Monthly Archives: April 2019

There Goes The Neighbourhood… THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED Reviewed

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The House That Vanished (UK / Spain, 1973) aka Scream… And Die! / Psycho Sex Fiend / Don’t Go Into The Bedroom / Please! Don’t Go Into The Bedroom. Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

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Made just three years after Larraz’s feature debut, the mortifying Whirlpool, THTV shuffles that film’s thematic concerns and its director’s personal obsessions (paranoia, glamour photography, gerontophilia) to ultimately disappointing effect. In contrast to its predecessor, the female lead glamour model character (“Valerie Jennings”) isn’t played by a for-real glamour model, though actual actress Andrea Allan, who inevitably brings more nuance and conviction to her role than Viv Neves could muster in Whirlpool, does remind me of Page 3 girl Gillian Duxbury (funny how I can’t remember what I did yesterday but retain encyclopaedic knowledge of women I fancied when I was a teenager… pathetic really, isn’t it?)

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Andrea Allan displays “nuance” (left) and “conviction”.

To the considerable chagrin of her photographer / sort-of-boyfriend Terry (Alex Leppard), Val won’t agree to do pornier shots. Maybe if he had some of those to sell, feckless Terry wouldn’t have to resort to petty crime. Driving Val back from a shoot, he takes a detour into the foggy countryside to burgle a house. Val’s not best pleased when she twigs what he’s up to, even less when it transpires that he’s forced entry into the wrong house, where he and Val are separated and she witnesses an unidentified nut job stabbing a prostitute to death. After escaping the scene and being stalked through a car breaking lot, Val hitches a lift home but loses any trace of where this traumatic incident took place (the house doesn’t actually disappear… though Terry does). Nor, under the circumstances, is she particularly keen to report what happened to the police.

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It wouldn’t be early ’70s erotica without that bloody wicker chair…

Her unease doesn’t exactly abate when Terry’s car turns up parked outside her flat, containing her photographic portfolio, from which one identifying shot of her has been conspicuously pinched. Things get creepier still when the sinister Mister Hornby (Peter Forbes-Robertson) moves into the basement flat with his collection of birds (you’ve seen Psycho, haven’t you?) There’s the possibility of a redemptive romance with art dealer Paul (Karl Lanchbury), then again he’s having it off with his aunt (you’ve seen Whirlpool, haven’t you?) Although veteran smut scribbler Derek Ford is credited with writing THTV, this Wayne Rooneyeque hangover from Whirlpool would seem to reflect the director’s own personal proclivities (yes, tastes in these matters can get more niche than “Page 3 girls from the ’70s”). Val’s friend Lorna Collins (Hammer and Pete Walker alumnus Judy Matheson, below) pays a visit and is promptly raped and strangled.

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Val decides it might be wise to accept Paul’s invite to spend the weekend at his place in the country and after a surprisingly tender love scene, she starts to get the feeling that (hands up if you didn’t see it coming) she’s been in this house before…

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The House That Vanished delivers enough sex and violence (and then some) to satisfy your average undemanding deviant’s cinematic desires but its plot, considerably more expansive than that of Whirlpool (which was effectively a chamber piece) hangs together significantly less well and the improbably upbeat ending packs correspondingly less of a punch than the bleak denouement to Larraz’s debut. This one fits the Spanish sleaze brief but to seriously diminishing returns. Fret ye not, Larraz still had it in him to tweak his ingredients yet again and come up with…

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… that’s “Vampyres”, in English money.

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Twisted Neves… José Ramon Larraz’s Mean, Mean WHIRLPOOL Reviewed.

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Now that’s what I call an alternative title…

Whirlpool (Denmark / UK, 1970) aka She Died With Her Boots On / Perversion Flash.  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

I never did get my hands on a review copy of Arrow’s spiffing Blood Hunger – The Films Of José Larraz box set and I certainly can’t afford to buy it (at this point, if you’ve got the required plugin, you’ll be able to hear the smallest violin in the world scratching away) but I did get to access their online Larraz resources while researching an interview with those comely Vampyres Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, affording me the opportunity to rewatch the director’s debut feature Whirlpool as it was intended to be seen, looking a lot better than the nth generation VHS dub of my previous acquaintance… and wow, it finally hit me what a bleak (and arguably mean-spirited) little film this is. I mean, it isn’t quite Saló but, you know, it’s unlikely to turn up anytime soon on the Talking Pictures channel, nestled in between Genevieve and The Good Companions, sponsored by Dormeo…

