Tuesday 30 April 2024

A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (1975)

A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (Una libélula para cada muerto) is a 1975 Spanish giallo directed by León Klimovsky and starring Paul Naschy. As so often Naschy also contributed the screenplay, under his real name Jacinto Molina.

Some purists consider the giallo to be a purely Italian genre but there are a number of Spanish films which tick all the right boxes and it’s hard to see how they can be considered to be anything but giallos (or gialli if you prefer).

I’ve always enjoyed Paul Naschy’s performances but I probably have been guilty of thinking of him as a somewhat limited actor. In this film he plays a hardbitten police detective which is an interesting change of pace for him.

While this is a Spanish film it is set in Milan. Spanish film-makers found that the Spanish censors would let them get away with a bit more if they avoided Spanish settings, and thereby avoided the implication that crime and immorality were rife in Spain. And there’s plenty of crime and immorality in this movie.

A serial killer is at work and his targets appear to be chosen because they fit into the popular conception of the social deviant or social misfit categories. The first three victims are a rapist, a drug addict and a prostitute.

The killer leaves an ornamental plastic dragonfly at the scene of each killing.

Inspector Paolo Scaporella (Paul Naschy) is assigned to the case, despite having apparently messed up his previous case. He needs a result this time. The killer keeps sending him messages, assuming that Paolo will approve of his plans for cleaning up the city. Paolo is not a great fan of social deviants but he likes murderers even less.

Paolo is very hardboiled and he’s quite prepared to get rough when interrogating a suspect. On the other hand he’s not a bitter loner. He is happily married, to Silvana (Erika Blanc), and he’s a loving husband. He’s a bit of a rough diamond but really he’s a pretty good guy and as the story unfolds we grow to like him quite a bit.

The body count continues to mount and every time a witness is about to give Paolo some vital piece of evidence the witness gets killed first.

The killings are not the spectacular visual set-pieces you get in many giallos but they’re fairly bloody. The killer favours two weapons - an axe and an umbrella concealing a sword blade. And yes, the killer wears black gloves.

Being a cop Paolo is already familiar with the seedy side of Milan but in this case he encounters a few kinks he didn’t know about, such as the guy who likes to have sex with girls in coffins.

The dragonfly had been used by the ancient Chaldeans to identify social misfits. This is perhaps a clue, or perhaps a red herring.

Naschy clearly understood the mechanics of the genre and his script gives us everything we could want in a giallo, with lots of twists and red herrings and misleading clues.

There’s an atmosphere of sleaze and decadence which is nicely balanced by the affectionate relationship between Paolo and his wife. A giallo can make one cynical about our species so it’s nice to be reminded that some husbands love their wives and are faithful to them and some wives love their husbands and are faithful to them. The very good chemistry between Naschy and Erika Blanc helps.

There’s enough blood to satisfy those who like that sort of thing and enough sleaze to keep sleaze fans reasonably happy.

Director León Klimovsky doesn’t have a huge reputation among eurocult fans but he made some decent horror films with Vengeance of the Zombies (1973, with Naschy) being particularly good. I quite liked The Vampires’ Night Orgy (1973) and Werewolf vs Vampire Woman (1971) although I suspect I’ll enjoy them more if and when I get to see them decently restored and uncut.

As was customary at the time many scenes in A Dragonfly for Each Corpse were shot twice, in clothed versions for the Spanish market and nude versions for the international market. Shout! Factory’s Blu-Ray offers us the racier international version. This is a moderately sleazy movie and the sleaze factor is essential considering the nature of the murderer’s motivations. The Blu-Ray release looks great.

I’ve reviewed quite a few Paul Naschy movies, including the extremely interesting gothic horror/giallo hybrid Panic Beats (1983) and the wonderful set-in-Japan werewolf flick The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983).

A Dragonfly for Each Corpse is a good solid giallo and Naschy’s charisma is enough to earn it a highly recommended rating.

Saturday 27 April 2024

A Black Veil for Lisa (1968)

A Black Veil for Lisa is a 1968 Italian-German co-production directed by Massimo Dallamano and Dallamano’s name in the credits was more than sufficient to make me want to see this one.

I had assumed that it was going to be a giallo or a proto-giallo but despite the presence of a black-gloved killer assigning this movie to a particular genre is rather tricky.

The setting is Hamburg.

John Mills plays Inspector Franz Bulov (different sources offer different spellings of his surname) is a senior Interpol narcotics investigator. He’s working on a very big case involving a major drug racket but key witnesses keep getting murdered. The drug gang is always one step ahead of him.

It has of course occurred to Bulov that information is being leaked to the drug gang but it seems unlikely. There just doesn’t seem to be any way it could be happening.

He has other things to worry about, such as his marriage. His wife Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi) is much younger, glamorous and has an interesting past. Maybe she’s playing around behind Bulov’s back or maybe he’s just insanely jealous and possessive, and (being a cop) overly suspicious.

