Monday, 4 December 2017

Olga's Dance Hall Girls (1969)

Olga's Dance Hall Girls was the fifth and last of the infamous Olga films, although it’s claim to be an actual Olga film can be debated.

The Olga series began in 1964. They were not quite roughies although with many obvious similarities to that sleazy little sub-genre. The Olga films upped the ante on the sado-masochism front with wall-to-wall torture scenes. Had it been possible to take these movies seriously they would have been very strong stuff indeed. In fact it was not possible to take them the least bit seriously. Their camp quotient was off the scale. That is their charm (if you happen to be an Olga fan). Their outrageousness is so excessive as to be almost cartoon-like. Director Joseph Mawra made the formula work rather well but what really made the Olga movies so appealing was Olga herself. Or more particularly it was the delirious performances of Audrey Campbell as the cruel ruthless mercenary Olga, glorying in her wickedness like a Victorian melodrama villain.

Four Olga movies appeared before Audrey Campbell departed. In 1969 the decision was made to do a fifth movie. The absence of Audrey Campbell is enough on its own to cast doubt on this movie’s claim to be an Olga film, but in fact it turned out to be an entirely different type of sexploitation movie, veering towards erotic horror. It’s impossible to imagine the real Olga bothering with Satanism. There’s just not enough money in it.

In Olga's Dance Hall Girls we find Olga running a dance hall which is a cover for a prostitution racket. The house’s specialty is beautiful young bored housewives. The assumption is that there will be enough allure in the idea of having sex with respectable wholesome housewives to turn a tidy profit.

Olga’s right-hand man Nick (Larry Hunter) is very pleased with his latest recruit. Carol Ross is a housewife and she’s stunning and he’s convinced she has the potential to be thoroughly corrupt and debauched. His judgment on that score is very sound. The problems for Olga’s organisation with come from Carol’s friend Jill, an attractive enough housewife but one who curiously enough seems to have no desire to embrace perversity and crime.

Then comes the surprise revelation that Olga is a servant of Satan, and of course she’s planning to sacrifice a virgin. Given that the young lady in question has worked in Olga’s dance hall for quite some time the audience could be forgiven for having some doubts about her virginity.

Olga's Dance Hall Girls shows serious signs of not knowing what it wants to be. For most of its running time it seems like it’s going to turn out to be a typical roughie. The witchcraft stuff is tacked on at the end and while I for one have no objection to sexy witches indulging in rituals that are almost certainly going to requite a minimal amount of clothing it just doesn’t seem to gel with the rest of the movie.

The other problem is that the major part of the film that is trying to be a roughie suffers from being too tame to be a real roughie. Some attractive young ladies get naked and there are some simulated sex scenes that are moderately hot by 60s exploitation movie standards (by 1969 American women had apparently discovered that if you’re going to have sex it’s an advantage to take your panties off although the men still cling to the tradition of keeping their trousers on). There’s very little real perversity and no real sense of menace or impending violence. There is also no torture whatsoever, and torture scenes were what Olga movies were all about.

Olga is played by Lucy Eldredge. She has an interestingly exotic look, not beautiful but striking in a slightly disturbing way. She convinces us that Olga is a predatory lesbian (an essential part of the character in the earlier films) and has no morals to speak of but she’s no Audrey Campbell. Her biggest problem is that most of her scenes require her to sit in one spot whilst engaging in rambling dialogues that go on for much too long. She just doesn’t get enough opportunities to demonstrate Olga-style wickedness. She could just be a very ruthless businesswoman.

Larry Hunter manages to make Nick seem sleazy and a bit dangerous which is all he’s required to do. Most of the actresses are of the standard you expect from sexploitation movies which doesn’t really matter since all they really have to do is take their clothes off when necessary.

The shining exception is the remarkable Linda Boyce who plays Carol Ross. She’s a very competent actress and she is able to make her character reasonably interesting. She has the ability (which she demonstrated in quite a few sexploitation features) to project a real sense of smouldering and dangerous sexuality. She also looks good nude and she’s nude a good deal of the time so all in all she has everything you’d want in a sexploitation actress and she effortlessly steals the picture.

The presence of the lovely Uta Erickson is also welcome and she gets to engage in a fairly good
cat fight scene in her underwear. It’s one of the movie’s better moments.

This movie is included in Something Weird’s three-movie Olga set. The transfer is by no means pristine but it’s acceptable. Since the disc includes two other better Olga movies it’s definitely a recommended purchase. It’s not a movie that would be particularly worth buying on its own but assuming you’re going to buy the disc anyway (and I can’t imagine any right-thinking person not wanting to do so) then there’s no compelling reason not to give Olga's Dance Hall Girls a spin. It’s not a real Olga movie and it’s not terribly good but it’s not entirely lacking in entertainment value and Linda Boyce is always worth watching.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Mermaids of Tiburon (1962)

There are not all that many mermaid movies. This is perhaps not surprising since if you’re going to make a movie about mermaids you really need to be able to include underwater photography, preferably plenty of and preferably of high quality. In writer-director-producer-cinematographer John Lamb Mermaids of Tiburon had someone who could certainly provide that. Lamb would go on to do underwater photography for a number of TV series including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. As far as the underwater photography is concerned Mermaids of Tiburon is just about the ultimate mermaid movie.

It’s also rather an oddity. It’s a fantasy adventure, a thriller and (depending on the version you see) an erotic film. The thriller plot is fairly weak but at least it provides a small amount of action and suspense. As a fantasy adventure it has a genuine quirky charm.

