Saturday 30 December 2023

Candy Stripe Nurses (1974)

Candy Stripe Nurses, released in 1974, was the last of the hugely popular nurse movies made by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures.

It was written and directed by Alan Holleb.

These movies followed a formula that Corman used in other series as well. The movie tells the stories of three nurses and the adventures and misadventures they have on the job and off. Most of the adventures seem to involve the young ladies losing their clothing. The stories of the three women are intercut throughout the film although there’s no connection between their stories.

Candy stripe nurses (or candy stripers) were volunteers who performed simple nursing duties under the supervision of nurses. Such volunteers still exist but I don’t think we’re allowed to call them candy stripers any more. They were called candy stripers because of the cute candy-striped uniforms they wore, which are probably also not allowed any more.

Firstly there’s Marisa (Maria Rojo). She keeps getting into trouble at school. She’s the world’s oldest juvenile delinquent (Miss Rojo was 31 when she made this movie). Her principal is tempted to call the police after her latest outrage but offers her a way out. The matter will be forgotten if she volunteers to work as a candy stripe nurse at the local hospital.

One of Marisa’s patients is a young guy named Carlos who was wounded during a gas station armed robbery. He’s now facing prison for his part in the robbery. He assures Marisa that he is innocent (and in fact he really is innocent). Marisa plays amateur detective to find evidence that will clear him. She is motivated by a love of justice, and by the fact that she thinks Carlos is really nice and really cute.

This is the segment that doesn’t really work because it’s too serious in tone and the plot idea isn’t that great.

Secondly there’s Diane (Robin Matson). She’s an intellectual and she hopes to be a doctor one day. She takes life pretty seriously. She likes men, but she likes serious intellectual men. Until she gets involved with a patient. He’s a jock (in fact a basketball player). He’s not her type at all. At least that’s what she thinks until they have wild sex in the gym. Now she realises she really likes totally non-intellectual jocks.

Everything would be fine except that he keeps going nuts and doing crazy things. The doctors thought he was on drugs but the drug tests were negative. Diane is sure she can find a way to save him. This segment works because Robin Matson is a cute, sexy, likeable oddball.

Thirdly there’s Sandy (Candice Rialson). She’s doing really well in her studies because she’s discovered the secret of academic success. You get young doctors to do your homework for you by having sex with them. She ends up working in the hospital’s sex clinic. One of the patients being treated in the sex clinic is rock star Owen Boles (Kendrew Lascelles). He has dried up creatively because he can no longer satisfy his cute female groupies in the bedroom, and his bedroom prowess was the secret to his creative drive.

Sandy has no doubts that she can reawaken the stricken pop star’s interest in sex. This segment is the most amusing.

The acting is adequate given that the roles aren’t exactly over-demanding. Robin Matson and Candice Rialson are charming and sexy and they take their clothes off. Candice Rialson was at this stage the queen of the drive-in movies.

The Corman formula is followed rigidly. A combination of melodrama and sexy humour, very tightly paced, with lots of bare breasts and bottoms. It was a carefully calculated formula - Corman knew just how much nudity and violence he could get away with in the markets at which he was aiming. These nurse movies are very tame, but just titillating enough for those markets.

Corman knew it was a winning formula. Writer-director Alan Holleb gives Corman what he wanted and the result was never going to win any Oscars but it’s fun slightly naughty good-natured entertainment.

Candy Stripe Nurses is recommended as long as your expectations are not set too high.

Shout! Factory has released four Roger Corman nurse movies in a DVD boxed set and if you like his formula you’ll enjoy this set. The transfer is anamorphic and quite acceptable.

I’ve also reviewed another earlier Corman nurse picture, The Young Nurses (1973).

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Night of the Devils (1972)

Night of the Devils (La notte dei diavoli) was directed by Giorgio Ferroni and was based on Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy's 1839 short story Sem'ya vurdalaka (The Family of the Vourdalak).

It begins with a young man in hospital in Italy. We will later discover that his name is Nicola. He was found wandering in a confused state. He may have crossed over the border from Yugoslavia. At times he seems quite normal but he panics when the lights are turned out. Various tests are carried out but they’re inconclusive. He may be suffering from amnesia.

A young woman visits him in hospital. She claims to have met him a week earlier. She is concerned about him. When he sees her he freaks out completely.

We then get his story in a flashback. He was driving in the country and swerved his car to avoid hitting a woman. His car is now undriveable and the woman has vanished. He asks for help from the inhabitants of a nearby cottage. The head of this little household seems surly but since he has just buried his brother that might be understandable. We, the audience, witnessed the burial and it was rather strange.

The man lives with his grown-up sons and daughters. Also living here are the brother’s pretty young widow and his children. There’s some tension with the oldest of his sons.

