Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll [1973]

Time has cast a golden glow on the memories of my tenure as a video store manager. At the time, I’m fairly certain I was on the verge of embarking on a tri-state killing spree (NJ, NY and PA, if you must know), but in hindsight, it was pretty cool to work a job that included such perks as “unlimited free porn rentals” and where the only cast-in-stone dictate from upper management was “stop sitting on the counters while the store is open.” As the store’s official “Horror Expert” (yes, we had to designate areas of expertise on our nametags–the same nametags on which my colleague was not allowed to abbreviate his title to Ass. Man.), I felt it was my Professional Duty to rent every horror-related title in the store. This makes it all the more upsetting that the VHS of one of my favorite titles, “House of Psychotic Women,” wound up getting broken before I ever had a chance to see it. At the time, I felt that the mysteries contained in that box, with its lurid depiction of two be-night-gowned ladies torturing a shackled, screaming man, would never be revealed to me. All that I knew was that this movie had to be awesome.

Imagine my unearthly delight upon learning that there was a recent DVD reissue of this film by the marvy folks at Deimos! And that this movie whose title I had so admired starred none other than that most recent inductee into my Idols List, Paul Naschy! It was to swoon when a copy of “Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll” appeared in the Tenebrous Mailbox.

The Vicar of VHS, Grand Vizier of the Tenebrous Empire and Official Paul Naschy Scientist, has stated that even bad Paul Naschy is still damn entertaining, and I’m inclined to agree with him. While “Blue Eyes” doesn’t have the same wild-and-wooly, kitchen sink approach of my favorite films from the Naschy canon, it’s still an entertaining thriller that’s dominated by its star’s charisma and commitment to his character.

The film tells the story of Gilles, an ex-con who is looking for a fresh start in the French countryside, who is hired to do odd (read: manly and frequently shirtless) jobs at the estate of three eccentric sisters. And by “eccentric,” I mean “krazee.” Sis Claude, whose hand has been maimed in an accident, picks Gilles up on the side of the road (as you do), and immediately upon his arrival at the Chateau, nymphomaniac sis Nicole is all over the beefy new handyman. Add in wheelchair-bound Ivette (whose mysterious-accident-related condition may or may not be psychosomatic), and our man Gilles is smelling easy prey all over the place. Nicole gets all seducey on Gilles, who takes her for a (very) brief tumble, after which he details the merits of her sisters. Note to all men: Never do this. Seriously. Add in the semi-sketchy new nurse who is taking care of Ivette and PRESTO–the chateau is a simmering cauldron of repressed lust.

Things take a turn for the darker when blonde-haired, blue-eyed ladies begin showing up murdered and disoculated. Gilles has a series of flashbacks (portrayed in what look to be interpretive dance scenes on a blank, red-lit stage) and it becomes clear that there are skeletons in this pectorally-impressive he-man’s closet. Since handymen are known for their murderous tendencies, Gilles and the sisters’ former handyman Jean are quickly ID’ed as prime suspects.

In the mean time, Gilles has taken the opportunity to fall in love with Claude and in what’s actually kind of a sweet love scene, he shows her that her hand makes her no less of a woman in his eyes (IYKWIMAITYD).

The pacing of the movie is pretty snappy, with the final reveal of the killer coming as a genuine surprise and ending on a genuinely creepy note. This isn’t fresh, new territory, but the material is handled very well by director Carlos Aured and each cast member puts in a creditable performance.

One of the things I enjoy about Naschy’s movies is that his leading ladies are never cookie-cutter babes–make no mistake that these women are beautiful, but they’re frequently mature and have unusual features. Eva León’s Nicole is a smokin’-hott Eurobabe, while there’s a certain delicate vulnerability to Maria Perschy’s Ivette, and Diana Lorys’ portrayal of Claude’s sexual awakening is compelling.
Interiors range from the eye-gouging battling patterns as shown above to subtly-handled black-background shots. There’s an effective use of this matte-background technique during intense scenes (particularly during love scenes and murders), and the high-contrast lighting during the murder sequences is pure shuddery, old-school, black-and-white creature feature stuff. Heartily APPROVED by this reviewer!

In a way, I’m glad it took me this long to get into “the House of Psychotic Women,” since it’s not the rip-roaring exploitorama that the VHS cover had led me to believe. Its alternate title, “Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll,” is far more evocative of the actual contents of the film, even if it would’ve made for a much poorer name for my dorm room in art school.

Visit the House of Psychotic Film Stills from “Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll” on Flickr.

