Monday 28 March 2011

Stephen Thrower's blog

The title makes sense, to those who know...

Red Circle

The British comic Hotspur featured a story 'Red Circle School'.

There is an Edgar Wallace krimi Der Rote Kries - i.e. The Red Circle

Then there is the Bava / Margheriti film Nude... si muore, set in a girls' school.

It all ties together, somehow...

A decidedly Ugly poster

New Zealand playbill for Once Upon a Time in the West, which looks like it was sketched from the US poster, by a non-artist...

Spanish The Good, The Bad and the Ugly poster

A Spanish (?) The Good, The Bad and the Ugly poster, presenting Tuco but neither of the others.

Interesting to compare with the West German poster, in terms of how particular actors / characters were emphasised and downplayed.

West German The Good, The Bad and the Ugly poster

Under the Two Magnificent Rogues title, but note that the faces shown are not those of the two rogues - i.e. Eastwood's Good and Tuco's Ugly - but Eastwood and Van Cleef, i.e. The Bad.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Teenage Wasteland

The author of Teenage Wasteland J.A. Kerswell, has run the excellent Hysteria Lives website for many years. That's a reason to encourage you – i.e. cult film fans – to buy this book. For, in the unlikely event that you're unawares of it, Hysteria Lives is an excellent resource on obscure slasher type films and Kerswell is one of those who deserves to get something back from our community.

Within the book, the author shows his in-depth knowledge of the subgenre by referencing not just the obvious titles and film historical points, but also such obscurities as the David Hess directed To All a Goodnight (1980) and the Swedish models-meet-a-maniac entry Blood Tracks (1985).

He starts with the Theatre du Grand Guignol and progresses through silent and classic horror, onto proto-slashers of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, taking in the German krimi film and the Italian giallo en route.

Beginning with 1978's Halloween, he then examines the slasher “golden age” of 1978 to 1984 – or Halloween to A Nightmare on Elm Street – on a year-by-year basis, before turning to international and north American developments in the interregnum period before Scream and the rise of the postmodern slasher film.

Crucially, Kerswell also recognises that the self-referential slasher parody was not invented in the late 1990s, but only brought into the mainstream by it.

Teenage Wasteland is attractively put together, with an embossed cover; plenty of illustrative stills and, posters and is even on coloured rather than white paper, with different chapters in different colours (the giallo chapter is, naturally, yellow) and good use of design elements such as pull quotes and boxed facts/trivia.

My main criticism is that I wanted more that was off the beaten track. This is, for me, one of the delights of the Hysteria Lives site: It's watching a film like Derek Ford's Sex Express and looking for further information, and coming across Kerswell's review of it, or reading about the Hugo Stiglitz vehicle Cemetery of Terror on his site and adding it to your 'to see' list.

The difficulty, I suppose, is that broader one between doing a website, where you are not really constrained by space, print costs, considerations of target audience and so on, and a book, where these factors come into play.

After all, your average Waterstones / Amazon customer isn't going to know or care who a Derek Ford is, whereas they will (still) recognise the names John Carpenter and Wes Craven.

Still, give the young slasher fan Teenage Wasteland and, once they get past Michael, Freddy and Jason, they will have plenty of useful places to go next. For myself, meanwhile, it's adding To All a Goodnight and Blood Tracks to that ever-expanding to watch list.

Patrick vive ancora / Patrick Lives Again

One of the defining features of the Italian popular cinema of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was the filone or tributary approach: Take a successful film, or one that you expected to be successful, and produce an unofficial sequel, remake or reinterpretation hopefully close enough to the original to fool audiences whilst sufficiently different to avoid legal issues.

As its title suggests Patrick Still Lives / Patrick vive ancora is a classic example of the filone principle in action, its specific inspiration being Richard Franklin’s Australian production Patrick.

For those unfamiliar with the original it’s the story of a man named Patrick who is 1) in a coma, 2) has telekinetic powers, and 3) uses these to force his nurse to love him and 4) kill anybody else who gets in his way of his schemes.

