Posts Tagged With: Eurohorror

Lucio Fulci Grabs You By The Pussy… THE BLACK CAT Reviewed

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BD. Regions A/B. Arrow. 15.

Even while Lucio Fulci’s zombie quartet was wowing the splatterati in the early ’80s, any attempt to do critical justice to his underrated non-Z offerings was thwarted, if not by sheer unavailability then by the poorly panned, scanned, expurgated and washed-out looking video releases that some of them did manage… One On Top Of The Other, Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, The Naples Connection, Manhattan Baby and “The Eroticist” all suffered in this way, as did the film under consideration here. All have subsequently been resurrected and reappraised in all their diverse digital glory and now it’s the turn of Fulci’s 1981 effort, The Black Cat…

Fulci only got the gig directing Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) for Fabrizio De Angelis after both Enzo Castellari and Joe D’Amato had turned it down. When that one scored big time at international box offices, De Angelis overlooked the obvious claims of Fulci to direct his quickie cash-in on his own quickie Dawn Of The Dead cash-in, 1980’s Zombi Holocaust (possibly in an attempt to boost profits by cutting costs, possibly because he just couldn’t get on with the notoriously irascible Fulci), ultimately signing up Castellari’s dad (!?!) Only when City Of The Living Dead aka Gates Of Hell (1980), wrought by Fulci and his crack team of collaborators (Salvati, De  Rossi, Frizzi) for rival producer Giovanni Masini, brought home the Grindhouse bacon, did De Angelis see fit to liaise once more with Lucio for that crucial 1981 brace of low-budget living dead miracles The Beyond and House By The Cemetery. In the meantime Fulci had undertaken this predictably looser-than-diarrhoea Pasta Paura variation (“freely adapted”, as the credits readily admit, by Biagio Proietti) on Poe’s portentous pussy parable for producer Giulio Sbarigia.

Much loved by UK horror hounds, Fulci obviously found these British Isles a convivial environment, as witnessed by his swinging London giallo Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971) and the Beachy Head opening to The Psychic / Sette Note In Nero (1977.) Here he appears to have gone native, turning in a rendering of The Black Cat that you might swear, if you didn’t know differently, had been produced by Amicus in the early ‘70s. This impression is underscored by the iconic presence of Asylum star Patrick Magee (on top scenery-chewing form) in the role of Professor Robert Miles, whose attempts at communicating with both the eponymous evil moggy and recently deceased inhabitants of his village recall nobody as much as doomed maverick record producer Joe Meek. Rumour has it that this role was originally offered to Peter Cushing.

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The rolling pea-soupers that frequently fill the screen are another nod to the iconography of Brithorror but also reminiscent of the prevailing weather conditions in City Of The Living Dead’s Dunwich. Needless to say, the man who directed that priest-hanging, brain drilling, gut-puking atrocity doesn’t let all this eldritch atmosphere obstruct the unfolding of the expected cavalcade of ultra-violence… I mean, Daniela Doria’s in this film (misspelled as “Dorio” in its titles, though a victim by any other name…) for Chrissake! Surreptitious hanky panky is often the cause of DD’s demises in Fulci’s films and here, as “Maureen Grayson”, she sneaks off with the amorous Stan to make out in a boat house, only for that darned cat to make off with the key and sabotage the air conditioning, so both of them  suffocate (which apparently involves foaming rabidly at the mouth), their putrefying corpses (in a typically gratuitous Fulci touch) subsequently being gnawed on by rats.

Because their disappearance follows hot on the heels of a guy going head first through his windscreen then burning to death in the wreckage of his car (after another run in with that malevolent moggy), Scotland Yard bike over one of their finest, Police Inspector Gorley (!) to this rural backwater. As played by David Warbeck, his double act with local beat bobby Wilson (“Al Cliver” / Pier Luigi Conti) makes for a characteristically skewed and perversely enjoyable Italian take on British police procedure (and approved hair styles!)

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Not that this dynamic duo can do much to quell the ever-accelerating accumulation of bodies… the local drunk is stalked through a derelict building by you-know-what until he falls from a beam and is impaled on some handy-dandy spikes. Then the feline fiend starts a fire in the house of Maureen’s mom (Dagmar Lassander), who ends up crashing through the bedroom window in her flaming flannelette nighty (wasn’t that a George Formby song?) Warbeck ends up in hospital too after his own run-in with the eponymous flea-bag, though Fulci’s decision to cut the sequence of his convalescence and spring DW as a surprise survivor at the picture’s climax meant that his customary directorial cameo, this time as a doctor, also had to go.

Did I nearly forget to mention Mimsy Farmer as “Jill Travers”? If so it’s because her turn as an ex-pat American photographer (who spends her time strolling around local cemeteries and climbing down into the catacombs and ossuaries with which Fulci apparently believed our English countryside to be littered) is one of her least effective forays into the field of Pasta Paura. As for her misfiring love scenes with Warbeck… put it this way, David – normally gentlemanly to a fault –  remembered her to me as “that odd bitch”! He also told me that Fulci advised him not to worry too much about acting in The Black Cat because the script wasn’t up to it! The film is indeed an entertaining albeit insubstantial souffle, which only serves to underscore the intensity of Magee’s mesmerising central performance, a performance that is doubly (trebly?) impressive given that he was simultaneously battling the poor script, alcoholism (not very effectively) and Fulci (the director intimated to me that their troubled working relationship culminated in an actual fist fight!)

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“C’mon, own up… who farted?”

Of course the other factor holding everything together is that Fulci (when he could take time out from beating up his lead actors!) was a considerable visual stylist. With the aid of favoured DP Sergio Salvati he mounts painterly compisitions and delivers familiar low slung steadicam shots (here rendering feline POV), signature tracking zooms and ultra close-ups on characters’ eyes (while uncharacteristically resisting the temptation to force sharp objects into them.) Editor Vincenzo Tomassi, art director Massimo Antonello Geleng and production designer Massimo Lentini all make sterling contributions to that Fulci look. Makeup FX technicians Franco Di Girolamo and Rosario Prestopino substitute satisfactorily for the De Rossis and music wise, the absence of Fabio Frizzi barely registers, given a splendidly quirky Pino Donaggio score that perfectly compliments Fulci’s visuals by alternating the beautiful (wistful woodwind motifs) with the bizarre (droning bag-pipes!)

