Thursday 29 June 2023

Madame Claude (1977)

Madame Claude is a 1977 Just Jaeckin movie.

Just Jaeckin had what was in many ways an unfortunate career as a film director. His first movie, Emmanuelle, was the biggest hit in the history of the French film industry. And that’s what caused the problem. He was always going to be reviled by society’s self-appointed moral watchdogs but Emmanuelle made him a lot of other enemies as well. Film critics and the film industry establishment were outraged that what they considered to be a mere porno movie had made about a hundred times more money than the sorts of serious movies that they thought the public should be watching.

From the point on film critics were determinedly hostile and his chances of breaking into the mainstream film industry were zero. The notoriety of Emmanuelle had also ended his very successful career as a fashion photographer. Jaeckin fund that the only work he was going to be offered was directing erotic movies, which was not really what he particularly wanted to do.

He ended up directing just eight feature films. But his sparse filmography is actually surprisingly impressive. As far as Emmanuelle is concerned he was hired to make a very classy very stylish softcore porn movie and that’s what he did. His next movie is more interesting. The Story of O deals with subject matter, sadomasochism, that pushes people’s buttons just as much today as it did in the 70s. But The Story of O remains one of the very very few movies to approach such subject matter intelligently and non-moralistically. It’s a great movie.

The critics were really gunning for him when he made Lady Chatterley’s Lover but in fact it’s an interesting and very good adaptation of Lawrence’s novel. Gwendoline was considered by critics to be almost beneath contempt but it’s a superb fun-filled sexy adventure romp.

Which brings us to Madame Claude. Madame Claude (Françoise Fabian) runs a very high-class call-girl ring. Not just high-class. These girls are the top of the range. Their clients are generals, diplomats, princes, politicians, CEOs.

Claude is trying to recruit a new girl. Claude caught her shoplifting but thinks she has potential. Claude will remake the girl. That’s how Claude operates.

There is a problem, and it’s going to be a problem for Claude and for a lot of other people. That problem is sleazy photographer David Evans (Murray Head). David is collecting material for blackmail and he has compromising photographs of extremely important men cavorting with Claude’s girls. But there’s something else in those photos, the significance of which David doesn’t yet fully appreciate. Or at least there might be something else in the photos. What matters is that certain people think there’s something in those photos.

The CIA is convinced that the photos contain evidence pertaining to the Lockheed bribery scandal (which was one of the biggest scandals of the 70s). The CIA is obviously determined to cover up that scandal. They want those photos. But other people know about the photos and want them just as much.

The photos are the movie’s McGuffin. Everybody wants them.

This political scandal/thriller plot remains in the background for the early part of the movie but it’s always ticking away, like a bomb.

Mostly the movie’s focus is on Madame Claude and her relationship with her girls. Claude is rather fond of her girls. She expects them to remain focused on the job at all times, but she is generous and mostly treats them like daughters. She never recruits a girl against the girl’s will, the girls make immense amounts of money and she’s honest with them. She is convinced that she knows what’s best for them, and she is probably right. Madame Claude is a rather sympathetic character - she has her faults but she’s a much more moral person than any of the people out to destroy her.

This is both an erotic film and a political thriller. In fact it belongs to a sub-genre of its own, the erotic political thriller. It’s very much in the mould of 70s paranoia movies. Everybody has everybody else under surveillance. Every individual and every agency mixed up in the business is obsessed with damage limitation, and finding a way to double-cross some other individual or agency.

Madame Claude herself is caught in the middle. She has ethics. She has never tried to blackmail a client and never would, but since nobody else in the movie has any ethics they naturally assume she’s as unethical as they are.

This is very obviously a movie about voyeurism, and movies about voyeurism are always themselves voyeuristic. Voyeurism and paranoia always makes an effective combination.

Françoise Fabian is quite exceptional in the title role. The support cast is impressive. Klaus Kinski is excellent as the super-rich Alexander Zakis, a man who lives for power. Amazingly Jaeckin found Kinksi very easy to work with.

Special mention should be made of Serge Gainsbourg’s score, and of Jane Birkin’s wonderful vocals.

The Cult Epics Blu-Ray looks great. Extras include an audio commentary by Jeremy Richey and an interview withe Jaeckin in which, among other things, he talks about his contempt for the French Nouvelle Vague.

Madame Claude is a gorgeous sumptuous movie, it’s very erotic and it’s a gripping intelligent political thriller. This is a great movie. Highly recommended.

Sunday 25 June 2023

Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)

Carry On Emmannuelle, released in 1978, was the last of the Carry On movies and it’s the most notorious and reviled of the entire series. It’s difficult to find anyone with a good word to say about it. It’s one of those movies that everybody knows is rubbish, because everybody says it’s rubbish. Critics thought so at the time. Most online reviews start with the reviewer proudly announcing that he already knew this movie was trash before seeing it, and seeing it merely confirmed his worst fears.

When you approach a movie expecting to hate it then more often than not you will that you do end up hating it. What you need to do with a movie like Carry On Emmannuelle is to approach it with an open mind. So, is Carry On Emmannuelle really that bad? We shall see.

