Thursday, 30 December 2021

Play Motel (1979)

We tend to think of the 70s as the giallo era but in fact the the Italian film industry (like the British film industry) was largely being kept afloat by sex, mostly in the form of sex comedies. Play Motel certainly isn’t a comedy but more a kind of softcore erotic giallo. I say softcore but there was a hardcore version as well, with hardcore inserts apparently filmed without the knowledge of the film’s director. This was not an uncommon thing to happen in European movies of this era. It is however the softcore version with which we are concerned here.

The Play Motel of the title is a hotel where wealthy businessmen can indulge themselves in illicit sex. If they want something kinky that can be provided as well. For businessman Rinaldo Cortesi that means having sex with naughty nuns.

The possibilities for blackmail are obvious, and Cortesi does indeed find himself being blackmailed. His marriage with his wife Luisa is not going too well. Payig up seems like the wisest course of action but he decides to call his lawyer for advice. At the time he makes the call his lawyer is in bed with Luisa Cortesi.

Luisa decides to play amateur detective. She finds the photos of her husband cavorting with one of those naughty nuns. Perhaps unwisely she decides to go on playing amateur detective.

Luisa had informed the police about the blackmail of her husband and they naturally investigate. They have a promising lead. They have identified the woman who played the rôle of the naughty nun but the trail leads them to murder rather than just blackmail. They think there’s a connection between the Play Motel and a porn magazine.

A young couple, Roberto (played by Ray Lovelock from Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man) and Patrizia, check in to the Play Motel for entirely innocent purposes. They go there to have sex but they are married. The wife just thought that sex in a motel would be more exciting. Their evening of sexy fun ends with the discovery of a woman’s body in the boot of their car.

Roberto and Patrizia decide to play amateur detective as well and surprisingly the police are quite happy for them to do so.

Patrizia goes undercover as a model, posing for sleazy photographer Willy. He makes her take all her clothes off and then tries to rape her. Patrizia had no idea that being a detective was so much fun. She’s so enthused that she eagerly volunteers to go on with the case.

What’s really cool about this movie is that the police let two unarmed young women do most of their work for them and don’t provide the women with any backup. And Roberto’s a nice guy but he doesn’t seem worried about the risks his wife is running.

Eroticism was already a major giallo ingredient. What Play Motel does is to ramp up the nudity content. It ramps it up a lot. In commercial terms this was obviously a sound idea. Erotic thrillers were becoming a popular genre everywhere. By setting the story against a background of the porn and prostitution industries Play Motel manages to include an immense amount of female frontal nudity that doesn’t seem too overly gratuitous. If you’re going to make a softcore porn/giallo hybrid at least provide some vague plot reasons for having the actresses getting naked.

The movie attracted some controversy because of the hardcore version which was released simultaneously, with the hardcore scenes supposedly added without the knowledge of the director or the cast. It’s a pity because without those hardcore scene Play Motel is a perfectly competent erotic thriller. The softcore version features mostly what I’d call tasteful nudity and tasteful eroticism - there are no instances of brutal sexual violence. But due to the hardcore version the movie gained an unsavoury reputation which it didn’t deserve.

And it does have a proper giallo plot, and having Patrizia doing her amateur undercover cop thing means that you know she’s going to be in extreme danger and that provides plenty of suspense. Patrizia is a sympathetic character. She’s a nice girl. She isn’t stupid, just over-confident. To make the Woman in Peril angle work it has to be a woman the audience will care about and in this case we really don’t want to see Patrizia get hurt although we suspect she will be hurt.

The acting is generally very good. Ray Lovelock has a high likeability factor. Anna Maria Rizzoli as Patrizia makes a fine feisty but reckless heroine.

Raro Video’s DVD release (they’ve released this one on Blu-Ray as well) offers an excellent transfer with a few extras.

Play Motel is not a top-tier giallo by any means but if you accept it for what it is, a good second-tier giallo with more eroticism than usual then it’s pretty enjoyable. Recommended.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

The Flaming Teenage (1956)

The Flaming Teenage is a 1956 American moral panic movie. This time the moral panic is about teenagers and alcohol. All it takes is one drink to set a good well-behaved young man on the downhill slide into the nightmare world of depravity and crime.

In fact this movie is more of a moral lesson about what to expect from the exploitation movie business, as we will soon see.

It starts, like so many similar films, with a guy in a suit sitting behind a desk informing the audience of the horrors they’re about to see and warning that this could happen to your son.

Then we see a teenager staggering down a road dead drunk picked up by the cops. The next day the kid’s dad decides to teach him a lesson - he takes on a tour of the city’s bars and night-clubs. Once Junior witnesses the degeneracy to which alcohol inevitably leads he’ll be too scared ever to touch a drink again.

Then we get the narrator back again to inform us that now we’re going to see the real-life story of Fred Garland, another chilling illustration of the perils of the demon drink.

Fred Garland is a very young man who has his own business - a small-town candy store. Fred has a nice girlfriend named Mary. But he isn’t happy. He hates small-town life. He dreams of making it big in the big city.

One night at a party someone slips something into his drink - alcohol! Fred and Mary only drink soda pop and fruit juice. That one taste of booze will destroy Fred’s life!

Fred sells the candy store and moves to New York. He becomes a theatrical producer and then a booking agent but by now he’s hooked on the booze. He stumbles from disaster to disaster and like everyone who makes the mistake of taking one drink he ends up as a dope dealer and a drug addict and winds up behind bars.

He doesn’t just wreck his own life - he breaks Mary’s heart and he breaks his parents’ hearts.

