Women’s Prison Massacre [1983]

I always feel like I’m leaping onto a cinematic grenade when I watch a Bruno Mattei film. I know it’s going to be painful and gory but ultimately I will have done my fellow man (or at least my reading audience) a great good by saving them from having to live through the horrors that I will have endured. There’s no doubt that Mattei was a sleaze-lord of epic proportions. During the three decades of his filmmaking career, the man explored all the major facets of exploitation cinema, directing such cringe-classics as “The Other Hell” (nunsploitation), “KZ9 Extermination Camp” (which has the dubious honor of being THE most depressing nazisploitationer I’ve ever seen) and “Zombi 3.” Would it be feasible that a man who directed a film titled “Terminator II” (in 1990, before Arnie returned to the role) and even dredged the bottom of the Caligular barrel with “Caligula and Messalina” would leave the time-honored tradition of women in prison films untouched?

Unpossible.

Mattei’s “Women’s Prison Massacre,” an entry into the Black Emanuelle series and a follow-up to his own “Violence in a Women’s Prison,” is a wild piece of exploitation cinema, as oily as any WiP film but far less boring than most. Perhaps this is damning with faint praise, but this is the best Mattei film I’ve seen (although, admittedly, I have not seen “Cruel Jaws [aka ‘Jaws 5’]” and I might be surprised–but I doubt it).

“Women’s Prison Massacre” opens with Emanuelle (played by exotic beauty Laura Gemser) staging a conceptual theater piece with two fellow prisoners exposing the psychological pain of females behind bars. Prison bully Albina interrupts the performance–apparently there is a limited audience for feminist stage plays in prison–and a catfight ensues. It comes to light that Emanuelle has been wrongfully imprisoned because she threatened to publish an article exposing a District Attorney of his involvement in drug dealing. Emanuelle is reprimanded by the prison warden for her upstart ways and comes to learn that Albina is in cahoots with the prison management, serving as an informant-slash-enforcer. Water torture is very popular at this particular prison, along with the expected girl-on-girl wrestling.
The movie continues on the typical trajectory until about twenty minutes in, when a group of four male convicts is brought to the prison as a stop-over on their way to death row. It only takes a couple of dumb choices on the part of the prison warden and the sheriff for the inmates to take hostages and attempt their escape. Note to all wardens: DON’T unlock the handcuffs of the four crazed death-row killers. Just don’t. Better safe than sorry, you know? But yes–back to the escape attempt. Rather than make a run for it, the convicts decide to take advantage of the fact that they are locked in a women’s prison and set to raping (as you do). The convicts are absolute caricatures–they spend the majority of their screen time mugging and cackling and generally carrying on. Pierangelo Pozzato’s character “Blade” is particularly ridiculous–his performance elevates (plunges?) the film into surreal black comedy. These guys are more like vaudeville stooges than seasoned criminals! A litany of violent acts ensues–we’re treated to razor slashings, Russian Roulette, and good old-fashioned bitch-slappings as the story ramps up to its finale.
This is a very, very nasty movie, even for the WiP genre–most of its just-over-80-minute run time is taken up with violent, misanthropic action. There’s not a lot of talking, and what dialog exists mainly consists of cursing, snarling and ridiculous proclamations. By no means a good film, and in no way an artistic, well-crafted film, “Women’s Prison Massacre” is still undoubtedly a fine example of the twisted filth the right kind of demented mind can produce.

The Sister of Ursula [1978]

“The Sister of Ursula” is an unapologetically trashy entry into the giallo cycle that serves up a mixed bag of nudity, exploitation, and a killer who offs female victims with an oversized dildo. Lead actress Barbara Magnolfi’s portrayal of the troubled young Ursula is surprisingly nuanced in what is ultimately a cult-sleaze tossaway.

Dagmar (Stefania D’Amario) has brought her psychologically scarred sister Ursula to an Italian shore resort after their father’s death. Shortly after the women arrive at the hotel, a series of ghoulish murders begins, with women of loose morals turning up eviscerated (but only after each has engaged in a softcore sex scene).

