Saturday 29 May 2021

Kuroneko (Black Cat, 1968)

Kuroneko (or Black Cat) is a 1968 Japanese ghost movie written and directed by Kaneto Shindô and made by the Toho studio.

Japan is being torn apart by war. Yone (whose son was taken away by the army to fight in the endless wars) and her daughter-in-law Oshige live alone in their humble house near a bamboo grove. One day a group of samurai arrive. They loot the house and rape and murder the two women. Nothing is left alive, except for two black cats.

Three years later a samurai encounters a young woman on a lonely road at night. She tells him she is afraid to walk though the bamboo grove alone. If only the brave and noble samurai would escort her home? When they arrive at her home she invites him in. She and her mother live alone in the house. The two women ply the samurai with sake. The samurai thinks he’s going to get a roll in the hay with the daughter. In fact he gets his throat torn out (there’s more than a hint of vampirism here).

The sequence in the bamboo grove is clever. We naturally think it’s the young woman who is likely to be in great danger. But in fact she is the hunter, not the hunted.

This samurai will not be the last to meet this grisly fate. The so-called Rajo Gate Ghost will claim many victims. The mother and daughter who were murdered are of course now ghosts, or more specifically they’re cat-spirits. Any samurai passing near the Rojo Gate will get seduced and slain by them.

So this is very much a revenge movie, among many other things.

The local warlord, Raiko, is at his wits’ end. It’s bad enough to lose so many samurai but he is also under pressure from imperial officials to put an end to the Rajo Gate Ghost. Perhaps his bravest samurai, Yabu-no-Gintoki, will be the man to do this.

The twist is that Gintoki is Yone’s son, now returned from the wars and now a samurai.

Gintoki does not know if his mother and wife were killed or simply fled into the mountains. All he knows is that his home is now a charred ruin.

Gintoki encounters Oshige on the road and escorts her home. He doesn’t get his throat ripped out. He is recognised by the women. He notices immediately that they look just like his mother and wife but he does not know whether they are alive, or spirits who have taken the form of Yone and Oshige, or ghosts.

Gintoki will be torn between his duty as a samurai (to kill the ghost or in this case ghosts), his duty to his mother and his love for his wife. Yone and Oshige will be torn between their affection for Gintoki and the vow they made to the dark gods to kill every samurai they encounter.

It’s important to remember that the Japanese (and the Chinese) have a very different concept of ghosts compared to western folklore. These are very corporeal ghosts. And they can (and do) have sex.

There’s emotional drama but, as in so many Japanese films of this era there’s also a strong political subtext involving the contempt of the samurai for the common people and the cruelty and violence of the samurai. There’s also a pretty obvious message about the miseries and brutality of war. Unlike a lot of other Japanese movies this one doesn’t get too heavy-handed with the politics.

This is a very stately film, clearly drawing heavily on the traditions of the Noh and Kabuki theatre. In fact it has a very stagey feel. There’s an air of theatrical unreality to everything, with the opening sequence being the only minor concession to any kind of realist aesthetic. The theatricality emphasises the supernatural aspects.

The action scenes all involve the women flying through the air (obviously suspended by wires). Even the scenes of action and violence are therefore determinedly artificial.

The film was shot in black-and-white in Tohoscope (2.35:1).

This is not a movie that you want to try to over-analyse. What you see is what you get. The political subtext is trite. The symbolism is obvious. There’s some obvious half-baked Freudianism. There is some emotional resonance to the relationship between Gintoki and his now ghostly wife. It’s the theatricality that is by far the most interesting and successful thing about Kuroneko. That’s the main reason to see the film. Apart from that it’s a reasonably decent ghost movie and it’s recommended for its visual interest.

The Eureka UK release includes the movie on both Blu-Ray and DVD. The only extra is a 32-page booklet which includes an extraordinarily uninteresting interview with the director.

Thursday 27 May 2021

How I Got My Mink (1969)

The San Francisco Sex Collection from Retro Seduction Cinema comprises three Nick Millard movies from the late 60s. I reviewed the quite interesting Oddo (1967) a while back but it’s the third movie in the set that we’re concerned with at the moment, How I Got My Mink (1969).

Nick Millard (who often worked under the same Nick Phillips as well as various other pseudonyms) was the son of S.S. Millard (popularly known as Steamship Millard) who was one of the Forty Thieves - the legendary band of exploitation movie producers and distributors of the classic exploitation movie era (from the 1930s to the 1950s).