Yet another possible informant is murdered. This time the killer leaves behind a clue. It’s very little to go on, but Bulov believes it just might be enough.

The audience already knows the identity of the black-gloved killer. It is Max Lindt (Robert Hoffmann).

There’s a hardboiled crime plot here that suggests that we may be dealing with the poliziotteschi rather than the giallo genre but eventually we realise that the organised crime plot is not really the movie’s main focus.

It’s the personality and motivations of Inspector Franz Bulov that are at the centre of this film. His actions drive the plot.

John Mills was actually a very good casting choice. Anyone who has delved deeply into his filmography knows that he could play very dark roles, he could do moral ambiguity, he could be gritty and he could play emotionally disturbed or obsessed individuals. This role is in fact right up his alley.

Luciana Paluzzi adds glamour and does well in keeping us guessing about Lisa.

Robert Hoffmann is nicely cold and menacing, with just a suggestion that Max has his own weak points.

All three main characters are ambiguous and conflicted in their motivations. There’s erotic obsession and jealousy and a desire to escape from the traps into which their obsessions have driven them. Curiously, considering the crime background, these people are not at all interested in money or power. It’s all sex.

It’s important to bear in mind that neither the poliziotteschi nor the giallo genre really existed in 1968 in anything like a fully developed form. Dallamano would presumably have seen this film simply as a crime thriller. In 1968 any crime thriller was going to be influenced to some degree by Hitchcock, and in this case it’s the Hitchcock films with strong erotic overtones such as Strangers On a Train, Vertigo and Marnie that would have had a major influence (especially Strangers On a Train and Vertigo). Given that this was an Italian-German co-production it’s reasonable to assume that the German krimis had an influence as well. It does have a bit of a krimi feel, and although it’s very stylish it lacks the visual flamboyance of the full-blown Italian giallo.

A Black Veil for Lisa begins as a straightforward police procedural. It begins to change as Bulov becomes less the detective and more an active participant in events, and an active driver of events.

It’s an engrossing movie with more emotional depth than you might expect. It’s the emotional depth that keeps things interesting since the plot isn’t overly startling.

Don’t worry too much about trying to fit it into a genre or subgenre - A Black Veil for Lisa is an above-average crime thriller and it’s highly recommended.

The 88 Films Blu-Ray offers a fine transfer with some worthwhile extras.

I’ve reviewed several of Massimo Dallamano’s movies - The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970), Super Bitch (1973) and Venus in Furs (Le malizie di Venere, 1969). I’d recommend them all very highly.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Sliver (1993)

Sliver is a 1993 erotic thriller directed by Phillip Noyce and scripted by Joe Eszterhas from a novel by Ira Levin. Sharon Stone, at that time just about the hottest property in Hollywood, stars.

Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) is a book editor who has just moved into a luxury high-rise New York apartment building, known as the Sliver Building. She finds out that the girl who had the apartment before her, a girl named Naomi, jumped to her death from the window. Carly isn’t too disturbed by this, even when people keep telling her that she bears an uncanny resemblance to Naomi. Eventually Carly will discover that there have been three slightly mysterious deaths in this building.

Carly immediately attracts the attention of the two sleaziest men in New York City, a writer named Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) and a young guy named Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin).

What the audience knows and Carly doesn’t know is that she is being watched. Someone has set up an extraordinarily sophisticated and elaborate surveillance system in the building and is watching everyone’s every move on a huge bank of monitors.

This is obviously going to be a movie about voyeurism but there are several layers of voyeurism going on. Some unknown person has bought Carly a telescope. Carly enjoys using it to spy on people in a neighbouring building. She likes to watch people having sex. Carly is both an object of voyeurism and a bit of a voyeur herself.

As in the previous movie written by Eszterhas, Basic Instinct (which of course also starred Sharon Stone), there are both men and women in this story who enjoy playing dangerous erotic games. Like Catherine in Basic Instinct Carly is excited by such games.

Carly slowly comes to realise that there are things she doesn’t know which she needs to know. She still doesn’t think she’s in any real danger. She likes to think that she’s a woman who is always in control. Maybe this time she isn’t in control.

Sliver was savaged by critics and failed to set the box office alight. As so often happens most people therefore approach this movie assuming that it is going to be a bad movie. I prefer to avoid such assumptions. Some of my all-time favourite movies were hated by both critics and the public.

In the early 90s Joe Eszterhas was the most successful most highly paid screenwriter in Hollywood. He was paid a record salary for writing Basic Instinct and the film was a mammoth hit. And that’s about the time that critics turned against him. After that the knives were out for him.

It’s easy to see why. Eszterhas wrote movies that made people uncomfortable. People want reassurance from movies. Even when they watch scary movies or horror movies they want to be reassured that their prejudices and their straightforward conventional way of understanding the world are correct. They don’t mind being disturbed for a while but when they reach the ending they like to feel that it confirms that the world works the way they thought it worked. They don’t want to be too challenged. And while critics will tolerate some artiness they like the artiness to be of the sort with which they’re familiar.

