Saturday 30 March 2024

Orgasmo (AKA Paranoia, 1969)

OK, first things first. In 1969 Umberto Lenzi made a movie called Paranoia. The Italian distributors changed the title to Orgasmo, a less appropriate but at the time more commercial title. In 1970 Lenzi made another movie called Paranoia, a movie that is also known as A Quiet Place To Kill. In order to minimise confusion I think it’s advisable to call his 1969 movie Orgasmo and his 1970 movie A Quiet Place To Kill. That way we know which movies we’re talking about. So I will refer to the movie that is the subject of this review as Orgasmo.

There’s another matter that needs to be cleared up. Severin’s Blu-Ray release includes two different cuts of the movie. The first is the Director’s Cut. This is in fact the original cut. This is the movie that Lenzi made. The second cut is the X-Rated U.S. cut. Don’t get excited by this - this version is in fact less raunchy than the Director’s Cut. This is a hacked-up shortened version of the film that eliminates Lenzi’s ending, which has the effect of totally ruining the movie. Don’t waste your time on this version. Watch the Director’s Cut.

Orgasmo is generally considered to be a giallo. In fact there were two distinct phases or waves of the giallo genre. The first wave lasted from around 1967 to 1970 with one or two later outliers. The second wave began with Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage in 1970. These two phases are so radically different that it’s important to be clear that they are totally separate and distinctive sub-genres, with their own conventions. The second wave giallos are visually flamboyant blood-drenched thrillers usually involving lots of murders and black-gloved serial killers. The first wave are stylish erotic thrillers, with often only one or at the most two murders. The first wave giallos are characterised by an atmosphere of jet-set decadence and glamour.

Both sub-genres have much to recommend them. Most people prefer the post-Argento second wave giallos. Personally I much prefer the first wave giallos which have much more interesting plots and characters and an emphasis on eroticism that is both more subtle and more genuinely perverse than the second wave.

The first wave giallos are often dismissed by fans who are disappointed that they differ so radically from the post-Argento giallo.

Umberto Lenzi made four films starring Carroll Baker and these films are superb examples of the first wave giallo.

Orgasmo begins with a very very rich widow named Kathryn (Carroll Baker). She meets a hunky young American named Peter (Lou Castel). She allows lust to cloud her judgment and begins an affair with him although there are some red flags she should have noticed.

Kathryn is a little unstable and a little too fond of a drink.

Peter’s sister Eva (Colette Descombes) turns up. Kathryn finds it fun hanging with these two exciting sexy youngsters. They are much younger than Kathryn and this seems to be what she finds most seductive about them. She’s in her mid-30s and she’s starting to become aware that her youth has slipped away from her.

She finds it hard to keep up with them but Eva keeps feeding her pills which helps.

Kathryn thinks she understands the situation and she thinks she’s in control of it. She starts to wonder about this when she catches Peter and Eva in bed together. It’s OK, they can explain everything. Kathryn is deeply shocked.

The truth is that Kathryn is more old-fashioned than she thought she was. She enjoys playing at decadence and playing at being a bad girl but for her it’s just a game and she gets frightened when it starts to get real.

And she is now in a situation which makes her very frightened and confused. She drinks more and takes more pills. She starts to lose touch with reality just a little.

It builds to a very twisted conclusion (assuming you’re watching the Director’s Cut). It’s a great gut-punch ending.

This movie was a triumphant comeback for Carroll Baker after a nightmarish period in Hollywood. It’s a difficult demanding complex rôle and she handles it with ease. A great actress at the top of her game.

There’s very little violence but what violence there is is genuinely shocking not because it’s graphic but because it’s emotionally wrenching and it makes us deeply uncomfortable. Lenzi doesn’t need to throw buckets of blood at us in order to get our attention.

There’s some nudity and very little sex but again Lenzi knows how to create an atmosphere of dangerous unhealthy eroticism, and he knows how to do it subtly. And there’s a wonderfully decadent atmosphere.

Lenzi really found himself as a director with this film. Orgasmo is very very stylish.

Whatever you think of its status as a giallo Orgasmo is a superb erotic thriller. Very highly recommended.

Severin’s Blu-Ray release offers a lovely transfer. There are two audio commentaries.

I’ve also reviewed the second of the Lenzi-Baker collaborations, the wonderful So Sweet...So Perverse (1969).

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Honey (Miele di donna, 1981)

Honey is an Italian-Spanish co-production released in 1981. Assigning it to a genre is tricky to say the least. The original title Miele di donna translates literally as A Woman's Honey. It’s a very strange movie, and a very good and very interesting one.

It begins with a woman (played by Catherine Spaak) forcing her way into the office of a book editor (played by Fernando Rey). She produces a manuscript and a gun. She insists that he read the manuscript aloud. We assume she is a writer and that she has written this manuscript.

