Monthly Archives: March 2020

Thrilling To Gilling … Swashbuckling Matinee Madness On INDICATOR’S FIFTH HAMMER BD BOX SET

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Hammer Volume 5: Death & Deceit.
BD. Indicator. Region B. 12.

VISA TO CANTON (Michael Carreras, 1961) World BD premiere.
THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (John Gilling, 1962) UK BD premiere.
THE SCARLET BLADE (John Gilling, 1963) World BD premiere.
THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR (John Gilling, 1965) World BD premiere.

Although he’s better remembered for his Hammer Horror credits (notably the superior 1966 brace The Reptile and Plague Of The Zombies, less notably for the following year’s lack-lustre The Mummy’s Shroud or 1961’s The Shadow Of The Cat… though the latter is regarded as something of an underrated gem by Hammer aficionados) John Gilling directed a similar amount of Hammer’s swashbuckling adventure yarns (stirring tales of derring-do for boys of all ages), including the lion’s share of this latest limited edition Hammer box from Indicator, which easily maintains the high standards set by its predecessors.

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… and we’ll just gloss gently over Gilling’s Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1952)

It’s received wisdom, in certain quarters, that Hammer kept the UK film industry afloat during the 1960s with its “lavish productions”, but anything more rigorous than a cursory squint at these films themselves  (never mind the cheese-paring anecdotes related in the supplementary materials here) reveals a modus operandi not too far removed from that of Jess Franco himself, with stock footage of crowd and battle scenes cheerfully filched from other pictures.

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Notoriously, the sea dogs in Gilling’s The Pirates Of Blood River (and I guess the clue was right there in that title) don’t even have a ship from which to fly their Jolly Roger, unless you count the stock footage galleon floating around under the film’s titles or a conspicuous model thereof, briefly glimpsed later in the picture. Instead, the dubiously accented Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, fresh off of Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World but, four years after Dracula, still billed beneath Kerwin Mathews and TV actor Glenn Corbett) leads his posse of pretty and not so pretty boys through waterways populated by ravenous piranhas (for the purposes of the story) and (in real life) raw human sewage! Tall, dark and gruesome, Lee managed to keep his head above the scum line but if you study the relevant sequences diligently, you might be able to work out the precise moment at which Oliver Reed (as LaRoche’s sidekick Brocaire) contracted an eye infection.

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The Pirates of Poo Pond…

By all accounts Gilling was a martinet with little interest in endearing himself to his actors and about as much regard for Health & Safety as the people who put that cladding on Grenfell Tower. In The Scarlet (Crimson, States-side) Blade, we learn, only the threat of a walk out by the crew dissuaded him from staging a hanging stunt in such a way that the actor involved was in very real peril of asphyxiation. It’s interesting to see Michael Ripper (generously basted in Bisto as gypsy Pablo) in that film, “riding a horse” (but quite clearly not) against a blatant back projection, having witnessed another thespian coming an equestrian cropper under Gilling’s direction. Ripper, incidentally, gets much meatier roles in many of these adventure yarns than he could ever have hoped for in Hammer’s more celebrated Gothic Horrors… he’s also great as knife throwing Pirate Mack (get it?) in Blood River.

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While he was never going to be voted humanitarian of the year by his collaborators, Gilling was that rarest of commodities in early ’60s British Cinema, a writer / director and one with a real knack for moral ambivalence and character development. In POBR Mathews’ Jonathan Standing finds his good standing in an island community of stuffy Huguenots seriously undermined when his affair with another man’s wife is discovered. She tries to elude her shame by running into a piranha infested river (with predictable results) while he’s sentenced by a jury of elders (chaired by his emotionally torn father) to a spell in a particularly brutish labour camp. Liberated from this hell hole by those pirates, Standing throws his lot in with them, on condition that they treat the rest of the islanders (including a pre-pubescent Dennis Waterman) with clemency. When they laughingly renege on this undertaking, Standing has to reconsider his position all over again…