ETA: Enjoy Arbogast’s musings on youth and salad bars as they relate to the opening sequence of “Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll.” I know I did, and I’m pretty clued in with regards to enjoyable stuff 🙂

Series 3 of Art Cards

It’s time to share my most recent round of wee portraits (they’re baseball-card sized, to give you an idea of scale). I can rest assured that these are in the hands of their respective owners. Click the image to see more sizes as well as the gory details of what I got in trade for these babies.

Brigitte Lahaie

Paul Naschy's CRAZYFACE

Christopher Lee


Sylvia Kristel

King Diamond

Thank yous, as always, go out to my incredibly generous and for sending a plentitude of swap goodies to me! Also, thank you all for your patience. I am many things, but “timely” doesn’t appear to be one of them 🙂

Series 4 starts… I dunno when. Sometime well after October (I’ve got a Very Important Zero Ending Birthday coming up and then it’s right on to the most important holiday of the year). Trades shall be Taken Under Consideration!

Coulda-Beens That Just Weren’t – The Dud Report

Weird doesn’t always equal wonderful, and one needs to run the risk of spending ninety minutes on a dud in order to uncover a gem. I’ve seen a bunch of movies over the past several weeks that don’t necessarily warrant a full-fledged write-up, but which are relevant enough to the interests of the Empire to merit mention here. Of course, I’ll disclaimer this by stating that your mileage may vary, and I’m hardly the arbiter of good taste!

Tinto Brass’ “Senso 45” [2002] is notable largely for not being nearly as cool as his previous foray into the sex lives of the Third Reich, “Salon Kitty.” Much as that other film is a paragon of high-budget smut, “Senso 45” boils down to a Harlequin romance between a middle-aged woman and a low-level drug dealer all gussied up in fancy historical outfits. Make no mistake–the trappings of this film were lush and extremely well-realized. If I was in the mood to watch a fashion show set in fascist Venice, I’d have been in the right place! However, the human population of the film was more problematic. The Isabella Rossellini-esque female lead (Anna Galiena as bourgeois wife Livia Mazzoni) was lovely and put in an engaging performance, but the male lead was a disaster. Dear Tinto: a peroxided, overly-manscaped Billy Zane impersonator is no substitute for Helmut Berger. Really. The character of SS Officer Helmut Schultz (played by Gabriel Garko) is instantly unlikeable and–worse yet–slimily unsexy, thus making Livia’s obsession with him incredibly difficult to understand. The plot seems to hinge on the fact that Livia is forty-one years old but… dude–she’s hott. Also, every man in the film is in some fashion sexually interested in her, so I’m just not understanding her need to pay to keep a sleazy, disinterested, Metrosexual Nazi as a side piece. Sweeping romance, this ain’t, and by the time Livia’s sexual house of cards comes crashing down on her, I was exhausted from imploring her to USE HER BRAIN.

“Amazons and Supermen” is another movie that should have been quarter-past-fantastic but just fizzled for me. I mean–I like Amazons, and I like the idea of a magician, a strongman and a martial arts expert working as a team together but the comedy was just way too broad for this Ice Person’s brain to handle. I’d caught the trailer on a Something Weird compilation several moons ago, and when I saw a DVD of this film I couldn’t NOT pick it up. I really should’ve known better–the slide-whistle and El Kabong sound effects present in the trailer are sprinkled–nay, splattered all over the film. It’s not so much a kung-fu peplum (as I’d kinda hoped-against-hope for, what with the Shaw Brothers involvement) as it is a zany, lowbrow comedy with copious empty-coconut headbutting and pidgin English. Why is it that I love dark lowbrow entertainment, and yet I get the douche-chills when I’m exposed to lowbrow comedy? It seems unfair. And likely indicative of some pathologically dangerous streak in my personality… Yet I digress. Why don’t you just enjoy the trailer for “Amazons vs. Supermen” and skip the other eighty-eight minutes of film?

I found “Deathwatch” to be a grim and ultimately confusing foray into the trenches of WWI. I appreciate the fact that the sets and costuming were painstakingly crafted, but astonishingly accurate mud is still mud. Maybe I’m a sensitive soul, but I also find it really, really easy to believe that War Is In Fact Hell, and don’t need to have my face ground into this theory for ninety minutes. Watching the deteriorating relationship between the group of soldiers that is trapped in a trench with an unseen, probably-supernatural enemy was unrelentingly depressing. I appreciate the actors’ performances (all of which were very fine!) and the skill with which the story was directed and filmed, but there was no sense of fun or wonder to be found. Essentially, this was a war film with supernatural elements, exploring man’s inhumanity to man by employing a supernatural metaphor.

