Friday 31 August 2012

The Night of the Sorcerers (1973)

Amando de Ossorio is known among horror fans mostly for his Blind Dead cycle. Which is a pity, since he made some other ridiculously entertaining movies such as The Loreley’s Grasp and this one, The Night of the Sorcerers (La noche de los brujos).

This Spanish production dates from 1973, right slap bang in the golden age of Spanish horror.

The pre-credits sequence takes us back to 1910, in Bumbasa, deep in Darkest Africa. A missionary’s is about to be sacrificed to the voodoo gods. We then jump forward to the 1970s when a small expedition arrives in Bumbasa. They are there to collect material for an article on disappearing African wildlife.

They meet a European trader who warns them that this is a dangerous locality. Voodoo is still practised, and nearby is the spot where the sorcerers used to make their sacrifices to the voodoo gods. But when do characters in a horror movie ever listen to warnings?

The expedition comprises two men, big game hunter Rod Carter and Professor Grant, an expert in African wildlife, plus three women. One of the women is Rod’s girlfriend, one is a photographer and the third is the daughter of the man who financed the expedition. Pretty soon they start hearing drums in the night. The photographer figures this would be a good opportunity to get some photos. Since they’ve been warned about the dangers in the area she naturally decides the wisest thing to do is to wander off into the jungle on her own. She will soon pay the price for her rashness. She won’t be the last victim of the zombie sorcerers!

The long-dead sorcerers are still making their regular sacrifices. The sacrifice is a woman, who after her death becomes an immortal leopard woman.

Early on one of the characters talks about voodoo, zombies and magic. And yes, this movie has all three! It also has sex, sleaze and sadism. And leopard-print bikinis (with rather fetching matching leopard-print capes). And who’s that driving the first Land-Rover of the expedition in the movie’s first post-credits sequence? It’s Jack Taylor! With Jack Taylor’s presence this movie leaves not a single eurosleaze box unticked.

Amando de Ossorio has a knack for coming up with impressive visual set-pieces on limited budgets. That’s really what low-budget film-making is all about - finding ways to express your visual flair whilst spending very little money. This movie has several such sequences.

Of course by the standards of conventional film criticism this is a bad movie, albeit one with plenty of camp appeal. But it has to be judged by what it sets out to achieve - a mix of sleaze and horror done with a certain amount of style. Judged by those standards, it’s a complete success.

It’s also vastly entertaining. It has all the right ingredients and de Ossorio combines them with considerable skill. We’re not meant to take any of it very seriously. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable exploitation movie and it has all the exploitation elements in very large quantities. There’s quite a bit of gore, there’s plenty of nudity, and it’s very sleazy in a lightweight but fun way.

Writer-director de Ossorio keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace. He creates a suitable sinister atmosphere, and as with the visual set-pieces he does it cheaply and economically with drums and fog effects and simple makeup effects. Everything is done on the cheap but the results are impressive enough. The acting is basic but it gets the job done.

What it all adds up is non-stop entertainment. While it’s not quite as good as The Loreley’s Grasp it’s just as much fun. If you take your horror movies very seriously give this one a miss. If you’re content to just sit back and wallow in gloriously trashy eurosleaze then this one is a must-see. I recommend it very highly.

Monday 27 August 2012

The Brick Dollhouse (1967)

The Brick Dollhouse is part of a David F. Friedman triple-feature from Something Weird, a set that also includes A Sweet Sickness and the classic A Smell of Honey, A Taste of Brine. The Brick Dollhouse had not been completed when Friedman’s production company picked it up and Friedman himself finished the picture.

The plot is threadbare even by the standards of 60s sexploitation movies. Three beautiful girls arrive home one day to find that their flatmate Min Lee has been murdered. The police are called and the plot (such as it is) is told in flashback as the three girls tell Min Lee’s story.

Most of the flashbacks consist of party scenes and scenes of the three girls undressing. The party scenes are typical of sexploitation movies - a bizarre mixture of depravity and innocence. The parties frequented by these young women consist of lots of drug-taking combined with such ever-popular party games as spin the bottle. Which is as good an excuse as any for the young ladies to disrobe.

The men at these parties seem to be more interested in getting stoned and staring vacantly into space than fooling around with the girls but the girls demonstrate an impressive determination to get their interest. There’s lots of topless go-go dancing and that’s something that no movie can have too much of. One of the girls also demonstrates that pool tables can be put to much more interesting uses than paying pool.

