Saturday 29 January 2022

Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966)

Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, shot in Mexico and released in 1966, was the fifth of the seven Sy Weintraub-produced Tarzan films. It was the first of former pro footballer Mike Henry’s three appearances as Tarzan.

In 1958 Weintraub took over the Tarzan franchise and it soon became obvious that he was going to take a completely fresh approach. Tarzan was no longer going to be a man who could barely speak English and had little understanding of the modern world. He was going to be much more like the character originally created by Edgar Rice Burroughs - a well-educated well-spoken man caught between two worlds, a man who understands the world of the jungle but who also understands the modern world perfectly well.

Weintraub also had little patience with the idea of making cheap black-and-white Tarzan movies filled with sometimes rather iffy stock footage. He was going to spend some real money. He was going to have the films shot in colour and on location. Weintraub’s Tarzan would also be a globe-trotter. If you’re going to justify spending the money to shoot on location you have to use different locations if you want to keep audiences interested. Weintraub didn’t just want to keep audiences interested - he wanted to keep them excited. And to a very large extent he succeeded. The success of his Tarzan movies led to his making the Tarzan TV series.

In retrospect Weintraub’s new approach was, on the whole, an extremely good idea. He really did revitalise the franchise.

In 1966 he decided to go even further. Tarzan and the Valley of Gold would be a James Bond-style adventure. When we first see Tarzan he is getting off an airliner wearing a sharp business suit. Nobody is staring at him or laughing at him. He looks comfortable and self-assured and not the least bit out of place.

We do however soon find out that Tarzan has not forgotten the lore of the jungle. There’s a car waiting to pick him up at the airport. And Tarzan smells blood. There’s no blood in the car but there has been blood in its vicinity, so he knows something is wrong. He’s not taken by surprise when he gets ambushed. We then get an action set-piece that is not only very much n the Bond style, it’s an extremely good Bond-style action set-piece.

Of course this is a Tarzan movie so don’t worry, eventually our hero is going to find himself in the jungle.

The Mexican authorities have asked for Tarzan’s help because a small boy walked out of the jungle with a story of a hidden treasure of gold. The boy was taken in by Tarzan’s old friend Ruiz but master criminal Augustus Vinero (David Opatoshu) has heard the tale of gold and has tried to kidnap the boy. The Mexican authorities are afraid that when Vinero finds the hoard of gold he will mercilessly slaughter the people of the little boy’s village.

Vinero does succeed in kidnapping the boy and kills a bunch of people in the process. Which means Tarzan is going to be heading into the jungle to rescue the boy and settle accounts with Vinero. The Mexican police offer Tarzan fifty armed men but Tarzan calmly informs them that he has all the help he needs - he has a scout (a chimpanzee), a guide (the little boy’s pet leopard) and he has an army (a lion named Major). Of course those are all African animals but that is easily explained - Tarzan’s friend Ruiz has a small private zoo.

Tarzan is ludicrously confident that all he needs is a length of rope, a hunting knife and his three animal companions to take on a small private army of bad guys equipped with a tank, a half-track, a helicopter and an arsenal of modern weapons. But Tarzan turns out to be right. It’s the bad guys who are going to be in trouble.

Interestingly this is not just a jungle adventure but a lost world tale as well. And I personally love lost world tales.

Vinero has some definite Bond Villain characteristics. He’s motivated by greed but with some Bond Villain megalomaniacal tendencies as well. He’s more than just a straightforward crook of the type common in Tarzan movies. And he has a liking for murderous gadgets. He’s clearly crazy. David Opatoshu does fairly well in the rôle.

Mike Henry makes a pretty decent Tarzan. He looks the part. He’s a very convincing action hero. His acting is a bit on the basic side but his characterisation of Tarzan as the strong silent type, a kind of square-jawed action hero, works pretty well.

One thing that’s interesting about this movie is that despite the Bond influence it’s played fairly straight and it does have a few grim moments.

All the Weintraub Tarzan movies have been issued on DVD in the Warner Archive series, available both individually and in a couple of multi-movie sets. Tarzan and the Valley of Gold benefits from a very nice anamorphic transfer and that matters because this is a visually fairly impressive movie. If you’ve only seen the Weintraub Tarzan movies on television you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by how good they look on DVD.

Whether it was really a good idea to try to make a Bond-style Tarzan movie is a matter of taste. I think it was an interesting idea that works better than might have been expected.

Tarzan and the Valley of Gold is a fine action-packed adventure movie. Highly recommended.

I’ve also reviewed two of the earlier Sy Weintraub Tarzan movies - the excellent Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959) and the very very good Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963).

