Monthly Archives: February 2018

Dead Ringer… THE BELL FROM HELL, Reviewed

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“La Campana Del Inferno”. DVD. Pathfinder. Region 1. Unrated.

When I asked Paul Naschy about the difficulties of making genre films under the Franco dictatorship, he told me that he had encountered far more problems since the democratisation of Spain. I guess that his simple-minded paeans to the glory days of Universal horror were never going to trouble El Caudillo unduly. Other, more subversive Spanish film makers, had to consider their options. Jesus Franco left his mother country for quite a while and those who remained had to find ways to couch their social protests in somewhat oblique terms…

a-bell-from-hell1.jpgIn Claudio Guerin Hill’s “La Campana Del Infierno” (1973) we are introduced to John / Juan (Reynaud Verley), a virile, brooding youth, who’s just been released from the booby hatch his family have banged him up in after his casual attitude towards sex was taken as conclusive evidence of his “mental instability”. He seeks gainful employment in an abattoir and after a few days of slaughtering animals (cue the expected grisly killing floor footage, recalling Eloy De La Iglesias’ official “video nasty” La Semana Del Asesino (“The Killer’s Week”) aka Cannibal Man (1972), quitting with the ominous words: “I’ve learned enough”. Heading back to his home village, where he is due to appear in court on account of some minor peccadillo, John moves into his dead mother’s house and starts visiting her wheelchair-bound sister Marta (Viveca Lindefors) who is responsible for his incarceration, and her three sexually attractive daughters (Esther, the youngest of them, is played by Maribel Martin, whom Spanish horror buffs will find a familiar, pretty face from the likes of Ibanez Serrador’s La Residencia / The House That Screamed (1969) and Vincente Arranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada, 1972).

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From this promising set-up, director Guerin Hill embroiders a growing sense of unease with the slow accumulation of off-kilter detail. John reveals a penchant for inventive and cruel practical jokes, first by pretending to gouge out his own eyes (he’s something of a budding Savini) then, more subtly,  by convincing leading citizen Don Pedro (Alfredo Mayo), when he visits the Aunt’s house, that her daughters are the ghosts of three drowned girls. Their startling slow-motion, mist-enshrouded return constitutes a cinematic shock worthy of Mario Bava (TBFH writer Santiago Moncada also scripted Bava’s Hatchet For A Honeymoon, 1969). In fact the girls are very much alive and their varying degrees of sexual engagement with John add  further kinky twists to an already unhealthy situation.

One night John is riding around on his motorbike in the woods (as you do) when he happens upon Don Pedro and other purported community pillars, who’ve taken time out from their hunting trip to hassle the local hermit’s mute daughter. He arrives just in time to break up what’s threatening to become an I Spit On Your Grave type situation. From here on, anxious about John blowing the whistle on their nocturnal activities, these guys start pussy footing around him. True to form, he takes this as his opportunity to play a particularly elaborate and humiliating practical joke on Pedro. Watching John’s macabre antics, the viewer grows increasingly anxious about just how far he is prepared to go.

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Things take a turn for the decidedly nasty when he sprays bee-stimulating chemicals all over his Aunt, while she snoozes in the garden, then releases the contents of an agitated apiary in her direction. For his next trick he contrives, with varying degrees of flirtation and physical force, to tie up his comely cousins. The girls are then suspended from a mechanical rail in the home abattoir he has constructed in his mother’s basement (every home should have one!, washed down and consigned to a dissection bench. Intending to bury their remains on the cliff from which his socially ostracised mother fell to her death, John  delivers a beautiful but spooky soliloquy about their flesh becoming grass (well, sap actually) but ultimately he is unable to go through with exacting his intended vengeance via vivisection.

The girls escape and John is overpowered by outraged locals, who subject him to another perverse variation on crucifixion. A noose round his neck, John is bricked up alive in the walls of the local cathedral. He’s to be used as a counterweight for the new bell, which we saw arriving in town on the same day as him, symbolising the traditional, hypocritical  values that have dogged him, and to which he will ultimately be sacrificed. “Was I really insane?” he muses, as he waits to be tolled off… well yeah, but society’s vengeance is scarcely more balanced.