Which brings us to the erotic element and that’s quite a complicated story. This movie exists in at least three, and possibly four, different versions. The original US theatrical version would have no trouble getting a G rating today. There was in all probability an international version with some nudity. A couple of years later Lamb did some reshoots, adding quite a bit of nudity, and retitled the film The Aqua Sex. Then, twenty-five years after its original release, Lamb drastically recut the movie and the result was the final version which was given the title Mermaids of Tiburon, The Nude version. This version has lots and lots of nudity. It’s only partial nudity. The girls are topless, although they aren’t wearing a great deal on the bottom half either. Which version you prefer is a matter of taste. The Nude Version goes a bit overboard in terms of the quantity of female flesh on display but it’s still tasteful nudity and the girls are certainly very attractive.

The plot can be disposed of very quickly. Marine biologist Dr Samuel Jamison (George Rowe) heads off to the remote island of Tiburon off the coast of Mexico to investigate reports of a hitherto unknown sea mammal seen in the area. There’s also the lure of pearls, very large pearls of very high quality, so the expedition offers the promise of both scientific interest and money. If you’re a marine biologist life doesn’t get much better than that.

Except that Dr Jamison is about to discover that Tiburon offers a third attraction that makes science and profit seem rather unimportant. He discovers that the island is home to a colony of mermaids. Very pretty mermaids they are too. Dr Jamison knows all the legends about mermaids, how they lure men to their doom, but he’s willing to take that chance. Sometimes you have to take risks when you’re a scientist.

While Dr Jamison is busily pursuing the aquatic lovelies the unscrupulous hoodlum Milo Sangster (Timothy Carey) is after those pearls and he’s prepared to take extreme measures to get them.

The acting is mostly pretty awful although Timothy Carey’s scenery-chewing is a great deal of fun. Dr Jamison provides the voiceover narration. Whether the narration is supposed to dead serious or somewhat tongue-in-cheek is hard to say but it turns out to be rather amusing in a deadpan way.

Diane Webber plays the mermaid with whom the hero is obsessed in the original version while Gaby Martone is the main focus in the Nude Version with Miss Webber’s screen time unfortunately seriously curtailed. Neither has to do much besides looking lovely and both manage that with no great difficulty.

One real oddity of the Nude Version is that some of the mermaids have tails and some don’t. No reason is given for this and one is left to assume that when Lamb did the 1964 reshoots he decided to ditch the tails because the girls without tails could wear skimpy fur bikini bottom things which show off their semi-naked behinds rather nicely.

The underwater sequences take up a very large part of the film’s running time and they’re superbly done, and not just by the standards of 1962. The fact that in the Nude Version these sequences feature beautiful near-naked women might well be seen by some people as being a definite bonus.

The two versions of Mermaids of Tiburon are not quite entirely different films, but the differences are significant. Apart from the added nudity the Nude Version has been extensively recut. The two versions end up being the same story turned into two different kinds of film. The original version is a charming and rather innocent romantic fantasy with just a hint of eroticism (you can’t make mermaids entirely unerotic) and it is in no sense an exploitation movie. The Nude Version still retains much of the charm but it is much more overtly and frankly an erotic fantasy movie, and it’s definitely an exploitation movie. Since John Lamb was responsible for both versions it raises interesting questions about his intentions. It would appear that his intentions in 1987 were not at all the same as his intentions in 1962.

While the Nude Version includes an enormous amount of nudity it must still have seemed very tame indeed by 1980s standards. There’s absolutely no sex at all and not a glimpse of pubic hair, and only the briefest glimpse of a bare bottom. Even compared to the average early 1960s nudie-cutie this movie is fairly tame. On the other hand I guess one could argue that topless young ladies swimming underwater with their breasts (and these are rather well-developed young ladies) freed from the constraints of gravity might be seen as having a certain erotic charge!

The original version is probably the better film overall, with mermaids who look like mermaids rather than just semi-naked aquatic girls. It’s also much more focused, with the hero’s attention centred on just one of the mermaids. There’s a real romantic angle involved. It works as a fantasy movie. The Nude Version isn’t terrible by any means. As long as you accept that it’s about the nude girls then it has to be said that it works in the same way that the better nudie-cuties work.

Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment have released this movie as their Psychotronica Volume 3 disc, paired with the Mexican-Cuban oddity Yambao. The DVD includes both the Nude Version and the original non-nude theatrical version of Mermaids of Tiburon which is rather nice since they are so different in tone. There’s also a boxed set that includes all three Psychotronica Volumes, a total of six films. They make up a varied but extremely interesting collection and the boxed set is definitely the way to go.

The Nude Version of Mermaids of Tiburon is letterboxed and the transfer is quite acceptable if not dazzling. The original non-nude theatrical version is fullframe but the image quality is slightly superior compared to the Nude Version.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Bowanga Bowanga (1953)

Bowanga Bowanga: White Sirens of Africa (also released as Wild Women) is an ultra low budget 1953 jungle adventure movie which is quite enjoyable if you’re in the mood.

A couple of big game hunters on safari in Africa, Count Michelangelo Sparafucile (Don Orlando) and Kirby (Mort Thompson), come across the exhausted Trent (Lewis Wilson). Trent is an explorer and he has a strange tale to tell. Many years earlier, as a small boy, he had a terrifying encounter with the dreaded Ulama, the White Sirens of Africa. Just a few days earlier, tramping through the African jungle, he encountered them again. He is determined to lead an expedition to solve once and for all the question of the origin and nature of the Ulama.

And what are the Ulama? They are a tribe of savage white women who live in the jungle and they are feared by one and all. These amazons appear to have no menfolk.

Our three intrepid adventurers manage to get themselves captured by the Ulama almost immediately. The Count is much too scrawny to be of interest to the Ulama. The Ulama queen is however very interested in Trent. He is a strong man and she has a use for such a man. Judging by their reactions the other Ulama girls can also think of some interesting uses for a strong man. There is a great deal of excitement in the Ulama camp.

Our captive explorers do not know what strange and terrible fate awaits them. They might end up in the cooking pot, sacrificed to heathen gods or perhaps (most frightening of all) they might even be called upon to satisfy the lusts of these fearsome amazons.

