Posts Tagged With: Vampires

The Asylum That Dripped Blood… Two AMICUS Horror Portmanteaus Arrive On UK Blu-Ray In Limited Editions.

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The House That Dripped Blood. BD. Second Sight Films. Region B. 15
Asylum. BD. Second Sight Films. Region B. 15
Released 29/07/19

Having put their own stamp on the Portmanteau Horror format with the Freddie Francis brace Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), Amicus honchos Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg attempted to diversify their portfolio with, among others, juvenile Sci-Fi epics (They Came From Beyond Space and The Terrornauts, both 1967) and dramas that were psychologically (The Mind Of Mr. Soames, 1969) or socially (A Touch Of Love, the same year) significant… before returning to tried-and-tested multi-story chills with The House That Dripped Blood (1970), on which Subotsberg saved money by shooting in an around a lodge on the Shepperton Studio grounds and by entrusting the project to moderately talented TV director Peter Duffell. Previous collections having been MCd by Death himself (Dr. Terror) and Old Nick (Torture Garden), writer Robert Bloch came up with an embodiment of real evil to link the vignettes in this one… an estate agent!!! Actually John Bryans (as “A.J. Stoker”… geddit?) isn’t particularly scary and his role in the narrative wraparound is further weakened by the intrusions of a clueless cop (John Bennett) investigating four cases of foul play and mysterious disappearance at the titular abode. 

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In Bloch’s first tale Joanna Dunham plots to send horror author husband Denholm Elliott insane by disguising her toy-boy paramour as one of the writer’s own murderous creations… unfortunately this guy turns out to be a bit of a method actor; romantic rivals Peter Cushing and Joss Ackland develop a mutual obsession with a wax work of Salome… to the extent that they both end up losing their heads over her; Christopher Lee plays a widower whose tyrannical treatment of his cute daughter turns out to be justified, albeit ineffective (at this point Lee was meditating a retirement from horror roles and the plentiful sight and script digs at him throughout THTDB might well have influenced his decision); and in the final, comedic episode, Jon Pertwee essays the role of a lovey darling horror actor (desperately trying to out-ham Ingrid Pitt) who buys a vampire’s cloak which turns out to be all-too authentic.

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The House That Dripped Blood cleaned up at the box office for Amicus, largely no doubt to a lurid marketing campaign based on that title (Duffle had wanted the film to be called “Death And The Maiden”!) The Peertwee section is right up there with Michael Armstrong’s Eskimo Nell as a humorous critique of low budget genre filmmaking but the varying tones of the episodes never really cohere and the all-important wraparound story plods before petering out in anticlimactic fashion. Subotsberg unceremoniously shuffled Duffle (with a minimum of kerfuffle) back to (in Pertwee’s phrase) “the dreary confines of television” TV land, while future entries in the cycle were entrusted to safer directorial hands…

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… e.g. Roy Ward Baker (above left, with Subotsky) on Asylum (1972). Here young psychiatrist Robert Powell auditions for a job at an isolated funny farm by attempting to work out which of the inmates is his predecessor Dr Starr (my money’s on the big-nosed, mop-topped dude with the drumsticks), who’s taken an unfortunate turn for the hopelessly insane. Orderly Geoffrey (“Crowman”) Bayldon treats him to a guided tour of the loony bin, where he meets the inmates and Bloch’s terrifying tales unfold. Barbara Parkins (that’s Parkins, poster guys!) tells of how she egged her lover Richard Todd on to the axe murder of his wife Sylvia Sims, whose dismembered body parts he wraps in brown paper and deposits in the freezer. Having ganged up on and disposed of Todd (a ludicrous but highly entertaining spectacle), the wrapped up remains turn their vengeful attentions on Barbara, who manages to chop half her face off while putting down the unruly limbs. The evidence for this is disappointingly rendered by Hammer make-up nabob Roy Ashton through the simple expedient of drawing some lines on her face with red marker pen!

