Thursday, 21 March 2019

Midnight Frolics (1949)

Midnight Frolics, made around 1949, is a burlesque movie. The burlesque movie is one of those odd and now incredibly obscure exploitation genres. It enjoyed a vogue in the 40s and 50s and then vanished without trace when other exploitation genres emerged that could show a great deal more skin.

Of course burlesque itself is an art form that is also long gone, somewhat ironically swept away by the sexual revolution. Everyone has heard of burlesque and most people they have at least a vague idea that it was synonymous with strip-tease. In fact strip-tease was merely one element of the classic burlesque show. A show would also feature singers, fully clothed musical routines and comics. It was kind of like vaudeville but with semi-naked ladies.

For those who wonder what an actual burlesque show was like there is no need to wonder. Quite a few burlesque shows were filmed and quite a few of these burlesque movies survive. Some can be found online or on public domain DVD releases but the quality is often dire. Fortunately Something Weird Video offered something much better - a two-disc set including six complete feature-length burlesque movies of the late 40s and early 50s, with very acceptable transfers.

Midnight Frolics is the first movie on disc one and it’s the only one I’ve watched so far.

Of course there is no plot at all. It’s just a filmed stage show (filmed at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles). There are lots of strip-tease artistes but there’s also plenty of the other characteristic burlesque acts.


The comedy routines are excruciatingly bad. I wasn’t surprised that there were plenty of dirty jokes but I was surprised that most of the jokes aren’t sexual jokes but rather crude toilet humour. Of the four or five comic turns there is one that has some amusing moments and it’s the clean parts of the routine that provide the only laughs.

There’s a girl singer who’s OK. There are several all-singing all-dancing big production numbers that involve absolutely no nudity or even any suggestion of such a thing. They’re just the kinds of production numbers you’d expect to see in an average B-movie musical of that era. They’re actually not too bad. And there’s a girl acrobat.


Of course what attracted customers to burlesque shows and burlesque movie was the prospect of seeing attractive ladies taking their clothes off. And this movie features lots of strippers. In the heyday of burlesque the girls usually did not strip naked (although I believe that when they played cities that were known for their relaxed approach to such matters they did on occasion strip fully naked). In this movie they don’t even go close to nakedness. Relatively substantial G-strings and bras is as far as they go. The secret to the success of the strip-tease artiste was her ability to make the audience think she was being much naughtier than she actually was. So if you think you’re going to see naked female flesh you’re going to be disappointed. This is stuff that would be considered only just raunchy enough to get a PG rating today!

It is interesting to see how the classical strip-tease act actually worked. Each girl’s routine is broken into three distinct segments. First she does a fully-clothed dance that is breathtakingly respectable. Mind you, in those days the strippers actually did know how to dance. She then leaves the stage and immediately returns and does her strip-tease. She then leaves the stage again and again immediately returns, this time to do another dance. This third stage is in all cases by far the most raunchy part of the act. They’re now scantily clad and they’re getting into bump and grind territory. These young ladies know how to shake those parts of the female anatomy that look good when they’re shaking. While it would still seem very tame compared to what strippers were getting up to a few decades later they do achieve a degree or eroticism that would have been fairly exciting at the time and actually seems quite attractive today for its ability to be sexually suggestive without being crude.


The star performer of this show is a young lady named Sunny Knight. She also incidentally is the one who ends up most scantily clad. I rather suspect that being allowed to reveal a lot more flesh may have been one of the privileges of stardom.

This is one of the six burlesque movies in Something Weird's Strip Strip Hooray two-disc set.

Midnight Frolics has a lot of historical cultural interest. It’s an intriguing glimpse of an extinct art form and it’s a reminder of an era when the emphasis was on sexiness rather than sex. Whether you’ll enjoy the movie depends entirely on how interested you are in burlesque.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Night Has a Thousand Desires (1984)

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Jess Franco film. I’m not entirely sure that eurosleaze is my thing any more. But I own a Blu-Ray copy of his 1984 opus Mil sexos tiene la noche (Night Has a Thousand Desires although a more literal translation would have been Night Has a Thousand Sexes) and it seemed silly not to watch it.

