Posts Tagged With: Spanish Horror

When You Get To The Door, Tell Them JESUS Sent You… Two FRANCO Monster Mash-Ups On Nucleus Blu-Ray

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THE DEMONS

THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN

BD. Region B. Nucleus. 18.

Just as you were bracing yourself for their long-trailered restorations of Giulio Questi’s surrealistic giallo Death Laid An Egg (1968) and Mel Welles’ Lady Frankenstein (1971), the boffins from Nucleus outflank you with a couple of unexpected corkers from Jesus Franco. The Demons and The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein (shot virtually simultaneously in 1973) were branded “Category 3 Nasties” back in the days of home video witch-hunting, i.e recommended for confiscation rather than prosecution (which had more than a little to do with some of their Go Video label mates and the backfiring publicity stunts of Go honcho Des Dolan). Even if you did manage to cop an eyeful of those releases before they were whisked off and incinerated, you’d have been watching versions that were significantly cut down in terms of both running time and original screen ratio. Now here they both are, on Marc and Jake’s exciting new European Cult Cinema Collection imprint, in beautiful Blu-ray editions, with the BBFC’s stamp of approval… nicely priced, too. Honestly, the times we live in… (“Taxi!” – L. Fulci.)

For the first of these titles, producer Robert De Nesle detailed Franco to come up with a rip-off of Ken Russell’s recent success de scandale The Devils (1971) but instead of duplicating the contrived hysteria of that wearying effort, JF grabbed the nearest camera (without taking too long, I suspect, labouring over a script) and quickly knocked out a genuinely delirious and characteristically wilful concoction of De Sade, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, also roping (see what I did there?) Hanging Judge Jeffries (whom Christopher Lee had already portrayed in  Franco’s The Bloody Judge, 1970) into a rapidly overheating narrative stew.

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Although The Demons bears superficial comparison to Russell’s flick and (probably more so) Michael Armstong’s Mark Of The Devil (1970), in both of those witch-hunting is presented in its proper historical perspective as an oppressive manifestation of patriarchal power politics, whereas Freda steers closer to Mario Bava’s Mask Of Satan, 1960 (in philosophical if not so much in cinematographical terms) by presenting a for-real maleficent witch (outrageously warty face and all) who’s burned at the stake and decrees that her daughters will extract vengeance upon her tormentors and executioners Justice Jeffries (intense Iranian Cihangir Gaffari / “John Foster”) and Lady De Winter (Karin Field), plus their henchman Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbės).

Of those two daughters, Kathleen (Anne Libert, the producer’s real life squeeze) continues in her mother’s witchy ways whereas Margaret (“Britt Nichols” = Carmen Yazalde) tries the path of virtue but finds it (in true Sadean fashion) so thankless that she eventually decides “what the hey?” and gets down with the black arts, but not before she’s been visited by the ghost of her mum and shagged by Satan (depicted in disappointingly human form). Before you can say “lights out by 10 o’clock… candles out by 11”, masturbating nuns are vying for space on your screen with racked and flogged wretches, as Margaret exposes the hypocrisy of the lustful inquisitors and ultimately reduces them to skeletal remains with her patented “kiss of death”… all of this to a mind-blowing acid rock soundtrack. You get both the extended, 118 minute French cut (with optional English subs) and the 88 minute English “export” edit on this disc.

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Although Franco slips a character named De Quincey into The Demons, he’s on the record as protesting that he couldn’t understand artists and creators who took drugs to enhancing their imaginations, claiming that he would benefit from a drug that actually quietened his down. If he ever discovered such a thing, he obviously skipped several doses during the conception and making of The Erotic Rites Of Frankenstein, which suggests nothing so much as an animated fumetto (the kind of gloriously lurid, sexy and violent comic book that flourished in Italy during the ’70s).

This one kicks off with Melisa The Fabulous Bird Woman (Libert) and her side-kick Caronte (Franco regular Luis Barboo) raiding the lab of Dr Frankenstein (Dennis Price… yes, Dennis Price from all those classic Ealing comedies). Melissa is blind, talks in bird screetches and has bits of a ratty old green feather boa stuck haphazardly onto her impressive anatomy but “nobody is better…”  by her own reckoning “… at discerning the order of human flesh”. Well, whatever that means, she proves a dab hand at monster-jacking and once she’s savaged the Doc’s body to shreds (several characters refer to this, though there’s no visual evidence of it having occurred during several subsequent scenes in which his corpse is briefly reanimated) and Caronte has stabbed his assistant Morpho (a JF cameo), they lug the silver-painted Karloffalike (played by body builder Fernando Bilbao) back to Cagliostro’s picturesque seaside castle, where said charismatic mesmerist plans to mate it with a perfect female he’s constructing from the best bits of various unfortunate ladies, to produce a new master race (an ambition shared by Udo Kier in the Morrissey / Margheriti Flesh For Frankenstein and the dates are so close together that it’s a moot point as to who, if anybody, copied whom). “The new race will be called Pantos” (yeah, whatever…)

