The Tenebrous Empire Invades Kindertrauma

I’m splattered all over the internet today! Find proof that I was an eversodelicate child over at Kindertrauma as I am granted permission to enter the Traumafessional.

Really, it’s much cheaper than therapy–also, far more fabulous. Thanks, Unkle Lancifer and Aunt John, for the tea and sympathy. Or the petrol and baklava, as the case may be.

FYI–I got over being sensitive, so don’t try any funny business, OK folks?

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls [1970]

I know I’m in for fabulous exploitation excellence when there’s a disclaimer in front of the movie I’ve sat down to watch underscoring that this is NOT IN ANY WAY a sequel to the already madly sleazy epic “Valley of the Dolls.” No, dear friends, this is something vastly more groovy–THIS is Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” It’s splashy, lurid, and altogether wonderful, passing the Tenebrous Test of “would I like to see this remade with an all-drag cast” with flying colors. The plot is refreshingly simple yet provides ample opportunities for ‘sploitation of that most bosom-tacular variety one expects from a Meyer oeuvre–essentially, a “Josie and the Pussycats” type girl group goes out to LA, gets tainted by the high life, becomes alllll fucked up and then gets better (at least some of them do…). As a kid, I loved “Josie and the Pussycats” and as an adult, I love psychedelic sex romps–this movie is already doubleplusgood!
We begin with our trio of lady minstrels (redheaded leader Kelly, doe-eyed brunette Casey, and feisty drummer Pet) playing at a school prom in some Square State or other, when they are struck with a Sudden And Excellent Notion to take their van on a cross-country journey to Los Angeles. Kelly and boyfriend-slash-manager Harris have a back-and-forth exchange of ideas regarding this trip that’s set to a wild-and-wacky montage of cuts (BOOBS! OIL DRILLING! RESTAURANTS! PARTIES! FURTHER BOOBS!) that goes on for a couple of minutes and leaves one with the distinct impression that one is way out in left field cinematically speaking.

After a musical interlude and travel montage complete with map overlay, the girls and Harris (who, really, might as well be a girl, what with his Mandals and wide-eyed, grating innocence) arrive in LA and before you can quote any Kanye West lyrics at her, Kelly has inexplicably weaseled her way into the heart of her young maiden aunt and gotten a promise of a portion of some mysterious family inheritance. Convenient! Yet-more-conveniently, young maiden aunt is palsy-walsy with uber-producer Z-Man and invites the girl group to a party taking place at his bachelor pad that very evening. Doubleplusconvenient, even!

Just how swank is this party? It’s TURBAN WEARING GUY swank! Yes, the turban: much like the fez, it’s the visual symbol of seventies decadance. Because we need plot friction at this point, Z-Man immediately takes a shine to Kelly and introduces her to the myriad pleasures of his universe (Sex! Drugs! German bartenders! Ferns in the bathroom!). After an impromptu performance of their actually-kinda-awesome single “Sweet Talkin’ Candyman” by the girl group (backed up by the Strawberry Alarm Clock–f’reals), Z-Man rechristens the group The Carrie Nations and dubs himself their manager.

Cut to another dizzying montage, this time with the heads of Harris and Z-Man superimposed over the girls. I’m sorry, but… this looks more like it’s developing sexual tension between the two male characters than anything else. I mean–just look at their swoony expressions, their meaningful glances…! There’s no room for the ladies here, trust me.

Needless to say, this is the beginning of the downward spiral. I won’t spoil the fun for you by detailing what happens, but there’s groovy-ass interior decor, seduction, gay seduction, amazing outfits, even-more-amazing boobage, drugs, maiming and cross-dressing. WIN!

Also, super-duper-hott lesbianism. You can take a minute–I’ll be here when you’re done.

Now that you’re composed again, I’ll toss some cold water on you, because the coda to this movie is quarter past moralistic. In fact, it’s so fucking moralistic that I have to think it’s parody. There’s a voiceover and everything, narrating out the sins of each character and the price he or she was forced to pay. It’s some serious Hays Code level bullcrap, but it’s hilarious–make no mistake about that.

As a document of atom-bomb-level groovyness, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” delivers–it’s silly and wonderful and colorful and naughty and just all-around marvy. Heartily APPROVED, says I.

Enjoy a Flickr gallery of pneumatic babeage from “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”

This Week in Coffin Joe

Wow–it’s been an eventful week for that most top-hatted, claw-nailed of misanthropes!

The Blind Date of Coffin Joe – a fan film in which the Brazilian undertaker stars in his own reality dating show. I found this little gem through The Drunken Severed Head, a magically delicious and recommended horror blog. SIDEBAR: I really want my own reality dating show. I am at least as charismatic as Bret Michaels. Also: I have all of my own hair. BONUS!

As the MMMMMovies crew has already pointed out, Coffin Joe’s latest film took top honors at the Paulina Film Festival in Brazil. I’m… not exactly sure how amazing a feat this might be, but still–so far my tally is “zero film festival awards,” so credit where credit is due. Coincidentally, my tally of films made is “zero.” I wonder if one has something to do with the other. Food for thought.

I’ll be back with my own content soon–good thing there’s an Internet out there to make up for my slacking. Coming within a very few days will be girl groups, midgets, rapey half-mans-half-monkeys, Nazi mad science and expert guests. WATCH THIS SPACE, dammit!