Basic Instinct was a bit unsettling. If Eszterhas seemed to stumble after that they would go for the jugular. Which they did, with both Sliver and Showgirls (a movie I love unreservedly).

So what exactly went wrong with Sliver? The answer to that is that’s nothing very much wrong with this movie. The plot is rather neat, with some decent misdirection and multiple twists. The audience knows a lot more of what is going on than Carly does. That’s always a sound recipe for suspense. The audience knows quite a bit, but not everything. There are vital things we don’t know. That provides the mystery. This is good old-fashioned classic film-making and it’s well executed.

The acting is fine. William Baldwin and Tom Berenger are very creepy but they’re not supposed to be warm loveable characters. Sharon Stone is excellent, a sympathetic heroine who is just prickly enough to be interesting and to avoid being bland or simpering. The secret to Carly is that she grossly overestimates her ability to stay in control and she underestimates her own vulnerability. She just isn’t cut out to play the games that she becomes involved in. Stone has no difficulty persuading us to care about Carly.

The Sliver Building itself becomes a character in the film. It gradually becomes more menacing, the sort of building in which bad things could happen. The room with all the monitors is the kind of thing that a crazed obsessive would create and it’s certainly disturbing.

Noyce doesn’t try to be too clever. He has an effective script, a good setting and a great lead actress so he doesn’t want to distract us with too much visual trickery. Maybe a De Palma would have been a better choice as director but Noyce does OK.

Lots of people hate the ending. If you want everything tied up neatly with a pretty bow you might be disappointed. I thought it worked.

Most of the hate directed at this movie (and the amount of hate it attracted and still attracts is astonishing) seems to be directed against Eszterhas. He liked to be provocative and he wasn’t interested in spoon-feeding his audience. It’s also possible that some people were upset by the moral ambiguity of the heroine. This is a movie that doesn’t simply take the line that voyeurism is bad. It accepts the uncomfortable fact that voyeurism is very seductive, and that women can be seduced by it as well. Like Basic Instinct this film is not afraid to admit that female sexuality has its dark side.

I’ll go out on a limb here. Sliver has some flaws but overall it’s an intelligent provocative erotic thriller and I’m going to highly recommend it.

I believe that the older DVD release is the only uncut version available. Apparently the more recent Blu-Ray is a censored version, which is why I bought the DVD. And the DVD transfer is very good.

Sunday 21 April 2024

Death by Invitation (1971)

Death by Invitation, released in 1971, starts with a young girl on trial for witchcraft. So do countless horror movies but in this case it’s done in a particularly disturbing way with a real edge of terror and fanaticism. It gets the movie away to a very promising start.

Then we jump forward a few hundred years to the present day (or in this case the 1970s) and we encounter the same people (or at least the same actors) and we assume that they are destined to relive those events of the distant past.

A young woman named Lise (Shelby Leverington) has worked her way into the Vroot family.

Lise is of course the reincarnation of the young witch put to death centuries earlier. Or rather, she might be. The Vroots are the descendants of those who put her to death. You won’t be surprised to learn that Lise has vengeance on her mind.

Lise is a hippie chick who dabbles in the occult, which was common enough at the time. She definitely gives off a slightly spooky off-the-wall vibe.

Of course in a story such as this you have to ask yourself if these people really are in any way responsible for the wrongs done to Lise in the past. Are they in some way the same people, reincarnated? Are they merely the descendants of evil people? We may have serious doubts about whether Lise has the slightest justification for taking revenge on them. Lise clearly believes that they do have to accept responsibility for the wrongs of the past.

Of course Lise may simply be a totally crazy spaced-out hippie chick who takes her occult dabblings too seriously. Or she may really be a witch. The movie keeps this aspect nicely ambiguous, which means we’re never sure whether we should be on Lise’s side or not. That’s perhaps the film’s biggest strength.

Before killing Lise likes to tell her victims a story, a very strange story about an ancient tribe in which the women did the hunting and the men served the women. If the men stepped out of line they were killed. This story doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot of the movie but it’s actually a nice touch. It increases our uncertainties about Lise. Does she have some ancestral memories or some mystical link with women from primeval times, or is it just her own bizarre fantasy?

Peter Vroot (Aaron Phillips) is the head of the household in the present day and he’s a braggart and a bully and delights in intimidating the members of his family. Again we find ourselves with ambivalent feelings. He’s an unpleasant man and we know that bad things are going to happen to him and we’d like those bad things to be a thoroughly justified punishment for his evil in the distant past but we’re uncomfortable because there may be no justification at all for Lise’s vengeance.

Shelby Leverington didn’t have much of a film career but had a lengthy career as an actress in television. She’s quite good here - a bit spooky, a bit kooky, kinda sexy in a proto-goth way and rather scary. It’s a solid performance that leaves us uneasy, which is as it should be.

The performances of the other cast members are bad by conventional standards but they’re oddly effective in a movie that is aiming to be weird and off-kilter.