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As Cagliostro, Howard Vernon makes up for the disappointingly short screen time allocated to him in The Demons. He doesn’t exactly chew the scenery, just stands there in his kaftan looking (extremely) intense while Franco zooms in and out of his blood-shot eyes. He orders the silver monster to kidnap the comely Madame Orloff (Britt Nichols again) then orders her head to be lopped off for the amusement of the zombies and mutants (and at least one Vulcan) who appear to inhabit his basement. Do these guys know how to party or what? When Frankenstein’s daughter Vera (Beatriz Savón) infiltrates Caglistro’s castle in search of vengeance she ends up tied to Caronte and lashed by the monster until one of them (Caronte) falls onto poisoned spikes. Vera, brainwashed by Cagliostro, assists him in the reanimation of his female zarmby and the gruesome twosome are about to get it on when an intervention by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr Seward (Alberto Dalbės) and Inspector Tanner (“Daniel White”) puts a spanner in Cagliostro’s evil masterplan. He’s last seen driving a coach and horses into the sea, confident that he will be reincarnated to continue his evil work. Whether there’s any way back for Dr Frankenstein after his gob-smacking dissolution by sulphuric acid is another question entirely …

Alongside the 74 minute French cut (with the option of English audio) on this disc, you also get the 85 minute Spanish release version (optional English subs) which omits some of the saucier stuff, clothes characters who were seen naked a la France and “boasts” filler footage of a gypsy named Esmerelda(!) wandering around in the woods looking mystically inspired, this character played by Franco’s most recent discovery, a certain Lina Romay.

Franco’s extensive and wildly variable oeuvre makes him a director whose films (not to mention his life) I sometimes find it more agreeable to read about than to watch. Ian Caunce regularly wrote engagingly and entertainingly about the director (as, indeed, about everything else he ever turned his pen to) in my all time favourite fanzine, Absurd.

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More recently Tim Lucas has laboured unflinchingly at the Franco coal face and of course Stephen Thrower has performed the same critical miracles for JF as he has rendered unto Lucio Fulci. Thrower supplies supplementary analyses on both of these discs that are every bit as compelling and informative as you would expect… for example, anybody labouring under the misapprehension that the dirtiest trick ever played on the world by an Argentinian footballer was Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal will be disabused of any such notion when they learn that Hėctor Yazalde was responsible, after marrying “Britt Nichols”, for this stunning actress’s subsequent disappearance from the exploitation movie scene… what a miserable old Hector!

Thrower suggests, with some justification, that this brace of pacey and exploitive titles constitute an ideal introduction to Franco for the uninitiated who might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Your journey through a thousand Franco films might usefully starts with this couple of steps but beware… there’s plenty in the old boy’s filmography that will tax your attention span a lot more rigorously than this. As a rough indicator of the sheer volume of material that awaits you (with predictable consequences for quality control), in the same year that Franco authored these two little gems he was also responsible for A Virgin Among The Living Dead, Lovers Of Devil’s Island, The Secret Diary Of A Nymphomaniac, Eugénie, Inside A Dark Mirror, The Mystery Of The Dead Castle, Tender And Perverse Emanuelle, The Sinister Eyes Of Dr. Orloff  and the unfinished Relax Baby.

My favourite moment from these hugely enjoyable discs occurs during the bonus interview with Franco on The Demons where the director disavows any interest in sado-masochism and claims that there’s a negligible amount of such imagery in his films. His interviewer, David Gregory, is audibly, understandably and almost tangibly nonplussed.

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Simon Slays… Arrow’s Blockbusting 4K BD Edition of PIECES Reviewed

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BD / DVD / CD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 18.

Lucio Fulci always seemed a bit touchy on the question of possible influences on his films and so it proved when I interviewed him in 1994. He adopted a pained expression (like somebody had just stepped on his ski boot) when I invoked the spectre of H.P.Lovecraft and claimed he hadn’t even heard of Ambrose Bierce (let alone read An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge) until after he completed The Doors To Silence (1991.) Unpredictable as ever, Fulci (who, it transpired, was quite the Spanish horror film buff) then amazed me by volunteering the information that he had pinched the idea for The House By The Cemetery (1981) from Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia / The House That Screamed (1970.)

Although arguably the ever popular (at least in the venerable Aurum Horror Encyclopedia) “body-in-pieces fantasy” has cinematic antecedents that go at least as far back as James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), Serrador’s gothique girls school adventure hit the spot with its daring satire of Spain’s ossified fascist society, in which the sexually repressed son of an authoritarian headmistress finishes off several young ladies at her finishing school so that he can build himself an idealised “pure” woman.

When Generalissimo Francisco Franco died in 1975 and his appointed successor King Juan Carlos opted to become a constitutional monarch in a modern liberal democracy, things thawed pretty rapidly. In “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!”, one of the many extras on this handsome package, The Pact director and Pieces lover Nicholas McCarthy identifies it as a film coming “at the ass end of the Spanish horror boom” which honours the Iberian tradition with its hommage to La Residencia and via such touches as the casting of tapas terror titan Jack Taylor. Late Phases director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, in the same featurette, notes that things had been buttoned down for so long in Spain that exploitation film makers made up for lost time by packing as much sex, violence and plain craziness into their films as the creaking plots would bear… and no film exemplifies this tendency more brazenly than Juan Piquer Simon’s Pieces (1982.)

