Saturday 29 April 2023

La mano de un hombre muerto (1962)

La mano de un hombre muerto (The Sadistic Baron von Klaus) is a very early Jess Franco horror film, shot in black-and-white in northern Spain, and it’s one of his most straightforward gothic horror movies. This 1962 release is the sort of movie that demonstrates that Franco was perfectly capable of making conventional tightly-constructed films, and making them extremely well, if he chose to do so.

It’s also, for various reasons, a key entry in Franco’s filmography.

A young girl has been murdered in the village of Holfen, and another has disappeared. There are rumours among the villagers that the Baron von Klaus has been up to his old tricks. But which Baron von Klaus? Is it the notorious 17th century baron, who tortured a killed a number of girls, or one of his currently living descendants? The original baron was cursed by the father of one of his victims and supposedly his spirit still haunts the district. There are those who claim to have seen him.

It’s also, for various reasons, a key entry in Franco’s filmography.

A young girl has been murdered in the village of Holfen, and another has disappeared. There are rumours among the villagers that the Baron von Klaus has been up to his old tricks. But which Baron von Klaus? Is it the notorious 17th century baron, who tortured a killed a number of girls, or one of his currently living descendants? The original baron was cursed by the father of one of his victims and supposedly his spirit still haunts the district. There are those who claim to have seen him.

The von Klaus family lives, fittingly, in a gothic pile surrounded by swamp land. There’s the heir to the tile, Ludwig, and his financée. There’s his mother, who is dying. And there is his uncle, Max von Klaus (Howard Vernon). The mother wants her son to get away from Holfen before the curse catches up to him, one way or another.

Inspector Borowski (Georges Rollin) is on the case and he’s brimming with confidence. He doesn’t intend to pay any attention to nonsense like ghosts and curses. He doesn’t want any help but a reporter named Karl (from Maidens and Murderers magazine) is determined to help him anyway. He might also be able to get some help from a couple of wood-cutters who seem to know a lot about the von Klaus legend.

More murders follow. There are quite a few women who might be in line to be among the next victim. There’s Ludwig’s fiancée Karine (Paula Martel), there’s Max’s mistress Lida (Ana Castor), and there’s the sexy Margaret who works at the hotel that seems to have a link with the killings. So the audience has three women in danger to worry about. And the inspector has not ruled out the possibility that the murderer is a woman. He has ruled out the possibility that the murderer is a ghost, but whether his confidence on that point is justified remains to be seen. 

While this is a conventionally made movie without the stylistic excesses of later Franco it is a bit unusual (for 1962) in its overt blending of horror and eroticism. It’s also in some ways a precursor of the giallo genre. It even features a sinister black-gloved figure who may be the killer! Whether this movie will turn out to be more gothic horror or more giallo is something you’ll have to watch it to find out.

Franco favourite Howard Vernon gives a fine performance as Max, a character who isn’t quite sinister but you get the feeling that maybe he could be. Ludwig von Klaus is just as ambiguous and Hugo Blanco does a fine job with the rôle. The acting in general is very decent.

By the halfway stage you might be thinking that this movie is incredibly restrained for a Franco movie but the director’s trademark interests in perverse sex with strong sadomasochistic overtones gradually become more apparent and in the later stages we get a couple of scenes including a dungeon sequence that must have really shocked audiences in 1962. And while there’s not much nudity by later Franco standards, there’s a lot by the standards of 1962. Even at this early stage of his career Franco was pushing the boundaries.

This movie was shot in black-and-white in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. If you associate the name Jess Franco with a technically slapdash approach you may be quite surprised by this one. It’s technically very proficient and very professional. And there are no zooms. There’s some nice moody location shooting. 

The biggest problem with The Sadistic Baron von Klaus is that it’s a bit too slow and a bit too long. Once it gets going it does deliver the goods however. What’s most significant about it is that for the first time we see the overt influence of de Sade. It also features the first really full-blown Franco erotic visual set-piece. If you’re a serious Francophile that makes it essential viewing. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981)

Just Jaeckin’s 1981 Lady Chatterley’s Lover suffered the fate of all his films. Critics hated it because they hated Just Jaeckin. They had never forgiven him for the success of Emmanuelle and they never would. They were deeply upset that what they saw as a nasty little porno movie had smashed box-office records around the world. Prior to that erotic movies had been safely confined within the sex film ghetto and critics could ignore them. Suddenly Emmanuelle came sweeping out of that ghetto and invaded and conquered the mainstream. And made a lot more money that the depressing serious arty films that critics tended to like. The resentment of critics was focused on Just Jaeckin, and on Sylvia Kristel. Their careers would be permanently blighted.

Emmanuelle was bad enough, but it was based on an erotic novel. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was based on a novel by D.H. Lawrence, a proper writer of proper literature. Critics would have hoped that the novel would be given a dull serious arty adaptation, not fall into the hands of a man they regarded as a sleazy pornographer. And to have the lead character portrayed by a mere porn star (which is how they regarded Sylvia Kristel) was just too much to cope with.

In fact of course Jaeckin was the right director for such a project, and Kristel was the perfect actress. They were not going to be intimated by the eroticism of the subject matter. And Kristel was not going to have any problems doing nude scenes and sex scenes. Neither Jaeckin nor Kristel had any intention of making a porn movie. They intended to make a serious arty psychological erotic movie, with the eroticism being as essential an ingredient as the psychological elements.

Jaeckin and his cinematographer Robert Fraisse have chosen to use a very muted colour palette. Everything looks earthy. Which of course is just the look that Lawrence’s novel requires. Except for the opening sequence, when we see the bright red jackets of the fox hunters. It’s extremely jarring, and deliberately so. The jackets are the colour of blood and the men are engaged in a violent pursuit. That opening sequence takes place on the day that the First World War begins and a frenzy of bloodletting is about to rip these people’s lives apart.

It’s certainly going to tear apart the lives of Sir Clifford Chatterley (Shane Briant) and his new bride Lady Constance (Sylvia Kristel), whom everyone calls Connie.

Clifford returns from the war a cripple. It’s not just that he can’t walk. He can’t perform his husbandly duties in the bedroom. Given that Clifford is a young man, if they obey the social conventions that means that Connie will have to go without sex for the rest of her life. Clifford doesn’t think it’s reasonable to expect her to make such a sacrifice, and Connie doesn’t think she could do it.

You have to bear in mind that this is a story that is as much about class as sex. Clifford and Connie belong to the aristocracy, and the aristocracy consider rigid morality to be something for the middle class to worry about. The social rules don’t apply to the aristocracy. Clifford suggests to Connie that she should take a lover. He naturally assumes she will choose a man from their own class.

He certainly didn’t expect her to pick the gamekeeper, Mellors (Nicholas Clay). Mellors is lower class. As far as Clifford is concerned such people are barely human. You treat them the way you’d treat a dog or a horse.

But Connie does pick Mellors. They begin a passionate affair. Whether it’s love or not could be debated. They think it is, but Mellors is sure that Connie would never want a man like him for anything but sex. And if she had to choose, he is sure she would give him up rather than give up Clifford. There’s obviously the potential fir the situation to get very awkward if Clifford ever finds out that Connie is having sex with a mere servant.

The sex scenes between Connie and Mellors are sweaty and steamy without being crass. They are taking perfectly normal healthy pleasure in each other’s bodies.

The performances by the three leads are all excellent. Shane Briant as Clifford has a tricky rôle. He’s not a character that audiences in the 80s were going to find sympathetic, but the audience has to care what happens to him, at least to some extent. Briant handles it better than you might expect although the audience is never really going to be on his side.

Nicholas Clay as Mellors doesn’t overdo things. He doesn’t make Mellors too much of a cliché.

Sylvia Kristel is excellent. Connie is a woman who is very very confused about her emotions and her judgment is clouded by the strength of her sexual desire for Mellors. Given that this is Emmanuelle herself it’s no surprise that Kristel has no problems conveying the strength of Connie’s sexual urges. Her first glimpse of Mellors is of his naked body and Kristel very subtly and very economically lets us know how excited Connie is by the sight. She goes home and masturbates in what is probably the most tasteful female masturbation scene ever put on celluloid. And it’s an absolutely necessary and crucial scene. This is the point at which Connie realises that her desires have made her choice for her. She is going to sleep with Mellors.

The movie has a slightly artificial feel which I suspect is deliberate. This story was not going to work at all with an 80s look. The audience has to have the sense that this is a totally different world. It works for me.

This movie received poor reviews at the time and did indifferent business at the box office. Most online reviewers seem to approach it with the assumption that its poor reputation must be deserved so they don’t really give it a chance. If you approach it with an open mind you’ll find that it actually works pretty well. Jaeckin was trying to pull off a difficult balancing act, making the movie erotic without being a mere skin flick. I think he manages rather well.

Jaeckin’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover has enough of an authentic D.H. Lawrence feel to it, it has an interesting and effective visual style and a fine central performance by Sylvia Kristel. It’s much much better than its reputation would lead you to believe. Highly recommended.

