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:
and ]

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


[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.


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:

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

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?”
“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.

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)

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."


Wednesday 13 October 2010

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."

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: