The Awful Dr. Orlof [1962]

Jess Franco’s debut film “The Awful Dr. Orlof” is one that merits rewatching. I’d remembered enjoying the grainy Nth-generation VHS “collectors copy” I’d acquired, and–if anything–my exposure to other films in Franco’s body of work has only served to enhance my enjoyment of this little gem of gothickry. The man has vision, and when he’s on, he is on, meine freunde.

The story involves a Favorite Tenebrous Trope–that of the face-stealing surgeon fixated on restoring the beauty of a disfigured loved one, realized most famously in Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face. Dr. Orlof lives in seclusion with his daughter, who was horribly scarred in a fire, along with his maidservant and his blind henchman Morpho (the Morpho character has been revisited and reimagined throughout Franco’s career), both of whom are indebted to him because he assisted in their escapes from prison. Inspector Tanner, a sorta-Bob-Hope-ish detective, is investigating the disappearances of young women from the Red Light District while his fiancee Wanda, a lovely ballerina, becomes interested in the case and proceeds with her own explorations.
This is more than a retread of familiar territory. The plot clips along at a very nice pace, with no “dead spots”–just when the picture borders on becoming too talky for its own good, there’s a bit of action or an elegantly realized shot that captures one’s interest again. Howard Vernon puts in a very fine performance as the obsessed Dr. Orlof, crafting a character who exhibits moments of emotional sensitivity along with his expressions of mania. Like most successful pieces of genre fiction, the devil’s in the details of what’s happening onscreen, and the details in this particular film are handled with a deftness of style.

One of the things that keeps drawing me back to these low-budget films is that when a certain kind of director works within the constraints of a limited amount of money, his creativity really shines. “Orlof” is a straightforward black and white thriller, the likes of which you’ve seen several dozen times before. But in the hands of someone who understands the importance of lighting and shot composition as much as Franco does, there’s a special kind of beauty to be found. The camera is frequently just-off-kilter in this movie–not wildly dutch-angled, but off-balance, contributing to a “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”-esque feel. Underscoring this nod to the German Expressionist classic is the character of Morpho, whose screen presence echoes that of Cesare the somnambulist. His hairstyle, macabre black garb, and sightless stare all evoke that icon of silent terror.

Lighting is handled masterfully throughout the film, as when Orlof is in a cabaret sizing up one of his victims. While her face is brightly lit, the face of the doctor is veiled in shadows, the whites of his teeth and eyes barely visible in the gloom. It’s a simple yet effective way to indicate that sinister deeds are soon to be in the offing. The movie is filled with moments like these–visual and audio evocations of the eerie mood. Orlof summons Morpho with a tap of his cane, a female nightclub performer wanders an empty house waiting for her rendezvous, and of course that genre fave–a frightened beauty wanders the halls of a creaky castle armed only with a candelabra.

There are, of course, some hokey touches. One is never *quite* sure just when the film is supposed to take place. There are horses and carriages in the street, yet the costumes are a perplexing mix of Swingin’ Sixties silhouettes and 1920s burlesque. The makeup on the female characters is a fantasy of pancake makeup and liquid eyeliner. By the time our heroine is donning her satin ballgown complete with nipple-tassel embelishments, it doesn’t seem all that terribly out of place! The soundtrack ping-pongs between tried and true organ-enhanced gloom to wacky slide whistle interludes, making the proceedings strangely bipolar and disorienting.

Oddly enough, even these touches, which would seem dangerously corny in other films, make the movie even more enjoyable. What’s happening on screen is never deadly serious–there’s an acknowledgement that this is a movie made to entertain. While some characters are portrayed with a surprising amount of depth (Orlof, as mentioned, as well as his servants are all multifaceted characters), there’s room for comic relief. A quack confessor to Orlof’s crimes has a great little scene, and the Sketch Artist who is called in to create portraits of the killers hams it up in spite of an entirely silent performance.

These fast-and-loose zany elements are always balanced by some sort of striking imagery–Orlof and Morpho transporting an elaborate casket containing their latest victim, or Orlof’s daughter alive in her glass cage. Shuddery stuff, that!

“The Awful Dr. Orlof” sets the stage for Jess Franco’s body of work–it’s a genre piece that could be easily dismissed as another mad science melodrama, but lurking just beneath the throw-away entertainment is evidence of a creative mind at work.
Note: I’m having a helluva time ID’ing whether it’s “The Awful Dr. OrloFF” or “The Awful Dr. OrloF”! I’m opting for the title on the DVD copy I own, but if someone wiser in all matters Francophilic wishes to chime in, I’ll welcome the input.

Around the Web – Links of Excellence

It’s summertime and, if you’re anything like me, you’re seeking excuses not to venture out into the vexing OUTDOORS with its WEATHER and HALF-CLOTHED HUMANS. Why don’t you pull up a chair and peruse some of these links instead? I mean, I’ve enjoyed this stuff–what more APPROVAL do you need?

First and foremost, not one but two of my favorite blogs celebrated first anniversaries recently! Why don’t you take a swing by Arbogast on Film and Frankensteinia for two unique points of view? Arbogast’s dry humor and acute observations on horror entertainment make for marvy daily reading, and Pierre’s Frankenstein scholarship is thoroughly inspirational.

Over at Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, the Duke of DVD risked my wrath by weaseling a copy of “Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay” out of one of my minions, but I’ll choose to forgive him since his write-up is bloody hysterical.

Here’s the coolest lady magician poster you’ll see today on Monster Brains.

Moving on to other weird art, check out this little R-Crumb-meets-pre-code number on The Horrors of It All.

The Tomb of the Headless Werewolf makes the Tenebrous heart go pitter-pat by posting a whole bunch of maniac monkey reviews, touching on the House Favorite, rapey half-mans-half-monkeys, with “Night of the Bloody Apes.” Bonus points for Mexihorror!

For those who can’t get enough rapey half-mans-half-animals (and really, who can get enough?), check out Killer Kittens from Beyond the Grave‘s awesome writeup of the truly mind-blowing “Ratman.”

Moving from creep to chic, the Costuminatrix of The Fashion Victim schools us in French period fashion in her write-up of a flick I adore, “Brotherhood of the Wolf.”

For those who need instant gratification of the moving-pictures variety… I realize a lot of you have seen this clip already but… dude, it’s the niftiest French-electro-influenced-by-Goblin-John-Carpenter-tribute-stop-motion-animation clip this writer has seen yet, so here it is again for your delectation: Zombie Zombie’s “Driving This Road Until Death Sets You Free”

Magic of the Universe [1987]

I really can’t help myself–I’m going to begin this review of the Fillipino mindfuckery that is “Magic of the Universe” with a string of cliches–it has to be seen to be believed, it’s jaw-droppingly weird, and it’s clearly the product of an unhinged mind. Ho. Lee. Crap. I think I am forever changed. While I prefer its DVD-mate “Counter Destroyer,” (making this the second-best movie I ever bought at the grocery store, for those of you keeping score) “MotU” is crammed full of bizarre and unexpected crap to a degree where I abandoned sense about ten minutes in and just opted to enjoy the ride.

The movie gets straight to the task of frying your goddamn brain with an opening montage where each role is credited. Just seeing the characters I was going to meet throughout the film brought on a sense of dread. This sequence is sort of the “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here” of the cinema world–heavy shit awaits the viewer. We’re not talking about your standard-issue Asian cinema weirdness, either–hopping vampires be damned, this movie goes straight for your brain’s butt and fucks it with swamp creatures, plant-ladies with flaming footsteps, a head-throbbey villainess and, perhaps worst of all, Globo.

Let’s discuss Globo. I knew I would hate Globo from the instant he appeared on screen, credited by being played as “himself.” Globo is meant to be whimsical and yet achieves a level of cinematic evil that goes past mere aggravation and gives me a hate-on the likes of which I’ve rarely experienced. I’m pretty sure he’s supposed to be “cute” with his gibbering non-dialogue and spastic, hypnotic hand-puppet style of movement, but he’s positively Satanic during his brief tenure on-screen. I’m kind of impressed that the FX guys were able to achieve such a gobsmackingly horrible creature from what’s essentially a vivisected hand puppet on top of a black and white television set.
It’s Globo’s movie–everybody else is just existing in it.

Moving along from my Globo-related trauma, let’s address the plot. You see, this movie tricks the viewer in to thinking it’s a straightforward affair by adhering to a deceptively simple plot structure: Jamir, a stage magician, has to rescue his wife, daughter, and chubby kid assistant from the clutches of an evil sorceress named Mikula. Mikula is seeking revenge on Jamir since he’s the grandson of a powerful sorcerer who cursed her. Fair enough. SIDEBAR: Grandpa Sorcerer is a rather amazing combination of Colonel Sanders and Fu Manchu–you can just tell he’s a bigtime badass.

That synopsis does NOTHING to prepare you for the INSANITY of this movie. The first thing Jamir does is consult a witch doctor for advice, and after some really gross monkey-brain-eating action* which is supposed to do something or another to help Jamir in his quest, he sets out in his EXCELLENT CLOWN FACE BUS to seek the source of his woes.

First stop is–wait for it–a village full of midgets and children in native attire. Really. The midget chief is announced by a herald who SHRIEKS and waves his arms around, and is brought in riding on a palaquin carried by other midget natives. I’m totally unprepared for this because, notably, the midgets were not addressed in the opening credits. That’s just messed up. SIDEBAR: I wonder if the midgets viewed the child actors as scabs, taking jobs away from good, card-carrying midget actors.

Jamir wins over the midgets with a little game of hide-the-banana (he uses sleight of hand to make bananas appear and disappear–what did you think I meant?) and then carries on with his quest which involves finding some magic weaponthing or another. Trust me, you’d be lost too at this point.

Back at Mikula’s headquarters, Mikula makes a bunch of menacing statements towards Jamir’s loved ones while surrounded by her pig-faced soldiers, stripper-gyrating monkey man, and muscleman Krug (not THAT Krugthis Krug has 100% more gold lame and chainmaille). I’m pretty sure Mikula is hell-bent on revenge and world domination, as these characters tend to be, but it’s not this that imbues her with excellence. THAT would be her giant, throbbing head bulges that pulse erratically while she cackles. Globo is presumably one of Mikula’s minions, because shots of him are intercut with the other monsters in her employ, but his purpose is never explained. He’s just there to piss me right the hell off.

After all the sinister banter, it’s PARTY TIME! A band composed rubber-suited monsters takes the stage while Mikula and her cohorts take some time to get funky. The monkey-man gets hella-funky, in point of fact–wiggling around in an alarming and distracting fashion. This might not be so bad, except for the fact that the monkey-man wears nothing but face makeup, a loin cloth and body oil. Someone, somewhere, is entirely too excited by this. Of course this distraction allows Jamir’s wife and daughter to escape, but not before fat-kid assistant boy is brought out to fight another kid dressed as a ninja. Of course, fat-kid assistant boy isn’t all Ho-Hos and solitary weeping–he’s made of sterner stuff, which he demonstrates by sending the ninja kid flying out of the ring with a radical-if-chubby crane kick.

This film is structured using the AND THEN STUFF HAPPENS school of plot configuration. One dizzying image after another is force-fed to the viewer, who watches in what’s probably a Ludivico-like trance. Self-hating wamp monster! Lady turning into rocks! Ineffectual forest spirit heroine ! Head-explodey! Long before Jamir gets ahold of the magic weapon and returns to Mikula’s palace to save the day in a lighting-zapping climax, my brain had turned into a delicious puddingey mess and pooled in the back of my skull.

I don’t know if I’m stupider or enlightened beyond my years after watching this movie. I need to go take a lie-down and recover…

For the brave among you, dare to witness the weirdness of “Magic of the Universe” on Flickr.

*Nota Bene: It’s upsettingly real monkey-brain-eating, so I’d advise that my animal-loving friends skip this particular sequence.

Bad Inclination [2003]

Believe it or not, I don’t like making best/worst statements, and yet… “Bad Inclination” is the dumbest giallo I’ve seen yet (see, I even had to qualify that statement). I won’t snark on how bad an idea it is to try to recreate, in 2003, the style and atmosphere of a subgenre that was on its last legs two decades prior to the penning of the script–instead I’ll restrict myself to the Facts Of The Case. All the characters just Say Words and Do Stuff and nothing makes any damn sense in a manner that borders on absurdist comedy, yet never quite achieves this level of glorious failure. This movie seems to have been structured using the card deck from some Italo-thriller version of “Clue”–“faded lesbian superstar in the shower with the set-square!” What maybe could have been a fun little homage to the fabulous films of yesteryear just turns into a mishmash of bad ideas, bad execution, and bad acting. What a mess.
Don’t think of these as SPOILERS – think of this as a five-minute reading investment on your part, saving you from ninety minutes of Just Plain Bad.

The movie opens with a standard setpiece murder–a woman is alone in her apartment, chopping ingredients for a stew with a cleaver and a mezzaluna (hint: either of these would make an excellent weapon), but the killer employs an architect’s set-square tool to stab her in the belly. Now, I’m no forensic scientist, but speaking as someone who has used a set-square in the past–let’s just say that while it might leave a nasty bruise, it’s not going to slice directly through a human abdomen causing instant and grisly death. My suspension of disbelief is challenged already, and we’re not five minutes into this blasted thing.
Better yet, when the Italian police show up to investigate, the following dialogue exchange occurs:
Detective 1: “I wonder why the killer used a set-square?”
Detective 2: “It’s a lethal weapon–if used by an expert, there is no escape.”
Who the hell is a SET SQUARE EXPERT? An archininja? A ninjatecht??? Frankly, there IS an escape from a set-square, but it involves rolling slightly to the left or right, which, due to the subpar nature of the FX work, was apparently UNPOSSIBLE for this first victim.
The apartment building is basically the House of Scheming Women, populated entirely by ladies with selfish and totally evil motives. No one is too upset by the murder, and in fact the event sets the braincogs working for several of the neighbors. Set-square sales in Rome skyrocket.

Florinda Bolkan stars as an artist working on a series of ghoulish and not-very-well-executed paintings glamorizing famous murders. If you guessed that there was a set-square painting, you’d be right–+10 points for reading this far!

Now, I’m delighted to see Ms. Bolkan get work but… poor Florinda appears to be floundering, trying her best with a lame script and totally undirected. Also, the organ grinder’s monkey vest she wears in several scenes is so dreadful compared to her amazingly chic outfits in “Lizard in a Woman’s Skin.”

In a plot twist so obvious that you can see it heading at you like a freight train over a Texas desert, the artist hires her junkie former student (TRUE FACT: Most art students do end up as dissolute junkie prostitutes–I BEAT THE ODDS!) to euthanize her but winds up having the junkie off her maid. Interestingly, said junkie former student has enough free cash to invest in collagen lip injections, and yet is homeless. PRIORITIES, young lady, priorities!

Lip collagen is a theme in this film, as it appears that all of the actresses save Florinda Bolkan have indulged in a bit too much of this bee-stung enhancement, pulling their lips up in a fishy-rabbity fashion that this reviewer finds distracting and distasteful. Lip collagen = REJECTED.

I really don’t want to love the character of the faded lesbian singing starlet that lives in the House of Scheming Women and yet… I do. Maybe it’s because she is NEVER NOT FABULOUS, and I can heartily endorse her effort. Seriously–girlfriend sleeps in a corset. THAT is dedication. Also, she’s batshit crazy and walks a cat on a leash. In some small way, she is living the dream except… you know, a has-been in a never-was movie. Other than that–it’s a sound and excellent lifestyle. She’s even polite to the viewer, making sure to turn her partners’ torsos towards the camera in order to provide better ogling opportunities. +10! She’s so outlandish that even her schoolteacher-cum-hooker neighbor tells her she looks like a tart. I *do* question why she’s so hung up on her philandering manager/girlfriend, though, who looks a little more like Rachel Ray than I’m ready to endorse. When she finally winds up offing her galpal with a set-square, I know I was on her side!

The one young male character in the film, an architect with SERIOUS Mommy issues, is identified as the prime suspect and is eventually arrested, much to the artist’s and the starlet’s delight. His capture is due in no small part to the fact that his AWESOME KIDDY MURDER ART is uncovered in a psychologist’s stash. Let’s just take a moment to linger on that, shall we? Man, I love awesome kiddy murder art in movies. I’m adding that to the list of “tropes I can’t get enough of.”

The lady detective Gabriella is not satisfied with this solution, though, and continues to investigate. Web searches in Italy are apparently a LOT easier than the ones we do over here, because it takes her 3 clicks to find the correct escort service website she needs to unearth a vital clue.

Then–a discussion with her aunt leads to a critical a-ha moment:
Aunt: “Somewhere or other, I read that men’s victims are women they never had anything to do with, while for female murderers, it is the opposite.”
Gabriella: “EXACTLY!”

NO! NOT EXACTLY AT ALL! Wrong, fail, incorrect &c! Holy crap–one should NEVER trust the Italian police. It’s so awesome that the above statement basically fails to take into account any man who ever killed his wife. If this movie is to be believed, Italian justice is fucked.

Naturally, the two wicked women are caught due in no small part to Gabriella’s Women’s Intuition and get their come-uppance but then… the architect is released. Now, if you’re counting the way I’m counting, that’s two solved murders and ONE UNSOLVED MURDER. Tack on a coda ending making it clear that a killer is still on the loose aaaaaand FIN.

Franco Nero shows up playing the town looney in footage SO VALUABLE it’s used twice (ohhhhh Django, how the mighty have fallen). I kind of like the expressions on the reporters around him–“What is that spaghetti western star doing with newspapers tacked onto him?” There’s really no purpose for his scenes except for slapping Nero’s name on the promotional materials for the movie.

If gialli are the triumph of style over substance, this film sinks under the weight of its own ineptitude. With a cleaner script and under better direction, this could have been not-bad as an homage with winkwink/nudgenudge humorous undertones. Something could have been made of the fact that every lead character is female but… no–not so much. There’s also some kind of commentary on the media woven in, but the movie drowns in its own dumbness long before making any kind of coherent statement.

Dear readers, I have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince of a movie. Such is my love for you all that I’m warning you away from this little number (it comes in a DVD three-pack with the totally awesome “Faceless” and the hypnotically, amazingly bad “Witchery”).

View a gallery of stills from “Bad Inclination” on Flickr.

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun [1977]

Nunsploitation and Jess Franco–two awesome tastes that taste great together, largely due to the absolute absence of what one might generally classify as good taste. “Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun” ranks as one of the best of the kinky convent entries, due in no small part to its blending of sometimes-poetic visual style with unapologetically filthy plot elements. Underage sex? CHECK! Sex with the devil? CHECK! Torture of naked women? CHECK! However, you’ve also got gorgeous interiors, artful cinematography, and a nice organ-enhanced score to elevate the film above some of its less-excellent subgenre-mates.

Fifteen-year-old peasant girl Maria, played with a pouty, Teresa-Ann-Savoy-worthy mono-expression by Susan Hemingway, is frolicking in the woods with her boyfriend when sinister Father Vicente discovers the young lovers. He brings young Maria, who is dumber than a bag of hammers, back home and explains to Dear Old Mom that Maria has been having Naughty Relations with her boyfriend. It’s a blackmail-tastic move, and Maria’s mom is forced to comply with the Father’s demands for some reason that was mostly unclear to me. I mean–hell, how much Family Honor does a washerwoman widow have to preserve? There are, like, forty people in the village and I’m sure this isn’t the first they’re hearing of Maria’s makeout sessions. This is not a world where Logic And Reason preside, though, so after extracting a fee from her mother, Maria is whisked away to a convent school.

As played by William Berger, Father Vicente is the very essence of sleazy, finger-tenting, ecclesiastical evil. Just check out that eyebrow-arch–you know that nothing good is going on in his brain. FYI to the gentleman title-holders in the Tenebrous Empire–PRACTICE YOUR FINGER-TENTING AND EYEBROW ARCHING. There will be a test.

Gratingly naive Maria enters the convent and things appear strange right from the get-go, with the female head of the convent demanding to be addressed with vaguely occultic titles. The High Priestess of the convent proceeds to kneel down in order to perform the Obligatory Wandering-Fingers Virginity Check, an expression of lust on her face with its parted lips and raised eyebrows. Maria’s expression is one of pouty confusion, much as it was while making out with her boyfriend. This girl is unflappable! Teenagers were made of steelier stuff back in the day, let me tell you. In a PLOT POINT moment that happens shortly thereafter, Maria is informed that the convent is right around the corner from the HQ of the Spanish Inquisition. Because… you know, if you’re running a convent where fishy shenanigans are going down, you want to be as close as possible to people who are just drooling to burn your ass at the stake.

Directly after having her virginity verified, Maria is sent to her room where the Welcoming Committee introduces her to a little game of “oops I kissed a girl.” Expression of pouty confusion: INTACT! Naturally, the High Priestess of the convent arrives at an inopportune moment and punishes Maria by binding her torso in thorny branches. Some lurid close-ups of a rivulet of blood running down gooseflesh follow. It’s touches like this that separate “Love Letters” from the competition–a lesser director would choose to concentrate on the expressions of agony or stick to literal mid-shots, but Franco brings a touch of artistry to the scene that’s both discomforting and erotic.

In case you hadn’t guessed by this point, this convent is brimming with Sataneriffic activities, and Franco can’t wait to show us the goodies. There’s a TOTALLY AMAZING lesbonic sex scene in which the nuns use blasphemies in place of passionate outcries, building to the climactic shout of “the devil’s playground–DEFILE IT!” Zounds. The High Priestess has been trying unsuccessfully to bear the devil’s child, and realizes that virgin Maria would make the perfect Baby Mamma for the Horned One. Eventually, Maria catches wise to the high level of creeposity going on in the convent (including a really icky episode in which Father Vicente masturbates while she confesses to an erotic dream involving her cousin–incest, statutory rape, AND the breaking of holy vows tied up into one neat little package for maximum ‘sploitation efficiency: +10 points). Maria writes a letter to Dear Old Mom which is–of course–intercepted and sent straight to the High Priestess. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, go directly to “getting molested by Father Vicente in the confessional.”

Maria is still a technical virgin, though, and as such is ripe for the Devil’s seed. She’s brought down to the chapel for her ritual abuse. Now, the Gold Standard of on-screen sex with the Devil is portrayed in Michele Soavi’s “The Church,” but for those who dig a little Satan-shagging, this scene isn’t half bad.

First off–the actor who plays the devil is the awesomely-named Herbert Fux. No, really. Just take a second to savor that, OK? I’ll wait till you’re done giggling. He proceeds to defile Maria with leering, cackling enthusiasm while the rest of the convent chants and falls into raptures. Maria almost manages to change her expression during this scene–such is her horror!

The whole “Maria having Satan’s baby” subplot is–sadly–not explored. Maybe the above-mentioned scene was meant to be a horrible dream brought on by trauma. Still–who doesn’t love a “having Satan’s baby” subplot? One can forgive this oversight as it seems to have been substituted with a “being tortured by the Spanish Inquisition” subplot. Who knew that the Inquisition ONLY tortured naked young women? I learn everything I need to know about history from the movies.

Interspersed in this tapestry of pervosity, there are some visually arresting elements. As mentioned, the interiors are divine–they appear to be actual locations as opposed to sound stage sets, and this sense of connection to an actual geographical location goes a long way to enhancing the atmosphere the film. The shots of the sea outside of the windows of the convent and poetic shots of rain falling on brown leaves bring a texture to the movie that just isn’t present in other nunsploitationers. Shot-framing is thoughtful and downright elegant throughout, with a great use of black negative space, particularly in the Satan-rape scene. Even at its most shocking, the movie never loses sight of the need to be visually engaging.

Enjoy a gallery of film stills from “Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun” on Flickr, you perverts.

Eurocomix Tattoo = COMPLETE!