How I Got My Mink follows the adventures of a brother and sister who decide to make an underground movie. They don’t want to accept any help from their rich father. They just want to do their own thing, man.

There are lots of sexploitation movies about the making of sexploitation movies but a sexploitation movie about the making of an underground movie is a bit different. And what Donna and her brother Philip are making is definitely an underground movie. Although at times (as in the case of some of Millard’s own movies) the dividing line between underground film-making and sexploitation could be a bit blurry.

The movie that the brother and sister is making consists of lots of sex and lots of man-in-the-street interviews that get pretty weird. The interview with the expert in bio-sexual physics for instance. He wants to sterilise everybody and have all reproduction done by cloning.

The movie-within-a-movie is the whole of the plot which means that there pretty much isn’t a plot. Which is part of the fun of 1960s sexploitation. There’s no real plot but while there’s an enormous amount of nudity (very graphic nudity) and sex it’s not just endless sex scenes. There’s plenty of weirdness in between the sex scenes.

The acting is more or less non-existent. None of the players has any notion of what acting is. But then Millard was going for a kind of cinéma vérité feel so it doesn’t really matter.

In fact he’s going for a bit of a Nouvelle Vague feel. Imagine early Godard but with lots of nudity and sex. Millard definitely belonged to the 1960s/70s school that believed that sex could be combined with artiness and an avant-garde sensibility.

There is some character development. Donna and Philip are rebelling against their rich Establishment father. They’re looking for some kind of meaning in life. Philip descends further and further into complete self-absorption. Donna was hoping to find the joy and beauty in life but all she finds is despair and craziness, but she eventually finds an answer of sorts (and we find out where the title of the movie comes from). 

Maybe there isn’t any meaning to life, but a mink coat is real.

Millard’s movies were very low-budget, usually (as in this case) without synchronised sound. There is some dialogue in some scenes in this movie but even then the dialogue isn’t synched properly. Which may well be deliberate, or it might not be, but it adds to the strangeness.

The transfer isn’t great but I suspect that this has more to do with the source material than the transfer. This is such a low budget movie that it probably never looked much better than this. The extras include trailers for other weird and wonderful Nick Millard films plus some reasonably worthwhile liner notes.

How I Got My Mink
doesn’t have the bleakness and despair of other Millard movies. There is emptiness and despair but to the extent that there’s a message it’s that giving in to despair doesn’t help. Donna ends up accepting life for what it is and what it can offer her.

Nick Millard made a lot of very low budget movies, a surprising number of which have survived and are available on DVD. These include Pleasures of a Woman (1972), the rather bleak Lustful Addiction (1969) and the positively harrowing Roxanna (1970).

Nick Millard hasn’t achieved the cult status that other sexploitation movie-makers like Joe Sarno and Radley Metzger have slowly gained which is perhaps a pity. He had his own unique, if strange, vision. How I Got My Mink is recommended to fans of the weirder and more avant-garde end of the sexploitation spectrum.

Saturday 22 May 2021

Emanuelle and Francoise (1975)

Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle and Francoise (AKA Emanuelle’s Revenge) came out in 1975 and it has no connection with the Emmanuelle movies. But I guess that in 1975 (the year after Emmanuelle smashed box-office records) having that name in the title was a pretty shrewd commercial move.

Emanuelle (Rosemarie Lindt) and Francoise (Patrizia Gori) are sisters. At the beginning of the film Francoise throws herself under a train. There’s no question that it was suicide. The police inspector in charge of the case gives Emanuelle a letter that Francoise wrote shortly before her death. The letter recounts all the horrible things that Francoise’s boyfriend Carlo (George Eastman) did to her. As Emanuelle reads the letter we get flashbacks showing us just how badly Carlo really did treat her. The police inspector (who of course has had to read the letter as well) expresses the view that Carlo is the sort of man who doesn’t deserve to live. Emanuelle agrees wholeheartedly. In fact she intends to make him pay, in spectacular fashion.

Carlo is a would-be actor and a spectacularly unsuccessful gambler. When he can’t pay his gambling debts he usually offers his creditors the use of Francoise’s body in payment. Francoise puts up with all this because she’s in love with him.

The first thing Emanuelle has to do is to find Carlo.

Then she has to get to know him. She has plans for him.

