Sunday 29 August 2021

The Premature Burial (1962)

The Premature Burial is the third film in Roger Corman’s celebrated Edgar Allan Poe cycle. Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell wrote the screenplay, based on Poe's 1844 short story of the same name. The film was released in 1962.

Vincent Price had starred in the first two Poe films but for complicated contractual reasons involving AIP Corman was unable to secure his services for the third film. Ray Milland played the lead rôle instead.

Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) is obsessed by the fear of being buried alive. He is convinced that that is what happened to his father - that his father suffered from catalepsy and was pronounced dead and sealed in his coffin even though he was still alive. Guy is convinced that, as a boy, he heard his father’s screams of terror. Guy’s fears are intensified by a couple of odd incidents.

Guy feels that as a result of his affliction he cannot go ahead with his projected marriage to Emily Gault (Hazel Court) but Emily persuades him to change his mind. Guy however cannot prevent himself from brooding endlessly about the horrors of premature burial.

Guy comes up with an elaborate plan to deal with his fears. He designs a mausoleum for himself, and a special coffin. Both the mausoleum and the coffin are cunningly designed to allow him to escape should he, by mistake, be buried alive after an attack of catalepsy.

Not surprisingly Guy’s behaviour becomes increasingly worrying to Emily and to his friend Miles (Richard Ney). And to his sister Kate (Heather Angel), although she has always worried about his sanity.

Emily and Miles decide there’s only one way to cure Guy - they must persuade him to destroy his ingenious mausoleum.

Ray Milland does a fine job here but would Vincent Price have done a better job in the lead rôle? Price could certainly have done the part and it’s arguable that in this case Price’s extreme theatricality might have compensated for the thinness of the plot. On the whole though Ray Milland was a very good choice and he delivers the good.

Hazel Court was one of the great scream queens and she’s terrific here.

The movie’s major weakness is that while Poe’s story is excellent it doesn’t provide quite enough plot for a feature film. It’s a story that might have worked better as an episode for the Thriller TV anthology series.

The movie has a very artificial shot-on-a-soundstage look (as do the other early films in Corman’s Poe cycle). I personally think that’s an asset in this case as it adds to the hallucinatory nightmare feel.

Floyd Crosby did the cinematography for this film (and for all the Corman Poe films up to The Haunted Palace) and he and art director (and frequent Corman collaborator) Daniel Haller provide plenty of gothic creepiness. Corman knew how to pick people with whom to work who could do great work on tight budgets and tight schedules which is why his Poe films always look much better than you’d expect on such small budgets.

Because there’s not a great deal of plot and for most of the running time no overt horror this movie has to rely very heavily on atmosphere and even more heavily on creating a mood of uneasiness and uncertainty. Is Guy mad or sane? Are his fears irrational or all too rational? Fortunately the movie manages to do this quite successfully, and Ray Milland manages very successfully to keep us in doubt about Guy’s sanity (and perhaps does a better job of this than Vincent Price would have done).

Kino Lorber’s Region 1 DVD (there’s a Blu-Ray edition as well) provides an excellent anamorphic transfer. Corman’s Poe films rely a great deal on his bold use of colour and the colours look great on this transfer. There are a few worthwhile extras as well including an interview with Corman.

The Premature Burial is usually considered to be one of the lesser films in Corman’s Poe cycle but that’s a bit unfair. It’s actually a very effective horror chiller with its own flavour and it’s very very creepy. Highly recommended.

I’ve also reviewed the first of the Corman Poe films, The Fall of the House of Usher, and one of the later Poe films he did in England, The Masque of the Red Death.

Monday 23 August 2021

The Lady Kills (1971)

Writer-director Jean-Louis van Belle’s The Lady Kills (Perverse et docile) is a 1971 French psycho-sexual thriller with plenty of exploitation elements and a certain unique style of its own.

As soon as the movie starts we know this is the 1970s. The first scene is a non-graphic but fairly harrowing rape scene, with a young female witness. Then we see a man leaving a bar in Dusseldorf. He takes his girlfriend into an alley for a bit of fun but it turns out to be fatal fun. And there’s the wild opening credits with lots of solarisation and females in costumes that are both scanty and kinky.