I believe this movie was originally shot in 1945 (under the title Twice Convicted) but unreleased at the time and then released in 1956 with additional footage to make it look like a new movie. This was not an uncommon practice in the classic exploitation movie days. In this case the formula was to take a very dull 1940s moral scare exploitation movie and add some contemporary footage with teenagers and crazy rock’n’roll music to convince audiences foolish enough to part with their money that they were going to see an exciting contemporary story of thrill-seeking teenagers.

The contrast between the new footage (with 1950s fashions and music) and the old footage (with fashions and music from more than a decade earlier) is quite jarring. There’s no logical connection whatsoever between the new footage and the old. The new footage is quite amusing with its ridiculously over-earnest tone. The old footage is just stodgy and melodramatic (but not melodramatic in a good way).

The acting, in both the new and old footage, is astonishingly amateurish.

Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. (best known for directing The Blob) and Charles Edwards are the credited directors but I have no idea which of them directed which bits of this composite movie but I believe that Yeaworth probably only directed the Fred Garland footage. Yeaworth spent the latter part of his career making religious films which won’t surprise you after seeing The Flaming Teenage.

Alpha Video have released this movie paired this with another “these crazy teenagers today” moral scare movie, The Prime Time. The transfer is fullframe (which is quite correct) and it’s fairly typical of what you expect from Alpha Video - it’s dark and murky and image quality is a bit on the fuzzy side. But it’s watchable. Sound quality is OK.

The Flaming Teenage has a few (a very few) amusing moments but mostly it’s about as exciting as reading temperance tracts. If you’re expecting a fun juvenile delinquent flick you’re in for a disappointment. It doesn’t even have camp value. Not recommended but if you buy the disc to get The Prime Time and you’re incredibly bored and you can’t find anything else to watch then I guess you could risk it. Just make sure you have a generous supply of alcohol on hand.

Saturday, 18 December 2021

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah, directed by Romolo Guerrieri, is one of the better known early giallo titles.

Deborah (Carroll Baker) and Marcel (Jean Sorel) are on their honeymoon. They’re very much in love, they’re very hot for each other and everything is perfect. Until they go to a strip club and Marcel runs into an old friend. The old friend accuses Marcel of being a murderer. He believes that Marcel is responsible for the death of Suzanne. Suzanne committed suicide and Marcel didn’t even know she was dead but he does now feel to blame for her death.

It appears that Marcel has a bit of a past. A year ago he owed a lot of money to some people and they were the sorts of people who take extreme measures to collect debts. He got the money to pay them from his rich girlfriend at the time, Suzanne. Then, according to Marcel’s story, he decided he had to change his life so he left Europe and headed for America.

He seems to have become very successful very quickly. Judging from the very expensive sports car he now drives. Assuming that it’s his money that paid for it.

Deborah receives a phone call, telling her that she must die as revenge for Suzanne’s death. When Marcel calls the phone company they tell him something curious, something that makes him look at Deborah with suspicion.

And there are things that cause Deborah to regard Marcel with suspicion. These mutual suspicions simmer away beneath the surface. They’re still in love, but the suspicions won’t go away.

Threats are made against Marcel as well. The police do not believe that there is any substance to any of these threats.

Until one night when they’re in bed Deborah and Marcel hear footsteps in their rented villa.

We, the audience, know no more of Marcel than Deborah knows, and we know no more of Deborah than Marcel knows. We might form vague theories about what is going on but we have no actual evidence at all. They might be lying to each other, but it’s possible that neither is lying. This is a mystery rather than a suspense movie although it has some very suspenseful moments.

One of the things that makes it work is that Deborah and and Marcel are so likeable. They’re a perfect couple. We don’t want to believe anything bad about either of them and we don’t want anything terrible to happen to either of them. And yet we have our doubts about them. Of course it’s possible that one or both is not bad but mad. Their suspicions may be grounded on delusions. But we don’t know.

This is perhaps not a full-blown giallo. There’s no black-gloved killer and there are no spectacular murder set-pieces. It does however have a very giallo feel and style and like the best giallos it’s a psycho-sexual thriller.

There’s a certain amount of nudity and sex. The sex scenes aren’t really gratuitous. They tell us quite a bit about the characters. There’s the scene in which Marcel and Deborah make love but suddenly it’s Suzanne’s face and body that Marcel is seeing.

Jean Sorel is excellent and he has great chemistry with Carroll Baker.

Carroll Baker was perfect for movies of this type. We can believe she’s sweet and innocent but we can also believe that she might have a very dark side. A fine actress in top form.

This was 1968 so Carroll Baker gets to wear some groovy threads. I love her green mini-dress in the discotheque scene (yes of course there’s a discotheque scene).

This movie was a major hit in Italy and really kicked the emerging giallo genre into top gear. Suddenly everybody in Italy wanted to make stylish erotic thrillers and pretty soon film-makers would starting upping the ante in the violence department.

This is a movie that is a bit tricky to get hold of. The only options seem to be an Italian and a German DVD. I have the Italian DVD and it’s excellent and includes the English-language version.

Compared to later giallos The Sweet Body of Deborah relies more on plot than gore (in fact there’s no gore at all). And the plot is pretty nifty with plenty of twists. If you like the giallo style but you’re put off by the excessive violence then this is the movie for you. It’s also essential viewing if you’re interested in the history of the genre. And apart from that it’s just a very good very entertaining movie. Highly recommended.

Monday, 13 December 2021

Flight Attendant: Scandal (1984)

Flight Attendant: Scandal (subtitled Hold Me Like an Animal) is a 1984 Nikkatsu roman porno film.

