Sunday, 27 June 2010

Norman J Warren in Edinburgh / Brit Horror Event

Edinburgh Zombie Club Presents:
A British Horror All Dayer with special guest, cult director Norman J. Warren.

Sunday 18th July @ The Banshee Labyrinth, 29-35 Niddry Street, Edinburgh. EH1 1LG

Five pounds entry, first screening begins at 12pm and the Q&A with Norman starts at 4pm so be sure to get down early to avoid disappointment. There's only a limited amount of space in the cinema room so we'd suggest you booked in advance to ensure a seat.

We’ll be showing classic and cult British Horror gems throughout the entire day, including Norman J. Warren’s slasher epic “Terror” which he’ll no doubt discuss with us on the night. Food and refreshments will be available in the pub and there will be breaks in between films. The film schedule is as such (in running order):

* Night of the Demon (Dir. Jacques Tourneu, 1957)
* Terror (Dir. Norman J. Warren, 1979)
* Q&A with Norman J. Warren
* Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly (Dir. Freddie Francis, 1970)
* Frightmare (Dir. Pete Walker, 1974)
* The Devil Rides Out (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1968)

Email to book a ticket.
There will also be a small number of online tickets shortly available from

Website here -

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Programming a rare Hammer season

If you were programming a six-film season of rare, non-horror Hammer intended to showcase the diversity of the studio's output, what would you show?

The films need to be of decent quality able to appeal to a general audience, so the 1970s sitcom adaptations are out, though something like Up the Creek or Further up the Creek may not be.

I'm currently thinking of six from this lot, probably the starred ones:

Yesterday’s Enemy*
Hell is a City*
Taste of Fear
The Damned*
Never Take Candy from a Stranger*
Cash on Demand*
Night Creatures*
The Nanny
The Lost Continent
Moon Zero Two
Straight on Till Morning

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

La mano lunga del padrino / The Long Arm of the Godfather

In that the main conflict in this 1972 poliziotto is in fact between rival gangsters, with the police barely making an appearance despite the gunning down of several soldiers and the theft of a consignment of arms, this is this is one of those filone entries which qualifies as a poliziotto in name only.

Groovy credits superimposed over cold blooded killing

It's also a somewhat difficult film to otherwise place. The groovy credits and the breezy lounge score (complete with frequent use of la la la la type male and female vocalism) are at odds with the cynicism, violence and general air of misogyny and/or misanthropy that is otherwise the film's stock in trade. Perhaps tellingly the film was also the only credited work for composer Silvano D'Auria and co-writer and director Nando Bonomi alike.

Casual violence and sadism

Elsewhere we are on more familiar ground, insofar as the other co-writer and editor was Giulio Berruti of Killer Nun note, the three leads are Adolfo Celi, Peter Lee Lawrence and Erica Blanc and many of the gang members familiar faces.

Celi plays the Godfather of the title, Lawrence the treacherous underling who does a double crosses and tries to sell the arms on himself, and Blanc the moll whom he wishes to impress.

The pacing is often somewhat leisurely and the game of cat and mouse not as tense as it could have been.

This is partly down to the characterisation of the leads: Celi’s Don Carmelo is a criminal mastermind in the Thunderball or Danger Diabolik mode, confident he’s always at least one move ahead of everyone else:

Goon: Don't you want revenge?
Don Carmelo: Romantic notions don't interest me. I want the money.

Lawrence’s Vincenzo thinks he is smarter than he actually is, but is also adept at improvising his way out of sticky situations:

Vincenzo: For the moment I'm still winning.
Sabina: Don't count on that.
Vincenzo: I always do.

It is also down to the fact that the action quickly relocates from Italy to somewhere in North Africa or the Middle East, such that we get a fair amount of tourist style sightseeing worked into the narrative.

And something a bit more disturbing, perhaps

Things do get back down to the serious business after a bit, albeit again with some awkward inconsistencies in tone, not least when Blanc’s Sabina is brutalised by one of Don Vincenzo’s thugs to some incongruous but not obviously intentionally ironic musical accompaniment.

In sum, an oddity that doesn’t always work but which isn’t the kind of disaster that its first and only film nature might lead you to assume.

Sunday, 13 June 2010


Suzie arrives in London from the provinces, hoping to catch some of that Swinging London vibe that she has heard about through the mass media. Fiona takes Suzy under her wing and introduces her to the band she hangs out with. After a short while Suzy does an All About Eve and usurps Fiona's position, with fatal consequences...