Nicola is welcome to stay but he must not leave the cottage after nightfall and must on no account unbar the windows. There is a knocking at the door, but everybody assures Nicola that it is just the wind.

It’s as if Nicola has found himself back in the Middle Ages. These people have no electricity, no telephone, they have never seen a television, they have no motor vehicles. And they appear to be steeped in superstition. The children tell Nicola about the witch that tries to enter the house every night. Nicola hears varying accounts of the death of the brother.

The old man decides to put an end to the curse once and for all. If he can. If he fails it will mean disaster.

Nicola is a city boy. He thinks this stuff is all nonsensical superstition. And of course he may be right. He has seen and heard some strange things but they all could and almost certainly do have perfectly rational explanations. That’s what he is determined to believe.

Things get complicated when a tentative romance blossoms between Nicola and one of the daughters, Sdenka (Agostina Belli).

Nicola is confronted by some extreme acts of violence but it’s still possible that the violence is driven purely by superstitious fears. He is definitely anxious to get his car back on the road. Things are getting too disturbing for him. He’s not exactly frightened, yet. It has crossed his mind that it would be a good idea to leave and take Sdenka with him.

A conversation with an old man in the nearby village gives him some more information. The old man tells him of the legend of the Vourdalak. The vourdalak are not exactly vampires, but there are similarities. When the original story was written in 1839 there had been vampire stories such as Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) but the vampire was not yet established as a major literary trope. There was however a growing interest in both folklore and the occult and vampire-like monsters such as the succubus and the lamia had attracted the attention of writers. There are also mentions of witches in the movie so it was drawing on various occult influences.

When the real horrors kick in they do so in a big way. There’s a fair amount of gore but it’s the stifling atmosphere of fear and suspicion that really makes the horror work.

The twist ending is not entirely unanticipated but it still packs a real punch.

There’s also plenty of eroticism, some of it being perhaps not entirely healthy. The vourdalak is a more overtly sexual monster than the vampire. And perhaps a monster driven more by emotion than by bloodlust.

Night of the Devils is both very effective and very interesting gothic horror with the transposition of mediæval beliefs into the modern world being done pretty well. Highly recommended.

Giorgio Ferroni is better known for his superb 1960 gothic horror film Mill of the Stone Women which I also highly recommend.

The Raro Video DVD looks great (they’ve also released this film on Blu-Ray).a

Monday 25 December 2023

The Sister in Law (1974)

The Sister in Law is a 1974 Crown International release which falls vaguely into the erotic thriller category.

It starts off as a sexual-romantic melodrama but with hints in the background that there’s a thriller plot here that will eventually kick in.

Robert (John Savage) is a young man who has been away for a couple of years, finding himself or finding America or finding something or other. Now he’s returned to his parents’ home.
He finds that his sister-in-law Joanna (Anne Saxon) has moved in with his parents. Joanna is getting a divorce from Robert’s big brother Edward, because Edward has moved in with his girlfriend Deborah.

There’s an obvious and immediate attraction between Robert and Joanna. We get the feeling that Joanna doesn’t like to be without a man for too long. It’s obvious that within a very short time these two are going to be sharing a bed. That might not be too much of a problem except for one thing. Edward decides to return to his parents’ home as well, and he brings his new girlfriend with him.

Things become more than a little tense.

Edward doesn’t want Joanna any more but his pride is a bit wounded by her obvious sexual hunger for his kid brother. Edward is very tightly wrapped and there’s an edge of violence and nastiness in his makeup. He gets a bit aggressive towards Robert.

While this is happening Joanna has noticed the way Robert and Deborah are looking at each other. Joanna doesn’t like what she sees. She doesn’t like it one little bit. Her pride took a bit of a knock when Edward dumped her for Deborah. She is most definitely not going to let Deborah steal Robert from her as well. If she has to fight to keep Robert then she’ll fight, and Joanna is not the kind of gal you want as an enemy. She’s feisty and a bit crazy.

Predictably Joanna and Deborah come to blows (in a reasonably good swimming-pool catfight scene).

Robert has Joanna if he wants her but now he wants Deborah as well. He’s a crazy mixed-up kid.

Edward has other things to worry about. He’s involved in business dealings with some pretty shady characters. In fact they appear to be out-and-out gangsters. Edward thinks he’s a tough guy but these guys play in the major leagues and as tough guys go Edward is very much a Little Leaguer. He’s out of his depth and he’s too stubborn and arrogant and conceited to admit it.

Gradually the thriller elements start to dominate and the other characters are drawn into Edward’s ill-advised criminal enterprises.

