Wednesday 29 June 2022

The Nurse (1975)

The Nurse (AKA The Sensuous Nurse) is a 1975 Italian sex comedy.

One of my recent movie-viewing projects has been to explore the world of 1970s sex comedies. Now that might sound to you like it would be a complete waste of time and kinda weird. But the fact is that when a film genre is universally despised by critics I start to have warm feelings towards that genre. Few genres have ever been subjected to as critical contempt as the 1970s sex comedy. And it’s a genre that is still widely despised and ignored.

You have to ask yourself why. The odd thing is that critics and reviewers who have no problem with movies that depict sex graphically and even crudely despise sex comedies. They obviously have no real objection to sex and nudity. But they like to feel that movies that include sex and nudity also have Artistic Value.

This became a big thing in Australia in the 70s, with the government censors making decisions on whether to ban or cut movies largely on this basis. And the film establishment thoroughly approved of this Artistic Value idea. If they could convince themselves that a movie had a political message or included “social commentary” or said something supposedly profound about the human condition or was in some way artistic then it was OK to show sex and naked women. But movies that showed naked women for the sole reason that audiences like seeing naked women were bad. They were prepared to defend a movie like Nagisa Ôshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, which depicted actual rather than simulated sex, because it was arty and dark and miserable and took itself oh-so-seriously. Apparently seeing sexual acts and nude women wasn’t harmful to audiences in a movie like that. But movies that were fun and entertaining and included much milder sexual content were reviled as likely to deprave and corrupt public morals.

Sex comedies were despised even more than softcore erotica because they committed the unpardonable sin of treating sex as funny, and sex is no laughing matter.

To be honest critics have never been overly fond of comedy in general, if it’s just pure comedy that has no purpose other than to make us laugh.

The fact is that audiences like movies that make them laugh, they like sex and male movie-goers (all male movie-goers if they’re prepared to be honest about it) like seeing nude women.

As a result sex comedies were enormously popular in the 70s. They kept the British film industry afloat. They kept the Italian film industry alive. To a considerable extent they kept the Japanese film industry going.

Which brings us back to The Nurse. This is a movie that makes no claims to having Artistic Value. It aims for laughs and it’s prepared to do whatever it takes to make the audience laugh.

Leonida Bottacin is a wealthy ageing widower who owns a winery. His family are impatiently waiting for him to die. He has a heart condition so it seems reasonable for them to expect him to die soon but the old boys stubbornly clings to life. The matter is becoming urgent. The family want to sell the winery to rich American businessman Mr Kitch (Jack Palance). There’s a lot of money at stake for the family but old Leonida Bottacin will not sell. If only the old boy would die.

Then Leonida’s nephew Benito comes up with a brilliant plan. Old Leonida likes women. He perhaps likes them too much for a man of his years in his state of health but he can’t and won’t give them up. His most recent heart attack was suffered while having sex with his mistress. What if the family employs a nurse to look after the old chap? A nurse so sexy and so horny that her ministrations will be certain to excite the old man into a fatal heart attack. The family (Leonida’s two nephews and their wives) decides that this is an excellent plan. It’s not exactly murder.

Which brings Anna (Ursula Andress) into the picture. She seems like an ideal choice to play nursemaid to the old fellow. If Ursula Andress can’t excite him enough to give him a heart account nothing will. She probably won’t even have to do very much but if she can be persuaded to prance about naked and start getting affectionate that will help things along. Anna thinks it’s a fine idea.

But still old Leonida won’t die. There are added complications. Various Benito is sleeping with his sister-in-law. His brother the Colonel (an ex-Army man obsessed with military matters) is sleeping with the housemaid Tosca. And Benito’s sixteen-year-old son has fallen madly in love and lust with Nurse Anna.

The basic idea is not exactly startlingly original but it’s executed with verve and wit. There’s plenty of overt sexual humour but overall it’s an interesting blending of obvious sex jokes and more sophisticated biting humour and some black comedy. There’s some cleverness in the script.

There’s very little actual sex but enormous amounts of female frontal nudity with Miss Andress contributing more than her share, which didn’t hurt the movie at the box office.

The sub-plot involving the Colonel’s affair with Tosca is genuinely amusing. The Colonel can only get his artillery piece into action when stimulated by martial music and sounds of battle and gunfire. Tosca doesn’t mind. Anything that will get the Colonel’s cannon firing is a good thing in her book.

Ursula Andress got the part of Anna because producer Carlo Ponti wanted someone with star power and at the time she certainly had that. She proves to be surprisingly adept at comedy and even manages to make Anna more than just a sex bomb. She proved to be perfect casting choice. She really is terrific.

The other players are uniformly impressive, with Mario Pisu as old Lenida, Duilio del Prete as Benito and Carla Romanelli as the likeable but sex-crazed Tosca being especially good.

The Shameless Region 2 DVD (which provides a very good transfer) includes extended interviews with writer-director Nello Rossati and his brother Toni who did the production design and costumes.

This is a movie that is consistently amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny. It’s lighthearted but with just a slight edge at times. And it’s very sexy in a good-natured way. There’s lots of harmless unpretentious fun to be had here. Highly recommended.

Saturday 25 June 2022

Cries of Pleasure (1983)

Cries of Pleasure (Gemidos de placer) is a 1983 Jess Franco movie and 80s Franco is a bit different to 70s Franco.

It opens with a body floating in a swimming pool. A guy, Fenul, is playing the guitar. He wants us to know how the guy ended up face-down in the pool. Fenul seems to have the mind of a child and seems to consider himself to be Antonio’s slave. He seems to play the role of narrator which immediately raises some questions. How much does Fenul understand of what is going on? He seems to be mystified by sex and everything in this household is driven by sex.

Antonio (Antonio Mayans) has three women in his life. The first is his wife Martina (Rocio Freixas). She’s coming home after a stay in a mental hospital. She was being treated for schizophrenia and nymphomania. We soon find out that her nymphomania is far from cured.

The second woman is Marta. She’s Antonio’s slave, and apparently Martina’s slave as well. She’s hopelessly in love with Antonio.

The third woman is Julia (Lina Romay). She’s a new player in the game. Antonio has apparently just found her. Julia and Antonio have plans involving Martina. But then everyone involved in the four-player game that is about to commence has plans for somebody.

To judge from their frantic love-making there’s a pretty strong sexual obsession between Antonio and Julia.

Martina’s reaction when she catches Antonio and Julia having sex will be interesting. Marta’s reaction will be interesting as well. She’s the jealous type although she;’s reluctantly accepted having to share Antonio with Martina.

Pretty soon almost everybody has had sex with everybody else.

These people are playing games but what makes the games interesting is that they’re simultaneously sexual, emotional and intellectual games. In such games there are times when the participants are driven purely by physical desire. Sometimes they’re driven by emotion. And sometimes the motivation is intellectual - the sheer pleasure of inventing and playing intricate and devious games, to see how the game will play out.

This was one of the many Franco films heavily influenced by de Sade. The players in the game in Cries of Pleasure do not consider themselves to be bound by social conventions, social rules or laws. They do whatever their desires tell them to do. That would have dangerous potentialities in a two or even three player game but in a four player game things are likely to get messy. You have to wonder how many players will be left at the end of the game. These are people who don’t just disregard social rules about sex. They’re also blissfully unconcerned about minor things like murder. Fenul tells us that he is always left to clean up afterwards which has apparently on several occasions included getting rid of the bodies.

There is a kind of a mystery element here. We figure that one or more of these people will most likely end up dead but we don’t have any idea which ones.

While Franco was fascinated by de Sade and by the Sadeian ethos that doesn’t mean he approved of it. We see in this film that single-minded pursuit of pleasure without regard for rules leads to emptiness and loneliness. It’s the loneliness of these characters that gives the movie a melancholy tone. That’s why the sex scenes are important. They show us that there’s no emotional connectedness at all between these people. They remain solitary and isolated. They feel only their own pleasure and it doesn’t satisfy them and they’re so caught up in their fantasy that the pursuit of sensual pleasure is the only thing that matters that they don’t even know why they’re unsatisfied.