“Pink films” (as the Japanese called erotic films) were a bit of a thing in Japan in the 60s but most were independent or modestly budgeted efforts. Much like American sexploitation films of the 60s they found a market and being cheap they could be quite profitable. All this changed in 1971 when Nikkatsu, a very major studio indeed, launched its “roman porno” cycle of pink films. All the big Japanese studios had been very heavily hit by competition from television. Nikkatsu not only decided that pink films would be its salvation, they decided to switch entirely to pink films. Between 1971 and 1988 roman porno films were what Nikkatsu made.

It was a spectacularly successful move. It saved the studio, which is still thriving today.

Nikkatsu’s approach was to let its writers and directors do whatever they wanted, as long as the resulting film contained the necessary quota of nudity and sex. This made the writers and directors pretty happy. They could be as commercial or as arty as they wished. They could pick whatever genre they liked. They could make these films without suits from the front office breathing down their necks. Even better, they had all the facilities of a major studio at their disposal and reasonable budgets to work with.

As a consequence the roman porno films were incredibly varied. Most were successful with the public and some attracted very favourable attention from critics.

In spite of the extreme variety of these films it’s possible to divide them very broadly into two categories. The first comprised movies that relied on extreme sexual violence. The second category comprised sex comedies which tended to be goofy, good-natured and often totally insane. The Flight Attendant films definitely belong in the sex comedy category.

The movie focuses on four Japanese flight attendants (so the formula is superficially similar to Roger Corman’s 1970s stewardess and nurse movies). Most of the focus is on Misako. She’s a sort of chief stewardess. She’s suddenly developed a fear of flying, along with with some odd sexual fantasies. Her boyfriend is a pilot but the relationship gets a bit rocky when she comes home to find him with his face buried between the thighs of her flatmate (who was so drunk at the time she didn’t even know what was happening). A fortune teller tries to cheer Misako up but without success. His prediction about her future will however prove to be significant.

Our four flight attendants spend most of their off duty time getting drunk and having sex, sometimes on outrageous circumstances. They also do some skeet shooting which provides some of the film’s best comic moments. These gals are kinda dangerous with guns, especially when they’re excited.

There’s a subplot involving drug smuggling which will end up becoming unexpectedly related to Misako’s romantic problems. A couple of the girls get to ply hostess to some drunken salarymen, which ends as you’d expect. Flight attendants are very friendly girls.

Misako has a therapist but his methods are a little unconventional. At least I think that feeling up your female patients is usually regarded as unconventional. He’s treating her for her sexual hangups but his sexual kinks are way more extreme than hers.

Misako also encounters a coffee fetishist. It’s not a sexual fetish. He’s just obsessed with making the perfect cup of coffee. In fact he seems to find this more interesting than sleeping with her, which doesn’t please her too much.

Japanese movies were not allowed to show pubic hair at this time. You might think that as a result a Japanese erotic movie would be just a little tame compared to its contemporary British, American and European counterparts. If you do think that then you’re seriously underestimating the Japanese. Even with this restriction they could make an erotic movie that was more sexually raw and in its own way more sexually explicit than most British, American and European softcore offerings of that period. In fact in some ways the restriction was an advantage. It made Japanese directors work harder to achieve the necessary erotic charge. This is a very sexy movie.

The craziness is not as extreme in this movie as in some Japanese movies but there’s plenty of low-key weirdness.

Is it funny? I think that will depend on your tastes. Much of the humour is obviously very Japanese (and very broad) but yes it does have some amusing moments and it is pleasingly goofy and good-natured. In fact it’s very good-natured. There’s even some romance, mixed in with all the frantic coupling.

The Impulse DVD is barebones. It’s in Japanese with English subtitles. It’s a reasonable anamorphic transfer.

Flight Attendant: Scandal provides some fun if you’re in the right mood.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Aroused (1966)

Aroused is a 1966 New York-shot American sexploitation movie belonging to the roughie sub-genre. It was directed by Anton Holden who also co-wrote the screenplay. It’s unusual because it has a somewhat professional feel to it.

The movie opens with the murder of a prostitute named Pat Wilson, and we soon discover that it’s the latest in a series of such murders. We don’t know at first who the murderer is and the cops don’t have much in the way of leads. We do pretty quickly figure out the killer’s identity and that’s where the suspense kicks in.

Johnny (Steve Hollister) is a young Homicide detective and he’s apparently a bit of a hot-head. He’s also not yet hardened to the sight of pretty young women who have been brutally murdered. He’s very keen to catch this killer.

Ginny Smith (Janine Lenon) is a hooker and she and Pat were good friends. She’s hit very hard by Pat’s death and she’d really like to get her hands on the murderer before the police do. If she does she intends to slice him up with a knife and she’s the kind of girl who might well try to do just that.

In typical cop movie style we have an older hardbitten detective who goes by the book because that’s what works, and a rookie who will need to learn that lesson.

Johnny thinks that he and Ginny have come up with a great lan. They’ll use one of Ginny’s hooker friends as bait for the killer. It wouldn’t be a bad plan if Johnny bothered to tell his colleagues on the force so they could arrange proper backup and surveillance to protect the girl. But Johnny is a loose cannon cop who thinks he knows it all and thinks he can crack the case single-handed.

Aroused has an interesting feel. It’s like a reasonably good 1950s police procedural crime B-picture with some film noir tinges but with added sleaze and added nudity. It has an authentically gritty seedy mean streets atmosphere and plenty of hardboiled dialogue. It feels like a low budget movie, but not a zero-budget one. And it gives the impression of being made by people who were trying to make a real movie and taking it fairly seriously.

