Tuesday 31 January 2023

The Shuttered Room (1967)

The Shuttered Room is a 1967 horror movie set in America but shot in England. It’s one of those 1960s British films made partly with American money. Fittingly it has a mixed English and American cast.

The Shuttered Room belongs to that interesting horror movie sub-genre, the Lovecraftian horror film. There are surprisingly few movies in this sub-genre and there are very few indeed that can be considered entirely successful. Lovecraftian horror is not easy to translate to film. It should be noted that The Shuttered Room, the short story on which the movie was based, was actually written by August Derleth although apparently based on some fragmentary story ideas of Lovecraft’s. Derleth was more than anyone else responsible for ensuring that Lovecraft’s literary legacy would be an enduring one. Derleth was a fine writer of weird fiction in his own right.

The inhabitants of the isolated island village where the action takes place are clearly seriously inbred and if they ever were civilised they have reverted to superstitious savagery. Whether they’re dangerous because they’re evil or because they’re extremely stupid is not clear. This movie therefore has a very Lovecraftian atmosphere of superstitious malevolence and degeneracy but thematically it’s not truly Lovecraftian. This seems to upset some viewers who see this as a weakness but you have to keep in mind that it’s not based on an actual Lovecraft story but on an August Derleth story. This is Derlethian horror rather than Lovecraftian horror. If you accept that then you’ll enjoy the film more.

Wealthy New York magazine editor Mike Kelton (Gig Young) has brought his young bride Susannah (Carol Lynley) back to her hometown, a tiny village on a tiny island totally isolated from mainstream society. Dunwich Island isn’t just decades behind the rest of the country, in some ways it’s centuries behind. The locals take things like curses and witches for granted.

Susannah was born Susannah Whately and she has inherited a decaying old mill belonging to her family. The Whately family has lived on Dunwich Island for as far back as anyone can remember. Everybody on the island is either a member of the Whately family or related to them in some way. This is the kind of community in which first cousins have married each other rather too often.

From the start it’s clear to Mike and Susannah that the locals are pretty weird and that here’s a vaguely menacing atmosphere. And they have been warned by Susannah’s weird dotty Aunt Agatha (Flora Robson) not to stay in the mill house for even one night, because of the Whately Curse. But Mike and Susannah aren’t worried. They’re sophisticated New Yorkers. They think the locals are colourful and amusing rather than dangerous. They think that the talk of curses just makes the mill house seem more interesting and romantic.

There are two main plot strands. One involves the origin of the curse and the danger this may pose to Susannah. It’s clear that there is something dangerous in the old house but whether it’s a supernatural evil or some kind of monster or a purely human evil is an open question.

The second plot strand centres on sex. Ethan (Oliver Reed) is a wild rather crazed young man and he’s the leader of the young men of the island who are essentially a roaming band of thugs. It’s obvious that Ethan is sexually obsessed by Susannah and intends to have her. It’s also obvious that his gang of thugs expect that after he’s finished wth her they’ll get their turn. It’s a setup that definitely anticipates Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.

The two plot strands do intersect towards the end and the climax of the movie is exceptionally well managed.

The cast is interesting. Oliver Reed made plenty of horror movies and thrillers in the early to mid 60s so it’s no surprise to see him listed as one of the three stars. It’s also no surprise that he is perfectly cast. The presence of Gig Young and Carol Lynley is slightly more surprising. Both Young and Lynley had moderately successful careers that never quite launched them into stardom but both are actually rather underrated. Lynley is good here. There’s nothing terribly wrong with Gig Young’s performance except that Mike has to do a fair bit of action hero stuff and Young is just too old to do that convincingly.

Director David Greene spent most of his career in television but while he made few feature films those that he did make tended to be incredibly interesting, movies such as his quirky spy thriller Sebastian (1968) and the absolutely superb fairy tale-like I Start Counting (1969). Greene does a great job on The Shuttered Room. He keeps things visually interesting and when he uses an unusual camera angle he does so very for good reasons and it never seems gimmicky. David Greene really should have had a glittering career in film.

As long as you’re not expecting pure Lovecraftian horror The Shuttered Room is thoroughly enjoyable, stylish and creepy.

It was released on DVD in the Warner Archive series paired with another overlooked 1967 horror film, It!

The Shuttered Room is highly recommended.

Sunday 29 January 2023

Panther Girl of the Kongo (movie serial, 1955)

Panther Girl of the Kongo was the second last serial made by Republic Pictures. Republic always made terrific serials so it will be interesting to see how this late entry stacks up.

It’s a jungle girl adventure. That’s always a good start. And it features giant bugs.

It's not bad and if you're a seasoned serial fan you'll want to see it. If you're new to the wonderful world of movie serials there are however much better examples which would be a much better place to start.

