Posts Tagged With: Blue Underground

From Copenhagen With Love… FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION Reviewed And Reappraised

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Not Rated.

Minou (Dagmar Lassander) lives a privileged life of pampered ennui as the neglected wifey of workaholic industrialist Peter (Pier Paolo Capponi). Comfortably marooned in Jacqueline Susann territory, her most significant daily decisions include what colour to paint her toe-nails, which wig to wear (she and her snooty pals all boast extensive wig collections, all of which pale into insignificance in comparison with the legendary lacquered Capponi comb-over) when she hits Barcelona’s hot and happening nite spots (FPOALAS is clearly shot in Barcelona, though at several points in it characters can be seen waving wads of US dollars around) and how early in the day she can get away with downing a tumbler or two of J&B and popping a few prozacs. Yep, Minou is bored off her delectable arse and longs for a little excitement in her life, but as they say – be careful what you wish for!

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Attempting to see off the blahs with a moonlit walk on the beach, Minou is waylaid by a menacing dude (Simón Andreu) with a sword stick who cops a feel off her and demands that she “beg for me… plead for my kisses”. When he’s finished groping he disappears, but not before advising her that her husband is “a fraud and a murderer”.

You have to keep reminding yourself that all of this is taking place in pre #metoo days, otherwise the reactions of Minou’s nearest and dearest to the news of her ordeal at the hands of a sword stick wielding weirdo might seem a little… odd. “It was probably just a prank” suggests hubby, helpfully and the victim herself seems to take the incident in her stride, refusing to alert the police on the grounds that “they just make you fill in forms”. Later, at a hep party where ageing swingers bust their funky moves to another delirious dollop of Morricone Hammond heaven, Minou meets up with pal Dominique (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro) to discuss her run in with the kinky maniac. “It means you’re bursting with sex appeal”, gibbers Dominique (who’s at it with Peter behind Minou’s back, incidentally) : “I’d adore being violated!”. No big deal then, it’s unanimous… indeed, there seems to be suggestion that a bored, spoiled woman is getting carried away with her sexual fantasies.

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Stoking the fire, Dominique shows Minou some (rather tame) nuddy photos she’s had taken of herself and her pals (which had to be developed in Copenhagen!) Who should turn up in one of them, but Mr Menacing Dude from the beach?! He subsequently contacts Minou, claiming that the recent death of one of her husband’s creditors (from the bends, of all things) was no accident. Taped telephone conversations seem to lend credence to this version of events, and Minou is only too well aware that Peter has been suffering some serious cash flow problems, so she agrees to meet the blackmailer… but was it really wise to go in that mini skirt?

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Minou offers to buy Menacing Dude’s silence but he scorns her “paper dollars… you don’t know me, Minou… you must submit your mind and body… you must suffer and be my slave!” What this florid nonsense boils down to is the blackmailer bonking her while taking pictures. With the eponymous forbidden photes in his possession, Minou’s tormentor reveals that he has faked the incriminating evidence against her husband but now has a strong bargaining position from which to demand her ongoing sexual favours… which she seems to dispense, shall we say, not without enthusiasm.

Deduct several credibility points if you haven’t worked out there’s more to this debauched scenario than meets the eye and that there are several twists still to come…

On the evidence of his Death Walks On High Heels (1971) and Death Walks At Midnight (1972), each of which has its moments but both of which ultimately amount to less than the sum of their convoluted parts, I’ve always considered Luciano Ercoli a bit of a second stringer, an underachieving Sergio Martino wannabe. While researching a piece on how the “bonkbusting” strain of giallo (presiding goddess Carroll Baker) gave way to the “psycho slasher” variant (and the divine Edwige Fenech) after the success of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage, however, I took Ercoli’s Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion off the shelf (1970) for a long overdue rewatching and completely revised my long-standing, complacent opinion.

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Martino’s gialli are clearly key transitional works between the sexually overheated, money-motivated murder mysteries of Guerrieri and Lenzi and the post-Crystal Plumage sagas of deranged sex killers, mix-and-matching elements from both strains to keep their audiences guessing while simultaneously, director Sergio, producer Luciano and writer Ernesto Gastaldi  furiously attempted to figure out which side of the equation was going to put the most natiche on Italian cinema seats. No fewer than four aspiring assassins are interacting in their attempts to eliminate Edwige during The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971). Just one of them is a full-blown nutzoid sex case, while the others coolly calculate the financial benefits potentially accruing from her demise. Subsequent Martino efforts essentially reshake the mix while refreshing the flavour with such incidental distractions as a black magic cult (in All The Colours Of The Dark, 1972) and the boho / Poe stylings of the same year’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key. (*)