The story in the manuscript then unfolds on screen.

A young woman named Anny (Clio Goldsmith) is in a cab looking for the Pensione Desiderio (the Desire Guest House). The cab driver has never heard of the place but surprisingly it is easy to find.

Right from the start the Pensione Desiderio has a strange mysterious atmosphere. Anny is welcomed by the landlady (Donatella Damiani), an extraordinarily voluptuous woman. The landlady is annoyed by find the maid Inés (Adriana Russo) once again spying on one of the guests. She scolds the maid and then invites Anny to join her in spying on that guest. He is an amazingly musclebound individual who apparently spends almost all his time in an odd inexplicable physical training routine.

Things are already becoming a little strange. The landlady suggests that Anny might like a bath. After her bath the naked Anny has an encounter with the landlady. It’s not exactly a sexual encounter but what it is is not at all clear.

There’s some confusion about Anny’s room. It is not yet ready for her. The geography of the Pensione Desiderio is also ambiguous. It seems much bigger than it should be and finding the kitchen or the bathroom is a challenge. It’s as if Anny has entered a maze. The Guest House of Desire is a maze, as is the movie itself.

There appear to be both men and women guests. There’s a middle-aged man who seems delighted that the Pensione has another guest. There’s also Ridolfi, who seems to be a gentleman although perhaps of the playboy type. He is a dance teacher.

Anny wanders naked into one of the rooms and has to hide under the bed when Inés and the middle-aged man walk in. Inés and the man have sex on the bed, with Anny hidden under the bed but watching them in a mirror.

There’s a lot of voyeurism in this movie but it’s all female voyeurism. It’s women who do the watching.

Then the girls arrive, for their dance lesson. Anny witnesses the dancing class, and it’s a perfectly ordinary dancing class. This is actually more disturbing, since by now we are expecting weird things to keep happening.

There’s a slight sense of temporal and geographical ambiguity. We feel that we’re not in the 80s any more but these events may have occurred a few years earlier, or many years earlier. At times the music and certain other elements add a slight Middle Eastern flavour. Are we really in western Europe? There’s a subtle sense of exoticism.

There is definitely a slight surreal vibe, and a dream-like quality to the events as they unfold. So what is going on? Is this simply a novel written by the lady writer (the one played by Catherine Spaak)? It could be that, or it could be a dream or a fantasy. We can’t even be sure that the lady writer was the actual author of the manuscript. There’s also a subtle suggestion that perhaps we’re seeing events through the eyes of someone who did not understand those events. We also get a sense that Anny, although she appears to be in her early 20s, is a bit child-like and there’s a definite sense that she does not understand her own erotic longings.

And then Anny finally reaches the room assigned to her and things get a lot more dream-like.

Clio Goldsmith gives a remarkable performance. She has the right wide-eyed innocence. She makes Anny seem a little naïve but without pushing it too far.

This is a movie in which we could be dealing with more than one unreliable narrator - the lady writer and Anny might both fall into this category. Much depends of course on whether that manuscript is fiction or non-fiction.

Ending a movie like this is always tricky. It’s a movie that relies on being mysterious and keeping us disoriented. An ending that explains too much can destroy the sense of mystery. Whether you’re happy with the ending depends to some extent on what kind of movie you were hoping for. I was fine with the ending.

This is a movie with a strong streak of eroticism but it’s not a straightforward erotic movie. It’s definitely arty and somewhat cerebral and somewhat surreal and don’t expect a conventional linear narrative. I think all these elements work. It’s also a genuinely interesting exploration of female voyeurism. I loved this movie. Very highly recommended.

The Raro Video Blu-Ray offers an excellent transfer but there are no extras. That’s a pity. I’d like to know a bit more about the film’s director and co-writer, Gianfranco Angelucci, and about the other writers (Liliane Betti and Enrique U. Herrera). I’d definitely like to know more about Clio Goldsmith.

Monday 25 March 2024

Alvin Purple (1973)

Alvin Purple is a 1973 Australian sex comedy which probably did more than any other movie to establish the commercial viability of the newly reborn Australian film industry.

Alvin Purple is a sex comedy and it does feature a great deal of frontal nudity. It does however differ a little from British sex comedies of that era.

A young man named Alvin Purple (Graeme Blundell), just turned 21, has a problem. Women won’t leave him alone. They take one look at him and they want to go to bed with him. It’s not that Alvin dislikes sex. Not at all. But he can only take so much.

Naturally he gets himself into a certain of trouble. He also has problems holding down a job. A friend suggests they go into partnerships selling waterbeds (which were a huge fad at the time). The friend will do the in-store demonstrations while Alvin will do the installations.