The main suspect is Min Lee’s very butch girlfriend but she vociferously protests her innocence. It  transpires that Min Lee was pretty friendly with a certain Linda but that didn’t stop her from flirting with a series of men.

Joyanna, the wonderful star of The Girl from S.I.N., is Min Lee. Her role in The Brick Dollhouse doesn’t give her as much opportunity to be wickedly seductive but she does her best. The other cast members were clearly chosen more for their willingness to shed their clothes than for their acting talent but luckily this movie doesn’t require much in the way of acting abilities.

The Brick Dollhouse was fairly ambitious for a 1967 sexploitation feature, being shot in colour and with synchronised sound.

It has plenty of attractive women and vast amounts of nudity as well as the lesbianism that was de rigeur for exploitation movies and a classic 1960s feel (drugs, sex and bongo drums). Unfortunately it not only has no plot to speak of, it also lacks the edge of weirdness and general craziness that connoisseurs of sexploitation movies look for. On the other hand, despite the murder mystery plot, it’s basically good-natured. And it has go-go dancing.

Something Weird have excelled themselves with the transfer of this movie. It looks amazingly good and the colours are wonderfully vivid which enhances the vague psychedelic vibe.

Friday 24 August 2012

Texas, addio (1967)

Texas, addio (1967)Texas, addio (Goodbye Texas) is a routine spaghetti western, neither a bad film or a good one. It’s simply average in every department.

Directed by Ferdinando Baldi in 1967, this Italian-Spanish co-production is a revenge story. Yes, another one of those.

Burt Sullivan (Franco Nero) is the sheriff of a small town in Texas not far from the Mexican border. The opening scene shows us Burt driving a bounty killer out of town, thus establishing his character as a man who believes in the rule of law. He then promptly sets off on a private mission of revenge, which undermines this initial impression just a little. His kid brother Jim manages to persuade Burt to let him tag along.

Many years earlier their father had been murdered by a man named Cisco Delgado. Now Burt has decided that it’s time justice was done. He believes Delgado is in Mexico, so that’s where they’re headed.

Texas, addio (1967)

Once across the border they arrive at the town where Burt believes Delgado can be found. It is not a happy town. It’s also not a peaceful town. Within ten minutes of arriving they witness a mass execution and Burt kills four men in a brawl in the local taverna. The town’s sheriff (or the equivalent of the sheriff), rather reasonably in the circumstances one might think, orders Burt and Jim to return to Texas. But Burt has no intention of doing do. He’s come to find Delgado, and that’s what he intends to do.

Getting information from the townspeople proves rather difficult. Everyone is too scared to talk to them. The town is under the control of an evil rich landowner, one of the many clichés which litter this film (in fact the entire movie is composed of a succession of standard western clichés). Predictably enough the evil rich landowner is none other than Cisco Delgado.

Texas, addio (1967)

Burt and Jim eventually find Delgado, after killing a whole bunch of other bad guys. At this point they encounter the movie’s major plot twist. In fact it’s the movie’s only plot twist. It turns out that Delgado is rather more than just their father’s murderer. Since the movie only possesses this one plot twist I won’t reveal it, except to say that it makes the matter of   taking Delgado back to Texas to stand trial a bit complicated.

After that dozens of other bad guys get shot. There’s a revolution against the wicked Delgado which offers the opportunity for some fairly large-scale gun battles. Then comes the final showdown.

Texas, addio (1967)

Baldi’s direction is entirely competent and entirely uninspired. The script is, as I’ve already indicated, nothing more than a string of clichés.

Technically it’s all very proficient but not very involving. Apart from its other flaws there is no attempt at characterisation so it’s hard to care very much about the outcome. Franco Nero appears to be too busy worrying about his pay cheque to bother with any actual acting and I can’t say I entirely blame him. The other actors are adequate enough considering the two-dimensionality of the characters they’re playing.

Texas, addio (1967)

There’s a huge body count and there’s plenty of action. If you really love spaghetti westerns there’s nothing particularly to dislike other than the fact that you’ve seen everything this movie has to offer in countless other examples of the genre. It’s not a bad movie but it’s not one that’s likely to stay in your memory. For fans of the genre it’s maybe worth a rental or worth buying if you find it in the bargain bin but it’s certainly not worth actively seeking out.