Trent soon has reason to believe that it’s the queen’s lusts that he’s going to be called upon to satisfy. We discover that the Ulama do not live entirely without men but at the moment the queen is without a man. Her last husband was speared (by the queen herself) attempting to escape. Being the husband of the queen might turn out to be a slightly dangerous and not overly attractive occupation, even if the queen happens to be young and pretty.

The Ulama women are easily roused to anger and jealousy which offers the opportunity to include a couple of fairly energetic cat fights. The Ulama women seem to enjoy fighting rather a lot, and as we will learn later they like fighting against men as well.

There is some dissent within the Ulama camp. They don’t seem to be enough strong men to go around and the girls who are likely to miss out are not very happy about it. They might even prove to be allies of Trent and his companions against the queen. But first our explorers will have to survive single combat against the most formidable of the Ulama warriors.

There’s also an all-too-brief guy-in-a-gorilla-suit scene but apparently all this gorilla is interested in doing is strolling through the jungle hand-in-hand with an Ulama maiden.

This was 1953 so the Ulama are fairly modestly attired, their outfits being variations on the fur bikini theme. While these jungle women live a primitive lifestyle, hunting with spears, they do seem to have mastered the art of hairstyling (and may even have invented the permanent wave).

This film makes very extensive use of stock footage, which you’d expect in a low-budget offering in this genre. Other parts of the film were shot on location in the steamy jungles of Darkest California. This is a movie which probably cost almost nothing to make. It certainly looks like a film on which no money at all was spent.

Veteran writer-director Norman Dawn had worked extensively in the adventure genre. It’s probably unfair to offer a judgment on his talents based on a zero-budget feature such as this.

Queen Bonga Bonga is played by Dana Wilson, who went on to marry legendary producer Albert R. Broccoli. She does the fierce, proud and lustful amazon queen thing well enough. Let’s be honest, this is not a movie that was ever going to give any of the performers the chance to enhance their acting reputations. At best it was a much-needed pay cheque.

This movie is part of a jungle movie triple-header released by Something Weird, along with Wild Women of Wongo and Virgin Sacrifice  (and unusually for a Something Weird triple feature there are quite a few extras as well). Bowanga Bowanga is in reasonable shape although the print used was far from pristine. The movie was shot in black-and-white and is presented in its correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

Bowanga Bowanga is pretty bad but it’s entertainingly bad if jungle movies and lusty amazon warriors are your thing. Recommended, and the DVD really is exceptional value for money.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Dr. Sex (1964)

Dr. Sex is a nudie-cutie from the flamboyant and eccentric low-budget producer-director Ted V. Mikels (responsible for such amazing kitsch classics as Doll Squad).

By 1964 the nudie-cutie genre was starting to run out of steam. The problem was that while you could get away with quite a lot of nudity you could only do so by avoiding overtly sexual situations. The more you were able to keep things non-sexual the more nudity you could pack into your movie. The nudist camp movie had initially been the easiest way to do this but by 1964 movie audiences had seen as much nude volleyball as they ever wanted to see.

There were other ways to show large amounts of naked female flesh in a non-sexual way but they required some imagination. Dr. Sex is one of the more successful attempts.

Three sexual therapists recount their more interesting recent cases. We see the patients’ stories while the therapists narrate. This obviously offers ample opportunities for showing attractive naked ladies but since they’re sex therapists it might seem to be a bit tricky to keep the nudity non-sexual. In fact Mikels manages this very cleverly.

The nudie-cutie was essentially a good-humoured light-hearted genre and so the cases recounted are odd but in a very harmless way and the emphasis is on humour (humour being considered to be a very desirable ingredient in a nudie-cutie). There’s even some reasonably effective satire at the expense of both psychiatry and art.

The first case involves a peeping tom and a dog and the idea is silly but it is amusing.

The second case involves a window dresser and his shop-window mannequins. To this window dresser the mannequins are real. Very real indeed. More real to him than any real girls he knows. Which of course offers the movie the opportunity to switch between the mannequins and real girls, and since this chap likes to help the mannequins undress every night after the store closes (mannequins not being able to undress themselves) there’s the opportunity for some more nakedness.

This story can almost be regarded as a homage to one of the most famous of all Twilight Zone episodes.

Then in the next segment we get a young female exhibitionist who satisfies her urges to disrobe in public by working as an artists’ model. Her encounter with modernist art quickly convinces her to find another way to satisfy her cravings. She goes on to find fulfilment as a strip-tease artiste (and her routine suggests that the actress in question was obviously a professional stripper).

After this we’re back in paranormal territory with a haunted house story. This patient’s house is haunted by lovely nude women with a passion for doing the housework. Now you might think that being haunted by beautiful unclad girls whose only desire is to wait on you hand and foot is actually not such a terrible situation. The problem is that he wants to make contact with them but he can’t touch them. Which, as I’m sure you will admit, takes some of the fun out of being surrounded by beautiful nude women.

It has to be said that Mikels found some remarkably luscious young ladies prepared to spend most of the screen time without their clothes on.

Unfortunately the source material was in very poor shape with a great deal of print damage. It’s still watchable.

Something Weird paired Dr Sex with Wanda, the Sadistic Hypnotist for a double-header DVD release. The DVD includes a swag of extras. Most notable among these are five short films and these are truly bizarre examples of the sexploitation short subject.

The Casting Director is quite amusing and features a rather lovely lady. The Handyman is really strange. The idea is straightforward - a janitor discovers naked girls in all the rooms on the 19th floor of a hotel. The treatment of the subject and the visuals are however fascinatingly weird and surreal. Things get even stranger with Duelling Divas. Who knew that girls in bra and panties and stockings was an actual fetish? But on the evidence of this film that’s the case. It has to be admitted that it has a certain fascination. Naked Devil Doll features an undraped young lady who does look like a naked devil doll. Jane on a Train is very brief - a man travelling on a train tries out his skills at hypnotism to persuade a young female passenger to shed her clothes.