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John‘s no ding-a-ling though, having ensured that he’ll get the last laugh from beyond the grave. In a tour de force, phantasmagorical finale, Don Pedro goes over to John’s family home after seeing lights being turned on and off. He is first alarmed by the life-size mannequin of John that we saw being made in the film’s surreal opening shots, then drowned in a fish tank… at John’s ghostly hands?  The final laugh is really on the viewer…

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The joke turns very black indeed when you learn that Guerin Hill (a sort of Iberian Michael Reeves figure, who only completed one other feature, La Casa de Las Palomas / The House of the Doves in 1972), plunged to his death from the cathedral’s bell tower (above) on the final day of shooting, obliging Juan Antonio Bardem to complete the picture. Like the character of John’s mother in the film, nobody is sure if the director was pushed, fell or jumped. If he was pushed, somebody obviously took particular exception to his scathingly satirical vision of Spanish society. If he jumped, Bell Of Hell begins to look like a bleak cinematic suicide note. If he fell… well, carelessness and bad luck deprived us of a major talent.

Pathfinder have done a good (if not great… some of the darker scenes are distinctly grainy) job of bringing The Bell From Hell to disc, in a nicely framed anamorphic print. This is a particularly welcome release when you consider that TBFH hasn’t been available in the UK since the long-gone Duplivision video release, which I previously believed to be cut but is, one of our reliable sources now tells me, more complete than the disc under consideration here, despite the latter being hyped as the full enchilada.

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Extras include an OK commentary track by critic Chris Desjardins and a trailer gallery for other Pathfinder releases, including their Master Of The Flying Guillotine “ultimate edition”.. Check out the eponymous decapitator in old dude make up… Jimmy Wang Yu as the one-armed boxer… and that fakir guy with the long wobbly arms. Hm, I can feel a review of that demented chop socky masterpiece coming on…

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Too Much Monky Business… “Lucio Fulci Presents” THE RED MONKS

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DVD. Screen. Region Free. 18.

Back in 1988, Lucio Fulci was still regarded as a consummate horror meister who’d taken some time out to dabble in other genres (e.g. with the likes of Conquest, Rome 2033 – Fighter Centurions and The Devil’s Honey) and consolidate former giallo glories (with Murder-Rock). It’s unlikely that many people had seen Aenigma or Zombi 3 by this point. No doubt those who had were attributing the shortcomings of the latter to Bruno Mattei… and who (with the exception of The Great Theresa from City Of The Living Dead) could possibly have foreseen such upcoming miseries as Touch Of Death or The Ghosts Of Sodom?  Every reason then, to believe that the old boy would soon be back knocking out gloriously gory, low-budgeted pasta paura classics… so it makes sense that the producers of this minor Gianni Martucci effort would stump up some dough for the privilege of hyping it with the banner “Lucio Fulci presents” (the German publicists, who presumably had never seen The Beyond or Don’t Torture A Duckling, took things a hyperbolic step too far, dubbing I Frati Rossi “The Masterpiece of Lucio Fulci”). Unfortunately, in retrospect the pimping out and consequent devaluation of the Fulci brand can be seen as just one more accelerating mis-step in a career that was tumbling towards its bottom rung faster than Ania Pieroni’s severed head in The House By The Cemetery.

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The “action” here kicks off with a smarmy yuppy wandering around the spacious grounds of a villa he’s just inherited and encountering a mysterious hooded violinist. Letting that one pass, he lets himself in and is soon on the trail of an equally mysterious bare-assed chick who leads him down into the cellar and, just when he’s congratulating himself on his good fortune, swings around and decapitates him with a jewelled sword. Things now flash back “50 years previously” and just to establish an authentic 1930s vibe, Robert Gherghi (Gerardo Amato) has tuned his radiogram to some vaguely jazzy music that’s being played on one of Casio’s cheaper, cheesier electronic keyboards.