Her plans involve chaining him up in a secret room in her house and then subjecting him to a variety of psychological tortures. She wants him to suffer in exactly the way Francoise suffered - she wants to humiliate him rather than simply to kill him. Whether she intends eventually to kill him is uncertain. Perhaps she doesn’t know herself.

Her plan succeeds, after a fashion, but has unexpected consequences.

Her plan also involves Carlo’s new girlfriend Mira. Emanuelle doesn’t hate Mira but she intends to use her as a weapon.

George Eastman (who was born Luigi Montefiori) is wonderfully sleazy as the despicable Carlo and he has the sexy bad boy vibe that makes it convincing that the naïve Francoise would have fallen for him. When he was given the script he hated the ending and insisted on rewriting it and his ending is certainly much more effective than the original version would have been.

Rosemarie Lindt is good as the vengeful Emanuelle - she’s clearly obsessed to the point of madness and while Carlo deserves everything she dishes out to him you can’t help feeling that she’s relishing the cruelty even more than Carlo enjoyed his mistreatment of Francoise. Patrizia Gori is also good as Francoise who really is a victim waiting to happen.

The plot was lifted from an earlier Greek exploitation flick, The Wild Pussycat.

There’s plenty of sleaze and sadism. Since this is an Italian film there’s also a fair amount of style. The secret mirrored room is a very nice touch. It allows Emanuelle to put on little shows for Carlo’s benefit. Although perhaps benefit is not quite the right word. Emanuelle has quite an imagination.

Her scheme also involves drugging Carlo. The initially drugging sequence is wonderfully disorienting. The later drug sequences are outrageously over-the-top. The banquet scene is bizarre and perhaps a bit overdone. It tries to be surreal but doesn’t quite come off - it’s a bit silly really.

Severin’s release (they’ve released it on Blu-Ray as well) offers a good anamorphic transfer and interviews with George Eastman (who obviously has mixed feelings about the movie) and Maria Rosaria Riuzzi (who plays a small rôle in the film) as well as some entirely pointless semi-hardcore scenes from the German version.

Emanuelle and Francoise was apparently at one stage labelled as a “video nasty” in Britain but apart from the cannibalistic banquet scene (which is silly rather than horrifying and is obviously a drug dream) it’s a bit hard to see why.

Emanuelle and Francoise is not a giallo but has some vague affinities with that genre. Mostly it’s a reasonably effective psycho-sexual psychological revenge thriller with a lot of nudity and sex. Recommended.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

The Dogs of War (1980)

The Dogs of War, released in 1980, is based on Frederick Forsyth’s 1974 novel of the same name. It’s one of the classic mercenary movies.

James Shannon (Christopher Walken) is a mercenary leader who has just managed to extricate himself and his men from a rather nasty situation. Now he’s been offered another job. A mining consortium wants to invest a very large amount of money in a (fictional) West African country called Zangaro. They’re worried that the regime of President Kimba might not be too stable. Shannon’s job is to conduct a reconnaissance to find out exactly what the situation on the ground is in Zangaro. They’re worried about the possibility of making a deal with Kimba only to see him overthrown.

He doesn’t take long to realise that the situation on the ground is very very bad. Kimba’s regime is corrupt and brutal. Kimba is both vicious and crazy.

Shannon’s cover story is that he’s a naturalist photographing birds for a nature magazine. It doesn’t fool anyone. He finds himself in a very unpleasant spot. Very unpleasant indeed. He is deported from Zangaro, still alive but only just.

Shanon reports back to his employers that Kimba’s regime is appalling and that Kimba is mad but very firmly in charge. There is no likelihood whatsoever of any kind of internal coup. Shannon’s employers are not happy. They don’t want to deal with a madman. They ask Shannon if it would be possible for a small mercenary force to overthrow Kimba. Shannon replies, “Sure, why not?”

Shannon doesn’t want the job at first but when his personal life doesn’t pan out as he’d hoped he changes his mind. He agrees to overthrow Kimba.

He has 41 days to organise an assault on the military garrison in the capital of Zangaro.

Much of the film’s running time is occupied by a slow buildup to the main action, as Shannon assembles his force, makes his plans and obtains the weapons he’ll need. This slow buildup might not please all viewers but it’s faithful to the source material. The approach that Forsyth invariably took was to do meticulous research and then to describe in intricate detail the planning and preparation for the protagonists’ operation. The film version of Forsyth' first bestseller  The Day of the Jackal took that approach as well, very successfully. This film adaptation of The Dogs of War uses the same technique and it works just as well.