It doesn’t have any of the weirdness or outrageousness or off-the-wall quality you expect in a sexploitation feature. It’s like a cheap mainstream suspense crime thriller. And it works quite well as a suspense thriller. There are even a couple of not-too-bad action set-pieces (the elevator scene is very well done).

And it’s certainly sleazy and grimy. The killer rapes his victims after he kills them. At a time when Johnny should be concentrating on the case he’s getting a blow job from a hooker. Then he tells the hooker that he loves his wife. He’s not likely to be nominated for Cop of the Year, or Husband of the Year.

Aroused was shot in black-and-white and it looks pretty terrific. It has a classic film noir look. It has some nice night shots of the streets of New York City.

One of the attractions of 1960s American sexploitation is the fact that the women are pretty but they look like real women. There’s nothing surgically enhanced about them. There is a lot less nudity than you would expect.

The acting is quite decent. Many of the cast members give the impression of probably having had at least some actual acting training.

Director Anton Holden made a handful of sexploitation movies in the 60s but he went on to have a reasonably solid mainstream career as a sound editor.

And then there’s the ending, when it suddenly becomes a true sexploitation roughie. The ending is foreshadowed but still comes as a bit of a shock.

This is part of a Something Weird triple-header, along with the excellent Rent-a-Girl and the deliriously wonderful Help Wanted: Female. Which makes this a very strong Something Weird release, in fact pretty much a must-buy.

Aroused is a fascinating hybrid and as such it’s definitely worth seeing. Highly recommended.

Friday, 3 December 2021

OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok (1964)

OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok (AKA Shadow of Evil) is one of the very popular French OSS 117 eurospy movies.

The character of Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath was created by Jean Bruce in a lengthy series of spy novels. After his death the series was continued by his wife Josette and later by his daughter Martine and her husband. The series eventually ran to over 250 novels (published between 1949 and 1993). The first movie adaptation was made in 1956. The character was revived very successfully in 1963 with OSS 117 Is Unleashed featuring American actor Kerwin Mathews as OSS 117. OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok followed in 1964, again with Kerwin Mathews. It was the first film in the series to be shot in colour and in the Cinemascope aspect ratio. The success of the previous film had obviously led to an increase in the budget.

An agent has been killed in Bangkok. He was investigating an outbreak of plague in India. The plague outbreak seems to be associated with anti-cholera vaccinations. OSS 117, using the name Hubert Barton, is sent to take the place of the deceased agent. His aim is to find out what is going on Hogby Laboratories (which produces the anti-cholera vaccine).

He is tailed as soon as he arrives in Bangkok and he finds someone searching his hotel room (which leads to some martial arts action).

OSS 117 is also rather interested in the activities of fashionable physician Dr Guna Sinn (Robert Hossein). He’s also pretty interested in Dr Sinn’s beautiful sister Lila (Pier Angeli).

He’s also interested in his secretary Eva Davidson (Dominique Wilms). OK, he’s interested in anything in a skirt. The problem he has on his hands is two very attractive young women who are both mixed up in the case in some way but can he trust either of them?

He has an ally in the person of his assistant Mr Sontak (Akom Mokranond). He can trust Mr Sontak. Probably. What about Dr Hogby? The plague seems to be originating from his company but whether Dr Hogby himself is involved is an open question.

The problem with this film is that, at 105 minutes, it is much too long and the pacing suffers. It takes way too long for the plot to really kick in.

Once it gets going the plot is quite good. There’s a diabolical criminal mastermind, a fiendish secret society and a plot for world domination.

There’s some great location shooting (done in Thailand). The bad guys’ secret headquarters (complete with mad scientist laboratory) is pretty cool. There’s nothing to complain about as far as the visuals are concerned. There’s too long between the action scenes but they are done quite well.

Kerwin Matthews makes a decent hero, with plenty of charm. The supporting cast is solid and the film’s two babes, Pier Angeli and Dominique Wilms, look great although their acting is not quite so impressive.

The problem facing everyone in the 60s trying to cash in on the Bond craze is that none of them had the budgets to match the action set-pieces of the Bond films. The best of the eurospy movies compensated for this by upping the craziness levels. This one doesn’t quite have enough outrageousness. It does have some outrageousness but we have to wait a long time for it.

Kino Lorber have released five of the 1960s OSS 117 movies in a boxed set (available in both Blu-Ray and DVD versions). OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok gets an excellent transfer.

OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok is a good but not great eurospy movie. Had it been cut by twenty minutes or so it would have been a very good eurospy movie. It was however a substantial box-office success and led to further OSS 117 movies.

It’s reasonably good entertainment and it looks wonderful, so it’s recommended.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Top Sensation (1969)

Top Sensation is a sleazy 1969 Italian production which has one big thing going for it right from the start - it stars both Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri, and if you’re a fan of European exploitation cinema that’s reason enough to see it. But it has a lot more going for it as well.

The first thing to be considered is the genre question. This is not a giallo although it occasionally gets described as such. It’s more of a slow-burning erotic melodrama which eventually morphs into a twisted erotic thriller. It also has some amusing black comedy moments but it is definitely not a sex comedy.

The movie takes place on the luxury pleasure cruiser owned by a very wealthy woman named Mudy (Maud Belleroche). It was shot almost entirely on the yacht (which to be towed because if they’d used the engines there would have been too much vibration). This gives the film an interesting feel - both claustrophobic and isolated. Which is significant because these are people who have chosen to ignore the normal rules of civilised society.

