Sunday 29 July 2012

Quest for Love (1971)

Quest for Love is a decidedly offbeat movie. It’s a science fiction movie but it’s also a love story, and a very good one. It also gives Joan Collins one of her best roles ever.

It was based on a short story by one of Britain’s greatest science fiction writers, John Wyndham, best known for The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (which was the basis for one of the classic British science fiction movies, The Village of the Damned).

Colin Trafford (Tom Bell) is a nuclear physicist working on a project that will push our understanding of time further than ever before. When it goes wrong he finds himself in an alternative universe.

At first he thinks he just blacked out for a while, but when he goes to his club he finds that everything is slightly disorienting. Then he notices the headline in that day’s newspaper, announcing that John Kennedy has just been made chairman of the League of Nations. John Kennedy has been dead for eight years and the League of Nations ceased to exist decades earlier. The paper also features an interview with veteran actor Leslie Howard (who was of course killed when the plane he was flying in was shot down in 1943).

This is all very strange. It gets even stranger when he meets his wife Ottilie (Joan Collins). You see Colin Trafford isn’t married. And he’s supposed to take her to the premiere of his new play which is opening in the West End. Colin has never written anything in his life. He’s a nuclear physicist.

And when he asks a cab driver to take him to his flat in Pimlico the cab driver is confused. There aren’t any flats in Pimlico. Colin tells him the block of flats was built on a site that was bombed out during the war, which just confuses the cabbie even more. The last war the cab driver remembers was the Great War.

Colin now begins to realise he’s in a parallel world where the Second World War never happened. And as a result everyone’s life is slightly different. His best friend Tom (Denholm Elliott) lost an arm in Vietnam working as a war correspondent, but when he meets Tom he still has both arms.

Being a physicist Tom understands what has happened. The experiment has sent him into a parallel universe. Somehow he taken the place of the Colin Trafford in this alternative universe. Understanding what has happened doesn’t make it any easier to cope with. For one thing, he has a wife to deal with. He’s not merely married, he’s very unhappily married. The Colin Trafford in this universe was a very unpleasant character indeed. He had treated his wife abominably and had had a series of affairs. He attends a party and finds that the Colin Trafford in this world had slept with virtually every woman at the party.

That’s bad enough, but Colin’s big problem is that the moment he first sets eyes on his wife of four years he falls madly in love with her. Ottilie of course hates him because he’s treated her so badly but now somehow he has to explain to her that he’s a different Colin Trafford from the one who has made her so unhappy, and he has to convince her that he is genuinely in love with her.

That’s difficult enough but there are several plot twists to go and Colin will find himself in a race against time (appropriately enough since this is a movie all about time) if he wants to spend the rest of his life with this woman he is hopelessly in love with.

This movie has been criticised for putting too much emphasis on the love story at the expense of the science fiction story. While it’s true that it’s an unconventional science fiction movie and that the primary focus is on the love story it’s an unfair criticism. The movie combines the romantic and science fictional elements extremely well, and the focus on the romance gives it an emotional resonance often lacking in science fiction.

Tom Bell is very effective as Colin, Denholm Elliott is as solid as ever but it’s Joan Collins who dominates the movie. This is one of her most sympathetic roles but it’s also one of her most demanding. She’s playing a woman faced with an extraordinary situation and she rises to the occasion superbly. A potential weakness of the script is that Ottilie has to believe the completely unbelievable story that Colin tells her but this is solved rather neatly. When they make love she notices that a scar that Colin has had since childhood is no longer there. A scar that a man has carried for thirty years cannot suddenly disappear so at that point she can no longer doubt his story. He is Colin Trafford, but he’s not the Colin Trafford she married.

Apart from which he is kind and sensitive and romantic, things her husband could never be accused of being. A woman knows her husband’s true nature and this is obviously a different man. And he’s a man she could very easily love very much indeed.

But while it appears that everything is now perfect for Colin and Ottilie, there’s an unexpected complication, but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out what it is.

Quest for Love works equally well as a science fiction movie and as an offbeat love story and while it’s not the sort of movie most science fiction fans will be expecting if you’re prepared to accept it as a science fictional love story it works very well indeed. If you’re a Joan Collins fan, it’s a must-see. Even if you’re not it’s still highly recommended.

The Region 1 DVD from Scorpion Releasing is an acceptable if not outstanding transfer.

Friday 27 July 2012

Devil’s Kiss (1976)

Devil’s Kiss (La perversa caricia de Satán) is one of a handful of films directed by Jordi Gigó. Or at least it’s one of the handful of films for which he got a director’s credit - there seems to be considerable doubt as to whether he ever actually finished a movie. The assistant director on this one claims to have done most of the directing.

Gigó came from Andorra, one of those postage stamp-sized European countries that no-one has heard of, and he had a dream of launching an Andorran film industry. It was not to be. This particular movie was a Spanish-French-Andorran co-production.

