Posts Tagged With: Psychos

It’s Electrafying… TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN Reviewed.

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BD. Arrow. Region B. 15.

“Every so often comes a Major Motion Picture that dares to deal with the taboo subject of… (whatever)” . Hollywood has never exactly been shy about patting itself on its corporate back when it feels it’s getting edgy, tackling taboos and generally pushing envelopes. For the American independents immortalised in Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare USA tome (and indeed exploitation film makers anywhere) doing that was just their bread and butter. One such director was Stanley H. Brasloff, who after a career wearing many showbiz hats, wrote and produced Charles Romine’s 1968 “roughy” Behind Locked Doors, wrote and directed the similarly rough Two Girls For a Madman the same year and wrote / directed / produced the title under consideration here, which after a long incubation / pre-production emerged to mixed indifference and indignation in 1972, prompting Stan to return to a life of treading the boards as a stand up comedian.

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TANFC could have been a supremely sick and sleazy cinematic experience but Brassloff handles things (and strong performances from his largely unheralded cast don’t exactly hurt) with exemplary subtlety and sensitivity. So much so that the publicity blurb about “a haunting and devastating climax that lingers long after the credits roll” is, for once, more than mere hyperbole. One might well think that Mario Bava himself took note of this film’s closing shots before shooting his own Lisa And The Devil the following year. It’s a pay off of truly Sophoclean impact, in the build up to which Stanley H. brilliantly intercuts different time frames to convey the extent of  Jamie’s projections and acting out… if he was similarly adept at delivering his stand up act, I imagine he rarely left a dry seat in the house.

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Arrow’s good looking 2K restoration of this title is complimented by some predictably nifty extras including Thrower’s introduction to the film and its director and an audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain. There’s a video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (directed by Marc Morris) which starts off on an interesting tack by comparing and contrasting TANFC with Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015) and the novel that inspired the latter, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price Of Salt,  before touching on such kindred fare as Carroll Baker in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll (1956), the Nabokov and Kubrick Lolitas, the 1963 Twilight Zone episode Living Doll, William A. Fraker’s A Reflection Of Fear from the same year as Brasloff’s film, the whole Barbie phenomenon and the truly creepy Baby Burlesque series of shorts showcasing the precocious talents of Shirley Temple, plus an isolated audio track of T.L. Davis belting out TANFC’s OTT theme song, Lonely Am I. You get a trailer, of course and bonus ones for Behind Locked Doors and Two Girls For A Madman.

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This is a real find and very welcome addition to Arrow’s ever expanding catalogue.

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There Goes The Neighbourhood… THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED Reviewed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now that’s what I call an alternative title…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Little Sawdust Hearts, Torn At The Seams… WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR? Reviewed

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BD. Network. Region B. 15.

Sal Mineo, whose finest hour-and-a-half came as Jimmy Dean’s sidekick in Rebel Without A Cause (1955) had a great future firmly behind him by the time he wound up in Joseph Cates’ Who Killed Teddy Bear?, ten years later. Here he plays Lawrence Sherman who, during adolescence, was supposed to be baby-sitting his kid sister Edie but snuck away for a bit of slap and tickle with the neighbourhood floozy. Happening upon and grossed out by their furtive fumblings, Edie fell down the stairs, still clutching her beloved teddy bear and sustained a head injury that left her mentally handicapped. Lawrence has been trying to make amends ever since, serving as carer for the adult Edie (Margot Bennett) and working as a busboy in a Times Square bar to support her. Upon developing an unrequited passion for aspiring actress / bar hostess Norah Dain (Juliet Prowse) though, he undoes years of good work by decapitating Edie’s teddy and leaving it in Norah’s apartment (and what better way to win the heart of any young lady?) He also spies on her from his adjacent apartment, follows her around and bombards her with obscene phone calls (it’s strongly suggested that he’s flobbing off while doing so).

