Thursday 30 December 2021

Play Motel (1979)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 26 December 2021

The Flaming Teenage (1956)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 18 December 2021

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 13 December 2021

Flight Attendant: Scandal (1984)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Aroused (1966)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 3 December 2021

OSS 117 Panic in Bangkok (1964)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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