Night Has a Thousand Desires was inspired in part at least by the excellent 1948 film noir Night Has a Thousand Eyes which was in turn based on one of Cornell Woolrich's stories. Jess Franco was apparently a bit of a Cornell Woolrich fan, which given the darkness and the vicious little twists that characterise Woolrich’s work is not entirely surprising.

Franco was keeping himself pretty busy in 1984, directing nine(!) films that year. One of the reasons Franco had no problem making so many movies is that rather than find a location he liked and then make his film there he’d find a location he liked, make his film there, and then keep shooting until he’d made three or four movies. There was none of this nonsense of having movies languishing in the development stage for months or years - for Franco the development stage for a movie was the time it took to reload the camera after completing the previous movie. What makes Franco so fascinating and unique is that although inevitably some of the 200-plus movies he made were pretty bad it’s extraordinary just how many were at the very least interesting, and often rather good. There are dozens of Franco movies worth seeing.

In this case the locations he’d found were in the Canary Islands and on the Costa del Sol. Franco really was remarkably good at picking great locations that were not the locations most people would have chosen for the types of films he made. This is a guy who was happy to use stark modernist locations as a setting for a gothic horror movie about vampires. Naturally a vampire who lives in a modernist house is not going to spend her time lying about in coffins - in fact she spends much of her leisure time sunbathing. It sounds like a recipe for movie disaster but the result, Vampyros Lesbos, is one of his best films. Night Has a Thousand Desires makes great use of its locations, especially a very kind of palace near Malaga which looks both Moorish and oddly modernist in its starkness.


This film of course stars Lina Romay. She plays Irina, who earns a living doing a mind-reading act in clubs with her partner Fabián (Daniel Katz). The strangeness starts when the clairvoyant powers start to be kind of real. But this is a Jess Franco movie and the haziness of the line between fantasy and reality and the impossibility of being sure which side of that line you’re on was one of his favourite themes. In this case Irina has so much trouble with reality and dreams bleeding into each other that she is driven to madness.

Franco adds another layer to the dream/reality problem because in his films there isn’t really any reality. They don’t even pretend to take place in what most people think of as the real world - they take place in a kind of alternate reality, Jess Franco World, in which reality is a sort of dream. And of course since movies are not reality anyway a character in a Franco movie that finds himself or herself losing touch with reality is actually a frightening number of steps away from reality. This is the kind of thing that Franco fans love in his movies and Night Has a Thousand Desires is one of his best explorations of such ideas.

This movie also allows Franco to focus on another of his favourite subjects, Lina Romay’s va-jay-jay. Having said that this film is actually not especially graphic. There’s a lot nudity and sex but it’s all strictly softcore. That’s a good thing on balance. Romay could be plenty sexy without having to resort to anything explicit.

And while there’s violence it’s also relatively restrained by Franco standards. In fact it’s restrained by 1980s standards in general. It’s the emotional impact of the violence that matters.


The original 1948 Night Has a Thousand Eyes includes hints that something actually supernatural might be occurring so for that reason among others it’s perhaps not a true film noir. Whether Franco’s film includes supernatural or paranormal events is possibly open to debate given that much of the film is either dream sequences or it’s dreams that might be real or reality that might be dreams. Despite all this, and despite the sun-drenched setting, Night Has a Thousand Desires does have definite film noir touches.

And it is a crime movie.

Jess Franco plays a small but important rôle as Irina’s psychiatrist.

Like most of the Franco-Romay movies this one is dominated by Franco’s extravagant style and Miss Romay’s performance. You will be stunned to learn that she spends much of the film without her clothes on. I know, I was shocked as well. Of course the thing about Lina Romay is that her performances tended to get better once she took her clothes off. Being naked seemed to inspire her. And the things she did best as an actress were usually related in some way to her character’s sexuality. This movie is Romay at her best, on par with her performances in Female Vampire and Doriana Gray.

Franco gets some pretty disturbing shots of Romay’s eyes. She gets to do some over-the-top mad stuff but it’s those shots of her eyes that really tell the story.

The music is even more disorienting than usual for a Franco movie and while that sort of thing sometimes irritates me I have to admit that here it works.


