Film Reviews

Close Encounters Of The Lethal Kind… BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON Reviewed.

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“We never set out to make a bad film…” Al Adamson, 1929-1995.

Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death Of Al Adamson (USA, 2019). Directed by David Gregory.

The Severin gang have been making film documentaries since Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth in 2000 and will have clocked up well over 200 of them by the end of their second decade. You’d think they’d be getting good at it by now… and you’d be right. Widely acknowledged as the finest Sev offering yet, this feature length effort has also been touted as the Al Adamson documentary for people that don’t like Al Adamson movies”. Which only begs the question: “What kind of humourless git wouldn’t like an Al Adamson movie?!?”

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“What other director worked with Colonel Sanders, Charles Manson, bikers… and porn people?” asks Michael “Psychotronic” Weldon in the course of this loving tribute to the late, great Al. He neglected to mention Al’s DPs Vilmos Zsigmond (who took the Oscar for Close Encounters in 1977), László Kovács (who never lifted one but shot Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and Ghostbusters) and Gary Graver (below, right, with Al and Angelo Rossitto) who at one point was working simultaneosly for Adamson and Orson Welles and allegedly later handled the second unit work on Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981).

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“You could be sure there were gonna be midgets, lots of breasts, blood and gore, all sorts of fun people and strange things going on”, attests actor / stuntman Gary Kent and if that hasn’t piqued your interest, you’re probably reading the wrong blog. The sheer craziness of Adamson’s films, which include ersatz Spaghetti Westerns, faux Filipino Horrors, bogus Blacksploitation epics, brawling bikers, maniacal monster mash-ups, sexy stewardesses and UFO exposés (all delivered in accordance with Al’s keynote philosophy: “We’re not aiming for academy awards when we shoot pictures, we’re aiming to entertain the audience”), was only matched and ultimately eclipsed by the bizzare facts of the director’s life (and desperately sad death), all told here via archive interviews with the man himself, police footage, film clips, some seriously slick, smart ass graphics and the testimonials of his surviving closest collaborators, family members, friends and fans.

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Al’s father Victor was a for real Antipodean cowboy who made an Ozzie Western (Stockman Joe) in 1910 before emigrating to the States and continuing to ply his trade as actor, director and producer under his favoured “Denver Dixon” alias. He turned down an approach from Universal to pursue a true auteurist path, even handling the distribution of his own pictures. It is said that Al Adamson was conceived during the shooting of one such, The Old Oregon Trail.  Al didn’t want to be a cowboy. Or a director. He wanted to be a song and dance man. When his two left feet put paid to that, “Denver” financed and directed Al’s first starring vehicle Halfway To Hell, only for Adamson Jr to kick him of the picture and complete it himself. It would seem that these two had a bit of a Brian / Murray Wilson relationship going on.

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After Halfway To Hell registered zero interest at the box office, Al was was running a night club in the San Fernando valley and managing singer Tacey Robbins, one of the many muses who motivated most of his career moves. Encouraged by Sam Sherman, ultimately his partner in Independent-International Pictures (“They were like the dream team of tits and terror movie” offers one associate), Al gave it another shot with heist saga Echoes Of Terror. When that one tanked too, Al recut it with go-go dancing footage to come up with Psycho A Go-Go which, in its turn, tanked. Another bunch of radical reshoots ensued and – as Blood Of Ghastly Horror  – the picture enjoyed a modicum of success in 1967.

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The convoluted evolution of this picture holds many clues to the Adamson method, e.g. the casting of women with which he was romantically involved or with whom he was at least infatuated (Regina Carrol, above right, his greatest muse and first wife enters the Adamsonian universe at this time)… the constant recutting and / or remarketing of films that audiences had (at least partly) seen before… and the participation of such Hollywood has beens (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr, J. Carrol Naish, Broderick Crawford… he even briefly resuscitated the career of the remaining Ritz Brothers) and misfits (Russ Tamblyn, interviewed herein) which owed at least as much to Al’s cheapness as any nostalgia for or loyalty to the stars of some notional cinematic Golden Age. His boast that “we put more on the screen per amount of money spent than any body else did” was vindicated via such stunts as giving Colonel Sanders a walk on part and prominent product placement in the 1970 biker flick Hell’s Bloody Devils, in return for which the cast and crew ate KFC for every meal during its shoot (maybe Al transferred his catering budget to the OST department, as this one was scored by Nelson Riddle, no less!) It would be the extension of this cheap attitude towards his domestic help that would prove to be Adamson’s undoing…

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After a run of immortal classics including Blood Of Dracula’s Castle, Satan’s Sadists and Five Bloody Graves (all 1969), Horror Of The Blood Monsters (1970), Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (“Zandor Vorkov” aka Roger Engel, above with Al, who took a brief sabbatical from stockbroking to become the silver screen’s most panned Count Dracula, has his say here), Brain Of Blood and The Female Bunch (all 1971), Angels’ Wild Women (1972), The Naughty Stewardesses (1974) and Black Samurai (1976) , to name but a few, Al’s career prospects (in common with those of his indie auteur contemporaries) were seriously compromised when the major studios started muscling in on traditional drive in / grind house turf (Spielberg’s Jaws, 1975, being an obvious milestone in this regard). Carnival Magic (1981) was an ill advised crack at family entertainment but the biggest blow to Adamson was the death of his wife Regina towards the end of 1992. He turned his attention to various other business ventures, travelling the globe and accumulating property until two things revived his love of film-making, namely a relationship with (and subsequent marriage to) aspiring actress Stevee Ashlock and the flowering of an interest in UFOs and associated conspiracy theories.

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Ashlock (interviewed here and proving to be quite the kooky character) talks about meetings with extra terrestrials, but Al’s fortunes were about to take a depressingly Earthbound turn. Discovering that contractor Fred Fulford was stealing from him while renovating his ranch retreat in Indio, California, Al decided (against Stevee’s advice) to let him work off the debt. Alerted by the director’s subsequent disappearance and the suspicions of his housekeeper Lupe Garcia, police excavated the foundations of a disused jacuzzi room and discovered human remains. Fulford was subsequently convicted of the murder of Al Adamson, though Ashlock and Sherman hint at some “Men In Black” type motivation for the director’s murder. Sherman wonders if Fulford could have been dumb enough to commit such an obviously discoverable crime but as one of the cops who worked the case tells David Gregory: “If  people who  commit crimes were smart, we’d have a hard time catching them” and the very real possibility exists that Fulford was just a very untalented Mr Ripley type.

