Friday, 2 August 2019

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s They Live came out in 1988 and it’s an odd mixture of political satire, action movie and 1950-style monster movie.

It’s also a classic paranoia movie.

We start with an ordinary working class guy named Nada who is down on his luck. He’s desperate to get a job and he gets one, on a construction site. He also finds a place to live, in a shanty town in Los Angeles. The early part of the movie is extremely interesting. There’s a very strong sense of unease. We also get the feeling that this is not quite our world. There’s an incredible gulf between rich and poor. There’s massive unemployment and poverty and there’s homelessness on an enormous scale. The police behave more like an occupying army than a police force.

Television is everywhere. Even in the shanty town there are TV sets. TV programs focus on the lifestyles of the rich and on conspicuous and extravagant consumption. The shanty town dwellers have nothing but they watch TV shows about people who have everything.

There’s a lowly building atmosphere of unease. Something is wrong. People know that something has gone wrong but they have no idea what it is.

The unease gradually changes to outright menace. The church across the road from the shanty town is raided by the police who start shooting people and then demolish the shanty town. The police have lots of helicopters. They watch everything.

Nada was already rather curious about that church. For one thing he’s puzzled that any church would be hosting choir practice at 4 o’clock in the morning. He decides to take a look around. lt turns out that there’s no choir practice going on - that’s just a tape that’s playing. Then he finds a hidden compartment behind a wall, filled with boxes. Nada is no thief but his curiosity is not going to let him leave without taking one of the boxes with them. When he opens the box he’s disappointed that it contains nothing but sunglasses. Then he puts one of the pairs of sunglasses on and everything changes for him. And the movie changes gears dramatically. They’re not ordinary sunglasses. They allow the wearer to see reality. What everyone is seeing is not reality but a kind of hypnotically induced dream state. Reality is very different.

The advertising posters don’t actually advertise anything. They carry messages and the messages are relentless - obey, consume, keep sleeping, conform. Even worse, the people of L.A. aren’t all humans. Many are monsters, clearly aliens. The rich people are mostly aliens. The poor people are all humans. Earth has been occupied by invaders from outer space. Their intention does not appear to be to massacre us but to exploit us for profit.

Nada and Frank intend to fight back. They find a resistance group but the aliens know all about it.

Having started as a fascinating mix of science fiction and politics it becomes an action movie. Which was deliberate - Carpenter understands that if you’re going to deal with such subjects you’d be well advised to wrap it up in an entertaining package.

They Live is based on a short story by Ray Nelson, Eight o’clock in the morning.

Carpenter rather boldly cast professional wrestler Roddy Piper as his hero Nada. The casting works. Piper can't act but he looks right - he looks like a really ordinary working-class guy- and he has the right persona. And he knows how to deliver one-liners. He wrote much of his own dialogue, including some of the movie’s best lines. As is made clear in the 2013 interview with Carpenter included in the DVD he made a deliberate and conscious choice to tell the story from the point of view of the working class, and to have a hero who is very much working class.

Keith David is equally good as Frank. Meg Foster as Holly, a woman Nada is determined to save, has an odd screen presence but in a movie like this it works.

Carpenter was notorious for his absolute insistence on retaining creative control, even if it meant making low budget movies. They Live is certainly a low budget movie but Carpenter is a master at stretching a limited budget and making cheap movies that look great.

The movie was intended as a response to the 80s in general and to Reagan’s economic policies in particular. Despite this it’s a movie that doesn’t seem dated. It’s possibly more relevant today than it was in 1988. As Carpenter puts it in the accompanying interview, in many ways the 80s never ended. Consumerism and social control are arguably much bigger problems today than in 1988.

The aliens obviously represent the ruling class, interested in ordinary people solely as a source of profit. There’s nothing subtle about the satire here. It’s delivered with a sledge hammer.

Among other things They Live is famous for the epic fight scene between Nada and Frank. Piper had told Carpenter that if he wanted a really really good fight scene then it was going to need to be intricately choreographed and rehearsed. It was going to take a long time. Carpenter adjusted his shooting schedule to make sure that the time was available, and it pays off.

The influence of the classic 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is obvious. That film remains the greatest of all paranoia movies but They Live is a pretty respectable paranoia flick in its own right. As far as its politics is concerned it absolutely nails its colours to the mast. It’s an interesting movie that mostly works. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery (1935)

Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery is a 1935 aviation adventure serial from Universal (it was a follow-up to their 1934 Tailspin Tommy serial). And it’s a very fine example of the breed with superb aerial sequences, an exciting story and very decent acting.

It's highly recommended to serials fans and to fans of aviation advernture.

My full review of this serial can be found here on my Classic Movie Ramblings blog.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Dandy (1970)

Dandy is a 1970 American sexploitation movie and it’s fairly typical of the genre although it features less of the outrageousness that fans of these films tend to like.