There’s a jokiness to both Dr. Sex and to these shorts that you don’t really get these days. The idea of combining nudity and comedy has rather gone out of fashion. Considering what some of the sex comedies of the 70s were like it’s perhaps understandable but the very concept of sex comedies became discredited but it’s still a bit sad that the element of fun has largely gone.

Dr. Sex isn’t exactly art. It’s a nudie-cutie and as such it’s an excuse to show as much naked feminine pulchritude as possible. This objective is however accomplished with a certain style and cleverness, there are amusing moments, there are a couple of stories that achieve a low-key weirdness, the girls are extremely pretty and while there’s no frontal nudity (which you weren’t going to get away with in 1964) there are enough bare breasts and bare bottoms to satisfy any reasonable person. In other words Dr. Sex has to be considered to be a rather successful nudie-cutie. If you have a soft spot for this oddly good-natured genre then this one can be highly recommended.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Felicity (1978)

Felicity is a 1978 Australian Emmanuelle clone.

And when I say it’s an Emmanuelle clone I’m not kidding. It’s an absolute carbon copy of the Emmanuelle formula down to the smallest detail.

Emmanuelle had been an incredibly clever idea. The French believed that they had a surefire plan for taking advantage of the US X Certificate and making a ton of money. They would make a softcore porn movie but they had no interest in getting into grindhouses. They were going for the mainstream. A full-scale commercial release in major cinemas. They were aiming for the multiplexes. And how were they going to achieve this? Simple. They would make a softcore porn movie for women. It worked beyond their wildest imaginings. They didn’t just make a ton of money. They made many many tons of money. Emmanuelle proceeded to smash box-office records.

Not surprisingly the film spawned several official and countless unofficial sequels. It was not entirely surprising that Emmanuelle’s success would be noted in Australia where it was a massive hit. Producer-director John D. Lamond decided to jump on the bandwagon. His movie would not however be merely influenced by Emmanuelle. It would follow the formula in every single respect. It would be pretty much Emmanuelle Down Under.

There was more to the success of Emmanuelle than naked flesh. To appeal to women the production values had to be high, the cinematography had to be lush, there had to be an air of class about the production, there had to be beautiful and exotic locations, it had to be told entirely from a female perspective and the sex scenes had to be the kinds of sex scenes that women would like with the right mix of romance and stylish raunchiness.

John D. Lamond studied the blueprints and made sure that every element that had made Emmanuelle a success would be present in Felicity. Felicity looks much more expensive than it was and it looks fairly classy. Instead of Thailand it uses Hong Kong as the backdrop, which works just as well. The plot is the same - a sexually inexperienced young woman goes to the Mysterious Orient where she has a sexual awakening. The story is told from Felicity’s point of view. In fact she’s the narrator. There’s lots of steamy simulated sex with the right blend of romanticism and raunch.

The one thing Felicity doesn’t have is Sylvia Kristel. Kristel’s unconventional and exotic beauty and her overwhelming sexuality is certainly missed. On the other hand it has to be said that Felicity’s Glory Annen is very easy on the eye and she’s extremely good at combining innocence with wantonness. And she was a competent actress. She was actually Canadian but she does the Australian accent rather well (and it is unbelievably rare to find non-Australian actors who can do a convincing Australian accent). Lamond wanted her to sound like an educated cultured Australian (stop laughing, we do have such things here) and she manages it without any problems.

As the movie opens Felicity is a schoolgirl somewhere in eastern Australia. For some reason which I confess I didn’t quite grasp she is then whisked off to Hong Kong. Her first priority is obviously to lose her virginity and that is accomplished almost immediately.

Naturally, this being a softcore sex movie, Felicity will have to be initiated into the joys of lesbian sex. This is handled by hew new Hong Kong friend Me Ling (Joni Flynn). Me Ling is supposed to be Chinese while Joni Flynn is actually Indian but that’s a minor detail. Flynn isn’t much of an actress but her job is to be exotic, glamorous and sexy and to embody the dangerous but seductive flavour of the Orient, which she does. Who cares which part of the Orient she represents? And she has a whole bevy of naked young women with her to make sure that Felicity gets her initiation.

This is very firmly within the porn movie for women genre so there has to be a love story and that love story has to be central to the plot. That part of the movie succeeds well enough and it offers the chance for some very romantic sex scenes which presumably pleased the female audience. And insofar as the movie has any message it’s a surprisingly old-fashioned one. Felicity doesn’t just want to discover sex, she wants to discover love, and she finds out that sex is only good when it’s combined with love. For 1978 that’s a pretty extraordinarily traditional viewpoint for a porn movie to take.

Making a good softcore sex film as distinct from a routine one requires a bit of imagination. You wants to include lots of nudity and sex but you want to do so in a reasonably stylish way. Lamond clearly put some thought into this. Seeing a girl taking her panties off is sexy. Is there a way we can have Felicity taking her panties o0ff a dozen times in a few minutes. Yes there is! We’ll take her shopping for clothes. Naturally the first thing she wants to buy is new panties, but they have to be just right so she has to try on quite a few. And since we want to see how nice her new underwear looks there’s a perfect excuse for lots of close-ups of her nether regions, with and without panties.

It has to be said that Felicity is a remarkably clean girl. She seems to take a bath every five minutes. Since cleanliness is obviously very important to her it’s vital for us to see her take each and every bath. When it comes to finding ways to keep his lead actress naked for most of the film’s running time Lamond has few equals.