My full review can be found at Classic Movie Ramblings.

Thursday 26 January 2023

The Girl in Room 2a (1974)

The Girl in Room 2a (La casa della paura) is a giallo, or at least that’s what you’d assume. It’s an Italian-made film, shot in Italy, it has murders and weirdness but it was directed and co-written by an American, William Rose. Rose’s background was in the New York sexploitation scene of the 60s. He wrote and directed the superb 1965 sexploitation roughie Rent-a-Girl. So what you’re getting here is a combination of two of the most fascinating cult film genres of the 60s and 70s, the giallo and the American sexploitation roughie. And they are genres with a few things in common, both being concerned with weirdness, sex and violence.

Margaret (Daniela Giordano) has just been released from prison. She has served a very brief term behind bars before the rather dubious charges against her were dropped. Her kindly social worker Miss Sundberg (Rosalba Neri) has found her a room. Margaret’s new landlady, Mrs Grant, seems just a little bit odd. Margaret is also a little disturbed by the bloodstains on the floor.

Mrs Grant notices that Margaret is a bit upset so she offers a drop a harmless tranquilliser tablet into Margaret’s tea. Margaret, perhaps foolishly, doesn’t object.

Margaret is even more disturbed when three guys, one of them in a creepy red mask, force themselves into her room. But it’s OK, it was just a dream. It must have been a dream. What else could it be?

Mrs Grant’s son Frank takes an interest in Margaret but he seems a bit too interested in her past. And Mrs Grant and Frank tell her conflicting stories about what happened to the late Mr Grant.

What we, the viewers, know but Margaret doesn’t is that Frank is involved in some shadowy group. It’s run by a rather scary guy named Mr Dreese.

Then Margaret runs into Jack (John Scanlon). Jack is trying to find out how his sister Edie died. Edie had also been living in Mrs Grant’s house.

So there’s lots of subtly weird stuff going on.

That shadowy group mentioned earlier is a kind of cult that sees itself as a modern version of the Inquisition, seeking out sinful women and punishing them. We know the identities of most of the cult members, apart from the leader, the one dressed in the Spanish Inquisition getup topped with a red mask.

There’s not a great deal of mystery but theres some decent suspense. We know the cult is going to go after Margaret and we don’t know if Margaret and new friend Jack are going to figure out what’s going on in time to save her. And the cult is pretty ruthless. They unhesitatingly kill cult members who betray the cult.

Daniela Giordano makes a fine heroine. Rosalba Neri gets far too little screen time. Angelo Infanti had a long career as an actor and he gives a nicely subtle but creepy performance as Frank. The performances by the other cast members are rather variable in quality.

There is some genuine horror here and some of the torture scenes are rather disturbing. The horror comes from the fact that you have a bunch of crazed deluded people convinced that they are punishing evil and that’s always effectively chilling. It’s more chilling in this case because the victims are not even guilty of their supposed crimes, they really are just innocent victims of circumstance. Of course one has to agree with Margaret that even were they guilty the cultists are still doing evil. There’s no greater evil than evil done in the cause of misguided morality.

This movie was shot with all the actors speaking in English but being an Italian production it was then dubbed. So as with many Italian films there isn’t really an original version so whether you watch the English-language dub or the Italian dub subtitled in English (the Mondo Macabro DVD provides both options) is largely a matter of personal choice. Apparently there are a few differences between the Italian dialogue and the English dialogue. I watched the English version.

This movie bears some slight resemblance to Rose’s earlier (and excellent) Rent-a-Girl and it is in some ways more like an American roughie spiced up a bit by being shot in colour with a lot more blood.

It’s very unfortunate that writer-director William Rose’s career fizzled out after this. He was one of the more interesting sexploitation film-makers.

Mondo Macabro’s DVD release is still in print and it offers a pretty decent transfer with a few extras.

The Girl in Room 2a is an odd hybrid but I like odd hybrids. It’s a movie that is unusual enough and interesting enough to qualify for a highly recommended rating.

Sunday 22 January 2023

Virgins from Hell (1987)

Virgins from Hell (Perawan di Sarang Sindikat) is a 1987 Indonesian exploitation movie. That means you can be sure of two things - it’s going to be totally nuts and it’s going to be hugely entertaining.

To make a successful movie you need the right ingredients. Girls are a good start. Preferably lots of girls. But that’s not enough. So you put the girls on motorcycles. Things are looking more promising now but wouldn’t it be even cooler to give the girls guns? Now you have a surefire box-office winner but just to make sure you put the girls in skimpy costumes. Now you have a formula that just can’t fail.