A few years later Sylvia Kristel made another movie that has also been savaged by critics and reviewers. That movie (which I reviewed a while back) is Mata Hari and it’s also a whole lot better than its reputation would suggest.

Sunday 23 April 2023

Jeunes filles impudiques (AKA Schoolgirl Hitchhikers, 1973)

Jeunes filles impudiques is one of the softcore movies Jean Rollin made in the early 70s, because even film-makers have to eat. In English-speaking markets it was given the title Schoolgirl Hitchhikers although there are no schoolgirls in it and properly speaking no hitchhikers either. But it is the kind of title that distributors of exploitation movies tend to like.

These movies are often contemptuously dismissed even by keen Rollin fans. In the case of Bacchanales Sexuelles, made a year later, that’s rather unfair. Bacchanales Sexuelles is quite an interesting movie and it has plenty of Rollinesque touches and the sort of surrealist vibe that Rollin fans love so much. Jeunes filles impudiques is perhaps not quite so ambitious.

Monique (Joëlle Coeur) and Jackie (Gilda Arancio) are on a hiking trip in the woods. They come across an abandoned villa which seems like the ideal place to spend the night. Much more comfortable than sleeping in a tent. It might have been wise to check first, to make sure the villa really was abandoned, but the girls were too anxious to engage in some hot bedroom action with each other to waste time on such precautions.

In fact the villa is occupied, by gangster Fred (Willy Braque).

The girls are not too worried when they discover they’re not alone in the house. They introduce themselves to Fred, by immediately having sex with him. That’s always a good way to break the ice in awkward social situations.

The three of them have a lot of fun and the following morning the girls leave, to resume their camping trip.

There is however a complication. Fred’s boss Béatrice (Marie Hélène Règne) shows up. She’s come to collect the stolen jewels stashed in the safe. But when the safe is opened the jewels are gone. The gangsters jump to the obvious conclusion that the two girls stole the jewels. Fred sets off in pursuit.

Catching the girls is easy. Béatrice tortures Jackie but can’t get any information out of her. Jackie denies any knowledge of the whereabouts of the jewels.

Béatrice is the sort of woman who likes torturing girls. She never goes anywhere without her trusty cane. Meanwhile Monique makes her escape and sets off to fetch help. For some inexplicable reason she doesn’t go to the police, she goes to a private detective named Harry (Pierre Julien).

Harry regards her story with scepticism but he can’t afford to refuse a client, and Monique seems like a nice girl. He’d like to help her. He thinks the gangsters (assuming they exist) have probably left but they might come back. So he’ll stake out the villa. In fact three of them - Monique, Harry and Harry’s pretty young female secretary (played by Reine Thirion) - will be in on the stake-out. Harry has a gun, as does his secretary (she acts more as his partner than his secretary and she knows how to handle a gun).

The gangsters do return and things get complicated. Just about everybody (good guys and bad guys alike) ends up being taken hostage at some point.

It’s played strictly for fun. It’s more like a classical farce than a hardboiled crime thriller. And it is fun.

Marie Hélène Règne’s performance as Béatrice is spot on - she plays her as a sinister sexy kinky melodrama villainess which is exactly the way she needed to be played.

Joëlle Coeur made several movies for Rollin and she’s very good. The acting overall is effective, once you understand that the whole thing is not meant to be taken seriously.

Rollin himself plays a minor rôle.

There’s a lot of gunplay including a full-scale shootout that wouldn’t be out of place in a western. But nobody gets hurt. This is a good-natured movie.

Jeunes filles impudiques achieved its objective. It made a lot of money and got Rollin back on his feet financially.

It’s a movie that offers some action, a lot of light comedy, lots of nudity and lots of simulated sex. The fact that the three actresses who disrobe - Joëlle Coeur, Gilda Arancio and Reine Thirion - are very hot doesn’t hurt. And Rollin makes the sex scenes genuinely erotic - these people really do convince us that their characters are having a good time.

The Maison Rouge Blu-Ray offers an acceptable transfer although there is some very slight print damage.

If you want to check out Rollin’s softcore films then Bacchanales Sexuelles is a better place to start since it feels more like a real Rollin movie (and it really is worth seeing). But Jeunes filles impudiques is enjoyable as silly sexy fun. Recommended.

Wednesday 19 April 2023

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (AKA Gently Before She Dies and Excite Me, Your Vice) is a 1972 giallo and one of Sergio Martino’s most admired movies. It’s based on Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story The Black Cat.

Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli) is a writer. He was a successful writer but after his mother’s death he gave in to booze and self-pity. Now he can’t even get published. He still has just enough money to maintain his villa although it seems that he pays the bills by selling the furniture.

He lives with his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg). The have a black maid named Brenda. Oliviero seems to be attracted to Brenda although this could just be a way of annoying his wife.

This is not exactly a marriage made in heaven. Oliviero brutalises and humiliates Irina. We assume he suffers from major feelings of inadequacy, probably both professional and sexual.

Their decadent lifestyle includes regularly playing host to a bunch of hippies.

Oliviero makes a date with his girlfriend Fausta. Their affair started ten years earlier when he was a schoolteacher and she was a schoolgirl.

There is of course a murder.

And another murder. At this stage it seems that this will be a typical giallo with a crazed killer stalking women. Then there’s a plot twist and the movie changes gears. It begins to focus on a romantic triangle involving Oliviero, Irina and Floriana (Edwige Fenech). Floriana has just arrived for an extended stay.

Floriana is some relation to Oliviero. She’s young, beautiful and sexy. She’s also highly sexed. Within a day or so of her arrival she’s slept with three of the characters in the movie.

It’s a complex romantic triangle. Floriana is sleeping with Irina as well as Oliviero.

It’s obvious that there’s the potential for trouble and we can guess that the trouble is likely to involve murder.

The original crazed killer plot-line isn’t totally forgotten.

There’s plenty of sexual jealousy and there’s bitterness and there’s craziness.

And there is a black cat. His name is Satan. And he has a part to play in this story.

While obviously lots of extra plot has been added the essential ingredients of Poe’s story are there.

The title of the movie comes from a line in an earlier Sergio Martino giallo, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh. It was a line that just had to be used as a movie title.

Edwige Fenech looks stunning and gives a fine performance as the dangerously seductive Floriana. Anita Strindberg as Irina and Luigi Pistilli as Oliviero are also very good.

Ernesto Gastaldi contributed to the screenplay so it’s no surprise that the plot works even if it’s not strikingly original.

This movie doesn’t have the glamour we usually associate with the giallo genre. It’s moody and it takes place in an enclosed world in which suspicions can quickly ripen into paranoia. I suppose you could call this movie a giallo-tinged gothic psychological thriller but it’s close enough to being a giallo to satisfy most fans.

Sergio Martino directs with a sure hand. Maybe there aren’t the spectacular visual set-pieces that you get in some giallos but overall it’s visually impressive. While most giallos have a self-consciously modern urban look this is more of a rural giallo with a time setting that is never precisely specified.

Arrow have released this movie on DVD and also on Blu-Ray. The DVD transfer is good and there are plenty of extras.

Edwige Fenech is definitely the movie’s single biggest asset. There’s an interesting decadent feel and it’s a bit more plot-driven than most giallos. There’s plenty of entertainment value here. Highly recommended.

Saturday 15 April 2023

My Tale Is Hot (1964)

My Tale Is Hot is a devilish 1964 American sexploitation movie, belonging firmly to the nudie-cutie sub-genre. It was written and directed by Peter Perry Jr.

Lucifer is feeling rather downhearted. Business has been slow in Hell. There don’t seem to be enough sinners any more. He’s particularly depressed that it’s been so long since he tempted a faithful husband into eternal perdition. Then he reads that the Ladies’ House Companion has just chosen its Man of the Year. The magazine has hailed Ben-Hur Ova as the world’s most faithful husband. Now this is a challenge worthy of any Devil. If can tempt Ben-Hur to stray from the path of faithfulness maybe his assistant Saturna (a devilish babe) will stop making fun of him.

Lucifer pops up out of the ground in Ben-Hur’s backyard. He has a plan that he considers to be fool-proof.

He suggests to Ben-Hur that confining himself to one woman is selfish. There are so many other women deserving of such a fine handsome man (in fact Ben-Hur is short overweight and ugly). What Ben-Hur needs is a swimming pool in his backyard. Lucifer can supply a pool, and the pool comes with girls included as a package deal.

Lucifer offers Ben-Hur lots of other feminine temptations. No man could resist this sort of temptation.

This movie was made on a budget of almost nothing, with sets that would be considered crude in a high school play and with painted backdrops. Apart from whatever they paid to the cast members it looks like the reminder of the budget amounted to maybe a couple of hundred bucks. The swimming pool that Lucifer offers Ben-Hur actually looks like a smallish backyard goldfish pond.