To give you an idea of just how closely this movie adheres to the Emmanuelle formula we see Glory Annen lounging naked in a cane chair that is almost identical to the one in which Sylvia Kristel lounged naked in Emmanuelle. In fact this was almost certainly intended as a deliberate homage. Just before the plane sex scene (of course there’s a plane sex scene since there was a very celebrated one in Emmanuelle) we see Felicity reading a copy of Emmanuelle Arsan’s novel on which Emmanuelle was based.

The Hong Kong setting works superbly. Watching the movie today it works even better since this is British Hong Kong, with all the glamour of a vanished world. Arguably it’s even more effective than the Thailand setting of Emmanuelle, Hong Kong at that time being an extraordinarily exciting (and decadent) place.

The visuals don’t quite have the lushness that Just Jaeckin brought to Emmanuelle but they’re stylish enough and there’s far more of a sense of vibrancy and excitement than in Emmanuelle.

The amount of nudity (including frontal nudity) in this movie is truly staggering. I don’t think we ever go more than a few minutes without another lingering loving shot of Felicity’s bare bottom.

Felicity certainly didn’t go anywhere near to equalling the immense commercial success of Emmanuelle but it did do extremely well in box-office terms, and apparently it did particularly well with women. According to Lamond Australian critics hated the film and were offended by its overt heterosexuality!

Umbrella’s Region 4 DVD offers a lovely anamorphic transfer and there are some very worthwhile extras including an audio commentary by director Lamond and star Glory Annen.

To me Felicity is in fact a more genuinely woman-centred erotic movie than Emmanuelle. It takes the Emmanuelle template but it adds a slightly different flavour - it’s definitely more straightforwardly romantic. Lamond obviously felt that if the movie was going to reach women it had to be tasteful and despite all the nudity and sex it really is tasteful. Luckily it succeeds in being  tasteful without sacrificing the eroticism. It also has playfulness, a few moments of humour and even perhaps just the tiniest touch of wit.

It’s very sexy in a very classy way and if that’s what you’re after then it delivers the goods. Highly recommended.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Black Raven (1943)

The Black Raven is an Old Dark House movie, a genre notable for movies of widely varying quality and entertainment value. This is definitely one of the better examples.

This is a PRC picture and you know what that means. A pitifully small budget, rock-bottom production values and very few sets. It does however have George Zucco and that makes up for a lot.

Zucco plays Amos Bradford, also known as the Raven. He runs a small hotel called the Black Raven near the Canadian border. He obviously had a shady past and now it might be about to catch up to him. A small-time hoodlum who believes Bradford double-crossed him has broken out of prison and now he’s arrived at the hotel determined to even the score. Bradford is however not the easiest guy to rub out. He’s been around and he knows a trick or two.

Naturally there’s a severe storm that has washed away all the roads and bridges so the handful of guests at the Black Raven are cut off from the outside world, just as they should be in any self-respecting Old Dark House movie.

The guests are naturally a motley and slightly disreputable lot.

There’s gangster Mike Bardoni who is hoping to slip over the Canadian border. There’s a weedy little middle-aged guy named Horace Weatherby who clutches a briefcase very nervously and won’t let anyone touch it. There’s a young couple who are eloping and, rather inconveniently, there’s also the girl’s father. Her father is crooked politician and gangster Tim Winfield, which is even more awkward for the young couple. There is also of course the escaped convict mentioned earlier. To round off the cast there’s Bradford’s servant Andy (yes there’s an Amos and an Andy).

None of these people could be described as being entirely a law-abiding citizen and none could be described as trustworthy. So when the first murder takes place just about every one of them could be a suspect.

There’s also an incredibly dumb sheriff who clearly could not be trusted to investigate a case of an overdue library book.

There will be much creeping about in dark cellars, people will get slugged from behind and pushed down stairways, everyone will suspect everyone else, there will be more murders and it all takes place with lots of thunder and lightning in the background. In other words it has all the ingredients that this genre requires except that there are no hints of the supernatural.

It seems like a stock-standard plot for this genre but it does have a bit of a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I was sure I knew the identity of the murderer but I was wrong.

George Zucco as Bradford is a slightly ambiguous character. He could be a villain or he could be a hero. Zucco is as watchable as always. The other cast members are adequate. Glenn Strange as Andy provides the comic relief which luckily is kept within reasonable bounds.

Sam Newfield directed countless B-pictures including quite a few that were pretty good movies of their type. He really goes to town with the shadows in this film. One could almost say that he overdoes it, but this is an Old Dark House movie and you just can’t have too many sinister lurking shadows in such a movie. On the whole his approach works and the movie’s pacing can’t be faulted. For a PRC movie it’s surprisingly well made.

This is a public domain title so while there are quite a few DVD releases around most are obviously going to be of fairly poor quality. The Grapevine Video edition offers a transfer that is at least reasonably watchable although some scenes are very murky indeed and most of the movie has a somewhat washed out look. They have paired this film with another Zucco flick, Dead Man Walk, on one disc. If you’re a George Zucco fan and you can pick it up cheaply enough it’s probably worth grabbing.

The Black Raven is an unassuming but vastly enjoyable little movie. It only runs for an hour but it’s non-stop fun. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Career Bed (1969)

Career Bed is a movie about a mother and daughter. It has some claims to being the ultimate Mother From Hell movie. This is a sleazy little 1969 sexploitation flick written and directed by Joel M. Reed.

Mrs Potter and her daughter Susan have over from their small rural town to New York to further Susan’s acting career. Susan doesn’t actually want to be an actress. She wants to marry Bob, a nice young farmer from back home. Mrs Potter is however determined that Susan is going to be a star where she likes it or not. In fact Mrs Potter is prepared to take drastic steps to make sure Susan doesn’t marry Bob. There’s an easy way to do that. All she has to do is to seduce Bob herself. This proves to be even easier than she’d expected. Once Susan gets home and finds Mother and Bob naked in bed together she not surprisingly loses all interest in the idea of marrying her down home farmer boy.

