Tuesday 27 April 2021

Tango of Perversion (1974)

Tango of Perversion (AKA Tango 2001) is a 1974 Greek exploitation movie and it’s certainly the first Greek exploitation movie I’ve ever seen. Thanks to those wonderful folks at Mondo Macabro we can now get to see such exotica in our own living rooms. It was directed by Kostas Karagiannis.

Tango of Perversion tells the story of Joachim (Vagelis Voulgaridis), a young man who suffers from impotence. As as result he’s obsessed by sex. During the opening credits sequence Joachim is siting in a night club watching people dance and he imagines that all the girls are naked. Which gives Karagiannis the opportunity to show us bare boobies in the first few seconds of the movie. Which shows that Karagiannis understands what the exploitation movie biz is all about - you need to get the attention of the punters right at the start.

Joachim gets his jollies by filming people having sex. He films them through a one-way mirror. He lets his friend Stathis (Lakis Komninos) borrow his apartment whenever he wants it so that Stathis can have sex with his various women. Stathis has no idea that his sexual escapades are all being captured on film.

Joachim’s doctor has assured him that there’s nothing physically wrong with him. His impotence is caused by fear. It makes sense that Joachim would be afraid of women because he seems to be afraid of just about everything.

Stathis earns his money as a gigolo. He is having trouble with his girlfriend Joanna (Erika Raffael). He hasn’t got the money to buy drugs for her and if she can’t drugs from him she’ll get them from a lady friend. A lesbian lady friend named Rosita.

One memorable night Joachim lets Rosita borrow his apartment. Rosita and Joanna are just about to get down to some serious lesbo loving when Stathis shows up and things get all crazy and violent.

The upshot of all this is that Joachim makes an amazing discovery. He’s too frightened to have sex with living girls but dead girls aren’t frightening at all.

It’s all very sleazy (as you may have gathered) but it’s sleazy in a slightly tongue-in-cheek off-kilter way that makes it less offensive than it sounds. There’s just a hint of black comedy to the proceedings. It’s subtle but it’s there and it makes things more interesting. The fact that it’s hard to tell just how seriously we’re expected to take the movie that makes it intriguing. I suspect that we’re supposed to approach it in a slightly ironic way. On the surface it seems serious and then again it’s just too outrageous to be taken seriously.

While this is not a sex comedy Joachim is the kind of character who’d be right at home in that type of movie. He’s shy and awkward and decidedly nerdy. I liked Vagelis Voulgaridis’s performance. It’s low-key and I liked the subtle glee he takes in his new-found depravity.

Lakis Komninos as Stathis is also good. Stathis is a very nasty piece of work and yet he’s slightly absurd. He tries very hard to be a tough guy but he’s such an obvious loser that you don’t really believe he could ever be totally successful as the hard man he thinks he is.

Erika Raffael looks gorgeous. She had a brief career in the 70s, mostly in Britain. I know nothing at all about Dorothy Moore, who plays Rosita.

There’s plenty of violence but no gore. There’s quite a bit of nudity and sex although by 1974 western European standards it would be considered to be pretty tame.

The major influence at work here is obviously the giallo and Tango of Perversion does have a giallo look to it. It’s not quite a giallo though. To my mind there’s a slight Theatre of the Absurd feel to this film. At times it reminded me just a tiny bit of Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac.

The transfer is fullframe. Mondo Macabro warn us upfront that the source print was problematical but the transfer is actually very good. Both Greek and English language versions are provided (the former with English subtitles). Extras include a documentary on postwar Greek cinema which is actually pretty good.

Tango of Perversion doesn’t have the punch that the best giallos have but it’s sexy and kinky and twisted and enormously entertaining with some rather nice plot twists. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 21 April 2021

Centrespread (1981)

Centrespread is a very odd 1981 ozploitation movie. It’s a movie that consistently fails to go in the direction you’re expecting.

It starts off with a bit of a Mad Max vibe. This is a futuristic society and you’ve got the desert to increase the Mad Max feel. Gerard (Paul Trahair) is a photographer for a girlie magazine. The photos he takes are weird and violent and brutal, but as the movie progresses we find out why. This is a kind of totalitarian society but it’s a society that has taken drastic measures to stamp out violence. Violence is only permitted in the magazines, the reasoning being that violence has to have some outlet and that if violence is allowed in the magazines there won’t be any violence in real life. And that’s how things have worked out. This is a dystopian society in which most people enjoy a very low material standard of living but at least violence has been kept totally under control.

