Friday 29 April 2011

The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972)

Of all the products of the ozploitation boom of the 70s the most notorious is surely The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. In its own way it’s an exercise in bad taste to rival John Waters’ films, and it’s an exponent of the sledgehammer school of satire.

Barry McKenzie started life as a comic-strip in Private Eye magazine. He was the creation of Australian humorist Barry Humphries (with apparently some help from Peter Cook who shared Humphries’ anaarchic approach to comedy). When the Australian film industry revived he made the transition to the big screen in 1972.

The crude, strangely innocent and utterly appalling Barry McKenzie arrives in London, prepared to hate everything about England and the English. And he does. There’s no real plot, just a series of rather surreal adventures as Bazza spreads general mayhem.

Like John Waters, Humphries liked to push the boundaries of bad taste but he did so with more wit and originality than Waters displayed in his 1970s movies.

Humphries lambasts both Australian and English culture and takes the opportunity to enjoy taking some pot shots at other targets of opportunities, such as hippies, the entertainment industry, psychiatry and anything else he could think of.

Humphries’ satire is venomous to an extraordinary degree. His contempt for the vulgarity of suburban life is expressed with considerable crudity but he is undeniably funny and underneath the bad taste there’s a perceptive social critic at work.

Humphries delights in exaggerating his characters to the point of absurdism although they do represent real aspects of Australian society at the time.

Barry Crocker makes a splendid Barry McKenzie while Humphries himself plays a variety of roles including the one that has brought him lasting fame, Mrs Edna Everage (later to metamorphose into Dame Edna).

It’s really not possible to review this film in any meaningful way since nothing is going to prepare you for it if you’re not familiar with with Humphries’ style. It’s hardly a typical example of 70s ozploitation but it was one of the Australian film industry’s biggest hits at the time. It’s somewhat dated but it’s aggressive lack of anything even approaching political correctness is unquestionably refreshing. No sacred cow is safe from this movie’s wrath.

Monday 25 April 2011

Sorcerer (1977)

Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1953 The Wages of Fear is one of the all-time great thrillers, so attempting a remake in 1977 was a fairly bold movie for William Friedkin. Sorcerer is however a good enough movie to stand on its on merits.

A group of losers, low-lifes and criminals in a squalid town somewhere in the jungles of Central America is recruited to drive two truck-loads of explosives over 200 miles of almost non-existent roads to an oil well that is burning out of control.

Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider) is a minor New York mobster on the run from a major New York mobster after a bungled church robbery in which a priest was shot. Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer) is a French financier also on the run after a shady deal goes badly wrong. Rounding out this group of misfits is a terrorist and a mysterious figure about whom we know very little. The movie spends a lot of time telling us the backstories, and doing it with considerable skill and ingenuity, although perhaps at too great a length.

Once the nightmare drive begins the movie hits high gear. The location shooting, done mainly in the Dominican Republic, is spectacular and was apparently almost as much of a nightmare for the cast and crew (who did most of their own stunts) as it was for the fictional drivers. It really is like a drive to Hell. A wet green Hell. Friedkin of course has a flair for action sequences which is very much in evidence here. There are plenty of heart-stopping moments. Driving trucks across rope bridges is not for the faint-hearted, and this was all done without CGI.

The explosives they’re carrying have been stored too long and have become highly unstable, adding to the horrors of the journey. One jolt could set them all off, and there are jolts aplenty.

The lengthy introductory backstories pay off in a big way with the viciously ironic ending. This story has a very nasty sting in the tail.

The movie was a commercial disaster. It was the right movie at the wrong time (being released at the same time as Star Wars it never really had a chance). And with the wrong title. Audiences expecting a supernatural horror film walked out in droves. In fact the title refers to the name of one of the trucks.

Friedkin’s other major headache was the casting. He wanted Steve McQueen for the lead but felt unable to agree to McQueen’s conditions, a decision he later bitterly regretted. And rightly so. McQueen not only had the star power that Roy Scheider lacked, he would also have been a far better choice in every way. McQueen was a very underrated actor with a knack for taking what could have been routine tough guy/action hero roles and making them complex and interesting, most notably in two superb movies for Sam Peckinpah, The Getaway and Junior Bonner.

Scheider is by no means bad, but he doesn’t have the necessary charisma.