Arrow’s 2K restoration of The Back Cat presents all this sound, vision and feline fury with admirable clarity, restoring this previously marginalised title to the pantheon of late ’70s / early ’80s Fulci classics where it belongs. This edition boasts, furthermore, some truly nifty bonus materials. In “Frightened Dagmar”, Frau Lassander reflects on her lengthy exploitation career and how the roles dried up when she attained “a certain age.” Interesting that the supposedly misogynistic Fulci found roles for her when her bloom had faded though, as she laughingly recalls, he nearly did set fire to her for real. I’m yet to check out the audio commentary by erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander but can’t help wondering if Stephen Thrower might have been a better choice to deliver it. Thrower fans fret ye not, though, as he’s all over the rest of this disc. The featurette From Poe Into Fulci: The Spirit Of Perverseness hints at the painstaking approach to Fulci studies which make the upcoming, updated edition of his Beyond Terror tome from FAB Press such a tantalising prospect. At Home With David Warbeck is a lengthy interview with the much-missed actor at his Hampstead pile, The Convent. Looks like it was recorded on super-VHS at best but Jeez, did it bring back some wonderful memories. Shortest and sweetest though is In The Paw Prints Of The Black Cat where ST, in suitable rambling attire, takes us on a walking tour of the film’s Hambledon and West Wickham locations, including the caves where Mimsy Farmer had a rummage among them bones and Francis Dashwood before her had hosted his Hellfire Club bunga-bungas. By its very nature the shortest of shorts, this one had me wishing that it could have gone on ten times as long. You get a trailer and a reversible sleeve of course but no booklet… apparently that was reserved for the pricey box set in which Arrow previously  paired The Black Cat with Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key, a title which I’ll be reviewing in these very blog pages shortly.

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He thought he saw a puddy tat…

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Brain Drain On The Train… HORROR EXPRESS Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions A/1. Severin. Unrated.

If you’ll indulge me in a spot of nostalgia (and just try stopping me!), Eugenio Martin’s Horror Express (Pánico En El Transiberiano, 1972) was – along with the likes of Witchfinder General, Tales From The Crypt, et al – a regular fixture on the Friday late night horror slot with which Granada TV used to enliven my humdrum adolescence. In those days of course (sit up and pay attention, Junior, this is for your own good!) we didn’t have the benefit of VCRs (never mind digital recording) and, given that the gaps between transmission of individual films might be as long as two years, it was a catastrophe of global proportions if you succumbed to sleep half way through this or some or other horror gem, usually waking up during the credits with a stiff neck and another significant wait in prospect.

Flash forward past the VHS era and into incipient middle age, at the dawn of DVD, where Horror Express became one of the most widely released titles on the nascent format, mostly in scuzzy looking and not necessarily authorised editions on fly-by-night labels, apparently because of a misconception that it had entered the public domain. Indeed, if memory serves me well, this is the first title I ever saw on DVD, round at David Flint’s gaff. Image Entertainment’s managed a decent R1 version that has been deleted for some time now and was followed  by a R2 incarnation from Cinema Club’s Horror Classics imprint, very welcome despite its absence of extras, full screen presentation and rather tired, solarised-looking print, which seemed identical to the one that subsequently got screened by the BBC (Cinema Club seems to have been acquired at some point as an arm of BBC enterprises.) Trust Severin to do it right, with the best looking release in ages…

Born in 1925 and now (if indeed he’s still alive) long retired, Eugenio Martin was an able journeyman director of adventure yarns until the success of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy (shot in Spain) initiated a vogue for Paella Westerns in which he enthusiastically participated with the likes of El Precio De Un Hombre (aka Bounty Killer, 1966) , Requiem Para El Gringo aks Duel In The Eclipse (1968) and as late as 1971’s El Hombre De Rio Malo (“Bad Man’s River” aka Hunt The Man down)

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By this point Martin had already started dabbling in the horror genre, his 1969 offering Una Vela Para El Diablo (“A Candle For The Devil”) showing a preoccupation with hidebound social mores that conceal psychotic deviance which would be amplified in later efforts up to and including the early ’80s brace Sobrenatural and Aquella Casa En Las Afueras (“That House On The Outskirts”). The latter turns on a memorable, Sheila Keith type turn from the venerable Alida Valli and features abortion as a plot point in a way that would have been impossible scant years earlier, under Franco’s regime.

There’s a similar faith vs secularism motif in the Spanish / British co-production Horror Express (1972), easily the best of Martin’s fear flicks… how could it fail to be, combining as it does a truly stellar cast (including Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in their strongest non-Hammer outing) with some totally wacked out plotting. Said action commences with Sir Alexander Saxton (your basic Professor Challenger type, as essayed by Lee) unearthing some kind of deep frozen yeti in scenic Szechuan (actually all the impressive locations in this picture are Spanish) at the turn of the Century. Later he runs into old scientific adversary Dr Wells (Cushing) at Shanghai railway station, as both are about to board
the Transiberian Express. The prickly professional rivalry between these two leads to Wells bribing a porter to take a peek at the contents of Saxon’s crate. Oh, mister Porter… what he finds is a thawed out troglodyte whose glowing red medusa stare leads to prolific bleeding from the victims’ own eyes (which rapidly cloud over with cataracts), followed in pretty short order by death. Cushing’s autopsy (pretty graphic stuff for its day) reveals that the victim’s brain is smooth as a baby’s bum, every wrinkle (and piece of information that is potentially useful to a space Yeti) sucked right out of it.

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“Book him, Crocker!”

Having bailed out of his crate, Trog now mooches around the train, disturbing the genteel travellers with further eye-bleeding, brain-sucking antics. His victims’ ordeals, effectively conveyed via dissolves and quick cuts, still pack a horrific punch and really shook me up as a kid. I’m convinced that they also made a big impression on Lucio Fulci who, it became apparent to me after meeting and interviewing him, was a bit of a Spanish horror buff. The mistreatment to which various characters’ eyes are subjected in his 1980 schlock opera City Of The Living Dead are unmistakably reminiscent of these scenes, ditto the ping-pong eyeballs which pop up at the conclusion of his masterpiece The Beyond (1981.)

Back on that train, as if all of the above weren’t entertaining enough, Martin chucks in Eurobabe Helga Line as the beautiful Polish Countess Natasha and her Rasputin-like personal chaplain Father Pujardov, played by Alberto de Mendoza in a performance possibly patterned on that of Patrick Troughton as Lee’s sidekick Klove in Roy Ward Baker’s Scars Of Dracula (1970). The Argentinean Mendoza was a busy actor (right up  till his death in 2011) whose notable Eurotrash credits include Bitto Albertini’s Nairobi-based giallo oddity L’Uomo Piu Velenoso Del Cobra (“Human Cobras”, 1971), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1970) and Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale (1971) plus the Fulci brace One On Top Of Another / Perversion Story (1969) and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (1971.)

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This mad monk maintains that the Troglodyte is Satan incarnate (”There’s the stink of hell on this train… even [Line’s] dog knows it”) and Saxton’s attempts at rational explanations (“Hypnosis! Yoga!”) are somewhat less than compelling. When the train’s resident detective manages to shoot Trog, Mills performs an autopsy that presents some startling results. This missing link’s retina has retained images of dinosaurs and even a view of The Earth seen from Outer Space (Martino taking his cue here from a pinch of the pseudo-science that informed Dario Argento’s Four Flies On Grey Velvet, made the previous year.) The conclusion is that the evil entity comprises pure energy that must inhabit a host body to make its way around terra firma. The train dick’s hairy hand (hope I got that the right way round) indicates that he is the new host, and a fresh cycle of brain sucking and The Thing-type paranoia kicks in when he sets out to absorb the engineering expertise that will allow the construction of a spaceship with which to check out of planet Earth. Ultimately Pujardov volunteers to host the elemental and, as if the passengers hadn’t already suffered more than their fair share of commuting misery, he now raises the bodies of all the previous hosts and victims as a horde of marauding zombies!

