Monthly Archives: April 2016

Ho My God! GODFREY HO interviewed in 1996

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Godfrey Ho is undoubtedly one of the wildest film makers to emerge from The Wild, Wild East. Ho’s career bridges the gap between Chang Cheh’s traditional chop-socky operas and John Woo’s “Heroic Bloodshed” extravaganzas. His idea of social progress is arming gorgeous girls with Uzis and he’s made a lucrative living out of mix-and-matching bits of footage from other people’s abandoned projects. But when he was shooting in the Beijing morgue, it wasn’t old films that were getting chopped to bits…

Godfrey, did you ever believe that Hong Kong movies would cross over in the West to the extent that are doing now?

Oh yeah! I think there’s a real connection going on now between East and West… we’re learning from each other in terms of culture, technique and marketing. I made two movies in the U.S. with Cynthia Rothrock. We’re trying to combine Eastern culture, especially the kung fun and action elements, with Western stars, so that the Western audiences will find our movies more attractive. 

The Eastern guy who’s really crossed over is John Woo… I believe you’ve worked with him?

It was a long time ago when we worked together for the great action director Chang Cheh at Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong. Many of us worked together there and after that we all went out to make our own movies. It was hard to work at Shaw Brothers then, because there were so many people working there, all wanting to direct, so we had to leave and find our own way of doing it.

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What was it like, working for Chang Cheh?

He’s so very cultured and literate. He himself is a writer, very good at creating characters and what the market wanted then was heroes, the kind of superheroes who fight to the death. Chang Cheh has a very good team of choreographers working for him. Whatever he wanted to create on the screen, they could achieve it for him. He was very much people’s traditional idea of the director, a king at the studio. That was the tradition, chair and megaphone and everything, demanding whatever he wanted, a supreme director at the time. Unfortunately, by the time I became a director that wasn’t the way it was done anymore! (Laughs.) We had to work together with the whole crew like a big family.

And what are your memories of John Woo from those days?

He’s a good fellow, very creative… he’s created his own world. He’s not a very talkative guy but he had very definite ideas about  what he wanted to achieve. It’s not easy though, to fulfil one’s ambitions, especially when you are a new director, because of commercial pressures… not many producers will venture a million dollars on a new director to make a film. The producers couldn’t care less about art, you know, they want to make money. Even Run Run Shaw was a business man, you’ll notice that most of the Shaw Brothers productions were commercial efforts.

Your movie Lethal Panther, released in the UK on video as Deadly China Dolls, unfolds like a John Woo film with girl bonding instead of male bonding…

Yes, I’m trying to do something different from what John Woo has been doing, the male gangster films with Chow Yun Fat. The girls aren’t weak anymore, they’re strong characters. I wanted to show an angle that is different from traditional Chinese society, where the women had to stay at home, looking after the children all their life… it’s not like that anymore. I’d like to think I’m helping social progress along with these movies.

Tell us about some of the girls you’ve worked with.

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Girls like Moon Lee and Cynthia Rothrock have practiced some form of karate or kung fu before they became action actresses, just like Jackie Chan… he studied for years before he could do the things that he does now. Some of the other girls who are good at martial arts, though, are not such good actresses and our main priority now, in making exportable movies, is having characters who can act, because the Western markets insist on that. So sometimes we have to get around that with the way we shoot the scene. ≈The martial arts – what we call kung fu – in China, there are so many different styles of it and sometimes what the girls have been doing isn’t kung fu at all, it’s like tae kwan do or karate, which we can use for action sequences but it’s not kung fu. Moon Lee and Cynthia Rothrock, though, have studied our martial arts for years and are very good.

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You made a movie called Magnificent Wonder Women Of Shaolin… what a fantastic title!

Oh, that was such a long time ago that I’d forgotten it… I’m amazed that you guys know about these movies! Certain audiences in the West still appreciate these these kung fu films but they aren’t popular in Hong Kong anymore, or in the Asian markets generally. That was quite an interesting movie actually, in traditional costume and with traditional kung fu fighting. At Shaw Brothers studio you would have a fight choreographer arranging the action around several different kung fu styles, before the editing. Now it’s changed, just three or four styles, quick ones, to make for a faster tempo. Back then, there was a big demand for the actors and actresses to know how to fight. Now it’s not so stringent, almost anybody can do that, as long as they know how to move… Andy Lau, that kind of actor, can do fight scenes. The actor will know nothing about kung fu or karate really but he will able to learn, to adapt quickly to whatever you are shooting.

You’ve worked with John Liu, who has his own fighting system called Zen Kwan Do… what’s that all about?

He evolved this style all his own, which is influenced a lot by kick boxing. John Liu is one of the best kickers, his kicking is really marvellous. I was working with him one day and he had kicked over a thousand times. I said to him: “John, aren’t you getting tired?” and he replied: “No Godfrey, I’m just getting warmed up here!”… an amazing guy! It’s hard to find somebody with a body that well trained… same thing goes for Jackie Chan.

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You worked as an uncredited director on Liu’s Zen Kwan Do Strikes In Paris. The supposedly true story of that film (John’s father, a NASA scientist, has to be rescued from foreign agents by his son’s martial arts prowess) is a rather fanciful one, isn’t it?

I had been working for some time as a director and John was my assistant. He had his own ambitions and I was trying to bring his career along… he’s a good friend, you know? He got the opportunity to direct this picture and I said: “OK, I’ll help you with this” but unfortunately he set out to do too many jobs himself, as actor / writer / choreographer / director… I told him: “Come on John, it’s too much, you’re going to spread yourself too thinly.” He didn’t listen to me, so although the action parts are very, very good, the story of that film is a bit confusing… that’s the problem John had, there.

You also had him fighting Dragon Lee in your film The Dragon, The Hero… can you tell us something about this classic martial arts movie?

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That was the first movie in which we tried to blend Eastern and Western cultures … my partner Joseph Lai of IFD films was very conscious of this massive Western market and wanted to do something aimed at that. The movie was not intended for the Taiwan and Hong Kong markets, but to be a commercial success in the West. It was a very good investment, regardless of how it did in the Asian markets… and of course, as we said, these movies are still very popular in Europe. The story is funny too, an Eastern story but in the Western style to make it easier for Europeans to accept. Sometimes it’s hard for a Westerner to follow the story in a traditional kung fu movie, it can look so strange and funny.

You went through a period of mixing and matching footage from different projects to be released under new titles by Joseph Lai…

(Laughs) That was a purely commercial exercise, because the market was crying out for product at that time, especially the video market, which was then booming. They wanted quantity rather than quality, so Joseph, who’s a very good producer, was again trying to render movies in a Western style, to polish them, add something that Westerners can understand by shooting additional footage.

There’s this story that you signed Richard Harrison to appear in a movie and the footage ended up in several different ones…

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Not a lot of different movies, just the same martial arts movies really, a lot of ninja movies. Most of the ninjas in these movies wear masks, so it’s very difficult to tell who’s in there anyway! (laughs) Richard told he that was worried because he isn’t a martial artist, but I told him he’d do a great job as long as he could hold a sword and throw a ninja star, that would be OK, because somebody else, a stunt man, is going to be fighting for him. With all those masks, who can tell? We moved the ninja genre on two or three years with those movies… I made the action fun rather than violent because again, I am into making commercial movies.

Harrison famously turned down the lead role in A Fistful Of Dollars before it went to Clint Eastwood… what kind of a guy was he?

A very kind man, very good actor, very serious about his trade. He’s a real gentleman actually and we worked together very well. He lives in The States now.

Before one London screening of Lethal Panther / Deadly China Dolls a trailer was shown for your film The Men Behind The Sun Part 2 – Laboratory Of The Devil… I believe you had some walk-outs!

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Yeah, they couldn’t take the stuff with the real dead bodies, but you have to understand, that was the only way we were able to work over there. That movie was aimed at the Korean market, where they still have a strong feeling about Japanese war crimes. Then the Chinese started to take an interest so we decided to make it with Chinese producers. I flew to Beijing and we started to work at the film studios there for three or four months. They’re really still working in the Russian system there, it’s not very up-to-date. I didn’t take anyone with me apart from the main actor, so I had to rely on the Chinese technicians, who were limited by the state of the industry over there. When we came to do a scene with a dead body, they said: “We can’t do it as a prosthetic, we don’t have the technique or the materials”, so they took me to the local hospital and we talked to the doctor, who let us film him while he performed an autopsy… so that was it!

What is your next career move? Will you be carrying on with the girls-and-guns stuff?

I think so. I will try to carry on making commercial movies that people want to watch, to make movie like Deadly China Dolls in more and more of a Western style…

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Boys Keep Swinging… THE ZERO BOYS reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions A&B / 1&2. Arrow. 18.

