Wednesday 31 January 2024

Cinderella (AKA The Other Cinderella, 1977)

Cinderella (released in 1977 and later retitled The Other Cinderella) is a Charles Band-produced erotic retelling of Cinderella. It’s Cinderella as a sex comedy. But it’s more than that. It’s an erotic musical comedy retelling of Cinderella. Which is just such a fabulously 1970s concept.

It stays relatively close to the familiar fairy tale. At this point one should perhaps point out that the much-loved 1697 Charles Perrault fairy tale is just one of countless versions of a folk tale that originated around 2,000 years ago. So making a few changes to the story isn’t really particularly outrageous. It’s a story that has already been tampered with many many times.

Cinderella (Cheryl ‘Rainbeaux’ Smith) lives with her stepmother and her two stepsisters and the stepsisters make her life a misery. This will come to a head with the royal ball.

The king has arranged the ball in order to find a bride for his son. The king and queen are concerned that the young man, now twenty-one, is an innocent virgin who knows nothing about sex. In fact the prince already has an immense amount of sexual experience. He may look like an innocent young man but he is fact a debauched and jaded libertine.

Every maiden in the kingdom is to be invited to the ball.

Any feature film adaptation of the story will have to add a few subplots to pad out the running time. In this case we get the various sexual adventures of the Lord Chamberlain (Kirk Scott) as he travels the realm delivering the invitations.

Naturally Cinderella’s stepsisters try to prevent Cinderella from attending. Luckily Cinderella’s fairy godmother shows up just in time.

The fairy godmother isn’t really a fairy godmother. He’s a thief. He’s also black and gay. He’s entered Cinderella’s house with burglary in mind. He feels really sorry for the poor girl. He’d love to help her but he has no means to do so. Cinderella suggests that he needs a magic wand. He doesn’t think he possesses such a thing but he looks through his bag of stolen goods and finds a very weird contraption. Cinderella is sure it must be a magic wand. It turns out that it really is a magic wand. Cinderella will go to the ball after all.

Then comes one of the movie’s many “I can’t believe they did that” moments. The fairy godmother is confident that Cinderella will wow the prince. She has a gorgeous ball gown and a glamorous hairstyle. He’s seen her in the bath and in his view she is very well equipped in the T&A department. Just one final touch is needed. With the magic wand he makes a small adjustment to a certain intimate portion of her anatomy, which will have the effect of giving said portion of her anatomy the ability to provide the most extreme pleasure. Now she really will be irresistible to the prince.

The ball is more an orgy than a ball. The prince is blindfolded while the various maidens pleasure him. Mostly he’s disappointed. He’s had so many women that he finds it difficult to get really excited any more. Until he samples Cinderella’s charms. She offers him pleasures he’d never thought possible. That’s because of that tiny adjustment the fairy godmother made to that vital part of her anatomy.

Of course Cinderella is whisked away at midnight. The prince has no idea of the identity of that special girl but he is determined to find her. He travels the length and breadth of the kingdom, testing out every maiden to find the one with the super-special lady parts.

The first thing to say about this movie is that it’s bonkers. The second thing to say is that it’s actually beyond bonkers. It takes the concept of bonkers to whole new levels.

Visually it’s bizarre and over-the-top. Some of the girls at the ball are wearing the sorts of ball gowns you expect in a fairy tale. Some look like patrons at a 1970s disco. Some would look more at home in a movie about the decadence of the Roman Empire. Some look like refugees from a fetish video. That’s typical of the movie’s crazy visual style. The odd thing is that somehow all this visual coherence does manage to cohere into a strange but fascinating and unique visual style.

This film is packed to the brim with things that some modern viewers will find dated and problematic. That’s its charm. If you’ve always wanted a Cinderella movie that includes a song about Cinderella’s vagina this is the movie for you.

It’s a sex comedy so is it funny? I think it is. It may not have you rolling in the aisles but it’s consistently amusing.

Everything about this movie is crazed. But the craziness works. It all works because it’s so goodnatured. This is just a fun sexy movie. The amount of nudity is positively staggering and it’s fairly explicit. The sex scene (there are lots of them) are reasonably graphic but it always remains softcore.

Cheryl Smith makes a fine Cinderella. She’s sweet and charming and funny, she’s sexy and she’s naked a lot.

At the end we’re told to look forward to the sequel, Cinderella 2. In fact there was a follow-up, called Fairy Tales (1978), also an erotic musical comedy fairy tale movie.

This is a delightfully weird movie that is completely nuts and for that reason it’s highly recommended.

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

Monday 29 January 2024

Tarzan Goes to India (1962)

Tarzan Goes to India is a 1962 Tarzan movie produced by Sy Weintraub and starring Jock Mahoney.

Weintraub had taken over the Tarzan franchise in 1958 and realised that a fresh approach was going to be needed. The old approach was well and truly played out. He dropped the idea of Tarzan speaking halting English. He wanted a Tarzan closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original conception. Tarzan would be an educated man, equally at home in the jungle or the civilised world. 