Night of a Thousand Cats [1972]

A thousand adorable, furry terrors await you
The following tiny anecdote should tell you everything you need to know about the interior of my brain. I went to the Happiest Place In the East Village on Saturday for my weekly DVD fix, and came away with the geektastic new Criterion release of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Vampyr” as well as a disc called “Night of a Thousand Cats,” or, if the box title is to be believed, “Night of a 1000 Cats.” Upon getting home, I immediately dove into “NoaTC” for the simple reason that I knew it would contain 100% more Death By Cats than “Vampyr.” I was correct in this assumption, to the point where I feel the need to disclaimer the following review with a WARNING: I love movies with Death By Cats–it’s one of my favorite things ever, and this review is thoroughly tainted with this unholy passion.

In his haste to accessorize, millionaire playboy Hugo forgets his shirt

“NoaTC” is a movie about a millionaire playboy named Hugo who lives in an old monastery and picks up chicks in his helicopter in order to collect their severed heads, feeding their remains to his room full of cats. That’s it–for sixty-three minutes. But… that’s really all I need. I like to come up with elaborate back stories for how movies like this got made–what the hell was the pitch? I mean, I would have bankrolled a movie like the one described above, especially if I’d been drinking. But… how did the twisted genius behind “NoaTC” wrest money from investors? It’s as if the director had been tasked with making a different movie and then woke up after a Hunter S. Thompson-worthy bender, having spent all the money the producers had given him and now faced with a quandary. “Well, I’ve got a helicopter, some stock footage of Acapulco, an abandoned monastery and, like, a thousand cats. How am I going to make a movie out of THIS?” Thus, “Night of a Thousand Cats” was born.

“Are you mad? Of course I’m not telling her she misplaced her bra!”
One of the wackiest things about “NoaTC” is the utter lack of motivation and spare dialogue. Stuff happens in order to further the plot–plain and simple. Hugo is motivated by his desire to have collection of heads in plexiglas boxes and his ladyfriends are motivated by an overwhelming and inexplicable need to get into Hugo’s high-rise mustard colored pants. Let’s put it this way–if some asshat in a helicopter buzzed past my balcony and tried to pick me up, I’d call the cops. I would hella-sure not wave, smile and give him my phone number. But of course, this is “NoaTC” so you do the math as to which path this follows. What dialogue exists is colossally stupid. Hugo explains his desire to collect stuff thusly: “All of my ancestors had a mania for collecting–stamps, coins, porcelains, and weapons. They covered the walls with their valuable collections, but I donated everything to several museums so that everyone could appreciate them.” Really? Really, Hugo…? Your ancestors’ wildly valuable stamp and coin collections were donated to museums? At another point, Hugo offers dinner to his stacked-and-braless companion with the following line: “You’ve never tasted anything as delicious as this. Dorgo is a great cook and meat is his specialty.” The word “meat” is so emphasized that I pictured it appearing with a registered trademark next to it in the script. Either that, or IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN was written beside it in twenty-four-point type but was dropped in a moment of line flubbing.
The windup…
…and the pitch!
Also, there’s a flaw in Hugo’s plan, and it involves those titular cats. Once he’s done decapitating his victims, he feeds the meat to his cats… and then has his manservant Dorgo burn the bodies. Wait a minute–why do you need the cats at all???? I mean, the cats are what make the movie awesome and everything, but… that’s just not efficient. I’m not complaining because, frankly, scenes of Hugo hurling cats around or fuzzy little buddies nibbling on meatstuffs are what make this movie so great. [Note: Yes, I am going to die crushed under a pile of DVDs and get eaten by my three-dozen cats someday, internet–look for my obituary on Fark]
“Oh polar bear, you’re the only one who understands me.”
The editing is also head-hurtingly perplexing. There’s a sex scene in which the couple’s faces are intercut with close-up zooms on Hugo’s taxidermy collection, and when Hugo declares his love for his pneumatic bikini’ed gal pal, each line of dialogue is delivered from a different shot. We’re in bed, now on the couch, wait how did we get to the pool? Ow!!! I wasn’t complaining during a slow-motion chase sequence where the viewer is treated to a fantastic upskirt shot framing, though. +10 points for gratuitous butt shot, “NoaTC!”
You know, when you think about it, it kind of *is* the most interesting collection in the world.
I’ll confess–I have a soft spot in my heart and my brain for this movie. I love cats, I love Death By Cats, I love movies that suffocate under the weight of their own stupidness. Nothing in the “NoaTC” movie universe makes any goddamn sense, and I respect that. This is a movie that, had I purchased it in my grocery store, would have been the second-best movie I ever bought in my grocery store.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture [1974]

If you’ve ever pondered precisely how dull a movie about a woman who’s sold into white slavery and eventually wreaks her bloody revenge on her pimp and clientele could be, then “Thriller: A Cruel Picture” provides a bleak and interminable answer. This 1974 Swedish rape-revenge flick is notable insofar as the time I took to watch it ranks as one of the longest 107 minute periods of my life. Things are not going well in the Empire when, during the slow-motion violence sequences, I find myself bouncing in my chair and urging the film to HURRY UP ALREADY.

We’ll begin at the beginning: a young girl is molested by a vagrant and is struck mute by the traumatic experience. Flash forward to fifteen years later–said girl is now a buxom young farm maid (played by sex starlet Christina Lindberg) who has been sheltered by her doting parents. On her way to an appointment with a doctor who is trying to cure her, she hitches a ride with A Very Oily Man. I’m sure you see where this is going. And thusly it goes, only in a way more boring manner than you can possibly anticipate, as the viewer is treated to a long sequence of The Very Oily Man taking our presumed protagonista out for dinner and drinks before knocking her out with a megadose of heroin. Seriously, this sequence feels *epic* and is shot almost entirely using mid-range shot framing.