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By this point the express has been boarded by a macho bunch of cossacks, under the command of Captain Kazan, played by Telly Savalas. Ah yes, Telly Savalas… never the subtlest of actors, the future Kojak star raises the bar here for all subsequent outbreaks of scenery-chewing thespianism… but how else was he going to steal the show from the legendary Lee / Cushing axis? Obviously labouring under the delusion that he’s performing in a Spag Western (an impression enhanced by frequent, tuneless whistling on the soundtrack) Savalas swaggers around gargling with vodka, smashing glasses, ranting xenophobic invective and delivering such impenetrable aphorism as: “A horse has four legs, a murderer has two arms and The Devil must be afraid of one honest Cossack.” “What’s he raving about?” demands Mills, reasonably enough, only to be punched out by Kazan of this trouble. “Everybody’s under arrest!” howls the Captain before handing out a few lumps to Saxton, a propose of nothing in particular and horse whippng Pujardov into the bargain… Oh, those Russians! Savalas’ overripe performance had such an impact on my impressionable mind that I long misremembered him as dominating the entire picture, and it’s quite a shock now to realise that his character doesn’t make his entry until well into its final third.

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Thankfully, Saxton and Mills manage to de-couple the zombie-infested carriages and send them down the line that sends them careering over a cliff. Great miniature work throughout, but which bright engineering spark decided to lay down a line that would send trains careering over a cliff? Even Southern Rail commuters expect better than this… and speaking of stiff upper lips, Cushing gets to utter the best line in the film –  “Monsters? We’re British, you know!”, one that still resonates loudly in the wake of Brexit…

Bonus materials include an interview with director Martin in which he reveals that the film’s motivating “high concept” was producer Philip Yordan’s desire to get his money’s worth out of the train that he had purchased for the same year’s Pancho Villa, in which Martin had directed Savalas earlier in 1972. He also describes how Lee coaxed the recently widowed and deeply depressed Cushing back into a working mood. There’s a wide-ranging 1973 audio interview with Cushing that can be played as an accompaniment to the film. In the featurette Notes From The Blacklist producer Bernard Gordon talks about his run-in  with everybody’s favourite Commie-baiter, Senator Joe McCarthy. Telly And Me comprises an interview with composer John Cacavas, who acknowledges how his scoring career flourished under the patronage of Savalas. There’s a characteristically enthusiastic intro piece from erstwhile Fango editor Chris Alexander and of course you get a trailer.

Mind the gap!

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“Who loves ya, baby?”

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The Naschy Weekender Part 3… El Hombre Invisibilo: PAUL NASCHY interviewed in 1994

Our Paul Naschy Weekender reaches its shattering climax tonight with this eye witness account by one hapless hack of the great man’s guest appearance at London’s Eurofest in 1994…

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“What’s he saying now, Eva?”

I KNOW that he’s played The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr Hyde, The Phantom Of The Opera, Hunchback Of The Morgue, Old Nick himself, Grand Inquisitors, sadistic knights, mysterious manservants, cops and robbers, vampires, sailors and low-rent Tarzans, but when I finally achieved my ambition of meeting the great Paul Naschy he proved as elusive as one of the few classic horror characters that he never actually played… The Invisible Man!

As “luck” would have it, we’re thrown together in the bar of his hotel in Victoria a good 90 minutes before our interpreter is due to turn up… did I say “good”? After searching in vain for a lingua franca, we resort to “Give Us A Clue” style dumb show. Awkward or what? I produce some posters and stills for señor Naschy to sign, which kills a few minutes while I take stock of this Spanish megastar of menace…

Conservatively dressed, in a suit and tie (nice waistcoat, too) and sporting a Bobby Charlton hair-do, he’s even shorter and certainly thinner than I expected… still a dead ringer for John Belushi, though. I ask him if he’s taken the opportunity to see some of London while he was over here? “No.” Does he plan to? “No.” Fair enough… On the plus side, he doesn’t speak in the mumbly manner suggested by some of his detractors… at least, he doesn’t seem to, on the rare occasions that he does actually speak. So much for the bellicose bragging I’d been briefed to expect… and which I was hoping would result in some lively copy. Pete Tombs, co-author of the excellent immoral Tales tome, later told me that Naschy was feeling a little nervous about this trip, fearing that the ridicule he’s recently be subjected to in Spain would be repeated over here. But I’m tempted to conclude that this paranoia / ridicule thing is a bit of a chicken-and-egg affair… which came first?

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I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of doing a hatchet job here. I’d undertaken the expense and effort of the disagreeable train trip from Nottingham to London because I thought it would be worth it to meet this Iberian horror icon  and as I once wrote elsewhere: “It’s impossible to come down too hard on Naschy, because his heart is so obviously in the right place.” It still is, thanks to the surgeons who opened up that famous barrel chest to save him after a near fatal coronary infarction in the late ’80s. I wonder if  Naschy’s membership of the zipper club now is a contributory factor to the low-key manner in which he currently seems to be approaching life…

When our interpreter – the lovely Eva Carlo -turns up, the interview begins in earnest… well it begins, anyway. Asked what he’s up to now, Naschy does indeed display a certain sensitivity. He’s “working on a couple of things” but he does not want to talk about them for fear of “jinxing them.” I enquire whether he’s finished anything since 1988’s Howl Of The Devil and he cites a couple of titles that none of the assembled horror hacks seem to have heard of. The name of Salvador Sainz, who has contested authorship of that film’s screenplay with Naschy, brings out the first signs of El Hombre Lobo’s wrath: “That guy is just crazy… you’ve seen it happen before, you know, a film wins the Oscar and suddenly all these opportunists appear, claiming that their screenplay was stolen.”

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Our hero isn’t above making such claims himself, though, when the subject of John Gilling’s The Devil’s Cross (1975) comes up: “It was my idea to bring the work of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer to the screen…” he seethes: “… but the producers and director basically stole the project from me. In the end all that was left was my script…  and they stole that, too. They only put my name in the credits because they were legally obliged to.”

He bristles at the oft-repeated myth that Tulio Demichelli’s astonishing 1969 “monster rally on board a space ship” Dracula Vs Frankenstein, was shot in six days (“Six months… Six months!”) and contradicts the widely expressed belief that it was difficult for genre directors to work under General Franco’s repressive regime: “It wasn’t that big a problem… I feel that other people have exaggerated it. I certainly never experienced any difficulties and in fact Spanish cinema at the moment is in a far worse state. In the Franco era we were making 180-200 films per year, now it’s just 25-30. When Franco was in power, politics don’t have so much to do with it but now politics is what it’s all about…. so it was actually easier to work in the Franco days.”