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Next up, financially strapped tailor Barry Morse attempts to bring back Peter Cushing’s dead son by making up a black magic suit which, when carelessly placed on a mannequin, brings on the stiffest acting since Fluff Freeman in Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors; Then (allegedly) recovering basket case Charlotte Rampling has an evil friend (Britt Eland) who turns out to be a figment of her imagination; finally, Herbert Lom builds murderous homunculi to get his retaliation in first against Patrick Magee, the psychiatrist who intends to lobotomise him. Powell drastically misses his guess re the ID of the mad medic and is strangled by the real Dr Starr, amid an outbreak of spectacular overacting. Another candidate for the job arrives as the credits roll, another cyclical suggestion of the seminal Dead Of Night (1945).

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Rampling’s episode is the only real weak link in Asylum… viewers can see the “twist” coming a mile off but, compounding the insult, never get to sees Ms Ekland dancing around in the buff (as in The Wicker Man) or masturbating on the telephone (a la Get Carter). Baker was probably too much of an “Old School” director for that, nevertheless piling on the gore and grue with great gusto and the grand guignol is perfectly complimented by selections from the most bombastic orchestral works of Modest Mussorgsky.

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Asylum is just one of those films that’s always going to look rather grainy on blu-ray (there’s little to choose between this transfer and the one on Severin’s recent Amicus box set)… House That Dripped Blood fares a bit better, grain-wise, on this showing. In terms of extras, the Asylum disc carries an audio commentary with Baker and Camera Operator Neil Binney, the Inside The Fear Factory featurette, the BBC’s on-set report Two’s A Company, David J. Schow’s appreciation of Robert Bloch, the reminiscences of Subotsky’s widow Fiona and a theatrical trailer… all of these familiar from other recent editions. There’s a reversible poster and reversible sleeve options, with the choice of vintage or new Graham Humphreys artwork. The booklet, which I haven’t seen, will feature essays by Allan Bryce, Kat Ellinger and Jon Towlson.

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Purchasers of THTDB are marginally better provided for vis-a-vis supplementary materials. A new commentary by Troy Howarth joins the previously heard one from director Duffell and Jonathan Rigby. Second AD Mike Higgins gets to have his say in another fresh featurette. Then there’s the familiar ‘A’ Rated Horror Film short, comprising interviews with Duffell and cast members, also the trailers, radio spots, reversible poster and sleeve options you’d be expecting and another booklet with the assessments of Brycie, Kat and Mr Towlson.

BTW, did anybody out there not guess who Dr Starr was? C’mon guys, get a grip…

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Because She Was Worth It… Jorge Grau’s THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE Reviewed

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“Keep young and beautiful, it’s your duty to be beautiful, keep young and beautiful, if you wanna be loved…” Al Dublin / Harry Warren.

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For longer than I can remember, Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (1974) has featured prominently among my very favourite films and since my earliest fanzine scribblings, I’ve had a lot of journalistic mileage out of it. My sadness over the death of its director on Boxing Day last year was compounded by the fact that Senor Grau’s final illness commenced just as I was on the eve of interviewing him in August 2018. Don’t put off till tomorrow, etc…

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In the last interview he did actually give (to Calum Waddell, published in issue 199 of The Dark Side magazine), JG insisted that the repressive climate of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s fascist regime did not cramp his own film making style. It’s notable, however, that the almost Bunuelian portrayal of rural idiocy, religious mania and  authoritarian policing in his most celebrated offering was shot in the UK, that the same year’s gialloesque effort Puena De Muerte (“The Death Penalty”… misleadingly retitled Violent Bloodbath in English-speaking territories), a meditation on the ethics of capital punishment in totalitarian societies, was shot in Spain but set in France…

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… and that the film under consideration here, the previous year’s Ceremonia Sangrienta / “Bloody Ceremony” (in which a self-serving aristocratic ruling class exploit their backwards assed superstitious serfs to the point of killing them for use as beauty aids) was also shot in Spain but relocated to Eastern Europe.

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Most obviously an Iberian response to Hammer’s Countess Dracula (directed by Peter Sasdy in 1971), The Legend Of Blood Castle / The Female Butcher (to give it its Anglo release titles) fits more generally into the long roll call of movies devoted to the bloody true life outrages of Hungarian Countess Erzsebet Bathory de Ecsed (1560-1614). First rearing her scarlet cinematic head in Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri (1956), the bloodthirsty shade of Bathory can also be detected in Harry Kumel’s Daughter Of Darkness (1971), Vincente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride (1972), Luigi Batzella and Joe D’Amato’s The Devil’s Wedding NIght (1973), Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales (1974) and Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part 2 (2007), among countless others. Jess Franco and Jean Rollin tapped into the cinematic potential of the Bathory mythos on numerous occasions and Leon Klimovsky’s La Noche De Walpurgis (1971) is just the first of several run ins between Paul Naschy‘s “tragic wolfman” character Waldemar Daninsky and assorted Bathoryesque villainesses.

