Tuesday 27 February 2024

In Hot Blood (1968)

In Hot Blood is a wild and crazy 1968 New York-shot sexploitation roughie. 

Nobody seems to be entirely sure of the identity of the director.

It takes a stock-standard exploitation plot line as its basis. It’s a warning of the dangers lying in wait for innocent girls trying to pursue a career in modelling. Such a career inevitably leads to sex, sin and degradation. Innocent young girls should stay on the farm rather than head to the big city in search of fame and fortune.

In this case the innocent girl is named Rita. She quickly finds out that she’ll not only have to take her clothes off, she’ll have to sleep with the photographer. And she’ll have to attend orgies.

Orgy scenes very rarely work since even in the softcore era of the 70s there was a definite limit to what you could show. The orgy scene in this film is quite bizarre. Our heroine spends most of her time eating a banana in what is supposed to be a very suggestive way but the actress just doesn’t seem quite sure how to achieve the intended effect.

The girls try their hands at body painting, a very 60s thing to do. Apparently you get better results if you suck the paintbrush first. Judging by what Rita does to her paintbrush she’s almost certain to create a masterpiece.

It has to be said that Rita doesn’t put up much resistance to temptation. It’s almost as if she enjoys sex and partying and orgies. She makes a couple of friends, Roberta and a black girl named Sandy. These three seem to be a welcome addition to any orgy.

Rita hasn’t realised that Roberta likes girls. She will find out. She doesn’t exactly seem concerned by this revelation. Rita doesn’t seem to be shocked by anything.

There’s also drug-taking at these orgies and that’s what leads to trouble. It leads to some bad craziness.

When danger threatens you’d think Rita and Roberta would take steps to avoid it but instead they take time out for some sapphic love-play. If you’ve ever wondered what lesbians actually do in bed this movie provides the answer. They rub each other’s nipples with ice cubes. It’s one of this movie’s more memorable WTF moments but it’s not the only one.

And then there’s the ending. I definitely didn’t see that coming. I won’t spoil things by even hinting at what happens except to say that it’s pretty wild.

This was 1968, when frontal nudity was still a bit of a rarity in sexploitation movies. That would start to change radically within a year or so. There’s no frontal nudity here but there is a great deal of kinkiness, much of it with an S&M flavour. The kinkiness comes across as bizarre rather than erotic.

The unknown director might not know how to make a coherent movie (or even a technically proficient movie) but he does have a reasonable awareness of how to achieve an atmosphere of decadence. And the movie does have a certain offbeat eroticism. The girls take their clothes off, then they get dressed, then ten seconds later they’re getting undressed again. Because seeing girls undressing is in fact pretty erotic.

There might not be frontal nudity but there’s an abundance of boobs and bare bottoms. The nice thing about this and other 60s sexploitation movies is that what the girls are displaying is what Mother Nature gave them, with (thankfully) no assistance from silicone.

There’s no discernible plot but things keep happening. Those things make no sense but they give the movie a certain crazed energy. Whatever its flaws this movie is not boring.

This movie, like almost all roughies, was shot in black-and-white.

In Hot Blood offers wall-to-wall T&A and some inspired lunacy, and of course it has that wonderful 60s sleaze vibe. It’s pretty entertaining. Highly recommended.

Something Weird released this on a triple-header DVD with The Lusting Hours and Michael Findlay’s The Ultimate Degenerate. The transfer is very good. Happily this DVD is still obtainable (some of those Something Weird discs are now very difficult to find).

Saturday 24 February 2024

Savage Streets (1984)

There’s nothing like a sleazy 80s Linda Blair exploitation movie and Savage Streets is a very good one.

It belongs to the female revenge genre which had taken off in a big way in the 70s (not just in Hollywood but in other countries as well).

You have to remember that this movie was made in 1984 when hysteria about violent crime, youth crime and gang crime was still at its height. And that’s the background to this movie.

Brenda (Linda Blair) leads a girl gang. They’re pretty wild but they’re not evil. Brenda has a kid sister, Heather (Linnea Quigley), who’s a deaf-mute. Brenda is devoted to her sister.

Brenda’s gang has a run-in with a very nasty male gang led by Jake (Robert Dryer). Brenda and her pals steal Jake’s car and take it for a joy ride. Jake vows to get revenge for this insult.

Jake and his gang rape Heather and leave her for dead. This ignites a chain of escalating violence. It also causes tensions within Jake’s gang. Vince (Johnny Venocur) is more of a hanger-on than a fully-fledged member of the gang but he was the first to rape Heather. Now he’s feeling guilty and that worries Jake.

As an indirect result of this one of Brenda’s gang is murdered.