Franco was heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Rope when making this movie. There are very very few cuts in Cries of Pleasure. Mostly it’s just long long takes which achieve the kind of hypnotic dream-like quality that Franco liked.

There’s an immense amount of nudity and sex. It’s softcore but I’d call it strong softcore. The sex scenes are not gratuitous since all of the characters’ motivations revolve around sex and much of what we learn about these people we learn from watching them having sex.

Like quite a few of his 80s movies this seems like a very personal movie. The sex and nudity would be enough to ensure that it got distribution but apart from that Franco is doing his own thing, musing about the implications of sexual desire and death and obsession.

Franco had a positive genius when it came to finding superb locations, and locations that were perfectly in tune with the mood of the films he was making. He really came up trumps this time.

Franco’s relationship with Golden Films at this time was a two-edged sword. It gave him absolute artistic freedom but the company was totally incompetent when it came to distribution and these movies were never seen anywhere outside of Spain.

Severin’s release (which looks great) includes a swag of extras - a 1993 interview with Jess and Lina, a mini-documentary on his movies for Golden Films and an excellent Stephen Thrower mini-documentary on Franco’s locations.

Cries of Pleasure is Franco at his most uncompromisingly Franco-esque and it’s one of his best movies, both stylistically and thematically. Appreciating 80s Franco requires some adjustment if you’re used to his 70s output but his 80s work repays the effort.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Nosferatu in Venice (1988)

Nosferatu in Venice (AKA Vampires in Venice) is a kind of sequel to Werner Herzog’s superb 1979 Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht with Klaus Kinski returning as the vampire. Herzog’s movie had been a kind of remake of F.W. Murnau’s classic 1922 Nosferatu which was of course an unauthorised adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

By 1988 Klaus Kinski was so far out of control that even Werner Herzog had decided he couldn’t work with him any longer.

Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht had been a major hit so a sequel seemed like a very good idea. With Kinski on board it turned into a nightmare of chaos for everyone involved. Directors came and went. Firing Kinski seemed like a good solution but the distributors insisted (probably correctly) that it was Kinski who was going to be the film’s main drawcard at the box office so therefore there was no way he could be fired.

The result is chaotic but somehow it works. And it has to be said that mostly it works because Kinski delivers the goods.

This is essentially another reworking of Stoker’s novel but in a contemporary setting.

A Venetian noblewoman calls in the famed vampirologist Professor Paris Catalano (Christopher Plummer). In 1786 terrible things happened in the family’s villa in Venice. Venice was afflicted by a plague but even worse horrors were perpetrated by a vampire. Catalano insists that the vampire is now safely at the bottom of the sea, the ship in which he was travelling having foundered in 1786. The elderly princess thinks the vampire is still around. Catalano soon has cause to agree with her.

He suspects that a member of the family, the beautiful Helietta Canins (Barbara de Rossi), is not only the descendant of a vampire but may be a vampire herself, or susceptible to vampirism.

The worst thing anyone could do at this point is to conduct a séance but that’s what somebody does. And the vampire (Kinski) is revived.

Catalano is the van Helsing character but he proves to be ill-equipped to fight vampires. He does however contribute one piece of advice. There is one way to destroy the vampire. If an innocent virgin gives herself voluntarily to him then at the moment he deflowers her he will be destroyed. Of course the problem is that innocent virgins willing to be deflowered by vampires aren’t all that plentiful. They’re like policemen. They’re never around when you need them.

For this Kinski announced that he had no intention of putting up with spending hours in the makeup chair. He said he could play the rôle with no makeup at all. Kinski was probably right. He has no trouble at all looking creepy and scary without makeup.