The plot is not really complicated but the important thing to keep sight of is that even when the movie seems to be drifting into arty surrealist territory the plot is still there and it matters. The style and the mood are much more important of course but in this case there’s something a bit rare in Franco’s filmography - the plot does get resolved in a realistic and straightforward manner in the end. But of course it all happens in Jess Franco World where reality is untrustworthy and elusive so is it actually resolved?

The pacing is languorous. OK, at times it’s a bit too slow but I’m inclined to think that’s deliberate. Franco wants to mesmerise us. He wants us to be a mesmerised as Irina is. This is a psychedelic film without any psychedelia. Which makes it more disturbingly psychedelic since there are no cues to help the viewer or the characters to judge the level of unreality with which they’re dealing.

Night Has a Thousand Desires is a pretty good 80s Franco movie. Both Franco in his directing and Romay in her acting are very much playing to their strengths. This was the kind of thing they could do well, even on an almost non-existent budget.

Mondo Macabro’s Blu-Ray includes some extras and the transfer is mostly good although I’m not entirely convinced that a good DVD transfer wouldn’t have looked just as good. If you’re a Franco or a Lina Romay fan this one is highly recommended.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Psycho III (1986)

By 1986 Anthony Perkins was facing up to the fact that if he wanted to get another starring role in a movie, and if he wanted a chance to direct (which he did), his only option was going to be another Psycho sequel. Which is why we have Psycho III.

There are two things that need to be said upfront about this movie. If you haven’t seen Psycho II you definitely won’t have the remotest idea what’s going on. And Psycho III contains major spoilers for Psycho II. So you absolutely must watch Psycho II first.

Which also means I’m going to have to be a bit vague at times about the plot outlines of the third film since I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling the second film. There are many references to the events of Psycho II which I’m not going to discuss and since they’re they’re the least satisfactory feature of the movie perhaps it’s just as well to ignore them.

The movie opens with a prologue which is an homage to a Hitchcock film, but it’s an homage to Vertigo rather than Psycho. It tells us some very disturbing things about a nun named Maureen Coyle (Diana Scarwid) and most of all it tells us why she isn’t a nun any more.

Norman Bates is back once again running the Bates Motel. He has been declared cured. Surprisingly enough the small local community has accepted him. Norman may have killed a whole bunch of people but apart from that he’s a nice enough guy and people feel sorry for him. However horrible his crimes may have been he has paid a very high price for them and he has shown considerable courage in attempting to take up his life again in the same community.



Now some disruptive elements have entered his life. Three people have arrived in the town. One is journalist Tracy Venable (Roberta Maxwell). One is a would-be rockstar named Duane Duke (Jeff Fahey). Duke gets a job as Norman’s assistant at the motel. The third and most unsettling is Maureen Coyle. What makes Maureen really unsettling to Norman is that she has her initials on her suitcase, M.C., which are of course Marion Crane’s initials. This not unnaturally upsets Norman a good deal.

You won’t be in the least surprised to hear that the Bates Motel is once again the scene of a series of horrific murders. Norman is of course suspected but the local sheriff is convinced that he is not the killer. The killings continue, while a strange emotional entanglement develops between Norman and Maureen.

The ending is disappointing, being just a bit too obvious.



Any Psycho sequel is going to have the problem that we already know about Norman and his mother. The subject of his mother can’t be ignored but it’s not easy to give it any real shock value. Psycho III solves this problem by putting much of the focus on Maureen Coyle. Maureen clearly has lots of issues. She is clearly, in her own way, just as crazy and confused and alienated from real life as Norman. And being a nun suddenly thrust into the everyday world she is obviously a woman with a less than relaxed attitude towards sex. In fact she’s as uncomfortable with that area of life as Norman.

What makes Maureen really interesting is that we have no idea what she’s going to do. Is she going to be just another victim? Is she going to start slicing and dicing people in Norman Bates style? Is she going to resolve her issues or keep spiralling downward? Is she going to send Norman totally insane again or is she going to help to redeem him?

She is also, like Norman, a person who seems to find impossible to escape her past.