Jane was also dropped. Tarzan would now be more of a globetrotting adventurer, a man without ties. Weintraub also wanted to move away from African settings and put Tarzan into other exotic settings.

Most of all Weintraub wanted to avoid a B-movie look. These would be Tarzan movies made in colour and Cinemascope, shot on location with high production values. They would look like expensive A-pictures.

The first fruit of Weintraub’s approach was Tarzan's Greatest Adventure in 1959 and it’s a terrific Tarzan movie.

Tarzan Goes to India was shot entirely on location in India.

An elderly Indian maharajah asks for Tarzan’s help. A new dam is going to flood a valley and a herd of 300 wild elephants lives in that valley. Tarzan’s task is to persuade the elephants to leave the valley before the flood waters arrive. The difficulty is that the herd is led by a bad-tempered mean rogue bull elephant and he’s not likely to be cooperative.

And Tarzan has only a few days in which to accomplish his task.

Tarzan has a couple of allies. There’s the maharajah’s beautiful daughter. There’s also a boy named Jai who has also refused to leave the valley. Jai and his elephant Gavendra will prove occasionally exasperating but also very useful.

There are of course villains. The head engineer manager at the dam construction site, Bryce (Leo Gordon) is a nasty piece of work and he and Tarzan already have reason to hate each other. The man in overall charge of the dam project, O’Hara (Mark Dana), turns out to be equally villainous.

Tarzan doesn’t want to stop progress. He doesn’t want to stop the dam. He just wants to see progress done with humanity, with some concern being shown for the people and the animals who are likely to be affected. The people behind the dam project want progress no matter what the price. Fortunately the movie doesn’t get into heavy-handed messaging.

Naturally Tarzan encounters plenty of dangers, having to deal with attacks by cobras and leopards as well as that mean rogue bull elephant.

Jock Mahoney makes an interesting Tarzan. He was in his early forties at the time but he gets away with it. This is a Tarzan who doesn’t rely purely on speed and brute strength. He has acquired a certain amount of wisdom, and cool judgment. He’s an older wiser Tarzan.

The location shooting is excellent. The movie looks exotic without looking too much like a travelogue.

Director John Guillerman (who also helmed Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure) handles the action scenes more than competently.

Tarzan Goes to India
is fine well-crafted entertainment. Highly recommended.

The Warner Archive DVD release looks very nice indeed.

I’ve reviewed several of the other Sy Weintraub Tarzan movies - Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959), Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963) and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) which is Tarzan with a Bond movie flavour. I would highly recommend all of these titles.

I’ve also reviewed a couple of the very early MGM Tarzan movies, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934), which make a fascinating contrast with the Sy Weintraub Tarzan pictures. And if you’re a hardcore Tarzan fan I’ve reviewed the original 1914 Edgar Rice Burroughs novel Tarzan of the Apes.

Friday 26 January 2024

Mario Bava's Four Times That Night (1971)

Four Times That Night is a Mario Bava sex comedy. And yes, that does make it an oddity in his filmography.

This is Rashomon done as a sex comedy. A man named Gianni encounters a young woman named Tina. She is walking her dog in the park. He asks her out. By the end of the evening he has scratches on his face and her dress is all torn. But what really happened?

We get four different accounts, and they are wildly in conflict.

According to Tina’s account Gianni tried to force himself on her and she faced a wild struggle to preserve her virtue.

According to Gianni’s account Tina seduced him and was so insatiable that he was left a physical wreck.

According to the doorman (a part-time Peeping Tom) the evening was an orgy of sexual deviance with a whole cast of participants.

The psychiatrist’s account is different again.

Not one of these accounts is convincing. Which is as it should be. It is possible, indeed likely, that we are dealing with multiple unreliable narrators all of whom have good reason to be dishonest in their recounting of the events. Which means that the whole movie has a slightly off-kilter feel, which is certainly deliberate. The viewer is supposed to remain always aware that these accounts are not documentary proof but merely stories told by various people. I think it gives the movie an interesting feel.

It is of course a movie about story-telling. There are some things we know because we were active participants or eyewitnesses but in most cases we have to rely on stories that we are told. That’s true of life. It’s also true of documentary accounts (and documentary films) which purport to be objective and impartial. It’s true of the TV news and it’s true of the evidence presented in courts of law.

And in none of these cases can we be sure that we know the actual facts. This movie explores these ideas reasonably well. The trick of course is how to wrap up a story like this. It’s a puzzle, but once you have the answer to the puzzle it’s no longer interesting. Four Times That Night manages fairly to resolve that problem fairly well.

Given Bava’s obsession with visuals it’s tempting to assume that this movie is about the unreliability of what we see, or what we think we see. Some critics have been tempted to interpret the movie this way.