Launching Susan’s career is now the priority. Mrs Potter knows that in Hollywood talent doesn’t count. Susan’s body is the currency that will finance her glittering career, but that currency is not going to be dispersed casually. Susan’s most crucial asset is her virginity. Mrs Potter knows that this is an asset that ought to be worth an important contract. No-one is going to get their hands on Susan’s body without cutting a deal with her other. Of course in the meantime it might be necessary to offer some kind of downpayment. Mrs Potter’s body (and it’s a pretty impressive body) will be the downpayment.

The fact that Susan’s agent Miss Reynolds is already enjoying Susan’s body is no problem. The agent is a lesbian, so Susan’s precious cherry is still safe.

Idealistic playwright Jack Landive (John Cardoza) wants to save Susan from her mother but Mrs Potter knows every trick of emotional manipulation in the book. In fact she’s added some new chapters of her own to that book. She knows how to keep Susan under control.

There’s a very unsavoury photographer with his own plans for Susan. He hopes to sell her virginity to big-time producer Ross Miller, and he hopes to enjoy a few romps in the hay with the aspiring starlet himself. The photographer, who likes to be known as the King, is the type of guy who thrives in Tinsel Town - he’ll do anything at all, absolutely anything, if there’s something in it for him.

There’s a rather pleasing symmetry to the plot (yes there is a plot) and the ending is rather neat and rather satisfying.

There’s quite a bit of T&A but no frontal nudity and the sex scenes manage to be sleazy without showing very much. The emphasis is on moral depravity and this movie has that quality in abundance.

Of course there has to be a lesbian sex scene. The one in this film is unusual in that it’s important in plot terms, and it’s effectively perverse, as Susan is seduced by her predatory lesbian agent. This is Hollywood after all, where the women are just as ambitious and ruthless as the men, and often a good deal more vicious.

There’s some rather juicy hard-boiled dialogue, absolutely dripping with venom, which the stars deliver with enthusiasm (Holly Hunter in particular has fun with some deliciously nasty lines).

Jennifer Welles went on to be one of the more well-known actresses in hardcore films in the mid-70s. She also starred in some of Joe Sarno’s best-known 70s productions including the excellent Abigail Lesley Is Back In Town. She was 35 when she made this film, a trifle old one might think to be playing a teenage ingenue, but she gets away with it. She looks terrific and she gets to do some real acting (and does it quite well).

Honey Hunter plays Mrs Potter. This seems to be her only film credit, which is nothing short of a tragedy. This is a performance of extraordinary malice and calculation.

Future hardcore porn icon Georgina Spelvin is impressively amoral as the lesbian Miss Reynolds.

When it comes to cinematic quality American sexploitation movies of the 60s range from crude and embarrassingly amateurish efforts to surprisingly professional and sophisticated productions. Career Bed is one of the very well made examples. Reed’s directing is lively and imaginative. He’s extremely fond of hand held shots and uses them effectively.

The soundtrack is pretty good too, in a very late 60s way.

Career Bed was released on DVD by Something Weird as part of double-header but that disc is now not so easy to find. Fortunately there’s a Dutch DVD release from ClickDVD in their American Grindhouse series which offers a good transfer (it’s in English with removable Dutch subtitles). The extras include some wonderful trailers, all with the Something Weird watermark on them which suggests that this Dutch DVD might well be the Something Weird release split onto two DVDs sold separately.

This is one gloriously cynical little movie. Since it deals with Hollywood the cynicism is undoubtedly justified. There have been plenty of film exposes of the sleazy underside of Tinsel Town and there have been a couple of other good examples within the sexploitation genre (such as Hollywood Babylon). Career Bed might well be the nastiest of the lot, as well as being one of the finest examples of the evil bitch mother film. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein is the celebrated 1935 sequel to Universal’s 1931 hit Frankenstein. Both movies were directed by James Whale, a man with an extraordinary and to my mind slightly mystifying reputation as a great director of horror movies.

We start with a rather unnecessary prologue featuring England’s most degenerate poets, Byron and Shelley, listening to Shelley’s wife Mary continuing her story where the novel left off. And the movie then takes up the story at the exact point at which the 1931 Frankenstein ended, with the monster incinerated in the burning barn and the body of the hapless Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) being returned to his castle and to his grieving fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson).

Henry Frankenstein is however not quite dead. He recovers and is determined to forget all about his terrible experiments. The arrival of his old teacher, Dr Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), changes all this. Pretorius has been working (in a particularly bizarre way) on the creation of artificial life as well, and he wants Frankenstein’s help. He intends to get that help, even if he has to resort to extreme methods to persuade Frankenstein.

Pretorius wants to create a female monster, a mate for Frankenstein’s original monster. The monster, like its creator, survived the fiery furnace and now is now roaming the countryside causing mayhem and trying to make friends, which in turn creates more mayhem. The monster’s wanderings will eventually bring him to Frankenstein’s castle where Pretorius will use him to force Frankenstein’s hand.

Finally, after an hour of mostly irrelevant sub-plots and maudlin interludes, the movie kicks into high gear as Frankenstein and Pretorius bring the monster’s mate (played by Elsa Lanchester) to life with unexpected and catastrophic results.

James Whale clearly had no genuine interest in horror films and no real respect for the genre. As in most of his horror efforts he insists on playing far too many scenes as comedy and unfortunately comedy was something for which he had little flair. The entire movie seems to be intended as a mockery of the horror genre, and of Mary Shelley’s original story and quite probably mockery of the audience as well. To make sure that the movie’s impact as a horror film is blunted as much as possible Whale agains calls on the services of Una O’Connor who had almost single-handedly wrecked The Invisible Man. She throws herself into her task of wrecking The Bride of Frankenstein with great enthusiasm.