There are no sympathetic characters in this movie and in fact in many ways one can’t help hoping they’ll all be blown to kingdom come. This could have been a fatal flaw but it isn’t. The odds against these guys are so steep and the scale of their battle with fate is so epic that you can’t help but be drawn into it. You might not like these people but in a strange way you come to care abut the outcome of their adventure. You might not care about them as individuals but there’s a kind of existential grandeur about their struggle against nature and against fate.

Universal’s DVD Region 1 release is fullscreen, has no worthwhile extras and would be difficult to recommend except for the fact that this is a fine movie from one of the more consistently interesting modern American film directors. It’s a movie that has its faults but its virtues are than than sufficient to make it very much worth seeing.

Friday 22 April 2011

Electronic Lover (1970)

Electronic Lover is part of Something Weird Video’s Girls and Gadgets double-movie set and it’s a fine example of the kind of weirdness that the sexploitation genre of the 60s embraced.

The IMDb claims this one was made in 1966 but I can’t help suspecting it may have been a little later than that. The acid-rock music and the general psychedelic influences would seem to indicate it was made later than 1967.

The Master lives in self-imposed isolation, his only real engagement with the world being through Brother, who may be his servant or his actual brother but is more likely his servant. Brother goes out into the world armed with a sophisticated spy-camera, and the Master views the world through the film footage broadcast to him from Brother’s camera.

The Master sends Brother out to film women, preferably in intimate circumstances. This is the Master’s only contact with women, and it excites him to a frenzy. When he gets sufficiently excited he rubs himself against a mirror until he achieves release. From time to time he is visited by the girls who are being filmed by Brother.

It becomes obvious fairly early on that the Master is insane. Whether he was insane to begin with or whether his voyeurism has sent him mad is open to question. The visits he receives from the women in Brother’s films are presumably a delusion or a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy but it becomes increasingly unclear exactly where reality ends and fantasy begins.

The Master’s other passion is for his bow and arrow (yes there’s some pretty obvious phallic symbolism here). It’s an obsession that crops up in a umber of 60s sexploitation movies, most notably Confessions of a Psycho Cat.

This is one of those art-house mets the grind-house movies. While there’s plenty of nudity the overall approach to the subject is self-consciously arty to an extent that must have tried the patience of the grind-house audience. This is an exploration of paranoia, voyeurism and obsession that clearly draws upon movies such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Antononi’s Blow-Up . I’m not suggesting this movie can be seriously compared to those masterpieces but I think it’s plain that the film-makers were trying for that kind of effect.

It does have a neat little sting in the tail, and the atmosphere of claustrophobic obsession is conveyed effectively.

Mike Atkinson’s scenery-chewing as the Master is fairly impressive but perhaps ends up being a little overdone.

The soundtrack gives the impression of having been created by someone who had listened to Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale way too many times.

Still, an interesting example of 60s sexploitation combined with vaguely science fictional elements and fashionable paranoia and voyeurism.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan might sound like a softcore porn movie but it isn’t. In fact it’s a Shaw Brothers martial arts flick.

The Hong Kong studio was going through a phase of trying to snare a wider market by making more genre crossover movies. At around this time they made the surprisingly excellent Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires in partnership with Britain’s Hammer Films. Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan was an attempt to take the kind of period swordplay movies they usually made and add a fairly generous helping of sleaze. It’s a reasonably successful combination.

It takes place at some unspecified time period in China’s imperial past. Ainu is one of a shipment of kidnapped girls being delivered by brigands to Lady Chun’s brothel. This is a very exclusive and very expensive brothel, its customers being a good cross-section of the rich and powerful. Ainu is very uncooperative and her unwillingness to submit earns her a thorough beating after which she is raped by a number of very wealthy men who have paid  high prices for the privilege of breaking in the new girl.

Ainu (Lily Ho) becomes a very successful prostitute but she has a long memory. She intends to take her revenge. And this she does, in violent and spectacular fashion. She has become an expert swordswoman and she has a knack for conceiving elaborate plans to make her vengeance as satisfying and as fitting as possible.

Lady Chun (Betty Pei Ti) has meanwhile fallen hopelessly in love with Ainu. The brothel owner isn’t overly worried by Ainu’s campaign of revenge as she has convinced herself that Ainu returns her love. It all leads to a spectacular and gory finish with a nasty little sting in the tail.
There’s quite a bit of nudity but nothing very graphic, although the sexual violence might be disturbing to some viewers.

The sets and costumes are as lavish as you’d expect in a Shaw Brothers production. They were a bit like Hammer in their heyday in that they could make movies that looked a whole lot more expensive than they were. Add the usual gorgeous cinematography that characterised the studio’s efforts and you have a very handsome-looking movie.