Peter Vroot’s prospective son-in-law (he’s engaged to one of the daughters of the family) spends the whole movie trying to seduce Lise and he’s ambiguous as well.

Writer-director Ken Friedman seems to have directed only two feature films, with a long gap between them. He had marginally more success as a screenwriter.

This is clearly a very low-budget movie. The pacing could have been tightened up a little. It’s easy to point out flaws in this movie but despite those flaws it works in its own idiosyncratic way. It does manage to be weird and unsettling and disorienting and those are things I like in movies. I found myself liking this film quite a bit. Highly recommended.

Death by Invitation was released on a double-header DVD by Vinegar Syndrome, paired with the odd but entertaining The Dungeon of Harrow (1962). They came up with a brilliant idea for the audio commentary - get a bunch of clowns who know nothing about the movie and nothing about the genre and let them indulge in cheap adolescent snark. But in spite of the awful commentary this is a pretty good release by Vinegar Syndrome - two very obscure oddball movies both of which are worth seeing.

Thursday 18 April 2024

Futureworld (1976)

Westworld had been a major hit in 1973 but the 1976 sequel Futureworld is a less ambitious affair. Rather than being a major studio production Futureworld is an AIP picture and when you see Peter Fonda (at best a second-tier star) getting top billing you know you’re dealing with a fairly low-rent production.

Westworld had been written and directed by Michael Crichton but he was not involved in this sequel.

Westworld is of course a “technology gets out of control and becomes a menace” movie and it also belongs to the evil robot/malevolent computer science fiction sub-genre. It’s also a disaster movie, of sorts.

The idea behind both Westworld and Futureworld is that some corporation has built the ultimate resort, Delos. Guests can live out their wildest fantasies. Those fantasies usually involve sex and violence. Guests can play at being gunslingers shooting lots of people, mediæval knights hacking people up, etc. They can also have sex with very hot very willing sex robots. There are hot female sexbots for male guests and hot male sexbots for female guests. It’s the sex and violence elements that make these movies so very 1970s.

Delos comprises a number of fantasy theme parks for adults. There’s Mediæval World and Roman World, and there’s also a kind of futuristic hippie world which seems to offer extended drug trips. There’s also Futureworld.

In the first film things went badly wrong in one of the theme parks, Westworld. Instead of the bad guy gunslinger robots submitting to getting blown away by the guests the robots started blowing away the guests instead. The subsequent butchery and mass murder damaged the reputation of Delos, as you would expect.

Those problems have all been solved now. Delos is now totally safe. Nothing can go wrong.

Two of the guests who will be sampling the fun of playing at being astronauts in Futureworld are reporters. Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) is a TV reporter. She just wants a gee-whizz story. For a reporter she is remarkably trusting and lacking in curiosity. Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) is a different matter. He’s a sleazy hard-nosed scandal-monger and he smells a story here. He got a tip-off that all was not well in Delos.

And he makes a discovery that is just a little disturbing.

Chuck keeps poking his nose in where it’s not wanted in Delos. He knows there’s something not right about the place. The audience already has a pretty fair idea what’s going on in Delos.

This movie has a lot of problems. Obviously there was no point in just remaking Westworld. Whatever is amiss in Delos this time has to be something different. Unfortunately what’s going on isn’t particularly startling or original.

The pacing is rather slow and when the action scenes finally kick in they’re not terribly impressive. Clearly the budget was rather limited. There wasn’t the money for spectacular action set-pieces. That’s not necessarily a major problem. Prior to Star Wars science fiction films did not rely entirely on spectacular action set-pieces and special effects.

The production design is OK.

But Futureworld just falls a bit flat.

Don’t get too excited about Yul Brynner’s name in the credits. He gets about fifteen seconds of screen time. His star quality is sadly missed.

Peter Fonda isn’t terrible but he lacks the charisma to carry a movie on personality alone. Blythe Danner is OK. Arthur Hill was always good playing characters who are smooth, charming and just ever so slightly sinister.

In the 1970s technology running amok was all fun stuff, the sort of thing that might happen in a distant dystopian future. Since we now live in a dystopian future, a world in which we are being replaced by machines and being trained to do what AIs tell us to do, it has a lot more impact today. We now have a lot more experience of the misuse of technology. The robots in both Westworld and Futureworld are as a consequence creepier today than they were in the 70s.

Sadly Futureworld doesn’t really grapple with the implications of the technological future with which it deals. It is content to offer us a disappointingly conventional story.

Futureworld just doesn’t have enough to offer in terms of either ideas or action. Its a major disappointment.

The Blu-Ray offers a nice transfer with no extras whatsoever.

Monday 15 April 2024

Castle of the Creeping Flesh (1968)

Adrian Hoven’s Castle of the Creeping Flesh (original title Im Schloß der blutigen Begierde) is a German eurohorror movie which falls into the gothic horror in a contemporary setting sub-category, with a bit of added weirdness.