The film is not one of the more stylish gialli, and substitutes plentiful nudity for the erotic chills and creepy S&M undertones of others of its genre. Frequent segues into “Skinemax” territory make this feel like an underacheiving Jess Franco film. The sex scenes are patently unerotic, with an emphasis on cringe-worthy humping and startlingly icky tongue-kissing. The inelegant camerawork during these scenes doesn’t help matters–it seems as if the cinematographer was as reluctant to focus on these goings-on as I was.

It’s hard to dismiss the movie entirely, however, largely due to Magnolfi’s on-screen presence. Known to Italo-horror fans as the witchy Olga in “Suspiria,” Magnolfi exudes a special kind of crazy girl sexiness in this film. She is clearly damaged goods from the opening scene, with her sulky demeanor and claims of psychic foreknowledge. Her facial expressions convey a deeply wounded psyche and her verbal outbursts are unpredictable and stormy. In a way, the film is more disappointing, seeing that the director was able to elicit a fine performance from Magnolfi and middling-at-best performances from the rest of the cast.

There are also moments of beauty elicited from the setting. Outdoor vistas such as a tracking crane shot of the exterior of the hotel where Dagmar and Ursula are staying show some promise, but sloppily outfitted interiors and some silly costume choices outweigh the better visual choices. A porn-pop soundtrack rounds out the effort, including a theme song “Eyes” which brings to mind unfortunate comparisons with the far superior “Eyes of Laura Mars,” also released in 1978.

View a full set of stills from “Sister of Ursula” on my Flickr account.

Cinema Wasteland, April 2008 – Post-Mortem

I have been to the Wasteland, and have returned intact! My first trip to Cinema Wasteland this past weekend was truly remarkable–I got to catch up with old friends, meet some new folks, work a table for the first time (no, that’s not a euphamism, internet), and get flogged by Dyanne Thorne.

Above: Team Ultra Violent Magazine Represents – photo by Don Edmonds (we look THIS GOOD on Sunday morning–scary, right?)

Convention highlights will be bulleted for ease of perusal:

  • Panels were well-run by Art of UV Magazine. I really enjoyed the “Ilsa” panel with stars Dyanne Thorne and Howard Maurer and director Don Edmonds. Edmonds has a real passion for movie-making that carries over to young filmmakers. He was incredibly encouraging to folks who spoke with him over the weekend regarding their own film efforts, and I give him a lot of props for being so supportive.
  • I got a photo of me being flogged by Dyanne Thorne! This evidence of my horrible abuse at the hands of “Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S.” will be forthcoming once I get it scanned in. Ms. Thorne is just about the sweetest, most fun human being you’d want to meet–I just adored her all to pieces. AND she liked my outfit. I endorse an Ilsa/Tenebrous Empress team-up.
  • Sadly, I missed the Jack Hill “Spider Baby” panel because I was being a dutiful employee of UVMag, but I *did* get to meet a man with FOUR tattoos dedicated to “Last House on Dead End Street.” Now *that*, meine freunde, defines “Special Needs.”
  • I got to see Juggaloes in their native habitat! As you might imagine, we’re light on Juggaloes in the New York City area, so this was something of rather anthropological import to me. Seriously, dudes, they had the jackets and the weird hair and everything. Fascinating.
  • On the “little bit scary” tip, there were Actual Skinheads at the convention as well. I had never seen a Skrewdriver t-shirt on an in-person human being until this past weekend. Yikes.
  • I saw Beer Pong in person for the first time, too. The second-floor hallway was co-opted into a Beer Pong arena on Saturday night. Saw someone get denied an opportunity to play beer pong because she was “too drunk.” Dude–who gets to decide a woman is “too drunk” for beer pong? I call shenanigans.
  • There were on-con-floor whiskey-drinking hijinks on Saturday, but I did not participate. Sorry to disappoint, but nothing good would have come of that! To the Guilty Parties, I have pictures of all of your WhiskeyFaces. Adventures in sobriety for the win.
  • Got to see most of “Green Slime” on the projection screen–it was a hoot! I agree with Ms. Joan Arkham who identified that the sexual tension was way stronger between the two male leads than between either of them and the Ursula Andress character. Also–bonus points for the groovy-ass soundtrack.
  • For those of you who doubted the veracity of the hobo documentary, you can BUY yourself a copy of “Murder on the Tracks” here. Do not doubt any of my future hobo-related nuggets of trivia, you bastards.
  • My own purchases for the weekend included a GIANT stack of DVDs (including the silent “Fantomas” serials and a couple of Turkish “Kilink” movies) and two lino-cut prints from an artist whose card I lost (DRAT). They’re very hott, though–I selected the Frankenstein Monster print (to go with other Frankenstein Monster art in my home) and the Aleister Crowley print (which just has a general creepy coolness about it of which I heartily approved).
  • Finalmente, my giant Eurotrash sunglasses received the approval of my horror peers. The Tenebrous knows how to dress herself, in spite of her Domestic Partner the Baron’s suspicions.