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Caged Women (1991)

The women-in-prison genre took off in a big way in Europe with the success of Jess Franco’s 99 Women in 1969, and then in the 80s had a late flowering in the United States with movies like Chained Heat. By the end of the 80s it had largely run its course so Leandro Lucchetti’s 1991 entry Caged Women (Caged - Le prede umane) reprsents pretty much the end of the line for the genre. Watching his movie you can see why the genre faded - it had all been done before.

This is an Italian film which apparently encountered lots of censorship problems.

Caged Women starts with the arrival of American tourist Janet Cooper (Pilar Orive) in an unnamed South American country. She’s gone to an isolated town which is generally regarded even by the inhabitants of the country as a seriously undesirable place to visit. Janet has decided to go there on her own because she thinks she can look after herself.

This movie makes its exploitation credentials clear from the start. Within the first few minutes we get frontal nudity, a loving close-up of Pilar Orive’s bottom, an attempted rape and some simulated sex. This is going to be a very sleazy movie.

Janet got rescued from the attempted rape by handsome American helicopter mechanic Frank Nolan (Christrian Lorenz). He admits that the only reason he saved her because he was intending to give her the same treatment herself. Janet decides he’s her kind of man and so she has sex with him.

What we don’t find out is what this crazy broad thought she was doing going to such a dangerous place on her own. She seems to be convinced that if she gets into difficulties she can’t possibly get into real trouble because all she has to do is ask to see a lawyer or the US consul. She quickly finds out that she’s dealing with people who don’t worry about such legal niceties.

Within a day she’s been thrown into an island prison hellhole, without a trial, by a corrupt cop.

Then we get the standard women-in-prison stuff - the medical examination, the shower scene, Gerda the sadistic lesbian prison warder. From another American prisoner, Luoise (Isabel Libossart), she learns what’s going on. The prisoners (all young and female) are for sale to the highest bidder. Rich foreigners are flown in by helicopter to entertain themselves with the girls. It’s your basic white slavery operation.

Janet manages to seriously annoy the commandant, Captain Juan, so she and Louise are thrown into the cage to bake in the scorching sun for a while. Meanwhile Captain Juan is going to organise a hunt. Louise explains to Janet that these hunting parties happen from time to time, with girl prisoners as the prey.

Meanwhile Frank Nolan is missing his new bed partner, but he has no idea what has happened to her.

The acting is basic. Pilar Orive is obviously doing her best and she manages to give Janet a certain amount of spirit (even if we’re appalled by her poor judgment). Having a sadistic lesbian prison warder who is also young and pretty is always a nice touch and Elena Wiedermann plays the part with a certain amount of style - she doesn’t lose her temper which makes Gerda seem a lot more dangerous.

All the actresses playing the prisoners are nude for most of the movie. Which is just as well since this movie depends quite a bit on the naked female flesh factor.

It does have one genuinely startling scene. Janet and Louise are locked in what’s called the cage, where they’re exposed to the blistering sun and they have no water. Death by dehydration seems a likely fate. Then Louise gets a brilliant idea. They do have a source of moisture - each other. They can survive by licking the sweat off each other’s bodies, which they proceed to do. The girls seem to find this oddly enjoyable. Of course to get the necessary moisture it’s necessary to lick the whole of each other’s bodies. This is the sort of scene that warms the hearts of women-in-prison movie fans.

There’s also a decent double cat-fight scene in a river. It’s a fight for survival, staged for the entertainment of the prison guards.

There’s also sex in a helicopter, if you like that sort of thing.

The girl hunt at the end is staged quite well.

The DVD release from an outfit optimistically named The Classic Theater offers a rather dubious fullframe transfer. Sound quality is OK but with some hisses and scratches. Full Moon have released this one on DVD as well.

This is an incredibly sweaty grimy scuzzy movie. What it lacks is any real consistent inspiration. Jess Franco’s 70s women-in-prison movies were even sleazier but they always had touches of Franco craziness and visual experimentation and they were capable of springing genuine surprises on the viewer. Caged Women is mostly just a paint-by-numbers effort but with an occasional flash of inspiration. If you’re a women-in-prison completist it’s worth seeing. It certainly has the required sleaze ingredients. Recommended.

Friday 21 January 2022

Two Orphan Vampires (1997)

In the latter part of the 80s Jean Rollin’s film-making career started to peter out, due as much as anything to his failing health. He began to devote most of his energies to novel writing, with a certain amount of success. One major writing project he undertook was a series of linked short novels (Rollin loved the old-fashioned serial or feulliton format) about two blind orphan vampire girls.

The first of these novels, Little Orphan Vampires, is alas the only one to have been translated into English. It’s very much worth reading for is own sake and also for the subtle differences between book and film. The two girls are very much younger in the novel and the fact that they’re little more than children whereas in the movie they’re played by much older actresses does change things. Not in a sexual sense since these two vampire girls are more or less asexual, but in the novel their youth makes them seem more convincingly vulnerable.