We start with a party with a very high decadence factor. Baron Brack (Michel Lemoine) is trying to persuade Vera Lagrange (Janine Reynaud) to go to bed with him. He persuades her to accompany him to his isolated hunting lodge. She is more than willing. There is however some confusion, three other guests turn up at the ledge as well and Brack ends up at the lodge with Vera’s sister Elena Lagrange (Elvira Berndorff).

Elena has been extremely flirtatious but seems uncertain if she actually wants to sleep with Brack. They do have sex, and her feelings about this seem to be decidedly mixed to say the least.

Vera then turns up, along with Brack’s fiancée Marion, Marion’s brother Georg and Elena’s fiancé Roger.

Elena mounts her horse and disappears into the night. The woods are not safe so the others set off to find her. They discover that she has ended up at the castle of the Earl of Saxon (Howard Vernon), a man with a reputation as unfriendly recluse and an eccentric. The Earl is a doctor and he has been conducting medical experiments with a colleague of sorts. The Earl has his own mad scientist laboratory.

The Earl is upset since his only child, his beloved daughter, was raped and murdered three days earlier. The Earl intends to take steps as a result, and those steps can best be described as bizarre. His daughter is dead but he hopes to ensure that this is only temporary.

The whole party of rich idle decadents ends up at the castle where they receive a warmer welcome than one might expect.

Then things start to become gradually more weird. The party of decadents hears the grim family legend. A few centuries earlier an ancestor of the present Earl also had a beautiful innocent daughter who was raped and murdered. She was betrayed, the ancestor took his revenge and was later beheaded. The family curse dates from that time.

That ancient story will be repeated, by life-size marionettes.

It will be repeated again, in Vera’s dream. If it’s a dream. It might be repeated yet again.

The castle seems to be a place where past and present, legend and fact, dream and reality, all intersect and bleed into each other. Vera has a strange violent dream but does the dream come from her own overheated erotic imagination or from the castle itself? To what extent is it a dream?

There is also considerable doubt about the extent of the Earl’s grip on reality.

Events may be building towards a tragic climax, assuming that anything that happens in the castle is real.

I always say that any movie can only be improved by the inclusion of a guy in a gorilla suit. This movie demonstrates that a guy in a bear suit can work just as well. You might be wondering what a bear is doing in this movie. Once you see the movie, you’ll still be wondering.

There’s surprisingly (for 1968) a lot of gore, in the form of surgical scenes. There’s a moderate amount of topless nudity and some sex and some rape all of which caused major censorship problems and the film was heavily cut at the time.

Howard Vernon is always fun to watch. Michel Lemoine is suitably oily as the sleazy Baron Brack. Janine Reynaud gives another of her extraordinary mesmerising performances.

Castle of the Creeping Flesh
was written and directed by Adrian Hoven (best-known for Mark of the Devil) but there is a Jess Franco connection. Franco apparently made some contribution to the writing of this film and Hoven had made several appearances as an actor in Franco movies such as Necronomicon - Geträumte Sünden (AKA Succubus, 1968), Two Undercover Angels (AKA Rote Lippen AKA Sadisterotica) and Kiss Me, Monster (1969). And Janine Reynaud appeared in all three of those films.

It might be a little clunky at times but Castle of the Creeping Flesh has enough weirdness and ambiguity and sleaze to satisfy eurohorror fans and it’s highly recommended.

Friday 12 April 2024

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

I’m not quite sure what I expected from The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. I guess I expected an evil child horror movie, and while it is a horror movie of sorts it’s not really that sort of horror movie. It’s also a thriller of sorts, with some interesting quirky touches. It’s one of those really interesting movies Jodie Foster made early in her career.

This was a Canadian-French co-production.

Jodie Foster plays Rynn Jacobs, a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in a house in a seaside village (and Foster was thirteen when she made this film). Rynn lives there with her father. They’ve been there for a few months.

It doesn’t take us long to suspect that in fact she lives alone. Wherever her father might be he certainly doesn’t live in this house in Maine.

Rynn’s life is about to get complicated. The first complication is Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen). He’s the son of the woman from whom Rynn’s father leased the house. Frank is a nasty piece of work in a lot of ways but the big problem is that he is much too interested in Rynn. He’s the sort of guy who is much too interested in young girls in general. The police know all about him but his mother, Cora Hallet (Alexis Smith), wields a lot of power in the village so they can’t touch him. Rynn isn’t stupid. She knows the sort of man he is but dealing with him could be difficult.

Rynn’s second problem is Cora Hallet. Cora is nasty, vindictive, meddling and officious. She enjoys pushing people around. She intends to push Rynn around. Rynn intends to push right back.

Then something happens that makes Rynn’s situation really awkward. Fortunately she finds an ally. Mario Podesta (Scott Jacoby) is a young man with whom Rynn has a lot in common. They’re both eccentric, they’re both outsiders. Mario has a bad leg. He’s also a magician. Stage magic is his way of dealing with being an outsider - if people think you’re weird you might as well be really weird. But Mario is a nice guy.