Dandy (Cynthia Denny) is eighteen and she’s left home because she doesn’t like her stepfather and because her mother is more interested in the stepfather than in Dandy. She has a boyfriend and she thinks that everything is going to be just great. She’ll move in with the boyfriend and she’ll get a job.

Unfortunately the boyfriend is not exactly a one-woman man so Dandy dumps him. Dandy doesn’t do many sensible things but this was probably a sound move. The only job he can find is as a nude model. She’s not thrilled by the idea but she assumes it will be sort of like the stuff in girlie magazines - basically fairly tasteful. She discovers that the photos she’s asked to pose for are rather less tasteful than she’d expected.

Dandy is not exactly dumb but she’s very naïve, but then she is only eighteen. She’s particularly naïve where men are concerned. If a man is nice to her her immediate inclination is to drop her panties for him. After all if he wants to have sex with her he’s probably in love with her isn’t he?

She’s also a bit naïve where women are concerned. If a woman offers her a back rub she seems to
think it’s quite normal to be asked to remove all her clothes. The idea that the other woman might have something more than a back rub in mind doesn’t occur to her until it’s too late and one thing has led to another.

It also doesn’t occur to her that the modelling agency guy who claims to be managing her career might actually be a rather dangerous customer and she contrives to get herself into all kinds of difficulties as a result, with a couple of pretty nasty heavies after her.

She does meet a nice man, a photographer who actually wants to take photos of her with her clothes on, but he’s very much a straight arrow and he doesn’t approve of Dandy’s nude modelling or her excessively casual attitude towards sex. A smart girl would have grabbed this guy right away - he’s the one man she’s met who isn’t a thug or a sleaze, but Dandy isn’t renowned for making bad decisions.

Her next move is to hook up with a couple of very creepy swingers and the movie takes a mildly psychedelic turn when the swingers throw an orgy in their house.

Maybe Cynthia Denny isn’t a great actress but she handles the rôle pretty adequately. She’s a convincing mixture of innocence and wantonness, and foolishness combined with occasional flashes of common sense. And she’s likeable. It also has to be said that she has a truly stunning body and we get to see a great deal of it. She’s nude for for a very large part of the movie’s 82 minute running time. In fact there’s an immense amount of female nudity in this picture, and by 1970 producers of such features were confident enough to have no qualms about showing lots of female frontal nudity.

The most interesting thing about the plot is that it avoids excessive obviousness and (very surprisingly) it avoids excessive sensationalism. There’s very little violence. Dandy comes into contact with druggies but surprisingly she manages to avoid any actual drug use herself. It’s an exploitation movie that doesn’t go overboard with the exploitation angles. Mostly it just relies on the fact that Cynthia Denny looks great naked.

This is not one of those really sleazy sexploitation films that leaves you feeling a bit uncomfortable. It’s not exactly a feelgood movie but it’s not a roughie. It has more in common with later 70s softcore movies aimed at women like Emmanuelle and Felicity (especially Felicity) than with the grungy sexploitation of the 60s. And (like Felicity) it has an unexpected old-fashioned ending.

A really big surprise is that the Films Around the World DVD release offers a very very handsome anamorphic transfer (the film was shot widescreen and in colour).

Is it worth seeing? Dandy has little to offer apart from its star but she is charming and pretty and did I mention that she takes her clothes off a lot? If that’s enough for you give it a spin.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

The Naked Witch (1961)

Larry Buchanan was one of the most notoriously inept of all American exploitation film-makers of the 60s. The Naked Witch was his first foray into the fields of low-budget horror and sexploitation. Made in 1961 and co-directed by Buchanan and Claude Alexander, it’s just as terrible as its reputation suggests.

The premise was not without potential. A student has travelled to the village of Luckenbach in central Texas to research the customs of superstitions of the German community there. Not being an American I had no idea that there were lots of German settlers in central Texas back in the 19th century, and that even at the beginning of the 1960s German was still widely spoken there.

What the student (whose name we are never told) is really interested in is the legend of the Luckenbach Witch. This witch was a widow put to death for witchcraft in the mid-19th century. Naturally she not only cursed Otto Schoennig, the man who had denounced her, but all his descendants and she promised to return to have her vengeance.

Sometimes horror movie protagonists start out sane and end up crazy. Others are crazy right from the get go. This student seems to me to fall into the latter category so the first night he’s there he heads for the local graveyard, finds the which’s grave, digs her up and removes the stake that had been driven through her heart.

As you might expect she comes back to life (or maybe unlife) and sets out to exterminate the living members of the Schoennig family. In between slayings he enjoys some skinny-dipping in the local waterhole. The student watches her naked cavortings and falls for her charms.

Insofar as there’s a twist to this movie it’s the fact that the widow witch was pretty much entirely innocent (of witchcraft at least) and was the victim of her cowardly and vindictive lover, Otto Schoennig.

The exasperating thing about this film is that the ingredients are there for a fairly decent horror and/or nudie flick. The setting and the German background are interesting. Some of the locations are actually quite cool. The premise is thin but good horror movies have been made with much thinner premises.