The movie is based on all six books so if you’ve read the novel you’ll find that there are a lot of additional incidents in the movie that are clearly drawn from the later novels in the series, including flashbacks to the girls’ past lives.

The two girls are Henriette (Isabelle Teboul) and Louise (Alexandra Pic). They are blind and they are orphans. They live in an orphanage run by nuns. The nuns think the girls are angels. Little do they know. The fact is that Henriette and Louise are only blind during daylight hours. When the sun goes down they can see very well indeed and they slip out of the orphanage in search of the blood that they crave.

Dr Dennery, a famous eye specialist. Has been called in. He can finds no reason for their blindness but confirms that they really are blind. It is suggested that if the doctor were to adopt the girls he might be able to find a cure. Dr Dennery, basically a kind-hearted soul, does indeed adopt Henriette and Louise.

He shares the view of the nuns that the two girls are innocent angelic creatures. He takes no precautions such as locking them in at night because that would be unnecessary. The two girls are so obviously helpless and timid that they would never dream of leaving the house after dark. But they do leave the house at night, and they start to leave a trail of corpses behind them.

Henriette and Louise have some strange obsessions. Having read a book on the subject they are convinced that they are, or were, Aztec goddesses. They also reminisce about their past existences including some adventures in New York.

During their nocturnal adventures the girls encounter other creatures of the night, such as the enigmatic bat girl, a strange woman who haunts railway yards and a wandering ghoul (we think of ghouls as hideous creatures but this one is young female and pretty which makes her more creepy). And they encounter a woman of the carnival, played by Rollin favourite Brigitte Lahaie. The girls gradually come to feel trapped in Dr Dennery’s house.

The movie has a slightly episodic feel, which is what Rollin was aiming for.

The true nature of the girls remains enigmatic. They do have retractable fangs and they do drink blood but are they true vampires? Have they really lived previous lives as vampires and been killed and reborn many times? Are they supernatural creatures? Or even actual goddesses? The girls live in a world in which their dreams are more real to them than reality so it’s quite possible that all these things are just dreams or fantasies. But then that raises the question of whether reality actually is more real than dreams. Maybe we all live in a dream.

Rollin had made a series of strange surreal vampires movies in the late 60s and the 70s (ending with the superb Fascination in 1979) and in this movie he picks up where he left off. That does not mean that he is simply retreading his old movies. Rollin returned to certain themes agin and again (two girls who are doubles in some mysterious unexplained way being the most notable) but he always found a totally fresh approach to those themes. He made a lot of vampires movies but he never made the same vampire movie twice.

Rollin is often associated with the lesbian vampire craze of the 70 so it’s worth pointing out that there’s not the slightest suggestion that Henriette and Louise are lesbians. Rollin always made the nature of his doubled girls mysterious but they certainly behave like sisters. There’s no indication that they experience sexual desire of any kind. That’s not say that the movie is lacking in eroticism - the girls’ lust for blood definitely has an erotic tinge. For Rollin eroticism was more than just sex.

Making the girls in Two Orphan Vampires blind during the day but able to see at night is a nice touch. It emphasises that they live in a world totally separate from our world. They live in the world of shadows and dreams. It also makes them extremely vulnerable during the day which certainly adds dramatic tension. It’s also useful because these two girls are killers but we have to empathise with them. Their vulnerability during the day makes us constantly anxious that they are going to get a dangerous situation they can’t get out of.

The girls are both innocent and evil. They have zero understanding of the real world and are not even convinced that it exists. A treasured possession is a book on illusionism but they believe that all the stage illusions depicted in the book are real. They can be merciless killers and then they will spare a victim because the person seems to be just as adrift as they are. One thing they do understand is that people are afraid of them and will try to kill them.

At one point we see that the bat girl has been reading Immoral Tales, the seminal book on eurocult cinema by Pete Tombs and Cathal Tohill who played a major role in establishing Rolion’s cult status in the English-speaking world. And we see the two vampire girls reading one of the Fantomas novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, these early 20th century thrillers being a major influence on Rollin’s work.

The Black House Blu-Ray release doesn’t offer any extras but it’s a pretty good transfer.

Two Orphan Vampires was a very worthy addition to Rollin’s vampire cycle. It has everything that Rollin fans loved about the earlier movies but it takes a slightly different slightly fresh approach, just as each of the earlier movies took a slightly different approach. This is vintage Rollin and it’s highly recommended.

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966)

Dracula: Prince of Darkness was the first Hammer film I ever saw so obviously it’s a movie for which I have a definite soft spot.

