most entertaining Spanish horror of the period.

La Residencia / The House that Screamed
Narciso Ibáñez Serrador | Spain | 1969 | 99 minutes
Mrs Forneau (Lilli Palmer) owns and runs a school for wayward girls in France. Her absolute discipline has fostered a social order among the girls with rampant sex, lesbianism and torture the norm. She also has an adolescent son (John Moulder-Brown) she tries to keep isolated from the young women lest he be tainted by sexual relations; he must wait for a girl “just like his mother”. Meanwhile, girls are disappearing one by one, never to be seen again...

La noche de Walpurgis / The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman
Leon Klimovsky | Spain/West Germany | 1971 | 95 minutes
Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) is scouting the French countryside with her friend Genevievre, looking for the tomb of murderess and possible vampire, Countess Wandessa. She finds a likely site in the castle of Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), who invites the women to stay as long as they like. As Waldemar shows Elvira the tomb she accidentally causes the vampire to return, hungrier than ever. Daninsky has a hidden secret of his own (note the English title) but will he be able to save her from becoming Wandessa's next victim?

La noche del terror ciego / Tombs of the Blind Dead
Amando De Ossorio | Spain / Portugal | 1971 | 86 minutes
In the 13th century there existed a legion of evil knights known as the Templars, who quested for eternal life by drinking human blood and committing sacrifices. Executed for their unholy deeds, the Templars bodies were left out for the crows to peck out their eyes. Now, in modern day Portugal, a group of people stumble on the Templars abandoned monastery and unwittingly rouse the inhabitants from beyond death...

Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti / The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue
Jorge Grau | Spain / Italy | 1974 | 95 minutes
A near fascist cop (Arthur Kennedy) chases two hippies (Ray Lovelock and Cristina Galbo) whom he suspects of being behind a series of bizarre Manson family-like murders; unbeknownst to him, the real culprits are the living dead, brought to life with a thirst for human flesh by an experimental pest control device.

Las garras de Lorelei / The Loreley's Grasp
Leon Klimovsky | Spain | 1974 | 85 minutes
The legendary Loreley has been living for centuries in a grotto beneath the river Rhein in Germany. Every night when the moon is full, she turns into a reptile-like creature craving for human blood. When one girl after another of a nearby boarding school is killed by her, a hunter named Sirgurd (Tony Kendall) is engaged to kill the monster.

¿Quién puede matar a un niño? / Who Can Kill a Child?
Narciso Ibáñez Serrador | Spain | 1976 | 107 minutes
A couple of English tourists (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome) rent a boat to visit an island off the southern Spanish coast. When they arrive, they find the town deserted of adults, occupied only by children who don't speak but stare whilst eerily smiling. They soon discover that all the children of the island have been possessed by a mysterious force or madness which makes them attack and murder their elders...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes

The volume of publications in recent years on Hammer films is such that you might well wonder whether any more are needed.

Wayne Kinsey has, however, established himself as one of the most talented writers in this crowded field, first with his long-running House that Hammer Built fanzine and latterly Bray and Elstree Studio Years volumes (also published by studio specialists Tomahawk).



As the structuring principle of these indicate, Kinsey’s main strength lies not so much in discussing what is on screen – though this is not to say that he is in any way inadequate as a critic/reviewer – as in looking behind the scenes, at the ins-and-outs of the productions.

This is an approach he has continued here, as he concentrates not upon the films and their main casts, but upon those behind the camera, ranging from the more likes of directors, screenwriters and cinematographers all the way down to the likes of carpenters and props buyers; some appearing on screen, including recurring stuntmen and extras are also profiled.

A number of those featured are not exactly unsung. Indeed, this is attested to by the likes of Kinsey’s conversational-style profile of director Terence Fisher (1904-1980), with its plentiful use of quotations from interviews from the 1960s and 1970s.

Nevertheless, if figures like director Freddie Francis, writer/director Jimmy Sangster, composer James Bernard, and make-up man Roy Ashton (himself subject of another volume from Tomahawk, Greasepaint and Gore) and the information on them, are comparatively familiar to fans of the studio, it is still good for this to all be compiled in one place and placed within a wider context.

Most of those profiled across the span of the book’s near 500 pages are, however, very much unsung. To give a few names at random: Production manager John ‘Pinky’ Green? Art director Ted Marshall? Renee Glynn, responsible for continuity? Effects man Sydney Pearson? Being honest, the only one I could place prior to reading was Glynn.

If you like Hammer – or, indeed, are interested in British cinema from the 1950s to 1970s – you need this book, which not only tells you who did what at Hammer but paints a vivid picture of this time and place in filmmaking more generally.

Last Bus to Bray: The Unfilmed Hammer

These two volumes, the first covering up to 1970 and the second from then to the present, are the classic “Curate’s Egg”: Good in places.

The good is the information they provide.

Basically, if you are a Hammer aficionado then you want these. Order them now and come back and read the rest of the review later.



The not so good is the writing and production.

A degree of leeway can obviously be given to any small press or self-published work. But there also comes a point where the number of typographical, grammatical, spelling and other errors becomes a serious hindrance to reading. Last Bus to Bray comes close to it. [I make no great claims about my own writings here, but then they are free.]

Unfortunately the layout and the poor quality of the reproductions (many rare, albeit sometimes reproduced from earlier publications) push it close to being beyond a pleasurable read, even for the fan.

As one such, I had long been intrigued by the way in which the studio would commission poster art for prospective films, in some cases prior to having a script written or any real pre-production work, as a means of gauging the interest in them and thereby their commercial viability. What remains less clear, however, is how far this was particular to Hammer.

Author Glen Davies does a fine job in going through the archives and sifting out those productions which were real possibilities, as distinct from those, especially in the 1970s and beyond, which were merely figments of over-enthusiasm or self-delusion.

What is lacking is much sense of how the unfilmed Hammer compares to the unfilmed output of other studios, especially genre specialists of the time. Did Tigon and Amicus likewise have all manner of possible projects, particularly in the the early and mid-1970s, a period when the British film industry as a whole was in crisis? Or was there something special about Hammer that meant they tended to attract more interest – or, indeed, be able to attract that bit more interest?

The dominant picture that emerges, reinforcing that of earlier studies, is one of a basic tension at the heart of the studio. Long-term studio head James Carreras was a hard-headed businessman. He felt no particular attraction to horror, but was happy to concentrate the company’s efforts upon the genre, as long as they remained profitable. His son Michael was more artistically inclined. He was keen to diversify the company’s output away from horror – or, in actuality, back to the more varied kind output they had produced prior to the success of The Quatermass Xperiment, The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula.

With Michael Carreras’s own attempts at non-horror productions generally failing, he was compelled to come back to his father’s studio with his tail between his legs. The rift with his father, however, was perhaps never really to be healed, with James Carreras not handing over the business in a family way but instead almost selling it to an old rival before his son bought him out.