The all-region PAL DVD from an outfit called Dixie Bell is a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer that is as average as the film.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

If you enjoy Paul Naschy’s movies then Horror Rises from the Tomb (El espanto surge de la tumba) has everything you could possibly desire.

It has evil sorcerers, vampires and zombies, a magical talisman, lots or gore and plenty of nudity. And it has a script that is exactly like every other movie that Paul Naschy wrote.

Naschy is Alaric de Marnac, a 15th century sorcerer, and as the movie opens he is about to be executed along with his beautiful vampire companion, Mabille De Lancré (Helga Liné). The couple curse their executioners and promise to return to take their vengeance.

Then, as in most of Naschy’s movies, we cut to the present day. A descendant of Alaric de Marnac and a group of his friends have the very unwise idea of holding a séance. naturally they summon up the evil spirit of the dead sorcerer. They then have an even more unwise idea - to go to the de Marnac country house, deep in the remote mountains where the inhabitants don’t know that the Middle Ages ever ended, to find out if the legend is true that de Marnac’s head was buried separately from his body.

Naturally the evil spirit compels our intrepid but foolish adventurers to dig up the head. They had yet another dumb idea - to hire some local cut-throats to help them with the digging. Pretty soon the evil spirit is making use of the zombie-fied bodies of the criminals to reunite his head with his body so that he can enact the rites that will restore the vampire  Mabille to life. He and Mabille can then have some good times killing everybody they can find and tearing out their hearts (fresh hearts being their favourite tasty treats).

Before long just about everybody is either dead or has been turned into a zombie, or both. Luckily the painter friend of the present-day descendant of de Marnac has seen a few zombie movies and he remembers that zombies hate fire. And luckily the beautiful Elvira (Emma Cohen) remembers that her dad used to own a talisman that would protect the wearer from the spirits of evil sorcerers. But the cast is biting the dust so rapidly that we wonder if anyone will be left to destroy the evil forces. Then we remember this is a Paul Naschy movie, so somebody will survive long enough to do just that.

Carlos Aured directed this one and while he’s not one of the great horror directors he does a competent job.

Paul Naschy plays the same character (or the same pair of characters) he always played. If you enjoy Naschy’s acting that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This was apparently Helga Liné’s first foray into the horror genre and she makes a great evil sexy vampire. Víctor Alcázar as the modern de Marnac’s buddy is adequate as is the rest of the supporting cast.

Like most Spanish horror movies of that era this one was shot in both a “clothed” version for the heavily censored Spanish market and a “nude” version for other markets. BCI offers us the nude version and there’s enough nudity and gore to satisfy any horror fan.

BCI released this movie as part of a two-DVD package that also included Amando de Ossorio’s The Loreley's Grasp (which is a much better movie). Both movies are presented in absolutely superb anamorphic widescreen transfers and both look stunning. Horror Rises from the Tomb includes a commentary track by Naschy and director Carlos Aured. If you can get hold of a copy of this two-movie set buy it. It’s worth it just for The Loreley's Grasp and you can consider Horror Rises from the Tomb as a bonus.

Horror Rises from the Tomb is strictly for Naschy fans but it’s fun if you don’t take it too seriously.

Recommended as a guilty pleasure.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Girl Boss Revenge (1973)

Girl Boss Revenge (Sukeban) might not be the best of the pinky violence movies made by Toei Studios in the 70s but it’s typical of the breed and it’s a highly enjoyable slice of Japanese exploitation cinema.

Directed by Norifumi Suzuki in 1973 it once again pairs Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike as rival girl bosses. The director had discovered both actresses at the same time and both became major stars for Toei but when Reiko Ike left the studio Miki Sugimoto became the bigger star. When Ike returned to Toei she found herself playing second fiddle to Sugimoto but the two actresses were such a dynamic combination that the studio (wisely) continued to pair them together.

The Girl Boss series of movies (of which this was the fourth) are linked by common themes rather than by common characters and they all function perfectly well as standalone movies.

As this film opens a busload of female juvenile delinquents is on its way to a juvenile facility. Maya (Reiko Ike) and Komasa (Miki Sugimoto) have already clashed on the bus, but theirs is an enmity based on mutual respect (a theme which will dominate the movie). The prison van is hijacked and the girls escape.

