Friday 29 June 2012

Countess Perverse (1974)

Countess Perverse (La comtesse perverse) is Jess Franco’s adaptation of Richard Connell’s classic 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game. This story has been filmed countless times but in the hands of Jess Franco you’d expect that the decadence which is latent in the story would assume full-blown form. And you’d be right.

The story concerns a Russian aristocrat with a passion for hunting who finds that hunting big game no longer excites him. He wants a bigger thrill. He wants to hunt the most dangerous game of all - man. And he does.

In Jess Franco’s version the Russian aristocrat becomes an aristocratic couple. And they’ve added a few variations to the game, just to ratchet up the decadence a few notches - they first have sex with their victim, then they hunt them, and then they eat them.

And rather than hunt their prey with guns the countess hunts them naked with a bow and arrow.

The Count and Countess Zaroff are played by Howard Vernon and Alice Arno. As in the story they live on an island which provides them with their private hunting grounds. On a nearby island lives another couple who act as procurers for them but they are growing increasingly concerned by the Zaroffs’ excesses and are starting to develop a conscience. They want out. But first they must provide the Zaroffs with one last exotic dish for their menu, in the person of Silvia Aguado (Lina Romay).

While the release date is given in the IMDb as 1974 the film was made early in 1973 and was one of Lina Romay’s first really meaty parts (if you’ll excuse the pun) for Jess Franco.

The movie lacks some of the stylistic excess you expect from Jess Franco. With a plot as extreme as this any stylistic excesses would have been overkill. Franco simply lets the story take its course and relies on the content to provide the outrageousness, which it does admirably.

One of Jess Franco’s great talents was finding bizarre and exotic locations which would give his low-budget productions an expensive and exotic look for a minimal outlay. He really excels himself this time with a magnificent modernist house. It provides the exteriors while a nearby building by the same architect provides some stunning interiors include a fantastic surreal staircase which looks like something from an opium dream.

And as so often with Franco when he finds the right location he makes the mood of the movie fit the location. In this case modernist decadence meets aristocrat decadence in a delightful stew (yes I know, I can’t help dropping culinary terms into a review of a movie about cannibalism).

It’s easy to see why Lina Romay was soon to become Franco’s muse. She is delightfully uninhibited and her performance is perfect for this sort of movie. Howard Vernon is in his element here while Alice Arno is both terrifying and beautiful.

The content was so excessive that it scared off potential distributors and it’s easy to see why. Watching Howard Vernon and Alice Arno discussing the fine points of cooking human flesh would scare off most people.

There is of course a great deal of sex and nudity, just as you’d expect from Jess Franco in 1973. There are one or two gruesome scenes (human heads mounted on the wall as trophies) but mostly the gruesomeness is implied rather than shown, as in the dinner party scene which would seem harmless enough if you didn’t know what they were eating.

Cinematographer Gérard Brisseau does a fine job with the wonderful locations.

Mondo Macabro have found a great print and the DVD transfer looks great. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio is in this case the film’s original aspect ratio. There are some worthwhile extras including an appreciation of the movie by Jess Franco fanatic Stephen Thrower and an interview with one of the stars, Robert Woods, who shares some affectionate memories of working with Uncle Jess.

A disturbing movie that is made more disturbing by Franco’s fairly straightforward treatment of outrageous subject matter. Not quite in the absolute front rank of Franco films but still a very fine movie from one of the director’s most prolific and productive periods. It has obvious affinities with the director’s de Sade movies. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

For Your Height Only (1981)

Secret Agent 00 (played by Weng Weng) is kind of like James Bond. He’s suave and sophisticated, an expert in martial arts, a crack shot and women throw themselves at him. There is one difference though - Agent 00 is just three feet tall! Welcome to the crazy world of For Your Height Only.

Made in the Philippines in 1981 and sometimes rendered (for some obscure reason) as For Y'ur Height Only, this is the ultimate midget spy movie.

The plot defies easy description just as it defies easy understanding. The diabolical criminal mastermind known as Mr Giant aims at world domination. For this he needs the super-weapon developed by Professor Kohler.