Perhaps predictably, Naschy comes over all animated on the subject of his love for the old Universal horror films that inspired his own monster movie cycle: “When I was very young, watching the Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff films, I was deeply impressed and conceived the ambition that one day I would be able to make movies in that style. Of course by the time I was making my movies, I couldn’t ignore the way that genre was going – more violence, more sex – so that was another influence on my films, though basically they were still like the Universal pictures… very simple stories, almost like fairy tales.”

Seemingly tiring, Naschy now subsides into minimalistic responses when quizzed about such subjects as his Japanese co-productions (“The Japanese producers had seen my movies and were very impressed, so they called me and asked if I would like to make a horror film with them”); the lack of narrative consistency in his Waldemar Daninsky series (“Even though the Daninsky character was the same, all the films were independent entities”); the mooted match-up between his werewolf and Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead Templars (“We discussed it but nothing ever came of it”); the respective merits of his directorial peers (“Klimovsky was the best of the lot”); the mysterious Rene Govar, credited with direction of 1967’s Night Of The Werewolf (“He was a French guy”); The Werewolf And The Yeti’s designation as a “video nasty” in the UK (“It’s absurd!”) and whether A Dragonfly For Each Corpse (1973) was a deliberate attempt on the part of its director, Klimovsky, to make a Spanish giallo (“Not consciously.”)

As Naschy’s utterances threaten to dry up completely, I’m increasingly distracted by certain other things, my description of which when a version of this piece originally appeared in print came back to haunt and embarrass me… twice! Suffice to say, I’m going to draw a discrete veil over such matters here, with apologies to all concerned.

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Just before we break up the glee club, Naschy manages some interesting (albeit unlikely to warm the hearts of The Humane Society) reminiscences of what is undoubtedly his wildest film, Javier Aguirre’s The Hunchback Of The Morgue (1972.) “We collected all these rats from the actual sewers of Madrid because we needed big ones, and they were all disinfected and injected with anti-rabies vaccine. Then my trousers were rubbed down with coarse grease and the rats, which hadn’t been fed for about a week, swarmed all over me, attacking me really viciously.”

This is the kind of stuff we want to hear… and what about these persistent rumours about the use of… (ulp!) … actual dead bodies in some scenes from that movie? “In the morgue where we were actually shooting there was a dead body that was about to be dissected”, reveals Humpy: “and the director asked me if I would be capable of starting it off by making the first cut on the neck. I thought about it, had a whisky, braced myself and made the cut but that’s all we did. That scene caused a lot of comment at the time, though nothing ever actually came of it.”

As a parting shot, the ol’ corpse-dissector rhapsodises over Hollywood’s recent vogue for reviving holy old monster characters, e.g. Coppola’s Dracula, Branagh’s Frankenstein and Mike Nichols’ Wolf,  starring Jack Nicholson… “So far I’ve only seen the Coppola picture and I like it a lot. I think it’s great that big budget American pictures are reviving all the classic monsters. I only wish that the Spanish industry was involved… I’m really envious, actually!”

And off he goes, dreaming no doubt of past and (hope springs eternal) possible future glories. Naschy shouldn’t beat himself up too much though, over the relative prestige of the Hollywood and Spanish film scenes… the memory I’ll always cherish from this day is that of Robert Altman, darling of the chattering Arthouse set, sitting in the hotel bar looking increasingly bemused, perplexed and resentful as assorted genre journalists completely ignored him while flocking all over an ageing Spanish horror maven.

Despite that unforgettable highlight, the meeting with Paul Naschy which I had anticipated so keenly was undeniably an anti-climax… it’s almost as though it never happened. Indeed, as an ironic post script, when the photographs that I’d cajoled David Flint into taking of me with the great man came back from the developers (I realise that I’ve totally lost out younger readers there) they looked as though they’d been taken in an unlit cellar without the benefit of flash… also like Dave had been bouncing up and down on a trampoline when he clicked the button. Maybe something was distracting him that night, too…

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R.I.P. Paul Naschy / Jacinto Molina Alvarez… 1934 – 2009.

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“Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

And that’s yer lot. Our Paul Naschy Weekender has concluded and we hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as we have. Now bugger off and be warned… we counted the silverware before you arrived. We wanna know what you think about the last three days and to what subjects you’d like us to devote future Weekenders here at The House Of Freudstein. Ciao, babies!

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The Paul Naschy Weekender Part 2… THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI reviewed

TWATY NaschyIt’s the second day of our Paul Naschy Weekender and I trust you all managed to get some sleep after the horrific emotional roller coaster that was our examination of Werewolf’s Shadow / Walpurgis Night (1971.) Hopefully by now you’ve regained your composure and are appropriately attired in brown trousers because tonight we’ll be looking at Naschy’s Nasty, the great man’s only contribution to the DPP’s dreaded (ulp!) “video nasties” list… 1975’s The Werewolf And The Yeti aka Maldicion De La Bestia (“Curse Of The Beast”) / Night Of The Howling Beast.

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“That’ll be me, then…”

Maldicion De La Bestia. 1975, Spain. Starring “Paul Naschy”, Grace Mills, Josep Castillo Escalona, Silvia Solar Gil Vidal, Luis Induni. Special effects: Alfredo Segoviano. Camera: Thomas Pladevall. Written by Jacinto Molina. Produced by Modesto Perez Redondo. Directed by “Miguel Iglesias Bonns” (= Miguel Iglesias).

Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by one Miguel Iglesias Bonns, this is Naschy’s eighth (?) entry in a saga detailing the life, loves and monster mash-ups of the lycanthropically challenged Count Waldemar Daninsky. Writer, actor, competitive weight lifter and occasional director Naschy (given name Jacinto Molina Alvarez) is the irrepressible dynamo of Spanish Horror cinema, whose attempts to create an Iberian equivalent of the great Hammer and Universal cycles (on what seems like a budget of about a couple pesetas per movie) have to be seen to be believed, ranking amongst the most jaw-droppingly out-of-wack and enjoyable celluloid offerings on offer anywhere in the world. It’s impossible to come down too hard on these ultra-low budget efforts, because Naschy’s heart is so obviously in the right place and he sets about this ambitious brief with such undeniable gusto, often suffering extreme physical discomfort to achieve the desired effect (in 1972’s Hunchback Of The Morgue, arguably his finest hour, Naschy assisted at an autopsy and was repeatedly bitten by a pack of rats… it was a particularly unruly autopsy, OK?) in the manner of a latterday Lon Chaney. Actually though, Naschy is more often compared to Lon Chaney Jr. due to that interminable series of Daninsky movies, initiated in 1967’s La Marca Del Hombre Lobo (“The Mark Of The Wolf Man”) aka Hells’ Creatures / Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror.