Although not a big hit internationally, it must have presumably been a success in Italy; certainly the Italian distributors found it worthwhile enough to replace the original soundtrack with one by Argento associates and soundtrack specialists Goblin.

Director Mario Landi, writer Piero Regnoli and producer Gabriele Crisanti’s film cannot really be considered a sequel to Patrick, however. For English and Italian titles aside, it doesn’t follow on from Franklin’s film but rather takes the first three core elements from Patrick; adds a revenge plot justification to the fourth by way of Ten Little Indians.

Above all, it also ups the sleaze and splatter to levels that are extreme even by the standards of Italian exploitation, if also consistent with such other Crisanti productions as Giallo a venezia and Zombie Nights of Terror / Zombie 3.

Patrick vive ancora begins with Patrick (Gianni Dei) and his father Professor Herschell (Sacha Pitoeff) stuck in the middle of nowhere, their car having broken down. Patrick tries to flag down a passing vehicle for assistance, and gets a bottle in the face for his troubles.

We then cut to an operating theatre as a surgeon operates to save his Patrick’s life. He succeeds after a fashion – Patrick (still) lives (again), but in a comatose state.

Although it is never explained exactly how, Patrick then develops telekinetic powers, further fuelled by some of the other patients Professor Herschell has taken on at his private clinic, the interior and grounds of which should prove familiar to any student of Italian trash and which also feature prominently in Zombie 3.

During this time, the professor has also discovered the identities of six possible bottle throwers, whom he has now invited to spend a few days at the clinic in order that he and his son may extract their revenge...

For now, however, the filmmakers wisely allow for a spot of character development, in order that we know the guests are all hateful bourgeois figures who deserve to die in nasty ways – even if at least five of them are innocent in Patrick’s specific case.

This also affords them the opportunity to have the female cast members parade around in states of nakedness or threw something on and nearly missed-ness, and for everybody to down copious quantities of J&B and bitch at one another.

The obligatory catfight and one of a number of J&B bottles

The first to die is the improbably named Mr Cough, a politician. Going for a night swim, he is boiled alive by Patrick. Cough’s J&B consumption then becomes relevant, as Professor Herschell (Sacha Pitoeff) explains away Cough’s death as having been brought on by his alcoholism; the other guests seem to accept this.

Caused by drinking, apparently.

There’s a certain irony here in that, according to Argento, who worked with Pitoeff on Inferno, the actor was himself something of a drunk at this point in his life and career; brave souls may wish to suggest a double-bill of Patrick vive ancora and Last Year at Marienbad to Pitoeff fans.

Next up is Mr Davis, who gets a hook through his neck as he is hung up over a well.

Davis is soon discovered by Stella Randolph (Mariangela Giordano – Crisanti’s wife and a regular in his films). She flees in terror to the kitchens, where she finds a flayed cat in the fridge (a nice inversion of Giallo a Venezia, where Giordano’s character’s torso was left in a fridge for her cleaner to find) and is then menaced and killed by a long poker which, well, pokes her through the vagina and exits out her mouth.

The flayed cat

The reaction shot

An understandable response to being penetrated by a poker

The result

Another reaction shot

But while the sex-violence-sleaze interface is a constant in Crisanti’s productions, it seems more determined by shock value than anything else; certainly the ridiculousness of the special effects here creates a markedly different impression than the rather more plausible looking impaled woman in Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust.

Professor Herschell informs the other guests that the police have been called and that they will have to stay at the villa until the authorities arrive.

Next we get another bit of character and plot development as Patrick uses his powers to force secretary Lidya to strip and masturbate for him.

This is character and plot development in that it later transpires that Lidya is amongst the suspected bottle throwers, and that her fate is a source of potential conflict between Patrick and his father. Not, of course, that you can expect any exchanges of dialogue between them over this...