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Hammer never saddled up for any ostensible oaters but Pirates and its companion pieces are clearly crypto-Westerns. The obvious literary model, meanwhile, is the story of Coriolanus, as evoked by Shakespeare via Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s The Lives Of The Noble Grecians And Romans. Gilling continues to plunder this palimpsest with further not so simple minded thrills and spills in the aforementioned Scarlet Blade, wherein Olly Reed’s Roundhead Capt. Tom Sylvester oscillates between careerism (masquerading as the call of duty and devotion to Lionel Jeffries’ Col. Judd) and lust (masquerading as love) for Judd’s Royalist sympathising daughter Clare (June Thorburn) who secretly supports the fifth column activities of the Zorro-like title character, Edward Beverley, played by Jack Hedley. Maybe if I’d opened my pitch for a Hedley interview with this one rather than the scarlet blades he encountered in lucio fulci’s The New York Ripper (1982), I might have got somewhere…

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The film is simple-mindedly pro-Cavalier and freighted with anachronisms and inaccuracies but Gilling is clearly less interested in such stuff than he is in individual conscience and its attendant dilemmas. In distinct contrast to Reed’s character’s death in Pirates (“Ooh mama”, indeed!) Sylvester’s character contradictions ultimately explode in one of the the most scenery-chewing death scenes ever committed to celluloid.

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There’s more of the same in The Brigand Of Kandahar, with half-caste (as he would have been referred to in those days) British officer Case (Ronald Lewis) again falling from grace on account of an illicit affair (his peers disapproval here compounded by considerations of class and the taboo of miscegenation). He takes up arms against the British Empire with the dreaded Eli Khan (Reed getting to wear the boot blacking on his face this time) before the latter’s duplicity and casual cruelty make for second thoughts… further complicated bt the erotic attentions of Yvonne Romain’s “Ratina” (!?) Stay tuned for a “lust in the dust” styled denoument and plenty of other stuff subsequently lampooned in Carry On Up The Khyber (1968).

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Gilling went on to direct episodes of such iconic ITC television series as The Saint, The Champions and Department S and… after relocating to Spain (where he died in 1984), Cross Of The Devil, (1975)… a semi-canonical entry in the Blind Dead / Templars cycle.

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Michael Carreras’s Visa To Canton (“Passport To China” for the American market) is a significantly less sophisticated proposition than any of the above, in fact you could comfortably dismiss it as a pale Bond knock off… until you check your dates! Ian Fleming’s greatest creation first saw the light of the silver screen in Terence Young’s Dr. No, two years after Richard Basehart’s Don Benton used his Far East travel agency as a front to foil some fiendish Oriental insurgency (Hammer’s track record in this area doesn’t hold up well to PC scrutiny… Anthony Bushell’s Terror Of The Tongs was made back to back with Visa To Canton but Red Communism was clearly supplanting inscrutable supervillains as the “Yellow Peril”), wooing the dangerously glamorous Lisa Gastoni while doing so. It would be overstepping the mark to claim 007 as a Benton clone (Visa To Canton looks like it’s striving to set up a few sequels but presumably those were deemed surplus to requirement after international audiences had bonded with Bond) but the music’s another matter and it’s here that David Huckvale’s diverting bonus discourses on the OSTs to the films in this box proves most telling, pointing out the influence on Monty Norman’s 007 theme from the ostinatos that Edwin Astley (Pete Townshend’s father-in-law, BTW) fashioned for Visa To Canton.

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As on Indicator’s previous Hammer sets, this one is stuffed with extras. Horror author Stephen Laws provides well informed but pleasantly fannish introductions to each film, female critics profile their leading actresses (here it’s Josephine Botting on June Thornburn, Melanie Williams on Yvonne Romain and Virginie Sélavy on Lisa Gastoni, while Kat Ellinger handles  Marla Landi (great to learn that she became Lady Dashwood after marrying Sir Francis, whose namesake ancestor founded the Hellfire Club!) Audio commentaries come courtesy of Vic Pratt, Kevin Lyons and (for Pirates) screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye and Hammer historian Marcus Hearn. You get the expected trailers, image galleries all and the “Collectors Booklet” stuff I never set eyes on.