Komasa has always been a loner but several of her fellow escapees attach themselves to her and ask her to be their girl boss. In Japanese female juvenile delinquent movies the girl boss is a crucial figure. She is in many ways like a samurai - she lives by the code of the warrior. When Komasa and Maya meet their meeting is very much like Ike and Sugimoto’s meeting in Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom (also directed by Norifumi Suzuki) - they recognise each other as fellow warriors.

When a girl boss gathers a group of followers it is more than just a girl gang - it involves mutual responsibilities and it imposes a duty on the girl boss to protect her followers, even at the risk of her own life. This is another theme that is particularly pronounced in the female juvenile delinquent movies of Norifumi Suzuki. Komasa accepts the girls as her followers, and she accepts the responsibilities that entails.

The 1970s Japan of Norifumi Suzuki is a tough place for a girl juvenile delinquent. It is a world dominated by organised crime, by the yakuza. And to the yakuza women are merely a source of money. The yakuza gang that controls the city runs a major prostitution racket based on Turkish bath houses and they recruit unsuspecting women wherever they can find them, including members of the girl gangs.

This brings us to another theme that runs through Norifumi Suzuki’s movies - there are many men in postwar Japan, both men in respectable positions and in organised crime, who claim to live by the code of bushido but it is the girl bosses who truly live (and if necessary die) by that code. The yakuza care about money and power while the girl boss is more concerned about honour. The female juvenile delinquent gangs are bound together by a loyalty that the yakuza do not possess - the girls have to stick together in order to survive, and if one girl is in trouble the others have to come to her aid because no-one else will and the girls understand this. You risk your life for a fellow gang member because you know that if the position were reversed she would risk her life for you.

Komasa’s gang, the Kanto Gypsies, soon come into conflict with the local yakuza. This will bring them into contact with Tatsuo, Maya’s boyfriend, and eventually with Maya herself. Tatsuo is a member of the yakuza gang and he is ambitious but he lacks the code of honour that both Komasa and Maya live by. He is both a weak and a tragic figure and his betrayals will put Maya’s life in danger. His betrayals will also bring the two rival girl bosses, Komasa and Maya, together. Maya might be her enemy and her sworn rival but when the chips are down Komasa will stand by her because her code of honour will not allow her to do anything else. The yakuza regard women as little more than pieces of meat but to Komasa Maya is a fellow warrior who lives by the same code that Komasa lives by, and a warrior does not abandon a comrade to thugs like the yakuza.

Miki Sugomoto is of course awesome. She is one of the great cult movie heroines, a capable and charismatic actress with an extraordinary screen presence. Reiki Ike has the lesser part but she makes the most of it and demonstrates her star quality.

This movie is perhaps less flamboyant than some of Norifumi Suzuki’s other films but it’s still a stylish offering. The violence is often disturbing, which is something that a fan of these pinky violence movies has to come to terms with. There are some horrifying moments of violence against women but that is an inherent part of the world of pinky violence films - it is the violence the women suffer that brings them together and confirms their bonds of loyalty, and gives them the strength to fight back. And fight back they certainly do. In this sense they’re rather similar to the rape revenge movies that were popular at the time in European and American cinema - the violence against women is not merely gratuitous but serves a dramatic function, and the women will have their vengeance.

Norifumi Suzuki’s movies can be rather confronting (as can all of Toei’s pinky violence films) but there’s always a positive message of women standing by each other and if you can get past the graphic violence they’re stylish and very enjoyable examples of exploitation cinema at its most interesting.

Norifumi Suzuki was always good at staging action sequences and the climactic battle between the girls and the yakuza is the sort of spectacular action set-piece that fans of this genre look forward to.

The Tokyo Shock Delinquent Girl Bosses Collection DVD pairs this movie with Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams, an unrelated but equally interesting 1970 Toei production. Both movies are presented in anamorphic widescreen transfers and both look impressive.


Thursday 16 August 2012

The Girl from S.I.N. (1966)

The Girl from S.I.N. is classic American sexploitation from the greatest era of that genre, the early to mid-60s. This one in fact dates from 1966.