Blind Beast [1969]

The concept of romance is approached differently by different cultures. In the West, we keep returning to Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed teens whose families unwittingly conspired to seal their death warrants. That’s pretty creepy and dysfunctional when you get right down to it, yet miles of film have been unspooled and gallons of ink have been spilled in retelling this story against various backdrops.

The tale of Romeo and Juliet has got nothing on the Sada Abe story, though. Japan’s answer to the sweeping-yet-tragic romance contains 100% more prostitution and castration. In 1936, prostitute Sada Abe killed her lover Kichizo Ishida during an episode of erotic asphyxiation and removed his genitals, carrying them with her until her capture three days later. This ghoulish incident embodies themes of ultimate sacrifice and destructive sensuality that carry over throughout Japanese cinema, with “In the Realm of the Senses” being the most famous adaptation of the case. Yasuzo Masumura’s 1969 art-shocker “Blind Beast” was most certainly touched by the Sada Abe legacy.

A spare, strange film, “Blind Beast” tells the story of a blind sculptor whose quest to find the perfect model to embody his “art of touching” leads him to commit an escalating series of crimes. Living alone with his mother in an isolated warehouse, Michio kidnaps a young model, Aki, who has been featured in a controversial series of nude photographs. Declaring her to be the ideal subject for his artwork, he keeps her trapped in his studio, a psychedelic nightmare of female anatomy in which disembodied limbs populate the walls and the floor consists of two enormous, headless female figures. This story doesn’t exist in any world of logic–let’s face it, if it did, Aki would’ve easily beat up Michio’s elderly mom and escaped within the first five minutes of her captivity. Instead, Aki’s repeated escape attempts are foiled, and through some sort of oddball Stockholm Syndrome, she bends under the force of Michio’s desire, leading the couple to sightlessly explore their escalating sensual fixations. The film is almost bloodless but the events depicted onscreen have the power to disturb and the residual effect of the film lasts long after the last frame.

Only the first 10 minutes of film, inclusive of credits, take place outside of Michio’s warehouse The remaining hour and fourteen minutes of movie take place in two interiors within Michio’s warehouse (the studio and a bedraggled living space). Only three characters populate the landscape of the story–Michio, Aki and Michio’s mother. Musical accompaniment exists in the form of a haunting harpsichord & cello piece that is still giving me the shudders two days after watching the movie. I was reminded a bit of the piano soundtrack to “Nekromantik” (which just might top the list of Movies That Upset The Living Hell Out Of Me”)–the understated background music emphasizes the unnerving events that unfold.
The structure of “Blind Beast” is like a stage play–movement between one set and the next is handled in such a way as to underscore the inevitability of the disturbing climax. These characters are pushed from one place to another in a claustrophobic setting, unable and perhaps unwilling to alter their courses. The events set in motion by Michio’s obesession alter the lives of these three characters and once the warehouse doors shut, their fate is likewise sealed.
I’m content to say this is not a movie for everyone–hell, I’m not convinced it’s a movie for me. It’s an unflinching exploration of dark corners of sexuality that walks the tightrope between art and exploitation. Grotesque without being gauche, “Blind Beast” serves as a counterpoint to much of the gaudy, extreme Japanese cinema that’s gained popularity over the past several years.

Tombs of the Blind Dead [1971]

Back in the last century, before I became the Iron-Fisted Despot I am today, when the guy I was dating was hoarding giant bags of rice in order to survive the impending Y2K crisis, and I couldn’t even drink legally, I was given the Righteous Task of writing an article for the first issue of Ultra Violent Magazine on the films of Spanish director Amando de Ossorio. I enjoyed the films well enough at the time, and have revisited them in the intervening years, acquiring the TOTALLY EXCELLENT Blue Underground coffin-shaped box set as a gift from Baron XIII (Official Tenebrous Domestic Partner). It was with the kind of warm fuzzies that accompany a meal composed entirely of comfort food that I sat down to re-watch the first entry into De Ossorio’s Blind Dead series, “Tombs of the Blind Dead.”

“Tombs”–bluntly put–is Fucking Awesome. The monsters are grade-A creepy–undead Knights Templar who prowl the ruins of an Iberian town seeking the blood of those mortals foolish enough to wander near their resting place. Everything is just SO RIGHT about these medieval zombies. Their bearded, skeletal faces; their mouldering robes; their silent, shuffling pursuit of victims; all are genuinely unsettling and every frame in which they appear is horror cinema gold. The slo-mo scenes of the Templars riding through the ruins on zombie horses are enough to give make this writer quiver. Add in some eerie background music that evokes the Gregorian Chants of the Damned, and I’m in the throes of an intense nerdgasm. Honestly, I find the Templars to be rad enough that I kinda don’t care about the storyline. More excuses for showing more monsters = more better.