The trouble is that when he installs the waterbeds in people’s homes the lady customers insist on having Alvin demonstrate to them just how much fun a woman can have on a waterbed. The job is becoming a bit exhausting.

Then he meets a really nice girl who isn’t interested in sex. She seems like an answer to his prayers but she rather disapproves of his colourful sexual history.

Alvin decides to consult a psychiatrist. Dr Liz Sort (Penne Hackforth-Jones) seems to be helping him but unfortunately Dr Sort is a woman and is therefore madly sexually attracted to Alvin.

Her male colleague Dr McBurney (George Whaley) takes over the case and suggests to Alvin that a career as a sex therapist could be very lucrative, for both Alvin and Dr McBurney. Alvin would seem to be uniquely qualified to treat female patients with sexual problems.

Of course it all gets out of hand.

What’s clever about the central idea is that Alvin does not look like a super-stud nor does he behave like one. He’s very ordinary looking and is a bit socially inept. He’s the sort of guy one might expect would have problems persuading girls to go out with him. He just has this mysterious totally inexplicable quality that drives women crazy with lust. All of this has the effect of making a character who could have been obnoxious come across instead as very likeable. Alvin does not chase women. They chase him. It also makes the movie more likeable.

A major difference with this film compared to British sex comedies of the time is that it has a fairly well-developed plot with a few clever twists.

And this is an ozploitation movie, so it’s not just a sex comedy. You get action scenes! There’s a car chase and there is aerial action when Alvin, much against his will, finds himself skydiving.

Graeme Blundell proves to be a fine comic actor.

There were certainly some satirical intentions here. The movie pokes fun at various aspects of the Sexual Revolution and is particularly scathing in its treatment of psychiatry in general and sex therapists in particular. It’s equally scathing when it comes to the inanities and hypocrisies of the criminal justice system. That’s not to say that this is in any way a political film. Mercifully it has no actual political axe to grind but it does reflect the cheerful (and healthy) anti-authoritarianism of the 70s.

What matters of course is whether it’s funny or not. And yes, it really is funny. It’s a very rare case of an Australian comedy feature film that actually works.

With 1960s/1970s British sexploitation movies one often gets the feeling that they were made by people who were very uncomfortable with such material and very embarrassed by it. One doesn’t get that feeling with Alvin Purple. There is no implication that there is anything wrong with wanting to have sex. The film does not condemn Alvin for his sexual adventures nor does it condemn the women for being lustful. It’s good-natured fun without guilt.

Umbrella’s DVD release looks good and has some worthwhile extras. There are interviews with most of the key people involved in the making of the film. There is also a “making of” featurette dating from the time of the film’s original release which is notable for including a lot of scenes that were cut from the final release print.

Alvin Purple is rather a lot of fun and vastly superior to most British sex comedies of its era. Highly recommended.

Friday 22 March 2024

The Killer Is One of Thirteen (1973)

Javier Aguirre’s The Killer Is One of Thirteen is a 1973 Spanish giallo although that genre labelling will have to be qualified.

The basic setup is lifted from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None - take a group of people, have them totally cut off from the rest of the world and one of them is a murderer. The others can expect to be killed off one by one.

In this case a rich young widow, Lisa Mandel (Patty Shepard), has invited twelve other people (making up a total of thirteen) to her very isolated villa. She is convinced that one of these people murdered her husband Carlos. Certainly they all have secrets which they would like to keep hidden, and most of them do seem to have had possible motives to kill Carlos. They are crooks, forgers, blackmailers, adulterers and other assorted not-very-respectable people.

For the first two-thirds of the movie nothing happens. Nothing happens at all. Except talk Lots of talk. Lots and lots of talk. Various scandals are brought to light. The main problem here is that there are way too many characters. It’s not just Lisa and her twelve guests. There are three servants who play major roles in the story. So there are sixteen major characters. Keeping track of them all is hard work. Inevitably many of these characters are so totally undeveloped that it would have been better to dispense with them.

Finally we get a murder. Followed rapidly by other murders. Eventually the evidence seems to point to one obvious suspect but that suspect may be too obvious.

The murders are moderately bloody but by the standards of Italian giallos of the same period the violence and blood are quite muted.

This movie does not have the spectacular visual set-pieces most people associate with the giallo genre. It should however be noted that those spectacular visual set-pieces are characteristic of the second part of the giallo boom, the phase that began with Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The earlier giallos of the late 60s were quite different, being stylish decadent erotic thrillers rather than serial killer gorefests.

The Killer Is One of Thirteen
can be seen as being more at home in the company of these early giallos.

There’s also much more emphasis on the murder mystery plot. This movie doesn’t just borrow its basic setup from Agatha Christie, it really does have the essential structure of a classic English puzzle-plot murder mystery. That makes it seem a bit old-fashioned but it also gives it a flavour that is interestingly different from most giallos.