Claire Grandie (Silvia Solar) is actually a countess. Her husband died a violent death in mysterious circumstances and various members of the family apparently helped themselves to his estate, leaving her with nothing. Now she works as a spiritualist and dreams of revenge.

But she does more than just dream. She has a plan. She has hooked up with an eccentric medical researcher named Professor Gruber (Olivier Mathot). He’s working on the regeneration of dead tissue. She dabbles in satanism. Between them they intend to create a kind of Frankenstein’s monster to carry out her vengeance. Gruber seems to have been her lover at one time but now he has a bad heart which has put paid to their sex life. Gruber’s motives are partly loyalty to Claire and partly that urge that all horror movie scientists have to dabble in forbidden areas of scientific research.

Claire manages to attract the interest of the Duc de Haussemont, one of the men against whom she has a grudge. She conducts a séance for him with results that are interesting enough to persuade him to allow Claire and Professor Gruber to move into his chateau to conduct their experiments.

They create a zombie monster from a dead body which Claire endows with a demonic life-force. As you might expect the monster proves impossible to control and considerable mayhem ensues.

Gigó certainly assembles all the ingredients you could possibly ask for - a zombie monster, a mad scientist, satan-worship, murder, voodoo, a sexually deranged dwarf and gratuitous nudity. Having assembled all the ingredients he’s not quite sure what to do with them. His lack of experience coupled with the movie’s apparently chaotic production history certainly has its effect. There’s a lack of any real style here. Moments that should have been highlights are handled a little clumsily.

He was also unlucky in having some key cast members dropping out. The professor was to have been played by Howard Vernon who would have had a great time with the part.

Silvia Solar though is perfect as the mysterious, obsessed and dangerously sexy Claire. Her performance is reason enough to see the movie.

There were also problems at times with the special effects, when those responsible for them simply didn’t turn up and things had to be improvised at the last moment.

While the end result is a rather clunky movie it’s not without entertainment value and it does include every conceivable exploitation element and there’s plenty of gothic atmosphere. Not one of the masterpieces of 70s eurohorror but still an enjoyable romp.

The Arrowdrome region-free DVD is a reasonably good if not outstanding widescreen print and the liner notes by Stephen Thrower are illuminating and useful.

Worth a rental at least.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

The Brigand of Kandahar (1965)

The Brigand of Kandahar is, to put it mildly, not one of Hammer’s most admired films. Personally I think that many of the criticisms that have been leveled at this movie are rather unfair and don’t take into account the circumstances surrounding its production.

It was made in 1965, a time when Hammer were keen to make adventure films and were sometimes inclined (as was the case with their 1965 version She) to attempt productions that were rather too ambitious given their limited budgetary resources.

Lieutenant Case (Ronald Lewis) is a half-Indian half-British soldier who was worked his way up through the ranks to become an officer in the British Army on the Northwest Frontier of India in 1850. He is about to come face-to-face with the divided loyalties that are unavoidable given his mixed-race parentage.

Case is having an affair with the wife of Captain Connelly. Both men are sent on a dangerous mission to discover whether a tribal uprising is imminent. Captain Connelly is killed while Lieutenant Case escapes. Captain Boyd (Inigo Jackson) draws, perhaps unfairly, the obvious conclusion that Connelly’s death was remarkably convenient for Case, getting the husband out of the way so he could continue his affair with the wife. At Boyd’s instigation a court-martial is convened and Case is convicted of cowardice in the face of the enemy for not trying to rescue Connelly.

Case believes the court-martial was biased against him because of his mixed-race ancestry and in particular he believes that his commanding officer Colonel Drewe (Duncan Lamont) was determined to ruin his career. When the opportunity arises Case escapes and joins the rebellious tribesmen under Ali Khan (Oliver Reed).

Ali Khan is keen to make use of Case’s military skills and his knowledge of British methods and Case agrees to join him, on conditions. No British civilians are to be harmed and prisoners are to be shown mercy. Unfortunately Ali Khan’s ideas of mercy are rather flexible and his sister Ratina (Yvonne Romain) believes in showing no mercy at all. There’s also a power struggle going on between Ali Khan and his sister, exacerbated by Ali Khan’s murder of their brother. Ali Khan might be the leader but Ratina is popular and if he makes any mistakes the tribesmen might well change their allegiance to her. If she were backed by a strong man she would have an even better chance of ousting him as leader, and Case is definitely a strong man. Ratina is certainly interested in the idea of setting up Case as an alternative leader to the brother she hates.

Case has his own problems. The tribesmen are planning an attack on Fort Kandahar and while Case is delighted at the idea of seeing the British humiliated (and even more enticed by the idea of killing Colonel Drewe) he’s not so keen on the idea of the general massacre that both Ali Khan and Ratina have in mind.