Lydia and Patrick, and the purple and green

Before we get to the denouement, however, there are still other suspects for Patrick to remorselessly, relentlessly dispose of: One woman is guillotined by her car windows, while another (again servant rather than a guest) has her throat torn out by her Alsatians.

The hint of a connection to Argento’s Inferno and Suspiria is further reinforced by the neo-expressionist purple and green lighting that signify Patrick’s presence and power within his own chamber and the set-pieces. This is, however, about the only evidence of directorial flair in the film, which is otherwise efficiently and functionally – read cheaply – put together.

Curiously, however, we don’t see what happens to the man who discovers the woman’s severed head.

Does he live or die? Or was he never a suspect, which is possible given that by now we’ve got more potential bottle throwers than we need? Or did the filmmakers just run out of budget and/or ideas as far as presenting another imaginatively gory demise?

Certainly there is a sense of anti-climax to what follows, particularly given that we still don’t know who in fact threw that fateful bottle...

Monday 14 March 2011

Queen of the Blues

Even by the low standards of the 1970s British sex film this is a bottom of the barrel production. Bankrolled by porn magnate David Sullivan as a star vehicle for Mary Millington, who plays the title role, it was produced and directed by Willy Roe.

It's a sixty-minute piece that’s too long to work as a short, yet is too short to be a feature.

Rather than presenting a narrative punctuated with strip and comedy routines, it's more strip and comedy routines punctuated by a narrative, one that doesn’t really develop before abruptly ending with a deus ex machina.

Basically gangster Roscoe sends two of his heavies (one played by the inimitable Milton Reid, the other by future Hi-De-Hi fixture Felix Bowness) to extort protection money from the Blues club, not realising that it is owned by another gangster (Fawlty Towers' Ballard Berkeley) who duly makes this known.

Reid and Bowness

Another subplot, invoking a ghost haunting the place, is even less developed.

We get eight or so minutes of backstage chatter and strip routines before the first couple of minutes of plot. Then we get another couple of minutes of stripping, followed by John M. East doing a Max Miller impersonation as the club’s compere, followed by Millington doing her first number, admittedly intercut with the first proper exchange between the compere and the would-be extortionists, followed by some more routines.

Can't act, can't dance, can't sing about sums it up

25 minutes have elapsed by this point and the total story content is probably about four minutes tops.

There are some points of interest nonetheless: The strip routines make the connection to the cinema of attractions clear, as do the constant cutaways to the diegetic audience (curiously the same despite the action supposedly taking place on different nights) and the Music Hall nature of East's routines (see also Come Play with Me).

East does Max Miller

The strippers' remarks backstage are also oddly at odds with the illusion of glamour: “What’s the fascination? Surely when you’ve seen one set of tits you’ve seen them all?!”

Argento fans may also care to note that Geraldine Hooper, who plays Massimo Ricci in Deep Red, is credited as the club’s receptionist.

The pressbook for the film, distributed by Tigon, describes scenes that are not actually present and, one suspects, were never filmed either.

Giallo and Gothic connections

Bava’s The Girl Who Knew too Much has certain affinities with Austen’s Northanger Abbey. In Bava’s film Nora Davis is an American thriller aficionado who travels to Rome and finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery much like those presented in her favourite reading material. In Austen’s novel Gothic enthusiast Catherine Morland visits the titular abbey which, from her reading of The Mysteries of Udolpho, she expects to be a place of Gothic horror and mystery.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Step Right Up!...I'm Gonna Scare the Pants Off America

Just found out this was republished at the end of last year; should be a lot more affordable than a 1976 original, unless you luck out and get an ex-library copy or similar.

European haunted house films

What are your top six European horror/fantastique films featuring haunted houses, loosely defined? I'm thinking of things like:

Castle of Blood
The Virgin of Nuremberg
Bloody Pit of Horror
Queens of Evil
Lisa and the Devil
The House by the Cemetery
The Beyond
A Blade in the Dark
Nude for Satan

Basically anything in which a house / hotel / castle is fairly central as a bad place, with a malign presence or influence being associated with it.