Don’t despair–eventually the girl is sold into white slavery and we get to see her boobs and some intercut hardcore sequences, as well as a grisly eyeball-slashing. Post-disfiguring, our mute heroine semi-complies with the law of the hooker land, and comes to be known as ONE EYE. She is subjected to a variety of degrading sexual situations, including that most dreaded of tortures, that of the hott lesbian boob-touching, and wreaks her eventual slo-mo revenge, As You Do. But… the virtual absence of a musical soundtrack combined with limited dialogue and bleakity-bleak-bleak cinematography just made me slack-jawed with boredom. I… just don’t care. I really don’t care if she makes it out of her life of forced prostitution, I don’t care if there’s more intercut hardcore, I don’t care if she manages to shake her crippling drug habit–I DO NOT CARE AT ALL. Really. Is this some kind of freakish art film designed to make me achieve a level of not-caring to which I had previously been unable to attain? As such, it’s incredibly effective.

I’ll… try to hit some high points, such as they are:

  • Some early POV shots add a creepy verite quality to the proceedings
  • Aforementioned boobs are of a most excellent quality
  • One Eye has a leather handbag with bullet pouches on it that I *totally* covet
  • Her eyepatches always match her outfits, which I respect (pink nightie gets pink eyepatch, red skirt gets red eyepatch, and black trenchcoat gets black eyepatch–APPROVED)

I wanted to like this movie; I’ve seen similar movies and enjoyed them. Hell, this is the kind of movie that inspires people to get “Thriller: A Cruel Picture” tattoos, for heaven’s sake! A couple of moments of arresting visual imagery are peppered throughout (those early POVs work well and the final revenge sequence is particularly effective), and by no means is this the WORST film I’ve seen but…

Thanks, I’ll take “Ms. 45.”

Matthew G. Lewis’ "The Monk" with Prof. Jack

Please join me in welcoming my über-educated and thoroughly awesome friend, Professor Jack of The Liar Society, who lends a hand as Shadow Minister of the Tenebrous Empire. As he is a student of decadent literature, I’ll defer to the Professor to introduce you to today’s topic of discussion, that most astounding of Gothic novels, Matthew G. Lewis’ 1796 shockfest, “The Monk.”

“Wonder-working Lewis, Monk or Bard, who fain wouldst make Parnassus a churchyard; Even Satan’s self with thee might dread to dwell, And in thy skull discern a deeper hell.”

Lord Bryon, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

By the time Matthew Lewis’s The Monk was published in 1796, the aesthetic, thematic, and psychological fictive conventions initiated by Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Clara Reeve’s The Old English Baron, and Sophia Lee’s The Recess had coalesced into a distinct mode of literary production now known as the Gothic novel. Though the use of the word “Gothic” to describe a peculiar subgenre of literature is mostly a twentieth century coinage, the elements that enable the Gothic novel have become ubiquitous; what else would we now expect from the Gothic but the haunted enclosure of the ancestral castle or monastery, rising specters of a long-buried secret from the past, a looming, ominous villain possessing monstrous appetites, and, most especially, morbidity and the uncanny at every veiled turn? As it closely follow s these prescribed, established set of generic conventions, The Monk belongs to what David Punter terms the “classic” period of the Gothic novel. Nevertheless, there are important differences between Lewis’s text and the work of other authors of “classic” Gothic novels, such as Ann Radcliffe’s rationalized Gothic works. When Fred Botting notes that “Gothic writing signifies a writing of excess,” he may well have The Monk in mind. Of all the examples of the early Gothic modality, Lewis’s novel is the most excessive. At its core, The Monk is a novel about obsession and transgression. It is the tale of Ambrosio, the titular monk, and his downward spiral into a corrupting world of temptation, incest, murder, Satanism, sexual obsession, torture, and other lurid follies. The moral compass of Lewis’s text, if there is a moral compass to be had in The Monk, is buried underneath the leering glee and disruptive, ghastly twists of the novel’s plot. Of course, The Monk was decried as an outrage by the literary critics of its time, but then, as now, moral objection was no real obstacle toward the novel becoming one of the most widely-read books of the day. We might consider Lewis ahead of his time; along with the Marquis de Sade and Octave Mirbeau, Lewis was delving the depths of exploitation long before it had arrived as a popular, though often reviled, cinematic phenomenon.
–Professor Jack

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

“The Monk” is a deliciously scandalous novel even today—it has a machine-gun pace, cramming cliché upon cliché and breathlessly stitching together converging plotlines into a glorious melodramatic mess. Lewis’ breathlessly purple prose may seem quaint, but it tells an unflinchingly exploitative narrative. There is no doubt even to today’s reader that he is talking about gore and murder and sex and scandal. If the motto of the favored entertainments of the Tenebrous Empire is “More = More Better,” then “The Monk” gets a gold star.
A film version of “The Monk” should be a no-brainer—there’s some brilliant visual stuff in the book, ranging from the gimmes of Catholic costumery, cathedral settings, black magic rituals, violence, and the supernatural. Problematically, the two film versions of the novel that exist fail to deliver on almost every level.