Case is a man trapped between two worlds. He has tried to give his loyalty wholeheartedly to the British but is embittered by what he sees as their unwillingness to accept him fully and even more embittered by the court-martial which he sees as an outrageous injustice. But he cannot bring himself to betray them completely. He is not at home in either world. The casual cruelty of Ali Khan and Ratina repels him as much as the stiff-necked prejudice of Colonel Drewe. Ronald Lewis’s performance has been much criticised but I like its subtlety. He doesn’t give way to emotional outbursts or soul-searching angst because he was brought up as an Englishman. He represses his emotions, as he has been taught to do.

Oliver Reed’s scenery-chewing performance has been equally criticised, and again I think unfairly. He’s a charismatic larger-than-life leader whose leadership depends on being charismatic and larger-than-life. And unlike Case he has never learnt to repress his emotions.

Yvonne Romain is effectively seductive and cruel as Ratina and her obvious sexual excitement at watching men kill each other adds a nice touch of perversity. She also shows a formidable amount of cleavage, and does so at every opportunity.

John Gilling’s script does its best to handle the issue of colonialism even-handedly. Ali Khan might be vicious but he’s brave and in his own way he’s a patriot. Colonel Drewe is unable to overcome his prejudices but he’s a courageous and skillful soldier. Case is on one level a traitor but he’s genuinely torn in his loyalties. Ratina is even more vicious than Ali Khan but she’s equally brave and sees herself as fighting in a just cause. Anyone who’s read anything of the history of British India, and especially the horrors and massacres of the Mutiny in 1857, will not see Ali Khan’s ruthlessness or Ratina’s enjoyment of cruelty as being unrealistic. Religious or nationalist fanaticism unleashes passions that all too often lead to exactly this type of cruelty.

None of the characters are merely simplistic villains. They all believe they have right on their side. Cleverly, the movie doesn’t actually show us what happened on the fateful mission in which Captain Connelly was captured. We cannot be entirely certain that Case has told the full story with absolute truthfulness and more importantly we cannot be certain that Case is being completely honest with himself in believing there was no way he could have saved Connelly. Having Connelly out of the way was definitely very convenient indeed from his point of view and in the circumstances the suspicions of Captain Boyd and Colonel Drewe are not totally unreasonable. Perhaps Case really has been the victim of an injustice, but when he says there wasn’t one chance in a thousand of saving Connelly the possibility remains that if he hadn’t been sleeping with Connelly’s wife he might have taken that chance. It’s a nice touch of ambiguity.

The movie’s one major fault is that it was much too ambitious for Hammer’s resources. This kind of adventure film needs spectacle but on a Hammer budget there was no alternative to the use of stock footage for the battle scenes and there was no alternative to shooting many outdoor scenes in the studio. Yes, they are obviously filmed in a studio and yes the process shots are rather obvious but unless someone was going to give Hammer an extra million pounds or so it’s hard to see how else they could have made it.

The use of English actors blacked up will cause apoplexy to the politically correct but that’s a classic case of trying to impose our age’s values on another age. That’s the way movies were made in 1965. The important thing is that Gilling does try to address complex issues of race and colonialism in a critical and sensitive manner.

The Studiocanal DVD is a very good 16x9 enhanced transfer that preserves the correct Cinemascope ratio.

Not one of Hammer’s great films but much better and much more entertaining than its reputation would suggest. Despite the flaws inherent in its cheapjack budget it manages to be quite entertaining and exciting. Worth a look for fans of adventure movies.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Butterflies (1975)

Butterflies is one of three movies that legendary American sexploitation writer-director Joe Sarno made in Germany in the mid-70s. The first of the three was Vampire Ecstacy which was a bit of a departure for Sarno. Butterflies is less interesting, but still it’s a Sarno film. All three movies were shot in English.

Denise (Marie Forså) lives on a farm and she’s bored. She dreams of being a fashion model. Even the regular sex with her boyfriend Freddie (Eric Edwards) isn’t enough to break the monotony of rural life. So she decides to head to Munich to try to get her modeling career started. She hitch-hikes and develops a simple but effective technique for getting lifts. She lifts her skirt, and since she never wears underwear it works pretty well. First she is picked up by a rather creepy guy who sells kinky women’s underwear but she soon ditches him. Then she gets a ride with Frank (Harry Reems).

Frank is exciting and she figures he’s the sort of man she needs to meet. He runs a club in Munich and lives a glamorous lifestyle revolving around women, booze, women, expensive clothes, women, night-clubs and women. Frank already has a live-in girlfriend named Verena but he doesn’t let that cramp his style. The sex with Frank is hot, and Denise enjoys sex. Verena warns her she’s going to be just one of a long line of women that Frank picks up and then discards but Denise convinces herself that that won’t happen to her.