The leader of the diabolical spy agency known as S.I.N., the evil Doctor Sexus, wants to get hold of Professor Drake’s latest top-secret invention. Professor Drake is working on an invisibility drug. When S.I.N.’s heavies descend upon his laboratory his beautiful assistant Karen overhears from the next room. She realises that the only way to help the unfortunate scientist is to use the invisibility pills herself. Quickly stripping off her clothes she takes one of the pills and is able to temporarily foil S.I.N.’s plans.

Now S.I.N. has put their top operative, Poontang Plenty (Secret Agent 0069), on the case. She has never failed to get results, sometimes by unconventional means as we see in the pre-credits sequence where she distracts her victim by pouring champagne on his toes and sucking them.

Meanwhile Karen has taken refuge in the photographer’s studio next door to professor Drake’s laboratory. Sam, the photographer, has just completed a nude photo shoot. Since Karen is beautiful and naked she soon gets Sam’s attention. He is anxious to help.

Unfortunately Karen’s brave efforts lead to her capture by S.I.N. and she is put to the torture by steam bath. Will S.I.N. get the invisibility formula? Will the lustful Poontang add another victim to her score? You’ll have to watch the movie to see the exciting conclusion folks.

One of the many joys of these 60s sexploitation films is the amusing ways they manage to use their plots to justify the nudity. To use the invisibility pills Karen must first take all her clothes off. And (a very convenient plot point this one) the effect of the invisibility pills is only temporary so Karen keeps re-appearing, stark naked.

Like many of this genre this film was so low-budget they didn’t even have synchronised sound. There were two ways in which the sexploitation film-makers could overcome this difficulty. The first way was the Doris Wishman approach - always have the actors facing away from the camera when they’re supposed to be speaking their dialogue. The second method was that taken here - using a voiceover narration to compensate for there being no dialogue at all. It is in effect a silent film which adds to its charm and its oddness.

Oddness and exuberant craziness are of course major ingredients in the best 60s sexploitation features and The Girl from S.I.N. has its share of both. It’s a silly but engaging spy spoof with lots of naked flesh.

Being 1966 you’re going to see any frontal nudity or explicit sex scenes but there’s still a great deal of nudity. Mary O’Hara is naked for most of her screen time, and she’s in most of the movie. June Roberts as Sam’s model is nude for all of her screen time. Joyana as Agent 0069 shows us very little flesh but she makes up for it with her enthusiasm and kinkiness.

There are many familiar faces here for fans of sexploitation movies. Sam Stewart who plays the photographer was in many of Doris Wishman’s weird and wonderful movies. The acting isn’t exactly good but it suits the material. Joyana certainly gives the part of Poontang Plenty everything she’s got.

The Girl from S.I.N. was directed by C. Davis Smith, Wishman’s regular cinematographer. He does a creditable job and the result is a movie that is great fun. Treat it as a sexploitation movie or a spy spoof - either way it’s highly entertaining in an engagingly silly way.

Something Weird have as usual managed to get hold of a very decent print and picture quality is generally good with very few signs of print damage. It’s paired as a double-feature with Henry’s Night In. Highly recommended.

Monday 13 August 2012

Snake Dancer (1976)

Snake Dancer (AKA Glenda) has the distinction of being South Africa’s only sexploitation movie, and it’s an interesting oddity.

Glenda Kemp achieved both celebrity and notoriety in South Africa as the Sunday School teacher who became the country’s most famous stripper. In a conservative and intensely religious nation that was bound to land her in trouble, and it did. Glenda was (and is, as she’s still alive) an intriguing mix - a deeply religious woman who had absolutely no inhibitions about her body.

To film-maker Dirk de Villiers Glenda’s story sounded like ideal material for a movie, and he was even more convinced it was a good idea when he managed to persuade Glenda to play herself in the movie. Given South Africa’s incredibly strict censorship it had to be made in two versions - a very tame version for domestic release and a very much raunchier international version.

He had high hopes for the movie but sadly those hopes were to be dashed. The domestic version had to be made so tame that no-one was interested in seeing it. The international version had potential but unfortunately de Villiers, although already an experienced film-maker, was a complete novice when it came to dealing with international distributors and the movie sank without trace. It was also a matter of bad timing - by 1976 even the international version was too tame.

The movie takes a few liberties with Glenda’s life story (especially in the ending) but in its essentials it follows her career relatively closely.