Wandering around those grounds, he finds winsome Ramona Icardi (Lara Wendel) perched on a tree branch, evading the attentions of his Alsatian. I’d like to believe that this pooch is some way related to Dicky in The Beyond, though without checking the Kennel Club records there’s no way of knowing. I think I’m on safer grounds to suggest that the wobbly joke shop spider on the branch which also menaces Ramona was retrieved from the props hamper from that film (is it for this that Fulci was credited with “special effects” on The Red Monks?)

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Anyway, after a cursory romance, Robert and Ramona tie the knot. But why is he so reluctant to consummate their relationship, despite the fact that Ramona is clearly gagging for it? Well, believe it or not, he’s got a chapter of red-robed Templars living in his basement (didn’t the real estate agent warn him about this?) who are expecting to use her as a virgin sacrifice on the upcoming second sextile of Saturn. As presented by Martucci, these Templars are a pretty disappointing bunch, bearing less resemblance to Amando De Ossorio’s immortal Blind Dead than to some of those whip-wielding monks in Rialto’s Edgar Wallace adaptations (sorry for all the recent Wallace references… having just slogged our way through Universum’s 33 disc box set, we at the House Of Freudstein are currently viewing life through a krimi-encrusted lens).

Ramona’s sexual frustration boils over into full-blown “woman scorned” hellishness when she discovers that Robert’s been happily bonking his obliging secretary Priscilla (Malisa Longo, who’s been dropping her drawers in these things since the late ’60s… Malisa, we salute you). She allows a passing lounge lizard lothario to divest her of her pesky  cherry (promptly disqualifying herself from that upcoming sacrifice) and also consults a local notary, who fills her in on the historical gipsy-raping shenanigans that kick-started all this shit in the first place.

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Great second sextile of Saturn! Do these RED MONKS know how to party or what?

The clumsy use of this “flashback-within-a-flashback” only serves to remind the viewer how deftly Fulci, in his prime, deployed the same device during his Beatrice Cenci (1969). Anyway, this forbidden knowledge enables Ramona to turn the tables on Robert in a manner that is simultaneously senseless and eminently predictable… and that’s your lot, really.

The Red Monks is a fairly typical example of mid-late 80’s Italian Horror vainly attempting to revive an only recently faded glory. To be fair, it’s nowhere near as painful to watch as some of the efforts Fulci himself directed during the final decade of his life. If you’ve seen The Ogre (Lamberto Bava’s 1989 attempt to “do” the aforementioned House By The Cemetery”), you’ll know the kind of mid-table mediocrity to expect. Once you’ve located it on some charity shop shelf, coughed up your quid, brought it home and watched it, you won’t hate yourself too much, but I can’t imagine that you’ll be in any hurry to repeat this particular viewing experience.

The moral of our story? Beware Lucio Fulci, presenting gifts… especially when Uranus is entering the second sextile of Saturn!

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Drill Dos And Drill Dont’s… Umberto Lenzi’s SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS Reviewed

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DVD. Shriek Show / Media Blasters. Region 1. Unrated. Out Of Print.

Fashion designer Mario Gerosa (Antonio  Sabato) and his new bride Giulia (Uschi Glas) find their honeymoon bliss interrupted by an inconsiderate serial killer who, clad in the regulation black gloves and clothes, is working his way through all of the women that stayed at a holiday resort on a certain date… a list which includes Giulia. The other women on it are dispatched in various ways (strangled, bludgeoned, drowned, drilled, etc) but all of the victims have one more thing in common. Each of them is found clutching a piece of jewellery in the shape of a silver half-moon. When an attempt is made on Giulia’s life, Mario takes up the mantle of amateur sleuth…