The romantic-sexual melodrama and thriller elements make an uneasy combination. As a thriller it’s at best OK but nothing at all special. As a melodrama about sexual deceit and game-playing it’s much more interesting and it might have been better for the movie to have concentrated on that element.

There is a lack of sympathetic characters. Edward is a jerk and he’s dumb. Robert is a whiny self-pitying brat. Deborah doesn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. That leaves Joanna as the only sympathetic character. At least she’s not dumb or whiny. She has more complex motivations than the other characters. We’d like to know more about what makes her tick so it’s disappointing when the focus shifts away from her. The emotional entanglements are not satisfactorily resolved. They’re just quietly forgotten. That’s a pity because they were potentially really interesting. Not just a romantic triangle but a romantic quadrangle with multiple levels of betrayal and deceit and jealousy.

This could have been a very good movie looking at the shifting and confusing sexual mores of the 70s.

As it stands it’s a movie that doesn’t quite make it. Its biggest asset is Anne Saxon’s enigmatic but fascinating performance as Joanna. There’s plenty of topless nudity and a few reasonably steamy sex scenes that are made interesting by the fact that the motives of the participants are so tangled and murky. The Sister in Law is tentatively recommended but it does lose its way.

This movie is included in the excellent 32-movie Drive-In Cult Classics DVD boxed set. The Sister in Law gets a good anamorphic transfer. The set includes some great drive-in movies - Trip With the Teacher (1975), The Babysitter (1969), Cindy and Donna (1970), The Pom Pom Girls (1976), the excellent Malibu High (1979), Van Nuys Blvd. (1979) and Pick-up (1975). All of which are very much worth watching. Even the lesser movies in this set like The Teacher (1974) and Hot Target (1985) are worth a spin.

Friday 22 December 2023

Scyla (1967)

Scyla is a 1967 sexploitation feature by Nick Millard (who usually used the name Nick Phillips). It’s an intriguing attempt at mixing sexploitation with mythology, in a contemporary setting.

As usual with Millard’s films it was shot without synchronised sound. In this case he is able to turn a liability into an asset. This is not a realist film. The voiceover narration adds to the dreamlike feel and it works.

Gregory spends most of his time on the beach. He doesn’t do much except laze around. It’s not a bad life but there is one thing missing in his life - love. Gregory is a bit of a romantic. He’d like to meet that one special girl.

He thinks he’s met her when he encounters the lovely blonde Scyla Dane on the beach. He suggests to her that they should split and find somewhere where they can groove. He may or may not have been making progress with her but then her boyfriend Montgomery shows up. Montgomery is a really uptight guy who doesn’t like the idea of his chick grooving with other guys.

Gregory has however become obsessed. He has Scyla’s address. It was on a slip of paper that she left on the beach. Maybe she intended Gregory to find it?

Gregory finds Scyla’s house and watches Scyla and Montgomery making love. This triggers the first of many fantasy/dream sequences. They’re probably Gregory’s fantasies but sometimes they seem to be Scyla’s fantasies. The fantasy is of course Gregory and Scyla making it together.

Gregory goes to visit his old girlfriend Circe. Circe is a witch. Of course she’s not really a witch. This is 1967. There are no real witches. Except maybe Circe really is a witch. Gregory makes a big mistake. He tells Circe about his new love. He doesn’t want Circe any more, he wants Scyla. As you might expect Circe does not take this very well. No man has ever rejected her.

Circe isn’t a real witch but she uses her magic powers to try to seduce Gregory and also creates a sexy nymph to tempt him. Somehow Gregory manages to resist the temptations of two gorgeous naked chicks crawling all over him. He’s so much in love with Scyla that he is impervious to the sexual charms of other women.

Circe isn’t giving up. If her magic doesn’t work on Gregory it might work on Scyla. Somehow Circe is going to win Gregory back. Not because she loves him, but because she now wants him because he doesn’t want her.

How much of what we’re seeing is real? Is any of it real? Are any of these women real? The movie leaves it to the viewer to decide.

The mythology/fantasy aspect works quite well. The film does succeed in making us doubt reality. Millard doesn’t give us any fantasy scenes that look like scenes from a fantasy movie. He just gives us a lot of scenes that may or may not really be happening.

Of course in a Nick Millard movie you expect some fetishism. There’s not very much of that here, but there are a few moments. The nymph’s thigh-high black boots are a very Nick Millard touch. Not to mention Circe’s rubber panties.

There’s a colossal amount of nudity including frontal nudity, some if it very explicit. This movie was pushing the edge of the envelope in that respect in 1967.

is an in intriguingly offbeat sexploitation movie with a nicely enigmatic atmosphere. Highly recommended.

This is one of three Nick Millard movies in Retro-Seduction Cinema’s San Francisco Sex Collection. The transfer is fullframe and black-and-white which is how the film was shot. Personally I think these types of movies looked better when made in black-and-white.