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Strewn among the remaining extras, we find such treats as Stephen Laws interviewing Andrew Keir (who found Quatermass And The Pit director Roy Ward Baker about as likeable as everybody else here found John Gilling) at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in 1993; Jonathan Rigby’s extensive personal reminiscences of top Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster; appraisals of Gilling from Kim Newman and Neil Sinyard,  the latter likening him to Val Lewton, no less. Yes, We Have No Piranhas is an exhaustive video essay on Pirates of Blood River’s censorship travails, with split screen comparisons detailing every excised piranha bite. We also learn that the BBFC (whose John Trevelyan remembered TPOBR as the only film he ever busted down from an ‘X’ certificate to a ‘U’) insisted on the volume of whip cracks being reduced!

The Gilling stuff has been beautifully remastered and Visa To Canton looks OK. This is another cracking box set limited to 6,000 numbered units, so what are you waiting for? Grab yourself a piece of the action, right now…

 

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Murder Cadabra… THE MAD MAGICIAN Reviewed.

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BD. Region Free. Indicator. 12.

“I don’t want to miss your opening”, Police Lt Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal) tells cute Karen Lee (Mary Murphy) before her debut in a new stage production… and that’s a bit forward of him, if you ask me. And exactly what kind of a show is this, anyway? Actually it’s a magic show in which she’s the glamorous assistant to Gallico The Great (Don Gallico to his Mum), as played by Vincent Price. The show will climax with “The Lady And The Buzzsaw”, a variation on the old “sawing a woman in half” routine that GTG confidently expects to be his launchpad to a glittering Broadway run. Never mind the buzzsaw, Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph), Gallico’s killjoy boss in his day job at Illusions, Inc arrives with an injunction to stop this magical milestone being performed. Turns out that he’s got contractual dibs on anything his employees create and he’s saving the buzzsaw extravaganza for The Great Rinaldi (John Emery), a rival magician who’s been taking the plaudits for Don’s creations for years.

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The next time Gallico encounters his boss, the latter adds insult to injury by reminding him how he stole his wife. Mad? This magician’s bloody furious and responds by turning a radical revamp of that buzzsaw gag on his tormentor, then stashing the severed head in a Gladstone bag. He disposes of Ormond’s body on a bonfire but when an unfortunate bag mix up leads to that severed noggin being delivered to the cops he masks up, assumes his victim’s identity and goes on the lam. He rents a room but as luck (and Crane Wilbur’s delightfully barmy screenplay) would have it, his busy body landlady, Alice Prentiss (Lenita Lane) is a  crime novelist whose most recent best seller, Murder Is A Must, turns on the notion that once somebody’s carried out their first murder, they’ll be obliged to commit more and more of them to cover their tracks. Sticking her nose in where it’s not wanted, she engineers a reunion between “Ormond” (and Gallico)’s duplicitous former wife Claire (Eva Gabor), setting off a chain of events which neatly confirms the thesis of her novel, as Don is obliged to bump off more people, don more masks and adopt more identities, with exponentially compounding complications. Think “The Talented Mr Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” meets Man Of A Thousand Faces.

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If Vincent Price’s career move from suave smoothy to Horror Icon (with those Corman collaborations, Phibes, Witchfinder General, et al to come) began in André De Toth’s House Of Wax (1953) it was sealed by this one, directed by John Brahm the following year … in fact Columbia were so keen to jump on Warner’s 3D bandwagon that they started shooting The Mad Magician before De Toth’s film was released. The stereoscopic gimmick isn’t even particularly well deployed. Instead of showcasing the shock / action / murder set pieces, it’s mostly frittered away on throwaway shots of playing cards, squirts of water and yo-yos being thrust in your face. Price, in stark contrast with all of these shenanigans, plays it admirably straight, though one might well speculate that he picked up his renowned subsequent hamming habit from John Emery’s ripe overperformance here as The Great Rinaldi.