Of course there are elites who live lives of luxury and Gerard is one of those elites. He even owns a car (a cool Ford T-Bird convertible),

Central has decided that the magazines need a new look. They need a new model for the new century. All the models who appear in the magazines look pretty much the same. They need a fresh look. Gerard is given the job of finding a new girl.

He finds her in an antique shop. Which shocks him - he had no idea that antique stores were still legal. The shop is full of forbidden items from the past. Nobody wants to be reminded of such things. Or at least Central doesn’t want them to be reminded of such things. But he is sure that Niki (Kylie Foster) is the right girl.

The problem is that Gerard is changing. He doesn’t want to take the same kinds of photos any more. He doesn’t mind taking nude photos but he wants them to be natural. Even worse, he increasingly has the idea that he’d like them to be romantic. Central is not going to like that idea.

He wants to photograph Niki but he wants to photograph her in an arty romantic style. He begins to be obsessed with her. He may even be falling in love with her.

Given that Mad Max vibe that the film gives off early on you keep waiting for some sudden outburst of violence. But it doesn’t happen. Just as in this future society violence is confined to the magazines so the violence in the movie is entirely confined to the photoshoots (which are interestingly shown as successions of still images). Outside of the photoshoots there’s not a single violent act in the movie.

This is a science fiction film but don’t expect any special effects or explosions, or any high technology. This is a future society that uses 1980s computer technology and the magazines are old-fashioned print magazines. Printed on actual paper, with still photographs. Even in 1981 you’d expect some more imaginative ideas on future technology but perhaps that’s the point - perhaps this is a future society that has survived some sort of cataclysm and now has only the remnants of a technological society. It’s significant that Gerard’s car is not some futuristic air car - it’s a 1960s Ford Thunderbird which is apparently as high-tech as it gets in this future world.

The details of the future society are only filled in gradually and we are only told as much as we need to know. This is a science fiction film that has no interest at all in technology. The focus is on the stifling effect of the tightly controlled future society. It’s a society that offers security, as long as you don’t question anything.

Gerard wants to be able to take the photos that he wants to take, but Central decides what kinds of photos are acceptable. Arty romantic photos are not acceptable.

This is an unconventional dystopian science fiction film, but it’s also a sex film. There is an enormous amount of very graphic nudity. The sex is, oddly enough, very restrained but the nudity is practically non-stop.

Paul Trahair gives an oddly distanced performance which works rather well. Kylie Foster is sweet and charming.

The sets are very effective, especially the photographic studio in the middle of a huge warehouse. Visually this is an impressive film.

 has been released by Umbrella Entertainment on a region-free Blu-Ray two-movie disc, paired with Felicity as an Ozploitation Erotica set. Which is both appropriate and inappropriate. Felicity is simply an Emmanuelle clone (although it happens to be a very very good Emmanuelle clone). Centrespread has just as much nudity but it’s an entirely different sort of movie, although the one thing it has in common with Felicity is that like Felicity it’s either a love story masquerading as a sex film or a sex film masquerading as a love story. And like Felicity, insofar as Centrespread is a sex film it belongs very much to that fascinating 1970s sub-genre of sex films aimed at couples.

Centrespread looks and sounds terrific on Blu-Ray and there are some worthwhile extras as well, including an excellent 47-minute contemporary featurette on the making of the film and an interview with the producer.

Centrespread is a very offbeat movie, the kind of offbeat movie that just doesn’t get made any more and that’s a shame because it’s offbeat in a very good way. It’s a total original. It’s also an extremely well-crafted move which was, sadly, Tony Patterson’s only feature film as director. Highly recommended for its oddness.

Given that Felicity is a skinflick, but a very classy upmarket skinflick with some real emotional depth, this two-movie Blu-Ray set is also highly recommended.

Saturday 17 April 2021

Vanishing Point (1971)

Vanishing Point is a 1971 road movie, a genre for which I have some fondness. It’s a few other things as well, some good and some bad, as we shall see.