I’ve reviewed several of Nick Millard’s other movies, including the wonderfully avant-garde How I Got My Mink (1969), the very existential Oddo (1967) and the delightfully sleazy exercise in foot fetishism Pleasures of a Woman (1972). I’m quite fond of his sexploitation movies.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Two Girls for a Madman (1968)

Two Girls for a Madman is a 1968 sexploitation roughie written and directed by Stanley H. Brassloff. Brassloff is perhaps better known for his 1972 offering Toys Are Not for Children.

We start with two girls who are studying ballet in Manhattan. Sonya is rather timid but she’s a nice girl. Her best friend Toni isn’t quite a bad girl but she is rather wild. They’re both ambitious. But while Sonya is artistically ambitious Toni is more focused on fame and money. Toni thinks her big break has come - she’s landed herself a TV commercial. Sonya has a chance to dance with a top European ballet company in Amsterdam.

Toni’s break has come through her boyfriend Seymour. He’s a producer. He’s also married but that doesn’t bother Toni. Her only interest in Seymour is in what he can do for her career. Seymour takes her to a party. It turns out to be a crazy sex and drugs party. Toni can’t get her clothes off quickly enough. Toni likes excitement.

We also start with a guy named Frank who is visiting his psychiatrist. The shrink is trying desperately to persuade Frank to admit himself to a mental hospital. We can’t help feeing that the shrink is spot on. Frank is angry, unstable, disconnected from reality and has issues with women. Unfortunately Frank doesn’t think he needs to be in a hospital.

Frank was one of the guests at the sex and drugs orgy. Toni attracted his attention. Frank abducts Toni and rapes her.

Toni’s problem is that she has that TV commercial shoot coming up and she now has lots of bruises. Now they might not want her for the commercial. She decides it’s all Seymour’s fault. And she turned down the Amsterdam offer, which is how Sonya landed it.

Frank found Sonya’s address in Toni’s handbag and now he’s stalking her. He finds her at the ballet school.

Toni keeps thinking about Frank. He’s her kind of man. This is not a movie that could be made today.

It’s a fairy typical roughie but with a few twists. The big ironic twist at the end is foreshadowed but it’s still not quite what you expect in this type of movie.

I doubt if any of the cast members used their real names. The guy playing Frank overacts outrageously but he certainly gets the point across that Frank is crazy and bad.

The two female leads are quite adequate in the acting department.

Toni has a bit of complexity. She’s not really totally bad. She’s young, her judgment is poor, she’s selfish and self-centred but mostly she’s just immature emotionally. The kind of girl who just needs to grow up.

There’s plenty of nudity to provide the necessary exploitation elements. There’s no frontal nudity and the scenes of violence are not in the least graphic.

The movie’s main problem is that it lacks the touch of the bizarre that makes the best roughies so fascinating.

The orgy scene is quite well done. The masks are typical of good very low budget film-making - they would have cost almost nothing but they achieve the desired effect.

The trippy electronic music early on adds to the disorientation and Brassloff throws in some equally trippy camera tricks.

Arlene Farber as Toni is the movie’s biggest strength. She’s sexy and she does the wild girl thing very well. A couple of years later she would star in Female Animal (1970), a movie worth watching for her wonderful performance.

Two Girls for a Madman isn’t top-tier American sexploitation but it’s entertaining enough if you’re a fan of the genre.

This movie is part of a Something Weird triple-header DVD which also includes the flawed but interesting Mr Mari's Girls (1967) and the delightfully oddball Tortured Females (1965). It’s a DVD worth picking up if you’re a roughie fan.

Saturday 16 December 2023

Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973)

Count Dracula’s Great Love is a 1973 Spanish gothic horror movie starring Paul Naschy. It starts off giving the impression that it’s going to be a by-the-numbers Dracula movie but then takes some very surprising turns. Javier Aguirre was the director and co-writer. The original idea seems to have been Naschy’s. Naschy co-wrote the screenplay. It’s now available in a superb Blu-Ray presentation from Vinegar Syndrome.

The setting is the late 19th century. It seems to be exactly the sort of setting and time period you’d expect in a stock-standard Dracula movie.

It begins with five young people, a man and four women, in a carriage near the Borgo Pass. The man, Imre, points out that they are near the spot where Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing had their final encounter with Dracula. Imre believes that Dracula was real.

You may be a little surprised that anyone in the late 19th century would allow four very pretty young unmarried girls to go traveling without a chaperone, accompanied only by a young man. Especially given the budding romance between Imre and one of the girls, Marlene.