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FPOALAS was released over the last two months of 1970 in Northern Italian cities and during early ’71 in the South,  in other words it was an earlier response to TBWTCP than any of the Martino pictures and anticipates several of their recurring narrative strategies. Like Fenech’s Mrs Wardh, Minou responds to marital neglect by drifting into an abusive S/M relationship with a cad (the prolific and still busy Simón Andreu, who would combine the neglectful and sadistic male roles in Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride, two years later… his roles in both films are so archetypal that his characters in each remain unnamed!)… just like Ivan Rassimov, who would subsequently take the corresponding role in Martino’s thrillers, Andreu tends to lurk in the shadows or barely glimpsed through rain-streaked windows, turning up at pivotal plot moments to further turn the screws on the increasingly desperate heroine. The ease with which Dominique converts Minou to the joys of porn prefigures Edwige Fenech’s rapid recruitment to a Satanic cult when Marina Malfatti suggests it might remedy her conformist malaise in All The Colours Of The Dark… jeez, Lassander even does the “take a shower in your slip” thing before it ever occurred to Edwige Fenech to do so.

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What really clinches FPOALAS’s place as a seminal text in the discourse between the “cold calculating killers” and “irrational, passionate assassins” tendencies of giallo is the self-consciousness with which the conspiring characters discuss precisely this dichotomy.  “You want to defeat me with your money… you’re trying to make a fool of me!” chides Mr Menacing when Minou attempts to buy him off: “Both of you think that your money can buy anything. You’re like animals, yet you call me mad!” “He’s crazy…” Minou confides to Domenique ” he doesn’t think like other people, there’s no way of knowing what he’ll do next”. As it happens, he’s only playing a role but acts it out so enthusiastically that he ends up spoiling the scam that his puppet-master (guess who) had devised. “He enjoyed playing the maniac and forgot I was paying him to follow instructions” complains the actual culprit behind this whole tawdry affair, before the cops arrive and gun him down… but if Andreu’s anaemic antics during this film (which amount to handing out a few superficial scratches with that sword stick) constitute him going over the top as a sex killer, one can only wonder what a half-assed attempt by him would look like!

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Future pasta thriller killers would set about their gory handiwork with altogether more gusto, as the conflict between “60s scheming gialli and 70s stabby gialli” (as one of my social media pals so eloquently put it) was ultimately resolved in favour of the latter. Incidentally, the “rational” motive for all the unseemly shenanigans in Ercoli’s film, when ultimately revealed, makes no sense whatsoever… I mean, I know there was all sorts of crazy stuff going on in Italy during the ’70s, but has there ever been a time (anywhere?) when insurance companies paid out on suicides?

Luciano Ercoli (who also produced FPOALAS… Ernesto Gastaldi, still working through his obsession with Les Dialoboliques, wrote it) retired from the film biz after inheriting a fortune in the mid 70s, presumably to enjoy the J&B quaffing, leisured lifestyle with his muse Navarro (who carried on acting – in several Joe D’Amato titles, among others… till 1989). Hopefully they spent the time until Ercoli’s death in March 2015 more harmoniously than Peter and Minou.

Extras on this disc comprise a theatrical trailer and the featurette Forbidden Screenplays, in which Gastaldi reminisces about working with Ercoli.

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(*) Sergio Martino finally came down firmly in psycho killer territory with Torso (produced by Carlo Ponti in 1973), which stripped the narrative right down to “pretty girls vs drooling loony” basics (with the most sexually conservative girl surviving the kill spree), establishing in the process the template for the subsequent American slasher / splatter phenom.

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Dreams Of Discontent … THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Note: The disc under review here was issued as a bonus on Blue Underground’s 2-disc set of Harry Kümel’s Daughter Of Darkness, which has subsequently been upgraded, in its entirety, to Blu-Ray.

Asking a man how down he is with the aims of Feminism is a bit like asking him if he’s stopped beating his wife. Feminism is too broad a movement for that question to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Do I believe that women should have equal opportunities and receive equal pay for equal work? Yes, it’s a no brainer, though I’m getting fed up with showboating offers from male media personalities to have their pay cut to the same level as female colleagues… let’s level things up, fer Chrissakes! Do I believe that the law should protect women from sexual assault and harassment? Yep. Do I believe that every attempt by a man to chat up a woman constitutes assault or harassment? Nope. Do I buy the argument that more women in the corridors of power will automatically lead to a more caring, sharing, nurturing world? Well, check how the influx of female Labour MPs in 1997 (“Blair’s Babes”) voted re waging war on Iraq. Do I believe that Page 3 girls should be banned? No. Do I believe, like Andrea Dworkin, that sexual intercourse should be abolished? Are you out of your fucking mind?!?