It was a fairly low-budget movie, directed by Richard C. Sarafian, and it gained quite a cult following which to some extent it still retains.

There’s virtually no plot. Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a former cop and former racing driver who now makes his living delivering cars cross-country. Having just finished one gruelling delivery he immediately embarks on another, delivering a souped-up Dodge Challenger from Colorado to San Francisco. He makes a bet with his drug dealer that he can deliver the car in fifteen hours, which is apparently impossible but Kowalski is so full of speed he figures he can do it anyway.

Not surprisingly he infringes a few traffic laws along the way but he’s in a hurry so he outruns the Highway Patrol. Eventually there’s a massive manhunt across four states to catch him, even though he’s been guilty of nothing other than a few traffic violations. You see the Establishment is out to get him because he’s a Rebel. He just wants to be free, man, and the Establishment won’t let him.

He forms some kind of crazy telepathic bond with a hyped-up blind black DJ (played by Cleavon Little) known as Super Soul. Super Soul offers him advice over the airwaves but Kowalski seems to hear the messages whether his radio is turned on or not. Super Soul is not just giving him advice on evading the cops but also acts as a kind of spiritual guru.

Kowalski has a few adventures along the way - a race with an E-Type Jaguar, an encounter with two very fey carjackers, a meeting with a crazy old man in the desert who collects rattlesnakes for a living, a meeting with some Jesus Freaks and a friendly biker who offers advice and drugs. And there’s also a nude girl on a motorcycle.

Kowalski also has flashbacks to pivotal events in his life, such as his girlfriend’s death and the events which got him kicked out of the police force.

Vanishing Point starts off pretty well. The first half of the movie is mostly high-speed car chase stuff and the stunt driving was quite superb by the standards of the day and still holds up pretty well (and has the advantage of being much more realistic and plausible than later car chase movies).

Then we get to the halfway point and it all falls apart. It starts to get into hippie-dippie counter-culture stuff and becomes unbearably pretentious and dull. All the excitement disappears and the pace slows to a crawl. And we get some quasi-mystical nonsense as well as some incredibly heavy-handed political stuff that serves no purpose other than reinforcing the whole “the evil Establishment wants to stifle our free expression” vibe.

Even the nude girl on the motorcycle is unlikely to keep you awake during the movie’s second half.

Barry Newman’s performance is odd but effective. Much of the time Kowalski is just staring into space and we wonder if he can even see the road. Maybe he’s not seeing it with his eyes but with his soul, man. It’s a performance that works within the context of the film. The rest of the acting is ham-fisted and generally embarrassingly obvious.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s screenplay is mostly just incoherent and self-indulgent. I think the movie is trying to say something about different planes of existence and how the material world is just one of those planes.

John Alonzo’s cinematography is at times quite stunning.

Director Richard C. Sarafian handles the action sequences extremely well and that’s the most positive thing I can say about his directing.

This move has been given a luxury two-disc Blu-Ray release which includes both the US theatrical version and the British theatrical release (which is apparently even longer which is a truly horrifying thought since the US version is already way too long). There’s an audio commentary by the director.

If you’re looking for a 1970s road movie that is actually worth seeing, watch Two-Lane Blacktop instead.

Another movie similar in style to Vanishing Point but which does the arty road trip thing much more successfully and is much more worth seeing is Jack Cardiff’s Girl on a Motorcycle (with Marianne Faithfull).

If you liked Easy Rider you’ll probably like this film. For me it was just too pretentious and too pseudo-mystical and too long and too boring and I can’t recommend it.

Monday 12 April 2021

The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983)

The Beast and the Magic Sword (La bestia y la espada mágic) is a 1983 Spanish-Japanese co-production written and directed by Paul Naschy (under the name Jacinto Molina). It was filmed partly in Spain and partly in Japan.

The story begins in the year 938. The Emperor Otto has defeated the Magyars and has thrown their chieftain Bulcho into a dungeon. Otto is afraid to execute the Magyar - the people believe that doing so will unleash a curse. Bulcho must be killed in single combat and only one man can be sure of doing that - Count Irineus Daninsky. The price Daninsky sets for doing this favour is the hand of Otto’s youngest daughter Iswaka in marriage.

