Friday 30 November 2012

All the Sins of Sodom (1968)

All the Sins of Sodom was made by Joe Sarno in 1968 after his return to the US from Sweden where he’d shot Inga, one of his biggest successes.

All the Sins of Sodom is classic Sarno. A photographer named Henning is obsessed by the idea of capturing the essence of female evil in a photograph. When he meets Leslie (Maria Lease) he believes he’s found what he’s looking for, a model who can portray Salome, the priestesses of Babylonia, the priestesses of Sodom and Gomorrah. She will be the centrepiece of a book of artistic nudes that he believes will propel from from nudie photo shoots into the world of serious photography. He already has the contract for the book - all he needs are the right photos.

As well as photographing her he begins an affair with her. Not that that’s unusual - he ends up in bed with most of his models.

His agent also introduces another model to him, a woman named Joyce. He isn’t interested in photographing her but she’s homeless and he feels sorry for her so he lets her stay in his studio (where he also lives).

His obsession with his photographic sessions with Leslie leads to frustration. He just can’t get her to quite capture the look he wants. Then he gets one of the ideas that seem inspired at the time - he will introduce Joyce into the sessions. Joyce will caress Leslie in order to get her into the right mood. Unfortunately Joyce becomes increasingly sexually obsessed with Henning, while Leslie is finding that for her the affair with Henning is more than just a fling - she is falling hopelessly in love with him.

This is a typical 60s Sarno movie, the sort of movie that elevates Sarno above the ranks of the average sexploitation film-maker. He is not interested in sex as a mechanical act. He is interested in sex as an emotional catalyst, a dangerous psychological game and an obsession. He is more interested in what his characters are feeling than in what they’re doing.

Sarno’s movies required his actors to do real acting, and he chose wisely. And sometimes one suspects that he got performances out of actors that no other exploitation director would have got because he challenged them to find the emotional depths in the characters they portrayed.

He was particularly fortunate in finding Maria Lease. She is both sexy, in a slightly exotic way, and a fine actress. And she has a genuine presence. The actor who plays Henning (all the players are uncredited and most of the perfotmers who appeared in these types of movies used pseudonyms anyway so identifying them is often quite a challenge) is also very good. The actress who plays Joyce is less proficient but she certainly has the right qualities of danger and evil.

Steve Silverman’s moody black-and-white cinematography complements Sarno’s directing style perfectly (he worked with the director quite a few times). The lighting setups are extraordinarily bold and imaginative for such a very low-budget movie with excellent use of light and shadow.

All the Sins of Sodom was shot in New York in early 1968, back-to-back with the excellent Vibrations and the sadly lost Wall of Flesh. It’s an object lesson in low-budget film-making with minimal sets used with great skill.

You can see the ending coming up a mile away but it works, and works well, because Henning can’t see it. And that’s the point. Had he been less obsessed with his pet project, had he remembered (if he ever knew) that models are more than just materials with which a photographer works, then he should have seen it coming. This is movie that is as much about artistic obsession as sexual obsession. Henning might well have been a true artist with the camera but he is a failure as a human being.

Retro-Seduction Cinema have done the same sort of very fine job with this movie as with the other Sarno movies they’ve released. The widescreen transfer is excellent, there is a commentary track by Sarno’s wife Peggy, and a number of other extras. Very few sexploitation directors have been fortunate enough to have their productions treated with this kind of respect.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Baffled! (1973)

Baffled tvBaffled! is a real oddity. This Anglo-American made-for-TV movie got a theatrical release in Britain but it was actually intended as the pilot for a TV series that never got off the ground. It’s easy to see why the series was not greenlighted but although it’s a failure it’s an interesting and strangely entertaining failure.

Leonard Nimoy is a racing car driver named Tom Kovack. He’s leading a race in Pennsylvania when he has a vision and crashes his car. He’s shaken up but unhurt and that night in a TV interview he talks about the vision he saw. Psychic researcher and occult  expert Michele Brent (Susan Hampshire) watches the interview and realises immediately that Tom’s vision was the real thing, that he’s a genuine psychic.

She contacts him. He’s sceptical but she is very charming and very beautiful so he hears her out. She fails to overcome his scepticism but when Kovack has another, even more disturbing, vision he realises she was right. He agrees that they should go to Britain, to Wyndham in Devon, the site of his vision. The manor house that he saw in the vision is a stately home whose owner rents out rooms during the tourist season. Michele and Tom book rooms in the house.