As the movie opens Glenda is a girl who dreams of being a dancer. Her foster-parents want her to become a teacher but while she finishes her studies she never lets go of that dream. She studies ballet but the first turning point in her life comes when she gets a job as a go-go dancer in a nightclub. She loves this job but the second turning point in her life comes when she is persuaded, very reluctantly, to moonlight as a stripper. She discovers that she likes this very much indeed.

Her act, which combines stripping with dancing and snakes, is a sensation. Snakes are the other passion in her life. She has a pet python and he becomes part of her act. As her fame grows she finds that she is also attracting some very unwanted attention from the police who are determined to save South Africa from such filth. This is quite perplexing to Glenda as she honestly cannot understand why anyone would find her act offensive. She considers herself to be a dancer, not a stripper. She just happens to do most of her dancing naked.

Her notoriety as South Africa’s queen of strip-tease also causes her some major boyfriend problems. She and Ken are in love and intend to get married but Ken is very conservative and cannot cope with the idea of being married to a stripper.

That’s the basics of the plot and while it’s fairly slender it’s as much of a plot as you expect  in a sexploitation movie. The real highlights of the movie are Glenda’s dancing sequences.  She’s certainly uninhibited and she finds very imaginative things to do with snakes.

Getting Glenda to play herself was a pretty shrewd move. It garnered the movie lots of publicity in South Africa but she also does a pretty reasonable job. As an actress Glenda Kemp is quite adequate; as a dancer it’s unlikely that anyone else could have matched her enthusiasm. The character needs to be a combination of innocence with a complete absence of inhibition and she achieves that because she really was like that. She just plays herself and it works.

The movie mostly avoids taking an overt political stance but it’s clearly a movie about freedom versus repression and it makes its point effectively enough. The fact that Glenda is so likeable certainly helps. And when she tells reporters that her act is really quite innocent we have no doubt she honestly believes it.

Dirk de Villiers proves to be a perfectly competent director and it’s generally a well-made film although sometimes he gets a little carried away by the flashbacks. 

This is no masterpiece but it’s entertaining enough as long as you accept it for what it is - the purpose of the movie is to show us Glenda Kemp dancing naked, and that’s what it delivers.

Mondo Macabro have included some enticing extras with this one. There’s a documentary on South African cult cinema. It turns out there isn’t very much in the way of South African cult cinema but the doco does provide some intriguing insights into a film industry that I certainly knew nothing about. There’s also an interview with the director. 

This one is not exactly a must-buy but it’s better than its reputation and its obscurity would suggest.

Friday 10 August 2012

Curse of the Yellow Snake (1963)

Curse of the Yellow Snake (1963)The great success that Rialto Studios had with their early Edgar Wallace krimis inspired other German studios to jump on the Wallace bandwagon. The most notable of Rialto’s rivals was CCC, and Curse of the Yellow Snake (Der Fluch der gelben Schlange), dating from 1963, is one of their productions.

The novel on which it’s based was Wallace’s attempt to jump on a bandwagon as well back in 1926. Sax Rohmer had been making a killing with his Fu Manchu novels and Yellow Peril books were big business and inspired many imitators. Wallace’s The Yellow Snake was a pretty good example of the genre and the movie is actually remarkably faithful to the book.

Stephan Narth is a crooked businessman and he’s in big trouble. He’s been speculating with other people’s money and now he needs to find fifty thousand pounds fast. Salvation seems to have arrived when he receives an odd letter from his fabulously wealthy cousin in Hong Kong, Joe Bray. All Narth needs to do is to marry one of his daughters to a man named Clifford Lynn and he will be in a position to get his hands on Joe Bray’s vast fortune when he dies.

Curse of the Yellow Snake (1963)

Unfortunately Narth’s need of money is immediate and this leads him into the clutches of wealthy businessman Graham St Clay. St Clay will advance him the fifty thousand pounds in return for a few trifling favours. What Narth doesn’t know is that St Clay is half-Chinese, is the son of Joe Bray and the half-brother of Clifford Lynn. Even worse, he doesn’t know that St Clay (or Fing-Su as he is also known) is the leader of a sect of fanatical Chinese known as the Fighting Hands who intend to conquer China by making use of a statue of a yellow snake. The yellow snake guarantees success in battle, provided that the battle commences on a certain propitious day of the year, and that’s when St Clay intends that his conquest of China will begin.