Somewhere in “Boston, 1942″(or a Madrid facsimile thereof) some four eyed little schmendrick is discovered labouring over a jigsaw of a naked Playboy playmate (which looks like it dates as far back as the early ’70s, tops) by his mom (May Heatherly, who bit that doctor’s tongue out in Cannibal Apocalypse.) Not knowing where all this is going to end (though masturbation would be a reasonable guess) she smashes a mirror (repeated in slow motion and shattervision, like she was in an Adam And The Ants video or something) before announcing that she’s going to bin said nudie jigsaw. Now The Beastie Boys wrote a rousing rap when their mom threw away their best porno mag, but this guy’s protest is rather more emphatic… he buries an axe in her head and starts sawing her into … Pieces!

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When the cops turn up he insists that “a big man… a big man” performed the murderous deed then scarpered and as forensic science wasn’t so hot in Boston, 1942, he gets away with it…

… “forty years later”…

… loose living, flash dancing bimbos at some Boston college are being carved up with a chainsaw by a black clad assassin. In broad daylight. At the same time, somebody is having another go at that jigsaw. Looks like Junior from the pre-titles sequence is replaying his primal scene… but who did he grow up to be?  Willard the burly gardener (Paul “Bluto” Smith) is strenuously touted for our consideration on account of his familiarity with a chainsaw and appetite for beating up cops trying to investigate the case, but c’mon… are we really expected to buy that the scrawny kid in the Quincy tank top grew up to be this ogre? Indeed, the Paul Smith interview included as another of the extras on this set is pointedly entitled The Reddest Herring.

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Other leading suspects include closet case anatomy professor Arthur Brown (!), played by Jack Taylor and the Dean of Studies (Edmund Purdom.) Curiously, Professor Chow the kung fu instructor (yep, the college has a kung fu instructor) played by Kin Lung Huang (*) is never in the frame, despite his penchant for wandering around the college at night, randomly picking fights with women he encounters (it’s a crazy world on this campus… then again, what do you expect when they employ an anatomy professor named Arthur Brown?)

The Dean is keen on a low-key investigation, which might seem like a tall order (what with these butchered co-eds turning up all over the place) until you consider the resources that Boston’s finest are prepared to commit to the case, i.e. Lt Bracken (Christopher George), his sidekick Sgt Holden (Frank Bana), and ex tennis pro May Riggs (George’s wife, Lynda Day), working undercover (sure thing, I mean who else would you send?) Bracken’s got the measure of the case, though – “We must catch the killer…” he advises Holden: “… that’s what it says in the rule book” (I bet he was the stand out candidate at police academy.) Smoothy student Kendall (Ian Sera) is initially a suspect but, having won the confidence of Lt Bracken (and with precious little alternative manpower available) he is soon seconded to the case. I think he’s supposed to be like Keith Gordon’s character in Dressed To Kill (1980) but in the event he’s way more irritating. Co-scripters Dick Randall and “John Shadow” seem to find him equally obnoxious, judging by the fate they’ve devised for him. First of all, after the killer has finally been unmasked, Kendall has to fight off his knife wielding attentions until Bracken turns up to shoot him in the head. While they’re congratulating themselves on that, the putrefying dream girl that the killer has been stitching together falls out of a cupboard and pins Kendall to the floor. Just as he’s recovering from that shock and joshing with the cops about it, in the mother of all Carrie quotations, the composite corpse reaches up and claws his balls off! I swear to Christ, I’m not making any of this shit up!

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The budget that the Boston PD allocated to the investigation of this case would seem to be significantly less than that afforded the FX crew on Pieces. Kudos to Basilio Cortijo for some of the stunning gore creations on display here (mostly centering, of course, on the after effects of chain saw attacks.) There’s stuff that Giannetto De Rossi wouldn’t turn his nose up at. Among all the silliness and non sequiturs, Simon also manages some suspenseful sequences and set pieces murders that look like they belong in an arty giallo rather than a run-of-the-mill American slasher effort. (**) The scene in which Isabel Luque’s nosey reporter is stabbed to death on a water-bed wouldn’t be out of place, if not quite in an Argento classic, than in a top-of-the-range Fulci effort, though better editing would have obscured the wobbliness of that rubber knife before it entered the girl’s skull and edited via her mouth, a la the pre-titles sequence of Fulci’s aforementioned House By The Cemetery.

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Bad chop suey strikes again…

People get snotty about Pieces in particular and JPS in general, while learned tomes get written about Jesus Franco. Now don’t get me wrong, people have a perfect right to enjoy the films of Jesus Franco and write learned tomes about them… I’ve read one or two of them and it proved a worthwhile investment of (rather a lot of) my time. But compare Pieces to e.g. its closest equivalent in the Franco canon – Bloody Moon (1981) – and really, there’s no contest.