The movie begins with its own version of the famous sex-on-an-aircraft scene from Emmanuelle, but played for laughs.

Emmannuelle Prevert (Suzanne Danielle) has just arrived in London, to rejoin her husband Emile (Kenneth Williams). Emile is the French Ambassador. He is obsessed by body-building although it doesn’t seem to have had much result.

Emmannuelle has been looking forward to a nice reunion bedroom romp with her husband but Emile will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid doing his husbandly duty.

Emile is quite happy for Emmannuelle to find her carnal pleasures elsewhere. Which she does, but she wants carnal pleasures with her husband as well.

The movie has even less of a plot than most Carry On movies. Emmannuelle becomes obsessed by the idea that someone is going to try to assassinate her husband. Which provides an amusing sequence with Emmannuelle crawling around under the dinner table.

She then persuades the servants to recount their most outrageous sexual exploits, which is the weakest section of the movie.

And then the scandal breaks - the scandal being Emmannuelle’s sexual exploits revealed to the public, with Emmannuelle steadfastly refusing to apologise and then seducing her interviewer on camera.

The first half of this movie is quite good. It’s quite funny. It does lose steam a bit after that.

Making a kind of hybrid between a Carry On movie and the popular 70s British sex comedy genre was actually not such a terrible idea. By 1978 the Carry On formula was looking rather tame. Sexing up the formula a bit made sense. But in fact Carry On Emmannuelle doesn’t sex up the formula much at all. Maybe some of the sexual humour is marginally more risqué than in previous movies. There is however hardly any nudity at all in Carry On Emmannuelle. It actually doesn’t have much in common after all with the British sex comedies of that era. It’s really just a Carry On movie, made pretty much according to the established formula.

There were a lot of silly things said about this movie at the time. Critics pretty much accused producer Peter Rodgers of making a softcore porn movie. Which is wildly and ludicrously inaccurate. It’s only very very slightly sexier than the average Carry On movie of the 70s.

One of the many myths surrounding this movie is that Barbara Windsor stormed off the set in disgust. In fact she was never on the set. She was originally going to make an appearance but she was unavailable.

This movie includes quite a few of the Carry On regulars, with Kenneth Connors (as the ambassador’s sex-obsessed chauffeur) and Joan Sims (as the housekeeper) being in good form. Kenneth Williams is in good form as well, doing a typically outrageous French accent.

The movie’s trump card however is Suzanne Danielle as Emmannuelle. She’s funny and sexy and delightful.

It’s not a top-tier Carry On movie by any means but Carry On Emmannuelle really isn’t that bad. It’s a whole lot better than the preceding film in the series, Carry On England. I think it’s worth a look.

The ITV Studios DVD (part of their Carry On Ultimate Collection boxed set) offers a good anamorphic transfer. The extras include an excellent audio commentary featuring a couple of the cast members.

Thursday 22 June 2023

Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion (1970)

Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion (AKA De Sade 70 AKA Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Boudoir) is one of the many Jess Franco movies to be either based on or heavily influenced by the works of the Marquis de Sade.

When you’re told that a film-maker was influenced by de Sade you might expect to find quite a bit of sadomasochistic content in his movies. That’s not really true in general of Jess Franco. The sadomasochism was not the element that interested him in de Sade’s work. Franco was more interested in de Sade’s views on freedom, power and morality.

Franco was not naïve enough to be an uncritical admirer of de Sade. He thought de Sade’s ideas were important but he could clearly see the dangers inherent in those ideas. In Franco’s movies characters who live according to de Sade’s philosophy often find that things end really badly for them. This is especially so when two or more characters try to live by the Sadeian philosophy. People who pursue pleasure and perfect freedom are not always overly concerned about the effects on other people. But Franco still felt that de Sade’s ideas were challenging enough to be important, and he was correct. Understanding de Sade’s ideas makes the history of western civilisation over the past couple of centuries much more comprehensible. There’s nothing like a dose of de Sade to strip away one’s illusions.

Which brings us to Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion. It was produced and written by Harry Alan Towers.

There is sadomasochism in this movie but it isn’t really the main focus. For the characters who are pulling the strings it is mostly a means to an end. The focus here is on a young woman who becomes morally corrupted without being aware of what is happening to her. She is a pawn in a power game, manipulated by people for Hom the destruction of morality is an exquisite pleasure.

Eugenie (Marie Liljedahl) has an uneasy relationship with her parents. That’s not so unusual for a teenaged girl. Eugenie met the glamorous Marianne Saint-Ange (Maria Rohm) at a party and they’ve kept in contact. Marianne is having an affair with Eugenie’s father (played by Paul Muller). As the price for her sexual favours Marianne asks Eugenie’s dad for a small favour. She wants Eugenie to spend the weekend with her. Marianne has a private island. Marianne usually gets what she wants and soon Eugenie is on her way to the island.

Poor Eugenie has no idea what awaits her.

