Sunday, 30 December 2012

The College Girl Murders (1967)

College Girl Murders2The College Girl Murders (original German title Der Mönch mit der Peitsche), released in 1967, is one of the later German Edgar Wallace krimis and was directed by Alfred Vohrer (who helmed most of the best movies in this genre for Rialto Studios).

The crazier these krimis got the better they were and this one is crazier than most. It opens with a mad scientist who has just invented a new lethal gas. He sells it to a criminal gang, but the payoff he receives is not what he expected.

Soon afterwards a series of murders takes place at an exclusive girls’ school in England. The murders appear to be the work of a madman, but the audience knows that they are carried out by a man who is in prison. With the help of corrupt prison guards he is able to leave his cell each night to carry out the murders.

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The killer is employed by a mysterious man whom he never sees, a man who has a fondness for aquatic animals like sea turtles and crocodiles. He’s a classic diabolical criminal mastermind, but just what is it he is trying to achieve?

This is a tough case for Inspector Higgins (played of course by Joachim Fuchsberger), and it’s made even more difficult because his boss at Scotland Yard, Sir John, has just completed a course in criminal psychology and insists on interfering in the case with his hare-brained psychological theories.

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There is a mysterious red-robed figure who is described in the English dubbed version as a monk although he looks more like a Ku Klux Klansman in red. There are also lethal Bibles and guns that fire deadly gunk at unsuspecting victims. The body count is extremely high in this movie, but that’s fairly typical of this genre - you never get just one murder in a krimi, and in this one a large proportion of the cast gets bumped off in various bizarre ways.

There’s a plethora of suspects for Inspector Higgins to deal with, including a writer who takes an excessive interest in the girls at the school and a chemistry teacher who takes an even more excessive and unhealthy interest in the girls. Either could be the criminal mastermind, but then so could the gardener or the headmistress. Or just about anyone else. Everyone seems to have something to hide.

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Joachim Fuchsberger is as reliable as ever and the supporting cast is excellent. Strangely enough Eddi Arendt is not on hand this time to provide comic relief, so these comic duties are assumed by Siegfried Schürenberg as Sir John, with his half-baked psychological theories. Luckily he is actually quite amusing.

This particular movie was, unlike the earlier entries in this cycle, made in colour. This is actually the first krimi I’ve seen in colour.

There are some nice visual touches (as you expect in a movie directed by Alfred Vohrer) and some fairly cool sets which include a cage suspended above hungry crocodile and a swimming pool with underwater windows which allow for some clever underwater scenes.

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There’s plenty of fun to be had in this movie and if you’re a fan of the Edgar Wallace krimis you’ll want to see this one. If you haven’t yet discovered the joys of this genre then it’s about time you did although, as good as this movie, you’re probably better off starting with the earliest of them, such as the wonderful Fellowship of the Frog (Der Frosch mit der Maske).

Dark Sky’s DVD release boasts a lousy pan-and-scanned English-dubbed transfer of which they should be ashamed. Sadly this is a genre that is rarely available in decent transfers with English subtitles although there are a few German releases that are excellent and that do include English subtitles.

The movie can be thoroughly recommended. This DVD release cannot, but unfortunately it’s the only chance you’ll get to see this movie in an English-friendly version.

Friday, 28 December 2012

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)

Hypnotic Eye1The Hypnotic Eye is both a crime mystery and a horror film which (within its B-movie limitations) straddles the two genres fairly well. And it’s a lot of fun.

A series of bizarre self-mutilations has terrorised an unnamed city. All the victims are women. One woman set her hair on fire, with fatal results. One woman slashed her face with a straight razor, thinking it was lipstick. Another stuck her face into an electric fan, thinking it was a vibrator. There have been in total eleven strange inexplicable self-mutilations.

Detective-Sergeant Dave Kennedy (Joe Patridge) has been assigned to the case. He’s a nice enough guy, but he’s clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Even when he and his girlfriend Marcia (Marcia Henderson) attend a performance by Desmond, The World’s Greatest Hypnotist (Jacques Bergerac), it doesn’t occur to Dave that maybe hypnotism has been involved (something the audience will take about 30 seconds to work out). This is in spite of the fact that he has a buddy who is a psychiatrist (Dr Philip Hecht, played by Guy Prescot) who uses hypnotism in his practice. It’s only when Dave and Marcia’s friend Dodie, who also attended the performance, goes home and tries to wash her face in sulphuric acid that the penny finally starts to drop for Dave.