So, you’re Nico Mastorakis, right? Whadya mean: ” Wrong!”? I’m trying to make a rhetorical point here, just throw me a frickin’ bone, will ya? OK… so you’re Nico Mastorakis and you’ve perpetrated one of the scuzziest films since Thomas Edison cranked up his first camera (a certified “video nasty” into the bargain), 1976’s Island Of Death (also available from Arrow Video… and their release of 1990’s Hired To Kill is on the way)… so, having gained our astonished attention with that mean spirited melange of moral meltdown on Mykonos, what do you do next? You could co- write J. Lee Thompson’s The Greek Tycoon (1978), the story of a super rich Greek shipping magnate who absolutely ISN’T (our lawyers have asked us to point out) Aristotle Onassis. In terms of your own directorial career, you could try  Blind Date (1984), a tech-orientated thriller with Joseph Bottoms and Kirstie Alley… The Next One (also 1984) a time travelling rip of Nicholas Meyer’s superior Time After Time (1979)… and  Sky High (1985), in which holidaying students inadvertently fall foul of the CIA.

Oh, you already did all those? Then howzabout an action adventure yarn in which weekend warrior paintball dweebs celebrate a tournament victory by heading into the backwoods with their girlfriends (sure, I mean how else does anybody ever celebrate anything?) only to find themselves fighting for their lives against a bunch of drooling rural retards who take their hunting games very seriously indeed? That would be The Zero Boys (1986), now available again in one of those spanky blu-ray / DVD combi editions from Arrow.

The flick opens promisingly, with Mastorakis slowly revealing that the apparently genuine firefight in which Steve Larry (Daniel Hirsch), Larry (Tom Shell) and the eccentrically-coiffed Rip (Robbie Fowler lookalike Jared Moses) are caught up is only an innocuous recreational rally. Nice sub-De Palma touch there, Nico. Having creamed their chief competitor, a bozo (later revealed to be Jewish) in pantomime Nazi regalia, the ZB’s collect their prize – Jamie (Kelli Maroney) – and head for the boondocks with girlfriends in tow. Dunno about you, but I’m already losing count of the ways in which this movie is not PC, though admittedly there’s none of the incest / religious fanaticism / dwarf shagging / goat shagging / water sports and so on that made Island Of Death such fun for all the family. If that film was Mastorakis’ Last House On The Left, this is his The Hills Have Eyes…

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“Get your chest over here, babe… you’ve just won a holiday you’ll never forget!”

When they find an unlocked property in the woods the boys cheerfully billet themselves and their floozies in it, seemingly undeterred by the presence of a cabin strongly resembling one in Friday The 13th (for ’tis the very same one) although the dialogue reveals that they are familiar with Sean Cunningham’s 1980 body count biggie. There are plenty of other cinematic antecedents that they might have name-checked, going right back to Herschel Gordon Lewis and Russ Meyer’s mid-60s invocations of deep fried Deep Southern brutalism or indeed, Pichel and Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game / Hounds Of Zaroff (1932) if you want to get all RKO about it… and let’s not forget The Three Stooges. If the ZB’s names don’t set you thinking immediately of Curly, Larry and Mo, their OTT gurning when they discover a back garden full of human remains, a woman’s head in the freezer and a rumpus room in which snuff videos play on a continuous loop certainly will. Still, Three Stooges affinities never did the Evil Dead franchise any harm…

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Jamie initially kicks up a stink when she discovers a cache of semi automatic weapons next to the boys’ paintball guns (“You Nazi lunatics!”) but she changes her tune when she needs protecting from the posse of murderous redneck retards who are hunting them through the booby-trap infested woods. Rip bites the big one on the end of a crossbow bolt but it’s difficult to feel too bad about the exit of this character and his incessant irritating wise cracks.

The chief psycho goes unnamed but is played by one Joe Phelan… born Joe Estevez, this guy is (as you’re probably already aware) the kid brother of one Ramon Esteves, better known as Martin Sheen. Yep, he’s Charlie’s uncle. In all honesty, Joe’s not exactly the most extravagantly gifted of the Esteves / Sheen clan in thespian terms but he’s parlayed his genetic inheritance intro an incredibly prolific career that’s seen him making more screen appearances than Martin… more screen appearances than Donald fucking Pleasance… so respect is due. What he brings to this production is an unparalleled aptitude for looking like his big bro, the morning after a particularly murderous bender… staggering around with a machete, lopping away at foliage while wearing an M&S lambswool pullover and – his highlight – firing a harpoon gun at our heroes while he’s underwater. Unfortunately (for him) he’s not immune to the effects of a taser being dropped into the water he’s under and it looks like what’s left of the Zero Boys and their girls are going to make it home… until Mastorakis opts for the then-mandatory downbeat twist ending. It’s a bit half assed in execution, though (and was allegedly omitted from the American release) so I’d like to think that Steve and Larry survived and having (after a suitably respectful pause) recruited a new Zero Boy (“Shemp”?) are currently cleaning up and pulling chicks on the Paintball senior tour.

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Arrow’s BD transfer comes down on the “natural grain” side of the argument, as opposed to the DNR fudging that marred so many early releases in this format. Zero Boys emerges looking pretty good for a film of its vintage and low budget origins. You get a pretty generous allocation of bonus features, too. Ever conscious of leisure (like paintball, right?) and technological trends (his last completed feature was .com for Murder in 2002) Mastorakis offers here the first (unless anybody knows different) “selfie interview”, in which he (sort of) apologises for Island Of Death and basks in the vicarious glow of various proteges who went on to bigger things… Hans Zimmer, who provides TZB’s pulsing synth score, went on to do the same for any amount of box office hits and two of its minor production personnel, Marianne Maddalena and Frank Darabont, became, respectively, assistant to Wes Craven and director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, et al. Other interview extras comprise conversations with Zero girls Kelli Maroney and Nicole Rio. Maroney also provides an audio commentary, moderated by Chris Alexander. Of course there’s a trailer and stills gallery and the packaging includes the expected reversible sleeve (with a Graham Humphreys executed option) and glossy booklet, which includes an appraisal of the film by James Oliver.

So, you’re Nico Mastorakis and you’ve made The Zero Boys… good knockabout, numbskull DTV fun, emblematic of its era. 88 must be kicking themselves that they let Arrow get this one…

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“Actually, I think you’ll find that I’M Nico Mastorakis…”

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A Final Flash Of Optimism For The Human Race… FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE reviewed

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“… daftly named Everyman in a fruity costume”?!?

DVD. Region Free. Delta. “U”.

Episodes

  • The Purple Death
  • Freezing Torture
  • Walking Bombs
  • The Destroying Ray
  • The Palace Of Terror
  • Flaming Death
  • The Land Of Death
  • The Fiery Abyss
  • The Pool Of Death
  • The Death Mist
  • Stark Treachery
  • Doom Of The Dictator

A typical product of my regular delvings through the thrift shops of Dunwich, this obscure box set release fits all “12 Dynamic Chapters” of Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe onto three discs. Eagle eyed viewers will notice that the serial’s actual title appears to be Space Soldiers Conquer The Universe and that the Space Soldiers in question are those of Ming’s army. Obviously the penny belatedly dropped with somebody that this wasn’t exactly a) striking the desired patriotic tone, or even b) what actually happens.

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Originally conceived as competition for National Newspapers’ Buck Rogers strip, King Features’ Yale graduate polo player-turned-space jockey Flash Gordon (as inked by Alex Raymond and ghost written by Don Moore) became a byword for economy and elegance, massively influential on DC’s later Superman and Batman characters. Flash’s serial adaptation made it to the silver screen in 1936 and just to emphasise how far the imitator had outstripped the avatar, when Buck first boldly ventured into cliff-hanging chapter play, a full three years later, he was played by the same Larry “Buster” Crabbe who had already portrayed Flash in two serials.

Mr Gordon’s mortal nemesis, in print and on celluloid, was of course one Ming The Merciless. Although his authoritarian, militarist and expansionist policies are an obvious expression of contemporary unease in the liberal democracies at the rise of fascism and spectre of potential gas attacks from the skies, Ming’s manifestly oriental appearance and even the name of his home planet might seem like a quaint (or obnoxiously bigoted) Hollywood throwback to Sax Rohmer from the perspective of a Europe bedevilled by Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, but this is no awkward anachronism. Consider the arguments of modern historians who contend that the beginning of WWII should be backdated to 1931, when Japan’s bombing of China was followed by an orgy of torture, rape and murder… and of course when America was finally attacked, it was by Hirohito’s imperial airforce (an aerial assault repaid with considerable interest less than five years later.)

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“Enough with the Sieg Heil-ing already, Zarkov!”

