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.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Picture Mommy Dead (1966)

Picture Mommy Dead is a 1966 horror thriller produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon.

Edward Shelley (Don Ameche) and his new wife Francene (Martha Hyer) go to collect Edward’s teenaged daughter Susan (Susan Gordon) from the convent where she’s been since the accident. It’s actually more of a mental hospital than a convent. The accident was a fire in which Susan’s mother Jessica was killed. At the time of the accident Francene was Susan’s governess.

Jessica had been very wealthy and she made a complicated will. Susan was left a vast fortune but it’s tied up in trust until she’s 25. Edward was left a sizeable sum plus the paintings and furnishings of Jessica’s palatial house Flagmore House. The house itself was left to the state with the proviso that it would not pass to the state during Susan’s lifetime as long as Susan is willing to live there.

There are further complications. If Susan dies or goes permanently insane the fortune goes to Edward. If Edward dies everything goes to Jessica’s cousin Anthony (who was left a measly five hundred dollars in the will).

And Edward is broke. He’s spent all the money Jessica left him so he wants to sell off all the paintings and furnishings of Flagmore House. He manages to persuade Susan to agree to this, much to the disgust of the family lawyer, Clayborn (Wendell Corey).

That will clearly has plenty of potential to cause trouble. 

It soon becomes very obviously that each one of the major characters could have had a motive for killing Jessica (we don’t believe for a moment that her death was an accident). They also have good motives for killing each other. Edward, Francene and Anthony are all morally corrupt in their own ways. And then there’s Susan, who seems like a nice young girl but she is clearly disturbed and could be totally innocent or a homicidal maniac. What’s also interesting is that while it’s possible that one or more people are trying to drive Susan insane, she may or may not be already insane. Or she may be completely sane but simply unable to remember the events of that fateful night. 

There are major sexual and romantic complications to add extra layers of motivation. And extra layers of perversity. Major league perversity.

There’s a hint at the beginning of the film as to the solution but it’s a cleverly ambiguous hint and you don’t want to make the mistake of drawing too many conclusions from it.

In fact you don’t want to make that mistake at any stage in this film. Some elements are predictable enough but there are other elements that are truly devious plot twists and the ending is one of the great endings in cinema history. And no, I’m not exaggerating. It’s seriously brilliant and twisted.

Andy Warhol once said that in the future it will be possible to be famous for being famous. Zsa Zsa Gabor had already achieved this. Her film career amounted to very little but she was very very famous indeed for being Zsa Zsa Gabor. What she adds to this film (her rôle consists entirely of flashbacks) is her presence and her notoriety.

Susan Gordon, the daughter of Bert I. Gordon, had a brief career as a child star. Picture Mommy Dead was her final film rôle. The character she plays in this film is supposed to be a teenager (I’d assume she’s supposed to be about fifteen) and it was a bold move casting a 17-year-old actress since it’s quite a demanding rôle. Susan Gordon carries it off exceptionally well. It’s a pretty extraordinary performance. She just nails it.

Don Ameche had been a fairly big star in the 30s and 40s but made only a handful of movies after that until staging a major late comeback in the 80s. He’s very good here. Martha Hyer adds glamour and perversity and it’s appropriate that she’s the same physical type as Zsa Zsa. Maxwell Reed as Anthony is deliciously slimy as well. Wendell Corey’s rôle is very brief, not much more than a cameo, but he makes the most of it as the most cantankerous lawyer you’ve ever seen.

I’d always assumed that Bert I. Gordon was just a hack director of schlocky B-pictures but clearly I was wrong. He does a great job here. This is a very well-crafted movie and it has some very nice visual moments (and lots of symbolism). Robert Sherman’s screenplay has an intriguingly cyclical touch to it. Events repeat themselves, but do they repeat themselves exactly?

While the ending is a shock if you watch the movie a second time there are definite clues pointing in that direction.

Apparently the movie encountered no major censorship issues. I can only assume that the censors simply didn’t understand what the movie was about. If they had understood they’d have gone crazy.

Picture Mommy Dead has been released on both DVD and Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber, with an audio commentary (by Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson). It’s a movie that really benefits from the commentary since there’s a surprising amount to unpack in this movie. 

Picture Mommy Dead is just a wonderfully twisted motion picture. There’s just enough of a camp sensibility and there’s a lot of outrageousness. Very highly recommended.