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You see, Dave is a sceptic. Even though his psychiatrist buddy has told him how dangerous hypnotism can be in the wrong hands, Dave believes hypnotism is pure nonsense.

After Dodie’s disaster Dave in finally on the trail of Desmond. Marcia is way ahead of him. She’s attended another performance and has volunteered to be hypnotised by Desmond. But Marcia resists being hypnotised, and discovers the first of Desmond’s nasty little secrets. While on stage he secretly gives the most attractive of his female subjects a post-hypnotic suggestion to come and join him in his dressing room after the show. He then takes them out to dinner, and then back to his place to see his etchings.

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Marcia thinks she can resist being hypnotised, but she doesn’t yet know about the Hypnotic Eye. No woman can resist the Hypnotic Eye. She also hasn’t yet figured out how Desmond’s little assignations tie in with the self-mutilations, although she soon will. But under the influence of the Hypnotic Eye, will she become the next victim? And will Dave finally put the pieces of the puzzle together in time to save her? The audience will certainly have solved the puzzle long before Dave does.

This movie attempted to use some William Castle-style gimmickry to whip up audience interest. In this case the gimmick was HypnoMagic. During a sequence in which Desmond hypnotises his entire audience, the movie audience can join in and become hypnotised as well!

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By 1960 standards there are some reasonably horrific scenes. The self-mutilations are fairly graphic.

Jacques Bergerac was apparently a real magician. He certainly wasn’t a real actor but he chews the scenery with enough enthusiasm to make his performance work. Unfortunately not even HypnoMagic can make the performances of the other players interesting.

Despite some inadequate acting and a plot that wouldn’t challenge a five-year-old this is still an insanely entertaining little movie. Plus it has beatniks and beat poetry! Crazy, man, crazy. Another fun feature is the stern warning at the end to never, never allow yourself to be hypnotised by anyone who is not a medical doctor. It’s all great exploitation movie hokum.

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Warner Brothers have presented this movie in a superb transfer in their Warner archive MOD series

An odd but thoroughly enjoyable B-movie romp that combines some delightfully campy hypnotism silliness with a serviceable if fairly obvious mystery plot. A worthy addition to the collection of any cult movie enthusiast.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

season's greetings

elke sommer christmas

Elke Sommer looks like she’s getting into the seasonal spirit here, and I hope all my regular readers are as well.

Maid in Sweden (1971)

Maid in Sweden1Maid in Sweden, released by Cannon Films in 1971, has one thing going for it, and one thing only - Christina Lindberg. For her fans that will be more than enough, but this is truly her worst movie.

Although it was shot in Sweden it’s actually a US-Swedish co-production and was filmed in English.

It’s a coming-of-age story with an absolute minimum of plot. Which perhaps is just as well, since what little plot there is is rather unsavoury and sadly predictable.

Young Inga yearns for the bright lights of the big city. Life on the family farm seems like a prison sentence. Finally she gets a letter from her sister Greta inviting her to spend the weekend with her in Stockholm.

On arrival Inga finds that Greta is shacked up with a guy called Casten. Greta and Casten’s life together consists mostly of getting stoned, having sex and arguing. Casten is lazy, boorish and generally loathsome. So naturally Greta is hoping that he’ll marry her.

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Greta fixes Inga up with a date, one of Casten’s friends who turns out to be even more of a waste of oxygen than Casten. Bjorn’s idea of showing an innocent young girl a good time is to take her out, get her drunk, then take her home and rape her. So naturally Inga falls madly in love with him. But this will be a holiday romance only - Inga must return to the farm after three days of dirty sex with Bjorn.

Lindberg could act, as she proved in later movies such as Thriller: A Cruel Picture and the delirious Japanese costume yakuza movie Sex and Fury. She gets no chance to act in this movie. All she gets to do is to take her clothes off and have sleazy simulated sex. Nobody is likely to complain about her taking her clothes off but the sex is too nasty to be appealing.

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Lindberg of course looks stunning. Her lack of acting experience shows but she was always comfortable in front of a camera and the camera always loved her.