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In furtherance of her model girl career, the lovely Tulia (Viv Neves) agrees to accompany intense young photographer Theo (Karl Lanchbury) to his Aunt Sara’s place in the country. Aunt Sara, as played by Pia Andersson, is a libidinous libertine involved in a dodgy sexual relationship with her nephew but also partial to a bit of old-girl-on-glamour-girl action. Plying Tulia with drink and surreptitiously administered Mary Jane (Larraz’s idea of smoking a joint can only be described as quaint), they draw her into a game of strip poker and then their lustful bed. Ooh er indeed, Missus.

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Being the liberated young Missy that she is, Tulia’s quite happy with this arrangement but becomes increasingly troubled by traces of her disappeared predecessor in this menáge à trois, a certain Rhonda (Johana Hegger) who even returns in a dream sequence for a sleazy bit of rumpo-pumpo from beyond the grave.

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While they’re taking a brief break from shagging, Theo takes Tulia to the pub to score some more “special fags” from his mate Tom (Andrew Grant), after which they all go for a drive in the country and Theo takes photos of Tom tearing Tulia’s clothes off and assaulting her. Whatever reservations Tulia might entertain about this treatment are soon apparently overcome and she wastes no time jumping back into bed with Theo and Sara. As difficult to swallow as this turn of events might prove for viewers, it seems for a while that we’re possibly headed for a similar plot twist to that in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (a film which seems to owe much to Whirlpool, which itself owes a certain something to Roy Boulting’s Twisted Nerve, 1968) whereby Neves will be revealed as Rhonda’s investigating / avenging sister or lover or whatever. But no… Tulia unearths a set of dodgy prints in Theo’s forbidden darkroom, depicting more rough sex in the woods and deduces from it (in an inspired / improbable joining of the dots) exactly what happened to Rhonda. Before she can even express her dismay, let alone extract any measure of justice, she is definitively – and quite shockingly – silenced.

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Although her big screen career soon hit the buffers (with only one more appearance, as a sexy nun in Paul Morrissey’s 1978 Pete’n’Dud vehicle The Hound Of The Baskervilles) the undeniably statuesque Ms Neves (she was either Vivian or Vivien… sources vary) was perfectly cast in the role of a sexually adventurous, doomed early-70s “dolly bird”. She was one of the Sun’s first Page 3 girls (making her topless debut in May 1970) and the very first woman to appear naked in a British broadsheet when her Fisons Pharmaceuticals ad graced the pages of The Times on 17/03/71. She quit nude modelling in early 1973, expressing herself embarrassed and disillusioned, though in the mid-’80s she set up a glamour modelling agency and her daughter Kelly followed in her footsteps onto Page 3 during the ’90s. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1979, Neves passed away on 29th December 2002.

In his feature debut, José Ramon Larraz begins to embroider themes that he would continue to embellish through such subsequent offerings as Deviation (1971), The House That Vanished (1973), Symptoms and Vampyres (both 1974, with Lanchbury cropping up again in the latter)… country retreats in the spooky English countryside (as similarly portrayed by fellow Catalan Jorge Grau in Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, 1974), dangerous secrets, a sense that some tragic history is playing itself out again, emergent psychosis in a milieu of uninhibited and ultimately deadly sexual indulgence… Larraz obviously experienced a sense of artistic liberation in swinging England after escaping the repressive atmosphere of Franco era Spain, but if you can take the boy out of Franco era Spain… well, the converse is not necessarily true.

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When Tulia is cut down before she can offer the expected rationale for continuing to participate in orgies with these obvious nut cases, one theoretical explanation… and the one that you might feel Larraz is nudging you towards… is that her character’s just an irredeemable hussy who simply “had it coming”. Despite the mitigating chuckles to be had along the way over some of Whirlpool’s wardrobe excesses and equally florid patches of dialogue, that remains the most troubling aspect of this truly troubling picture.