Mudy has a son named Tony. Tony worries her considerably. It’s not quite clear what’s wrong with Tony but there’s definitely something wrong. He seems to be mentally slow, and he’s distant and uncommunicative. Today he might be described as autistic. He’s a grown man, but he lives in his own dream world, playing with his toy cars and toy robot.
Mudy might not be sure what’s amiss with Tony but she believes she knows how to cure the problem. If Tony could be persuaded to take an interest in girls he’d be OK. Losing his virginity might cure him. She has cooked up a plan to make sure that he does lose his virginity.

She has hired three people to bring this about. There’s Aldo, a good-looking entirely amoral young man. There’s Aldo’s depraved wife Paula (Rosalba Neri). And there’s Ulla (Edwige Fenech), who seems to be Paula’s sexual plaything and Aldo’s as well. If Paula can’t seduce Tony then they have Ulla as a backup. And if women as hot as these two can’t arouse Tony’s interest in girls then what can?

The plan is not going well. Tony is just not interested. Paula and Ulla amuse themselves with each other, Mudy amuses herself with Aldo and the two girls (all the women in this movie are bisexual and omnivorous and generally sex-crazed).

The fate steps in. Aldo runs the boat aground near a tiny island. There are only two people on the island, a peasant named Andro (Salvatore Puntilla) and his pretty blonde young wife Beba (Eva Thulin). And something wondrous happens. Tony actually seems to be interested in Beba. It seems like Tony goes for peasant girls rather than glamour babes. If Beba can be enticed aboard the boat then surely she and Tony can get it on. Meanwhile Paula and Ulla can keep Beba’s husband amused. And of course Paula and Ulla seduce Beba.

Oh yes, something else happens on the island. Ulla has an intimate encounter with a goat. A very very intimate encounter. I just hope it was as good for the goat as it clearly was for Ulla. You’re probably thinking that this can’t be right, even Italian sleazefests of this era wouldn’t go that far. But this movie does. So if the idea of Edwige Fenech making it with a goat is your very favourite fantasy this is the movie for you. It’s a female goat by the way so it counts as both bestiality and lesbianism!

Could this movie offer anything else in the way of depravity? You bet it could, but I can’t risk a spoiler by telling you what it is.

There are those who see some political content to this movie, some kind of commentary on the exploitative nature of the rich. While Italian movies of this period did flirt with political themes I don’t buy the idea of this movie having any political significance. Every character in the movie, rich or poor, bourgeois or peasant, is greedy and amoral. Greed and amorality are what this movie is all about.

One of the things that really makes this movie work is that Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech are so different. They’re both stunningly beautiful women but they’re beautiful in completely different ways and they project entirely different personas. And the characters they play are so different. Neri’s character, Paula, is depraved but she’s clever and actively manipulative and dangerous. Fenech’s character, Ulla, is just as depraved and just as amoral but in a more passive way. She’ll take pleasure when it’s offered and she’ll do anything for money but she just drifts from depravity to depravity. Paula’s mind, on the other hand, never stops calculating the angles.

The entire cast is excellent and it’s perhaps unfair to single anyone out but I do think that it’s Rosalba Neri who walks off with the acting honours. This was a really juicy rôle for her and she grabs the opportunity with both hands. Incidentally she was also the assistant director on the production.

Ottavio Alessi had had a distinguished enough career as a writer but was very inexperienced as a director and, reading between the lines, it’s possible that Rosalba Neri was more of a co-director than an assistant director.

This is a movie that exists in at least three versions. There’s the Italian version, which is sleazy. There’s the US version (released as The Seducers) which is even sleazier and has more nudity. And there’s the German version which includes major changes and has even more nudity. The Shameless UK release offers the Italian cut with some of the sleazier scenes from the US version added. Extras include an alternate ending which doesn’t really change things much, plus there’s a featurette that includes interviews with Salvatore Puntilla and Rosalba Neri. The transfer is generally superb except that a few of the more scorching scenes have had to come from source material that isn’t in great shape.

There’s also a Camera Obscura release which includes both the Italian and German versions.

Top Sensation is prime eurosleaze and it has a plot which takes some deliciously nasty turns. It takes a while for the full twistedness of the story to become apparent. There’s Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech so what are you waiting for? Highly recommend

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Swamp Country (1966)

Swamp Country, a very low-budget 1966 effort filmed in the swampland of Florida, is a hicksploitation movie but it belongs to that fascinating sub-genre that could perhaps be called swampsploitation. Most were set, and shot, in the Okefenokee Swamp and a better setting for an exploitation movie would be hard to find.

Swamp Country has a couple of plotlines going on, one involving an aspiring country singer and a local gal and the other involving a woman from the city who is sent to a one-horse town on the edge of the swamp for some purpose that I must confess remained something of a mystery to me except that the guys sending her appeared to be mobsters. Before she leaves she is warned to stay off the sauce but of course as soon as she books into a motel she heads straight for a bar and gets thoroughly plastered. She gets back to her motel room and promptly gets strangled.

The poor schmuck in the room next door, a big guy called Dave Wetzel, gets arrested for the murder. There’s not a shred of evidence against him but that doesn’t bother the local sheriff. Wetzel, figuring he hasn’t got a hope of getting justice, escapes. And heads straight for the swamp where of course he has no chance of survival. There isn’t a character in this movie who isn’t as dumb as a rock.

Despite the fact that they have zero evidence against him the sheriff and the townsfolk decide to hunt Dave down and they clearly are not too worried about taking him alive. He’s from the city after all, so he’s probably guilty of something. They have guns and dogs and they’re going to get some sport.