Of course everything hinges on whether the action scenes are worth the wait. And they are. They’re excellent.

If you’re making a movie about mercenaries and you want it to be a bit more than just a celebration of violent action you can either provide some focus on the motivations of the charters or you can focus on the cynical double-crosses and sleazy political machinations of the people financing the operation. This movie does a bit of both. We get the message that nothing ever really goes right for James Shannon except when he’s in the jungle with a machine-gun in his hands. He’s a decent enough guy but he doesn’t really have a handle on life. So he keeps taking jobs as a mercenary because that’s something he does understand. And we do get some neat double-crosses and counter double-crosses.

Having Jack Cardiff as the cinematographer helps a lot. This movie looks great. It’s not just the action scenes in Africa that look good - the New York street scenes and the scenes in London look just as good. Director John Irvin keeps everything under control.

The actors are all solid but it’s Christopher Walken’s typically eccentric performance that stands out.

This is a slightly up-market mercenary movie that offers a bit more than just mayhem. It’s not quite as good as Dark of the Sun (the best mercenary movie ever made) and maybe it doesn’t offer as much non-stop action as The Wild Geese but it still ranks in the top five among movies in this genre.

The version I saw was the original theatrical version shown in the US. Some DVD and Blu-Ray releases also include the longer international version.

The Dogs of War is highly recommended.

Friday 14 May 2021

Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)

Van Nuys Blvd. is a Crown International release so you have a fair idea of what to expect - it’s not going to be Citizen Kane and there’ll be plenty of nudity. But as Crown International releases go this 1979 movie is quite enjoyable.

This is a movie about cruising night on Van Nuys Boulevard. Every Wednesday night during the 60s and 70s kids and car nuts would do the cruising thing - just driving around, picking up girls (or in the case of the girls, picking up guys), getting a burger at a drive-in restaurant, maybe having a few drinks and doing a bit of partying and just generally hanging out. It’s clearly a movie with a strong American Graffiti influence. It’s less ambitious and a whole Iot cheaper but it has much of the same sense of innocence, but with lots of nudity. In some ways you might see it as a precursor to 80s teen sex movies but it lacks the crassness of that genre. This is very much a good-natured feelgood movie.

There’s not much in the way of plot but that works in the movie’s favour. It’s about cruising, which is by its very nature rather aimless.

Bobby (Bill Adler) lives in a small town and even though he has a hot and wiling girlfriend he’s bored. He wants to go to the big city. He wants to go to LA. Not in search of fame and fortune. He just wants to cruise on Van Nuys Boulevard. One day he decides he’s had enough and he just jumps in his van and heads for Los Angeles.

He makes some friends there. The first friend he makes is Wanda, a waitress at a drive-in restaurant. All he asks for is a burger, fries and a triple shake but he gets a lot more than that when she joins him in the back of his van.

He also meets Moon (Cynthia Wood), who challenges him to a drag race. He meets Greg (Dennis Bowen), who’s just a memorable car fight (he and the other guy don’t beat each other to a pulp, they beat each other’s cars to a pulp). He meets Moon’s friend Camille (Melissa Prophet). And Chooch (David Hayward). Chooch is really a bit too old to be still cruising but he’s never really grown up. His life revolves around his hot rod.

We’re also introduced to the villain of the piece, Officer Al Zass (Dana Gladstone), a humourless cop who gets his jollies from hassling the kids. He’s basically a comic villain.

Bobby, Moon, Greg, Camille, Wanda and Chooch hang out. They cruise. They go to an amusement park. They pair off and there’s lots of sex. And eventually they all learn a bit more about life. Officer Al Zass gets his comeuppance. That’s absolutely all there is to the plot but their innocent antics provide a reasonable amount of amusement.

The acting is, surprisingly, generally pretty good. What matters is that all the characters are likeable (apart from Officer Zass who is merely petty rather than evil). It’s hard to pick a standout performance - all the cast members are effective in what are pretty undemanding rôles. It might be worth noting that Cynthia Wood was (as Cyndi Wood) Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1974.

William Sachs proves himself to be competent as both writer and director. He didn’t have the time or the budget to do anything fancy but he gets the mood right, he gets the pacing right and he achieves the mix of comedy, romance and titillation that Crown International wanted and that drive-in audiences wanted.

Despite all the nudity this movie does not have a sleazy feel. And, happily, the humour avoids crassness.