They uncover some very strange goings-on. Movie star Andrea Glenn (Vera Miles) and her daughter Jennifer are staying in the house, Andrea hoping for a reconciliation with her estranged husband who lives in the village nearby, Jennifer hoping to finally meet her father. Then Jennifer starts behaving very oddly. It’s as if she’s gone from being twelve years old to being fifteen overnight. Michele has warned Kovack that dark forces are at work and it seems these dark forces are working through Jennifer.

But there is more. Why does the landlady (played by Rachel Roberts) seem to be getting younger every day? And why has Andrea’s husband not appeared?

The plot certainly has potential - it boasts an evil child, eternal youth, missing husbands, psychic visions, kidnappings and a general air of extreme weirdness. The basic premise, a reluctant psychic and a psychic expert acting as amateur occult detectives, is excellent and offers plenty of flexibility.

Susan Hampshire is superb. She is a fine actress and she was no stranger to this sort of material, having got her first big break in the science fiction TV series The Andromeda Breakthrough in the early 60s, and having also made an excellent horror fantasy movie in 1971 called Malpertuis (in which she plays no less than seven roles and acts Orson Welles off the screen). She’s perfect for the role. She manages to be obsessive without seeming weird or crazy, she’s likeable without being cloying, she’s sexy in a classy sort of way and she’s pert and lively.

So far it all sounds good. So what went wrong? Sadly the answer to that is Leonard Nimoy. His performance is all over the place. One suspects that he was concentrating too hard on not being Spock rather than just being natural. But worst of all, there is absolutely no chemistry between the two lead characters. The script makes it obvious that there is supposed to be both a sexual and romantic attachment building between the two characters as well as a sense of camaraderie. It just doesn’t happen onscreen. Susan Hampshire tries her best but Michele and Kovack are just too badly mismatched.

The screenplay also struggles with the task of introducing the two characters who were to be the stars of the series while trying to hold the story together and it perhaps throws too much into the mix.

Despite Nimoy’s outrageously wrong performance it all ends up being fun in a campy sort of way. Enjoyable enough, and worth a look for its curiosity value if nothing else.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

Django Kill2Like most European genre films of its era Giulio Questi’s 1967 spaghetti western Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! was released under a variety of titles, including Oro Hondo. The title favoured by the director was If You Live, Shoot! (Se sei vivo spara). The movie certainly has no connection with the classic Django.

Being a spaghetti western, there is of course a Mysterious Stranger (played by Tomas Milian). And of course he’s sullen, broody and violent. And of course there’s greed and revenge. Whatever the director’s intentions the result is a pretty standard formula spaghetti western.

A big gold robbery nets a Mexican-American gang a huge fortune. The Americans, led by the brutal Oaks, then slaughter the Mexicans to avoid having to share the loot with them. They also think they’ve slaughtered a rather broody half-breed but as well will see that is not the case. The gang then arrives at a small western town, a town that turns out to be a very unfriendly and very unhappy place. However violent the gang may be they find they’re no match for these townsfolk.


By the time The Stranger arrives in town (having been nursed back to health by two Indians) it seems like the movie is all over and there’s no-one left for him to take revenge on. In fact the movie has just started and there’s lots of action, and lots of violence, still to come.

The action now centres on finding the gold. Two of the town’s notable citizens, Templer and Hagerman, both corrupt and selfish men, want to find the gold. Also after the gold is the obligatory rich corrupt landowner who runs the town, a man named Mr Sorrow. Mr Sorrow runs the town with the aid of his black-shirted henchmen (one of the many examples of clumsy political symbolism in this movie).


The Stranger’s motives are of course mysterious. He doesn’t seem all that interested in getting his hands on the stolen bullion. He does befriend a strange young boy named Evan (Ray Lovelock), and he does fall in love with the wife of Hagermann. Hagermann claims she is mad and keeps her locked up. We never really find out why - one of the many things that the rather unsatisfactory script fails to clear up.

There’s much intrigue over the location of the gold, with Mr Sorrow’s henchmen kidnapping Templer’s teenage son Evan in order to force Templer to reveal the location of the loot. The Stranger also gets kidnapped and tortured, for the same reasons. Lots of people get killed, usually very brutally.