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This is great goofball fun, for maximum enjoyment of which I would recommend that you screen The Mad Magician in a double bill with Herschell Gordon Lewis’s completely crazed The Wizard Of Gore (1970)… you won’t believe your eyes!

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Limited, as usual to 3,000 copies, Indicator’s The Mad Magician has been restored in 2K for its UK BD premiere and is presented in both two and three dimensional options. There’s a Jonathan Rigby commentary track as well as a featurette on ’50s cinematic 3D from archivist Tim Vincent and cinematographer Frank (Kubo and the Two Strings) Passingham for you to enjoy. As well as the expected trailer, image gallery and collector’s booklet (which I haven’t seen yet), you get not one but two cut-down Super 8 presentations of the film… and to put the tin hat on it, justifying the purchase price by themselves, a couple of stereoscopic shorts from the mighty Three Stooges, Spooks! and Pardon My Backfire (both 1953). Whaddya mean, you don’t dig The Stooges?!? College Boy, huh? If the spectacle of Mo, Larry and Shemp poking each other in the eye, sticking forks up each other’s noses, setting fire to each other’s pants, springing mouse traps on each other’s tongues and being attacked by a vampire bat that looks suspiciously like Curly Howard – all in glorious 3D – doesn’t significantly elevate your mood, then you’re already dead…

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Dog Eat Dog… Social Mobility / Social Cleansing In PARASITE & BACURAU.

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Parasite  (South Korea, 2019) Directed by Bong Joon Ho.

Bacurau (Brazil / France, 2019) Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho.

Spoiler Alert. Be alert for spoilers. You’re welcome.

I imagine many of our readers will have seen (and probably loved) Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite… and it’s not often that I get to say that, with any degree of confidence, about an Academy Award winning film. If you did, then allow me to recommend, for your serious consideration, Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Bacurau (2019), which handles the same theme of struggling to get by on the sharp end of globalising neo-liberalism in a similarly devastating but contrastingly balls-to-the-wall style and which I recently caught due to the good offices of those splendid folks at Nottingham’s ever-wonderful Mayhem Festival.

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Bong’s brilliant social satire jarringly juxtaposes two cliché takes on life in South Korea… the dispossessed dog eaters and the shiny happy people from the K-Pop videos (a third, that of staring down the barrel of nuclear annihilation, is briefly alluded to in the unlikely event that the viewer starts feeling too comfortable). Cracking performances from all concerned (what a missed opportunity, not to have nominated any of the cast for their own Oscars) and Bong’s assured direction and (with Jin Won Han) skilful screen-writing gloss over a couple of glaring plot improbabilities in the service of a beautiful narrative edifice which keeps us guessing as it shifts seamlessly back and forth between social comment, comedy, suspense, high farce, pathos, romance, eroticism and all-out Horror. Parasite also takes its time introducing us to and stoking our sympathy for the characters, ensuring that it really registers with us when the shit finally does hit that fan. Asian filmmakers have always seemed to grasp this principle more readily than their Anglo counterparts (I’m still recovering from what happened to that palpably nice guy in Takashi Miike’s Audition, 1999…)

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Likewise, Bacurau takes its own sweet time familiaring us with the the odd conventions and even odder characters of its eponymous, isolated Brazilian village community. Initially disorientated, we come to feel at home with these incorrigible salts of the Earth, determinedly individualistic but inextricably bound by custom and community. Slimy mayoral candidate Tony Jr (Thardelly Lima) can’t buy their votes with his shoddy largesse or intimidate them by messing with their water supply… so what’s a corrupt politician to do? Simps. He deploys sophisticated satellite technolgy to wipe Bacurau off the face of the map before selling it and its inhabitants to insane white hunters who move in to do the job for real.

