Saturday 30 September 2023

9½ Weeks (1986)

I’ve always thought that pop culture peaked in the 60s and 70s and the 80s is a decade that more or less passed me by. I am slowly learning to love at least some 80s pop culture and I’m trying to catch up on 80s movies that everybody has seen, everybody but me that is. Which brings us to Adrian Lyne’s 9½ Weeks. It’s supposed to be an erotic classic. We shall see.

Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) works in a New York art gallery which deals in worthless pretentious 20th century art. Quite by accident she meets John (Mickey Rourke). He’s one of those very rich guys who does things with money that no-one else understands. He seems slightly weird, but he is rich. They begin an affair.

It is painfully obvious from the start that John is weird and creepy. And it becomes obvious that he wants their relationship to explore some of the more outré areas of sexuality. Elizabeth, being a girl who works in an art gallery, thinks she’s sophisticated and worldly but she’s as shocked by all this sexual experimentation. She goes along with it because she finds John weirdly fascinating, and after all he is rich.

This is a movie that is as much about the erotic appeal of money as it is about sex.

John’s sexual demands become more and more kinky and Elizabeth starts to freak out.

In a completely pointless subplot which we’re supposed to believe is crucial she becomes obsessed with the work of a painter named Farnsworth. His paintings are the kind of rubbish that trendy New Yorkers love so much.

Elizabeth starts to rebel against John’s increasingly weird sexual demands and wonders if there’s any future in the relationship.

So that’s the plot. Boy meets girl. Boy introduces girl to kinky sex. Girl likes it at first but then gets nervous.

The big problem I had with this movie is that I disliked every single character. I especially disliked John and Elizabeth. I just didn’t care whether things worked out for them or not.

Mickey Rourke’s idea of acting is to smirk a lot. He does manage to seem effectively weird and creepy, which is what is required of him.

Kim Basinger, like the character she plays, is all at sea. She gives the impression that she has no idea what the movie is about or what her character is about. She entirely fails to make Elizabeth seem like a real person.

This movie looks like an 80s music video, and it has about the same amount of depth and emotional resonance.

The only other Adrian Lyne movie I’ve seen is Fatal Attraction, which I hated. His career as a director was fairly brief and it’s easy to see why.

As for the eroticism, it’s mostly odd and creepy rather than steamy and kinky. It comes to life occasionally, and those brief moments are the only moments when the movie also comes to life.

I can see what the movie was trying to do. John wants to dominate Elizabeth but mostly he wants to teach her that she likes being dominated. Elizabeth enjoys this as long as she thinks it’s just a game but whenever it starts to get real she panics. Kim Basinger’s disconnected performance and Lyne’s shallow music video aesthetic approach prevents this interesting dynamic from developing in a truly convincing way.

It should have taken these two about 9½ minutes to figure out that their relationship wasn’t going to work.

Eroticism is a subject that Hollywood has always struggled with. European film-makers have been able to make intelligent provocative movies about sex but it’s difficult to think of worthwhile Hollywood movies dealing with this subject. Secretary is one of the shining exceptions, a movie that succeeds in every area in which 9½ Weeks fails. Secretary works because its director seems comfortable with the subject matter. 9½ Weeks fails because its director seems to regard sex as dirty and sleazy.

9½ Weeks could be fun to watch if you’re having a bad movies night. With enough beer and popcorn you’d get a few laughs. I can’t think of any other way to approach this movie trainwreck.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Nothing Underneath (1985)

Nothing Underneath (AKA The Last Shot) is a 1985 ItaIian erotic thriller that can be considered as a very late entry in the giallo cycle. It’s a giallo with a dash of the paranormal. It was directed by Carlo Vanzina and written by Carlo and his brother Enrico.

Bob Crane (Tom Schanley) is a forest ranger in Wyoming. His twin sister Jessica has just hit the big time as a fashion model in Milan. The twins have some kind of psychic link and Bob becomes convinced that Jessica has been murdered. He believes the murder occurred in her hotel, the Hotel Scala. He hops on a plane for Italy (one assumes he’s an independently wealthy forest ranger).

Bob goes to the police. It’s obvious to Commissioner Danesi (Donald Pleasence) that Bob’s crazy story cannot possibly justify an investigation but despite himself Danesi is interested. He is much less sceptical of psychic phenomena than the average cop, he likes the young American and his policeman’s instinct is aroused. He has a hunch that maybe the case might be worth looking into.

When it transpires that Jessica has indeed disappeared Danesi becomes a lot more interested. He’s not sure exactly what it is that happened but he does agree with Bob that something certainly happened. Danesi is now as anxious as Bob find Jessica.