There are just enough giallo tropes to qualify this as a giallo, but it’s quite different in tone and feel to Italian giallos.

It’s supposedly set in England but this is the least convincing attempt in cinema history at an English setting. Everything in this movie feels totally Spanish.

The cast is interesting. Jack Taylor, a huge favourite with eurocult fans, is there and he’s in fine form as an art forger. Paul Naschy has a small role as Lisa’s chauffeur. The cast members are all very competent. They should be. Most had very distinguished stage and screen careers in Spain.

It’s a slow-moving film but that seems to be a deliberate choice. A lot of time is spent elucidating the complex inter-relationships between the various characters.

There is no nudity at all. In a 1973 European genre film that is unusual to say the least. One would be tempted to assume that this movie, like so many other eurocult movies of that era, was shot in two versions - a clothed version for the Spanish market and a much racier version for export markets. That however does not seem to be the case here.

The Killer Is One of Thirteen
is just a bit too slow. The multiplicity of characters lessens the suspense since we don’t get to know enough about most of these people to care about their fates. The visual style is too conventional, and while there are one or two hints of perversity this may be the least sexy giallo ever made. It all falls a bit too flat for me to recommend this one. It’s great that we can now get to see lesser-known Spanish giallos but this is not a great example.

Vinegar Syndrome have included this movie in the three-movie Forgotten Giallo volume 1 Blu-Ray set. The transfer is excellent. The one extra is a commentary track by Kat Ellinger. Her commentaries are always interesting and she gives us a vast amount of fascinating background on the distinctive nature of the Spanish giallo.

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Secret Rites (1971)

Secret Rites makes an interesting companion piece to Malcolm Leigh’s Legend of the Witches (1970) so the BFI’s decision to release them as a double-header DVD/Blu-Ray combo set makes a lot of sense.

Both are faux-documentaries dealing with witchcraft in contemporary England. Both movies add lots of exploitation elements to the mix and it was clearly these exploitation elements that attracted the audience. Secret Rites seems to have done quite well at that time although it had been largely forgotten until the BFI discovered to its surprise that it actually had a very good print in its archive.

Interestingly the cast members include some real witches and some actors, some with backgrounds in sex films and some with more conventional acting backgrounds. The line between fiction film and documentary is constantly being blurred.

Secret Rites, in comparison with Legend of the Witches, focuses much more tightly on scenes of witchcraft rituals.

While Legend of the Witches was shot in black-and-white and looks ultra-cheap Secret Rites was shot in colour and has more of a feature film look.

The running time is just 47 minutes although it is possible that a much longer much racier continental version may have been shot. This was a not uncommon practice at the time. There is no way of knowing if this was the case. Derek Ford did however follow this practice later in his career and even on occasions included hardcore footage.

Director Derek Ford made quite a few sex comedies in the 70s which, sadly, apparently embarrassed him. A very British attitude indeed.

Secret Rites begins with a very pretty typical British dollybird deciding she wants to become a witch. She writes to Alex Sanders, who was in real life Britain’s most famous witch at that time, making enquiries about joining his coven. He suggests that she talk to Wendy, a member of the coven.

Her application to join the coven having been accepted she goes through her initiation ritual.

Other rituals will follow, including a temporary marriage ritual and a kind of eternal marriage ritual. Almost all of the film’s running time is taken up by these ceremonies.

The tone is very serious throughout. This may have reflected Alex Sanders’ approach. He was working very hard at that time to give witchcraft a favourable public image. In those more enlightened times that seemed like a perfectly achievable objective.

It may also have been an attempt to head off censorship problems, presenting this film as a serious documentary.

Censorship problems were certainly a possibility as there is an enormous amount of both male and female frontal nudity. It’s all very non-sexual but there are a lot of naked bodies.

In 1971 there were fascinating linkages becoming evident between the counter-culture on the one hand and the occult and various alternative religions on the other. This is a theme that is definitely present in the film. Secret Rites takes place in Notting Hill, then a major counter-culture centre.

Secret Rites has a very lurid visual style, looking more like a Hammer film with extra nudity (a lot of extra nudity) than a documentary. The visual style is rather fun and the witches wear some rather exotic costumes (when they wear clothes at all).

Secret Rites
works well enough as a documentary about Alex Sanders’ brand of Wicca. It’s sympathetic and avoids sensationalism.

It also works pretty well as a sexploitation movie with lots of pretty young lady witches in a state of undress.

If you enjoy offbeat faux-documentaries done in a lurid style this movie is highly recommended.

The BFI’s Blu-Ray presentation looks terrific with nicely vivid colours (it’s a very colourful movie).