I used to love the long-defunct magazine Continental Film Review (briefly recoined as Continental Film And Video Review before it disappeared forever from our newsagents’ shelves) for the way it would alternate analysis of the new Antonioni or Fellini offering with pages of stills from the likes of Danish Dentist On The Job and similarly, I do appreciate it when a label goes to town on a “mere” exploitation movie.

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Suffice to say, Arrow have done an astonishing job here. The 4K restoration of Pieces from its original negative looks just dandy, but video high fidelity probably isn’t a major reason why anyone would watch a movie like this. It’s the extras assembled here that make this release indispensible. People used to talk about “party tapes” but you could have your mates round for this set all weekend and still be discovering stuff long after all the snacks have been snacked on, drinks quaffed and the party favours have petered out. For starters, this is the ultimate “Musos edition” of Pieces with three (count ’em) score options and that’s before you even get onto the commentary track. I hope the original music by Librado Pastor is your favourite, because you also get that on a bonus CD. It’s not likely to keep Ennio Morricone off my deck for any length of time but I’m glad to have it. Thanks, Arrow.

That commentary track, courtesy of The Hysteria Continues (basically Justin Kerswell and his mates) is a real plus: skilfully moderated (it sounds like a couple of the participants are on some kind of conference call set up or maybe Skype), enthusiastic, entertaining, informative and insightful. I’m particularly grateful to Kerswell and co for clearing up an aspect of the film that has always mystified me, i.e. the bit where a certain “Virginia Palmer” (you’d think her family had suffered enough, considering what happened to Laura and everything) skateboards through a giant sheet of plate-glass in slow motion, apparently a propos of nothing. Turns out it was a propos of reminding jigsaw boy of his mother smashing that mirror, reactivating the killer inside him after years as a useful member of society, plying his trade as a… oops, nearly gave it away there! Sadly no explanation is offered (I’m sure they looked for one) as to why Professor Chow should launch an unprovoked flurry of kung fu kicks at Lynda Day (or why she forgives him so readily), over and above the clearly implausible one suggested in the (frequently piss-taking) English dub, i.e. “bad chop suey!” Just to clarify another bit of trivia they allude to, it’s true that the “John Shadow” who’s “credited” as co-writer of Pieces is NOT (as often rumoured) Joe D’Amato… the guilty party is actually Roberto Loyola, one of the many producers involved in the tangled saga of bringing Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs (1974) to the screen.

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As if the guidance of The Hysteria Continues wasn’t immersive enough for you, you’re also treated to The 5.1 Vine Theater Experience…. a barker lures you (with lines like “Come and see tits getting sawn”… let’s face it, you’re never going to get that at the NFT) into the lobby of the eponymous LA theatre where you’ll have fun spotting trash film luminaries before taking your seat for a screening of Pieces, courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing. During that you’re able to enjoy the surround sound reactions of an up-for-it audience enthusiastically applauding every outbreak of nudity, guffawing at every last gobbet of gore and critiquing salient thespian missteps (Lynda Day’s “bastard… BASTARD… BASTARD!!!” predictably takes the cake!)

Not least among the bonuses offered on this set is the presence of two distinct versions of the feature, the US theatrical cut and Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche (“A Thousand Cries In The Night”), the slightly longer Spanish version. I must have the attention span of a goldfish or something but I never manage to work out what the extra stuff is in the longer cuts of these things. One thing I did learn from watching Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche, though, is the extent to which the American dubbers yocked things up by spicing up dialogue that was already pretty fruity to begin with (i.e. for once something gained a lot … of mainly trash … in translation), the “bad chop suey” crack being the most obvious example. The Spanish original also plays Stars And Stripes Forever over Suzy Billing’s murder but those who put the US release together obviously figured that such iconic American music shouldn’t accompany shots of a girl pissing herself and being dismembered by a chainsaw, so substituted the kind of jolly library music often played over sketches on The Benny Hill Show.

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The late JP Simon gets an hour-long interview / profile devoted to him and in a similarly lengthy interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo (so good they named him twice) we hear a lot of amusing stories about how resourceful the director was in stretching out his minimal budgets to maximum effect. A short audio Interview with producer Steve Minasian relates how everybody was shafted for their money by a fly-by-night distributor. Undeterred by this cautionary tale, JPS disciple Sergio Blasco relates on another featurette of his collaboration with the maestro on a sadly unrealised Pieces sequel.

Of course you get a trailer, image galleries and a reversible sleeve (featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach.) The collectors’ booklet apparently features new writing on the film by critic Michael Gingold… I’ll have to take Arrow’s word for that as I didn’t receive a copy of it.

Watching this set might not quite be “the most wonderful feeling in the world” (to paraphrase one of the most notorious lines of dialogue in Pieces) but in trash movie terms, it comes pretty close.

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(*) Kin Lung Huang  starred (as “Bruce Le”) in the likes of…Bruce’s Deadly Fingers (1976), My Name Called Bruce (1979) The True Game Of Death and Re-Enter The Dragon (both 1979)… and just in case the penny hasn’t dropped yet regarding his USP, The Clones of Bruce Lee (1980.)

