Tuesday 29 August 2023

The Curse of the Hidden Vault (1964)

The Curse of the Hidden Vault (German title Die Gruft mit dem Rätselschloss) is a 1964 Edgar Wallace krimi from Rialto.

The opening sequence is pleasingly clever and witty.

The real story begins with the arrival in London of Kathleen Kent (Judith Dornys). She has been living in Australia. She is accompanied by a law student from Sydney, a Mr Westlake, who claims to be her legal advisor and bodyguard. Since he’s played by Eddi Arent we tend to doubt his competence in either of these rôles.

Kathleen and Westlake are taken to their hotel where they discover they are prisoners. It takes them, and the audience, a while to start getting some idea of what is going on. Twenty years earlier a casino operator named Real (Rudolf Forster) cheated Kathleen’s father out of his entire fortune. Real is now old and he feels guilty about his past misdeeds. He summoned Kathleen to London to make amends. He intends to restore her father’s fortune to her.

So Real is a bad guy but maybe he has now become a good guy. Real’s assistant is a barrister named Spedding. We don’t know if he’s really a good guy or not.

We assume that Connor and his associates, the men who are holding Kathleen prisoner, are definitely bad guys. But what about Jimmy Flynn? Jimmy seems very friendly with all the crooks but he’s also very friendly with Inspector Angel (Harry Meyen) from Scotland Yard. The crooks don’t know whether to trust Jimmy, and nor does Inspector Angel. Nor, for that matter, does the viewer.

And then there’s the mysterious George (Klaus Kinski), who keeps floating about silently. We have no idea whose side he’s on.

Apart from trying to figure out how to distinguish the good guys from the bad we also have to consider the very real possibility that some of the good guys will try double-cross other good guys and some of the bad guys will undoubtedly double-cross some of their fellow bad guys.

To add another complication, there’s an unknown sniper who shoots people from time to time.

Real’s fortune is kept in a secret vault protected by ingenious, imaginative and apparently impregnable security devices. Everybody would like to know how to get into that vault and out again while staying alive.

Several people have already been murdered (one of them was murdered in three different ways simultaneously) so this is a rather dangerous game.

The fact that the chief of Scotland Yard, Sir John (Siegfried Schürenberg), is taking a personal interest in the case naturally gives us those of us who have seen him in action in other krimis no confidence at all.

Judith Dornys as Kathleen Kent is clearly the heroine and she’s likeable enough if not particularly memorable. We’re not sure if the hero will turn out to be Inspector Angel or Jimmy Flynn, or maybe somebody else. We’re not sure who will turn out to be the real villain.

Harald Leipnitz as Jimmy Flynn is reasonably good. Siegfried Schürenberg grown on me more and more. Klaus Kinski looks suitably mysterious and sinister.

The plot twists and turns all over the place, which is what you want in a krimi.

Franz Josef Gottlieb does a solid job and throws in some nice visual set-pieces.

Visually the movie is impressive and imaginative, especially the wonderful hidden vault complex sets.

This movie was shot in black-and-white and in Ultrascope, one of those cheaper Cinemascope equivalents that were popular at that time.

The Tobis Blu-Ray transfer looks terrific. It offers the options of the English dubbed version or the German language version with English subtitles. It is always a good idea to avoid the English dubbed versions of krimis.

The Curse of the Hidden Vault is a typical krimi and there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t break any new ground but it delivers the pleasures that you expect from this genre. Highly recommended.

Saturday 26 August 2023

The Island of the Fishmen (1979)

The Island of the Fishmen AKA Island of Mutations (original Italian title L'isola degli uomini pesce) is a 1979 horror film directed by Sergio Martino. It was released in the US by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in a heavily edited form (including a great deal of newly shot footage replacing existing footage) under the title Screamers.

It is 1891 and a French prison ship has sunk, presumably somewhere in the Caribbean. There are a dozen or so survivors but their troubles have just begun. Something drags their lifeboat towards an island. They assume it’s a current but we have seen enough to know that there’s something sinister in the sea.

Half a dozen men make it to the beach but before long only three remain alive, the ship’s medical officer Lieutenant Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) and two prisoners.

One of the prisoners is convinced that this is a voodoo island. He’s at least partially correct.

They think their troubles are over when a beautiful young woman rides up on horseback but she informs them that the island belongs to Mr Rackham and that he does not like trespassers and they would be well advised to leave. They will later discover that the woman is Amanda Marvin (Barbara Bach).

They make their way to the house of Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson) and he seems inclined to be hospitable.

There’s tension in the house between Amanda and Mr Rackham. He clearly has romantic designs on her and she most definitely does not reciprocate his feelings. The household also includes a Haitian voodoo priestess, Shakira (Beryl Cunningham), and she seems to feel a certain attraction to Rackham. There are other voodoo priestesses on the island and Rackham has a small private army of presumably Haitian warriors.