I discovered this movie through a review at Michael’s Moviepalace.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976)

If you’re going to make a movie in the poliziotteschi genre could you come up with a better title than Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man? That’s the title of this 1976 entry in the genre directed by Ruggero Deodato (the original Italian title is (Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore).

It starts off with a manic motorcycle chase. A woman has not only had her purse snatched she’s been brutally beaten by two men on a motorcycle. Two cops set off in pursuit. It’s not only a frenzied adrenaline rush of a chase it also tells us quite a bit about these two cops. Alfredo (Marc Porel) and Alberto (Ray Lovelock) are partners and they work together like a well-oiled machine. They never give up. And they have no time at all for such legal niceties as due process or suspects’ rights. Their idea of crime-fighting is that violent criminals need killing and they’re happy to do the killing. They’re nutters so it’s just as well they’re on the side of the good guys.

We find out that they work for a police Special Force. It’s an elite squad that doesn’t mind bending the rules a little. Alfredo and Alberto don’t just bend the rules, they ignore them completely. Even in the Special Force they’re considered to be dangerous and crazy but they get results.

The main plot thread concerns a big-time gangster named Pasquini. The Special Force has been trying to nail him for several years. Now Pasquini has had a senior Special Force officer assassinated. So Alfredo and Alberto are now really keen to get Pasquini. Their task may however be complicated by police corruption at a high level.

Alfredo and Alberto find time to get involved in plenty of other violent situations, such a siege which they deal with in their own individual style. Their style is messy but it works.

They also find plenty of time to chase women.

Our two cop heroes decide to put some pressure on Pasquini, which they do with the aid of lots of explosions. That’s usually a good way to get someone’s attention.

The trouble with Pasquini is that he’s obsessive about covering his tracks. Nobody knows where to find him. Alfredo and Alberto do however know where his sister Lina lives. They decide to interrogate her. Their interrogation methods are somewhat unorthodox. They involve both Alfredo and Alberto having sex with her. They don’t get any useful information but Lina really enjoys this method of interrogation.

Unfortunately while our two rogue cops are hunting Pasquini at the same time Pasquini is also hunting them. Their best chance of survival is to find him before he finds them.

That opening motorcycle chase is justly famous but it’s just one of a series of amazing action set-pieces. The shoot-out at the quarry is inspired. It’s also like something out of a spaghetti western. Ruggero Deodato had been assistant director on Sergio Corbucci’s classic spaghetti western Django and Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man does have a bit of a spaghetti western feel, with the two heroes being more like gunslingers than cops.

It’s an extremely violent movie. I’m not always a fan of ultra-violent cop movies but the violence in this movie is stylish and imaginative rather than merely crude and the movie lacks the extreme nihilism that sometimes afflicts the poliziotteschi genre.

The humour has some lighter moments to balance the violence and some of the violence has a definite black comedy tinge to it.

There’s a bit of nudity but not too much. In fact by 1976 standards very little.

Marc Sorel and Ray Lovelock make a great team. They’re both charismatic and they both have a rogueish charm. The presence of Adolfo Celi in the cast (playing their long-suffering boss) is a bonus. The entire cast acquits itself well.

I should add that Ray Lovelock gets to sing - his ballads are interspersed throughout the movie.

The Raro Video DVD (they’ve released in on Blu-Ray as well) offers an excellent transfer and is apparently pretty much uncut (it’s a movie that had quite a few censorship problems). There are some sparse liner notes and a very good 42-minute documentary, Violent Cops, featuring interviews with many of those involved in the production including director Ruggero Deodato and star Ray Lovelock (both of whom are, quite righty, proud of this movie).

I have mixed feelings about the the poliziotteschi genre but Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is now easily my favourite representative of the genre. It’s fast and furious and incredibly stylish and very entertaining. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Atragon (1963)

Atragon is a 1963 Japanese science fiction movie directed by Ishirô Honda. Ishirô Honda is of course best known as the man who first brought Godzilla to the screen. He also directed the wonderful 1957 sci-fi epic The Mysterians. Atragon includes just about everything that I personally could hope for in a sci-fi movie.

An engineer is kidnapped and the witnesses, including a glamour photographer, tell the police a strange story of a man emerging from the sea. The police start to get really worried when other engineers start disappearing. The police inspector in charge of the case is even more worried when he encounters a strange guy who claims to be an agent of the Mu Empire. This guy really does disappear into the sea.