But now we get a surprise twist. It wasn’t so dumb for Dave Wetzel to head for the swamp after all. He just happens to be an expert in jungle survival techniques. Hunting him through the swamp turns out to be more dangerous for the hunters than the hunted. Mostly it’s dangerous because the guys in the posse are incredibly dumb. Dave doesn’t have to kill them. They just get themselves into trouble. It’s as if they’ve lived next door to the swamp all their lives but have no idea of the perils that lurk there. For example they apparently have no idea that there are bears in the swamp.

The hunt through the swamp could have provided some real excitement but suddenly the movie loses interest in it and starts to focus on the romantic triangle between Nora Cox (who lives with her kid sister and alcoholic mother), Sheriff Jim Tanner and would-be country music star Baker Knight. The Sheriff is old enough to be Nora’s dad, or at least that’s what we’re told (actually actress Carolyn Gilbert is much too old to play the role).

This is not just a swampsploitation movie, it’s a musical swampsploitation movie. We get quite a few songs, all of which you’ll want to forget as quickly as possible. Baker Knight plays himself. He really was an aspiring country music star and he really did make the big time. I didn’t like his songs, but your mileage may vary.

The romance sub-plot slows down the action and there’s another sub-plot as well, which has Baker kidnapped by gangsters. There’s an attempt to tie the swamp hunt and romance sub-plots together at the end. The tying together of sub-plots doesn’t work too well but that’s part of the movie’s charm. It has an engaging amateurishness to it. This is regional exploitation cinema which was a big thing at one time. Low-budget movies like this were made purely for regional drive-in markets (where they did good business) and mostly never played markets like New York and LA.

Which means that when judging a movie like this you have to keep in mind the audience at which it was aimed. They loved seeing city folks hunted through swamps, they loved sentimental country music and they loved corny romance.

Bad acting is usually a plus in movies such as this but it has to be the right sort of bad acting. In this case the performances are a bit too wooden. Surprisingly some of these people (like Lyle Waggoner who plays a deputy) went on to have actual careers.

David DaLie (who plays Dave Wetzel) wrote the screenplay. This movie seems to be producer-director Robert Patrick’s sole feature film directing credit. Which is not surprising since it’s a pretty amateurish effort.

Something Weird have paired this one with Swamp Girl in a swamp double-header release. The transfer for Swamp Country isn’t that great. There’s quite a bit of print damage. But then we should be grateful that movies such as this have survived at all.

Swamp Country is a bit of an incoherent mess but devotees of low-budget regional movies will find it has a certain odd charm.

It was shot in colour and in the ‘scope aspect ratio which was unusual for such a low-budget movie at this time.

Some reviews of other swampsploitation and swamp-themed movies that you might be interested in -
The Death Curse of Tartu (1966), 'Gator Bait (1974), Louisiana Hussey (1959), Roger Corman’s Swamp Women (1955), The Swamp of the Ravens (1974).

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Momoe’s Lips (1979)

Momoe’s Lips is a 1979 entry in Nikkatsu’s “roman porno” series, the Japanese studio’s attempt to find a way to tempt audiences back to movie theatres by offering them something that television just couldn’t offer - outrageous helpings of sex and sleaze. They churned out an immense number of these films and they were hugely successful. The roman porno movies fell into two broad categories - goofy sleazy sex comedies and incredibly nihilistic sex and violence epics. Momoe’s Lips is about as nihilistic and sleazy a film as you’ll ever hope to see. Perhaps I should add that the original title was Rape Shot: Momoe’s Lips.

Tôru Miyake (Noriaki Abe) is a journalist working for a scandal sheet. His specialty is scandals involving the entertainment business. It pays well if you have no ethics and don’t mind being the journalist equivalent of a cockroach, and Tôru cheerfully describes himself as a cockroach.

He’d like to go after Momoe but going after her could be very injurious to one’s health. That’s the only mention of Momoe in the movie. Apparently it refers to a real-life pop star. I’m sure she was thrilled to have her name associated this film, and even more thrilled by a slightly later film called, wait for it, Molester Train: Momoe’s Butt.

Tôru decides instead to go after Yôko Miki (Minako Mizushima). She’s the latest singing sensation and her career is being managed by Mr Hoshino. There are rumours that Hoshino keeps his young female singing stars pliable by pumping them full of drugs. Tôru thinks he has a way of finding out if this is true or not (we’ll come back to this later).

Tôru discovers that poking his nose into Mr Hoshino’s business can be pretty injurious to one’s health as well.

Then Yôko gets kidnapped. Tôru isn’t sure whether it’s some stunt on Mr Hoshino’s part of if the kidnappers are part of someone else’s scheme or whether they’re just crazies. He doesn’t care. There’s a great story in this and that will improve his bank balance.

Tôru thinks he can get a lead from a friendly whore. He doesn’t get the information he wants but she does give him a good time. And at discount rates.

Meanwhile Yôko is not having a good time. She’s getting raped by three crazies, including an odd young man known as Dragonfly. Dragonfly is actually a big fan of Yôko’s. He has all her records. He worships her. That doesn’t stop him from raping her. Some fans do carry things a bit too far.

There’s one thing that puzzles Tôru. He is convinced that Yôko is injecting drugs (or perhaps is being forcibly injected with drugs) but he can’t find any needle marks on her. And he examined every square inch of her body. Yes, every square inch. Yes, even there. No needle marks. In fact Yôko is being injected with drugs but the method by which it’s done provides one of the movie’s many shocking moments.

Tôru figures, correctly, that Mr Hoshino will pay a lot of money to get Yôko back. He’s willing to pay five million yen. Returning her to Mr Hoshino probably is not doing the girl any favours but five million yen is five million yen.