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In Grau’s picture Lucia Bose plays an “Erzebeth Bathory” who is descended from the historical anti-heroine and ultimately begins to emulate her misdeeds, though the bloodletting is almost relegated to incidental status relative to the sexually dysfunctional relationship of the principal characters. Grau wastes no subtlety on depicting Erzebeth’s husband, the Marchese Karl (Espartaco Santoni) as a psycho struggling to simultaneously repress his homosexual and homicidal impulses.

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Initially Erzebeth tries to win back his waning affections with the traditional womanly wiles and when she discovers that the blood of a beaten servant girl makes her skin look younger, she needs very little encouragement from her witchy old nanny Nodriza (Ana Farra) to start reviving “the old ways.”  There’s a really sadistic scene in which a little girl is encouraged to play with a doll that has been left lying amid shards of broken glass. But how to entrap and subdue all those stropping young peasant wenches?

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At this point the plot takes a distinct turn into left field, as Karl agrees to drink a preparation that will simulate his own death (the first cinematic mention of the historical Bathory’s alleged penchant for potions). Officially lost to the plague that is haunting the countryside, Karl is now free to kill to his heart’s content, making sure that his victims’ blood drips through a sluice in the floor of his playroom in the attic, below which Erzebeth has positioned her bath tub. Love and sex have been completely subsumed to this odd couple’s true passion…murder, as confirmed when gold-hearted tart Marina (Ewa Aulin), whom we’ve been led to view as the Count’s slim shot at romantic redemption, is done in by him. Finally the pig-ignorant local peasants, who’ve been chalking their ever-dwindling numbers down to vampirism and plague, rumble what’s been happening and storm the castle with the traditional pitchforks, firebrands, et al.

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Nanny has her vicious old tongue cut out (in a scene that will appeal to Mark Of The Devil fans) so she can’t suggest blood sacrifices to anybody else. Like her historical inspiration, this Erzebeth (having stabbed Karl to death – for real, this time, after yet another domestic tiff) is spared execution but bricked up alive, our final sight of her reassuring us that yes, she has degenerated to the point where her looks now reflect the ugliness of her soul.

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It is been suggested that at least some of the releases put out by Mya Communications, whose disc is under review here, were not properly authorised. Whatever, they’ve done a decent job on this one with a print whose not exactly pristine quality somehow adds to the film’s unrelenting atmosphere of oppression and claustrophobia. Sourced as it is from Spanish elements, various peasant strumpet victims remain modestly attired throughout, though out takes from alternative “export” versions of the film, included in the supplementary materials here, significantly boost the tit and bum quotient. You can even, should you choose, watch these alternative takes side-by-side in “comparison mode”. Once you’ve had enough of that, the other extras include Italian and American variations on the title and credit sequences and an international poster gallery.

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“Nobody Knows Who They Were, Or… What They Were Doing!” Plasma Drenched Druids From Outer Space Get Their Shit Together In The Country In Ed Adlum’s Incredible INVASION OF THE BLOOD FARMERS.

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Those Severin boys misspent their foolhardy youths hunting elusive VHS trash, but now they’ve grown to manhood’s full estate, the guys spend most of their time releasing the self-same cinematic oddities on DVD and latterly Blu-ray. Now the Sev treatment has been extended to Ed Adlum’s extraordinary Invasion Of The Blood Farmers (1972), a title upon which I, having once worked at DEFRA for all of eight days, feel uniquely well qualified to comment.

Imagine if you will, that The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) had been directed by Ed Wood rather than Nic Roeg… furthermore, that instead of David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark et al, its principal roles had been fill by the director’s friends and neighbours, whom he paid with a six-pack of beer apiece… and that the film’s crew, some of whom went on to more prestigious projects (assistant camera man Fred Elmes went on to lens films by David Lynch, whom some people I know claim to be a better director than Ed Adlum… I remain unconvinced) were newbies who clearly didn’t have a fucking clue what they were doing.