Adonis Kyrou’s 1972 effort has all the potential in the world to be awesome, from a Luis Buñuel script to the casting of Django himself, Franco Nero, in the role of Ambrosio. The film winds up as Epic Cinematic Fail, however, committing that most heinous of genre movie crimes by–*gasp*–being BORING. I shouldn’t wander away from a movie about a homicidal, Satanic monk in order to get more snacks, yet… that’s precisely what I found myself doing about thirty minutes in. The 1990 Paco Lara adaptation fares even less well, playing out like a particularly forgettable “Masterpiece Theatre” entry. Static camerawork, bland musical accompaniment, and forgettable performances in both movies brought out but a single bright point—I was encouraged to re-read the novel.

Hot on the heels of my double-header “Monk”-movie disaster, I solicited the help of Professor Jack in sorting out exactly what makes the book so amazing, why these movies were such duds, and what could be done to rectify this situation and produce the ultimate “Monk” film. For SCIENCE and the betterment of exploitation fans everywhere, here is a peek into our conversation.

TK: It’s as if Lewis set pen to paper with but one question on his mind: “How many Gothic genre tropes can one cram into a single novel?” He just went crazy with this thing!

PJ: The question of how many Gothic tropes can be crammed into one novel is a bit like asking how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop–the world may never know. That said, M.G. Lewis (who I always call “Mad Dog Lewis” in my head) tried his damnedest to squeeze in as many Gothic conventions as possible into “The Monk.” It’s almost as if Lewis read Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” and thought, “All that space he’s wasting on exposition could be better used to stuff in more bizarre twists and lurid turns. I can fix that!” And then he did. Here’s a handy checklist for anyone playing the home game:

Medieval setting in a Catholic country: CHECK!
Androgyny/crossdressing: CHECK!
Torture and murder: CHECK!
Woman-as-succubus: CHECK!
Satanism and witchcraft: CHECK!
Powerful male villain with rapacious desires: CHECK!
Wandering Jew figure: CHECK!
The Inquisition: CHECK!
Corrupt authority figures: CHECK!
Rape: CHECK!
Ghosts: CHECK!
Imprisoned heroine: CHECK!
Doubles: CHECK!
Embedded stories: CHECK!
Incest: CHECK!
Twenty plot twists per page: DOUBLE CHECK PLUS!!!

It’s hard to imagine what Lewis left out

TK: There’s always room for improvement–if he’d been writing in the late half of the 20th Century, he could’ve made use of such Exploitation Movie Excellence as:

-Rapey half-mans-half-monkeys
-Nazi mad science
-Women’s prison
-Killer hippies

But yeah, considering we’re dealing with the late 18th century here, I’m granting a free pass.

PJ: Now that I think about it, all of those elements could be bolted-on to a modern adaptation of the novel. What if Lorenzo’s sister was held captive in a women’s prison by the corrupt nuns…all in the name of Nazi experimentation? What if her attempted escape from said prison was stymied by tunnels inhabited by rapey half-mans-half monkeys? What if Lorenzo led a gang of killer hippies to free Antonia?

I’m now thinking that the lead evil nun should also be a blood-bathing vampiress.


See, it’s really seamless.

This is why YOU are getting a PhD, sir.

“What do you mean ‘I’m actually a Eurobabe?’ I’m TOTALLY a monk. WHAT?!”

Another thing that really bothered me about the movie versions is the fact that Ambrosio was completely oblivious to the fact that Brother John is a totally hott Eurobabe. I mean, in the book, you can suspend disbelief because of the writing and such, but in the movies… Well, I was completely distracted by the sexiness of the Matilda-masquerading-as-John character, anyway.

PJ: can only imagine that there is an analog to the popular idea of gaydar–let’s call it “babedar”–and that Ambrosio’s is broken.

However, it should be noted that once he does acquire a taste for girlflesh, he really, really likes it. With sexy (and murderous) results.

TK: Indeed. At the beginning, there’s some dialogue about him not knowing the difference between a man and a woman. I guess that might be the case, until he got to see the awesomeness that IS nekkid Euroboobs. “I was thinking about praying but OMG I AM DISTRACTED BY YOUR NIPPLEAGE!”

His exposure to girlflesh did unleash a flood of activity (IYKWIM). It also helped that, aside from emissaries of Satan, all women in the novel are fantastically stupid and easily tricked. “My magic myrtle, let me show you it…”

PJ: While it’s true that the women in the tale possess an intense naivety, it’s important to remember that Ambrosio is played like a fiddle by the devil-woman Matilda. The Monk appears to suggest this Natural Hierarchy of Being:

Woman < Man < SATAN!

TK: There are really a lot of lessons to be learned from the book:
-Masquerading as the opposite sex is totally easy
-Catholics are all really bad people
-If you are a virgin, you are made of pure stupidness
-I need a Magic Myrtle.

PJ: “Catholics are all really bad people” is pretty much the premise of 99% of all Gothic fiction, when you get right down to it.

TK: Yes, but they have nuns and therefore the potential for Extreme Sexiness, which is never a bad thing in the Tenebrous Empire. Or, at least in all the movies *I* watch, there’s the potential for Extreme Sexiness. There’s a nun-forced-into-convent plotline in “The Monk” that I don’t think was exploited to NEARLY the degree it could’ve been. I mean, seriously—an Italian production from 1972, and they didn’t GO THERE? I’m upset.

Now, since you’re the professor and all, maybe you can answer a burning question that I’ve got. Why are foolin’-around nuns the MOST fertile women in Gothic novels? Is there something about the wimple that encourages ovulation or what?

PJ: Only the most fecund women are drawn to spiritual marriage with Christ? In other words: lack of action sends them into procreation overdrive.