Marianne and her stepbrother (and lover) Mirvel (Jack Taylor) intend to corrupt Eugenie. They can think of nothing more exciting than the idea of taking innocence and corrupting it. The process begins right away.

Eugenie is subjected to sexual humiliation and beatings, but did these events really happen? Eugenie had been drugged. Perhaps she was dreaming. She remembers being whipped, but there are no marks at all on her body.

From this point on Eugenie is never quite certain about the reality of her experiences. The things that happen to her the following night seem real enough but by now Eugenie is hopelessly disconnected from reality. When reality finally breaks through the question is whether she is capable of facing it.

Eugenie is also introduced to the members of a kind of Sadeian coven led by Dolmance (Christopher Lee). They are planning something special for Eugenie.

Franco and producer-scriptwriter Harry Alan Towers were keen to do a de Sade film but what they wanted to do was to make such a film that would have an authentically Sadeian flavour without crossing the line into mere pornography. They did not want a movie that would be seen only in porno theatres.

They succeeded to a considerable degree. The movie is watered down compared to de Sade’s writings but it still packs a punch.

Those who accuse Franco of being technically slapdash will have a field day with this movie. It’s perhaps his most technically sloppy movie, to the point where it becomes a distraction. One yearns for a scene in which the camera is in focus for the entire scene. Francophiles always dismiss the technically slapdash nature of his films as being an unimportant detail. If Franco wasn’t worried about being technically polished why should we? On the whole I agree, but in this movie it does get distracting.

Which is a pity because the movie is filled with striking and disturbing images.

Christopher Lee certainly adds a suitably sinister tone to proceedings. Maria Rohm (a very underrated actress) is the standout performer as the wicked Madame de Saint-Ange. Marie Liljedahl (who had found stardom in Joe Sarno’s excellent Inga) was the perfect choice for the part of Eugenie, bringing just the right kind of wide-eyed innocence to her performance.

Blue Underground’s Blu-Ray presentation offers a fine transfer. Extras include another excellent analysis by Stephen Thrower and interviews with Franco, Marie Liljedahl and Christopher Lee (who expresses a great deal of admiration for Franco).

Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion is a surprisingly successful attempt to find the right balance for a de Sade adaptation. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

The Phantom Empire (1988)

If you’re aiming to make not just a good movie but a great one then what are the ingredients you’re going to need? First of all you obviously need cave-dwelling mutant cannibals. You’ll also need amazon warrior women. Of course you’ll need a cute robot. And dinosaurs, naturally. The good news is that Fred Olen Ray’s 1988 opus The Phantom Empire includes every one of these ingredients. Plus it has Sybil Danning as an evil alien queen dressed in bondage gear. And yet you won’t find this movie on any critics’ list of the greatest movies of all time.

The movie opens with Denae Chambers (Susan Stokey) hiring partners Cort Eastman (Ross Hagen) and Eddy Colchilde (Dawn Wildsmith) for an expedition. Twenty years earlier Denae’s father perished on a similar expedition. The objective is to find a lost civilisation hidden deep within a system of underground caverns. There’s also the strong likelihood of finding a fabulous lost treasure.

The cavern is not to be found deep in the Amazon rainforest or the foothills of the Himalayas or the sandy wastes of the Sahara Desert. No, it’s just a couple of miles from LA. Five minutes drive away. Which is certainly convenient.

There is likely to be danger involved. A few days earlier a picnicker was decapitated by a mutant cannibal monster that emerged from the cave.

Denae will be going along on the expedition as well and Cort has recruited a couple of scientists - Professor Strock (Robert Quarry) and graduate student Andrew Paris (Jeffrey Combs).

It doesn’t take long for the expedition to encounter the first of the mutant cannibals. They don’t seem too friendly. In fact they try to cook Denae for dinner.

The expedition also acquires another member - a friendly but frightened half-naked amazon warrior girl. They name her Cave Bunny. Cave Bunny takes a bit of a shine to young Andrew which doesn’t please Denae - she’d also taken a shine to him.

There’s lot of running about in the vast system of caverns, which was a challenge to Fred Olen Ray and his crew since all they had to film in was a single cave about twenty feet long. But thanks to movie magic you will believe this is a gigantic cave system.

The amazon warrior women (apart from Cave Bunny) are not too friendly. The robot isn’t friendly either. The mutant cannibals are decidedly hostile. And their trouble really starts when the alien queen puts in an appearance. She considers them to be inferior specimens of an inferior species.

There are gun battles in the cave, expedition members get captured and there are plenty of narrow escapes.

The acting is pretty bad by ordinary standards but the performances are right for this type of movie. Dawn Wildsmith is great as the cynical wise-cracking tough dame Eddy. Sybil Danning is, well she’s Sybil Danning and she makes an awesome-looking alien queen.

The movie was shot in six days and cost $120,000 to make. So don’t expect spectacular special effects. The alien queen’s spaceship and her futuristic hovercar look very cheap, but cheap in an endearingly fun way.

Don’t expect the plot to make much sense either.