Of course it also helps if your lead actress is a total babe who looks like just the sort of girl you’d find riding a motorbike wearing a skimpy costume and toting a gun. Enny Beatrice fulfils all these requirements.

In case you thought this movie wasn’t already awesome enough this was the 80s so the girls have big hair and a liking for spandex.

You do need some kind of plot. Virgins from Hell has a plot. It isn’t very coherent and it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense but it’s enough to justify the whole Chicks on Bikes With Guns thing. Two sisters have formed a gang of motorcycle-riding girls in order to get revenge on the drug baron who murdered their family.

The sisters are Sheila (Enny Beatrice) and Karen (Yenny Farida). The drug baron is Mr Tiger (Dicky Zulkarnaen). Mr Tiger has turned the girls’ family home into the headquarters of his drugs operation.

The sisters came from a fairly wealthy family so the family home and estate are big enough to suit Mr Tiger’s purposes and he’s also built an underground complex.

The sisters plan an all-out assault on Mr Tiger’s headquarters. They’re not so much a girl motorcycle gang as a girl army. Armed with automatic weapons.

Things go wrong and Mr Tiger captures the girls.

Early on this movie has a slight Russ Meyer vibe, like a South-East Asian riff on Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! That’s the early action movie part of Virgins from Hell. Then it changes gears and becomes a species of women-in-prison movie except the girls are not in a prion but confined in Mr Tiger’s dungeon. Actually the closest thing in tone to this movie would be some of the 1970s Japanese pinky violence movies.

It does tick a lot of the women-in-prison movies boxes. There’s brutality, the girls get raped a lot, there’s a sadistic lesbian prison warder equivalent (she’s Mr Tiger’s chief henchwoman). They do come up with some original tortures - the barbed wire torture, the mongoose torture (yes, with an actual mongoose) and the barbecue torture.

Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country so censorship there was pretty strict there in the 80s. There’s no nudity (although the girls’ costumes are very revealing) and the sex scenes are rather tame (yes there are sex scenes). Despite all this it manages to be quite sexy and it has plenty of sleaze and perversity. And some very attractive actresses who look good wearing very little clothing.

While Mr Tiger might be a drug lord this is more a mad scientist movie than a crime movie. Mr Tiger has invented the ultimate aphrodisiac drug which turns women into raging nymphomaniacs. This is going to make him rich on a scale that a mere drug lord could not dream of.

Mr Tiger is a fine super-villain. He’s merciless, he’s sadistic, he’s a megalomaniac, he has a lot of issues with women and he’s completely crazy. He’s more like a Bond villain than a mere crime boss.Dicky Zulkarnaen gives a memorable performance.

Ackyl Anwari directed thirteen movies all of which sound like fun. He knows how to handle actions scenes reasonably well, including some fairly large-scale pitched battles between the motorcycle girls and Mr Tiger’s private army.

The budget was undoubtedly ridiculously small but that never worried the makers of Indonesian exploitation movies. They just did the best they could and the results were usually quite impressive. One of the girls even wrestles a crocodile. There’s some gore. The makeup/prosthetics effects are competent. There are lots and lots of explosions.

Apart from its other virtues Virgins from Hell has a delightfully unhinged flavour to it. There’s no shortage of wtf moments. It’s a movie that makes no concessions whatsoever to realism.

Mondo Macabro released this one as a two-disc DVD package loaded with extras and happily it seems to be still in print. The anamorphic transfer is lovely with nice rich colours. There are plenty of extras, the highlight being a fine documentary on Indonesian cult cinema (the same one that’s included on a couple of other Mondo Macabro Indonesian cult releases but if you haven’t seen it it’s worthwhile) and a brief but informative essay by Pete Tombs on the history of the women-in-prison movie genre going back to 1922.

Virgins from Hell contains so much crazy exploitation movie goodness that it’s an absolutely irresistible concoction. Very highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed some other must-see Indonesian cult movies - The Devil’s Sword (1984), Mystics in Bali (1981), Dangerous Seductress (1992) and Lady Terminator (1988).

Thursday 19 January 2023

Not of This Earth (1988)

One of Roger Corman’s notable early directorial efforts was his low-budget space vampire flick Not of This Earth (1957). Wearing his producer’s hat Corman decided to remake this movie in 1988, with the same title, with his protégé Jim Wynorski in the director’s chair this time.

To add some spice to the remake it was decided to feature the then-notorious Traci Lords as the star. It was a good decision and the remake was a major commercial success. It was a good decision for Lords also. Having faced persecution for her career in adult films she needed a break and Not of This Earth gave her the chance to pursue a more mainstream career which she went on to do with some success.