What was so great about the heyday of American sexploitation cinema is that if you could get hold of a camera then all you needed in order to make a movie was a few girls willing to take their clothes off. And in the 60s (even the early 60s) it was seemingly incredibly easy to find girls willing to disrobe for the camera. It was truly a golden age. And in this case a truly extraordinary number of young women were willing to shed their clothes in the name of art.

The movie is a kind of throwback to the days of burlesque, with a mixture of unclad girls and very obvious comedy routines. The main difference is that the comics in burlesque were usually painfully unfunny whereas this movie is fairly amusing. The extreme obviousness of the jokes adds to the charm.

There are lots of girls. All of them are pretty and all of them get naked. It’s all just T&A (in 1964 you weren’t going to get away with frontal nudity) but there is a huge amount of nudity.

You also get archive footage of legendary stripper Candy Barr. This footage is clumsily shoehorned in but since this is the great Candy Barr it would be churlish to complain.

My Tale Is Hot
has a rather engaging innocence. The girls all seem rather sweet and give the impression that appearing in a nudie movie was a fun way to earn some pocket money. They didn’t have to do anything sexual, just take their clothes off.

This movie is basically a series of scenes of nude girls cavorting about, interspersed with comic sketches.

The two lead actors, Jack Little as Ben-Hur and Max Gardens (billed as Manny Goodtimes) as Lucifer are outrageously hammy but without being irritating. Max Gardens is actually quite funny.

There is a kind of plot twist at the end which explains why Lucifer has such a tough time trying to tempt Ben-Hur.

My Tale Is Hot
was paired with another Peter Perry-directed feature, The Joys of Jezebel (1970), on one of the fabulous Something Weird double-header DVDs. There's quite a bit of print damage - I imagine the source material was in very bad shape. The disc isn’t easy to get hold of these days but there are still copies around if you’re prepared to look hard enough. The extras include an entire feature film, Go Down Death, various trailers, a strange cartoon about Satan and a nudie loop featuring Candy Barr.

My Tale Is Hot is a silly good-natured rather goofy movie with very little in the way of plot. If you’re susceptible to the odd charm of the nudie-cutie genre then this is one of the more likeable examples. I do have that susceptibility so I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Thursday 13 April 2023

Death Walks at Midnight (1972)

Death Walks at Midnight (also released as Cry Out in Terror) is a 1972 giallo directed by Luciano Ercoli.

Sleazy journalist Gio Baldi (Simón Andreu) persuades model Valentina (played by Ercoli’s wife Nieves Navarro although she’s billed here as Susan Scott) to sample a new hallucinogenic drug, HDS. He tells her it’s a legitimate scientific experiment. She should never have believed him. He works for a trashy scandal magazine. During her drug trip Valentina sees a vision of a woman being murdered by a man with a spiked steel glove (an interesting twist on the black glove giallo cliché).

She’s pretty disturbed and she’s even more disturbed when she finds out that there was a real murder that happened exactly this way six months earlier.

So we have some giallo paranoia and that paranoia builds when Valentina thinks she sees the murderer. In fact she thinks the murderer tried to kill her.

Valentina tries to persuade her boyfriend Stefano (Peter Martell) that she’s in danger. He assumes that the drug has made her flip out.

Inspector Serino (Carlo Gentili) is however rather interested, although sceptical.

The problem for Valentina is that neither the killer not the victim in her vision look like the killer and victim in the actual murder case. Maybe it really was just a drug vision. But she doesn’t think so. She thinks she knows something about a real murder but she doesn’t know what it is that she knows, or what the killing might have been about.

She is pretty sure she’s being followed.

And she keeps seeing the killer from her drug experience.

No-one really believes Valentina, except perhaps for Verushka. Verushka’s sister was the murder victim in the case six months earlier.

There are the usual giallo plot twists. Valentina is in extreme danger but nobody will help her because nobody believes her. There are various odd characters flitting in and out of the action. There’s a weird guy who wants to warn Valentina about something. There’s a middle-aged professor. There are two very creepy hoods. Valentina visits a lunatic asylum. She sees the killer everywhere she goes. To make things worse she is aware that she was under the influence of drugs when she saw, or thought she saw, the killing. She can’t be absolutely certain about what she witnessed. And of course the viewer can’t be sure if she saw a murder of if the drugs just twisted her mind.

The Milan setting is used very well. There’s a lot of glamour. And there’s quite a bit of blood.

The name Valentina will remind some viewers of the comic-book character created by the great Guido Crepax.