The budget was minuscule - about $8,000. The one special effects scene is hopelessly amateurish but that’s just one brief scene. This is not a movie that relies on special effects. Parts of the movie have synchronised dialogue and part don’t. But the low budget isn’t the problem.

The problem is that it plays like a movie made by someone who had not the slightest idea of how to make a movie. Even that is not always a fatal weakness. Doris Wishman didn’t have a clue how to make movies but she still managed to make some entertaining movies.

Actually the Doris Wishman comparison is perhaps quite apt. If you look at a movie like Indecent Desires, which was the closest Wishman got to making a horror movie, it’s much more technically incompetent than The Naked Witch. In fact the film-making in The Naked Witch is not so much technically incompetent as just incredibly unimaginative. Indecent Desires is crazy and outrageous and it’s thoroughly enjoyable in its own slightly bonkers way. But there’s no sense of fun in The Naked Witch, no sense of the outrageous and (fatally) there’s no real craziness. Wishman didn’t know what she was doing she loved making movies and it shows.

The Naked Witch commits the one unforgivable sin. It’s dull.

Another problem is that Buchanan couldn’t seem to decide if he was making a horror movie or a nudie movie. There’s not really enough horror content for a horror film and there’s not enough nudity for a nudie film. Given the lack of directing talent on display here it might have been wiser to make it a fully-fledged sexploitation movie. If you don’t know what you’re doing then adding some naked women is probably a sound policy. It worked for Doris Wishman.

Something Weird have found a colour print of this film. It was shot in 16mm and blown up so the resolution was probably never much better than what we see here. Not a great colour print but it’s probably surprising the movie has survived at all. It’s released on a double feature disc with Crypt of Dark Secrets and a stack of extras which includes a director’s commentary track for The Naked Witch. Larry Buchanan was apparently really happy with this movie!

The Naked Witch is a curiosity. It had potential but it doesn’t quite make it.

As usual Something Weird have come up with plenty of extras including some brain-numbingly bizarre short subjects.

Friday, 14 June 2019

The Slave (1962)

The Slave is a 1962 Italian peplum directed by Sergio Corbucci. The fact that the original title was Il figlio di Spartacus (The Son of Spartacus) will give you some hints of what you can expect from this movie.

Randus (Steve Reeves) is a Roman centurion and Julius Caesar thinks very highly of him. Randus is a fine soldier and a decent man. Caesar sends him off to Asia Minor to keep an eye on Crassus (Caesar, Pompey and Crassus between them controlled the whole of Rome’s empire). Randus suffers shipwreck and is then enslaved but he escapes with some help from another slave (who will play an important part in the story). During this episode he makes a terrifying discovery - he is actually the son of Spartacus! Spartacus of course led a major slave revolt about a quarter-century earlier. The fact that it was Crassus who put down the slave revolt and that Spartacus died in battle against him (or was crucified afterwards depending on whose account you believe) is obviously going to colour Randus’s feelings about Crassus.

Already very early in the picture Randus rescues a slave girl named Said who is being beaten, so we’re set up for the idea that sympathy for slaves seems is ingrained in the young centurion. The slave girl ends up being bought by Crassus’s wife Claudia.

Randus is now torn between loyalty to Rome and his destiny as the son of Spartacus. We know of course that he’s going to choose the latter - otherwise there would be no movie. But he doesn’t want to reveal himself openly yet.

The Romans are portrayed as being little more than barbarians except that they’re more imaginative in their cruelty. They are definitely the bad guys here. Or at least Crassus’s Romans are the bad guys although many of them are not Romans. And Caesar is played as the good Roman.

The violence of course is not graphic but the sadism and cruelty of the Romans is made pretty explicit. Crassus was very fond of crucifixion as a punishment (he crucified 6,000 slaves after Spartacus’s revolt) and in the movie at least he has come up with a number of twisted variations on the theme plus some other entirely original barbarities. Crassus is not a very nice man.

Needless to say strict historical accuracy was not a priority for the makers of this movie.

Like most Italian movies of its era it has a political slant, in this case the struggles of the downtrodden masses and various conquered peoples against their cruel oppressors. Mind you when you’re dealing with the Romans it’s not hard to feel sympathy for those conquered peoples.

Sergio Corbucci certainly had no problem with action scenes and there are a lot them - enough to satisfy anyone. The sets are impressive. There’s some location shooting in Egypt. On the whole this film succeeds in looking lavish and expensive even though the budget was probably very tight. Italian directors like Corbucci were used to having to get good results without spending a fortune.

Steve Reeves makes a fine action hero, as he did in all his movies in this genre. Claudio Gora makes a delightfully villainous Crassus. Any self-respecting peplum would have a beautiful but dangerous princess (or something similar) and that’s the function that Gianna Maria Canale fulfils as Crassus’s wife Claudia, and she does so with considerable style. She made many peplums and she is always a highlight. Ombretto Colli is also very good as the Egyptian slave girl Saide.