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They sure knew how to put together double bills back in the day…

During the #MeToo moment we’re currently living through, our mass media regales us on a daily basis with the argument that every possessor of a penis spends their every waking hour ruthlessly abusing and exploiting everybody with a vagina. Although the Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Tribunals disallowed the concept of collective guilt, the fact that Harvey Weinstein allegedly liked masturbating in the company of actresses and female employees has been used to justify constant injunctions to the rest of us to reconsider our behaviour and attitudes towards women. I’ve decided, instead, that now is an appropriate moment to revisit Vicente Aranda’s La Novia Ensangretada (“The Blood Spattered Bride”, 1972), which co-opts Sheridan Le Fanu (previously adapted into Dreyer’s Vampyr, 1931, Vadim’s Et Mourir De Plaisir, 1960 and miscellaneous Hammer “lesbian vampire” efforts) in the service of a feminist parable of Aranda’s country waiting for the death of Franco so that it can take its place in the 20th century and at the heart of Europe. It was precisely such (often female centred) exploitation movies as this that blazed the trail subsequently taken up, to international acclaim, by Arthouse directors like Pedro Almodovar.

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The House That Screamed and Bell From Hell refugee Maribel Martin (as Susan) and Simón Andreu (as her husband, whose name we never learn… in fact none of the male characters seem to have names) are newlyweds, honeymooning in his family’s country seat. Things seem idyllic enough but Susan is rapidly alienated by her beau’s increasingly boorish, macho behaviour, which includes rough lovemaking, brusquely helping himself to al-fresco blow jobs, shooting foxes and even at one point  (that old cave man cliché) literally dragging her around by her hair! During a visit to the family crypt, Susan discovers the ancestors of her in-laws included one Mircalla Karstein, who married into the clan only to butcher her disagreeable spouse…

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As her own husband’s obnoxious behaviour intensifies, Susan becomes increasingly obsessed with the figure of Mircalla, catching glimpses of her (in the comely form of Alexandra Bastedo) around the grounds, dreaming of sexual encounters with her (recalling some of my own adolescent reveries concerning the divine star of The Champions) and also of embarking with her on the gory dispatch of her husband. A trendy shrink (Dean Selmier) spouts supposedly reassuring stuff about “the Judith complex” and hysterical young ladies’ fear of penetration.

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Judith With The Head Of Holofernes by Luis Cranach the Elder, 1530.

Indeed the Andrea Dworkin-type coaching that Susan receives in her dreams from Mircalla (“He has pierced your flesh to humiliate you… he has spat inside your body to enslave you… punish his arrogance, destroy his masculinity!”) seems to bear out his diagnosis… but is Mircalla merely a hallucination? Why does a vicious carving knife keep turning up under Susan’s pillow, despite all attempts to hide it? And will Susan actually enact her murderous dreams? Well, an opening title informed us (and the good doctor reminds us) that, in the words of Plato: “The good ones are those who are content to dream what the wicked actually practice”…

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“Eeh that’s champion, lass!”

One morning, walking on the beach, hubby discovers Susan’s mystery woman completely buried in the sand…. just like that! He brings the amnesiac girl (who can only remember that her name is Carmilla… geddit?) home and blithely waffles on about himself, blissfully oblivious to the growing sexual tension between his bride and the attractive newcomer. They start taking long nocturnal walks together and, after a tip-off from that psychiatrist, hubby eventually discovers them sleeping naked together in a coffin, down in that crypt. It’s too late for Relate to save this one, as the now vampirised Susan and her supernatural sapphic pal, having already killed off the doc and a gamekeeper, turn their murderous attentions on Andreu’s character.

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Love is a battlefield…

He dispatches their schoolgirl victim / accomplice then traps them in their coffin, shoots it full of holes and is about to carve open their breasts when a freeze-frame and the arrival of the newspaper headline shown below definitively concludes matters… or does it? Andreu can be heard at the end insisting that the female vampires will return.

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Such dreams of discontent are the natural product of a pressure cooker society but in an ideal world, nobody’s going to regard their contents as the template for a social program (Andrea Dworkin is no longer with us, I’m told and it’s unlikely that she left any heirs) but like De Sade, Mircalla and Susan must be allowed to dream…. indeed, how can anybody stop them? The fact that their dreams are mediated for our consumption by Sheridan Le Fanu and Vicente Aranda is something to ponder. And while we’re pondering it, here’s a word from our sponsors…

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“Double bill be damned…”

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Heads They Win, Tails We Lose… THE BIG RACKET Reviewed.