You won’t find spectacular visual set-pieces in this movie. As a director Ercoli is a craftsman rather than an artist. He lacks the flair of a Bava or an Argento. But he’s a skilled craftsman and he understands pacing and he knows how to achieve the right overall look.

The movie’s biggest asset is Ernesto Gastaldi’s excellent script. Gastaldi wrote lots of giallos, including lots of the very best giallos (in fact he was one of the most notable writers in Italian genre movies in general). There are three credited writers on the film but in fact the script was entirely Gastaldi’s work. He knows the genre. He knows what works and what doesn’t. You’re never quite sure which characters are going to be significant.

Simón Andreu and Peter Martell are very good and the supporting cast is fine with several delightfully over-the-top performances to add some colour.

Nieves Navarro makes an excellent heroine - she’s sometimes naïve, sometimes smart, she never entirely gives way to panic and she adds just a touch of ambiguity. You have seven or eight characters at least in this movie who could potentially be murderers and there’s always that slight doubt about Valentina’s sanity.

Luciano Ercoli directed only a handful of movies, including three giallos - this one plus Death Walks in High Heels (1971) and The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970).

The Arrow Blu-Ray provides a very nice transfer. It includes quite a few extras, the highlight being the audio commentary by Tim Lucas which is excellent (as his commentaries always are). Both English and Italian language options are available. This being an Italian movie there is of course no original version of the soundtrack. Both the Italian and English tracks were post-dubbed. So it doesn’t matter which one you choose.

Death Walks at Midnight might not be a great giallo but it’s a solid entertaining effort, more plot-driven than most giallos. Highly recommended.

Saturday 8 April 2023

Slithis (1978)

Slithis (AKA Spawn of the Slithis) is a low-budget American sci-fi/horror movie released in 1978. A slime monster from the deep is on a killing rampage in Venice Beach, California.

At first it was just dogs. It was seeing a mutilated dog that first got high school journalism teacher Wayne Connors (Alan Blanchard) interested. The police think it’s some weird religious cult. Then it’s the turn of a couple living near the canal. They’re pretty badly mutilated. The police still think it’s cultists. Wayne smells a story and in the murder house he finds something odd. It looks like mud but Wayne takes a sample and gets his chemist buddy Dr John (Dennis Falt) to analyse it.

It turns out to be weird stuff. Both organic and inorganic. And radioactive. Dr John speculates that it might have something to do with a leak of radioactive waste from a nuclear plant a few years bak, and it might have some connection with some biochemical experiments that a scientist attached to the nuclear plant was working on. The scientist was working on a substance he called slithis, a substance with some very strange properties.

There’s another gruesome killing. Wayne is more and more convinced that these are not cult killings. He’s sure that slithis has something to do with it. And based on what a wino tells him he witnessed near the canal Wayne thinks it’s some kind of slithis monster.

Wayne eventually figures out that he’s not going to get any help from the authorities so he’ll have to confront the monster, with some help from fisherman Chris Alexander (Mello Alexandria) and from Dr John. Wayne’s wife Jeff also helps out. No, I don’t know why she’s called Jeff.

There’ll have to be a showdown with the monster and it will take place on the monster’s home ground, the sea.

While there are touches of 70s paranoia this is basically a 1950s monster movie. A monster created by radioactivity is of course classic 50s monster movie stuff but the whole tone and structure of the movie is very 1950s. It’s a 50s monster movie with 1970s environmental concerns added to the mix. Fortunately it doesn’t bludgeon us with a political message. It makes a point about the environment quickly and effectively and then gets back to its real business - providing us with entertainment.

It’s the mix of 50s and 70s sensibilities that makes the movie work. We have a journalist hero who enlists the aid of a scientist and they can’t convince the authorities that there’s a real threat. The monster was created by radioactivity. The monster is played by a guy in a rubber suit. That’s all pure 50s stuff, but then a lot of the action takes place in the seedy underbelly of California and there’s a lot of blood and gore, both of which are very 70s features.

The guy in a rubber suit stuff works surprisingly well. The monster looks weird and a bit gross.

Writer-director Stephen Traxler wisely doesn’t try for anything overly ambitious in the way of special effects. He just didn’t have the money. He goes for cheap effects which work.

It’s just a bit slow early on but the pacing gradually picks up and the movie does deliver the goods when we get to the mayhem.

The acting is passable enough. Hy Pyke in a small part as a cop gives the hammiest performance you’ll ever see. It doesn’t quite fit the tone of the movie but it’s fun to watch.

There’s no sleaze in this film. The producers wanted a PG rating and (surprisingly in view of the gore) and they got it.