Apart from being enjoyable in its own right Van Nuys Blvd. is a fascinating slice of Americana, and provides a glimpse of an innocent and now vanished America. It’s amazing how much fun people used to have before they had cellphones and social media. There’s some effective use of LA locations, including Van Nuys Boulevard itself.

Van Nuys Blvd.
was quite successful at the box office.

This movie is included in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection. If you don’t have this set then buy it immediately. It’s superb value for money and while it includes a few clunkers it includes some genuinely wonderful drive-in movies such as The Babysitter (1969), Malibu High (1979) and some fascinating oddities such as Pick-Up (1975) and Blue Money (1972).

Van Nuys Blvd. gets a very good anamorphic transfer and an audio commentary by the director.

Van Nuys Blvd. is no masterpiece but it’s an intriguing time capsule and it’s amusing. It’s probably a better film today than it was in 1979 since it now benefits from very substantial nostalgia appeal and for this reason it is highly recommended.

Sunday 9 May 2021

Byleth: The Demon of Incest (1972)

Byleth: The Demon of Incest is a very obscure Italian gothic horror movie (with a dash of giallo) from 1972.

It opens with a prologue in which a prostitute is brutally slain with an unusual three-pronged murder weapon (which we will later learn is a significant detail).

Then we switch to the palatial country home of the Shandwells in Italy, sometime in the late 19th century. Young Duke Lionello Shandwell (Mark Damon) is overjoyed that his sister Barbara (Claudia Gravy and no I don’t know why she chose that as a stage name either) has returned after a lengthy absence. He is delighted until she tells him she has married. This is quite a blow to him. As a child she had promised that she and Lionello would never be parted). This is our first hint that there is an incestuous attraction between Lionello and Barbara although we’re not quite sure whether Barbara is as sexually attracted to him as he is to her. That’s one of the many things that the movie is ambiguous about and it’s the ambiguity that makes this film interesting.

We soon discover that Lionello has quite a few issues with sex. He likes to watch couples making love. It’s implied that he has some sexual performance problems which could of course mean that the only woman who is capable of arousing him is his sister.

Spying on Barbara having sex with her husband Giordano (Aldo Bufi Lando) threatens to tip Lionello right over the edge.

Giordano, who is a pretty decent guy, tries to fix Lionello up with his beautiful cousin Floriana (Silvana Panfili). For a while that looks like it’s going to work. They hit it off well. But, alas, it ends badly. Floriana is a very pleasant and very attractive young lady but she is not Barbara.

There have been some other murders as well. The local priest suspects that a demon named Byleth is involved. That three-pronged murder weapon is apparently one of Byleth’s trademarks. Byleth is a demon who specialises in arousing incestuous desires. Barbara has a childhood memory of Lionello muttering the word Byleth to himself repeatedly.

It sounds like Lionello may be possessed by Byleth, and may in fact have summoned the demon. Years earlier his father had to leave England to avoid a scandal in which witchcraft was involved.

This is where the film’s ambiguity kicks in again. Lionello is a very disturbed young man with some major sexual hangups and some major sexual guilt. He is sufficiently unstable and disturbed for it to be plausible that he is simply a murderer. But he’s also quite crazy enough to try stuff like summoning demons. There’s also the possibility that the demon was originally summoned by Lionello’s father. Whether the murders have simply been committed by a very disturbed young man or whether there are supernatural forces involved is the big question and the movie leaves this this an open question.

There’s also the fact that we’re mostly seeing things from Lionello’s point of view, so we can’t be sure whether there’s a real demon, or whether Lionello thinks there’s a real demon, or whether we’re just seeing the delusions of a very disturbed young man. It can also be asked whether Lionello has been made crazy by his incestuous longings for Barbara or whether he’s been made crazy by demonic possession, possession by a demon who is notorious for inducing incestuous lust.

Yet another layer of ambiguity is added by Barbara. Is she aware of Lionello’s sexual obsession with her? Does she, to some extent, share this obsession?

There are some hints of the giallo genre here although this is essentially gothic horror.

There’s surprisingly little gore. There is however plenty of sex and nudity. On the other hand, despite the subject matter, this is no crude sleazefest. It’s a movie that makes an attempt to explore the links between madness and the occult and to ask whether madness leads to an obsession with the occult or whether occult forces ca drive people to madness.