You have to try to approach this movie the way audiences at the time would have approached it. By the end of the 60s audiences were accustomed to the fact that Dracula could never really be destroyed. A way would always be found to revive him for the next movie. But in 1966 reviving a vampire who has been destroyed was still a relatively novel idea. At the beginning of Dracula: Prince of Darkness we see Dracula reduced to dust. When the hapless English travellers arrive at his castle his servant mournfully informs that that his master is dead. Of course 1966 audiences knew that Dracula would make an appearance but they would have pleasantly mystified as to how the movie would manage this trick. Would the story be just a flashback to the days when Dracula terrorised the countryside or was there some possibility that somehow, impossible as it might have seemed, Dracula had found a way to cheat Van Helsing.

The movie encourages this mystification by taking its time in introducing Christopher Lee. This was a sound move. The return of Christopher Lee as the Count was the movie’s big drawcard so it was desirable to keep the audience breathlessly waiting, and to give Christopher Lee a memorable entrance.

And whatever method they came up with to re-introduce Dracula it had to be both convincing and striking. Terence Fisher manages to do it with real style. It’s a great set-piece.

One problem facing Hammer was the absence of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Finding a satisfactory replacement for such an iconic actor in such an iconic rôle would not be easy but Andrew Keir as Father Sandor proves to be a most worthy stand-in.

The movie takes place in pretty much the same imaginary 19th century central Europe as most of Hammer’s gothic horror films. Villagers, led by the village priest, are about to thrust a stake through the heart of a young girl who had died suddenly. Father Sandor, a monk from a nearby monastery, is outraged. He considers the villagers to be superstitious fool. They’re in a state of hysteria over a threat which was removed permanently ten years earlier.

So we have something interesting here - Father Sandor speaking as the voice of reason, logic and science but as we will soon find out he is also very much a man of faith. He’s one of the more interesting vampire-hunters in cinema, a mix of kindliness and ruthlessness.

Father Sandor encounters a group of English travellers - Charles (Francis Matthews), his wife Diana (Suzan Farmer), his elder brother Alan (Charles Tingwell) and Alan’s wife Helen (Barbara Shelley). The monk advises them to avoid a particular town, and if they must visit it they should on no account go near the castle. But they end up (thanks to a fairly cool plot device) at the castle anyway.

From this point on the movie essentially follows the pattern of Stoker’s novel and of the established classic Dracula movies. You know that Dracula will go after the women, and there will then be a struggle for the lives, and souls, of both women. Nothing startling and it adheres pretty closely to what was by then established vampire lore but it’s done with energy and panache.

Christopher Lee gets no dialogue and is really just a monster without any nuance. All he really has to do is to look like Dracula and strike a few suitably vampiric poses. It works. He seems much more menacing and much more relentless without dialogue.

This is a movie that focuses on the vampire-hunters and the vampire’s victims rather than the vampire.

Barbara Shelley was one of the great scream queens and she’s terrific here. She was an old school Hammer scream queen, less overtly sexy (although she was certainly a beautiful woman) and more lady-like. Her lady-like quality does add to the horror of her situation - Helen is not used to being out of control of events. The other cast members are all fine, with Thorley Walters being both creepy and amusing as Dracula’s slave Ludwig.

The most horrifying act in the movie is not performed by Dracula but by Father Sandor. It’s a scene that really hits home and Fisher doesn’t pull his punches. Fisher would certainly have agreed that Father Sandor’s action was justified and necessary but it’s a very disturbing scene.

Of course modern viewers might not view this scene in quite the same way Fisher intended. They might notice that at this stage Helen hasn’t done anything actually evil. Just being a vampire is enough to warrant destruction. If you see vampire stories as metaphors for sex (and it’s difficult not to see them that way) then you might think that the hostility of the vampire-hunters towards the vampires is motivated by a fear of unbridled sexuality, particularly unbridled female sexuality. But no-one would have seen it that way in 1966. On the other hand it's impossible not to notice that Dracula seems to have pushed Helen's sexuality into overdrive.

Terence Fisher wasn’t a flashy director but he really knew how to do gothic horror and he’s in top form here with a series of great visual set-pieces.

As always with Hammer in this period the movie looks much more expensive than it was with some very impressive sets. Hammer had been exploring other genres in the early 60s - contemporary psychological thrillers, pirate movies, adventure movies, swashbucklers. In 1966 they returned to gothic horror in a big way with three great movies in the genre - this one, The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile. And Dracula: Prince of Darkness marked a triumphant revival of their Dracula cycle.

It looks great on Blu-Ray and the disc includes some worthwhile extras.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness isn’t the best of Hammer’s gothic horror films but it’s still very very good. Although you may, like me, find yourself having more sympathy for the vampires than for the vampire hunters. Highly recommended.

