Sunday 31 December 2017

2017 cult movie highlights

A lot of my cult movie watching highlights in 2017 seemed to be re-watches of old favourites.

Like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which gets better with each viewing.

And much the same can be said for Forbidden Planet(1956).

Dracula’s Daughter (1936) also stands up remarkably well to repeat viewings.

As for movies I hadn’t seen before, Hammer’s sci-fi horror effort Quatermass II (1957) was particularly good.

While The Black Raven (1943) is a very fine Old Dark House-style movie.

If you want sexploitation with some actual emotional depth then Joe Sarno’s Daddy, Darling (1970) could be just what you’re after.

Felicity (1978) is an Australia Emmanuelle rip-off that is quite a bit better than the film it's ripping off.

And Career Bed (1969) has all the outrageousness you could desire in an American sexploitation flick.

Saturday 23 December 2017

Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977)

Goodbye Emmanuelle (later retitled Emmanuelle 3) was the third of the official Emmanuelle movies. It was also intended by Sylvia Kristel to be her last appearance in the role (although that proved to be not quite the case).

Goodbye Emmanuelle came out in 1977, two years after Emmanuelle 2, and it marks a significant departure for the series. The first thing that is noticeable is that the simulated sex scenes are much briefer, and much tamer, than those in the previous two films. They’re very tame indeed compared to those in the very steamy Emmanuelle 2.

Even more startling is a dramatic change in tone. Goodbye Emmanuelle tries to be a serious look at the actual consequences of the sexual revolution that the first two movies celebrated with such enthusiasm. Whether it succeeds or not is a matter of opinion but director François Leterrier certainly seemed to have his own ideas on the direction in which the series should go.

Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) and her architect husband Jean (Umberto Orsini) are now living in the Seychelles. There’s not much to do there other than have sex but luckily that’s all that Emmanuelle and Jean are interested in doing.

They still have their open marriage and of course they’re blissfully happy because how could you not be happy if you’ve overcome all those silly antiquated notions like jealousy and possessiveness? Emmanuelle and Jean are a liberated couple and being liberated is the key to happiness. And yet there are signs that perhaps Emmanuelle is not quite as happy as she should be. She is starting to suspect that men treat her like she’s a whore. She’s even starting to suspect that they may have some justification for doing so. She’s finding that maybe jealousy isn’t so easy to leave behind. And she’s starting to wonder if a husband who enjoys watching his wife have sex with other men (and women) might not be much of a husband. He might not even be much of a man. Could it be that she has discovered that sexual freedom comes at a price? And that maybe the price is too high?

Some of Emmanuelle’s friends are also discovering that sexual freedom has its downside. One even suggests to our heroine that the problem with sexual liberation is that one day you get old.

This all comes to a head when she meets handsome sensitive film-maker Grégory (Jean-Pierre Bouvier). She’s attracted to him so naturally the first thing she does when they meet is to perform oral sex on him. Curiously enough this doesn’t seem to make him like her, or respect her. Emmanuelle is very confused by this.

In fact everything about Grégory confuses and disturbs Emmanuelle. He has quaint old-fashioned ideas about love and sex. He even believes it’s only possible to love one person at a time! He thinks jealousy is normal and natural. He thinks there is more to love than just having sex. He doesn’t believe in orgies or threesomes. This guy is seriously weird. The worst thing is, she can’t stop thinking about him. She wants him desperately. She doesn’t just want to have sex with him, she wants to be with him. You know, walking hand-in-hand along the beach and all that outdated romance stuff.

Emmanuelle is, for the first time in her life, falling in love. She’s also learning that other people actually have feelings (something of which she was entirely unaware).

Of course this means that Sylvia Kristel has to do a bit more serious acting than in the previous Emmanuelle films, and she does give a more complex performance that suggests that Emmanuelle might have some actual depth to her character.

The fact that this movie has some serious ambitions isn’t the problem. There’s no reason why you can’t make a serious movie about sex. The problem is that for the story to work, really work effectively, there needs to be a much more intense erotic charge in the developing relationship between Emmanuelle and Grégory. We need to be convinced that for Emmanuelle sex with someone she cares about really is a whole lot better than the empty meaningless sex she’s had before. The sex with Grégory needs to mean something, but that erotic charge just isn’t there and the emotional intensity isn’t really there either. It’s not that the sex scenes need to be more explicit - they just need to be more intense and more passionate.

As director François Leterrier knows how to use the exotic location and how to give the movie the lush look that was the Emmanuelle trademark. Unfortunately he shows no flair for the erotic, which is a bit of a problem when you’re making an erotic movie. He deserves credit for trying to explore the emotional ramifications of Emmanuelle’s lifestyle but overall the movie is just a bit on the dull side. When you have Sylvia Kristel as your star and she spends a good deal of her screen time naked and your movie is still dull you’ve definitely done something wrong.