The eponymous first Flash Gordon serial (directed by Frederick Stephani) is, perhaps predictably, the best. When Earth is threatened by collision with the erratically orbiting planet Mongo, world leaders take the logical step of dispatching a polo-playing Yale graduate and his motley mates to land on and scope out this new world. What they discover is an impressively imagined (and reasonably well executed) alien environment (even if Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson’s Vultan, King of the Hawkmen, was destined to be overshadowed by Brian Blessed’s barnstorming histrionics, 44 years later) plus a turbulent political situation in which the planet’s rightful ruler Prince Barin (Richard Alexander) has been supplanted by evil emperor and would-be conqueror of the universe, Ming (Max Middleton.) As an hors d’oeuvre, he wants to conquer FG’s sexy girlfriend Dale Arden (Jean Rogers.) In addition to fending off his unwanted advances, Dale’s obliged to keep a watchful eye on Ming’s slinky daughter Princess Aura (Priscilla Lawson), who has her own designs on Flash. Just to make things even more complicated, Barin is carrying a secret torch for Aura. A whole constellation of worlds colliding there… who knew that saving the universe would turn out be such a soap operatic business? Luckily Dr Hans Zarkov (Frank Shannon) is left free to concentrate on countering Ming’s arsenal of fiendish futuristic weaponry by virtue of the fact that absolutely nobody wants to fuck him

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“Oh yeah? You’ve had worse…”

It’s pretty much the same story in Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars (1938), aside from a change of venue prompted by the contemporary Red Planet vogue that was sparked by Orson Welles’ notorious War Of The Worlds radio broadcast earlier that year. This time Ming is assisted in his nefarious schemes (which include the stripping of Nitrogen from Earth’s atmosphere) by Azura (Beatrice Roberts), an evil Martian Queen with the Circe-like power to turn rebellious subjects into Clay People. These memorable creations (and the equally memorable musical theme that accompanies their appearances) are among the redeeming features of a sequel that, in the directorial hands of Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill, generally lacks the pazzaz of its predecessor. On the plus side, Barin finally hooks up with Aura after a (thankfully uncompleted) fight to the death with Flash. After whipping off his mask and explaining his motivation, he’s immediately forgiven by FG, who obviously figures that all’s fair in love and interplanetary war.

Beebe and Ray Taylor co-directed this, the third serial, in 1940. By now there had been so much frantic shuffling between Earth, Mongo and Mars that energies were flagging and diminishing returns had inevitably set in. For instance the Rock Men, an obvious attempt to emulate the weirdness of the Clay People, fall pretty flat despite their Twin Peaks-like habit of talking backwards. Not even an upgraded Dale (Carol Hughes replacing Jean Rogers) could pep things up significantly. The action kicks off with deadly dust from outer space spreading the dreaded “purple death” (“yellow peril”, anyone?) across Earth… and no prizes for guessing who’s behind that. Flash and co head for Mongo to assist Barin in his bid to wrest control of Mongo from Ming. Zarkov devises an antidote to the purple death, ingredients for which must be gathered on the ice planet of Frigea, cue a blizzard of footage culled from the 1930 feature White Hell Of Pitz Palu. Furthermore FGCTU, like its predecessors, relies heavily on sets and props from contemporary Universal productions… much of the first two was shot in Dr Frankenstein’s various castles, labs and dungeons and here the costumes worn in Barin’s tree principality of Arborea seem to have borrowed from some kind of Robin Hood epic (see below.) Elsewhere the gang are kitted out in quasi-militaristic costumes from some kind of Ruritanian romance.

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No sooner has the purple death been thwarted than Ming starts coming up with a head spinning plethora of WMDs, seemingly one per episode, with which to keep Zarkov on his toes. The counter measures he comes up with frequently need to be lugged across glaciers, magnetic deserts, etc, and personally delivered by Flash until Ming is definitively (and apparently permanently) defeated.

Herein lies the most charming aspect of FGCTU… its pantomime depiction of totalitarianism, the hokey nature of its WMDs and its reassuring insistence (eagerly swallowed by its frightened audiences) that any maniac willing to use them could be foiled by a simple sock on the jaw from a daftly named Everyman in a fruity costume. The industrialisation of murder represented by The Holocaust and the nuclear denouement to WWII were shortly to consign such optimism to the dustbin of history. Childhood’s end.

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Doctor Who Vs Prog Rock… THE ENTROPY COMPOSITION reviewed

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No, it’s not an episode of The Big Bang Theory… that would have been a marginally less painful way of wasting thirty minutes of my life, had I been in an uncharacteristically undemanding mood. This is a radio episode of Dr Who from 2010, one of four that were made from 1,200 scripts submitted by fans in a BBC competition.

Recently rebroadcast on Radio 4Extra, Rick Briggs’ effort (directed here by Ken Bentley) tells of The Doctor (Peter Davison)’s visit to the music library planet of Concordum with assistant Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) in which they encounter a composition (“White Waves, Soft Haze”) which infects all other music with which it comes into contact and ultimately “rends the flesh from the bone” of those unwise enough to listen to it… and you thought backwards masking was scary!

To stop WWSH from immolating every sentient being, The Doc and Nyssa travel in The Tardis back to 1968, where noted Prog musician Geoff “Coop” Cooper is invoking primal sonics, entropy sirens, the music of the spheres and all manner of related quantum shenanigans. Can our heroes (aided only by the BBC sound effects department and an outdated dictionary of hippy lingo) head off The Apocalypse? More pertinently, was the phrase really “Prog Rock” in general usage during 1968? (Nah, didn’t think so…)

Adding insult to injury, Davison’s Doc wastes no opportunity to diss and bitch about Prog. Thanks, pal… have I ever mentioned that you’re just about the lamest Tardis jockey of them all? You’re welcome. Have a nice eternity…

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“I Never Laid A Finger on her, Guv!”… WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions A&B / 1&2. Arrow. 18.

Massimo Dallamano (Born in Milan, 17.04.17) crowned a prolific and distinguished career as DP with the first two instalments of Sergio Leone’s monumental Dollars trilogy,  A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) and For A Few Dollars More (1965). Thereafter his compositional sense graced a series of his own directoral efforts. Although none of these are as celebrated as the films he lit for Leone and undoubtedly rank as journeyman stuff, just about all of them (bar a couple of soft core sex romps) repay serious scrutiny, emerging as a solid and satisfying body of B-movie work. Dallamano the director made a point of dabbling in most genres, in all of which he displayed a pronounced penchant for sleazy subject matter. His most memorable contribution to the canon of spaghetti exploitation is a not-quite-completed-trilogy of gialli, kicking off with 1972’s Cosa Avete Fatto A Solgnage? (“What Have You Done To Solange?“) in which recurrent plot points include the sexual exploitation of schoolgirls, conspiracy, cover-up and murder.

His very first giallo, A Black Veil For Lisa (1968), is the kind of noiresque pot-boiler that typified the genre (Umberto Lenzi directed several similar efforts) before it was revitalised and reinvented by the international crossover success of Argento’s The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970.) Here Inspector Bulon (John Mills) gives syndicate hitman Max Lindt (Robert Hoffman) a get-out-of-jail card on condition that he bumps off the bent copper’s faithless spouse Lisa (erstwhile Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi.) But Lindt falls for her instead, at which point the plot twists start proliferating thick and fast. After interestingly idiosyncratic screen adaptations of Sacher-Masoch (Venus In Furs, 1969) and Wilde (The Secret Of Dorian Gray, 1970) Dallamano got into his full giallo stride with the cracking item under consideration here.

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Directing Dorian Gray in 1970

Filthy Fabio Testi is Enrico Rossini, a lecherous lecturer who likes nothing better than bedding his beautiful young students at St Mary’s College, an upper-crust finishing school for Catholic crumpet (I was schooled at a St Mary’s College too, but the closest thing to crumpet we ever got was… nah, better not name him.) Fabio’s messing about in a boat on the river with one such conquest, Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo, a hall-of-famer who also appeared in Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, The Killer Is Obliged To Kill Again, The House That Screamed, Riot In A Woman’s Prison and the immortal Suffer, You Prick) when she spots Hilda, one of her classmates being repeatedly stabbed in the bush in the bushes by a maniac in priestly garb… yep, those anti-clerical giallo auteurs are bashing their bishops again!

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“What is that priest doing to Hilda?”

Because he can’t be in two places at one time, we know that randy Professor Rossini isn’t the culprit, but he can hardly offer his dalliance with Elizabeth as an alibi… relations with his severe Teutonic wife Herta (krimi stalwart Karin Baal) are already bad enough, not to mention the small matter of losing his job. As more girls are fatally stabbed between the legs, his attempts to cover up his extra-curricular activities only increase the suspicions of Inspector Barth (Joachim “Blackie” Fuchsberger, another krimi refugee), who seems to delight in showing parents post-mortem photographs and X rays of their murdered daughters with knives penetrating their private parts (“It’s a necessary formality!”) Then Elizabeth makes the mistake of announcing to a roomful of the dodgiest-looking, slobering peeping toms ever rounded up in a Catholic girls’ school that she thinks the river-bank slasher was wearing a cassock. Glug glug glug, she gets drowned in the tub…

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… and things are now looking very bad indeed for our pal the priapismic prof. But every stabbed schoolgirl has a silver lining and Enrico’s efforts to clear his name coincide with the patching up of his relationship with the increasingly sexy looking (and unfeasibly accommodating) Herta. So far, so good… but no Solange. You won’t be asking what they’ve done to her so much as who the hell is she, because this character (played by Camille Keaton of subsequent I Spit On Your Grave infamy) only turns up towards the end of the final reel, trailing in her traumatised wake the key to the whole crotch-stabbing conundrum.