Impulse’s DVD release of this movie is truly atrocious. It’s a dreadful fullframe transfer. The colours are washed out, the picture is soft and there’s lots of print damage. It’s about as bad as a DVD release can get.

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Maid in Sweden is for Christina Lindberg completists only. She made much better movies than this, and if you have a hankering for seeing her without her clothes on you’re better off going for Anita: Swedish Nymphet which is vastly better than this offering.

Friday, 21 December 2012

In Like Flint (1967)

In Like Flint2In Like Flint marked the return of the ultra-cool super spy Derek Flint. The Flint movies were, along with the Matt Helm movies, the most successful of the American attempts at spoofing the 007 series. Made by 20th Century-Fox in 1967, the movie’s biggest asset is star James Coburn.

This time around Derek Flint (Coburn) is called in by his old boss Lloyd Cramden (Lee J. Cobb) at the intelligence agency Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). Cramden was playing golf with the president who had asked him to time his swing. It turned out to take three minutes which is clearly ridiculous. Somehow Lloyd Cramden had lost three minutes. He has no idea what this could mean but since it involves the President it obviously has sinister implications. What he doesn’t know is that during those three minutes the president was kidnapped and replaced by an imposter.

Cramden has stumbled upon a plot to take over the world by a group of women led by Elisabeth (Anna Lee). The women want to establish a matriarchy, and the first step is to gain control of a US space facility in the Virgin Islands. Elisabeth has established a beauty farm there as a cover.

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Cramden has other problems. Someone within Z.O.W.I.E. is trying to discredit him by setting him up in a compromising situation with a woman. Only Derek Flint can save both Cramden’s job and the world.

Flint as usual has retired from the world of espionage to devote himself to compiling an English-dolphin dictionary, but he temporarily puts this project on hold to help his own boss. He even temporarily abandons his harem (which now comprises only three women - he’s trying to cut down).

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In fact there are actually two conspiracies, one by Elisabeth’s all-female gang and another by a high functionary within Z.O.W.I.E. who is double-crossing the women. The plots also involve female Russian cosmonauts as well as a cryo-chamber in which Flint’s harem gets imprisoned. There’s a very amusing scene on a Cuban airliner which has fun with the idea of how an airline would be run in the Caribbean socialist paradise.

The visual set-pieces are less spectacular than you might expect but there are the expected hordes of bikini-clad girls. The beauty farm is fun. The plot gets more than a little confusing but then it is a spy movie and that pretty much goes with the territory.

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Coburn is in sparkling form which is just as well since the rather threadbare script and Gordon Douglas’s rather limp efforts as director will mean that he has to largely carry the movie. Which he manages to do with his customary style. We also get to see Derek Flint as a ballet star.

Anna Lee has fun as the would-be ruler of a global female empire. Lee J. Cobb relishes the opportunity to ham it up as Cramden.

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Fox have done a splendid job with the 16x9 enhanced transfers of the two Flint movies. They both look terrific and the set is very reasonably priced.

In Like Flint is a little disappointing compared to the first Derek Flint movie but Coburn’s performance still makes it a must-see for 60s spy spoof fans.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Battle Beneath the Earth (1967)

Battle Beneath the Earth2Battle Beneath the Earth is an amazingly entertaining exercise in inspired sci-fi silliness. Made in 1967, it can actually be seen as a combination of Bond-style spy movie and science fiction.

The movie starts with a scientist, Arnold Kramer, being admitted to a psychiatric hospital after the police find him listening to noises beneath the streets of Las Vegas. He tells them that there are people down there, people like ants, tunneling beneath the earth. They decide he’s obviously crazy, but he isn’t. There really are people tunneling down there, and they’re Chinese communists planning to invade the United States by means of a system of tunnels dug beneath the Pacific Ocean.

When a series of unexplained mine disasters occur both seismologists and the military start to take notice. Kramer’s friend, Commander Jonathan Shaw, works in a Navy research establishment and he realises that there is something sinister going on underground. A Navy team descends into one of the mine shafts that had been the scene of unexplained cave-ins and they discover not just a vast system of tunnels, but hundreds of Chinese soldiers. And atomic warheads!

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The diabolical genius behind the plan is a renegade Chinese general determined to conquer the US. Kramer, now released from the psychiatric hospital, joins Shaw as they work to stop this deadly threat.