The carriage meets with a minor accident, and the coachman meets with a fatal accident. Luckily the five young people are passing Dr Marlow’s sanatorium. Dr Marlow (Paul Naschy) insists that they take advantage of his hospitality until their carriage can be repaired.

One of the girls, Karen (Haydée Politoff), finds a book in Dr Marlow’s library. It is Van Helsing’s memoirs. Van Helsing tells of a legend that Dracula needs to find a true virgin. If he has normal (non-vampiric) sex with her his powers will be fully restored. Karen is horrified but excited.

The viewer is not going to be the least bit surprised that there are vampires wandering about the sanatorium. It doesn’t take long for the first of the girls to be recruited into the ranks of the Undead.

Dr Marlow is a dedicated scientist and physician and a kind charming man. The girls are reassured by his presence.

We get the kind of stuff we expect in a vampire movie, until we start to realise that there’s something else going on. When we find out why Dracula needs a virgin we realise just how radically this movie is going to depart from the conventions of the vampire movie.

These departures are so interesting that I’m not going to give any more hints about the way the plot will develop.

This was an incredibly interesting time for the vampire movie. Film-makers like Jess Franco (in Vampyros Lesbos in 1970), Jean Rollin (in movies like The Nude Vampire in 1970 and Requiem for a Vampire in 1971), Stephanie Rothman (in The Velvet Vampire in 1971) and José Larraz (in Vampyres in 1974) were taking the vampire film Ito all sorts of new directions. It’s clear that Naschy and Aguirre were part of that trend. Their approach was however a little different - they made a vampire film that looked totally conventional but was very different thematically.

What Naschy and Aguirre give us is not just a Dracula who is capable of love, but a Dracula for whom love becomes the primary motivation. On the audio commentary Naschy makes the point, quite correctly, that the ideas that excited people about Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula were all present in Count Dracula’s Great Love nearly twenty years earlier. Those ideas are developed differently, but the basic concepts are the same.

Naschy of course is best-known for his many movies about a troubled sympathetic werewolf. Here he’s offering us a vampire with both moral and emotional complexity.

Naschy’s movies do tend to have very high trashiness and sleaze levels. Personally I like trashy sleazy movies so that doesn’t bother me. It’s fascinating here to see trashiness and sleaze combined with clever ideas and also combined with a deep respect for the traditional horror movie.

Aguirre and Naschy were very careful to include all of the traditional gothic horror visual elements. They were going to take the story in unexpected directions but they wanted it to be a gothic horror movie. Naschy believed very strongly in respecting the conventions of the genre.

Count Dracula’s Great Love
manages to be intelligent, emotionally nuanced, clever, provocative, trashy and sleazy all at once. And it works on all those levels.

This movie has been available for years on DVD in truly wretched transfers. Vinegar Syndrome recently released it on Blu-Ray (the uncut “unclothed” version) and it now looks terrific. The Blu-Ray includes an excellent commentary track with Paul Naschy and Javier Aguirre.

The Vinegar Syndrome release provides a good opportunity to reassess a movie that has in the past been rather disparaged. It’s a fine movie that really does deserve a reassessment. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 13 December 2023

True Story of a Woman in Soapland: Tear! (1987)

True Story of a Woman in Soapland: Tear! is a 1987 Nikkatsu roman porno movie about a woman who works in one of Japan’s soaplands. Both the terms roman porno and soaplands are going to require some explanation.

By the beginning of the 70s the Japanese film industry was in desperate trouble, with television causing a collapse in cinema attendances. Studios realised that there were two things that would lure customers back to movie theatres - sex and violence. One result of this was the emergence of the pinky violence genre which offered both at the same time. Japan’s oldest film studio, Nikkatsu, took a slightly different approach. They came up with a genre which they called roman porno. This had nothing to do with the Roman Empire. The French term for an erotic novel is roman pornographique. Nikkatsu thought this would be a cool descriptive term for its new series of movies, but they shortened it to roman porno.

Nikkatsu went further. They cancelled all other film production and from 1971 to 1988 they made nothing but roman porno movies. It was a spectacularly successful strategy and it saved the studio, which is still going strong today. They made hundreds of these films.

Many of these films are lighthearted goofy sex comedies. Others offer extraordinary levels of violence and kink. This one offers melodrama.

Now for that other term, soaplands. Prostitution was outlawed in Japan in 1958. Soaplands sprang up to fill the void. These were bathhouses. The customer paid to be bathed by a soap girl. This was quite legal. Technically this was the only service offered by the soaplands, so these businesses remained technically quite legal. Of course if, after the bath, the customer and the soap girl were overcome by tender passions and had sex that was no concern of the soapland. Of course in every single case the customer and the soap girl ended up having sex (and money managed to change hands) but it was done in a way that always managed to remain technically legal. The soap girls were in practice prostitutes and were very high-class and well-paid.