While Narth is making his unlucky deal with St Clay Clifford Lynn arrives in London to marry one of his daughters. His daughter Mabel is not interested but suggests that if Joan (who is Narth’s adopted daughter) can be bullied into marrying Lynn then that will still conform to the letter of Joe Bray’s curious will.

Curse of the Yellow Snake (1963)

As it happens Clifford and Joan hit it off rather well and are soon madly in love but the Fighting Hands keep trying to kill Clifford and then kidnap Joan. St Clay has decided he will force Joan to marry him. Clifford will need to find a way to rescue Joan and foil St Clay’s ambitions whilst staying alive

This is a slightly unusual krimi in that Scotland Yard plays only a peripheral role in the story. To a large extent it’s up to Clifford Lynn’s unaided efforts to scupper the villain’s plot.

It’s also rather surprising to see Joachim Fuchsberger, who played policemen in so many krimis, playing a civilian. He’s the hero, Clifford Lynn, and as usual turns in a solid performance. Brigitte Grothum makes a good heroine as Joan.

Curse of the Yellow Snake (1963)

Where this film does resemble the typical krimi is in the strong supporting cast, with Werner Peters as Narth and Pinkas Braun as St Clay being particularly good. Eddi Arendt as usual provides the comic relief. I find Arendt’s performances to be a lot less irritating in German language prints but he’s bearable enough in this one.

Franz Josef Gottlieb directed several krimis including the excellent The Black Abbot and he knows what he’s doing. He does an impressive and stylish job. The action set-pieces are good and it has the right krimi atmosphere of fog and mystery.

Curse of the Yellow Snake (1963)

The plot is (typically for a krimi) insanely convoluted but it’s great fun and is consistently entertaining. The basic plot idea of the Fighting Hands made more sense back in 1926 when Wallace came up with it. That was the warlord period when China really was up for grabs for unscrupulous adventurers like Graham St Clay and crazed fanatics like the Fighting Hands. In 1963 it was a lot less plausible but the krimis tend to exist in their own parallel universe and such anachronisms don’t matter too much.

The Retromedia DVD is unfortunately the English dubbed version but the good news is that it’s an excellent widescreen print.

Recommended for fans of the Wallace krimis.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Olga's House of Shame (1964)

In the early 60s American sexploitation cinema was dominated by nudie-cuties, rather playful movies combining comedy with nudity. But these innocuous cheap thrills soon gave way to much nastier fare with the rise of the roughie. These films focused more on violence than on sex. Even kinkier thrills soon followed and reached a peak with the Olga films. Olga's House of Shame was the third of the series. The formula of the Olga series had been fixed with the first Olga movie, White Slaves of Chinatown, and Olga's House of Shame adheres rigidly to this formula.

This time Olga (Audrey Campbell) is running her criminal empire from an abandoned mine. Narcotics and prostitution are her staples but she’s now branching out into diamond-smuggling. Olga’s girls are kept in line by strict discipline but some are always tempted by greed. Olga doesn’t like to be cheated and any girl who step out of line can expect severe punishment.

Elaine is one girl who has succumbed to temptation, trying to keep a shipment of diamonds for herself. She is caught by Olga’s brother and pretty soon finds herself in Olga’s dungeon. Elaine stands up pretty well under torture but eventually she cuts a deal with Olga and is rewarded by being made Olga’s second-in-command. Elaine enjoys her new position. It gives her a chance to be the one handing out the punishments and Elaine has proved herself to be an apt pupil.

The plot is more or less non-existent. It’s really just a series of vignettes as various girls in Olga’s employment step out of line and pay the price for their disobedience.

There’s only a small amount of nudity in the Olga movies but there’s plenty of kinkiness. Compared to the graphic violence and S&M that would feature in 1970s sexploitation genres such as the women-in-prison movies the Olga movies are actually fairly tame. Much of the violence is implied rather than shown graphically and the end results are more high camp than anything else.

Audrey Campbell has a great time as Olga. She chews every piece of scenery in sight. Her performances are without a doubt the highlight of the Olga movies. Audrey knows how to wield a whip but Olga comes across as an outrageous comic-book dominatrix. It’s that high camp feel that saves these movies from being merely sleazy. They are certainly very sleazy, but in an amusing way. No-one could possibly take these movies seriously.