But by this time the Hammer = Horror association was also one which was proving problematic, in that the kind of horror Hammer were associated with was ever more passé.

This tension is one that would remain: On the one hand, the very fact that there can be a publication like this attests to the brand value attached to the name. On the other hand, this brand value remains associated with a particular kind of horror that belongs in the past.

The history of abortive Hammer revivals in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s proves telling in this regard.

So, indeed, does the discourse around the recent remake of Let the Right One In. Depending on who is asking the question and who is answering its Hammer associations may be played up or not mentioned. Regardless, it seems fair to describe it as a Hammer film in name only – and indeed, only those who care about such things.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Hammer Vampire

Written by Bruce Hallenbeck and released as part of Hemlock’s ongoing Hemlock Film series, this 2010 publication analyses the Hammer vampire in its various manifestations from 1958’s Dracula through to 1974’s The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

The films are discussed chronologically and thematically across six main chapters, with a prologue and epilogue bookending things by outlining the pre-Hammer situation and post-Hammer developments respectively.

The first chapter, entitled The Terrifying Lover, looks at Dracula and The Brides of Dracula. The second, The Nature of the Beast, encompasses Kiss of the Vampire and Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The third, The Vampire as Antichrist, examines Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula has Risen from the Grave and The Scars of Dracula. The fourth, Sin, Sex and Sadism, focuses on The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. The fifth, The Vampire in Society, discusses Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. The final chapter, Variations on a Theme, looks at Countess Dracula, Vampire Circus, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

I didn’t always find these groupings convincing on account of the overlaps and interconnections between films in some of them – the reworking of Brides of Dracula’s planned climax for Kiss of the Vampire; the way in which Dracula’s resurrection in Prince of Darkness (and, indeed, that subtitle) already position the character as antichrist; or the vague Karnstein references that were in Captain Kronos’s script at one point.

I was however convinced by Hallenbeck’s overall thesis. This is that over the course of 15 or so years Hammer’s films went from radical to reactionary in their treatments of the vampire myth. This is conveyed not only through a consideration of the pre- and post-Hammer vampire films but also those films whose releases run parallel to them.

Simply put something like 1970’s The Loves of Count Iorga Vampire would not have been possible without Hammer, whilst at the same time they themselves were struggling to come to terms with the new more sexually (and, on occasion, politically) explicit films they had given rise to.

He is also particularly good at challenging some of Christopher Lee’s more exaggerated and self-defensive claims as cases he protesteth too much: It appears not so much to have been that Lee refused to say anything in Dracula: Prince of Darkness as that Jimmy Sangster had not written any lines for Dracula. Similarly, Lee’s constant protests to Hammer about his remuneration seems as much a negotiating strategy or ritual as anything else.

In the end, I think the value of Hallenbeck’s book will depend on where you fit as a Hammer fan: If you are a completist, like me, then you obviously need it. If you are a selective completist or on a limited budget, then you might find that too much of the material overlaps with what you already have by the likes of Wayne Kinsey. If you are neither of these then it is weighing up the volume’s more detailed discussion of its subject against the absence of other subjects. Of course, the Hammer = Horror association also likely means that you are not aware of many of these selfsame subjects.

This itself actually leads to a question: Can we ever expect to see an in-depth study of Hammer’s non-horror films, either as a whole or by genre in the same way? Will Hemlock do 'British Cult Cinema: The Hammer Comedy' at some point in the future?

Whatever the answer, Hallenbeck’s book is well-written, informative and does what it sets out to.

The Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide

The time: The early 1980s

The place: Britain

The greatest threat to the British way of life, it emerged, was not Thatcher and the divisive ideological project associated with her name but a new technology, home video.

As videos were not required to go before the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) and as the major studios regarded the new medium as a threat and hesitate to put out their own films, all manner of material suddenly became available from Europe and that has never appeared on British screens.

Somewhere along the line concerns emerged over a particular category of videos, the nasty. The concern was not the traditional one with sex. Films have been prosecuted as pornographic before. Rather it was more about violence and other content for which films had never been prosecuted before.

Some of this concern may have been legitimate. Some was manufactured – sometimes, ironically enough, by distributors lurid packaging and advertising.

The popular press became involved, along with elements of the quality press and others who should have known better. There was the sense that something had to be done. And so an act regulating the video industry was proposed and, with few willing to stand up for the nasties, duly passed into law – or was taken to have been passed into law, as would only become apparent a quarter-century later.

Sadly, the new 2010 VRA (Video Recordings Act) was passed without little debate, although fortunately now it is more or less an irrelevance in the Internet era.

As this summary indicates, the history of the video nasties affair is well-enough known.

The obvious questions are thus whether there is space for and/or a need for The Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide.

To answer this we can begin by itemising what the package contains. The first disc presents a new documentary on the nasties. The second presents trailers and commentary on the 39 films eventually to be successfully prosecuted by the DPP (Department of Public Prosecutions) list. The third does the same for another 33 films which were prosecuted but acquitted. These can be watched either on their own or intercut with commentaries that provide valuable contextualisation and critique.

Including other materials, like a gallery of pre-cert video logos and identifiers (some, like Red Tape, more porn than anything else in their address, others, like Rothmans, not obviously directly relevant to the nasties) there is over 12 hours of material to go through.

It’s not just about the quantity, however. The material is overall of a high quality, the kind of stuff that ranks as an 8 or 9 out of ten.

As such, it’s probably easier for me to begin with the little negatives that remove that final mark or two.

The first of these is the range of fan critics discussing the nasties. Those that are featured – Stephen Thrower, Alan Jones, Kim Newman, Marc Morris, Alan Bryce – are certainly knowledgeable and broadly representative. But there are other figures from the British cult cinema scene who have discussed the nasties before and who conspicuously absent, notably David Kerekes (author of See No Evil) and John Martin (author of Seduction of the Gullible). One hopes that their exclusion was nothing to do with professional rivalries or similar.

The same may be said of the more academic figures like Xavier Mendik and Patricia MacCormack, given that Kate Egan, author of Trash or Treasure, is absent.

Correspondingly the inclusion of Emily Booth amongst the presenters is a bit awkward, particularly when she seems to be reading pre-prepared commentary rather than spontaneously drawing upon her own in-depth knowledge of the subject.

The second are a few errors in the individual commentaries: Discussing Jess Franco’s Devil Hunter, Thrower appears to confuse Sabrina Siani with Ursula Buchfellner. Discussing Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox Alan Bryce indicates that it is Lorraine De Selle’s character who has hooks put through her breasts, when in fact it is Zora Kerowa’s.

It might seem pedantic to point these out, but as the documentary itself demonstrates exactitude is required when we are talking about this subject.