We eventually find out a bit more about Rynn but it’s important for the viewer to find out about her gradually as the story unfolds so all I will say is that she has constructed a life for herself, an unconventional life that suits her, and the security of that life faces major threats.

She also has some growing up to do, and her circumstances require her to grow up fast.

There are lots of plot twists and I have no intention of offering any hints about them.

Director Nicolas Gessner did not see this as a horror film but as a love story. It is a love story, but it’s a psychological thriller with horror overtones as well.

All the performances are good. Martin Sheen is extraordinarily creepy and menacing. But the movie belongs to Jodie Foster. She got top billing, and deservedly so. While Taxi Driver might be better known it’s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane that gave her her best role of the 70s, and one of the two or three best rôles of her career. Her star quality is very much in evidence. She underplays, which is exactly the right choice.

I don’t know much about Nicolas Gessner but this seems to be the standout movie of his career and it’s a movie he desperately wanted to make. Laird Koenig originally wrote the story as a stage play, then turned it into a novel and then wrote the screenplay.

Insofar as it can be considered a horror movie it’s the sort of horror I enjoy - it relies on suggestion and atmosphere rather than gore. As a psychological thriller it’s a slow-burner, which I also like. As a romance it’s powerful and effective, and touching.

There is a scene in the movie which upsets some people, given Rynn’s age, but it’s absolutely crucial and could not have been cut or toned down without making nonsense of the movie.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
defies easy genre classification but it has an offbeat charm and considering that the director wasn’t trying to make a horror film it has some horror moments that pack quite a punch without ever resorting to gallons of fake blood. A superbly crafted movie which is now firmly established as one of my two favourite Jodie Foster movies (the other being Carny). Very highly recommended.

The Kino Lorber Blu-Ray looks great and includes a stimulating audio commentary by the director. Gessner has very strong ideas about how movies should be made. He was clearly in awe of Jodie’s Foster talent as an actress. There’s also an interview with Martin Sheen.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Death Laid an Egg (1968)

Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (AKA Plucked AKA A Curious Way to Love, original Italian title La morte ha fatto l’uovo) is an attempt to combine the giallo and the art film. It’s an attempt that mostly fails but the movie is not a total loss.

We start with a strange scene of the murder of a woman. It’s strange because it reveals the identity of the psycho killer right from the start.

The killer is Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and he runs a high-tech poultry farm with his wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida). Very high-tech. It’s completely automated. The farm requires no other human workers whatsoever.

Living with Marco and Anna is Anna’s poor relation cousin Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin). Given that Anna is in her early 40s and Gabrielle is an amazingly cute blonde 18-year-old you can see that there’s plenty of potential for trouble there. And sure enough Marco is taking a very keen interest in Gabrielle.

While this is happening there’s lots of stuff about the poultry farm and about the scientific experiments being conducted there, aimed at breeding mutant chickens that will maximise profits. I think it’s safe to say that the chicken farm is being used as an amazingly heavy-handed metaphor for capitalism. There’s a sinister poultry industry association and they’ve hired whizz-kid publicist Mondaini (Jean Sobieski) to persuade Italians not just to eat more chicken but to make poultry the centre of their lives.

Given that the publicist is a good-looking young guy who spends a lot of time at the poultry farm there’s more potential for trouble there, and sure enough there’s something going on between Mondaini and Gabrielle.

This all sounds like a lot of fun, but it isn’t. Questi just doesn’t have the necessary lightness of touch. And he’s obsessed with the chicken stuff.

There’s a giallo plot buried in here somewhere, with a couple of very nice twists, but it takes forever to develop. Questi is too busy showing us endless scenes involving chickens and bludgeoning us with crude political metaphors.

It’s difficult to judge the acting. Jean-Louis Trintignant seems to be in a daze, as if he has no idea what the movie is about. One can’t blame him. Gina Lollobrigida does her best. Ewa Aulin comes off best since her character has traces of actual personality.

There’s some game-playing going on between the four main characters, which needed to be developed a bit more. And there’s lots and lots of stuff about the fiendish plots of evil businessmen exploiting both the workers and the chickens.

The Nucleus Films Blu-Ray includes two cuts of the movie, the shortened “giallo” cut which runs 91 minutes and a much longer “director’s cut” running 104 minutes. If you watch that cut in the English-language version it’s easy to spot the scenes that were deleted for the giallo cut and subsequently restored because they’re Italian rather than English. It’s also easy to see why those scenes were cut out. They were cut out because they’re boring pretentious self-indulgent nonsense.

If you decide to see this movie then you should definitely watch the shorter giallo cut. You won’t miss out on anything of value but you will be spared a lot of tedium.

What you have here are two movies running in tandem. One is the sort of tedious, clumsy, obvious political film that you’d expect from a first-year film student. That movie is, like all political movies, a very bad movie. The second movie is a surprisingly extremely good and interesting giallo. The “director’s cut” was a very bad idea because it puts so much focus on the bad movie half.