Alongside that Larraz box set, Arrow are also releasing Stelvio Cipriani’s haunting OST on vinyl, pop-pickers…

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“Cor, that Viv Neves was one fit bird…”

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Ha Ha Ha… Boom Boom! * THE FOX WITH THE VELVET TAIL Reviewed

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* With apologies to those who are too young to remember Basil Brush (you poor bastards…)

(As “In The Eye Of The Hurricane”). BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

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Can the Spanish do giallo? Sundry senors have had a go at in on various occasions, with approaches ranging from León Klimovsky’s on-the-nose A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1975) to Pedro Almodóvar’s postmodern Matador (1986… that’s postmodern as in “featuring a serial killer who masturbates over a quota conscious compilation of gore highlights from Bava’s Blood And Black Lace and Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon”) and of course many films thought of as spaghetti slashers were actually Italo / Spanish co-productions, e.g. Mario Bava’s Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1970), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971), Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball (1975)… and the title under consideration here.

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Viewers attracted to José Maria Forqué’s The Fox With The Velvet Tail / In The Eye Of The Hurricane by some perceived connection with Dario Argento’s international thriller hit The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) might well have been perplexed by its relative bloodlessness and low body count (one man and his poisoned dog)… but only if the presence of Jean Sorel in its cast had not already alerted them to the fact that Forqué is here following the pre-BWTCP bonkbusting template set down by the likes of Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968) and Umberto Lenzi’s A Quiet Place To Kill (1971) in both of which Sorel had taken the male lead, daring viewers to guess whether his bland, masculine good looks conceal nefarious intentions or whether (as in Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story, 1969) there’s a double bluff going on and there really is nothing more than an ineffectual numpty lurking beneath that smooth exterior.

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Bland? Numpty? Moi?

Carroll Baker, Sorel’s usual foil from those films is missing here but Argentinian substitute Analía Gadé brings the same qualities that she did… a good looking woman who’s vulnerable and possibly a little past her physical prime, an observation I make not to indulge petty sexist prejudices but to underscore the appropriateness of her casting as Ruth, a woman rebounding from her apparently steady but unsatisfying husband Michel (“Miguel” in some releases… played by Tony “Return Of The Evil Dead” Kendall) into the arms of Sorel’s exciting, edgy Paul, who spirits her away to an exclusive coastal resort for the time of her life (what’s left of it!)

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The subsequent accumulation of luxury detail (pet swans, not to mention swan sculptures stuffed with caviar… exclusive disco dates, et al) is a tale told at a pretty langourous pace. We’re half an hour in before Ruth’s brakes have been tampered with, leading to a white knuckle ride down the side of a mountain road. At this point in a typical Sergio Martino giallo, Edwige Fenech would have taken at least three showers and been menaced by various permutations of several would be assassins, sex cases and people who’ve taken out insurance policies on her. Forqué steps up the pace immediately thereafter, though, with a sequence involving sabotaged scuba diving gear… is somebody trying to kill her? Or to kill Paul?

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Miguel pays them a visit and immediately falls under suspicion, but what about Paul’s mysterious “war buddy” Roland (Maurizio Bonuglia)… and just what exactly is Daniella (Rosanna Yanni), the sunbathing bimbo from next door, up to? Turns out, when Ruth eavesdrops on the rest of the cast (during an unfortunate outbreak of mass indiscretion) that just about all of them are planning to do her in and divide her estate before she can divorce Michel … all of this only about half way through the film’s running time, but rest assured that from here on in things start getting really complicated… and not a little kinky. Needless to say, there are several twists on route to the ambiguous conclusion of this tawdry tail. Special mention for a great performance from Sorel, whose character seems to degenerate before our very eyes as the seamy, steamy plot details unfold.

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Forqué clearly has a painterly eye for compositions and a pleasing facility with lurid colour palettes. The film’s various scrumptious Spainsh and Italian locations are beautifully rendered by co-directors of photography Giovanno Bergamini and Alejandro Ulloa if, indeed, you believe that they both worked on the picture. Was this anything more than quota satisfying fiction? Maybe one of them handled the undersea photography? Whatever, 88 (some of whose transfers have drawn criticism) do a spanky job presenting the main feature here. Piero Piccioni compliments the overwrought visuals with an appropriately lush OST, the high point of which is a (sadly unidentified) pastiche of Woolworth’s Warwick warbling ersatz Bacharach.