The third is the relative lack of discussion of the wider culture that grew up around the nasties. One reason for this is perhaps that it could entail more self-reflection and, indeed, self-criticism on the part of some of the commentators.

One of the more distinctive aspects of British horror fandom testified to by the entire package here is, after all, not only the continuing centrality of the video nasties but arguably their importance in terms of some of these commentators own careers.

Without wishing to become too ad hominem, I do feel, for instance, that Bryce’s The Dark Side was sometimes overly fixated on the nasties and that this inhibited discussion of other aspects of horror cinema.

Likewise, it would have been interesting to see more analysis of a company like VIPCO and how they worked in relation to the pre-VRA and post-VRA climates, or to hear about what the VRA meant in terms of the creation of this documentary itself, given that there must be images in some of the available trailer materials that still could not be passed for certification.

But, again, these are minor quibbles for a package that does what it sets out to admirably.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Monday, 15 November 2010

Japanese Bad Girl Cinema

So, I am thinking of programming a season of Japanese bad girl films - pinky violence type stuff.

What would you screen? My current list, of six films, is:

Zero Woman Red Handcuffs
Sex and Fury
Blind Woman's Curse
Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter
Terrifying Girls High School
Red Peony Gambler

I have avoided the Female Convict Scorpion series because it's readily available on Region 2 DVD. Admittedly Sex and Fury is as well, but it's just so cool...

One of the Rica trilogy? A Girl Boss Guerilla film?

A similar exercise with regard to Spanish horror under Franco will follow soon...

Friday, 12 November 2010

Commuter Husbands

This British sex film entry from Derek Ford is not so much a comedy as a drama-documentary. Hosted by Gabrielle Drake’s sexology researcher, Carol, it presents six short vignettes purporting to explore the sexual mores of suburban Londoners in the early 1970s.


I went to drama school for this?

The first sees a husband phone his wife to tell her that he will be away on business for the weekend. In reality, however, he is planning a weekend away with his mistress. As the camera tracks back from the wife we get the first reversal in that she is in bed with her lover and happily takes this news as a chance for them to likewise have a weekend away.

Both couples then unwittingly book into the same hotel, one that is special to both the husband and wife. Things work out very civilly, however, as they go off to talk and come to the conclusion that they are best off together. Reaching a similar conclusion, their opposite numbers have paired off in the meantime...

The next segment plays on the tradesman fantasies so often found in British sex films as a plumber is summoned to a penthouse suite to do some work by a French actress (Claire Gordon) and finds a swingers party in full flow. The route from one set of plumbing to the other is, however, not a smooth and easy one...


Oh yes, not

The most interesting of the segments is also the most fantastical as a slightly long-haired but otherwise eminently respectable looking suited and bowler hatted type imagines himself as a Hells Angel type having his brutal way with any woman that tickles his fancy (innuendo deliberate).




Psychomania Rising

As one IMDB reviewer perceptively remarks, it’s a bit like a heterosexual (and thereby inherently less transgressive) reinterpretation of Kenneth Anger’s gay underground classic Scorpio Rising.


Voyeurism

The next segment is about a middle-aged businessman who regularly visits a brothel in order that he can watch others having sex. Besides the obvious voyeurism theme – us watching him, watching them, but without consequence – the relationship between the madame and the businessman is interesting for its reversals. It reminded me a bit of the sequence in Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty in which going to the toilet is a public activity while eating is something shameful to be done in private.

Ford looks to have used a working trip abroad as the basis for an Amsterdam set segment in which another hapless, hopeless male, on another business trip, tries to attract the attentions of his tour guide and blunders into a sex shop in the process...

The final segment features Drake herself and is introduced, with a nod to De Sade, as “the misfortunes of virtue”. It sees her husband being given the responsibility for entertaining an Italian businessman, with entertaining meaning call girls. Knowing that she has a friend who’s up for most things sexually, he wonders if Drake and said friend might pose as the call girls. They can pair off, as can the Italian and the friend. Needless to say it doesn’t quite go according to plan...

None of the sex scenes featured in the film are of the hardcore type, at least in the version I saw. Nevertheless, they appear pretty close to the limits of acceptability for a British film of this time and have the definite look of material that could be tailored to the demands of a particular market and/or the censors. There is a distinction evident here between the legitimate actors and the porn extras, with the former not called upon to do much except bare some flesh sex-wise, and the latter not being called upon to do dialogue, act and react and so on.


Piccadilly Circus

The opening scenes of the film, presenting a drive round Soho – something also seen in Diversions – have the usual inadvertent documentary interest.

It goes without saying that the film’s own value is similarly sociological rather than aesthetic – or, for that matter, erotic.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Fenech fun

Justin at Filmbar70 sent me this trailer that he's put together for the Italian book 'Edwige Fenech - Il Corpo dei Settanta', or 'Edwige Fenech - The Body of the Seventies' and relates her career and the sexy comedy filone to the decade's socio-political situation.



Filmbar70 is also showing Lenzi's Almost Human on 18th November, at the Roxy Bar and Screen, London Bridge.

Mystery pictures

Gyu in Korea sent me some screengrabs and asked if I knew which film or films they are from. I do not know, but you might...





E. P. Thompson and Eurotrash

This may be a somewhat obscure post but...

In his preface to The Making of the English Working Class, E. P.Thompson famously stated:

"I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the "obsolete" hand-loom weaver, the "utopian" artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity."

If you were rewriting this with reference to European cinema who and what would you commutate into the stockinger, Luddite and so forth as filmmakers and cycles to be 'rescued'?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Under the Doctor

Starring Adventures of a Taxi Driver's Barry Evans in a somewhat different role, that of a sex obsessed doctor rather than a sex obsessed cabbie, this is a middling example of the 1970s British sex comedy that manages to be of some theoretical interest.

The film is structured around three of Evans's patients, played by Penny Spencer, Hilary Pritchard and Liz Frazer and their respective case histories.

First, Spencer relates how she went for a job interview and had fantasies about her potential employer.

Next, Pritchard first tells how she obtained valuable stock market information from an upper-class broker type only to have difficulties with his lecherous butler, then of her fantasies of being an 18th century noblewoman whom two suitors are duelling over.

Finally, Frazer relates of how she has attempted to reignite the passion of her imagined husband.

The key point of significance in Spencer and Pritchard's cases, along with Fraser's fantasy, is that Evans is present, as the would-be employer, one of the suitors and the imaginary husband respectively. As such, amidst the bums, boobs and bad humour, there is the question of whose fantasies are actually being represented, and of who is projecting or transferring what onto whom.

Put another way, someone with an interest in psychoanalytic film theory really ought to look at this film and what it is 'saying' in a more or less unselfconscious / unconscious way...