There are monstrous things living in the swamps and in the sea. They seem to be half man and half fish. Everyone on the island is aware of them and they don’t seem too worried. Claude on the other hand is very worried.

As one might have predicted a romance blossoms between Claude and Amanda. Gradually Claude learns the truth about what Rackham is up to on the island, and he also discovers that his services as a doctor are required. Rackham needs him to keep an old man alive. The old man is Amanda’s father Professor Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotten). The professor had been involved in a scandal some years earlier, a scandal involving horrifying medical experiments. Rackham has good reasons for needing Professor Marvin’s services.

Just as Claude has put all the pieces of the puzzle together he finds that there are important things he did not know and those things change the picture completely.

Professor Marvin, Rackham and Shakira are all mad, but mad in different ways. Somehow Claude has to find a way to save Amanda. And there’s a time factor - this is a volcanic island and the volcano seems to be getting much more active.

The script obviously uses The Island of Dr Moreau as a jumping-off point but pretty soon the story starts developing in rather different directions. There are hints of certain well-known legends and some very definite Lovecraftian elements but I don’t want to risk spoilers by saying any more.

Richard Johnson is excellent as the sinister obsessed Rackham. Claudio Cassinelli plays the hero rôle pretty well and Barbara Bach is a fine spirited heroine (and she adds some glamour).

The movie has a definite steampunk feel. There are occasionally cheesy moments but the Italians had a knack for making cheesiness stylish. And mostly it isn’t that cheesy. The special effects work pretty well. The fishmen are obviously guys in rubber suits but they look fine. The sets are great. As low budget movies go this one looks terrific.

This isn’t really a horror movie. It’s more like a mutated version of a late 19th century scientific romance with some horror thrown in.

This movie doesn’t seem to have much of a reputation which might be a consequence of that heavily altered US version referred to earlier. This movie is so much fun. You’re not supposed to take it seriously. It’s a romp and it’s done with style and energy. Very highly recommended.

Full Moon’s Blu-Ray release is barebones but the transfer is excellent.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (Così dolce... così perversa) was the second of the series of gialli made by Umberto Lenzi and starring Carroll Baker. It was released in 1969.

Jean Reynaud (Jean-Louis Trintignant) lives in a swank Paris apartment with his wife Danielle (Erika Blanc). Their marriage could best be described as an armed truce. They don’t sleep together. Jean has affairs. At the moment he’s having an affair with a married woman, Helene Valmont (Helga Liné).

Jean is chronically bored. He is always searching for something, anything, to relieve his boredom.

The apartment on the top floor, just above theirs, has just been rented by an American woman. We will soon find out that this is Nicole Perrier (Carroll Baker). Jean notices her immediately. He always notices beautiful women.

Then he hears sounds from Nicole’s apartment. It sounds like a violent argument between a man and a woman and the woman sounds frightened. Jean races upstairs but Nicole’s apartment is locked and no-one will answer the door.

Then Jean remembers that he has a key to that upstairs apartment. It had been given to him when the apartment was untenanted and he had forgotten to return it. He heads upstairs again and lets himself in. He finds Nicole in an agitated state, but she refuses his offers of help.

Jean doesn’t think too much more about the incident but the following day he spots Nicole in the street. He follows her, to a photographic studio. He hears another violent argument. Nicole bursts out of the door, again very agitated, and asks Jean to take her away from there.

When he finally persuades her to talk she tells him about Klaus and about how much she hates him, but she can’t break away from him. Klaus is cruel and brutal and twisted and sadistic. But Nicole keeps going back to him. He excites her.

This should have been a red flag for Jean, but Jean thinks of himself as a sophisticated man of the world and as a man who can handle any situation. He doesn’t want to admit that he might be getting out of his depth with Nicole.

He will soon discover just how far out of his depth he already is.

He has fallen hard for Nicole. They begin an affair. Danielle is jealous and upset. Jean did not expect that. It is possible that Jean is one of those men who doesn’t understand women anywhere near as well as he thinks he does.

Jean and Danielle set off for a romantic getaway but the bad news is that Klaus has tracked them down.

Then the plot twists start to come thick and fast and they’re delightfully twisted and nasty. You can't take anybody in this movie at face value.

This movie belongs to an incredibly interesting period in the history of the giallo. Mario Bava had made a full-blown giallo in 1964, Blood and Black Lace, but it failed to start a trend. Then, right at the tail end of the 60s, came a number of movies in which you can see the giallo beginning to emerge as a distinct genre but with a slightly different feel to the movies that followed in the wake of Dario Argento’s 1970 Bird with the Crystal Plumage. These late 60s movies were all about sex, decadence, betrayal and murder among the rich and glamorous (what was known at the time as the Jet Set). These movies included Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968) and Lucio Fulci’s One on Top of the Other (1969) as well as the first couple of Umberto Lenzi-Carroll Baker gialli.