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Extras include a trailer, reversible sleeve, alternative titles and credit sequence, plus a silent “clothed” version of one love scene. “No sound, no T&A, no point!” you’re probably thinking (you uncouth bunch!) and while Forquée goes through the glossy gears efficiently enough, TFWTVT – seamy, steamy and swinging as it is – might well leave you hankering for something a little more sleazily transgressive. If so, tune into Parts 2 & 3 of this Spanish-themed Weekender for a double dose of louche Larraz lunacy…

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Hung up down snogging didn’t start in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman. No Siree, Bob..

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Toy Division… PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH Reviewed

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (USA / UK, 2018). Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund.

Nazi atrocities reinterpreted via the conventions of the stalk’n’slash genre… what offence could conceivably be taken? In cinemas, now.

Hey, ho, let’s go… I haven’t exactly been an avid follower of Charles Band’s Puppet Master franchise, despite the fact that this Blog’s fairy godmother Irene Miracle starred in David Schmoeller’s 1989 original. If you’re approaching the latest sequel / reboot in a similar state of woeful ignorance, you might well appreciate its pre-titles recap of “the Toulon massacre” that kicked off all this shit in the first place. Blink and you’ll miss HOF Hall-Of-Famer Udo Kier under heavy burns make up as evil puppeteer Andre Toulon.

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Cut to the present day, where recently divorced comic book writer Edgar Easton (Thomas Lennon) moves back in with Mom and Dad, in fact into the bedroom of his puppet-collecting brother, who died under mysterious circumstances. On a more positive note, he embarks on a heated affair with girl next door Ashley Summers (Jenny Pellicer) and together with his wise-cracking schlubb of a buddy / comic store co-worker Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) they take a road trip to a convention marking (well, celebrating, really) the 30 anniversary of that massacre, in the hope of auctioning off one of Ed’s dead brother’s Andre Toulon puppets. You might well be thinking at this point that they and the other attendees deserve all they get. Which turns out to be plenty…

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Having taken ten minutes or so to establish the protagonists’ characters and back stories, Laguna and Wicklund spend the rest of the picture trotting out a succession of eye-wateringly inventive splatter set pieces (appropriately enough in a film going out under the reactivated Fangoria banner… its co-directors both seem to have backgrounds in prosthetic effects and  look like they were probably weaned on that mag in its heyday) when the undead Toulon launches a telekinetic campaign from his crypt (as you do), mobilising his repulsive toys in a  blitzkrieg of butchery against the minority groups he so despises.

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Many of the victims are messily dispatched while having sex which is, in itself, one of the dodgier tropes of the stalk’n’slash cycle that Laguna and Wicklund are so gleefully invoking… but that’s the least of this film’s transgressions against political correctness. Most of the victims are also Jewish (including the couple who congratulate themselves on surviving The Holocaust, only to have their faces burned off by a flame thrower wielding killer puppet) but a lesbian is carved up in her bath and a gypsy ends up pissing on his own head, which has just been lopped off his shoulders by a puppet piloted drone. “These are hate crimes”, Ed tells dim investigating officer Brown (Michael Paré). No shit, Sherlock.

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My initial exposure to PM:TLR was at the 2018 Mayhem Festival,  and I do recall that it was received with a collective “What the actual fuck?!?” response reminiscent of the audience reaction to Springtime For Hitler in The Producers. Before we’d had a chance to debate its ethical niceties, though, we were watching Mandy, after which nobody could talk about anything but Panos Cosmatos’ tripped out revenge saga. Even so, it was difficult to dismiss the memory of the (jewish) Markowitz pushing a “junior fuhrer” puppet into an oven with the words: “See how you like it!” It was only on a second viewing that the penny dropped for me about the exact significance of the film’s crowning outrage, in which a puppet tunnels up a pregnant woman’s vagina and exits, dragging her unborn foetus and placenta behind it. The “Jew Suss” features of the embryo snatcher suggest only one possible interpretation of this scene, i.e. as a take on the old pogrom promoting myth about Jews using christian children in their passover meals… on a holiday that actually coincides with this release! Tasteless, much? I’m only surprised at the restraint by which this film wasn’t marketed as some kind of dark mirror image to Toy Story, utilising the line “To Buchenwald and Beyond!” The final twist suggesting that everything we’ve seen might be the contents of a comic book written by world-weary Ed comes as little mitigation for a film both violent and politically incorrect enough to make The Gestapo’s Last Orgy look like The Sound Of Music.