It may have plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll, but 1970's Permissive is not exactly what you'd call a fun film. Rather it's one of the most dreary, drab and depressing films you could hope to see about the realities of the music world, more Cocksucker Blues than Almost Famous, but with a band whose material circumstances are more akin to those of Black Flag than the Rolling Stones.

Stylistically the film is an odd combination of pseudo-documentary nothing much to see for the most part punctuated by moments of machine gun editing, as if someone had decided to make a kitchen sink drama of the Cathy Come Home or Bleak Moments type with editing inspired by Performance.

Is it Madeleine or Maria? One of the Collinson twins as a groupie

Even more intriguingly, the editing isn't used to make the musical performances more interesting, as might be expected, but rather to present disconcerting (acid?) flashbacks and flashforwards as to the characters' relationships and fates.

The big surprise is who was responsible for it all, with notorious hack for hire Lindsay Shonteff writing and directing and Tony Tenser's Tigon producing.

Yes, part of the business of exploitation filmmaking was exploiting the audience in giving less than is promised.

But to make a film that is utterly joyless, which leaves you feeling cheated and like you also just might want to end it all?!

Either Shonteff seriously pulled the wool over Tenser's eyes and intended this all along as some sort of perverse artistic statement, which seems unlikely, or something just started to happen once the cameras were rolling.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Paradiso Blu

After their plane goes down in bad weather, survivors Karen (Anna Bergman) and Peter (Dan Monahan) manage to make it to an isolated island. Another plane flies overhead, indicating that there is at least the prospect of rescue, but fails to spot them. Accordingly the two build a shelter and attempt to settle in to their new situation.

How did we get here?

Chris Taylor (John Richardson) comes to the island by boat and stays with them a while.

Following his departure a group of natives land on the island to conduct a voodoo ceremony. Peter manages to scare them off and save Inez (Lucia Ramirez) from apparent sacrifice.

Ramirez and Bergman

This is something of an oddity from producer-director-cinematographer Aristide Massaccessi / Joe D'Amato. Given its setting, voodoo references and the presence of Ramirez, it would be of a piece with the likes of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Black Sex were it not for the fact that the sex and horror elements that were their stock in trade are downplayed in favour of Blue Lagoon meets Swept Away styled drama.

A grizzled looking Richardson

While the results again demonstrate D'Amato's adaptability and occasional willingness to try his hand at making a 'proper', less exploitative film, they are not the most interesting to watch, with a distinct lack of dramatic, sexual, class or any other sort of tension throughout.

The appearances of Chris and then Inez certainly threaten to alter the dynamics between Karen and Peter, but nothing really happens. (Lost anyone?)

D'Amato's direction is flat with the more self-conscious moments – slow motion as Karen and Peter embrace, some sudden zooms – decidedly awkward.

This is partly because these moments don't built into memorable set-pieces. This is perhaps most evident in the plane crash sequence, as D'Amato unexpectedly cuts from the build up within the plane to the aftermath. Clearly there wasn't the budget or inclination even for some unconvincing model work.

But the avoidance of the supernatural means we don't get anything like the well-executed statue turning into a cat match cut of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead, the avoidance of more explicit nudity and sex means comparable to Ramirez's popping a champagne bottle using her vaginal muscles.

In the end one gets the sense that D'Amato recognised that the film didn't have much going for it when he encouraged Bergman to put her name to it as director in the hope that it might gain something from association with her more famous father, Ingmar.

I suppose this gives us a nice shock answer if ever asked to name a favourite Bergman film ;-)

Friday, 11 June 2010

Keep it up Jack

One reason the British sex comedy was never particularly well regarded by critics is, at base, social class: Middle class critics were looking at a working class form that drew more from music hall than modernist theatre and whose pleasures were thereby fundamentally alien to them.

Available to buy from Movie Poster Mem; another design is here

The correlations are immediately made in this 1973 entry from Derek Ford in that it opens on a pier-front theatre where protagonist Jack James (Mark Jones) is performing his one-man version of Oliver Twist, then develops into a bawdier version of the Victorian-era farce Charley's Aunt.

All that's needed here is the Donald McGill postcard as well

Unfortunately for Jack times are not what they were and the theatre's owner soon decides that his act – which had been performed by his father and grandfather before him – is not what is needed to draw in the punters these days.

At this point Jack has a stroke of luck as he inherits a property following the death of his aunt. It turns out that the place is a brothel where she was the madam. Or, rather it was a brothel, seeing as only one of the girls working there, the ironically named Virginia (Sue Longhurst) remains on site.

Taking a fancy to Virginia, Jack starts posing as his aunt and re-opens the place for business.