A stylishly sleazy concoction topped off with a tasty Ennio Morricone score, What Have You Dome To Solange? is an unusually police-tinged giallo that points the way to Dallamano’s later immersion in full blown polizioteschi. The mists and mellow fruitfulness of its equally atypical English locations (not to mention the peculiarly multi-hued barnet of Fusberger) are beautifully rendered by Dallamano’s (wisely) chosen cinematographer, one Aristide Massaccesi (yep, Joe D’Amato himself, who you’ll spot him cameoing as a copper during an, er, abortive stake-out.)

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Remastering WHYDTS? for Blu-ray from its original camera negative, David Mackenzie has captured this visual treat magnificently. Michael Mackenzie (any relation?) contributes one of those visual essays that are becomingly increasingly familiar among Arrow extras. As I said about an earlier one, some of it will make you think, some of it will have you saying: “I’ve always thought that” to yourself and some of it will have you shouting “No mate, you’re talking bollocks!” at the screen. Other specs include a trailer… the now customary reversible sleeve, one of whose options is some newly commissioned nifty artwork by Malleus… the usual sort of glossy, illustrated booklet in which Howard Hughes surveys Morricone’s giallo scores and Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent Magazine profiles Camille Keaton… and three interviews. Karin Baal offers a scathing memoir of what she obviously regards as a thoroughly insalubrious production, slagging off  Fabio Testi and criticising Dallamano for his alleged bullying of Keaton. Then to restore the balance Testi gets to speak for himself and comes across as a much more agreeable figure than the one described by his former co-star. Finally there’s a brief conversation with producer Fulvio Lucisano, an interesting and engaging character who’s got a lot to say about how the Italian film industry has “changed” (i.e. just about died!)

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The commentary track reunites Alan Jones and Kim Newman from Arrow’s celebrated Zombie Flesh Eaters BD. Newman kicks off the proceedings by stating that he’s going to be playing second fiddle because of his colleague’s undoubted expertise in the field of Italian exploitation cinema but in fact Newman’s inclusion is more than justified by the breadth of his knowledge concerning just about every other area of world cinema. His contributions are particularly useful in explaining the debt gialli owe to earlier “krimi” (German screen adaptations of thriller novels by Edgar Wallace), especially pertinent to this Italo-German co-production which has often been linked (with precious little justification) to the Wallace yarn The Clue Of The New Pin. He also sketches out the chronology that links Dallamano’s picture to an apocryphal tabloid expose via Robert Hartford- Davis’s The Yellow Teddy Bears (1963.) Informative and witty stuff from the Jones / Newman double act then, though when they speculate that the Vera Drake character is of East European origin they do squander a golden opportunity to crack the ever popular “cancelled Czech” gag…

While an oligopoly of four (Argento, Bava, Fulci and Martino) were responsible for most of the truly great gialli, other directors did manage to turn out the occasional classic… Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly Of The Tarantula, Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die? and Luigi Cozzi’s The Killer Is Obliged To Kill Again spring to mind.) So what are we to make of Jones’s claim that WHYDTS? is one of the top ten achievements in this genre? Possibly it it is and, if not, it comes so damn close as to demand a place on the shelf of any self-respecting Italian thriller buff.

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“What shall we do today, then?”

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“Oh… that!”

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The Naschy Weekender Part 3… El Hombre Invisibilo: PAUL NASCHY interviewed in 1994

Our Paul Naschy Weekender reaches its shattering climax tonight with this eye witness account by one hapless hack of the great man’s guest appearance at London’s Eurofest in 1994…

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“What’s he saying now, Eva?”

I KNOW that he’s played The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr Hyde, The Phantom Of The Opera, Hunchback Of The Morgue, Old Nick himself, Grand Inquisitors, sadistic knights, mysterious manservants, cops and robbers, vampires, sailors and low-rent Tarzans, but when I finally achieved my ambition of meeting the great Paul Naschy he proved as elusive as one of the few classic horror characters that he never actually played… The Invisible Man!

As “luck” would have it, we’re thrown together in the bar of his hotel in Victoria a good 90 minutes before our interpreter is due to turn up… did I say “good”? After searching in vain for a lingua franca, we resort to “Give Us A Clue” style dumb show. Awkward or what? I produce some posters and stills for señor Naschy to sign, which kills a few minutes while I take stock of this Spanish megastar of menace…

Conservatively dressed, in a suit and tie (nice waistcoat, too) and sporting a Bobby Charlton hair-do, he’s even shorter and certainly thinner than I expected… still a dead ringer for John Belushi, though. I ask him if he’s taken the opportunity to see some of London while he was over here? “No.” Does he plan to? “No.” Fair enough… On the plus side, he doesn’t speak in the mumbly manner suggested by some of his detractors… at least, he doesn’t seem to, on the rare occasions that he does actually speak. So much for the bellicose bragging I’d been briefed to expect… and which I was hoping would result in some lively copy. Pete Tombs, co-author of the excellent immoral Tales tome, later told me that Naschy was feeling a little nervous about this trip, fearing that the ridicule he’s recently be subjected to in Spain would be repeated over here. But I’m tempted to conclude that this paranoia / ridicule thing is a bit of a chicken-and-egg affair… which came first?

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I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of doing a hatchet job here. I’d undertaken the expense and effort of the disagreeable train trip from Nottingham to London because I thought it would be worth it to meet this Iberian horror icon  and as I once wrote elsewhere: “It’s impossible to come down too hard on Naschy, because his heart is so obviously in the right place.” It still is, thanks to the surgeons who opened up that famous barrel chest to save him after a near fatal coronary infarction in the late ’80s. I wonder if  Naschy’s membership of the zipper club now is a contributory factor to the low-key manner in which he currently seems to be approaching life…

When our interpreter – the lovely Eva Carlo -turns up, the interview begins in earnest… well it begins, anyway. Asked what he’s up to now, Naschy does indeed display a certain sensitivity. He’s “working on a couple of things” but he does not want to talk about them for fear of “jinxing them.” I enquire whether he’s finished anything since 1988’s Howl Of The Devil and he cites a couple of titles that none of the assembled horror hacks seem to have heard of. The name of Salvador Sainz, who has contested authorship of that film’s screenplay with Naschy, brings out the first signs of El Hombre Lobo’s wrath: “That guy is just crazy… you’ve seen it happen before, you know, a film wins the Oscar and suddenly all these opportunists appear, claiming that their screenplay was stolen.”

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Our hero isn’t above making such claims himself, though, when the subject of John Gilling’s The Devil’s Cross (1975) comes up: “It was my idea to bring the work of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer to the screen…” he seethes: “… but the producers and director basically stole the project from me. In the end all that was left was my script…  and they stole that, too. They only put my name in the credits because they were legally obliged to.”

He bristles at the oft-repeated myth that Tulio Demichelli’s astonishing 1969 “monster rally on board a space ship” Dracula Vs Frankenstein, was shot in six days (“Six months… Six months!”) and contradicts the widely expressed belief that it was difficult for genre directors to work under General Franco’s repressive regime: “It wasn’t that big a problem… I feel that other people have exaggerated it. I certainly never experienced any difficulties and in fact Spanish cinema at the moment is in a far worse state. In the Franco era we were making 180-200 films per year, now it’s just 25-30. When Franco was in power, politics don’t have so much to do with it but now politics is what it’s all about…. so it was actually easier to work in the Franco days.”

Perhaps predictably, Naschy comes over all animated on the subject of his love for the old Universal horror films that inspired his own monster movie cycle: “When I was very young, watching the Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff films, I was deeply impressed and conceived the ambition that one day I would be able to make movies in that style. Of course by the time I was making my movies, I couldn’t ignore the way that genre was going – more violence, more sex – so that was another influence on my films, though basically they were still like the Universal pictures… very simple stories, almost like fairy tales.”