Frank doesn’t do much to further her modeling career but he does provide her with the lifestyle and excitement she craves.

Of course Verena’s warnings soon turn out to be all too true. Frank is chronically incapable of keeping his pants zipped up. When Frank meets the glamorous Natascha Denise finally realises what the score is.

It’s not much of a plot but in Sarno’s hands it has a rather bitter-sweet quality to it. Like his earlier American sexploitation movies Butterflies has a dark edge to it. Sarno’s movies never explode into violence but the passions aroused by the pursuit of pleasure do have their price. The idea that you can pursue sex and pleasure without becoming emotionally entangled always proves to be an illusion. It’s not that Sarno’s movies are conventional warnings about the wages of sin. He avoids simplistic moral judgments but he’s always at his strongest when dealing with emotions and when emotions are aroused people do get hurt.

The acting is reasonably impressive. Marie Forså is quite effective at portraying Denise’s odd blend of overwhelming sexuality and rural naïvete and she’s also able to make Denise a real person. Denise wants sex but she wants love as well, and she’s not going to get that from Frank. Forså has to do real acting and she manages pretty well. One might also add that she’s rather stunning.

Harry Reems (best known as the star of Deep Throat) was a major star in hardcore films in the 70s. This time he has to do some real acting as well and he’s quite adequate. Frank is exciting but he’s not a nice guy, although in his defence he never really pretends to be anything other than he is - a man completely devoted to the selfish pursuit of his own pleasure.  Reems has to work on some actual characterisation here.

The movie is basically softcore but it was shot hardcore - in other words the sex is not simulated but most of the more graphic hardcore elements were edited out. Still, it does cross the line into mild hardcore territory at times.

As usual in Sarno’s 1970s softcore offerings the sex is actually erotic, the women (and the men) are attractive, and the sex scenes are filmed with a certain amount of care so it’s more than just the dreary mechanical couplings you’d expect in a hardcore feature. And, typically for a Sarno movie, the focus is on the emotions of sex rather than the mechanics. The sex is however rather stronger than in a typical 1970s softcore film so if that’s a problem for you you have been warned.

The Swedish DVD release from Another World in is English with optional sub-titles in all the Scandinavian languages. And since it was made by Joe Sarno you do need the dialogue! It’s a very good transfer in the correct aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and the two-disc DVD set includes both the director’s cut and the less interesting XXX version as well as a commentary track (in English) and various other extras. This is a case of an erotic movie that really does deserve the kind of DVD release usually reserved for art movies and happily it gets it here.

Not it might not be quite as good as Sarno’s best 1970s movies (such as Confessions of a Young American Housewife and Abigail Lesley is Back in Town) this is still streets ahead of what you expect in this type of movie. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Goliath and the Vampires (1961)

Goliath and the Vampires was made in 1961 at the height of the peplum craze in Italy. Sergio Corbucci, later to become well-known to spaghetti westerns fans, co-wrote the script and apparently took a hand in the directing as well although the directing credit goes to Giacomo Gentilomo (who later helmed the incredibly crazy Hercules vs. the Moon Men).

As its original Italian title Maciste contro il vampiro suggests the hero is actually Maciste, but poor old Maciste always ended up being renamed either Hercules of Goliath for the US market and in this case AIP went for the Goliath name.

Whatever the hero’s name this is one of the best movies of its type you’re ever going to see. It has every one of the ingredients that make the peplum (or sword and sandal if you prefer) genre so much fun.

Our hero (whom I might as well just call Goliath for the sake of convenience) is out doing good deeds when his village is attacked and destroyed  by mysterious sea raiders. The raiders are attacking all the nearby villages as well. They do not take any loot - their only interest is in taking the women. The older women are thrown to the sharks. These marauders only want the young beautiful women. In this case the kidnapped women include Goliath’s fiancée. Goliath vows to rescue her and to have his revenge for the destruction of his village.

But what do these raiders want from the women? The women will soon find out. Apart from the usual fate which they expected (being sold into slavery) the raiders also want their blood. As we will soon discover the blood is used to feed an evil monster named Kobrak. He’s not a vampire as such but he does feed on blood.

The women are taken to the city of Salmanak. The sultan of Salmanak is not evil but he’s weak-willed and pleasure-loving (taking a particular pleasure in women) and in any case he does not really rule. Kobrak rules. The sultan would, in his better moments, like to do the right thing but he is too afraid of Kobrak to attempt to do anything. Kobrak is not just immensely powerful but he also seems to know everything that is going on.

This is largely because Astra (Gianna Maria Canale) keeps him informed. The English dubbed version doesn’t make it clear if Astra is the sultan’s queen or merely his mistress but either way she fulfills the role of the evil but beautiful queen without whom no self-respecting peplum is complete. Astra is more than happy to indulge the sultan’s taste for beautiful maidens.