Sunday 17 March 2024

Cool It, Carol! (1970)

Pete Walker made a brief splash as a director of British horror films in the 70s but prior to that he had made a number of sexploitation movies. The last of them was Cool It, Carol! (released in the US as Dirtiest Girl I Ever Met) in 1970.

The basic plot is a very old story indeed. An innocent young girl from the country goes to the big city (in this case London) in search of fame and fortune and doesn’t find exactly what she hoped to find. In this movie she’s accompanied by a young man who also has dreams of making his fortune in London. These were old old clichés even in1970 but this movie adds some really intriguing spins. This is a movie that consistently avoids going in the direction you expect.

We start off in a typical small English village. The young man is butcher’s apprentice Joe (Robin Askwith). His fantasy is to work in a fancy car dealership in London, selling sports cars. The young woman is Carol (Janet Lynn). She pumps petrol in the local garage. She dreams of fame and glamour.

Joe is not exactly her boyfriend. They’re friends and maybe there’s some romantic attraction but it hasn’t gone very far. That all changes on the train to London when Carol seduces Joe.

Joe finds that you don’t just walk into a job in an exclusive luxury car dealership. You need to have the right qualifications. Mostly you need to have gone to the right school and you need the right upper-class accent.

Carol has more luck. She has real prospects of landing a modelling job. In the meantime they’re flat broke. Carol and Joe are rather pragmatic. The easiest way to get some quick cash would be for Carol to turn a few tricks. Which she does. She doesn’t particularly like doing it but she doesn’t really mind it and at least they now have money for food.

Various opportunities open up for Carol. She gets modelling work, including nude modelling. She appears in a hardcore sex film (with Joe as her co-star). She becomes a highly paid call girl. The money is now rolling in.

Of course you know what’s going to happen. It’s all going to turn into a nightmare for Carol and she’ll end up in the pit of degradation and despair. But that’s not what happens. I won’t tell you exactly what does happen but it’s an example of Walker’s determination in this film to avoid the obvious.

Around 1970 film censorship in Britain was finally starting to loosen up just a little but it was still necessary to tread very carefully. As a result this movie is fairly tame. There’s a small amount of nudity (including a brief flash of frontal nudity). There are some fairly non-graphic simulated sex scenes. Compared to British movies made just a year or two later it qualifies as very tame.

In the late 60s there were a number of British films that form a sub-genre we could call sexploitation misery. They’re like the incredibly depressing British kitchen sink dramas of the early to mid 60s with the addition of a very small amount of nudity but with the same message of utter despair. Their message is that having sex only leads to unhappiness so you might as well just throw yourself in front of a bus now and get it over with. Her Private Hell (1968) and Permissive (1970) are excellent examples. Cool It, Carol! definitely does not belong in that sub-genre. It’s not in the least judgmental and it’s not interested in guilt or misery.

It also does not fit into the classic early to mid 70s British sex comedy genre. It does have some very funny moments but it’s not the broad humour we associate with British sex comedies. There is no slapstick. Cool It, Carol! is a million miles away in feel from Confessions of a Window Cleaner. This is subtler more sophisticated humour.

If you only know Robin Askwith from the Confessions movies you’re in for a shock. He is very funny at times here but it’s a semi-comic performance with some moments that require serious acting, which he handles with surprising skill.

Janet Lynn is terrific. She avoids all the acting clichés you expect given the basic plot outline. She plays Carol as a girl totally lacking in self-pity. She is not a tragic character. Sometimes bad things happen to her but she shrugs her shoulders and moves on.

This movie is a succession of surprises. I’m not talking about clever plot twists but rather surprises in terms of the characters. There’s not a single character in the movie who is merely a stock character type or a mere stereotype. Characters are introduced and we think they’re going to be stereotypical but they turn out not to be.

There is for example the guy who makes the hardcore movies in which Carol appears, and the pimp whom they encounter. We assume they’re going to be the sleazy villains of the piece, corrupting Carol, but they aren’t really. They don’t use blackmail or threats to induce her to do anything (at no time in the entire movie is Carol forced to do anything). They offer her certain amounts of money and they pay her. They might seem a bit sleazy but they deal fairly with her. That’s not what you expect in this genre.

The two main characters are exceptionally interesting. They’re innocent by big city standards, but they’re not babes in the wood. Carol isn’t an innocent virgin. Right from the start she has a totally relaxed attitude towards sex. It just isn’t that big a deal for her. She doesn’t feel degraded or exploited being a prostitute or doing a hardcore film. It’s just sex. Joe acts as her pimp but he doesn’t exploit her. They’re not madly in love with each other but they are fond of each other. They are not corrupted by anything that happens to them. They started out as nice young kids and they remain nice young kids.