Questi made very few feature films and it’s easy to see why. He’s self-indulgent and undisciplined.

I also think it’s safe to say that Bruno Maderna’s score is the worst score in the history of motion pictures.

I should point out at this point that although I dislike political films I have no problems at all with arty films or with weird crazy films or with incoherent plots.

The frustrating thing is that the giallo plot is very cool indeed and it builds to a very satisfying climax. So despite its egregious flaws this movie is worth watching.

Nucleus Films have done a great job with the Blu-Ray. There are lots of extras including a fair and even-handed audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman.

Saturday 6 April 2024

The Long Hair of Death (1964)

The Long Hair of Death is a 1964 Italian gothic horror film directed by Antonio Margheriti and starring Barbara Steele.

The main story takes place in the year 1499 but there is a prologue dealing with important events a few years earlier. Count Franz had been murdered. The murderer had diverted suspicion on to an innocent woman, Adele Karnstein. Adele was accused of being a witch and burnt. Another young woman had in her possession important evidence. This young woman also came to an untimely end. Both Count Franz’s brother Humboldt and Humboldt’s son Kurt (George Ardisson) were involved in these nefarious plots. Adele vows that retribution will seek out Humboldt and Kurt, in the last year of the century.

We then jump forward to 1499. The region is being devastated by plague, which may or may not be the result of Adele’s dying curse.

Kurt is obsessed by Lisabeth Karnstein (Halina Zalewska), the daughter of Adele. He is determined to marry her. She finds him repulsive. He marries her and he is able to possess her body but she vows he will never have her heart.

Then a mysterious young woman (played by Barbara Steele) appears at the castle. Her name is Mary. Kurt takes a more than passing interest in her. She seems to reciprocate his love, or at least his lust.

Lisabeth’s feelings towards Kurt seem conflicted. On their wedding night she was horrified by the thought of being touched by him. Despite this she is certainly not going to let any other woman have him.

A romantic triangle develops but we know from the start that it’s not a straightforward romantic triangle. Those events in the past are casting their shadow on the present. We also suspect that something supernatural is going on. This is one of those gothic horror movies that keeps us guessing until the end about whether this is really a supernatural horror story. If supernatural elements really are involved we may have our suspicions about how those elements will play out, but we can’t be quite sure.

There is also the possibility of madness playing a part as key characters start to unravel.

Romantic triangles do tend to get messy and can lead one or more participants to consider the possibilities of murder. More than one participant in this particular triangle might have reason to contemplate such a step. In fact all three might have such motives.

There’s plenty of sexual tension as Kurt’s obsession with Mary grows.

This is a fine part for Barbara Steele. She looks perfect in Renaissance-period gowns and she exudes dangerous eroticism and mystery.

George Ardisson as Kurt has a demanding role. Kurt is tortured by love, lust, guilt and fear and he slowly begins to fall apart. Ardisson doesn’t seem to have had a very distinguished career but he’s effective here.

Halina Zalewska is fine as Lisabeth but she is inevitably overshadowed by Barbara Steele’s stellar performance.

The original story was by Ernesto Gastaldi, one of the great Italian screenwriters of this era (and a highly acclaimed novelist as well). Tonino Valerii and Antonio Margheriti were responsible for the screenplay. It’s a good story with some reasonably nasty and effective twists.

I’m quite an Antonio Margheriti fan. Yes, some of his movies are schlocky and trashy but they’re never less than entertaining and he did make some wonderful movies in a variety of genres, including one of my all-time favourite science fiction movies, The Wild, Wild Planet (1966). He also made a pretty decent early giallo, Naked You Die (1968). Margheriti was very competent and had the ability to get good results on low budgets. The Long Hair of Death is one of his best efforts as a director. Margheriti deserves more attention as an important figure in European cult cinema.

The film was shot in black-and-white and Riccardo Pallottini’s cinematography drips with gothic atmosphere.

This movie ticks all the right gothic horror boxes and it’s creepy and moody and suitable doom-laden. The pay-off at the end is perfect. Add the excellent performance by Barbara Steele and you have here a very very fine gothic horror movie that deserves a lot more love. Very highly recommended.

The Long Hair of Death was available for years in very poor quality DVD transfers. Raro Video have released in on both DVD and Blu-Ray and their release looks terrific.

Wednesday 3 April 2024

That Kind of Girl (1963)

That Kind of Girl forms part of an interesting 1960s British film sub-genre, the serious-minded didactic sex melodrama. These movies were sexploitation movies. The sexual subject matter was certainly the selling point and that’s definitely the case with this movie with its “ripped from the headlines” sensationalistic posters and promotional material.

But given the draconian British censorship of the 60s these movies are ludicrously tame.