Jim Wynorski and R.J. Robertson based their screenplay very heavily on the Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna screenplay for Corman’s 1957 movie. It’s still more or less the same story.

Corman had made his movie at his usual breakneck pace with shooting completed in just twelve days. Wynorski made a bet with Corman that he could shoot his remake even faster and Wynorski won the bet. Shooting was completed in eleven-and-a-half days.

The movie starts with the landing of an alien spaceship. Then this strange guy (whom we will later learn calls himself Mr Johnson) who says very little and always wears dark glasses zaps a girl who was having sex with her boyfriend in the back seat of his car.

Mr Johnson then turns up at a blood clinic. He wants a transfusion, in fact he wants a whole series of blood transfusions. He persuades the doctor to agree to this. He also persuades the doctor that he’ll need his nurse, Nadine Story (Traci Lords), to be his live-in nurse. Nadine is suspicious but when Mr Johnson offers her two thousand bucks a week she’s happy to agree.

Once the doctor performs some blood tests he obviously realises that he’s dealing with someone who isn’t human but Mr Johnson uses his alien mind control powers to ensure that the doctor keeps his secret.

Mr Johnson is from a distant planet, a world ravaged by nuclear war. The inhabitants of that planet are dying because their blood is no longer viable. They need a source of fresh blood. Mr Johnson is therefore a kind of vampire, but an interesting and original kind of vampire. The 1957 movie had been possibly the first space vampire movie and the remake is certainly a space vampire movie.

Nurse Nadine doesn’t know of any of this. She just thinks Mr Johnson is a bit weird but for two thousand bucks a week she doesn’t mind having a weird employer. Her cop boyfriend Harry (Roger Lodge) is a bit suspicious. Mr Johnson’s hired hand Jeremy (Lenny Juliano) knows that something very strange is going on in Mr Johnson’s house but he wants to keep his job.

The cops are concerned that corpses drained of blood have started showing up.

Wynorski serves up some horror, some cheesy special effects and plenty of humour. The intention was clearly to make a movie that would be pure fun. There’s some engaging goofiness (as when Mr Johnson receive a strip-o-gram and when he picks up three hookers who get more than they bargained for). It doesn’t descend into mere silliness - there’s still a solid enough sci-fi/horror plot here.

The big question that would have occurred to most people at the time was - can Traci Lords actually act? The answer is yes. She might not be the world’s greatest actress but she’s cute, sexy, likeable and funny. She makes Nadine a heroine we can care about.

This movie features Lords’ last-ever nude scenes. Not surprisingly she looks stunning but they’re fun rather innocent nude scenes.

There is of course plenty of nudity from other actresses as well. This movie adheres to the Corman formula of the 80s - plenty of skin, a few thrills, cheap but effective special effects, fast pacing and lots of entertainment value. All done on a ridiculously small budget. Wynorski uses footage from other 80s Corman movies which was realistically the only way to get the movie made on such a tight budget. Wynorski does at least integrate this footage into his movie with considerable skill.

Shout! Factory’s DVD provides a very good anamorphic transfer and there are plenty of extras. These include two audio commentaries. The first, done early in the DVD era, features director Wynorski and it’s fun and informative. The second, done a few years later, features Wynorski and Traci Lords and it focuses as much on Traci Lords as on the movie. There’s also an interview with Lords.

Not of This Earth manages to be every bit as entertaining as Corman’s 1957 version. It offers everything you could want in an 80s Roger Corman movie. It was directed by Jim Wynorski, a guy who understands Corman’s movie-making philosophy perfectly and is totally in tune with it. And having learnt his movie-making skills from Corman he knows how to make a pretty decent-looking movie with virtually no money and he knows how to make such a movie fast-moving, slick, action-packed and sleazy.

Not of This Earth is terrific fun. Highly recommended.

I reviewed the Roger Corman version, Not of This Earth 1957), a while back.

Monday 16 January 2023

Cindy and Donna (1970)

Cindy and Donna is a 1970 drive-in movie released by Crown International and it’s a melodrama with a bit of humour and lots of T&A.

The opening sequence shows us a young guy and a young girl walking hand-in-hand along a beach. It’s all very romantic and G-rated and soft focus. You’d think this was going to be a sentimental romance. Once the opening credits are over we get a couple of blatant gratuitous panty shots and we breathe a sigh of relief. This is going to be a sleazy exploitation movie after all. Soon afterwards we get our first glimpse of boobs. Something we’ll be seeing plenty of as the movie progresses.

Cindy (Debbie Osborne) is a teenager who is starting to become uncomfortably aware of her awakening sexuality. She lives with her older sister Donna (Nancy Ison) and her parents Harriet and Ted. Actually Cindy is their daughter while Donna is Harriet’s daughter by a previous marriage.