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich arrives in UK cinemas at an “interesting” moment in time, where it seems impossible to discuss Israel or The Holocaust or whatever without somebody branding you “an anti-Semite” before you’ve even got two syllables out. God knows what the PC brigade will make of this. The BBFC don’t seem to have found any fault with it but what will The Daily Mail say? (“Hurrah For The Blackshirts Puppets!”, perhaps?)

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The film boasts a better cast than it probably deserves. The principals are likeable (which doesn’t prevent just about all of them being graphically bumped off), Lennon playing it admirably straight-faced throughout. It’s always good to see Barbara Crampton, here as a tart-tongued tour guide / former cop. Must have seemed like old times for the film’s soundtrack composer, Fabio Frizzi, who was Lucio Fulci’s go-to OST guy (come to think of it, the character who gets the back of her head pulled off in a car must have given Frizzi a proper case of the Dunwich deja vu!)

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Now I hear that bloody Chucky is getting relaunched. If that one does OK, how long will it be before producer Band goes for a Dolls reboot? Check your Christmas stocking very carefully, this year…

Puppet Master - The Littlest Reich. Theatrical Poster

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When Irish Eyes Are Screaming a.k.a. The Politically Incorrect Way To Wash Your Underpants… Riccardo Freda’s THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE Reviewed

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Who shivs ya, baby?

BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

“The times we live in!”, as Lucio Fulci once exclaimed before disappearing in a taxi. “Willy Pareto” (Riccardo Freda)’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire, rushed out during 1971 as a sure-fire cash in on the international success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) didn’t, in the event, get much of a release anywhere. In March 1972 British distributor Ben Rose submitted it to the BBFC for theatrical certification, which was promptly refused on the grounds of its florid sadism. Since then it’s only been available on nth generation bootleg VHS dubs and murky DVD-Rs sourced from them. Now, courtesy of Arrow (a label which has released several Freda titles in the last few years, with Double Face on the way) here’s a spanky new 2K restoration, uncut and rated ’15′(!) The times, indeed…

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Now a more general audience can discover (and bootleg watchers can more clearly evaluate) the sheer oddness of this film, in which a serial killer on the loose in Ireland is defacing the proverbial prettiness of Dublin’s female inhabitants with acid before slashing their throats, to be sure. While TIWTTOF’s ineptly rendered gore scenes (courtesy of Lamberto Marini, who did rather better on Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, among others), nasty and mean-spirited as they undoubtedly are, look more laughable than anything these days, the very wilfulness of e.g. its plotting / dialogue / ludicrous Irish dubbing reaches levels only rarely attained by a select few, among whose numbers we can include the visionary likes of Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen.

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Whereas Freda’s 1980 directorial swan song Murder Obsession aka Fear, et al (alternating as it does phoned in-banality and such audacious visual moments as the climactic recreation of Michelangelo’s Pietá) might suggest that, while making it, he was recovering from a stroke (a stroke that he was conceivably in the full throes of while directing 1972’s batshit bonkers Tragic Ceremony) there are signs here of a director who very much knows what he’s doing (there are crane shots and even helicopter shots) but is winking at us and daring us to get the joke during TIWTTOF’s  more ludicrous passages… dreaming, perhaps, that after all this faddish giallo nonsense has blown over, he’ll be back making “proper” pictures like the lavish costume dramas for which he was noted in the ’50s and ’60s. Guess again, Riccardo…

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The film kicks off with Dominique Boschero, playing the mistress of Sobieski, the Swiss ambassador (Anton Diffring) being bumped off in the first of many not-so-grand guignol FX scenes. The fact that she promptly turns up in the boot of his limo (and is discovered there by a bored-looking, possibly catatonic schoolboy) immediately puts the aryan ferrero rocher slinger in the frame, but why is his chauffeur Mandel (familiar giallo face Renato Romano) acting so suspiciously? Come to think of it, why is everybody in the cast acting so bloody suspiciously? Just about all of them seem to own at least one pair of murderous black leather gloves…