He soon learns that Virginia has distinctly amorous intentions towards Auntie. But rather than coming clean about things (oo er!) Jack continues to keep it up (fnaar fnaar!) and impersonate all manner of the brothel's clients, each with their own preferences and pecadilloes amongst the seven women now working there...

The set up gives plenty scope for Jones and Longhurst to demonstrate their talents.

Jones’s various personas are particular highlight – even if his Japanese visitor is, inevitably, the kind of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s style caricature unacceptable today. Interestingly earlier in his career Jones had worked with avant garde theatre director Peter Brook, suggesting that just because something appealed to the critics this didn't necessarily mean it provided a decent wage for the actor.

Longhurst, meanwhile, comes across (oo er!) as something of a British version of Edwige Fenech: Sexy, uninhibited and a whole lot better actress than many would probably give her credit for.

Though the version I saw was strictly softcore Ford apparently also shot alternative hardcore scenes for the export market. As it is there are some scenes which push the envelope a bit, such as Longhurst's memorable first appearance, lying naked on a bed pleasuring herself, and a pseudo-lesbian threesome.

Sue Longhurst goes exploring

There are also some amusing in-jokes: One of the prostitutes, who specialises in playing an infantile role, is played by On the Buses's Linda Regan. When the place is threatened with closure she remarks that she may have to go back “on the buses”...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Upcoming cult screenings in Edinburgh

As some of you may recall, I'm involved in the running of my local film society, The Edinburgh Film Guild.

As part of our programme we show cult / exploitation / trash films on a Friday evening. This year our mini-seasons include gialli, US cult cinema of the 1970s and the Werewolf:

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Adventures of a Plumber's Mate

To the casual viewer there probably isn't much to be said about British Sex Comedies from the 1970s: If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Not particularly funny, nor particularly sexy and differentiated from one another by their permutations of otherwise interchangeable performers, established and new, often reluctantly taking parts in them as the only ones going.

Stephen Lewis as Blakie, er, B A Crapper

Willie Rushton and the omnipresence of porn

There is an element of truth to this, but there are differences. For instance, whereas the Confessions films were based around a common set of characters and progressed from one film to the next, the rival Adventures films from producer-director Stanley Long had only their titles in common.

Whereas nudity and softcore sex were very much the raison d'etre of Adventures of a Taxi Driver they come across as something of an addition here, in that the scenario could well have formed the basis of a Will Hay, Ealing or Norman Wisdom comedy in an earlier decade.

A homage to Deadly Weapons?

Sid South (Adventures of a Taxi Driver had featured 'Joe North' and Adventures of a Private Eye 'Bob West') is behind on the rent and in debt to a local gangster to the tune of £900.

Always looking for ways to make a few extra pound, Sid asks one of his customers, whose toilet seat he's just replaced, if she minds if he takes the old one. He then sells on to an antique dealer, who duly sells the seat on at a not inconsiderable profit.

It then transpires that the seat is actually made of solid gold, another gangster's loot from an armed robbery a few years back. As it so happens, he's just been released from jail...

Kitchen sink drama

In terms of directing, writing, performances and production values the film is mostly rudimentary and perfunctory. Nevertheless, there is the occasional spark of imagination. For example, following the title credits, atop which plays a breezy theme by lead Christopher Neil, we get a long tracking shot of a bedsit that wouldn't have been out of place in a kitchen sink drama.

Long's experience as cinematographer on The Sorcerors clearly helped when it came to doing guerilla style scenes

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

UK Argento posters

Currently on Ebay UK, but priced a bit too high for me, with 'buy it now' prices of £999 each

Queen Kong

This, as you might know, is the King Kong spoof that was deemed to be a bit too similar to Dino De Laurentiis's remake of the same year (1976) and as a result was prevented from being released. Female lead Rula Lenska was apparently pleased by this turn of events, as she felt that the release of the film would have hampered her career. 30-plus years later it's hard to see what the fuss was about: The film would be difficult to confuse with the De Laurentiis version and, while certainly bad at a technical level, nonetheless has a certain something about it.

We open with a man being chased by hostile natives and ending up in their cooking pot. It is the latest scene in Luce Habit's (Lenska's) latest epic and proves the last straw as far as the actor is concerned.

In case you couldn't tell, and a possible nod to the krimi?

The demanding director returns to London to seek out a new lead and soon finds one in the shape of happy-go-lucky gleaming-smiled rogue Ray Fay (Robin Askwith).