There’s little point in saying that Anthony Perkins makes a good crazy person. We all know that. He does perhaps push things a bit too far at times. Roberta Maxwell plays the journalist Tracy as a woman with the morals of a rattlesnake and all the charm of an infected tooth. In other words, a typical journalist. The performance that really matters is Diana Scarwid’s. She has to make Maureen crazy and disconnected and generally weird and at the same time fascinating. She manages to do this fairly well. Jeff Fahey goes wildly over-the-top as Duane and adds appreciably to the movie’s high weirdness quotient. The Bates Motel is a real crazy person magnet in this film.

Of course this being the 80s Psycho III has a lot more overt gore than Hitchcock’s 1960 movie, and it has some gratuitous sex and nudity. These things were dictated by the commercial realities of the era and there’s nothing Perkins could have done about it. It’s also, naturally, widescreen and in colour. Again this was an unavoidable commercial reality.

In fact almost everything that is wrong with this film can be laid at the door of the studio. Perkins and screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue wanted to make a movie more concerned with the tragic emotional consequences of the events but the studio wanted a slasher movie. Ironically the movie was a commercial failure, which tends to happen when studio execs get to call the shots.



While there are things wrong with it there are also a lot of things right with Psycho III. Perhaps the movie’s greatest asset was Anthony Perkins, not as star but as director. He really does a fine job. The atmosphere of insanity and general wrongness, and at times out-and-out weirdness, is very impressively achieved. And while Perkins didn’t want to do it as a slasher film he handles the grisly murders with a surprising amount of style. Any Psycho sequel will obviously have to reference the shower scene in Hitchcock’s movie. Psycho III actually does this quite cleverly and quite effectively, and quite surprisingly. The other very famous Psycho set-piece is also referenced, and equally effectively.

The Region 4 DVD that I watched is an old release with no extras. The letterboxed  transfer is acceptable but not great. There's now a loaded-with-extras Blu-Ray release I believe.

Psycho III is far from being a complete success but it’s much better than its reputation would suggest and it’s actually not bad at all. Recommended.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Death Trip (1967)

Death Trip (Kommissar X - Drei grüne Hunde) is one of the very successful series of seven Kommissar X europspy movies made between 1965 and 1971. Death Trip was a West German-Italian-French-Hungarian-Lebanese co-production!

It was shot partly on location in Istanbul and released in 1967.

The Kommissar X movies followed the adventures of American private eye Joe Walker (Tony Kendall) and New York cop Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) who were continually getting mixed up in spy capers. There’s never a plausible explanation for their involvement in the world of espionage but if you’re looking for things to have plausible explanations then the eurospy genre is probably not for you anyway.

This time Tom Rowland has been assigned to transport a million dollars’ worth of LSD to an American military base in Europe, LSD being supposedly seen as a key chemical weapon (and in fact the C.I.A. did have a murky involvement with LSD in the 60s). A gang called the Green Hounds wants to steal the LSD.


Naturally Joe will end up getting drugged with LSD. Naturally he will get mixed up with a series of glamorous women at least one of whom will be beautiful but evil. Naturally the non-evil girls will be kidnapped by the bad guys. Naturally there will be narrow escapes from certain death, and quite a few fistfights and quite a bit of gunplay.

Joe has the coöperation of the Turkish police but he’s under pressure from the U.S. military to retrieve the LSD no matter what the cost.

There’s a good chase over the rooftops in Istanbul, and there are some atmospheric dungeon scenes. There are also rats to be dealt with. Actual rats. Hundreds of them.


One of the major assets of the Kommissar X series is Tony Kendall. That’s not to say that Joe Walker is a well-rounded three-dimensional character. He isn’t. He’s a comic-book hero but he’s great fun and Kendall plays him with charm and panache. Walker is very similar in style to Lemmy Caution, the hero of a terrific series of French crime/spy thrillers like Dames Don’t Care. The darkly handsome Kendall (who was actually Italian) is physically poles apart from the gravel-voiced weatherbeaten Eddie Constantine of Lemmy Caution fame but Walker has the same sublime self-confidence, the same cheerful arrogance, the same keen interest in the female of the species and the same tendency to jump into a fight with both fists.

Tom Rowland is more of a straight arrow type and he makes a good foil for the impetuous maverick Walker.

There’s an interesting attempt to link the Green Hounds to events in the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century.