It’s a wonderfully crazy idea but the movie plays it fairly straight. There are battles beneath the Earth as the Americans race to head off this threat. The Chinese have sophisticated tunneling machines and now the Americans must work hurriedly to produce their own tunneling machines.

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The tunneling machines are a combination of tunneler and armoured tank and they’re the highlight of the film. The sets and special effects are surprisingly (for what is a fairly low-budget movie) reasonably impressive.

Kerwin Mathews as Commander Shaw is an effective hero. For a movie that features dozens of Chinese characters there is not a single Chinese actor in the cast! The makeup on the European actors involved in less than successful although it does succeed in making the crazy Chinese general and his top scientist look suitably sinister. The cast also includes Ed Bishop (one of my favourite actors who enjoyed more success in Britain than in his own country).

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I love the fact that the psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas has slot machines in the patient lounge. History buffs will be vastly amused by the fact that the Chinese officers all drive bright yellow Kubelwagens!

This 1967 production was the last movie made by veteran Irish director Montgomery Tully who made some very interesting noirish crime thrillers for Hammer back in the early 50s. He approaches the material in a rather straight way which of course makes it even more entertainingly silly. He does succeed in keeping the action moving along briskly - this movie does not suffer from the slow pacing that afflicts so many 1950s and 1960s sci-fi movies.

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The Chinese commander, General Chan (Martin Benson) comes across as the sort of diabolical criminal mastermind that you expect in a Bond movie. His excessive performance is one of the movie’s strengths.

This movie was released by Warner Home Video in a two-movie pack paired with The Ultimate Warrior, a movie I’ve never heard of and haven’t yet seen. It’s a nice 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer.

The sheer outrageousness of the central idea makes Battle Beneath the Earth a classic B-movie. Recommended.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Colossus of New York (1958)

Colossus of New York1The Colossus of New York is an underrated sci-fi thriller made by Paramount in 1958. It has mad scientists, monsters and death rays and what more could you ask for?

Dr Jeremy Spensser (Ross Martin) is a brilliant young scientist who is killed in a freak accident. His father, noted brain surgeon Dr William Spensser (Otto Kruger), refuses to accept the fact of his son’s death. Why should the world be deprived of such a brilliant young mind? He persuades Jeremy’s brother Henry (John Baragrey), an expert in automation, to help him in his plan to ensure that Jeremy’s wok will continue. With his skills in brain surgery he is able to keep Jeremy’s brain alive and now Henry’s skills in automation will give him a new body.

It’s perhaps unfortunate that the new robotic body that they give Jeremy makes him look like a classic 1950s sci-fi monster. Jeremy’s intellectual skills are intact but Henry has doubts as to whether his brother can remain psychologically healthy in his new monstrous body. We can’t help sharing his doubts.

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In fact the first request Jeremy makes of his father is to kill him. But Jeremy is persuaded that the world needs his skills, in particular his current project on grains that can be grown in polar regions, and Jeremy reluctantly agrees to remain alive to complete this work.

What Jeremy hasn’t been told is that his wife Anne (Mala Powers) and son Billy are still alive (it appears that he somehow thought they’d been killed as well). And Jeremy decides that he can’t go on living without seeing them. He befriends his young son Billy, who assumes he is merely a friendly giant. But soon there are rumours going around about a strange monstrous creature lurking in the woods near Dr William Spensser’s rather gothic-looking home.

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His wife sees him as well, but she doesn’t realise that this monster is her husband. Jeremy’s psychological state is about to take a turn for the worse, however, when he discovers that his brother Henry is in love with Anne. Jeremy takes this news rather badly.

When his father and brother created the new robotic body for Jeremy they included a couple of features that will now have rather unfortunate consequences. Jeremy has hypnotic powers, he has extra-sensory perception and his eyes are equipped with powerful death rays. Why these features were included in his robotic body remains a mystery.

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None of this bodes well for Henry. His robotic brother can track his every movement using his ESP and he can force others to do his bidding using his hypnotic powers. And of course Jeremy is just itching to try out his death rays.

The special effects are reasonably good and they’re definitely fun. The monster Jeremy looks suitably menacing.

The acting is passable enough and director Eugène Lourié (who was something of a specialist in this type of film) does a competent job.