For the rest of us there is also the Barry Lyndon parody of the 18th century sequence. (The film's writer, Ron Bareham, was a production accountant on the Kubrick film.)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Giallo & Thrilling All’Italiana

This new book from Glittering Images by Antonio Bruschini and Stefano Piselli is somewhat reminiscent of Adrian Luther-Smith’s Blood and Black Lace in that it could be considered something of a viewer’s guide to the form. But while there are necessarily overlaps between the two books, they complement one another, such that the genre fan could do with having both on his or her bookshelf.



The book has four sections: An introductory overview, a filmography, a recent interview with Dario Argento, and a bibliography.

The interview and introduction don’t say anything particularly new, though in the latter case this is because there is only so much that can be said with the same basic facts. To wit: The literary giallo dates back to 1929 and the first publications by Mondadori. The giallo film, in the form we normally understand it, emerged 30 years later, with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace. The form then reached its height of popularity in the early 1970s with Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and its successors.

The filmography section is the largest. Whereas Luther-Smith’s book is organised by title – a structure that sometimes causes difficulties with AKA titles – Giallo & Thrilling All’Italiana is arranged chronologically.

Films from the 1930s through to the 1950s are only given credits, likely reflecting difficulties in actually accessing them. Films from the 1960s onwards are also given a review/overview, ranging in length from a sentence to a paragraph, and two ratings, the first pertaining to the overall quality of the film as a giallo and the second to its sexy / kinky value.

The reader will likely disagree with some of the authors’ ratings, although they seem mostly fair and consistent. Blood and Black Lace, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red and The House with the Windows that Laughed are among the five-star films, What Have You Done to Solange, Don't Torture a Duckling and Who Saw Her Die the four-star films.

On balance, Luther-Smith’s book is probably the better one for those new to the giallo on account of featuring somewhat longer and more detailed discussions of the core group of films (those by Bava, Argento, Martino, Lenzi, Fulci etc.) with both synopsis and review and being originally written in English rather than translated, sometimes awkwardly, from the Italian.

Giallo & Thrilling All’Italiana, however, is probably the better for those venturing further afield, particularly into earlier, minor and crossover releases.

To give but one example, there is nothing about the 1960 film Chiamate 22-22 tenente Sheridan (the big-screen version of a then popular Italian TV detective series set in San Francisco) in Luther-Smith’s book.

The book is also superior when it comes to its bibliography, in that this includes giallo novels adapted for the screen along with fumetti and cineromanzi derived from films. (I had never realised before that Fernando Di Leo’s The Boys Who Killed and Duccio Tessari’s Death Occurred Last Night are adaptations of Giorgio Scerbanenco novels and feature the same detective character.)

Disappointingly the interior illustrations are only in monochrome. They are also somewhat awkwardly placed, usually with a gap of a few pages between the text and the images related to it. For instance, Bloody Pit of Horror is discussed on page 26 but the stills from it do not appear until page 32.

Wild West Gals

I must confess to being somewhat tardy in acquiring this volume from Glittering Images, only remembering about it when I became aware of their new book in the same series on the giallo (more on which soon).

The subject of the book is the figure of the female in the western, encompassing genre classics, B-grade exploitation films and the WAI or western all'italiana, better known to most of us as the spaghetti western, and in comics, both North American and European.

Or, to be more precise, it is about the woman in the western when she was assigned a more active role than was traditionally the case in the 1920s and 1930s western – and, indeed, would continue to be the case in the majority of genre entries.



The coverage of films is chronological, beginning with the likes of Destry Rides Again (1939) and My Little Chickadee (1940) and concluding with Bandidas (2006), although the bulk of the films featured are from the 1950s through 1970s.

While some of the texts featured are familiar, the vast majority are obscurities likely only known by the specialist. Yet even here, the author's completist approach, in including – for example – Joe D'Amato productions from the 1990s whose raison d'etre is frankly of the pornographic kind (I speak from experience, having been thoroughly bored by his Calamity Jane) means that any and all readers are likely to discover something new.

This is especially apparent – at least for the film-oriented reader – when it comes to the appendix on comic books / fumetti.

The book is typically well illustrated. The stills featured might be criticised as exploitative, but another way of looking at it, one made more clear by posters and other advertising materials, is that this is the entire point.

Unfortunately all the interior images are black and white. Given that this is also the case in the giallo book, this looks to be representative of a change in Glittering Images' wider policy.

One the one hand it perhaps keeps the price down. On the other hand these are, as the imprint itself used to remind us, highly specialist books, or in other words things that are not particularly price elastic. At some level, you / we / I am going to buy it while the casual browser is not, regardless of price.

French readers should also note that, unlike many of Glittering Images' earlier releases, the text is now only in Italian and English. For Italian and English readers, meanwhile, the more parallel approach within the filmography – a one paragraph précis in Italian, followed by a one paragraph précis in English – makes for a nice parallel text for learning the other language. (Note that ironic use of the French there ;-))

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Au Pair Girls

One of the things I find fascinating about British exploitation cinema from the 1970s is the existence of an obvious division amongst their personnel.

On the one hand we have those with little or no prospect or at times interest in careers in the mainstream.

On the other hand we have those who might well once have enjoyed mainstream careers but who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time now that London had stopped swinging and US money coming in.

Au Pair Girls is a film which perfectly illustrates this tendency.

In the former camp we have David Grant, credited as author of the story. One of the biggest figures in the British porn scene as producer, distributor and exhibitor, Grant would later be jailed for distributing the video nasty Nightmares in a Damaged Brain in the 1980s before dying in mysterious circumstances in 1991, the possible victim of a hit.

In the latter camp we have co-writer and director Val Guest. A forty-year industry veteran by this point, he had first made his mark in comedy in the 1930s and 40s before playing a major role in kick-starting the British horror cinema through The Quatermass Xperiment for Hammer. Here, however Guest, veteran of some 14 Hammer productions in total, was working for that company’s more downmarket rival, Tigon.


The mark of quality

Perhaps more interesting, however, is the way in which the film also exhibits something of a tension in its own approach, between presenting exploitation and commenting critically on it. Whether this was a deliberate strategy on someone’s part – the likes of Quatermass 2 and Hell is a City have a critical, realist edge to them – or unintentional is another matter, of course.

This is most evident towards the end of the film.


Never has a place been less appropriately named, though was the intention or not?

In one of the four stories the German au pair, Christa, who is a virgin, is taken to a Ricky Strange gig at Groovers nightclub and offered up as a sacrifice to the rock god by the opportunistic daughter of the family she has been placed with, “a Deutschland dolly where the hand of man has never set foot before”

Whilst no Permissive, it’s pretty sordid, depressing stuff and perhaps provides a hint of why Guest, who also helmed Confessions of a Window Cleaner around this time, was not involved with its sequel, Confessions of a Pop Performer.