The fight scenes are spectacular and quite gory.

More impressive even that the visuals are the performances by the two lead actresses, especially Betty Pei Ti as the beautiful but wicked lesbian madam (who is also an expert swordswoman).

It’s a tale of obsessive love and obsessive hate done with style and energy. If you don’t mind sleaze with your martial arts movies then there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Daughter of Darkness (1990)

Made-for-TV horror movies can be a mixed bag, and Daughter of Darkness is a 1990 example that falls into that category. But it does have some interesting ideas.

It belongs to the small but interesting sub-genre of horror movies that address the question - exactly how would vampires cope with the modern world? The 1979 ozploitation classic Thirst is probably the most interesting member of this sub-genre, but Daughter of Darkness is a brave attempt.

Katherine (Mia Sara) is a young American woman who has just lost her mother. This leaves her with no family at all, apart from a father she’s never seen. Her mother had been on a study trip to Romania, had fallen in love with a mysterious local, and had then found herself deserted before the resulting baby was born. While dear old dad doesn’t seem likely to be winning any Father of the Year contests any time soon he is all she’s got, so she sets off to Romania to find him.

It’s not just the desire to find a lost father that motivates here however. There are also the dreams, dreams that she believes are connected with her father.

The movie is set in the mid-80s, and Romania under the Ceauşescu regime was not the most advisable travel destination for young American women whose knowledge of the world is limited to the middle-class Chicago neighbourhood where they grew up. Luckily she meets a friendly elderly Romanian taxi driver named Max, and a helpful young embassy official named Devlin at the US Embassy. Devlin wouldn’t ordinarily spend so much time helping someone on what appears to him to be a wild goose chase, but Katherine is pretty and it makes an interesting break from routine. And he’s basically a nice guy. She also meets a hunky young Romanian musician who seems very interested indeed in her. Perhaps too interested.

Initially it seems that Katherine’s quest will be in vain. She meets a man who claims to have known him, and she is informed that he was killed in a car accident many years earlier. Katherine has her suspicions there may be more to the story. It was her dreams that led her to this friend of her father’s, and other odd things have been happening. An old woman sees the medallion around Katherine’s neck, a gift from her father to her mother. The old woman reacts with horror, mumbling about vampires and about a cursed noble family. And why are the secret police taking an interest in her?

I’m not going to give away anything about the increasingly complicated plot other than to say it involves an interesting mix of traditional and non-traditional vampire lore.

Mia Sara is likeable enough as Katherine. Anthony Perkins, in one of his last roles, plays a very ambiguous character and does so pretty well. The supporting cast is adequate.

It has a bit of a made-for-TV look but it’s enlivened by some location shooting (in Hungary rather than Romania). And it has one impressive horror movie credential (apart from the presence of Tony Perkins in the cast) and that’s the fact that it was directed by Stuart Gordon. I have mixed feelings about Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraftian movies but they certainly have their moments. Daughter of Darkness has some similarities to his Lovecraft adaptations in that it also deals with a vast hidden world of horror beneath the surface of everyday life.

I picked this one up on DVD in a secondhand bookstore. The DVD unfortunately lacks extras but it does include a second horror TV movie that I haven’t yet watched (Blind Terror starring Nastassja Kinski). The transfer of Daughter of Darkness is reasonable enough for a TV movie.

I’m not suggesting this is a neglected horror masterpiece, but it is worth a look. Especially if you’re a fan of vampire movies. Don’t set your expectations too high but it’s reasonably entertaining.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Having recently seen one of the Timothy Dalton James Bond movies (Licence To Kill) and one of the Daniel Craig movies (Casino Royale), and having been bitterly disappointed by both, I approached my first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie with some trepidation. In fact Tomorrow Never Dies turned out to be a very pleasant surprise indeed.

This time Bond is facing off against crazed media mogul Elliot Carver who wants a nice spectacular war with which to launch his new cable news channel. A British warship is decoyed off course into Chinese territorial waters where it is sunk, but not by the Chinese. Elliot Carver sinks it himself, giving him a ready made international crisis. As it happens the media baron’s wife is an old flame of 007’s so naturally he’s chosen to investigate the tycoon’s activities.

There’s someone else investigating Carver’s activities, a reporter from the New China News Agency named Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). At least she claims to be a reporter. In fact both she and Bond are trying to prevent this incident from developing into a full-scale shooting war.