The violence is graphic and frequent. As is usual with spaghetti westerns there aren’t too many charactera left alive by the end.

Director and co-writer Giulio Questi clearly has a political axe to grind. As Tomas Milian states in the accompanying interview, Questi was a communist and if he could spit on anything he would. It’s a tiresome attitude and makes for a tiresome movie. The movie is just too fashionably cynical for its own good and its political stance is much too heavy-handed. Every American character in the movie is evil. The Indian characters are good. The Mexican characters are mostly good. Tomas Milian remarks on Questi’s extreme political correctness, and it’s an element that detracts considerably from any enjoyment the movie might have to offer.


Questi claims (in common with every leftwing intellectual in Europe) to have fought for the Resistance during the Second World War and he clearly intends this movie to be some kind of anti-fascist allegory. Oddly enough Sorrow’s blackshirts are all homosexuals. This seems to be have been intended by Questi as a means of expressing his contempt for the western genre and everything it stands for, and for America and everything it stands for. There’s also a preacher in the movie, and of course he’s evil.

Blue Underground have presented this movie in a very good anamorphic transfer and with a brief documentary about the film.

This is really just another spaghetti western that tries too hard to be dark and edgy, and takes itself too seriously. I find that the more classic Hollywood westerns I see the less impressed I am by spaghetti westerns, especially by those that take themselves very seriously. I can’t personally recommend this movie unless you’re a spaghetti western completist.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Tragic Ceremony (1972)

Riccardo Freda, in common with so many Italian directors of his era, made movies in just about every genre. Including gothic horror. In fact he directed the movie that kicked off the Italian gothic horror cycle of the 60s, I, Vampiri. He also made a couple of notable gothic horror movies starring Barbara Steele, The Ghost and the excellent The Terror of Dr Hichcock. In 1972 he returned to this genre with Tragic Ceremony (Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea).

Tragic Ceremony tells the story of four hippies, three boys and one girl, who become involved, unwittingly, with black magic. When their dune buggy runs out of petrol during a rainstorm they take shelter in the mansion of Lord and Lady Alexander. What they don’t know is that these two decadent aristocrats are hosting a Black Mass that night. The girl, Jane (Camille Keaton), finds herself the guest of honour, so to speak. She is to be sacrificed to the powers of darkness.

The hippies escape, or at least they think they’ve escaped, but they’ve left a corpse behind them at the Black Mass (although it’s not Jane’s corpse). And when they watch the television news that night, they discover that the Black Mass actually left no less than eight corpses behind.

This movie was clearly to a considerable extent inspired by the Charles Manson killings. The police immediately suspect that the murders were carried out by hippies. In 1972 many people believed that hippies were a sign of the imminent social collapse of the West, and of course they were quite right. Murderous hippies were big news.

And that brings us to one of the chief problems with this movie. We have to care about the fate of four hippies, and it is impossible to do so. They are typical hippies - spoilt, over-indulged, lazy, dirty and with no morals. The worst of all is rich kid Bill, who is at least partly responsible for setting these events in motion when he buys a supposedly cursed string of pearls for his mother.

This movie has some obvious similarities with Mario Bava’s 1972 masterpiece Lisa and the Devil, but Freda’s movie is hopelessly inferior to Bava’s masterwork. Freda was a competent journeyman director while Bava was an erratic and uneven genius.

Freda does pull off some impressive visual effects, including the nightmare-like Black Mass sequence. The scenes of Camille Keaton with the candelabra are also effective.

The acting is a big problem. We’re dealing with four very unsympathetic protagonists and none of the actors is able to make these characters anything more than stereotypical self-indulgent hippie layabouts. Camille Keaton was a truly atrocious actress and her feeble performance dooms this movie.

An even bigger problem is that potentially the most interesting characters are the devil-worshipping Lord and Lady Alexander, especially the latter, but those characters are grievously under-developed and the movie focuses instead on the four hippies, who are both unpleasant and ineffectual as well as uninteresting.

Dark Sky’s DVD release is extremely good and includes a brief documentary on Camille Keaton’s brief film career.

Tragic Ceremony can only be regarded as one of the failures of the Italian gothic horror cycle. Riccardo Freda simply cannot overcome the twin handicaps of uninteresting characters and dull acting. Despite a few good moments I honestly cannot recommend this one.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Black Zoo (1963)

Black Zoo was Michael Gough’s third starring role for producer Herman Cohen, and as always Gough slices the ham as thickly as possible. The result is a treat for horror fans.