Given the meagre budget Ray knew he had to take advantage of any opportunities to add production values and visual interest. He discovered that he could rent Robby the Robot very cheaply. There’s no reason for a robot to be in the movie, but he’s a cool robot. Ray was also able to get the hovercar cheap - it had apparently been used in the Logan’s Run TV series. And then the distributor wanted extra footage shot, and Ray found out he could get some cool dinosaur footage from Planet of the Dinosaurs.

As a result The Phantom Empire is filled with things that have no logical place in the story and no logical connection with each other, but that adds to the movie’s goofy charm.

The Phantom Empire might be an incoherent mess, but it’s an incoherent mess that is huge amounts of fun. It’s such a good-natured romp of a movie.

The RetroMedia Blu-Ray looks great and includes a very enjoyable audio commentary by Fred Olen Ray and cinematographer Gary Graver plus a documentary on the film and a few other extras.

The Phantom Empire is cheap low-budget fun and it’s highly recommended.

Saturday 17 June 2023

The Doll of Satan (1969)

The Doll of Satan (La bambola di Satana) is an Italian horror movie directed by Ferruccio Casapinta and released in 1969 (although doubts have been raised as to the extent to which Casapinta actually did direct this movie). But the genre to which this movie actually belongs is debatable.

Elizabeth Ball Janon (Erna Schurer) has inherited a spooky gothic castle from her uncle. She has been in London for several years but has now returned, with her fiancé Jack Seaton (Roland Carey), to take possession of the castle.

There is some question as to whether it was her uncle’s wish that the castle be sold. Elizabeth would like to respect her uncle’s wishes, if she could be sure that he really did intend to sell. A neighbour is definitely very anxious to buy.

On the other hand her uncle’s close friend and adviser, the elderly Mr Shinton (Domenico Ravenna), assures her that her uncle would never have wanted the castle sold. Mr Shinton tells her that he can produce proof that her uncle had no such intentions. Elizabeth is more than a little confused.

Slightly creepy things start happening right away. The castle has another inhabitant, Jeanette. Jeanette was supposed to have died in an accident (an accident in which Elizabeth’s uncle was involved) years earlier. She isn’t dead, but she’s crippled in insane. An insane woman locked in an upstairs bedroom is certainly pretty gothic.

The household includes several servants as well as Elizabeth’s childhood governess, Miss Carol (Lucia Bomez). Miss Carol is just a little strange. She likes to tell ghost stories. Elizabeth is a bit spooked by these ghostly tales. She’s even more spooked when she hears the castle’s ghost.

And Elizabeth has strange and disturbing nocturnal visions. Visions of dungeons and torture, with herself as the victim.

There are disappearances. The family dog is very unsettled. Something is very wrong in this castle.

Superficially this is a gothic horror movie. The setting is a haunted castle and there are ghosty visitations. However from a very early stage there are definite giallo touches. There is for example a black-gloved killer. And right from the start we have strong reason to doubt whether there is anything remotely supernatural going on. In fact I don’t think the audience is expected for one moment to believe that anything in this story has a supernatural explanation. So it could be seen as a giallo with gothic horror trappings.

Personally I would call this movie a krimi. The very popular West German Edgar Wallace krimi genre certainly had a strong influence on the early development of the Italian giallo and there were German-Italian co-productions that combined both krimi and giallo elements. The Doll of Satan is entirely an Italian production but I feel quite confident in saying that spiritually it’s a krimi. It has the classic krimi signatures- the gothic setting, the sinister hooded figures, the outrageous plot, the use of disguise, the number of characters who are not whom they appear to be, the swordfight. These are things you expect in a krimi. Indeed they’re things you expect from Edgar Wallace.

There’s also perhaps a touch of the Old Dark House movies of the 30s.

The necessary ingredients are all here, but the execution falls very flat. What makes Italian and German genre movies of the 60s and 70s so wonderful is that they emphasised style over substance. Visual style was crucial and they didn’t mind if it came at the expense of plot coherence. And they were correct. Style matters more than substance. Movies are all about style. And that’s where The Doll of Satan falls down. It’s just seriously lacking in visual style. It’s also seriously lacking in energy.

The 88 Films Blu-Ray offers a nice transfer with a few extras including an audio commentary.

The Doll of Satan just doesn’t quite make it. It isn’t terrible, but it is a bit stodgy. Maybe worth a look as a curiosity.

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Piranha (1978)

Piranha is the notorious 1978 Jaws rip-off from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. It was a major hit for Corman. Joe Dante directed.

Skip-tracer Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is trying to find a young couple who have disappeared into the backwoods. Misanthropic hermit Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) reluctantly offers to help her after her jeep breaks down.

She finds them, or at least she finds a skeleton that might belong to one of them. The young couple broke into a deserted research facility and found an inviting swimming pool so they decided to take a dip. Unfortunately the pool was full of piranhas.

