Thursday, 25 February 2021

OSS 117 Is Unleashed (1963)

OSS 117 Is Unleashed (OSS 117 se déchaîne, 1963) is part of the very successful French OSS 117 eurospy movie series. The first movie came out in 1956 and there was a long gap before the second film in 1963 (by which time of course the Bond craze was really beginning to gather steam). Six more films were made prior to 1971 (that’s not counting the three recent 21st century entries in the cycle).

OSS 117 Is Unleashed was the first of the two films to star American actor Kerwin Matthews as French super-spy Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, codename OSS 117.

Director André Hunebelle seemed to specialise in action movies in the 60s and he made four of the OSS 117 films.

It’s interesting that the movie features underwater action, two years before the Bond series would follow suit with Thunderball.

American scuba diver William Roos (actually an agent) vanishes on a dive off the coast of Corsica. There are suspicions that the bad guys are building underwater detectors to track nuclear submarines, thus threatening world peace. OSS 117 is sent to investigate. Scuba diving instructor Nicolas Renotte was present at the time Roos met with his unfortunate accident. It’s obvious that Renotte is scared and is lying about the circumstances of the incident so putting pressure on him seems to be a good first move for OSS 117.


There’s a woman mixed up in this as well of course. She’s a Swedish girl named Brigitta (Nadia Sanders) and OSS 117 will have to decide whether he can trust her or not. With glamorous blondes you can never be sure. Meanwhile people keep trying to kill him and those people seem to be trying to kill other people as well.

The point of it all is to find that submarine detector which is almost certainly hidden away in an underwater grotto. And naturally the point is also to stay alive long enough to find it. For Agent OSS 117 romancing various ladies is also a high priority and luckily Corsica seems to be knee-deep in attractive young ladies.


Kerwin Matthews makes an OK hero although he’s no Sean Connery. He was one of the many America actors who headed to Europe when their Hollywood careers failed to live up to their expectations. He did plenty of adventure movies in both Hollywood and Europe so he handles the action scenes well enough. And he has a certain charm. It goes with saying that Agent OSS 117 is very attractive to the female of the species and Matthews is sufficiently good-looking to make that plausible. He just doesn’t have charisma.

Nadia Sanders makes a suitable dangerous blonde. Daniel Emilfork makes a good subsidiary villain but a weakness of the film is that it lacks a sufficiently colourful (or sufficiently sinister) main villain. There’s also Irina Demick as another beautiful but dangerous woman. The producers certainly understood the importance of beautiful women in a spy movie


The Corsican locations look great with some spectacularly rugged coastline. The budget was obviously limited although the villains’ secret underground headquarters with its gadgetry is not too bad.

The pacing is leisurely which is a polite way of saying that this movie is too slow. There are quite a few fight scenes and they’re pretty good but there are long stretches in which very little happens. There’s a lack of spectacular action set-pieces compared to the Bond movies but spectacular action set-pieces tend to cost a lot of money.

The plot at least makes sense and even with various double-crosses going on it’s easy enough to follow.


This film was filmed widescreen in black-and-white. The next entry in the series would switch to colour and Cinemascope.

Kino Lorber have released five of the 1960s OSS 117 movies in both Blu-Ray and DVD boxed sets. Eurospy movies are a bit of a passion of mine and it’s not at all easy to find such films in decent English-friendly versions (mostly you have to watch them in sub-standard pan-and-scan presentations) so having five of these movies all released in their correct aspect ratios is pretty exciting. The transfer for OSS 117 Is Unleashed is pretty good although it is just a bit grainy.

OSS 117 Is Unleashed is an enjoyable eurospy flick and its plot coherence is a bonus. It has its flaws but I’m still going to highly recommend it because I just love eurospy movies.

Friday, 19 February 2021

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981), Blu-Ray review

For a while back in the 70s Walerian Borowczyk was a film-maker who generated a certain amount of excitement. In retrospect the excitement was created mostly his extreme subject matter rather than his ability to make movies. One of his more bizarre movies was his 1981 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Borowczyk’s movie was originally released as Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (Dr Jekyll and his Women) but the recent Blu-Ray release has restored Borowczyk’s original preferred title, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne.

Borowczyk had a reputation as a maker of arty erotic films. In fact, as is the case with most art film directors who attempt such things, the results were usually gross and disturbing rather than erotic. If you’re an art film director critics will let you get away with erotic subject matter as long as it’s totally lacking in any genuine eroticism.