Friday 14 January 2022

Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct, Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 neo-noir neo-Hitchcockian erotic thriller scripted by Joe Eszterhas, aroused controversy even before filming began. Feminists and gay activists were outraged, and of course didn’t need to see the movie in order to decide that they violently disapproved of it. They weren’t the only ones to misunderstand the film’s intentions and having his films misunderstood was something that has characterised Verhoeven’s career. Three years later Verhoeven and Eszterhas would team up again for the equally misunderstood Showgirls.

Basic Instinct starts with a man and a woman having sex, sex that culminates in gruesome murder. The victim was an ex-rock star who had transformed himself into a pillar of the community, with a cozy (and presumably corrupt) relationship with the mayor.

The obvious place for the police to start the investigation is with the victim’s girlfriend Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). When they interview her Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and his partner immediately realise that dealing with Catherine isn’t going to be easy. She doesn’t play by their rules.

The evidence against Catherine is practically non-existent but they call her in for further questioning anyway, which leads us That Scene, one of the most notorious scenes in cinema history.

We discover that Nick has a lot of problems. He’s undergoing counselling by Dr Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn). It seems he has a habit of shooting people, including (unfortunately) a couple of innocent bystanders. He shot a couple of tourists and was almost certainly coked to the eyeballs at the time. He was cleared of that killing by Internal Affairs but they conveniently forgot to do a drug test at the time. He now claims that he’s given up cocaine, booze and smoking and he’s doing just fine but he is clearly a seething cauldron of suppressed rage that could blow at any moment. Beth gives him a clean bill of health, possibly because they had an affair and she’s still in love with him. There’s not a single authority figure in this movie who behaves ethically.

Nick discovers that quite a few people connected with Catherine have died. He also knows that she’s having a lesbian relationship with Roxy (Leilani Sarelle). Catherine has a complicated life.

There’s also the matter of her book. A year before the murder of the ex-rock star Catherine had written a novel about a murder which occurred in precisely the same way. Which could mean she is guilty. Or it could mean someone has read the book and is using it to frame her. The book serves as a kind of alibi - no jury is ever going to believe that anyone would be dumb enough to describe a murder in detail in a book and then commit the murder. The book means that the chances of convicting Catherine of the murder are practically nil. Of course it could be a double-bluff - Catherine could have done the killing knowing that the book would serve as an aibi.

Nick thinks Catherine is guilty. He also desperately wants to have sex with her. And Catherine is thoroughly enjoying herself playing with him.

Catherine is now writing another book, about a detective who falls for the wrong girl and dies for it. Is this the fate in store for Nick?

Another murder, this time a shooting which seems to be connected, adds further complications.

The plot would have provided the basis for a very good erotic thriller and this movie does indeed work very well on that level. There is however a whole lot more going on here.

There’s an obvious clash between the world of reason, logic, order and conventional morality and the chaotic world of passion, emotion and lust. The world of the basic instinct from which the movie gets its title, the sex instinct. The cops, the authority figures and most of the male characters represent the world of reason. Catherine represents the world of passion and sex. Nick is caught between the two, because when that basic instinct kicks in men are drawn into the world of women where passion is more important than reason. So there’s a kind of war between the sexes theme but it’s more complicated than that because men and women, no matter how much they may come into conflict, are inexorably attracted to each other.

And perhaps it’s not so much the two worlds of men and women, but the two worlds of those who fear the power of sex and try to control it and those who embrace it. Catherine accepts her sexual urges. She feels no guilt about sex. When she wants sexual pleasure she takes it. She represents what the forces of order fear most - a woman who ignores the rules that society has constructed in order to control sex. But she’s not quite the traditional vamp. When she uses men for sex she makes it clear to them what she’s doing. When she plays elaborate psycho-sexual games with Nick she makes sure he knows she’s playing those games. If he chooses to keep playing that’s up to him.

It’s a movie that upset a lot of feminists but in fact it’s not in any way an anti-woman movie. It’s just brutally realistic about sex. It might be a politically incorrect movie but it’s basically pro-woman and pro-sex. Sex is dangerous but it’s dangerous for everybody and if it wasn’t dangerous it wouldn’t excite us so much. Unlike so many movies that deal with sex this movie doesn’t tell us that sex is bad and will destroy us. What will destroy us is a failure to accept the real nature of our sexual urges.