It also has the advantage that it makes the vampire look much more dangerous and more sexy. And this is a very sexual vampire. Which is fine, since all vampire stories and vampire movies are essentially about sex. Vampires represent unrepressed uncontrolled sexuality. And in this case, whenever Nosferatu pursues a victim (and as in Stoker’s novel his victims are always female) it’s made fairly clear that he rapes his victims as well as drinking their blood.

Playing the rôle without makeup obviously means that Kinski doesn’t look anything like the vampire he played in Herzog’s movie even though he’s supposed to be the same vampire. But the secret to enjoying Nosferatu in Venice is to avoid the temptation to compare it to the earlier movie and just approach it as an entirely separate movie.

The problem I’ve always had with vampires is that they seem very vulnerable. Sunlight kills them, they can’t go near garlic, they’re terrified of religious symbols, they’re incredibly vulnerable while they sleep during the day. I usually find myself rooting for the vampires because I feel feel that the odds are stacked against them. This however is a much more formidable vampire. He isn’t bothered by sunlight. He simply ignores religious symbols. He only sleeps once every twenty-four days. He has considerable supernatural powers. In this case the odds are heavily stacked against the vampire hunters.

That should make the vampire less sympathetic but over the course of the movie we discover that this is a vampire who is capable of feeling emotions. He can feel sorrow, regret, even love. The movie becomes almost a weird kind of love story, centring on that innocent virgin I mentioned earlier.

Severin’s release offers a very fine transfer plus a feature-length documentary of Kinski’s unbelievably deranged final years.

Any movie with Klaus Kinski as its star is going to end up with a slightly strange chaotic feel to it but his performance is extraordinary and on the whole this is an unconventional vampire movie that works. Highly recommended.

Sunday 19 June 2022

Monique, My Love (1969)

Monique, My Love
is one of a number of lesbian-themed sexploitation films made by Peter Woodcock (you don’t suppose that’s a pseudonym do you?) in New York in the late 60s. It’s available on a Something Weird double-header with another Peter Woodcock movie, Babette in The Return of the Secret Society.

Rita (Linda Boyce) shares an apartment with the sex-crazed Monique. Rita is an aspiring writer and she’s decided that Monique’s amorous adventures will provide ideal material for a book. She’s going to call the book Monique, My Love.

Monique wants to become an actress. She knows what acting is all about and she figures she has the right qualifications - she’s willing to take her clothes off. She’s willing to take her clothes off on the set or in the producer’s office.

Monique starts her training as an actress. Her training involves taking her clothes off and watching other girls take their clothes off on film.

Hearing about Monique’s adventures gets Rita very excited. She starts to have all sorts of sapphic fantasies abut Monique.

And that’s pretty much it for the plot. The whole movie is just a string of about five extended nude/sex sequences. Unfortunately they go on too long and they’re filmed in a remarkably uninspired way. This is really about as basic as a skin flick gets.

If it’s naked female flesh that you want then there’s an enormous amount of nudity here including plenty of frontal nudity and there’s no question that the women are very attractive.

The film-within-a-film sequence with the girl with the gun is the highlight because the girl happens to be exceptionally gorgeous and there are at least very slight glimmerings of imagination in the way she’s filmed.

Monique, My Love does tick the required boxes to keep distributors happy. It has female masturbation, some kinkiness and some bondage and some girl-on-girl action. There’s nothing that could actually be called a sex scene. It’s just naked fooling about.

On the plus side it’s a fairly good-natured film. It’s certainly not a roughie. It’s just that even with all that nudity it doesn’t generate any sparks. Monique in fact seems to approach sex with total indifference.

The movie was shot without synchronised sound and even by sexploitation standard this is clearly a cheapie.

The transfer is excellent.

There’s the usual collection of trailers and short films but the most amusing of the extras is the collection of vintage TV bra and girdle commercials. They’re quite a hoot and by the end of it you’ll know more about vintage women’s underwear than you ever needed to know.