Seemingly tiring, Naschy now subsides into minimalistic responses when quizzed about such subjects as his Japanese co-productions (“The Japanese producers had seen my movies and were very impressed, so they called me and asked if I would like to make a horror film with them”); the lack of narrative consistency in his Waldemar Daninsky series (“Even though the Daninsky character was the same, all the films were independent entities”); the mooted match-up between his werewolf and Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead Templars (“We discussed it but nothing ever came of it”); the respective merits of his directorial peers (“Klimovsky was the best of the lot”); the mysterious Rene Govar, credited with direction of 1967’s Night Of The Werewolf (“He was a French guy”); The Werewolf And The Yeti’s designation as a “video nasty” in the UK (“It’s absurd!”) and whether A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1973) was a deliberate attempt on the part of its director, Klimovsky, to make a Spanish giallo (“Not consciously.”)

As Naschy’s utterances threaten to dry up completely, I’m increasingly distracted by certain other things, my description of which when a version of this piece originally appeared in print came back to haunt and embarrass me… twice! Suffice to say, I’m going to draw a discrete veil over such matters here, with apologies to all concerned.

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Just before we break up the glee club, Naschy manages some interesting (albeit unlikely to warm the hearts of The Humane Society) reminiscences of what is undoubtedly his wildest film, Javier Aguirre’s The Hunchback Of The Morgue (1972.) “We collected all these rats from the actual sewers of Madrid because we needed big ones, and they were all disinfected and injected with anti-rabies vaccine. Then my trousers were rubbed down with coarse grease and the rats, which hadn’t been fed for about a week, swarmed all over me, attacking me really viciously.”

This is the kind of stuff we want to hear… and what about these persistent rumours about the use of… (ulp!) … actual dead bodies in some scenes from that movie? “In the morgue where we were actually shooting there was a dead body that was about to be dissected”, reveals Humpy: “and the director asked me if I would be capable of starting it off by making the first cut on the neck. I thought about it, had a whisky, braced myself and made the cut but that’s all we did. That scene caused a lot of comment at the time, though nothing ever actually came of it.”

As a parting shot, the ol’ corpse-dissector rhapsodises over Hollywood’s recent vogue for reviving holy old monster characters, e.g. Coppola’s Dracula, Branagh’s Frankenstein and Mike Nichols’ Wolf,  starring Jack Nicholson… “So far I’ve only seen the Coppola picture and I like it a lot. I think it’s great that big budget American pictures are reviving all the classic monsters. I only wish that the Spanish industry was involved… I’m really envious, actually!”

And off he goes, dreaming no doubt of past and (hope springs eternal) possible future glories. Naschy shouldn’t beat himself up too much though, over the relative prestige of the Hollywood and Spanish film scenes… the memory I’ll always cherish from this day is that of Robert Altman, darling of the chattering Arthouse set, sitting in the hotel bar looking increasingly bemused, perplexed and resentful as assorted genre journalists completely ignored him while flocking all over an ageing Spanish horror maven.

Despite that unforgettable highlight, the meeting with Paul Naschy which I had anticipated so keenly was undeniably an anti-climax… it’s almost as though it never happened. Indeed, as an ironic post script, when the photographs that I’d cajoled David Flint into taking of me with the great man came back from the developers (I realise that I’ve totally lost out younger readers there) they looked as though they’d been taken in an unlit cellar without the benefit of flash… also like Dave had been bouncing up and down on a trampoline when he clicked the button. Maybe something was distracting him that night, too…

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R.I.P. Paul Naschy / Jacinto Molina Alvarez… 1934 – 2009.

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“Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

And that’s yer lot. Our Paul Naschy Weekender has concluded and we hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as we have. Now bugger off and be warned… we counted the silverware before you arrived. We wanna know what you think about the last three days and to what subjects you’d like us to devote future Weekenders here at The House Of Freudstein. Ciao, babies!

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The Paul Naschy Weekender Part 2… THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI reviewed

TWATY NaschyIt’s the second day of our Paul Naschy Weekender and I trust you all managed to get some sleep after the horrific emotional roller coaster that was our examination of Werewolf’s Shadow / Walpurgis Night (1971.) Hopefully by now you’ve regained your composure and are appropriately attired in brown trousers because tonight we’ll be looking at Naschy’s Nasty, the great man’s only contribution to the DPP’s dreaded (ulp!) “video nasties” list… 1975’s The Werewolf And The Yeti aka Maldicion De La Bestia (“Curse Of The Beast”) / Night Of The Howling Beast.

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“That’ll be me, then…”

Maldicion De La Bestia. 1975, Spain. Starring “Paul Naschy”, Grace Mills, Josep Castillo Escalona, Silvia Solar Gil Vidal, Luis Induni. Special effects: Alfredo Segoviano. Camera: Thomas Pladevall. Written by Jacinto Molina. Produced by Modesto Perez Redondo. Directed by “Miguel Iglesias Bonns” (= Miguel Iglesias).

Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by one Miguel Iglesias Bonns, this is Naschy’s eighth (?) entry in a saga detailing the life, loves and monster mash-ups of the lycanthropically challenged Count Waldemar Daninsky. Writer, actor, competitive weight lifter and occasional director Naschy (given name Jacinto Molina Alvarez) is the irrepressible dynamo of Spanish Horror cinema, whose attempts to create an Iberian equivalent of the great Hammer and Universal cycles (on what seems like a budget of about a couple pesetas per movie) have to be seen to be believed, ranking amongst the most jaw-droppingly out-of-wack and enjoyable celluloid offerings on offer anywhere in the world. It’s impossible to come down too hard on these ultra-low budget efforts, because Naschy’s heart is so obviously in the right place and he sets about this ambitious brief with such undeniable gusto, often suffering extreme physical discomfort to achieve the desired effect (in 1972’s Hunchback Of The Morgue, arguably his finest hour, Naschy assisted at an autopsy and was repeatedly bitten by a pack of rats… it was a particularly unruly autopsy, OK?) in the manner of a latterday Lon Chaney. Actually though, Naschy is more often compared to Lon Chaney Jr. due to that interminable series of Daninsky movies, initiated in 1967’s La Marca Del Hombre Lobo (“The Mark Of The Wolf Man”) aka Hells’ Creatures / Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror.

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The effort under consideration here opens with Yeti-hunting anthropologist Silas Neumann (actor uncredited) discovering his moth-eaten quarry in Katmandu and falling prey to it. Cut to Britain (stock footage of Westminster bridge, accompanied on the soundtrack by bagpipes droning “Scotland the Brave”!) where another Yeti-buff, Professor Lacomb (Josep Castillo Escalona) is enlisting the aid of our Waldemar in an expedition aimed at capturing the beast: “You’re an anthropologist and a psychologist … besides you know Tibet and you can speak Nepalese.” Quite the Renaissance man… he’s also conducting a pretty hot affair with the Prof’s daughter Silvia [Grace Mills). Arriving in Tibet, the expedition is hampered by heavy weather, demon-fearing sherpas going AWOL and outbreaks of ill-matched stock footage depicting native dervish dances. Naschy, looking even more bulky than usual in his snow gear, wanders off to collapse in the wilderness and is rescued by two scantilly-clad cave-dwelling bimbos. “He is very strong,” opines one of the girls: “He will be a good companion “…and a passionate lover!” adds her partner. True to form, as soon as he comes around Naschy whips off his balaclava and roll-neck pullover, baring that legendary barrel-chest to the world, and starts making serious whoopie. There’s a strong suggestion that Naschy’s playmates treat him to certain sexual practices that could get them all arrested in several States of the Union… and that’s not the only thing the girls like tucking into: Naschy later discovers his new girlfriends eating an itinerant sherpa, and is obliged to reduce them to smoking skeletons with a handy-dandy wooden stake.

At this point the full moon rises in the sky and Naschy’s accumulated love-bites work their lycanthropic wonders on him (learning well from his Universal and Hammer mentors, Naschy has never given undue weight to internal logic in his films or continuity and consistency in this series, Daninsky’s werewolf having a different set of origins each time out). His transformation proves to be a blessing in disguise because the rest of the expedition has been captured by a horde of tartar roughnecks whose leader, the dreaded Saga Khan, has certain radical ideas on acne treatment – nubile girls are flayed and flaps of their dripping skin draped over his spotty features. It was presumably this aspect of Werewolf And The Yeti that brought it to the DPP’s attention when Canon Video released it in the UK, though the pertinent scenes look pretty tame now compared to 18-rated stuff like the Saw and Hostel franchises. TW&TY remains in the notional rump of “video nasties” that have never been reconsidered by the BBFC, though one suspects that this is more probably a function of its limited commercial appeal and / or obscure distribution rights rather than any lingering perceptions of its alleged tendency to “deprave and corrupt.”