The ending was always going to be tricky. After all if the slaves win and the Romans are defeated that would be a bit too historically implausible, but if the slaves lose that means the son of Spartacus is going to come to a sticky end and that would be a very downbeat ending. So the writers have tried to find a vaguely believable way out of the dilemma and not surprisingly what they’ve come up with is a bit problematic.

The made-on-demand DVD from the Warner Archive series offers a very fine anamorphic transfer without any extras.

The Slave is a better-than-average peplum despite the flawed ending. It's definitely visually impressive and very entertaining. Recommended.

I’ve reviewed some of the other Steve Reeves peplums including Hercules, the rather so-so Goliath and the Barbarians and the slightly odd War of the Trojans.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties (1980)

It’s pretty hard to dislike a movie with a title like Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties. Especially when it’s a Jess Franco movie and one of the lady spies is played by Lina Romay. This really is a movie about two female spies. Whether either actually possesses a pair of flowered panties is another matter - most of the time these girls aren’t wearing any panties at all. This is a Jess Franco movie.

Franco had made a couple of movies in the late 60s about two female spies (or at least undercover detectives), the Red Lips movies Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me, Monster. These were lighthearted romps. This was a genre that seemed to bring out Franco’s lighter side. Mixed with lots of craziness of course.

Cecile (Lina Romay) and Brigitte (Lynn Monteil) are strippers and they’re facing a year in prison as a result of their strip-tease act. They’re offered the chance to go free, in return for doing a few small favours for the government. Actually it’s not the government as such, it’s an American senator who is spearheading an investigation of the sex trafficking industry. He wants them to work as spies. All Cecile (who is a bit of an amateur photographer) has to do is take a few photos. They will also be given air fares to the Canary Islands and a job as strip-tease artistes.

The girls figure it’s a pretty good deal but it’s not always a good idea to believe government men who tell you they’re offering you a job that is really very simple and involves no danger at all.

Their assignment is part of an investigation into a white slavery racket. White slavery had been a very popular subject for exploitation filmmakers going right back to the 1930s if not earlier. And for obvious reasons - the opportunities for sleaze are practically limitless.

This is one of the many Franco films that exists in several different forms. It started life as a movie called Ópalo de fuego. Then numerous new scenes were shot and it became essentially a different film, Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties. Ópalo de fuego is apparently a much more chaotic film with no real narrative to speak of.

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties is very much a movie for dedicated Francophiles. Anyone new to Jess Franco’s films would be well advised to start with his 1960s and early 1970s films. By the end of the 70s he was mixing genres with abandon but even more disconcertingly his films were starting to feature wild mood changes. If you’re a fan and you’re accustomed to his approach to filmmaking you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not familiar with his style you might find it bewildering and disturbing. It seems highly likely that he fully intended it to be bewildering and disturbing.

Oddly enough, having said all that, Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties actually has a remarkably coherent plot. Cecile takes on the rôle of spy and she takes her duties seriously. She quickly works out that a woman named Irina Forbes (Joëlle Le Quément) and her husband are kidnapping young women and selling them to billionaires as sex slaves. Mr and Mrs Forbes are seriously evil and depraved people and Cecile is keen to help the authorities. The difficulties are that it is not clear which authorities she can trust, and she is very much a rank amateur.

The plot is straightforward enough but the mood is all over the place, veering suddenly from lighthearted spy spoof and sex comedy stuff to brutal torture, rape and murder. And then it will veer back again. At times it is amusing and charming. At other times it is very unsettling indeed.

This is also, even by Jess Franco standards, a ramshackle affair. Franco was never overly obsessed with getting the picture in focus. In fact this is something that varies widely from film to film suggesting that it was as much a stylistic quirk as it was a result of ludicrously tight shooting schedules. The impression this movie gives is that Franco was embracing the chaos.

There is an astonishing amount of nudity. The sex scenes are not at all graphic but they are unsettling since they range from good-natured sexual romps to rather extreme depravity. The scenes of violence are also often more implied than explicit but what is implied is enough to make any viewer uneasy.

It must have been tough going for the cast but Lina Romay handles things pretty well. She is often adorably ditzy. At other times she experiences stark terror. She even manages a creditable action scene in which she dispatches one of the Forbes’ evil henchwomen with a well-placed kick to the head. She is in fact an oddly believable amateur spy, hopelessly out of her depth but showing a surprising amount of grit. If the villains are intending to destroy her she’s not going to give in without a struggle. She is of course naked for much of the film’s running time but that’s no problem - she was a competent actress with her clothes on and a very good actress naked.

Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties is a wild ride. It gleefully ignores all the conventions of the spy film, and the erotic film, and the sex comedy. Like so many of Franco’s best films it creates its own genre as it goes along.