This was an incredibly radical approach for a British sex film to take in 1970. It’s almost as if sex is just a normal part of life rather than being wrong and dirty.

The first thing you notice about the 88 Films Blu-Ray transfer is that it’s slightly grainy. Whoever was responsible for the restoration had enough sense to realise that the grain is supposed to be there. It adds to the atmosphere. The Blu-Ray is packed with extras. Cool It, Carol! is very highly recommended.

Friday 15 March 2024

Legend of the Witches (1970)

Legend of the Witches is an odd faux-documentary mixed with sexploitation written and directed by Malcolm Leigh and released in 1970.

It was shot 1.33:1 and in black-and-white and clearly on a very very small budget.

It’s an interesting mixture, with a mostly very serious tone and very portentous narration. On the whole it’s sympathetic to witchcraft.

Witchcraft was at the time a popular subject in fiction and in movies so this film would have a certain built-in commercial appeal.

We start with what is supposedly the witches’ creation myth. Then we go to an initiation ritual for a new witch priest.

Then we get a kind of potted European history from the witches’ point of view, with William the Conqueror, Robin Hood and Joan of Arc all featuring as witches or involved in witchcraft.

Next up is an account of the many survivals of pagan ritual in Christian ritual. These two historical interludes are the most interesting part of the film although one might be justified in being sceptical about their historical accuracy.

We get a visit to a witchcraft museum in Cornwall. Plus several more re-enactments of witchcraft rituals. Finally we get some very strange not very relevant stuff about scientific ghost-hunting and scientific investigations of psychic powers. This stuff might not be relevant but it is an excuse for some appealing trippiness.

This was 1970, with the hippie thing in full swing, and one can see signs of the  mutual influence that was becoming apparent between occult groups and some branches of hippiedom.

And along the way we get prodigious amounts of male and female frontal nudity.

The impression it all leaves is that there was an attempt being made to make a fairly serious documentary but with lots of exploitation elements to make it saleable. One assumes that the serious documentary elements were there mainly to provide a justification for lots of nudity, and presumably in the hope that this would somehow get the movie past the rigid British film censors.

There’s a total absence of humour. That might have been a deliberate ploy to make the film seem like a serious respectable documentary.

Alex Sanders, the most high-profile practising witch in England at the time and something of a celebrity, was involved in the making of the film. Much of the ritual shown in the film is therefore likely to be a fairly accurate representation of the practises of Sanders’ brand of Wicca.

Being shot on a micro-budget in black-and-white turns out to be something of an asset in disguise, adding to the cinéma vérité documentary feel. Overall the film probably needed to be tightened up a bit in the editing room. A bit more liveliness wouldn’t have hurt.

Malcolm Leigh had a brief career as a director mostly of short subjects, being best-known for his 1971 sex comedy Games That Lovers Play (which starred Joanna Lumley).

The BFI have paired this film with a similar witchcraft faux-documentary, Secret Rites, in their excellent DVD/Blu-Ray combo Flipside series. The transfer is as good as can be expected considering that the movie probably didn’t look great even at the time of its initial release. There are plenty of extras although they’re a mixed bag.

Legend of the Witches was typical of its time with some obvious affinities to British mondo-style films such as London in the Raw (1965) and Primitive London (1965) but it takes itself much more seriously.

Legend of the Witches is intriguing enough to be recommended.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Psychomania (1973)

Psychomania is a 1973 British zombie biker movie. It’s terrible, but kind of great as well.

It could be regarded as falling into the folk-horror genre.

In some peaceful English town there’s a biker gang who call themselves The Living Dead. They’re really just juvenile delinquents. They’d like to be evil, but they’d get in trouble with their parents if they actually did anything evil.

The leader of the eight-member gang is Tom Latham (Nicky Henson). His girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) is one of the two female members of the gang. The other is Jane (Ann Michelle) and she’d like to be leader of the gang.

Tom really is a bit of a nutter. He’s obsessed with the idea of dying and then returning from the dead. He thinks his mother (played by Beryl Reid) and her butler Shadwell (George Sanders) know how this can be done. He thinks his father tried to do it but failed. Mrs Latham is a medium but it appears that she really can contact the dead. All Tom has to do is to convince Mrs Latham and Shadwell to reveal the secret.

Which they decide to do. It’s probably not a great idea because Tom is already unstable but he’s going to keep annoying them until they give in to him.

The secret is to commit suicide, but to really believe with all your heart that you’ll come back.

Tom tries it and it works. He suggests that all the gang members should try it.

Of course you can only die once. Once you’re dead you’re pretty much invulnerable. Which means that you don’t have to face any consequences for your actions. If you’re already inclined to violence you can now indulge that taste as much as you like.

But you do have to be prepared to kill yourself first, and you do have to believe.