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To cut a very long story short, Naschy lopes into tartar HQ, trashes the bad guys and liberates Sylvia, then the Yeti (remember him?) turns up for a perfunctory and distinctly anti-climactic wrestling match. Finally Sylvia discovers – just like that – the herb which will transform Naschy from a nasty brutish wolfman back into a regular Nepalese-speaking anthropologist, psychologist, Tibet-expert and John Belushi lookalike. And presumably they all lived happily ever after…WW&TY4.jpg

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Intermission!.jpgPhew… you’d better get your ass to the lobby and score yourself some fortifying treats because The Paul Naschy Weekender here at House Of Freudstein reaches its feverish climax tomorrow night with an eye witness report on the great man’s visit to London in 1994. Be there or be a sad sack yeti…

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The Paul Naschy Weekender Part 1… WEREWOLF’S SHADOW reviewed

Welcome to our Paul Naschy Weekender here at The House Of Freudstein… all Naschy, all trashy and nothing but the Naschy! If you’ve just woken from your siesta and are sitting comfortably with your tapas and glass of rioja, we’re going to kick off with one of Jacinto Molina Alvarez’s most influential efforts.

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DVD. Region 2. Anchor Bay. 18.

Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by Leon Klimovsky, La Noche De Walpurgis (1971) is the third… or possibly fourth… or perhaps even fifth (depending on which filmography you believe) instalment in the ongoing saga of Naschy’s “tragic wolf man” character, Waldemar Daninsky. Its original title translating as Walpurgis Night (didn’t know I was such brilliant linguist, did you?), this one goes under a bewildering number of aliases, including Werewolf’s Shadow, Shadow Of The Werewolf, Satan Vs The Wolf Man, Fury Of The Vampires, The Black Masses Of Countess Dracula, Blood Moon and – for those among you who like a film to do what it says on the tin – The Werewolf Vs The Vampire Woman. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and under whatever guise you see it, this one is generally acknowledged as one of the seminal Spanish scream-fests that ignited the Iberian horror boom of the ’70s. Nor did its impact go unfelt in English-language markets (witness the grind house ad mat and American novelisation below.)

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In the pre-titles sequence, sceptical coroner Dr Hartwig is unwise enough to remove the silver bullets with which Waldo was peppered in the previous episode… doubly unwise as he effects said procedure during a full moon! No prizes for guessing what happens next. The mandatory werewolf transformation scene is skilfully rendered here via edits around strategically placed objects, setting the standard for those that follow it… well, for most of those that follow it. Meanwhile in Paris, sexy student Elvira (Gaby Fuchs… yep, the gal who gets her tongue pulled out in Mark Of The Devil) is giving her boyfriend a lurid albeit rather fanciful (e.g. black mass blood drinking) flashback rendering of the life and misdeeds of Countess Bathory figure “Wandesa Darvula De Nadasdy” (sexy Patty Shepard.)

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Elvira and fellow student Genevieve (Barbara Capell) head off into remote French countryside to locate Wandesa’s fabled tomb, in pursuance of their joint doctrinal dissertation (now there’s a bizarre educational initiative that even Michael Gove baulked at.) Having lost their way, they are taken in by kindly Waldemar. His insane sister tries to warn them against various supernatural threats, though they seem to be in greater danger of sexual assault from her. Next day, during a casual stroll in the countryside, Waldemar and the girls stumble upon the location of The Countess’s tomb. “Satan’s favourite mistress…” declares her tombstone: “None must disturb her rest until the day of The Last Judgement” (wonder how that went unnoticed all these centuries.) Although a keen Wandesa student, Elvira squeamishly excuses herself from the disinterment, during which Genevieve cuts herself while pulling a silver chalice dagger (readily available in most good hardware stores) out of the corpse and drips blood into its mouth. When they hook up with Elvira again, she is being threatened by a decomposing monk who seems to have wandered in, apropos of nothing, out of one of Amanda De Ossorio’s Blind Dead epics. Daninsky wastes no time seeing him off with that dagger. Meanwhile, Wandessa is clawing her way out of her grave. Elvira and Genevieve close out their eventful day with a bedtime chat about their love lives… I mean, what else is there for them to talk about?werewolf-versus-vampire-woman-ad.jpgThe revived Wandesa is a sight for blood shot eyes, fulsomely fanged, with a pale green complexion and decked out in the height of Medieval Hungarian fashion. She floats around in slow motion (another pinch from The Blind Dead, along with the services of soundtrack composer Anton Garcia Abril) amid billowing dry ice, seducing every other female character in the cast during the build up to Walpurgis Night, when Satan will give vampires dominion over the Earth… unless Waldemar has anything to do with it. Predictably, he’s bonking Elvira by this point and tries to protect her from his beastly side by getting himself chained up during the next full moon and entrusting her to the “care” of his friend Pierre (Jose Marco) who promptly attempts to rape her! An equally random, though significantly less hilarious way of filling out the running time till Walpurgis Night rolls around is the introduction of Elvira’s boring Parisian boyfriend Marcel (Andres Resino), who gets involved in an interminable discussion with one of the local yokels about superstition vs rationalism.

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Finally, it’s The Big Night and Wandesa is just about to sacrifice Elvira to Satan when rudely interrupted by Waldemar, in full werewolf drag. The ensuing smackdown is pretty lively compared to others in the Daninsky series, indeed executed with such gusto that the only thing conceivably missing from it is a Kent Walton commentary! Wandesa gets stabbed by that ol’ silver chalice digger and her decomposition is niftily rendered via melting wax. Unfortunately for Waldemar’s reverse transformation, after Elvira has turned the knife on him to end his undead torment, it’s back to the unconvincing lap dissolves effect from Naschy’s beloved Lon Chaney Jr Movies. Despite such niggles, it’s easy to see how Klimovsky’s energetic Walpurgis Nacht / Werewolf’s Shadow became such an influential success… it certainly lacks the significant longueurs that disfigure many of those that followed in its wake… werewolf_vs_vampire_woman_poster_04.jpg… notably Carlos Aured’s 1973 return engagement, El Retorno De Walpurgis (“The Return Of Walpurgis”) aka Curse Of The Devil, aka Curse Of The Devil / Return Of The Werewolf / The Black Harvest Of Countess Dracula. Avoid this vaguely Black Sunday flavoured effort under any title (or, if you must watch it, don’t say you were’t warned) because it’s all downhill after an amusing titles sequence in which Daninsky, in full suit of armour, decapitates  Count Bathory for “driving our bishop to suicide…and turning our holiest nuns into daughters of Satan, consumed and maddened with lust!” (a nice trick if you can manage it…) When Waldo brandishes aloft the Count’s severed noggin, Erzsebeth Barthory (Maria Silva) sagely observes: “My husband is dead!” “Yes”, agrees her equally astute sidekick. No prizes for guessing that their revenge consists of turning him into a werewolf and blah, blah, blah…

Naschy directed himself in Night Of The Werewolf, a virtual remake of Werewolf’s Shadow ten years after the event. It’s an ’80s reboot of the familiar werewolf, witchery and sapphic shenanigans (with more explicit plunderings from Bava’s Black Sunday) that suffers from sharply diminishing returns and the fact that Julia Saly as the Countess Bathory figure is a pretty poor substitute for Patty Shepard.

Bonus materials on the Anchor Bay disc of Werewolf’s Shadow constitute a 15-minute interview with the Spanish horror icon, theatrical trailer and TV spot, Naschy biography and photo gallery plus a reproduction of the film’s Spanish press book.

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TOMORROW… our All Naschy Weekender continues with a look at his unredeemed and arguably irredeemable “video nasty”, The Werewolf And The Yeti (1975.)

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All The Flavours Of Fenech… Sergio Martino’s ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Marketing-Film. Not rated.

When Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage parlayed Mario Bava’s giallo formula into the stuff of international crossover hits in 1970, every spaghetti exploitation director worth their salt (and several who weren’t) scrambled to get a piece of the slasher action by setting killers in broad brimmed hats and dark macs onto scantily clad ingenues. Sergio Martino surfed this filone more impressively than most, aided and abetted by the most scantily clad and beautiful ingenue of them all, his producer brother Luciano’s room mate Edwige Fenech. The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s box-office smash and established a template in which Fenech’s neurotic character would jet set around the world in her attempts to live down the sexy skeletons in her closet and escape the homicidal nut job on her tail, only to discover that just because she’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that several of the men in her busy love life aren’t conspiring in various permutations and with miscellaneous motivations to do her in. Fenech wasn’t available (probably knocking out a few period sex farces) for Martino’s second giallo of 1971, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, which ran along disappointingly formulaic lines and proved conclusively that  Anita Strindberg and Evelyn Stewart together couldn’t make up for the absence of one Edwige Fenech.