So, back to the movie. Kikuta is a schoolteacher and a happily married man and he has a mistress, a nurse named Mizue. She mentions that she saw an old friend of theirs from their schooldays, a woman named Hasekura, leaving a soapland. She was obviously working there. Mizue was a little shocked and a little amused. Kikuta had had an affair with Hasekura at school.

Kikuta decides to re-introduce himself to Hasekura. Their old passion immediately re-ignites.

The nurse girlfriend finds out and she’s outraged, even though she has a fiancé on whom she’s cheating.

Kikuta’s wife finds out about her husband’s little nurse girlfriend. She doesn’t have much respect for her husband but she won’t give him up because as she says he’s so easy to control.

Kikuta makes a solemn promise to Mizue to give up Hasekura and he makes a solemn promise to his wife to be faithful in future.

Of course he doesn’t keep either promise. Kikuta isn’t exactly a bad guy but he’s weak and he’s absolutely hopeless where women are concerned. He’s not the kind of guy you’d pick as a Casanova. He’s more like a naughty little boy. Maybe that’s why all three women want him.

The fact that Hasekura is a prostitute isn’t made into much of an issue. It really only figures in the plot to the extent that Hasekura has enough money to be able to offer to keep Kikuta as a kind of pet.

The ending is a surprise, to say the least. And it's certainly effective.

Director Takashi Kodama handles things pretty well and doesn’t allow the story to get bogged down at any point. All the cast members are more than adequate.

Japanese erotic movies tend to be both less graphic and more graphic than contemporary erotic films from the US or Europe. They’re less graphic in that because of a peculiar cultural taboo they couldn’t show any female pubic hair. On the other hand they could show stuff that you wouldn’t generally see in softcore offerings from other countries. The sex scenes in this movies are extraordinary intense and steamy, and sometimes soapy. And there are many many sex scenes.

This is a romantic-sexual melodrama and it works pretty well. The characters have enough substance (and enough tangled motivations) to keep our interest. True Story of a Woman in Soapland: Tear! is highly recommended.

The Impulse DVD offers a reasonable if less than stellar transfer.

Saturday 9 December 2023

Beyond the Door (1974)

Beyond the Door (AKA The Devil Within Her) is one of the more notorious Italian Exorcist rip-offs and it became the centre of a rather nasty lawsuit.

In reality Beyond the Door is more of a combination of a Rosemary’s Baby rip-off and an Exorcist rip-off.

The plot is laid out for us in detail early on. There is a kind of twist at the end although it’s probably not going to be a huge surprise.

Jessica (Juliet Mills) is a very ordinary wife and mother in her early thirties. She’s married to Robert Barrett (Gabriele Lavia), a record producer in San Francisco. Some years earlier, before her marriage, Jessica had been involved with a man named Dimitri (Richard Johnson). Dimitri had been some kind of occultist and Jessica had dabbled very tentatively in that area. She had attended Satanic ritual but had freaked out and that was the end of her occult explorations or so she thought. She broke up with Dimitri and later married Robert.

Dimitri is a servant of Satan and Jessica’s unborn child is the key to some Satanic plan. We also know that Dimitri is on borrowed time.

We learn all this right at the start and we learn some of it from an opening voiceover narration by the Devil himself.

Jessica soon learns that she is indeed pregnant. She starts to behave oddly, with sudden inexplicable outburst of anger. Their two children are strange as well, but they were strange right from the beginning of the movie and there’s no reason to suspect Satanic influences (although there’s no reason to discount such possibilities either).

The pregnancy is a difficult one.

It doesn’t take very long at all to become obvious that Jessica’s unborn child is the child of Satan.

Dimitri claims to be able to save Jessica. Robert doesn’t trust him but by now he’s figured out that he’s dealing with something supernatural and he’s desperate enough to trust even Dimitri.

We then get lots of head-spinning and levitation and green bile-vomiting and the usual demonic possession stuff.

While the plot is lifted more from Rosemary’s Baby than The Exorcist there are lots of visual scares that are so reminiscent of scenes from The Exorcist that it becomes understandable that Warners sued. The producer, director and co-writer of Beyond the Door, Ovidio G. Assonitis, claims that Warners were more worried about the possibility of Beyond the Door sequels, given that they had their own plans for Exorcist sequels.

It’s not that the makeup effects and special effects in Beyond the Door are bad, but the visuals are just too blatantly Exorcist-like to have any real impact.

Juliet Mills was an odd casting choice but she does have that sweet loving wife and mother vibe which does make her experiences seem just that bit more horrific. Richard Johnson is suitably sinister and mysterious. The kids are disturbing, which they’re supposed to be.