We might also ask why nuns tend to turn heads and capture male sexual attention in Gothic works. My theory is that the illicit thrill of getting off with someone else’s wife is effectively tripled when you’re poaching from the fields of the J-man.

TK: You know, the more I talk about this, the more vexed I am that these movies were so bloody dull!

PJ: think the reason the cinematic adaptations of The Monk are so boring is that they refuse to go there. The movie plays it safe and seems a trifle squeamish in its handling of the source material: Where was the incest subplot? Where was the Bleeding Nun? In for a penny, in for a pound, I say.

TK: True that! The book is *acres* more exploitationtastic than either of the films. One ends with Ambrosio waltzing out of prison (Black magic totally pays!) and the other ends with him renouncing Satan (Black magic is totally fail!), while the book ends with him being spirited away by a winged demon and crushed to his death on a mountainside. Uhm… Hi–your endings are NOT improvements, film directors. You are banished to a land of not-good things for your cinematic transgressions!

PJ: When I first read the novel, I pictured the ending as a scene out of Ray Harryhausen’s best: a wing’d clay beastie mashing the titular bad-boy monk against the mountains of despair. If any of the movie versions ended that way they would showing that in film school right now. Okay, maybe not, but they’d at least be showing it on cable every Sunday right after Clash of the Titans. And that’s kind of the same thing.

TK: Oh so totally APPROVED! Stop motion FX work is going into the Tenebrous adaptation, count on it. Let’s get into the details of the Tenebrous-Approved version of “The Monk,” shall we? You’re full of good and sound ideas.

PJ: This is going to be an unorthodox suggestion for the creation of an Empire-approved version of The Monk, but I honestly think this is a property that should be placed in the hands of David Lynch. Hear me out on this. As evidenced by Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive, and Lost Highway, Lynch is not afraid to go there. At its heart, The Monk is a lot like Blue Velvet: it suggests that just under the surface of everything nice and pious lurks horrifying impulses and malignant lusts.

Also, The Monk’s plot is, for lack of a better term, convoluted. Lynch is no stranger to convoluted; as a director he doesn’t seem to care at all if his films make a coherent statement. He just wants to show us something really weird. And The Monk has plenty of weird…I want Lynch to show us just how weird the novel could be when translated to the big screen.

Plus, Lynch brings with him his own stable of talented actors. Would Kyle MacLachlan make an awesomely obsessive, neurotic Ambrosio? You bet your flying buttress he would! And you know that Lynch has Isabella Rosselini and Patricia Arquette on autodial for the female leads. I’m kind of hoping that he leaves Laura Dern out of this one, though.Put it this way: The Monk is nearly surreal in its blending of horror, terror, and sheer oddity.

David Lynch made Eraserhead. He’s the man for the job.

TK: We’d need a time machine in order for Isabella or Patricia to play Antonia, but I think I have My People working on that right now for… ahem… Other Purposes. A well-reasoned-if-controversial choice indeed!

While a Hammer production helmed by Jimmy Sangster would be the obvious selection, I think I should employ the time machine elsewhere and give the project to Mario Bava, who out-goithicked all contenders. We could pair Elke Sommer and Barbara Steele as the female leads (I dunno–put Babs in pigtails or something to make her a believable Antonia–roll with me on this). Stephen Forstyth, who has cheekbones to spare and was so awesome in “Hatchet for the Honeymoon,” could play Ambrosio. Throw a whole mess of colored gels over the lights and it’s GO time! Europe has cool-ass abandoned castles just lying around everywhere, so sets would be super-easy to come by. They’re FILTHY with history over there. Also… maybe the crypt could be underwater and we could revisit that great flooded sequence from “Inferno?” More = More Better!

Dear readers, I cannot encourage you more heartily than this to go get your dirty little hands on a copy of this novel posthaste. If you have not read it already, there’s a gaping “Monk”-shaped hole in your horror education and you need to cram it full of Matthew Lewis immediately.

Or… something like that…

ETA: Because Absinthe, of the super-superior blog Gloomy Sunday, wishes you to all stuff yourself full of Lewis ASAP, here is a link to the eBook of Matthew G. Lewis’ “The Monk.”

Vampire Circus [1972]

I am not a Hammer Films expert, but I hella-sure know what I like. Don’t get me wrong–I’m entertained by Hammer movies, but I prefer a little more insanity in my cinematic entertainment than these films typically deliver. “Vampire Circus” does nothing by halves and brings the strangeness in a spectacular Technicolor bounty. The pacing is great, the plot is fun, the setting is magical and the characters are even pretty interesting. It’s a gothic horror win!

The film wastes no time cutting right to the meat of the story–angry villagers of a Middle European town are assembling to attack the castle of Count Mitterhouse, a flamboyant vampire with a taste for gold bejeweled chokers and pirate blouses who has been feeding on their children. The Count is aided in his vile activities by his human lover Anne, the wife of Professor Robert Mueller. Caught in the midst of an erotic tumble, the Count is ambushed by his enemies who proceed to stake him through the heart. As he expires, he places a curse on the village, vowing the deaths of all their children so that he may live again. The villagers destroy the castle, but not before Anne can place her master’s body safely in the crypt.