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To be fair, Adlum wasn’t a total film virgin, having already produced (and had an uncredited hand in the writing of) Raf Mauro’s Blonde On A Bum Trip (1968). What’s more, he would go on to produce (and play a Yeti in) Michael (Snuff) Findlay’s Shriek Of The Mutilated (1974)… yep, if they ever start handing out honorary Academy Awards for people who worked on the most films with totally cool titles, Ed would be your man.

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But what of IOTBF’s Oscar credentials? Well, after a see it / hear it to believe it “James Mason meets Mario Bava” prologue, we find ourselves ass-deep in the rural backwater of Westchester County, NY, where townsfolk are mysteriously disappearing. Druids from Outer Space (you heard me!) have been spiriting them away and injecting them with chemicals that expand their blood supply until it’s gushing from every orifice (accompanied by appropriate outbreaks of spectacular over / under acting). All this because the drinks supply on their home planet has dried up (yep, Nic Roeg was definitely watching IOTBF when he dreamed up The Man Who Fell To Earth). While they’re at it, blood farmers Egon (Jack Neubeck), Sontag (Richard Erickson) and co are looking for the only living woman whose blood will revive their Queen Onhorrid (Cynthia Fleming), who spends most of the picture reposing, Sleeping Beauty style, in a perspex coffin. As it turns out, Jenny Anderson (Tanna Hunter) carries the unique blood group… which puts a serious crimp in hunky young research scientist Don Tucker (Bruce Detrick)’s attempts to romance her. Presiding over the blood farmers’ ludicrous rituals (as bloody gurgling sound effects are cranked up to 11) we find Creton (Paul Craig Jennings), quite the campest Druid from Outer Space since… well, since whoever was previously the campest Druid from Outer Space, obviously.

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Extras-wise you get the expected trailer and entertaining interviews with Jack Neubeck and Fred Elmes, plus an even more amusing conversation with Adlum, whose eclectic CV apparently includes the invention of the phrase “video games”. Better still, once you’ve enjoyed IOTBF watch it all over again with the commentary track from Ed and his partner Ortrum Tippel (who also appears in the film, uncredited, as a victim of the blood farmers). In his inimitable wry fashion, Ed (who appears as yet another victim, the hapless dude who gets killed in the shower on his wedding night) spills the beans on how, among other things, IOTBF’s furnishings were won on a TV game show, how he fell out with Steven Spielberg, how the Druids’ sacred “ritual key of Menandor” was actually a bottle opener and on arguments he had with the ill-fated Michael Findlay over which was the scuzziest genre, Porn or Horror. Moderator (and House of Psychotic Women author) Kier-La Janisse, meanwhile, advises Ed that Snuff wasn’t really a snuff movie and he sounds relieved.

“What more can you do than entertain People?” asks Ed, at one point in the bonus materials: “It’s a great calling!” Mission accomplished here.

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Dreams Of Discontent … THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Eeh that’s champion, lass!”

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

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Love is a battlefield…

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

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

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“Double bill be damned…”

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It’s About Time… CRONOS Reviewed.

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When I learned that Guillermo del Toro had won the best director and picture Oscars for The Shape Of Water, I intended to dust off an interview I did with him in 1994 (when he was publicising his feature debut Cronos) for this Blog. The relevant data file proving resolutely elusive, I’ve decided to dust off my contemporary review (here slightly modified). It’s fair to say that I feel vindicated in my prediction of great things for Senor del Toro (who struck me even then as an intelligent and amiable dude). We Freudsteins are even contemplating a rare cinema visit… to watch a film so mainstream that it won an Oscar. Strange times indeed…

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Cronos (1993). Directed by Guillermo del ToroProduced by Arthur Gorson, Bertha Navarro, et al. Written by Guillermo del Toro. Cinematography by Guillermo NavarroEdited by Raúl Dávalos. Art direction by Brigitte Broch. Production design by Tolitga Figuero. Musiby Javier Álvarez. Special FX by Laurencio Cordero. Starring: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Mario Iván Martinez, Juan Carlos Colombo.