Ironic use of phallic symbolism, or what?

In another of the four stories a Swedish sexpot type, Anita, with a colour TV obsession is recruited by an Arab Sheik to be part of his harem. Though there’s a hint of criticism, in that we’re told the Sheik has magnanimously raised the annual income of his people from £10 to £20, it’s basically played for laughs.


Ferdy Mayne plays the Sheik

Following this, however, Christa, along with the other two Au Pair Girls, Nan and Randi, is herself picked up by the Sheik for what seems a bit of a dramatic transition from virgin to whore and an odd way to end the film on a high.

The story featuring Nan is also a bit off-key as she is placed with a family of eccentric aristocrats and immediately becomes involved with their piano playing child-man son Rupert (A “new playmate” / “It’s beautiful, I like it”), has sex with him and then silently departs.

Yet if there’s perhaps a hint of the inscrutable Oriental stereotype here, that ‘we’ cannot fathom ‘them’, Nan is also the only one of the four girls whose English is perfect and devoid of unwitting innuendo (Anita’s “I work with them all day and in the evening I play with myself. Is no good?” or Randi’s “I am not miss Lindstrom. My friends call me Randi”)

Again, some sort of critical comment ((Me Me Lai, more famous for her roles in Italian cannibal films, is Anglo-Burmese) or just unsatisfactory writing and characterisation?

Taken on its own basic terms, of providing laughs and showcasing female pulchritude, the film is a success.


For some reason the au pairs on the right is not featured subsequently – was there perhaps an export version with extra material?

It also has a very cool theme song, the kind that had it been sung in Italian or in Italian accented English would surely have showed up on a Beat at Cinecitta or Easy Tempo collection.


Le Mesurier's finest moment

And then there’s the immortal sight of none other than John Le Mesurier fondling his secretary’s breast before telling his son – who imagines this – to “Piss off!”

[See also: http://www.thespinningimage.co.uk/cultfilms/displaycultfilm.asp?reviewid=1797
and http://monsterhunter.coldfusionvideo.com/2008/05/au-pair-girls-1972/ ]

Adventures of a Private Eye

Bob West (Christopher Neil) is a trainee private eye. He’s also a bit of a mug, the kind of guy who claims to be so much more observant than the average but who nevertheless is immediately recognised as an easy mark by a passing pickpocket and, more importantly, the femme fatale type Laura (Suzy Kendall) who comes into the office when his boss Judd Blake (Jon Pertwee) is on holiday.

Bob can’t resist taking on the case, which involves her deceased husband and someone blackmailing her over some ‘artistic’ photographs taken during days as a model. Soon he is completely and utterly out of his depth, with a body in a trunk to dispose of so that Laura can secure her inheritance...

Producer, director and co-writer Stanley Long later felt Adventures of a Private Eye was the weakest of his three Adventures films on the grounds that his target audience found it more difficult to identify with its ‘glamorous’ protagonist compared to Adventures of a Taxi Driver and Adventures of a Plumber’s Mate.

While there is maybe a bit more laughing at Joe and less empathising with his situation – in part because often as not it is his own fault, rather than that of anyone else – the film really doesn’t depart from formula too much.


Sin in the suburbs

It is, after all, still a sex comedy in which the sex is strictly softcore and the rapid-fire, hit-and-miss comedy based largely around misunderstanding. misidentification and a steady flow of double meanings, from Pertwee’s “You stick with me and you’ll soon become a successful bugger” in reference to contemporary surveillance techniques, to a police inspector’s remark of “What a big Willy I’ve got” with regard to his son.

The cast is the same mix of up and coming and established actors, of varying degrees of talent but undoubtedly equally glad of the chance of some work. Amongst the up and comers there are the likes of Neil, Adrienne Posta, Robin Stewart and Nicholas Young, whilst amongst the established performers Diana Dors, Irene Handl and Harry Corbett showed up for a scene or two.

Here we may also note that Long was presumably satisfied with Neil’s performance – Taxi Driver’s Barry Evans had been offered the role, but declined it – in that the actor again played the lead in Plumber’s Mate.


'Moroni with an I, and not with an E, because Morone would be stupid'

The film also has its own strong points, most notably Posta’s Lisa Moroni character, with her note-perfect impersonation of Liza Minelli’s Sally Bowles from Cabaret.


Note Milton Reid as the leftmost heavy

For the fan of British genre cinema there’s also a nice touch when the Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General cue that introduces Hopkins is played as the blackmailer makes his entrance. Given that Long had worked as a cinematographer on Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerers and that co-writer Michael Armstrong made the Witchfinder General-inspired Mark of the Devil, this seems more than coincidental on someone's part.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Diversions

[Note that this review contains spoilers]

Imagine, if you will, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors being remade as a hardcore porn film and you begin to get an idea of what Diversions is like.

For this 1975 entry from British sex film auteur Derek Ford, understandably only released at the time in the UK in a severely truncated form, uses the same device of a group of passengers in a train compartment as the means for framing and connecting a series of short stories.

The Amicus connection is further enhanced by the fact that one of the five stories features a magic camera purchased from an antiques shop that could easily have been From Beyond the Grave’s Temptations Limited. Another presents a decidedly E.C. Comics-like punchline to a scenario inspired by a Vampirella comic; presumably the film either flew under the radar of Vampirella publishers Warren or they were understandably disinclined to draw wider attention to its existence.

Not, however, that Amicus’s Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky would ever have dreamt of making a film with hardcore sex, let alone sex and violence together in two of the segments.

The film manages to just about get away with their combination thanks to their clear framing as fantasy rather than reality, although there is also the inevitable sense of purportedly female fantasies being presented from a male perspective for a presumed male viewer.

We begin with a voice off establishing the fact that a female prisoner, identified only as Brown, is being transported by two officers, one male and one female, to begin a five year sentence for assault.

As the train gets underway we become party to thoughts of the prisoner – or more precisely the woman we are invited to presume is the prisoner – played by Heather Deeley.


Deeley

First, the man opposite offers her an apple – the symbolism is obvious – prompting a recollection of an early sexual encounter on a farm.

Next, the sight of the creepy looking man opposite reading Vampirella leads to a fantasy sequence in which the woman imagines killing and castrating a man in revenge for his having been one of a group of soldiers who gang raped her when she was serving as a nurse in a war. (Though Vampirella is shown, aspects of the scenario and mise-en-scene here seem more like Guido Crepax's Valentina, particularly as filmed in Corrado Farina's Baba Yaga.)

After writing around in bloody ecstasy whilst playing with the severed penis/phallus, the woman cleans herself up and goes to Soho in search of a new victim. She finds an opera-cloaked young man, takes him back to her place and, mid coitus, brings out her concealed knife. This time, however, the blade refuses to sink into his flesh. It is not that its nature as a theatrical prop is now evident – though this could certainly have been the case, given the nightmare logic – but rather that, as his opera cloak get up had earlier hinted at, he is in fact a vampire.