The plot of this first part of the series isn’t too shabby and is filled with enough pervy little details (as well as an “OMFG SO GOOD!” ending that I won’t spoil for you) to serve as a creditable frame to allow the Templars to do their evil thang. Former boarding school roommates Beth and Virginia are vacationing at a Portuguese resort and decide to take a venture into the countryside with fellow traveler Roger. Cue the sexual tension when it’s revealed that Beth and Virginia are former lovers, and Roger is playing the field in a rather oily fashion, moving his romantic intent from Virginia to Beth. Sick of the shenanigans, Virginia parts ways with her pals (granted, there might’ve been less dramatic ways to do it than jumping from a moving train) and finds her way to a ruined medieval town. Displaying the fact that she’s either one tough cookie or a hopeless dimwit, Virginia spends the night in the town and becomes the film’s first Templar-related casualty. Beth and Roger then attempt to track down their friend and come across a series of colorful characters including hard-boiled police inspectors, a scholarly expert on the Templars, and a band of theives. Naturally, they find their way to Templarville for a little more body-count-upping hottness, leading up to the as-mentioned “OMFG SO GOOD!” ending.

The characters in this film are a messed-up bunch indeed. Beth is flirtatious and saucy, but is ultimately revealed to be frigid towards men; Virginia is a shy, sulky lass; Roger covers every scene he’s in with a thin coating of slime. There’s a morgue attendant whose hobbies include teasing animals and shocking next of kin with dramatic reveals of corpses. Of course, no movie would be complete without a hard-hearted, jealousy-prone hooker and a rapey smuggler to round out the party!

Now let’s take a moment to linger on some of the wonderful details of the film. After she is drained of blood by the Templars, Virginia rises from her morgue slab as a zombie. And what a creepy-cool zombie she is! Clad only in the gauziest of wrappings, her autopsy scars are in full effect as she prowls the night looking for victims. Did I mention that Virginia works as a mannequin-maker? Well–she does! As you might suspect, a mannequin workshop makes for a shudder-inducing setting, and De Ossorio amps up the creepiness factor with atmospheric lighting and a real sense of isolation and dread. In fact, every shock scene in the movie is characterized by this sense isolation–ominous quiet takes the place of big-bang terror and provides the movie with much of its unique flavor.

I’ll confess, this most recent rewatch of “TotBD” reminded me that I kinda love the Virgina-Beth hookup flashback sequence. It’s uncharacteristically adorable in the otherwise bleak and mean-spirited world of the film. The girls are in their nightgowns, preparing for bed, as Virginia dreams about being a blushing bride someday. Beth, seizing the opportunity in a truly admirable fashion that I may or may not have jotted into a notebook for future use, tucks her hair under her nose to look like a moustache and dances with Virginia. It’s all fun and games until–BAM!–Beth goes in for the smooch, and before you can say “no, I’m too shy,” the camera is panning away from their prone, lip-locked forms. Niiiiice!

Wait a minute–what are you still doing here? You should be watching “Tombs of the Blind Dead,” not listening to me prattle on about girl-kissing. Go forth and watch, or re-watch and enjoy, dammit!

Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks [1975]

I’m of the firm belief that “Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S.” would’ve been vastly improved had it contained any sense of humor. Part of that film’s notoriety stems from the fact that it’s played straight and winds up being a truly vicious bit of business as a result. “Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks” takes the “She Wolf” recipe of imprisonment, torture and ginormous boobs and injects some much-needed levity into the proceedings. The resulting film is a marvelously un-PC grindhouse guilty pleasure.

Please forgive me in advance for the spoilerier-than-usual write up, but my glee at this particular piece of trash cinema cannot be contained.

Dyanne Thorne reprises her role as the Teutonic heavy Ilsa, a sadistic and frigid torturess. Events seem to have been moved to the contemporary time frame and no explanation is given for Ilsa’s apparent resurrection from the dead, to make no mention of her impressive state of preservation. Her Nazi nasties are replaced by Satin and Velvet, a pair of kickass African glamazons who are frequently oiled and topless. How kickass are her new henchgirls, you may ask? Well, wrestling-a-soldier-and-castrating-him-with-their-bare-hands kickass. How about THAT! Bonus points for their scantily-clad lesbonic dance number later in the film. I’ll go out on a limb here and declare Satin and Velvet to be a vast improvement over the Dykes of the Reich from “She Wolf.”