Olga has other interests besides torture. Lesbianism would become a staple of sexploitation movies and when Olga isn’t disciplining her girls she’s trying to seduce them. They don’t put up much resistance. This particular Olga movie features a bizarre lesbian foursome scene that is as camp as anything you’ll find in exploitation cinema. The dance performed by one of Olga’s girls to get the others into the mood for lesbian rompings is another bizarre highlight. There’s nothing like belly dancing to get women turned on, apparently.

These movies were made on minimal budgets and mostly without synchronised sound. Production values are pretty much non-existent. That’s part of the charm of American sexploitation movies. The acting is bad, the script is laughable and the entire movie is delightfully cheesy.

Like most roughies Olga's House of Shame was shot in grungy black-and-white giving it a wonderfully seedy feel.

Something Weird have found an excellent print, as always. It’s unlikely that the movie ever looked or sounded any better than this. This one is included in a three-movie Olga set.

The Olga movies are classics of their type, more silly than offensive and weirdly fascinating.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, released in 1977, was the last of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies. Sinbad had been good to Harryhausen - these movies offered the perfect field for his special effects genius. And this is a reasonably worthy successor to the earlier Sinbad movies.

Although Sam Wanamaker directed it’s fair to describe this as Harryhausen’s movie - apart from doing the special effects he co-produced it and co-wrote the story.

Sinbad (Patrick Wayne) returns from a long sea voyage to find big trouble at home. He’s looking forward to seeing the beautiful Princess Farah (Jane Seymour) again but he finds the city gates locked. He is told there is plague in the city but when he finds Princess Farah he discovers the real trouble is rather different. Farah’s brother Kassim was about to be crowned as Caliph when something horrible happened, something that can only be explained by witchcraft - Kassim was turned into a baboon.

Farah is devoted to her brother and she has no doubts as to who is responsible - it is her evil stepmother Zenobia (Margaret Whiting). Zenobia wants the crown for her own son.

If Kassim cannot be crowned within seven moons he will lose his claim to the throne, so even if there is a way to restore him it will be a race against time. Against witchcraft as powerful as this there seems little hope anyway until Sinbad remembers that there may be one man who can help, the legendary alchemist and philosopher Melanthius. The problem is that no-one is sure that Melanthius really exists. Nonetheless Sinbad sets off in his ship, along with Princess Farah and her unfortunate brother, to find him.

Of course they do find him, but Melanthius (Patrick Troughton) has to confess that such powerful black magic is beyond his powers. The only chance for the prince would be to journey to the land of Hyperborea, the home of a legendary ancient civilisation with occult and scientific powers almost beyond imagining, but that is impossible. It lies at the top of the world, a land of snow and ice. Sinbad however is not going to let that daunt him and he sets off to find Hyperborea and persuades Melanthius to come along.

Unfortunately Zenobia is in hot pursuit, in her all-metal ship rowed by a fabulous bronze giant, one of her own creations.

There’s the usual array of Harryhausen monsters and stop-motion effects. Some are very good, others not so good. The giant killer walrus is one of the least effective. The best thing about the monsters is that they’re not all mere monsters - some turn out not to be evil at all. That’s a nice variation and certainly adds interest.

The cast is mostly good. Patrick Wayne (John Wayne’s second son) is a less effective Sinbad than John Philip Law had been in the The Golden Voyage of Sinbad - Law was a much more convincingly exotic hero while Wayne is just a bit too all-American to make the role work. On the other hand he certainly looks the part of an action hero and he has an easy-going charm that makes him impossible to dislike.

Much better is Jane Seymour as Princess Farah, not just looking stunning but doing a creditable acting job. Even better still are Margaret Whiting as Zenobia and Patrick Troughton as Melanthius. Neither misses an opportunity to overact, which is just as it should be in a movie such as this. They’re entertaining enough to carry the movie through some slow spots.

Which brings us to director Sam Wanamaker whose contributions to the movie are less than inspired. The movie is much too long at 113 minutes and the pacing is definitely on the slow side and could have used a bit more action and a bit more imagination in the action sequences that are there.

The script is not overly inspired either, being a bit too much of a recycling of ideas from previous Sinbad movies.

The movie has to rely a great deal on Harryhausen’s monsters and even some of these seem a bit too familiar.

Even with these faults and even admitting that it’s a bit of a disappointment after the superb The Golden Voyage of Sinbad it’s a fun movie in its own way.

Columbia Tristar’s DVD features a terrific transfer.