910hG2FJPyL._SL1500_ copy.jpgIt’s the switch into true crime reportage during its final third that lifts BAF: TRLAGDOFAA a notch or two above even the standard level of Sev excellence. I’m wondering if some sympathetic director (Tim Burton springs to mind, for obvious reasons) might feel inspired by it to mount an Al Adamson biopic. Before that, one imagines we’ll see a bunch of the films celebrated here coming out on the Severin label. Ready when you are, boys.

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The Very Essence Of MAYHEM… 2019 Festival Report.

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Oh sweet mystery of Mayhem… how does the grooviest Horror Film Fest in Heaven, Hell or Hockley manage to outdo itself, year after year? Never formulaic, it must nevertheless be compiled with some sort of formula in mind. So what’s the secret? Well, I’m just back from four mind boggling, bum numbing (less so now that plush new seats – not to mention a state of the art 7.1 sound system – have been installed in Theatre 1 of Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema) days of Mayhem 2019 (10-13th October) and I was taking notes. Pay attention now, ‘coz here’s what I’ve managed to divine about the method in Mayhem’s madness…

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Some Horror Film Festivals are just more equal than others…

1) The “lure ’em in and settle ’em down with a Horror Comedy” film. Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman’s Extra Ordinary (2019) stars likeable stand up Maeve Higgins as Rose Dooley, a driving instructor in a sleepy Irish town, living in denial of her “talents” since the death of her father, who became a minor celebrity by popularising the paranormal. The werewolf she’s called on to investigate turns out to be a fox and although Rose gets to exorcise the odd wheely bin, she wants nothing more than to lead an ordinary life… all of which goes right out the window when one hit wonder Christian Winter (a hysterically foppy Will Forte) attempts to revive his flagging pop career by ritually sacrificing virgin schoolgirl Sarah Martin (Emma Coleman) and her widowed father Martin (Barry Ward) seeks Rose’s assistance. Romance blossoms, but the intermittently intruding shade of Martin’s jealous wife (herself apparently channeling Lily Savage) considerably complicates an already complicated situation. When Winter summons a demon to claim it’s virginal prize, there are awkward revelations about just who is and isn’t virgo intacto… with hilarious consequences (no really, it’s a hoot!)

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Co-director Mike Ahern introduced the film, subsequently discussed it with Chris Cooke and fielded audience questions, explaining how some genuinely impressive effects sequences (for such a low budget effort) were achieved and insisting more than once that the character of Christian Winter was absolutely NOT based on Chris de Burgh, OK? He and Loughman are currently writing stuff for Aardman Animations and hoping to develop Rose Dooley’s extra ordinary adventures into a TV spin off. Fingers crossed for that… or knock on wood… whatever superstition takes your fancy.

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2) The “is it all in the disturbed protagonist’s mind or is there really a monster?” film. Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) invokes the perennial Horror Film concern (think Dead Of Night, 1945… Psycho, 1960) about how to integrate (and usually the failure to integrate) undesirable / antisocial personality traits. Young Luke attributes his childhood attempt to poison his schizophrenic mother to an imaginary friend named Daniel, whom he locked up on a dollhouse after that regrettable little incident. The post pubertal and clueless in love Luke (Miles Robbins) releases Daniel (now played by Patrick Schwarzenegger) to act as his wingman but after initial successes as a lady killer he starts looking and acting increasingly like… well, a lady killer! Is Luke succumbing to hereditary mental illness or are his “demons” the manifestation of an actual demon? Mortimer plays his cards craftily until the denouement, when things get a bit too “David Lynch” (with “good” Luke confronting a nightmarish figure from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights) for my liking. No prizes for guessing Patrick Schwarzenegger’s parentage (I’m still trying to work out if he gave a good performance or whether playing a sneering son-of-a-bitch just comes naturally to such a Hollywood Prince) but Miles Robbins is Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon’s son… how cool must it be to have Susan Sarandon as your Mum?

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3) The disinterred Eurohorror Classic. What better way to kick start a rainy Friday afternoon in Nottingham than with Konstantin Ershov & Georgi Kropachyov’s 1967 adaptation of the Russian witchy classic Viy? Mario Bava’s seminal Black Sunday / Mask Of The Demon (1960) was, of course,  nominally an adaptation of the same Gogol story but really an opportunity for Bava to indulge his exquisite monochrome visual sense and explore the disturbing dichotomy of beautiful and evil potentials in the incredible face of Barbara Steele. Viy retains the satirical bent of its literary inspiration. Its ethnic sense of humour and pacing take a bit of getting used to but neither its colour palette nor the visual effects work during its pandemoniacal climax would have disgraced Bava himself. Watch out for this one on Severin Blu-ray.

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4) “It’s not exactly Horror, but it’s pretty intense stuff, all the same”. The programme lingered East of the ol’ Iron Curtain for the UK Premiere of Polish director Bartosz Konopka’s Sword Of God (2019, formerly known as The Mute). Christian missionaries Willibrord (Krzysztof Pieczynski) and his unnamed companion (Karol Bernacki) arrive on a small island to convert its pagan population before the arrival of their liege lord and his all-conquering army. Willibrord sets about his mission with personal bravery but inflexibility that ultimately crosses the border into fanaticism. The other guy goes native and becomes a saintly martyr figure, then the king arrives and (SPOLER ALERT!) kills everybody anyway! It’s a powerful portrayal of religious hypocrisy, man’s inhumanity to man and the betrayal of idealism. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear that the issue of historical intolerance still casts a long shadow over Poland…

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5) The Haunted House flick. Girl On The Third Floor (2019) plays out as though the ghost of Brooke Shields’ character in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978) is causing problems on the set of Tim Allen’s old sit com Home Improvement. Travis Stevens is clearly attempting to make some kind of statement about toxic masculinity but like the unquiet spirits in the house / former bordello that CM Punk (you heard me) is renovating, there’s an effective, affecting film struggling to get out of this one but never quite making it and in lieu of any dramatic resolution, matters are concluded with a tiresome torrent of gimmicky special effects. It didn’t exactly help that Mr Punk and his silly tattoos really irritated me. This kind of stuff must be the reason why I keep accumulating rejection slips from Les Cahiers Du Cinéma…