The life of a fashion model like Jessica is glamorous but can be dangerous, a life fuelled by sex and cocaine. This was the 80s, the decade of cocaine. It was also a decade in which Milan was at the height of its economic and cultural influence. And for Milan it was a decade dominated by fashion, money, glamour, sex, drugs and decadence.

Bob is out of place is such a world. To some extent so too is Danesi. He’s about to retire and he isn’t entirely comfortable in the brash new world of 80s Milan. The investigation plunges both Danesi and Bob into this world. Bob befriends a model named Barbara (Renée Simonsen) who knew Jessica.

Danesi discovers that other models have disappeared or been found murdered and the Hotel Scala seems to be a common thread.

Danesi and Bob discover that the key to the mystery is a bizarre event that occurred shortly before Jessica’s disappearance.

The violence and sex in this movie are quite mild by giallo standards but Vanzina pulls off some fine suspense scenes. There’s a solid giallo plot. As a giallo it works extremely well. It has plenty of giallo trademarks including a black-gloved killer and unhealthy sexual obsessions.

Nothing Underneath was based (very loosely) on a novel which was a sensational and scathing account of the intrigues and excesses of the Milanese fashion world. Surprisingly enough the movie was originally going to be directed by Antonioni. That would have been a very different but possibly extremely interesting movie, a kind of Blow-Up for the 80s. Antonioni wrote a treatment based on the novel. When Antonioni dropped out of the project producer Achille Manzotti had a re-think and eventually brought in Carlo Vanzina to direct.

Vanzina scrapped Antonioni’s treatment and decided to do the film as more of a giallo, although retaining the novel’s focus on the decadence and corruption of the Milanese fashion world.

The movie was also inspired by a notorious real-life murder involving a model.

It wears its influences on is sleeve and a very major influence was clearly Brian De Palma (especially Body Double) although Enrico Vanzina was also a huge fan of Klute.

Nothing Underneath has at times almost a bit of a Miami Vice vibe.

A lot of real models appear in the movie and many of the actresses were models as well. It certainly helps that the models look like models.

The main criterion for choosing cast members was that they had the right look but they give good performances with Renée Simonsen as Barbara being particularly good.

Nothing Underneath was a huge hit at the time. It’s an effective giallo and a fascinating time capsule of 1980s Milan. It has sex, drugs, glamour, murder and decadence and it’s hard to go wrong with those ingredients. Nothing Underneath is highly recommended.

The Nucleus Films Blu-Ray looks great and is packed with extras including two audio commentaries. The movie was shot in English and, unlike most earlier Italian movies, was not post-dubbed so the English soundtrack really is the original.

Monday 25 September 2023

The Moving Finger (1963)

The Moving Finger is a now totally forgotten 1963 crime thriller set in the Greenwich Village beatnik scene. It’s that beatnik scene that is the movie’s main focus. This movie is a real oddity, and a fascinating one.

There’s a bank robbery in Greenwich Village and it goes wrong. One of the robbers is shot but manages to escape with the money and takes refuge with a bunch of beatniks. They’re prepared to help him, on the grounds that they’d rather help him than help the cops. They also hope for a share of the money.

The beatniks live in the basement of a coffer shop run by Anatole (Lionel Stander). For Anatole the beatnik scene that he encourages is purely a money-making scheme. It attracts the tourists. The middle-aged Anatole and his young girlfriend seem to be doing very well out of those tourists. The girlfriend drives an E-Type Jag.

Mason (Barry Newman) seems to be a kind of unofficial leader of this band of beatniks. He’s the one who sees the possibility of getting hold of some of the loot from the bank job. He will not be the only one to whom such an idea will occur.

There’s a sleazy cop hunting the fugitive bank robber but he seems more concerned with getting into the pants of an underage beatnik girl.

The plot is thin to say the least. It is however a perfectly decent plot. Everyone in this movie is cheerfully dishonest and you almost feel sorry for the hapless bank robber who thinks he can trust them.

What makes this movie so fascinating is that it’s at least an attempt by writer-director Larry Moyer to offer a glimpse of the reality of the beatnik scene, rather than giving us the ludicrous and embarrassing phoney beatniks that populated other movies of this era. Anatole’s coffee shop feels reasonably authentic. I’m not saying it is authentic, but it has a more authentic feel than you’ll find in other movies.

This was 1963. Within a few short years the hippies would arrive and beatniks would become no more than an odd historical curiosity. The fact that we’re seeing a subculture on the verge of disappearing adds a certain piquancy. It makes the movie a real time capsule. By 1967 this film would have seemed hopelessly out-of-date.