These are not just your regular piranhas. These are mutant super-piranhas. They’d been bred in that research facility. The facility belonged to the US military and the piranhas were intended as a biological weapon for use during the Vietnam War. The war ended and the project was shut down, officially. Unofficially one scientist, Dr Hoak (Keven McCarthy), remained behind and continued his research. Now he’s bred super-piranhas that can live in fresh or salt water.

Of course if the piranhas get into the nearby river they’ll be able to reach the sea and they will become a global threat. But that can’t happen unless someone drains the pool, thereby releasing the piranhas into that river.

And that’s exactly what Maggie inadvertently does.

Maggie, Paul Grogan and a very reluctant Dr Hoak now have to try to undo the disaster. The first problem is the children’s summer camp on the river. The kids swim in that river. What would happen if the piranhas got loose among a hundred kids cavorting in the river doesn’t bear thinking about, but that summer camp is precisely where those piranhas are going to be heading. And Paul Grogan’s eight-year-old daughter is at that summer camp.

The second problem is that the next step on the piranhas itinerary will be the new resort which has been built by a consortium led by crooked businessman Buck Gardner (Dick Miller) and a crooked colonel. There will be carnage when the piranhas arrive.

And Dr Hoak has managed to smash up Maggie’s jeep. The only way for the trio to reach the summer camp in time is by raft. Rafting down a river infested with super-piranhas will be a challenge.

Maggie and Paul also face the problem that the military is determined to cover up the fiasco. And Dr Mengers (Barbara Steele), who has been sent to investigate, is determined to cover up the problem as well. She doesn’t see why the prospect of a few hundred people being eaten by piranhas should stand in the way of vital scientific research. The US military needs new and imaginative ways to kill people.

This was the late 70s and cynicism about the US Government and the US military was at its height.

Scientists don’t come off too well either. Dr Hoak is a nice enough guy but he can’t see any moral problem with his work. There’s always a price for progress.

This was an expensive movie by Roger Corman standards, which means it was a very cheap movie by anyone else’s standards. But Corman’s pictures always managed to overcome their budgetary limitations. Corman had a knack for employing people who could get good results with very little money.

The special effects were achieved fairly simply. The piranhas are just stick puppets. But they look fairly convincing. The scene where they attack the raft is particularly effective and genuinely frightening. The underwater scenes are done well.

There’s quite a bit of gore. The body count is high. Those piranhas are hungry. Of course you keep telling yourself that there’s no way this movie is going to show us little kids getting eaten by killer carnivore fish. I mean there’s just no way that’s going to happen. Maggie and Paul will get to the summer camp in time to prevent such horrors. They will, won’t they? You’ll keep telling yourself that until the piranhas start chomping up the kiddies. This is a movie that packs quite a punch.

The acting is OK. Bradford Dillman makes a good surly hero type who never wanted to be a goddamn hero. Heather Menzies is fine. Barbara Steele is delightfully evil. Dick Miller overacts entertainingly.

Piranha succeeds in doing what it set out to do. It’s a low-budget Jaws rip-off that offers effective thrills and horrors and it’s extremely entertaining. Corman got his money’s worth and if you bu\y the Blu-Ray you’ll get your money’s worth as well.

The Shout! Factory Blu-Ray offers a very nice transfer, there’s an audio commentary by the film’s director Joe Dante and producer Jon Davison and a number of other extras as well.

Piranha is good reasonably gory fun. Highly recommended.

Sunday 11 June 2023

Night of the Hunted (1980) Blu-Ray review

By the late 70s Jean Rollin was starting to feel that perhaps he had exhausted the vampire genre. He had made a series of wildly unconventional surrealist vampire vampires and that cycle of films would come to an end in 1979 with the superb Fascination. He was also disillusioned by the commercial failure of Lips of Blood. Between 1978 and 1982 he made three extraordinarily interesting and unusual movies, The Grapes of Death (1978), Night of the Hunted (1980) and The Living Dead Girl (1982). The Grapes of Death and The Living Dead Girl are horror movies and they’re zombie movies, although they’re not like anyone else’s zombie movies. He also made The Escapees about this time, a movie that has thematic similarities to Night of the Hunted.

Night of the Hunted (the original French title was La Nuit des Traquées) is not quite a horror movie. It’s not quite a zombie movie, but it has close thematic links to The Living Dead Girl. It’s a science fiction film, of sorts. And, being a Jean Rollin movie, it’s an exercise in subtle surrealism.

In 1978 Rollin had begin his filmic association with Brigitte Lahaie. Miss Lahaie was a very successful nude model and porn star (making both softcore and hardcore movies). Rollin thought she had potential. He thought she had an intriguing screen presence and plenty of charisma. And he was right. She went on to make quite a few non-porn movies but her superb performance as Elisabeth in Night of the Hunted is the highlight of her acting career.

This movie’s origins are intriguing. A producer asked Rollin to do a hardcore film. Rollin told him that for the same minuscule budget he could make a proper movie. The producer agreed. With $40,000 Rollin shot Night of the Hunted in ten days.

