Saturday 31 July 2010

Thomas De Quincey's grave

Despite living in Edinburgh almost all my life and knowing a bit about Thomas De Quincey on account of his Suspiria / Inferno connection, I had never realised he was buried here:

[ Picture copyright here: ]

Monday 26 July 2010


Goblin covers:

Suspiria, with Zombie-esque synth

Profondo Rosso

They also do a mean Magic and Ecstasy from Exorcist II

Sunday 25 July 2010

Il cacciatore di squali / The Shark Hunter / Django and the Sharks

Surveying the Italian popular cinema from the late 1950s to the late 1980s we might draw an initial distinction between those who were able to shape trends and those who had to adapt to them.

In the former, much smaller, category we might place Sergio Leone and Dario Argento:

Leone was not the first to make a western but A Fistful of Dollars signalled a shift from Hollywood style westerns made by Italians to distinctively Italian style westerns.

Argento occupies a comparable position in relation to the thriller, although in his case Bava’s The Girl Who Knew too Much and Blood and Black Lace meant there were already existing distinctively Italian models to draw upon.

In the latter, larger, category we might place Bava, Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Antonio Margheriti, Sergio Corbucci and just about everyone else.

Differences emerge between these filmmakers, however, when we plot their work on a horizontal axis of filone and a vertical axis of approximate accomplishments: Martino made films in all manner of filone and though clearly more comfortable in some than others generally produced work of a relatively high overall quality. Lenzi’s output was equally diverse but also showed more differences in quality if we compare, for instance, his poliziotto films with his forays into comedy.

Then, somewhere in between, there is Enzo Castellari. On the one hand his output is more diverse than that of Leone and Argento. On the other hand it is less diverse than that of the other directors mentioned.

Castellari excels as a director of action, whether in a western, war, crime or – as here – adventure context. Though he sometimes ventured further afield, as with his giallo Cold Eyes of Fear, he also famously turned down the opportunity to direct Zombie. He felt horror was not his thing, and was confident enough of being able to get work on his own terms.

Perhaps reflecting this, The Shark Hunter at times feels a bit like Castellari and his regular screenwriter Tino Carpi re-working Zombie for themselves:

You imagine them thinking of the shark meets zombie scene in Zombie and asking themselves how they could rework and build on it to accord with Castellari’s strengths.

The answer: Remove the zombie, add more sharks as one of the many obstacles in the way of Franco Nero’s protagonist, and generally rework the film as The Deep, all italiana.

Unfortunately this shift still doesn’t quite showcase Castellari at his best.

The main issue, one suspects, is that too much of the action is outwith his control: There are lots of underwater scenes where there was nothing he could really do but issue instructions to the stunt-men and the underwater team. (Have you ever seen an underwater scene which is directed in the same manner as a surface one; are there those trademark Fulci extreme close ups and rack focus in the shark-zombie scene in Zombie?)

But Castellari also doesn’t help matters: The first ten minutes of the film come across like a music video, full of images and sounds – the De Angelis brothers supply the soundtrack, which is very nice in itself – but with minimal narrative significance.

Yes, okay, Nero is the shark hunter.

We get it.


The narrative proper doesn’t begin until 20 plus minutes in and even then we aren’t cued in to Nero’s motivation until much later: His wife and child were killed by a drunk-driver. He was a member of a mysterious organisation. He took advantage of a plane crash to go AWOL. He’s now intent on getting the money that was on said plane, which lies with the sharks...

Moreover, Nero wears a bad wig; think Keoma with a bleach job.

Up against him are (the always welcome) Werner Pocath and Eduardo Fajardo, along with Castellari, who plays a hitman and also shows of his puglistic abilities.

The final scene nicely replays Castellari’s spaghetti western Any Gun Can Play.


Thursday 22 July 2010

Dr Judd

Another intertextual reference / allusion:

Both Dario Argento's Trauma and Tourneur's Cat People feature a Dr Judd.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Finalmente... le mille e una notte / Les mille et une nuits érotiques / 1001 Nights of Pleasure

One of the basic criticisms made of filone cinema is that it it was imitative. Clearly imitation and innovation are placed in hierarchical terms, the latter valued above the former. But what then isn’t clear is what we should make of non-filone art films when they themselves form series.

Should Pasolini have made The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights after The Decameron? Should there have been a Trilogy of Life? Why couldn’t he have said everything he wanted to in the one film?