The second film on the disc, Babette (Return of the Secret Society), isn’t great but it’s a lot better than Monique, My Love. If you’re a Something Weird completist you’ll buy the disc anyway but if you’re new to the sexploitation genre Something Weird have much better offerings available than this one.

Tuesday 14 June 2022

What the Peeper Saw (1972)

What the Peeper Saw (also released with the ludicrous title Night Hair Child and as La tua presenza nuda! and with several other titles) is a 1972 British-Italian-German-Spanish production. It fits into the Evil Child Movie category but it’s much more disturbing that most such films. It’s a movie that certainly could not get made today, but this was the 70s and film-makers back then figured that audiences could deal with movies exploring the darker recesses of sexuality.

Britt Ekland is Elise and she’s just married a much older man, successful writer Paul (Hardy Krüger). They live in Spain.

It’s his second marriage. His first wife died in circumstances that seemed quite innocent at the time. Elise is keen to establish a good relationship with her new twelve-year-old stepson Marcus (Mark Lester). Marcus goes to an expensive school in Berkshire but he’s home for the holidays. She has the first inkling that getting along with Marcus might not be easy when he starts fondling her breasts.

There are a couple of other slightly unsettling incidents that suggest that Marcus is manipulative and a liar. Elise figures that it will all work out until she has a chat with the boy’s headmaster. She is deeply shocked by what he has to say. Marcus has been expelled after a series of unpleasant incidents. Most of the incidents are vaguely sexual in nature. Marcus’s sexuality is clearly developing, and not in a healthy manner.

While Elise is talking to the headmaster Marcus amuses himself by trying to look up girls’ dresses.

Elise’s problem is that Paul does not want to admit that there’s anything wrong with Marcus. He simply won’t believe the things that Elise tells him, even though she has damning evidence.

Elise also gets to get meet some of Paul’s friends. She thinks they’re shallow, weird and sick.

Things get increasingly uncomfortable for Elise and the plot starts to get even darker and more twisted. Elise’s suspicions keep growing and she’s increasingly scared.

Some of the plot twists seem obvious and you’re likely to get over-confident that you’ve got this story figured out. Then it throws a major curve ball at you. And just as you’re pulling yourself together after that experience it throws another one at you. And another.

While film-makers in the 70s thought audiences were ready for honest looks at sexual situations the moral watchdogs did not agree and the film was hacked to pieces. The US release had much of the sexual material removed. Unfortunately if you remove the sexual material from this movie it’s not going to make a lick of sense. Perverse sexuality is a major driver of the plot. There are other elements as well but it’s a movie that has to be viewed with the sexual material intact. It’s supposed to be a movie that will make you squirm a little.

The scene in which Elise wants Marcus to tell her something important and he agrees to do so, for a price, is particularly confronting but it's crucial to the plot. His price is that she should strip naked for him and she does so.

This movie benefits from terrific performances by the three principals. Hardy Krüger (who’d been a major hearth-throb in his younger days) makes Paul a somewhat unsympathetic character but not too unsympathetic. His reluctance to believe that his twelve-year-old son might be a psycho is perfectly understandable. Paul simply cannot deal with the idea at all.

Britt Ekland (a very underrated actress) is excellent as Elise, a woman put in an incredibly difficult and potentially explosive situation. She really tries her hardest to be a supportive wife and stepmother. It’s a very good multi-layered and subtle performance.

Mark Lester is fantastically weird and creepy as Marcus. He certainly scared me.

Earlier DVD releases of this movie were apparently of very poor quality and brutally cut. VCI have realised the movie uncut and with a vastly better transfer on both DVD and Blu-Ray.

This is a well-crafted delightfully perverse and twisted movie. Voyeurism is a major theme but that’s just one of the sexual fetishes on display.

What the Peeper Saw was most likely influenced to some degree by giallos. It’s not a giallo but it has some affinity with that genre and with some of the more outré European erotic films of the era, such as Check to the Queen (Scacco alla regina). It has a slightly European sensibility combined with a slightly British sensibility (and may also have been influence by British films such as Baby Love). This is a very fine movie. Very highly recommended.