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Pretty much squeezed out of the giallo thrillers that proliferated in the ’70s, Italian cops decamped into a cinematic genre of their own. Reflecting contemporary public angst over pandemic political and criminal violence in the 1970s (“the Years of Lead”), this particularly torrid cinematic stream can be sourced to La Polizia Ringrazia (aka Execution Squad / The Enforcers), a 1971 film by erstwhile comedy specialist Stefano Vanzina (aka Steno) that starred Enrico Maria Salerno in the authoritarian cop role and owed a fairly obvious debt to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, released earlier in the same year. It took Enzo Castellari’s La Polizia Incrimina, La Legge Assolve (aka High Crime, 1973) however, to really ignite the box offices. Castellari, already a veteran director of action packed, acrobatic spag-wests and war films, here hooked up for the first of many times with Franco Nero, playing Vice-Commissioner Belli, a maverick cop who’s out to close down the supply of heroin from France into Italy. If all of this sounds vaguely reminiscent of “a certain William Friedkin picture” (indeed, this picture has also been released under the alias “The Marseilles Connection”), Castellari goes so far as to as to bring back Fernando Rey as Belli’s adversary and stages a mighty familiar looking car chase, while upping the ante in terms of sheer sadism (the drug gang think nothing of cutting the nads off of those that cross them!) Later in 1973, Sergio Martino knocked out another saga of rulebook trashing cops The Violent Professionals (Milano Trema – La Polizia Vuole Giustizia) and followed it in 1974 with the similarly themed Silent Action (La Polizia Accusa: Il Servizio Segreto Uccide). The same year, Castellari and Franco Nero were back with Il Cittadina Si Ribella (“The Citizen Rebels”) aka Street Law, in which Nero’s revolting citizen strikes back against a system so tardy about protecting the citizenry that it’s virtually complicit in criminality. In The Big Racket (1976) Castellari develops his argument a step further by effectively identifying The State itself as a criminal conspiracy.

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Enzo’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take anymore…

While some of its genre predecessors strive for gritty social relevance with plot points that paradoxically leave credibility teetering on the edge of a precipice, The Big Racket gleefully dons hobnail boots to kick the fucker right over the brink. Its in-your-face opening depicts a business premises being trashed by a rent-a-goon gang of OTT ne’er do wells. Their colourful apparel and larger than life anti-social antics clearly foreshadow the cartoon characterisations of Castellari’s apocalyptic trilogy Bronx Warriors (1982), Bronx Warriors 2 and The New Barbarians (both 1983) and The Big Racket depicts civil society as one step removed from that kind of total breakdown, with wrecking gangs roaming the city despoiling honest citizens at will. On this kind of form, Castellari makes Michael Winner look like a tree hugging Lefty!

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It’s big…

The aforementioned goons are enforcing a protection racket run by foppish Englishman (?!?) Rudy (John Loffredo). God help anyone who refuses to cough up. When one of their marks, restaurateur Luigi Gestore (Renzo Palmer) does stand up to them, they abduct and rape his schoolgirl daughter (Castellari’s own daughter, Stefania Girolami, later an assistant director on such Hollywood productions as Super Mario Bros, Dawson’s Creek, American Gothic and Empire Records, now back working for her dad). She subsequently kills herself out of shame.

Needless to say there’s a hard-assed cop keen on closing down the operation. In the absence of Franco Nero we get equally hunky Fabio Testi as Inspector Nico Palmieri. When he is rumbled investigating the racket, its perpetrators have no qualms at all about rolling a police car and its occupant into a quarry, a quite amazing sequence whose realisation Castellari discusses on this disc’s audio commentary track.

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When Palmieri gets out of hospital, you can bet your ass he’s even keener than before to kick some racketeering ass. It doesn’t hurt that his partner Sal (Salvatore Calimero) is a kung fu whirlwind who can beat up several assailants simultaneously and thinks nothing of kicking a lady racketeer in her private parts to convey the message that crime doesn’t pay!

What does cramp their investigative style is the oily civil rights lawyer Giovanni Giuni (Antonio Marsina) who continually gets the protectioneering hoodlums out of jail and protests that they are being overly harshly treated for their high spirits and roguish shenanigans: “These kids are just blowing off some steam” (?!?) is his weasel-worded rationalisation of their crimes. When Palmieri’s attempts to cut through all this bullshit get him taken off the case, he figures that he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Hiring the services of gentlemanly con man Pepe (a great comic relief turn from Death Wish alumnus Vincent Gardenia) he sets out to infiltrate The Big Racket. Two major set pieces ensue. The first is an astonishingly choreographed and sharply edited shoot out at a railway station, a vintage Castellari action sequence featuring all his familiar trademarks of slow-mo, multiple angles and madly gurning, machine-gun totin’ extras somersaulting through the air.

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It is here that by-standing skeet shooter Giovanni (Orso Maria Guerrini) conveniently throws in his lot with the cops as an act of civic duty… not so convenient for his family though, as the mob respond by urinating on and raping his wife, before setting fire to her (pity that wasn’t the other way around!)

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Palmieri recruits him, Pepe, Gestore and Doringo (Romano Puppo), a lifer seeking to cut a deal and get himself  out of jail, for the climactic confrontation with the gang at their annual general meeting, held in another of Castellari’s beloved disused factories. During the ensuing mayhem the supreme boss of the ever-expanding protection racket is revealed… a real non-surprise this one, it’s that smoothy civil rights lawyer Giuni. Castellari really couldn’t spell it out any clearer than this – liberals aren’t just well-intentioned but misguided wimps, they’re keen and active participants in the destruction of Society!