These questions are all the more important here in that what we have is a Decamerotic made in imitation of The Decameron but which takes as its source text The 1001 Nights – and this a good year or two before Pasolini’s version.

Antonio Margheriti’s approach is very different from Pasolini’s, of course, but this serves to further establish that the film and other Decamerotics were selectively rather than slavishly imitative, tending to get rid of the more serious elements.

Though probably not a particularly big-budget film, the money is all there on the screen.

Taken in its own right the film has a lot going for it, with attractive locations, production design and costumes – the last often not amounting to much as far as the female cast are concerned.

It is also pretty funny in places.

The film consists of three stories – how far they are actually found in The 1001 Nights I cannot say – vaguely connected by a framing device in which sultan Al Mamoun challenges three storytellers to arouse him with erotic / pornographic tales in order that he can satisfy the latest addition to his harem, Zumurud, incarnated by Femi Benussi.

Benussi's boobs

The first of the three stories features another arbitrary and unjust sultan whose magic mirror tells him that he is not the greatest lover in the kingdom. He has the man who is sought out and sets him a test intended to demonstrate otherwise. Inevitably it doesn’t do what the sultan wanted...

More boobs, and some strategically placed fruit

This also means, however, that the storyteller’s work fails to satisfy Al Mamoun, who has him executed. Cue the second storyteller, whose fate is equally certain.

The second stort features Aladdin – or more exactly an Aladdin – and a Genie. Aladdin has the genie turn him invisible in order that he can sneak into a rich merchant’s house and make love to his wife Mariam, incarnated by Barbara Bouchet. Aladdin then makes use of a flying carpet to sneak her away. This flying carpet is distinguished by not going down until whoever is using it also ‘goes down’. Aladdin doesn’t have a problem with this when it is Bouchet, but inevitably the husband soon ends up on the flying carpet instead...

Bouchet auditions for The Sex Life of the Invisible Man

The third story begins with a parody of a spaghetti western as a mysterious stranger arrives in town to take up the challenge of satisfying a cruel princess thirteen times in one night. He proves more than up to this thanks to some duplicity that’s nicely, well, mirrored in Margeriti’s compositions...

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Books on Argento

I received two books about Dario Argento’s films today: James Gracey’s Dario Argento and the new (third) edition of Maitland McDonagh’s Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds.

Gracey’s book is more of a viewer’s guide to Argento’s cinema: After a short biographical overview he goes through Argento’s film and television work in chronological order using the same formula of credits, synopsis, background, comments, style/technical, themes, music, trivia and verdict. This is followed by comprehensive lists of Argento’s non-directorial work.

The book serves it purpose. The consistent approach and cross-referencing between Argento’s films and those of other directors are welcome. There are however some obvious errors that should have been caught (Argento was 20 when he worked on Once Upon a Time in the West) and the odd bit of dubious information (was Alida Valli really married to Fritz Lang?)

McDonagh’s book originated in an expanded version of her Masters thesis. As such it’s more directly academic, though thankfully not the kind of book where references to the theoretical texts are ever allowed to overwhelm those to the films themselves. The first edition covered Argento output up to Two Evil Eyes, while the second incorporated a (notably more critical) chapter on Trauma.

This new version also includes a new 20-page introduction in which McDonagh provides a bit more background on the genesis of the original, interesting for mentioning various European and US exploitation / grindhouse directors conspicuously absent from the original, and a survey of Argento’s films from The Stendhal Syndrome onwards; the Masters of Horror TV productions are omitted.

While it is to be welcomed for those who don’t have either of the previous editions and can’t or won’t pay the high prices they often command on Ebay and Amazon, there’s little reason for existing owners to also get this new version.

The main reason for this is that the new chapter doesn’t really add a lot, with McDonagh finding little of value in Argento’s 1990s and 2000s output as a whole: “Artists change. If they don’t, they risk imitating themselves or, worse, descending into self-parody. Argento has said as much, but the films he has made since Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds can only be called problematic.” (xiii-ix)

While McDonagh admit to finding The Stendhal Syndrome “underrated”, the issue is then that a two and a half page review is hardly sufficient to do its complexities any kind of justice. The shortfall becomes all the more apparent when you consider that Two Evil Eyes warrants nine pages.