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The effort under consideration here opens with Yeti-hunting anthropologist Silas Neumann (actor uncredited) discovering his moth-eaten quarry in Katmandu and falling prey to it. Cut to Britain (stock footage of Westminster bridge, accompanied on the soundtrack by bagpipes droning “Scotland the Brave”!) where another Yeti-buff, Professor Lacomb (Josep Castillo Escalona) is enlisting the aid of our Waldemar in an expedition aimed at capturing the beast: “You’re an anthropologist and a psychologist … besides you know Tibet and you can speak Nepalese.” Quite the Renaissance man… he’s also conducting a pretty hot affair with the Prof’s daughter Silvia [Grace Mills). Arriving in Tibet, the expedition is hampered by heavy weather, demon-fearing sherpas going AWOL and outbreaks of ill-matched stock footage depicting native dervish dances. Naschy, looking even more bulky than usual in his snow gear, wanders off to collapse in the wilderness and is rescued by two scantilly-clad cave-dwelling bimbos. “He is very strong,” opines one of the girls: “He will be a good companion “…and a passionate lover!” adds her partner. True to form, as soon as he comes around Naschy whips off his balaclava and roll-neck pullover, baring that legendary barrel-chest to the world, and starts making serious whoopie. There’s a strong suggestion that Naschy’s playmates treat him to certain sexual practices that could get them all arrested in several States of the Union… and that’s not the only thing the girls like tucking into: Naschy later discovers his new girlfriends eating an itinerant sherpa, and is obliged to reduce them to smoking skeletons with a handy-dandy wooden stake.

At this point the full moon rises in the sky and Naschy’s accumulated love-bites work their lycanthropic wonders on him (learning well from his Universal and Hammer mentors, Naschy has never given undue weight to internal logic in his films or continuity and consistency in this series, Daninsky’s werewolf having a different set of origins each time out). His transformation proves to be a blessing in disguise because the rest of the expedition has been captured by a horde of tartar roughnecks whose leader, the dreaded Saga Khan, has certain radical ideas on acne treatment – nubile girls are flayed and flaps of their dripping skin draped over his spotty features. It was presumably this aspect of Werewolf And The Yeti that brought it to the DPP’s attention when Canon Video released it in the UK, though the pertinent scenes look pretty tame now compared to 18-rated stuff like the Saw and Hostel franchises. TW&TY remains in the notional rump of “video nasties” that have never been reconsidered by the BBFC, though one suspects that this is more probably a function of its limited commercial appeal and / or obscure distribution rights rather than any lingering perceptions of its alleged tendency to “deprave and corrupt.”

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To cut a very long story short, Naschy lopes into tartar HQ, trashes the bad guys and liberates Sylvia, then the Yeti (remember him?) turns up for a perfunctory and distinctly anti-climactic wrestling match. Finally Sylvia discovers – just like that – the herb which will transform Naschy from a nasty brutish wolfman back into a regular Nepalese-speaking anthropologist, psychologist, Tibet-expert and John Belushi lookalike. And presumably they all lived happily ever after…WW&TY4.jpg

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Intermission!.jpgPhew… you’d better get your ass to the lobby and score yourself some fortifying treats because The Paul Naschy Weekender here at House Of Freudstein reaches its feverish climax tomorrow night with an eye witness report on the great man’s visit to London in 1994. Be there or be a sad sack yeti…

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The Paul Naschy Weekender Part 1… WEREWOLF’S SHADOW reviewed

Welcome to our Paul Naschy Weekender here at The House Of Freudstein… all Naschy, all trashy and nothing but the Naschy! If you’ve just woken from your siesta and are sitting comfortably with your tapas and glass of rioja, we’re going to kick off with one of Jacinto Molina Alvarez’s most influential efforts.

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DVD. Region 2. Anchor Bay. 18.

Written by Paul Naschy himself and directed by Leon Klimovsky, La Noche De Walpurgis (1971) is the third… or possibly fourth… or perhaps even fifth (depending on which filmography you believe) instalment in the ongoing saga of Naschy’s “tragic wolf man” character, Waldemar Daninsky. Its original title translating as Walpurgis Night (didn’t know I was such brilliant linguist, did you?), this one goes under a bewildering number of aliases, including Werewolf’s Shadow, Shadow Of The Werewolf, Satan Vs The Wolf Man, Fury Of The Vampires, The Black Masses Of Countess Dracula, Blood Moon and – for those among you who like a film to do what it says on the tin – The Werewolf Vs The Vampire Woman. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and under whatever guise you see it, this one is generally acknowledged as one of the seminal Spanish scream-fests that ignited the Iberian horror boom of the ’70s. Nor did its impact go unfelt in English-language markets (witness the grind house ad mat and American novelisation below.)

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In the pre-titles sequence, sceptical coroner Dr Hartwig is unwise enough to remove the silver bullets with which Waldo was peppered in the previous episode… doubly unwise as he effects said procedure during a full moon! No prizes for guessing what happens next. The mandatory werewolf transformation scene is skilfully rendered here via edits around strategically placed objects, setting the standard for those that follow it… well, for most of those that follow it. Meanwhile in Paris, sexy student Elvira (Gaby Fuchs… yep, the gal who gets her tongue pulled out in Mark Of The Devil) is giving her boyfriend a lurid albeit rather fanciful (e.g. black mass blood drinking) flashback rendering of the life and misdeeds of Countess Bathory figure “Wandesa Darvula De Nadasdy” (sexy Patty Shepard.)

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Elvira and fellow student Genevieve (Barbara Capell) head off into remote French countryside to locate Wandesa’s fabled tomb, in pursuance of their joint doctrinal dissertation (now there’s a bizarre educational initiative that even Michael Gove baulked at.) Having lost their way, they are taken in by kindly Waldemar. His insane sister tries to warn them against various supernatural threats, though they seem to be in greater danger of sexual assault from her. Next day, during a casual stroll in the countryside, Waldemar and the girls stumble upon the location of The Countess’s tomb. “Satan’s favourite mistress…” declares her tombstone: “None must disturb her rest until the day of The Last Judgement” (wonder how that went unnoticed all these centuries.) Although a keen Wandesa student, Elvira squeamishly excuses herself from the disinterment, during which Genevieve cuts herself while pulling a silver chalice dagger (readily available in most good hardware stores) out of the corpse and drips blood into its mouth. When they hook up with Elvira again, she is being threatened by a decomposing monk who seems to have wandered in, apropos of nothing, out of one of Amanda De Ossorio’s Blind Dead epics. Daninsky wastes no time seeing him off with that dagger. Meanwhile, Wandessa is clawing her way out of her grave. Elvira and Genevieve close out their eventful day with a bedtime chat about their love lives… I mean, what else is there for them to talk about?werewolf-versus-vampire-woman-ad.jpgThe revived Wandesa is a sight for blood shot eyes, fulsomely fanged, with a pale green complexion and decked out in the height of Medieval Hungarian fashion. She floats around in slow motion (another pinch from The Blind Dead, along with the services of soundtrack composer Anton Garcia Abril) amid billowing dry ice, seducing every other female character in the cast during the build up to Walpurgis Night, when Satan will give vampires dominion over the Earth… unless Waldemar has anything to do with it. Predictably, he’s bonking Elvira by this point and tries to protect her from his beastly side by getting himself chained up during the next full moon and entrusting her to the “care” of his friend Pierre (Jose Marco) who promptly attempts to rape her! An equally random, though significantly less hilarious way of filling out the running time till Walpurgis Night rolls around is the introduction of Elvira’s boring Parisian boyfriend Marcel (Andres Resino), who gets involved in an interminable discussion with one of the local yokels about superstition vs rationalism.