In Paris we see Françoise Frémond (Carole Lebel) applying for a job in a girlie bar called Le Sexy. We see those kinky dancers again. Christian Belmont (Christian Duc) is the creative force behind Le Sexy. He tells Françoise he’s going to call her Pervertissima (interestingly enough the following year van Belle made a movie called Pervertissima). He tells her to disrobe. When she leaves, she leaves a gift for him. A kind of parting gift.

This movie doesn’t bother explaining anything but what’s going on is perfectly clear. Françoise witnessed a rape (we later find out it was her sister who was raped) and now she’s going to kill the perpetrators one by one.

She embarks on a voyage of revenge across Europe. She’s a strangely calm detached killer. She doesn’t seem especially angry. She’s just doing what she has to do.

The voyage aspect makes the film quite entertaining. It’s a journey by car, train, plane and boat, leaving a trail of corpses.

That’s it for the plot. Which sounds like the sort of thing an Italian film-maker of that era would relish. But this is a French movie. It’s stylish in its own way but it lacks the flamboyance of, let’s say, a contemporary Italian giallo. It’s stylish in a cool sophisticated French way.

It also lacks the gore. The violence is very very restrained and much of it happens partially or completely off-camera.

There’s an enormous amount of nudity but that’s also very restrained - there’s no frontal nudity at all. There’s no graphic sex. The rape scene is tame by 1970s standards. The only scene with the potential to shock is the one in which Françoise volunteers to be whipped as part of the process of getting close to one of the rapists, a sleazy photographer. But it’s one of the mildest whipping scenes you’ll see in any movie of that period. What makes it kinky is that the sleazy photographer isn’t excited by watching Françoise being whipped - it’s the sound of the whipping, and more particularly Françoise’s whimpers of pain, that gets him off. He likes to record such sounds so he can enjoy them again later. It makes the scene both tame and at the same time very perverse.

Compared to early 70s Italian exploitation cinema this is a very very tame movie.

What I’ve said so far will probably have convinced most hardened eurosleaze fans to give this one a miss but don’t be too quick to do this. This movie does have some major assets. The explicit content might be mild but there’s plenty of implied kinkiness.

The groovy 70s psych-rock soundtrack is pretty good.

The settings are terrific. The highlight is the underground rock grotto photographic studio owned by one of Françoise’s victim, a studio which comes complete with an underwater tank. Which is of course filled with naked women. There are naked women littered about all over the studio, most of them sporting psychedelic body-painting. The decadence level in these scenes is off the scale. There’s plenty of decadence in the sex club (Le Sexy) as well. There’s no shortage of interesting perversity.

Carole Lebel is rather luscious and her acting is reasonably solid - she’s supposed to be playing a woman who has seriously lost the plot and she achieves this with commendable subtlety.

Mondo Macabro’s Blu-Ray offers a good anamorphic transfer and it’s a double-header - we get a second Jean-Louis van Belle feature as well, Pervertissima. There are some reasonably worthwhile extras as well (as there always are in a Mondo Macabro release).

The Lady Kills is an intriguing exercise in subtle perversity. Recommended.

This movie belongs in the rape revenge sub-genre, which was very big in the early 70s. Other notable entries in this sub-genre include Thriller: A Cruel Picture (They Call Her One Eye, 1974) and the excellent Hannie Caulder (1971).

Sunday 22 August 2021

Day of the Arrow/Eye of the Devil

I reviewed the excellent and underrated 1966 British horror flick Eye of the Devil here recently. If you're a fan of that film you might be interested in my review of the novel on which it was based, Philip Loraine's Day of the Arrow. The basic story is pretty much the same in both novel and film, but with a few interesting differences.

I think the movie is better than the book but the book is still worth checking out.

My review of the novel can be found here.