Mr Giant presides over a coalition of criminal gangs who are involved in smuggling drugs in loaves of bread. Only Agent 00 can stop him!

The agency for which Agent 00 works has infiltrated the beautiful Irma into Mr Giant’s organisation. She also possesses considerable martial arts skills and she will be Agent 00’s most useful ally. She is just one of Agent 00’s women - he is irresistible to the female sex.

Trying to follow the intricacies of the plot will give you a headache so it’s best just to enjoy the mayhem, of which there’s no shortage.

Agent 00 has the usual array of Bond-style gadgets including X-ray glasses which he mostly uses to see through women’s clothing. He also has a rocket-pack which propels the tiny secret agent through the air. Those bad guys he doesn’t despatch with guns he deals with using his martial arts skills. He also makes use of his diminutive stature, scuttling between bad guys’ legs and delivering kicks where it hurts most.

The music provides constant echoes of the classic James Bond theme emphasising the links between Agent 00 and Agent 007. The fights and the stuntwork are impressive with Weng Weng doing most of his own stunts (it’s not easy finding a stunt double for an actor who’s three feet tall).

Agent 00 also makes use of his skills at seduction. Women melt at the sight of his impressive miniature physique and his taste in leisure suits, not to mention his inherent sense of cool.

Weng Weng has an acting stye all his own. He might not be a great actor but it’s a style that works for him. This movie not only boasts a midget hero but a midget diabolical criminal mastermind as well - Mr Giant is about three-and-half feet tall! But his height advantage is no match for Agent 00’s fighting skills. The bad guys are there mostly for Agent 00 to kill and the body count is impressively high. There are plenty of glamorous women on hand, all of whom fall for Agent 00’s charms.

The DVD from Mondo Macabro includes various extras including a second feature film - one of the numerous Bruce Lee rip-offs produced after the actor’s untimely death, this one starring an actor known as Bruce Le.

Movies don’t come much weirder than For Your Height Only. Recommended for devotees of the bizarre.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

The Dirty Mind of Young Sally (1973)

The Dirty Mind of Young Sally is part of a Sharon Kelly double-header from Something Weird.

By the early 70s the classic American sexploitation movie was pretty much dead, replaced by softcore and even hardcore porn. We ended up with a lot more skin but a lot less fun. The Dirty Mind of Young Sally, which dates from 1973, illustrates this trend rather nicely.

Had it been made just a few years earlier it would have lacked the  extended sex scenes but the fun elements of the plot would have been fully exploited. The potential was certainly there.

Dirty Sally is the star attraction (in fact the only attraction) of pirate radio station KLUV. She broadcasts her sex show (coming to you and coming with you three times a day) from a mobile broadcasting station in the back of van. She plays sexy music, talks about sex, gives sex tips and has sex on air, sometimes flying solo and sometimes with a partner.

The local police chief is determined to close her down but every time the cops are about to close in on her she and her partner (good-natured radio engineer Toby who obviously has a major crush on Sally) make their getaway in their van. The long-suffering Sergeant Dimwhittle is informed in no uncertain terms that his job is at stake unless Sally is cleansed from the airwaves.

Sally has come up with a new idea - a competition. Listeners will send in their letters, the best letter will be read on air and the writer will get to have sex with her on air. Meanwhile Sergeant Dimwhittle seems to be very near to getting his hands on Sally, and he ends up getting much closer to her than he expects.

It sounds like good-natured fun, a bit like Smokey and the Bandit with lots of sex and nudity but unfortunately there’s too much sex and too little fun.

There is some humour. The couple trying to follow Sally’s sex advice in the backseat of a dune buggy (evidently not the most convenient place for having sex) is quite amusing. Sadly much of the humour, like the sex, is obvious and laboured.

Sharon Kelly as Sally has her funny moments as well while she’s certainly not shy about showing off her ample charms. She’s the only member of the cast who displays any real acting ability.

The catfight sequence is another highlight.

Much of the sex is quite close to being hardcore and possibly crosses the line at times. It goes to prove that a few years earlier when sexploitation movies were more limited in what they could show they had to work harder to keep things interesting.