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Finally, it’s The Big Night and Wandesa is just about to sacrifice Elvira to Satan when rudely interrupted by Waldemar, in full werewolf drag. The ensuing smackdown is pretty lively compared to others in the Daninsky series, indeed executed with such gusto that the only thing conceivably missing from it is a Kent Walton commentary! Wandesa gets stabbed by that ol’ silver chalice digger and her decomposition is niftily rendered via melting wax. Unfortunately for Waldemar’s reverse transformation, after Elvira has turned the knife on him to end his undead torment, it’s back to the unconvincing lap dissolves effect from Naschy’s beloved Lon Chaney Jr Movies. Despite such niggles, it’s easy to see how Klimovsky’s energetic Walpurgis Nacht / Werewolf’s Shadow became such an influential success… it certainly lacks the significant longueurs that disfigure many of those that followed in its wake… werewolf_vs_vampire_woman_poster_04.jpg… notably Carlos Aured’s 1973 return engagement, El Retorno De Walpurgis (“The Return Of Walpurgis”) aka Curse Of The Devil, aka Curse Of The Devil / Return Of The Werewolf / The Black Harvest Of Countess Dracula. Avoid this vaguely Black Sunday flavoured effort under any title (or, if you must watch it, don’t say you were’t warned) because it’s all downhill after an amusing titles sequence in which Daninsky, in full suit of armour, decapitates  Count Bathory for “driving our bishop to suicide…and turning our holiest nuns into daughters of Satan, consumed and maddened with lust!” (a nice trick if you can manage it…) When Waldo brandishes aloft the Count’s severed noggin, Erzsebeth Barthory (Maria Silva) sagely observes: “My husband is dead!” “Yes”, agrees her equally astute sidekick. No prizes for guessing that their revenge consists of turning him into a werewolf and blah, blah, blah…

Naschy directed himself in Night Of The Werewolf, a virtual remake of Werewolf’s Shadow ten years after the event. It’s an ’80s reboot of the familiar werewolf, witchery and sapphic shenanigans (with more explicit plunderings from Bava’s Black Sunday) that suffers from sharply diminishing returns and the fact that Julia Saly as the Countess Bathory figure is a pretty poor substitute for Patty Shepard.

Bonus materials on the Anchor Bay disc of Werewolf’s Shadow constitute a 15-minute interview with the Spanish horror icon, theatrical trailer and TV spot, Naschy biography and photo gallery plus a reproduction of the film’s Spanish press book.

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TOMORROW… our All Naschy Weekender continues with a look at his unredeemed and arguably irredeemable “video nasty”, The Werewolf And The Yeti (1975.)

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“Oh, Soledad Mio…” A FISTFUL OF FRANCOS on BD From Severin

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Vampyros Lesbos. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18. 

She Killed In Ecstasy. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Bloody Moon. Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 18.

Devil Hunter (c/w Alain Deruelle’s Cannibal Terror… “Two Gore Horrors To Rip Out Your Guts!”) Blu-ray. Region free. Severin. Unrated.

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The Freudsteins barely had a chance to recover from Birdemic: Shock And Terror before those Severin boys had thrust another bunch of review discs into my hot little hand… though I won’t be screening these for the offspring, constituting as they do a random trawl through the cinematic crimes of the late Jesus Franco, sometimes cited as “the most boring director in the world.”  I can’t say JF’s prodigious outpourings mean anything like as much to me as the films of Lucio Fulci, but he commands a similar level of devotion from his fans on account of similar wilfulness and waywardness in his life and work and the obsessiveness with which he stubborny pursued his skewed personal vision, via a distinctly oddball aesthetic.

As with Fulci (in fact far more frequently) this often obliged him to take on quicky, fly-by-night productions, the proceeds of which helped finance his more heartfelt projects. The latter category is represented here by Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed In Ecstasy (a 1971 brace which he effectively shot simultaneously on the same sets and locations and with an interchangeable cast, most importantly their extraordinary star,  the beautiful and doomed Soledad Miranda), the latter by contemporary bandwagon jumpers Devil Hunter (a 1980 attempt to emulate recent Italian cannibal shockers) and Bloody Moon (a 1981 entry in the slasher stakes.)

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“Nadine… Oh honey, is that you?”

Vampyros Lesbos is a predictable (at least in outline) sapphic variation on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Intercourse is more beautiful when it’s between two lesbian women” opines Franco in one of the disc’s bonus feature and one is disinclined to argue the point.) Gerry Halliwell lookalike Linda Westinghouse (Ewa Stromberg) takes the Jonathan Harker role, travelling to Istanbul (the film was mostly shot in Germany but Franco freights it with travelogue shots of the Turkish capital) to facilitate Countess Nadine Carody (Miranda)’s inheritance from her benefactor Count Dracula, no less. The Countess doesn’t dwell in a musty castle – when Linda’s first sets eyes on her, she’s swanning around spectacularly in a skimpy white bikini and wastes no time persuading her to go skinny dipping.

“It’s fun to lie naked in the sand… especially with another person.”

“Yes.”

No fear of daylight or running water for this vampire, then and her other unorthodoxies extend to performing in a cheesy girl-on-girl nightclub act seemingly based on the Pygmalion legend for the delectation of its bored looking bourgeois patrons. The seduction of  Linda and her induction into the wild world of vampirism proceeds as a matter of course.

Dr Alwin Seward (Dennis Price) is a psychiatrist whose patients include former Countess Carody lover / victim Agra  (Heidrun Kussin), though his interest in tracking down Nadine turns  out to be rather less heroically motivated than it initially seems. Franco himself pops up as Agra’s estranged husband Mehmet, who gets over this romantic mishap by torturing and butchering women in his cellar… a plot point that never satisfactorily connects with the rest of the film’s fractured narrative and has been introduced, one suspects, solely to bump up the running time to feature length (and furnish Franco with a little fun.)

Sceptics might take all of this as confirmation of their hard wired Francophobia but I must confess that I enjoyed watching this edition of Vampyros Lesbos more than I can remember enjoying previous releases of the film, or indeed any Franco film. Severin have triumphed by sourcing the German (subtitled)  version, which is not only claimed to be the favourite cut of Franco (a director whose filmography is proverbially complicated by the alternative edits in which his various films tended to be released) but it looks absolutely fantastic, a stark contrast to the nth generation video dubs via which many of us originally tried to get to grips with the Franco mystique and so much more conducive to an acceptance of Franco’s narrative, er, looseness.