Thursday 9 June 2022

Nurse Girl Dorm: Sticky Fingers (1985)

Nurse Girl Dorm: Sticky Fingers is a fairly late entry in Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno series. In the early 70s all the major Japanese studios were in dire financial straits, having never recovered from the advent of television. Nikkatsu’s answer to this problem was to embrace sex. They switched over entirely to making erotic movies, a move that proved to be immensely successful and which saved the studio. Their “Roman Porno” films, made between 1971 and 1988, were incredibly varied. Some featured brutal sexual violence. Many had strong sadomasochistic leanings. But others were lighthearted goofy sex comedies. Nurse Girl Dorm: Sticky Fingers definitely fits into the latter category. It’s pure sexy fun.

It all takes place in the nurse dorm in St Elizabeth’s Hospital, somewhere in Japan. The young nurses are all of course sex-crazed.

The movie opens in typically outrageous style with a young nurse named Mayumi masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. At the crucial moment the killjoy dorm supervisor, accompanied by her bulldog, interrupts her. The bulldog is vitally necessary to keep these girls under control and to make sure he doesn’t miss anything he has a flashlight mounted on his head. Yes, this movie is going to be a crazy ride.

The dorm is in turmoil because Yuki is coming back. Inoue Yuki (Jun Izumi) is a legend at St Elizabeth’s Hospital. She left to get married but now she’s divorced and she’s back in the nurse dorm. The dorm supervisor is taking no chances. Every drop of alcohol has to be removed from the dorm. She’s going to watch Yuki like a hawk.

Yuki shares a room with Noriko. Noriko loves living in the dorm because it’s so much fun taking baths with all the other girls. Pretty soon Yuki and Noriko get down to some serious lesbo lovin’.

Apart from masturbating with vacuum cleaners the girls spend most of their time trying to sneak their boyfriends into the dorm. Yuki is horrified when she sees Mayumi tying bedsheets together to make an improvised ladder. Don’t these younger girls know anything? Yuki always keeps a rope ladder in her room, a much more effective solution.

By this time it’s obvious to the dorm supervisor (and to the viewer) that Yuki is a very bad influence on the other girls. They’re wild enough but Yuki combines wildness with cool intelligence and imagination, a dangerous combination.

Yuki’s ex-husband, a cop, shows up. He wants her back but she’s set her sights on Dr Kodama. Unfortunately Mayumi has set her sights on him as well.

It builds into a classic bedroom farce with multiple men smuggled into the dorm and a positively staggering amount of sexual activity. The dorm supervisor is too busy to deal with this situation. She’s managed to kidnap one of the men and she’s got him tied up and is giving him a good flogging. This is exactly the sort of thing she’s always dreamed of doing and she’s having a really good time. She’s a believer in discipline.

There’s plenty more kinkiness where that came from - sex in the back of a hearse, the ex-cop subjecting all the nurses to full-body searches, fun with handcuffs, etc.

The kinkiness is all played for laughs. There’s a lot of fairly steamy sex and a lot of nudity, but in fact all of it is played for laughs and it’s silly and good-natured and cheerful.

And it’s funny. Humour doesn’t always translate from one culture to another but that isn’t a problem here. This is your basic sex comedy, executed with enthusiasm and with that touch of craziness that is so very Japanese. It’s a very likeable movie.

All of the acting is good with Jun Izumi as Yuki being the standout performer as the bad girl who is really just a girl who wants to have fun and intends to do so. Yôko Ishidô is terrific as the dorm supervisor who turns out to be just as perverted as everyone else.

Impulse’s DVD offers a very good anamorphic transfer. The only extra is the liner notes by Jasper Sharp which don’t tell us much abut this particular film but do tell us plenty of interesting stuff about pink films and roman porno in general.

This is one of the lighter entries in the Roman Porno cycle. It has good-hearted craziness without disturbing weirdness and it’s sexy and amusing.