The female gaze and its object; much like Four Flies on Grey Velvet Handel's Hallelujah Chorus plays here

In a nod to the original King Kong Ray's first glimpsed attempting to steal an apple. In a joke at the expense of the remake he then tries stealing an “original reproduction” King Kong poster from an Italian junk shop owner. (Ray: “Where is he, the little Italian fink, I'm gonna sue ya!”)

“I'm taking this peach with me”

Luce pays off said fink, slips Ray a mickey finn as his attention is distracted by some hippy types from whom he attempts to cadge a joint, and has The Liberated Lady set sail before he can awaken and start questioning the contract he may or may not have signed.

The Liberated Lady then arrives at the Island of Lazanga. The high priestess (Valerie Leon) wants to sacrifice Ray to Queen Kong but Luce is having none of it. Ray winds up being offered up to the giant ape anyway only for her to fall in love with him. What neither the high priestess or Luce were expecting, however, was for the feeling to be mutual...

Around about this point the action jumps back to London as Luce decides to put Queen Kong on display...

Throughout the gags come thick and fast, mostly missing but with enough hitting not to be a complete disaster.

The first thing that made the film work for me was the filmmakers' awareness that what they were doing was, at some level, basically crap as when, en route to Lazanga we're treated some highly self-referential and deprecating commentary on the B-film and its limitations.

Luce: We're on our way to Darkest Africa, to make a film that will make you the biggest star in Uganda
Ray: Oh, terrific

Ray: They keep saying Kong, Kong, Kong, Kong, Kong, Kong
Luce: yes, that's true
Ray: Well do you think this has some underlying meaning or symbolism or social significance?
Luce: Perhaps it's a secret code

The second, following in part from this, was the inability to actually position the film as X (bad) or Y (good), with a particular excess of images that could be construed as either sexist or anti-sexist, racist or anti-racist, or both at the same time.

On the one hand we have the crew of The Liberated Lady singing a song that name-checks such feminist figures as Germaine Greer and Jane Fonda:

Burn your bra
Burn your panties
Call you ma
Call your aunties
And ship up on the Liberated Lady
It's the new dance sweeping every nation
As they swing to the beat of women's liberation
Ladies entering into the lion's den
Fighting for their place next to men
Grab a Honda with Jane Fonda
Give a cheer for Germaine Greer

On the other hand we have the selfsame crew/singers dressed in hot pants and cropped tops doing a dance routine that presenting the kind of spectacle for the assumed male gaze a Laura Mulvey most definitely would not have approved of:

On the one hand we have the primitivism and ignorance of the inhabitants of Lazanga being foregrounded, as with a public baths which comprises a number of toilets and sinks.

On the other hand its native inhabitants are ethnically diverse and run the place very as a tourist trap – “Lazanga where they do the Konga” and accept American Express and Diners Club cards – offering the possibility that the likes of the baths are there as a joke at the expense of the civilised outsider who thinks he (or she) gets it.

At the core of this and further complicating things in the figure of Queen Kong.

One reading of the original King Kong is, after all, as a specifically white racist fantasy about the white beauty and the black beast: Kong represents a monstrous black male sexuality and must be destroyed so that the white man can continue to enjoy his exclusive access to the white woman.

If this seems far fetched consider Kong author Edgar Wallace's work as a war correspondent during the Boer War; his Sanders of the Rivers novels; or the frequently recurring Murders in the Rue Morgue styled trope of the ape/missing link monster-killer in his thrillers.

Or, in the Italian context of the co-production, consider a Fascist-era propaganda which depicted a US Negro soldier as an ape intent on assigning a price to the Venus de Milo to thereby also implicate the Fascists as defenders of Italian / European civilisation against the primitive/savage other.

The enslavement of the black woman by the white woman?

But what we have here is a scenario where the white proletarian male rebels against the white bourgeois female and affirms his love for a black female of ambiguous class position (Queen in her own land yet taken away from there in slave chains) in a way that cuts across class, gender and ethnic lines in interesting ways.

Unconcious vagina dentata reference?

Linda Hayden as a singing nun

In the end, it all perhaps comes down to that most conservative and radical of powers, the one which every identity ultimately relies upon and yet often also has problems with: Love.

And here there is perhaps one kind of love which proves unacceptable, which is not allowed to speak its name. No, not bestiality, if we read Queen Kong and Ray's relationship as that between ape woman and man, but homosexuality.

Consider the gay-coded actor at the start: “Listen dear, I'll sue you deaf, dumb and blind if you don't get me down from here. Mind the hair dear! Mind me ankles! Now get out the way you silly bitch! I'm calling my agent, and my lawyer, not to mention my tailor!”