I’m not sure this movie is a complete success but it can be recommended to Franco fans as an exhilarating example of his bizarrely idiosyncratic style.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Daredevils of the Red Circle (serial, 1939)

Daredevils of the Red Circle is a 1939 Republic action-adventure-crime serial directed by John English and William Witney. Which means it’s probably going to be very good.

It turns out to be very good indeed, in fact one of the best of all the serials of its era, and an absolute must-see for serial fans.

Here's the link to my full review at Classic Movie Ramblings.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Au Pair Girls (1972)

There are countless film genres that were once reviled but have over the years amassed substantial cult followings. Sci-fi monster films of the 50s, the juvenile delinquent movies of the 50s, American sexploitation of the 60s, even eurosleaze movies of the 70s have their aficionados. Mainstream critics might still sneer at them but there are at least a handful of critics prepared to admit grudgingly, that they have a certain appeal. Books have been written about Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman and Jess Franco. It almost seems that any genre will eventually acquire a cult audience.

There is however one exception - the British sex comedies of the 70s. These films were loathed by critics at the time (party because they committed the unforgivable sin of being extremely popular with audiences) and they remain despised. Which is enough to pique my interest. Can any genre truly be that bad? We’re about to find out since I’m about to review a representative example, Au Pair Girls (AKA The Young Playmates), released in 1972 which makes it an early entry in the genre.

The first thing to note is that while this is not exactly a big-budget epic it’s also not a low-budget cheapie. And it was directed (and co-written) by Val Guest. Guest had a long and interesting career He’s best remembered for the Quatermass sci-fi/horror films (The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II) he made for Hammer in the mid-50s. In fact he was a respectable claim to being the man who put Hammer Films on the map. He was always a competent director. By the 70s the British film industry was in dire straits and sex comedies were among the few British movies actually making money at the box office. If you wanted to work you took what you could get so Val Guest made sex comedies.

The first thing you have to consider when judging any movie is - does it succeed on its own terms? The formula for Au Pair Girls is very simple. Combine lots of corny jokes with lots of naked women. Don’t bother looking for hidden political subtexts or philosophical musings on the human condition. Corny jokes and nude women are what Au Pair Girls promises and that’s what it delivers.

The humour is pretty much in the style of the Carry On movies. The cast includes some pretty formidable comic talents, people like Richard O’Sullivan (one of the biggest stars of British television in the 70s) and John le Mesurier.

The formula is actually quite similar to that of the American nudie-cuties of the very early 60s. A wafer-thin plot that is just sufficient to explain why there are lots of nude girls wandering about and plenty of unsophisticated humour. And, like the nudie-cuties, Au Pair Girls features lots of female nudity but nothing even approaching graphic sex. There’s a certain odd innocence about it.

It’s also rather good-natured. The girls are ditzy but the male characters are not much better. Nobody in the film is truly evil. Some are weak, some are self-indulgent, some are foolish. Most are trying their best despite being ill-equipped to deal with the real grown-up world.

This was a time when Swinging London was starting to lose its swing. It was becoming sleazy and tawdry rather than glamorous and the movie takes a slightly jaundiced view of the early 70s. The one character in the movie who really reflects the Swinging 60s fantasy, the rock star Ricky Strange, is the one character who could be described as an utterly worthless human being. He also reflects the dark side of the Sexual Revolution, sex as something cheap and nasty.

As for the plot, four au pair girls arrive in London. Christa is from Germany. She gets a glimpse of the glamorous world of rock’n’roll and she doesn’t like what she sees. Nan Lee is Chinese and finds that she is to be employed as a companion for a musically gifted but socially completely inept young man. They have a strange sort of love affair. Anita Sector (Astrid Frank) is Scandinavian and manages to end up in the harem of an Arab oil sheikh, which she decides is great fun. Randi (Gabrielle Drake) is also Scandinavian and gets entangled with Stephen (Richard O’Sullivan), the sex-starved son of a wealthy industrialist. Somehow whatever she does, no matter how innocent, she seems to end up without her clothes. The ending must have sent contemporary feminists into conniptions.

The actresses were presumably chosen largely for their willingness to shed their clothes but they’re OK. Astrid Frank and Gabrielle Drake (well-known to cult TV fans for her rôle as the purple-wigged Lieutenant Ellis in UFO) are both charming and funny. Richard O’Sullivan gives us a performance which is pretty much a dry run for his rôle in the immensely successful Man About the House sitcom. In other words he’s very good.

The Screenbound DVD release has no extras aside from a trailer. The image quality is extremely good, the sound quality not so good but acceptable.

So is it worth seeing? The jokes turn out to be as corny as one might expect but it certainly has its amusing moments. As for the four au pair girls, they’re likeable and very pretty and constantly naked. There’s wall-to-wall naked female flesh including lots of frontal nudity. If you want anything more than that forget it but if’s a movie that does deliver exactly what it promises so on it’s own terms it’s a success. Recommended, if corny jokes and pretty nude girls are your thing.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Zoltan Hound of Dracula (1977)

Zoltan Hound of Dracula, also known by the much less fun title Dracula’s Dog, has a reputation for being pretty bad but pretty entertaining. We shall see.