The movie begins with a girl running along the road, dressed in a nightgown. We will find out that her name is Elisabeth. Robert (Alain Duclos) picks her up and takes her back to his apartment. She is clearly frightened and confused. She is running away from something but she cannot tell Robert what she is running away from. She cannot tell him where she lives.

Robert is a good-natured guy. He wants to help her but he doesn’t know where to start. Elisabeth knows where to start. She wants to make love. She needs to make love. That’s the only thing she is sure about.

Robert leaves for work the next morning and a man and a woman show up. She is told that the man is her doctor. They are going to take her home. They take her to a huge modernist building. Elisabeth is told that she shares an apartment with Catherine (Cathy Stewart). She doesn’t recognise Catherine and Catherine doesn’t recognise her.

Catherine also has no memories. They live in a tower building referred to as the Black Tower. All the people there have the same problem. They are losing their memory. They are becoming mindless zombies.

Elisabeth has not lost her humanity completely (unlike some of the inhabitants of the Black Tower). She still has emotions. She cares about Catherine. She also cares about Véronique (Dominique Journet). She doesn’t remember her but she thinks they had been friends. Elisabeth makes plans to escape. Véronique had accompanied her the last time she escaped. Elisabeth intends that the three of them - Véronique, Catherine and herself - will escape together.

But escape is not easy, and the attempt will have unexpected consequences.

At times this movie is just slightly reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville in its use of stark modernist architecture as a science fiction setting, and its use of modernism as something remote and alienating.

The Black Tower is neither a prison nor an apartment block nor a hospital, or perhaps it’s all three. It’s an incredibly stark setting and the visuals in this movie are bleak and colourless, and deliberately so.

The performances are generally effective. Lahaie is the standout. She really is superb. It’s sad and very moving performance.

The sex scene between Elisabeth and Robert is fairly explicit but it’s absolutely necessary. Indeed it’s a crucial scene. Elisabeth is losing touch with her own humanity. She is becoming something less than human. She desperately wants something human to cling to, some intense human experience. And human experiences don’t come much more intense than sex. It’s one of the most touching sex scenes you’ll ever see. And it’s desperately sad. Elisabeth’s pleasure is intense. For that moment she is human again. She is a woman again. But her joy is fleeting. She had hoped that the sex would be something so intense that she would not forget it. But she forgets everything that happens to her within a few minutes.

Rollin does not make the mistake of explaining what is happening at the beginning. He lets us piece things together. Elisabeth has no memories. None at all. Five minutes after Robert introduces himself to her she has forgotten his name or how she came to be in his apartment. We gradually figure out some of what is happening. The eventual explanation is perhaps the only disappointing thing about the movie.

There’s a lot of nudity and a lot of sex. Additional much more graphic sex scenes were also shot by Rollin. He was keeping his options open. There was always the possibility the film would be recut as a softcore sex film (although it would have mystified the audience for such movies). A version with hardcore insets was later released although Rollin wanted no connection with that version.

Night of the Hunted was savaged by critics (who entirely failed to understand it) and flopped at the box office. That was perhaps inevitable. This is a very bleak movie. It’s also a weird kind of love story, but in a way that would hardly draw mass audiences in.

Night of the Hunted remains one of Rollin’s most fascinating movies, with an extraordinary and powerful ending. Very highly recommended.

Thursday 8 June 2023

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg (1978)

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg is a 1978 French Eurocine production and it’s clearly in part at least an attempt to cash in on that other notorious 70s exploitation movie with a similar title. You know the movie, the one whose title we dare not mention. But the similarities are largely superficial. Helga She Wolf of Stilberg belongs firmly to the European women-in-prison movie genre, a genre that was already well established long before that other infamous movie was made. It’s a genre that was kick-started by Jess Franco’s 99 Women in 1969.

There are no nazis in Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg. The setting is a South American banana republic in the 1970s. It’s a dictatorship but it appears to be a non-ideological dictatorship. President Steiner seems to be interested purely in money and power. No-one in the movie ever mentions ideology. There are rebels, but the issues at stake do not appear to be especially political. There are political prisoners, but their crime is simply that they oppose the current regime.

Helga (Malisa Longo) is some kind of adviser to the president. He fears that she is too ambitious so he offers her a job to keep her out of the way. He appoints her commandant of the castle of Stilberg, where female political prisoners are housed.

Helga intends to tighten up discipline at Stilberg.

Helga is sleeping with the prison’s head guard, captain Lombardi, but it’s obvious that Helga prefers girls.

Helga has what she thinks is a stroke of good fortune when a new prisoner arrives. Elisabeth Vogel (Patrizia Gori) is the daughter of the rebel leader Vogel. If she can find a way to use Elisabeth to trap Vogel this could be an opportunity for Helga to get back into the president’s good books.

Helga thinks it’s a stroke of luck for another reason. She thinks she can persuade Elisabeth to share her bed. Helga would like that. She’d like that a lot.

The bad news for Helga is that some of the prisoners are hatching an escape plan. That will get Helga into the president’s bad books in a big way.

Helga is vaguely aware that one of her officers is disloyal to her but for some reason she doesn’t do anything about it, apart from sulking.