Goliath arrives in Salmanak and starts wreaking peplum-style havoc, throwing the sultan’s soldiers around, knocking down buildings and freeing slaves. Eventually the soldiers capture him by the simple expedient of throwing a net over him. Curiously enough although this works very effectively it never occurs to the soldiers to use this simple tactic again. And of course Goliath knocks down some more buildings and escapes.

He now finds an unexpected ally in the person of the rather enigmatic Kurtik (Jacques Sernas). He’s a scientist with a well-equipped laboratory who has created an army of blue men to serve him. They’re called the blue men because their skin really is blue. Kurtik seems to be the only serious threat to Kobrak’s power but in practice the blue men aren’t particularly effective against Kobrak’s army of robotised zombies. Goliath however needs all the allies he can get. He intends to destroy Kobrak and Kurtik, for reasons not yet clear, is willing to help. Much mayhem and lots of heroic deeds follow in typical peplum style.

One great plus in this movie is that the hero has a really formidable enemy to deal with, an enemy who in fact seems almost unbeatable even given Goliath’s enormous strength and fighting prowess. This gives the movie some real suspense since it is difficult to imagine how even Goliath can prevail against him.

This is a rather dark peplum with a harsher edge to it than is usual (one might suspect Sergio Corbucci’s influence here since his spaghetti westerns are pretty dark). The violence is at times pretty savage by the standards of 1961.

Gordon Scott is quite adequate as Goliath and the supporting cast is solid with Gianna Maria Canale being delightfully wicked and duplicitous (and fairly sexy) as Astra.

This movie throws in everything you could ask for - mad scientists, assorted monsters, zombie warriors, the supernatural, scientific laboratories, fiendish tortures, vampirism, plenty of action and a really evil villain. The special effects are adequate, the sets are quite impressive and the action scenes are handled well. It was probably a relatively low-budget production but it manages to look quite lavish. Cinematographer Alvaro Mancori gives us some nicely moody night scenes and some interesting use of colour. He was no Mario Bava but he was clearly competent.

Wild East’s DVD release pairs this one with another pretty reasonable peplum, Goliath and the Barbarians. Both movies are given quite good widescreen transfers on a single double-sided DVD, non-anamorphic unfortunately but given that peplum fans for years had to put up with shoddy fullframe releases it’s definitely a bonus to be able to see both these movies in their correct aspect ratios. The colours are perhaps just a little faded on Goliath and the Vampires and there’s occasional print damage but in general it’s a more than decent print. Only the English-dubbed version is included. This two-movie set is an absolute must-buy for fans of the genre.

Goliath and the Vampires is enormous fun. Highly recommended.

Monday 16 July 2012

Revenge (1971)

Revenge (1971)Revenge, a 1971 British production distributed by Rank, was promoted at the time as a horror movie. It was promoted even more aggressively in the US as a horror film with various alternative titles such as Behind the Cellar Door, Inn of the Frightened People and Terror from Under the House. In spite of all this it is in fact essentially a psychological thriller, albeit with some horror overtones.

Jim Radford (James Booth) and his wife Carol (Joan Collins) run a pub somewhere in England. Their marriage is reasonably happy although there are some strains caused by the fact that Jim has two children by a previous marriage. Then disaster strikes. Their young daughter Jennie is raped and murdered on her way home from school. The movie opens with the funeral. It is the effect on the family of this murder that will form the subject matter of the movie.

Their grief is difficult enough to bear but the parents also blame themselves for the murder.  Quite unfairly, but when an event like this occurs it’s natural enough for the parents to blame themselves, to tell themselves that if only they’d picked their daughter up from school she’d still be alive. The tragedy also heightens tensions between Carol and her stepdaughter Jill.

Revenge (1971)

The breaking point comes when news is received that the police have released the prime suspect in the case. There is strong circumstantial evidence that this man, Seely, was the killer, but the evidence is not strong enough to permit the police to lay charges.

Jim’s rage is understandable enough but it receives a major boost when he starts talking to his friend Harry (Ray Barrett). Harry’s daughter was also raped and killed and the evidence is overwhelming that the same man was responsible for both crimes. Jim and Harry decide to take the law into their own hands. Along with Jim’s son Lee (Tom Marshall) they form a plan to kidnap Seely and force a confession from him. If he confesses they will hand him over to the police. If he can convince them of his innocence they’ll let him go. Jim and Harry are almost totally convinced that Seely really is the killer. There remains just the tiniest seed of doubt in their minds but they believe that kidnapping him is the only way to be sure. And they really have little doubt this is the right man.

Revenge (1971)

They put their plan into operation but it all goes horribly wrong. They put Seely into the cellar of the pub where Jim beats him almost to death. In fact at first they think he is dead. Either way they can see no possibility of now releasing him, not after the extent of the beating they have given him. And in any case they’re still confident that he had it coming to him. But that do they do with him now?