Or Luce's remark as she prepares to take Queen Kong to London: “She might have been a Queen on this island, but in London half the guys you meet are queens”

Very much a film of its time...

Monday, 7 June 2010

A new blog and some upcoming screenings in London - dedicated to bad action movies.

And if you're in London, some upcoming Filmbar 70 screenings; click on the flyer graphic for more details.

Three giallo reviews on Cinefantastique Online

Here are three giallo reviews I recently did for Cinefantastique Online:

Including a completely new piece on Blade of the Ripper / The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh:

The Confessions of Robin Askwith

In December 1973s Robin Askwith was sent a copy of the script for Confessions of a Window Cleaner by his then-agent, who suggested that he might consider auditioning for the role. The young actor wasn't too sure. Would a low-budget British sex comedy really be a positive career move, considering that his previous screen appearances had included working for Lindsay Anderson on If... and Pier-Paolo Pasolini on The Canterbury Tales?

Still, in the challenging circumstances of the British film industry post-Swinging London few actors could afford to be too choosy. Work was work, after all. Accordingly Askwith auditioned for the part of window cleaner Timothy Lea; won the role which a number of other up and coming thespian friends had already declined; went on to appear in a further three Confessions films, invariably disliked by critics but popular with the audiences; generally helped keep the British cinema in business; and came to be known as much for his bum as anything else.

It's an measure of the importance of the Confessions films to Askwith's life and career that his memoirs are themselves entitled Confessions... and begin much with the story I've outlined above.

His early life comes later – although there are hints of the importance of a traumatic childhood encounter with polio earlier – as do his pre-Confessions experiences in working with Anderson, Zeffirelli and others.

Fans Peter Walker's films may be disappointed that Askwith doesn't say much about them, whether more because he considers Walker a friend and didn't want to dish the dirt too much or because there wasn't too much dirt in the first place.

There are however some amusing anecdotes about the likes of Confessions of a Window Cleaner director Val Guest, who apparently enjoyed filming the multiple versions of the sex scenes required for the film a bit too much; fellow Hammer alumni assistant director Bert Batt, who most emphatically did not; Guest's replacement for Confessions of a Pop Performer Norman Cohen, who suffered from imaginary body odour and had a tendency to say 'Cut' instead of 'Action' and vice-versa; Irene Handl and her shitzu; the troubled Alan Lake; and the notorious trash epic Queen Kong, still legally impounded at the time of the book's publication in 2000.

While it could have done with some better proofreading – not that I can really comment, except for I do this for fun / free – and is first and foremost about Askwith and his enduring association with his most famous role and only secondarily about British popular cinema, Confessions... is a fun read and comes (oo-er) highly recommended.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Incontro nell'ultimo paradiso

Here's the pitch: An Umberto Lenzi movie with contributions from some of his other Cannibal Ferox collaborators including John Morghen (co-script) and Budy-Maglione (music). It sees two students holidaying in the Third World run afoul of gangsters, head into the wilderness, have their boat overturn at some rapids, and thus become lost in the jungle and at the mercy of the natives.

It sounds like something a gorehound / sicko would want to watch, particularly if they get off on – or don't mind – some real life animal snuff amongst the faked human on human stuff.

But, as it turns out, there is absolutely no real violence of either a human or animal nature, with the closest we get being a chimpanzee throwing coconuts at the bad guys.

What we get is a film that plays much like a self-conscious spoof of a cannibal film crossed with a female version of Tarzan of the Apes, not an original concept in itself, considering the likes of 1968's Samoa Queen of the Jungle, with none less than Edwige Fenech in the title role.

The scenes for the former are certainly there, but they just don't play out that way: There's stock footage of animals, but none of nature red in tooth and claw (or being set up to act that way by the filmmaker). There are threatening natives but they are never wronged enough to start extracting revenge, nor real cannibals.

Accordingly it is the latter aspect that dominates, with Sabrina Siana playing the jungle-raised young woman and providing the film's main attraction in (and out of) her skimpy costumes.

As a Lenzi film this is almost up there with the same year's Cicciabomba in terms of anonymity and lack of engagement.

Unlike that film there are at least some nice in jokes, like the students offering the natives a credit card which, of course, means nothing to them, in apparent reference to Cannibal Ferox.

And , again, there is Siani, rather than Rettore in a fat suit...

Still, this film can only be recommended to those who have already seen Lenzi's cannibal films and his gialli and poliziotteschi and war movies and Kriminal and Sandokan entries.

You get the idea and undoubtedly know who you are, if this is for you or (more likely) not...