Of course the escape plan is going to offer the opportunity for some action scenes, but the movie fails make the most of that opportunity. There is also a revolution brewing, a fine opportunity to use some stock footage, which looks out of place.

The acting is adequate. Malisa Longo is quite good but for reasons that I”ll go into in a moment her performance falls a little flat.

There are some major problems with this movie. We are given no reason to feel any particular sympathy for the rebels. Steiner’s government is apparently corrupt (like most governments) but we’re shown no evidence that it’s all that oppressive. We have no reason to think that a revolution is going to be any great improvement.

While we’re expecting Stilberg to be a hell-hole it isn’t really. It’s more like a moderately strict girls’ boarding school than a brutal prison.

Helga is not especially evil. She’s not a psychopath or a sadist. She’s more like a slightly spoilt slightly petulant head girl at a girls’ school. Mostly she’s remarkably indulgent towards the prisoners. Her punishments are generally not much worse than detention and extra homework. She commits a handful of acts of cruelty, but only under severe provocation. The viewer is likely to end up feeling that if only these girls would behave better the headmistress wouldn’t get cross with them.

And although she beds several of the women prisoners, once she seduces them she treats them remarkably well.

It’s not that easy to hate Helga. And if we don’t hate her the movie is not going to work.

It’s interesting to compare Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg with the German-Swiss women-in-prison movie Women of Inferno Island (AKA Caged Women AKA Gefangene Frauen). There are major similarities. Both seemed to be attempts to make women-in-prison movies that were rather non-brutal and rather tame and almost wholesome (by women-in-prison movie standards). Both movies feature acres of bare female flesh. Women of Inferno Island has more energy and style, it has a better script with a much better twist at the end and it has two female stars with both genuine charisma and genuine acting ability - Brigitte Lahaie and the extraordinary Karine Gambier (who should have become a major cult movie icon).

Women of Inferno Island is clever and consistently entertaining and it works. Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg just falls rather flat.

Amusingly the Maison Rouge DVD release includes eight minutes of alternative clothed scenes. Given that the one major thing that Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg has going for it is lots of pretty girls without their clothes on I’m not sure why anyone would want to watch alternative scenes in which they’re wearing clothes.

Helga, She Wolf of Stilberg turns out to be a bit of a toothless doggie rather than a fearsome wolf. It’s OK and maybe worth a look if you’re a fan of Malisa Longo but seriously, watch Women of Inferno Island instead.

Monday 5 June 2023

Keep It Up Downstairs (1976)

Keep It Up Downstairs is a 1976 British sex comedy.

In the 1970s the British film industry was on life support. Without the sex comedy boom of that decade the industry would probably have gone under entirely. Whether you liked them or not, they kept studios running, they kept crews in work and they helped to keep at least a few movie theatres open. They were an unavoidable necessity.

But that meant nothing to critics. British film critics in that era were particularly prone to pompousness, primness and snobbery. They saw these sex comedies as entertainment for the lower orders and there was nothing they despised more than popular taste.

Since that time most people have taken the same attitude towards these movies. When you read online reviews it’s usually obvious that the reviewer has already decided the movies is junk before even seeing it, and the review is nothing more than an opportunity for cheap fashionable snarkiness.

If however you approach these movies with an open mind you might be surprised. Many of them are actually a lot of fun. Yes, the humour is sexual. That’s why they were called sex comedies. Yes, there’s plenty of nudity. That’s also why they were called sex comedies. The humour is often very broad, but there’s only one criterion by which to judge comedy - is it funny? And Keep It Up Downstairs is actually very funny.

There’s great consternation at Cockshute Towers (and it’s pronounced Coe-Shoot). The palatial country house of the Earl of Cockshute (Mark Singleton) is about to pass into the hands of a crass but rich upstart named Snotty Shuttleworth (William Rushton). Even more horrifyingly, he’s a rich Australian. He holds the mortgages on the estate and he’s about to foreclose.

The family and the staff are equally aghast and they join forces to thwart Snotty’s plans.

One option would be to find a rich heiress for the Earl’s son Peregrine (Jack Wild) to marry. Peregrine is a nice boy but he’s the 1904 equivalent of a nerd. Finding an heiress prepared to marry such an odd young man will be a challenge. There are other options, but they’re either even more unpalatable or even more impractical.

What nobody realises is that there’s a solution already to hand. Peregrine is an amateur scientist and inventor and he’s been doing some experiments with an interesting new rubber compound. This compound is incredibly thin but very tough, it’s waterproof, it’s flexible and it expands. If you make a rubber sheath out of it the sheath will fit itself exactly to the object being sheathed and if the object expands the sheath expands with it. Peregrine is excited by his discovery but he cannot think of any practical use for it. The lad has led a sheltered life.

In the meantime plans are hatched to marry Peregrine off to an American oil heiress, Betsy Ann Dureneck (Seretta Wilson).

Best Ann and her parents arrive and the Cockshute family’s butler, Hampton, gets a shock. Daisy Dureneck (Diana Dors) is an old flame of his, a former actress.