Argento’s films have always been problematic, but unfortunately McDonagh - like many former enthusiasts, it has to be said - no longer appears interested in attempting to work through his problematics.

Save Bray Studios

Bray Studios, Hammer's home studio for The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and many others, is under threat of being demolished:

Sunday 18 July 2010

Saturday 17 July 2010

The Hands of Orlac

My review of the 1960 version here, as part of Cinefantastique Online's project of looking at that year's horror releases 50 years on:

Friday 16 July 2010

OK Connery / Operation Kid Brother

Being from Edinburgh, Scotland, being a regular attendee of the EIFF whose patron has long been Sean Connery and living approximately half a mile from his birthplace (we also went to the same primary school, 40 or so year apart admittedly) it's difficult to avoid the man and his at times uncomfortable influence on Scottish film culture, such as it is. (When I hear the word culture I reach for my...)

Without Bond, Connery would likely be little more than a footnote: Hell Drivers is a great film in its own way, but it's also more a Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker film, while the less said of Darby O'Gill and the Little People the better...

Bond made Connery an international star: Marnie, The Hill, The Molly Maguires, The Offence, The Man Who Would Be King, and other great films ensued.

Plus Outland (High Noon in space, how original), The Rock and just as many, if not more, not so great ones...

All this is a long preamble to wondering what Sir S. thinks about OK Connery AKA Operation Kid Brother, starring his younger brother Neil alongside Adolfo Celi, Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee from the Bond films. (Moral of the story here: Sign all your cast to contracts which prohibit them from appearing in pastiches, parodies and passing-offs; put them into bondage...)

Superior to Casino Royale - and I say this as a Val Guest fan - it's the XXX of its time, with tongue firmly in cheek.

Dr Neil Connery, a plastic surgeon, is recruited by the British secret service after his more famous brother, 00X, proves unavailable, the final digit presumably being unmentionable for legal reasons.

All sorts of weird stuff happens thereafter, which I won't pretend to understand or to have fully taken in.

This doesn't matter, however, as it's all a Mcguffin. (Hitchcock was annoyed at the way Dr No / Bond drew upon North by Northwest, but since he didn't introduce a franchisable character that's his failing.)

Neil Connery can't act, but so what?

What matters is that his presence - or rather his associations - keep things moving and the results are a lot of fun...

OK Connery = OK bullshit in French, after all...

Sette volte sette / Seven Times Seven

Every so often you encounter a film that reaffirms your faith in the European popular cinema.

Seven Times Seven is such a film.

It is just such a joy from beginning to end, with everyone involved getting in on the spirit of things and communicating their enthusiasm.

Effectively it's like an Italian version of The Italian Job - a crime caper. Indeed, perhaps it should be promoted as The English Job...

It is emphatically not a rip-off, however, being released a good year before Peter Collinson's film. (Someday Hollywood will discover this film.)

We begin in a high tech if not quite futuristic prison, governed by none other than Adolfo Celi in delightfully sadistic / Bond villain mode.

It is the weekend of the FA Cup final and his refusal to let the inmates watch the match precipitates a mass protest.

Meanwhile seemingly aristocratic conman Benjamin Burton makes the mistake of posing as a Health Inspector in the club that happens to be frequented by the minister for health, resulting in his arrest and imprisonment for 90 days.

These and other apparently disparate plot threads then weave together as it becomes apparent that Burton is one of the masterminds behind an especially audacious plan: He and six other prisoners, each of whom has been sent to the prison infirmary, are going to break out during the Cup Final, print a few million pounds worth of bank notes at the Royal Mint, and return to the prison before their absence has been recognised to provide them with the perfect alibi.

An immediate complication is the presence of a seventh inmate in the ward, Sam. Though the others decide to take him with them, he then proceeds to die on them, such that they now have to smuggle back his body into the prison.

This is, however, only the first of many events to intervene in their best laid, perfect crime plans...

Michele Lupo's direction is deliberately exaggerated, even grotesque, with a profusion of comic-book style set-ups and angles: Shoot from above or below, or at an angle, but certainly not just straight on, is the order of the day. So too are bright coloured visuals and exaggerated production design.

The cast is, for the Euro-trash fan, simply to die for. Besides the aforementioned Celi we have ... deep breath ... Gaston Moschin (Burton), Lionel Stander (Sam), Gordon Mitchell, Teodora Corra, Terry-Thomas, Erica Blanc, Ray Lovelock, John Bartha and Fulvio Mingozzi, among others.