So Sweet...So Perverse taps into the same vein of decadence, betrayal and murder.

The screenplay was mostly the work of Ernesto Gastaldi and that’s a major plus. His screenwriting credits include such gems as the excellent gothic horror The Long Hair of Death and important gialli including The Sweet Body of Deborah, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, All the Colors of the Dark and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key as well as the fascinating Secrets of a Call Girl (AKA Anna, The Pleasure, The Torment, 1973).

Carroll Baker is of course fabulous. But Jean-Louis Trintignant and Erika Blanc are just as good and their characters are just as important. Helga Liné is good also and Horst Frank is wonderfully sinister. This really is a great cast.

Severin’s Blu-Ray release looks fabulous and includes a fine audio commentary by Kat Ellinger.

So Sweet...So Perverse is highly recommended.

Sunday 20 August 2023

Modesty Blaise (1966) revisited

When I first saw Joseph Losey’s 1966 Modesty Blaise movie fifteen years ago I had never read a Modesty Blaise novel and had never set eyes on a Modesty Blaise comic-strip. I was of course vaguely aware of her as a comic-strip character but I had no feelings whatsoever one way or the other about the character. Since then I have read several of the novels and quite a few of the comic-strip adventures and I am now a confirmed Modesty Blaise fan. Which means that my reactions to the movie might now be quite different.

The first thing to say is that the comic-strip character Modesty Blaise, as created by Peter O’Donnell in 1963, is most emphatically not a female James Bond. She bears no resemblance whatsoever to Bond. She is not British, she is not a professional spy, she is not in any way shape or form part of the British Establishment. She is a retired super-criminal. She feels no remorse for her very successful criminal career. She does not take orders from anybody. She does jobs for Scotland Yard and for the British intelligence services but she is strictly a freelancer.

She is in fact much closer to being a female Simon Templar. She belongs to the literary tradition of the lone wolf rogue hero. It’s also worth mentioning that the novels and comic-strips are fairly serious spy/crime adventures. They are not spoofs.

It should also be pointed out that Modesty is not English. She is a British subject by marriage but her ethnicity is a mystery, even to herself. She has blocked out all memories of her nightmarish childhood. Given what we learn about her background and give the way she looks in the comic strip we might hazard a guess that she is either Slavic or southern European. Casting an Italian actress in the role was in fact quite appropriate, and Monica Vitti’s accent is not inappropriate either. There are major problems with Miss Vitti’s casting, but her nationality is not one of them.

The plot is wildly incoherent. Losey threw away Peter O’Donnell’s screenplay. O’Donnell had the last laugh - he turned his screenplay into the first Modesty Blaise novel and had a huge success with it while Losey’s movie bombed. Having thrown away the original screenplay Losey then made constant alterations to the new version. It’s possible that Losey thought that having a script that made no sense would be inherently funny.

Such as it is, the plot involves 50 million pounds’ worth of diamonds which have to be delivered as a bribe from the British Government to an Arab oil sheikh. Someone is trying to steal the diamonds. The British intelligence services have achieved nothing save for getting their top agent killed and in desperation they turn to Modesty Blaise and her partner Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp).

The man trying to steal the diamonds is super-villain Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde), with whom Modesty has tangled before. Gabriel makes various attempts to get the diamonds while British Intelligence suspects that Modesty might try to steal them herself. That’s it for the plot.

Of course in 1966 when the movie was made Bond Fever was at its height and there was obviously going to be enormous pressure to transform Modesty into a female James Bond and to make the movie as much like a Bond film as possible.

Director Joseph Losey had other ideas. What exactly his ideas were is difficult to say. He clearly had no understanding of the spy genre or the Bond films or the eurospy movies that had started to appear around this time. It’s also obvious that he had zero interest in making a movie that had any genuine connection at all with the Modesty Blaise comic-strip. It’s as if he decided to satirise the Bond films without actually having seen any of them, and to satirise the comic-strip without ever having read it. To spoof something successfully you need to understand it, and preferably you need to love it.

The movie turned out to be a trainwreck, but it’s a morbidly fascinating trainwreck. Losey was going for a surreal Pop Art confection and his total unsuitability for this directing job perversely makes it more surreal and psychedelic. You don’t know what’s going to happen next because Losey had no idea what was going to happen next either.

There are some wonderful Op Art visuals. The sets manage to look groovy and psychedelic. Modesty’s clothes, hairstyle and even hair colour change without any explanation in the middle of scenes. Losey presumably thought this was incredibly funny and clever. It isn’t. It’s just weird. But the weird elements injected into the movie for no reason at all add to the movie’s perverse fascination.

Monica Vitti lacks the athleticism and energy that the role required but maybe that’s why Losey wanted her - to make the movie an anti-Modesty Blaise movie rather than a Modesty Blaise movie. Terence Stamp is equally miscast as Willie Garvin.