LSD doesn’t play as much of a röle as you might expect. It’s mostly used as a McGuffin. There are no attempts at elaborate acid-trip scenes. Which is just as well since eurospy movies are pretty psychedelic even without actual psychedelic drugs.

Istanbul was up until the 70s a favourite location for spy stories. It has that East meets West ambience, it’s exotic and it’s a very photogenic city. The Valley of a Thousand Hills is also pretty cool. The Turkish locations are used to great advantage.

Rudolf Zehetgruber wrote snd directed the movie and also plays an important supporting role. He does a pretty fair job in all three capacities.


The supporting cast is generally adequate. The girls were obviously cast mostly for their looks, but their looks are nothing to complain about.

The Sinister Cinema DVD-R offers a badly washed out print although it is mostly in the correct aspect ratio. I believe that most of the Kommissar X films have been released in Germany in much better editions although I’m not entirely sure if they include English subtitles or the English dubbed versions (some sources say that they do).

The English dubbing is reasonably well done.

Death Trip is a pretty good entry in the Kommissar X series and it’s a more than decent eurospy flick.

You might also be interested in my reviews of other Kommissar X films - Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966), So Darling, So Deadly (1966) and Kiss Kiss, Kill Kill (1966).

Saturday, 29 December 2018

favourite cult movies of 2018

my favourite cult movies of 2018

Yes it’s time once again for making “best of” lists. I haven’t seen enough cult movies in the past year to do a proper top ten list so I’ve contented myself with a top half-dozen, rank by year of release not quality.

Here’s the list, with links to my reviews.

Yambaó - Cry of the Bewitched (Alfredo B. Crevenna, 1957)

The Monster That Challenged the World (Arnold Laven, 1957)

The Frozen Dead (Herbert J. Leder, 1966)

The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980)

Escape from New York (John Carpenter, 1981)

The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

I'm going to give an honourable mention to The Time Travelers (Alexander Singer, 1976), an interesting TV-movie which was actually a pilot for a projected TV series that never eventuated.

Yes the list is mostly John Carpenter movies! That’s because my cult movie watching in the past year has been mostly limited to - John Carpenter movies.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Hypnotist (1957)

The Hypnotist (later re-released as Scotland Yard Dragnet) is a 1957 psychological thriller from Britain’s Merton Park Studios. Like most of the studio’s output it’s a low budget production and like most of their output it’s better than you might expect.

In this case it’s also a bit stranger than you might expect.

It starts with test pilot Val Neal (Paul Carpenter) almost being killed when a test flight goes wrong. Against all the odds he escapes with only very minor injuries and he quickly makes a full recovery. Except that it’s not quite a complete recovery. He has these attacks. He becomes very breathless and suffers agonising chest pains. Since there is absolutely nothing physically wrong with him it looks like it’s a case for the psychiatrists, and his fiancée Mary (Patricia Roc) manages to persuade a very eminent man in that field, Dr Francis Pelham (Roland Culver) to take Val on as a private patient.

The therapy seems to make little progress. Since as everyone knows all mental problems can be explained by a repressed childhood memory Mary decides to take a pro-active approach - instead of waiting for Dr Pelham to uncover this repressed memory she’ll do a bit of digging into Val’s past and maybe she’ll find the answer that way.


While she’s doing this Val has a little adventure. While under hypnosis he runs off and after wandering the streets, not even being able to remember his own name, he meets a rather charming young lady in a jazz club. The following morning he remembers his name and returns home.

So far the film seems to be an odd and slightly overwrought psychological melodrama but after nearly an hour it suddenly changes gears and the main plot, a murder mystery plot,  kicks in. The slow buildup could be seen as a flaw but I think it works. It’s a movie that leads us up the garden path and the sudden unexpected act of violence comes as a shock.


Movies from the 40s and 50s dealing with psychiatry and hypnosis are always fun. There’s the delightful child-like faith that people had in such things back then, and the way psychiatrists were regarded almost as magicians. This movie is a particularly good example of the psychiatry-as-magic genre. All you have to do is to find that one crucial memory from the patient’s childhood and he will be instantly cured. And hypnosis is incredibly powerful and you can’t fight against it.