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The murder investigation, by Police Inspector Lawrence (Arthur O’Sullivan), is hampered by Sobieski’s diplomatic immunity so he spends a lot of time giving Mandel a hard time, to no avail, then calls in his “secret weapon”… ex-detective John Norton (played by Luigi  Pistilli and seemingly named after his transportation mode of choice). Lawrence recruits Norton to the investigation by sending some of his men round to duff him up, which might seem a perverse tactic… until you consider the circumstances under which Norton (nicknamed “The Beast”) became an ex-detective. As revealed in a recurring Leonesque flashback, this involved the enhanced interrogation of a suspect, so very enhanced that when Norton took a break from beating up on him, the dude grabbed a carelessly placed pistol and blew his own brains out. Yep, that’s definitely gonna piss on your career chips (incidentally, as acknowledged in the audio commentary to this release, the unidentified actor briefly essaying the role of that victim is a particularly fine-looking specimen of manhood).

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Norton’s beastliness is explained by reference to his own wife’s death at the hands of violent criminals, a revelation which fails to make his character any more sympathetic but significantly raises his own status as a suspect. In a clumsy bit of exposition / excruciating dialogue, Lawrence explains the film’s title to Norton… though he’s clearly confusing iguanas with chameleons. Shifting effortlessly from taxonomical error into political incorrectness, Lawrence confidently declares that the killer’s modus operandi is typical of “a woman… or a coloured person!”

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Norton starts dating Helen Sobiesky (the ever lovely giallo icon Dagmar Lassander), apparently unaware (in one of the film’s many improbable narrative spasms) that she’s the ambassador’s daughter. Looks like Dublin’s got no bigger since Bloomsday. He takes her on a date to Ireland’s ravishing coastline and seems to contemplate strangling her and throwing her off a cliff. She’s OK with this. Takes all sorts.

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Meanwhile various other characters are murdered and some gay people are being blackmailed. Or something. A decapitated moggy turns up in somebody’s fridge and every time any pair of spectacles appear on-screen, a burst of Stelvio Cipriani’s most sinister musical theme swells on the soundtrack. During one of the repetitions of the all-important flashback, Pistilli is clearly resorting to that most ludicrous of Francoesque expedients, acting in slow motion! Valentina Cortese’s excellent performance as Sobieski’s wife looks like it belongs in another film and she probably wishes it was. Confused yet?

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Understandably, in view of his long lay off, Norton’s grasp of contemporary police procedure is a bit shaky so he debates the likely guilt or innocence of the various suspects with his elderly mum (Ruth Durley), with whom he lives. I’m reminded of President Carter announcing to a bemused world that he frequently sought advise on nuclear disarmament from his brattish daughter Amy… in fact Norton’s daughter lives with them, too. He mocks his mother’s “Mrs Marples” identification of the culprit, which turns out to be bang on the money. This is no consolation when the killer pays them a visit (in drag) during the film’s genuinely shocking climax, which briefly attains the kind of goofy delirium also seen at the conclusion of Fernando Di Leo’s Cold Blooded Beast, made the same year. Norton intervenes and the killer (whose previous appearances in the film you quite possibly missed if you blink at anything like the normal human rate), apropos of nothing in particular (I mean, he’s already killed plenty of other people) jumps out of a high window, down into the street and through the windshield of a passing car, whose driver seems understandably miffed to find his shredded face puking blood all over the dashboard. It’s suggested that the killer became a misanthrope because he was gay / a slaphead / traumatised by somebody else in his family being a murderer. That somebody else thinks they’ve eluded justice, but there’s a twist in the tail. Award yourself bonus points if you spotted Freda’s cameo as one of the guys who fished Lassander out of The Liffey and… relax. You have been watching Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire.

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Things get a bit iffy on The Liffey for Dagmar Lassander…

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The commentary track, conducted by David “Reprobate” Flint and Adrian J. Smith (author of giallo tome Blood And Black Lace) strikes just the right balance between informative (they made the effort to research and confirm the existence of The Swastika Laundry, in which Dubliners could once tumble their underpants) and fannishly enthusiastic… there really is no alternative to raucous guffawing when confronted by some of TIWTTOF’s unlikelier plot developments and choicer visuals. In a bonus featurette, cultural critic and academic Richard Dyer further accentuates the film’s narrative incoherence, a quality which he found engaging in Sergio Bergonzelli’s In The Folds Of The Flesh but not here. Developing the thesis he previously expounded on the Arrow release of Luigi Bazzoni’s The Lady Of The Lake, he talks up his theme of “the monstrosity of The Family in Italian life”. Editor Bruno Micheli talks about learning his craft from his big sister Ornella, how sex scenes removed by the Censor were surreptitiously spliced back into prints, working closely with Freda and how producer Adolfo Donati was the only man allowed to wear a red tie in the presence of Mussolini.