Unlike his earlier movies for Cohen, such as the excellent Horrors of the Black Museum, this 1963 production was made in the US.

Gough plays Michael Conrad, a zoo owner with a few psychological problems. In fact he’s completely and murderously insane. He is obsessed with his zoo and his animals, and he is obsessed with maintaining control over his wife Edna (Jeanne Cooper) and the 17-year-old mute boy named Carl who acts as his assistant and general dogsbody.

Whenever he feels that his zoo is threatened, as it is most definitely threatened by greedy real estate agent Jerry Stengel, Michael deals with the threat by having his perceived enemies killed by his favourite animals - a couple of lions, a tiger, a black panther and a couple of cheetahs. Or occasionally by his gorilla.

The local police are surprisingly unsuspicious when a series of brutal murders take place in various parts of LA, even when the medical examiner insists that the victims were attacked by animals. It takes a remarkably long time before the penny finally drops for the Chief of Detectives (Edward Platt, best-known as the Chief in the Get Smart television series). But will the police catch up to mIchael before he kills again? And will his wife, who runs a chimp act at the zoo, be his next victim? And what is the secret behind Carl’s inability to speak?

All this sounds crazy enough but this movie offers even more fun in the form of a religious cult of animal worshippers.

And if all that isn’t enough to whet your appetite there’s also the great Elisha Cook Jr, one of Hollywood’s most memorable character actors, as a deranged animal keeper. And the crazed zoo owner plays the organ for his favourite big cats while they lounge about on his sofa! There’s even a guy in a gorilla suit, so really this movie has everything a horror fan could possibly wish for.

Michael Gough gets to do what he does best - overact outrageously. Even when he’s putting up a charming front and keeping the lid on his maniacal tendencies you can sense that all is not quite right with this guy. He’s just a little bit too charming and the craziness beneath the surface is just a little bit too obvious. Michael Gough always understood that there’s no such thing as too much overacting in roles like this one. He’s an absolute delight.

Director Robert Gordon keeps the pacing tight and there’s a wonderfully atmospheric and bizarre funeral for one of Michael’s children (as he calls his animals) and a wonderfully wacky meeting of the religious cultists.

There’s no obvious animal cruelty in this movie. There is a scene where a tiger gets shot but we don’t actually see the animal get shot and one assumes (and hopes) that the creature was merely anaesthetised for the scene.

There’s also no gore. In fact given the subject matter the level of violence is very low. This is not a movie to see if you want to be scared out of your wits. It’s a movie to be savoured for its potential for high camp fun, and fun is exactly what it delivers.

The movie was shot in the Cinemascope aspect ratio and colour and the Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD offers a superb anamorphic transfer with the colours being noticeably and delightfully vivid.

This is an offbeat horror movie that can certainly be recommended and for Michael Gough fans it’s a must-see.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The Return of the Evil Dead (1973)

The Return of the Evil Dead was the first of three sequels to Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s very successful 1971 Tombs of the Blind Dead. Together these four movies make up his celebrated Blind Dead series, widely regarded as among the classics of Spanish horror movie-making.

The Return of the Evil Dead (the Spanish title is El Ataque de los Muertos Sin Ojos which literally means The Attack of the Blind Dead), made in 1973, functions perfectly well as a standalone film. It explains the origins of the Blind Dead, although from memory their origin is explained differently in the first film.

In the town of Bouzano in Portugal during the Middle Ages (presumably the early fourteenth century) the townspeople have grown tired of the excesses and wickedness of the Knights Templar. They sack the order’s abbey and burn the knights. When one of the knights vows that they will return from the dead to raze the town the villagers decide to blind the knights first so that even if they fulfil their threat they will be unable to find the town. They then burn the knights.

We then move forward to the present day. Each year the town celebrates a festival in remembrance of their victory over the Templars. The legend that one year the knights will return has by his time been consigned to folklore. Nobody believes such stories any more.

Nobody except the hunchbacked village idiot, Murdo. Murdo has his own reasons for hating the people of Bouzano, having been ceaselessly mocked by all and sundry. He decides the bring back the Templars by performing a human sacrifice, an operation that proves all too successful (and an operation that the movie suggests was used by the Templars themselves in order to gain a kind of immortality). Pretty soon the blind dead Templars are slaughtering the good folk of Bouzano. Only one man seems inclined to put up a fight against them - Jack Marlowe (Tony Kendall), an outsider who is organising the fireworks display for the festival.