Brenda is now out for revenge and she’s not fooling around. The stage is set for a series of showdowns with Jake and his cronies Fargo (Sal Landi), and Red (Scott Mayer).

It’s a pretty violent movie and the climactic showdown is both violent and gripping.

The rape scene is fairly harrowing but had it not been harrowing the entire plot would have made no sense. We have to believe that it was so brutal that Brenda has been pushed right over the edge. We also have to believe that Brenda is now so highly motivated that she will have no hesitation in single-handedly taking on three big mean guys.

One thing I like is that Brenda’s campaign of revenge is reasonably plausible. She knows she would have no chance at all against three guys. Her plan, if it works, will allow her to deal with them one at a time. She has the advantage of surprise, and she has acquired some useful accessories which will even up the odds considerably. There’s none of the unrealistic nonsense of one small female beating up a whole bunch of big guys with ease. Brenda is no super-woman. She relies on out-thinking the bad guys.

There are plenty of exploitation elements. Linda Blair has a memorable bathtub nude scene. There’s a shower scene with about thirty naked women, featuring a lot of frontal nudity. There’s an epic catfight between Brenda and a blonde cheerleader who thinks Brenda is trying to steal her boyfriend. What makes this scene awesome is all the naked chicks in the background, two of whom are having their own private catfight for no reason whatsoever except that naked girl catfights add a bit more exploitation value.

There’s some memorable dialogue.

This movie had a very troubled production history but surprisingly it ended up being perfectly coherent, well-structured and well-paced.

The acting is fine. John Vernon is good in a small part as the hardbitten school principal. Linda Blair is the star and she displays her star quality. She’s nicely intense and manages to persuade us that for all her swagger Brenda has a good heart. But if someone close to her gets hurt she’ll make the perpetrator pay.

There’s a very very 80s feel to this movie which gives it plenty of nostalgia appeal today.

There is some question as to who actually directed this movie. Danny Steinmann gets the directing credit. Apparently some early scenes were directed by Tom DeSimone but depending on which source you rely on it seems that quite a bit of the movie was in fact directed by producer John Strong.

If you like your 80s exploitation fast-moving violent and sleazy Savage Streets is the movie for you. A must-see for Linda Blair fans. Highly recommended.

The Code Red Blu-Ray (which looks great) comes with a swag of extras - lots of interviews and no less than three audio commentaries.

Thursday 22 February 2024

Miranda (1985)

Miranda is a 1985 movie by Tinto Brass which you could describe as an erotic comedy/romance.

Tinto Brass has certainly had an interesting career. In the 60s and early 70s he had very respectable art-house credentials, even being compared to Antonioni. Then in 1976 came Salon Kitty which ignited something of a firestorm of controversy. Which was nothing compared to the hysteria which greeted his next film, Caligula. At that point he seems to have decided to make the movies he wanted to make and to make them the way he wanted to make them.

He also decided to concentrate almost exclusively on erotic films. That meant being shunned by critics (especially in the Anglophone world) and losing his respectable art-house credentials. He doesn’t seem to care one little bit.

Miranda takes place in the 1950s. Miranda (Serena Grandi) runs an inn. She is, or was, married but her husband was missing in action during the war and is presumed dead.

Miranda likes men and would like to meet that one special guy with whom to share her life but a girl has to be sure of her choice. The best way is to have affairs with lots and lots of men. Having affairs with three or four men at the same time is no great strain for her.

Carlo, who is more or less the assistant manger of the inn, is very keen on her. She isn’t sure if she’s interested in marrying him. Perhaps when she finds the time to try him out in the bedroom she’ll be in a position to choose.

There’s a wealthy politician who would very much like to marry her. He’s much older but he is rich and he’s rather nice and he’s devoted to her.

The arrival of Norman, a young American in the area temporarily while working on a construction project, offers her another potential choice.

That’s pretty much it for the plot.

It’s played as farce and in a very good-natured way. It’s a fun movie. It has no axes to grind. This is not going to be an exercise in misery or self-pity or guilt.

Brass’s erotic movies from the early 80s on tend to be joyous celebrations of sex. And of the charms of the female body. Brass is notorious for his fondness for actresses with amply-proportioned posteriors but the rest of the female body is certainly not neglected.

The movie opens with a close-up of Serena Grandi’s crotch and she’s not wearing any panties. Brass is laying his cards on the table right from the get-go. He’s saying that if this shot bothers you then you should switch the movie off and go watch something else.