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Éducation Anglaise (1983)

Éducation Anglaise was written and directed by Jean-Claude Roy and released in 1983. It’s not quite a sex comedy but it has some vague affinities with that genre. It’s a kinky period sex melodrama and a truly weird slice of softcore eurosleaze.

Despite its title the film takes place entirely in a girls’ boarding school in France, in 1935. The school in question is very strict, with discipline on the English system. The French were of course convinced that English boarding schools were hotbeds of oppression, flagellation and sexual depravity.

Sylvie Dumarcay (Obaya Roberts) has lost both her parents. Her mother was having an affair. Her father shot her, her lover and himself. Now Sylvie is an orphan. She is the ward of Monsieur Pieron and he’s anxious to keep Sylvie out of his hair while helping himself to her considerable inheritance. He therefore packs her off to a boarding school. The school seems perfect from his point of view. They don’t even allow the girls to come home for holidays, and the headmistress assures him that discipline is very very strict.

With Sylvie out of the way Monsieur Pieron can concentrate on what he’s really interested in, which is engaging in sexual hijinks with the two young, beautiful female members of his household staff (one of whom is played by the gorgeous Brigitte Lahaie).

The headmistress of the school is a blonde, pretty and very feminine young woman with a very pronounced sadistic streak.

Sylvie certainly gets an education at this boarding school, an education with surprising results. She is introduced to the delights of sapphic love, which she enjoys very much indeed. She is also introduced to the reality of the English system of school discipline, which she doesn’t enjoy so much. At first. Later she will come to appreciate that it has certain merits for a young lady with the right inclinations.

The school has a new teacher, Madame Georgina, a very formidable dragon of a lady. She and the headmistress seem to be very fond of one another. The main thrust of the plot concerns that new teacher. The major plot twist isn’t going to come as any real surprise, which is a pity.

The other major plot strand concerns Sylvie’s voyage of self-discovery as she discovers that she has a number of tastes that are perhaps unusual in a well brought up young lady.

Now it must be obvious by now that this is a movie that is much concerned with spanking and lesbianism but it has other much more interesting forms of depravity to offer. The chariot race is a definite highlight. It’s Madame Georgina’s idea. She has obtained two chariots and she has two girls to drive the chariots. But there are no horses. Fortunately it turns out that you don’t need horses to pull a chariot if you have some strong healthy girls on hand. There’s plenty of kinkiness here but it’s clever kinkiness.

This is strictly softcore but there’s quite a lot of frontal nudity. And no sex. The depravity is too odd to be offensive and it’s done in a manner that suggests that we’re not supposed to take it too seriously. It’s sleazy, but it’s good-natured sleaze.

Sylvie is interesting. The surprising development of her sexual kinks does actually make sense. The girls are put in a situation in which they either break or they adapt. Some of the girls do break, but some adapt. Sylvie definitely adapts.

The period setting works quite well. Apart from making the film look more interesting it distances things a bit and helps to make the kinky stuff seem less confronting - it makes things that could have been disturbing seem somehow quaint and picturesque. We can tell ourselves that this is all happening in a kind of fantasy world.

It’s interesting to compare Éducation Anglaise with other movies of around that time dealing with sado-masochism. Sado-masochism was the in thing in the world of erotic films and while Radley Metzger’s The Image and Just Jaecklin’s The Story of O are better films Éducation Anglaise is not entirely to be despised as an attempt to deal with the subject with a bit of nuance.

Jean-Claude Roy made some intriguingly offbeat erotic movies in the 70s and 80s. Scandalous Photos benefits from having Brigitte Lahaie as its star while Justine’s Hot Nights (1976) is totally loopy but fun.

Nucleus Films released this one on DVD on their Naughty label a few years back and it’s still in print. The anamorphic transfer is pretty good. The only extras are an image gallery and a couple of trailer including one for another French 1980s Nucleus Films release, Dressage (which is quite a good little movie).