One thing becomes very clear about this movie very early on. This is a real Bond movie. It has a real Bond villain - Elliot Carver is a full-blown insane diabolical criminal mastermind. It has a real Bond plot, with the fate of nations and quite possibly the world being at stake. It has the witty dialogue and the sexual innuendo-ridden banter we expect in a Bond film.

And most importantly it has a real Bond. Pierce Brosnan manages to be recognisably James Bond while still giving the role his own personal spin. He handles the serious moments and the sardonic humour equally well. He has the charm, and the ruthlessness. He’s really quite superb.

Jonathan Pryce is a memorable villain, creepy and scary and totally bonkers. Judi Dench makes an effective M, while Desmond Llewelyn makes his sixteenth appearance in a Bond films as Q. There’s a fine supporting cast, with Geoffrey Palmer making a fine belligerent British admiral while Götz Otto is a classic Bond heavy.

Plus this movie has Michelle Yeoh who is all kinds of awesome (as she always is). She’s a real action heroine Bond girl and gets to do her trademark martial arts thing, and do it very well.

One of the best things about the movie is that although it utilises CGI it also makes use of lots of pre-CGI special effects. Lots of miniatures, all of which look terrific and have that solidity that you just can’t get with CGI. And lots of stunts done for real. The action sequences are exciting and they display a genuine visual wit, as in the best movies of this long-running series.

In some ways it’s an old-fashioned Bond film, but it’s old-fashioned in a very good way. It’s consciously in the tradition of the great Bond films of the Connery/Moore eras. On the other hand it has the obsession with media, communications and digital gadgetry to give it a contemporary feel. The balance is perfect. There are the endless explosions that modern audiences crave, combined with the sense of tongue-in-cheek fun of the classic Bond movies.

This was Roger Spottiswoode’s only outing as director of a Bond film and he doesn’t put a foot wrong. Bruce Feirstein’s script captures the essential feel of a Bond film. Glamorous locations, non-stop action, great acting, a terrific lead actor - there’s so much to enjoy in this one and it’s difficult to find anything at all to complain of. I loved it.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Land of the Minotaur (1976)

Land of the Minotaur might be a cheap and cheesy satansploitation flick but it does star Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing. And in any case I have absolutely no problem with cheap and cheesy satansploitation flicks. Although this one is perhaps a combination of satansploitation and pagansploitation.

A group of young amateur archaeologists (although they really look more like hippies than archaeologists but it was the 70s) are keen to explore an ancient temple site in Greece. The local parish priest Father Roche (Donald Pleasence) is an old friend of theirs and tells them where to find the secret entrance to the ancient tombs but warns them not to go exploring in the because it’s full of satanic influences. It’s never explained why the village priest is an Irish Catholic but one assumes it’s because Donald Pleasence makes a splendid Catholic priest but probably would have been less convincing as a Orthodox priest. And it soon becomes obvious in any case that plot coherence is not going to be this film’s strong point.

Of course once he’s warned them not to go there they just can’t wait to do do. And naturally they fall into the clutches of devil-worshippers.

Father Roche is anxious to find his three young friends and soon finds himself with two allies - the girlfriend of one of the missing archaeologists and a Greek private eye named Milo. The police don’t seem anxious to help and the mysterious Baron Corofax (Peter Cushing) seems a bit too interested in these events. Father Roche has however armed himself with a plentiful supply of holy water and a heavy-duty crucifix and he’s ready to take on the servants of Satan. In this case Satan’s minions are devotees of the ancient Minoan cult of the bull god, the Minotaur.

You know where the story’s going after this and there are no major surprises.

This could be seen as just another third-rate ultra-cheap satansploitation movie but it does have a few features that make it worth a look. Most obviously it has Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing. It has some nice Greek locations. And while the idea that pagan cults were all just devil-worshippers might be rather dubious it is cool to come across a horror movie featuring a minotaur. It also boasts an interesting an effective electronic score by Brian Eno.

Technically it’s competent if not very exciting although there are one or two effective moments.

This is the first movie I’ve watched from the 32-movie Drive-In Cult Classics boxed set. It’s another offering from Mill Creek Entertainment so they’re all public domain titles. The picture quality on this one was fairly reasonable. It’s a bit soft and a bit grainy but it is widescreen and it’s worth bearing in mind that when you’re paying 62 cents per movie (32 movies for $20) you don’t have too much to complain about. This appears to be the US version of the film which was slightly cut. The uncut UK version, with the title The Devil's Men, was released on DVD but you’re going to pay a lot more for it and it’s not really a movie I’d bother spending big bucks on.