The mistress of the corrupt mayor of the town happens to be an old flame of Marlowe’s, a circumstance which earns Marlowe a beating. Such matters are soon put on hold however as news starts to filter in from the countryside about rampaging dead knights riding dead horses. The movie then follows a familiar horror movie pattern, with a small group of survivors hiding out in the village church. They turn out to be as much of a threat to each as the Templars are.

The basic plot is hardly anything startlingly original but what makes the Blind Dead series so exceptional is the Templars themselves. The makeup effects are gruesome and genuinely horrifying. It’s the idea itself that is de Ossorio’s masterstroke. The dead blind knights are among the most original and effective of horror movie monsters. They are not exactly zombies, and not exactly ghosts or revenants.

Amando de Ossorio (who wrote the screenplay as well as directing) has based his idea to a large extent on the evil reputation of the Templars themselves. Interestingly enough they are not actually referred to as Templars but as knights from the east. The Templars were one of many medieval orders of warrior monks and their eastern origin may indicate that they were based not just on the Templars but also on other military orders such as the Teutonic Knights, who had a fairly bloodthirsty reputation as well. But it is the legend of the Templars’ gradual drift into heresy and sorcery that forms the core of de Ossorio’s idea. The Templars were in fact suppressed by the Pope in 1312 and many of the knights did in fact end their days being burned at the stake or meeting similar grisly fates.

The use of slow motion photography whenever the dead knights are on the move, especially on horseback, is a simple technique that works remarkably well. The director creates an extraordinary mood of implacable and mindless malevolence. The knights are capable of executing effective military tactics, so they are perhaps not entirely mindless so much as entirely and terrifyingly single-minded and obsessed. They are certainly more than mere zombies and this makes these movies vastly superior to the average zombie movie, both in terms of horror and in terms of atmosphere.

Blue Underground have done a fine job with their DVD release and have included both the sub-titled Spanish version and the English dubbed version. I watched the sub-titled version so I can’t say if there are any differences between the two versions.

The one major weakness of this movie is the excessive use of gore. This is unfortunate since the movie has more than enough atmosphere to make the gore unnecessary and it actually has the effect of deadening the senses and lessening the horror. But in a 1973 European horror movie gore had become a commercial necessity, and despite this minor criticism The Return of the Evil Dead is a well-paced and very effective piece of horror film-making and is highly recommended.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Moon Zero Two (1969)

Hammer’s 1969 release Moon Zero Two was one of their most costly and most ambitious projects. It bombed at the box office but it’s actually quite entertaining.

Hammer never had any problems making their gothic horror movies look more expensive than they were, but when they turned to other genres like the adventure movie or in this case science fiction their budgetary limitations became much more noticeable. And Moon Zero Two hit the cinemas a year after 2001: A Space Odyssey and any science fiction movie coming out at that time was inevitably going to be compared to the special effects wizardry of 2001, and naturally in this case the comparison was not going to be to Moon Zero Two’s advantage.

Which is not to say that the special effects in Moon Zero Two are poor. In actual fact they’re pretty good, and for a modestly budgeted movie they’re mostly very good.

Hammer promoted this movie as a space western and as well as a few obvious touches it does have a plot that would be quite at home in the western genre.

Captain William Kemp (James Olson) had been a space age hero, the first man to land on Mars. But the age of space exploration has ended. The emphasis now is on scheduled tourist flights to the Moon, and Kemp has no intention of becoming a mere passenger pilot. He earns his living piloting an old lunar space ferry, the Moon Zero Two, with a Russian space engineer named Kaminsky. He makes his money from space salvage operations.

Kemp is having an affair with one of the top people in the Lunar Bureau of Investigations but she is about to ground the Moon Zero Two for safety reasons. Another astronaut has just been killed, and any more space accidents may scare the tourists away from Moon City. Then Kemp receives an offer from the very wealthy, and very notorious, J. J. Hubbard (Warren Mitchell). Known, not so affectionately, as Hundred Percent Hubbard, he is a businessman with somewhat flexible ethical standards. Still, his offer is tempting, since it includes a brand new spacecraft.