Éducation Anglaise is offbeat, kinky, strange and naughty. If you like those things it’s recommended. If you really really like those things then it’s highly recommended.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Alice in Acidland (1969)

Alice in Acidland is the sad tale of Alice Trenton, a college student and a perfectly normal example of fine young American womanhood until she is introduced to the world of drugs. Alice and her friend Kathy are invited to a pool party by one of their teachers, Frieda. Alice samples some booze and some pot which of course leads to the inevitable result. Frieda introduces her to some lesbo lovin’ and by that evening Alice’s transformation into a drug-crazed hippie is complete.

This is a typical Moral Panic movie, very much in the style of the classic exploitation era of the 1930s to the 1950s, complete with voiceover narration (by a guy who tells us he’s psychiatrist of the state no less although it’s actually the movie’s director) warning the audience that LSD will destroy the sense of moral responsibility of our young people. And like those classical exploitation movies it takes great delight in showing us all the titillating details of the resulting moral degradation.

Pretty soon Alice is recruiting other innocent coeds into the world of lesbianism and acid. And introducing them to Bob Fletcher, otherwise known as Animal, so they can be initiated into the joys of straight sex as well.

This leads to very lengthy orgy scenes, shot in a way that had me wondering if this movie was really made in 1969. The sex scenes are done in a style that suggests 1965 rather than 1969 - the guys never take their shorts off. And while there’s a bit of frontal nudity it all seems a bit tame for 1969.

Although we’re told that Alice has now become a hippie there are no actual hippies in the movie. The guys look like they’d be more at home in 1959 than 1969. They look more like accountants than hippies.

For most of its running time this is a standard sexploitation flick masquerading (in the style of much earlier exploitation flicks) as a serious warning of the dangers of booze, drugs and sex. It lacks the weirdness and goofiness of the best American 60s sexploitation and it’s all a bit dull although the bad acting and the narration (there’s no synchronised dialogue at all) are amusing at times.

Then Alice has her first acid trip and the movie switches gears. It also switches from black-and-white to colour. And, surprisingly, the acid trip scenes are moderately well done. Especially when you consider the very very low budget. These scenes don’t descend into mere silliness as is the case with a lot of 60s psychedelic movies. While these scenes don’t quite make it as artiness there is at least some visual inspiration here, something that is entirely lacking in the rest of the movie. The acid trip doesn’t quite redeem the movie but it’s not that bad.

And then we get the ending and we discover Alice’s awful fate.

Something Weird paired this one with another 60s drug movie, Smoke and Flesh, which I haven’t yet had time to watch. The most significant of the extras is a 42-minutes edited softcore version of a hardcore drug movie, Aphrodisiac! The Sexual Secret of Marijuana. This is an appropriate companion piece to Alice in Acidland in the sense that it’s filmed in the same quasi-documentary style (we’re told that it’s a “factual documentary” while of course it’s basically just a skin flick). Rather than purporting to be a solemn warning of the sexual horrors that weed will unleash it takes the line that while pot definitely will turn American youth into sex-fiends that’s a really good thing. And marijuana can save your marriage.

Something Weird have provided a fairly reasonable transfer of Alice in Acidland.

Alice in Acidland doesn’t quite make the grade. It’s a pity that the endearing ultra-low budget trippiness of the final colour segment wasn’t maintained throughout. Definitely one of the lesser sexploitation movies. Something Weird’s releases are always a bit hit or miss, which is what makes them fun. And this disc does offer three films. Whether Smoke and Flesh is good enough to make the disc worth buying I have yet to discover. Stay tuned.

Friday 6 August 2021

Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974)

Successive Slidings of Pleasure (Glissements progressifs du plaisir) is a 1974 movie written and directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet. It’s an art film, with a capital A. It’s also a thriller, an exploitation movie, an erotic movie and a surrealist movie.

This film was made on a ridiculously low budget (500,000 francs), which suited Robbe-Grillet since what he wanted most of all was artistic freedom. He was happy to keep within such a minuscule budget if he could make the film he wanted to make without interference. Which is appropriate since the movie deals (among other things) with themes of freedom from stifling social controls.