Hampton hatches a plan to serve the Cockshute family’s problems by means of a jewel robbery.

The plot becomes increasingly farcical, with definite bedroom farce overtones.

When they’re not making plans to rescue the family’s fortunes both the family members and the staff spend most of their time engaging in a bewildering series of sexual adventures. The Earl’s beautiful young wife (who is Peregrine’s stepmother) is sleeping with the butler. The Earl is sleeping with both the maids, Mimi (Françoise Pascal) and Polly (Mary Millington). Both maids are also sleeping with Hampton. The footman is sleeping with just about every female in the household. The Earl’s daughter Kitty (Olivia Munday sleeps with anyone she can find.

And Betsy Ann’s loud American oil millionaire father joins in and is soon in hot pursuit of both Lady Cockshute and the two housemaids.

The gags can certainly be groan-inducing but that adds to the charm. And there are plenty of genuinely funny moments, even laugh-out-loud funny moments.

As far as nudity and sex is concerned this movie is very tame. There are lots of bare breasts, a few naked female bottoms and one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of frontal nudity. This movie has the cheeky innocent naughtiness of the Carry On movies. It’s basically a very good-natured movie. All the characters are sex-crazed but none are malicious.

Network in the UK have released this movie on DVD and Blu-Ray. The DVD is cheap, it’s barebones and it’s a nice transfer.

Keep It Up Downstairs is silly mildly sexy fun. I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Friday 2 June 2023

The Red Circle (Der rote Kreis, 1960)

The Red Circle (Der rote Kreis) was the second of the West German Edgar Wallace krimis (which is the term used in Germany for crime thrillers) made by Rialto. Technically this one was a West German-Danish co-production. It was based on Edgar Wallace’s 1922 novel The Crimson Circle.

The movie starts with an execution in France. Or at least an attempted execution. We then jump forward several years, to London. Scotland Yard is perplexed by a major blackmailing racket, with the blackmail leading to murder in a disturbing number of cases. Blackmail victims who don’t pay up end up dead. The Red Circle is responsible for these crimes, but nobody knows if this is a single individual or a gang.

Of course in an Edgar Wallace story you’re likely to have a rich elderly man (in this case he’s a man named Beardmore), and some question about the inheritance he will leave when his time comes. His only obvious heir is his nephew Jack (Thomas Alder), whom he despises.

Jack has been spending a lot of time with a Miss Drummond (Renate Ewert), secretary to a neighbour named Froyant. This interests Chief Inspector Parr (Karl-Georg Saebisch) a good deal. Miss Drummond is well known to the Yard as a successful and daring thief. Jack has been instructing her in archery, which will later have some significance.

Beardmore is one of the Red Circle’s intended victims and he’s a cantankerous old man who has no intention whatsoever of paying up.

Another intended victim is Lady Doringham, the rich and not entirely faithful wife of a much older very rich man. She appeals to Scotland Yard for help.

Chief Inspector Parr finds himself having to work with a private detective, Derrick Yale (Klausjürgen Wussow). His superiors at the Yard believe he’ll need help on this case. Parr isn’t thrilled, although he admits that Derrick is a fine detective.

The body count rises steadily. The Red Circle is always one jump ahead of the police. Embarrassingly, some of the victims are killed right under the noses of the police.

There are at least four possible suspects, all equally plausible.

Compared to the first Rialto krimi Der Frosch mit der Maske (Face of the Frog) this one had a different distributor, a different director (Jürgen Roland replacing Harald Reinl) and a totally different cast. In spite of this you can see the krimi starting to emerge as a distinctive genre. Outrageous plotting, lots of style and some nice visual set-pieces. And with just enough of a tongue-in-cheek quality without going overboard.

Jürgen Roland is certainly more than competent as director and went on to make a couple more movies in the series.

Eddi Arent is the only familiar face from the first time. If you’ve only seen the English-dubbed versions of these movies you probably hate Eddi Arent and think he’s the most irritating comic relief actor in movie history. I hated him too, but it turns out that the problem was that he was so horribly dubbed in English. Much to my surprise, when I started watching these movies in the German-language versions with English subtitles I started to really like Eddi Arent.

The other cast members are very good, with Renate Ewert being particularly good as the sexy bad girl.

The plot is complicated, with plenty of red herrings. It’s best not to worry too much about the coherence of the plot. What matters is that it’s fun. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The German Tobis Blu-Ray (in one of their three-disc Edgar Wallace sets) offers the movie in both the English-dubbed version and in German with English subtitles. I very strongly urge you to watch the subtitled version. The transfer is anamorphic and looks lovely. It’s such a pleasure to see these movies looking so fantastic. They’re movies that rely so much on stylish visuals that you really can’t appreciate them in some of the horrible pan-and-scanned DVDs that have been floating around for years. And the Tobis Blu-Rays are very easily obtainable.

The Red Circle is an excellent early krimi. Well-crafted and well-paced and wildly and deliriously entertaining. Highly recommended.