The vampire lovers

Sex, death, penetrating and being penetrated in more ways than one. This is heavy stuff...

Following this, a newspaper advertisement leads into scenario in which the woman imagines moving into an apartment formerly occupied by a call girl and, after getting annoyed about callers inquiring about Miss Whiplash’s large chest for sale, encouraging an apparent misunderstanding with the attractive looking young man who comes to the door.

We then move back into sex and violence territory as the arrival of the ticket collector prompts the woman’s fantasy of torture at the hands of a mixed gender trio of secret police types from an unidenfitied totalitarian state.

The final scenario is considerably lighter. The aforementioned antique camera transports the woman back into to Victorian times where she enjoys a three-way romp with a moustache-twirling villain type and a maid.


Some of those 'Other Victorians'

As the train reaches its destination and the prisoner is transferred there is a nice reversal of expectation as it is revealed the woman whose fantasies we have been party to is not the prisoner but the police officer escorting her. It adds a little extra frisson and ends the film on a nice note, with something extra for us to think about if we are so inclined. (It's also a riff on The Narrow Margin, admittedly.)

Though not entirely successful, within its two sex and violence sequences Diversions achieves an intensity rare, perhaps even unique, within British sex-horror-fantasy cinema. It stands comparison with the kind of thing Jesus Franco and Alberto Cavallone were doing around the same time on the continent with the likes of Doriana Grey and L'uomo la donna e la bestia respectively.

You can take that as a recommendation ;-)

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bay of Blood cuts waived

The seeming outbreak of common sense at BBFC continues as another former "video nasty" is passed uncut:

http://www.bbfc.co.uk/EVF059583

The new DVD from Arrow looks a pretty good package as well:

http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/index.php?c=y&s=bd39246dd448ff3a272da060ec280255&art_id=4&tle_id=471&v=

Apocalipsis sexual

Though written and directed by Carlos Aured this 1982 Spanish entry has something of a Jesus Franco feel to it, thanks to the presence of the iconic Lina Romay and Ajita Wilson and somewhat subversive way in which it approaches its subject(s).


Let's just say it's hard to find screengrabs from this film that are acceptable to post...

The story is one of a group of kidnappers who abduct the daughter of a wealthy businessman and subject her to all manner of abuses. Despite, or more disturbingly because of this, she develops a case of Stockholm Syndrome, particularly in relation to the gang’s leader. This in turn leads to increasing divisions amongst them...

In its presentation the film is more a hardcore porn than crime thriller however, perhaps somewhat reminiscent of a Hot Summer in the City, Spanish-style. For the bulk of the running time is taken up by a procession of sexual numbers. Certainly some of these are integrated, having a narrative function. Much of the time, however, they are simply there, more as the raison d’etre than padding.

This is foregrounded by the way the all-important opening moments play out, with nearly five minutes of faux-lesbian poolside action between Romay and another woman before one of the other gang members cools them down with a bucket of water and announces that it is time to go to work.

The kidnapping takes up the next three minutes or so, following which there are another seven minutes of sex scenes. Then we get the first humiliation of the virgin victim, involving a pool cue being inserted into her vagina and the deliberately awkward blurring of the boundaries of yes/no, pleasure/pain and so forth.


The face of the victim/'victim' during the pool cue scene

Following this, at 23 minutes in – all timings here refer to the Italian dubbed version, which runs a brief porn-like 68 minutes – one of the kidnappers makes their ransom demand, while another exchanges pleasantries with the victim. He then watches as the three women amongst the gang have sex, whilst another of the men rapes the victim.

The two sex scenes are cross-cut, the same porn funk cue and dubbed moans playing over them to again make us wonder how we are supposed to respond, The subversive effect is however somewhat undercut by the porn convention of the external ejaculation being used in both scenes, with the lesbian three way in the first perhaps thereby perhaps also being recontextualised as appetiser to the heterosexual main course.

By now the pattern is becoming increasingly clear: A brief scene in which an exchange of dialogue or looks exposes the changing relationship between the victim and one of her kidnappers, followed by a longer sequence in which bump and grind takes precedence and narrative grinds to a halt.

A reprise of the pool cue scene, this time involving a flick knife, further confirms that this is not a film for everyone; it might however make for an interesting double bill with Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst for anyone feeling especially perverted.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

West End Jungle

Effectively banned on its initial release but now coming across as a quaint time-capsule, this 1961 expose of prostitution in London exhibits the tension between documenting and exploiting its subject matter from the off.


If it's a good film, it's a Miracle!



Though the production company’s name, Searchlight, connotes the documentarian ideal of illumination and enlightenment, those behind the film were none other than Arnold Miller and Stanley Long whose other contributions to cinema the same year, setting the pattern for the kind of exploitation material to follow, were Nudist Memories and Nudes of the World.

More important, though the film purports to show scenes captured from the sordid underbelly of London life, the fact that various performers are credited clearly undercuts its claims to realism. There’s also, however, an amateurishness and ugliness to them, a fact emphasised by the absence of actual dialogue in lieu of a soundtrack comprised of extensive use of needle-drop crime jazz interspersed with authorial voice-off and unidentified responses to interview-style questions in which the participants seem curiously okay about self-incriminating:

Interviewer: “How gay and cheerful do they [the girls] have to be? Enough to go to bed with the customers?”
Club owner: “That is their concern. What they do after they leave here is nothing to do with us at all. “
“When a girl comes to you for a job as a hostess do you ask her whether she has any objections to going to bed with men?”
“Well...”
“Do you?”
“Well, yes.”
“And supposing she does object to sleeping with a client does she get the job?”
“No, not necessarily.”

Dancer: “Men? They make me sick. Look at them sitting there drooling!”
Interviewer: “Then why do you do it?”
“I don’t know the money’s not bad. Better than I got serving in a shop. Besides, I always wanted to be on the stage. You’ve got to start somewhere, haven’t you?”

For the most part Miller’s direction serves to keep up the documentary pretence by being of an unobtrusive and functional sort, though inevitably he is unable to resist the odd jarring subjective shot when it comes to filming a strip routine.


Street prostitution, before the new law


And off the street, sort of, afterwards

Long’s cinematography is crisp and professional, but thereby perhaps likewise a bit incongruous at times – things tend to look that bit too well set-up.

If its depictions can be taken as valid the film had a certain social/moral value. To wit:

If you are a young woman from the provinces then this is how a pimp sizes you up and operates, so beware and don’t be taken in by him: “The transformation, mental as well as physical, is easy. In only a few days the weak willed, glamour hungry bumpkin has become a skilful heartless gold-digger.”