I think that’s a total misunderstanding of this movie. The four narrators are not misinterpreting what they see. They are deliberately lying to us, or rather they are starting with a core of truth and then surrounding it with a tissue of lies to serve their own ends. This is not a movie about the unreliability of visual evidence. This is a movie about the unreliability and deceptiveness of narratives. We cannot trust what people tell us. The movie it most reminds me of is Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour.

Mario Bava was incapable of making a dull-looking movie and Four Times That Night generally looks very stylish with some nice visual set-pieces. There’s also a very cool Swinging 60s vibe, and a fair helping of late 60s decadence among the rich and fashionable.

This is a sex comedy so the obvious first question is - it it funny? The answer is yes. It’s amusing and witty and the humour has a slightly oddball flavour to it. This is sophisticated European comedy so don’t expect slapstick (although there is some visual humour).

The obvious second question is - is it sexy? I think it is, but in a low-key fairly tame sort of way. There’s not much nudity, just a few topless scenes. Not being able to rely on nudity Bava concentrates on sexy shots of girls in very short dresses. I must confess that I find this quite appealing. It’s old-fashioned sexiness which relies on teasing rather than revealing.

This movie doesn’t have a high reputation even among Bava fans. That’s a bit unfair. It encountered some unfortunate production and distribution problems. It’s biggest problem was timing. It was made in 1968. In 1968 it would have been fairly hot stuff and fairly daring and might well have done extremely well. Sadly it was not released until late 1971. Things were moving quickly at that time. Movies were becoming more sexually daring almost by the month. By 1971 Four Times That Night seemed a bit too tame.

The visuals are pure Bava and they’re stunning. Bava captures the late 60s feel exceptionally well. This is thematically a fairly ambitious movie and I think it succeeds to a much greater degree than its reputation would suggest. This is Bava attempting a genre he’d never attempted before but Bava wasn’t afraid to do that. I think it’s a worthy entry in Bava’s filmography and I’m going to highly recommend it.

The Kino Classics DVD (they’ve released it as a Blu-Ray as well) offers a really lovely transfer. There’s an audio commentary by Tim Lucas. I usually love Lucas’s commentaries but I have to say that I think he badly misunderstands this movie. He also reveals major spoilers for just about every movie Bava ever made.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Sin Magazine (1965)

Sin Magazine is a rather strange 1965 American sexploitation feature.

It opens with a nightmare sequence. The guy having the nightmare is Ross. He wakes up in bed with his mistress. She’s not very happy. He’s not performing in the bedroom.

We discover that Ross has a double life. He has a wife and a farm in New England and a reasonably respectable existence there, but he also has a mistress and a less respectable existence in Manhattan.

Ross is a writer. Naturally he thought he was going to be a critically acclaimed author, winning literary prizes and being lionised by the literati. Instead he writes for a scandal magazine. He runs the magazine with his two brothers.

The two brothers also live on the New England farm. One of the brothers, Otis, does the photography. The brothers have found commercial success by transforming the magazine into a bit of a girlie magazine.

The domestic arrangements involving Ross, his wife, his brother Bill, Bill’s wife and Otis are tense. Otis is a womaniser of the love ’em and leave ’em variety. Ross does not approve. Otis also has more than a passing interest in Lisa, Bill’s wife.

Ross has a bit of an interest in Lisa as well.

So we have the makings here of a romantic-sexual melodrama and it’s done in an overheated (hysterical might be a better word) style.

The movie also tries to be a portrait of a man (Ross) slowly disintegrating. We get the feeling that Ross has probably never been particularly stable. Now he’s tortured by shame, guilt and resentment because he’s churning out sleaze instead of writing the Great American Novel.

Ross becomes progressively more angry and bitter. He takes out a lot of his resentment on Otis. It’s not just that Otis is a womaniser. Otis is the one who takes the nudie photos. That’s how the magazine makes its money and that’s the money on which Ross lives but he cannot accept that.

He gets even more upset when Lisa starts posing for Otis. Lisa is a bit conflicted. She’s happy to pose for Otis because if she acts as the magazine’s main model it will save money. She does however worry abut the morality of it all. She worries that they’re corrupting their models. After all once a girl has posed topless for a magazine her future can only be a descent into utter degradation. No man is going to marry a girl who has bared her breasts for a magazine.

We know that major trouble is brewing but the over-the-top ending still comes out of left field.

Mostly the acting is what you expect in an ultra low budget movie but the performance of the actor playing Ross is something else again. It starts off totally unhinged and gets progressively more so. It’s not good acting but it sure is memorable.

This seems to be writer-director Al Mitchel’s only credit. He certainly had a different approach to sexploitation.

There’s very little nudity. In fact the lack of nudity makes one wonder exactly what market was being targeted.

Sin Magazine
is included in a Something Weird triple-header DVD release which also includes The Sin Syndicate (1965) and the oddly depraved She Came on the Bus (1969). They all fit vaguely into the roughie sub-genre. Sin Magazine gets a fullframe transfer which is quite correct. Image quality isn’t exactly great but it’s acceptable and this is a movie that works better for looking a bit rough.