The Moving Finger is interesting also for its touches of cynicism. The cops are crooked. The beatniks are being exploited for their money-making potential. The cute blonde beatnik girl Bridget is just slumming - her daddy has lots of money and she can go back to the world of money and privilege whenever she wants to. In fact one of the other beatniks is also a rich kid.

The beatniks take their lifestyle seriously but they’re happy to separate the wounded bank robber from his loot.

This is a very low-budget black-and-white movie that was clearly never going to get any kind of proper commercial release. The Production Code was on its last legs but in 1963 you weren’t going to get away with a movie openly showing drug-taking, and doing so without any kind of moral condemnation.

On the other hand there’s no nudity so maybe it wasn’t aimed at the grindhouse circuit either. There are plentiful hints that there’s lots of sexual activity going on and at one point five beatniks, four guys and a girl, have a shower together. There’s a general atmosphere of decadence.

The beatniks are dishonest but likeable enough.

The Moving Finger
satirises the beatniks but its satire is also aimed at the squares and the cops and pretty much everybody.

There’s some location shooting offering enticing glimpses of New York in 1963.

This is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but it’s an engagingly oddball movie, it’s a fascinating look at a vanished subculture and it is fun. Highly recommended.

This movie was released on a Something Weird double-header DVD, paired with Brian de Palma’s Murder à la Mod (1968).

Saturday 23 September 2023

The House with Laughing Windows (1976)

The House with Laughing Windows is a rather strange 1976 Italian horror film directed by Pupi Avati.

A fresco has been discovered in a church in a little Italian village. The subject is the martyrdom of St Sebastian. It was painted by a notorious artist named Legnani. He was notorious for his obsession with death and his incredibly disturbing style. 

He was also totally and comprehensively insane.

Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) is a professional restorer and he is keen to get to work on the fresco. He runs into an old friend, Antonio, who has had a nervous breakdown and gives the impression he’s headed for another one.

Stefano meets the local schoolteacher. She has a reputation as a nymphomaniac. She seems pleasant enough and he sleeps with her. A few days later she has mysteriously left the village. Her replacement is a young woman named Francesca. Stefano sleeps with her as well. The schoolteachers in this village seem like a very friendly lot.

There is a sudden and slightly mysterious death, possibly a suicide.

Wherever Stefano goes all sorts of mildly disturbing things seem to follow him. He gets threatening telephone calls. He is told that he has to leave the town’s only hotel because a busload of tourists is about to arrive. He later finds out that no tourist has come anywhere near this village for decades. An odd young man finds Stefano a place to stay. It is a dilapidated villa. It’s only other inhabitant is a paralysed old woman.

Stefano finds a tape recording, apparently made by Legnani before his death. The man was obviously even more insane than people thought. It’s just endless angry unhinged crazy rantings about colours and about death. Stefano is getting quite uneasy by now. He’s also becoming obsessed by that crazy painter. He has heard very strange stories and he’s both horrified and fascinated.

He is slowly coming to realise that something very evil happened in this village and it’s by no means certain that the evil is going to stay in the past. The town council and the local police don’t seem very interested. The town drunk has some hair-raising stories to tell, which may or may not be true.

Neither Stefano nor the viewer has any idea what kind of evil lurks in this village, and no idea if it’s a supernatural evil or a human evil.

This is certainly not a gore movie but it has some pretty harrowing scenes.

As for the ending, I thought it was pretty silly and contrived but your mileage may vary.

Avati goes for a colour palette based on earth colours. Such a choice can give a movie a pleasantly bucolic look but that is not Avati’s intention. He seems to be aiming for a feeling of decay and even decomposition. This is one of the most visually miserable and depressing movies you will ever see.

In fact the director was presumably wanting the viewer to feel that the village is haunted by a sense of desolation and madness. The countryside seems idyllic in some ways but there’s always a subtly sinister edge to it.

The acting is adequate. Lino Capolicchio plays Stefano as a slightly odd kinds of guy, which fits the mood of the movie.

Director Pupi Avati claims that the movie was based on an Italian fairy tale which scared the daylights out of him as a child.

The UK DVD release from Shameless looks good. The only significant extra is an interview with the director who talks abut what a liberating experience it was for him making this movie on a minuscule budget.