This is sexploitation crossed with hicksploitation, something of a specialty of writer-director Bethel Buckalew. It was produced by Harry Novak, one of the kings of sexploitation.

Something Weird’s DVD looks good. The film is presented as a Sharon Kelly double feature.

Not a great movie but if you enjoy 70s sex comedies it has its moments.

Thursday 21 June 2012

GoldenEye (1995)

GoldenEye in 1995 marked the return of James Bond to the big screen after a hiatus of several years, and it also marked the first appearance of Pierce Brosnan in the role of 007. Both Bond’s return and Brosnan’s debut proved to be surprisingly successful.

Brosnan had been considered for the role before. It’s probably just as well he didn’t get the part earlier. By 1995 Brosnan was in his early 40s - the right age to play Bond. Bond is after all a man with a past. This is also the first Bond film for director Martin Campbell and introduces a new and very different M.

By 1995 with the Cold War over Bond may have seemed a bit of a dinosaur (and that’s exactly the way M describes him) but the film makes that work in its favour. M might not entirely approve of him but for this mission he’s the man for the job and his Cold War background will be very useful. He’ll find himself back in Russia, in the new post-communist Russia, but he’ll be up against some old enemies. And the threats are as real as ever.

 GoldenEye (1995)

The traditional pre-credits intro is a flashback. In the Cold War days Bond and 006 had destroyed a Russian chemical warfare plant and Bond had found himself witnessing the execution of 006, but all was not as it appeared to be.

Seven years later and satellite pictures show the destruction of a secret Russian facility at Severnaya by an experimental space weapon. The Golden Eye satellite uses a nuclear explosion in space to project an electro-magnetic pulse that destroys anything electronic. British intelligence had believed that the new cash-strapped Russia had neither the money nor the expertise to develop such a weapon but it does indeed exist although it is not the Russian government that has used the weapon. Satellite images show a helicopter landing after the destruction of the facility, the same new experimental Franco-German attack helicopter that was stolen shortly earlier (a theft Bond had just failed to prevent).

GoldenEye (1995)

The assumption is that a Russian organised crime syndicate is the culprit, a syndicate controlled by a man about whom nobody seems to know anything. Their plans for the use of Golden Eye are unclear but whatever they are 007 has to stop them.

It goes without saying that Bond will find himself dealing with several beautiful women, including the deadly Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) with whom Bond has already had an encounter in the casino at Monte Carlo. She will be the femme fatale of this movie while Bond will find an ally in the person of one of the two survivors of the attack on Severnaya, the equally beautiful Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco). His enemies will include several people from his past, one of them very unexpected.

GoldenEye (1995)

Pierce Brosnan is an excellent Bond, in my opinion rather more successful in the role than Timothy Dalton. Brosnan has the right mix of charm and humour. The new M is a woman, played by Judi Dench, and the movie establishes the basis for an interesting if tense relationship between her and Bond. Sean Bean is reasonably good while the two Bond girls, the good one and the bad one, are both excellent. Famke Janssen is especially good - her orgasmic reactions to killing people are certainly memorable!

Despite the major changes represented by both the new Bond and by the very different style of Judi Dench as M the movie works hard to maintain the classic Bond movie flavour. The casino scene is pure Bond and is a very obvious nod to the traditions of the Bond film. And we not only see Bond driving an Aston Martin - it’s the real Bond Aston Martin, the early 60s DB5 as seen in Goldfinger!

GoldenEye (1995)

There are the usual gadgets and there’s as much action and stunt work as any Bond aficionado could wish for. Derek Meddings’ model work is, as always, superb. Sadly this was to be his last film as he died soon afterwards.

GoldenEye manages to be both a 90s film and a classic James Bond movie and it’s terrific fun.

Monday 18 June 2012

Tahkhana (1986)

Bollywood horror had been around for a while but it really broke through with the Ramsay Brothers’ Purana Mandir in 1984. It was the film that launched horror into the Bollywood mainstream and launched the Bollywood horror boom which lasted until the early 90s.

The Ramsays were not inclined to let a good idea go to waste so Tahkhana in 1986 repeated the formula almost exactly. And it’s just as much fun.