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Released as Das Rätsel Des Silbernen Halbmonds (“The Riddle Of The Silver Half Moons”) in West Germany, this 1972 thriller from Umberto Lenzi is a fascinating film for anybody who’s interested in the way that country’s “krimi” cycle of Edgar Wallace adaptations shaded off into the Italian giallo. Towards the end of the ’60s, Rialto tried to revive their long-running but fast-flagging Wallace series with Italian co-productions but the first fruit of this arrangement, Riccardo Freda’s Double Face (1969), flopped. No further entries were attempted for a couple of years and by the time this film and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange (also 1972) completed Rialto’s run, Dario Argento had scored an international crossover hit with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970… itself spuriously passed off in Germany as an adaptation of a novel by Bryan Edgar Wallace, Edgar’s son and literary executor) and the pasta men were very much in the ascendancy. Owing more to the sadism of Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964) and Argento’s aforementioned debut, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (the alternative title deriving from something Sabato finds on the grave of somebody he’d previously regarded as chief suspect) is a million miles removed from the Sunday afternoon gentility of the krimi, Lenzi throwing in oodles of gratuitous nudity and fearlessly tackling the contemporary drugs scene… fearlessly and rather recklessly (at one point a hippy dude beseeches Sabato to stop interrogating his friend, who is undergoing “a bad trip” on account of some heroin he’s just injected)… what would Eddi Arent have said?

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Torn between two traditions (one of them, admittedly, only recently established) and officially adapted by Lenzi and frequent Fulci collaborator Roberto Gianviti from an obscure Wallace yarn, SBO / TROTSHM owes at least as much to Cornell Woolrich’s Rendezvous In Black and veteran spaghetti exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti also had an uncredited hand in its concoction. One could be forgiven for expecting a bit of a dog’s dinner but Lenzi, who already had something like thirty directorial credits under his belt at this point, keeps the story rattling along in involving fashion and mounts the brutal kill scenes with characteristically gleeful gusto (he would subsequently prove perfectly capable of phoning ’em in… witness the extraordinary mess that is Eyeball, 1975).

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Although his male cast ranges from workmanlike (Pier Paolo Capponi as Inspector Vismara) to (just about) acceptable (Sabato), Lenzi is superbly served by a very strong female cast, though he’s happy to kill off giallo icon Marina Malfatti (The Fourth Victim, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, All The Colours Of The Dark) within minutes of introducing her character. Perhaps he saw her as the film’s “Marion Crane” character?

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Marisa Mell also gets bumped off in pretty short order (with a handy-dandy power drill, during a scene to which Brian De Palma pays the sincerest form of flattery in Body Double, 1984) but plays twins in this one so at least we get to see more of the gorgeous Ms Mell. Uschi Glas (who, like Mell, had previous krimi form) is an appealing and perky heroine with a pleasing penchant for sexy / ludicrous early ’70s outfits

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On the minus side, Riz Ortolani’s “original soundtrack” lazily recycles themes already familiar from Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse and Lucio Fulci’s One On Top Of Another aka Perversion Story (both 1969). Bonus materials include a brief interview with Lenzi, in which he angrily dismisses accusations of Argento copying, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it chat with Gabriella Giorgelli (which, to be fair, probably lasts as long as her appearance in the film), liner notes, a gallery and trailers, not only for the main feature but also Lenzi’s Eaten Alive (1980) and a particularly chuckle-inducing one for his Spasmo (1974).

Riding the crest of an anti-clerical wave that peaked in 1972 (Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling and Aldo Lado’s Who Saw Her Die?, to name but two, were released in the same year), Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a solid effort that any self-respecting giallo fan will want to catch. Time for a remastered Blu-ray release, methinks…

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Dildos and Dildon’ts… Enzo Milione’s THE SISTER OF URSULA reviewed

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DVD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

“Who is the sister of Ursula? A nymphomaniac? A girl without scruples?” – trailer.

Yep, it’s giallo time again… these violent Italian whodunnits are frequently praised for their sexy stylishness but there exists within the genre a grotty ghetto of grubby ghastliness. Prime specimens within this sweaty sub-genre include Andrea Bianchi’s Strip Nude For Your Killer / Nude Per L’Assassino (1975… who could forget the spectacle of that obese dude in his Bridget Jones pants? Christ knows how hard I’ve tried!), Mario Landi’s 1979 effort Thrilling In Venice / Giallo A Venezia (whose unwholesome ingredients include a porn-obsessed dope fiend pimping his girlfriend out to random deviants, an obsessive stalker armed with power tools and a boiled eggs-addicted cop) and Mario Gariazzo’s Play Motel (also 1979 and packing any amount of risible “kinkiness”). All of these hail from the fag-end of the cycle and pack ever-increasing dollops of sleazy sexploitation in lieu of any trace of that all important giallo style.