There are compensations. Dirk Bogarde’s outrageously arch and camp performance is delicious. Harry Andrews is excellent as Tarrant, the British Intelligence chief. Clive Revill is very funny as Gabriel’s miserly Scottish accountant McWhirter. Rossella Falk is both amusing and slightly unsettling as Gabriel’s sadistic henchwoman (as possibly lover) Mrs. Fothergill.

The action scenes are not particularly exciting.

On the plus side this is a visually stunning and outrageous movie in a delirious Swinging 60s way. It’s worth seeing just for the visual delights.

Despite its flaws this movie is very much worth seeing. There’s no other movie quite like it. A movie from an era when studios would take risks on wildly unconventional totally crazy movies, and Modesty Blaise captures so much of the craziness of the 60s, a craziness that was so much more fun than the craziness of today. It’s not a Modesty Blaise movie and it’s a deeply flawed movie but it’s flaws are what makes it weirdly fascinating. With those thoughts in mind it’s recommended.

I’ve reviewed several of O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise novels - Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, Last Day In Limbo and I, Lucifer. They’re very much worth reading. And I've reviewed the early Modesty Blaise comics (in the collection The Gabriel Set-Up) which are also excellent

Thursday 17 August 2023

Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing is Wes Craven’s 1982 adaptation of the popular DC comic.

I’m at a bit of a disadvantage in reviewing this movie since I have never set eyes on a Swamp Thing comic. In fact my knowledge of American comics is close to zero and I have never ever read a superhero comic. I therefore have absolutely no idea how close this movie is to the spirit of the comic.

Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is a scientist who has just arrived at a research station deep in the swamplands somewhere or other. She also seems to be an agent for one of those sinister Washington intelligence agencies. 

Idealistic if slightly creepy genius scientist Dr Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is working on some hush-hush project involving plants. Washington is taking a keen interest in the project, and that’s always a worry.

Alec is working on a special formula with his sister, Dr Linda Holland (Nannette Brown). He thinks he can create plant-animal hybrids.

There’s a vague uneasy kind of attraction between Alice Cable and Alec Holland. She’s not entirely sure about him but she is fascinated.

There are bad guys with guns and they want Dr Holland’s secrets.

That formula is explosive, literally. And the explosion does something unexpected. It turns Alec Holland into a monstrous plant-animal hybrid. He becomes Swamp Thing.

The bad guys are in the pay of a megalomaniacal criminal mastermind, Arcane (Louis Jourdan). Arcane doesn’t just want the formula, he wants Swamp Thing captured as well. But how do you capture an invulnerable monster?

At this stage nobody knows that Swamp Thing is actually Alec Holland.

The bad guys are after Alice Cable as well. They think she has a vital notebook in her possession. Swamp Thing keeps saving her but it takes her a while to figure out that he’s a good monster rather than an evil monster, and it also takes her a while to realise that he is Dr Holland.

Of course a Beauty and the Beast style emotional bond develops between Alice and Swamp Thing.

There’s lots of action and narrow escapes as Arcane figures out that the only way to capture Swamp Thing is by using Alice as bait. And Alice and Swamp Thing have to prevent Arcane from using that formula.

Given that the comic originated in the 1970s it’s not surprising that there’s a certain amount of characteristic 70s paranoia in this movie.

Given that I’m unfamiliar with the comic I might be on shaky ground here but I suspect that many of the movie’s problems were inherent in the source material. Invulnerable monsters and heroes are not that interesting. An invulnerable hero with superpowers doesn’t have to figure out clever ways of escaping from chains or taking on a dozen armed bad guys. He just uses his invulnerability and unstoppability, which is a bit boring. His invulnerability also means that we never really feel that Swamp Thing and Alice are in real danger, so there’s a lack of suspense and dramatic tension.

There’s a bit too much reliance on what is really out-and-out magic (such as Swamp Thing’s healing powers) which means that several potentially poignant scenes lose any genuine impact. And Swamp Thing is just a bit too brave and noble.

Adrienne Barbeau is very good. She makes Alice a likeable heroine. She’s a Strong Female Character without being strident and without being perfect. She makes a few mistakes (she should have been a lot less trusting early on). By this stage of his career Louis Jourdan was playing villains quite often and it’s something he did very well. His smooth charm and sophistication made his villains extra scary. He made a very good Dracula in the BBC’s Count Dracula and he was a memorable Bond villain in Octopussy (one of my favourite Bond movies).

I love the swamp settings and Craven uses them very well. The effects are fairly good. Swamp Thing is of course a guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster, but I love guy-in-a-rubber-suit monsters.

Swamp Thing doesn’t quite come off but it’s reasonable entertainment. Recommended, with a few reservations. It looks nice on Blu-Ray and the disc includes an audio commentary by Wes Craven (who is quite realistic about the fact that the film was not a complete success).