Name the actors

The point is that even if these names mean nothing to you (in which case, why are you reading this?!) the film nevertheless will. So too will the delightful soundtrack, with vocals courtesy of Alessandro Alessandroni's I cantori moderni (read: another name drop/check for the cognoscenti).

The closing credits promised another film/story. If only there had been...

Thursday 15 July 2010

Emanuelle – Perché violenza alle donne? / Emanuelle Around the World / Confessions of Emanuelle / The Degradation of Emanuelle

Like a number of the unofficial Emanuelle series, distinguished from the originals by the one M spelling of the character's name, this is known by a confusing plethora of titles, not all of which directly relate to translations of the original Italian, in this case Emanuelle – Perché violenza alle donne? or Emanuelle – why is there violence against women?

Admittedly it’s not the most alluring of titles, especially given the target audience demographic: Emanuelle Around the World, Confessions of Emanuelle and The Degradation of Emanuelle – as were used in various territories – were probably more appealing than something that sounded perilously close to being a feminist tract rather than an exploitation movie.

Then again one of the constants of the Black Emanuelle series is their particular exploitative take on feminism: What sort of red-blooded (i.e. heterosexual) male couldn’t love the character’s liberated ideology of guilt and consequence free casual sex any time, any place, any where with pretty much anyone who asks, male or female? Isn’t it post-feminism avant la lettre?

Story wise the film is, as one perceptive IMDB reviewer remarks, basically Emanuelle in America lite.

That is, it’s again an episodic narrative travelogue that gradually focuses in on one particular topic, a “white slavery”, rather than a snuff movie, ring.

This paradigmatic shift has an odd effect: On the one hand white slavery sounds distinctly passé for a 1970s film compared to the decidedly contemporairy phenomenon of snuff movies, with this quaintness further foregrounded by the fact that our protagonist isn’t even identified as white. On the other hand a simple change of terminology to “people trafficking” would give it a relevance to today’s tabloids.

Though there are again hardcore inserts, at least in the version under review (DVD distributor Severin has released both R and XXX type versions), there is nothing to compare to the fake but uncomfortably convincing snuff footage of Emanuelle in America.

Likewise while there is one scene which implies bestiality, as a snake is encouraged to explore one would-be prostitute’s vagina and a dog to mount another (shades of the contemporaneous US and French hardcore productions The Devil in Miss Jones and Exhibition perhaps) there is nothing to quite compare to the previous film’s more explicit horse masturbation scene.

Equally, however, the presence of this material also indicates that this is hardly the ideal Emanuelle film with which to introduce a Eurosleaze novice to the filone’s often dubious delights.

This is an impression enhanced by some of the curious intertextualities of the casting: Don Powell, who played Black Emanuelle’s father in the non-Gemser, non-D’Amato entry Black Emanuelle 2 here appears as chauffer and assistant to Ivan Rassimov, a UN official who basically plays what would otherwise be the Gabrielle Tinti role. Brigitte Petronio, who appears as a missionary girl in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals here plays a dissatisfied Roman member of an Indian guru’s cult. The guru himself is played by none other than George Eastman, who had earlier played the main villain in the D’Amato directed but non-Gemser entry Emanuelle's Revenge. Got all that?!

Put another way it’s the kind of film where you need the familiar strains of Nico Fidenco to sort of tie it all together.

Returning to the porn theme, one thing I hadn’t noticed on previous viewing was that the truck driver in the opening sequence is played by US hardcore performer turned director Paul Thomas.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Inferno - Eliot

Inferno has a female American poet Rose Elliot. Is it possible to have this character without thinking about her namesake T S Eliot? Particularly when the film is so poetic, as in a fusion of form and content, in the Pasolinian sense...

Musings on Virgins and Vampires

This 1997 book on Jean Rollin's films, written by Peter Blumenstock and published by Crippled Dick, occasionally shows up on Ebay.

Earlier today it sold for £77, more than I was willing to bid.

In relation to cult and culture I'm thus wondering if an interest in cult films thereby requires not just often considerable cultural and subcultural capital (e.g. the ability to justify a Rollin film as being worthy of study, perhaps through reference to Feuillade, Surrealism and so on) but also relatively high amounts of economic capital (owning a book like this, with Rollins own remarks about Feuillade, Surrealism etc.)