Pretty soon the gang is leaving a trail of corpses in its wake.

Chief Inspector Hesseltine (Robert Hardy) has no idea what’s going on. He eventually starts to have an inkling of the truth but the police really are powerless. Maybe the gang can be stopped, but not by the police.

Tom likes being dead but he wants Abby to be dead with him. She thinks she’s ready to do it, but maybe it isn’t really so easy.

If you’re expecting a zombie biker movie with typical movies zombies and lots of gore you might be disappointed. There’s no gore at all. And these zombies look like normal human beings (which personally I think is a lot more interesting). To describe this as a zombie movie is in fact misleading. These bikers are brought back from the dead by means of an occult bargain with dark demonic forces. This is more of a witchcraft or even a satansploitation movie than a zombie movie.

This is really supernatural horror, but done as an action motorcycle movie in a contemporary setting.

The acting is OK. Nicky Henson gives Tom the right mix of arrogance and stupidity. George Sanders is a bit restrained as Shadwell. Beryl Reid overacts, which is what her role requires. Robert Hardy could be relied on to play a cop. The other players all give entertaining performances.

Abby is the closest thing in this movie to a three-dimensional character and Mary Larkin does a pretty reasonable job. Abby is the only member of the gang who actually gives some thought to consequences.

For the most part the low budget is no problem. The stunt work is very good. There is only one real special effects shot and unfortunately that’s the one time where the tiny budget becomes a problem. It just doesn’t work, but it’s only one scene at the end.

Don Sharp was a fine action director and he understood pacing so this project was ideal for him. He knew what was needed and he knew how to achieve it on a small budget.

One of the things I like about this movie is that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to other zombie movies. This movie is its own thing. There’s something refreshing about that. The weirdest thing is that these are violent outlaw bikers but they like folk songs.

The fact that the script is a bit of a mess, that major plot elements are not resolved in a clear-cut way, that characters’ motivations are sometimes obscure and the whole movie is somewhat incoherent and stylistically confused is what makes it work. It gives it an oddball flavour and a definite trippy ambience. The movie’s worst flaws are its greatest strengths.

Psychomania has its own unique flavour and for all its oddness it’s a great deal of fun. Highly recommended.

The BFI Blu-Ray/DVD combo offers an excellent restored transfer (very impressive given that the negative of this film has been lost) with lots of extras.

Sunday 10 March 2024

School for Sex (1969)

School for Sex is a 1969 movie written, produced and directed by Pete Walker. It is included in the four-movie 88 Films Pete Walker Sexploitation Collection Blu-Ray set. This is an intriguing collection. One of the movies is a very late Pete Walker movie. The other three represent the very beginnings of his career as a director of feature films. These three include one truly excellent and rather quirky movie, Cool It, Carol!

School for Sex was Walker’s first proper feature film. It’s a sex comedy, but that has to be qualified since the movie was made in two very different versions. It has been said that the problem with British sex comedies is that they’re not funny and they’re not sexy. That’s a bit unfair. It’s a legacy of the extraordinary critical hostility to these movies at the time, a legacy they have never fully been able to escape. Some British sex comedies are actually very amusing. Some are sexy, in a typically embarrassed British way.

Which leads us back to the two different cuts of this movie. Given the insanely restrictive censorship environment in Britain in the 60s the cut prepared for British release is so tame that it could be described as a sexless comedy. The other cut, the continental cut, was intended for release in European markets. It represents the movie as it should have been and was clearly intended to be. Instead of the occasional embarrassed glimpses of bare breasts in the UK cut it features a lot of nudity, including a lot of frontal nudity. It’s an actual sex comedy.

Happily 88 Films have included both cuts on their Blu-Ray release. My advice is, don’t bother with the pointless British version. If you want to appreciate what Pete Walker was capable of doing within this genre you need to watch the continental version.

The movie begins with a distinguished English gentleman facing sentencing on charges of fraud. His defence counsel offers a lengthy speech in mitigation, which introduces a flashback sequence. We find out how Giles Wingate (Derek Aylward) ended up in such a mess. He had returned from the war a hero, to take possession of a large estate and an even larger fortune. Wingate had one weakness - women. And unscrupulous gold-diggers gradually stripped him of his fortune.

The plea of mitigation succeeds in keeping him out of prison but now he has to find a way to rebuild his fortune. He has a plan to do just that. He will turn Wingate Manor into a school for girls. But a school with a difference. The girls will be instructed in the art of seduction, the aim being to teach them how to separate rich men from their money. This will be profitable for the girls, and for Giles Wingate (he will get one-third of whatever money they are able to extract from those rich men).