We’re not even ten minutes in, and already we’ve got boobs and blood and monsters and sex! There’s already enough to craft a creditable vampire movie–but we’re only just getting started.
After the credits, it’s fifteen years later. The village has been struck by a horrible plague and the surrounding countryside has placed an armed roadblock to keep anyone from getting in or out of the contaminated area. The elders, all of whom took part in the staking of swishy Count Mitterhaus (ooo errr), have decided to send the local doctor out past the roadblock in order to diagnose the mystery disease.

But–lo–into this battered and downtrodden village comes a circus caravan! Believing oh-so-wrongly that the circus was allowed past the roadblock in order to spread its message of whimsy and escapism, the villagers welcome the performers. And what performers they are! Seriously–the circus performances are really pretty nifty. We’re treated to shape-shifting acro-BATS, a creepy capering midget clown, and wildest of all, an S&M interpretive dance number by an animal tamer and a woman painted in expressionistic tiger stripes!

Amazed by the performances, the villagers are ultimately won over to the circus when Emil the panther-man seems to save one of the local children who has gone missing. The circus performers do little to mask their links to the supernatural, with Emil’s shape-shifting from panther to man playing an integral role in his performance. This is a strange and magical world, though, and the villagers seem to accept and embrace this oddness. Some embrace it more literally than others, as is the case with the burgermeister’s daughter, who retires to Emil’s cage that night for a little half-man-half-panther lovin’. Displaying its love for men in bejeweled collars once again, Emil keeps his panther collar *on* during sex.

Needless to say, folks start turning up dead while the circus is in town, and suspicions start to mount as to the cause. There’s a romantic subplot involving two of the young people in the town, one of whom is Professor Mueller’s daughter with Anna, which manages to be Not Annoying by virtue of likeable performances by the two actors.

The true nature of the circus performers is revealed fairly early on–they are vampiric relatives of Count Mitterhaus who have come to town to bring about his resurrection and complete his revenge on the villagers. There’s a Most Satisfactory climactic battle between the heroes and the villains that takes place in the Count’s crypt, tying up the loose ends of the story (the viewer will likely have guessed most of the twists at this point, but the reveals are nonetheless nicely played).
A plot device I got a particular kick out of was the notion that the plague was a strain of rabies, keeping it separate and science-based, apart from the vampiric pursuits that are claiming the lives as part of the Count’s revenge. Science and the supernatural are coexisting peacefully, side-by-side in this whacked-out fantasy world!

I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s novella “Something Wicked This Way Comes” a few times during the film. The “horror in a circus” plotline had much to do with this, as did the presence of the two curious young boys who are trying to sort out the secrets of the performers. One of the manners in which the vampires ensnare their victims is through a funhouse mirror that alleges to show the future–a similar contraption, the Mirror Maze, is used in “Something Wicked.”

One of the aspects that really makes “Vampire Circus” work is the setting. There are so many multicultural flavors thrown into the pot that the overall effect is oddly ethereal. It’s clear that the movie is set in Not England and Not France, but apart from that, it’s hard to pin down exactly what locale of Mittel Europa we’re viewing. The character names are evocative of Austria and Germany, but the religious trappings are clearly Eastern Orthodox, and the costume design ping-pongs between quaint Dickensian bonnets, rustic Romanian furs, and Napoleonic empire waist gowns. Where are we ? WHEN are we? It doesn’t matter one whit to the plot–the story takes place some time after the Renaissance Faire Period of Fictional History and is probably contemporary with the Jane Eyre Period of Fictional History. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride.

“Vampire Circus” is a contender for my fave Hammer title–what it lacked in Christopher Lee, it made up for in glamorous surreality.

Please enjoy a gallery of film stills from “Vampire Circus” on Flickr, won’t you?

Beyond Love and Evil [1971]

One knows one is in for a sound brainfuckling when one’s viewing choice for the evening opens with a philosophical discourse on the dangers of love delivered in voiceover while a hammy gentleman sets fire to a crucified skeleton. “Beyond Love and Evil” provides just such a brainfuckling. In spades, even. Some lovely soul whose name I’m just not remembering right now (reveal thyself and I will happily give you the credit you so richly deserve) sent me this treat, and I’m just tickled to be the sort of person whose name leaps to mind upon viewing a movie like this. “Oh wait! I know exactly who would enjoy this bizarre-ass piece of crap!” Thank you, oh to-be-named DVD benefactor, for your gift of weirdness.

Lovely young slip of a boything Zenoff is wandering by torchlight to a remote chateau to meet his lady love Xenia, who he plans to whisk away into his arms forever. Xenia is a member of a psychedelic sex cult run by Yald, a charismatic-if-oily gentleman with a fondness for Nehru collars and overly-elaborate, fucking-based rituals. There’s a lot of De Sade and a dash of Aleister Crowley in his teachings, with plenty of spangles added in for garnish. The film is a semi-adaptation of various De Sade works, with the original French title linking it to “La Philosophie dans le boudoir,” which it only marginally resembles. Yald’s devotees are deep in the throes of a messy and body-painted dinner party. Hippies, man… There’s a lot of making out, some “do as thou wilt”-ey blather and copious boob-touching, and then we cut to Xenia’s boudoir. “Beyond Love and Evil” is one of those movies that shows you things you didn’t even know were sexy, and yet are totally sexy. It also shows you a lot of things that are decidedly unsexy, which I’ll get to later, but let’s just linger for a moment on Xenia’s getting-dressed scene.