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Marsina, overacting frantically, spells out the Big Racket’s ambitious corporate plan in alarming terms: “Factories, restaurants, shops, hotels… if they want to stay open, they’ll pay us. In fact eventually every living individual will have to pay us. If they refuse, their gas main might blow up and take half the house with it. People will soon learn that they have no defence against the terror that we will create. Just one phone call, one threat will make them pay. Do you have kids? You don’t want to lose them? Then pay! You don’t have the money? You have a house so sell it and pay. No house? Then half your salary each month. If you want your kids to live then pay, pay! Naturally some will hesitate… so we kill a couple of children… a few examples and people will pay without question. But we’ll need to cover ourselves… we can buy anybody, politicians, policemen, magistrates… anybody at all!”

This chilling vision of the future is cut short by a hail of bullets from Palmieri and co. From their vantage points they mow down most of the mobsters, though inevitably they are themselves cut down in their turn. Palmieri confronts Mr Big Smoothy Lawyer in a toilet, appropriately enough, and answers his ironic, impassioned demands for legal protection with a skinful of lead.

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Outside the factory, Rudy and a handful of surviving racketeers attempt to drive away but Palmieri’s bullets have for some reason acquired the ability to make anything they hit go up in a mini mushroom cloud… possibly a symbolic representation of the welled up power of his righteous wrath, more probably a realisation by Castellari that he had 90 minutes worth in the can and needed to wind things up, smartish.

Testi is a considerable actor but can’t do much here with a character who is little more than a cypher. We don’t learn anything much about Palmieri, other than the fact that criminals drive him into a murderous rage. He certainly does nothing effective to protect any of the people whom he eggs on to defy the baddies, all of them coming to a sticky end. Perhaps this is why Castellari’s freeze frame final shot depicts Palmieri howling in anguish, smashing his rifle to bits.

It’s no small undertaking to tackle The Big Racket!

Extras wise, as well as the inevitable trailer you get a lively, informative commentary courtesy of Poppa Castellari and his son Andrea Girolami. Nice.

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Socket To Me, Baby… Looking Back On THE BLIND DEAD

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“The Templars in De Ossorio’s films are the perfect embodiment of fascism, because they are both soldiers and priests.”

– Lucio Fulci in conversation with the author.

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“Allo, darlin’…”

The Order Of The Poor Knights Of Christ And The Temple Of Solomon (The Templars to thee and me) was founded by one Hugues de Payens in 1118, with the mission statement of protecting pilgrims in The First Crusade, and they quickly evolved into a kind of medieval SAS (“‘the Militia of Christ”). Although each Templar Knight took a Benedictine vow of personal poverty, the organisation itself grew massively rich on donations from various religiously inclined groups and individuals. Meanwhile in The Holy Land, the Knights were being exposed to various strands of Jewish, Muslim and Gnostic mysticism… reputedly they even had links with the legendary Hashishim or Order Of Assassins. Whatever, they were said to have absorbed all manner of esoteric knowledge and, on a more secular level, used their increasing riches to become involved in what was essentially  the birth of international banking. Due to their connections with the Cathar heretics of Languedoc, it was even suspected that these knights were intent on setting up their own theocratic state in that region of France. Certainly, King Philip IV thought they were getting too big for their military boots, a decision presumably influenced by the fact that he owed them a fistful of francs. In 1307 Philip arrested, tortured and executed all the Templars he could lay his hands on and put pressure on The Pope to disown the Order, which was official disbanded by Clement V in 1312. History is written by the victors and the devil worshipping atrocities claimed by Philip to justify his actions are best taken with a pinch of salt. The Templars have remained active, if nowhere else, in the annals of conspiracy theory, which detects their dark hand at work everywhere, shaping the course of human destiny on behalf of a secretive, sinister elite. A lively literary and now cinematic sub-genre flourishes, enriching (if not The Order) the likes of Dan Brown and Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code, 2006).

Of more interest to Freudstein followers is the cycle of Spanish movies detailing the darker side of the Templar story, spearheaded by a quartet of classic horror flicks from Amando De Ossorio (and collected in a spanky Blue Underground DVD box set which you might still be able to pick up if you hunt around a bit.) De Ossorio was born in Galicia anytime between 1918 and 1925 (accounts vary… strangely, he was also reported as deceased several times before actually breathing his last in Madrid on 13.01.01) and earned his living from shorts, documentaries and industrial films before making his feature debut with the paella western Tomb Of The Pistolero in 1964. Jack Taylor once told me that horror films, with their attendant hordes of damsels in distress, were one of the few ways of expressing anything vaguely sexual in the buttoned-down, uptight milieu of Franco’s Spain. De Ossorio’s first credit in this genre was the sexy (Anita Ekberg starring) vampire effort Malenka in 1969. Night Of The Sorcerers (1974) is a ludicrously schlocky leopard cult / zombie epic whose purported African setting (actually a park in Madrid) provided the perfect pretext for plentiful sub-National Geographic female nudity and The Loreley’s Grasp (1974, a particularly busy year for our man) was based on an old Germanic myth about a beautiful siren luring sailors to their deaths on The Rhine. Most profitably though, De Ossorio returned to certain Galician local legends that had haunted his childhood, those of the terrifying Templars. Whether he personally added the element of blindness to these scary stories is a moot point.