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6) “The Friday Night Psychedelic Apocalypse, preferably featuring Nic Cage going batshit crazy”… SpectreVision (also the company behind Daniel Isn’t Real) stole the show last time round with Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy so another film from them offering the opportunity to watch Nic Cage go barking mad in pulsating purple obviously made Color Out Of Space (2019) one of the most eagerly anticipated items in this year’s lineup. It’s other main selling point, of course, was the return of Richard Stanley, directing his first completed feature in 27(!) years. Stanley’s loose (aren’t they always?) adaptation of the hoary H.P. Lovecraft yarn examines the effect on an ordinary family of a meteorite hit that releases alien entities keen to make Earth over in the image of their home planet. Well, when I say “ordinary family”, I mean llama-farming Daddy Gardner (Cage), his stockbroker wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), his sexy daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) who spends much of her time getting witchy in the woods, stoner older son Benny (Brendan Meyer) and youngest sibling Jack (Julian Hilliard), a Milky Bar Kid type whose main plot purpose is to work on the maternal feelings of female audience members before they’re hit with the seriously bad shit that befalls him. I found the film overlong and questionably paced. The reality warp and Cage’s personal psychotic embolism (surely no spoiler, there) kick in too early and there’s nothing for the narrative to do after that than accumulate ever more rococo refinements of weirdness. COOS ultimately emerges as rather less than the sum of its parts, though many of those parts (e.g. Lavinia’s climactic trippy rhapsody) are very impressive indeed. I’m glad I saw it and hey, if you crave Andean mammal satisfaction, this one is packed with enough alpaca action to put your ass in traction (we thought it would be a good idea to ask the guy who wrote the voice overs for all those Dolemite trailers to contribute a guest sentence to this posting… obviously we were wrong!)

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7) The Creature Feature. Ping Lumpraploeng’s The Pool (2019… another Mayhem UK Premiere) is nicely shot and scored, with great visual FX, its mechanical suspense unfolds with admirable efficiency and all the actors do a good job but 99% of the work on this one obviously went into writing it. Having hit on a boldly minimalist premise (Theeradej Wongpuapan and his girlfriend Ratnamon Ratchiratham are trapped for seven days in an empty deep sided swimming pool with a pregnant, pissed-off crocodile), Lumpraploeng then adorned it with a succession of fiendish embellishments such that every time you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse for the protagonists, they promptly do. Endlessly involving and inventive (I’ll leave it to you to discover how a Dulux dog’s suicide fits into the mix), The Pool could be taken as a metaphor for the unremitting toughness of life in Thailand and it was nice to see the characters taking time out between crocodile attacks to debate the ethics of abortion. One of the investors in this one was Pizza Hut and you don’t have to wait long for the expected product placement, though the delivery dude arrives too late to render any significant assistance. Perhaps they should have told him to make it snappy…

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8) The “the protagonist is a monster but the guys she’s fighting are even worse!” film… Audrey Cummings Canadian effort She Never Died (2019) is apparently some sort of sequel to Jason Krawczyk’s He Never Died, a Henry Rollins Vehicle from 2015. I haven’t see that one but you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that protagonist Lacey (Olunike Adeliyi) is some kind of dewinged angel / demon figure, cursed with immortality and an insatiable appetite for human flesh and blood. Luckily she tends to dine on humanity’s worst elements. In this film that’s a seriously dodgy brother / sister team running a leisure empire whose business model is equal parts Hostel (2005) and Videodrome (1983), so you get to cheer Lacey on through all the splattery kill scenes and still believe yourself to be on the side of the angels. Or demons.

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9) The “is it all in the disturbed protagonist’s mind or is there really a monster?” film… slight return. The first real surprise package of this year’s festival, Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella’s Something Else (2019, previously known as After Midnight) was this year’s equivalent of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s One Cut Of The Dead from the previous Fest, a slowburn of a movie patiently received by an audience whose patience reaped rich rewards. Gardner stars as Hank, holed up in a one horse town wondering why his girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) left him (well, she’s fed up living in a one horse town, mate), drinking beer with his goony friend Wade (an endearing performance from Henry Zebrowski) and becoming increasingly convinced that some kind of malevolent nocturnal presence is lurking around , looking to effect entrance. This is Thirtysomething for soulful rednecks, with a little something else thrown in… effectively a film in the service of a looming punchline, en route to which the viewer is similarly well served and entertained.

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10) The Short Film Showcase Interlude (the beating heart of the festival, as Chris and Steve characterise it) proved, as ever, to be a pretty mixed bag of fare, much of it receiving its UK / European / World Premiere. Sheil’s own Unmade, in which a  scorned woman deploys black arts to take the ultimate revenge on her dead ex was among the better entries. Victor Català’s A Little Taste (Spain) turned out to be a nicely twisted (if not exactly unpredictable) vignette, sharing its woodland setting with Sekander Sharifi’s neatly executed little gag Limbus (Germany) and the multi-director French animation Wild Love, which plays out as a Disney Pixar effort gone bad. Canadian Calvin Lee Reeder’s The Procedure 2 proceeded, for all of its 3 minutes, along the frankly flatulent lines laid out in its predecessor, a big crowd pleaser here three years ago. “Brown comedy”, indeed… and  Kate McCoid’s It’s Not Custard (UK) did for acne what Reeder seems determined to do for farts.

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11) The Kick Ass Oriental Actioner (and another UK Premiere). In Lee Won-tae’s South Korean effort The Gangster, The Kop, The Devil (2019), ruthless crime lord Dong-Seok Ma (from Train To Busan, 2016) is so amazed that a serial killer known as ‘K’ (Kim Sungkyu) has had the temerity to try and off him that he teams up with reluctant cop Jung Tae-seok (Kim Moo Yul) to catch the guy. Predictable buddy bonding and violent spectacle ensue. I’ve seen better in this genre but y’know, Ringo Lam is no longer with us and John Woo is otherwise occupied so what you gonna do? Sylvester Stallone is credited as one of the producers and is apparently going to remake this one, Hollywood style. Hm….