The family lives the American Dream. By the time Ted arrives home Harriet is as drunk as a lord. When Ted does come home he only stays a few minutes, then he’s off to meet Alice (Alice Friedland). Alice is his latest whore. He spends most of his free time with a succession of whores. Alice combines prostitution with dancing in a sleazy bar and posing for nudie magazines. She thinks that posing for the magazines makes her a creative person. Donna is sleeping with her drug dealer boyfriend Greg. Cindy watches Donna having sex with Greg then runs to her bedroom for a bit of self-pleasuring. Harriet tries to persuade Ted’s two sleazy drinking buddies to take her to a motel for a bit of fun. And Ted and Donna are getting very close. Very close indeed. Maybe a bit too close if you get my drift. This is family life for the Weeks family.

Cindy is still a virgin. She has a boyfriend, Bob, but he’s moved away. They never did anything bad. They just held hands and gazed into each other’s eyes. Cindy thinks that’s how love should be. Not all that sweating and grunting that Donna and Greg get up to. Cindy thinks that sort of thing is nasty and dirty and the worst thing is that watching it excites her.

Donna gets manipulated into nude modelling and gets gang-banged in order to pay her drug debts to Greg but the little minx thoroughly enjoys it all. Cindy continues to obsess about sex and her best friend Karen introduces her to the joys of sapphic loving. Karen advises her that if she enjoyed this she’ll enjoy having sex with men even more so she should try it as soon as possible. Cindy explains that she doesn’t know any boys that she’s interested in but Karen assures her that it doesn’t matter - any man will do. Cindy does find a man but her choice is an unfortunate one.

And then we get the ending. Every other review on the internet spoils the ending but I’m not going to. Everybody hates the ending and I can see why. I can’t help feeling that it was inserted as a square-up. This was a common practice in exploitation movie from the 30s to the 50s and you see it occasionally in 1960s sexploitation movies. A square-up is an attempt to convince any authorities who might be considering banning the movie or prosecuting the distributors that really the movie is performing a public service by exposing wickedness and vice. The reasoning was that you could show naughty sex stuff as long as you made it clear that anyone who even thinks about having sex will have really really bad things happen to them. The ending certainly does come from nowhere and isn’t really consistent with the overall one of the movie.

Debbie Osborne is pretty good as Cindy. She captures the right blend of innocence and precociousness and she’s likeable. In fact the acting on the whole is surprisingly good.

This is another 70s movie that probably couldn’t get made today. Its attitude towards sex would be considered much too grown-up and honest.

This is a relatively tame movie by later 1970s standards. There’s plenty of sex and plenty of nudity but it’s all just T&A apart from the very occasional partial glimpse of pubic hair. By this time sexploitation movies aimed at the grindhouse circuit were getting way with a lot more but this is about as raunchy as you could get away with in 1970 if you were aiming at the drive-in market.

It has to be said that the young ladies are very attractive and they manage to be attractive without any silicon enhancement.

If you ignore the ending then this is actually not a bad coming-of-age movie and not a bad exploration of dysfunctional relationships. It is an exploitation movie but it’s quite well-crafted.

Cindy and Donna
is included in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection. This was one of the best-value DVD sets ever released. The quality of the movies is of course variable and there are a few clunkers but most of the movies are entertaining example of the drive-in movie and there are a few gems. Most of the transfers are quite acceptable (some are very good) and surprisingly most of the movies are in their correct aspect ratios and 126:9 enhanced. The set is can still be found if you’re prepared to dig around.

Cindy and Donna gets a 16:9 enhanced transfer. Image quality is by no means pristine but it’s quite OK. The colours look fine (the movie was shot widescreen and in colour).

I’ve reviewed a stack of movies from this set - The Babysitter (1969), Blue Money (1972), Hot Target (1985), Malibu High (1979), The Pom Pom Girls (1976), Van Nuys Blvd. (1979), Pick-up (1975) and Trip with the Teacher (1975).

Cindy and Donna is rather enjoyable with a very 1970 feel to it so if you dig that sort of trip it’s pretty groovy. Recommended.

Thursday 12 January 2023

Come Play With Me (1977)

Come Play With Me is a 1977 British sex comedy which has two major claims to fame. Firstly, it features the legendary Mary Millington. Secondly, it had the longest cinematic run in British history. That claim has been disputed but what isn’t disputed is that it ran continuously for four years. It was quite possibly the most successful of all the 70s British sex comedies.

The British Government is facing a crisis. The country is being flooded with counterfeit banknotes. The Minister tells the hapless Podsnap that he had better find this counterfeiting gang if he wants to keep his job.