Monday 14 August 2023

The Hound of Blackwood Castle (1968)

The Hound of Blackwood Castle (Der Hund von Blackwood Castle) is one of the later colour krimis made by West Germany’s Rialto Films. It came out in 1968. It was directed by Alfred Vohrer, the man responsible for many of the best of these Edgar Wallace movies.

We start with a man mauled to death by a huge savage dog. Since the man was out on the moors in heavy mist we immediately get a bit of a Hound of the Baskervilles vibe. There’ll be more of that vibe later.

Even before the opening credits roll things get creepier. A big guy with an eye-patch is taking a dead body somewhere in a rowing boat, on a fog-shrouded river. Later we find out that the eye-patch guy is Grimsby, an old family retainer of the now deceased owner of Blackwood Castle.

Then we move into full-on Edgar Wallace krimi mode. There’s a semi-derelict castle. The owner has recently died and has left the castle (Blackwood Castle) to his beautiful young blonde daughter Jane Wilson (Karin Baal). There are lots of suitably gothic cobwebs all through the castle. And I haven’t mentioned the castle’s collection of deadly snakes yet.

There’s some concern at the local inn. One of the guests, a Mr Tucker, went for a walk and never came back. A howling dog was heard that night.

A man named Connery (Heinz Drache) arrives at the inn and immediately disappears into a secret passageway. His behaviour in general is suspicious, but then everybody in this movie behaves suspiciously. New suspicious characters just keep on arriving. Fairbanks (Horst Tappert) seems very suspicious indeed.

Another mysterious stranger turns up at the castle and tells Jane’s lawyer Jackson (Hans Söhnker) that he’s prepared to offer a ludicrously large amount of money to buy the castle, but Jackson doesn’t inform Jane of the offer.

Another body turns up, it gets dragged away by one man just as Grimsby shows up, apparently also intent on dragging that body off. The body turns up at the castle, Scotland Yard is called, and the body disappears again. Other mysterious characters turn up and they’re clearly up to something secretive.

This is all classic outrageous Rialto krimi stuff, and that’s the stuff I personally love.

The plot outrageousness continues and the bodies keep piling up. Sir John of Scotland Yard (Siegfried Schürenberg) is perplexed. Sir John has great confidence in his own investigative capabilities but that confidence is sadly misplaced.

There’s at least one nefarious conspiracy brewing here but there may be more than one. There's also a very clever mystery regarding the various murders and that dog.

A lot of the regulars of the early krimis had departed by this time. For this movie Rialto still managed to assemble a very capable cast, with Heinz Drache being particularly good. Karin Baal makes a fine heroine (assuming she isn’t a villainess and in this movie you can never be sure of anyone) and adds some glamour.

The departure of the series’ regular comic relief actor, the very popular Eddi Arent, was a blow. This time the comic relief is mostly provided by Sir John’s personal assistant, Miss Finley (Ilse Pagé). She’s genuinely amusing and Miss Finley is an appealing character. It’s Miss Finley who really runs Scotland Yard, not the bumbling Sir John. There are amusing hints that the relationship between Sir John and Miss Finley might not be purely professional. She is also more than a comic relief character. She is no fool and of all the people trying their hands at investigating the mystery she’s probably the sharpest and the cleverest. She became a regular in the later krimis, and a very popular one.

Peter Thomas’s score must be mentioned - his bizarre scores were a distinctive feature of Rialto’s krimis.

Alfred Vohrer directs with plenty of gusto.

Visually the movie is a delight, with the gothic trappings laid on extra thick.

The Hound of Blackwood Castle is very much a typical krimi but somehow it makes the forrnula seem fresh and exciting, even at times inspired. This movie is a complete delight. Very highly recommended.

The Tobis Blu-Ray offers an excellent 16:9 enhanced transfer and English-speaking viewers there’s a choice between the English dubbed soundtrack and the German soundtrack with English subtitles. The latter is very definitely the better option.

Thursday 10 August 2023

A Good Time with a Bad Girl (1967)

A Good Time with a Bad Girl is brought to us on DVD by Something Weird. It opens with the words Barry Mahon Presents superimposed on a jiggling naked female bottom. So you know this is not going to be Citizen Kane. We’re in sexploitation territory.

John Cabot (Vincent Van Lynn) is a very rich middle-aged businessman whose private jet has run into bad weather and has been forced to land in Las Vegas. Cabot will be stuck in Vegas for a while so he checks into a hotel. A very expensive hotel.

He gets a brainwave. He’ll call up his wife and suggest that she come out to Vegas as well. Their kids are grown up so she wouldn’t have any problem getting away. Cabot thinks it could be a fun romantic time. Their marriage is not on the rocks but it’s become a bit stale. They could both use some fun and excitement and romance. But she turns him down. She has to go to a Garden Club meeting.