It starts with a bunch of soldiers doing some blasting. From the uniforms I’m guessing they’re Russian or at least from behind the Iron Curtain somewhere. In fact from hints dropped later in the film it’s probably Romania. Apparently they were searching for a tomb and they’ve found it. It’s the Dracula family tomb.

One of the soldiers rather unwisely decides to have a look inside one of the coffins. The corpse has a stake through it. Now I don’t know about you but the last thing I’d do is to pull the stake out (this is the Dracula family tomb after all) but that’s exactly what this soldier does. The corpse comes to life, but it’s not exactly a vampire. It’s a dog. But it’s a vampire dog. The dog disposes of the soldier and then opens another casket and uses its teeth to pull out the stake in another corpse. This corpse is delighted to be reunited with his faithful dog.

The resident vampire expert, Inspector Branco (José Ferrer), knows what this is all about. The man is Dracula’s servant Veidt Smit and he’s a fractional lamia (a fancy way of saying he’s a half-vampire, a sort of Renfield type). Half-vampires can’t survive without their vampire master so Smit is now going to set off to find the last surviving member of the Dracula family who lives in L.A. somewhere. Oddly enough Inspector Branco and the soldiers, although they dutifully burn all the vampires corpses they’ve found, don’t bother hunting down Smit and his dog.

Psychologist Michael Drake and his family (wife Maria, son Steve and daughter Linda) and along with their two German Shepherd dogs are off on a camping trip. They don’t know that Michael Drake is actually Michael Dracula, last of the line of notorious vampires. They also don’t realise that they are about to be stalked by Smit and the hound Zoltan.

The camping trip goes badly for the Drake family. Things keep going wrong with dogs. Not just their dogs but other strange dogs. The Drakes are starting to get a bit scared, and then Inspector Branco turns up. He explains the family history to Michael. Veidt Smit will have to be destroyed but it will be necessary to use Michael as bait. This works a bit too well and soon Branco and Michael are besieged in a tiny cabin by Zoltan and his pack of vampire hounds. Zoltan might be a vampire but he’s still only one dog so the first thing he did was to start recruiting an army of canine vampires. There’s even a vampire puppy!

The plot doesn’t always make a great deal of sense, and Branco is not a very well equipped vampire hunter. He has a collection of sharpened stakes but that’s about it.

There’s some gore in this film. It was 1977 so that’s pretty much inevitable.

The idea of a vampiric dog is fairly dumb but at least they were smart enough to use a Doberman. Dobermans look scary at the best of times, even when they’re friendly. So with a few very simple special effects to make the eyes glow a Doberman can be made into at least a moderately convincing vampire dog, and without looking too silly. They’ve also made the fur of the vampirised dogs look slightly greyed-out, which looks quite effective.

Some of the dog attack scenes are pretty lame but others are surprisingly well done. The attack on the cabin comes close to being genuinely scary.

On a technical level this movie doesn’t look as ridiculous as you might expect because it wisely relies on simple tricks.

Of course you can’t get away from the fact the the whole premise of the movie is incredibly dumb. There must have been some temptation to make it a spoof but that temptation is resisted and the whole thing is taken very seriously. In some ways that makes it more enjoyably silly.

Reggie Nalder as Veidt Smit doesn’t bother to do much acting. He looks incredibly creepy and incredibly cadaverous and so he doesn’t need to do much. The rest of the cast can best be described as adequate. José Ferrer seems like he’s gritting his teeth and thinking about his pay cheque but he's a pro so his performance is OK.

The DVD version I have is a double-header (it’s paired with Hammer’s last horror movie To the Devil…A Daughter). Zoltan Hound of Dracula gets a fairly OK anamorphic transfer, with no extras.

Zoltan Hound of Dracula might perhaps have been more successful had it been done in an overly tongue-in-cheek way, but then again that might have been just too obvious. The fact that it’s done absolutely straight is morbidly fascinating. A bit more energy would not have gone amiss.

It’s not as much fun as the goofy premise might suggest but it’s still oddly enjoyable. Worth a look if you find it in a bargain bin.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Female Animal (1970)

Female Animal, released in 1970, is a bit of an oddity. It seems to be an Italian-Spanish softcore co-production but it isn’t. It’s an American film produced by American exploitation legend Jerry Gross. It’s one of the handful of films Gross directed himself. The credits will tell you that the movie was produced by Antonio Benvenuti and directed by Juan Carlo Grinella but it was definitely produced and directed by Gross. It was shot in New York City and on location in Puerto Rico.

The movie stars Arlene Tiger as sultry Mediterranean beauty Angelique, only Arlene Tiger was actually Arlene Sue Farber and she hailed from New York City. Pretty much everything in the credits is a lie.

Female Animal supposedly takes place on an island although I’m pretty sure the name of the island is never mentioned. It does try for a vaguely Mediterranean atmosphere, which gets intriguingly mixed up with an American sexploitation atmosphere.