The biggest star in the movie is Jean-Louis Trintignant (who starred in Robbe-Grillet’s wonderful Trans-Europ Express). Officially they couldn’t afford him, but he was a friend of Robbe-Grillet and was apparently happy to do the movie for nothing.

The movie starts with the arrival of a police inspector at a murder scene. An unnamed girl (played by Anicée Alvina) may have murdered her room-mate Nora (Olga Georges-Picot). The girl claims that a man has been following her and that he broke in and killed Nora. Nora is nude and tied to the bed and she and the girl had been, apparently, involved in some sort of sexual game involving art and bondage (this is an Alain Robbe-Grillet film).

The girl’s story is unlikely and it’s full of holes and contradictions but it may be true. It’s also possible that she’s crazy and has no idea if she murdered Nora or not. Everything we see through the girl’s eyes could be true or false or it could be misrememberings or misinterpretations.

We also can’t be sure that the theories that occur to the police inspector or to the examining magistrate (Michel Lonsdale) have any basis in reality. We can’t be sure if anything has any basis in reality (Alain Robbe-Grillet was after all the guy who wrote Last Year at Marienbad).

The girl is confined in a prison run by nuns (and one scene was according to Tim Lucas shot in the very cell in which the Marquis de Sade had been confined). There probably weren’t any prisons run by nuns in France in 1974. But this is a surrealist film so the prison is run by nuns.

The narrative jumps about all over the place. There is a narrative but it’s disconnected and fragmented and it certainly isn’t linear in time. To complicate things, we have no idea what we can believe and what we can’t believe. Many of the events of the movie may be imaginary but we can’t be sure whose imagination they’re taking place in. The girl thinks she can cause people’s deaths with her thoughts and she thinks that she had been responsible for the death of a teacher at her school. We see the teacher’s death in a flashback but we have to remember that this is a memory that may have become totally distorted in her mind.

Anicée Alvina is extraordinary and mesmerising.

There are numerous shots that look liker surrealist paintings (especially by Magritte - Robbe-Grillet later made the superb La Belle Captive inspired by Magritte’s paintings). There are mannequins, and there are mannequins that may be real and women who may be mannequins. In most scenes Nora, even when alive, is as still as a mannequin.

While the film school crowd would no doubt prefer to compare Robbe-Grillet to Luis Buñuel, Buñuel being the sort of surrealist that they dote on. I personally think Robbe-Grillet has more in common with Jean Rollin.

This is a movie that was bitterly attacked by feminists at the time, much to the amusement of Robbe-Grillet’s wife Catherine who points out in her introduction that the feminists missed the point of the movie entirely.

Robbe-Grillet ended up in a strange position. He first made a name for himself as an avant-garde novelist in the 1950s. His screenplay for Last Year at Marienbad and his first directorial efforts, L’Immortelle and Trans-Europ Express, established him as a maker of art films. From 1970 onwards though the nudity, the sexual subject matter and the sadomasochistic undercurrents in his films made him not quite respectable among the usual audience for art films (and not quite resectable among critics). So he ended up caught somewhere between the worlds of art films and exploitation movies. Like the other great French surrealist movie-maker of that era, Jean Rollin, he was attacked by critics who simply couldn’t comprehend what he was trying to do.

While Robbe-Grillet’s movies are very much art movies you shouldn’t make the mistake of taking them too seriously. Robbe-Grillet thought that art could be fun. He thought it was OK to enjoy art. The secret to appreciating his movies is just to settle back and enjoy the ride. And don’t worry about trying to make sense of everything. His movies are not realist films. They’re surrealism. Things are not necessarily supposed to make sense in a conventional manner. And some things are intentionally left ambiguous and mystifying.

This movie has been released by The British Film Institute as part of a boxed set (available on both DVD and Blu-Ray) called Alain Robbe-Grillet: Six Films 1963-1974. The anamorphic transfer is very good. The extras include an illuminating audio commentary by Tim Lucas, an introduction by Robbe-Grillet’s wife Catherine and portions of an interview with the director.