My new tattoo is entirely relevant to your interests, insofar as you are interested in a) Eurocomix and b) my evolving excellence. I figured I’d share pictures of the completed work and answer a few questions before you had a chance to ask them:

  1. Yes it’s real, yes it hurt and yes I’m aware that it’s permanent 😉
  2. It took six hours’ total over three sessions (fine line work was completed on Monday after the outline and fill-in sessions healed).
  3. The artist is the incredibly talented and thoroughly wonderful Stephanie Tamez of New York Adorned.
  4. The panels come from various fumetti and artists represented include a LOT of Guido Crepax (including the lovely Valentina) and some Milo Manara (Jolanda, the lady pirate).
  5. I totally love working a day job that pays for an unending stream of weird DVDs and body art.

Click on any of the pictures too see a larger version, or go to the Flickr gallery and see the work in progress pics as well.

Fumetti Half Sleeve - Complete

Fumetti Half Sleeve - Complete

Fumetti Half Sleeve - Complete

Fumetti Half Sleeve - Complete

Fumetti Half Sleeve - Complete

Fumetti Half Sleeve - Complete

The Horrible Dr. Hichcock [1962]

London, 1885–it must be, because of the montage-tastic opener showing Big Ben striking midnight with the words “London, 1885” printed at the bottom of the screen. A gloved, caped figure opens the casket of a newly-deceased beauty, pausing before lowering itself into the coffin on top of the body. Aaaaand… SCENE. Moments later… The interior of a hidden room–funereal drapes and black walls set the scene while a nubile woman waits, breathless, for her husband to enter. Her husband–the distinguished Dr. Hichcock–fills a syringe with his powerful, experimental anesthetic. She offers her arm to him, he injects the serum, and she drifts into a death-like slumber. After a moment’s contemplation, he descends upon her inert body… Another night, a similar necrophillic game is in the offing, but an error has been made–the wife grasps her throat, choking, and expires. Overcome with grief at losing such a Uniquely Compliant Partner, the not-so-good doctor abandons his home (although, one wonders why he doesn’t just stay there with the corpse because–you know–when life gives you lemons, fuck your wife’s corpse).

Twelve years later, Dr. Hichcock returns with his very-much-alive bride Cynthia, played by the iconic Barbara Steele. Almost immediately, Strange Things soon begin to happen around them and Cynthia starts doubting her sanity.

La Steele, wandering around in the dark with a candelabra–that’s practically porn for some of you, isn’t it?

Such is the setup for “The Horrible Dr. Hichcock,” a 1962 Italogothic shocker directed by Riccardo Freda. The necrophilia plot-line is approached without euphemizing–it’s darn clear that Dr. H is into that chillier, stillier flavor of female companionship and he’s shown pursuing such avenues of release with a wide-eyed CRAZYFACE throughout the film. His descent into madness as he begins to see apparitions of his beloved dead wife is portrayed with the sort of reeling, mugging literality that befits a melodrama of this variety.

I’m torn on how to approach this movie. I’d seen this a number of years ago and dismissed it at the time, so I wanted to return to it with a fresh eye. I really wanted this to be an amazing example of creepy-kink cinema excellence, and perhaps if I had a better print I’d be more inclined towards generosity but… this movie never quite achieves the levels of greatness it should, given the subject matter and style. Instead, I’m left wanting to watch other, similar films that, while less audacious in their subject matter, are eerier and better-crafted examples of on-screen gothickry. There are hints of “Tomb of Ligeia,”* “Gaslight,” and “Rebecca,” but those similarities only serve to underscore where “Hichcock” could have gone oh-so-much-better.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the necrobathwater, though! There’s plenty of neat stuff in this movie to admire. The doctor’s post-mortem lusts are portrayed with very little punch-pulling–while you don’t get anything that approaches Buttgereitian excess, it’s made very clear exactly what is going through Dr. Hichcock’s brain. There’s a great scene where the doctor is staying late at the hospital and two morgue attendants pass by with a stretcher on which lies a sheeted body displaying Telltale Chestal Mounds. A rather corresponding rise seems to be elicited in the doc IYKWIM. As he contemplates the alluring corpse, all laid out and just begging to get necrodefiled, there’s a ghoulish red beam of light cast on the stretcher, enhancing the creepiness by a factor of ten.

Moving on to the small matter of the TOTALLY RIDICULOUS and therefore AWESOME dialogue… It’s in there, trust me. As Cynthia starts to crumble under the constant onslaught of weirdness, she flies to the hunkier, younger arms of her husband’s colleague, Dr. Kurt Lowe. They share such exchanges as the following, delivered with refreshing matter-of-factitude:

Cynthia: “Is Bernard normal?”
Kurt: “As much as any man of genius.”

He’s crazy because he’s BRILLIANT, honey–that’s how smart people roll. I plan on throwing out this explanation all the time, FYI.
But–you’re asking–is there a fabulously overwrought soundtrack set to match the Always-Electrical-Storming weather? Why–of COURSE there’s a fabulously overwrought soundtrack filled with crescendos and violin trills and aaaaaall that good stuff. How else would we know we were in a gothic melodrama without such aural assistance?
The movie fits-and-starts its way to its climax, which I found to be both confusing and disappointing. I won’t spoiler it, but suffice to say I had to watch it twice to see if it made any more sense on another go round–the verdict: NO. You better believe it ends with the house burning down, though! If Roger Corman taught us anything, it’s that “cleansing by fire” is the ONLY way to close a gothic flick.

Many thanks to Prof. Jack for the DVD to replace my lamentedly-lost VHS copy 🙂
*YES, “Tomb of Ligeia” gets a mention here, because a) Vincent Price and b) Vincent Price delivering an impassioned monologue comparing his brain to a cabbage. It’s good, people–totally underrated stuff.

Fiancee of Dracula [2002]

Jean Rollin is a director that elicits very strong opinions on either side of the Love-Hate continuum. I make no secret of my Rollin superfandom–his films have a painterly quality that I think is just gorgeous to watch, and the low budgets and lack of narrative sense don’t bother me in that context. The development of his personal visual vocabulary since 1968’s “Rape of the Vampire” has balanced consistency of vision with a willingness to explore and expand upon themes of tragic love, isolation, sexual fluidity and the supernatural. It’s difficult for me to dub Rollin’s work as “horror cinema,” as the horror elements seem to me to be a conduit for him to explore larger issues within the context of a dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, personal landscape.

So, why select 2002’s “FiancĂ©e of Dracula” as my inaugural Rollin movie review post? Well, there are a couple of reasons–Number The First, I feel the need to prove that I do, in fact, watch movies made after 1972, and Number The Second, I admire the fact that Rollin is still producing fascinating films this late in his career (unlike, say… Dario Argento).

“FiancĂ©e of Dracula” traces the story of a beautiful and mysterious woman who is being held captive (or is she…?) by an order of nuns who are slowly being driven mad by her proximity. Isabelle (played by alternately languid and mad-eyed beauty Cyrille Iste) has a psychic connection to Dracula, and his shadowy minions are conspiring to free her so she can become his bride. Simultaneously, an elderly hypnotist and his brash young assistant are attempting to track down these supernatural creatures, referred to as “Parallels,” and free Isabelle from her fate.

These Parallels include the dwarf Thibault, his lover the Vampire Woman, a creepy old couple, and the Ogress. The character of the Ogress is particularly poignant–by day, she is a madwoman, dancing carelessly at the foot of a crumbling tower. By night, however, she slinks around in a black nightgown and EATS BABIES. That’s right internet–hott Eurobabe baby-eating action. She just might be my ideal woman. *sigh* But yes–onto the poignancy aspect… All of the supernatural creatures in this film appear in a weakened state.

The dwarf is physically disadvantaged, the Ogress relies on others to bring her food as she slowly starves in a cave, and the Vampire Woman is portrayed not as a sentient creature, but as a beautiful sleepwalking corpse, driven by her unnatural thirsts and heedless to the dangers of sunlight.

Rollin veteran and all-around Eurotrash royalty Brigitte Lahaie appears as an elegant She-Wolf, summoned as a Master of Ceremonies for a ritual human sacrifice. I’m telling you, this lady is what Tracy Lords should have been–a former porn starlet who has parlayed a career in off-beat roles where she appears classy, mysterious and sensual. Brigitte, the Tenebrous Empire loves ya.

The madness of the nuns who are holding Isabelle captive is portrayed in an interesting, highly symbolic fashion. There are smoking nuns, a spastic nun with a stick-and-ball toy, and even a gypsy bellydancing nun! It’s noteworthy that these are images are a nod to the artwork of Clovis Trouille , and in fact, two of his paintings appear in the film. “Reve Claustral” is prominently displayed in the townhouse where the nuns live, and this painting (the name of which I’ll track down at some later date when I’m feelin’ Researchey) is given its own close-up.

Rollin’s signature imagery is present throughout, with the grandfather clock appearing on the Dieppe beach during the climactic scene. This type of self-reference might be cringe-worthy in the hands of a less personally-motivated director, but here it feels as if it’s linking this piece to Rollin’s existing body of work.

There are so many unexpected moments of beauty and magic in this movie that I could screen-cap and blather for much, much longer. The overall effect of watching this film is of nostalgia for a supernatural past that never existed but is slowly dissolving. It’s tragic to watch the fading monsters and know that the present day world is just outside of the universe of this film, threatening to erase this strange land.

Get a glimpse of the wonders of “Fiancee of Dracula” in the Flick gallery.

Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay [1971]

I find that exploitation movies are chock full of sound and excellent ideas. While women in prison movies may be hott and all, what with their promises of girl-on-girl grappling and miniskirted uniforms, I’ve always had a problem with… you know… that whole prison aspect. If only there was a way to remove the “prison” and keep the “girl-on-girl” stuff.

Leave it to France to improve upon the already-rad with director Bruno Gantillon’s 1971 offering “Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay.”