I wasn’t totally sold on The House with Laughing Windows but it does take a slightly off-kilter stylistic approach which is interesting. It’s worth a look.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

The Turn of the Screw (1974)

The Turn of the Screw is a 1974 TV-movie adaptation of the famous Henry James ghost story. The original novella was published in 1898. The Turn of the Screw was produced and directed by Dan Curtis and scripted by William F. Nolan. It originally aired on the American ABC network. It was one of a series of TV-movies he made around that time based on gothic horror classics.

Miss Jane Cubberly (Lynn Redgrave) has accepted the position of governess at Bly House in Essex. She will be in charge of the household which includes nine-year-old Flora (Eva Griffith) and fourteen-year-old Miles (Jasper Jacob). They are orphans. Their uncle and guardian, Mr Fredricks (John Barron), is perfectly prepared to accept the costs of their upbringing but he has no interest in children and wants to have as little to do with them as possible. He expects Miss Cubberly to assume the entire responsibility for the children and the household.

Bly House seems at first to be a spacious, airy, cheerful house and the children seem likeable and rather charming.

On her first day there Miss Cubberly thinks she sees a man standing in the grounds but no-one else sees him and when she looks again there is nobody there. She decides that she is probably over-tired from her journey.

One things that seems a little odd is that the children are forbidden to mention the previous governess, Miss Jessel. All that Miss Cubberly knows is that Miss Jessel is now dead.

Nobody wants to talk about Peter Quint either. He had been in charge at Bly House until his own death a few months earlier.

Several things make Miss Cubberly uneasy. She hears stories about Peter Quint. It seems that he was regarded as an unsavoury character. She finds some letters that make it plain that Peter Quint and Miss Jessel were having a sexual relationship. Miss Cubberly is horrified. It is obvious to her that Miss Jessel must have been a wicked evil woman.

Miss Cubberly is convinced that she has seen both Peter Quint and Miss Jessel in various places in the house and in the grounds.

She is certain that Peter Quint and Miss Jessel were evil influences on the children and that they are still exerting a demonic influence from beyond the grave. She feels that the children are in extreme danger from the powers of evil.

She is also rather disturbed by the behaviour of Miles.

The reason that the Henry James novella is regarded so highly is that it’s a somewhat ambiguous ghost story and it can be, and has been, interpreted in various ways. A successful adaptation of the novella has to maintain a certain level of ambiguity for as long as possible. We have to be unsure whether Miss Cubberly has actually seen ghosts or whether it is all the product of her overheated imagination. Of course when adapting the story the screenwriter might choose to resolve the story in different ways, either strongly suggesting a supernatural explanation or suggesting that it really is all in Miss Cubberly’s imagination.

This adaptation maintains the ambiguity fairly effectively. We know that Peter Quint was an unpleasant man who may well have been a bad influence on Miles. We know that Quint and Miss Jessel had a sexual relationship. We know that Miles is rather odd, and that he seems to be inclined to be cruel. But Miss Cubberly is the only one who sees ghosts.

The idea that it’s her overactive imagination is certainly very plausible. Miss Cubberly is clearly horrified by any thought of sex, but at the same time the stories about Peter Quint seem to have unlocked her repressed erotic longings. She has erotic dreams about him.

And she is perhaps out of her depth with Miles, who at times seems a bit more grown-up than he should be. It’s as if he’s fourteen going on thirty. He seems perhaps a bit too aware of Miss Cubberly’s womanliness. Of course this could be because he is possessed by the spirit of a grown man, Peter Quint. That’s assuming that he really is possessed, which is by no means certain.

This version has a very TV-movie look, which was obviously unavoidable. It was shot on videotape in Britain, using a multiple-camera setup.

The lack of real visual flair does have the effect of putting the focus on the performances. Lynn Redgrave is superb. She conveys the fact that Miss Cubberly is becoming more and more unhinged but manages to convince us that this could be explained by her own psycho-sexual problems or by the fact that she really is up against the supernatural. Jasper Jacob is extraordinarily unsettling as Miles. Everything about the relationship between Miss Cubberly and Miles is unsettling.

The Dan Curtis Macabre Collection includes this movie and three other gothic TV-movies produced by Dan Curtis in the late 60s and 70s (not all of which he directed himself). The transfer is OK considering that it’s a TV-movie. The only extra for The Turn of the Screw is a mini-doco which includes interviews with Dan Curtis and Lynn Redgrave. I must say I was surprised by Curtis’s explanation of his ending. It’s not at all the way I interpreted it.

This is a reasonably effective adaptation and a fairly decent low-key gothic horror movie. Compared to the novella it doesn’t quite manage to achieve the same level of truly disturbing ambiguity. Recommended.

I’ve also reviewed Curtis’s TV-movie version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968).