Carol is involved as well. She walked in in the middle of the beating, and actually joined in.

Now the tensions start to mount. They have a half-dead man in the cellar, and they can’t release him since they would certainly be charged with kidnapping with violence and go to prison. Do they kill him? Or just hope he dies?

Revenge (1971)

The marriage of Jim and Carol is now under considerable strain, and the strain is telling even more heavily on Lee, putting pressure on his relationship with his girlfriend Rose. Lee is so badly shaken that he can no longer have sex with Rose and he can’t tell her why. Lee’s feelings of sexual inadequacy and his frustrations will have an unexpected and shocking result. A young man suffering from sexual confusion and a stepmother who looks like Joan Collins can be a dangerous combination.

And now the police are asking awkward questions about Seely’s disappearance.

A lot of people seem to dislike this movie. I suspect it’s because it’s not the movie they expected. It’s not a horror movie or an action thriller. It’s a study in psychological disintegration as rising tensions create an unbearable atmosphere of paranoia and claustrophobia. Director Sidney Hayers (who’d earlier helmed the superb and subtle 1962 horror film Night of the Eagle, known as Burn, Witch, Burn in the US) knows exactly what he’s trying to achieve and he keeps things deliberately low-key. He’s aiming for a slow burn, and he gets it.

Revenge (1971)

The strong cast is a major asset. Kenneth Griffith is ambiguously creepy as Seely. We know there’s something very wrong with him but we’re never quite certain if he’s really a killer. James Booth is outstanding as Jim Radford. The always reliable Australian character actor Ray Barrett is solid as always. This is a very atypical Joan Collins performance but she’s excellent. All of the cast members contribute nicely restrained performances, saving the histrionics for the moments when they’re needed.

There’s one very brief nude scene (from Joan Collins of course) and two sex scenes, one of them a very disturbing scene which Hayers handles skillfully and as tastefully as such a disturbing scene can be handled. There’s nothing exploitative about it and it’s essential to the plot but it’s still unsettling (as it’s intended to be). The one moment of explicit violence is handled just as adroitly and again for maximum shock effect, which is certainly justified.

Revenge (1971)

If you can accept this movie on its own terms then I think it can be accounted a considerable success. Definitely recommended.

The Scorpion Region 1 DVD is presented as part of their Katarina’s Nightmare Theatre range in a good non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. The only extras are a brief intro and equally brief afterward by horror hostess (and professional wrestler) Katarina Leigh Waters who contributes a couple of items of interesting trivia.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Journey Beneath the Desert (1961)

I’m slightly obsessed with Pierre Benoît’s 1919 novel Queen of Atlantis (L’Atlantide). I’ve now seen three screen adaptations of his novel, the most recent being Journey Beneath the Desert (L'Atlantide).

This 1961 Franco-Italian co-production clearly had a somewhat troubled production history given that the IMDb lists no less than three directing credits - Giuseppe Masini, Frank Borzage and Edgar G. Ulmer. The general assumption seems to be that the movie is largely the work of Ulmer.

It’s by far the least faithful to the novel of the three film versions that I’ve seen but it does have some interesting features. Perhaps surprisingly the most faithful and the best of the film versions I’ve seen remains the wonderfully entertaining 1949 Hollywood B-picture Siren of Atlantis, and perhaps even more surprisingly the actress who comes closest to nailing the character of the mysterious Queen Antinea is Maria Montez in that same 1949 version.

But back to Journey Beneath the Desert. The novel tells of two Foreign Legionnaires who discover a lost civilisation that proves to be the fabled city of Atlantis. This part of the story is retained in the movie. The movie tells us that Atlantis was not buried beneath the waves - it was left stranded in the middle of the Sahara Desert when the oceans retreated after a catastrophic earthquake. Now three men (John, Robert and Pierre) undertaking an aerial survey of the desert shortly before a nuclear test discover the city hidden in a mountain range in the desert. They also discover that if Atlantis is difficult to find, it’s even more difficult to leave. Many people have stumbled upon the city but it is said that none has ever succeeded in leaving.

The city is ruled by the beautiful Queen Antinea. Antinea was the last ruler of Atlantis but our travelers are told that her spirit is reincarnated in every girl who subsequently becomes queen. Atlantis has always been ruled by Queen Antinea, and always will be.

Our three heroes are now more or less prisoners. They’re not too happy about that, especially with an atom bomb test about to take place which threatens the final destruction of the city. But life in Atlantis does have one compensation - Queen Antinea. Many men have loved Antinea and it’s not surprising that two of our heroes fall for her considerable charms.