Many many writers worked on this film so perhaps it’s not surprising that the final script is a little disjointed and unfocused.

The acting is extremely uneven. Apart from the appalling Una O’Connor we get more unfunny comic relief from E.E. Clive as the burgomaster. Colin Clive is dull, as he was in Frankenstein. Ernest Thesiger is mannered and arch and while he tries hard to be the personification of evil and vice at times he becomes just irritating.

On the credit side Elsa Lanchester is memorably bizarre in her dual roles as Mary Shelley and as the monster’s bride but gets little screen time and little time to do any actual acting. Karloff is good, as always, although he strongly disagreed with the decision to make the monster speak. Dwight Frye as the sinister Karl is another bright spot.

The scenes involving Dr Pretorius’s miniature people are technically impressive but they’re silly and pointless and they greatly weaken the film.

While the script, direction and acting are uneven the superb visuals do much to compensate for the movie’s other weaknesses. The bringing to life of the monster’s bride is a spectacular visual tour-de-force. Whale seems suddenly to come to life, throwing one stunning image after another at us. There’s some superlative editing also in these scenes. The movie is well worth seeing just for these absolutely superb sequences.

Whatever its weaknesses this is technically an exceptionally well made motion picture. The sets are excellent. The Bride’s makeup effects are terrific. John J. Mescall’s cinematography (he described the lighting approach he used as Rembrandt lighting) is magnificent. James Whale had worked as a set designer and apparently had quite a bit of input into the impressive art direction of the film.

Universal’s Blu-Ray presentation looks great and there are plenty of extras, including an embarrassingly worshipful audio commentary.

Bride of Frankenstein is certainly a vast improvement on Whale’s The Invisible Man. It has some very very good moments. The changes of tone are somewhat disconcerting. For most of the earlier part of the film it just doesn’t quite work, perhaps mostly because it’s obvious that James Whale never really wanted to do the film in the first place. The last twenty-five minutes though are as good as anything that has ever been achieved in a horror movie. Despite the reservations I have about it Bride of Frankenstein still has to be recommended.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

She Came on the Bus (1969)

She Came on the Bus is a fairly late entry in the sexploitation roughie sub-genre and it manages both surprisingly tame and still oddly depraved.

A gang of juvenile delinquents, four guys and a girl, embark of a rampage of rape, petty theft and more rape. In the course of their adventures they steal a bus which becomes a sort of mobile headquarters. They begin by breaking into a house and raping a young housewife, then turn their attentions to a door-to-door saleslady. When this gets boring they head off in the housewife’s car and then get the bright idea that hijacking a bus would provide lots of thrills.

They pick up a couple of young female passengers who end up getting the sort of bus ride they hadn’t expected. One of them decides she really likes being ravished by juvenile delinquents; the other doesn’t like it one little bit. After a while the bus ride gets boring so they go back to the housewife’s house, then that gets boring so they get back on the bus. The bus will be their life in future.

Not much of a plot, although with enough energy and style it could have been enough. Sadly the energy and style aren’t quite there.

Writer-director Curt Ledger clearly belongs to the school of film-making where you roll the cameras for a while and see what happens. That kind of cinema verité approach can be effective but here it (mostly) doesn’t work.

This is not just low-budget film-making, this is at the very bottom of the heap. There’s no synchronised sound, no dialogue, just a voiceover narration that tries to be portentous and disapproving and some bizarre sound library choices. Given the lack of dialogue, and the lack of anything but the most basic storyline it’s impossible to say anything about the acting.

I use the term juvenile delinquents quite deliberately. These kids do almost seem like the kinds of juvenile delinquents you’d see in movies in the 50s. The jarring note is that while their demeanour is tame in a very 1950s way their actions are pretty perverted. It’s like a movie caught in some kind of constantly reversing time warp.

What makes this movie particularly odd is the tameness, rather surprising for 1969. There’s no frontal nudity at all and just one brief shot of a naked behind. There are plenty of topless scenes but for 1969 the nudity quotient is incredibly low. The sex scenes are also remarkably coy. You get a sex scene in which the guy leaves his trousers on and the girl keeps her panties on. I guess he is a juvenile delinquent so maybe he wasn’t paying attention in biology class when the topic of sex was covered and so the idea that it might be a good for the panties to come off just didn’t occur to him. Although it’s also quite possible that these girls have their panties actually welded on. Mostly the sex scenes are not much more than heavy petting.

On the other hand while the visual content is extremely mild the ideas are genuinely depraved. These are nasty vicious people but they’re doing nasty vicious things in an oddly innocuous sort of way. For the most part the rape scenes have no impact whatsoever since absolutely nothing is actually happening beyond a bit of clumsy and rather diffident groping.

There’s no sexual frisson to any of this, and no effective shock value either. The consensual sex scenes involving the girl juvenile delinquent are equally coy. This girl also has the kinds of panties that can only be removed with industrial cutting equipment.

A major problem here of course is the lack of dialogue. We get no sense whatever of the personalities of any of the participants, not even the briefest sketch, so we feel no emotional involvement. We don’t feel the terror of the women involved. We also find it hard to believe that these women are in any real danger. There’s no sense of menace. The victims don’t seem real enough and the perpetrators don’t seem actually scary.

There is one exception. There is one scene on the bus that does actually manage to be quite raunchy and to pack a real punch. It actually seems weirdly out of place. It’s at least mildly  shocking in a way that the rest of the movie isn’t.

Naturally there’s a go-go dancing scene which must qualify as the most gratuitous and out-of-place such scene in movie history.

Something Weird released this one as part of a triple-header that also includes Sin Syndicate and Sin Magazine. The transfer for She Came on the Bus is quite OK if hardly dazzling. This is of course a movie that probably never looked dazzling to begin with!