If you are a young man then this is how a clip joint works, so watch out or you may find yourself paying “as much as ten shillings for a glass of blackcurrant juice.”

If you are a businessman and offered companionship, then be forewarned about where this might lead in terms of blackmail.

Predictably, however, these messages are dealt with in somewhat two-faced and decidedly hyperbolic terms: Look at these pathetic figures, male and female alike, and feel superior to them, even as you’ve maybe been taken in the filmmakers.


The inevitable Raymond Revue Bar shot

“Laughable or sordid, perhaps something of both. But really pitiful and depressing” about sums it up.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Art of Hammer

This new book from Titan presents a lavishly illustrated guide to the art of Hammer film posters from the days of Exclusive in the early 1950s – examples of work from the 1930s are understandably hardest to come by – through to the company’s last theatrical release at the time of printing, 1979’s The Lady Vanishes.



All told more than 300 posters are reproduced, with the designs on display drawn from the UK, US and various other places around the world. France, Belgium and Italy are particularly well represented, though there are also a number of posters from Poland, Japan and Australia as well.

Though primarily something to browse through and admire, an introductory essay usefully identifies some of the main names amongst the company’s British artists. These include the likes of Bill Wiggins, who worked on the founding trinity of The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy in the late 1950s, and Tom Chantrell, responsible for many of the company’s most iconic UK posters of the 1960s. (The prolific Chantrell is probably most famous for doing the UK Star Wars poster, which as author Marcus Hearn notes, was the only one to feature Peter Cushing.)

The descriptions accompanying individual posters also highlight points of wider interest, like the increasing use of DayGlo inks in the mid-1960s; the controversy over the original UK The Camp on Blood Island poster with its monstrous looking Japanese soldier and “Jap War Crimes Exposed” strapline; the Warhol inspired pop-art leanings of certain US artists; and the existence of folded and rolled versions of the UK Dracula Has Risen from the Grave poster, with the latter being given away to fans and thus more readily available and presumably carrying a lower price premium.

Also worth noting are the frequent differences in the translated titles, graphic elements and emphases of the posters prepared by national distributors and those of Hammer for the domestic market. For instance, the Danish Brides of Dracula poster came from actor David Peel’s personal collection and was apparently the only one to give him higher billing than Peter Cushing, whilst in Italy Hands of the Ripper was distributed as Barbara: The Monster of London.

Such examples also highlight the rarity value of many of the posters reproduced, even for the Hammer fan such as myself: While trawls on Ebay have certainly made many of those present more familiar than they would have been even ten years ago, I had never seen the likes of the Polish One Million Years BC or the Romanian The Hound of the Baskervilles posters, and doubt that many outwith these territories would have done so until now.

Recommended for fans of the studio, though those fixated solely on its horror output should note that just as much weight is given – correctly in my opinion – to showcasing the diversity of its releases, and anyone with an interest in cinema ephemera.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Quatermass Experiment

Or [pedant]it is The Quatermass Xperiment[/pedant] if we are talking about the film, as this is.

As in these things matter, especially in 'cult'; in this case, that Hammer put the emphasis on the X certificate through their alternative spelling, that this was not something the audiences of the time were going to get on BBC television.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007y4fk/The_Quatermass_Experiment/

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Deep Red released uncut in UK

Or, a lizard impaled on a woman's pin... (well, a lizard maybe impaled on a pin by a girl, but I though a bit of Famous Monsters style punning wouldn't be objected to)

http://www.bbfc.co.uk/EVV108408

Giallo film dispute

"Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody has sued the makers of a thriller for more than $2m (£1.3m), claiming he has not been fully paid for the project.

Brody, 37, says he is owed $640,000 (£407,000) for Turin-set film Giallo and that it was released on DVD in the US on Tuesday without his permission."

More: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11581743

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

New York Ripper sighted in London

Comeandsee is a new film screening group in London. They will be showing Fulci's The New York Ripper courtesy of Shameless on 28th October, and hope to also have a videotape swap shop.



More information:

Friday, 8 October 2010

Suspiria screening in London



"A rare London screening of Argento's classic, Suspiria at the Rio Cinema in Dalston on 16th October."

http://www.cigaretteburnscinema.com/
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=41892989996

RIP Roy Ward Baker

A sad farewell to British film director Roy Ward Baker, director of A Night to Remember and numerous Hammer and Amicus films, including Quatermass and the Pit, The Anniversary, Moon Zero Two, The Vampire Lovers, Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts..., Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires and Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde.







One of those no-nonsense professionals that rarely get the respect they deserve.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sinister Sunday of Shock

Sinister Sunday of Shock @ Glasgow Film Theatre, Sunday 24 October.

"This special horror movie event includes the UK premieres of documentary Herschell Gordon Lewis: Godfather of Gore and Stalker (aka Expose), directed by former Spandau Ballet star Martin Kemp, as well as screenings of exploitation classics Island of Death and Demons.

With Q&As from special guests including Island of Death director Nico Mastorakis, Stalker star Jane March and producer Jonathan Sothcott, Demons special effects wizard Sergio Stivaletti and Cannibal Holocaust star Francesca Ciardi."

Tickets and more information: http://www.gft.org.uk/content/default.asp?page=s117

Monday, 23 August 2010

Once Upon a Time in America site

Just about everything you could ever want to know about the making of the film, its locations, Harry Grey's novel and more:

http://msb247.awardspace.com/contents.htm

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Nice remark on Leone

There was a reason why the 2.35:1 frame was invented, and it was Sergio Leone. Some have come close to matching his sense of scene composition, but none have consistently performed photographic miracles like Leone. Leone is a stunning example of why Pan And Scan should be outlawed under penalty of death by being cut in half

From an IMDB review

Friday, 20 August 2010

Bordel SS

France, during the Nazi occupation: A brothel services high ranking SS officers whilst some of the women working there secretly aid the resistance.

This Nazi-sexploitation entry from cult French auteur José Bénazéraf occupies an interesting position. On the one hand it’s clearly a film with something to say and an intelligence behind it. On the other hand it’s limited by the need to present various banal hardcore production numbers.

The film’s setting provides some excuses for its porn-style presentation of sex. The situation of the prostitutes in the brothel broadly echoes that of the actresses in the film, that of the SS men the presumed viewer.

For whether their real motivation is wealth, survival, or political (i.e. secretly serving the resistance) these women are required to make their male partners feel good. If that means lots of writhing, moaning and general acting then so be it.

The men, meanwhile, are desperate: Like their analogues in the audience, they just want to get off, to temporarily forget and get away from everything else in the world.

Bénazéraf, however, refuses to allow this escape, with the scenes inside the brothel being punctuated by news from outside and images of a resistance man going from one contact to another.