We get female frontal nudity a couple of minutes into the movie which might suggest we’re in for quite a bit of sleaze, but that’s the only such moment in the entire movie. After that it’s strictly gross-out horror stuff.

The spooky demonic sound effects are overdone and lessen the movie’s impact by making it seem silly.

Beyond the Door
was hugely successful but for me it just doesn’t quite work. I just wasn’t drawn into the story and I wasn’t drawn to any of the characters. It has a few good moments (the possessed toys are quite good).

Beyond the Door is a movie worth seeing if you’re determined to see every 70s Exorcist ripoff and you’re a huge huge fan of such movies. If you don’t fall into one of those two categories it’s probably not worth your while.

The Arrow Blu-Ray looks good and includes two audio commentaries, one featuring Assonitis and one featuring star Juliet Mills.

If you want to see a really good Italian Exorcist rip-off watch Alberto De Martino’s The Antichrist (1974) instead. It’s a much much better movie.

Thursday 7 December 2023

The Lickerish Quartet (1970), Blu-Ray review

The Lickerish Quartet is a 1970 Radley Metzger movie.

Radley Metzger was an erotic film-maker who believed that it was possible to make arty, intelligent, sexy, witty and amusing erotic movies that would work successfully on all those levels. He wasn’t the only film-maker who believed this but Metzger probably came closer than anyone else to pulling off this difficult feat on a consistent basis.

He was also interesting as an American director with a very European sensibility. Not entirely European perhaps, but a fascinating blend of European and American sensibilities. He made several truly great erotic movies but for me Peak Radley Metzger was 1969-1970 when he made Camille 2000 and The Lickerish Quartet. As great as Camille 2000 is I would rate The Lickerish Quartet as his best movie.

It opens with a married couple and their grown-up son living in a huge chateau. They’re enjoying a normal family evening, watching blue movies (in grainy black-and-white) on a 16mm film projector. This is one of Dad’s favourite pastimes. All three are particularly struck by the beauty of a blonde actress in one of these films.

They then visit an amusement park where they enjoy watching a glamorous female stunt motorcyclist riding the Wall of Death. And then they notice something. This girl bears a remarkable resemblance to that blonde in the blue movie. Dad is fascinated and decides to invite the girl back to the chateau to meet the family.

Already very early on we become aware that Metzger is playing some narrative games with us. We see some snippets of another black-and-white movie. This seems to be a movie with a wartime setting. But we do not see this movie projected on the screen set up in the chateau’s drawing room. Is it one of the films in Dad’s collection? Or is this a film that exists only in the imagination of one of the characters?

The idea of inviting the motorcycle girl back to the chateau was to show her the movie, in order to watch her reaction if that really is her in the movie. But the movie seems different.

And the son puts on an impromptu magic show. He’s fascinated by stage illusionism. But then film directors are illusionists also aren’t they?

This could be one of those movies in which reality and illusion become confused. Perhaps it’s a story within a story. Perhaps there is more than one layer of reality. Perhaps there’s no reality. These people are after all characters in a movie. Maybe they’re discovering that they are just characters in a movie. Are some or all of the character reliving events from the past, and did those events really occur? Memories can be tricky things.

This sounds like real European art-house stuff, and it is, and it’s handled deftly. But this is a Radley Metzger film so it’s playful and fun as well.

And this is an erotic movie in which an erotic movie plays a major part.

There are sexual tensions. Dad is seriously bewitched by the luscious young lady motorcyclist. This does not please his wife, or his son. And the son isn’t really his, so nobody is what they first appeared to be. Both father and son want to sleep with this mysterious girl who may or may not be the girl in the blue movie.

While the erotic dramas are important it’s the narrative games that are the core of this movie. And those narrative games become ever more complex.

This movie was made with much of the same creative team as Camille 2000. This included, very importantly, art director and costume designer Enrico Sabbatini. Metzger has stated, very generously, that much of the praise he received for these two movies should have gone to Sabbatini. The two movies have a similar look and also a similar tone.

Radlet Metzger and Michael DeForrest wrote the story for The Lickerish Quartet and DeForrest wrote the screenplay. The original idea came from Metzger.

Metzger always liked to shoot sex scenes in an interesting way and this movie includes a couple of fine examples of this.

The film was shot on location mostly at (and in) the Castle of Bolsonaro. It’s a magnificent location and it’s used superbly.

The Cult Epics Blu-Ray looks magnificent and there are some extras, the most notable being an audio commentary featuring Radley Metzger. Metzger always did great commentaries, providing lots of information on the making of the movie and on his inspirations but in this case he quite properly refuses to be drawn on the meaning or interpretation of the movie.