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Cronos begins with antique dealer Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) acquiring the statue of an archangel, which has apparently been missing for four hundred years. The appropriately named but distinctly menacing Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman) turns up at his shop, very keen to acquire the artefact for his dying uncle Dieter (Claudio Brook), a Howard Hughes-type so anally retentive that he keeps his surgically removed tumours in glass display cabinets. Nice. Gris and his little granddaughter Aurora (the spooky Tamara Shanath) soon discover why he’s so intent on buying the piece – it contains the legendary Cronos Device (shades of the Lemarchand Configuration), a small, elaborately engineered metallic sphere which incorporates a worm-like organism whose secretions confer the gift (or is the curse?) of eternal life… along with an overpowering urge to drink human blood.

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To gain possession of the alchemical contraption, Angel does away with Gris… or so he thinks. The antiques dealer has already experimented with the device and, unpicking his mortician’s stitches, wanders out of the crematorium, visibly decomposing, for a confrontation with the bad guys. After finally destroying the Cronos Device, Gris goes to blessed oblivion, surrounded by those who love him. “I am Jesus Gris” he states, and that’s enough. Mortality is acknowledged as an essential component of humanity.

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I knew doodly-squat about Guillermo del Toro when I first watched his feature debut, apart from the fact that he is Mexican. For all I knew, Cronos might have been some kind of masked wrestler smack down or something akin to the loony likes of Night Of A Thousand Cats. Instead, it emerged as that kind of horror picture which comes along every so often and gives you new hope for the future of the genre. “As far as I’m concerned, Cronos is a world-class gem of a film” says one of its stars, Ron Perlman and while there’s a touch of “he would say that, wouldn’t he?” about this pronouncement, it just so happens that he’s right.

You could call Cronos a vampire movie, but it’s a revisionist one that continually confounds your expectations by reversing the conventions of the genre. Never mind Tom Cruise mincing around in Interview with the Vampire, Cronos cuts the crap and delivers the kind of new blood the genre has been crying out for… and in supplying it, del Toro announces his arrival as a major new Horror auteur for the nineties and beyond.

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Je Te Tue … Moi Non Plus! 7 DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYE Reviewed

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BD. Region B.  88 Films. 15.

1973  was an especially busy year for prolific journeyman Antonio Margheriti, during which he contributed to the direction of Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Dracula brace (officially credited to Paul Morrissey) and still found time to knock out the risible Hercules Vs Kung Fu… also the item under consideration here. Prolific as he was, this is just Margheriti’s second and, it turned out, final giallo, one which owes more to Mario Bava’s (and indeed Margheriti’s own) gothique efforts than it does to, e.g. Blood and Black Lace (1964.) If anything, it’s a less florid variation on Bava’s Lisa And The Devil (which was made and promptly buried in the same year.) 7DITCE opens with the same “body in the box in the cellar” McGuffin as Margheriti’s only other Italian slasher, Nude… Si Muore / School Girl Killer / The Young The Evil And The Savage (1968.) Once that body has been secreted in the cellar of Drakenstein Castle, no less, young heiress Corringa MacGrieff (Jane Birkin, looking particularly succulent but conspicuously dubbed) turns up at the very familiar looking (to Italian exploitation buffs) “Scottish” castle. Corringa’s aunt, the family matriarch, announces that she’d rather die than sell her niece’s inheritance, an ironic prelude to the imminent kill-fest. In swim the expected shoal of red herrings… James the Byronicaly cool but totally insane cousin who allegedly killed his sister when they were both children (Hiram “Satyricon” Keller, in a role analogous to the one taken by Alessio Orano in Lisa And The Devil)… Doris Kuntsmann as Suzanne, the intriguing, bisexual French teacher (who takes little care to conceal her amorous designs on Corringa)

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… Dr Franz (Anton Diffring… just being Anton Diffring!)… not to mention James’ pet gorilla (despise Margheriti’s rep as an FX ace, the ape is rendered via poverty row suitmation)… Serge Gainsbourg as “the police inspector” doesn’t get much screen-time (perhaps he came as a package deal with Birkin) and spends most of it struggling with his dubbed Scottish accent  (“There’s bin a Muuuurder!”) and visibly failing to get interested in a role which the screen writers couldn’t even be arsed to attach to a name. The talismanic Allan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi) is also pretty much wasted as “Angus.” Venantino Venantini is “the Reverend Robertson”… or is he? Matters are further muddled  by a pointless family legend about vampires, which manages to find its way into Corringa’s dreams and bump up the running time a bit.