It’s a celebration of the female body but it’s also a celebration of female erotic pleasure. Miranda is very much in touch with, and comfortable with, her sexual desires. She feels no shame about sex and the movie never suggests that a woman should feel shame about satisfying her sexual urges. At no time is she punished for her carnal indulgences. There’s a total absence of moralising about sex. To the extent that there’s any message in this film it’s that sex is normal and healthy. That might seem an obvious point but it’s a point that has never been obvious to censors or to film critics.

Miranda is a movie that revels in its celebration of sex and of sensual pleasures in general.

Brass was always a visually uninhibited director and Miranda looks lush and rich. There’s a lot of very explicit nudity and some fairly explicit sex scenes. It’s softcore, but it’s at the raunchy end of softcore. On the other hand the nude scenes and sex scenes have a lyrical playful quality to them.

Serena Grandi is voluptuous in a way that was already becoming unfashionable but that gives the movie an authentically Tinto Brass feel. That’s Brass’s idea of feminine beauty and if you don’t like it that’s too bad. She gives a wonderful performance. Miranda is a character who might have been played as manipulative in other movies but there’s nothing manipulative about her in this film. She doesn’t want to use men. She wants to share fun times with them. She’s a very likeable character.

This is also an uncompromisingly Italian movie, a love letter to the Italy of the past.

Miranda is lighthearted and sexy and stylish and Tinto Brass’s erotic movies have a unique flavour of their own. Highly recommended.

Miranda has had numerous home video releases. The version in the excellent Fifty Shades of Brass DVD boxed set offers a lovely 16:9 enhanced transfer. Both the English dub and the Italian language version with English subtitles are provided. Given that the set also includes Salon Kitty and The Voyeur it’s worth buying.

Monday 19 February 2024

Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger (1979)

Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger is a 1979 entry in Nikkatsu’s roman porno cycle, the studio’s successful strategy to save itself from bankruptcy after television had threatened to destroy the Japanese film industry. Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger is a sex comedy, and a deliriously crazy one.

It’s one of quite a few nurse-themed movies in the roman porno cycle.

Ryoko (Etsuko Hara) is a pretty young nurse. She has decided to move out of the nurse’s dorm. She’s having an affair with a married doctor, Dr Edogawa, and she feels it may be indiscreet to have sex with him in the dorm.

Young student nurse Emi, who looks up to Ryoko as a surrogate big sister, has been resisting the lesbian advances of her new roommate. Emi does however seem to have discovered an interest in the delights of sapphic love and she’s now desperately trying to get into Ryoko’s pants.

Dr Edogawa has other things to distract him, in the form of a very pretty female patient named Yoko. Yoko is always developing strange symptoms which always require Dr Edogawa to give her a close physical examination. Naturally she has to take her clothes off for these examinations. If Yoko had a headache or a sore toe she would insist on taking her clothes off so that Dr Edogawa could examine her properly. Dr Edogawa is a dedicated physician so he always conducts these examinations very thoroughly, to the accompaniment of much giggling on Yoko’s part.

Dr Edogawa will have a bit of explaining to do when Yoko’s husband shows up.

Dr Edogawa also has some explaining to do when his wife finds out about his affair with Ryoko.

Ryoko has other distractions of her own to deal with, in the form of a young somewhat socially inept male neighbour named Tsugawa. Tsugawa is a Peeping Tom.

All of these sexual dramas become more and more crazy.

If you’re not familiar with Japanese comedy you might be surprised at just how broad much of the humour is. In this movie it’s very broad indeed, but combined with total insanity.

It is however genuinely very funny. Tsugawa’s misadventures with the vacuum cleaner are very funny indeed. As you might have guessed, he has turned to the vacuum cleaner to relieve his sexual frustrations brought about by gazing at Ryoko’s nakedness. It’s an episode that could easily have been merely crude but the craziness level makes it funny rather than crass.

In fact that’s typical of the whole movie. Situations with the potential to be crass end up being lightheartedly amusing instead.

The scenes with the crazy exhibitionistic Yoko manage to be both funny and sexy. The scenes with her husband are insanely over-the-top and including a fire-breathing Dr Edogawa. Literally fire-breathing. He’s been drinking pure alcohol and makes the mistake of trying to light a cigarette.

The movie does spring one or two surprises. We assume that Tsugawa is being set up as a perennial loser comic relief character with no chance of getting the girl (or any girl) but Ryoko decides he’s really sweet and she’s happy to sleep with him, even though she knows about the vacuum cleaner incident. The scene in which she sleeps with him would have been played for laughs in a British or American movie but in this case it’s oddly touching.

It’s these occasional unexpected poignant moments that make this movie interesting.

There’s a lot of nudity but overall this movie is a bit tamer than you expect from a Nikkatsu roman porno film.