The violence is non-stop. It’s not just the crazy kidnappers and Mr Hoshino’s goons getting violent. Other extraneous characters wander into the film simply for the purpose of beating up Tôru or getting beaten up by him. There’s a lot of sex, some of it consensual. Even the consensual sex is fairly sleazy. You may want to take a shower after watching this movie. The rape scenes are not particularly graphic but they are shocking and brutal. If you’re sensitive to such things then this is not the movie for you.

Tôru may be the most unsympathetic protagonist in cinema history. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s just a sleazebag. There are no heroes in this story. Just nasty cynical violent people out for their own interests. The ostensible heroine (or victim) is not exactly a paragon of virtue either.

It’s a movie that does manage to go places that I personally had never even thought of. When Tôru follows Yôko into the ladies’ room, follows her into the stall, slams her up against the wall and pulls her panties down you figure you know what’s going to happen next. And you’d be totally wrong. What he’s actually trying to do is collect a urine sample from her. He’s performing a kind of impromptu drug test.

Director Katsuhiko Fujii does a pretty solid job, adding a few nice visual flourishes.

The acting is more than adequate. These are not nice characters but Noriaki Abe and Minako Mizushima manage to give Tôru and Yôko just a little bit more depth than you’d expect.

Once you get past the sex and nudity there’s an effective and nasty little hardboiled crime story here with some very noir touches.

The Impulse DVD offers a very good anamorphic transfer. The only extra is in the shape of liner notes from Jasper Sharp.

There are sleazier roman porno films but I’m not sure there are any that are more thoroughly nihilistic than this one. But if you’re in the mood for sleaze and nihilism Momoe’s Lips is recommended.

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Jean Rollin's Little Orphan Vampires (novel)

Little Orphan Vampires is a 1993 novel by Jean Rollin (1938-2010). Rollin is better known in the English-speaking world as the director of strange surreal erotic horror movies with the emphasis on the surrealism and with a twisted fairy tale feel to them. In his native France he enjoyed more success as a novelist, working in the fantasy and horror genres. As his health failed he concentrated on the writing of novels.

Rollin was a huge fan of the French movie serials and of the 19th century and early 20th century pulp fiction serial stories known as feullitons.

Little Orphan Vampires was the first of a series of six short novels dealing with two blind orphan girls who are vampires. In 1997 Rollin returned to film-making with his movie version of the tale, under the title Two Orphan Vampires.

Henriette and Louise are blind orphan girls living in an orphanage. No-one knows where they came from or even if they’re sisters or not. The kindly Dr Dennery, an eye specialist, decides to adopt them. He is genuinely moved by compassion but he is also fascinated by the case since there is no apparent physical cause for the girls’ blindness.

On the night before they leave the orphanage we discover several odd things about these young orphans. Firstly, that although they are completely blind during the day they can see very well at night. Secondly, they feed on blood. Thirdly, they are killers.

Leaving Dr Dennery’s house for nocturnal adventures is not difficult. The kindly doctor never imagines for one moment that two blind girls could or would sneak out of the house so it never occurs to him to check that they remain in their bedroom at night. Their favourite huntings grounds are cemeteries. They’re smart enough to pick victims who are vulnerable enough to be overpowered by two young girls. Their biggest advantages as huntresses is that one of them suddenly appears to a prospective victim that victim is unlikely to be on his or her guard against a poor little blind girl.

When they’re not hunting they indulge in bloodthirsty fantasies about being Aztec goddesses. It’s a lifestyle that suits them although eventually they grow bored and start to take greater risks.

The conventional vampire lore was firmly established by the 1930s, by both books and movies. Vampires were immortal creatures, neither dead nor alive, they fed on blood, they feared religious symbols, they abhorred garlic, they slept in coffins, daylight was dangerous or even fatal to them. By the 1970s vampire fiction and vampire movies were starting to play around with these conventions. In 1971 in his film Vampyros Lesbos Jess Franco gave us a lady vampire who loves sunbathing.

Rollin played all sorts of games with the conventions of the vampire genre and in Little Orphan Vampires the exact nature of Henriette and Louise is very ambiguous. Are they vampires or murderesses? They drink blood, but do they need to do so? They can go out in the daylight but they are helpless due to their day time blindness. Is the strange fact that they are blind during the day but have excellent vision at night a sign of their supernatural natures or some rare medical condition? Are they immortal? They seem physically normal in most respects. Are they vampires or is it just a shared delusion?

Rollin’s movies are often regarded as belonging to the lesbian vampire sub-genre but that’s quite misleading. The eroticism in Rollin’s films is too diffuse for such a categorisation. Are Henriette and Louise lesbians? They certainly do not have sex with each other (or with anyone). Their close emotional bond could be explained just as easily by the likelihood that they are sisters (or believe themselves to be sisters in some mystic sense). The book has a sense of strange unhealthy eroticism but it’s a kind of non-sexual eroticism.

They are both evil and innocent. They do not see themselves as having any connection with any human beings other than each other. They cannot comprehend the idea of morality, or of any emotion apart from their fierce devotion to one another. They are complete outsiders. They enjoy killing, with a simple animal pleasure.

Rollin was always fascinated by female doubles. His protagonists are frequently two girls who might be sisters, or they might be lovers, or thy might be something else entirely. They might be two halves of a single personality. Or reflections of each other. Rollin liked to keep the true nature of these female doubles as mysterious as possible.