Women are kidnapped and shipped via crates (nude except for kinda-adorable heart-shaped chastity belts) to become members of the harem of the power-mad and Tim-Curry-esque El Sharif, leader of a small but oil-rich patch of land in the Middle East. As the title of this film so deftly reveals, Ilsa is in charge of the sheik’s girl slaves, training them to please him and keeping them in line through the judicious–wait, no, scratch that–completely over-the-top application of torture and murder. Ilsa trains the girls for their erotic encounters with El Sharif largely by oiling them and forcing them to perform sex acts on Satin and Velvet. Allow me a brief sidebar–I suspect El Sharif might be motivated by what I’ll delicately dub Short Man’s Issues. El Sharif (played by Jerry Delony, also notable as Dr. Cock-Luv in “Sex Slaves of the S.S.”–no, really) has got to be about five-foot-two. In scenes where he stands next to Ilsa, he appears to be a good three inches shorter than she. Perhaps Ms. Thorne, who is a petite creature, was standing on a box during her scenes opposite Mr. Delony? It’s a thought-provoking mystery (at least in my brain, it is).

The uber-buxom Ms. Thorne is joined by Russ Meyer starlets Uschi Digard (credited as Elke Von and playing a kidnapped cinema sex symbol) and Haji (credited as Haji Cat and playing a duplicitous bellydancer) for a True Titty Trinity. You can fault El Sharif for his evil methods, but not for his taste in women–this makes me want to run a small, wealthy country just so I can capture Meyerettes for my own evil pleasures.

The first forty minutes or so of the movie intercut scenes of dastardly and frequently-nude doings at the palace of El Sharif with a conversation taking place between an American ambassador and his military escort inside of a hella-groovy private plane. The Americans are on their way to meet with El Sharif to negotiate something or other involving oil that we don’t really care much about because we kinda want to see more girl-slave-related action. Dr. Kaiser, the American ambassador, is clearly modeled after Henry Kissinger, complete with dark eyeglass frames and kooky Mitteleuropa accent. He is joined on his junket by Commander Adam Scott (played by Max Thayer), who is… clearly dubbed. Sidebar: I can understand picking an actor to play a role because he’s just so gobsmackingly good-looking but can’t speak a sensibly-articulated word, but let’s face it–Mr. Thayer is a fairly goofy-looking fellow with questionable posture. I’m sure someone equally attractive who didn’t require dubbing could have been cast in this role.

Make no mistake–this is not a film marked by elegant acting or… really, elegant anything. Ilsa’s accent appears, transmutes and disappears from one scene to another. When she introduces herself to the latest winners of the “Join El Sharif’s Harem” Lottery, she’s “Eeeelza,” replacing her W’s with V’s and every bit the Germanic bitch goddess. Moments later, during a scene in which Satin and Velvet beat the stuffing out of a wrong-doer, she’s been schooled at Oxford. Later still during a sex scene, she’s a breathy American pussycat.

Moving back to the ACTION at hand… the women who fail to live up to El Sharif’s exacting standards are sent to the slave market. This is all part of an ingenious plan to distract attention from El Sharif’s excesses. Because, you know, there’s no better way to cover up your appetite for girl-slavery and torture than by selling your rejects to some random dude.
Cue the slave-market-prep torture montage! Some women are force-fed to fatten them up and make them more appealing to Discerning Gentlemen while others are given surgical alterations (including a perplexing ass-inflation-via-syringe) to add to their market value. The “Someone, Somewhere Is Wanking” rule is in full effect during this collection of scenes.
At this point, I feel it’s prudent to mention that I don’t think there’s an actual Middle Easterner to be found anywhere in the film. California hippies are given scarves and harem pants while the casting director crosses his fingers and prays for the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Dear filmmakers: Turban ≠ Insta-Arab. Adding copious amounts of bronzer doesn’t help either.
What it lacks in ethnic verisimilitude, the film makes up for in bellydancing. One of the bellydancers (played by Haji) is working with the Americans to spy on El Sharif and see if he’s doing anything particularly naughty in order to give them a negotiating point (*coff* blackmail *coff*) to get to his oil. Of course her espionage is uncovered leading to–you guessed correctly! More torture! Boob squashing, flesh-eating ants, disoculation and finally death by Girl Bomb. Ilsa has developed an explosive that is employed in her uniquely she-wolf style–plastique is inserted into the Nether Regions of an unfortunate lass that will produce a Big Boom at the Height Of The Man’s Passion. I’m cringing over here!

Of course, Ilsa winds up falling head-over-heels for Commander Adam and even dons THE MOST AMAZING CATSUIT EVER in order to catch his eye during El Sharif’s welcome banquet. Seriously–look at that outfit. THIS is what’s called “making an entry”–girlfriend even accessorizes using greyhounds. Dyanne Thorne, I love you. Seriously. You can hideously abuse me anytime.