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Ossorio’s La Noche Del Terror Ciego / Tombs of the Blind Dead  (1971) reveals that instead of Templars rescuing maidens, the maidens need rescuing from them when, having been initiated into sinister occult practices during their stint crusading around The Holy Land, they return to 13th Century Spain with a drastically revised take on knightly chivalry. The Templars ride into town, select the juiciest local nubiles, throw them over their saddles and ride back to their clubhouse, where the girls are crucified and slashed by the swords of jousting knights, whose colleagues stand around looking on sternly, with their arms folded, looking for all the world as though they about to break into a rendition of “Templar rap”. Instead, they dive in on the unfortunate victims’ punctured boobs, gulp down their blood and hack out their hearts before messily gobbling them down. These shenanigans are supposed to secure eternal life for the Templars, but party-pooping villagers break up their revels to string the naughty knights up so that crows can peck out their eyes. A know-it-all historian in “the present day” (i.e. early ‘70s Spain) tells  protagonists Roger (César Burner) and Betty (Lone Fleming) all about it and predicts the vengeful return of the Templars. To nobody’s great surprise – and the delight of gore-hounds everywhere – this is precisely what happens.

Sexually confused Virginia (María Elena Arpón / “Helen Harp”) jumps off a train after her girlfriend Betty (Fleming) starts flirting with hunky Roger  and camps down in a derelict Templar monastery, where her crop top and hot pants are enough to raise the dead (did the trick for me too, actually!) Centuries of decomposition have reduced the Templars to skeletons, but they’re still pretty sprightly  and – despite the tufty little beards growing out of their jawbones  and their dusty duffel-coats, which make them look like trad jazz-loving CND activists – they’re certainly not pacifists! Scrambling out of those tombs in the banks of fog that always roll down during this sort of thing, they ride around on their skeletal horses in slow motion (to the accompaniment of Anton Garcia Abril’s spell-binding score, which mixes mumbling monks, tolling bells and the echoing of horses’ hoof beats and would become one of of the most memorable features of the ongoing Templar series), using their supersensitive hearing to locate fresh victims. After snuffing a couple of cuties who were reckless enough to wander into their cemetery territory, the Templars hijack a train and put its passengers to the sword – cue the oft-censored shot of a babe in arms being soaked in its mother’s blood.

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That’s about it as far as plot is concerned and there are some passages that do drag a bit, but these are mitigated by the chuckles to be had at the the early ‘70s fashions on display and, a propos of nothing in particular, De Ossorio tosses in a soft focus flashback to sixth-form sapphic shenanigans. There’s an equally gratuitous rape scene, though the perpetrator immediately meets a well deserved messy fate at the boney hands of the censorious Templars. The suspicion lingers that De Ossorio didn’t get all the footage he wanted, on account of budgetary or scheduling problems, or whatever… certain plot threads remain undeveloped, for instance the suggestion that Templar victims can return from the dead to transmit their contagion to others. This Romeroesque touch is never embroidered in the film nor indeed anywhere else in the subsequent Templar series. It also has to be said that the film’s final shots are oddly chosen and anti-climactic…

Return Of Evil D

… though they did leave the door open for  the Templars’ sophomore outing, El Ataque De Los Muertos Sin Ojos / Return of the Evil Dead (1973). The revisionist opening of this one displays a cavalier attitude towards the Templars rulebook, as vengeful villagers with flaming torches, rather than ravenous ravens, put out the eyeballs of Spain’s coolest ghouls. “Do you think you will find your way back without eyes?” they are taunted. No problem, actually and their mummified remains are soon gatecrashing an ill-advised “modern day” festive re-enactment of their dastardly deeds, with predictably drastic results. After the Templars have taken time out to punish an adulterous coupling (the girl’s escape attempt climaxes in the shocking revelation of a zombie horse to a disbelieving switchboard operator) and massacre the festival revellers, not to mention some incongruous “comic” sequences involving the lazy governor and his improper relationship with his housemaid, the balance of the picture unfolds with the rescued girl from the initial attack cooped up among a squabbling bunch of characters (including Lone Fleming from Tombs) besieged in a church (making De Ossorio’s constant denials that he was influenced by George Romero sound a bit feeble). In a direct lift from Night Of The Living Dead, one guy makes a run for his car and ends up as the centre-piece of Templar barbecue. Corrupt mayor Fernando Sancho trues to ensure his own escape by decoying the Blind Dead with a defenceless tiny tot (boo! hiss!) and there’s a well-sustained, suspenseful sequence in which Murdo (the mandatory gibbering village loon) loses his head over a girl, quite literally, leading her through an underground series of passage-ways, only to be greeted by sword-wielding undead Knights at the other end. Finally the Templars petrify and crumble in the morning sunlight, hunky Tony Kendall leading what’s left of the human characters between their desiccated husks to freedom, in a tense “resolution” reminiscent of that to Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Le Monde