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12) The “What The Fuck?!?” film…  indeed, introduced by Steve Sheil as “the what-the-fuckiest-what-the-fuck film ever”, Valeri Milev’s Bullets Of Justice (2019) emerged from nowhere (well, from Russia / Kazakhstan / Argentina, actually) to become one of this festivals’s most gob-smacking talking points. In a post-Apocalyptic scenario, the last remnants of humanity wage a life-and-death struggle with man-eating mutant pigs. An endless succession of ultraviolent action scenes? Check. Bizarre, self-consciously mannered directorial flourishes? Present and correct. Some of the most perfectly formed backsides ever captured on film? Affirmative. A cameo appearance by Cristiano Ronaldo? Yep. An ending which suggests that either a) macho post-Apocalyptic guerrillas harbour secret gay fantasies, or b) gay fashion models on acid fantasise about post-Apocalyptic guerrilla wars? You get that, too. Like the man said… what the fuck?!?

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13) The Suspenseful Tale Of Urban Paranoia. Yet another UK Premiere, Kwon Lee’s Door Lock (2018) pits its serial killer (South Korea must be crawling with them) against vulnerable office worker Kyung-min (Kong Hyo-jin) rather than a brutal crime baron. The flesh creeping extent of his night crawling activities are revealed to us but she only has the vaguest, increasingly worrying sense that something weird is going on. The police don’t take her complaints seriously and Lee relentlessly turns the suspenseful screws en route to a nail-biting finale. Seasoned viewers of these things (in fact most viewers) will have little trouble sorting the red herrings from the real murderous McCoy but this one is still worthier of a Hollywood remake (if, indeed, that would be doing it any favours) than The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil.

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Oh, those Russians

14) The Post-Tarantino Hipster Bloodbath. There’s definitely something going on in Russia, genre film wise. Chris Cooke introduced Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die! (2019) as “a Spaghetti Western that takes place in one room” and yeah, he’s pretty much nailed it (Morricone fans will find all sorts of interesting things going on throughout this one’s OST). A boy named Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) visits his girlfriend’s father (tough former copper Andrey, played by Vitaliy Khaev), intending to kill him with a concealed (but not for long) hammer. After a gruelling physical confrontation, Andrey calls in his former cop colleague Yevgenich (Mikhail Gorevoy) to dispose of the intruder. But what’s the secret he’s trying to conceal from Yevgenich? And why was daughter Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) putting Matvey up to murder in the first place? The back stories are separately introduced and intertwined in Tarantino-esque fashion, that is to say in the fashion that Tarantino pinched from Akira Kurosawa. It’s possible to construe the whole thing as an arch comment on post-Soviet Russian mores but a lot of people are going to enjoy WDYJD! purely on the strength of its black comedy and relentlessly brutal imagery.

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15) The Brilliantly Bleak Allegory Whose Co-Writer Insists It’s Not An Allegory. In Lorcan Finnegan’s rivetting Vivarium (UK / US 2019), a couple (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) move into a house in the suburbs and bring up a baby, whose demands gradually take over their lives. Mum resents never getting any time to herself, Dad throws himself into his work. The kid (played by Senan Jennings then Eanna Hardwicke) won’t go to bed and spends all his time watching TV. Dad comes to resent the alliance Mum and the kid seem to be forming against him. Dad works himself to death. Mum follows. The kid buries them and blithely gets on with his own pointless life. Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a fantasy move?!? It is, of course and one that resonates troublingly thanks to the respective contributions of director Finnegan, production designer Philip Murphy and co-writer Garret Shanley. The latter introduced the film, subsequently chatting with Chris Cooke and fielding audience questions… hey Garret, of course it’s a fucking allegory!

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16) The “blissfully complacent character obliged to undergo a blackly comic odyssey through unguessed at low life vistas” film. Two years ago it was 68 Kill. This time it’s Ant Timpson’s New Zealand effort Come To Daddy (2019). Former kiwi fanzine editor Timpson produced The Greasy Strangler, which rocked and shocked Mayhem attendees back in 2016 (just the words “hootie tootie disco cutie” still bring me out in a cold sweat). This significantly more “realistic” effort sees Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) attempting to reconnect with the dad who abandoned him in infancy, an intrinsically delicate exercise which turns into something infinitely more challenging for our boy when the big plot twist kicks in and turns his world upside down. I don’t feel like I should say too much more than that but believe me, this one is well worth catching.

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So these are just some of the ingredients that, when combined in exactly the right proportions and sprinkled with secret Mayhem spices, bring Festival ecstasy to The Broadway on an annual basis. Only Chris Cooke, Steve Sheil (above) and Meli Gueneau know the exact recipe. And they’re not saying anything.

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You probably also wanted to hear about those legendary inter-film quizzes and “mystery poster” giveaways, about the pulse pounding, nerve wracking test of man and mettle that is The Flinterrogation, about the general hobbing and indeed nobbing (OK, we’ll restrict it to the hobbing) with old friends, new friends and cyberfriends suddenly made flesh… all of this will be duly revealed in another, Darker place. Patience, my pretties.

(For the record I skipped the Friday and Saturday night revivals of – respectively – The Hidden and Vampire’s Kiss. We old codgers have got to sleep sometime, you know…)

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You Need Your Bumps Feeling, Mate… José Ramon Larraz’s DEVIATION Reviewed.

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Deviation (Sweden / UK / Spain, 1971).  Directed by José Ramón Larraz.

Oh to be in England, now that Autumn’s there. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… not to mention voyeurism, porno shoots, gerontophilia, drug abuse, black magic, lesbian vampires, murder and human taxidermy, if you happen to be visiting one of the country piles inhabited by Karl Lanchbury (pictured below in one of his more subdued moments) during some of the pictures made by Catalan Horror maven José Ramon Larraz in his English period (1970-74). We’ve already considered Whirlpool (1970), The House That Vanished (1973) and Symptoms (1974) on this blog and now turn our gimlet eye upon Deviation (1971), hitherto the most elusive of these films, recently discovered lurking on Youtube.

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After a disorientating title sequence (whose action is never really explained) and an opening scene which establishes that Julian (Lanchbury) is an intense young taxidermist (hm, remind you of anyone?) but relatively normal compared to his weirdo sister Rebecca (Whirlpool holdover Sibyla Grey), we find ourselves in the company of odd couple Paul (Malcolm Terris) and Olivia (Lisbet Lundquist… yes, like its predecessor Whirlpool, this is a Scandinavian co-production) who are driving through some dark woods, having an argument about his refusal to leave his wife. Their evening goes from bad to worse when Paul runs over a tripped out Satanist (“He didn’t know how to smoke”, we subsequently learn).