Otto’s plan works and Bulcho is destroyed, and Daninsky marries Iswaka. But they don’t live happily ever after.

There’s one thing Otto has failed to account for - Bulcho’s mistress Armesse. Armesse is a powerful witch and she curses not just Daninsky but all his descendants. The Daninskys will be werewolves, hated and feared.

More than six centuries later the Daninskys are still cursed. Waldemar Daninsky, a distant descendant of Irineus, is a werewolf.

Waldemar is a tortured soul. He is aware of his nature and he is aware of the horrors he has perpetrated. He hates himself and he hates his fate. But what can he do? He cannot be killed.

The only man who might be able to help him is Salom Yehuda but that wise old man falls victim to ignorance and superstition. He does however manage to give Waldejmar some hope - in a distant land called Japan in a city named Kyoto there is a sage named Kian who may be able to cure him. Waldemar and his wife along with Salom Yehuda’s blind niece Esther travel to Japan but finding Kian will not be so easy. And Waldemar has already started to spread death and destruction in Japan.

While Kian is being sought by Waldemar Kian, whose wisdom is well-known, has been asked to investigate the recent spate of brutal killings. Kian is not a superstitious man but he has come to believe that the murders have been carried out by a wolf-man. He has even seen this creature. So Kian is looking for Waldemar.

Kian is not sure that he can cure Waldemar but he intends to try, a decision that has fateful consequences.

Paul Naschy was already an established star (and screenwriter) in Spanish horror cinema when he started directing in 1977. He played a wide variety of horror rôles but it was his many portrayals of the tragic werewolf Waldemar Daninsky which made him a cult icon.

Junko Asahina steals the picture as the evil but seductive sorceress Satomi. Junko Asahina had made quite a few Roman Porno movies for Nikkatsu so being seductive was no problem for her. Shigeru Amachi is very good as the troubled Kian.

It’s easy to see why so many Waldemar Daninsky movies were made. He’s a true tragic monster. He is responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, but is he really responsible? He’s not sure himself. He was a character who lent himself to horror movies with some complexity. And he presents a real challenge. The audience has to be horrified by his evil deeds but still be able to empathise with the good side of him.

Kian is somewhat complex as well, a wise man who fears that he is not wise enough and that he may be making tragic mistakes. Which to some extent is true. He has been presented with an awesomely difficult problem in trying to save the soul of Waldemar Daninsky and his fears that he is out of his depth may be well-founded. Kian is a samurai as well as a sage so he gets to do plenty of action hero stuff as well. A character who is both action hero and sage is an interesting touch in an 80s horror movie.

There are really two heroes, Daninsky and Kian, although Daninsky is obviously both hero and villain. There’s an excellent out-and-out villain, the samurai Eiko Watanabe (Jirô Miyaguchi), a man who has long been jealous of Kian. And of course there’s the deliciously evil villainess Satomi.

There’s some gore but it’s not too over-the-top and there’s some nudity but not very much.

And since it’s set in Japan you may be wondering - are there are going to be ninjas? The answer is yes. There’s even a girl ninja. And as well as the usual werewolf mayhem there are sword fights.

There is some controversy concerning the correct aspect ratio of this film. It was shot open matte but the guys at Mondo Macabro believe that that it was intended to be shown theatrically in the widescreen format. They’ve solved the problem by providing both 4:3 and 16:9 versions on their Blu-Ray release. Being Mondo Macabro they’ve also provided us with plenty of extras including an audio commentary.

This is perhaps the most satisfying and interesting of all Naschy’s horror movies. The Japanese co-production deal was very successful, the film was made mostly with Japanese money and the budget was much higher than he was used to (and the Japanese producers were very supportive). The sets and costumes are quite lavish. Naschy was at his peak as a director - this is a rather polished movie. The meshing of European folklore and Japanese culture works well. The fight scenes are exceptionally well done. There are really two main characters, Daninsky and Kian, and both are interesting and complex. The tragic nature of the werewolf is handled cleverly and Daninsky is one of several characters whose fates have an element of tragedy to them. Unfortunately after this film Naschy’s career went downhill but The Beast and the Magic Sword remains an impressive achievement. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Body Double (1984), Blu-Ray review

Body Double is a Brian de Palma movie that has divided critics and audiences since its release in 1984, but then Brian de Palma is a director who has tended to have that effect.

Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) is a struggling actor who has a minor problem. He’s playing the vampire in a low-budget horror film but he gets claustrophobic when he gets sealed in his coffin. When he gets home from the studio he finds he has an even bigger problem - his girlfriend is in bed with another man. And her face is glowing. He wouldn’t have minded quite so much if her face hadn’t been glowing.

So now he has no job and no girlfriend. Then he gets a lucky break. Another struggling actor, Sam (Gregg Henry), offers him a sub-let on a luxury modernist house. It’s a house that has everything. And there’s an added bonus. There’s a powerful telescope and every night, as regular as clockwork, a beautiful female neighbour does a strip-tease in front of her window. Naturally Jake makes sure not to miss the nightly show.

Then he sees something odd and slightly disturbing happen in the young lady’s apartment.

Jake becomes obsessed. He starts following the woman. Maybe he always had voyeuristic tendencies or maybe it’s just the thing with his girlfriend hitting him hard at this time. Maybe he’s just trying to distract himself. There is obviously some sexual element to the obsession - he does steal a pair of her freshly discarded panties.

There’s also a weird-looking guy following the young woman. There’s a great scene is a shopping mall elevator - it’s very tense even though at this stage there’s no reason to think that anybody is in any danger or that anything at all sinister is going on. It’s a tense scene because Jake is so tense. It’s as if he’s convinced himself that something is about to happen. And of course we know he suffers from claustrophobia.

Then there’s the murder, which Jake witnesses but can’t prevent. A terrible tragedy but to Jake it’s more than that. There’s something very wrong and he’s starting to get a glimmer of what it might be.

Along the way he gets involved in the hardcore porn industry and meets porn star Holly Body (Melanie Griffith). This gives de Palma a chance to satirise the porn industry, after he’s already satirised mainstream Hollywood earlier in the picture. If anything the porn industry comes across as being marginally less sleazy and phoney than mainstream Hollywood. He also satirises horror movies, which is amusing since his first major commercial hit was a horror movie (Carrie). He satirises himself as well, with Dennis Franz playing a small part as a director who is basically de Palma as a director of low-budget horror.

You can’t mention de Palma without mentioning Hitchcock. He never made any secret of Hitchcock’s influence. In this film he’s pretty obviously exploring both Rear Window and Vertigo territory. Being de Palma he makes no attempt to disguise the fact that he’s referencing these films. While de Palma clearly has a jaundiced view of modern Hollywood his affection for the old Hollywood of the 40s and 50s is very apparent.

And of course there’s lots of style. Relentless style. There are some truly great settings and they’re used with consummate skill. There’s not one but two amazing modernist houses. There are also varying visual styles. Jake finds himself moving in different worlds - the world of acting, the world of porn, the world of the super-rich, the world of low-budget horror film-making and each of these worlds has its own visual signature.

The question mark hanging over this film is, does it go too far over the top? By mainstream 1984 standards it was considered at the time to be a pretty violent sleazy film but the outlandishness goes way beyond that. The plot in its essentials is straightforward once the solution is revealed but the details are pretty outrageous. It’s an excessive film but on the whole the excessiveness works.

It’s also quite funny, and at times very funny. Hitchcock was a master of black comedy and de Palma tries his hand at some Hitchcockian black comedy, fairly successfully.

Craig Wasson is amiable and inept as Jake which is how the character is supposed to be. Jake isn’t a really smart guy but he’s just smart enough to figure out what’s going on.

Melanie Griffith makes porn star Holly both abrasive and oddly likeable. In her own way she’s the most honest straightforward person in the movie. Critics who accused the movie of misogyny just weren’t paying attention to her performance - they were distracted by the fact that Holly was a porn star and failed to notice that she was a very sympathetic character.

The UK Indicator Power House Blu-Ray release offers a fine transfer and a whole raft of extras in which de Palma and various members of the cast and crew discuss the making of the film and the vicious critical reaction to it at the time.