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Dagmar… the Nancy Allen of her day.

We’ve had a few career-spanning interviews with Dagmar Lassander recently and there’s another here, conducted by Manlio Gomarasca, which starts with her oblique entry into the industry and takes in Lucio Fulci’s misogyny, Freda’s snobbery, Tomas Milian’s charisma and Valentina’ Cortese’s thespian caprices.

OST guru Lovely Jon presents a useful 25 minute primer on the recently deceased Stelvio Cipriani, pushing his claim for a place alongside the “big three” of Morricone, Nicolai and Alessandroni. He discusses the influence of Dave Brubeck, talks us through Cipriani’s deployment of music during three key scenes in the film and – evaluating the killer’s acid chucking, throat slashing MO – offers the verdict: “Fucking ‘ell, that’s some really nasty shit, man!” Indeed.

If your fancy is tickled by what Lovely Jon has to say, Arrow are issuing an LP release of Cipriani’s score too!

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… and yes, that’s two reviews in a row where we neglected to mention (until now) that Werner Pochath was in the film under consideration. So sue us!

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What Do You Wanna Make Those Eyes At Me For? Jess Franco’s THE DEVIL HUNTER On 88 BD.

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“They make me glad, they make me sad, they make me wanna lot of things that I never had”

BD. Region Free. 88 Films. 18.

The Devil Hunter (1980… aka The Man Hunter / Mandingo Man Hunter / Sexo-Canibale or, on this print, plain old El Canibal) 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) racist / sexist 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.

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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 pussy!! Meanwhile Fellner, in chains (a major Franco preoccupation), is being raped by one of the kidnappers, while gang-leader Gisela Hahn (from Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination) enjoys the spectacle from her hammock.

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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, 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, indeed, such a thing ever existed).

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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…

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A gag I seem to have used in several reviews recently runs along the lines of the film in question being sufficiently well remastered to look better than it probably has a right to. This is certainly the case here, a good-looking presentation that underlines the slapdash way that many of these titles were originally thrown out there on VHS (only to be confiscated, in the UK), a point made by both academic and veteran anti-censorship campaigner Julian Petley and our old mate John Martin in Calum Waddell’s 47 minute bonus featurette Franco-Philes: Musings On Madrid’s B-Movie Maverick.

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Other worthies having their say on Franco’s wild and wilful career include ertwhile Fango editor Tony Timpone, Hypnotic Crescendos blogger Rachael Nisbet, Starburst Assistant Editor Martin Unsworth, Andy (Necronomicon) Black and Sitges Film Festival Organiser Mike Hostench, plus Franco collaborators Antonio Mayans, Howard Maurer and Dyanne (Wanda The Wicked Warden herself) Thorne. Nobody has a bad word to say for Franco… then again, I imagine none of them ever sat down to watch Devil Hunter all the way through!

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Jess Franco (1930-2013). We will never see his like again…

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Because She Was Worth It… Jorge Grau’s THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE Reviewed

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“Keep young and beautiful, it’s your duty to be beautiful, keep young and beautiful, if you wanna be loved…” Al Dublin / Harry Warren.

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For longer than I can remember, Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (1974) has featured prominently among my very favourite films and since my earliest fanzine scribblings, I’ve had a lot of journalistic mileage out of it. My sadness over the death of its director on Boxing Day last year was compounded by the fact that Senor Grau’s final illness commenced just as I was on the eve of interviewing him in August 2018. Don’t put off till tomorrow, etc…

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In the last interview he did actually give (to Calum Waddell, published in issue 199 of The Dark Side magazine), JG insisted that the repressive climate of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s fascist regime did not cramp his own film making style. It’s notable, however, that the almost Bunuelian portrayal of rural idiocy, religious mania and  authoritarian policing in his most celebrated offering was shot in the UK, that the same year’s gialloesque effort Puena De Muerte (“The Death Penalty”… misleadingly retitled Violent Bloodbath in English-speaking territories), a meditation on the ethics of capital punishment in totalitarian societies, was shot in Spain but set in France…

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… and that the film under consideration here, the previous year’s Ceremonia Sangrienta / “Bloody Ceremony” (in which a self-serving aristocratic ruling class exploit their backwards assed superstitious serfs to the point of killing them for use as beauty aids) was also shot in Spain but relocated to Eastern Europe.