To this roll of dishonour we must also add Enzo Milioni’s The Sister Of Ursula / La Sorella Di Ursula (1978), in which two fit Austrian sisters, the demure Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) and slutty Dagmar (Stefania D’Amario from Zombie Flesh Eaters) take a well deserved holiday on the Amalfi coast (depicted here as the Italian equivalent of Skeggy!) to ponder the division of their inheritance and rack up as many gratuitous nude scenes as possible.

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Ursula, a clairvoyant given to doomy predictions, has some kind of psychic connection with her dead father. She despairs of Dagmar’s libertine lifestyle and when the latter unpacks an eye watering wooden dildo from her suitcase, Big Sis makes her  disapproval quite clear: “You just came here to get shagged, you bitch!” So, it seems, have a lot of other girls who are currently stopping at the hotel (told you it was just like Skeggy) but a bunch of them start turning up dead, apparently killed (or so the shadows on their hotel room walls would have us believe) by some guy with a monstrously proportioned member.

You won’t have too much trouble working out the identity of the killer (and none at all guessing the murder weapon) but there’s plenty of other crazy shit to divert you in this reprehensible, dildotastic slice of enticing Eurotrash, e.g. nightclub chanteuse Stella Shining (below) whose risible showstopper “Eyes” keeps popping up at inappropriate points in what we’ll generously call this film’s narrative. Who, while we’re at it, ever thought that the equally overworked freeze fame of disembodied eyes was ever going to look anything but laughable?

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Magnolfi is best remembered by Horror fans as Jessica Harper’s bitchy room-mate Olga in Dario Argento’s pasta paura tour de force Suspiria (1977) but other notable credits include Sergio Martino’s Suspicious Death Of A Minor (1975), Ruggero Deodato’s Cut And Run (1985), Luigi Pastore’s Violent Shit: The Movie (2015) and Luigi Cozzi’s Blood On Méliès Moon (2016). Her eponymous sister, Stefania D’Amario, arguably boasts an even more impressive CV,  including as it does Rino Di Silvestro’s Deported Women Of The SS Special Section (1976), Borowoczyk’s Inside Convent Walls (1978), Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979, below), Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1980), Antonioni’s Identification Of A Woman (1982) and Lorenzo Onorati’s Caligula’s Slaves (1984).

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Mark Porel – from Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972 ) and Sette Note In Nero (1977), also Deodato’s Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man (1976) – was married to Magnolfi at the time, which is perhaps how he got sucked into TSOU’s pointless sub-plot about an illicit dope network… ironic, considering the circumstances of his sadly premature demise in 1983.

Porel’s history of substance abuse is frankly discussed in an interview with the film’s director, which appears on both discs. Milioni also talks about the Italian industry’s long tradition of subsidising “worthy” Arthouse efforts with the proceeds from tacky exploiters (try to guess in which category he locates The Sister Of Ursula). He reveals that he got to film for free at the cliff top hotel as its proprietors figured they’d get some free publicity for their enterprise. In fact, the hotel remains unopened to this day… the curse of Ursula’s sister continues!

Stripped of the sleazy trappings in which The Sister Of Ursula wallows, Milione’s subsequent efforts were nothing like as watchable. 1989’s Bloody Moon (not to be confused with the identically titled Jesus Franco effort) is a dull, over-talky, soap operatic effort whose fleeting moments of gore were edited, along with so much else, into Fulci’s astonishing A Cat In The Brain / Nightmare Concert (1990).

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When You Get To The Door, Tell Them JESUS Sent You… Two FRANCO Monster Mash-Ups On Nucleus Blu-Ray

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THE DEMONS

THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN

BD. Region B. Nucleus. 18.