John Cabot is rather peeved and he’s now a lonely slightly disillusioned middle-aged man stuck in Vegas. There’s plenty of fun to be had, but the idea of trying to have fun alone depresses him.

Then he meets Susan (Susan Evans). She’s young enough to be his daughter, she’s broke, she’s a high school dropout and she’s unemployed. She’s also as cute as a button.

As Cabot tells us in his voiceover narration, fate has laid a snare for him and he’s going to be caught in it. Whether he’ll be able to get out again is another matter.

Cabot of course falls for Susan. He tries to tell himself that it’s not just lust, that maybe he can help the girl. Maybe he can give her the benefit of his experience of life, and perhaps even rub some of the rough edges off her.

He starts to get disillusioned when she drags him to an orgy. He’s just not an orgy kind of guy. He’s more of a pipe and slippers kind of guy. He starts to have second thoughts about the desirability of having an affair with her.

The first thing we notice (after that naked female bottom in the opening credits sequence) is that Vincent Van Lynn actually can act. He’s not a great actor but he’s perfectly competent and he’s better than you expect in a low-budget skin flick.

The rest of the cast are alas not so good. Susan Evans can’t act but she does at least project the required mixture of innocence and cynicism.

While there’s a voiceover narration the movie was (unlike some sexploitation features of this era) shot with synchronised sound. The location shooting was done with live sound - there’s lot of traffic noise and other distracting noise. This actually gives the movie an interesting slightly cinéma vérité vibe.

There’s a lot of location shooting and it’s a treat seeing so much of the real Vegas circa 1967, rather than the glamourised Vegas you see in big studio pictures made at that time.

There’s plenty of skin but no frontal nudity and nothing even approaching explicit sex.

This is a movie that gives the impression it’s going to turn out to belong to the roughie sub-genre but it’s a misleading impression. It’s more of a nudie romantic melodrama with a bitter-sweet tinge. At times it seems that producer-writer-director Barry Mahon is tempted to add some real emotional depth and to explore the consequences of May-December romances, but then he decides to just add more topless dancing scenes.

This particular Something Weird triple-header DVD also includes the rather intriguing and oddly appealing Girl in Trouble (1963) and Bad Girls Do Cry (1954) which I have yet to watch. A Good Time with a Bad Girl gets a reasonable transfer when you consider most of these 1960s sexploitation movies only survive in the form of somewhat battered (sometimes very battered) release prints.

A Good Time with a Bad Girl is entertaining in an odd and even at times touching sort of way, assuming that like me you’re a devotee of the strange but fascinating world of 1960s American sexploitation. Recommended.

Monday 7 August 2023

Cat People (1982) revisited

If you want to properly appreciate Paul Schrader’s 1982 Cat People you have to avoid thinking of it as a remake of the 1942 Cat People. It is not a remake. Schrader took the basic idea of the 1942 film and used it to make an entirely different movie. Simply remaking a movie is a pointless exercise and it’s even more pointless in the case of a masterpiece like the 1942 Cat People. Schrader understood this.

Taking the premise of an earlier movie and doing something radically different with it, as Schrader did, can however be very worthwhile. It can result in a new movie that is in its own way just as interesting and just as good as the earlier film. The 1982 Cat People falls into this category. If you approach it determined to accept it on its own terms then you’re in for a wild and exciting cinematic ride.

Incidentally with the benefit of hindsight Schrader believed that he should have changed the title.

Irena Gallier (Nastassja Kinski) arrives in New Orleans to be reunited with her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) whom she hasn’t since since she was four. They are orphans. Their parents had been circus folk.

Almost as soon as she arrives Paul disappears. We know that in fact he is still around. He is in a cage in the zoo. He is now a leopard.

Irena has encountered a nice young man named Oliver (John Heard) who is a curator at the New Orleans Zoo. He gets her a job there. There is an immediate strong attraction between Irena and Oliver.

Irena doesn’t know that the zoo’s new black leopard is Paul but she senses something strange about the animal, something that fascinates her.

Irena gradually learns the truth, that she and Paul are not wholly human. They are like lycanthropes, but they transform into leopards. That truth about her nature will have consequences for her relationship with Oliver. And then bodies start to accumulate. Irena can’t believe that Paul could be responsible although the evidence seems to point that way.

Irena is a virgin and that’s significant. There’s a reason she is afraid to have sex with a man, and she slowly figures out what that reason is.

The movie invents its own cat people mythology, or cat people lore. Irena and Paul are cat people, as were their parents. They can only safely have sex with their own kind, in other words with each other. If they have sex with outsiders they transform into leopards. They then must kill. When they have killed they revert to their human form.

Paul knows all this, which is why he exhibits such an obvious sexual interest in Irena. This horrifies Irena. She does not want to accept the truth about herself and she does not want to accept the consequences to which that truth will lead.