Two members of the gang, Cornelius Clapworthy (George Harrison Marks) and Morrie Kelly (Alfie Bass), have scarpered with the printing press and the plates and they need to hide out from the other members of the gang. Clapworthy has found the perfect to take refuge - Bovington Hall.

Lady Bovington (Irene Handl) has turned the ancestral family home into a health farm but so far they haven’t attracted any paying customers. Her nephew Rodney (Jerry Lordan) comes up with a brilliant plan to make the health farm a surefire money-making concern. He’s just arrived back from France and he just happens to have about ten gorgeous girls with him. They’re very friendly girls and very uninhibited. Now what’s the problem with most health farms? Obviously, the fact that they’re no fun at all. How could a health farm be made fun? That’s easy. Have all the health treatments delivered by gorgeous naked or near-naked girls. His young lady friends are happy to oblige.

As you might expect the health farm is soon a roaring success.

While the health farm provides plenty of opportunities to show young ladies without their clothes on you can’t have too much nudity in a movie such as this. So the leader of the counterfeiting gang, Slasher (Ronald Fraser), just happens to have made a Soho strip club his headquarters.

Slasher is determined to track down Clapworthy and Kelly and as the trap closes on them they call on the girls for help. The girls want to help because Clapworthy has convinced them he’s an MI5 man on a dangerous undercover mission.

That’s about it for the plot, and it’s certainly thin. But this is after all a comedy and that thin plot provides the material for plenty of gags.

The British sex comedies of the 70s really were sex comedies - the comedy was as important as the nude girls. The comedy here is gently amusing but it’s also very good-natured. While there are undoubtedly people today who will manage to find lots of things in it to be offended by it’s a movie that really doesn’t have the slightest desire to be offensive or nasty or cruel. It’s a feelgood movie. If laughs and nude girls don’t make you feel good then this is not the movie for you.

There are lots of wonderful British comic actors in supporting roles and they’re in fine form. The girls handle the comedy pretty adroitly as well. Mary Millington would never have claimed to be a serious actress but she knew how to be sexy and amusing at the same time.

This movie was at the time and still is marketed as a Mary Millington movie. She originally had a fairly minor role but it was soon realised that she was going to be the movie’s main selling point so extra scenes were shot to give her lots more screen time. I’m not complaining.

Some sources claim that some scenes were in fact shot hardcore but that those scenes are now lost.

The Screenbound DVD offers a very good transfer and a couple of very worthwhile extras. The first is Sex Is My Business, an 8mm short in which Mary and her friends visit a sex shop. And what do you do when you visit a sex shop? You have sex of course. That’s why they call them sex shops. It’s an amusing little fantasy piece. The salesgirls all wear their salesgirl uniforms, which comprise an incredibly brief almost totally transparent nightie and absolutely nothing else. There’s no plot, just nudity and sex. It’s mostly fun as a snapshot of sex in the 70s.

The second notable extra is a documentary, Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions, which gives an overview of her life and career up to the time that the police finally hounded her to her death.

This movie is also available on Blu-Ray in the Mary Millington Movie Collection.

Come Play With Me is light and frothy and cheerful, everybody seems to be having fun, there’s an abundance of bare female flesh and there’s slightly naughty but really very innocent comedy. Come Play With Me is as playful as its title suggests. Recommended, and if you share my weird taste for 1970s British sex comedies then it’s highly recommended.

I’ve also reviewed Millington’s other well-known film, The Playbirds (1978), which I also recommend.

Saturday 7 January 2023

Crypt of Dark Secrets (1976)

Crypt of Dark Secrets is a zero-budget horror/hicksploitation/swampsploitation/sexploitation flick made in Louisiana. Nobody seems to have a good word to say for this movie but I’m willing to mount at least a partial defence of this one.

There’s an island in a remote stretch of the bayou and there’s a house there. No-one has been able to live in the house because it’s reputed to be haunted.

The middle-aged local sheriff explains to his younger partner that the haunting may be connected to the mysterious legend of Damballah. Damballah is a kind of witch or voodoo goddess who lives in the swamp and has lived there for centuries. It’s a very obscure legend but the cop is inclined to give it some credence. He’s seen plenty of weird things in that swamp.

That remote haunted house in the swamp now has a new tenant, Ted Watkins. Ted is a retired Army Ranger and Vietnam vet and after Vietnam nothing scares him. He has a stack of money which he keeps in the bread tin in his kitchen. He’s confident that only a complete idiot would dare to rob such a renowned tough guy.

As it happens there are two idiots who are indeed going to try to rob him. These guys are as dumb as rocks. The wife of one of them has at least enough sense to figure out that it would be advisable to leave no witnesses. They’ll have to kill Ted Watkins.