Just as you were bracing yourself for their long-trailered restorations of Giulio Questi’s surrealistic giallo Death Laid An Egg (1968) and Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein (1971), the boffins from Nucleus outflank you with a couple of unexpected corkers from Jesus Franco. The Demons and The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein (shot virtually simultaneously in 1973) were branded “Category 3 Nasties” back in the days of home video witch-hunting, i.e recommended for confiscation rather than prosecution (which had more than a little to do with some of their Go Video label mates and the backfiring publicity stunts of Go honcho Des Dolan). Even if you did manage to cop an eyeful of those releases before they were whisked off and incinerated, you’d have been watching versions that were significantly cut down in terms of both running time and original screen ratio. Now here they both are, on Marc and Jake’s exciting new European Cult Cinema Collection imprint, in beautiful Blu-ray editions, with the BBFC’s stamp of approval… nicely priced, too. Honestly, the times we live in… (“Taxi!” – L. Fulci.)

For the first of these titles, producer Robert De Nesle detailed Franco to come up with a rip-off of Ken Russell’s recent success de scandale The Devils (1971) but instead of duplicating the contrived hysteria of that wearying effort, JF grabbed the nearest camera (without taking too long, I suspect, labouring over a script) and quickly knocked out a genuinely delirious and characteristically wilful concoction of De Sade, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, also roping (see what I did there?) Hanging Judge Jeffries (whom Christopher Lee had already portrayed in  Franco’s The Bloody Judge, 1970) into a rapidly overheating narrative stew.

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Although The Demons bears superficial comparison to Russell’s flick and (probably more so) Michael Armstong’s Mark Of The Devil (1970), in both of those witch-hunting is presented in its proper historical perspective as an oppressive manifestation of patriarchal power politics, whereas Freda steers closer to Mario Bava’s Mask Of Satan, 1960 (in philosophical if not so much in cinematographical terms) by presenting a for-real maleficent witch (outrageously warty face and all) who’s burned at the stake and decrees that her daughters will extract vengeance upon her tormentors and executioners Justice Jeffries (intense Iranian Cihangir Gaffari / “John Foster”) and Lady De Winter (Karin Field), plus their henchman Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbės).

Of those two daughters, Kathleen (Anne Libert, the producer’s real life squeeze) continues in her mother’s witchy ways whereas Margaret (“Britt Nichols” = Carmen Yazalde) tries the path of virtue but finds it (in true Sadean fashion) so thankless that she eventually decides “what the hey?” and gets down with the black arts, but not before she’s been visited by the ghost of her mum and shagged by Satan (depicted in disappointingly human form). Before you can say “lights out by 10 o’clock… candles out by 11”, masturbating nuns are vying for space on your screen with racked and flogged wretches, as Margaret exposes the hypocrisy of the lustful inquisitors and ultimately reduces them to skeletal remains with her patented “kiss of death”… all of this to a mind-blowing acid rock soundtrack. You get both the extended, 118 minute French cut (with optional English subs) and the 88 minute English “export” edit on this disc.

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Although Franco slips a character named De Quincey into The Demons, he’s on the record as protesting that he couldn’t understand artists and creators who took drugs to enhancing their imaginations, claiming that he would benefit from a drug that actually quietened his down. If he ever discovered such a thing, he obviously skipped several doses during the conception and making of The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein, which suggests nothing so much as an animated fumetto (the kind of gloriously lurid, sexy and violent comic book that flourished in Italy during the ’70s).