As for the music, Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab serve up a sexadelic treat… think “Richard Alpert & The Marijuana Brass” with heavy Hammond and soaring sitar. Readers are strongly advised to get their hands on the Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party Soundtrack album if at all possible, comprising as it does groovy sounds from the Franco / Miranda films reviewed here and their subsequent collaboration The Devil Came From Akasava.

Among the bonus materials, Stephen Thrower (author of Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema Of Jesus Franco) is his usual erudite and eloquent self. He doesn’t say much about Soledad Miranda on this disc (but read on), that’s left to Amy Brown (the obsessive web mistress of soledadmiranda.com). Of course you get all the expected trailers and bits of business, including a clip which suggests that Franco was the inspiration for Yoda(!)

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Narratively, She killed In Ecstasy is a more straightforward affair, proceeding along the “revenge killing” plot-line that Franco would employ many times, both previously and subsequently. Miranda begins the film in memorable style. In a folly of a castle in Alicante, she models a metallic brassiere as she mooches around a collection of unnerving anatomical exhibits. Her husband, Dr Johnson (Fred Williams) enthuses about the medical advances he has achieved by breaking taboos against experimentation on human subjects.  Is Franco fulminating here against the reactionary backwardness of his native Spain, with Miranda as the Sadean woman in the vanguard of revolt? Whatever, contemporary audiences wouldn’t need to have particularly long memories to find such subject matter questionable in a German co-production…

… and Dr Johnson’s superior’s feel pretty much the same way. One by one Howard Vernon, Paul Muller, Ewa Stromberg and Franco himself denounce Dr J’s hubris and conspire to strike him off. Nonplussed by this unexpected turn of events, our maverick medic goes into a steep decline and despite Miranda’s best efforts, ultimately succumbs to suicide. Whereupon his widow takes it upon herself to seek out and seduce his inquisitors, exposing the sexual kinks that lurk behind their facade of bourgeois respectability before killing them off in their turn. On the lam from the law she dies in a car crash, the amateurish staging of which is more than made up for, impact wise, by the reflection that this is exactly how Miranda would meet her actual demise, some months later.

What a loss…. in this film, a much more conventionally told story than Vampyros Lesbos, so much rests on Miranda’s ability to render the delirium raging within her character. She renders an extraordinary reverie just after she’s offed Muller, flashing back to love making with her husband accompanied by some of the most elegiac music I’ve heard from Bruno Nicolai, who shares scoring duties here with Hubler and Schwab.

Thrower has much more to say about Miranda in the supplementary material here, complimented by the reappearance of Amy Brown’s tribute to the late actress, which really gives you an idea of her capabilities over and above the dark eyed angel of death. Brown reveals her gifts for comedy, singing and dancing and a surprising (on the strength of her Franco collarborations) sunny sweetness which suggest she really would have had a career at least as successful as that of the similarly versatile Edwige Fenech, had she not perished in that car crash in 1970.

Another lovely BD transfer… kudos to the Severin boys.

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Bloody Moon is an altogether more formulaic effort, following comprehensible, not to mention tediously predictable, giallo / slasher lines… and yes, all the killings are all prefaced by shots of the moon. Miguel’s sister having tuned down his incestuous advances at a ludicrous al fresco disco, he contents himself with stealing first some girl’s undies then a Mickey Mouse mask so that he can surreptitiously seduce their owner. At the height of her passion she rips the mask off to reveal Miguel’s scabby face and screams her displeasure, which he curtails by carving her up with a pair of scissors. All this is filmed P.O.V. style a-la Halloween, so it comes as no great surprise when the next thing we see is one of those “five years later” captions. Miguel is discharged from a booby hatch into the care of his sister, who’s admonished to “keep your eyes open and any reference to that unfortunate night … he might not be cured” (seems the procedure in Spain is not exactly super stringent in these cases.)

Erected on this nonsensical basic premise is a saga of intrigue over an inheritance at a mysterious language school on the coast, populated by, among others, a sinister shears-brandishing gardener, Antonio the tennis ace / super stud, the suspicious looking smoothie proprietor and a bunch of tedious girls who lust after Antonio’s body and spend their time in puerile discussions of their sexual experience. Meanwhile Miguel’s dumpy sister is exciting him to the point where he loses control, grovelling and slobbering over her chubby legs. “Can’t you see they won’t let us love each other?”, she chides him: “Everyone around us is judging us … if we could just get rid of everyone!” Cue polystyrene boulders, gratuitous animal maltreatment and the sawmill decapitation of a witless floozy who’s too busy enthusing about hot blooded Latin lovers and S/M to try and escape.

Meanwhile back at the language school the plot resolves itself, after a fashion, with some indecipherable revelations about who inherits from whom. Inevitably, the proprietor of the school is revealed as the killer. What’s more Miguel’s sister is revealed as his lover, and – best of all – she announces her total contempt for Miguel and his incestuous attentions, following up with some catty observations about his complexion. Unfortunately for her, Miguel has been eavesdropping on all this. Dusting off his trusty chainsaw, he reduces his tormentors to grungey gouts of gushing gristle.

Again, I’m pleasantly surprised at how good a Franco film can look when competently transferred to Blue-ray. For your money you also get a trailer and a mini-interview with Franco.

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The Devil Hunter (1980… aka The Man Hunter / Mandingo Man Hunter / Sexo-Canibale) was originally to have been directed by Amando de Ossorio (he of the atmospheric “Blind Dead” series) but when he dropped out the property devolved into the careless hands of Franco, here employing his trusty “Clifford Brown” alias. Utilizing the sets, locations, general tone and certain cast members from his 1979 film Cannibals / White Cannibal Queen, Franco mounts an objectionable, albeit entertaining (if you’re in an undemanding mood) sexist, racist fantasy in which starlet Laura Crawford (Ursulla Fellner) is abducted and spirited away to an unspecified Third World locale where the natives live in fear of the eponymous Devil, offering him frenzied tribal dances and chained maidens in supplication.

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The Devil, when he finally turns up, is a major disappointment, being nothing more than a tall black guy with ping pong eyeballs. But boy, can he eat pussy … no, really, he actually eats it!! Meanwhile Fellner, in chains (a major Franco fetish), is being raped by one of the kidnappers, while gang-leader Gisela Hahn (from Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination) enjoys the spectacle from her hammock. Back in civilization, Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti), in low-rent Indiana Jones threads, is picking up a hefty fee to liberate this damsel in distress. He’s flown out to that unspecified Third World jungle in a helicopter, then, true to Franco form, he spends an eternity wandering around in the undergrowth not actually doing anything much. Eventually he arranges with the ’nappers to swap the girl for a suitcase stuffed with money. They keep the girl and try to shoot Cliver, but anticipating this turn of events, he has stuffed the suitcase with worthless paper (unfilmed Franco scripts, perhaps… if such a thing exists).