Everybody gets it on after the banquet–El-Sharif and one of his girl-slaves (who looks not-unlike Laura Gemser of “Black Emanuelle” fame), Adam and Ilsa, and–get this–Kaiser and a boy slave. There’s an awkwardly hilarious exchange between this last pair as the boy slave explains to Kaiser that he’ll be killed if he doesn’t please him (IYKWIMAITYD). Kaiser submits in overwrought Catskills-comedian style. I can’t help but think that the Adam-Ilsa scene is Done Wrong, as she remains fully clothed while his nude booty grinds on top of her. Yikes…

Ilsa begins to fall in love with Adam and El-Sharif freaks out, exacting vengeance by letting a hunchback molest her (FWIW, Adam’s posture is better than the hunchback’s). El Sharif tries to kill Adam with a tarantula (Doing It Wrong again), but Ilsa saves him. Cue the harem-girl uprising led by Ilsa, Satin and Velvet. Boobies bounce and bullets fly as the girls overthrow El Sharif’s apparently-totally-ineffectual standing army.
In an AMAZING bit of plot twistery, it turns out that El Sharif was imprisoning the rightful heir to the throne, who happens to be a nine-year-old kid. The sheikdom–Mikey likes it! [Can you imagine being a nine-year-old on the set of this movie? Hello, Child Protective Services!] Of course, no Ilsa film is complete without the bra-busting bitch getting her comeuppance, and in a moment of what I guess is supposed to be poetic justice, Ilsa is imprisoned in the same subterranean cell that had until-recently contained the heir to the throne. Now, uhm, I dunno about you all, but I’m thinking that installing a nine-year-old who grew up in a pit to the throne of an oil-rich country surrounded by ravenous rivals might not be the best course of action, politically speaking, but this film seems to think that’s the upbeat ending.
WAIT–I have a new, beautiful dream! I shall make “Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks Two: Caligular Boogaloo!” It’s a project destined for awesomeness.

Music That’s Relevant to Your Interests

Interfriends, in an effort to keep things fresh here in the Tenebrous Empire, I bring you a gift of music. Exploitation entertainment is about more than just visual works. There’s a whole world of weird music out there just begging to be explored.

On the electro tip, Dirty Sanchez’s “Rich Italian Satanists” is the best song about wealthy European devil worshippers you’ll hear today, by the my favorite band named after a vile sex act:

Check out Schaffer the Darklord’s “Attack of the Clonefucker”–tis a lousy video, but you can visit his MySpace and listen to an MP3 of what I’m going to promise is the best song about fucking one’s clones you’ll hear today:

Perhaps you prefer ridiculous costumes and heavy metal? in that case, Death SS is the best band with a member dressed as a mummy that you’ll listen to today:

ETA: If you’d like to pledge your allegiance to the Tenebrous Empire, please take a peek to your right and… yes, down a little… right there. You’ll see the Followers gadget. You like to keep appraised of goings-on here, don’t you? You like keeping me happy, yes? Aber natürlich…! Click it, use it, put a smile on my face, won’t you?

Rojo Sangre [2004]

“Rojo Sangre,” a 2004 Paul Naschy vehicle that’s part “Theatre of Blood,” part “Faust” and all new-breed horror style, is way, way, WAY better than it has any right to be. Paul Naschy is absolutely in love with classic horror conventions and I’ll admit that I was a little concerned to see how his old-school enthusiasm would translate to a flashy, post-Rob-Zombie-and-Eli-Roth mode of filmmaking. Fifteen minutes into the film, I was thoroughly won over–better-than-average acting, thoughtful filmmaking and a creepy-fun plot combine to make this a fabulous way to spend ninety minutes of movie-time.