I’m undecided as to whether I have the fortitude to make the October convention, but I had an extremely memorable time. Thanks to my friends and the con organizers for making this a fantastic weekend!

Art – What I’ve Been Looking At Lately

I’ve been working on An Actual Article of Substance for an upcoming issue of Ultra Violent, which has prevented me from devoting as much time to recreational movie-watching as I’d like. Since I’m heading out for a long weekend out of town, I figured I would leave you with something to enjoy looking at, internet. You’re welcome!

Jindřich Ulrich Oil Miniatures – Tiny, beautifully-detailed paintings by an artist in Prague, using weird historical and pseudo-religious imagery.

Neuromantic – Expressionist portraits of groovy film dandies, giallo girls, and Japanese pop icons. I’m obsessed with that Helmut-Berger-as-Dorian-Gray painting. OBSESSED, people.

Surreal Fusion Gallery – Dark fantastic paintings and cross-stitch reproductions of genre movie posters by two artists.

Vincent Price Embroidered Portrait

Fashions Past – Best & Worst – Vintage photos of models and everyday folks sporting some amazing styles from days gone by. Who wants to join me for a group disco shot?

Camille 2000 [1969]

Radley Metzger’s “Camille 2000” (1969) is a stylish erotic romance that unfortunately allows its Pop sensibilities to overwhelm its emotional impact. Based on the novel “La Dame aux camélias” by Alexandre Dumas, fils, the film updates the tragic romance of Margeurite, now a promiscuous and self-indulgent jet-setter, and Armand, son of a successful Italian businessman, placing the characters against the backdrop of a super-psychedelic Rome.

Naive Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) arrives in Rome for the purpose of learning the family business, but is rapidly sidetracked in his romantic pursuit of Margeurite (Daniele Gaubert), a beautiful yet distant woman who is the “kept woman” of an elderly duke and a cruel count. Margeurite lives a lavish life of parties, drugs, and sexual adventure, covering up the fact that she is dying of a wasting illness of the fictional sort that keeps ladies mysterious and wan without ever looking truly ill. Her illness has led her to embrace a cynical “seize the day” manner of living, but Armand’s love for her begins to soften her reluctance to connect with him. The two lovers attempt to run away together, but outside forces intervene, leading to a tragic conclusion.

What’s problematic about the film is that, while it’s chock-full of sex scenes, there is very little chemistry between the two leads. Gaubert is truly lovely and the camera *adores* her, but Castelnuovo spends the vast majority of the film alternating between puppy-love and kicked-puppy. The attractive pair doesn’t really generate heat during their on-screen encounters–Armand adores and Margeurite sulks. This is particularly frustrating, because the entire story hinges on the fact that both characters divorce themselves from their natures (he: businesslike, she: noncommital) due to their overwhelming passion for one another. Perhaps the performances were overwhelmed by the aesthetics of the film. While the mise-en-scene is crafted within an inch of its life, the performances are perhaps a bit weak to counterbalance the extreme look of the movie.