Thakur Singh has one major inheritance to leave to his children. He has a map showing the location of a fabulous treasure hidden in a dungeon. But he’s not going to leave it to his eldest son Dhurjan who is a notorious black magician. He leaves it to his second son, along with strict instructions to keep his daughters away from Dhurjan.

It’s good advice, but Dhurjan murders his brother and kidnaps his daughters. One daughter is saved from his clutches but the elder, Sapna, disappears into the jungle, apparently never to be seen again.

Twenty years later the younger daughter Aarti (Arti Gupta), her fiancé Vijay (Puneet Issar) and their friend Anand decide to make a serious attempt to find the missing Sapna and they track her down to a hotel in Bombay, a hotel run by Aarti’s sleazy cousin Shaakal (Imtiaz Khan). By the time they get there Shaakal has murdered her in the course of a bungled rape attempt. Our young heroes don’t at this stage know what a sleazebag Shaakal is.

Our young heroes also don’t know that the treasure is protected by a monstrous demon god, brought to life by Dhurjan’s black magic. And while they think they have the correct map they actually have a forgery while Shaakal has the original.

Vijay, Aarti and Anand do have one stroke of luck though. When they are attacked by Shaakal’s thugs they are rescued and befriended by Heera (Priti Sapru), a muscle-bound but good-natured young man with the physique of the hero of an Italian peplum. They’re also joined by his girlfriend Panna (Hemant Birje). They reach Thakur Singh’s deserted mansion but once they start exploring the dungeon the trouble starts.

So the setup is that we have a group of attractive young people, two couples plus a faithful friend, who will have to run the gauntlet of the terrors of a haunted house although in this case it’s a monster-ridden dungeon but the principle is the same. It’s a profoundly unoriginal idea but that’s typical of Bollywood. They take a well-proven idea from Hollywood and then Bollywoodise it - adding some hints of Indian folklore, beefing up the love story angle, adding some comic relief and of course some singing and dancing.

It’s an object lesson in making a movie rigidly to a formula while still coming up with something very well-made and highly entertaining. The special effects and makeup effects are extremely good for what is by western standards a modestly budgeted film (although by Bollywood standards the Ramsays were at the top end of the horror scene). Even the comic relief is fairly entertaining.

The very good cast certainly helps. The acting is of course very Bollywood but Arti Gupta makes a fine heroine (as she did in Purana Mandir). The Ramsays always believed in catering to the female audience members as well so we get not only a feisty but likeable heroine but lots of male as well as female eye candy. And Arti Gupta is definitely prime eye candy. The Ramsays threw in as much sex as the Indian censors would let them get away with and both Arti Gupta and Hemant Birje are actresses who know how to be sexy without taking their clothes off. And there is of course the obligatory wet sari scene! And for the ladies Priti Sapru is a very hunky hero.

The DVD is fullframe but it’s a lovely transfer and Mondo Macabro throws in an excellent documentary that not only covers the fabulous world of Bollywood horror but also provides some tantasising glimpses of the delights of Lollywood horror - the wild products of the Pakistan film industry based in Lahore (hence the term Lollywood). The frustrating thing about the documentary is that so few of these movies are available in English-friendly versions. I’m now desperate to see Haseena Atom Bomb! So how about it Mondo Macabro - will we get to see Lollywood horror given the same excellent treatment? Can we expect a Lollywood Horror Collection? Or some of the Bollywood horrors made by some of the Ramsay Brothers’ competitors?

The Ramsay Brothers aimed at making pure entertainment with a certain amount of quality and in this they consistently succeeded - Tahkhana is enormous fun. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

An astronomer (Professor Hennessey, played by Joseph Tomelty) and a newspaper reporter (Michael Carter, played by Hugh McDermott) find themselves in a remote inn in Scotland. They’re investigating a report of a meteor. But it’s no meteor. It’s a spaceship. A spaceship with one passenger - and she’s the Devil Girl from Mars!