Even the credits sequence is beautifully realized–photos of Naschy in his many roles are shown in slide frames that click into place while music plays in the background. It’s clear that director Christian Molina is memorializing Paul Naschy’s legacy and linking him directly to Pablo Thevenet, the character Naschy will play in the film.
Pablo Thevenet is a down-on-his-luck actor who refuses to believe his career is over in spite of the contempt he is shown by the current crop of filmmakers. In the first frames, Pablo discusses his practice of putting mice in condoms for anal sex play–is he mad, or is he merely trying to elicit a reaction from the man with whom he’s conversing? Naschy’s deadpan delivery lends the exchange an air of black comedy that sets the tone for everything that will transpire in the plot. The smirk behind the gruesomeness could be aggravating, but it’s handled pitch-perfectly throughout and never descends into hipsteresque self-consciousness.
Because any plot needs its motivation, Pablo is rejected–harshly–at his audition in spite of throwing himself into his reading. His disappointment is palpable, and when he returns to his agent’s office only to be told that the only opportunity that’s come in for him is as a doorman at the Pandora Club (a Gentleman’s Establishment IYKWIM) he’s crestfallen. When his agent summarily refuses to work with him anymore, the viewer is crestfallen right along with Pablo.
At this point in the film, I’ve got to note that the performances are excellent. Naschy sinks his teeth into the role and works the hell out of every scene he’s in–it’s wonderful to watch. There’s a real bitterness underlying Naschy’s performance, as if this is his statement on the industry and the way it throws away yesterday’s stars.
Out of work and beginning to despair, Pablo decides to go to the Pandora Club to learn more about the opportunity. Club manager Dora Grizzel (played by Bibiana Fernández, a transsexual model, actress and singer who has worked with director Pedro Almodóvar) soothes Pablo’s wounded ego by making a point of talking about how wonderful his work is. If her exotic appearance and deep speaking voice weren’t enough to signal that the Pandora Club is not the ordinary strip joint, the Seven Deadly Sins nudie tableaux acted out every night would seal the deal. The nightclub is a fantasy of red drapes, black-tie clientele and model-beautiful dancers.

“Seriously, it’s a sword cane. You can’t say no to that.”
Dora takes Pablo to meet the club owner who explains the job: every night, Pablo must mime a different villain from the past including such dark luminaries as Gilles de Rais, Ivan the Terrible, and Jack the Ripper. It’s certainly beneath Pablo’s talents, but when offered a very generous sum of 10,000 Euros a week, he is powerless to say no. Even after the club owner, Mr. Reficul (whose office has Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” prominently displayed) asks him to sign a contract that is partially written in Hebrew. A hint? Perhaps something is amiss? UNPOSSIBLE. Pablo is paid handsomely AND given a sword cane. I don’t know about you, but I’d sign on the dotted line without thinking too hard about my boss’s last name at that point. “Sure, Dr. Acula–when can I start?” At any rate…
As if spurred by forces beyond his control (hmmmmm…), Pablo begins to act out his rage against the movie-industry figures who have rejected him. In fact, he acts it out violently, bloodily, and sometimes in historical-villain character. One set-piece murder has Pablo wearing his Gilles de Rais costume, clearly meant to evoke the Alaric de Marnac character Naschy played in “Horror Rises from the Tomb” and “Panic Beats.” Pablo’s victims are the over-publicized and under-moralized young film-world players who are marked more by flash and scandal than by any type of talent. They are shown sleeping around in order to gain power while barely remembering their lines on set. By the time Pablo gives it to ’em, we’re rooting for their grisly demise.
The Naschinator hasn’t lost his touch with the ladies–he manages to make time with Asiatic beauty and fellow Pandora Club employee Tick-Tock. He might be approaching Septuagenarian Status at the time of filming, but that doesn’t mean he’s any easier to resist. Granted, the man is a charmer on-screen, making this odd pairing a little easier to digest.
Soon after he begins his murder spree, Pablo is approached by Herr Fuchs, a totally evil businessman who is badass for a number of reasons (his excellent red glass monocle and ownership of his own cemetery being but two of them). Fuchs hires Pablo to direct snuff films for him, channeling his rage into a product Fuchs feels will be a hit on the hardcore pervert market. One of the more disturbing scenes in the film has Pablo directing one of Fuchs’ snuff films while the producer and his companions leer in the background.
Apparently the contract he signed with Mr. Reficul has a wicked non-compete clause, because as soon as Pablo starts working with Fuchs, things take a turn for the even-worse. It’s only after Tick-Tock slips Pablo Mr. Reficul’s laptop password (seriously, it’s hard to find good help) that he discovers the evil truth behind the Pandora Club. Trust me, you’ll have figured it out, too, but the movie is just such nasty fun that you’ll love rather than groan at this bit of hokiness.
Produced after the new-school horror hits “House of 1000 Corpses” and “Cabin Fever,” this movie uses similar breakneck editing and clever visual flourishes. “Rojo Sangre” is great to look at. Fantastic scene transitions make ingenious use of computer effects–there are lots of wipes, shots through windows opening into new scenes, and even one montage where overlays of champagne “pour” a new scene onto the screen. Herr Fuchs’ red monocle is put to literal use–some shots are filmed through a red gel to simulate his view. Perhaps the most impressive of these bravura sequences has the camera sinking below the ground of a cemetery to peer into the casket of one character. There’s a wonderful literality to these moments that should bring a smile to the most jaded genre fan’s face.
“Rojo Sangre” recognizes horror’s past while employing some of the visual style of the new breed of genre filmmakers. It’s a wonderful example of what young filmmakers can do to inject life into the genre and keep making interesting films based on tried-and-true stories.