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Meanwhile the culling of the clan MacGrieff cracks on apace. Only that darn cat witnesses all the killings… and pussy ain’t saying nothin’! Lady Alicia, Corringa’s Mum, is smothered with a pillow. Then Corringa, during her nocturnal wandering through the castle’s many secret passageways, discovers the rat-nibbled corpse in the cellar. While that’s giving her the heebie-jeebies she is attacked by a bat… I bet she wishes she’d never thrown that bible on the fire! Angus rescues the eponymous feline from the family crypt, only to have his throat slashed. Just before his wife Maria (the matriarch who won’t sell the castle) discovers him making out with Suzanne, the bilingual, bisexual teacher, Diffring asks her “are you excited by all the blood that’s flowing around here?” Sure thing. Aided by an overwrought Riz Ortolani score, Margheriti builds nicely to a frantic climax, as Diffring gets his throat slashed, closely followed by the guy in the gorilla suit (what, precisely was the point of having him in the movie, anyway?) Then Suzanne cops it. That body in the box turns out to be the real Reverend Robertson and the killer (guess who?) is explaining his ludicrous motivation to Corringa, prior to killing her, when Inspector Gainsbourg pops up and guns him down. Entertainingly  corny stuff. Somebody really ought to make a board game out of this one!

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Troy Howarth (you might remember him from such voice overs as…) provides the commentary track here and told me he’s interested in knowing what I thought of it. Well, he’s clearly studied hard at the school of Tim Lucas and that’s no bad thing, especially when you contrast it with e.g the commentary on 88’s Burial Ground disc, which seems to catch the “film expert” who delivers it in the first throes of early onset Alzheimer’s. Howarth is avuncular, authoritative and strikes a nice balance between fact and opinion. On the odd occasion when I don’t agree with his opinion, he expresses it so cogently that I’m obliged to re-examine and clarify my own, which is always a useful exercise. Sometimes, as Troy himself concedes here, he does rather overdo details from the CVs of actors who play only a marginal role in the proceedings but genre fans can be a pretty anal bunch and I’m sure there are many of them who’ll appreciate this stuff more than I do. Howarth yacks entertainingly and amusingly throughout and with just one brief outbreak of dead air, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he came prepared, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had a run through before the tapes started rolling. I’ve taken all of this on board and will put it to good use in the unlikely event that I’m ever offered another commentary gig.

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One aspect of this film that TH deservedly flags up is the superb job done by cinematographer Carlo Carlini and indeed, there are shots here that wouldn’t look out-of-place in a Mario Bava film. I’ve never had much to say about this in my previous scribblings on the subject of 7DITCE, then again, the film has never looked this good. My comments about one or two of 88s previous BD transfers have been a bit sniffy (and rightly so) but they’ve done a cracking job with this one… ravishing stuff!

Bonus materials (aside from that commentary track and the expected reversible sleeve) comprise English and Italian trailers and an interview with Margheriti’s so Edo. He’s quick to scotch any rumours of bad blood between Mario Bava and his father and, talks of a childhood visit to the set of Seven Deaths and his father’s efficient way of getting the best out of his low budgets. He even attempts to name the guilty man inside the gorilla suit, only for memory to fail him… maybe next time, eh?

JANE BIRKIN

Yum…

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… yum!

 

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“A Literal Tornado Of Teeth”… DEADLIEST WARRIOR: VAMPIRES Vs ZOMBIES reviewed

Jello Man

Many’s the long Winter evening that Mrs F (Tess to her friends… Mrs Freudstein to you) and I have whiled away here at The House Of Freudstein, watching total garbage on Sky TV. Forgive And Forget with Mother Love… My 600-lb Life… 1000 Ways To Die… Ghost Hunting With The Happy Mondays… Beyond Belief: Fact Or Fiction with Jonathan Frakes… Monsters Inside Me… Ru Paul’s Drag Race… the list goes on and on… and on. One of our very favourite ways, though, to waste an hour of our legally conjoined lives, has been Deadliest Warrior, in which a team of over-excited nitwit presenters pit historical characters against each other in hypothetical combat, with modern technology evaluating the relative deadliness of their weaponry and a computer simulator ultimately deciding who’s… well, the deadliest warrior. It’s vicariously violent fantasy football for sedentary sofa spud sadists. Indeed, the deadliest barb we Freudsteins (masters of pedantry) could aim at our screen has been a sneering insistence that, on grammatical grounds, the show should really be known as Deadlier Warrior.