Women now rule Mars, after a bitter and destructive civil war with the Martian men. But the Martian women have a problem - despite their incredibly advanced science they still need men in order to breed. And the Martian men are no longer up to the job. The answer is simple. There are plenty of men on a neighbouring planet called Earth - they’ll just take a few back with them. Well actually they intend to take a lot of men back with them, all good breeding stock.

If the Earth people resist, they will be destroyed.

The Martian spaceship was heading for London but it was damaged entering the Earth’s atmosphere and ended up in a remote part Scotland. They aren’t many men to choose from here. There’s the barman, but the Martian astronaut, a female named Nyah (Patricia Laffan), quickly decides he would be useless for breeding purposes and liquidates him. That leaves the middle-aged astronomer, the reporter, an escaped murderer and Jamie the elderly innkeeper (played by the wonderful character actor John Laurie). And there’s also a small boy.

There are several women at the inn, but Mars has no need of women. Mars needs men.

The women are the beautiful model Ellen Prestwick (Hazel Court), the barmaid Doris (Adrienne Corri) who is in love with the escaped convict, and the innkeeper’s wife. Once Nyah’s plans become obvious this motley collection of men and women realise that the fate of civilisation rests on their shoulders. If Nyah returns to Mars with a few samples of Earth men then more Martian spaceships will follow. Somehow  she has to be stopped, and since Nyah is impervious to bullets that means her spaceship has to be wrecked. That will have to be done by destroying the advanced nuclear power plant.

This won’t be easy since Nyah also has with her a powerful robot. The robot is very good at obliterating things.  Martian technology seems to consist mostly of ways of obliterating things. But somehow that spaceship must be prevented from leaving Earth.

This 1954 British production is a great deal of fun if you accept it as high camp silliness. Nyah wears a sexy leather flying suit and her robot is delightfully goofy (apart from having immense obliterating powers). The spacecraft is actually quite cool.

Patricia Laffan plays Nyah like a cartoonish and somewhat distracted dominatrix. Which is exactly the way she should be played. John Laurie lays on the ham as thick as he possibly can. The other cast members try to play things straight but the whole concept is so campy it doesn’t matter.

The special effects match the silly mood of the movie although the spaceship looks fairly impressive in a fun 1950s flying saucer sort of way.

There are plenty of stiff upper lips as the beleaguered humans valiantly plan to resist Nyah’s evil plans. Don’t even try to take this movie seriously. The British made several thoughtful and fairly ambitious science fiction movies in the early 50s but this is not one of them. 

Westlake’s all-region NTSC DVD doesn’t have much in the way of extras but it’s an acceptable if not fantastic (and rather dark) transfer. In fairness to the DVD the entire movie takes place at night so although the screencaps look very dark they are all night shots.

Highly entertaining fare that proves the British could match the Americans went it came to silly high-camp science fiction nonsense. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Santo in the Wax Museum (1963)

As its title would quite naturally tend to suggest Santo in the Wax Museum (Santo en el museo de cera), released in 1963, sees the famous wrestler/crimefighter Santo involved in a series of disappearances that seem to be connected with Dr Karol’s wax museum.

The Santo movies, of which there were many, were a staple of the Mexican film industry for many years and they have since become very popular cult favourites. And deservedly so.

The idea of adding classic horror movie themes to a Santo movie was clearly an extremely good idea.

The wax museum, like all good horror movie was museums, has its chamber of horrors but rather than real-life murderers it comprises various fictional monsters such as Frankenstein’s monster, the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. In the foyer are the three great figures of 20th century history - Gary Cooper, Ghandi and Stalin!

When a beautiful young female press photographer disappears after visiting the wax museum Dr Karol believes it’s all part of a plot to discredit him. His friend Professor Galván suggests that Santo may be able to help him. Professor Galván has a special radio televisual phone gadget that allows him  to make contact with Santo wherever he is.

In between wrestling bouts Santo pursues the case, but is Dr Karol really who he says he is? What is the link between the various disappearances?

This is only my second Santo film and it’s a bit darker and less crazy than Santo vs the Martian Invasion.

Santo himself is of course a legend and it’s impossible not to like the character. In this movie there aren’t really any science fictional or supernatural elements, just a straight murder in the wax museum story but with the craziness you expect in a Santo film.