Even scenes that might have been disturbing end up not being genuinely disturbing because the movie really is remarkably good-natured and is clearly aiming to amuse rather than to shock. This is an intentionally silly goofy movie and if you take any of it seriously you’ve missed the point.

Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger is totally nuts but it’s strangely likeable and even charming in its insanity. Recommended.

The Impulse DVD lacks extras (apart from some very sparse liner notes by Jasper Sharp) but the transfer is perfectly acceptable.

Friday 16 February 2024

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Flesh Gordon is, very obviously, a softcore Flash Gordon spoof. And it’s not done in quite the way you might expect. It was directed by Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm. Michael Benveniste and William Dennis Hunt wrote the screenplay.

Earth is under attack. A hitherto unknown planet is aiming a sinister ray at our planet. It’s not a death ray, it’s a sex ray. It causes people to go mad with lust and start having sex with anyone who happens to be in close proximity.

Professor Gordon’s son Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams) is going to be the hero of the hour. Luckily he encounters one of his father’s colleague, the brilliant scientist Dr Jerkoff. Dr Jerkoff has invented a new high-tech spacecraft. Dr Jerkoff, Flesh and the lovely Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields) voyage to the source of the sex ray, the planet Porno. On the way they are hit by the sex ray so they have a mini-orgy before continuing their voyage.

The planet Porno is ruled by the evil Emperor Wang (William Dennis Hunt). There is a power struggle going on there between Wang and his queen, Amora.

Flesh, Dale and Dr Jerkoff have to find a way to destroy that sex ray but they are inevitably captured. They have the usual series of narrow escapes from danger.

Eventually they make contact with a resistance movement, after a frightening encounter with lesbian amazons. Dr Jerkoff thinks he has invented a device that can end the power of the sex ray.

One advantage our heroes have I that Dr Jerkoff is now in possession of Queen Amora’s pasties. Apart from their accustomed purpose the power pasties are formidable weapons.

The first surprise this movie springs on us is that it has a period setting. It is set in the 1930s, just like the original Flash Gordon serials. This is rather unusual and daring for a very low-budget movie. The decision proves to be a masterstroke. Consciously aping the setting and feel of the 30s serials means that the cheesy special effects become a major plus instead of a minus. Everything looks the way these things looked in those 1930s serials.

Even Dr Jerkoff’s spaceship, which looks like a giant penis, actually looks rather like the spaceships in the serials with a slight alteration in shape. The spaceship interiors look exactly like similar scenes in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials.

The sets are cheap but they have that 1930s serial look. The matte paintings are very obviously matte paintings but that is totally in keeping with the movie’s chosen aesthetic.

Had the money been available to do more sophisticated and convincing special effects it would have ruined the movie completely. It would have taken most of the fun out of it. And the stop-motion effects are actually pretty good.

It’s also obvious that this movie is not going to make a single concession to realism. The sets are intended to look like movie sets.

And it’s obvious that this is going to be a fun sexy spoof rather than a sex movie. This is not a silly goofy fun movie with added nudity and sex. The nude scenes and the sex scenes are just as silly, goofy and fun as everything else in the film.

This movie is actually quite amusing and even has a few laugh-out-loud moments. It also manages to be off-the-wall and very good-natured at the same time. It’s all much too goofy to get upset about.

There’s a moment, just after their spaceship has passed through the sex ray, when Dr Jerkoff is explaining some scientific principle to Flesh in a very serious manner. While he’s doing so he’s idly fondling Dale’s breasts. She’s not the least bit worried. She knows it’s just the after-effects of the sex ray and he’s not even aware of what he’s doing. She just carries on as if nothing is happening.

Later on the three of them are having a serious discussion about strategy. Dale is totally naked. She seems completely unaware of this and the other two seem totally oblivious to her nudity.

There’s an immense amount of frontal nudity and lots of sex scenes both of which come across as zany and fun rather than arousing. This movie simply doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be erotic.

The basic plot, apart from the sex angle, is pure 1930s movie serial stuff with plenty of conscious echoes of the plots of the original serials.

The acting is mostly bad but bad in a fun way. The cast members all clearly understood that they were meant to make their performances as outrageous and silly as possible.

It’s a rare example of a movie that is deliberately trying to be camp and that gets away with it.

Strangely enough and despite all the sex and nudity this movie is far more successful in capturing the authentic feel of the 1930s movie serials than the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.

Flesh Gordon has a rather poor reputation which I think says a lot about the humourlessness of the modern world. A crazy movie but I enjoyed it a lot. Highly recommended.