Thankfully she was back for the following year’s All The Colours Of The Dark aka Day Of The Maniac / They’re Coming To Get You / Sreange Vice Of Mrs Wardh Part 2, et al , in which Martino would extend the giallo’s frontiers exponentially. Fenech’s Jayne Harrison in this one is even more screwed up than the spoiled Mrs Wardh and with considerably more justification. Cooped up in Kenilworth Court, Putney, she’s suffering post traumatic stress disorder following the car crash in which she lost her baby (and it’s only later that we learn that she witnessed the fatal stabbing of her mother when she was seven) but gets precious little emotional support from her cold fish, workaholic pharmaceutical salesman boyfriend Richard (George Hilton). He obstructs her sister Barbara (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro)’s efforts to set Jayne up with a psychoanalyst, insisting that she just pull herself together and keep taking the tablets (… but are they, as claimed, just vitamins?) Jayne is plagued by nightmares in which her various traumas are juxtaposed with all manner of Satanic psychedelia (good news for us because she tends to get over them by taking a shower in her nightshift… woah, baby!) and things go from bad to worse when a guy who

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resembles the assassin from her dreams (Ivan Rassimov, looking even more striking than usual in a pair of shocking blue contact lenses) starts stalking her. Her chic new neighbour, Mary (Marina Malfatti), waxes blasé about this (“Strange men have been following women since the stone age, Jayne!”) but does propose a novel solution to Jayne’s malaise, i.e. that she attend a black mass (?!?) Although much has made up to this point of Jayne’s indecisive character, by a flick of scripter Ernesto Gastaldi’s pen she decides there and then that she wants to participate in precisely such a shindig RIGHT NOW!

In a gothic folly that will be familiar to fans of Toyah Wilcox’s The Blue Meaning album, Jayne gets down with the Satan worshipping junky set (I think this is what we’re supposed to infer from the calomile lotion daubed liberally over their faces) and, during a Rosemary’s Baby-inspired scene, is ravished by cult honcho J.P. McBrian (Julian Ugarte from Paul Naschy’s breakthrough picture Mark Of The Wolfman, 1968). Now “J.P McBrian” might strike you as a disappointingly pedestrian monicker for a Satanic cult leader, but he’s knobbing Edwige Fenech so the dude’s doing OK for himself, alright?

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Bruno Nicolai’s acid rock theme during this and subsequent Satanic sexcapades constitutes an unmitigated aural treat and if you’ve got the German DVD under review here (as “Die Farben Der Nacht”) it’s recommended that to enjoy the full effect of these scenes you flick into the deutch surround sound option… any enterprising dude out there fancy issuing some of these Martino films’ soundtracks on CD? Or (Mr Shameless, I’m looking at you) ATCOTD on Blu-ray with an English language 5.1 audio track? In its original screen ratio, too, rather than the distincty non-anamorphic presentation which marrs this German DVD… and some decent bonus materials to compliment the bare bones trailer / filmographies fare on offer here. Not asking for much, am I?

Far from her being mitigated by these occult dabblings, Jayne’s problems are exacerbated when, at a subsequent ritual orgy, she is implicated in the killing of Mary, who had apparently grown terminally jaded about life and delivered Jayne to the sect as her replacement. Now her stalker (Rassimov) reveals himself as “Mark Cogan”, the murderer and former lover of her mother, who had been an enthusiastic participant in all these occult shenanigans… “Now you’re one of us, Jayne…” he glowers: “It’s impossible to renounce us!”

The plot descends into pure paranoia at this point, with the news that McBrain is a big cheese at Scotland Yard, though this is immediately revealed as a figment of Jayne’s increasingly traumatised, drug-addled and brain-washed imagination (check out the totally surreal “breakfast with dead people” vignette… did it really happen?) Turns out that significant characters have been motivated by all-too materialistic considerations (i.e. an inheritance) but, at the very death, Martino can’t bring himself to impose a purely logical wrap-up on the narrative. Fenech’s final (and almost certainly post-synched) lines, delivered with her face turned away from the camera, indicate that genuine psychic forces are awakening within her, an awakening which is going to either  empower or destroy her… or is this is just one more level of delusion? ATCOTD’s ambiguous and haunting conclusion ensures that the viewer will keep turning the film over in his / her mind after watching it, like a nightmare from which (s)he is struggling to wake. An inveterate mix’n’matcher of genres, Martino set the ball rolling here for a synthesis of straight giallo and the supernatural that would be handled to more influential effect by Dario Argento a few years later…

ATCOTD

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Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oh, Soledad Mio…” A FISTFUL OF FRANCOS on BD From Severin

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Vampyros Lesbos. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18. 

She Killed In Ecstasy. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Bloody Moon. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Devil Hunter (c/w Alain Deruelle’s Cannibal Terror… “Two Gore Horrors To Rip Out Your Guts!”) Blu-ray. Region free. Severin. Unrated.

S Miranda

The Freudsteins barely had a chance to recover from Birdemic: Shock And Terror before those Severin boys had thrust another bunch of review discs into my hot little hand… though I won’t be screening these for the offspring, constituting as they do a random trawl through the cinematic crimes of the late Jesus Franco, sometimes cited as “the most boring director in the world.”  I can’t say JF’s prodigious outpourings mean anything like as much to me as the films of Lucio Fulci, but he commands a similar level of devotion from his fans on account of similar wilfulness and waywardness in his life and work and the obsessiveness with which he stubborny pursued his skewed personal vision, via a distinctly oddball aesthetic.

As with Fulci (in fact far more frequently) this often obliged him to take on quicky, fly-by-night productions, the proceeds of which helped finance his more heartfelt projects. The latter category is represented here by Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy (a 1971 brace which he effectively shot simultaneously on the same sets and locations and with an interchangeable cast, most importantly their extraordinary star,  the beautiful and doomed Soledad Miranda), the latter by contemporary bandwagon jumpers Devil Hunter (a 1980 attempt to emulate recent Italian cannibal shockers) and Bloody Moon (a 1981 entry in the slasher stakes.)

Soledad-Miranda

“Nadine… Oh honey, is that you?”

Vampyros Lesbos is a predictable (at least in outline) sapphic variation on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Intercourse is more beautiful when it’s between two lesbian women” opines Franco in one of the disc’s bonus feature and one is disinclined to argue the point.) Gerry Halliwell lookalike Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg) takes the Jonathan Harker role, travelling to Istanbul (the film was mostly shot in Germany but Franco freights it with travelogue shots of the Turkish capital) to facilitate Countess Nadine Carody (Miranda)’s inheritance from her benefactor Count Dracula, no less. The Countess doesn’t dwell in a musty castle – when Linda’s first sets eyes on her, she’s swanning around spectacularly in a skimpy white bikini and wastes no time persuading her to go skinny dipping.

“It’s fun to lie naked in the sand… especially with another person.”

“Yes.”

No fear of daylight or running water for this vampire, then and her other unorthodoxies extend to performing in a cheesy girl-on-girl nightclub act seemingly based on the Pygmalion legend for the delectation of its bored looking bourgeois patrons. The seduction of  Linda and her induction into the wild world of vampirism proceeds as a matter of course.

Dr Alwin Seward (Dennis Price) is a psychiatrist whose patients include former Countess Carody lover / victim Agra  (Heidrun Kussin), though his interest in tracking down Nadine turns  out to be rather less heroically motivated than it initially seems. Franco himself pops up as Agra’s estranged husband Mehmet, who gets over this romantic mishap by torturing and butchering women in his cellar… a plot point that never satisfactorily connects with the rest of the film’s fractured narrative and has been introduced, one suspects, solely to bump up the running time to feature length (and furnish Franco with a little fun.)

Sceptics might take all of this as confirmation of their hard wired Francophobia but I must confess that I enjoyed watching this edition of Vampyros Lesbos more than I can remember enjoying previous releases of the film, or indeed any Franco film. Severin have triumphed by sourcing the German (subtitled)  version, which is not only claimed to be the favourite cut of Franco (a director whose filmography is proverbially complicated by the alternative edits in which his various films tended to be released) but it looks absolutely fantastic, a stark contrast to the nth generation video dubs via which many of us originally tried to get to grips with the Franco mystique and so much more conducive to an acceptance of Franco’s narrative, er, looseness.

As for the music, Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab serve up a sexadelic treat… think “Richard Alpert & The Marijuana Brass” with heavy Hammond and soaring sitar. Readers are strongly advised to get their hands on the Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party Soundtrack album if at all possible, comprising as it does groovy sounds from the Franco / Miranda films reviewed here and their subsequent collaboration The Devil Came From Akasava.

Among the bonus materials, Stephen Thrower (author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco) is his usual erudite and eloquent self. He doesn’t say much about Soledad Miranda on this disc (but read on), that’s left to Amy Brown (the obsessive web mistress of soledadmiranda.com). Of course you get all the expected trailers and bits of business, including a clip which suggests that Franco was the inspiration for Yoda(!)