Our favourite visually challenged, deceased dudes notched up their hat-trick of screen appearances in El Buque Maldito (also 1974, aka Ghost Galleon / Horror Of The Zombies). Unfortunately this is the weakest entry in the series by a long  chalk or, shall we say, several fathoms, despite an enthusiastic endorsement from late Cramps front man and trash movie connoisseur Lux Interior. Ossorio is on the record as attributing the Templars’ slow motion movements to “a displacement in the space / time continuum”. Perhaps this would explain why they turn up in Ghost Galleon, sleeping in their coffins on board… well, on board a ghost galleon, which has apparently been sailing the seven seas since the 16th Century, stuffed with their ill-gotten loot and accompanied by a perpetual pea-soup fog. You can bet your ass that when the ghost galleon’s course is crossed by a smaller boat packed with drug-crazed, bikini-clad, lesbian glamour models (De Ossorio also throws in the now mandatory recreational rape scene) the puritanical Knights are soon out of their coffins, waving their swords and slaughtering swingers left, right and centre. From their point of view this is made easier by the fact that although they’re moving as slowly as ever, their potential victims have pretty much nowhere to run except elsewhere on the galleon. The downside though, from the viewers’ perspective, comprises a completely static “plot” and the conspicuous absence of those slow-motion skeletal horse-rides that worked so well in the previous two instalments. Jack Taylor and the last surviving bimbo model have the brain wave of driving the Templars back into their coffins with fire then slinging them overboard. At this point the eyes of the horned skull which the Templars worship start glowing red and their vessel (laughably rendered by a model that will have all Spinal Tap fans thinking “Stonehenge!”) bursts into flame. The two survivors  struggle to the shore and collapse on the beach, only to find themselves surrounded by the clutching deadsters. The freeze frame closing shot suggests that there’s no stopping the Templars though, in truth, this substandard effort suggested they were washed up in every sense of the term.

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After their living death on an ocean wave, the Templars took to the sea so well that they spend 1975’s La Noche De Las Gaviotas / Night Of The Seagulls bumming around the beach, brandishing buckets and spades, holding bloody beach barbecues in honour of a Lovecraftian fish-god (OK, so I was kidding about the buckets and spades). Only briefly do we get atmospheric shots of them riding their horses through the surf, and far too sparing use is made of Anton Garcia Abril’s Templar theme, one of the series’ trump cards (here largely supplanted by irritating tinkly incidental muzak). Otherwise, thankfully, it’s back to Templar basics. In the pre-titles sequence Medieval honeymooners are sacrificed to the Deadites’ grotesque amphibian gargoyle god. In “modern times”, Dr Henry Stein and his wife Jean (Victor Petit and Maria Kosti) arrive to take over their new practice, whose regulars are rural retards from central casting. Everybody fears the coming of darkness, especially Teddy, De Ossorio’s gooniest village loon yet (“Teddy’s afraid … they always beat teddy!”), though relatively sympathetically treated. The doc and his wife eavesdrop on an eerie torch lit beach procession, unaware that it’s intended to placate the Templars with the sacrifice of a virgin, who’s been taken away from her wailing family by black-shawled old biddies.

The Steins make friends with one pretty village girl called Lucy, whose own number soon comes up in the lottery for virginal sacrifices. Henry frees her, prompting a Templar siege of his home. With Lucy out of the picture, Henry matter-of-factly tells his wife: “It’s obvious that they need another victim for their ceremonial rites … and it looks like they’ve chosen you!” That’s some bedside manner you’ve got there, doc… After the expected atmospheric horse-back chase, the Steins upturn and smash the Blind Dead’s idol at which point The Templars return, visibly crumbling, to their coffins, for a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion, though Seagulls is undoubtedly a better note for them to bow out on than Ghost Galleon.

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La cruz del diablo 2

The aforementioned Blue Underground box set, comprising these four films (and plentiful bonus material), is touted as the  complete Blind Dead saga, but a truly complete account of The Templars’ horror film exploits would also have to include John Gilling’s directorial swan song, The Devil’s Cross (1975), in which they populate the troubled protagonist’s dreams. Readers might recall my interview with Paul Naschy, in which he complained bitterly that Gilling had hijacked this picture from him.