The audio commentary by Howard Ziehm is extraordinarily interesting. To say that the movie’s production history was troubled would be an understatement. Ziehm was ripped off by his business partner, he had to fire the director, he had to deal with temperamental crew members and constant persecution by the cops (such as being threatened with a fifteen-year prison sentence). Amazingly he was able to stay out of jail and complete the movie and it went on to be a major success.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

The Labyrinth of Sex (1969)

The Labyrinth of Sex AKA Nel labirinto del sesso (Psichidion), is I guess a kind of mondo movie, albeit less manic than the classic mondo movies. I have always been mystified by the enormous popularity that mondo movies enjoyed in the 60s.

The Labyrinth of Sex was directed by Alfonso Brescia so you expect some WTF moments. You have to wait a while but eventually Brescia does deliver some.

We get a voiceover from an eminent psychiatrist specialising in sexual problems, or rather from an actor pretending very unconvincingly to be a psychiatrist. The subject is sexual deviations. It’s all intended to be terribly shocking. It would certainly have been shocking in the early 60s but by 1969? Well, maybe.

Naturally we get some half-baked Freudianism and lots of crazy pseudoscience and psychobabble, all explained in a suitably portentous manner. Sex is not something to be regarded as fun. It’s something to be agonised over. In that respect the film has a disturbingly 21st century feel. If it feels good it’s bad for you.

Inevitably we get a segment on a nymphomaniac. Whatever happened to nymphomaniacs? They were everywhere in those days. Even cold showers don’t help this girl. Eventually she resorts to groping a man in a movie theatre.

There’s also voyeurism, and exhibitionism as well.

Then things start to get seriously weird. We’re introduced to a lonely man who has solved his problem by making his own woman in kit form. Not from body parts, but from parts of store mannequins and all sorts of bits and pieces. He does it as a kind of mystical ritual with candles. This segment is totally nuts but effectively disturbing.

We get most of the sexual deviations you’d expect in such a movie.

We get lesbians of course. The movie’s views on lesbians are not “dated” (as people like to say nowadays). Nobody in all of history ever thought about lesbians the way this movie does. It’s not even a male fantasy of what lesbians are like. It’s just totally wild and wacky and I have no idea where such ideas could have come from. By this time the movie is getting more and more weird.

And naturally we get a segment on sadomasochism. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s all Mummy and Daddy’s fault.

There are moments in this movie that would be more at home in a horror movie.

The highlight is the segment with a man and a woman hooked up with hundreds of electrodes having sex in laboratory conditions. This is science! This segment has an unsettling cyberpunk kind of vibe which I actually liked a lot.

If the whole movie had been as oddball and off-kilter as this segment and the some-assembly-required girl segment this could have been a fun movie. Sadly the rest of the movie ends up being rather dull.

I don’t think I can really recommend this one but the great thing about those Something Weird double and triple-headers is that they could throw in odd movies which would never be worth releasing on their own.

The Labyrinth of Sex
was released on a Something Weird double-header DVD paired with The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (which I haven’t yet watched). The Labyrinth of Sex gets an acceptable transfer.

Extras include trailers and two short films. The first is Parisian Rendezvous which seems like a kind of 60s love story with some psychedelic freak-out discotheque scenes. Then comes the ending with I guarantee you won’t see coming. The second shot is a nudie loop supposedly featuring Marilyn Monroe but of course it isn’t her. I believe it’s Playboy Playmate Arline Hunter. Miss Hunter is certainly remarkable well-developed in the bust department and she sheds all her clothes and then drinks a Coke. Kind of amusing if you enjoy those old b&w loops.

Saturday 10 February 2024

Prey (1977)

Prey is a 1977 British science fiction-horror movie directed by Norman J. Warren and it doesn’t quite conform to conventional genre expectations.

An alien spacecraft with a single crew member lands somewhere in the English countryside. The alien is confused and disoriented and lashes out violently when he feels himself threatened. As a result of his misinterpretations of human behaviour he kills two people.

He finds refuge in an isolated farmhouse. Jo (Sally Faulkner) and Jessica (Glory Annen) are the only inhabitants of the farmhouse. They are lesbians. They’re not sure what to make of the alien (who calls himself Anders and is played by Barry Stokes). He looks entirely human and they have no reason to suspect that he is anything but human but his behaviour is rather odd.

The atmosphere in the farmhouse was tense even before Anders arrived. It becomes more tense. Anders has wandered into the middle of an emotional minefield.

Anders becomes the catalyst for further emotional dramas although he actually doesn’t participate. But his presence in the house is quite enough.

Anders is more the manipulated than the manipulator. Jo goes out of her way to humiliate him in order to try to make him seem ridiculous and unattractive in Jessica’s eyes.