As everybody knows (or at least everybody in the movie knows) the Mu Empire vanished beneath the ocean 10,000 years ago.

The agent of the Mu Empire, Agent 23, is interested in a man named Kusumi (Ken Uehara). Kusumi had been a Vice-Admiral in the Imperial Navy. His protégé Captain Jinguji (Jun Tazaki) had been a genius designer who had designed an incredibly advanced submarine, the A400. It came too late to affect the outcome of the war and the last of the A400 boats, the A403, was lost with all hands (including Captain Jinguji) in the final days of the war.

Agent 23 is convinced that Captain Jinguji is still alive, and that he is working on a new submarine, the Atragon, which will be a mortal threat to the Mu Empire. The world’s most advanced submarine, the American Red Satan (!), has just been destroyed by the Mu Empire but the Atragon would be a much more formidable threat. The Empress Mu intends to extend the Mu Empire’s dominion over the whole planet.

The news that Captain Jinguji might be still alive is a shock to his daughter Makoto (Yôko Fujiyama). She was three years old when the war ended and has been raised by ex-Admiral Kusumi.

Captain Jinguji is alive and he has built a new super submarine. The problem is that Captain Jinguji is quite mad. He has not accepted that the war is over. He has established a secret base on an island from which he intends to re-establish the Japanese Empire.

There is of course a very obvious and conscious parallel being drawn between Captain Jinguji’s crazy plans and the equally crazy plans of the Empress Mu. In both cases it’s an attempt to revive the glories of the past. Admiral Kusumi on the other hand represents the new world and the new Japan. He has come to terms with the end of the Japanese Empire. He is a man of peace, although he also accepts that the Mu Empire will have to be destroyed.

So there’s lots of stuff about Japan trying to find its place in a new world, trying to move forward to a peaceful future, but with some elements in society still looking to the past. There’s a conflict between Japan’s official pacifism and the need to counter a real threat.

You tend to expect political subtexts in Japanese movies of the 60s and 70s. At least in this case it’s a more complex and subtle political subtext than usual.

The political aspects are also intertwined with some emotional conflicts. Admiral Kusumi and Captain Jinguji have tried to deal with the shock of Japan’s defeat in different ways and for Jinguji there’s the difficulty of trying to re-establish a relationship with a daughter who finds his actions and attitudes incomprehensible. There’s some surprising nuance in this movie.

This movie has super-submarines. It has secret agents. It has secret island military bases. It has monsters (yes, it has monsters). It has a threat to Civilisation As We Know It. It has a beautiful but evil queen. Best of all it’s a lost world/lost civilisation story, a genre of which I’m extremely fond. This movie ticks all my boxes. And it has not just a super-villain but an ambiguous villain-hero as well.

Of course you know there’s going to be a climactic battle between the Mu Empire and the forces of Earth, but in the meantime there’s the kidnapping of Makoto by agents of the Mu Empire to provide further suspense and excitement, and to provide the necessary Woman In Peril angle. It always helps if the woman in peril is young and pretty and Makoto qualifies on both counts.

The miniatures work is very impressive. The special effects are excellent. There are some cool sets.

The acting is also generally extremely good.

The Cheezy Movies DVD release only offers the English dubbed version but it’s in the correct aspect ratio (the film was shot in Tohoscope) and the anamorphic transfer is very good. There have been other DVD releases but this one seems to be the easiest to get hold of at present.

Atragon offers all the ingredients that made Toho’s science fiction and monster movies so much fun and adds some thematic subtlety. This is just a terrific movie and it’s highly recommended.

This is another great movie I discovered through Michael's Moviepalace.

Friday, 22 October 2021

Seduction (La seduzione, 1973)

Director Fernando Di Leo has gained quite a cult following in recent years for his 1970s work in the poliziotteschi genre. He worked in other genres as well, an example being his 1973 erotic melodrama Seduction (La seduzione).

Giuseppe (Maurice Ronet) is a middle-aged man who has returned to Catania in Sicily after a long absence. He has to wind up his deceased father’s affairs but he’s really come back in the hope of seeing Caterina (Lisa Gastoni) again. She’s now a rather beautiful widow in her late 30s. Maybe this time he can make it work with her.