Sin Magazine is an oddity. In fact all three movies in this set are slightly odd and they’re all pretty scuzzy in their own different ways. All I can say about Sin Magazine is that it isn’t particularly good but it is different and if you like your movies a bit deranged you might well enjoy it.

Monday 22 January 2024

An Angel for Satan (1966) revisited

An Angel for Satan is a 1966 Italian gothic horror movie starring Barbara Steele and directed by Camillo Mastrocinque.

The setting is a small lakeside fishing village in Italy in the late 19th century.

Roberto Merigi (Anthony Steffen) has just arrived. He is there to restore a statue that was found in the lake by some fisherman. The statue is a female nude. Roberto will be staying at the Montebruno castle as the guest of the Count (Claudio Gora). Roberto is looking forward to the assignment. The statue is exquisite.

The villagers are none too pleased. There is a legend attached to that statue, a legend involving a curse. The villagers are convinced that the statue should have been left in the lake.

There is another new arrival, the count’s niece Harriet Montebruno (Barbara Steele). Harriet is the actual owner of the castle and she is now old enough to take possession of her inheritance.

Roberto gets a surprise when he meets Harriet. She is the spitting image of the woman who posed for that statue. The explanation is simple. It is a statue of one of Harriet’s ancestresses, who lived two centuries earlier.

The recovery of the statue certainly does unleash evils upon the village. The very next day two fishermen are drowned. Other horrors follow.

All sorts of smouldering jealousies and resentments and sexual tensions blaze up.

Roberto is fascinated by the statue and inevitably he becomes fascinated by Harriet. Harriet is beautiful and charming, most of the time. Her behaviour is however puzzlingly inconsistent. There are times when she behaves like a temptress.

It might be the late 19th century but the villagers still live in a world of mediæval superstitions. They have no doubt that witches exist. They come to suspect that there is a witch among them today. They have no doubt that curses have real power. They have had evidence of the evils this particular curse has already unleashed.

We know what is going on, or we think we do. At the end of the movie we really do know what was going on. Or we think we do.

There are very strong erotic undercurrents to this movie. This was 1966 so it’s handled in a very tame manner. There is no actual nudity, although there is plenty of implied nudity. The movie still manages to be an effective and disturbing exercise in psycho-sexual horror.

It’s a demanding part for Barbara Steele and she handles it with assurance. I might also add that she radiates sexuality.

The other cast members are quite adequate.

This is a somewhat unconventional gothic horror movie. The plot is not especially complicated but it also manages to be not entirely straightforward.

Don’t expect buckets of blood or any gore. This movie doesn’t need such things. It has an unsettling atmosphere and a sense that something bad is going to happen but we have absolutely no idea what that thing is going to be. Personally it’s that kind of atmosphere rather than fountains of blood that I look for in a horror movie. There is evil here, but it’s diffuse and subtle.

Director Camillo Mastrocinque was getting towards the end of a very long career when he made this movie. The man knew how to make movies.

The movie was shot widescreen in black-and-white. The cinematography is moody and impressive, giving the film the stifling feel that it needs.

This movie has had several DVD releases. It’s now available on both DVD and Blu-Ray from Severin and that’s clearly the edition to buy.

An Angel for Satan is a very very fine example of 60s Italian gothic horror plus it offers one of Barbara Steele’s best performances.

Friday 19 January 2024

Weekend with the Babysitter (1970)

Weekend with the Babysitter is a 1970 Crown International release and it’s not quite the movie that the title would suggest. They had had a success the previous year with The Babysitter (which is the better movie and is worth seeing) so in this case the choice of title may have been an attempt to make it look like a sequel. Both movies were written and directed by Don Anderson and both starred George E. Carey but the two movies are rather different.

Jim Carlton (George E. Carey) is a successful but slightly disillusioned film director. He has a much younger wife, Mona (Luanne Roberts), but the marriage is not a notable success.

Candy Wilson (Susan Romen) arrives to babysit their kid but the dates got mixed up. They don’t need her. Mona is going to her mother’s for the weekend and the kid is going with her.

Logically Jim should now drive Candy home but instead they decide to have a few drinks. Candy reads his latest script, a youth culture movie, and she tells him that it gets the youth culture of today totally wrong. Candy offers to give Jim a look at the real world of these crazy far-out kids today. She takes him to a coffee shop, he meets her friends, he gets stoned with them. Jim thinks this is all groovy.

Mona isn’t really staying with her mother. She’s gone to see her dealer. Mona is a junkie but she’s a rich middle-class junkie and she has no problems paying for her drugs. She’s pretty good at hiding her drug habit. Jim thinks she’s become a bit strange and distant but he has no idea that she’s on the needle.

Mona’s dealer forces her to allow him to borrow her husband’s cabin cruiser to make a drug pickup.