And we’re still not entirely sure what his intentions are.

Of course the dramas will come to a head, but not quite in the way we might expect.

There are certainly science fictional and horror elements in this movie but much of the focus is on the emotional dramas at the farmhouse.

The relationship between Jo and Jessica is clearly very troubled. Before Anders’ arrival Jessica announces that she wants to leave for a while, to spend some time on her own. Jo’s reaction is extremely hostile. Jo is clearly jealous and possessive. Jo hates men. It’s obvious that she thinks that Jessica is a bit too fond of men. The two women sleep not just in separate beds but in separate bedrooms. There seems to be a lack of physical intimacy between them.

Jo seems a little unstable and definitely inclined to anger. She is clearly a time bomb ticking away, a bomb that could explode at any moment.

In a 1970s exploitation movie you expect a lesbian sex scene and you get one and it’s moderately graphic but it’s rather different from the usual run of such scenes. There’s an extreme emotional intensity. It’s as if their frantic love-making is a desperate attempt to convince themselves that their relationship is still viable. This is not just a sex scene thrown in out of commercial necessity. This is two real very troubled people having sex.

There are only two sex scenes but both are crucial and both pack a punch, in very different ways.

I think it is legitimate to wonder if this movie would have worked just as well, or possibly better, as a straightforward erotic thriller without the science fiction elements. I think it’s possible, but on the other hand the fact that Anders is an alien explains why he makes no overt sexual advances to either woman. And that works quite well. It emphasises that Jo’s jealousy is irrational. It emphasises the paranoid nature of her anxiety that Jessica will betray her sexually or leave her.

The acting is pretty good. Barry Stokes is weirdly detached, as you]d expect from an alien who understands nothing of people. Sally Faulkner is nicely intense with subtle hints of derangement that slowly become more marked. Glory Annen (in her film debut) is excellent. There are really only three characters in the movie which puts a lot of pressure on the three leads but they come through with flying colours.

This was a very low-budget movie made insanely quickly but it’s another movie that demonstrates that talent and commitment matter more than money when it comes to making movies.

Norman J. Warren did not direct very many movies. More than anything else this probably reflected the catastrophic state the British film industry was in by the mid-70s. Especially the British popular film industry. By the late 70s obtaining funding for genre movies was extremely difficult; by the mid-80s it was impossible. But he did make Satan’s Slave (1976) which is an awesome movie. And he did make the totally insane Inseminoid.

Prey is weird and disturbing but it’s a pleasingly interesting and oddball movie which is highly recommended.

The Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray looks fabulous and includes some worthwhile extras including an audio commentary by Norman J. Warren and Sally Faulkner.

Wednesday 7 February 2024

A Quiet Place To Kill (1970)

A Quiet Place To Kill was the third of the four gialli directed by Umberto Lenzi and starring Carroll Baker. It should be noted that the first of these four movies, Orgasmo, was released in the U.S. as Paranoia. Confusingly the third movie was entitled Paranoia in Italy but released internationally as A Quiet Place To Kill. To keep things as clear as possible we will refer to it here as A Quiet Place To Kill (which is in any case a much better title).

This movie is what I call a Phase 1 or early period giallo. You could also refer to this period as the pre-Argento giallo period. Argento’s 1970 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage redefined the giallo. Henceforward Phase 2 or late period gialli would mostly be serial killer movies, they would invariably feature a black-gloved killer and they would be characterised by an over-the-top baroque visual style with lots of blood.

Phase 1 or early period gialli are quite different. There’s not a great deal of blood. They are usually not serial killer movies. They don’t necessarily involve black-gloved killers. They are erotic thrillers and they are just as stylish as the later gialli but in a different, more subtle way. They also usually have an atmosphere of Swinging 60s decadence. I personally enjoy these early gialli a great deal and Umberto Lenzi did them very well indeed.

These early gialli have been overshadowed by the more flamboyant and blood-drenched later gialli but I actually have a slight preference for these earlier movies. Movies like Lucio Fulci’s One on Top of the Other (AKA Perversion Story, 1969), Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968) and Lenzi’s So Sweet, So Perverse (1969).

A Quiet Place To Kill
begins with a lady racing car driver having a near-fatal racetrack smash-up. She is Helen and she is payed by Carroll Baker. She will need to take things easy for a while. She is rather surprised to receive an invitation from Maurice (Jean Sorel) to spend some time recuperating at his villa. Maurice is her ex-husband. They did not part on friendly terms.

Helen gets another surprise when she arrives at the villa. Maurice has remarried. His new wife is Constance (Anna Proclemer). Maurice usually goes for younger more glamorous women. On the other hand Constance is rich, and Maurice definitely goes for rich women.