(**) The producers of Pieces include Stephen Minasian (who put up money for Friday The 13th) and Dick Randall, who produced Ferdinando Merighi’s 1972 giallo The French Sex Murders… though on reflection, I’d be pushing it (over a fucking cliff!) to describe that one as “arty.”

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Boys & Ghouls Come Out To Play… WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? Reviewed

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DVD. R1.  Dark Sky / MPI. Unrated

Who Could Kill A Child? That’s the provocative question posed in the title of Narcisco Ibanez Serrador’s fabled 1976 Euroshocker… actually, that’s just one of the many  titles which has been attached to Serrador’s picture, and probably the most appropriate given that it’s a straight translation of the original Spanish title ¿Quién Puede Matar a un Niño?… others have included Would You Kill a Child?, Death is Child’s Play, Lucifer’s Curse, The Killer’s Playground, Trapped, Island Of The Damned and that old standby, Island Of Death …a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and Serrador mounts this hybrid of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and Wolf Rilla’s Village Of The Damned (1960)  in impressive style, so very impressive that it would come to exert an obvious influence over such subsequent fare as Fritz Kiersch’s Children Of The Corn (1984).

No surprise really, as Serrador sprang from prestigious Spanish horror stock. His polymath father Narciso Ibáñez Menta acted, wrote, produced, directed and performed make up duties (no doubt he also had a hand in the catering) on a host of Spanish cinema and TV efforts, many of them in our favourite genre. Serrador himself served a similar apprenticeship in TV drama from the early ‘60s onwards before making his feature debut with the stunning, claustrophobic La Residencia aka The House That Screamed (1970).

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As if to prove that he wasn’t some kind of one-trick pony, Serrador unfolds the action of Who Could Kill A Child? in bright sunshine on a deserted holiday island… this one is possibly the ultimate in agoraphobic horror! Much of the credit for this must go to DP Jose Luis Arcane, who would later become the favoured cinematographer of Pedro Almodovar and Bigas Luna, and who gets his own bonus interview featurette on this disc. In fact Serrador (who comes across as a very agreeable chap on his own featurette here) derives maximum benefit from all of his collaborators, chiefly his leads Lewis Finder and Prunella Ransome as Tom And Evelyn, a young couple expecting their third child and discovering that their Spanish holiday heaven is rapidly descending into something altogether more hellish.

Finding the mainland resort of Benavis too over run by tourists for their liking, the protagonists take a boat to the sparsely populated island of Almanzora… sparse indeed, as there seem to be no adults around and the local children respond to Tom and Evelyn’s presence in distinctly surly manner. He speculates that the grown ups have all decampred to some shindig on the other side of the island, but a gradual accumulation of disquieting detail increasingly indicates that there is something very  wrong going on in Almanzora. When Evelyn does finally set eyes on an adult native of the island, it’s an old man who is promptly bludgeoned with his own walking stick by a young girl. Tom, goeing to investigate, witnesses the sequel – a macabre game of human piñata – and the penny drops that maybe he and his wife should have just settled for a weekend in Skegness. Desperately searching through the empty homes and shops for an explanation of what has happened, they uncover a wounded and traumatised guy (Antonio Iranzo) who’s been hiding out from the killer kids and gets Tom and Evelyn up to speed: a couple of nights previously all the island’s children had gone on a spontaneous rampage, gate crashing one house after another and murdering their adult inhabitants, in a spirit of infernal fiesta. His chilling story told, this guy makes the mistake of leaving with his young daughter, who mercilessly leads him into an ambush. This and most of the film’s other killings take place off screen, which only makes the climactic blood bath all the more horrifying when it does play out.

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Hotly pursued, Tom and Evelyn make several escape attempts but can’t shake off those murderous munchkins. This is genuinely involving stuff, as Serrador has taken the time to establish them as characters that we care about, ably assisted by the sympathetic performances of Fiander and Ransome. The director admits in his bonus featurette that he didn’t really get on particularly well with Finder, but the Australian actor is utterly believable as an urban sophisticate with macho pretentious, who flounders when faced with danger before steeling himself to the point where yes, he will indeed kill a child (mowing down dozens with a machine gun as an encore) when survival demands it. Ransome (sadly, no longer with us) is even better, radiating sweetness and vulnerability. Waldo de los Ríos’ OST plays its full part in ratcheting the tension en route to a the deeply downbeat denouement, as the final quarter hour or so  reverts to claustrophobic mode and shock succeeds shock without ever giving way to schlock… as a useful point of comparison and contrast, did you really give a toss about what happened to Tisa Farrow, Serena Grandi, Zora Kerowa and their travelling companions in Joe D’Amato’s similarly set up but woefully directed Anthropophagous Beast (1980)?