Meanwhile Jim is making the scene with Candy, in and out of the bedroom. Jim is falling for Candy in a big way. And she seems to dig him as well. They have a joyous weekend of sex and fun.

Candy’s friends turn out to be really nice kids. They’re into motorcycles but they’re not outlaw bikers on Harleys. They’re into motocross and they ride Japanese bikes. They’re just kids having fun. And they just love hanging with conservative middle-aged guys in suits.

There are then two plots going on, a romance plot and a crime thriller plot about drug smuggling. Both plots are rather on the thin side.

There are a couple of brief action scenes. There’s a moderate amount of nudity, with brief frontal nudity. There are very tame sex scenes.

The big problem is Jim. It’s hard to believe that a film director in 1970 could be quite so innocent and strait-laced. George E. Carey isn’t a terrible actor but he would have been more convincing playing a real estate agent or a banker.

There’s a slight credibility problem with the romance. It’s not inconceivable for a girl to fall for an older man, but it is hard to believe that Candy would fall for this particular older man. He’s just too boring.

There is however a reason that Jim is portrayed as very conservative and dull. This is not really a movie about a romance between a young woman and an older man. What the movie is really all about is the clash of cultures, the clash between the culture of Eisenhower-era America represented by Jim and the America of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and peace and love.

What makes it slightly more interesting is that neither culture is demonised. Jim is not such a bad guy. The kids are not dangerous hippie psychos. Candy isn’t scheming or manipulative. They’re all doing their best. Except for the drug dealer and he’s the only unsympathetic character.

One thing that should be pointed out is that Candy is clearly a grown woman. She’s no schoolgirl. She’s probably around 20 so the movie is much less sleazy than you might expect.

This is more drugsploitation than sexploitation. It could be described as an attempt at hippiesploitation. It was made a year after the Manson murders so there was plenty of paranoia about hippies at that time. This movie was clearly hoping to cash in on that hippie paranoia although in fact it takes a remarkably sympathetic view of youth culture.

One of the amusing things about this movie is that early on we have Candy complaining that Jim’s movies are totally out of touch with actual youth culture but Weekend with the Babysitter isn’t exactly an authentic look at that culture either.

Weekend with the Babysitter probably wouldn’t be worth buying on its own but it’s mildly entertaining and if you’re going to buy the excellent 32-movie Drive-In Cult Classics DVD boxed set (and you definitely should buy it) you might as well give it a watch.

Weekend with the Babysitter gets a good anamorphic transfer. The set includes some great drive-in movies - Trip With the Teacher (1975), The Babysitter (1969), Cindy and Donna (1970), The Pom Pom Girls (1976), the wonderful Malibu High (1979), Van Nuys Blvd. (1979) and Pick-up (1975). All of which are very much worth watching. Even the lesser movies in this set like The Teacher (1974) and Hot Target (1985) are worth a spin.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

The Strange Countess (1961)

The Strange Countess (Die seltsame Gräfin), directed by Josef von Báky, is a relatively early entry in Rialto’s wonderful cycle of Edgar Wallace krimis. It was based on Wallace’s 1925 novel of the same name. This is an extremely interesting entry in that cycle.

Margaret Reedle (Brigitte Grothum) is a very ordinary young woman who works in the office of a lawyer named Shaddle. She will soon be leaving this job to take up a position at Canterfield Castle as private secretary to the Countess Moron (Lil Dagover). Yes, Moron. Don’t blame me, that really is her name. Miss Reedle has one more job to do for Mr Shaddle. She has to deliver the release papers for a prisoner named Mary Pinder to a women’s prison. Mary Pinder has been serving a long sentence for murder. She is a poisoner.

Miss Reedle has been getting some strange telephone calls telling her that her time is almost up. She thinks the calls must be coming from a madman. In fact the calls really are being made by a madman. He is Bresset (Klaus Kinski) and he is confined in an asylum but he keeps escaping.

Miss Reedle isn’t worried until someone tries to kill her. There are three attempts made on her life. She has absolutely no idea why anyone would want to kill her. If it hadn’t been for Mike those attempts would have been successful. Mike is Mike Dorn (Joachim Fuchsberger) and Margaret Reedle thinks that he seems like a rather nice man although she is a bit mystified. How does he always manage to turn up at the right moment to save her life?

She hopes that these attempts to kill her will stop when she takes up her new position at Canterfield Castle. Unfortunately she’s wrong.

There’s an uneasy atmosphere at the castle. Everyone there seems a bit strange and they seem like they’re hiding something, which of course they are. The countess is a bit odd. Her son Selwyn (Eddi Arent) is eccentric to say the least. He dreams of going on the stage and spends his free time on mysterious electrical experiments. The butler, Addams, is very sinister. The countess’s financial advisor seems a bit shifty. And then we meet the family doctor, Dr Tappatt (Rudolf Fernau), and he doesn’t seem any too trustworthy.