There is some reason to doubt the story they have been told about the city. It’s odd that an ancient city is guarded by soldiers armed with submachine guns, and it’s even odder that the man who appears to be Queen Antinea’s grand vizier, Tamal, knows all about the upcoming atomic bomb test - he’s been following the news on his radio.

The mountains in which Atlantis is located are rich in a rare and valuable mineral. One of our three heroes happens to be a mineralogist and he immediately recognises the immense value of these deposits. Tamal obviously knows their value as well - he has an army of slaves working the mines extracting the ore.

One of our heroes decides that the best way to make his escape is by leading a revolt of the slaves but what can slaves do against men with submachine guns? And escaping would mean not seeing Antinea again, and at least one of our heroes doesn’t like that idea at all. Antinea’s lovers are often discarded but they never leave her voluntarily.

For what must have been a fairly low budget movie it looks pretty impressive although the full visual impact of the movie is somewhat lost in the very poor prints that are available.

The acting reaches no great heights. Jean-Louis Trintignant is adequate but was clearly more interested in his pay cheque than in the movie. Haya Harareet certainly looks the part as Antinea and her rather revealing costumes show off her charms to considerable effect.

The changes made to the original story are sometimes interesting and were clearly an effort to make the movie resonate more with 1961 audiences but they do have the effect of losing much of the exotic poetry and mystery of Benoît’s novel.

While the pacing is on the slow side this is a reasonably entertaining movie and not without interest.

Sinister Cinema’s DVD-R version seems to be the only edition of this movie available anywhere and unfortunately it’s taken from a truly awful print. It’s fullframe which is bad enough (the movie was shot in a 2.20:1 aspect ratio) and the colours are very badly faded. In fact at times they’re so faded it looks like a black-and-white movie. This is also a great pity since the movie was shot in Technicolor.

If a good widescreen print of this movie ever surfaces on DVD it’s possible that the movie’s reputation might have to be considerably revised upwards.

Worth a look if you don’t set your hopes too high.

Curiously enough the best adaptation of Benoit's novel is the 1949 B-movie Siren of Atlantis. G. W. Pabst's 1932 Mistress of Atlantis is interesting but has a few problems.

Sunday 8 July 2012

The Night Caller (1965)

The Night Caller (1965)John Gilling had a busy career in the British film industry in the 1950 writing and directing mostly crime films. At the beginning of the 60s he switched to horror and science fiction. He directed quite a few films for Hammer, including a couple of their best (The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies). And in 1965, for a small independent production company, he made The Night Caller (AKA The Night Caller from Outer Space AKA Bloodbeast from Outer Space).

It’s an object lesson in how to make a science fiction movie on a very low budget with minimal special effects.

A meteor is picked up on radar, heading for London. At least the boffins at the government research station at Fansley Park think it’s a meteor, until it suddenly changes course. Something meteors are not noted for doing. They speed off to the spot where the supposed meteor came down (and these are fairly cool scientists since they head there in a rather nice little MGB sports car). They find that the army is already there, in force.

From the size of the meteor they’re expecting a large crater but there’s no crater at all, just a small crystalline globe resting on the ground. This is clearly no meteor. But what is it?

The Night Caller (1965)

They X-ray the globe and discover it’s a thin silicon shell encasing a network of crystal filaments. The globe doesn’t actually do anything, or not at first anyway. But later that night one of the researchers, Miss Barlow (Patricia Haines), has a strange experience. She has a severe headache and reports seeing a strong glow coming from the room in which the sphere is stored. Even more disturbingly she reports being grabbed by a claw-like arm.

The facility is heavily guarded by troops and no-one saw anyone enter or leave the room so the major in charge is inclined to dismiss her story as mere nerves. Although as one of the other scientists remarks next morning that seems strange since she is most definitely not the nervous type.

The Night Caller (1965)

The chief scientist, Dr Morley (Maurice Denham), locks himself in the room with the sphere. This has even more spectacular, and even more unpleasant, results. And when the soldiers break into the room the globe has gone.

Then all hell breaks loose when Dr Morley’s assistant, Dr Costain (John Saxon), breaks the story to the press. And it’s quite a story. In the three weeks since the sphere arrived no less than twenty-one young women have disappeared and Dr Costain is convinced that their disappearances are linked to the mysterious sphere. Detective-Superintendent Hartley from Scotland Yard (Alfred Burke) is called in to investigate the disappearances.

The Night Caller (1965)

Hartley soon uncovers a clue. All the girls had answered an advertisement in Bikini Girl magazine. The advertisement promises film and television work for attractive young women and more than two hundred girls replied. The magazine can only tell him that the ad was placed by a man named Medra. Medra was also the name of a man who called at the house of one of the young women the day before she vanished.

The place set a trap but it misfires badly and Medra escapes. It is becoming clear that Dr Costain is right - this Medra is no ordinary man. And observation of radio signals from one of the moons of Jupiter, Ganymede, suggests that the source of both the sphere and of Medra is in fact Ganymede.