Saturday 10 July 2010

Cult and Cultural Access

One of the things I like about living in Edinburgh is that it has one of the UK’s copyright libraries, The National Library of Scotland. Copyright libraries are libraries where publishers are required to deposit a copy of whatever they publish.

Something I’ve found, however, is that the usefulness of the copyright library when you’re studying film depends somewhat upon the kind of film that you are studying: If you’re looking at cult film, more likely to be written about in fanzines than professional magazines, then you’re less likely to find the publications you are looking for, in large part because they aren’t part of the ‘official’ culture.

Much the same seems to apply to film, albeit with a much worse initial starting point on account of the historical understanding that they were ephemeral, commercial products that didn’t need to be preserved.

While all manner of stuff that I’d never dreamed of seeing 15 or 20 years ago is now available on DVD, or can be accessed via torrents of Greek VHS rips, Italian TV broadcasts or suchlike, the fact nevertheless remains that by and large it’s so much easier if your tastes are confined to the hegemonic Hollywood and European arthouse canons.


Friday 9 July 2010

Giugno '44 - Sbarcheremo in Normandi / Commando Attack / Seven into Hell

What we have here is a classic example of the late 1960s Italian-Spanish co-production war film, in which a hand-picked group of misfit soldiers is assigned a near-impossible mission that only some of them will come back from.

Though inspired by The Dirty Dozen such films lacked their model’s budget and scope. This manifested in a number of ways. They tended to feature only about half the number of men – witness Commando Attack’s alternate title of Seven into Hell – and truncated the training sequences and build up to quickly get into the mission and keep the running time down to a concise hour and a half.

The nominal star of Commando Attack, or the one that the typical US moviegoer might remember from many years back, is Calum Rennie. He’s an odd choice for the Lee Marvin type role, not least because he looks too sensitive and old to be playing the action man. The filmmakers are astute enough to turn this apparent disadvantage into a virtue by commenting upon it via his recruits, who include Aldo Sambrell.

Just days before D-Day the seven men are dropped into Nazi-occupied Normandy, where they are to meet up with the resistance and destroy an enemy radio station that bombers have failed to take out. They reach their rendezvous point only to find their contacts dead, with the signs pointing to a traitor within the resistance...

Though the film delivers in terms of derring do and has some nicely drawn characters, it is a bit too mechanical and stretches credibility, with the Nazi stormtroopers showing all the tactical awareness and competence of their Star Wars counterparts.

Needless to say it also plays fast and loose with the historical details, with IMDB reviewers noting that the GI’s carry German and Italian guns amidst a host of other inaccuracies.

But all this is to be expected: You don’t go exactly into one of these films expecting realism.

As such, where the film failed for me was in replacing the anti-authoritarian cynicism of its model with something bordering on romanticism.

With the exception of an Archer Maggot inspired rapist, the recruits are volunteers rather than conscripts and, in the cases of the bored rich guy looking for excitement (“Why should a playboy like you volunteer for a mission like this?” “I find that my playing gets more and more monotonous”) and the young guy with a death wish (“For me to be killed is the goal of my life”) are basically there as audience-identification figures; predictably the latter is cured of his condition by the love of a good partisan woman.

We’re also asked to believe that D-Day is really up to these guys and that they aren’t just there as a diversion, misdirection or outright sacrifice.

Bruno Nicolai’s music is bold and striking, thought not necessarily the most appropriate.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Mal d'africa / The Final Prey

It’s impossible to approach this 1968 mondo film without reference to Africa Addio. This is because writer-director Stanis Nievo was production manager on it and looks to have constructed his own largely out of material shot for Giacopetti and Prosperi’s film but never actually used.

A credits statement of intent cum apology

The film opens with what seems to be original footage of blacks in present-day London, visiting the zoo, on the streets and attending a church service.

While exploitative and of dubious authenticity it’s imbued with a sense of fun via the camerawork and Riz Ortolani's music. It also functions to neatly help set up many of the themes that the subsequent material attempts to engage with. In particular, the place of ‘the African’ – scare quotes because there is nothing to indicate that those we see are ‘genuine’ Africans, admittedly introducing another set of scare quotes in what could be an infinite regress – in the contemporary and/or modern world.