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Most obviously an Iberian response to Hammer’s Countess Dracula (directed by Peter Sasdy in 1971), The Legend Of Blood Castle / The Female Butcher (to give it its Anglo release titles) fits more generally into the long roll call of movies devoted to the bloody true life outrages of Hungarian Countess Erzsebet Bathory de Ecsed (1560-1614). First rearing her scarlet cinematic head in Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri (1956), the bloodthirsty shade of Bathory can also be detected in Harry Kumel’s Daughter Of Darkness (1971), Vincente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (1972), Luigi Batzella and Joe D’Amato’s The Devil’s Wedding NIght (1973), Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales (1974) and Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part 2 (2007), among countless others. Jess Franco and Jean Rollin tapped into the cinematic potential of the Bathory mythos on numerous occasions and Leon Klimovsky’s La Noche De Walpurgis (1971) is just the first of several run ins between Paul Naschy‘s “tragic wolfman” character Waldemar Daninsky and assorted Bathoryesque villainesses.

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In Grau’s picture Lucia Bose plays an “Erzebeth Bathory” who is descended from the historical anti-heroine and ultimately begins to emulate her misdeeds, though the bloodletting is almost relegated to incidental status relative to the sexually dysfunctional relationship of the principal characters. Grau wastes no subtlety on depicting Erzebeth’s husband, the Marchese Karl (Espartaco Santoni) as a psycho struggling to simultaneously repress his homosexual and homicidal impulses.

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Initially Erzebeth tries to win back his waning affections with the traditional womanly wiles and when she discovers that the blood of a beaten servant girl makes her skin look younger, she needs very little encouragement from her witchy old nanny Nodriza (Ana Farra) to start reviving “the old ways.”  There’s a really sadistic scene in which a little girl is encouraged to play with a doll that has been left lying amid shards of broken glass. But how to entrap and subdue all those stropping young peasant wenches?

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At this point the plot takes a distinct turn into left field, as Karl agrees to drink a preparation that will simulate his own death (the first cinematic mention of the historical Bathory’s alleged penchant for potions). Officially lost to the plague that is haunting the countryside, Karl is now free to kill to his heart’s content, making sure that his victims’ blood drips through a sluice in the floor of his playroom in the attic, below which Erzebeth has positioned her bath tub. Love and sex have been completely subsumed to this odd couple’s true passion…murder, as confirmed when gold-hearted tart Marina (Ewa Aulin), whom we’ve been led to view as the Count’s slim shot at romantic redemption, is done in by him. Finally the pig-ignorant local peasants, who’ve been chalking their ever-dwindling numbers down to vampirism and plague, rumble what’s been happening and storm the castle with the traditional pitchforks, firebrands, et al.

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Nanny has her vicious old tongue cut out (in a scene that will appeal to Mark Of The Devil fans) so she can’t suggest blood sacrifices to anybody else. Like her historical inspiration, this Erzebeth (having stabbed Karl to death – for real, this time, after yet another domestic tiff) is spared execution but bricked up alive, our final sight of her reassuring us that yes, she has degenerated to the point where her looks now reflect the ugliness of her soul.

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It is been suggested that at least some of the releases put out by Mya Communications, whose disc is under review here, were not properly authorised. Whatever, they’ve done a decent job on this one with a print whose not exactly pristine quality somehow adds to the film’s unrelenting atmosphere of oppression and claustrophobia. Sourced as it is from Spanish elements, various peasant strumpet victims remain modestly attired throughout, though out takes from alternative “export” versions of the film, included in the supplementary materials here, significantly boost the tit and bum quotient. You can even, should you choose, watch these alternative takes side-by-side in “comparison mode”. Once you’ve had enough of that, the other extras include Italian and American variations on the title and credit sequences and an international poster gallery.

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