Rollin was also fascinated by vampires but you should never expect anything resembling a conventional vampire tale from Rollin, in either his fiction or his movies. Some of his vampires are real. Some think they are vampires but they aren’t. Some don’t know they’re vampires. The vampirism may be an illness. Rollin was quite prepared to throw a few science fiction elements into the mix so a Rollin vampire might well be an artificial creation. His vampires can be evil, or simply amoral, or they may inhabit an entirely different moral universe. They can fall in love. And they can have sex. But do not jump to the conclusion that Rollin produced mere vampire porn. The eroticism in his stories and movies is much more subtle and diffuse and strange and mysterious to be dismissed as porn.

Rollin was enormously influenced by the surrealists and his films do have definite art-house credentials. He was just as influenced by trashy pulp fiction serials. He had a sensibility that combined pop, pulp and artiness. You’re not really going to appreciate this novel unless you accept this. Little Orphan Vampires is as literary as it is trashy.

Little Orphan Vampires has been published in an English translation by Redemption. It’s a great pity that the subsequent books in the series have not yet been translated.

If you like your vampire fiction as weird and unconventional as possible but you still demand that it should be fun then Little Orphan Vampires is worth seeking out. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Chained Heat (1983)

Chained Heat, directed by Paul Nicolas and released in 1983, has the reputation of being one of the tougher and more sleazy American women-in-prison films. I was a bit sceptical about this but yes, it is pretty tough and pretty sleazy. It was released on DVD a few years back as part of a three-feature women-in-prison boxed set from Panik House. The other two movies in the set are Red Heat (another Linda Blair WiP outing) and Jungle Warriors. I think the set is technically out of print but new copies can still be obtained without too much trouble.

Carol Henderson (Linda Blair) has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for manslaughter. Carol is really just a fairly ordinary girl who got real unlucky. She’s no hardened criminal and she is totally unprepared for life behind bars. Especially in this particular prison. The prison is awash with drugs, which is hardly surprising since the warden and most of the guards are dope pushers.

There’s also a simmering race war. Murders are frequent. Rapes (committed by one of the male guards) are par for the course. And if you’re wondering if this movies includes that staple of the women-in-prison genre, predatory lesbians, you won’t be disappointed.

The latest murder victim is a girl who’s been acting as a snitch for the Warden Bacman (John Vernon). The warden decides that he has to have a snitch (if only to keep an eye on rival drug-pushing operations) and that Carol might be a suitable choice. Carol is so naïve that she is tempted.

There are numerous power struggles going on, the most notable being that between Duchess (Tamara Dobson), the de facto leader of the black prisoners, and Ericka (Sybil Danning), the de facto leader of the white prisoners. Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens) is not only mixed up in the power struggles she’s also involved in a romantic relationship with Lester (Howard Silva) whose job in the dispensary makes him a drug king pin. It’s a romantic relationship which probably won’t end well for Taylor.

Carol’s other problem is that she’s fresh meat and she’s attracted the attention of Ericka who is always on the lookout for pretty innocents.

Poor Linda Blair has never received much respect as an actress but she’s actually pretty good. She’s convincingly naïve and convincingly confused and terrified. Stella Stevens gives the standout performance of the movie as the corrupt Captain Taylor whose judgment is clouded by her unwise passion for Lester. Both Blair and Stevens take their rôles seriously and give their respective characters a bit of nuance. Blair handles her character’s slow transformation extremely well. Carol never becomes a tough girl but she becomes tough enough to have a chance at survival.

Linda Blair was an interesting casting choice because she’s not really a glamour babe, she just looks like a very ordinary reasonably attractive young woman. She was presumably cast largely on the basis of her notoriety as the star of The Exorcist but she has to rely on her acting rather than on her glamour or her willingness to take her clothes off (although she does have a couple of mild nude scenes). Fortunately she actually can act.

The other players go totally over the top but they do so very entertainingly and their performances work because it is a deliberately excessive movie about extreme subject matter and subtlety probably wouldn’t have worked.

John Vernon is a delight as the sleazy warden who has a jacuzzi in his office and likes to film himself having sex with a procession of female prisoners. Sybil Danning is deliciously nasty and deliciously sexy.

This movie contains every single exploitation element that you expect from this genre. There is of course a shower scene, with copious frontal nudity. There are vicious cat fights. There’s a rape scene which isn’t very graphic but it’s made rather chilling by the obvious enjoyment being obtained by the female guard who watches it happen (and who in fact set up the girl to be raped). There’s also a prostitution ring being run from the prison, more rapes and lots of reasonably graphic violence. And some imaginative killings.

This is one of those movies that seems to be pure exploitation but at the same time gives the impression that those involved really were trying to make a good movie.

Don’t expect too much complex political messaging. Insofar as there is a message, you could say that it’s simply that power corrupts, and it corrupts the victims of power as well as those wielding the power. But it’s really not a political film.

The most interesting characters are Duchess, Ericka and Carol’s friend Val (Sharon Hughes) because they’re neither heroines nor villainesses. They’re just doing what it takes to survive and they’ll form temporary alliances based on self-interest. It can be very useful to have Ericka on your side but it’s wise to remember that she’s still a scheming murderous bitch. The question is whether she’s going to be a scheming murderous bitch on the side of the good guys or the bad guys. Val at least does have one redeeming feature - her friendship for Carol is genuine and it’s the only genuine human relationship in the movie.

The anamorphic transfer is very good. This was supposedly the first opportunity that Americans got to see this film uncut. The extras include interviews with Stella Stevens and Sybil Danning and a brief introduction by Mr Skin (who apparently runs a celebrity nude website).

Chained Heat is certainly the best American women-in-prison movie I’ve seen, and the only American WiP movie that can stand comparison with the classics of the genre such as Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. Chained Heat is sleazy fun and it’s highly recommended.