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Olive Films’ DVD releases is typical of this company. It boasts an excellent anamorphic transfer but is totally lacking in extras - there is not even a trailer.

The Colossus of New York is an interesting variation on the classic Frankenstein’s monster theme with Dr William Spensser being the mad scientist who is so intent on doing good that he fails to realise that he is actually doing evil. This is a fine example of 1950s American sci-fi and is highly recommended for fans of the genre.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Crescendo (1970)

crescendo-1970Crescendo, released in 1970, is a late entry in Hammer’s cycle of Jimmy Sangster-penned contemporary horror thrillers.

Susan Roberts (Stefanie Powers) is doing a Master’s thesis in music on deceased American composer Henry Ryman. She gets an invitation from the composer’s widow Danielle to spend some time at her house in the south of France doing research.

The household consists of Mrs Ryman (Margaretta Scott), her crippled son Georges (James Olson) and two servants, Carter (Joss Ackland) and Lilliane (Jane Papotaire). And as Susan soon discovers, they’re all completely mad.

It’s obvious from the start that Georges is crazy. Susan makes allowances for him because he’s crippled but it’s clear that what’s wrong with him is much more serious than that. He’s a heroin addict and he’s involved in a very unhealthy relationship with Lilliane. Lilliane knows the power she has over him since she controls his supply of the drugs, and Lilliane wants a payoff. The payoff she wants is to marry Georges and become mistress of the household.

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It takes a while for Susan to realise that Danielle is crazy as well. Susan reminds Georges of an old girlfriend, Catherine. Catherine has become an obsession with Georges and Danielle seems to be feeding that obsession. And what is Danielle doing in her husband’s old music room, a room that she keeps as a sort of shrine to his memory?

Georges seems to be both attracted by Susan and strangely repelled by her. In fact she reminds him very much of Catherine and at times Georges seems to think she is Catherine. Georges warns Susan that she should leave, and then tells her that he will afterwards beg her to stay but she should not listen to him. Which is exactly what happens.

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Georges is troubled by dreams, dreams that always follow more or less the same pattern. He is with Catherine and then a figure approaches with a shotgun and the figure is Georges himself. The drugs don’t help matters very much. He is clearly very disturbed, but is he dangerous? He had warned her of some danger but was he warning her about himself or someone else? Everyone in the household seems likely to be dangerous, including the servants (who are rather too familiar with the other members of the household). Carter appears to know more than he admits to. There are obviously some strange family secrets here. If Georges doesn’t seem to accept that Catherine is gone Danielle doesn’t seem to accept that her husband is dead. She had hoped that Georges would inherit his father’s musical genius and is clearly disappointed in his lack of musical talent.

The plot is, typically for this genre, outrageously convoluted. Director Alan Gibson worked mostly in television but made several underrated horror films in the early 70s, including a number for Hammer. He was a solid if unspectacular director.

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Jimmy Sangster co-wrote the screenplay with Alfred Shaughnessy. Sangster had a habit of recycling plot elements in his screenplays but this film is different from his earlier efforts to make it worth seeing.

The strong casts helps to keep things interesting. James Olson is convincingly neurotic as Georges. Joss Ackland makes the most of a minor role. His Carter is properly ambiguous - he obviously knows what is going on but we can’t be sure if he’s a threat or a possible ally for Susan. Jane Lapotaire as Lilliane adds the necessary sleaze as the conniving housekeeper. Stefanie Powers makes a perfectly adequate heroine.

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Crescendo is not one of Hammer’s outstanding efforts but it provides solid entertainment.

This one is available in the Warner Archive. It’s a good 16x9 enhanced transfer but is of course lacking in extras.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Super Bitch (1973)

Super BitchSuper Bitch (Si può essere più bastardi dell'ispettore Cliff?) was a surprising foray in to the poliziotteschi genre by Massimo Dallamano. The genre was not really particularly suited to Dallamano’s style but he does manage to give this movie a few touches of his own.

The poliziotteschi flourished briefly in Italy during the 1970s, partly inspired by the success of Hollywood tough guy cop movies like Dirty Harry (1971) and The French Connection (1971). The chaos of Italy during the decade, with Red Brigades terrorists carrying out kidnappings and murders, also contributed to the popularity of a genre that showed the police fighting back (in a very violent way) against crime and terrorism.