Unfortunately we must also account for one of Jesus Franco’s sloppier offerings, in which he tried to jump the Templar bandwagon approximately a decade after it had stopped rolling. The Internet Movie Data Base identifies Franco’s Mansion Of The Living Dead as a 1985 production, though I’m more inclined to trust the bad film boffins from Severin, who put it out on DVD in 2006 and claim it as a 1983 effort. Admittedly Franco’s fractured filmography (in which films are typically re-edited and ransacked to be combined with footage from other, completely unconnected efforts, even unto porno editions) lends itself to precisely such confusion. It could also be reasonably suggested that, sorry Jess, with films of this calibre… nobody really gives a toss! MOTLD “boasts” similar production values (OK, the cinematography is actually quite nice in this one, even if that zoom lens is as overworked as ever) and plot mechanics (down to the “comic relief” peeping Tom character) to Franco’s insufferable “video nasty” (one of three) Bloody Moon, which was shot in 1982.

Allegedly based on a novel by one D. Khunne (one of Franco’s many pseudonyms) the story, such as it is, kicks off with four topless waitresses of varying attractiveness (including Franco’s muse Lina Romay / “Candy Coster) arriving from Munich at a luxury holiday resort in the Canary Isles, with the primary intention of getting shagged by as many men as possible ( “The Sadean Woman” according to Jesus Franco!) Unfortunately there are no other guests, male or otherwise, and equally mysteriously, the hotel seems to be staffed by just one guy, the mean and moody Carlos Savonarola (“Robert Foster” / Antonio Mayans). Undaunted, our hot pants wearing “lovelies” quickly pair up for some hot’n’heavy (though never, at least in the Severin release, quite crossing over into hard core territory) girl-on-girl lovin’. “This vacation is gonna be unbelievable” predicts Candy as her lover laps away at her… truer than she knows! Needless to say, Carlos is soon grabbing himself a piece of the sweaty action, though he hastily breaks off from another spot of cunnilingus with the observation “My God – it’s 4 o’clock…. I’ve got to go and feed a sick woman” (change your douche, darling!) Turns out he’s actually got to go and torment his rather butch-looking wife Mabel (Mabel Escano) with some food which she can’t reach from the corner of the room in which he’s chained her up.

Just in case the girls haven’t twigged yet that something rather rum is going on, their next sunbathing session is rudely interrupted by a near miss with a flying meat cleaver. “Who would want to murder four hotties like us?” asks one of them, indignantly. Who indeed? A fan of good acting? Their efforts to crack this mystery involve wandering around the hotel corridors endlessly in various states of undress. Is that a shadow, a tuft of hair or something more sinister protruding from between Candy’s ample cheeks at one point? (“Emergency delivery of toilet paper, please, to the mansion of the living dead!”)  When the girls finally tire of those corridors, they stroll off separately to the island’s nearest dilapidated church, which turns out to be Templar HQ… and yes, the mouldy monks are well up for chastising some promiscuous females.

Jess's Mansion

Now, Amando De Ossorio really made an effort to get his Blind Dead dudes looking like mummified corpses, but Franco’s budget obviously only extended to a few white sheets, a couple of joke shop skull masks and, because there weren’t enough of those to go around, a bottle of calamine lotion to splash on the faces of the other ghouls. Though not looking too impressive, these guys wax eloquent about their unholy intentions… “Our brother Savonarola has brought another sinner to the court of the Cathars, the saintly men with white robes and black hearts” (Ooh-er) …“I propose that she is put to death while she enjoys carnal sin, so that her desirable body many join the ranks of Satan’s servers… she will receive the mark of the accursed semen”. Sounds like a plan.  The unfortunate victim is stripped of her sparkly hot pants and enthusiastically raped and stabbed by the Templars, whose legs don’t seem to have suffered any discernible decomposition over the Centuries (their todgers still up to the job, too!) “Bless you and damn you…” intones the top Templar: “Enjoy the mortal sin… may your sins never be forgiven!” I bet he says that to all the girls…

Candy discovers Mabel, still chained to the table, and learns of the sadistic way in which Carlo has been treating her. “We work in a topless bar… we’re waitresses showing off our boobs!” is her helpful opening conversational gambit, and she further advises the hapless captive that this career option is very  “in” at the moment. It’s probably at this point that Mabel decides to eat the rat poison which her husband has thoughtfully left for her. None of this seems to dampen Candy’s ardour for Carlo, who announces that he’s one of the Templars and has recognised her as a reincarnation of the Princess Irina (an ongoing character in Franco’s tangled mythos) who had cursed the Cathars while they were burning her at the stake, condemning them to an eternity of living death. You crisp the chick, you gotta pay the price…

I won’t give away the ending, because a) I don’t want to spoil it for you and b) it made absolutely no sense whatever to me. Severin present Mansion Of The Living Dead in a lush 2.35:1 transfer, enhanced for wide screen, which is probably better than it deserves. English subtitles compliment the Spanish language soundtrack and as bonus material you get a featurette, The House That Jess Built, in which Franco and faithful cohort Candy / Lina are interviewed and the director attempts to explain the theological underpinning of his work. Luis Bunuel he ain’t… I’d usually give a film like this the dreaded “for completists only” but the aforementioned Internet Movie Data Base suggests that even completists give it a miss! A nod’s as good as a wink to…

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