Nurse Girl Dorm: Sticky Fingers is a lot of fun. Highly recommended.

Saturday 4 June 2022

The Night Walker (1964)

The Night Walker is one of the lesser-known horror films directed by William Castle, but without the spectacular marketing gimmicks that had become his trademark. It was released in 1964.

The Night Walker opens in typical William Castle style, with spooky images and a voiceover warning us of the horrors that lurk in the world of dreams. It sets us up to expect either grand guignol horrors or science fiction monsters.

Howard Trent is middle-aged, incredibly rich (he is an inventor) and blind. We also soon come to consider the possibility that he might be mad. He is obsessed by the idea that his equally middle-aged wife Irene (Barbara Stanwyck) is having an affair. She dreams of a man every night. Howard knows this because he has a tape recorder hidden in her bedroom.

Howard suspects that his wife’s lover might be his lawyer Barry Morland (Robert Taylor). He confronts Barry. Barry protests that the idea is preposterous.

Irene later tells Barry that the man in her dreams is an imaginary lover. This is of course quite plausible although during the course of their conversation we get a sneaking suspicion that although there is obviously nothing going on between them she may feel some attraction towards Barry. He’s successful, good-looking in a slightly weather-beaten way, polished and he’s the sort of man that a woman like Irene might well find very attractive. We can see why Howard Trent was suspicious.

It’s an explosive situation and it does indeed lead to an explosion. A literal explosion. Part of the house blows up.

Everything has changed and Irene moves out and back into the flat above the hairdresser’s salon where she lived years earlier. The dreams continue. They’re just dreams, except that Irene isn’t convinced that they really are just dreams. They seem too real. Her dream lover seems too real.

She’s not just dreaming about her imaginary lover either. She dreams about the aftermath of the explosion. She’s becoming a bit disturbed.

Barry makes the mistake of asking an awkward question about that explosion and gets slapped, in classic Stanwyckian style. He gets into equally hot water when he suggests she see a psychiatrist. Irene can be a very feisty lady.

Irene’s most vivid dream so far involves certain events in an apartment followed by a wedding in a nearby chapel. It’s her wedding. But the identity of the bridegroom is not so clear.

Irene tries to convince Barry that her dream was real. He of course assumes that she’s mad, until she takes him to the apartment from the dream, and then finds the very chapel in which the dream wedding took place. Those places are real. Now he has to believe her. And he does start to think that maybe she’s not just dreaming.

The story builds to a climax as Barry follows up some leads that may provide the necessary answers but it’s obvious that Irene is in real danger. And can the dead come back to life to threaten her?

Blurring of the line between dream and reality is not a dazzlingly original idea but it can be effectively terrifying if handled well, and Robert Bloch’s screenplay handles it at least reasonably well. That’s if you don’t think too hard about the plot.

Castle pulls off several rather impressive and creepy visual set-pieces. The wedding sequence with the store mannequins is superb.

This is a movie that is much closer in feel to Hammer’s psychological horror movies of the early 60s than to old-fashioned gothic horror but it throws us a few images that are pretty gothic.

The movies Castle had directed up to this point had been essentially drive-in fare. They were definitely pitched at a young audience, which was a sound marketing strategy. Which makes the choice of the two leads in The Night Walker rather puzzling. Taylor and Stanwyck would still have been strong draws for a middle-aged or older audience but they would have had little appeal to a teenage audience. There’s nothing wrong with their performances, and Stanwyck in particular is very good, but they were the wrong stars for the movie’s target audience.

There’s no compelling plot reason for Irene to be middle-aged. In fact the plot might have worked better if Howard Trent’s wife had been a young woman, much much younger than her husband. And there’s no plot reason at all for Barry Morland to be middle-aged - he could have been a young hotshot lawyer. The movie apparently was not one of Castle’s major box-office successes and that’s almost certainly because it lacked characters that would appeal to teenagers. Which is a pity because the movie itself is rather good and with younger stars should have been a substantial hit.