Erotic use of a powder puff = APPROVED. Xenia attires herself in a white-fringed evening gown and blonde afro-wig, yet still manages to look smashing. I would love for whatever eccentric fashion mojo this chick is rocking to rub off on me, let me tell you! Yald enters her rockin’ “Camille 2000” boudoir, and the two share some dialogue about their upcoming nuptials. It’s pretty clear that the two are way smitten with one another (albeit, in an icily Eurotrash manner) due to some sort of amoral soul-mate hottness which is never really elaborated on. As I’ve discussed in previous reviews, evil and amoral people have special connections of the heart in movies. Villain love is kind of a beautiful thing.
The two descend to the dinner party, where Yald announces the pending wedding. He proceeds to tell everyone that they can Have At Xenia once he’s done his husbandly duties, but not before this consummation can occur. Zenoff is, quite naturally, upset, and questions what the couple truly knows of love. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our plot!

Stop now if you’ve had enough. I, on the other hand, am made of far sterner stuff and shall continue on your behalf. You’re all very welcome.

Things take a turn for the sinister when a woman who has been accused of violating the community’s laws (by not wearing a sufficient amount of body makeup? insisting on granny panties? eating more than her fair share of hash brownies?) is chased through the woods by the mad throng of cultists. She’s given a head start, which is timed by a glass tube of liquid that is warmed to bubbling by being placed between the leather-booted thighs of one of the female cultists. Thigh-warmed glass timers = APPROVED. I bet you didn’t even know that was out there to be spanked to before this, now did you? The transgressor is cornered and her reaction to this capture is perplexing to Zenoff–she is halfway through a gap in the fence and on her way to a clear escape, but she hesitates, smiles and surrenders to the group.

Cut to later in the evening–Yald is explaining that Varlac will be released and that everyone must find safety. Every good chateau worth its salt needs a rapey half-man-half-monkey savage in the dungeon, and the presence of Varlac proves that this chateau is certainly no exception. Everyone does, indeed, find safety (this movie translates “safety” into “confusing and athletic sex partnerings”) and Varlac duly hunts down the naughty young lady and they engage in a bit of semi-consensual half-man-half-monkey shagging. Before you can say “bang a gong get it on,” Yald has… well, he’s literally banged a gong and the denizens of the chateau are on-hand to watch the evening’s entertainments through the bars of Varlac’s cell. The ceremonial monkey-man rape is followed by an orgy. As you do.

A naked conga line, a toilet-seated bout of artistry, a dry-ice bathtub full of lesbians, and a whip-wielding drag queen later, we find Zenoff spying on a face-painted cutie who is engaging in some self-love with the assistance of dead sea creatures. None of the above was typed in error or haste. Remember that thing about this movie showing you things you’ve never seen before that are totally unsexy? You’re soaking in it. Dead squid ass-rubbing = REJECTED.

The next morning–it’s fox hunting time! And what a FOX indeed–a nubile Eurobabe is released into the woods and chased down (uh-oh–we’re only 42 minutes in and the movie is already repeating its perversions…). The “fox” puts up a good fight, but eventually succumbs to her tormenters and, after a little flogging, gets ceremonially offered to another Eurobabe for what the viewer can only assume are Totally Awesome Sapphic Pleasures. APPROVED.

Meanwhile, Zenoff, who still hasn’t gotten the “hi, everybody here is krazee” memo, has decided this is his cue to help lady-love Xenia escape. Midway through their flight, Zenoff is consumed by desire and ravishes Xenia in a most aggressive fashion. Doubtless remembering Yald’s decree that nobody should put their grubby Euromitts on her, Xenia puts up a fight, but eventually succumbs to her younger-and-much-hotter lover’s advances. +10 points to the cinematographer for effective use of slow-motion and overexposure (If You Know What I Mean). Grappling naked in a creek sex = APPROVED.

Some time later, the moment has arrived for Xenia and Yald’s Age of Aquarius-riffic wedding, which involves vows that boil down to “it’s totally cool for each of you to do whatever you want, all the time.” Enthusiastically APPROVED! The couple celebrates their “binding by nature’s laws” under the watching eyes of the cultists until Zenoff bursts through the doors, SHOCKED by what he sees. This dude is as slow as he is good-looking, dear readers.

Yald and Zenoff share some more philosophizing (shirtless-and-creepily), and agree to a game of Guess-the-Xenia, winner takes all. Zenoff is unable to recognize Xenia in the room full of carnivale-masked ladies, while Yald succeeds. Because there is NO WAY Yald could have stacked this game in his favor. Not at all… Things take a turn in Zenoff’s favor when the next game they play involves a knife, which he summarily uses to stab Yald in the gut.
Xenia now runs the cult and, proving once again that we women cannot be trusted with power, things get all revengey and weird. Or weirder. Or… pretty much the same, actually–former comment redacted. It’s hard to tell at this point. There’s a rather sensibly-staged orgy on inflatable furniture (seriously, that would be the easiest orgy clean-up in history–all you’d need would be a hose and a room with a drain in the center). Xenia then confronts Zenoff, urging him to leave, but he insists upon staying. “All right,” she barks, “put on these clothes and we’ll see whose reason prevails.”

Well, darlings, it’s clear that his reason has been compromised because the clothes he agrees to wear consist of a collar and assless pants. He watches Xenia mete out some punishment, participates in the flogging and then retires to Xenia’s chamber for what he believes will be A Mutually Satisfying Romantic Interlude. Alas for Zenoff, in a “No One Expects The Spanish Inquisition”-worthy upset, Xenia goes all Venus in Furs on his ass and has one of her flunkies flog him soundly. In the final scene, Xenia explains to a teary-eyed Zenoff that her revenge is now complete and that he is being banished from the cult, to live in the ordinary world where his now-completely-freakalicious desires will never be fulfilled.