Borowczyk claimed that he tried to make a film that captured all the essentials of Stevenson’s book while departing as far as possible from the actual text.

The movie opens with Mr Hyde’s latest extremely brutal crime. Then we’re introduced to Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier), who is obsessed with transcendental medicine. His old friend Dr Lanyon (Howard Vernon) thinks, obviously correctly, that this is a load of nonsense and that Jekyll is engaging in foolish wishful thinking. But Henry Jekyll intends to prove his detractors wrong.


We are then treated to a succession of acts of brutality, mostly sexual. Most of the action takes place at the time of a dinner party and virtually all the events of the film take place in Dr Jekyll’s house (which includes his laboratory). Henry Jekyll is engaged to a Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro). The guests include a fire-eating retired general (played by Patrick Magee) and a clergyman. Also present is Dr Jekyll’s mother.

I can’t describe the plot of the film because it doesn’t really have a plot. Dr Jekyll transforms into Mr Hyde, kills people, reverts to Dr Jekyll, transforms again and kills a few more people.

I have a horrible feeling that Borowczyk was attempting farce. The sets are what you would expect in a bedroom farce with lots of doors and cupboards and places for people to hide. Much of the film certainly plays as farce, if you can imagine farce done in a ponderous leaden style without a shred of wit or humour.


Borowczyk did come up with a couple of good ideas. Dr Jekyll transforms into Mr Hyde by fully immersing himself in a bathtub filled with chemicals, which neatly avoids the necessity for any optical tricks. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are played by different actors (Hyde is played by Gérard Zalcberg). This very cleverly avoids the necessity of silly unconvincing make-up effects. And Miss Osbourne plays a surprising rôle in the story.

Good ideas, but the execution is dull and the whole film has an amateurish anarchic feeling (which is often mistaken for artistic boldness).

It is also a movie with zero emotional content. This is a Dr Jekyll with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and no personality whatsoever. He is clearly mad and aware of the consequences of his actions (which he equates with freedom) but we get no sense of any of his motivations for beginning his weird scientific endeavours. I like Udo Kier as an actor but here he has nothing to work with.


Fanny Osbourne also has no personality. All of the characters lack personality. Most of the characters serve no purpose, except perhaps to make heavy-handed political points about the Evil Ruling Class or the wickedness of the Church. These political subtexts are totally unconnected with the film itself (unless Borowczyk is trying to make some clumsy adolescent point about Mr Hyde representing rebellion against authority).

Borowczyk wanted a particular look to the film - a kind of misty soft-focus slightly grainy look. It’s certainly different. I suppose it gives the movie a slightly dream-like look.

Borowczyk’s total inability to make a coherent narrative film (or maybe if you accept him as some kind of genius you could be generous and describe it as his lack of interest in doing so) wasn’t a problem in Immoral Tales which was simply a collection of short erotic films, which is something for which Borowczyk does have a certain flair. He seems very much more comfortable making short films rather than feature films. It’s perhaps a pity that he didn’t just make a collection of short films based on Stevenson’s short stories (and Stevenson wrote some superb short stories).


Now personally I don’t have a problem with movies that ignore narrative in favour of pure style (I’m a huge fan of von Sternberg’s movies especially The Scarlet Empress which is nothing but style) but if you’re going to do that you have to have some actual style. Von Sternberg did have style. Borowczyk, sadly, has only ugliness and shock value to offer us.

I do have a problem with being bludgeoned with clumsy political subtexts. I don’t mind shocking subject matter if it’s approached in an interesting way, rather than taboo-breaking just to shock the bourgeoisie. I don’t even mind philosophising as long as it’s something more than adolescent ramblings. I can see some of the things that Borowczyk was trying to do. I just don’t think those things were worth doing in this case.

For their Blu-Ray release (which also includes the movie on DVD) Arrow have included lots of extras. There’s an audio commentary cobbled together from interviews with Borowczyk and others involved in the making of the film, there are documentaries, there are short films. It seems to me that these extras are a desperate attempt to make a very uninteresting movie seem interesting and arty and avant-garde and politically daring rather than a load of pretentious nonsense. I find it very difficult to recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne. If you want to check out Borowczyk’s work Immoral Tales is a better starting point.