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In contrast to the constant genre switch-hitting of Parasite, this is a prolonged, intense riff on Richard Connell’s oft-filmed yarn Hounds Of Zaroff / The Most Dangerous Game, factoring in a splash of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) when Pacote (Thomas Aquino) reconnects with and seeks the protection of his exiled gang banger mates, led by the fearsome Lunga (played by Silvero Pereira as a man on a dual mission to humble the aggressors and single-handedly drag the mullet back into fashion).

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You can bet your bottom sheet of bog roll that Pasolini (the prophet of this whole consumer fascist groove thang), were he still alive, would want to have been cast in this epic of unalienated, authentic folk culture vs elitist savagery (he was great in Carlo Lizzani’s Kill And Pray, 1967). As it stands, the film benefits greatly from the charismatic contributions of Sonia Braga (on the side of the angels) and as Michael, leader of the killers, Udo Kier (now on the cusp of his eighth decade appearing in out there movies and still giving great face).

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The hunters profess varying motivations… there’s the American prison guard who thinks he’s stamping out criminality, the white supremacist couple who think they’re defusing a demographic time-bomb, then there are unabashed thrill killers, like the guy who admits that he’s only come for the body count and Julia (Julia Marie Peterson) who just wants to shoot anything that moves (and looks insanely sexy while doing so).

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Michael’s motivation is harder to figure and he’s ultimately buried beneath the weight of his own contradictions, not to mention the healing soil of Bacurau. By definition, it is suggested, the Sadean operating principle of “sworn to fun, loyal to none” cannot prevail against the inderdependant human values of community, though Michael sounds a stark warning just before he is interred forever in his bunker… “This is only the beginning!”

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The gap between the two philosophies is so pronounced that the drone the hunters use to locate their victims and keep score (reducing the common people to disposable cyber sprites in some perverse video game) might as well be a flying saucer – which is exactly what it looks like – and in this particular clash of cultures, it’s not too hard for the viewer to pick sides. Michael and co are so outright atrocious that we have no qualms whatsoever cheering the villagers on as they righteously extract their brutal communal justice (Lunga’s line: “Did I go too far?” brought the house down when I saw the film). Time to check our own levels of bloodlust. Maybe if you dig deep enough, we’re not that far removed from Michael and co…

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Giving Jess Enough Rope… Ennui & Ecstasy In Franco’s CRIES OF PLEASURE.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

“Martina’s getting out of the insane asylum. She’s a schizophrenic… a nymphomaniac… you’ll like her!”

Since the boy Freudstein’s Zine debut, various critical consensuses have mutated in a way that nobody could possibly have predicted. Terence Fisher, for example, has been unceremoniously dumped from the pantheon of Great Horror Directors, while lavish box sets and coffee table tomes are now devoted to the formerly despised likes of Andy Milligan, Al Adamson and Jess Franco. In fact the inexorable rise of Franco from pariah to fanzine favourite to filmmaker worthy of serious critical attention probably encapsulates this change (slide?) in popular and academic taste more neatly than anything else I’ve witnessed in the 35 years or so that I’ve been writing about this stuff.

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Severin continue their stalwart contributions to this alarming cultural phenomenon with a spanky new BD edition of JF’s 1982 effort Cries Of Pleasure (“Gemidos De Placer”), beautifully scanned in 4k from the original negative. Plot wise, there’s nothing much new going on here (stop me if you’ve heard this before but Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay and another couple of uninhibited floozies, plus an idiot savant flamenco guitarist, repair to an architectural folly on the Costa Del Sol for an interminable bonkathon, involving but not restricted to the inevitable Emmanuelle-patented wicker furniture) but the real novelty is in this one Franco attempts to emulate (sort of) Hitchcock’s experiment in Rope (1948) by constructing his picture as a collage of a very few long, long takes.