They begin an affair. Everything goes wonderfully well. It’s just like it was all those years ago, only better. They hit it off in the bedroom, and out of it. And to make the situation even more perfect Giuseppe gets along well with Caterina’s daughter Graziela (Jenny Tamburi).

But maybe Giuseppe and Graziela get along a little too well.

The first time Giuseppe stays the night at Caterina’s house he gets up during the night to visit the bathroom. He can’t help noticing that Graziela’s bedroom door is open. He also can’t help noticing that Graziela sleeps nude and somehow or other, by some unlucky mischance, she’s managed to toss the bedcovers onto the floor so Giuseppe gets a good look at her nude body. Perhaps unwisely Giuseppe has another look on his way back to Caterina’s bedroom.

At this stage Giuseppe isn’t sure that Graziela is flirting with him but she soon makes it very obvious. When she drapes her legs over Giuseppe it is perhaps not an entirely wise thing for him to start caressing those very attractive legs, and it’s definitely not a good idea to start caressing her in more intimate places. But that’s exactly what he does.

It’s obvious that Graziela intends to seduce him and it’s equally obvious that he’s not likely to offer much resistance.

In fact he offers none at all. As to who does the seducing, it’s pretty much mutual.

Giuseppe’s judgment is not all that great. Having sex with Graziela while Caterina is out of the house is risky enough but having sex with her while Caterina is asleep in the bedroom next door is really really dumb.

It’s no surprise at all that Caterina walks in on them at a most inopportune moment.

This is by no means the end of the story. Giuseppe, Caterina and Graziela come to an arrangement which involves Giuseppe and Graziela promising not to get up to any more sexual hijinks but you know that’s not going to last long and then further complications arise when another player joins the game. And neither Caterina nor Graziela can stop loving Giuseppe.

Maurice Monet’s rather diffident performance works. Giuseppe is a guy who really doesn’t seem to appreciate the dangers of the minefield he’s wandered into. Lisa Gastoni is excellent. She’s beautiful and glamorous, and she has some some fairly steamy sex scenes. Jenny Tamburi is convincingly dangerous. Ornella Muti was originally cast as Graziela but Lisa Gastoni vetoed that casting. She was probably right to do so. Muti was just too gorgeous and that would have harmed the film since we have to believe that not only is Graziela a convincing rival to Caterina but also that Caterina is beautiful enough to be a convincing rival to Graziela. Jenny Tamburi is certainly beautiful, but not to the extent of totally overshadowing Gastoni.

Giuseppe’s friend Alfredo (Pino Caruso) provides the comic relief and he is genuinely amusing. He’s entirely inept with women but he likes to give the impression of being a Don Juan. And occasionally, and surprisingly, his observations on relationship prove to be on-target. He’s certainly right about Graziela.

Most reviewers succumb to the temptation to make comparisons to Lolita but that’s not necessarily helpful since once that comparison is made it becomes difficult to discuss the movie sensibly. Graziela’s age is never mentioned but she’s clearly considerably older than the title character of Nabokov’s novel. There nothing in the movie to explicitly suggest that Graziela is legally underage and Jenny Tamburi was twenty-one when the film was made. We can guess that she’s supposed to be around sixteen. This is not quite a Lolita story. There are some Lolita-esque elements but I think that if you get too focused on them you’re likely to be led astray in trying to understand the point of the movie. It’s a twisted romantic triangle that becomes a romantic quadrangle.

Graziela is young, sexually fairly inexperienced (although it’s implied that she’s not a virgin) and very keen to get some more sexual experience but she’s no child. That’s the problem. She’s a woman but young enough to be an emotional time-bomb for anyone who becomes involved with her. The point of the story is that Caterina has a younger rival and that rival is her own daughter, and that both Graziela and Giuseppe become involved in a sexual-emotional game that is likely to have momentous consequences.

The Raro Video DVD offers a very satisfactory anamorphic transfer. There’s an interesting documentary featuring the film’s director, cinematographer and producer plus Jenny Tamburi (who is charming and amusing). There are also liner notes but I wasn’t overly impressed by them. The snippets included in the documentary suggest that the print used as the source for the DVD is not an uncut version.