The atmosphere is rather tense. Constance is having dramas with her daughter. She doesn’t seem to have too much confidence in Maurice’s faithfulness. And Maurice’s desire to get Helen into bed is all too obvious. Helen has reasons to hate Maurice but she still feels a powerful sexual attraction for him. Then Constance tells Helen something rather surprising.

Initially it seems like this is going to be a conventional romantic triangle leading to the consequences that one might expect. But then the plot twists start to kick in and things get rather unpredictable.

I’m not going to say any more about the plot for fear of revealing spoilers.

Jean Sorel was definitely the ideal actor for this type of movie. Maurice is charming, amusing, handsome, sexy and (as both Helen and Constance agree) remarkably good in bed. He is also cynical and totally amoral, untrustworthy, irresponsible, decadent and quite possibly dangerous. A sensible woman would have nothing to do with him, but he’s so charming and sexy that women find it difficult to be sensible about him. Jean Sorel nails the character to perfection.

Carroll Baker was close to being the perfect giallo actress - very sexy but very likeable and possibly dangerous. And a very fine and versatile (and somewhat underrated) actress.

And The Sweet Body of Deborah in 1968 had already established that Sorel and Baker had real chemistry.

Umberto Lenzi should be more admired as a director than he is, and he made some great gialli including the wildly offbeat but brilliant Spasmo (1974). His late 60s and early 70s movies in particular are deserving of more attention. His early gialli are stylish without being showy, and he certainly could capture the atmosphere of the decadent jet set.

I don’t recall any blood at all in this movie, which will certainly puzzle giallo fans. There’s some nudity, but not much. There are no actual sex scenes.

If you go into A Quiet Place To Kill expecting a conventional giallo of the type that became ubiquitous in the 70s you may be disappointed. This represents a distinctive sub-genre of the giallo and it may be counter-productive to consider these late 60s movies as gialli at all. This is an erotic thriller and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an interesting genre and one of which I’m very fond. The focus here is on twisted emotional and erotic relationships and the screenplay and the acting are of sufficiently high calibre to make it an intelligent provocative look at such relationships.

A Quiet Place To Kill is a brilliant little movie and it’s very highly recommended.

The Severin Blu-Ray offers a fully restored transfer which looks luscious.

Monday 5 February 2024

The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970)

The Ballad of Tam Lin (also released as Tam Lin and as The Devil's Widow) was Roddy McDowall’s first and only film as a director. It’s a strange movie that probably never had any chance of commercial success.

It’s based on, or perhaps it would be better to say inspired by, a well-known Scottish folk tale about a love triangle involving the queen of the fairies. The approach taken by Director McDowall and screenwriter William Spier is not at all what you would expect and probably doomed the movie commercially. It is however an undeniably interesting approach.

Michaela ‘Miki’ Cazaret (Ava Gardner) is a very very rich woman who owns a very old but palatial home in Scotland. For her amusement she has collected a bunch of young hippies. We get an immediate interesting conjunction of the decadence of the very rich and the world of the counter-culture which by 1971 was arguably reaching a point of decadence of its own.

For her further amusement she collects handsome young men. Her latest toy boy is Tom Lynn (based on the Tam Lin of the folk tale and played by Ian McShane).

Things get awkward when Tom meets pretty vicar’s daughter Janet Ainsley (Stephanie Beacham) and they fall in love. As you might imagine Miki is less than delighted by this. She is however confident that she is still in full control of the situation and can persuade Tom to continue dancing to her tune.

Tom however is not prepared to give Janet up and there are further complications which draw Tom and Janet closer together. It’s obvious that sooner or later Miki will take steps to bring her toy boy back into line and to punish him. There are hints that in the past young men in Tom’s position have suffered drastic punishments.

A further complication is that one of Miki’s collection of Flower Children is angling to take Tom’s place in Miki’s affections, and her bed (and presumably angling for the rich financial rewards Miki bestows on her young men).

Towards the end the movie changes gear just a bit but the ending, like the whole movie, is riddled with ambiguities.

For the female lead what was needed was an actress in her forties who could be imperious, grand, glamorous and flamboyant and there could have been no better choice than Ava Gardner. She completely dominates the movie and her bravura performance is by far this film’s biggest asset.

Veteran British character actor Richard Wattis is unexpectedly sinister as Miki’s scheming private secretary. Stephanie Beacham is fine although like me you might find Janet a bit too sweet and innocent. That however is probably a carry-over from the folk tale. Joanna Lumley and Madeline Smith have supporting roles as members of Miki’s little circle of counter-culture types.