Angelique is a poor peasant girl who lives with her very disapproving aunt. One day Angelique has some bad luck. She is riding her bicycle when she is almost run over by a big car. But it’s really good luck because she’s not hurt and the car belongs to the fabulously wealthy Count Medici and the count not only buys her a new bicycle he offers her a job in his palatial house. Or maybe it’s not good luck after all. The Count does make one condition. She must stay away from his ne’er do well son Alain.

Of course Angelique doesn’t listen. She never does.

The acting is mostly passable. Arlene Farber is actually very good. The most important thing she has to do is to make Angelique seem rather innocent and at the same time slightly cynical and more experienced than such a girl should be. She does this extremely well. Angelique is too calculating to be a conventional good girl heroine but not calculating enough to be a conventional bad girl. She thinks she knows what she’s doing and she does, up to a point. Beyond that point she is dangerously out of her depth.

Farber also looks extremely beautiful. Oh, and she takes her clothes off as well.

Angelique is not the only one to get out of her depth. The tense adversarial relationship between the Count and his spoilt rich son is getting badly out of hand and now they have something new to add fuel to the flames. They both want Angelique. It’s not just a romantic triangle since - the Count’s mistress adds further perilous complications.

Female Animal has some of the feel you associate with the sex psycho-melodramas that Joe Sarno was making at that time. And some of Sarno’s films of the late 60s were shot in Europe so it’s not unlikely that they were the reason Female Animal was made as a fake-European film. Given the huge success of Sarno’s 1968 Swedish-shot Inga it actually starts to sound like a plausible theory. The main difference is that Sarno was better at both the sex and the melodrama. Female Animal was also inspired by the 1968 Swedish Fanny Hill, also a big money-spinner.

The pacing is a problem. The plot is very straightforward but it needs to be moved along more quickly. Gross doesn’t quite succeed in building enough of a feeling of imminent catastrophe to keep the viewer interested.

This is a problem because the movie’s erotic content is rather sparse and rather tame. Apart from that there’s not really much nudity at all. Given Arlene Farber’s undeniable hotness this could certainly be seen as a flaw. It is basically a melodrama but it’s a melodrama centred on sex and it needs a lot more sexual heat.

The scene in the casino with The Count and his son as the players and Angelique as the stake is quite effective although it’s not quite clear why the usually ruthless control freak Count is suddenly showing such recklessness and poor judgment.

At this point you’re probably getting worried because I haven’t told you if this movie contains any go-go dancing. You can rest easy on that score. There is indeed go-go dancing. In fact Angelique herself does some of it.

Female Animal has an unexpected ending. Unexpected endings can be a good thing. In this case it’s a bad thing.

The Retro-Seduction Cinema DVD is a typical release from that outfit. The transfer is letterboxed and it’s adequate at best. There’s a certain amount of visible print damage. The transfer is not anamorphic but at least It’s letterboxed which is something.

This DVD dates from the period when Seduction Cinema had the idea of pairing classic 1960s sexploitation films in their Retro-Seduction Cinema line with contemporary Seduction Cinema softcore films on vaguely similar themes. What this mostly achieved in practice was to demonstrate how much more interesting the erotic movies of the 60s were. In this case you get Master’s Plaything which is best avoided unless you’re a very very keen Misty Mundae fan.

Female Animal doesn’t quite make it. Despite the heroic efforts of Arlene Farber it fails to ignite. Worth a look if you’re an Arlene Farber completist, if such a thing exists.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Hideout in the Sun (1960)

Hideout in the Sun was the first movie by sexploitation legend Doris Wishman. The film’s cinematographer Larry Wolk is listed in the credits as director although Wishman possibly took a hand in the directing as well. Wishman certainly produced the movie. The movie has some of the Wishman trademarks (lengthy shots of people’s feet, looped dialogue done with the actor’s backs to the camera to avoid the need for synchronisation) and Wishman was the driving force behind the production so it must count as a genuine Doris Wishman film. It started production as early as 1957 but it seems that she realised that the original footage was much too raunchy and did re-shoots the following year. It’s possible that none of the original version survives in the final release version.

It’s definitely a nudie-cutie, a genre that emerged when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that nudity as such was not obscene. Anything even remotely approaching sex on the other hand was still forbidden and most distributors considered it wise not to push things by including any full frontal nudity. The solution was the nudie-cutie, more often than not set in a nudist camp, with at best a wafer-thin lightweight plot serving as an excuse for the nudity and lots of gags to keep the tone light-hearted. The nudity had to be kept absolutely non-sexual.

Hideout in the Sun breaks many of these rules. It creates its own sub-genre, the nudie-cutie film noir. It not only has a plot, it’s a reasonably coherent plot, and it’s a genuine crime movie as well as a nudie-cutie. The plot is not just an excuse to get the characters to a nudist camp - the crime plot keeps going throughout the movie.