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This is crackingly efficient and effective horror movie making… the only points at which WCKAC wobbles slightly are those where it dwells on the nature of the killer kids’ condition and its transmission (some kind of “animal magnetism”, it is limply suggested). It would have been better to leave this to the imagination of the viewer, as Hitchcock had in The Birds. Anyway, the film’s harrowing full title sequence (omitted for years from previous releases, reinstated here in its entirety) supplies all the motivation that the nihilistic ninos of Almanzora could wish for, comprising a collage of news reel material detailing how children have always suffered the most when “mature” adults wage war on each other… the horrors of The Holocaust, Indo-Pakistani wars, Biafra, Korea, familiar images of Vietnamese innocents strafed by napalm… Serrador’s version of children turning on adults is grotesque and ultimately absurd but the message appears to be that the converse state of affairs is even more shocking and ridiculous, yet is repeated throughout history with numbing regularity. Interesting and ironic that this powerful prologue has been for so long prodcribed by political establishments that continue to condone the perpetration of such horrors in real life! It was only in 2011 that Who Can Kill A Child? got an uncut UK release, courtesy of the Eureka label.

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Incidentally, during the long period when this footage went unseen, the rumour mill was working over time with speculation on what it actually comprised. Various critics of a “liberal” persuasion convinced themselves that it contained material “equating” abortion with violence against children and declared this to be some kind of reactionary faux pas on the part of Serrador. Well, for starters it transpires that there is no such material. Now you mention it though, thanks for putting me right about any lingering suspicion I had that abortion was in some way “violent.” Obviously any foetuses concerned are gently coaxed out of their mothers’ wombs and sat down with a nice cup of tea…

Dark Sky present the film in a beautifully vibrant transfer, anamorphically faithful to its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As a bonus you get those interview featurettes with Serrador and DP Alcaine (courtesy of the ubiquitous David Gregory) and a generous gallery of promotional materials.

Serrador, who on the strength of this and La Residencia could so obviously have been a contender, never (officially) directed another theatrical horror feature (nor one in any other genre). The consignment of his promising directorial career to the dusty bin of cinematic history was stipulated as a condition in the contract he signed with a TV company to exploit the lucrative game show concept that he had dreamed up… namely Un, Dos, Tres. And yes, that’s the same show franchised to ITV in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as 3-2-1. Now that’s really horrible…

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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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Re-Booty Call… Victor Matellano’s VAMPYRES Remake Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Soda Pictures. 18.

Victor Matellano makes no bones about his passion for the Spanish horror film tradition, having previously directed a documentary short about Jesus Franco and a feature length examination (Zarpazos! Un Viaje Por El Spanish Horror, 2013) of the whole Iberian genre shooting match, showcasing the likes of Franco, Jorge Grau, Carlos Aguilar, Eugenio Martin, Jose Larraz and Paul Naschy. He went so far as to incorporate archive recordings of Naschy’s voice into Wax, his 2014 variant on the much reworked Charles Belden chestnut, also finding room in its cast for such tapas terror stalwarts as Jack Taylor, Antonio Mayans and Lone Fleming… Mayans and Fleming return (joining Franco and Naschy alumnus, our very own Caroline Munro… though her role here is little more than a throwaway) for Matellano’s 2015 reboot (i.e. it’s hovering somewhere between remake and sequel) of Larraz’s Vampyres, a project which JL endorsed before passing away, as is clear from some of the supplementary material on this disc.

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In the roles made (in)famous by Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, Marta Flich and Almudena Leon are the eponymous sapphic sirens, luring unsuspecting dudes into threesomes where they end up donating more bodily fluids than the ones they were hoping to. Christian Stamm is the main victim but it is suggested, as it was in the 1974 original, that this character is some kind of supernaturally enhanced Van Helsing figure, doomed to pursue the toothsome twosome through successive incarnations…

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Poor Rupert…

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Rupert’s fate rebooted in 2015.

… this incarnation sticks pretty to close the original, down to the frequent recitation of its dialogue, verbatim and the recreation of specific scenes and shots (e.g. the ghoul girls running around in the woods, their capes flapping behind them), but starts to falter somewhat when Matelanno seems to lose his nerve about selling reheated early ’70s fare and introduces ill-advised elements of stalk’n’slash (the stalkees are ill-defined creative types camping out, for some reason, in the grounds of the girls’ gothic shag pad) and the dreaded “torture porn”, signalled by an unsubtle pinch from Eli Roth’s Hostel 2.

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The orginal Vampyres was at some level a love story (albeit an extremely kinky one) and a story of addiction (what’s the diff?) in which Larraz skilfully conveyed the compulsive nature of the title characters’ behaviour… though lethal, they remained attractive and ultimately pitiable. The current crop, when inflicting (unconvincing) tortures on their captives, just become petty, spiteful and bathetic.

Matellano has a good eye (by dint of which he generally manages to obscure this film’s budgetary shortcomings and mediocre locations, relative to the original) and his heart is obviously in the right place. His revisitation of Vampyres will do OK on the basis of its Barthorean levels of boobs and blood, but I’d like to see how this director gets on with some original material and a decent screenplay collaborator. His next effort, A Stop Over In Hell has been completed and its cast includes Italian action director in excelsis and occasional thespian, Enzo G. Castellari. Obscure credits buffs excited by that casting coup are exactly the kind of obsessives who’ll spot May Heatherly (from Cannibal Apocalypse and Pieces) in Vampyres 2015. Sad to report that she died shortly after it was made.