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Seeking refuge at Julian and Rebecca’s tumble down manor (some of whose underground tunnels bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones Marianne Morris and Anulka spend much of their time running up and down in during Larraz’s Vampyres, 1974), they are drugged by their hosts. Having already taken uppers to keep him awake while driving, Paul revives enough to have a poke around the house (discovering a cat obsessed, doom prophecying, Alzheimer’s addled Auntie) and becomes aware that some kind of ceremony is going on. Discovered, he is dragged down into the cellar to be sexually humiliated by Jules and Beccy’s hippy pals, until his obvious arousal so disgusts Rebecca that she stabs him to death.

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Olivia doesn’t seem unduly disturbed by Paul’s’ disappearance (readily swallowing the story that he had to get back to his office) and happily submerges herself in the ongoing drug party life style of Jules, Beccy and their far out mates. When Julian shoots her up with heroin she enthuses that anything is preferable to her dreary affair with Paul.

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Rebecca visits a sleazy old Dr Feelgood (former BBC announcer Geoffrey Wincott) to stock up on more dope and after initially seeming to succumb to his superannuated advances (inter generational sex crops up so regularly in these films, it’s fair to speculate that Larraz had a pretty keen personal interest in the subject), stabs him too. Back at the mansion, Olivia discovers Paul’s distinctive mermaid tattoo preserved as a taxidermalogical trophy and finally turns on her hosts / captors… the film’s bungled twist ending falls completely flat, accomplishing the difficult trick of making its opening look like a relative model of coherence and clarity.

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The first shot we see in this film is a brief glimpse of a phrenology bust, suggesting that for all those occult trappings, its actual narrative motor is sheer human craziness… deviation from some norm of “mental health”. Rebecca has clearly been sexually traumatised some time in her previous life (Larraz’s attempts to appropriate / approximate elements of Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965, would be more convincingly attained in Symptoms). There’s also a pretty on-the-nose statement about contemporary deviation from traditional moral norms… just as with Vivian Neves’ character in Whirlpool, we’re invited to conclude that Lundquist’s “had it coming”. You can take the director out of fascist era Spain but the converse isn’t, apparently, so easily achieved. Indeed, Deviation looks a lot like a dry run for a film Larraz made in Spain after the demise of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, 1982’s Black Candles (UK quad below).

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Deviation is, frankly, a right old mess (and typically of Larraz’s output in this period, the dialogue is clunky as fuck) but I was glad of the opportunity to watch it again for the first time in donkey’s years. Like Whirlpool it boasts a nifty OST from Italian maestro Stelvio Cipriani but the understandably crappy picture quality here makes it difficult to pass comment on the film’s visual merits or otherwise. Perhaps, if possible (one gathers the rights are in dispute) Arrow could continue the good work they began in their “Blood Hunger” Larraz BD box set by giving this one the kind of release it deserves. Fingers crossed.

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Not So Wonderful Copenhagen… A Quick Take On Brian De Palma’s DOMINO.

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Domino (Denmark / France / Italy / Belgium / Netherlands, 2019). Directed by Brian De Palma.

Looks like Brian De Palma burned all his Hollywood bridges with Redacted (2007) and presumably his proposed Harvey Weinstein picture isn’t designed to rebuild any of them any time soon. Passion (2012) was a Franco-German co-production and his latest, Domino, sucked up tax shelter investments from several European countries, principally Denmark, where BDP experienced sufficient problems with producers to declare that this will be his first and final foray into Scandinavian Noir. The film recently crept out on disc in the UK without much fanfare and I was pleasantly surprised (also kinda shocked) when antisocial media pal @GIALLO_GIALLO advised me that it was available on Amazon Prime.

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So, what we got here? Things start promisingly enough when Copenhagen cops Christian (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Lars (Søren Malling) roll up to a reported domestic abuse incident. Lars is running down the clock to retirement and talking about taking his wife on a Caribbean holiday, so no prizes for guessing what happens to him when the incident actually turns out to be a bit of jihadist score-settling. All this plays out as yet another Vertigo (1958) rehash and Christian’s guilt over his part in the death of a colleague, interacting with the motivation of Lars’ pregnant lover Alex (Carice van Houten) and machinations of slippery CIA man Joe Martin (Guy Pearce) promise much but ultimately, De Palma flatters to deceive.

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Lip service is paid to signature concerns such as media / message, scopophilia and the surveillance society (updated to include drones and facial recognition technology) and Pino Donaggio (above, with De Palma) delivers his mandatory Herrmannesque score but Domino lacks the kind of camera and editing virtuosity we’ve come to expect from BDP and packs just one significant set piece scene, at a Spanish bull fighting arena, where suspense is adeptly built then fizzles out with a well-aimed kick in the balls.

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De Palma seems to have reached that point in his career to which Dario Argento has been reduced for some time now. You know: Sleepless is better than The Phantom Of The Opera, but… Domino is a competent thriller on which you won’t begrudge spending 90 minutes of your time, but any amount of competent directors could have knocked it out. Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale and Passion, never mind Dressed To Kill, Blow Out or Raising Cain, would all knock spots off it.

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Would probably make quite a nifty double bill with Sergio Pastore’s Crimes Of The Black Cat (1972)…

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A Twist In Tinsel Town’s Space Time Continuum: Observations On ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD.

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (US, 2019). Directed by Quentin Tarantino.

I know people who take real umbrage at “revisionist” accounts of the Tate / Labianca slayings. It’s difficult to imagine how things could get any more revisionist than in Quentin Tarantino’s much-hyped latest offering, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, which interweaves the stories of fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his stuntman sidekick / personal support system Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) with the build up to the Manson Family’s visit to 10050 Cielo Drive on 09/08/69. After her initial misgivings, the film arrives with the blessing of Debra Tate, the late Sharon’s sister and you can kind of see why. It’s been billed as “the film that people who hate Tarantino will enjoy” and indeed, I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to. This is clever stuff but neither as ostentatiously nor obnoxiously pleased with its cleverness as some of its predecessors have been…

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Predictably, the Quentster spurns no opportunity to rub women’s feet in your face. Is it true that his next film will be shot in 3-D, with scratch’n’sniff cards handed out at the box office? Maybe if he reads this it will be. If so, I expect a screen credit, OK Quentin?