The Night Caller (1965)

But what do the inhabitants of Ganymede want from Earth? The answer to that question is fairly clear - they want women! But why?

This whole story could easily have been very silly indeed (and there are in fact moments of deliberate humour) but in general it’s played fairly straight. The movie gets away with this largely because of the quality of the cast. Alfred Burke (a wonderful character actor on the verge of TV stardom with the terrific private eye series Public Eye) is the standout but he gets fine support from the other principal actors and there are some great cameos by excellent actors like Warren Mitchell.

Director John Gilling doesn’t let the pace falter and the movie has (considering the plot’s camp potential) some unexpectedly dark moments.

The Night Caller (1965)

Image Entertainment’s DVD release has little in the way of extras but it’s a very nice transfer that does full justice to the very good black-and-white cinematography.

This is a fun movie with some nicely atmospheric moments. There’s a nicely seedy and slightly sleazy feel to the scenes set in Soho. Overall it’s considerably better than the plot synopsis might suggest and it’s worth a look. Recommended.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (1970)

Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (AKA Tokyo Bad Girls), released in 1970, was the first of Toei Studios’ Delinquent Girl Boss series and if you’ve always been a bit cautious about diving into the pinky violence pond than this is a relatively benign introduction to this fascinating genre of Japanese exploitation movies.

When I say it’s relatively benign that’s not to say that Blossoming Night Dreams doesn’t have a great deal of violence. It does. But it lacks the edge of sadism that puts some people off movies such as the Female Prisoner #701 series or Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs.

This was director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s first feature film and it has to be said that it’s a rather assured effort.

It also launched Reiko Oshida as a pinky violence star although she never was never able to achieve quite the level of success of the greats such as Reiko Ike or Miki Sugimoto.

Rika (Reiko Oshida) is an inmate in the Akagi School for female juvenile delinquents. When she is released she gets a job in a laundry but when her sleazy boss tries to crawl into bed with her she decides to look for alternative employment. Rika is wild and hot-tempered but she’s also loyal and basically good-natured, and she sincerely wants to go straight. When she does find another job as a bar girl in Shinjuku it’s perhaps not entirely respectable but the good news is that all the girls there are former Akagi inmates. Even the mama-san Umeko is an ex-juvenile delinquent.

Umeko has some big problems at the moment. The local Yakuza boss Ohshida wants her bar and he’s not inclined to take no for an answer. One of the other girls, Mari, has her troubles too - her sister Bunny became a junkie after being raped by Ohshida’s thugs and she is constantly getting into trouble. When she steals drugs from Boss Ohshida’s men both Umeko and Rika will find themselves drawn into a nightmare world of confrontation with the yakuza.

It might be a nightmare world but these are not exactly poor defenceless women. They’re tough, brave and resourceful and the yakuza will find they’ve taken on rather more than they can handle. Even more importantly Umeko and her girls have a bond of unbreakable loyalty which we will discover counts for more than mere thuggery. As pinky violence films go this one can almost be said to be inspiring and optimistic in its own blood-drenched and twisted way.

There’s also a sub-plot, which will later become important, involving Umeko’s ex-boyfriend Shinjuro, a yakuza henchman who was responsible for her father’s death. As you might expect she has conflicted feelings towards him. As much as she hates him for killing her father she has to admit she still loves him, and after all her father was a yakuza too and killing is just business for such people.

Cinematographer Hanjirô Nakazawa’s work is a highlight, bringing to life an exciting portrait of 1970 Tokyo nightlife that may or may not have borne any resemblance to reality, but it certainly looks great. There’s a sprinkling of great Japanese 1970 pop music (including a number by popular girl group Golden Half. And some fabulous early 70s fashions. These bar girls know how to dress! The dazzling colour photography combined with the music and the truly gorgeous dresses creates a kaleidoscopic extravaganza.

There’s always at least some comic relief in Japanese exploitation movies and the Japanese sense of humour can be disconcertingly vulgar, even compared to modern American teen movies. But the comedy elements in Blossoming Night Dreams (which are considerable) are much less crude than usual. At times it’s almost in danger of becoming quite good-natured. At least until the violence starts to escalate.

The movie is available on DVD individually or in a Tokyo Shock two-movie set (which is the one I bought) called the Delinquent Girl Boss Collection with another unrelated pinky violence film, Girl Boss Revenge (which I’m looking forward to since it stars the great, the fabulous, the one and only Miki Sugimoto). Blossoming Night Dreams is presented in an anamorphic transfer which is truly stunning.

There are better pinky violence films than Blossoming Night Dreams but it’s still a real treat and is highly recommended. Now I have to track down Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless To Confess which is unfortunately the only other movie in the Delinquent Girl Boss series available on DVD.