There are countless Hitchcock references (Verhoeven is a major admirer of Hitchcock). Catherine is clearly meant to remind us of Kim Novak in Vertigo. There are lots of nods to Vertigo, but the voyeurism which is such a major part of Basic Instinct clearly comes from Rear Window. The scene in which Nick watches Catherine undressing in front of the window of her beach house is a very obvious Rear Window reference. It’s one of two scenes in which Nick observes her undressing. In both cases Catherine not only knows she’s being watched but enjoys it. So, in contrast to Rear Window, in this movie the woman being watched is an active rather than a passive participant. In fact, assuming that Catherine is in fact inviting Nick to watch her, the woman is the active participant. Basic Instinct does constantly challenge our ideas about which partner is the dominant partner.

Catherine is clearly the femme fatale although as the movie progresses we find there may be three femmes fatales, any one of whom could be the killer.

Nick is the noir protagonist and he’s a very very flawed protagonist. The meeting between Nick and Catherine is a meeting between a dangerous man and a dangerous woman.

I’ve never liked Michael Douglas but I have to admit he’s superb in this movie. Sharon Stone is extraordinary. She was born to play Catherine Tramell.

Thematically there’s a lot of film noir in this movie but visually it’s one Hitchcock reference after another. Not just references to particular Hitchcock scenes but to Hitchcock’s entire visual style and approach to movie-making. Verhoeven and Brian de Palma (especially in Body Double) may be the only directors who have been able to take so much inspiration from Hitchcock without ever seeming like mere copyists. Basic Instinct is truly an example of what art is all about - taking inspiration from another artist to create something genuinely new.

I also love the artificiality of Basic Instinct. This is not the real world. This is an imaginary hyper-real world with its own rules and its own logic. It doesn’t even look like the real world. It looks much better than the real world. This is the world of movies. This is a world in which interrogation rooms in police stations are created by interior designers in such a way as to make female suspects look as beautiful and alluring as possible.

The Australian Blu-Ray release (which is absurdly cheap) comes loaded with extras including two audio commentaries. One is by Camille Paglia (a huge fan of the movie) who has lots to say about the femme fatale, the other features Verhoeven and the movie’s cinematographer. Fans of the movie will find both commentaries worthwhile.

Basic Instinct is a movie that could not possibly be made today. It’s too grown-up, too intelligent, too provocative, too unsettling, too sexy, too honest. All things that Hollywood no longer wants to know about.

Basic Instinct is one of the last great Hollywood movies, and it is a truly great movie. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Naked Girl Murdered in the Park (1972)

Naked Girl Murdered in the Park (Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco) is certainly a title that is going to get your attention. It’s also a title that suggests you’re about to see a giallo. Whether this Italian psychological thriller really qualifies for that label remains to be seen.

A man named Wallenberger is murdered in an amusement park just hours after taking out a million dollar life insurance policy. The insurance company isn’t happy and they assign their top investigator Chris Buyer (Robert Hoffmann) to investigate. He decides that his best starting point would be the Wallenberger’s daughter, Catherine (Pilar Velázquez). The fact that she is young and very pretty may perhaps have influenced his decision. Chris manages to move himself into the palatial Wallenberger villa.

The household comprises Catherine, her sister Barbara (Patrizia Adiutori), Wallenberger’s widow Magda (Irina Demick, Bruno the butler and a maid named Sybil. There’s also a deaf-mute named Günther. He looks after the horses although it appears that his main duty is to act as Barbara’s personal stud stallion. Of course she doesn’t allow him in the house. He services her in the barn. She doesn’t care that he’s a deaf-mute. She isn’t interested in talking to him.

Chris and Catherine have of course fallen madly in love. That doesn’t stop him from sleeping with Barbara as well.

There are complications. One of the women in the household is suffering from a very serious illness. Magda drinks a lot, perhaps to keep her mind off her grief. She also takes a bit of a shine to Chris. She’s a beautiful woman in her mid-30s so Chris doesn’t mind too much. There were some strange financial transactions leading up to Wallenberger’s murder and Wallenberger’s past is shrouded in mystery.

And then the second murder occurs. There’s a simple solution to this mystery, much too simple to be the real solution.

This won’t be the last murder.

The murders are not done in the over-the-top manner you expect in a giallo and overall this movie doesn’t quite have that characteristic giallo visual signature. The amusement park climax is moderately well executed.

This movie does however have a typical complicated giallo plot and it has a kind of giallo feel.

There’s no gore and hardly any blood. There’s a small amount of nudity but no frontal nudity (although being a 70s eurocult movie it is possible that racier cuts once existed). It does have a typically giallo atmosphere of dangerous sexual games being played.

The movie was directed by Alfonso Brescia, a name guaranteed to bring a warm glow to the heart of any fan of seriously deranged cult movies. Amazons vs Supermen (1975) may be the strangest movie ever made. Cosmos: War of the Planets (1977) is a crazy space opera. The Beast in Space (1980) is one of Brescia’s loopy space operas combined with a pastiche of Walerian Borowczyk’s erotic classic The Beast (La Bête), which was as good an excuse as any for adding lots of sex and nudity.