Quite apart from the odd collection of misfits living at the castle there’s Mike Dorn. He seems trustworthy but Miss Reedle actually knows nothing about him. And there’s still the crazed telephone caller played by Klaus Kinski who just keeps on escaping from the asylum and he is certainly stalking our heroine.

Miss Reedle is no fool but she’s very confused and frightened and we can’t blame her.

It’s a setup that promises plenty of thrills and suspense and The Strange Countess delivers the goods on those fronts.

On the acting side Joachim Fuchsberger was a Krimi regular and was always reliable. Eddi Arent is quite amusing. Klaus Kinski is of course perfect as a murderous madman and he’s in fine creepy form. Brigitte Grothum makes a likeable heroine and gives a very creditable performance.

Even more interesting is the casting of Lil Dagover as the countess. Her remarkable career as a screen actress began in 1916 and lasted until 1979. It included appearances in several very early Fritz Lang movies as well as a starring rôle in one of the great classics of German Expressionism, Robert Wiene’s 1920 The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. And Fritz Rasp, who plays the lawyer Shaddle, had appeared in Lang’s Metropolis in 1927.

These are not the only links to the German Expressionism of the Weimar era. The Strange Countess was shot in the legendary Ufa studio in Berlin.

The horror in this movie (and there is definitely horror in this one) comes not just from the deceptions you expect in a krimi but to an even greater extent from the idea of madness. Many scenes take place in a lunatic asylum. That’s scary enough but what makes it far more chilling is when characters who are not mad end up in the asylum. Some of the characters in this film really are mad, but some have either been deliberately sent mad or made to believe they are mad. Neither Miss Reedle nor the audience can be quite sure which of those categories the other characters fit into. She knows she is not mad but that’s no guarantee she won’t end up in a padded cell in the asylum. Even more terrifying is the thought that she might end up driven to actual madness.

You expect in this sort of movie that at some stage either the hero or the heroine will be locked up by the villain or villains and will have to find a way to escape. In many movies the means of escape prove to be disappointingly contrived but this movie includes a truly ingenious escape.

The Strange Countess is a first-rate krimi with a definite gothic horror vibe and some intriguing nods to the great days of German Expressionism. Highly recommended.

Tobis have provided an excellent transfer on their Blu-Ray release, included in their Edgar Wallace Blu-Ray Edition 6 boxed set. Both English and German language (with English subtitles) options are available for The Strange Countess.

Saturday 13 January 2024

Vampirella (1996)

Vampirella is a legendary comic-book character created around 1969 by science fiction super-fan Forest J. Ackerman. She’s a sexy vampire from outer space. The most surprising thing about Vampirella is that she has never been the subject of a movie franchise. Maybe because she’s too sexy and that scares big studios off. They prefer their superheroes to be bland and safe. We do however have this 1996 movie, directed by Roger Corman protege and ultra low budget movie legend Jim Wynorski (with Corman acting as executive producer). It has an IMDb rating of 3.3, which is promising (with genre movies generally speaking the the lower the IMDb rating the better the movie).

The movie is an origin story of sorts, and while it retains a few elements of the comics it adds a lot of other elements. Gary Gerani wrote the script.

As in the comic Vampirella is from the planet Drakulon. The inhabitants of Drakulon are vampires but they don’t go around biting people. By a happy coincidence Drakulon has rivers of blood. Actual rivers, of actual blood. So these vampires are not killers. They’re not predators.

Well, mostly not predators. There are a few bad vampires who want to go back to the good old days when vampires really were killers. The leader of this faction is Vlad (Roger Daltrey).

Vlad’s followers carry out a bloodbath and the wise ruler of Drakulon is one of the victims. Vlad’s followers set off to find a planet where they can express their true vampire natures, by killing people.

All this happened centuries ago. Now we’re in Los Angeles in the 1990s. There are vampires but nobody knows about them. They are plotting away in secret. There’s also a paramilitary force of vampire hunters. The paramilitary outfit is codenamed Purge and it’s run by Adam Van Helsing, the last descendant of the Van Helsings.

Vlad and his followers have another more deadly threat to deal with. The daughter of the ruler of Drakulon who was killed by Vlad has arrived on Earth. She wants to destroy Vlad and his followers. She is Vampirella (Talisa Soto).

Vlad is now a rock star, a useful cover. People expect rock stars to be weird and decadent.

Vlad has some very big very sinister plans.

Adam Van Helsing trusts Vampirella but his colleague Walsh doesn’t. Van Helsing thinks that Vampirella could be the key to defeating Vlad.

Vampirella is clearly attracted to Van Helsing but he’s too uptight to do anything about.

I’ve only read some of the very early Vampirella comics but to me the movie doesn’t really capture the flavour of the comics. It’s a bit too much of a 90s action movie. But in commercial terms that may have been a sound move. There isn’t quite enough fun and sparkle, and (despite a few bare breasts) there’s not quite enough sexiness.