This is definitely one of the lesser roughies. If you want a roughie with a real impact and some subtlety The Defilers is infinitely superior. If you want full-blooded depravity it’s hard to go past The Touch of Her Flesh. And if you want roughies that deliver deliciously weird entertainment then mid-period Doris Wishman (such as Bad Girls Go to Hell and Another Day, Another Man) can be recommended. If you want genuine style, Russ Meyer’s Mudhoney is the real deal.

She Came on the Bus has the right ingredients but fails to deliver.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Daddy, Darling (1970)

Daddy, Darling is a 1970 softcore flick about incest so you know this is going to be a sleazy exploitative little film. Except that it’s a Joe Sarno film, and it’s one of his more artistically ambitious efforts (and Sarno could be pretty artistically ambitious). And it isn’t really sleazy or exploitative at all. Sarno approaches his subject matter seriously and with sensitivity, as he often did, and on this occasion it works surprisingly well.

Katja Holmquist (Helli Louise) is a 19-year-old girl whose father Eric (Ole Wisborg) has brought her up on his own since her mother’s death. Katja and her father are very close, which is natural enough. The trouble is that Katja is a teenager, her hormones are raging and she’s a virgin. She’s becoming a bit too attached to her dad. It’s perhaps unfortunate that her father has chosen this moment to remarry. He is going to marry Svea (Gio Petré), a woman for whom Katja has already conceived a certain dislike. It’s not especially unusual for a girl in this situation to be somewhat jealous now that she’s no longer going to be the sole focus of her father’s affections, and it’s not unusual for the girl to feel a little bit emotionally confused. Unfortunately Katja takes things a bit further. Her feelings for Eric have started to become sexual. In the normal course of events she’d probably grow out of this phase without any damage being done but now that there’s another woman staking a sexual claim on her father Katja’s feelings have taken on a new urgency. She’s determined to stake her own claim first and she starts making frankly sexual advances to him and he (perhaps naturally) either fails to get the message or deliberately chooses not to admit what is happening.

As things get more and more tense Katja develops a friendship with a female artist. The artist is your basic predatory lesbian (and where would sexploitation films be without predatory lesbians) but Katja is kind of naïve about such matters and has no idea of her friend’s tastes. Katja’s naïvete is of course part of her problem.

Sarno’s approach was always more successful when he had a decent cast and that is something that doesn’t happen very often when you’re making low-budget sex films. In this case he was pretty lucky.

Daddy, Darling was made during Sarno’s Swedish period. Making films in Sweden generally allowed him to find reasonably good acting talent not afraid to appear in movies about sex. Ole Wisborg as Eric and Gio Petré as Svea are certainly quite competent.

Helli Louise as Katja is another matter. She’s more than competent, she’s very very good. She clearly decided to approach the role as a real acting job and she proves she has the acting chops to do so. It’s a nicely nuanced performance. Katja is dangerous, but she’s dangerous because she’s confused, not because she’s evil or calculating. She’s not crazy and she’s not a scheming little minx.  She’s a teenager. She has the emotional and sexual desires of a woman but she has no clear idea what to do with those desires. She’s not malicious. She can be conniving, but she is conniving the way a child is conniving.

Helli Louise is very pretty and very sexy but she’s not an obvious sex kitten type, and that’s important because Katja is not a sex kitten.

All three main characters are really fairly ordinary people doing their best but sometimes not handling things as well as they should.

Sarno is being very ambitious in this film. He was often ambitious. The results didn’t always live up to the intentions. As a writer he could come up with decent story ideas but he had no great ear for dialogue. As a director he lacked the visual brilliance of a Radley Metzger. What Sarno had was a genuine fascination with the emotional dimensions of sex and his best films did have some emotional depth. And while he may not have had great stylistic flair he knew how to shoot a sex scene that combined eroticism with emotion.

Of course Sarno’s ideas on how to shoot sex scenes weren’t always quite what you expect in a softcore sex film. There’s a fine example in Daddy, Darling. Katja is staying for a few days at a female friend’s house. They have to share a bed. That becomes a slight problem when Katja’s friend decides she wants to share the bed with her boyfriend as well, and she and the boyfriend start having sex. This is an obvious opportunity for a hot sex scene with a hint of kinkiness. So what does Sarno show us? Almost nothing, as far as sex is concerned, just dim blurred shapes in the background. Instead the camera focuses entirely on Katja’s eyes as she lies in bed beside the love-making couple. It focuses on Katja’s eyes for the entire sex scene. The sex in the background is of no interest to Sarno. He is interested in Katja’s reaction. It’s a very effective scene but it’s going to be very disappointing for anyone hoping to see some hot sex. It’s a pretty bold approach to take in a softcore skinflick. We do however get some insight into Katja’s problems. When it comes to sex she’s really all at sea. She’s not afraid of sex but she’s rather bewildered by it.

In another very Sarno sex scene all we see is Katja’s panties around her ankles, and we see her face. That’s all. Perhaps not the sort of scene to please the distributors but artistically it’s devastatingly effective.

This is a movie that certainly deals with incestuous feelings but there’s no actual incest. There’s only one sex scene between Katja and her father and it’s a dream sequence. The subject is handled sensitively and with sympathy for the characters concerned and Sarno’s approach works.

Seduction Cinema released this film as part of their Retro Seduction Cinema line. The transfer has major strengths and major weaknesses, presumably reflecting the source material. There is a lot of print damage. On the other hand the image is reasonably crisp and the colours look pretty good. And there are a few extras including an interview with Joe and Peggy Sarno.

Of course much depends on what you are actually wanting out of this movie. As softcore porn it’s perhaps not a great success. There’s a fair bit of nudity and sex but it’s all very tasteful, possibly too tasteful for some. As an emotional/sexual melodrama it is however fairly successful. And Helli Louise’s performance is superb. This is a very Joe Sarno movie even by Joe Sarno standards and it’s one of his best efforts. Highly recommended.