Oliver has a bit of an obsession with Dante and sees Irena as Beatrice, which adds another wrinkle to the movie.

The ending of Alan Ormsby’s screenplay did not satisfy Schrader. He came up with his own very different ending, which was what was filmed. Schrader was correct. His ending is vastly superior, and it’s a truly great ending.

Schrader was heavily influenced by European film-making of the 1960s and Cat People is an American film set in America but with a definite European sensibility. He liked New Orleans as a setting because he considered it to be the least American of all American settings. He also wanted Nastassja Kinski (she was his first choice for the rôle) because she looked European. It works. It gives the movie a mysterious exotic quality, as if it takes place in a slightly different reality.

Immense thought and effort and imagination were put into the visuals of this movie and the effort paid off. It has its own distinctive unsettling mysterious look. It really is visually superb.

And it was all done in the old school way. These were the pre-CGI days. This film uses matte paintings and in-the-camera optical effects and coloured gels and makeup and the end result is stunning.

Malcolm McDowell is terrific. This was the kind of outrageous off-the-wall kind of rôle at which he excelled. He’s scary and creepy and strange.

But Nastassja Kinski is even better. This is her movie and she gives her career-best performance. She’s sexy in a weird exotic unsettling way, she conveys Irena’s confusion and anguish very effectively and she manages to seem subtly cat-like. Her performance is all the more impressive when you remember that she was just twenty when this movie was made.

Schrader’s Cat People is in its own way just as good as the ’42 movie. An erotic horror movie, with the emphasis on the erotic. Very highly recommended.

The DVD includes a very enlightening audio commentary by the director plus some other worthwhile extras.

Friday 4 August 2023

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Mark of the Vampire is a 1935 MGM horror movie (yes, MGM did make a few horror movies in the 30s) directed by Tod Browning. And it’s a vampire movie starring Bela Lugosi. In this movie he’s Count Mora rather than Count Dracula (the name change being necessitated by the fact that Universal were in a mood to sue anybody who dared to use the name Dracula).

Mark of the Vampire provokes violently mixed reactions among horror fans, the main reason being a certain plot twist, but I won’t say any more for fear of revealing spoilers.

My main reservation about this movie has always been based on the presence of Lionel Barrymore in the cast. In fact he gets top billing. Lionel Barrymore was the biggest ham in the history of cinema and he could annoying.

There’s also the vexed Tod Browning question. Browning has his admirers but he has a lot of detractors and the doubts about his abilities as a director mostly stem from dislike of his 1931 Dracula. I don’t hate Dracula as much as some people do. It has its problems with poor pacing and excessive staginess but it has its merits as well and I’ve slowly warmed to it, to an extent at least.

Mark of the Vampire is a remake of Browning’s 1927 mega-hit London After Midnight which had starred Lon Chaney Sr. It’s impossible to compare the two films since the last surviving print of London After Midnight was destroyed in a vault fire in the late 1960s.

The biggest problem with Mark of the Vampire is that it is partially a lost film as well. It ran into massive problems with the Production Code. It also suffered from a great deal of studio interference and was previewed many times and re-edited many times. Consequently this is a movie that was hacked to pieces. About a quarter of the movie was lost, and most of the cut scenes do not survive. All we have is a horribly butchered version. Unfortunately it appears that many of the scenes that were cut were scenes involving Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland - in other words some of the best bits of the movie were removed and destroyed. As a result there is simply no way to make a proper judgment on this movie.

The movie (or what remains of it) opens with the murder of a nobleman, Sir Carol Borotyn. The setting seems to be central Europe. Mosty it takes place in the late Sir Carol’s castle. It is set in contemporary times, in 1934 in fact.

Dr Doskil (played by Donald Meek) believes Sir Carol was killed by a vampire. The villagers and the servants tend to agree.

The police officer in charge of the case, Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill), scoffs at such superstitious nonsense. He believes he is dealing with a straightforward murder. Sir Carol was a very rich man. Several people stood to gain financially by his death - including his daughter Irena Borotyn (Elizabeth Allan), her fiancé Fedor Vincente (Henry Wadsworth), Irena’s guadian Baron Otto (Jean Hersholt).

Then Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) arrives on the scene. He’s the Van Helsing character. He has no doubt that they are dealing with a vampire.

In fact probably two vampires. Local legends point to a certain Count Mora and his daughter Luna. The Count is naturally played by Bela Lugosi, with Carol Borland as Luna.

Both Irena and Fedor are attacked by the vampire but survive. Professor Zelin has plans to track the vampires down in their lair and destroy them.

Then we get that major plot twist.

I saw this movie years ago on VHS. Seeing it now on Blu-Ray obviously makes it easier to appreciate the visuals, and it is a good-looking movie. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is a major asset.