Vampirella’s costume is disappointingly tame compared to the comic-strip version. Talisa Soto was apparently concerned that the original much sexier costume designed for her would be a problem in the action scenes because certain parts of her anatomy would undoubtedly pop out during such scenes. She was probably right but the final costume is just very unexciting.

Talisa Soto is OK as Vampirella. She’s certainly beautiful. Her problem is that Roger Daltrey is in full-bore scenery-chewing mode and tends to dominate the movie. That’s not Daltrey’s fault - he gives exactly the right performance. The movie probably needed an actress with a bit more zing, and she needed to ramp up the sexiness in order to avoid being overshadowed. She also needed to be more amusing and more fun. Hammer had planned to do a Vampirella movie back in the 70s and they had Caroline Munro in mind. She would certainly have made a much better Vampirella.

The movie does have its strengths. The high-tech anti-vampire weapons are rather fun. The western ghost town near Las Vegas used as Vlad’s hideout is a great location.

This origin story here really has no connection at all with the origin story in the comic, and the version in the comic would have been preferable.

The bat transformations are so crude that it would have been better to dispense with them completely.

The paramilitary anti-vampire organisation was later shamelessly ripped-off by Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Vampirella isn’t as bad as it reputation would suggest. It’s moderately entertaining. The Vampirella in the movie isn’t really Vampirella. The movie is not sexy enough, it’s not enough fun, it doesn’t have enough energy, it doesn’t have the cheerful tongue-in-cheek vibe it needed. If you’re a hardcore Vampirella fan you’ll want to see it out of curiosity but it is a disappointment.

The German DVD which I own not only includes the original English-language version, it also includes Jim Wynorski’s commentary track (in English of course). Wynorski always does great commentary tracks.

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Picasso Trigger (1988)

Picasso Trigger is an Andy Sidaris movie and a fairly typical Andy Sidaris movie. If you enjoy schlocky low-budget 80s action movies with plenty of T&A you’ll have fun with it. If you don’t enjoy such movies you won’t like it.

And when I say Sidaris’s movies are schlock I’m not kidding. They’re like a double serving of shlock with extra schlockiness sprinkled on top.

This one is a sequel of sorts to Sidaris’s wonderful Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987). The two glamour babe federal agents from that movie, Donna (Dona Speir) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton), are back and they’re now targets for assassination.

The hero is yet another member of the Abilene clan. We’ve met Cody and Rowdy Abilene in earlier Sidaris movies. This time it’s Travis Abilene. Of course our first thought is, will this Abilene actually be able to shoot? The incompetent marksmanship of the Abilenes was a running gag in these 80s Sidaris movies. It turns out that Travis Abilene also can’t shoot worth a damn.

It’s an amusing gimmick which gives an otherwise impossibly handsome and brave hero a human weakness.

This movie starts with a major crime kingpin apparently assassinating all the federal agents whom he blames for his brother’s death (his brother having also been a crime kingpin).

Travis Abilene acquires a sidekick, the sexy and glamorous Pantera (Roberta Vasquez). Travis and Pantera had been sweethearts back in high school. It doesn’t take long for the sexual attraction between them to blaze up again.

It gradually becomes apparent that the chief bad guy has another agenda in addition to revenge. The plot is complicated with lots of double-crosses. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it provides plenty of opportunities for acton scenes.

This is the standard Andy Sidaris formula. It was shot in glamorous exotic locations such as Las Vegas and Hawaii. Sidaris believed (correctly) that this was a good way to make very low budget movie look more expensive than it was. There’s lots of gunplay. There are plenty of explosions. There are gadgets. There are chases involving everything from helicopters to speedboats to surf skis to hovercraft. There are lots of bare breasts and a few bare bottoms. It’s fast-paced and silly and fun. The formula worked for Sidaris and it works for me.

The acting is OK for a movie that doesn’t exactly have much in the way of in-depth characterisation. It doesn’t have any characterisation at all. What matters is that the heroes look like heroes, the villains look like villains and the mindless thugs look like mindless thugs.

Pretty much every female cast member was a former Playboy Playmate. They’re not great actresses but they weren’t cast for their acting abilities. They’re there to look like glamorous babes and they do that very successfully. What’s nice about these early Sidaris movies is that the girls don’t look like walking advertisements for silicone. They rely on what Nature gave them and that proves to be more than ample.

The nudity serves the same purpose as everything else in the movie - it’s there quite frankly for entertainment value. And it’s approached in the same spirit as everything else in the movie - lighthearted and cheerful and rather innocent. There’s none of the embarrassed sniggering quality to the sex and nudity that you encounter in too many movies. Picasso Trigger is sexy but it’s not really sleazy.

The gadgets are typically Sidaris - amusing and clever and they cost almost nothing. The stuntwork is reasonably good.

It has to be admitted that this movie does not quite recapture the magic of Hard Ticket to Hawaii. It doesn’t quite have the same zing.