Monday, 15 February 2021

The First Nudie Musical (1976)

The First Nudie Musical is exactly what it says it is. It’s a nudie musical. And it was the first nudie musical. It defined the nudie musical genre. OK, so it’s the only softcore porn musical ever made. But I guess it qualifies as ground-breaking.

Harry Schechter’s movie studio is in trouble. His father founded the studio back in the golden years of Hollywood but now Harry has to make porno movies in order to keep the studio afloat. He’s produced such classics as Stewardesses in Cages and Cheerleaders in Chains. Now he desperately needs a new idea. And he has one. A nudie musical. He’s sure it will save the studio.

It will have to save the studio. If it doesn’t his backers will move in, take over the studio and turn it into a shopping mall. That would break Harry’s heart. He fells he has a duty to his father to keep the studio going. It would also break the heart of his faithful assistant Rosie. They have two weeks to make this movie, and hardly any money.

Their troubles have only just begun. One of the backers has insisted that his nephew John should direct the film. John is not exactly well qualified to direct a sex movie, having zero experience with either film-making or sex.

Everything that could go wrong does go wrong but Harry doesn’t give up. Show business is in his blood. It’s all he knows.

This is essentially a backstage musical in the grand old “the show must go on” tradition of 42nd Street, but with naked women. And it really is a genuine backstage musical, obeying pretty much all the conventions of the genre - the setbacks, the heartbreaks, the dramas with the leading lady, the desperate need to come up with a hit, the last-minute search for a replacement for the leading lady. But of course it’s played for laughs. So it’s a sex comedy as well as a backstage musical.


It helps that the principals are actually pretty good. Stephen Nathan as Harry and Bruce Kimmel as the hapless director John handle the comedy adeptly. Cindy Williams, who plays Rosie, would go to TV comedy stardom in Laverne and Shirley and she’s excellent. While the three principals don’t take their clothes off just about everybody else does. While Cindy Williams keeps her clothes on she is the star feature of a musical production number celebrating the joys of cunnilingus.

Look out for Ron Howard in a small uncredited part (and no, he doesn’t take his clothes off either).

Bruce Kimmel wrote the script (and produced and gets a co-directing credit) and the script really is quite amusing.

The songs aren’t great but what’s interesting is that even though this was 1976 the songs are attempts at old-fashioned show tunes.


There’s a lot of nudity (and a lot of frontal nudity) and there are some sex scenes but this is a movie that really isn’t the slightest but erotic. That’s not what it’s trying to do. It’s trying to be a musical comedy. The nudity is part of the joke. The sexual aspects are played for laughs, with reasonable success.

This is a movie that is serious about being a proper old-fashioned musical comedy. It respects the conventions of the genre. If you ignore the copious nudity it is in its own way a sincere tribute to that genre.

In fact at various times during the movie characters spontaneously burst into song, just as they would have done in a 1940s musical. Other songs form a part of the movie-within-a-movie. There are some pretty outrageous musical production numbers, such as Perversion, Lesbian Butch Dyke and the show-stopping (and jaw-dropping) Dancing Dildoes.


It’s also I guess a kind of satire on the skin-flick business and it’s significant that it was made in 1976, a time when the market for softcore skin flicks was starting to collapse under the onslaught of hardcore. If you wanted to do a softcore skin-flick in 1976 it helped to have a gimmick. It was a time when you could actually imagine someone thinking that a porno musical would a great idea. But this is not a porno musical - it’s a backstage musical that just happens to be set in the world of porno movies.

It’s also a fundamentally good-natured movie. Harry is a nice guy. Rosie is devoted to him. John is utterly useless as a director but he means well. The cast and crew are misfits but they’re harmless misfits. Despite the ludicrous nature of the concept we really do want Harry and Rosie to win out at the end. They’re likeable and we always want to see the little guy win in a struggle with the money-men.

And it really is quite funny. A lot of the humour is sexual, but not all. The scene with John doing the crane shots is one of the movie’s more inspired moments.

Now I know what you’re thinking. A musical should have some romance. Well there is romance and it’s actually a very wholesome romance.


I first became aware of this oddity through one of Danny Peary’s Cult Movies books, published back in the 80s. I managed to pick up all three volumes about twenty years ago and they really ignited my enthusiasm for cult movies. The First Nudie Musical was covered in the second volume so I just had to buy it on DVD. It then sat on the shelf for years until somebody recently mentioned this movie on the Classic Movie Fans group and I dug out the DVD and decided it was finally time to watch it.