I suspect that Castle realised that he’d made a misjudgment. His next movie, I Saw What You Did, has two teenaged girls as the protagonists.

The Final Cut Region 2 DVD is barebones but the anamorphic transfer is fine. The movie was shot in black-and-white.

The Night Walker is a pretty decent psychological thriller/psychological horror movie. Highly recommended.

This is another movie I discovered through a review at Michael’s Moviepalace.

I’ve reviewed several other William Castle movies, including Strait-Jacket and 13 Ghosts.

Thursday 2 June 2022

Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

Watch Me When I Kill is a 1977 giallo directed by Antonio Bido. Or, as we later discover, it's a sort of giallo.

You have to be a bit patient with this one. For quite some time you won’t have a clue what’s going on. There’s a killer. The identity of his intended victim (or victims) is a mystery. There’s a woman, a dancer named Mara (Paola Tedesco) who thinks she’s the target but we have no idea why (and nor does she). There’s also a seedy middle-aged man named Bozzi who seems to think he’s the real target, but we don’t know why. There’s a middle-aged woman who seems to be mixed up in things as well.

The middle-aged guy has been receiving threats but they’re so cryptic they provide no clues, and even the nature of the threats is unclear. Are they attempts to frighten or serious death threats? Some of the clues are bizarre sound messages that make no sense. And what’s with the dogs?

Lukas Karman (Corrado Pani) is a sound engineer who has a bit of a romantic interest in Mara. He gets drawn into these strange events when Bozzi asks for him for help. Bozzi has taped some of the telephone messages he’s been receiving. They sound like just white noise but since Lukas is a sound engineer maybe he can extract some sense from them. It’s a good idea but the tapes remain cryptic.

Lukas initially thinks Mara should go to the police but she doesn’t like the police and she doesn’t want the aggravation. Lukas comes to think she’s right - the two of them can crack the puzzle on their own. That naturally turns out to be more dangerous than they’d anticipated.

Lukas is a reasonably intelligent man but the killer always seems to be one jump ahead of him. There are people Lukas needs to talk to but the killer knows the identity of these people. Lukas’s task is complicated by having to worry about Mara’s safety.

The plot does eventually come together in a fairly satisfactory manner so you just have to not worry too much that the early part of the film is so confusing.

The major weakness is that the killer’s motivation is made much too obvious right from the start (and you have to wonder how on earth Lukas missed such obvious clues). The motivation turns out to be one of the perennial clichés of 60s and 70s film-making. It is given a morally ambiguous twist that makes it a bit more interesting.

The other weakness is that the movie doesn’t have the stylistic excess that one hopes for in a giallo. Giallo fans tend to get excited by imaginative murder methods and there is one murder in this movie that fits that category. The coffee cup clue is cute.

The acting is fine. Corrado Pani makes a good hero - he’s smart without being too smart and brave without being too brave and he’s likeable. Paola Tedesco is also quite good.

For a giallo this is a surprisingly unsexy movie. Not only is there no nudity, we don’t even see the heroine wearing any sexy outfits. Although we assume that Lukas and Mara are attracted to each other they don’t even exchange a single kiss.

It’s also surprisingly bloodless. A couple of the murders are brutal, but without any blood being spilled. If you like gore you’ll be disappointed. So there’s no nudity, no sex and no gore. I’d say that eliminates most of the potential giallo audience. In fact it even raises question as to whether this movie is a true giallo. Is it a giallo if there are no sexual motivations whatsoever? It has lots of giallo elements but stylistically it’s more of a straightforward thriller.

The DVD from Shameless in the UK is barebones but the anamorphic transfer is nice. I had a few minor problems with the disc, which is something I’ve never encountered before from Shameless. This movie has also had a Blu-Ray release, from Synapse.

I was a little bit underwhelmed by Watch Me When I Kill. It’s a competently made film and it has some suspense but it’s dull by giallo standards.

Probably only worth buying if you’re a giallo completist. Otherwise, maybe worth a rental.