Picasso Trigger is still a lot of fun. That’s all it was ever intended to be. Make sure you have lots of beer and popcorn on hand. If you’re in the mood for fun it’s highly recommended.

The DVD in the Mill Creek boxed set offers a lovely transfer. The most notable extra is an audio commentary by writer-director Andy Sidaris and his wife Arlene(who was the producer). Their audio commentaries are always a treat.

I've also reviewed Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and Malibu Express (1985).

Monday 8 January 2024

Amorous Sisters (Julchen und Jettchen, 1982)

Julchen und Jettchen (retitled Amorous Sisters in the U.S.) is a 1982 sex comedy produced, directed and co-written by Erwin C. Dietrich. For some bizarre reason it was released in Britain as Come Play with Me 3 although it has not the slightest connection with Come Play with Me or Come Play with Me 2.

The Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich was one of the legendary figures in European exploitation cinema for decades. He directed a lot of movies including numerous softcore erotic films. His best-known directorial effort is probably the very stylish Rolls-Royce Baby (1975) starring Lina Romay.

Julchen und Jettchen is set in an exclusive girls’ school in Switzerland.

Julchen (Brigitte Lahaie) and Jettchen (Flore Sollier) are sisters and both are students at the school. In the English dub they are renamed Jenny and Juliet respectively. It seems to be a very small school. In fact there seem to be only seven pupils and one teacher. And the only subject on the curriculum seems to be sex education. Luckily it’s a subject in which the girls have a keen interest. They know the theory but they’re anxious for some practical experience.

They practise a lot on their own, and with each other. They are fast learners. And they don't mind doing their homework.

There really is virtually no main plot. There is a kind of sub-plot about a body builder and his wife (in which Julchen und Jettchen eventually become involved). The movie is a series of brief episodes very loosely connected.

The girls’ progress in class is accelerated by the unexpected opportunity to observe live specimens, both male and female. They have a day out in the countryside. They sneak a man into their dorm. Their teacher, Mademoiselle Blanche (Barbara Moose), being dedicated to her job, brushes up on her own practical skills. This is not just satisfactory from Mademoiselle Blanche’s point of view, it provides considerable entertainment for her pupils who are observing these events with a great deal of scholarly interest.

The body builder spends hours training every day. His body is in peak physical condition. His muscles function like precision machines. Except for one particular muscle, which happens to be the muscle in which his wife is most interested. Apparently that muscle ceased to function some time ago, much to the wife’s disappointment. Eventually, in an unforeseen way, Julchen und Jettchen will come to the rescue and restore marital bliss.

There is an astounding amount of nudity, mostly but not exclusively female. The female nudity is very explicit. There’s lots of sex, including numerous sapphic couplings. The sex scenes are moderately graphic. If that sort of thing bothers you then this movie is not for you. If it appeals to you then you’ve hit the mother lode.

The acting is perfectly adequate. The women are very attractive and they’re also charming and likeable. Brigitte Lahaie is of course the film’s biggest drawcard.

If you’re going to make a movie with no plot but with acres of nudity the question arises - can you make it cinematically interesting as well? The answer in this case is yes. The solution adopted is to find clever, inventive and amusing reasons for the young ladies to shed their clothes and to shoot the sex scene in slightly offbeat and unusual ways that you’re not expecting. And Dietrich was technically proficient and in his unassuming way reasonably stylish. This is classy well-crafted erotica.

This movie is refreshingly free of the sniggering quality one sometimes encounters in British and American movies of this type. It’s also mercifully free of social messaging. It does not attempt to examine the human condition. It has no artistic statements to make. It’s a lighthearted comic erotic movie that has zero pretensions to being anything else and it’s totally unembarrassed and unapologetic about it. And it’s very good-natured. These are nice people. You don’t want anything bad to happen to them, and nothing bad does happen. Nobody gets punished for having sexual desires.

The naked butterfly hunt is a definite highlight. As everyone knows if you’re going to hunt butterflies you must first remove all your clothing. And it’s shot in slow-motion. It makes no sense but it has an oddly lyrical feel.

There’s picturesque scenery, which doesn’t hurt.

The only fair way to judge a movie is to ask whether it achieves what it set out to achieve. Dietrich set out to make a fun happy amusing very sexy movie. This film achieves those objectives admirably and therefore has to be regarded as a complete success. It’s not Citizen Kane but it’s a very good movie of its genre and if you enjoy that genre it’s highly recommended.

Julchen und Jettchen is now available on Blu-Ray. My copy was a bonus DVD included with Jess Franco’s Die Sklavinnen (1977). The only connection between these two movies is that both were produced by Erwin C. Dietrich. Apart from that they’re a million miles away in tone and approach (although they’re both good in their very different ways).

I’ve also reviewed the Erwin C. Dietrich-directed Rolls-Royce Baby (1975) which is also a very good movie of its type.