This movie is an oddity but it’s a strangely engaging oddity. It shouldn’t work but mostly it does work. If you like all-singing all-dancing all-nude movies with plenty of laughs it’s the movie for you. What’s so appealing about it is that despite the nudity and the very very risqué sexual jokes this movie really is remarkably innocent. It captures the wholesome tone of 1940s musicals exactly. It’s a nice movie about nice people. It’s a feelgood movie. Even the nudity is wholesome. And unlike most modern comedies, it’s funny.

Image Entertainment’s DVD release, which is now hard to find, offers an acceptable transfer. The original negative no longer exists so it was necessary to work from some less than pristine prints and while there is some print damage the restoration is as good as this movie is ever going to look. And there are lots of extras. Including two audio commentaries and a documentary!

The First Nudie Musical had an interesting reception. Paramount had taken over the movie during the post-production stage but before it was released Cindy Williams had suddenly become a major TV star, also for Paramount. And she had become a star of family television. Paramount then decided they didn’t want her name associated with a porno musical so they deliberately sank the movie, despite the fact that it was getting rave reviews. Eventually a new distributor was found and the movie did solid business and gained a major cult following.

The First Nudie Musical is highly recommended for its quirky innocent charm.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963)

Producer Sy Weintraub bought the rights to the Tarzan franchise in 1958 and he realised some changes were going to be needed to keep the franchise from becoming stale. Weintraub wanted to go back to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original concept of Tarzan - a man raised in the jungle and at home in that environment but a man who was quite well-educated (in the original books self-educated from books) and quite articulate and even cultured, and by no means completely unsophisticated. He is not just a man of the jungle but a man of two worlds.

Weintraub also dispensed with Jane, and made Tarzan something of a world-traveller. These were bold moves but they worked.

Gordon Scott played Tarzan in the first two movies and was then replaced by Jock Mahoney. This was another bold movie. Mahoney was in his forties and he didn’t quite have the incredibly muscular physique you expect from Tarzan. This is a Tarzan who has to rely on his wits as well as on brawn. Tarzan's Three Challenges, released in 1963, was Mahoney’s second and final appearance in the rôle (his departure from the series was a result of a very serious illness contracted during the course of the production).

Tarzan's Three Challenges was shot in Thailand. The story takes place in an unnamed and obviously very remote Asian country. The spiritual leader of the country is dying. He has chosen his successor, a young boy named Kashi. The leader’s brother Gishi Khan, who is clearly going to be the villain of the movie, disputes his choice. Somehow the successor will have to be taken safely to the capital from the remote monastery where he has been raised and for some mysterious reason Tarzan has been chosen for the job. He arrives by parachute!


Almost immediately Tarzan is set upon by ruffians. That doesn’t delay him too long but when he arrives at the monastery he has no proof of his identity. The only way he can prove himself worthy of his task is by facing three challenges - tests of skill, strength and wisdom.

These three challenges are just the start of the adventure. The difficult dangerous part is still to come. Tarzan has to escort Kashi to the capital and Gishi Khan and his men will be lying in wait for them. Tarzan and Kashi are accompanied by a monk named Mang, Kashi’s nursemaid Cho San and a guide Tarzan has picked up, a man named Hani. They will have to survive a raging forest fire as well as attacks by Gishi Khan’s men. And there is another great challenge awaiting Kashi and another equally perilous challenge awaiting Tarzan.


Jock Mahoney probably was a little too old for the rôle. He just doesn’t look sufficiently physically imposing. There’s nothing wrong with his acting and it is interesting to see an older, wiser and more experienced Tarzan. Woody Strode (in one of several appearances in the Tarzan films) plays Gishi Khan with gusto.

It’s easy to see why Weintraub wanted to dump Jane - it frees Tarzan up to be a wandering adventurer without any real roots and without any responsibilities, able to pack his loincloth and set off anywhere he might be needed (and to take on insanely dangerous tasks). It adds flexibility to the franchise. Of course it also potentially allows Tarzan to have romantic adventures but that flexibility is not taken advantage of in this film. This is a Tarzan who is a bit of a loner.


The Thailand location shooting is a plus. Tarzan still gets to have jungle adventures but in different jungles and there are some impressive temple scenes. The temple in the cave is pretty cool.