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OUAT…IH’s 161 minute running time doesn’t weigh too heavily on it, or the viewer. Some of the TV Western stuff wears out its welcome a bit, though when Dalton starts fluffing his lines and we’re dragged abruptly back into the world of Hollywood, 1969, you can see what Tarantino is doing. There’s a l-o-n-g and sappingly suspenseful sequence where Booth is poking around at the spahn Movie Ranch, under the disapproving glares of The Family, which makes you kinda wish the director would try his hand at a full-on Horror Film.

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The way he intercuts fact and fiction, drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of Film (and Pop Culture in general) to disrupt narrative conventions, owes more to European Arthouse Cinema than the exploitation mavens he is so fond of referencing (though the flashbacks-within-flashbacks structure of Pulp Fiction demonstrated that Hollywood had finally caught up with Lucio Fulci, according to no less disinterested an authority than Fulci himself). There are loving tributes here to Sergio Corbucci and Tarantino’s talismanic Antonio Margheriti (he probably figures he’s bigged up Enzo Castellari quite enough for the time being).

The audacious historical rewrite which closes the picture is only the final of several pointed reminders that QT is an auteur and in the realm of his movies, he can do whatever he likes with culture and history, right? I can go along with this to a certain extent but the idea that there could exist, in any possible alternative universe, a stuntman (one who, moreover, seems to subsist on pot noodles) capable of licking Bruce Lee? Nah, you’re not having it. As for the idea that anybody could continue to ply their thespian trade in Tinsel Town while under ongoing suspicion of having murdered their wife on a boat? Actually, now you mention it…

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P.S. Ten great tracks from 1969 that didn’t make it onto OUAT…IH’s certifiably groovy soundtrack… just off the top of my noble bonce. You’re welcome.

01) We’re Going Wrong – Rotary Connection
02) Soul Sister Brown Sugar – Sam & Dave
03) Touch Me – The Doors
04) Savoy Truffle – Ella Fitzgerald
05) Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
06) Cymbaline – Pink Floyd
07) I Want To Take You Higher – Sly And The Family Stone
08) In A Silent Way – Miles Davis
09) Thank You – Led Zeppelin
10) Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa

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The Shadow Over Doug McClure… HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP Reviewed.

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Monster: Humanoids From The Deep (1980). Directed by Barbara Peeters (and Jimmy T. Murakami, uncredited). Produced by Roger Corman (uncredited), Hunt Lowry and Martin B. Cohen. Written by Martin B. Cohen, Frank Arnold and William Martin. Cinematography by Daniel Lacambre. Edited by Mark Goldblatt. Art direction by Michael Erler. Music by James Horner. Creature FX by Rob Bottin. Special FX by Roger George and (uncredited) Chris Walas. Stunts by Diamond Farnsworth and Jack Tyree. Starring: Doug McClure, Ann Turkel, Vic Morrow, Cindy Weintraub, Anthony Pena, Denise Galik, Lynn Theel.

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“We’re having a great time down here… we’re waving to people… we’re playing records… we’re doing a whole lot of things!” Mad Man Mike Michaels paints an irresistible radio picture of the annual Noyo Salmon Festival.

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Jim Hill (Doug McClure… you might remember him from constant lampooning in The Simpsons) and beautiful scientist Susan Drake (Ann Turkel… you might remember her as the trophy wife of Richard Harris) team up to investigate weird goings on in the fishing town of Noyo. A sinister salmon canning corporation is setting up its new factory upstream, which Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow), his redneck cronies and the townsfolk in general regard as booster for the local economy, though Native American “Johnny Eagle” (Anthony Pena) has eco-conscious-cum-spiritual legal objections to the misappropriation of his people’s ancestral lands. A certain amount of low level racist aggro plays out in this poor man’s Henrik Ibsen scenario before we crack on with what everybody’s actually come to see… i.e. oversexed mutant salmon-men, spawned by sinister corporate attempts to increase fishing yields, chasing large-breasted, bikini-clad lovelies around the cove and impregnating them. “It’s my theory that these creatures are driven to mate with humans, to accelerate their already incredible evolution” speculates Turkel. Who could forget (or indeed forgive?) the scene in which a ventriloquist’s dummy talks a buxotic beach babe out of her bikini, only for a humanoid to invade their tent and violate her?

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All hell breaks loose when the Humanoids run amok at Noyo’s annual Salmon Festival, molesting women (and dismembering people of whatever gender) to the running commentary of the exceptionally irritating Mad Man Mike Michaels, a DJ who’s clearly learned his trade from the guy heard over the climax of Zombie Flesh Eaters). Created by Rob Bottin (he’s actually in there under one of his suits), they look fucking great, with long arms that they wave around like Andrew Marr and (unlike Marr) prominent brains that are bashed in by handy-dandy planks, marlin spikes and what have you when the crowd turns on them and drives them into the bay, which Jim Hill (not, under any circumstances, to be confused with Jimmy Hill) ignites.

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There’s a touchy feely reconciliation between Johnny Eagle and his erstwhile persecutors. “Everything’s alright now, Sheriff… isn’t it?” asks a character who’s clearly never seen a New World release or any kind of monster movie before, cueing the sucker punch coda in which Turkel supervises the rather messy birth of a humanoid / bikini-clad lovely hybrid, incorporating the ten seconds of alien copying that was obviously all Roger Corman was prepared to fund… ooh, that’s gotta hurt!

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Like a dumbed-down Creature From The Black Lagoon / sexed-up Horror Of Party Beach, Monster rattles through its economical 80 minutes ticking all the exploitive boxes to pleasing effect. I first encountered it on a theatrical double bill with Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls (1979) and it’s been a firm personal favourite ever since, just crying out for rediscovery by a wider audience (Arrow, are you listening?) Nothing is as powerful as a trash movie whose time has come… not only was M:HFTD parading its eco-consciousness and championing civil / indigenous rights nearly 40 years before David Attenborough started counting all the plastic bags floating around the North Pole, the story behind its production also chimes spookily with today’s feminist movement… but not in a good way. Not if you believe the official account, anyway…

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The widely accepted version is that Roger Corman promised Barbara Peeters that she could direct a right on eco-thriller then undermined her by cutting in gratuitous tit’n’ass shenanigans filmed by Jimmy T. Murakami on obviously inferior film stock. Doncha just hate that kind of patriarchal bullshit? But wait just a cotten-pickin’ minute… the “starry eyed neophyte shafted by chauvinist movie mogul” line must have generated some useful hype for the publicity campaign, but how does it square with the known facts? For an alleged sexist, Corman has relied heavily on the collaboration of his wife Julie over the years and has never shown any reluctance to foster female talent (who’s that “Gale Hurd” lurking among the production assistant credits on Monster?) What’s more Peeters had already directed the exploitive Bury Me An Angel (1971) and the sexploitive Summer School Teachers (1974) for Corman, not to mention co-writing and co-directing the dykesploiation epic The Dark Side Of Tomorrow (1970) for Harry H. Novak (never exactly regarded as among the most woke of producers).