Monday 18 September 2023

Black Boots, Leather Whip (1983)

Black Boots, Leather Whip (Botas negras, látigo de cuero) is one of the many movies Jess Franco made featuring private eye Al Pereira.

Al (Antonio Mayans) is about to leave town in a hurry. He owes a lot of money to some guys and they’re not guys who are very understanding about such things. Just as he’s about to leave Lina (Lina Romay) shows up and offers him a really simple job. All he has to do is go to the auto junkyard and retrieve her purse from the boot of a wrecked Dodge. For that he’ll get five thousand dollars.

It seems simple but two guys with guns turn up at the wrong moment. The two guys end up dead.

Al doesn’t look like a tough guy but obviously he is. We find out later that he’s an ex-cop with an unsavoury criminal record.

Lina manages to persuade Al that she didn’t set him up. She pays him his money and then since she has half an hour to kill she suggests they have sex. Which they do.

They decide to see each other again. Lina does a kinky nightclub act in the Whip of Leather, a club owned by her husband.

It’s not an ideal marriage since her husband Daniel isn’t interested in girls.

Daniel is part of a criminal gang involved in the usual rackets such as prostitution and drugs. If anything were to happen to any member of the gang that person’s share would be divided among the survivors. If Daniel were to be the last survivor Lina would be his heiress. If something were then to happen to Daniel Lina would get everything. Lina thinks this would be a good thing. If Al agrees to kill all the members of the gang he and Lina can go away together, with all that money.

That’s the plot and the first thing that will occur to Franco fans is that it’s a very straightforward conventional plot for a Franco movie. There is none of the dreamlike quality or the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality that you get in his best movies. This movie is almost aggressively grounded in reality.

It’s also a movie that has obvious affinities with film noir. The plot is pure film noir. Stylistically Franco is going for a neo-noir vibe - it’s a film noir story but he makes no attempt to capture the classic film noir visual style. This is film noir with an 80s visual sensibility.

This is not actually all that startling. Franco made a couple of good noirish crime films early in his career - Rififi in the City (1963) and Death Whistles the Blues (1964). They’re not only very competent exercises in film noir, they also have a very Franco-esque jazz-fuelled vibe.

It’s very odd to come across a Franco movie that doesn’t feature strange and interesting locations but Black Boots, Leather Whip is rather dull in this respect. Which may have been deliberate - it’s likely that he was aiming for a very stark very gritty look. The kind of weird fanciful bizarre architecture that Franco loved would have been a distraction. The movie was shot in Malaga but Franco is aiming for a mean hostile urban feel. He does pull off one very nifty noirish scene in a corridor - it’s simply done but very noir.

The problem is that although Franco understood film noir he wasn’t especially adept at suspense or action. There are scenes that needed a more effective building of suspense. The action scenes are competent but not exactly inspired. And the pacing is on the slow side.

What it does have is an interesting protagonist. We learn what we need to know about Al Pereira right at the start. He’s capable of brutal casual violence. He’s entirely immoral. He’s impulse-driven, particularly in regard to sex. Antonio Mayans’ performance is impressive.

Franco tells us what we need to know about Lina just as economically. She is scheming and ruthless. She is totally pragmatic when it comes to sex. She wants to be rich. She has one weapon she can use and that weapon is sex but in her hands it’s a very potent weapon. She is the femme fatale and Lina Romay does a fine job although perhaps her character needed just a bit more of a backstory.

While Franco was clearly going for film noir in commercial terms this movie (had it been made for a company that actually bothered to promote it) would have been marketed as an erotic thriller and there is a huge amount of sex. Franco does however manage to ensure that the sex scenes do advance the plot and do add to our knowledge of the characters’ motivations.

This was made during Franco’s period with Golden Films. They gave him total creative control but unfortunately when it came to distribution they were totally incompetent. Franco got to make the movies he wanted to make the way he wanted to make them but very few people got to see them.

I’m not sure this movie is a total success but it is an interesting neo-noir with an extraordinarily nihilistic flavour and it’s fun seeing Lina Romay do the femme fatale thing. This is a Franco obscurity, but an intriguing one. Recommended.

Severin have released Black Boots, Leather Whip on both Blu-Ray and DVD in a nice-looking transfer with some worthwhile extras.

Friday 15 September 2023

Star Slammer (1986)

Star Slammer (AKA Prison Ship) is a 1986 Fred Olen Ray movie so you know it’s going to be crazy goofy fun. It’s a women-in-prison movie set on a prison spaceship but done in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

The fact that the movie is divided into chapters and carries the subtitle Adventures of Taura is the result of Ray’s enthusiasm at the time for old movie serials. He wanted to capture the same sort of flavour and to an extent he succeeds.