Torso [1973]

Inspired by Arbogast’s recent post and enabled by a gracious gift from Absinthe of Gloomy Sunday, I dimmed the lights in the Apartment of Erotic Horror and curled up in front of “Torso” last night. What can I say except that this Italothriller stole my heart during the nudity-filled credits montage and held my interest right through to the unveiling of the murderer’s ridiculous motivation. Striking a balance between style and sleaze, this nasty bit of business delivers. I think my love for director Sergio Martino blossoms upon each exposure to his work.

Set in the picturesque squares and Renaissance halls of Perugia, Italy (known as a center of the arts), the film’s backdrops are steeped in history. Granted, this isn’t really capitalized on as in other gialli I’ve seen with similar settings (see “House with the Laughing Windows” for a movie that takes its countryside setting and runs with it), but it’s easy on the eyes and lends a visual texture to the proceedings.

Within the context of the plot, setting the film in this city makes sense–the main players are art students at a campus that is being terrorized by a “psychosexual” killer. After two of their friends are murdered, a group of girls takes a vacation at a countryside villa, but they are followed by the murderer. One of the things that sets this movie apart from other thrillers of its sort is the structure–there’s a Hard Left at the sixty-minute mark that turns the movie from a simple “body count” picture into a “home invasion” story arc. The tension mounts and there are some really great thrill moments leading up to the eventual unmasking of the killer.

In addition to the unexpected plot development, there’s a real misanthropy present in this film that coats everything on screen with a thin layer of ick. Virtually every character is a creep, a slut, an idiot or otherwise all messed up. Pegging the Final Girl is simple from the first frame in which she appears; identifying the killer is a tougher bit of business because, if this movie is to be believed, Italy is a country populated entirely by leering men. Every man is a suspect, regardless of age, profession, and social status. It’s quite a downbeat view on the male gender–almost Dworkinian, in fact! This review almost got the rapey half-mans-half-monkeys tag as a result of all the lip-smacking, goggle-eyed, mumbling, gropey dudes in this flick. From the untrustworthy, blackmailing scarf seller in the town square (really, what village would be complete without one?) to the art history professor love interest who has the Garfunkel all over him to the creepy, to the lecherous uncle who peers in on the girls as they bathe, every man is a exudes sliminess.

Moving on to the ladies–with the exception of the one Chaste And Pure Paragon Of Womanhood (and even she can’t help but give her pal a post-shower backrub), these are chicks cast in the Girls Gone Wild mold. Illicit smoking! Hanging out in mixed-gender company! Riding motorcycles! Reckless necking! Hott backseat action! Surely this is signing one’s death warrant in a stalk ‘n’ slash film.

You’re probably wondering at this point, “but what about the kickass set piece murders?” Oh, they’re here all right. I appreciate that this movie didn’t go in for the zany weaponry–this is an old-sk00l, knife-wielding, mask-wearing killer with black leather gloves. He’s almost omnisciently everywhere that his victims might be (this is never explained, but if he revealed his stalking secrets, his book would make him a millionaire). While the murders are quite sexualized, there’s no graphic rape–just some boob-touching and cutaways of stabbings. Still, these scenes feel lurid, perhaps because this movie is as much an ode to boobs as a Russ Meyer film–every shirt that can be opened, is opened.

I’m awarding this film bonus points for the inclusion of a hippie party, which kinda implies the participation of KILLER HIPPIES in the murder of one of the victims. The murder that follows is a really creepy, almost over-extended assault in the thick of a misty swamp. Violent hippies + eerie swamp = horror movie excellence. The coda to all this is a gory-yet-beautiful shot of blood seeping along the victim’s arm into the mud. Yikes!

The film has a strong theme of voyeurism–many shots are framed through open doors and windows. When the girls go to chateau, they just hang around skinny dipping and sunbathing (AS YOU DO), and much of the action is framed in such a way that the viewer is peering through curtains or branches. The effect is a bit uncomfortable! Of course, this viewer found herself shaking her tiny fist when the uber-hott lesbian kiss got cut off by the WORST PLACED NEWEL POST IN HISTORY.

All told, “Torso” is a ghoulish thriller with nice pacing and some unexpected twists to accompany its over-the-top moments of ridiculousness. Click here for the Flickr gallery of stills from “Torso.”