The Region 4 DVD offers a pretty good transfer, with negligible extras.

Goodbye Emmanuelle is an interesting experiment that had real potential. As an erotic movie it is however decidedly limp. Possibly worth seeing if you’re a Sylvia Kristel completist but it’s difficult to recommend this one wholeheartedly.

Friday 15 December 2017

Sting of Death (1965)

Sting of Death, released in 1965, was the first horror movie made by low-budget Florida film-maker William Grefé (although he’d made a couple of race car movies prior to that). It was shot on location in the Everglades and like his next film, Death Curse of Tartu, it makes great use of the setting.

Dr Richardson (Jack Nagle) is a marine biologist. He has his own laboratory and a pretty fancy house complete with pool. His chief assistant is the young Dr John Hoyt (Joe Morrison) but he also gets help from his daughter Karen (Valerie Hawkins) and the slightly scary Egon (John Vella). Egon has a fairly severe facial disfigurement which we surmise was the result of an encounter with some very unfriendly marine creature. Egon has a bit of an obsession with the Portuguese man-of-war so that may have the creature responsible. Egon is hyper-sensitive about his appearance.

Egon also clearly has a bit of a crush on Karen. Possibly more than just a crush.

Grefé certainly understood pacing. He opens the movie with a major scare, with a beautiful young woman attacked by an aquatic monster. Then he slows things down and for the next half-hour it seems like we’re watching a beach party movie. It’s all girls, dancing, pop music and lightheartedness but Grefé makes sure we don’t entirely forget that there’s some mysterious and terrifying danger out there. Then he kicks the horror into high gear with a couple of impressive (considering the small budget) terror set-pieces.

The beach party elements come from the fact that Dr Hoyt has thrown a party for Karen and her friends who are spending their spring vacation at Dr Richardson’s place. Dr Hoyt has invited a bunch of kids from a nearby college. Hence the dancing and the pop music (supplied by Neil Sedaka who was a pretty big pop star at the time). It’s also a chance to have lots of scantily-clad babes dancing. There’s virtually no nudity in this film (apart from a brief shower scene) but there’s no shortage of eye candy. And it’s amazing how often the camera seems to zero in on the posteriors of the young ladies.

The sudden switch to outright horror is handled effectively and then the tension gets ratcheted up. We get a classic horror movie scenario. There’s a terrifying monster out there. We have a bunch of people isolated in a house and they’re out of contact with the outside world because the radio has, mysteriously, been smashed. There are only two men, they are armed only with revolvers, and they have a houseful of frightened teenage girls to protect. Worst of all, they can only guess at the nature of the menace they’re facing.

In fact the alert viewer might already have his suspicions as to the nature of the threat. The average sea-monster is unlikely to have the foresight to put the radio out of action before striking. Actually I suspect that Grefé intends us to guess the nature of the mystery right from the start and it actually makes things scarier.

Some facts just have to be faced squarely. The acting is awful. Absolutely awful. It doesn’t really matter since this can hardly be described as a character-driven movie and the characters are in any case pretty much stereotypes - the slightly eccentric older scientist, the hunky and brave young scientist, the beautiful and virtuous daughter, etc.

It has to be said that most of the young people in this movie are pretty unpleasant. They’re shallow and they’re thoughtlessly cruel. The one exception is Karen. She’s the nice girl. Not quite as pretty as some of the other girls but pretty enough and she has a sense of responsibility and an awareness of, and a dislike for, cruelty. The irony is that her caring ends up being more cruel than outright cruelty.

Grefé also includes some decent underwater sequences which is fairly ambitious for a zero-budget movie. The monster effects are mostly good although the head is a bit of a worry.

The formula established in this movie worked well so Grefé pretty much stuck to it for Death Curse of Tartu as well.

There are some definite hints of Beauty and the Beast here.

Something Weird paired this one with Grefé’s 1966 Death Curse of Tartu (also an entertaining flick) and of course they included plenty of extras including audio commentaries for both movies, the commentaries being done by Grefé himself. He’s a very amusing guy and these are well worth the listen. Somehow Something Weird managed to locate the original negative of Sting of Death and the transfer is superb. The colours are vivid and the image quality is absolutely top-notch.

Sting of Death is lots of low-budget horror fun. This is a great double-feature release. Highly recommended.

Monday 4 December 2017

Olga's Dance Hall Girls (1969)

Olga's Dance Hall Girls was the fifth and last of the infamous Olga films, although it’s claim to be an actual Olga film can be debated.