Taura (Sandy Brooke) is a miner on a remote planet and her problems begin when Bantor (Ross Hagen) arrives with his henchmen. Bantor is collecting taxes on behalf of The Sovereign, who rules this part of the galaxy. During a struggle Taura plunged Bantor’s hand into an acid bath. Bantor was evil and crazy to begin with but this pushes him over the edge into out-and-out madness.

Taura finds herself sentenced to the prison ship Vehement. She was convicted of murdering a crazy old priest who was actually murdered by Bantor.

The prisoners are all women and they’re the tough lot you expect in a women-in-prison movie. The toughest is Mike (Suzy Stokey). Against the odds Taura and Mike become friends.

The Vehement is run by sex-crazed head warder Exene (Marya Gant) although day-to-day discipline is in the hands of insane and sadistic trusty Muffin (Dawn Wildsmith).

Experiments in mind control are being conducted on the Vehement.

Things start to get violent and crazy when Bantor arrives. He’s out for revenge. He’s also completely insane and obsessed with the idea that he’s battling demons. The girls are going to have to find a way to get off that prison ship.

Lots of mayhem ensues, with a great deal of running down corridors blasting away with zap guns.

This movie lacks some of the features you generally expect in a women-in-prison movie. There’s very little nudity and very little sex. Ray had hired a bunch of girls to make the movie without really knowing what kind of movie he was going to make so he didn’t have girls willing to do nudity.

They might not have been prepared to take their clothes off but they give enthusiastic performances and are obviously having fun doing the bad girl stuff.

Ross Hagen is wildly over-the-top as Bantor and he’s a joy to watch. The two standout performances are by Dawn Wildsmith and Marya Gant. Wildsmith is delightfully unhinged as Muffin. Marya Gant oozes twisted degenerate sexuality as Exene. These two performances are enough to justify the price of admission on their own.

The movie was going to need some cool space battle scenes but that was hopelessly beyond the limits of the available budget so Ray cut a deal with Roger Corman to use footage from Battle Beyond the Stars. It is cool footage and it’s integrated perfectly in the movie. There’s also at least one shot from John Carpenter’s Dark Star.

The costumes were done on the cheap or rented or borrowed from other productions but they look right and they look fun.

There was enough money to build a couple of sets which look quite OK. The prison ship is supposed to be dark and grungy and claustrophobic so having small sets that look dark and grungy works just fine.

The movie works because Fred Olen Ray understands that if you have a really small budget the things to do is to keep the pacing as frantic as possible. That way people won’t notice the plot holes and cheap sets and iffy production values. And in this movie the pace never lets up.

A sequel which would continue Taura's adventures, Chain Gang Planet, was planned but never made (although a script was written).

The Kino Lorber Blu-Ray offers a lovely anamorphic transfer with a typically entertaining and informative audio commentary by Fred Olen Ray.

Star Slammer is fun and silly and exciting and amusing. It does manage to have a bit of a serial feel, but like an old movie serial done with an 80s sensibility. It works for me. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

OSS 117: Mission for a Killer (1965)

OSS 117: Mission for a Killer (Furia à Bahia pour OSS 117) is one of the French eurospy thrillers based on Jean Bruce’s books featuring secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, codenamed OSS 117. It was the third movie in the series to be directed by André Hunebelle.

Kerwin Matthews had played OSS 117 in the previous two films. In OSS 117: Mission for a Killer the role was taken over by Frederick Stafford.

Our spy hero is enjoying a skiing holiday but the holiday is cut short when he is assigned to investigate a series of suicide bombings in South America. The suicide bombers have no political histories and there is a suspicion that they are being turned into human robots through the use of some mysterious drug. OSS 117 soon finds himself on an airliner bound for Rio de Janeiro. He will be posing as a man named Hubert Delcroix.

On arrival he discovers that his contact, Ellis, has had an unfortunate car accident which was unlikely to be an accident. Visiting Ellis in hospital leads to a wild and lengthy (and very well done) fight scene but Hubert is too late to save Ellis from an assassin. Hubert has to beat a hasty retreat from the hospital before the police arrive and he takes the girl with him.

What girl you may be asking? The girl is Anna-Maria Sulza (played by the gorgeous Mylène Demongeot) and Hubert doesn’t know where she fits in but she fits in somewhere.

Hubert has three females to deal with (all of them gorgeous) and he’s by no means sure which of them (if any) he can trust. Of course there are also various people trying to kill him.