The fun aspect declines considerably as we then move to Africa itself and to footage of riots, firing squads and the carnage of a train derailment, purportedly by guerrillas. Though this may well have been the case the impact of the scene is lessened by the way the camera picks out a (white) doll that just happened to have been there.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as we’re later also given more ‘light-hearted’ footage of African fashions, ostrich racing and workers joyfully striking oil – tellingly then juxtaposed with the destruction to flora and fauna wrought by a oil spill.

Time and again we are taken between something that seems to be saying ‘this is progress’ and something that adds a question mark at the end of the statement or inverting its first two words: ‘this is progress?’ ‘is this progress?’

Dead stuff

Elsewhere we get footage of a live elephant, chalk marks divide its body up into ‘usable’ parts, contrasted with a group of pygmies literally diving in as they butchering an elephant. Or then there is the assembly-line type enterprise mass-producing animal head trophies.

Surreal found images?

Surreal constructed images

What are we supposed to think about tradition and modernity and presumed correlations with black and white or African and European in relation to these images? Was efficiently meeting a demand for animal head trophies a good thing or was the wider issue the existence and perhaps even encouragement of this demand, for instance?

The film offers no answers. But in its own, admittedly unsatisfactory, way it at least helps raise the questions to make you think...

[Interview with the film's director, in Italian:]

Monday 5 July 2010

Phantasmes / The Seduction of the Amy / Once Upon a Virgin

The emergence of hardcore porn films in the early 1970s posed many European genre filmmakers with a challenge:

Should I embrace this development or resist it? If I embrace it should I do so fully or reluctantly and on its own terms or my own?

In Jean Rollin’s case the engagement with porn was a largely reluctant one: Most of the dozen or so hardcore films he directed in the mid- to late-1970s and beyond were strictly works for hire which he didn’t sign with his own official name, instead using Michel Gentil and Robert Xavier among others.

1975's Phantasmes / The Seduction of the Amy / Once Upon a Virgin is the exception. It was the first of Rollin’s hardcore films and the only one to credit him as director.

While certainly more sex film than Rollin film, it nevertheless includes enough Rollin touches to be worth a look from the committed fan.

The film begins with Amy being attacked by a man, played by none other than Rollin himself. He attempts to rape her and throws her into a pond.

She’s then rescued by Count Gideon and taken to his castle.

Wandering the grounds Gideon meets a female friend. Gideon discusses finding a Latin manuscript by an associate of the Marquis de Sade in the castle, and how it has provided him with a source of inspiration, cueing us into the first of many ‘proper’ sex scenes that occupy the bulk of the remaining running time.

The next of the Rollin touches is the appearance of what would otherwise be two orphan vampires or their victims to be in the form of the Castel twins, but they too are soon caught up in the sex. (While we are on the subject of the cast, female lead Mylène d’antès / Evelyne Thomas later appeared in The Grapes of Death and Fascination, while critic, filmmaker and frequent Rollin associate Jean-Pierre Bouyxou is also in there somewhere.)

The Castel Twins, playing errant schoolgirls

After 40 or so minutes – all timings here refer to the cut, dubbed and rescored US version – there are some nice Gothic atmospherics as Amy wanders arounds the castle, finding a naked and chained woman in the dungeon in the process

Being naked, playing dead

We also get the merest hint of a plot, as it is hinted that Gideon needs a good woman to save him from the castle, the others and his own evil.

According, after some more sex scenes, Amy then saves Gideon, with the two of them consummating their relationship in that most Rollin of locations, the beach.

The beach

The end, at least as far as the US version is concerned, with the original then having Gideon recount the events just witnessed to a journalist (played by Monica Swinn) to provide a framing narrative.

To sum up: 15 minutes of the ‘real’ Rollin punctuating 50 or so of hardcore which, while occasionally shot and lit in imaginative ways, is otherwise predictable genital close ups, in and out and suck and fuck action, invariably climaxing (sorry!) in proof of orgasm / frenzy of the visible ejaculations.

Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde / Castle of [the Creeping Flesh / Bloody Lust / Unholy Desires]

A group of four party-goers decide to go for a ride. Elena’s horse then gallops off into Count Saxon’s lands. This is bad news, as he has a sinister reputation and apparently does not like intrusion. However, when the other three approach the castle, they find the Count tending to the injured Elena and that they are welcome guests.

This is despite the fact that the Count’s own daughter was attacked by a man a couple of days ago and dies not one hour ago.