Killing Ted proves to be surprisingly easy, but now the thieves’ problems really begin.

Ted is dead but he doesn’t stay dead long. He is found by a strange girl he has often seen wandering in the swamp. There’s nobody living within ten miles of his cabin so there can’t be any such girl but he’s seen her and he knows she exists.

The girl is of course Damballah!

Damballah (played by Maureen Ridley) has all kinds of witchy powers. She can transform herself into a snake. Bringing dead Vietnam vets back to life is child’s play for her.

Damballah is fond of Ted. She thinks he could be the Chosen One, the man destined for her. She’s naturally pretty annoyed that someone killed him, even temporarily. Voodoo witch queens tend to look for revenge when that happens.

The problem with these kinds of off-the-wall cult movies is that people insist on judging them by the standards of regular movies. You can’t do that. By any objective standards, by any of the criteria that apply to mainstream movies, this is a terrible movie. I’ve never liked the idea of describing a movie as so bad it’s good. I think that misses the point. It’s more correct to say that cult movies are either good or bad according to different rules from mainstream movies.

The things that are bad about this movie aren’t really relevant. The acting is atrocious but you don’t watch a movie like this hoping to see an Oscar-worthy acting performance. The actors in a cult movie don’t have to be good in a conventional way, they have to deliver the goods in other ways. Take Maureen Ridley as Damballah in this movie. She’s stiff and she delivers her lines in an incredibly stilted way. But she’s supposed to be some weirdass supernatural voodoo queen. They don’t speak the way regular girls do. They speak in a weird portentous way. Maureen Ridley captures the right touch of weirdness. She looks exotic, she has a great body and she knows how to give off spooky sexy vibes. Her performance is bad by ordinary standards but perfect for this movie.

The interior scenes are dull and static but once the camera gets out into the bayou everything changes. The location shooting is excellent. And director Jack Weis does manage to achieve some genuine touches of foreboding.

The special effects are ultra-cheap. Damballah can transform herself into a snake. In 1976 even a big-budget major-studio movie probably could not have pulled off that kind of transformation scene. So all Weis does is to show us the snake, then there’s a cloud of mist, and then Damballah is standing there. It’s the oldest cheapest trick in the book for dealing with such scenes but if it’s done right it works and it doesn’t cost money.

The movie’s biggest selling point is undoubtedly Damballah’s naked dancing scenes and they work. They’re strange and sexy and you can’t accuse Weis of indulging in gratuitous nudity. No self-respecting supernatural voodoo queen would even think of dancing in the woods with her clothes on.

The basic premise is quite solid. There’s the supernatural spooky stuff, there’s the crime angle and there’s hidden pirate treasure. The right ingredients for a silly sexy horror flick.

Something Weird found a pretty decent print of this movie. They paired it with The Naked Witch (a movie which is a failure but an interesting failure) and added lots of extras. Most are strip-tease shorts. The Afro-Cuban Genii strip in particular is pretty terrific. That’s one energetic girl. I guess she takes her vitamins every morning. There’s also a zonked-out psychedelic bad acid trip short which is wall-to-wall female frontal nudity but it’s certainly trippy.

Crypt of Dark Secrets isn’t a lost classic but if you’re in the right mood it’s kinda fun. It helps if you have a taste for swampsploitation movies. Just make sure to have plenty of beer and popcorn. Recommended.

Thursday 5 January 2023

The Garden of Torment (1976)

The Garden of Torment (Le jardin des supplices) is a 1976 French film based very loosely on Octave Mirbeau’s 1899 novel of the same name (the title of which is sometimes rendered in English as The Torture Garden). Mirbeau was one of the major writers of the Decadent Movement of the 1890s. Part of the novel is set in China. The movie takes China in the late 1920s as its setting. It’s an interesting choice. China was in chaos. This was still the warlord era but it was increasingly clear that the real struggle for power would be between the Communists and the Nationalists.

Dr Antoine Durrieu (Roger Van Hool) has been involved in a scandal involving the supplying of cocaine. His friend the Minister protects him from the worst consequences but it seems advisable for Durrieu to leave France for a while. He is sent to China to run a hospital. His predecessor in the job mysteriously disappeared.

On board the ship en route to China Durrieu gets a taste of the kind of decadence he will find among the European community in China. He has to treat a priest for a venereal disease. There’s a sex murder. There’s lots of sexual activity. There’s also an air of hopelessness.

Running the hospital is an exercise in futility. Drugs and anaesthetics are sent regularly but they never reach the hospital. They are held up in Customs. The Customs service is controlled by an Englishman named Greenhill (Tony Taffin). He diverts the drugs for his own purposes. They end up going to warlord armies. Greenhill seems to be involved in some very murky political activities.