Robert Day directed four of the Tarzan movies. He did a lot of television directing as well in both the US and Britain. He does a fine job here.

Weintraub also did want a cheap B-movie look for his Tarzan films and he did not want to make crude use of boring stock footage. This one is shot in the Cinemascope aspect ratio and in colour and when you add the location shooting it has the expensive expansive look the producer was aiming for. It’s a good-looking movie.


While the setting is presumably supposed to be contemporary there are no signs of the modern world - no telephones, no radios, no motor vehicles (not even any bicycles). It’s as if Tarzan has parachuted into not just an exotic place but into a different historical epoch. This works quite well, giving the adventure a kind of storybook feel. This is a tale that could easily have taken place in 1914, when Edgar Rice Burroughs created the Tarzan character. The movie has a kind of lost world feel to it which paradoxically makes it more plausible.

The final action scenes are extremely good.

And the baby elephant (which Kashi kind of adopts along the way) is cute.

I’ve also reviewed one of the earlier Sy Weintraub movies, Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959). My review of the first of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novels Tarzan of the Apes (published in 1914) might be of interest as well.

Tarzan's Three Challenges is fine entertainment. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Forger of London (1961)

The Forger of London (Der Fälscher von London) is a 1961 German krimi (crime film) based on an Edgar Wallace story. This is one of the krimis made by Rialto Studios which were on the whole perhaps slightly superior to the ones made by rival studio CCC. This is one of several Edgar Wallace krimis made by Harald Reinl, a fairly prolific director of mostly fun potboilers (he also helmed a couple of the Dr Mabuse films.) Reinl was, sadly, eventually murdered by his third wife.

Scotland Yard is trying to break up a counterfeiting racket. They’re rather puzzled by the fact that the most recent forgeries are obviously the work of a forger well known to them but they’re nowhere near up to his usual standards. Chief Inspector Bourke (Siegfried Lowitz) is not going to be tempted to jump to any conclusions about this point.

Somehow the forgeries are going to be tied in to the story of newlyweds Peter and Jane Clifton (played respectively by Helmut Lange and Karin Dor), and to dissolute playboy Basil Hale (who had also set his sights on marrying Jane). The marriage of Peter and Jane isn’t quite a match made in heaven. It’s more a marriage that seems to be socially suitable and financial considerations may have had more to do with it than love.


Although it seems like Jane was the one who married for money she’s the one who is resentful. And she soon realises she may have got more she bargained for in Peter. He has a dark secret. Of course he’s not the only one with dark secrets, this being the world of Edgar Wallace.

It might be just as well that Jane’s uncle is a psychiatrist. Although psychiatrists might have dark secrets also.

Scotland Yard have traced Peter as the source of one of those forged bank notes but he seems very vague as to how the note came to be in his possession. Chief Inspector Bourke is definitely very interested in the goings-on at Longford Castle, where Peter and Jane are honeymooning (in separate bedrooms).


With so many secrets at stake it’s inevitable that sooner or later someone is going to get murdered. In this case it’s the traditional blunt instrument to the skull type murder.

The plot is typical Edgar Wallace krimi stuff - very complicated and you need to have your wits about you to keep track of the twists and the multiple plot strands.

The acting is competent enough. Karin Dor adds a touch of glamour, as she did in so many of these movies (and she was an OK actress). She was at the time married to Harald Reinl (although I hasten to add that she’s not the one who stabbed him to death). Naturally Eddi Arent is on hand fir comic relief purposes, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your own personal tastes. He also apparently plays an additional unexpected minor rôle (although I failed to recognise him).  Siegfried Lowitz is excellent as the enigmatic and surprising Chief Inspector Bourke.


Some of the exteriors were shot at Herdringen Castle in Arnsberg, Germany - a location that shows up in more than one Edgar Wallace krimi. These were the sorts of low-budget movies that kept the German film industry afloat but Rialto generally managed to make their productions look reasonably good.

Reinl does his usual competent job as director.

The Forger of London is not as extravagant visually as some krimis but it does have the plot extravagance that krimi fans know and love. And the plot, for all its convolutions, does make some sort of sense if you don’t panic and lose concentration. There’s a reasonably effective atmosphere of the sinister and the mysterious. And yes, there is at least one hidden passageway!


The Rialto and CCC krimis were invariably shot widescreen and until the end they were invariably in black-and-white.