Rather than an extreme case of noblesse oblige, the Count has ulterior motives. He is intent on bringing his daughter back to life through a spot of mad science, with subjects/material always being welcome. He also wants avenge his daughter, with one of the party – the one earlier most insistent on the Count’s bad reputation, unsurprisingly – having been the one who raped her.

Directed by Adrian Hoven under his Percy Parker pseudonym, this 1968 West German horror feels very much like a Jesus Franco film, such that it comes as no surprise to learn the Spaniard – who worked with Hoven on a number of occasions around this time – in fact provided the original story.

Admittedly this might have amounted to little more than a few notes and ideas, but the same could also be said of many of Franco’s own films.

The film benefits from a strong and enthusiastic Euro-cult/trash cast, including familiar Franco faces Janine Reynaud, Michel Lemoine and Howard Vernon (all three appeared in the same year's Succubus).

But while Reynaud removes her clothes at the slightest pretext, Lemoine stares unblinkingly and unnervingly throughout and Vernon just does his thing, it isn’t enough to overcome an awkward narrative and the unpleasant inclusion of considerable amounts of real surgical footage that Hoven clearly acquired somewhere and wanted to make use of.

Obvious latex torso

Vernon and his assistant

And some real gore

The rape-revenge aspect of the plot is never made sufficiently clear, while the Count’s paralleling of his own situation with an ancestor some 300 years ago comes across as padding and introduces a supernatural element that jars somewhat with the otherwise contemporary setting and approach.

This is also reflected in the music, with Jerry Van Rooyen’s big band jazz jarring with the classical cues, or vice-versa.

Is it real or in her mind? Well, it's obviously just in her mind.

Still, it’s probably also fair to say that any film which introduces the detail that a bear is loose on the Count’s grounds as the set-up for an eventual appearance of a man in a bear suit isn’t terribly concerned with credibility and coherence as a whole.

Eroticised chicken eating!

Rather it’s more about the individual images and moments. Unfortunately there are more misfires than hits here, although a food scene comes across, intentionally or accidentally, as a parody of a similar moment in Tom Jones.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Der Todesrächer von Soho / Allarme a Scotland Yard: sei omicidi senza assassino / The Corpse Packs his Bags / El muerto hace las maletas

The opening minutes of this 1972 krimi gave me a strong sense of deja vu: Hadn’t I seen it before?

I hadn’t, with my impression being down to the fact that the film uses the same Bryan Edgar Wallace source as the first of producer Artur Brauner's CCC krimis, The Mystery of the Black Suitcases some ten years earlier.

The mystery of the that title is somewhat clarified by this film’s own title, the corpse of the English and Spanish titles title referring to the fact that several people have been murdered by the knife-throwing death-avenger of the German title.

The walls are closing in

But while the hotel’s Soho location is familiar, the way director Jess Franco presents it is not. He doesn’t bother giving us stock location footage and Big Ben’s chimes in a vain attempt to convince us that this really is London we’re seeing, not Spain.

Making the camera operator work for his money

Although Scotland Yard are soon introduced, in the form of Inspector Rupert Redford (Fred Williams), the film as a whole continues to do things very much its own way:

While krimi regulars Siegfried Schurenberg and Horst Tappert are among those present, they’re both cast against type. Schurenberg plays a drug smuggler rather than a Scotland Yard higher-up, Tappert a decidedly enigmatic and ambiguous figure.

Nor is there a romantic subplot between the Scotland Yard man and the ingénue in danger that ends in their inevitable marriage. And while the final confrontation does take place in dungeon-cum-laboratory there’s a conspicuous lack of dozens of armed regular uniform police.

All this is perhaps to be expected given that this is a Franco film. While undoubtedly familiar with the krimi universe (the name of his most famous character, Dr Orloff, derives from the 1939 version of Dark Eyes of London, remade by Rialto as Dead Eyes of London in 1960) the director has always tended to approach the business of adaptation very much on his own terms.

Into the void


The thing that makes the film interesting as a Franco film, meanwhile, is its visual style. There isn’t a great deal of zooming. But there are numerous striking images and some stunning compositions - a Welles-inspired shot of two characters in an infinity of mirrors, a Bava or Argento style staircase spiralling into the void, a studied use of colour and its selective absence - all beautifully captured by cinematographer Manuel Merino.

A definite curio.