The acting is OK, although it’s always hard to judge acting performances in dubbed movies. Robert Hoffmann does well as Chris Buyer.

Is it giallo? I think it qualifies but it’s maybe not full-blown giallo. It’s crazy enough to be a giallo. The quality of being a giallo is essentially a matter of degree and no-one really agrees on exactly which films are and are not giallos, the controversy over whether Suspiria is a giallo being relevant here (I fall into the camp that believes it’s not a giallo).

It’s great that Full Moon has made a rarity like this available to us. Unfortunately the DVD includes only the English dubbed version and the sound quality is very problematical (or at least it is on my disc). Picture quality on the other hand is excellent. There are no extras apart from trailers.

Naked Girl Murdered in the Park is hardly a must-see movie. Giallo completists and hardcore Alfonso Brescia fans will want to see it. In its own way it’s entertaining enough but I wouldn’t suggest it’s worth going out of your way to find a copy.

Saturday 8 January 2022

Plot of Fear (1976)

Plot of Fear is a 1976 giallo directed by Paolo Cavara (who also directed the excellent Black Belly of the Tarantula).

The movie opens with a portly middle-aged guy named Mattia Grandi reading a book on the Decadents. Judging by the decor and by what he’s wearing he thinks of himself as a modern decadent. He’s into S&M sex and he’s hired a prostitute to indulge his tastes but he gets more than he bargained for. He wanted to be hurt but he didn’t want to be killed.

Shortly afterwards Laura Falconieri is killed on a bus. Left by the side of both bodies were pages cut from a 19th century children’s book, a book of fairy tales. And both Mattia Grandi and Laura Falconieri were members of the Fauna Lovers’ Club, a club for animal lovers.

And then a guy called Picozzi is murdered on live TV. And there’s yet another murder as well, a very gruesome one.

So already we’ve had a taste of the violence and weirdness and the sex that we associate with the giallo genre.

Inspector Gaspare Lomenzo (Michele Placido) is trying to solve the case while dealing with his personal life. His black girlfriend is cheating on him. And there’s this girl he met in an elevator (played by the stunning Corinne Cléry from The Story of O). Her name’s Jeanne and she’s a model.

Another member of the Fauna Lovers’ Club has sought help from Peter Struwwel (Eli Wallach) who runs a very expensive very high-tech private detective agency. Inspector Lomenzo is also hoping for some help from Struwwel. Struwwel is a powerful man, very well-connected. It’s no use trying to intimidate him into offering more help than he’s willing to give.

The Fauna Lovers’ Club holds its meetings at the Villa Hoffman. There are animals at the Villa Hoffman but the meetings seem to concentrate on other activities such as watching pornographic cartoons and engaging in kinky sex. At one meeting a young prostitute named Rosa died, under slightly mysterious slightly suspicious circumstances. Jeanne happened to be at that meeting. What she tells Lomenzo suggests that the Fauna Lovers’ Club would bear closer investigation. It certainly seems to be linked to the murders. The press have dubbed the murderer the Fairy Tale Killer.

Lomenzo begins an affair with Jeanne. She’s a bit crazy and she might be a lesbian but she’s cute and charming and good in bed.

Lomenzo not only doesn’t know who the killer is, he has no idea what the motive for the killings may have been. And we the audience don’t know the answers to these questions either. And when it comes to the crucial killing, the murder of the prostitute Rosa, neither we nor Lomenzo know the circumstances of her death, or whether it was really a murder. And the exact purpose of the Fauna Lovers’ Club, a key to unravelling the mystery, remains unknown.

I like Michele Placido a lot in this movie. He doesn’t play Lomenzo as a typical cop. Lomenzo is a bit neurotic and he isn’t at all macho and doesn’t seem tough enough to be a cop. He’s too much of a nice guy and his attitude to life is too whimsical. He’s not the stuff that conventional heroes are made of.

Corinne Cléry is excellent as Jeanne. She’s also an interesting character. We don’t know if she’s charmingly eccentric or totally mad and Lomenzo doesn’t know either. Tom Skerritt as Lomenzo’s boss and Eli Wallach are very good as well.

There’s a moderate amount of gore in this movie. There’s also some sex and nudity.

Cavara adds lots of nice little visual touches that have nothing to do with the plot but they do add to the atmosphere.

There are hints of surrealism, especially in the scenes at the Villa Hoffman. The members of the Fauna Lovers’ Club exist in a world slightly detached from reality, or perhaps they just feel that they are people who do not need to deal with sordid things like reality.