Since Santo is a wrestler we naturally get treated to some wrestling - in fact no less than three wrestling bouts! Santo is clearly the crowd’s popular favourite. They presumably know about his reputation as a crimefighter.

It’s impossible to say anything about Santo’s acting. Santo is just Santo. Claudio Nrook makes a fine melodramatic villain.

It builds to a typical wax museum horror movie climax and there’s lots of fun along the way. Highly entertaining silliness and thoroughly recommended.

Yume Pictures’ DVD presents Santo in the Wax Museum in the original Spanish with English subtitles and in a fairly decent fullframe print, but without extras.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

The Living Daylights (1987)

The Living Daylights introduced Timothy Dalton to the James Bond series. I’d previously seen the second Timothy Dalton Bond movie, the very disappointing Licence To Kill. Happily The Living Daylights is a much better movie.

It appears that the Russians have re-activated the dreaded SMERSH (Death To Spies) section of the KGB (Bond’s nemesis in movies like From Russia With Love) and British agents are being assassinated. Including one from the elite Double O section.

A high-level KGB defector named Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) whom Bond has helped to escape to the West claims it is a plot by General Leonid Pushkin. He claim Pushkin is a madman who wants to start a nuclear war (the idea of a desperate Soviet Union facing collapse and hoping to stake everything on a nuclear war appears in at least one other 80s Bond movie). Bond is sceptical. He knows Pushkin and thinks he’s far too sensible but Koskov is convincing and M is inclined to believe him.

Bond’s mission is to kill Pushkin but he does a bit of digging around on his own account, starting with the mysterious KGB sniper who tried to assassinate Koskov when he escaped. The sniper is Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), who combines playing the ’cello with sniping, only Bond soon discovers she’s no sniper and no KGB agent. She’s Koskov’s girlfriend. Koskov bought a Stradivarius ’cello for her - now where would a KGB officer get $150,000 from to buy a Stradivarius ’cello?

The trail leads Bond to crazy American arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) and to Vienna, then Tangiers and then Afghanistan where he and Kara are rescued by mujahadeen (remarkably civilised and friendly mujahadeen). Maybe Koskov’s defection was phony? Or is Koskov playing a double game, or even a triple game?

As explained by director John Glen the idea was to make this a much harder-edged Bond film than the preceding Roger Moore entries in the series. That was a fairly sound idea - no-one was going to be able to do the Roger Moore thing the way Roger Moore did it and a change of pace was probably due, and Timothy Dalton’s much more serious interpretation of the role made it a logical decision.

What impresses me is the way the movie does represent a real break in the series, but at the same time it still feels like a Bond movie. It looks to the future, but also draws upon the past. It even gets Bond back behind the wheel of an Aston-Martin, a very definite nod to Bond history. And it has the gadgets that Bond fans love so much. It also has lots of spectacular stunts. Most importantly, it feels like a Bond movie.

Maryam d’Abo is a different kind of Bond girl, strikingly beautiful but looking less like a glamorous supermodel. In fact she looks like a lady cellist! Joe Don Baker chews the scenery to great effect, Jeroen Krabbé is a likeable villain who might be a hero (or a hero who might be a villain), while John Rhys-Davies is surprisingly subdued but very effective as Pushkin.

As for Timothy Dalton, he’s a long way from being my favourite Bond but he’s reasonably good. He takes things seriously but there’s still the occasional twinkle in his eye (something that is sadly missing in Daniel Craig’s recent wooden performance). He knows he’s making a Bond movie and that it’s supposed to be fun. His performance is definitely harder edged than Moore’s or even Connery’s, much less tongue-in-cheek, but there’s still enough charm to make the characterisation convincing. I imagine he was trying to get closer to Ian Fleming’s original conception of Bond, with some success.

Pierce Brosnan was apparently the producers’ first choice for this movie but he had other commitments. Brosnan eventually became a better Bond than Dalton but Dalton is more than passable in this movie.

Not one of the great Bond flicks by any means, but still a highly entertaining movie.