Finding decent DVD releases of the German krimis can be a challenge. If you’re unlucky enough to live in Australia, as I do, it’s just about impossible. There are some very good German DVDs and Blu-Rays but of course they’re German-Language versions. Some have the English dubbed versions as well but most don’t, and some have English subtitles and some don’t. English dubbed DVDs are not difficult to find but the quality can be iffy (or even terrible). If you can get hold of the German releases and you check that they have subtitles then they’re the way to go - they’re usually very good.

All of these German krimis are enjoyable and while I wouldn’t put The Forger of London in the very top rank it’s a solid offering. Highly recommended.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Vampyres (1974)

Vampyres (also released as Daughters of Darkness) is a 1974 British gothic horror film but it was directed by a Spaniard, José Larraz, so it’s a kind of blending of eurohorror and British gothic horror sensibilities. It has the atmosphere of a Hammer horror movie but with much more gore and a hell of a lot more sex and nudity and generally depraved eroticism.

You might as well make it clear to the audience what kind of movie it is that they’re about to see. Vampyres does this with its opening pre-credits sequences - lots of blood and mayhem plus lesbian sex. If you weren’t aware that you were watching a lesbian vampire erotic horror movie you’re certainly aware of it now. This opening scene is actually very important. It’s a clue. But to what is it a clue?

After the credits we see a young couple, John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), heading off on a caravanning holiday. They pass a woman by the side of the road, hitch-hiking. The odd thing is that Harriet is sure there was another woman there, hiding behind a tree.

The hitch-hiking woman (we will soon find out that her name is Fran) is picked up by businessman Ted (Murray Brown). She wants a ride to her house. And quite a house it is. It’s your typical horror movie decaying gothic pile. Fran and Ted spend an enjoyable night together although Ted has the uncanny feeling that they’re not alone. He wakes up feeling extraordinarily tired and with a deep gash in his forearm. He also wakes up quite alone.


The camping spot that John and Harriet have chosen just happens to give them a rather nice view of Fran’s house and Harriet is very interested by it. It’s supposedly empty but she sees lights in one of the windows. And then Ted turns up, in need of first aid.

You’d think Ted would be sensible enough not to go back to Fran’s house after this but he is a man and Fran is extremely hot and he can’t help himself.

You’d also think that Harriet might have enough sense not to get too curious about a house that looks exactly like a haunted house, but she can’t help herself either.

Fran turns up just after sundown, and she has two friends with her. There’s Miriam and a male friend, Rupert.


Another night of debauchery follows, with more than just straightforward debauchery. Fran and Miriam are lesbians (or in Fran’s case definitely bisexual) and vampires. Men who get invited back to their house get what they were hoping for (hot sex with gorgeous women) but they get a bit more besides that they weren’t counting on.

The problem for our two lovely lesbian vampires is that Fran is a bit obsessed with Ted. She knows she should just kill him but the sex is so good! Fran likes sex as much as she likes drinking blood. The problem for Harriet is that her curiosity is gnawing away at her.

If you’re expecting a blood-drenched finale you won’t be disappointed.


What’s fascinating about Vampyres is that it’s utterly conventional and formulaic and at the same time it’s quite unconventional and it plays around with the standard formula. You’re never quite sure how to interpret what you’re seeing. Fran and Miriam are your standard vampires. They sleep all day and only come out to play at night. All the mirrors in their house have been taped over. They mesmerise their victims and they drink blood. Miriam has a Count Dracula-style cloak. All stock-standard vampire mythology stuff. But are they actually vampires? If not, what exactly are they? And what did that opening scene actually mean?

Marianne Morris had a fairly brief film career, which is a pity. It’s even more of a pity that Anulka Dziubinska (billed here simply as Anulka) also didn’t have much of a career. I should mention that despite her name the former Playboy Playmate of the Month is in fact English. One can’t help feeling that both ladies would have had much more lucrative careers in Europe. I can certainly see Anulka in a Jean Rollin vampire movie.


The old Magna Pacific Region 4 DVD release is quite OK but there is now a Blu-Ray release and it’s a movie that probably is worth getting in Blu-Ray, if only for the sumptuous English autumn scenes.