This movie is deliberately and fascinatingly enigmatic. It’s a movie to watch more than once, and each time you watch it you’ll find a new way of interpreting it. THey’re the kinds of movies I really love. The Lickerish Quartet is very highly recommended.

Monday 4 December 2023

Playing with Fire (1975)

Playing with Fire is a 1975 movie written and directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Robbe-Grillet was one of the foremost exponents of cinematic surrealism and may in fact have been the greatest of all surrealist film-makers. As with most film-makers who explored such territories you can argue about whether he really qualifies as a surrealist. Robbe-Grillet was a novelist as well as a film-maker and certainly belonged to both the literary and cinematic avant-garde. Robbe-Grillet made art films but he was also a very playful film-maker. His movies are puzzling and cerebral but they’re also a lot of fun.

Playing with Fire was inspired to a considerable extent by the Patty Hearst saga.

Playing with Fire begins with the kidnapping of a young woman, but was she really kidnapped? Maybe the kidnapping hasn’t occurred but will occur. We see middle-aged banker Georges de Saxe (Philippe Noiret) sitting at his desk writing. He may be writing a story or an account of real events. He may even be writing the script for the movie we’re watching.

The kidnap victim is, or possibly will be, his daughter Carolina (Anicée Alvina). We notice something slightly odd about this father and daughter. They seem to be intimate in a way that is a little disturbing. Carolina seems totally unconcerned about having her leg fondled by her father.

Carolina has not been kidnapped but she did write the note saying that she needed to be rescued. Her explanation for the note is very odd.

Georges de Saxe hires a private detective, Franz (Jean-Louis Trintignant), to protect his daughter. Trintignant plays two roles in the movie, or perhaps they’re all the same rôle.

The banker is advised to send his daughter into hiding in a safe place. It is suggested that an insane asylum or a brothel would be suitable hiding places.

Carolina ends up in a very large old clinic where everybody at first seems totally immobile. She is not sure if she is a prisoner. The clinic seems to be a brothel rather than a clinic. There are lots of women there. It’s uncertain if they’re there voluntarily or not. Some of these women seem to merge into each other. In other cases we have several male characters played by the same actor. Are we in a dream? If so, whose dream?

Robbe-Grillet’s films still have the ability to upset and bewilder both viewers and critics. When faced with a movie without a straightforward linear narrative there’s a temptation to approach it as a puzzle to be solved. Like a jigsaw puzzle - at first you just have a jumble but if you’re clever and patient you put the pieces together to form a straightforward picture. That doesn’t work with Robbe-Grillet’s movies. No matter how hard you try you’re not going to be able to reconstruct his movies into straightforward linear narratives. You’re never going to be able to give a definite answer to the question - What Really Happened. That exasperates viewers who feel that they should be able to answer that question.

Critics still get upset and uncomfortable with the eroticism of Robbe-Grillet’s films, particularly the hints of sadomasochism. That’s becoming more of a problem in today’s increasingly puritanical world and even Robbe-Grillet’s admirers sometimes feel the need to offer justifications for the eroticism.

The eroticism is part and parcel of his work. And it’s complex. He uses it for varying purposes. Robbe-Grillet wanted to create strange magical images and at times he’d include nude women in shots because they made the images more strange and magical. In Playing with Fire nude women are potent symbols, but not necessarily erotic symbols.

Robbe-Grillet was immensely influenced by Jules Michelet’s 1862 book on witchcraft, La Sorcière. There are subtle hints of vampirism, black magic and witchcraft in many of Robbe-Grillet’s movies and these elements certainly intersect with the eroticism, and the female nudity creates a feel of some weird kind of occult ceremonies. But again the more you try to analyse his work the more you get led astray by a search for meanings. It’s better just to immerse yourself in a Robbe-Grillet movie rather than try to analyse it logically.

Robbe-Grillet had zero interest in conventional cinematic realism and he was not interested in getting realistic performances from actors. The performances are all slightly distanced and artificial which seems to be what Robbe-Grillet wanted (it’s something that you notice in all his movies). There are also moments when the characters are aware of being characters in a film, such as the moment when Trintignant tells us he doesn’t understand the script.

It’s also worth mentioning that Robbe-Grillet uses three key pieces of music as what he called “generators” in this movie. The music is as important as the visuals.

Sylvia Kristel has a small rôle. By the time Playing with Fire was released Kristel had become a sensation in Emmanuelle so she was hurriedly given equal top billing, which made sense since she was now Playing with Fire’s biggest drawcard.

Robbe-Grillet may have been playing games with his audience but he wanted the audience to have fun playing those games. His movies are wild and exhilarating and exuberant. Playing with Fire is very highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed several of his other movies - L’immortelle (1963), Trans-Europ-Express (1966), Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974) and La Belle Captive (1983). All are must-see movies.