It differs from the roughies that started to appear a few years later in remaining light-hearted and innocent. How do you make a film noir light-hearted and innocent? It isn’t easy but this movie gives it a try.

This film takes another big risk. We get some shots of a naked girl in the opening credits sequence but for the first 25 minutes of the actual film there’s not a hint of naked flesh and the focus is entirely on the crime movie plot.

Another risk taken here is the inclusion of a love story. It’s a risk in the sense that if you have a man and a woman obviously falling madly in love and they’re both spending most of the movie naked you are entitled to wonder if they’re likely to start taking a less innocent interest in each other’s nakedness.

The crime plot concerns two armed robbers, Duke and Steve. Duke is the brains of the outfit and he’s a very hardboiled and possibly dangerous character. Steve is a nice guy who allowed himself to be talked into participating in the robbery even though he was never enthusiastic about it and he’s now seriously regretting it. The robbery goes smoothly but the well-planned getaway runs into problems. Duke and Steve kidnap Dorothy (Dolores Carlos) and steal a car and start looking for somewhere to hide out. When Duke discovers that Dorothy is on the staff of the Hibiscus Country Club he decides that would be a perfect place to lie low for a while.

What Dorothy neglects to tell them is that the Hibiscus Country Club is a nudist club.

Duke is not thrilled at all about this development. Steve on the other hand seems quite happy to shed his clothes and spend his time doing nudist camp stuff with Dorothy. And falling in love with her.

The crime plot is unexpected in a nudie-cutie but it’s not a bad idea. No matter how pretty the girls too much nude volleyball and nude archery can get wearying so Wishman keeps bringing us back to the crime plot.

You might be thinking that this movie sounds worryingly like a real movie rather than a glorious exercise in Doris Wishman movie insanity and this is true to some extent. The two main plot-lines, the attempt of the robbers to escape the police dragnet and the love story, both get resolved in a relatively straightforward and successful manner. There’s even an action climax, set in the Miami Serpentarium, and it’s fairly effective. The plot would pass muster in the average crime B-feature of its era.

There was an art to shooting a nudie-cutie. The objective was to show every square inch of bare female flesh that you could get away with without allowing any glimpses of the pubic region. This movie follows that rule for the most part but does risk some brief flashes of pubic hair. And film-makers being an inventive lot they quickly came up with ways of sailing a bit closer to the wind. Ways like underwater swimming scenes, in which you could risk frontal nudity as long as the details were slightly obscured. This movie must be one of the earliest movies to try that trick.

The acting in a Doris Wishman film has to be judged by Doris Wishman film standards. The worse the acting the better, it all adds to the enjoyment. Greg Conrad chews the scenery as Duke. Earl Bauer as Steve just gazes adoringly at the wonderfulness that is the naked Dorothy. Dolores Carlos as Dorothy is pretty terrible but what you want from an actress in a nudie-cutie is not someone who can act but someone who is pretty and can be totally relaxed about being nude for most of the picture. And Dolores Carlos is definitely pretty and having been one of Bunny Yeager’s models she was presumably an old hand at taking her clothes off for the camera. In fact there are apparently quite a few Bunny Yeager models in the movie.

I should also mention the theme song (actually written for the movie by Wishman’s niece) which is kinda cute. None of Wishman’s movies can be described as conventionally good but I thought Hideout in the Sun was great fun, and not just for all the nude girls.

The Retro-Seduction Cinema DVD offers both a full-frame and a widescreen version of the movie. The correct aspect ratio is almost certainly 1.33:1. The transfer is pretty good. Sexploitation movies in pristine condition are a rarity. The colours look pretty good especially given that the movie was shot in Eastmancolor. There are lots of extras including a commentary track. There’s also another 27-minute nudist camp film of unknown origin. It’s a worthwhile inclusion because it shows just how awful such movies could be. Wishman at least understood that you cannot rely purely on nudity. You have to do other things as well to make a nudie movie entertaining. And Wishman clearly understood that nobody wants to see real nudists nude. They want to see beautiful young women nude, so she used glamour models. Postcards from a Nudist Camp, despite copious quantities of frontal nudity, is a whole lot less alluring than Hideout in the Sun.

Hideout in the Sun works as a nudie-cutie (it features lots of pretty girls without a stitch of clothing between the lot of them), as a crime movie it’s no worse than many of the cheaper 50s B-movies, as a love story it’s odd but touching. Dorothy’s a sweet kid and we want to see her happy, and Steve is a bad boy who hopes to find redemption from the noir nightmare world and Dorothy’s love is his best hope. It has everything that makes Wishman’s nudie-cuties so appealing and if you’ve loved movies like Blaze Starr Goes Nudist and the delightfully nutty Nude on the Moon you’ll be eager to see this one. If you haven’t encountered Wishman’s nudie-cuties before this one will give you a pretty fair idea of whether they’re for you. I thought Hideout in the Sun was great fun, and not just for all the nude girls.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Midnight Frolics (1949)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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