The psychedelic look of the film is pretty amazing throughout, and accounts for the majority of the film’s appeal. Lush settings, outrageous costumes, beautiful people, energetic camera work, and an ultra-hip score are the centerpieces of the film. Conceived as a set of still pictures, the movie dazzles. I’ve provided a gallery of screen captures on Flickr to share some of the amazingly groovy styles of “Camille 2000.” Artificial materials such as plastic and mirrors abound, with prefabricated cubes providing the central visual element throughout. Armand and Margeurite make love on reflective surfaces, producing a kaleidoscope of flesh. When Armand first meets Margeurite at the opera, her dress is partially composed of cubes of transparent plexiglas. Ambitious, mobile camerawork is a mixed blessing throughout, working when applied to the many party sequences, but feeling a bit forced in two key scenes. The depth-of-field zoom technique used during one love scene felt a little sea-sick and went on for a bit too long, and the unsubtle, forced transition between Armand’s ruined birthday and the empty yacht after Margeurite has departed was downright cringe-worthy. The soundtrack by Piero Piccioni is a finely-crafted blend of jazz, psychedelic, prog-rock and traditional themes that enhances each scene and provides a plush backdrop for the on-screen fashion parade.

“Camille 2000” is wonderful when viewed as a historical and aesthetic document, but falls short as a compelling romance. Recommended viewing for eurotrash enthusiasts, but probably best skipped by a general audience.

Don’t Answer the Phone! [1980]

Every once in a blue moon, I am exposed to a movie so terrible that it transcends its own awfulness and becomes almost brilliant. “Don’t Answer the Phone!” is such a movie–it’s jammed full of cliches, stilted acting, awkward scripting, political incorrectness, AND it has an exclamation point right there in the title. The movie follows the crime spree of a demented Vietnam Vet Kirk Smith (played with… zeal… by Nicholas Worth) as he rapes and strangles his way through a series of scantily clad models. If you guessed that he’s trailed by a pair of tough-talking police detectives, you’d be spot on (there’s a wise-cracking coroner, too–this movie doesn’t miss a trick).

In structure, the movie feels a little like the retarded cousin of Michael Mann’s “Manhunter,” made six years after “DAtP!” and most likely entirely unrelated to the earlier film (I can’t imagine Mann having an “AHA!” moment of inspiration during a movie where the cops remark on the relative sexiness of the murder victims at each crime scene). A great deal of screen time is spent with the killer, not only during his violent activities, but also while he goes about his everyday activities, which appear to consist of weight-lifting, freakouts stemming from his troubled childhood, and creepy phonecalls to a lady psychologist on the radio. During these phonecalls, Kirk assumes a wacky accent and refers to himself as “Ramone”–it’s as awesome as it sounds, trust me. Granted, Fulci’s “New York Ripper” will always hold the fake-voiced-killer grand prize, but I take my wacky accents where I can get ’em. This kind of inappropriate comedy is present throughout the movie and accounts for the thin layer of slime one feels building up as the plot progresses.

In fact, the inappropriate comedy combined with the overall misanthropic tone of the movie accounts for almost all of the film’s impact–the violence is virtually bloodless, the sex is relatively non-graphic, and there is no build-up of suspense. A bad-taste, campy atmosphere pervades, with rotten dialogue (I’m trying to get “shut up or I’ll tear your tit off” entered into the everyday slang of my household–so far, no luck) and acting styles that range from wooden to Catskills Comedian. I’ll spare you my thoughts on shot framing and cinematography here–there’s not much to work with. It’s assembly-line B-movie workmanship, with a little killer-POV here and a few shots of lonely night-walking there. There are some truly delirious moments, such as a whorehouse bust that’s right out of “Benny Hill,” that make me marvel at this movie as an exemplar of so-rotten-its-awesome movie badness.

Many thanks go out to Stoned Gremlin’s indie production “Midnight Heat” on YouTube for reminding me of my shameful love for “DAtP!”

Related to all this: I have a dream, internet, and that dream is to finance an all-drag musical based on “Don’t Answer the Phone.” Don’t let me down, people. I know there is someone out there who is up to the task of making this vision a reality.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh [1971]

“The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh” is an early entry into the giallo cycle of the 1970s, and the film feels more fully-realized and fresh than later films of its genre. Some nice plot elements work alongside elegant cinematography and a very fine soundtrack to save the film from middling acting and a dangerously dry middle stretch of the storyline.