It was quite common for sexploitation movies to try to head off censorship problems by posing as important social documents warning society of the dangers of immorality. This is something you see in 1950s juvenile delinquent movies as well. In US sexploitation movies it’s always obvious that the dire warnings are totally insincere. In some of these British movies on the other hand you really do get the feeling that the disapproval of sex is absolutely real, that sex really is seen as dirty and wrong and that while the film-makers aren’t going to be able to persuade young people not to have sex they can at least ensure that they’ll be too riddled with guilt and anxiety to enjoy it.

That Kind of Girl very much adopts the tone of a public information film. It’s difficult to judge director Gerry O’Hara’s intentions since he was allowed no real input at all. He was merely hired to direct the script as written and had no involvement in the editing. Had he wanted to soften the judgmental tone of the script he was offered very little opportunity to do so, other than perhaps to influence the performances. When you consider his inexperience (this was his first feature) it’s probably unfair to blame him for the way the film turned out. It was never in any sense his film.

Some of these British sex melodramas from the early to mid-60s also have a lot in common with the British New Wave and the kitchen sink realism style, those dreadfully earnest movies that delighted in wallowing in despair.

That Kind of Girl
is the story of Eva (Margaret Rose Keil), a stunningly beautiful eighteen-year-old Austrian au pair in London. She helps a married couple, the Millars, care for their three-year-old son Nicholas. Eva likes kids and she likes the little boy.

Not surprisingly Eva attracts a lot of masculine attention. Max (Frank Jarvis), a rather earnest student, has fallen for her in a big way.

Max has a formidable rival in the person of Elliot Collier (Peter Burton). Elliott is middle-aged but he’s a smooth talker and he projects an air of sophistication which is quite sufficient to impress an eighteen-year-old girl.

Max desperately wants to sleep with Eva but he has no idea how one goes about persuading a girl into bed. He seems to think that the best way is to be as whiny as possible. Elliott wants to sleep with her as well and he knows all the tricks of seduction. Elliott is very much the Villain, taking advantage of Eva’s innocence.

Then a third man enters the picture. Max has persuaded Eva to participate in a Ban the Bomb march but it’s not her scene at all. She heads back to London. Keith (David Weston) offers her a lift in his sports car.

Keith has his own problems. He is desperate to get his girlfriend Janet (Linda Marlowe) into bed but she insists that they must wait until they are married. It will only be a few years. Surely Keith won’t mind waiting? Keith does mind, and he finds that Eva is much more willing.

Then disaster strikes. Eva discovers that as a result of her outrageously promiscuous lifestyle (she has had sex not once but twice) she has contracted syphilis. This means that all of her many sexual partners (both of them) will have to be contacted. And the Millars will have to be told. The doctors tell Eva that you don’t just catch syphilis by having sex - you can catch it by kissing or by any contact at all. The Millars’ little boy might be infected.

Things become very fraught for everyone concerned. Especially for Keith, who has finally managed to get Janet into bed. And he’s managed to get her pregnant.

An interesting aspect of this movie is the timing. It was made in 1963. This was not yet Swinging London although that phenomenon was just around the corner. This is before the arrival of the mini-skirt. It’s also just before the discotheque era. This is still the period of smoky jazz clubs.

Max’s friends of his own age have more in common with the beatniks than with the new youth subcultures of the 60s. They’re very involved in worthy political causes (such as Ban the Bomb marches), they pontificate about philosophy and they take life very very seriously.

There are some interesting class aspects to the movie. Max is working class with middle-class aspirations. Janet and the Millars are thoroughly suburban and middle-class and achingly respectable. Elliott and Keith are prosperous middle-class tending to upper middle class. Eva, being a foreigner, is considered to be classless and therefore a dangerous threat. And, being a foreigner, she is of course totally immoral.

There’s an amusing tone of hysteria. If only young people would listen to the voice of authority none of this would happen. The doctor at the STD clinic tries to warn the young that if they have sex (or even kiss) outside of marriage then they risk ruining their lives and becoming a menace to public health and safety.

The police are portrayed in grovellingly favourable terms. You can always trust authority figures (parents, doctors, the police) and you should do whatever they tell you to do. They know best.

The movie doesn’t necessarily suggest that anyone who has sex outside of marriage is totally evil, but if you do succumb to temptation you can rest assured that nothing but misery and degradation awaits you. This is full-on kitchen sink realism misery. Really the best thing to do is just to throw yourself under a bus and get it over with since any attempt to find joy or pleasure in life is doomed anyway. Life is not about joy. It’s about duty, and learning to endure misery.

This is a truly terrible movie with a clumsy script and cringe-inducingly earnest performances. But it is an interesting time capsule offering a fascinating look at England in the period just before the Swinging London period, and before the Sexual Revolution. So it’s maybe worth a look for that reason.

Gerry O’Hara went on to make other depressing sex melodramas such as All the Right Noises (1970).

What’s fascinating is that right up to the beginning of the 70s British sex melodramas continued to preach doom and gloom, with movies like Her Private Hell (1968) and Permissive (1970). The latter may be the most pessimistic despairing movie ever made.