She Killed In A Metallic Bra

Narratively, She killed In Ecstasy is a more straightforward affair, proceeding along the “revenge killing” plot-line that Franco would employ many times, both previously and subsequently. Miranda begins the film in memorable style. In a folly of a castle in Alicante, she models a metallic brassiere as she mooches around a collection of unnerving anatomical exhibits. Her husband, Dr Johnson (Fred Williams) enthuses about the medical advances he has achieved by breaking taboos against experimentation on human subjects.  Is Franco fulminating here against the reactionary backwardness of his native Spain, with Miranda as the Sadean woman in the vanguard of revolt? Whatever, contemporary audiences wouldn’t need to have particularly long memories to find such subject matter questionable in a German co-production…

… and Dr Johnson’s superior’s feel pretty much the same way. One by one Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Ewa Stromberg and Franco himself denounce Dr J’s hubris and conspire to strike him off. Nonplussed by this unexpected turn of events, our maverick medic goes into a steep decline and despite Miranda’s best efforts, ultimately succumbs to suicide. Whereupon his widow takes it upon herself to seek out and seduce his inquisitors, exposing the sexual kinks that lurk behind their facade of bourgeois respectability before killing them off in their turn. On the lam from the law she dies in a car crash, the amateurish staging of which is more than made up for, impact wise, by the reflection that this is exactly how Miranda would meet her actual demise, some months later.

What a loss…. in this film, a much more conventionally told story than Vampyros Lesbos, so much rests on Miranda’s ability to render the delirium raging within her character. She renders an extraordinary reverie just after she’s offed Muller, flashing back to love making with her husband accompanied by some of the most elegiac music I’ve heard from Bruno Nicolai, who shares scoring duties here with Hubler and Schwab.

Thrower has much more to say about Miranda in the supplementary material here, complimented by the reappearance of Amy Brown’s tribute to the late actress, which really gives you an idea of her capabilities over and above the dark eyed angel of death. Brown reveals her gifts for comedy, singing and dancing and a surprising (on the strength of her Franco collarborations) sunny sweetness which suggest she really would have had a career at least as successful as that of the similarly versatile Edwige Fenech, had she not perished in that car crash in 1970.

Another lovely BD transfer… kudos to the Severin boys.

Bloody Moon 2

Bloody Moon is an altogether more formulaic effort, following comprehensible, not to mention tediously predictable, giallo / slasher lines… and yes, all the killings are all prefaced by shots of the moon. Miguel’s sister having tuned down his incestuous advances at a ludicrous al fresco disco, he contents himself with stealing first some girl’s undies then a Mickey Mouse mask so that he can surreptitiously seduce their owner. At the height of her passion she rips the mask off to reveal Miguel’s scabby face and screams her displeasure, which he curtails by carving her up with a pair of scissors. All this is filmed P.O.V. style a-la Halloween, so it comes as no great surprise when the next thing we see is one of those “five years later” captions. Miguel is discharged from a booby hatch into the care of his sister, who’s admonished to “keep your eyes open and any reference to that unfortunate night … he might not be cured” (seems the procedure in Spain is not exactly super stringent in these cases.)

Erected on this nonsensical basic premise is a saga of intrigue over an inheritance at a mysterious language school on the coast, populated by, among others, a sinister shears-brandishing gardener, Antonio the tennis ace / super stud, the suspicious looking smoothie proprietor and a bunch of tedious girls who lust after Antonio’s body and spend their time in puerile discussions of their sexual experience. Meanwhile Miguel’s dumpy sister is exciting him to the point where he loses control, grovelling and slobbering over her chubby legs. “Can’t you see they won’t let us love each other?”, she chides him: “Everyone around us is judging us … if we could just get rid of everyone!” Cue polystyrene boulders, gratuitous animal maltreatment and the sawmill decapitation of a witless floozy who’s too busy enthusing about hot blooded Latin lovers and S/M to try and escape.

Meanwhile back at the language school the plot resolves itself, after a fashion, with some indecipherable revelations about who inherits from whom. Inevitably, the proprietor of the school is revealed as the killer. What’s more Miguel’s sister is revealed as his lover, and – best of all – she announces her total contempt for Miguel and his incestuous attentions, following up with some catty observations about his complexion. Unfortunately for her, Miguel has been eavesdropping on all this. Dusting off his trusty chainsaw, he reduces his tormentors to grungey gouts of gushing gristle.

Again, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good a Franco film can look when competently transferred to Blue-ray. For your money you also get a trailer and a mini-interview with Franco.

Bloody Moon

The Devil Hunter (1980… aka The Man Hunter / Mandingo Man Hunter / Sexo-Canibale) was originally to have been directed by Amando de Ossorio (he of the atmospheric “Blind Dead” series) but when he dropped out the property devolved into the careless hands of Franco, here employing his trusty “Clifford Brown” alias. Utilizing the sets, locations, general tone and certain cast members from his 1979 film Cannibals / White Cannibal Queen, Franco mounts an objectionable, albeit entertaining (if you’re in an undemanding mood) sexist, racist fantasy in which starlet Laura Crawford (Ursulla Fellner) is abducted and spirited away to an unspecified Third World locale where the natives live in fear of the eponymous Devil, offering him frenzied tribal dances and chained maidens in supplication.

devil-hunter

The Devil, when he finally turns up, is a major disappointment, being nothing more than a tall black guy with ping pong eyeballs. But boy, can he eat pussy … no, really, he actually eats it!! Meanwhile Fellner, in chains (a major Franco fetish), is being raped by one of the kidnappers, while gang-leader Gisela Hahn (from Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination) enjoys the spectacle from her hammock. Back in civilization, Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti), in low-rent Indiana Jones threads, is picking up a hefty fee to liberate this damsel in distress. He’s flown out to that unspecified Third World jungle in a helicopter, then, true to Franco form, he spends an eternity wandering around in the undergrowth not actually doing anything much. Eventually he arranges with the ’nappers to swap the girl for a suitcase stuffed with money. They keep the girl and try to shoot Cliver, but anticipating this turn of events, he has stuffed the suitcase with worthless paper (unfilmed Franco scripts, perhaps… if such a thing exists).

Now the bad guys start getting picked off by The Devil (Hahn’s head is beaten in with a rock) and the natives prepare Fullner for consumption … none of this being anything like as interesting as it might sound. Cliver scales the cliff on top of which the sacrifice is to take place and incredibly, his cliff-scaling exploits are rendered by that staple expedient of the old Batman TV series, i.e. Franco’s camera is laid on its side and Cliver is filmed crawling across the floor! It’s for the individual viewer to decide whether this is more or less ridiculous than the spectacle of Al with his arm… supposedly amputated by natives… conspicuously tied behind his back in Franco’s Cannibals. Whatever, Cliver makes it to the cliff-top and, after a perfunctory wrestling match, hurls The Devil to his death, saves the gal and pockets the money. The natives are so chagrined at the death of their idol that they trash his totem pole. Thankfully, the world was spared a sequel in which they turned their worshipful attentions to Indiana Al. Extras include the expected Franco mini interview and another with thesp Bertrand Altmann.

Cannibal Terror

If Devil Hunter looks surprisingly good on Blu-ray,  its co-headliner on this disc, Cannibal Terror (1981) probably looks better than it ever deserved to look. This is the “video nasty” that notorious Producer Marius Lasoeur arranged to have shot, guerrilla-style on the set of Franco’s Cannibal. As cobbled together in post-production, its plot follows a similar kidnapping / jungle rescue theme to Devil Hunter. There are endless ugly scenes of “natives” scarfing down offal, a rape scene which plays out without the perpetrator even unzippping his trousers and plenty of shots of people hanging around, gazing goonishly into the mid distance. The following exchange may stand as representative of the dialogue herein.

“Can’t you open the fucking door?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Shit… what are you doing?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Fuck… oh fuck it! No fucking idiot could get that door open… made me look a fucking fool!”

By the time the kidnap victim’s parents -acting on a hot tip-off -arrive in the jungle to confront the kidnappers, the latter have already been eaten by the cannibals. “Those gangsters got all the punishment they deserved”, a handy-dandy tour guide assures them, indicating what is supposed to be the severed head of the chief baddy: “He got all the pain and suffering that was coming to him.” So did anyone who managed to sit through this piece of garbage, a shoe-in for the accolade of very worst film among all those that exercised the attention of the DPP in the 1980s.

Nominal director “Allan W. Steeve” was long long believed to be a certain Julio Perez Tabernero but a bonus interview here with one Alain Deruelle (“Video nasty? Weird lot, the Brits”) seems to suggest that he might be the guilty party, though not clearing the matter up beyond reasonable doubt… well, would YOU admit to directing this clinker? Franco animatedly disavows any involvement in it (or another, comparably putrid Lassoer atrocity, Zombies Lake) in an easter egg interviewette. The balance of the extras comprise the theatrical trailer (astonishing to contemplate that this actually played theatres) and a hysterical “spicy deleted scene” which they really should have left it. It’s absolutely dreadful but quite a hoot, as opposed to the soporific shit you have to endure in the final cut… conclusive proof, if nothing else, that Jesus Franco wasn’t “the most boring director in the world.”

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