And… END.

“Beyond Love and Evil” is a film that exists solely to provide a structure on which to hang various oddball set pieces. It’s a celebration of weirdness for weirdness’ sake, but director Jacques Scandelari (a competitor for the title of “most appropriately excellent last name ever”) lacks the surreal visual vocabulary of Jean Rollin and the carefully structured eroticism of Radley Metzger, two directors whose films bear a resemblance to this one. There’s enough strangeness to hold the interest for 90 minutes, but the piece never coalesces into anything really special. The aggressively strange images and beautiful nudity are a treat, but this movie serves mainly to underscore the things that are so special about similar works from more artful directors.

Son of Tiny Paintings

Happy Friday, internet. Enjoy the last of Series 2 of the Art Cards, won’t you?
Since Karswell is the recipient of Tiny Vincent Price, this provides me with a fine opportunity to point you in the direction of The Horrors Of It All, where Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Mr. K is giving you EVEN MORE than his daily offerings of vintage horror comics. Head on over and enter his Casting Call Game for a chance to win an official and reaperiffic THOIA tshirt. Oh, and enjoy the zombies while you’re there.

Virgins from Hell [1987]

“Virgins from Hell” is the cinematic equivalent of your most generous friend. You know, the one lends you $50 even though you’re just going to use all of it to buy gin and then doesn’t even get mad when she’s driving you home afterwards and you puke into the pocket on the inside of the car door where she keeps her CDs? This movie gives and gives and gives, just like that.

Let’s take a moment to review what “Virgins from Hell” has to offer:

  • All-girl motorcycle gang, in coordinating hotpants and miniskirts
  • Chandelier swinging
  • Weird torture
  • Exploding everything
  • A totally rad villain whose acting technique is a St. Vitus’ Dance of facial-expression awesomeness

There’s way more than that, but before I get ahead of myself, let’s outline the plot.

Karen and Sheila, two sisters whose parents were killed by a vicious criminal, lead a rough-and-tumble all-girl motorcycle gang. The gang makes its living by executing daring raids on the Dens of Vice run by Mr. Tiger, the man responsible for murdering their leaders’ parents. Mr. Tiger has set up the headquarters of his criminal empire in the mountain-side family home the two girls used to live in, and Karen and Sheila are fixated on avenging the wrongs committed against them.

Allow me to pause for a moment so we can ruminate on Mr. Tiger. While I am inclined to make a statement like “Mr. Tiger is the bastard offspring of Chairman Kaga and Coffin Joe,” I think it does him a disservice to treat his character in such a flippant manner. Mr. Tiger is fashion forward, adding his own flair to Wild, Wild West couture. Mr. Tiger is an entrepreneur, running businesses as diverse as casinos, smuggling rings, paramilitary organizations, and aphrodisiac labs. Mr. Tiger is a scenery-chewer. Mr. Tiger is an accomplished pervert. It’s Mr. Tiger’s world, and everybody else just lives in it. Believe it, internet.

The girl-gang launches an attack on Mr. Tiger’s compound and… things go poorly. Those gang members who are not mowed down during the machine-gun strafing are sent via trap-door into a prison cell. An underground prison cell with a wading pool. You know, just like in real prison.

We learn that Mr. Tiger’s syndicate has kidnapped Larry, a hunky young medical student with an affinity for overalls and gruffness, and forced him to develop a powerful aphrodisiac that can turn any woman into a wanton sex slave. Clearly, there’s more money in this than in running gambling dens! The criminal tests this potion on one of the unfortunate women he’s just captured, and she turns into a writhing mess of unbridled female passion. Dollar signs in his eyes, Mr. Tiger offers the helpless woman to two of his colleagues as a test of the drug’s potency. And so begins the rapey portion of our WiP film…

But it’s not all rapeyness here–no. As in any self-respecting WiP flick, we are treated to scenes of torture as well! And what tortures they are… A woman is strung up and pushed into barbed wire, leading to scrapes AND motion sickness (the FIENDS!). My personal favorite torture that’s meted out is Adorable Furry Creature Torture*. Let’s discuss.

Step 1: Acquire Adorable Furry Creature.

Step 2: Throw victim in sack with Adorable Furry Creature.


The movie carries on with its litany of rapes, catfights, suicides, and various other abuses–all portrayed in that strangely demure Indonesian manner, utterly devoid of nudity. Even the panties are modestly white and full-coverage! The tension at the compound builds and two of the girls defect to Mr. Tiger’s team. The time for a show-down is nigh…

Larry, being left almost unsupervised in the lab, is able to begin the final coup. Now, if Mr. Tiger had only thought to explore the ingredients in his aphrodisiac a little more closely, he’d have realized that they EXPLODE. Note to self: Make sure all ingredients of your nefariously saleable black market concoction are shelf stable. The film’s climactic battle must be seen to be… oh the hell with it! The entire film must be seen to be believed! This thing brims with weirdness.

At the end of the day, though, I think “Virgins from Hell” poses a thought-provoking question for me. I’m truly torn. Would I rather lead an all-girl motorcycle gang, or am I better oriented to fill Mr. Tiger’s (doubtless alligator-hide) shoes? The mind reels with possibilities.

Be AMAZED at the Flickr gallery of stills from “Virgins from Hell.”

*Adorable Furry Creature Torture is not to be confused with Monkey Torture, which is something different entirely.