Bonus materials here include teasers / trailers, a mini-interview with Caroline Munro and a short “making of” featurette, narrated by Jack Taylor and apparently dating from a time when the film was entitled Universe Of Vampyres.

… and yes, Larraz’s original did play The Scala on more than one occasion so this timely Soda release gels nicely with our current Scalarama theme.

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“Build Me A Woman”… THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED Reviewed

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“Schooldays… the happiest days of your life”?

DVD. Region Free. Shoarma Digital. Unrated.

If Enrique López Eguiluz’ La Marca del Hombre Lobo (the inaugural outing for Paul Naschy’s ongoing “tragic wolfman character, Count Waldemar Daninsky) represents the first significant flowering of an Iberian horror sensibility in 1968, the first truly great Spanish horror opus has to be Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia (aka The House That Screamed / House Of Evil / The Finishing School / The Boarding School, 1970.) Whereas Eguiluz (and subsequently Naschy and other directors) gleefully mined the Universal and Hammer Horror cycles, maniacally mix-and-matching their conventions  in an orgy of schlock surrealism, Nacho dips into the Hammer legacy with taste and restraint (an impression ably enhanced by the lush orchestral score of Waldo De Los Rios) to come up with a  well constructed, riveting and suspensful narrative en route to a genuinely surprising twist ending, mounting in the process an allegorical critique (i.e. the only kind he could get away with) of the ossification and morbidity of Spanish society under General Franco.

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The film opens with Theresa (Cristina Galbo from Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, What Have you Done To Solange, et al) arriving at a fin-de-siecle French finishing school for, er, challenging pupils. Madam Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs this Dothegirls Hall along the lines of harsh discipline and stifling routine in an attempt to turn her charges into compliant prospective wives. Ballet lessons are designed to distract them from “morbid” (as in “sexual”) thoughts and Fourneau tries to divert her voyeuristically inclined son Luis (John Moulder Brown) from similarly impure musings by banging on about the unworthiness of her pupils, to wit: “None of these girls are any good… in time you’ll find the right girl… you need a woman like me!” (If you ask me, these Oedipal relationships can get a bit incestuous…)

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Needless to say, it’s not too difficult to detect desire seething away not far beneath this hypocritical veneer of propriety. Helping Madam enforce order are an inner circle of collaborators led by the scary Irene (Mary Maude), who takes all-too-obvious sexual pleasure in dishing out the beatings and humiliation. She even controls the rota for conjugal visits to Henry the randy wood chopper, cue hysterical scenes in sewing class as the girls bite their lips and frantically thread their needles in the most overt display of Freudian symbolism since Tom Jones. “Most of the girls here are on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, Theresa is told and no wonder so many of them are running away… or are they? Serrador skillfully steers our attention away from the real story that’s going on and our sympathies in altogether the wrong direction. Just before (and I’m doing my best here to minimise the “spoiler” effect, here) unexpected early death of a sympathetic character (shades of that ultimate Oedipal horror, Hitchcock’s Psycho) the director abruptly freeze frames the action, giving you an opportunity to shout your objection at the screen, suffer the disappointment of being ignored as the grisly action resumes and register just how far you’ve been drawn into this dark fairy tale.

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Lucio Fulci, who seems to have been a bit of a Spanish Horror buff, was generally very guarded (to the point of testiness) about admitting his influences, but amazed me when I interviewed him by volunteering the information that he had pinched the idea for The House By The Cemetery from La Residencia. Perhaps Argento was similarly influenced by its female environment, oppressive school atmosphere and brutal ballet lessons for Suspiria?

The edition under review here, courtesy of the Australian Shoarma label (which released a bunch of interesting stuff on the early crest of the DVD wave and promptly disappeared), seems to be somewhat expurgated. There are references to surreptitious trysts between Theresa and Luis that we don’t get to see and while it’s possible that such scenes were never included in the film, there’s a blatant jump cut that was obviously made to obfuscate the lesbian  overtones of Fourneau tending to the wounds of a girl she’s just had beaten. There are no extras and the the feautre is presented in a none too sharp, distinctly none-anamorphic  transfer wherein vertical lines visibly warp at either side of the screen, all of which lends credence to rumours that Shoarma’s releases were “grey market” at best… strewth, Bruce!

Stop Press: Scream Factory have just announced an upcoming kosher BD release of this one… something to scream about!

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La Repulsion… SYMPTOMS Reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Region Free. BFI. 15.

Do you remember, dear reader, when ITV (in its various regional incarnations) was actually worth watching? Before it was completely overrun with talent contests, reality programs and shit films, ITV was synonymous  with World In Action, The World At War and… late night screenings of really cool, obscure films. I distinctly remember Lucio Fulci’s “lost” meisterwerk Beatrice Cenci (1969) turning up in the graveyard slot on Granada during the late ’80s, round about the time we were cooking up Samhain… ditto Symptoms (1974) by Jose Ramon Larraz. The latter broadcast became the source of innumerable VHS bootlegs which were the only way to see and appreciate Larraz’s film for about thirty years, as all negatives seemed to have disappeared. Now you can finally chuck your bootlegs away because, after featuring it for some time on their “75 Most Wanted” list, the BFI have finally tracked down the required elements for Symptoms and issued this all-singing and dancing Blu-ray edition, on their more exploitation-oriented “Flipside” imprint… this, mind you, for the film which managed to bump Ken Russell’s Mahler as the UK entrant for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1974.