Now the bad guys start getting picked off by The Devil (Hahn’s head is beaten in with a rock) and the natives prepare Fullner for consumption … none of this being anything like as interesting as it might sound. Cliver scales the cliff on top of which the sacrifice is to take place and incredibly, his cliff-scaling exploits are rendered by that staple expedient of the old Batman TV series, i.e. Franco’s camera is laid on its side and Cliver is filmed crawling across the floor! It’s for the individual viewer to decide whether this is more or less ridiculous than the spectacle of Al with his arm… supposedly amputated by natives… conspicuously tied behind his back in Franco’s Cannibals. Whatever, Cliver makes it to the cliff-top and, after a perfunctory wrestling match, hurls The Devil to his death, saves the gal and pockets the money. The natives are so chagrined at the death of their idol that they trash his totem pole. Thankfully, the world was spared a sequel in which they turned their worshipful attentions to Indiana Al. Extras include the expected Franco mini interview and another with thesp Bertrand Altmann.

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If Devil Hunter looks surprisingly good on Blu-ray,  its co-headliner on this disc, Cannibal Terror (1981) probably looks better than it ever deserved to look. This is the “video nasty” that notorious Producer Marius Lasoeur arranged to have shot, guerrilla-style on the set of Franco’s Cannibal. As cobbled together in post-production, its plot follows a similar kidnapping / jungle rescue theme to Devil Hunter. There are endless ugly scenes of “natives” scarfing down offal, a rape scene which plays out without the perpetrator even unzippping his trousers and plenty of shots of people hanging around, gazing goonishly into the mid distance. The following exchange may stand as representative of the dialogue herein.

“Can’t you open the fucking door?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Shit… what are you doing?”

“Shit… oh shit.”

“Fuck… oh fuck it! No fucking idiot could get that door open… made me look a fucking fool!”

By the time the kidnap victim’s parents -acting on a hot tip-off -arrive in the jungle to confront the kidnappers, the latter have already been eaten by the cannibals. “Those gangsters got all the punishment they deserved”, a handy-dandy tour guide assures them, indicating what is supposed to be the severed head of the chief baddy: “He got all the pain and suffering that was coming to him.” So did anyone who managed to sit through this piece of garbage, a shoe-in for the accolade of very worst film among all those that exercised the attention of the DPP in the 1980s.

Nominal director “Allan W. Steeve” was long long believed to be a certain Julio Perez Tabernero but a bonus interview here with one Alain Deruelle (“Video nasty? Weird lot, the Brits”) seems to suggest that he might be the guilty party, though not clearing the matter up beyond reasonable doubt… well, would YOU admit to directing this clinker? Franco animatedly disavows any involvement in it (or another, comparably putrid Lassoer atrocity, Zombies Lake) in an easter egg interviewette. The balance of the extras comprise the theatrical trailer (astonishing to contemplate that this actually played theatres) and a hysterical “spicy deleted scene” which they really should have left it. It’s absolutely dreadful but quite a hoot, as opposed to the soporific shit you have to endure in the final cut… conclusive proof, if nothing else, that Jesus Franco wasn’t “the most boring director in the world.”

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“Do we love her… Me Me Lai? Deep River Woman, Rising High”… ME ME LAI BITES BACK: RESURRECTION OF THE CANNIBAL QUEEN reviewed

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Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen

Edited, produced and directed by Naomi Holwill. Produced by Calum Waddell. Certificate TBC.

Once upon a time… sometime in the mid 1980’s… back  in the darkest days of “video nasty” witch hunting… somewhere in Essex… police were raiding a suspected “nasty” dealer. We can only speculate as to the levels of apprehension and disgust felt by the officers as they bagged up tapes with such lurid titles as… shudder… Deep River Savages. Did they believe the shrill tabloid claims, amplified by publicity hungry politicians and misguided members of the judiciary, that people were “actually eaten” during the making of Italian cannibal films? One of the cops, at least, had good reason to doubt the veracity of such alarmist claims… starring, as she had, in Deep River Savages.

Spinning off of their acclaimed Eaten Alive: The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Film, the High Rising team have hit another home run with this riveting effort, which succeeds on levels of human interest and social history, over and above its obvious appeal to anally retentive horror nerds such as myself. While making EA:TRAFOTICF, Calum Waddell’s internet researches turned up photos of Me Me Lai that had been posted by her daughter, via whom a contact was effected, after initial reluctance on the part of the retired actress. Gradually winning her confidence, Waddell began to unravel a story of life after cannibal movie infamy and introduced Ms. Lai to a demi monde which she could probably never have imagined, a fan scene and convention / festival circuit where her film career could be openly celebrated rather than hushed up. It’s good to see her striking up a friendship with Catriona MacColl, an actress for whom that particular penny dropped a little earlier.

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On becoming a mother (one of the many fascinating insights we gain from this doc is the fact that she was pregnant during the Last Cannibal World shoot) Me Me decided that her screen earnings were too precarious to support a family and briefly changed career to competitive body building (!) before becoming, yes, a policewoman in Essex, completely forgetting about her film career until that fortuitous contact was made with Calum. We see her on stage, reliving former glories with Ruggero Deodato and discussing the films she made with Umberto Lenzi. Me Me remembers Lenzi as being a bit of a screamer on Deep River savages, Deodato as a more laid back director (though plenty of others have attested to his own screaming fits) when they collaborated on Last Cannibal World. Apparently Lenzi had mellowed out by the time the made Eaten Alive, though this remains her least favourite of the films in which she’s appeared. She subscribes to the general view that Ivan Rassimov was a sweetheart. In turn, fan boy Eli Roth pays handsome tribute to our heroine, as do Waddell, academic Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Sitges Festival programmer Mike Hostench. The documentary does not shy away from their thoughts on the proverbially thorny issues of how women, ethnic minorities and (thorniest of all) animals were treated in the films Lenzi, Deodato, Martino and D’Amato (among others) contributed to this genre, without coming to any glib conclusions. Those issues remain thorny.

This is a curiously moving film about the vicissitudes of life, changing social mores, personal self-discovery and the way that the internet has facilitated a micro universe of alternative fandom. Any quibbles I have would concern the lack of further information about aspects of Ms Lai’s career which are tantalisingly referenced, e.g. the body building and the films she made outside the Italian cannibal milieu, for the likes of Val Guest, Lindsay Shonteff, Blake Edwards and Lars Von Trier. But these are issues concerning the remit that the film makers set themselves (and as such cannot be second guessed) rather than of competence. Me Me Lay isn’t the only unsung heroine to emerge from MMLBB…  Naomi Holwill, formerly something of a grey eminence at High Rising, makes her feature directing debut in confident and accomplished style (and I was particularly pleased to see her animation expertise making a welcome return in the film’s title sequence.) This documentary will gain its first general exposure as a bonus feature on the imminent 88 Films BD release of Man From Deep River (aka  Deep River Savages.) Whatever the merits (or not) of that transfer, Me Me Lai Bites Back justifies the price of a copy on its own.

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Reunited with Massimo Foschi and Ruggero Deodato…

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Me Me in the news

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

“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.

Allo Darlin'...

“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…

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… 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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