The Raro Video release looks splendid and the extras include interviews with various key members of the cast and crew. The most interesting interview is with Paolo Cavara’s son. One important point he makes is that his father did not want Inspector Lomenzo to be a man driven by revenge. He wanted to avoid such an obvious stereotype.

This is not a stock-standard by-the-numbers giallo. It has its own distinctive flavour, at times slightly ironic, slightly humorous and slightly fantastic. It’s also perverse and sleazy.

Plot of Fear is definitely an above-average giallo that deserves more attention. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 5 January 2022

Smoke and Flesh (1968)

Writer-director Joe Mangine’s Smoke and Flesh is a 1968 New York sexploitation movie combining sex with drugs.

There’s an excellent extended wordless opening sequence of a motorcyclist powering through the New York streets. We then find out that he’s delivering drugs to cool guy Turk’s swinging party. Given how dull Turk and his guests are when they’re not stoned we hope those drugs arrive as soon as possible.

The party scenes are intercut with scenes of three hoodlums playing pool. We can guess that the three hoodlums and the party-goers are going to get to meet, and they do.

Once the drugs arrive the party livens up. Sort of. The highlight is the game of strip slot-car racing.

The hoodlums arrive and it has to be said that as hoodlums go they’re pretty well behaved. But Turk freaks out. Fortunately one of his friends has a plan to deal with the situation - they’ll feed LSD to the hoodlums. That will render them helpless. Which it does.

That’s basically the plot. The interest lies in the party guests and the most interesting are Walter and Charlotte. Walter is a middle-aged guy wearing a skullcap to make him appear bald. He ends up looking like a space alien, which is kind of amusing. Walter writes sex novels. Charlotte is much younger and she has a woman’s normal sexual urges with Walter is sadly no longer able to satisfy. They’ve found a way to deal with this. Charlotte has sex with other men while Walter watches, takes notes (research for his books) and takes photos. They’re the movie’s biggest asset, being the only characters who are truly depraved. The others just wish they were depraved.

One guy hooks up with a black chick. They have a common passion for ice cream, at least they when they’re stoned. When they get really stoned he sprays whipped cream all over her and licks it off. It makes them both happy.

This is a surprisingly well-made movie. In a purely technical sense Mangine knows what he’s doing. He manages to come up with some quite clever and imaginative ays to shoot scenes, ways that don’t involved spending any money. This is what low-budget film-making is all about. Shooting a sex scene with the camera under the bed is certainly original and with just the two people’s legs visible over the side of the bed it’s quite effective. Mangine makes good use of props and even some fairly OK lighting effects.

There was no money for elaborate acid-trip sequences so those scenes fall a bit flat, with the effects used being too basic and too boring. The fact that the movie is in black-and-white is a bit unfortunate. I love black-and-white but colour was better for psychedlic movies.

The acting is standard for this sort of movie, in other words the actor all manage to remember their lines and don’t fall over the furniture.

The sex scenes are pretty tame. There’s not as much sex and nudity as you’d expect in a 1968 sexploitation feature and only brief glimpses of frontal nudity. As an erotic spectacle it doesn’t quite come off - it gives the impression that the director was more concerned with setting up interesting shots than in trying to generate any real erotic charge.

The big problem here is the pacing. There’s very little plot and we get long long scenes of people just sitting around smoking dope.

Something Weird paired this one with another sex-and-drugs way-out psychedelic sexploitation film, Alice in Acidland (which is a sadly disappointing movie).

As so often we’re left wondering how Something Weird managed to find such good prints of such obscure movies. The transfer is fullframe (which is the correct aspect ratio) and it’s very good.

Smoke and Flesh is of some interest but this is not one of Something Weird’s more memorable releases.

Monday 3 January 2022

cult movies I enjoyed most in 2021

I watched 90 cult movies this year. That was out of a grand total of 173 movies seen, a big improvement on the 121 I watched in 2020). 

The most recent movie I watched this year was released in 1997, the earliest was from 1921.

Here’s the dozen cult movies that I enjoyed most (listed by release date).

Eye of the Devil, J. Lee Thompson, 1966

Picture Mommy Dead, Bert I. Gordon, 1966

The President’s Analyst, Theodore J. Flicker, 1967

The Libertine, Pasquale Festa Campanile, 1968

The Sweet Body of Deborah, Romolo Guerrieri, 1968

Top Sensation, Ottavio Alessi, 1969

Sudden Terror (AKA Eyewitness), John Hough, 1970

The Corruption of Chris Miller, Juan Antonio Bardem, 1973

Successive Slidings of Pleasure, Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1974

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, Ruggero Deodato, 1976

Sorceress, Jack Hill, 1982

Body Double, Brian De Palma, 1984