Not a very good movie but watchable popcorn entertainment.

Friday 8 April 2011

Licence To Kill (1989)

Licence To Kill was the second and final of the James Bond movies to star Timothy Dalton as 007. The first thing that has to be said about this film is that it is not by any stretch of the imagination a Bond movie.

It is for the most part a routine action cop movie. Even worse, it beings to that most tedious of movie genres, the rogue cop movie. It’s another movie about the dedicated cop who breaks all the rules to avenge his partner. While Bond at the beginning is still ostensibly working for the British Secret Service he is to all intents and purposes just a cop. His old CIA buddy Felix Leiter has been turned into a cop as well. There are no spies, no international intrigue, no diabolical criminal masterminds, the world is not threatened by shodowy organisations bent on world domination. There are just cops chasing drug dealers.

Felix Leiter’s wedding is interrupted by the pursuit of drug lord Sanchez (Robert Davi). The pursuit is successful but Sanchez bribes his way out of lawful custody and takes his revenge on Leiter. The remainder of the movie sees Bond quitting the Secret Service to avenge his buddy.

There are so many things wrong with this movie it’s difficult to know where to start.

The producers apparently decided the Bond franchise needed to be updated by turning him into just another movie cop, and by removing every trace of the wit, the style and the fun that had made the Bond series so immensely successfully. They got their just reward for this lame-brained idea when Licence To Kill predictably bombed at the box office.

The producers also decided the movie needed to be dumber and more violent than previous Bond moves. The result is an unpleasant movie with lots of gratuitous gore.

The other major problem is Timothy Dalton. It’s not that he can’t act, but whoever he was playing in this movie it certainly wasn’t James Bond. The theory has been put forward that this was an attempt to create a film Bond based much more closely on the character created by Ian Fleming in his novels. While that’s not necessarily an entirely bad idea if that was the intention here the attempt failed dismally. There’s not a trace of the darkness, the complexity, the mix of arrogance and self-doubt or the sexual perversity of Fleming’s creation. Dalton’s Bond is merely dull. He’s just a tough guy cop.

The kindest thing I can say about Dalton’s performance is that he’s not as bad as Daniel Craig.

Robert Davi as Sanchez gives us the first truly boring Bond villain. He’s just another movie drug baron.

There are two Bond girls in this one, neither of them memorable.

To compound the problems even further the plot drags unbearably. A Bond movie that not only has hardly a trace of humour and no sense of fun but that is also frequently boring is not my idea of a good time.

There are plenty of action sequences and lots of explosions, but while they’re impressive enough in their own way they’re mostly not terribly original. There’s a fatal absence of the visual wit you expect in a Bond movie.

It’s a movie that sums up the way the movie industry was changing at the time. It’s competently made, slick, soulless and dull. It’s not quite the worst Bond movie I’ve seen, but it comes very close. The 2006 Casino Royale is slightly worse, but only slightly.

Monday 4 April 2011

Duffy (1968)

Duffy is one of those odd little late 1960s movies that tries to capture the spirit of its era, in all its tasteless excess and pop-psychology silliness. Duffy is more entertaining than most because it combines these elements with a highly entertaining heist story.

James Mason is shipping mogul J. C. Calvert. He has two sons, equally bereft of talent or of any desire to earn a living. Antony Calvert (John Alderton) is forced into what he sees as outrageous wage slavery in his father’s business empire. He contributes nothing of value to the company but it amuses J. C to force his feckless on to turn up to the office every day. The other son, Stefane (James Fox), is luckier. His mother’s will provided him with sufficient access to the family money to allow him to live a life of fashionable indolence. And to keep him well supplied with extraordinarily tacky 60s fashions.

Antony spends most of his time trying to come up with schemes (invariably unsuccessful) to rob his father’s business. When he overhears the old boy making plans to send a million pounds in hard currency across the Mediterranean by sea he believes he’s finally lucked out. He persuades Stefane and Stefane’s beautiful ditzy girlfriend Segolene (Susannah York) to join him in stealing the money. To do this they need someone with hands-on experience of nautical matters. Stefane’s old friend Duffy (James Coburn) seems like the obvious choice.

Duffy is an ex-navy man who is now a kind of flower child drop-out. He lives in a groovy pad cluttered with bizarre artworks, and appears to spend most of his time chasing women.