This one kicks off with Melisa The Fabulous Bird Woman (Libert) and her side-kick Caronte (Franco regular Luis Barboo) raiding the lab of Dr Frankenstein (Dennis Price… yes, Dennis Price from all those classic Ealing comedies). Melissa is blind, talks in bird screetches and has bits of a ratty old green feather boa stuck haphazardly onto her impressive anatomy but “nobody is better…”  by her own reckoning “… at discerning the order of human flesh”. Well, whatever that means, she proves a dab hand at monster-jacking and once she’s savaged the Doc’s body to shreds (several characters refer to this, though there’s no visual evidence of it having occurred during several subsequent scenes in which his corpse is briefly reanimated) and Caronte has stabbed his assistant Morpho (a JF cameo), they lug the silver-painted Karloffalike (played by body builder Fernando Bilbao) back to Cagliostro’s picturesque seaside castle, where said charismatic mesmerist plans to mate it with a perfect female he’s constructing from the best bits of various unfortunate ladies, to produce a new master race (an ambition shared by Udo Kier in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein and the dates are so close together that it’s a moot point as to who, if anybody, copied whom). “The new race will be called Pantos” (yeah, whatever…)

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As Cagliostro, Howard Vernon makes up for the disappointingly short screen time allocated to him in The Demons. He doesn’t exactly chew the scenery, just stands there in his kaftan looking (extremely) intense while Franco zooms in and out of his blood-shot eyes. He orders the silver monster to kidnap the comely Madame Orloff (Britt Nichols again) then orders her head to be lopped off for the amusement of the zombies and mutants (and at least one Vulcan) who appear to inhabit his basement. Do these guys know how to party or what? When Frankenstein’s daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) infiltrates Caglistro’s castle in search of vengeance she ends up tied to Caronte and lashed by the monster until one of them (Caronte) falls onto poisoned spikes. Vera, brainwashed by Cagliostro, assists him in the reanimation of his female zarmby and the gruesome twosome are about to get it on when an intervention by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr Seward (Alberto Dalbės) and Inspector Tanner (“Daniel White”) puts a spanner in Cagliostro’s evil masterplan. He’s last seen driving a coach and horses into the sea, confident that he will be reincarnated to continue his evil work. Whether there’s any way back for Dr Frankenstein after his gob-smacking dissolution by sulphuric acid is another question entirely …

Alongside the 74 minute French cut (with the option of English audio) on this disc, you also get the 85 minute Spanish release version (optional English subs) which omits some of the saucier stuff, clothes characters who were seen naked a la France and “boasts” filler footage of a gypsy named Esmerelda(!) wandering around in the woods looking mystically inspired, this character played by Franco’s most recent discovery, a certain Lina Romay.

Franco’s extensive and wildly variable oeuvre makes him a director whose films (not to mention his life) I sometimes find it more agreeable to read about than to watch. Ian Caunce regularly wrote engagingly and entertainingly about the director (as, indeed, about everything else he ever turned his pen to) in my all time favourite fanzine, Absurd.

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More recently Tim Lucas has laboured unflinchingly at the Franco coal face and of course Stephen Thrower has performed the same critical miracles for JF as he has rendered unto Lucio Fulci. Thrower supplies supplementary analyses on both of these discs that are every bit as compelling and informative as you would expect… for example, anybody labouring under the misapprehension that the dirtiest trick ever played on the world by an Argentinian footballer was Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal will be disabused of any such notion when they learn that Hėctor Yazalde was responsible, after marrying “Britt Nichols”, for this stunning actress’s subsequent disappearance from the exploitation movie scene… what a miserable old Hector!

Thrower suggests, with some justification, that this brace of pacey and exploitive titles constitute an ideal introduction to Franco for the uninitiated who might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Your journey through a thousand Franco films might usefully starts with this couple of steps but beware… there’s plenty in the old boy’s filmography that will tax your attention span a lot more rigorously than this. As a rough indicator of the sheer volume of material that awaits you (with predictable consequences for quality control), in the same year that Franco authored these two little gems he was also responsible for A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Lovers Of Devil’s Island, The Secret Diary Of A Nymphomaniac, Eugénie, Inside A Dark Mirror, The Mystery Of The Dead Castle, Tender And Perverse Emanuelle, The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff  and the unfinished Relax Baby.

My favourite moment from these hugely enjoyable discs occurs during the bonus interview with Franco on The Demons where the director disavows any interest in sado-masochism and claims that there’s a negligible amount of such imagery in his films. His interviewer, David Gregory, is audibly, understandably and almost tangibly nonplussed.

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