The most problematic scenes, from a film-theoretical perspective, are those that present the prostitutes by themselves. Some present insights, by again foregrounding the differences between actor and role and social actor and social role; it’s a nice Sartrean theme if we think of his famous analysis of the waiter who refuses to be reified as just a waiter. Others, however, present the same old pseudo-lesbian stuff for the male gaze in an entirely female situation where the “male gaze” ought to be absent.

Such images give you a sense of a tension between the filmmaker, backer, distributors and the audience. Without them might have something closer to a French version of Nagasi Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, an uncompromising, honest and hardcore film exploring limits and boundaries in relation to early 20th century fascism.

Here it’s worth noting that on the version I watched the title card introduces the film as none other than a Thanatos production or presentation: Can we say mass psychology of fascism, eros and civilisation, eros and thanatos, and all that stuff the ordinary raincoater viewer couldn’t give a toss about. (Not that he necessarily should, of course.)

Unfortunately commercial realities seem to have dictated otherwise: Be perverse but not too perverse, and certainly don’t attempt to pervert the idea of perversion.

And yet Bénazéraf has, in his own perverse way, succeeded. For the thing that is odd about the film in relation is perhaps how it is still frustrating from both mainstream and more sadomasochistic / Nazi-themed porn perspectives: If you want a straightforward hardcore film, there’s too much talk and not enough action, with this also being filmed in an at times unconventional manner, as with Bénazéraf’s penchant for mirror-based compositions. If you want something harder, then Bénazéraf declines to really deliver it, even in the climactic SS torture sequence: Certainly it’s still pretty disturbing and perverse, but not in relation to your obscure 1970s specialist pornos.

The key here is that word, frustration. It is, after all, the name of Bénazéraf’s best known film and is arguably the signature term to describe his work, which even on this showing deserves to be better known, especially for fans of Franco, Rollin, D’Amato or the other more usual suspects.

As a bit of bait and switch to further lure in the curious (even if they may then knowingly then be frustrated) I’ll conclude by mentioning that Brigitte Lahaie makes an appearance with brown rather than blonde hair.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Invisible Bullets

A short film, "heavily influenced by the spaghetti westerns, particularly For A Few Dollars More."

http://www.virginmediashorts.co.uk/films/entry/346076/invisible-bullets-3

Further information, including press kit and stills, can be found here:

http://www.invisiblebullets.co.uk

I'm sure they'd appreciate your comments

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Spanish actors with Jewish names

Specifically Emma Cohen and Victor Israel:

Why did they use these pseudonyms? Did either have a Jewish mother, such that it was a matrilineal choice of a part of their given Spanish personal - mother - father name? Or was it something else - e.g. a critical commentary on Francoist Catholic / Christian Spain, a non-Christian Spanish heritage?

Leone request

Can anyone give links on where to download or purchase the Italian versions of the Dollars films, preferably as they originally screened in Italy, with an intermission and with Fistful / Pungo credits of Leone as Roberto Roberti.

Grazie mille!

Family resemblances

"There seems to be a family resemblance" - Monco to the Colonel, For a Few Dollars More.

But has anyone ever done an over-determined Wittgenstenian reading of Leone on account of this?

Jesus Franco / Jazz

Two of Franco's jazz pseudonyms are Dave Tough and Clifford Brown.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Tough

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifford_Brown

A simple question, a complex answer

Which is your favourite Sergio Leone film?

And why?

Exposé / The House on Straw Hill / Trauma

Having secured a £500,000 advance for his best-selling debut novel, Paul Martin (Udo Kier) is feeling under severe pressure as he attempts to pen its follow-up. After a move to an isolated farmhouse fails to help Paul overcome his writer’s block, his increasingly desperate agent suggests that he might hire a live-in secretary and dictate the work to her. Linda (Linda Hayden) duly arrives, but soon proves to have ulterior motives of her own...

Known as Exposé and The House on Straw Hill in the UK and as Trauma in the US, this 1975 thriller is notable for being one of the few home-grown entries on the list of once-banned “video nasties”. Yet it’s also of a piece with the over-represented Italian and Spanish entries in being that fateful combination of independently made, low-budget exploitation film. (Looking back at the video nasties affair, one of their unanticipated consequences was facilitating the major studios in taking the same kind of control over what played on small screens as they had long enjoyed over the large one.)

As with many of the video nasties, much of the reason for Expose’s banning can be attributed to being in the wrong place at the wrong time: True, it features an awkward, ambiguously presented rape scene, that recalls one of its more obvious influences, namely Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. True, it’s got a fair bit of nudity and kinkiness, with Paul fetishistically donning rubber gloves before having sex and Linda being prone to masturbating wherever, whenever the mood takes her. True, there’s a fair bit of violence and gore.


No glove, no love

But in all this there’s nothing that could really be considered obscene nor likely to deprave and corrupt, with this fact all the more evident when you consider that the film had been in circulation since 1976 without attracting much unwanted attention. (As distinct from wanted, given the opportunistic casting of mid-1970s glamour queen Fiona Richmond as Paul’s girlfriend.)

It’s not a bad little film of its type, with writer-director James Kenelm-Clarke displaying a decent understanding of the mechanics of suspense and shock and making good use of his chosen (and necessarily limited) set of interior and exterior locations to convey his character’s isolation and claustrophobia.

The denouement may be a bit predictable for some. But rather than seeing this as a weakness, I’d be inclined to take it as something that follows logically and consistently from Kenelm-Clarke’s approach.

Basically the film’s unwritten rule seems to be that if something is mentioned or not mentioned there is a underlying reason for this that will eventually be explained. Paul’s telling one interviewer that his first novel took him three months to write and another that it took six months actually matters, as does Linda’s failure to discuss her ex-husband after intimating that she is no longer married.

It’s something that further shows Kenelm-Clarke was out to make a ‘proper’ film, rather than just relying on Richmond’s presence to bring undemanding punters in, as unfortunately would would be the case on their later collaboration, Hardcore.

It also helps here that Richmond isn’t required to carry the film, as unfortunately was also the case with Hardcore. It’s not that she lacks presence, even compared to co-stars Kier (who was dubbed, though this doesn’t detract particularly from his performance) and Hayden (who soon after disowned the film, although curiously she makes an appearance in the current remake). Rather it’s just that she has the wrong type of presence.


Classic Hayden


Classic Kier


Classic (?!) Richmond

British TV comedy and advertising regular Karl Howman appears as a local youth. His “I am a Vampyre” T-shirt references Larraz’s film Vampyres, on which the multi-talented Kenelm-Clarke had worked as composer. (Oddly Kenelm-Clarke doesn't provide the music here.)


yo soy vampyre

Giallo fans may want to compare Exposé to Sergio Amadeo’s Amuck, with which it has some distinct similarities, co-incidental or otherwise.