They come up with the kind of over-complicated outrageously over-the-top plan that makes 1960s caper movies so much fun. Their scheme requires so much equipment that one can’t help thinking it would probably have cost them most of their expected million pound profit. But Antony and Stefane don’t really care about the money. Antony just wants to get back at their father, and Stefane sees the adventure as a kind of performance art happening - the sort of thing that would amuse a bored spoilt rich kid.

While their planning progresses Segolene indulges herself in a game of musical beds. Stefane doesn’t mind if she shares Duffy’s bed because he’s into peace, love and sharing.

The heist itself is great fun, and of course there are various plot twists after the heist where we find that things were not quite what they seemed. There are double-crosses in abundance.

There’s plenty of amusing 60s dialogue, which becomes even more amusing when it’s delivered by James Coburn. There are more fashion disasters than you’ve ever seen in one place. It’s not every day you get to see James Coburn in a yellow kaftan. For which we can be truly thankful.

It’s a silly lightweight movie that delivers solid entertainment and has plenty of Swinging 60s kitschy charm. There’s also some picturesque Mediterranean location shooting.

This is the first of the Columbia made-on-demand DVD-R releases that I’ve risked buying. I’d heard worrying reports that these discs won’t play in DVD recorders or in computer DVD drives. In fact this one played without any problems at all in both the internal and external DVD burners of my iMac, as did the one Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD-R that I’ve purchased so far. So perhaps the problems associated with this format have been exaggerated. The picture quality is excellent and the movie is presented in its correct aspect ratio (which also applies to the Warner Archive DVD-R release that I bought recently) so tentatively I’d have to say that these DVD-Rs are a lot more impressive than I’d expected.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Crypt of the Vampire (1964)

A Christopher Lee vampire movie that I hadn’t seen is interesting enough, but this is one I hadn’t even heard of until recently.

Crypt of the Vampire (La cripta e l'incubo) starts as it means to go on, throwing every gothic cliché in the book at us. Mysterious castles, thunderstorms, ancient manuscripts, brooding heroes and glamorous and possibly vampiric women.

This Italian-Spanish co-production is one of the earlier movies to be based on Sheridan le Fanu’s vampire classic Carmilla and to explore the lesbian vampire angle. The first was probably Roger Vadim's excellent 1960 Blood and Roses. There were to be many many more in the 70s. Being a 1964 movie the lesbianism is implied rather than explicit, but you can’t film Carmilla without at least a suggestion of lesbianism.

This movie sticks closely to le Fanu’s story than most. Which means it doesn’t stick very closely to it, but le Fanu’s plot is at least recognisably there.

A brooding nobleman (Christopher Lee) whose name just happens to be Karnstein hires a young scholar to investigate one of his female forebears. He has become obsessed with the idea that his daughter is a reincarnation of this notorious ancestress who had been executed for witchcraft, vampirism and general wickedness. Baron Karnstein hopes the scholar can find a painting or a drawing of this ancestress, to establish whether his daughter really is the same woman come back to life.

While this is going on a noblewoman and her daughter are involved in a minor accident with their coach. The noblewoman suggests that the daughter, who has been upset by the accident, should stay at castle Karnstein for a while to recuperate. The younger son soon becomes very friendly indeed with the daughter of the household.

Of course there are mysterious murders in the neighbouring countryside, with the victims drained of blood, and Baron Karnstein’s suspicions are growing steadily.

While director Camillo Mastrocinque lays on the gothic atmosphere pretty thick, he does it fairly effectively as well. There are some genuinely quite creepy scenes, especially the ones involving a hand of glory with candles affixed to the fingers. There are some almost Rollinesque scenes of the two young women wandering through the castle grounds, some subtle suggestions of surreal or at least dream imagery. There are also suggestions of witchcraft combined with vampirism that were obviously influenced by Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. Mastrocinque doesn’t quite have Bava’s visual flair but he certainly gives it his best shot and the results are reasonably impressive.

Christopher Lee is good but he isn’t really the centre of attention. Fortunately Adriana Ambesi and Ursula Davis turn in fine performances as the two young women linked by what might well be all manner of unnatural attractions and obsessions.

If you enjoy the Italian gothic horrors of the 60s, when atmosphere and style were still a lot more important than gore, then there’s much to enjoy in this film. Camillo Mastrocinque went on to helm the excellent 1966 Barbara Steele horror vehicle An Angel for Satan so his gothic credentials are not unimpressive.

Retromedia’s DVD presentation lacks extras but it does boast a decent widescreen transfer. I’d recommend both the movie itself and the DVD release.