Body Double is a very Brian de Palma film and that’s a very good thing. It’s also a film about films and about the world of illusion and voyeurism that that entails. This is de Palma doing the things he did best. Very highly recommended.

Saturday 3 April 2021

The Kiss of Her Flesh (1968)

The Kiss of Her Flesh is an infamous 1968 roughie.

The roughie was a peculiar feature of the American sexploitation cinema of the mid-60s. It emerged because although you could get away with nudity you could not get away with very much at all in terms of actual sexual content. There was however virtually no limit to what you could get away with in terms of violence. The obvious way to spice up nudie movies was to add lots of violence. Some roughies were more extreme than others. Some were much more extreme. And then there were the roughies of husband-and-wife film-making team Michael and Roberta Findlay.

It wasn’t so much the violence that made their work distinctive (although there was plenty of violence). Their films were just positively bizarre and twisted. Their most celebrated achievement was the notorious Flesh trilogy, beginning with The Touch of Her Flesh (1967), continuing with The Curse of Her Flesh (1968) and culminating with The Kiss of Her Flesh (also 1968). I’ve already reviewed the first two movies in the trilogy. It is The Kiss of Her Flesh with which we are now concerned.

Michael Findlay directed and edited, Roberta did the cinematography and the music and they share the writing and producing credits.

Richard Jennings, the psycho killer of the first two films, is back and he’s still intending to take revenge on all women, because his wife betrayed him. But for Jennings it’s not enough to kill. He has to kill in bizarre and imaginative ways. His first murder in this film is by electrocution but he has other much weirder methods up his sleeve.

Maria (Uta Erickson) hears the news that her sister’s best friend has been murdered and she just knows that Richard Jennings was responsible. She hurries to her sister’s house so they can make plans to kill Jennings. But before doing that they take time off to have sex. Then Maria returns to her hotel.

Meanwhile Jennings strikes. Posing as a doctor he commits two murders, one employing a method that is certainly original - poisoned semen. The other woman is disposed of by means of an acidified douche.

And oh yeah, he also commits murder by blowtorch. There’s also torture by lobster.

Maria is now determined to stop Jennings by any means necessary.

The content sounds disturbing and misogynistic but oddly enough it isn’t really offensive. Partly that’s because it’s so cartoonish. It’s also a bit like Russ Meyer’s movies in which men think they have the upper hand but actually they don’t. All their violence really does is to establish their powerlessness. No matter what Jennings does he’s still a loser.

Like Meyer the Findlays seem to be enjoying themselves, constantly trying to top their own outrageousness. There’s some deliciously campy dialogue (and it’s obviously deliberately campy) which constantly undercuts the violence. We’re not expected to be horrified, we’re expected to be amused and amazed. Which we are.

As in the previous two films Michael Findlay plays Richard Jennings, with trade-mark eye patch and maniacal laughter.

The Findlays were also quite technically competent, much more so than many sexploitation film-makers. They are genuinely trying to make things visually interesting. They don’t just shoot a sex scene, they use things like mirrors and key holes. These were the days when the better film-makers in the genre were still actually trying to make movies.

As with the other movies in the Flesh trilogy the opening credits are clever, with the credits on lip-shaped pieces of paper placed strategically on a woman’s naked body.

There’s a lot of nudity and it’s far more explicit than in the previous films but the overall effect is high camp rather than titillation.

And there are in-jokes that only cult movie fans would pick up on, such as Jennings masquerading as Dr Esumab (which is of course Mabuse spelt backwards).

Something Weird’s DVD release includes all three movies in the trilogy, with the transfers ranging from pretty good to excellent. You can check out my reviews of The Touch of Her Flesh and The Curse of Her Flesh.

I’d describe the movies in the Flesh trilogy as bizarre black comedies rather than proto-slasher movies. The Findlay roughies, like Russ Meyer’s movies, exist in a weird cartoon universe of their own. That was the great thing about the sexploitation genre. There were no studio execs telling film-makers they couldn’t do things because they were too weird or too silly. If you had a vision you could put it on film. And the Findlays had a vision. You might like it or not like it but it was strangely compelling. If you take it seriously you’ll probably hate. If you just go with the sleazy outrageousness you might well enjoy it. Recommended.