The oddness in this movie doesn’t come from the plot (which is not dazzlingly original) but more from the delightfully sensationalistic and rather outrageous treatment of the hypnosis theme.


Roland Culver is marvellous as always, playing his role with a twinkle in his eyes. It’s a nicely judged performance - Dr Pelham seems like a dedicated and kindly doctor but can we be sure he is what he seems to be?

Paul Carpenter is quite effective as Val, playing him as mostly an easy-going likeable kind of guy but also as a guy who could certainly have some dark secrets and perhaps the potential to lose control completely. As is the case with Dr Pelham we’re uncertain whether to take Val at face value or not.


Writer-director Montgomery Tully was an artisan rather than an artist but his films, particularly in the B-movie crime genre, are usually solid and quite watchable.

Network’s Region 2 DVD release offers an excellent anamorphic transfer. The black-and-white image looks great. Extras are pretty much non-existent - a trailer and a stills gallery (which is more than you usually get from Network).

The Hypnotist is perfectly enjoyable and the psychobabble adds extra entertainment value. Recommended.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Ace Drummond (serial, 1936)

Ace Drummond is a 1936 aviation adventure serial from Universal, and it’s one of the best of the early Universal serials.

This serial is based on Eddie Rickenbacker’s comic strip of the same name. Rickenbacker himself was a colourful and larger-than-life character. He was the highest scoring American air ace of the First World War, a racing car driver, the founder of an automobile manufacturing company and an airline executive as well as being a bitter enemy of President Franklin Roosevelt.

International Airways is trying to establish an international network of air services and of course Mongolia is the key to this. So they need to establish an air field there. They have suffered a series of disasters which appear to be the work of a master criminal known as the Dragon, the intention being presumably to close down the airline’s operations in Mongolia.

In desperation the directors of the airline have called on the services of the G-Man of the Air, the famous Ace Drummond. Drummond very narrowly escapes death on his way to Bai-Tal Field, the Mongolian headquarters of International Airways.

There's another mystery to be dealt with as well. Eminent archaeologist, Dr Trainor, who claimed to have discovered a mountain of jade, has disappeared. His daughter Peggy (Jean Rogers) has arrived in Mongolia to try to find some trace of her father.


Both Ace and Peggy suspect that the Dragon is behind Dr Trainor's kidnapping.

Singing cowboys were amazingly popular in 1930s Hollywood. Ace Drummond is a variation on the theme - he’s a singing aviator. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion. I did get a little tired of hearing the one song over and over again.

John King as Drummond is an effective square-jawed hero while Jean Rogers as Peggy Trainor makes a fine heroine. Noah Beery Jr gives a scene-stealing performance as aircraft mechanic and part-time hero’s sidekick Jerry. Jerry could easily have been made into a comic relief character but he isn’t. He’s a sidekick who is resourceful and actually useful, and quite heroic in his own right.


Guy Bates Post gives a florid performance as the Grand Lama of the nearby monastery (where the monks are extremely hostile to the Foreign Devils of the Air). The monastery is not quite the haven of peace you might expect, given that it contains a room specifically designed for the purposes of torture.

There’s also a potentially annoying kid, the son of the airline president, but he turns out to be not as annoying as one might have feared.


The other notable cast member is Lon Chaney Jr as one of the henchman of the chief villain.

There’s no shortage of action in this serial, and the action sequences are imaginative and exciting. There are lots of aerial sequences and they’re pretty impressive.

The cliffhangers are mostly pretty good. As you might expect quite a few involve air crashes.

The identity of the chief villain, the Dragon, is reasonably well concealed. One interesting feature is the killing off of a heroic character, rather surprising in a serial.


This is a Universal serial so the production values are somewhat higher than you’d find in a contemporary Mascot serial. The sets are quite good, especially the monastery sets. There are some gadgets, the best by far being the use of the fans and prayer wheels and even water wheels as radio receivers for messages from the Dragon.

Ace Drummond is available on DVD from several sources. My copy was from, Alpha Video. Both the image quality and sound quality are quite good (by Alpha Video standards anyway).

Ace Drummond is a truly excellent serial. Highly recommended. There were quite a few other 1930s aviation-themed serials, such as The Mystery Squadron (which is also highly enjoyable).