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Though not actually confirmed till halfway through the picture that it’s Sherman pulling all these sick stunts, you’d have to be equipped with the IQ of Edie not to have worked it out long before this point. I mean, he’s angry and alienated and when not working out obsessively, this guy is trawling Times Square’s grind houses and dirty book shops. You can’t help wondering if Schrader, Scorsese and De Niro screened Who Killed Teddy Bear? before coming up with the character of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)…

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“You talkin’ to me?”

Norah seeks the support of bar boss Marian (Elaine Stritch, giving probably the best performance in the film… though Prowse is pretty good) and troubled cop Lt Dave Madden (Jan Murray). Marian tries to parlay her comforting routine into a lesbian encounter, for which transgression she is bumped off by the jealous Sherman. Madden is an even more complicated piece of work… his apartment is littered with textbooks on deviant sexual behaviour that are clearly intended to mirror Sherman’s collection of pornographic publications, some of which he shares. He rationalises his obsession as an attempt to understand the minds of sex criminals after the rape and murder of his own wife. The lingering suspicion that he’s a bit of a flake himself is reinforced when his attentions towards Norah become a little over affectionate (she needs to change her deodorant… or maybe stop using one) and are rebuffed, causing him to rant: “Every scrawny broad thinks she’s entrusted with the crown jewels and that she’ll die if she loses them!” I’m reminded of Lucio Fulci’s comment on his own slice of the big apple, The New York Ripper (1982): “Every excess in that movie is an excess of fantasy because every character is extreme… (it’s) a film without salvation”. Sure enough, things don’t work out too well for anyone by the end of Who Killed Teddy Bear?

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Mineo’s loyal gay fan base will enjoy the scenes of him working out, bare-chested and his tight-fitting outfits during some of the ludicrous funky dance sequences with which this film is freighted. Hill St Blues buffs will recognise the “Dan Travanty” who plays Carlo (the bar bouncer who gets stabbed by a drunken customer) as Daniel J. Travanti / Capt. Frank Furillo. Otherwise WKTB?, while no masterpiece, emerges as an engagingly torrid little pot-boiler and incidentally, an invaluable visual record of Times Square before Rudi Giuliani cleaned it up (looking all the more immediate for Joseph Brun’s gritty monochrome photography). Don’t start me on Leslie Uggams’ infuriating ear-worm of a theme song, which failed to even ruffle the Queen of Atlantic Records laurel on the late Aretha Franklin’s brow.

 

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When this film was shot, director Cates had already turned in his masterpiece anyway, in the shape of his daughter Phoebe, for which we are duly thankful (and no, I’ve never felt the temptation to send her a decapitated teddy bear…)

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You get a take-it-or-leave-it 1966 episode of Court Martial (“The House Where He Lived”)  starring the ill-fated Mineo (and the even worse-fated Frank Wolff) but the other principal extra here is as worthy of the admission price as the main feature… LSD: Insight Or Insanity?, an 18 minute high school educational reel narrated by Mineo, promises to dispel all the sensationalist myths about acid, then proceeds to trot out and elaborate on every last one of them (people staring at the sun, jumping off tall buildings, et al) and introducing a new one on me: “Other trippers attempt to merge their being with a large fast automobile”. “What do America’s leading doctors, scientists and psychiatrists have to say?” asks Sal the square.

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Well, the assembled worthies (a scary-looking bunch who would surely harsh even the mellowest of trips) are unanimous: “The LSD fad… is more than a fad. Because of it, people are disturbed and even dead”. The most telling indictment of all? “LSD doesn’t inspire one’s desire to perspire”. Hot diggety dog! As well as this threat to the Protestant work ethic, “there’s always the chance of a bad trip, a bummer, a freak-out… or even a flip out!”, dutifully re-enacted by an overacting kid in a strait-jacket. Yep, “a real kick has become a real kick in the head”. And if getting stuck in a psychological “never-never land of no return” isn’t enough to deter you, Insight Or Insanity? ends with a bunch of kids playing Russian roulette. Are they tripping or this merely a metaphor? Powerful stuff, either way… how odd then, that the film makers follow this harrowing spectacle with a pro-acid song playing over the credits. Like Sal says… “It’s up to you!”

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