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While this has the upside of eliminating some of the noodling passages and messier edits that disfigure certain other Franco productions, long passages of people having it off present their own challenges to the viewer’s attention span… especially when the sex is so palpably faked. The one brief glimpse we get of Mayans’ stauner (thanks to Rachael Dunnett for that one) is decidedly more Limp Bizkit than Led Zeppelin. Portrait_de_Sade.jpgTo ward off impending ennui, Franco manages to introduce significant plot twists at just about the right moments. Although the film’s titles suggest that this is an adaptation of De Sade (just for a change, eh Jess?) and there are nods throughout to the passionate philosophy of Donatien Alphonse François (“We belong to the chosen ones, to whom everything is allowed” … “Isn’t that wonderful, Julia? The throbbing and trembling pussy of somebody who’s about to die!”), Cries Of Pleasure is actually something more of a kinked-up take on Henri-Georges Clouzot’s überinfluential Les Diaboliques (1955). Although Mayans intrigues with various permutations of the lady libertines against each other… let’s just say that things might not work out exactly how he planned.

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Franco’s frequently favoured DP Juan Soler doubles up here as a retarded handyman / guitarist who wanders in and out of the unfolding orgies, to which he often supplies a musical accompaniment (reminding me of certain scenes from Oshima’s Ai No Corrida… now there’s a truly Sadean film). This guy probably never ever learned to read or write so well, but he can play his guitar just like ringing a bell… remind you of anybody? The elitist, murderous swingers treat him with the contempt they consider appropriate, but we are privy to his internal monologues, including his memories of previous unspeakable atrocities, which makes for an interesting narrative device. An unreliable witness, he is abandoned by the surviving characters (“They’re strange people”, he ventures) as they head off in search of “unlimited debauchery”. Well, I ask you… are there any high profile precedents for a corpse (bearing signs of sexual trauma) turning up in somebody’s swimming pool without the owner of said pool facing serious legal consequences? Actually, now you mention it…

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A tasty array of special features includes Stephen Thrower visiting various exotic Franco Locations in Portugal (and clearly having the time of his life), Donald Farmer’s 1993 video interview with Lina and (mostly) Jess, plus Thrower’s characteristically engaging discourse on the director’s time with Golden Films and Cries Of Pleasure in particular. All of these run over as continuing featurettes on Severin’s companion release, Franco’s Night Of Open Sex (1983, below).

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Blood & Brown Fur… WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY Reviewed.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

The question is not “Who is the murderer?”… but “Who is the werewolf?” (The challenge thrown down to viewers during the legendary “Werewolf break” in Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die,  1974).

Before it found a particularly convivial setting in the early-mid ’70s thrillers of Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi’s obsession with the Whodunnit plotting of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) was expressed via some unlikely outlets, none more unlikely than Lycanthropus, directed by Paolo (The Day The Sky Exploded) Heusch (as “Richard Benson”) in 1961.

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Despite a dodgy discharge from his previous employers, Doctor Julian Olcott (Carl Schell) takes up a new position at a reform school for bad girls, supposedly located somewhere in England (though the locations are conspicuously Italian). Fortuitously (for the real culprit) his arrival coincides with a spate of slayings in which various residents and staff members are messily bumped off, for which Dr Jules naturally becomes the prime suspect, ahead even of philandering pedagogue and blackmail victim Sir Alfred Whiteman (Maurice Marsac) and general dogsbody Walter (“Allan Collins” / Luciano Pigozzi, whose resemblance to Peter Lorre always puts him in the frame). Striking up an alliance (not to mention a romantic entanglement) with boot camp babe Priscilla (Barabara Lass, who was nearing the end of her marriage to Roman Polanski during the making of this picture), the doc sets about the task of unearthing the actual killer’s identity (and their shaggy dog back story, into the bargain…)

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While the transformation scenes are handled with simple efficiency, they’re not the main point of interest here. Lycanthropus is clearly cut from the same cloth in which the incipient giallo genre was being fashioned. The milieu of intriguing young minxes and their corrupt custodians in a claustrophobic setting rings a bell or two with Mario Bava’s seminal 1964 effort Blood And Black Lace (and is it just me, or does Barbara Lass bear an incidental resemblance to Leticia Roman from Bava’s earlier The Girl Who Knew Too Much?)