Slithis turned out to be a big money-maker (in fact it apparently made millions which was pretty good for a movie that cost $100,000) but sadly Stephen Traxler didn’t get to see any of that money. Not getting paid was one of the hazards of low-budget movie-making in those days.

has had a few home video releases. I believe there’s now a Blu-Ray. My copy is the German DVD which includes both the German-dubbed version and the original English-language version. It offers a good 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer.

Slithis has its problems and it has some pacing issues early on but overall it’s a lot of fun. A good old-fashioned monster movie that doesn’t try to be too clever. It would have been great to see this one at a drive-in. Watching it at home with plenty of beer and popcorn is probably an equally enticing proposition. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Centerfold Girls (1974)

Centerfold Girls was made in 1974 and it can be considered as an early slasher movie, before the slasher movie genre had coalesced into its classic form.

Director John Peyser had a very long career in television although he worked intermittently on feature films in various capacities. Centerfold Girls is an aberration in his career - it’s his only foray into horror and it’s his only foray into exploitation film-making.

Centerfold Girls is about a serial killer who kills nude models. At one point he calls himself Clement Dunne although whether that’s his real name is not entirely clear but for convenience we’ll refer to him by that name. Dunne obviously has some serious issues with women and some serious hangups about sex. He has concentrated all his obsessive hatreds on nude models. We’re not specifically told that his motivations are religious, although it might well be possible. It might just be a product of his fear of women and his shame and guilt about sex.

He has decided to go through a nudie calendar from a girlie magazine and kill the twelve featured models one by one.

As the movie opens he has already killed once. We see him disposing of the body. He seems emotionless. Perhaps killing has temporarily emptied him out psychologically. He treats the body like a slab of meat. It’s a fairy chilling scene.

The rest of the movie comprises three distinct segments, almost mini-movies, the connecting link between them being that each one involves Dunne in stalking one of the calendar girls.

Jackie is a nude model but she has a daytime job as well. She’s a nurse. She’s applied for a position as nurse at an isolated summer camp. On her way there she encounters a hippie chick who seems lost and confused. She’s heading in the same direction as Jackie. Jackie takes pity on her and offer her a lift. That proves to be a big mistake. She makes an even bigger mistake by inviting the girl to stay the night. Jackie is staying in a luxury house modern house owned by one of her relatives.

This was the time of hippie hysteria. In the wake of the Manson murders many people believed that murderous gangs of hippies were roaming the country, leaving behind them a trail of terror and violence.

The hippie chick’s hippie friends, a man and two women, turn up and subject Jackie to a night of humiliation and terror, topped off with rape. Jackie is therefore relieved the next day when a kindly neighbour shows up and offers to drive her home. Unfortunately the kindly neighbour is in fact Clement Dunne.

In the second segment a motley assortment of people set off for a weekend in an isolated house on an island. The house is luxurious enough but the generator doesn’t work so there’s no electricity. There’s also no telephone. The group includes three nude models. They’ll be doing a series of photo shoots. Also along is a photographer and an older couple who handle the business side.

They don’t know that Clement Dunne is on the island as well. His target is Charly, one of the models.

It seems as though by the time Dunne is finished there won’t be anybody left alive on the island.

In the the third segment Dunne has a new target, Vera. She’s an airline stewardess and part-time girlie magazine model.

Vera knows she is being stalked. In fact Dunne makes sure that all his victims know that they’re being stalked. She decides to leave town and hide out in a motel. Her car breaks down and like Jackie she makes the mistake of trusting strangers. As a result she gets raped. She’s so relieved when a mild-mannered travelling salesman gives her a lift. The salesman is of course Clement Dunne.

I think it’s a mistake to try to see this as either a feminist or an anti-feminist movie. It has no political axe to grind. It does take a very sympathetic view of the nude models. They’re nice girls. They’re not nuns and they’re not promiscuous. They’re just ordinary.

Of course the subject matter offers the opportunity to add lots of nudity. And there’s a great deal of nudity in this movie, although no frontal nudity.

The nudity is taken for granted. The fact that the female characters pose nude is not treated as a big deal. There’s no hint of moral condemnation of any of the female targets of Dunne’s hatred. There are characters in the movie deserving of moral condemnation but the nude models are not among them.

Some of the features of the classic slasher movie are already in place here but there are some differences from later movies in the genre. The victims are not teenagers. The violence isn’t graphic. It has shock value but this comes mostly from the obvious hatred displayed by Clement Dunne (which is aided by a nicely chilling performance by Andrew Prine as Dunne). And the shock value also comes from the terror and helplessness of the victims.