The Olga series began in 1964. They were not quite roughies although with many obvious similarities to that sleazy little sub-genre. The Olga films upped the ante on the sado-masochism front with wall-to-wall torture scenes. Had it been possible to take these movies seriously they would have been very strong stuff indeed. In fact it was not possible to take them the least bit seriously. Their camp quotient was off the scale. That is their charm (if you happen to be an Olga fan). Their outrageousness is so excessive as to be almost cartoon-like. Director Joseph Mawra made the formula work rather well but what really made the Olga movies so appealing was Olga herself. Or more particularly it was the delirious performances of Audrey Campbell as the cruel ruthless mercenary Olga, glorying in her wickedness like a Victorian melodrama villain.

Four Olga movies appeared before Audrey Campbell departed. In 1969 the decision was made to do a fifth movie. The absence of Audrey Campbell is enough on its own to cast doubt on this movie’s claim to be an Olga film, but in fact it turned out to be an entirely different type of sexploitation movie, veering towards erotic horror. It’s impossible to imagine the real Olga bothering with Satanism. There’s just not enough money in it.

In Olga's Dance Hall Girls we find Olga running a dance hall which is a cover for a prostitution racket. The house’s specialty is beautiful young bored housewives. The assumption is that there will be enough allure in the idea of having sex with respectable wholesome housewives to turn a tidy profit.

Olga’s right-hand man Nick (Larry Hunter) is very pleased with his latest recruit. Carol Ross is a housewife and she’s stunning and he’s convinced she has the potential to be thoroughly corrupt and debauched. His judgment on that score is very sound. The problems for Olga’s organisation with come from Carol’s friend Jill, an attractive enough housewife but one who curiously enough seems to have no desire to embrace perversity and crime.

Then comes the surprise revelation that Olga is a servant of Satan, and of course she’s planning to sacrifice a virgin. Given that the young lady in question has worked in Olga’s dance hall for quite some time the audience could be forgiven for having some doubts about her virginity.

Olga's Dance Hall Girls shows serious signs of not knowing what it wants to be. For most of its running time it seems like it’s going to turn out to be a typical roughie. The witchcraft stuff is tacked on at the end and while I for one have no objection to sexy witches indulging in rituals that are almost certainly going to requite a minimal amount of clothing it just doesn’t seem to gel with the rest of the movie.

The other problem is that the major part of the film that is trying to be a roughie suffers from being too tame to be a real roughie. Some attractive young ladies get naked and there are some simulated sex scenes that are moderately hot by 60s exploitation movie standards (by 1969 American women had apparently discovered that if you’re going to have sex it’s an advantage to take your panties off although the men still cling to the tradition of keeping their trousers on). There’s very little real perversity and no real sense of menace or impending violence. There is also no torture whatsoever, and torture scenes were what Olga movies were all about.

Olga is played by Lucy Eldredge. She has an interestingly exotic look, not beautiful but striking in a slightly disturbing way. She convinces us that Olga is a predatory lesbian (an essential part of the character in the earlier films) and has no morals to speak of but she’s no Audrey Campbell. Her biggest problem is that most of her scenes require her to sit in one spot whilst engaging in rambling dialogues that go on for much too long. She just doesn’t get enough opportunities to demonstrate Olga-style wickedness. She could just be a very ruthless businesswoman.

Larry Hunter manages to make Nick seem sleazy and a bit dangerous which is all he’s required to do. Most of the actresses are of the standard you expect from sexploitation movies which doesn’t really matter since all they really have to do is take their clothes off when necessary.

The shining exception is the remarkable Linda Boyce who plays Carol Ross. She’s a very competent actress and she is able to make her character reasonably interesting. She has the ability (which she demonstrated in quite a few sexploitation features) to project a real sense of smouldering and dangerous sexuality. She also looks good nude and she’s nude a good deal of the time so all in all she has everything you’d want in a sexploitation actress and she effortlessly steals the picture.

The presence of the lovely Uta Erickson is also welcome and she gets to engage in a fairly good cat fight scene in her underwear. It’s one of the movie’s better moments.

This movie is included in Something Weird’s three-movie Olga set. The transfer is by no means pristine but it’s acceptable. Since the disc includes two other better Olga movies it’s definitely a recommended purchase. It’s not a movie that would be particularly worth buying on its own but assuming you’re going to buy the disc anyway (and I can’t imagine any right-thinking person not wanting to do so) then there’s no compelling reason not to give Olga's Dance Hall Girls a spin. It’s not a real Olga movie and it’s not terribly good but it’s not entirely lacking in entertainment value and Linda Boyce is always worth watching.