Wingate will be the headmaster but he’ll need a deputy headmistress. He finds the Duchess of Burwash (Rose Alba) who needs work after having spent all her late husband’s money. The duchess is rarely sober but she’s in tune with Wingate’s ideas on how to make a less-than-honest buck. Wingate also finds a PT instructor for the girls, Hector (Nosher Powell), a broken-down lecherous ex-prize fighter. Wingate himself will teach the girls how to seduce men into handing over their fortunes. Having been the victim of unscrupulous women himself he knows all their techniques.

Unfortunately the amazingly thick-headed village policeman and a jealous neighbour are taking an interest in the goings-on at Wingate Manor.

That’s pretty much it for the plot but there is a nice twist at the end.

This movie has a very 1969 anti-authoritarian vibe. The police are bumbling idiots constantly sticking their noses into other people’s private affairs. Lawyers, judges and politicians are dishonest and are much worse rogues than Wingate.

Wingate is a rogue, but he’s a likeable rogue. His girls are not exactly honest. They all have criminal records (he recruits them via a crooked parole officer) but they’re likeable rogues (or rogue-ettes) as well.

Derek Aylward is perfectly cast. He does the dishonest gentleman thing superbly. One thing that’s interesting is that Wingate is genuinely fond of his young lady pupils and treats them with respect. He may not be honest but he is a gentleman.

The girls are all extremely pretty and all look good with or without their clothes. The most notable is Françoise Pascal who went on to star in Jean Rollin’s superb The Iron Rose (1973).

So going back to that accusation that British sex comedies are neither funny nor sexy, how does School for Sex stack up? It really isn’t terribly funny but it is good-natured and lighthearted and occasionally amusing. The British cut isn’t sexy, but the continental cut with its copious nudity definitely is sexy. It’s a basically good idea but at this stage of his career Walker lacked the experience to exploit it fully. It’s harmless and it is interesting as a very early British sex comedy. Worth a look, but don’t set your expectations too high.

The 88 Films Blu-Ray offers a nice transfer. There are quite a few extras. Sadly the audio commentary is disappointing.

Thursday 7 March 2024

OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo (1966)

OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo (AKA Terror in Tokyo, original title Atout coeur à Tokyo pour OSS 117), is a 1966 French eurospy movie directed by Michel Boisrond and starring Frederick Stafford. This was the fourth of the 1960s OSS 117 movies, based on Jean Bruce’s novels featuring secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, codenamed OSS 117.

A mystery organisation claim to have invented a super-weapon which they will use unless governments pay them a hundred million dollars. Military bases will be their targets.

CIA agent OSS 117 is assigned to the case. The best lead is a woman in Tokyo who is being blackmailed by the mystery organisation into providing them with the information they need to target those bases.

The woman is Eva Wilson (Marina Vlady). The plan is for Eva to make contact with the bad guys. Hubert will pretend to be her husband (her actual husband is in Washington).

Hubert and Eva decide that it’s important to make Hubert’s masquerade as her husband convincing so they sleep together.

There’s a meet in a girlie bar where Hubert encounters a pretty Japanese girl, Tetsuko (Jitsuko Yoshimura). Tetsuko might be able to provide a further lead but even if she can’t Hubert doesn’t mind. He doesn’t really need a reason to pursue pretty girls.

Hubert’s problem is that he is now involved with two women and he can’t be sure if he can trust either of them. Maybe he’ll have a better idea of that after he’s slept with both of them.

Hubert’s bigger problem is to find the villains’ secret headquarters, and their super-weapon. He has to deal with lots of heavies who want to do him harm.

This was Frederick Stafford’s second and final appearance as OSS 117. He looks like the kind of guy who might be a secret agent, he’s good in the action scenes and he’s likeable and charming. Hubert is a skirt-chaser, but he only chases girls who like to be chased.

Marina Vlady and Jitsuko Yoshimura are fine as the two women mixed up in the case. Jitsuko Yoshimura in particular is bubbly and cute.

Perhaps the villains could have been more colourful.

The plot is a pretty standard eurospy plot but it’s serviceable enough. The movie moves along fairly briskly. The fight scenes are reasonably good.

The bad guys’ secret lair doesn’t compare to anything from a Bond movie but it’s OK.

Director Michel Boisrond doesn’t try anything fancy but he’s quite competent.

There’s a decent mix of action and romance. Perhaps surprisingly it’s all played very very straight with no comic interludes.

The action finale is fairly exciting. Obviously a lot less spectacular than a Bond movie but for a modestly budgeted movie perfectly satisfactory.

OSS 117: Mission to Tokyo doesn’t quite have as much eurospy craziness as I would have liked.

On the whole this is a thoroughly enjoyable rather lighthearted spy thriller and it’s highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed the two previous OSS 117 movies, OSS 117 Is Unleashed (1963) and Panic in Bangkok. They’re worth seeing.