Seduction generates an atmosphere of both erotic and emotional explosiveness but it adds some touches of humour and even at times of farce. It’s one of those movies that could never get made in today’s much more moralistic climate but it is a genuine attempt to deal with fairly inflammable subject matter in an intelligent and sensitive manner. It certainly doesn’t let either Graziela or especially Giuseppe off the hook. They removed the pin from the hand grenade and they have to accept the consequences.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 18 October 2021

The Libertine (1968)

The Libertine (the original title is La Matriarca) is a 1968 Italian sex comedy directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile which was picked up by Radley Metzger’s Audobon Films in the United States (and released there in a slightly different cut). It’s a lot more sophisticated and stylish than the average Italian sex comedy of its era (in fact it’s a lot more sophisticated and stylish than the average US or British sex comedy of that period as well). This was obviously why it attracted Metzger’s interest.

Of course it has to be said that Italian sex comedies of this era are largely unknown territory outside of Italy so their poor reputation might well be undeserved. It also has to be said that The Libertine is not quite a sex comedy - it’s more of a sexy romantic comedy with a satirical edge.

Margherita (or Mimi as she is known, played by Catherine Spaak) is a very very young very pretty widow. And a very rich widow. She’s a bit puzzled as to why she doesn’t really feel anything about her husband’s passing.

Then she makes an intriguing discovery. Included in her rich industrialist husband Franco’s estate is a large penthouse office complex which nobody knew anything about. She decides to investigate. It turns out not to be an office complex at all but a luxury apartment fitted out as a private love nest. The revelation that her husbands kept a mistress (or mistresses) doesn’t shock Mimi too much. What does shock her is her discovery of his extensive film library. It comprises films of sadomasochistic sex games involving her husband and various women, including Claudia (an apparently very respectable friend of the family).

Mimi is somewhat appalled, but she’s surprised to discover that she’s also slightly disappointed that Franco never invited her to join him in these sex games. I mean, if your husband’s a pervert the least he could do would be to ask his wife to share his perversions.

Mimi also realises that her sex life with her late husband had been pretty boring. It had obviously been boring for him but now she realises it was boring for her as well. She decides that she needs to do something about this. She needs to explore her sexuality. Franco’s luxurious penthouse love nest will provide the perfect headquarters. She’s bought herself a copy of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. She wants to learn all about sexual perversions. She thinks she may be a pervert. Or rather she hopes that she is. It sounds like fun.

Now what she needs are some men to practice on. Initially the results are not entirely satisfactory. She is however a determined young lady and she’s not giving up. She takes a total stranger back to her penthouse where he slaps her around and rapes her. She enjoys this, but not as much as she’d hoped to (this is not a politically correct movie).

Mimi throws herself into the world of kinky sex and then along comes Dr Carlo de Marche (Jean-Louis Trintignant). He has sex with her but then he wants to marry her. Mimi thinks that men never want to marry the women they want to have sex with so she’s rather reluctant. Carlo is determined and persuasive, and his methods of persuasion include giving her bottom a good spanking. Not as sex play, but just because she’s being a naughty girl. Like I said, this is not a politically correct movie.

It’s unusual in being a movie that deals with sadomasochism and various sexual fetishes in a very positive way. Mimi discovers that she is in fact kinky, and that’s a good thing. It suggests that sadomasochism is empowering for women, even when they play the submissive role. This is a movie that is not just a collection of prejudices about kinky sex - it was obviously written by somebody who’d bothered to learn something about the subject and maybe even give the subject some thought. Even more surprisingly it’s a movie that doesn’t imply that women should be punished for exploring their sexuality, no matter where those explorations might take them. And Mimi discovers that she has a very unusual sexual kink indeed, but that’s OK, whatever your kink happens to be there’s bound to be a member of the opposite sex who will be delighted to share it with you.

Jean-Louis Trintignant shares top billing with Catherine Spaak which in commercial terms made sense. He had plenty of star power at the time. It is however Catherine Spaak’s film. Her performance is the one that matters and she’s an absolute delight. She’s quirky, unpredictable, adorable, sexy and very funny.

The set design is impressive, especially Franco’s secret sex hideaway. I love the chairs in the form of a pair of scales. Miss Spaak gets to wear some fabulous 60s clothing (which she takes off frequently - there’s quite a bit of nudity). This movie is packed with late 1960s style.

The Nucleus Films Blu-Ray includes a lively audio commentary by Kat Eflinger who managed to convince me to go looking for more of this director’s films) plus a featurette on the production design and the US cut of the film.

The Libertine is a playful and very stylish sex comedy that manages to be very amusing without treating sex as a dirty joke. An excellent movie, highly recommended.