José Larraz also directed the bizarre 1974 Spanish erotic horror movie The Coming of Sin (AKA Violation of the Bitch).

https://princeplanetmovies.blogspot.com/2011/05/coming-of-sin-1978.html

Vampyres is an erotic horror lesbian vampire movie with the eroticism, the horror and the lesbianism dialled up to the max. There’s a lot of blood and a lot of naked female flesh. Those who like lesbian vampire movies with those qualities will love it. Those who like vampire movies that attempt something different will enjoy its many subtle ambiguities. Vampyres delivers the goods. Highly recommended.

Monday, 25 January 2021

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

The Masque of the Red Death was the second-to-last of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies. Vincent Price stars (he starred in all but one of these movies). It was made in Britain in 1964 with a fine mostly British cast and with Nicolas Roeg doing the cinematography. Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell wrote the screenplay.

Corman was a wizard at stretching a budget and this film manages to look a lot more expensive than it was.

Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) rules a medieval Italian city state and he rules it to satisfy his taste for decadence, cruelty and cynicism. And also to serve his master, Satan. Prospero’s nihilistic view of life is about to be uncomfortably confirmed. Plague has begun to ravage the land. It is the Red Death, which produces a red rash (followed by a lingering death).

Prospero and his nobles and hangers-on are safe in the prince’s castle, or so they assume. And Prospero believes that Satan will protect him.

Prospero has taken a pretty young peasant girl, Francesca (Jane Asher), away from her family. He is sure she will amuse him. Juliana (Hazel Court) does not share Prospero’s enthusiasm for the girl. She fears losing her place in the prince’s affections. She will do anything to prevent that from happening. Absolutely anything.


This is a movie that wasn’t really embraced by audiences at that time. There’s very little plot. This is not quite a normal horror movie. It’s all about atmosphere - the atmosphere of decadence and cruelty and the atmosphere of fear. Plague is a lot more terrifying than mere monsters. Prospero’s character is established, plague ravages the countryside, Prospero and his friends party and Prospero plans a great celebration, a masque. And then we get the inevitable ending. The entire plot could have been condensed into half an hour or less. While most horror movies up until the 70s relied more on atmosphere than gore audiences still expected some kind of dramatic payoff. They expected some mayhem and they expected monsters of some sort. It’s not surprising that this movie left them mystified and dissatisfied.

It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s a very very good movie, in fact a great movie, but it’s not the sort of movie that the mid-60s audience for such movies would have been prepared for.


It actually has just a hint of a European feel to it. There are some very obvious nods to Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Corman was more arty as a director than his later reputation as a shlock producer would suggest. The Masque of the Red Death is almost a European art film, but aimed at the drive-in market.

This film truly has a wonderful cast. Patrick Magee is in top form as the cynical depraved courtier Alfredo. Jane Asher captures the wide-eyed innocence of Francesca. Hazel Court, one of the great scream queens, is as reliable as ever as the jealous and vindictive Juliana. There’s my old favourite Nigel Green as well.


And of course there’s Vincent Price, giving a performance with the hamminess toned down somewhat. It’s always important to remember that Price only gave so many hammy performances because that’s what was usually demanded of him. If a director wanted something more subtle he could certainly provide it and when he was being subtle he was a lot creepier. Compared to most of the directors he worked with Corman expected a bit more from Price and Price invariably delivered.

What’s interesting about Prospero is that he seems to get more pleasure from seeing the degradation of others than from any actual personal indulgences in sensual pleasures.


The use of colour in this film is extraordinary, particularly the differently coloured rooms each of which is intended to serve a different depraved purpose. And there is very little red in the movie. Prince Prospero abhors the colour red. It reminds him uncomfortably of the Red Death. When we get an occasional slash of red it has the desired impact. With Corman’s own keen visual flair, with Nic Roeg behind the camera and with Corman’s regular production designer Daniel Haller on hand you expect a visual feast and that’s what you get.

The best of Corman’s string of Edgar Allan Poe films - this film along with The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Haunted Palace, The Premature Burial and The Tomb of Ligeia - constitutes one of the most impressive cycles of gothic horror movies in cinema history. It’s certainly worthy of comparison to the Universal horrors of the 30s and to the Val Lewton RKO horror films of the 40s. Corman was quite ambitious as a director and with these movies he tried not to keep repeating himself. The Pit and the Pendulum is classic straightforward horror, The Fall of the House of Usher is a moody exercise in gothic doom and The Masque of the Red Death is full-on decadence (with perhaps an anticipation of where the 60s counter-culture was going to end up going).

The Masque of the Red Death is the most impressive of all the Corman Poe films. Very highly recommended.