Successive Slidings of Pleasure is at times bizarre, often playful and always puzzling but if you just let the movie take you where it wants to take you you’ll have quite a ride. Very highly recommended.

I’ve also reviewed Last Year at Marienbad, L’immortelle, La belle captive (which in my view is his masterpiece) and Trans-Europ-Express - all of which I highly recommend.

Sunday 1 August 2021

Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974)

There has never been a genre so thoroughly reviled and detested by critics as the 1970s British sex comedy. They were enormously popular, which enraged British critics even further. Unlike other once-reviled genres British sex comedies have never quite managed to overcome the effects of that critical disdain. And of all the British sex comedies the ones that contemporary critics loathed most were the Confessions movies, beginning with Confessions of a Window Cleaner in 1974.

Some historical context is needed here. In the 70s the British film industry was in a lot of trouble. A way had to be found to entice audiences into cinemas. The obvious answer was to offer something that television could not offer, and one thing television couldn’t offer was wall-to-wall nudity. What was also needed was something to make it appear that British film-makers were not offering mere softcore pornography. The solution was to make comedies with wall-to-wall nudity.

The comedy would clearly need to be pretty broad. Ideally it needed to be in the Benny Hill style but more risqué.

Thus was the British sex comedy born. And it worked. Confessions of a Window Cleaner was the highest grossing movie in Britain in 1974, and was followed by three sequels and a number of imitators.

The movies were based on a very popular series of salacious novels.

The premise of Confessions of a Window Cleaner is that the job of a window cleaner is not to clean windows but to keep the female customers of the window cleaning business happy, and that the way to do that is to provide them with sexual satisfaction. Apparently all the clients of the window-cleaning business run by Sid Noggett (Anthony Booth) are bored sex-crazed housewives. He does his best to satisfy them all but there’s only so much one man can do so he brings his brother-in-law Timmy (Robin Askwith) into his business.

The problem is that while Timmy is certainly interested in sex he’s a virgin. So the first step has to be to do something about his sexual education. Sid’s stripper friend should be able to do this, but things don’t quite work out.

Fortunately one of Sid’s lady customers is able to successfully complete Timmy’s sexual initiation.

Now young Timothy is off and running and he soon has lots of satisfied customers. Timmy is however very accident-probe and as a result of one of his mishaps he meets a very pretty and charming young woman police constable, Elizabeth Radlett (Linda Hayden). Love blossoms and Timmy proposes marriage. But getting married turns out to be a rather difficult thing to do.

The plot of course is just an excuse for a lot of sexual jokes and a lot of nudity (including plenty of female frontal nudity).

The jokes are obvious and corny. They’re even more obvious and corny than the jokes in the Carry On movies but the Carry On movies had comic geniuses like Kenneth Williams, Sid James and Barbara Windsor who could make corny obvious jokes screamingly funny. This movie doesn’t have that sort of talent on which to draw. It doesn’t really matter too much - its the corniness and obviousness of the jokes that give British sex comedies their charm. If you groan at some of the jokes that means the film is working. It’s not supposed to be sophisticated humour.

These movies made Robin Askwith a star and he does have a goofy likeability.

It goes without saying that this movie is very very politically incorrect in a very 1970s way. That also doesn’t matter. If you’re worried about political correctness you’re not likely to be watching Confessions of a Window Cleaner in the first place, and it is a refreshing reminder of an era in which comedy was totally and wildly unconstrained by politics. If there was a chance of getting a laugh then the writers would go for it.

Val Guest (with a varied and distinguished career behind him) directed and co-wrote the screenplay.

Personally I think that if you want to dip your toe into the sea of 1970s British sex comedies then Val Guest’s earlier Au Pair Girls (from 1972) is a better choice, largely because it has some stronger comedic talent among its cast.

Confessions of a Window Cleaner might be a bit disreputable but it doesn’t care. The aim is to provide some sexy fun and some laughs and to a considerable extent it succeeds. It’s enjoyable enough in its cheekily trashy way and unlike later attempts at sex comedies it’s remarkably good-natured. Worth a look.