Hubbard has a daring plan. He has discovered a small asteroid with is composes mostly of sapphire. Six thousand tons of sapphire. Kemp points out that mining asteroids has never been economical, but Hubbard has other plans. He wants to attach some old rocket engines to the asteroid and crash it into the Far Side of the Moon.

Kemp also picks up another job. Clementine Taplin (Catherine Schell) has lost her brother. He is a prospector who has staked out a claim on the Far Side of the Moon (an idea that certainly relates the movie to the western genre). She wants Kemp to join her in finding her missing brother. These two major plot strands will eventually intersect.

The movie’s biggest problem is that it features a spectacularly bad opening titles sequence  that gives entirely the wrong idea of the movie that is to follow. The title sequence suggests a wacky goofy comedy but the movie is actually relatively serious. It is in fact one of the more realistic science fiction movies of its era - the Moon Zero Two looks like an updated version of NASA’s Lunar Module, and astronauts in orbit are actually weightless. There are no laser guns - both the heroes and the villains use ordinary handguns which might not look as cool but is probably much more realistic.

The production design is generally excellent with the spacesuits being particularly impressive - they’re groovy and colourful but they do look like spacesuits. Moon City looks reasonably good. The special effects are patchy - some are excellent, some not so good. The moon vehicles look great. The fashions are simply wonderful.

James Olson makes a good hero and wisely does not overdo the maverick space cowboy thing (and the movie as a whole does not overdo this angle). Catherine Schell is fine as the heroine and Warren Mitchell makes a terrific villain, playing the role less for laughs than you might expect from this actor.

Warner’s DVD release (paired with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth)) looks marvellous with gloriously vibrant colours.

A much better movie than either its reputation or its box-office failure would suggest, this is one of Hammer’s forgotten gems.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Forbidden World (1982)

Forbidden World (aka Mutant) was a good example of Roger Corman’s technique of making movies as cheaply as possible. This 1982 New World Pictures release utilised many of the sets that had been constructed for Galaxy of Terror (a movie that is vaguely enjoyably in its own schlocky way).

Forbidden World was yet another Alien rip-off.

Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) is a kind of roving interstellar troubleshooter. The opening sequences see him and his partner, a robot known as SAM-104, conducting a successful space battle against marauding spaceships. Now he has been sent to an obscure planet which is used as a genetic research. The planet’s isolation allows the scientists to conduct experiments that would be deemed to be much too hazardous anywhere else. This freedom turns out to a two-edged sword as their latest experiment has gone badly wrong. Really badly wrong. Subject 20 is not just a mutant, it’s a metamorph. It keeps on mutating throughout its life cycle. And that life cycle is entirely unpredictable.

Colby suspects from the outset that there’s something about Subject 20 that he hasn’t been told. The scientists on this planet seem to be hiding something. And there’s the matter of one of the scientists who met an unexplained death shortly before Colby’s arrival.

It doesn’t take long before Subject 20 gets loose and starts creating mayhem. But even before that Colby starts bedding the female scientists.

That’s pretty much it as far as plot is concerned. Colby along with the scientists are stalking Subject 20 while Subject 20 is stalking them. And picking off the scientists one by one.

The two female scientists decide that since Subject 20 seems to be intelligent (and we will find out later why that is a reasonable assumption) that maybe the best thing to do is to try to communicate with it. That turns out to be not such a clever idea after all. Subject 20 is certainly intelligent and is capable of communication, but it’s much more interested in killing people.

There’s a mildly interesting sub-plot involving one of the scientists, Dr Cal Timbergen (Fox Harris), who has a secret of his own, a secret unconnected with Subject 20 but which could prove to have surprising repercussions.

Early in his career Roger Corman managed to combine an enthusiasm for making money with an enthusiasm for making movies. By the 80s he’d virtually given up directing in favour of producing, and the movies he produced became more and more formulaic. Some were highly entertaining while others were pretty routine but it seemed like the genuine enthusiasm he’d once had for movies had largely dried up.

Forbidden World is definitely in the pretty routine class. It’s biggest weakness is the uninterestingness and shallowness of the characters. Director Allan Holzman was clearly unaware that if you’re going to make this sort of sci-fi horror movie you need to give the audience some characters they care about. The audience has to have someone that they want to see survive. Sadly the only character in this movie with even a shred of personality is a robot. The acting is uniformly poor and Tim Curnen’s screenplay is strictly by the numbers. Nobody is going to care if any of these people survive.