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As for Murakami, he subsequently directed (among many others) the film adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ anti-nuke parable When The Wind Blows (1986) and video promos for Kate Bush and David Bowie, so for all we know, he was responsible for the eco-conscious stuff and Peeters handled the boob’n’bum aspect. Whatever, her career wasn’t exactly sabotaged by the Corman connection, any more than those of Joe Dante or Jonathan Demme (who earned their spurs shooting bits and pieces for insertion into Corman features) or Gale Anne Hurd were. Although she never attained the same heights as some of those guys, Peeters carved out a respectable career for herself directing episodes of such TV shows as Cagney and Lacey, Falcon Crest and Remington Steele.

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Two final thoughts… 1) Jeff Yonis’s 1996 TV movie remake of M:HFTD (despite perpetuating the original’s big boob fixation with the casting of Emma Samms) is a travesty which you can safely avoid. 2) The film under consideration here should also be avoided by anyone who’s about to give birth. In fact anyone who might ever conceivably find themselves in that position should give it a very wide, er, berth indeed…

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Meanwhile, on a Ghanaian poster for a completely different film…

 

 

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Buio Alpha (Before The Darkness)… Mino Guerrini’s THE THIRD EYE Reviewed

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Il Terzo Occhio (“The Third Eye”), 1966. Directed by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini). Produced by “Louis Mann” (Luigi Carpentieri and Ermanno Donati). Written by “James Warren” (Mino Guerrini), “Dean Craig” (Piero Regnoli), “Phil Young” (=?) and “Gilles De Rays” (?!?) Cinematography by “Sandy Deaves” (Alessandro D’Eva). Edited by “Donna Christie” (Ornella Micheli). Production design by “Samuel Fields” (Mario Chiari). Music by “Frank Mason” (Francesco De Masi). Starring “Frank Nero” (Franco Nero), Gioia Pascal, “Diana Sullivan” (Erika Blanc), “Olga Sunbeauty” (!) (Olga Solbelli), Marina Morgan, Gara Granda, Richard Hillock, Luciano Foti.

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Mino Guerrieri’s The Third Eye concerns itself with the murderous misadventures of an uptight young man who’s dominated by his mother and spends too much time on his hobby of taxidermy… hm, remind you of anything?

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Said young man is a spoilt aristo who goes off the rails when his beloved fiancee carks it. He picks up young floozies and has it off with them in the company of his enbalmed paramour then does away with them, with the collusion of his infatuated housekeeper. Everything’s going swimmingly until his fiancee’s identical twin turns up… remind you of anything else?

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Yep, Mino Guerrini’s The Third Eye is the missing link between Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Jolly Joe D’Amato’s Buio Omega / Blue Holocaust / Beyond The Darkness / Buried Alive (1979). That domineering mother figure, who’s absent from the D’Amato flick and only exists as a figment of Norman Bates’ warped imagination (albeit a pivotal one) in Psycho, is present here in the all too fleshy form of Contessa Alberti (Olga Solbelli) and the resentful, calculating housekeeper (Gioia Pascal’s “Marta”), completely missing from Psycho, foreshadows Franca Stoppi’s spectacularly overplayed Iris in Buio Omega.

The Third Eye 3.jpgThese two alpha females go mano a mano over young Count Mino (Franco Nero) but are smart  enough to call a pragmatic truce when his fiancee Laura (Erika Blanc) threatens to eclipse both of them in his affections. At the suggestion of The Contessa, Marta drains the brake fluid from Laura’s car and she ends up dead in a pond. Having witnessed this sorry spectacle, Mino returns to the family chateau to be informed by the local gendarmerie that his mother has died after a fall down the stairs (in fact Marta pushed her)…

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Mino’s definitely had better days but his response to these events, traumatic as they are, can only be classified as overreaction. After Guerrini’s given him a goofy nightmare sequence, he starts picking up a string of strippers and hookers (the first of whom reminded me more than a little of Ania Pieroni) and making out with them until they object to the presence of the mummified Laura, at which point he throttles them to death.

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Screams were heard in the night as the result of him stuffin’…

“I’ve done it again…” Mino confesses to Marta (who’s already mopping up the evidence of his latest homicide) before protesting that he didn’t want to … his third eye made him do it!!! That’s OK then… After Marta has assisted on a few clean ups, she has sufficient leverage over Mino to extract a promise of marriage from him… perhaps a happy, if seriously twisted ending is in prospect? No, because now Laura’s identical twin Daniela (Blanc again, obviously) turns up and things start getting really wiggy!

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For Franco Nero, who’s about to overtake Donald Pleasence and may well live to challenge Malcolm McDowell or possibly overhaul John Carradine in terms of sheer quantity of screen appearances, 1966 was a particularly busy and fruitful year, even by his standards… we’re talking this, Margheriti’s War Of The Planets and Wild, Wild Planet, no less than three important Spaghetti Western’s (Corubucci’s Django, Fulci’s Massacre Time and Ferdinando Baldi’s Texas, Adios) and playing the role of Abel in John Huston’s The Bible, among others. The following year, the role of Galahad in Joshua Logan’s Camelot would elevate Franco into the firmament of international stardom, though he continued to maintain a healthy prsence in Italian genre Cinema. It’s a single note performance that he gives here, but perfect for a part in which he’s effectively dominated by the female characters. Veteran Solbelli impresses as the Countess. Gioia Pascal as Marta chews nowhere near as much scenery as Franca Stoppi in Buio Omega but delvers a performance so solid that one is surprised to learn that this, only her second screen appearance (after Franco Indovina’s Menage Italian Style, the previous year) also turned out to be her last.

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Was Guerrini attempting some kind of auteurist statement by naming the character after himself? He directs well throughout, with his own distinctive eye for the camera angles and compositions that will best enhance the telling of his sick little tale, though hereafter he marked time as a filone hack-for-hire.