Mark Damon is pretty good as Lionello. Lionello is a tortured soul but he’s not entirely unsympathetic. He may be a monster or a victim. Damon does a decent job of teasing out the complexities of the character. Claudia Gravy is also very good as Barbara, a woman who means well but may be unwittingly driving her brother further into madness.

Director Leopoldo Savona paces the film in a somewhat leisurely manner but he keeps us interested by keeping us uncertain. The fairly high production values help. It’s a handsome film but unusually for Italian genre cinema of that era it appears to be trying to avoid being a mere exercise in style.

Byleth: The Demon of Incest isn’t one of the great Italian gothic horror flicks but it’s worth a look if you don’t mind the fact that the violence is very restrained. Recommended.

Severin have released this movie on both DVD and Blu-Ray. They’ve given us the German cut which is the only surviving uncut version and while the transfer isn’t stunning due to problems with the source material it still looks pretty good.

Friday 7 May 2021

Over 18... and Ready! (1969)

Over 18... and Ready! is a 1969 American sexploitation flick. Now if you were making a sexploitation movies in the 60s you couldn’t just shoot footage of naked women. You had to come up with with sort of vague plot that would explain why the girls kept taking their clothes off. Some sexploitation film-makers came up with genuinely inventive ways of doing this but if you didn’t have a really clever idea the easiest thing to do was to make a movie about sexploitation movie-making. There was a whole sub-genre of such movies and Over 18... and Ready! is one of those movies.

Barney Merritt (Larry Martinelli) makes skin flicks in Hollywood. He’s having trouble casting the female lead for his latest picture. There are plenty of girls available but Barney is choosy - he doesn’t want just any girl. She has to be the right girl.

At this point his secretary Lyn (Mary McRea) comes up with a bright idea. Why can’t she play the lead rôle? Barney isn’t sure that this is a good idea. Lyn is a nice girl and the movie will involve lots of sex and nudity. Which is interesting - in this sub-genre the sleazy film producer is usually the one actively trying to lure some innocent girl into taking her clothes off for the camera. But Barney tries to talk Lyn out of it.

Barney agrees to think about it over the weekend but when he gets home he remembers he left his briefcase at the office so he has to ring Lyn to ask her to get it for him. Lyn is in the bath when he phones (thus providing the movie’s first nude scene).

Lyn decides that if she’s going to persuade Barney to cast her she’ll need some photos to show him so she arranges a nude photo shoot shoot with a photographer acquaintance, thus providing the movie’s second nude scene. At this rate it looks like we’re going to get a prodigious amount of nudity. And we do.

Of course she sleeps with the photographer which leads to complications later when he decides he’s in love with her.

Lyn gets the part but then she discovers that Barney isn’t so moral after all. Not only is She expected to sleep with him, she’s expected to sleep with his wife as well. And maybe the maid as well (Barney and his wife are both sleeping with the maid).

The movie turns out to be a roughie but Lyn doesn’t mind because it’s her first step on the road to stardom. She doesn’t even mind the bondage and the whipping. It’s only acting after all and she’s an actress.

What she does mind is the idea of having sex with Barney’s wife. And after a while she decides she’s not particularly keen on having sex with Barney either, especially when she figures out that maybe she really likes the photographer after all. None of this stops her from moving in with Barney and his wife (she has her career to think of). And she’s not going to give up that glittering career. Sure, most girls who appear in skin flicks don’t go on to be major Hollywood stars but she knows that it will be different for her.

The script is pretty basic but it’s serviceable. The acting is bad, which you expect, but unfortunately it’s very restrained bad acting rather than entertainingly over-the-top bad acting.

Of course audiences at the time weren’t watching the movie for the acting or the writing. As for the modern audience for these movies, they’re definitely not watching for the nudity (although there is plenty of frontal nudity in this one) or the sex (which is of the ridiculously tame variety in which the guys always keep their shorts on). People today watch these movies in the hope of seeing a delicious campfest or an exercise in cinematic weirdness (and 60s sexploitation movies do very often deliver on both counts). This one just doesn’t have quite enough of either camp value or weirdness. It’s just a very basic stock-standard skin flick.

This movie is paired with The Alley Tramp in a Something Weird double-header release. The fullframe transfer is reasonably OK with some very minor print damage. It’s quite grainy, but that just makes it seem more sleazy so it’s really a feature rather than a bug. The aspect ratio is correct. Like most sexploitation flicks this one was shot in black-and-white.