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Antonio Margheriti’s The Miniskirt Murders (1968) also rehashes several elements from Heusch’s films, not least the presence of “Collins” / Pigozzi and Lycanthropus’s giallo legacy stretches far further than that… tracking shots of night time chases through the woods and compositions of female victims reclining in stretches of water had me wondering if this is one of the films screened by Argento before he got cracking on Phenomena (1985).

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Renato Del Frate’s crisp b/w cinematography is well served throughout in this new 2k scan from archival elements. Special features include an interview with the great Gastaldi, a David Del Valle-moderated commentary track from Curt Lowens (who plays Director Swift in the movie), trailers, and the alternative US titles… commercially inspired by any amount of contemporary werewolf flicks, Lycanthropus went out as Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory States-side, with a terrible tacked-on opening song (“The Ghoul In School”) that is clearly attempting to invoke the spirit of AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). My early bird copy contained a mini-repro of the original promotional photo-comic and a bonus CD of Armando Trovajoli’s OST. Nice!

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He’s Coming To Get You, Barbara… BYLETH Reviewed

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Don’t remember seeing Udo Kier in this one, but there you go…

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

When the Duke Lionello (Mark Damon) and his sister Barbara (Claudia Gravy, who appeared in some Jess Franco pictures but, as far as I know, never in any adaptations of the works of Robert Browning) were growing up on their family’s ancestral Lazio pile, they were such loving siblings that they play-acted getting married when they were older. Ah, cute. Barbara, as you would expect, grew out of this whimsical little fantasy… Lionello never quite managed to do so. When Barbara returns from a spell in Venice, her brother is overjoyed but she harshes Lionello’s mellow big time by announcing that she’s now hitched to Giordano (Aldo Bufo Landi). A big girl’s blouse in a frilly shirt, Lionello goes into angsting overdrive, moping around his castle, spying on the bonking couples with which it seems to be littered and enjoying his own odd assignations with prostitutes (very odd… he can’t seem to rise to the occasion with any woman who isn’t Barbara). He even hides in Barbara’s wardrobe, caressing her petticoats while he watches her and Giordano gittin’ it on through the keyhole,

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Unfortunately a series of the women Lionello spies on and / or fails to satisfy start turning up dead, somebody having stabbed them in their throats with a three pronged knife. But who is that somebody? A handy dandy priest (Antonio Anelli) turns up to advise the police that such a weapon is traditionally handled by Byleth, the Demon of Incest, throwing in bonus biographical information about Byleth’s demonic cohorts , Astorath, Baphomet, Belphegor and so on…

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In the rare moments that the screen isn’t filled with copulating couples, director Leopoldo Savona (better known for such endearingly titled Spaghetti Westerns as God Will Forgive My Pistol, Apocalypse Joe and Pistol Packin’ Preacher… also as the original director of what emerged as Mario Bava’s The Vikings knock-off, Knives Of The Avenger) and one shot co-writer Norbert Blake (anyone smell a pseudonym?) attempt to mix giallo elements into an already overcrowded supernatural-gothic-costume-melodrama-romance mish-mash and fail to pull it off because apart from the obvious suspect, no plausible red herring is even offered. Barbara finally (and a tad arbitrarily) succunbs to Lionello’s advances. We don’t actually see her doing so or him killing her, but it seems both of these things happened, ushering in a misfiring demonic wrap up.

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The demon Byleth, apparently.

Of the two films that most readily occur to me, right off the top of my head, as comparators, I like this one a whole lot better than Alfredo Rizzo’s The Bloodsucker Leads The Dance (1975) but it’s not a patch on Joe D’Amato’s Death Smiles On A Murderer (1973). Byleth is a rather minor effort, but the spaghetti exploitation cognoscenti will want to check out this interesting rarity from 1972. Severin’s 2K restoration has been sourced from an uncut (but somewhat damaged) German negative (as “Trio Der Lust”) with optional German or Italian sound and English subs. No extras.

Next!

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