Durrieu is also an avid collector of Chinese art, a passion he shares with Greenhill. But no-one in Canton can buy Chinese art objects without Greenhill’s permission.

Dr Durrieu is not a terribly moral person but he does take being a doctor seriously. He decides it is necessary to get to know this Mr Greenhill.

He does get to know him. He also gets to know Greenhill’s daughter Clara (Jacqueline Kerry). And her friend Annie, a Chinese girl obsessed with death and sex.

Antoine Durrieu is a rather conflicted man. He thought of himself as being a bit of a hedonist and a decadent who had no interest in traditional morality but the things he sees in China make him realise that he isn’t as cynical as he thought. He is shocked by the violence and cruelty that he sees, much of which is intimately connected with Greenhill and his daughter. His outlook is complicated by the fact that he falls in love with Clara although he is deeply shocked by her obsessions with sex, death and cruelty.

Antoine is even more shocked when he discovers the things that go on in the garden attached to Greenhill’s mansion - the torture garden of the book’s title.

The European community in China has been enjoying a life of outrageous luxury and self-indulgence but that may be coming to an end. There seems to be revolution in the wind. The smarter Europeans are getting out.

Antoine knows that getting out would be a sensible option, but he is obsessed by Clara and won’t go without her. And Clara doesn’t intend to go anywhere. Clara is more than a little in love with death.

Antoine is a bit of an innocent. He liked to have his fun with whores and we see him doing just that at the start of the film but we get the impression he treated them very decently, and even with affection. He finds himself drawn into a world of cruelty but he is a man who is incapable of cruelty.

There’s definitely a strong de Sade influence at work in this film (as there was in the novel). There’s also a political subtext but it’s worth pointing out that Mirbeau’s novel was political in the context of 1890s politics, and the political obsessions of 1926 were not those of 1899 (or of 1976 when the movie was made). Mirbeau was attacking capitalism while the movie is more concerned with colonialism. I’m not sure it would be correct to see this as an anti-colonialist film though. It’s about corruption and power and cruelty as integral parts of human nature (which perhaps makes it more Sadeian). In fact I don’t see any overt political content here. The movie makes it clear that if there’s a revolution that sweeps away the old order the new order will be just as bad. Political power always corrupts. It’s a profoundly pessimistic view.

1976 was the height of the European cinematic craze for mixing art and erotica, with some film putting more emphasis on the art and some emphasising the erotic. It was obviously Emmanuelle that kicked off the craze. Other notable films of this type include The Story of O, Walerian Borowczyk’s Immoral Tales and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974).

Lionel Legros’s cinematography is impressive. On the whole it’s a visually lush film although quite shocking in places. And at times the costumes and hairstyles really are outrageously 1970s.

Christian Gion had mostly directed comedies and had never made anything remotely like this movie before. He thought it would be an interesting challenge and he does a fine job.

Nucleus Films have released this as a region-free Blu-Ray with extras including an extremely informative audio commentary by David Flint and an interview the film’s director. The transfer is excellent.

The Garden of Torment is erotic and it is arty, and it’s provocative and disturbing and convincingly decadent. Antoine Durrieu is passive but likeable figure, an observer of life rather than a participant. Clara Greenhill is a fascinatingly complex woman, both evil and weirdly sympathetic. Interesting stuff. Very highly recommended.

Sunday 1 January 2023

cult movies that excited me in 2022

Some of the cult movies that excited me in 2022.

Pasquale Festa Campanile's The Slave (AKA Scacco alla regina AKA Check to the Queen, 1969). Euro-decadence. A tale of dominance and submission, but not necessarily sexual. It's more complicated and twisted than that.

Just Jaeckin’s Gwendoline (1984). A kinky sexy adventure romp, inspired by the fetish comic strips of John Willie.

The Kyoto Connection (1973). A Japanese psycho-sexual thriller starring Christina Lindberg.

Jean Rollin's The Living Dead Girl (1982). An intelligent thoughtful zombie movie with plenty of gore.

Bruno Gantillon's Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay (Morgane et ses nymphes) is a 1971 French erotic horror movie with a definite surrealist tinge. A strange entrancing dreamlike movie.

Luis Buñuel's masterpiece of surrealism, Belle de Jour (1967).

Dimis Dadiras's The Wild Pussycat (1969), a very stylish twisted Greek exploitation movie.

Jess Franco's The Inconfessable Orgies of Emmanuelle (1982), a deceptively simple rather witty look at sexual mores.

Paolo Cavara's Plot of Fear (1976). A giallo with its own distinctive flavour, at times slightly ironic, slightly humorous and slightly fantastic. It’s also perverse and sleazy.