Dracula had made quite an impact in 1931 with its stunning gothic imagery. Mark of the Vampire is more polished and perhaps visually more impressive than Dracula. The special effects (such as the bats) are done quite well. The gothic atmosphere in the castle is achieved superbly. There are some wonderful spooky images. Luna's flying scene is a highlight.

Barrymore is not quite as irritating as I’d feared. Lionel Atwill is good. Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland are not called upon to do anything more than look disturbingly creepily vampiric and they manage that very convincingly. Elizabeth Allan makes a good heroine without being insipid.

The minor supporting players are there to provide comic relief. There’s way too much of that in the movie and it’s excruciating.

It has to be admitted that the amazingly convoluted plot makes no sense at all. None whatsoever.

Tod Browning had an up-and-down career during the 1930s, with the downs outnumbering the ups. He only made a couple of movies after Mark of the Vampire. The Devil-Doll, made the following year, is a rather good mad scientist movie. I’m quite fond of his final movie, Miracles for Sale (1939).

I liked Mark of the Vampire a bit more this time around. It’s livelier and more technically sophisticated than Dracula and it’s fairly entertaining. Whether you will decide that the ending ruins the movie is up to you. Recommended.

Tuesday 1 August 2023

Murder Mansion (1972)

The Murder Mansion (La mansion de la niebla) is a 1972 Italian-Spanish co-production directed by a Spaniard, Francisco Lara Polop. 

It’s included in one of Vinegar Syndrome’s Forgotten Gialli boxed sets but whether it will really turn out to be a true giallo remains to be seen.

It begins with a guy in a muscle car racing a guy on a motorcycle on the country road. They both spot a pretty female hitchhiker, both pull up at the same time but the girl chooses to accept a lift from muscle car guy. As soon as they drive off he starts fondling her thighs.

Shortly afterwards the motorcyclist (his name is Fred) stops at a roadside diner and there’s the girl hitchhiker again (her name is Laura). They start to fall for each other right away. They decide to press on to the next town even though it’s getting late. They have a choice between the highway and the old road. The old road is shorter, but fog can be a hazard at this time of year. They pick the old road anyway, which could turn out to be a big mistake.

Sure enough they get lost in the fog. By an old cemetery they encounter a woman whose E-Type Jag has broken down. This is Elsa, a successful business woman. Elsa claims that after her car broke down she was chased by a big hulking guy in a chauffeur’s uniform. The chauffeur was accompanied by an old lady. It was the horrible breathing noises that really scared Elsa.

The trio take refuge in an old house. It’s not an abandoned house. The owner, Martha Clinton, is there. Along with a bunch of other people all of whom managed to get lost in the fog. There’s muscle car guy, whose name turns out to be Porter. He greets them at the door with a gun but we soon conclude that he’s jumpy rather than hostile. There’s also Elsa’s lawyer and his wife. Martha Clinton is happy to put them all up for the night. By morning the fog will have cleared and they can all be on their way.

Martha Clinton tells her unexpected house guests that there used to be a town here but it was abandoned years ago because of the vampire. There were rumours of witchcraft as well. She also tells them about her aunt who used to live in the house. The aunt had a big hulking chauffeur but he was killed in an accident thirty years earlier. The aunt is long dead as well.

What with being lost in the fog and the tales of vampires and the creepy atmosphere of the house everybody is a bit on edge. Elsa is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, something that has happened to her frequently since her father’s death in rather unsavoury circumstances. Elsa starts having flashbacks to her past.

Those sinister breathing noises are heard again. The chauffeur is seen again. Fred and Laura find some strange things in the basement. And then the first corpse is discovered. Everybody is frightened and Elsa is becoming very disturbed and unstable. She’s not the only one.

It’s a classic setup with a small group of people effectively cut off. The fog is so thick that there is no way of leaving the house. Whatever kind of monster they’re dealing with can pick them off one by one.

There’s a touch of the Old Dark House genre here.

This was Francisco Lara Polop’s first feature, and it was a promising debut. He went on to make quite a few movies and was still active as late as 1990 but I suspect that his other movies might be quite difficult to track down.

The creepy scary atmosphere is created very effectively and the fog makes things really unsettling. Guglielmo Mancori’s cinematography is extremely good.

The acting is fine, with Ida Galli (credited as Evelyn Stewart) being particularly impressive as Martha Clinton. I also liked Franco Fantasia as Porter. Analía Gadé has some great moments as Elsa.

The big question is, what kind of movie is this? It certainly seems more like gothic horror than giallo but to answer that question you’ll have to watch the movie.

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-Ray (from their Forgotten Gialli Volume 3 boxed set) provides an excellent 16:9 enhanced transfer. The only extra is an interview with Ida Galli who is rather proud of the film. Spanish, English and Italian audio options are included. Miss Galli remembers the movie as having been originally shot in English.

No matter what genre you decide it belongs to The Murder Mansion is crazy oddball and fun and looks good. Highly recommended.