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Just as Hitchcock, feted for the “tastefulness” of Psycho’s signature shower murder, felt empowered by shifts in Cinema community standards to get a whole lot more brutal twelve years later in Frenzy, so Joe D’Amato (never the most shrinking of violets anyway) had no qualms whatsoever about bringing the viler implications of the Norman Bates legend to the screen in 1979. Mino Guerrini was never going to get away with anything like that level of explicit sadism in 1966 and any grand guignol eruption of guts, filmed as here in black and white, was going to lose much of its impact anyway. Picking up on hints in Riccardo Freda’s Dr Hichcock brace (1962/3), The Third Eye cracks on more in the manner of Italian Gothic (coming right at the end of that particular cycle) than the giallo as which it has sometimes been identified… presumably by pundits who haven’t actually seen it. Last time I checked, it was still available (subtitled) on Amazon Prime, complete with shots from the first stripper killing that were excised from some releases. What are you waiting for, you sick puppies?

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Beating The Bishop… MAGDALENA – POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL Reviewed

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West Germany, 1974) aka Beyond The Darkness / Devil’s Female. Directed by “Michael Walter”.

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Just another Winter’s Tale…

We’ve already surveyed Spaghetti Exorcist clones, but Italians were by no means the only ones trying to join the post-Blatty box office bonanza during the 1970s, Catholic countries proving to be predictably fertile soil for the Devil’s cinematic seeds. In Spain, Jess Franco did his bit with Lorna The Exorcist (1974) … Paul Naschy took on Father Karras’ mantle in the 1975 Juan Bosch effort Exorcismo… and Templars director Amando De Ossorio pitched in with Demon Witch Child the following year. In 1978 the long overdue French release of Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling adopted the title Long Night Of Exorcism. Must try harder, France. By that point, Catholic southern Germany had already contributed an absolute cracker to the cycle with “Michael Walter”s Magdalena – Vom Teufel Besessen (1974).

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Walter, better known to his Mutti as Walter Boos, had hitherto laboured in that particular German specialty genre, the cautionary tale of curious German college girls (generally played by actresses… and I use the term advisedly… in their 20s and 30s) and their sexual misadventures. The title of Boos’ own What Parents Should Know (1973) tells you all you should know about the News Of The Screws-style cod moralising that justified these films’ shagtastic shenanigans. MPBTD represents a welcome respite from all this tit-and-ass tedium by throwing demonic possession into the sexploitive mix and true to form, the engaging Dagmar Hedrich was nearly forty (making Stockard Channing in Grease look positively pubertal) when she essayed the title role of troubled schoolgirl soul Magdalena Winter.

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The film kicks off in the wee small hours of a beery Bavarian night before, at the end of which a hooker (her ensemble pitched somewhere between Pussy Cat Doll and New York Doll) discovers some hapless guy crucified on his own front door. The MO of his demise and tattoos found on him suggest that he was a Satanist who fell foul of like minded evil dudes. As he stirs on the mortuary slab, his grand daughter Magdalena starts undergoing seizures at her boarding school (each signalled by flies buzzing on the soundtrack), writhing around in agony and / or sexual ecstasy, foaming at the mouth and spitting out the expected blasphemous obscenities (though there’s a conspicuous absence of pea soup… very disappointing for a film with the word “Vom” in its original German title). Alfie the dog (he’s no Dickie but you can’t have everything) begins cowering and growling in her presence and up in the attic, there’s more rickety furniture flying around than at an MFI clearance sale (I know I’ve used that gag before but it’s one of my favourites… apologies to any readers who are too young to remember the shambles that was MFI). After a particularly epic mong attack during which Magdalena kicks in a sturdy door with her bare feet, a doctor is called in but says that none of this is anything to worry about. He changes his tune the next day, after she’s been told about her grandfather’s death and responds with the announcement that she “despises” the dead, before shinning up a wall and running away. Thumbing a lift, Magdalena breaks the arm of a driver who tries it on with her… which will, ironically, make him more rather than less likely to pester women for hand-jobs in future. Concerned teachers take her to see kindly old village priest Father Conrad (Rudolf Schundler from Suspiria!) to whom she expresses a desire to take Communion “but not in my mouth… down here in my pussy!” More tea, vicar?

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Professor Falk (Werner Bruhns) and Dr Stone (Michael Hinz) spirit Magdalena away to a country retreat, from which she’s soon absconding for more unbridled rumpy-pumpy. Attracted to a beer hall knees-up by flatulent oompah music (conclusive proof that the Devil doesn’t have all the best tunes) she prick teases two burly brothers until one stabs the other to death then adds insult to injury by disappearing (literally) before the winner can claim his prize. She’s soon trying the same tactics on the Prof and Dr Stone. “Surely you don’t believe in The Devil?” gasp Falk when Fr Conrad suggests exorcism. Damn silly question, really… I mean, is The Pope a Catholic?

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Falk is finally persuaded after Magdalena (having seemingly been fucked by some invisible entity or other) tries to stab him, bursts out of strait jacket, set a fire and starts threatening people with an axe. The “climactic” exorcism turns out to be a pretty light touch affair. Magdalena is browbeaten into reciting The Lord’s Prayer, at which point a joke shop snake jumps out of her mouth, is stamped on and disappears. “There are things between Heaven and Earth” pronounces the Prof, sagely as Magdalen and Doctor Stone wander off, arm in arm. That’s all, folks.

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Dagmar Hedrich goes for it full throttle throughout and if there was any justice, she really would have got an Oscar for her performance as Magdalena. Instead, she never made another film. Perhaps she figured she’d be able to get by just fine on her old age pension….

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This is arguably the best among the legion of Exorcist clones and a superb exploitation film, full stop. How often do you find yourself watching one of these things and fast-forwarding through bothersome bits of exposition to get to the next outrage? There’s really never a dull moment in M-PBTD, it just flies by. Maybe it’s been cut? The version I saw clocked in at around the 90 minute mark but the packaging for this Super 8 release suggests a two hour (!) running time. How accurately were such listings, Super 8 collectors?

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Let’s get one little thing straight (as the actress said to the bishop): a boarding school girl in Germany with an affinity for supernatural Phenomena and a strange connection with insects… and at one point she even has EEG wires strapped on her head? Makes you wonder if Dario Argento ever donned a shabby raincoat and went to see Magdalena – Possessed By The Devil.

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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…”

Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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