The hero (or anti-hero) of Super Bitch is Inspector Cliff (Ivan Rassimov), an agent for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in Washington. He is working undercover infiltrating a major heroin smuggling gang but it is obvious from the start that he is pursuing his own agenda as well.

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The gang he has infiltrated is run by Morell (Ettore Manni), who runs an escort agency in London as a front. Several other gangs will figure in this movie, most notably that led by the colourful but deadly Mamma the Turk (Patricia Hayes) and her murderous children. Cliff’s method is to play off the gangs against each other. Joanne (Stephanie Beacham) works for Morell as an escort, as well as being his mistress, and she will play a key role in the movie.

Joanne is the Super Bitch of the English title (or at least one of the English titles - the movie was also released as Mafia Junction) but that gives a rather misleading idea of her character and of her importance to the plot. The focus is really on Cliff.

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There are a bewildering number of double-crosses, with Cliff managing to have every criminal at every other criminal’s throat. The various gangs are happy enough to double-cross one another but they don’t realise they’re being double-crossed in turn by a cop. The movie, like most movies of this genre, is perhaps a bit too cynical for its own good.

There’s plenty of graphic violence and plenty of action. Like the 1970s American cop movies that influenced them the poliziotteschi are as much action movies as police movies.

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Ivan Rassimov makes a very good morally ambiguous hero. Well actually he’s not that morally ambiguous - he’s really an evil SOB and probably psychotic. His big mistake is that he fails to realise that Joanne is actually in love with Morell. Cliff assumes that everyone is as cynical as he is and the idea that Joanne might be loyal to Morell (even while she’s having an affair with Cliff) doesn’t occur to him. The relationship between Joanne and Morell is the only honest relationship in the movie.

Patricia Hayes is delightfully over-the-top as Mamma the Turk. Mamma and her children, vicious thugs all of them, provide one of the movie’s more surreal touches with one of her children strumming a guitar and singing while the others carry out various acts of mayhem.

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The sheer excessiveness of the movie and the bizarre touch added by Mamma the Turk makes this movie more of a surreal fantasy than a realistic cop movie. Dallamano of course would have had little interest in making a straightforward exercise in realism. Apart from the violence there’s a considerable helping of sex and nudity, as you’d expect in a 1970s European exploitation movie.

Arrow Films have done a fine job with their DVD release, giving us an excellent anamorphic transfer accompanied by a fascinating documentary on the poliziotteschi genre.

This is not one of my favourite genres but it is a Dallamano movie and it has enough of his signature style to make it worthwhile. It’s an entertaining roller coaster ride of violence and mayhem.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Kronos (1957)

Kronos2Kronos starts out as another OMG that new asteroid we just found is on a collision course with the Earth films, and then quickly switches into an OMG the aliens are invading movie. Made by a small outfit called Regal Films in 1957 and distributed by 20th Century-Fox, this is classic 50s sci-fi.

This movie starts off, literally, with a bang. A team of scientists at Labcentral sounds the warming that a newly discovered planetoid is on a collision course with the Earth and the US military swings into action, launching hundreds of nuclear missiles at the planetoid. There are enough thermonuclear warheads to destroy an asteroid with ten times the mass of this one, but it has no effect.

For a while it looks like it’s headed for New York but eventually the planetoid crashes into the Pacific Ocean just off the Mexican coast.

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Dr Leslie Gaskell (Jeff Morrow) has a suspicion that this asteroid is no mere rock, that it is in fact controlled by an intelligence. He heads off down to Mexico accompanied by his assistant and by his girlfriend Vera Hunter (Barbara Lawrence). At first they find nothing, but then a gigantic dome appears from under the ocean. The next day Kronos (as the thing is dubbed after a figure in Greek mythology) comes ashore. It is a gigantic robot spaceship thing on legs. It starts heading towards a nearby power plant.

Meanwhile Dr Gaskell’s boss Dr Eliot, who collapsed at the time of the atomic attack on the planetoid, is in a mental hospital. He has been rambling about a world depleted of power that has sent out giant robot accumulators to harvest power from other planets. These are of course not the ravings of a madman but the actual facts. Unfortunately Dr Eliot is now under the control of Kronos and is sending it instructions on how to find power plants.