The movie offers quite a bit of gore (always a sign of a lack of inspiration) and quite a bit of nudity of a totally gratuitous nature. It does have a grungy atmosphere that is one of the better things about the movie. The end result is just another Alien rip-off that is not worth seeing.

The Region 2 DVD from an outfit called In2Film is a poor fullframe transfer that cannot be recommended under any circumstances. Give this one a miss.

Saturday 3 November 2012

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth was Hammer’s fairly successful attempt to capitalise of the enormous success of One Million Years B.C..

It was expensive for a Hammer film and took an inordinately long time to complete but it’s mostly  worth it. It was finally released in 1970.

Hammer knew they had a winning formula. Combine beautiful scantily clad (and sometimes unclad) women with dinosaurs and you can’t lose. Val Guest directed and wrote the screenplay (based on a treatment by, of all people, J. G. Ballard).

The plot is simple, which is just as well since all the dialogue is in Stone Age language (the DVD offers an optional subtitle track but really you don’t need it and it’s arguably better without it). When someone points at a dinosaur and says something in Stone Age-speak it’s hardly necessary to be told he’s saying OMG there’s a dinosaur. And that’s about as complex as the dialogue gets.

Although the science is completely ludicrous (having dinosaurs and people on Earth at the same time is by no means the only thing that will have scientists tearing their hair out) the central idea is fairly cool. A Stone Age tribe is about to sacrifice three beautiful blondes (oddly enough in this culture being blonde and beautiful is definitely not an asset) but one escapes. And then a large and very strange thing appears in the sky. It is actually the Moon being  born (by this time most of the scientists will have left the theatre in disgust leaving the rest of us to enjoy ourselves). The appearance of this strange thing in the sky causes considerable consternation, and redoubles the determination of the high priest or shaman or whatever-he-is to find that pesky escaped blonde.

Meanwhile the blonde, Sanna, has met a hunky guy from a neighbouring tribe, Tara. It’s love at first sight, although that is not very pleasing to Tara’s girlfriend.

Most of the movie has enraged Stone Age tribesmen hunting our star-crossed lovers, who have a pretty tough time of it. At one point they are separated and he believes she is dead, eaten by a carnivorous plant. Actually she escaped, but she learnt a useful lesson - hiding inside gigantic carnivorous plants is a bad idea. Eventually they are re-united but they are still being pursued. Sanna learns another useful lesson - taking shelter from a rainstorm inside a dinosaur egg is actually a really clever idea. When the other baby dinosaurs hatch  they’ll think you’re another baby dinosaur and will play cute games with you, and the mother dinosaur will think you’re one of her babies and bring you tasty treats. She also learns something that most people don’t know - carnivorous dinosaurs are easy to train and they make good pets, even when they’re the size of a large building.

Eventually our lovers, and everyone else, confront something else unexpected. The newly formed moon suddenly starts causing tides in a big way. A very big way. As in tidal waves. It makes for a spectacular climax. You might think that the worst place to be in a tidal wave is on a small raft but it turns out to be the safest place. Surfers won’t be surprised by this - the raft just acts like a giant surfboard. 

The real stars are the special effects. Hammer wanted Ray Harryhausen but he wasn’t available. It didn’t matter. Jim Danforth’s stop-motion effects are every bit as good and in fact they’re quite stunning. That’s where most of the budget went and it was worth every penny.

There’s not a lot to say about the acting, except that considering the lack of intelligible dialogue most of the performers do a fairly creditable job of letting us know what’s going on. Hammer was convinced that Playboy Playmates would make ideal leading ladies and in this case Victoria Vetri does an adequate job as Sanna and fills a fur bikini rather pleasingly. Robin Hawdon looks just a little bit too clean-cut as Tara but he gets to show off his manly physique so there’s plenty of eye candy for viewers of both sexes.

Warner Home Video’s DVD release is the full uncut version in which both Victoria Vetri and Robin Hawdon shed what little clothing they are wearing. The transfer is excellent and the movie looks terrific.

The main problem with this movie is that the skimpy plot and the absence of dialogue do become a bit wearisome after a while, but it’s worth seeing for some classic stop-motion dinosaur action. Recommended for dinosaur and fur bikini fans.