Certainly so for most of the first season, whose episodes bore the self-explanatory titles Apache vs. Gladiator, Viking vs. Samurai, Spartan vs. Ninja, Pirate vs. Knight, Shaolin Monk vs. Maori Warrior and, of course, William Wallace vs. Shaka Zulu. Things got more grammatically correct, if no less ludicrous, as the season progressed and our hysterical hosts got to whoop and wet themselves over tag-team match ups between members of the Yakuza and the Mafia, Green Beret and Russian  Spetznaz forces and, most controversially, the IRA and the Taliban. The late lamented Bravo channel, which aired seasons 1 & 2 of Deadliest Warriror, opted to lose that particular episode in the shuffle (in case you’re wondering, the Paddies shaded it.)

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Season Two continued to alternate two man duels with mob match-ups, its episodes comprising SWAT vs. GSG-9, Attila The Hun vs. Alexander The Great, Jesse James vs. Al Capone, Aztec Jaguar vs. Zande WarriorNazi Waffen-SS vs. Viet Cong, Roman Centurion vs. Rajput Warrior, Somali Pirate vs. Medellin Cartel, Persian Immortal vs. Celt, KGB vs. CIA, Vlad the Impaler vs. Sun Tzu, Ming Warrior vs. Musketeer, Comanche vs. Mongol and Navy Seal vs. Israeli Commando. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Sun Tsu with a pole stuck up his arse… and he hasn‘t lived since it was inserted!

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Things got a little more… er, fanciful in Season Three. Tru TV have been sporadically airing select episodes, including the one under consideration here. Self declared authorities such as Scott Bowen (“author of cult classic The Vampire Survival Guide”) and Matt Mogk (“founder of The Zombie Research Society”) advise the team on what factors to feed into their computer and their sage advice includes the news that vampires are not susceptible to crucifixes, garlic or daylight (since when?), are “approximately 6 times stronger than an elite athlete (sez you!) and boast Freddy Krueger-style kill claws in lieu of fingers (WTF?) Clearly, the fix is in… I mean, nowhere is it mentioned that a zombie took on a great white shark in Zombie Flesh Eaters and whipped the ocean bed with it (program THAT into your fucking stupid computer, I dare you!) The team does concede that a zombie attack would be akin to “a literal tornado of teeth” and to establish the fairest ratio of fast moving vampires against numerically superior zombies, some kung fu doofus is tasked with chopping and kicking a bunch of paper bags on strings, with pictures of zombies drawn on them. By dint of this rigorous scientific methodology, they calculate that it would be appropriate to pit deadheads against bloodsuckers in the ratio of 74 to one.

COTLD

“You lookin’ at me?”

In their deliberations about the deadliness of “zombie virus” the team digresses into a discussion of swine flu, before concluding that vampires won’t be affected by it because “it’s already been proven that they can overcome bubonic plague” (did I fall asleep during that bit?) Elsewhere volunteers rip apart a jello torso with their “zombie hands” (which look exactly like regular hands) and some fool dices with death by annoying an alligator (don’t ask me!) When all this nonsense is fed into the computer it generates a short film in which 3 vampires and 216 zombies wage a battle of attrition which concludes with the final vampire seeing off the ultimate zombie, only to succumb to its bite and become a zombie himself. Some will see this as a fudged result right up there with the scandalous King Kong Vs Godzilla draw that shamed the manly / monsterly sport of mortal combat in 1962. Others may detect an allusion to the identity transfer that concludes Roeg and Cammell’s Performance (1970.) Either way, the final screen credit promises that this particular tussle is “… to be continued!”

If only t’were so… Deadliest Warrior was pulled in 2011. It didn’t exactly help that one of its Green Beret advisors turned out to have only served in a backroom capacity. Pity… if the show had gone on long enough, it might well have solved a long running dispute me and my mate Tony, over who would come out on top in an altercation between Judge Dredd and Captain Scarlet.

Reggie

“Did you call my pint a puff, like?”

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