There’s an important clue in Ellis’s safe, which suggests that Hubert needs to find out what is happening with a remote Indian tribe. This might lead to an explanation of the hypnotic super-drug being used to turn people into remote-controlled killers. The tribe lives near Anna-Maria’s ranch.

There’s some kind of revolutionary group behind all this. In fact it’s a whole revolutionary army. Their agenda isn’t too clear but they definitely want power and they mean business.

Frederick Stafford makes a fine hero. He’s a fairly typical eurospy hero, quick with the wise-cracks and with an eye for the ladies and he has real charm. Mylène Demongeot makes a terrific sexy heroine.

Eurospy movies naturally couldn’t hope to match the truly spectacular action set-pieces and the outrageous sets of the Bond movies. The most successful eurospy movies tried to make up for this with as many decent fight scenes as they could shoehorn into a movie and the fight scenes in this movie are good and very imaginatively staged. In fact they’re very good indeed. And there’s a well-handled full-scale battle at the end. Lots of stuff gets blown up.

Eurospy movies also relied on style, and this movie has plenty of that.

It manages not to look cheap and there’s some fine location shooting in Brazil. The budget was obviously reasonably generous.

Director André Hunebelle did this sort of thing extremely well. He directed several of the OSS 117 movies as well as the three 1960s Fantomas movies (which are much more lighthearted but just as energetic and fast-moving).

The plot has the touches of outrageousness that the eurospy genre demands but it remains quite coherent.

I’ve now seen three of the OSS 117 movies and this may be the best I’ve seen so far.

Kino Lorber have released five of the OSS 117 movies in a Blu-Ray set (and on DVD as well). The transfers are excellent. This set is an absolute must-buy for eurospy fans. It’s a real treat to see such movies decently presented in their correct aspect ratios and looking terrific.

OSS 117: Mission for a Killer is pure high-octane fun and is highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed the two previous OSS 117 movies, OSS 117 Is Unleashed (1963) and Panic in Bangkok as well as André Hunebelle first two Fantomas movies, Fantomas (1964) and Fantomas Unleashed (1965). All are worth seeing.

Sunday 10 September 2023

Heat of Madness (1966)

Heat of Madness is an odd little 1966 New York sexploitation roughie that may not deliver the sexploitation goods but it is a fascinating exercise in slow-burning creepiness and madness.

John Wilright (Kevin Scott) is a photographer. He does mild nudie stuff for calendars and is obviously just getting by. Then Susan (Jennifer Llaird) turns up at the door of his seedy studio. She’s returning some sketches he left at the office where she works. Susan thinks the sketches are really good. She thinks John has real talent.

Susan is the sort of girl who falls for struggling artists, especially  struggling artists who are suffering for their art. She falls for John straight away and she falls hard.

There are so many obvious red flags with this guy that any sensible girl would run a mile. He flies off the handle for no reason. Every time they start getting amorous he gets weird and freezes up and pushes her away. It would be obvious to anyone that John has some serious issues with women but it isn’t obvious to Susan. She thinks it’s part of his artistic temperament. She thinks he’s an undiscovered genius and if he has a few problems that’s OK, her love will overcome those problems.

What John doesn’t know is that Susan is the heiress to a steel fortune. A firm of lawyers is looking after her interests. Bill (Alan Wylie) is one of the partners and his job is to protect her financial interests and to keep an eye on her personal interests as well. Bill thinks that John is obviously trouble and tries to warn Susan but she’s hopelessly in love and she won’t listen.

Things start to get weirder when John gets a new photographic assignment, doing a series of photoshoots for a book about notorious sex murders. He has a group of actors who will play out scenes of violence for his camera.

John is really excited by this assignment. A bit too excited. Even Susan is a bit disturbed, especially when John starts acting out scenes with her. At this point it should be blindingly obvious that he’s a nutter but it all just makes her more determined to save him.

Susan arranges for John to get a really good job where he could put his talents (and he apparently does have genuine talent) to use. It could launch him on a successful respectable art career but John isn’t interested. He’s more and more obsessed wth his great sex murders photoshoots.

There’s obviously a good chance that these photoshoots are going to push John over the edge into out-and-out madness but Susan is convinced that once he finishes this assignment he’ll calm down. No matter how crazy he gets she is determined to stand by her man.

There’s some mild nudity but it really is mild by roughie standards. Some of the nudity is courtesy of June Roberts who will need no introduction to serious fans of the sexploitation genre. There’s also not very much actual violence. Again it’s very tame by roughie standards.