Unfortunately The Alley Tramp is also a rather uninspired exploitation feature so this disc is just a bit of a disappointment (and it has to be said that it’s a rare disappointment from Something Weird). Over 18... and Ready! is really for sexploitation completists only. If you want a really really good sexploitation movie dealing with the same subject matter then Career Bed is the film you need to see.

Sunday 2 May 2021

Sorceress (1982)

After following an interesting if up-and-down trajectory Jack Hill’s career was all but over by 1975 but he did make one last film for Roger Corman in 1982 - the sword & sorcery flick Sorceress, shot in Mexico. Corman had seen Conan the Barbarian and concluded (correctly) that this was a bandwagon worth jumping on.

An extremely nasty wizard named Traigon (Roberto Ballesteros) wants to sacrifice his first-born child to his evil goddess but he has a problem - his woman had twins and she won’t tell him which one was the first-born. If he guesses right he will gain immense power but if he guesses wrong he will suffer horrific consequences. Just as he’s trying to find as solution to his problem a white magician named Krona shows up, kills Traigon, and spirits the twins away.

To protect their lives the twins are raised as boys.

Twenty years later Traigon has been reincarnated (his goddess has gifted him with three lives) and he is determined to find the twins. His followers find the farmhouse in which they were brought up and butchery ensues, leaving the whole of the girls’ adopted family dead. The twins, who have been off skinny-dipping in the river, turn up too late to save their family but they do manage to slaughter the bad guys. You see Krona endowed the twins with awesome warrior prowess as well as sorcerous powers.

The girls hook up with a grizzled but friendly wandering warrior named Baldar. Baldar thinks they’re boys, which tends to indicate that he’s led a very sheltered life and has never seen an actual girl. Baldar has a sidekick, an amiable centaur. Baldar and the twins then hook up with barbarian adventurer Erlick (Roberto Nelson). When the twins undress in front of them it finally dawns on Baldar and Erlick that they’re girls. But the twists is, the twins don’t know that they’re girls. They always just assumed they were boys.

Traigon’s goons are trying to hunt down the twins for Traigon’s blood sacrifice while the twins are trying to hunt him down to kill him. There are lots of narrow escapes, Erlick almost gets impaled and one of the twins discovers that if you’re a girl you can have a lot of fun with a guy. This part is handled with wit and style - while one twin is losing her virginity the other twin gets to experience all the same pleasures.

There are epic fights. There are special effects that are mostly very good by low-budget 1982 standards. There are cool costumes (the beaked helmets on Traigon’s goons are a nice touch). The ape makeup effects on Traigon’s mistress’s man-ape pet are remarkably good, and the centaur is done pretty convincingly as well. The risen dead fights are excellent and creepy. There are lots of babes and lots of nudity. Even the special effects that wouldn’t quite pass muster today are at least clever and well thought out. The sets are good and the whole thing looks much more expensive than it was.

It’s what you expect from a Jack Hill movie - it’s done with a bit more cleverness and a bit more style than you expect in a movie of this type. And a bit more wit.

The twins are played by real-life twins Leigh and Lynette Harris, former Playboy models who made two films in the early 80s and that was the extent of their film careers. They’re not exactly great actresses but they’re not called on to demonstrate anything demanding of real acting skills, just take their clothes off and wave swords around (both of which they do quite satisfactorily). In fact they acquit themselves pretty well. In fact the performances of the entire cast are more than adequate.

Jack Hill’s directing credits including the brilliant, fascinating but strange girl gang movie Switchblade Sisters, the excellent blaxploitation classic Coffy, the entertaining women-in-prison film The Big Doll House and the indescribably bizarre Spider Baby.

Unfortunately Hill and Corman disagreed strongly over the editing of the movie and Hill cut his ties with New World Pictures, and even more unfortunately that had the effect of ending his career - the market was changing and the opportunities that he hoped would open up for him failed to eventuate. The tragedy of it is that Sorceress was a major hit and Hill could have gone on to make lots more movies for Corman.

Scorpion Releasing have put this movie out on both DVD and Blu-Ray, with very nice transfers and quite a few extras - there are interviews with Corman (who is quite proud of the movie), writer Jim Wynorski, post production supervisor Clark Henderson and makeup artist John Carl Buechler (whose work in this movie is outstanding).

Sorceress was the movie that launched New World’s successful cycle of sword & sorcery films, most of which (such as Barbarian Queen) are thoroughly enjoyable.

Sorceress is stylish and it’s enormous fun. Highly recommended.