For me the weak link is Ian McShane. OK, he’s not playing a very admirable character but it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for him at all.

Tom and Janet are supposedly the hero and heroine and Miki is the villainess but I found Miki to be the only character I really cared about. This could be seen as unbalancing the film but on the other hand it does make it a lot more interesting. Tom is the hero but he’s not a very nice person. Miki is the villainess but she’s not a mere monster. We might not approve of her methods but we can understand her motivations and we acknowledge her emotional hurt.

I’m not sure that this movie entirely works but it’s undeniably interesting. It takes a particular approach to the material and sticks to it (I can’t say any more without revealing spoilers).

What’s really interesting is that the movie’s weaknesses (the unsympathetic hero and the surprisingly sympathetic villainess) can also be seen as strengths.

There will be a temptation to see this film as belonging to the folk horror genre that blossomed briefly in the late 60s and early 70s. It certainly has affinities with that genre although it also differs from most such movies in certain ways.

The Ballad of Tam Lin is a bit of an oddity but it’s an interesting oddity. It’s worth seeing anyway but Ava Gardner’s performance makes it a must-see. This may be her career-best performance. It is therefore highly recommended.

The imprint Blu-Ray looks great and is packed with extras.

Saturday 3 February 2024

Terrifying Girls High School: Animal Classmates (1973)

Terrifying Girls’ High School: Animal Classmates (AKA Terrifying Girls’ High School: Animal Courage) was the fourth and last of Toei’s Terrifying Girls’ High School pinky violence films. It’s now been released, with English subtitles, on Blu-Ray.

Only two of these movies are currently available in English-friendly versions, the other being the wonderful Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom.

Animal Classmates, like Lynch Law Classroom, deals with girl juvenile delinquents in a high school setting, with the high school being the setting for all manner of criminal shenanigans. Animal Classmates also has some affinities with the curious Japanese Catholicsploitation sub-genre.

Reiko Ike (who starred in all four movies in the series) is Aki Kazahana, one of five new pupils at the very exclusive Seiwa Academy for Girls.

The school is the stage for a power struggle between two factions, the Athletic Association and the Black Rose Society. They’re both pretty ruthless. Aki, despite her reputation as a very tough cookie, is reluctant to get involved with either faction. But remaining uninvolved may not be an option.

One student from the school will be chosen, by competitive examination, to be an overseas student at the Seiwa Academy’s American sister school, Saint Gregory’s College.

The power struggle between the factions heats up. The Black Rose Society is quite wealthy - they run their own prostitution racket and various other criminal enterprises.

The male teachers seem to enjoy watching the girls in the showers. Like most pinky violence movies this one has a very strong anti-establishment anti-authoritarian stance. The establishment is greedy ruthless sleazy men with no honour. The girl juvenile delinquents at least have some vague code of honour.

This movie, like Lynch Law Classroom, shows definite samurai movie influences with rival girl leaders challenging each other to formal duels.

There’s something very sinister going on at this school. It does seem a bit odd when one of the girls competing for the overseas student scholarship is told that if she wants to be in the running she’ll have to consent to being photographed nude. She is told that no Catholic school would consider a girl as a student without first seeing nude photographs of her! This is the kind of WTF moment that makes Japanese exploitation movies so endearing.

The Athletic Association seems to be mostly interested in fencing and archery. Which means that this is a girl juvenile delinquent movie that is going to feature some swordplay.

There’s no shortage of violence. If you enjoy seeing pretty girls in sailor suits beating the daylights out of each other you’ll love this movie. And if you enjoy seeing pretty girls in sailor suits trying to kill each other with swords you’ll love it even more. The climactic swordfight is pretty good. You also get a full-scale battle scene (and I do mean full-scale) between the girls of the rival factions.

There’s a fair amount of nudity (although being a 70s Japanese movie there’s no frontal nudity) and a fair amount of sleazy sex.

One of the things that differentiates Japanese exploitation movies of the 70s (such as the pinky violence films) from similar movies from other countries is that these Japanese movies were major-studio productions. They were made by people who were seasoned professionals. They tend to be technically flawless. They also feature acting of a generally fairly high standard.

While I still consider Miki Sugimoto and Meiko Kaji to be the queens of pinky violence I must admit that Reiko Ike does a very fine job here.

This is a movie that ticks most of the pinky violence boxes and it’s great sleazy entertainment. A must-have for pinky violence aficionados. If you’re new to the world of pinky violence this film is not a bad starting place. It’s a typical representative of the genre. Highly recommended.

The Discotek Media Blu-Ray has no extras but offers a very nice transfer.

I’ve also reviewed Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973) which is absolutely essential viewing.