I’ll begin by saying BEWARE OF SPOILERS in this review, as much as one can be said to’ve “spoiled” a thirty-seven-year-old Sapphic softcore flick.
While it might not be the “lost classic” that the DVD extras claim this film to be, “Girl Slaves” is a beautiful film that telegraphs innocence and gentleness. The plot is simple–fairy queen Morgana le Fay lives in an isolated castle with her hand-picked bevy of beautiful nymphs (they’re not really slave girls–I prefer the original French title’s language) and is grooming a lovely young lass to be her extra-special concubine. There’s a hitch, of sorts, in that once a woman agrees to join Morgana’s sorority-harem, she has to live forever in untouched lesbian beauty.

Oh wait–that’s not actually a hitch! So… why does the Chosen Gal spend the entire movie resisting the allures of this COMPLETELY AMAZING life? Well, mainly so she can act shy and get “tricked” into kissing a bunch of girls before ultimately agreeing to Morgana’s offer. What a beautiful love story–this beats out ALL CHICK FLICKS EVER! Nobody gets married, has kids, or proclaims any values other than unbridled babe-on-babe sluttiness. Besides, I love a happy ending where magical naughtiness bests the powers of reason.

Gal pals Anna and Françoise are vacationing in the French countryside when they decide to stop in a remote village (as you do, if you wish to forward the plot). The village is sorta-inexplicably populated entirely by creepy old men, and the owner of the inn where the girls have a quick glass of mulled wine warns them not to stop there. Too late, pal! The lovely ladies have already been spotted by Morgana’s leering gnome henchman Gurth and pegged as potential Girl Slaves.

Before you can say “I’m shy but I feel really close to you,” the girls run out of gas and are forced–FORCED–to spend the night making out in a handy barn. Françoise wakes up the next morning to find herself alone. Handily, she is escorted through the woods by Gurth only to find herself on a magic boat to Sexy Results-Ville.

I’ll be honest with you guys–this is not a thrill-a-minute titillator of a film. It’s French, and as such it feels French and looks French. It’s languorously-paced but absolutely gorgeous with a visual softness that underscores the femininity of the cast members (even Gurth sports eyeliner that would make Peter Murphy weep bloody tears of envy). The movie is a fantasy-land of gauze, furs, and weathered surfaces. Oh–and gorgeous Eurobabes. Many, many gorgeous Eurobabes.

Let’s back up for a moment and reflect on the AWESOMENESS that is Gurth. Played by actor Alfred Baillou with lotsa mugging and contorting zeal, Gurth is one of the most sexually-frustrated little people in cinema history, making Hans from “Freaks” look like Dolemite. He’s way hung up on Morgana, but she’s not buying what he’s selling IYKWIMAITYD. He spends his days issuing threatening soliloquies to his mirror and ordering Morgana’s girls to make out in front of him. Maybe I’m too benevolent a ruler, but I’d at least hook Gurn up with a little-person wifey or two to take the edge off. He’s not such a bad guy underneath all the leering and pantaloons and stuff.

Morgana and her girls spend much of their time administering makeovers, drinking colorful booze, smoking exotic things, and making out, which makes Françoise’s repeated refusals to sign onto this lifestyle all the more perplexing. If she doesn’t sign on, she’s consigned to grow old and die. I mean, there’s not even the American subtext of being skeered of girltouching–she’s made her Desire For Said pretty damn clear at the beginning of the movie. It’s refreshing that, after escaping from Morgana’s clutches by stealing a magic necklace and negligee, Françoise wises the fuck up and–much as if Dorothy clicked her ruby slippers and chanted “there’s noplace like Lesbos”–summons Morgana who whisks her away to the land of diaphanous-gowned slumber parties and body shots.

Yeah, I’m doing the Happy Dance too, girls.

Enjoy a Flickr gallery of stills from “Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay.”

Panic Beats [1983]

This is a difficult little number for me to write up. Most Naschyflicks are impossible to “spoil” since they’re essentially a hodgepodge of easily recognizable horror cliches, but “Panic Beats” is a different animal. I had the good fortune to come to this movie as a blank slate and I’ll do you that same favor, my darling internet friends. Suffice to say, it’s a twisty little thriller that balances flesh-and-blood intrigue with the supernatural and works its way through to a satisfying ending. Also–bonus points for reviving my beloved uber-baddie Alaric de Marnac from “Horror Rises from the Tomb.” Naschy brings his expected degree of bravado to the proceedings, and there’s some priceless dialogue relating to how the at-the-time fifty-year-old is incredibly handsome and well-preserved. His co-starlet Paquita Ondiviela is extremely easy on the eyes and brings a vixenish menace to her role as reform school refugee Julie.

If you’re still not convinced, just check out the DVD box art from the Mondo Macabro release. What is there not to love? Enjoy ninety minutes of creepy, gothic-flavored escapism and queue up a copy of “Panic Beats.” I doubt you’ll be disappointed.