The first thing to say about Symptoms, the thing you really can’t avoid mentioning, is the obvious debt that it owes to Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965 (though that’s probably too simplistic a statement of the relationship between the two films… no less a pundit than David Pirie has argued that Larraz actually outdoes his avatar here.) In Repulsion Catherine Deneuve’s alienated young manicurist comes unglued amid the isolation of the big city, her repressed sexuality erupting into unconscionable violence before she retreats irrevocably into catatonia.

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Symptoms unfolds as though Larraz and his co-writers (Stanley Miller and Thomas Owen) have been pondering whether she might have achieved a more positive outcome by heading for the sticks and honouring the early ’70s tradition of  (in the vernacular of the time) getting her shit together in the country. The answer they arrive at seems to be… no! The shit hits the proverbial fan when this notional rural idyll turns out to be every bit as oppressively agoraphobic as any urban milieu. Perhaps this jaundiced take on our green and pleasant land is a particularly Spanish phenomenon… in the same year as Symptoms, Jorge Grau turned in his surreal and utterly alarming twist on English gothic, The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue.

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Helen (Angela Pleasance) invites her friend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to her old lake-side house so that the latter can get over the trauma of a romantic bust-up. It will transpire that Helen is getting over an even more drastic sundering, but for the time being it’s as well to note that she’s a bit odd…. intense. Presumably a classic screen beauty like Deneuve would have been beyond Larraz’s budget anyway, but Symptoms benefits immensely from the casting of Pleasance, whose peculiarly puckish presence draws the viewer into an ongoing guessing game regarding just WTF her problem is.

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Whatever it is, it’s got something to do with the disappearance of her “friend” Cora (briefly glimpsed in the shape of Marie-Paule Mailleux during intermittent flash backs)… nor do the vaguely sinister attentions of lurking handyman Brady (Peter Vaughan) in any way alleviate the growing tension, which builds beautifully for about an hour before a final third which maintains the film’s supremely creepy atmosphere while punctuating it with an escalating series of grand guignol eruptions. In Symptoms, Larraz reiterates Polanski’s point about sexual self-loathing and the potential it has warp the self and damage others, a concept whose relevance to real life is all too readily apparent at the time I sit here typing these words….

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I reacquainted myself with Symptoms during a thunderstorm which complimented the on screen events quite beautifully… then again I remember how wonderfully evocative and engaging the film was, viewed late at night in my parents’ lounge, all those years ago. This perfectly orchestrated chamber piece will  probably weave its disturbing magic in whatever circumstances it is seen. Larraz is exceptionally well served here by sympathetic collaborators… his cast, his DP Trevor Wrenn, his art director Ken Bridgeman and composer John Scott… also by his own polymath grounding  in comic book art, fashion photography and art history. There are frames of Pleasence’s face that suggest a Vermeer portrait. Elsewhere, some of the house’s William Morris interiors are echoed in the fronds which embrace the corpse of a woman discovered in the lake, a scene which itself strongly suggests a pre-Raphaelite rendering of Ophelia.

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Symptoms failed to garner anything like a feverish reaction at Cannes Festival or indeed anywhere else, but its editor Brian Smedley-Aston was sufficiently impressed by Larraz to remortgage his house to fund the directors’s Vampyres the same year, an altogether more lurid take on the “rural lesbian violence” schtick that also comes highly recommended. The witty Smedley-Aston is interviewed for this set’s generous compliment of bonus features, as are Pleasence and Heilbron. As well as his work with Larraz, he discusses editing (and being obliged to re-edit) Performance with Donald Cammell and his experiences on the  Jeff Lieberman films Squirm and Blue Sunshine. To her Symptoms reminiscences, Heilbron (now working as a psychotherapist) adds her reflections on Freddie Francis’s The Creeping Flesh (1973) and rhapsodises about acting alongside Peter Cushing. Pleasance is interesting, insightful and funny (e.g. when she reveals that her “perfectly circular head” saved her life when a heavy light fell on it during the making of Symptoms.) For all of these new interviews we have to thank our old mate Pete Tombs and the From Barcelona… To Tunbridge Wells episode of his 1999 Channel 4 series Eurotika! is also revived here (remember, dear reader, when Channel 4 was actually worth watching?) Pride of place though, must go to Celia Novi’s award winning 2011 feature On Vampires And Other Symptoms, an impressive, impressionistic mash up of JRL’s two most celebrated pictures, his autobiographical comic strips and what turns out to be a trip to the 2009 Sitges Film Festival (four years before his death) where the Catalonian director received an honorary award and was treated to a surprise reunion with Vampyres stars Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska…. those scenes alone were worth the price of admission.

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… it’s better than bottling it up! Larraz’s El Periscopio, 1979.

 

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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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