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The US Air Force has a simple solution. They’re going to drop a H-bomb on the bugger. Luckily Dr Gaskell realises that this will only make things worse - Kronos will simply absorb the power of the H-bomb. But his realisation may not have come in time. And if H-bombs can’t stop Kronos, what can?

This is pretty standard 50s sci-fi stuff but it’s generally fairly well executed and the large amount of stock footage used (of missile launches and so forth) is well integrated into the movie. The special effects are occasionally dubious and letting us see Kronos’s method of locomotion was perhaps a mistake as it’s more comical than sinister. Kronos himself (or itself) is reasonably well done and makes a fairly effective monser.

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The acting is standard B-movie quality with Jeff Morrow and Barbara Lawrence being quite adequate. Veteran (and prolific) B-movie director Kurt Neumann handles matters competently.

The pacing is better than in many such movies and in packs a fair amount of action into its modest 78 minute running time. There is a brief romantic interlude in the second quarter of the movie that drags just a little, mainly because there’s no real plot associated with it.

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The Image Entertainment DVD is barebones except for the theatrical trailer and is not 16x9 enhanced but it looks reasonably good.

Fun sometimes silly 1950s vintage sci-fi and recommended for fans of the genre.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The House on Haunted Hill (1958)

The House on Haunted Hill (1958)The House on Haunted Hill was one of William Castle’s first big hits and it set the tone for much of what was to follow. The plot is nothing special but with Vincent Price in top form and a strong supporting cast it’s all great fun. And it featured one of Castle’s best-known gimmicks - Emergo (a plastic skeleton which menaced the audience from above during the scary scenes).

Price plays an eccentric millionaire named Frederick Loren who rents a supposedly haunted house for the weekend. The owner of the house, Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr), has only spent one night in the house. He is convinced that it is haunted and that the ghosts were responsible for the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law.

Loren has chosen five people to invite to a party at the house. He has offered each of them $10,000 if they stay till morning. His guests have been picked because they all need the money badly and the party promises to be deliciously cruel fun from Loren’s viewpoint.

The five are test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), a secretary at Loren’s company named Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), socialite Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum), psychiatrist Dr David Trent and Watson Pritchard. All are desperate enough to accept the offer.

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The house is almost a prison. All the windows are barred and once the caretakers leave the house is locked from the outside and no-one can leave until they return in the morning. And there is no telephone.

So it’s another variation on the Old Dark House theme. Loren is hoping his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) will enjoy the party as it will give her a break from her usual occupation of trying to think up ways to murder him. Loren’s insane jealousy and Annabelle’s greed has made this marriage more than a little tense.

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To add to the tensions of having a group of unstable personalities (if the guests were in any way stable they would not provide Loren with the kind of fun he is hoping for) all spending the night in a house with a formidable reputation for murders each guest is provided with a gun. With any luck they’ll soon all be so spooked they’ll be taking potshots at one another. It’s a dangerous party game and it may well prove to be hazardous for the host as well.

It doesn’t take long before the guests start cracking up. Watson Pritchard was ready to crack up as soon as he arrived and he’s holding himself together with copious quantities of alcohol.

The House on Haunted Hill (1958)


Price is in fine form. The role gives him the opportunity to ham it up quite outrageously and he obliges. Elisha Cook Jr shows that he can slice the ham just as thickly as Price can and these two over-the-top performances provide much of the fun. The other players provide capable support with Carolyn Craig taking every opportunity to demonstrate advanced states of hysteria.

The house itself is one of the stars of the movie. The Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1924, was used for exterior shots of the haunted house. The Ennis House was influenced by Mayan architecture and has been featured in countless movies and TV series. The interior sets used in the movie unfortunately don’t really fit the feel of the house itself.

The House on Haunted Hill (1958)


Castle throws every cinematic gimmick he can think of into this concoction, including a cellar provided with an acid bath - one false step and you’re reduced to a skeleton.

The Warner Home Video DVD release includes both a fullframe and a widescreen version of the film. The widescreen version is 16x9 enhanced and looks splendid. There have been countless DVD releases of this movie, many of them very inferior, so it pays to do some research before buying a copy.

The House on Haunted Hill is pure entertainment and fans of Vincent Price and/or William Castle won’t want to miss this one. Highly recommended.