What this movies does have to offer is some serious and effective suspense. We know that John is eventually going to snap and we fear that Susan is potentially in very serious danger. She just goes on refusing to see the warning signs and she keeps seeing John even as it becomes increasingly clear to the viewer that the danger to her is becoming more extreme.

It also offers a genuinely intriguing look at madness and art and the blurring of the line between the two. John’s photoshoots cease to be mere photoshoots. To John they start becoming real. He starts to think he’s shooting real scenes of violence rather than scenes played out by actors.

Kevin Scott’s performance is quite effective. He’s amazingly intense. Jennifer Llaird’s performance is surprisingly also quite competent.

This movie is included on a Something Weird double-header DVD release paired with The Psycho Lover which is a wonderfully strange 1970 roughie with a bit of a giallo flavour. Heat of Madness gets a very good transfer. It’s a great disc, assuming you can find a copy.

Heat of Madness is a disturbing little movie in its unassuming way and it’s recommended.

Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle (Eyes Wide Shut)

Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 short novel (more a novella really) Traumnovelle, also known as Dream Story or Rhapsody, was the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick's movie is in fact a remarkably faithful adaptation of the novella. 

Traumnovelle is a fascinating story in which dream and reality become hopelessly entangled.

My full review can be found at Vintage Pop Fictions

Thursday 7 September 2023

Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968)

Mad Doctor of Blood Island is the third of the four Blood Island low-budget horror flicks made in the Philippines. There’s a vague Island of Dr Moreau vibe with a mad scientist performing horrific experiments on a remote island.

There’s a prologue in which a group of teenagers take the Green Blood Oath and drink green blood. If you saw the movie at the right movie theatre you too could be offered (fake) green blood to drink. It’s the sort of gimmick that would have appealed to William Castle.

The movie proper starts with the arrival of three people on a small island, reputed to be cursed. Dr Bill Foster (John Ashley) is a pathologist investigating reports of creatures that bleed green blood. Sheila Willard (Angelique Pettyjohn) wants to be re-united with her dad whom she hasn’t seen for twelve years. And there’s a young Filipino named Carlos who wants take his mother away from this evil island.

It soon becomes obvious that there really are green-blooded monsters on the island. Or at least there’s one green-blooded monster.

Dr Foster examines some of the green blood and confirms that it is indeed blood. Blood that contains chlorophyll which is certainly strange and unnatural.

There’s a mysterious doctor on the island, Dr Lorca, and we can’t help feeling a bit suspicious of him.

Carlos’s father died in 1961, but he finds a letter that was certainly written by him and it’s dated 1962. Carlos agrees to have his father’s grave opened and the coffin is empty.

There’s a strange girl named Marla who had some involvement with Carlos’s father.

People start getting killed with horrific brutality.

What Bill Foster needs to figure out is the link between the rampaging monster, the green blood, the mystery of Carlos’s father who may not be dead after all and Dr Lorca’s researches. He and Sheila and Sheila’s dad and Carlos slowly start fitting the pieces of the puzzle together but they’ll have to move fast or they might find themselves added to the list of victims.

Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero were the co-directors and they’d already worked together a lot. Gerardo de Leon has a total of 83 directing credits going back to 1938. Eddie Romero’s directing credits go back to 1947. These guys were veterans of the Filipino film industry and were highly respected figures within that industry. The four Blood Island movies were their first serious attempt to crack the American market, an attempt which proved to be fairly successful.

They were serious film-makers but with the Blood Island movies they were unapologetically working with the parameters of exploitation movies and they understood what was needed. A couple of minor American stars who were recognisable faces in the U.S., lots of mayhem and gore and a healthy helping of sex and nudity. The gore was pretty startling by the standards of 1968 as was the nudity.

One amusing technique they adopted was to start frantically zooming in and out whenever the monster is about to attack somebody. Not just for a few seconds. The zooming continues for the entire scene. It adds a nicely disorienting touch.

It’s a surprisingly well-made movie with some nice cinematography.

The monster makeup is quite effective and memorable.

There’s some unexpected subtlety in some of the characterisations. Marla is intriguing because we just don’t know where she fits in or what she’s going to do next.

And Dr Lorca is an interesting mad scientist. He’s a typical mad scientist in being a man who started out as an idealist wanting to do good but started venturing into dangerous and morally dubious areas of research. But he’s not mad. He’s completely sane and rational and calm. He has no doubts about the morality of his research.

Mad Doctor of Blood Island is unashamedly lurid and trashy and schlocky and that’s the charm of it. It’s a fun exploitation movie. Recommended.

Severin’s Blu-Ray release offers an excellent transfer with a few extras including an audio commentary.