Peyser builds the suspense in each segment fairly effectively. The fate of the girls isn’t quite inevitable. It comes about in part as a result of errors of judgment on their part. Had they been a bit more cautious they might not have been in such danger. We feel there’s always the chance they might escape. I’m not going to tell you if any of them do escape.

The movie was shot on 16mm film and probably never looked sensational. Dark Sky’s DVD release offers a transfer that is acceptable but far from pristine. There’s graininess and print damage. I don’t mind that. It adds to the scuzziness of the movie.

Centerfold Girls is interesting as a step on the road that led to the slasher movie craze. And it’s quite an effective movie, and it’s interesting structurally. Recommended.

Sunday 2 April 2023

It! (1967)

It! belongs to a rather obscure horror movie genre, the golem movie. There haven’t been very many such movies. There was The Golem co-directed by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen in 1914. Paul Wegener and Carl Boese directed a remake in 1920. There was The Legend of Prague, directed by Julien Duvivier in 1936, and one or two others.

The golem is a Jewish legend, or a series of Jewish legends, of inanimate figures usually of clay that can be brought to life. The most famous such story is of a golem created by the 16th century rabbi of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalel. This golem served to defend the Jews of Prague who were under threat at the time. This is the version of the legend on which It! is based.

It! was written, produced and directed by Herbert J. Leder and released by Seven Arts in 1967.

Professor Grove (Ernest Clark) is a museum curator in London. His assistant is Pimm (Roddy McDowall). There is a major fire in the warehouse in which some of the museum’s collection is stored. Only one piece survives the fire, a very large 16th century European primitive statue.

Professor Grove is killed in an accident, an accident involving the statue.

Pimm is an amateur occultist. He lives with his mother, a spiritualist and medium. His mother is in poor health. Very poor health. In fact she’s dead. But Pimm is a devoted son and continues to care for her.

As you may have gathered Pimm is just a bit mad.

Pimm is in love with Professor Groves’ daughter Ellen (Jill Haworth). She is clearly not interested. Pimm is somewhat upset that his feelings for Ellen are not reciprocated.

He has another reason to be bitter. He assumed that he would succeed Professor Groves as curator but the job is instead given to Weal (Aubrey Richards), a humourless martinet who takes a dislike to his young assistant.

Pimm is convinced that the statue has certain powers. There’s a Hebrew inscription on the statue which leads Pimm to believe that it is a golem. In fact he has reason to suspect that it is the golem created by Judah Loew ben Bezalel.

According to the inscription the golem can be brought to life by placing a scroll in its mouth. All one has to do is find that scroll and Pimm thinks he knows how to find it.

The golem has no will of its own. If it is activated it will serve the man who activated it.

For a man like Pimm this is a major temptation. The golem could help him get all those things he wants, like the curator’s job. And Ellen. Pimm figures that the way to succeed with women is to impress them. His ideas on the things that a woman would be impressed by are a little strange and disturbing.

Pimm does have a problem. An American museum has made an offer for the golem and they’ve sent an expert to close the deal. That expert might not just take the golem away, he might take Ellen as well.

Pimm also discovers that while the golem can give him unimaginable power that power comes at a price.

The biggest strength of this movie is Roddy McDowall. He was just so good at playing frustrated inept characters like Pimm. Jill Howarth is reasonably good as Ellen. The other cast members are adequate enough.

The golem itself looks cool and genuinely scary and menacing. It even looks fairly convincing when it walks. The special effects are OK. For what was obviously a modestly budgeted movie It! looks reasonably impressive. Leder has wisely avoided being too ambitious with visual set-pieces. He’s stuck with things that can be done without spending a fortune. The bridge scene however is very iffy since it really was too ambitious to be carried off successfully.

The stuff about Pimm’s dead mother is an obvious attempt to give the movie a Psycho vibe. It’s an unnecessary distraction which just makes the movie seem a bit confused. But I guess Leder thought it would help the movie at the box office. It would have been better to concentrate on Pimm’s feelings of sexual and career inadequacy which are the elements that actually provide his motivations.

This movie has just enough slightly off-the-wall moments and a performance by Roddy McDowall which is nicely unhinged. Maybe not quite a neglected horror gem but It! is interesting and fun, slightly unusual and generally pretty entertaining and it’s recommended.

It! was released on DVD in the Warner Archive series paired with another overlooked 1967 horror film, The Shuttered Room (which is also worth seeing making this disc a very tempting buy).