Eurotrash eyecandy Edwige Fenech plays Julie Wardh, the wife of an international businessman (the DVD box implies he’s an ambassador, but dialogue suggests he’s an investment banker of some flavor) with a torrid BDSM affair in her past and a wandering eye for handsome young men. Julie and her husband have moved to Vienna, where a leather-clad, razor-weilding maniac is killing young women. Julie fears that her sadistic former lover, Jean, may be responsible for these killings and spends the course of the film trying to avoid him and prove to investigators that she knows the truth.

The film feels glamourous and sexy from the first moments, establishing the Wardhs as a jet-setting , wealthy couple by opening the plot in an airport. From the airport, it’s on to the Wardhs’ ultra-chic Pop Art flat in Vienna. There is a parade of amazing outfits throughout the film, with sequins, pleating, fringe, bohemian print dresses, platform shoes and other early-70s fashion staples figuring prominently on the screen. The style of the cinematography, which makes excellent use of dramatic shot framing (one pivotal scene is shown as reflected in a character’s mirrored sunglasses) and forced-perspective lenses of various types, underscores the very modern and stylish atmosphere of the film. Dramatic lighting is used throughout, including effective flashback and dream sequences which are shot against an entirely black ground.

In addition to the very strong mise en scene, another of the elements that marks “Strange Vice” as a noteworthy example of the genre is the simmering, consensual eroticism underlying the flashback BDSM scenes between Julie and Jean. Other reviewers have characterized Jean (played by Ivan Rassimov) as a terrorizing brute, but it’s fairly clear that Julie’s response to his violent actions towards her are not one-dimensional displeasure. The sweeping, romantic musical theme that is used throughout the film doesn’t convey terror, but rather an almost-overwhelming sensuousness. By the time the action of the plot is taking place, Julie has developed a fear of Jean, but there is an aspect of ambiguity as to how much of this fear may be directed towards her own wish to sublimate her masochistic sexual urges.

The film is not without its problems, however. George Hilton, as George, Julie’s lover, is… to be kind.. rather wooden. Fenech shines only when she’s in a scene with Rassimov, and Alberto de Mendoza plays Neil Wardh as a non-entity. Also, the middle of the film starts to feel predictable, with the vast majority of fine moments front- and back-loaded in the film’s structure. Razor-killer kills again, Julie gets scared again, Julie feels somewhat wistful again, there’s a replaying of the same flashback… and then just as one is on the verge of losing interest (and, perhaps, hope), everything picks up again and wraps up with a very fine ending. I’m fond of this sort of “limited-cast” giallo, and it’s nice not to be left wanting to hurl a shoe at the screen after another “The Priest Did It” fuckery of a conclusion.

Semi-related: In today’s WTF’ery, there is an Edwige Fenech perfume. I’ll leave that to you, internet, sans-comment.

Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse Burlesque – March 8 at Asbury Lanes, NJ

Confession: I have mixed emotions about burlesque as an art form. It’s a fine example of my dueling Jekyll and Hyde natures. Good Kate gives two thumbs up for performers who embrace the tackier, campier, seedier sides of the art world, while Mean Kate feels like there’s an awful lot of bad, boring, awkward burlesque out there right now and that some serious herd-culling needs to take place. It was with these mixed feelings that I approached this past Saturday night’s performance of “Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse” at Asbury Lanes in beautiful and scenic Asbury Park, NJ. My expectations were exceeded by the show, which was hands-down the most fun enjoyable performance I’ve attended so far (and believe me, I get dragged to a *lot* of these things).

The concept of “Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse” is to that each short-and-sweet performance is themed around a horror movie trope–vampire, cannibal, and mad scientist, to name three–with a cute exploitation trailer intro by MC Vincent Price Is Right (aka: Neil O’Fortune). The performers approached their material with affection and a nice sense of humor, balancing the cute-naughty aspects with some ghoulish moments (the “Reanimatrix” and “I Spit on Your Lap” numbers both incorporated particularly macabre notes) Early sound-system issues were handled with elegant grace-under-pressure by Mr. Price Is Right and dancer Weirdie Girl. Lady Aye added some texture to the show with her escape artist and fire-eater routines, rounding out an entertaining evening. An intermission trailer reel was provided by Trash Palace. Adding to the fun of the event was the setting–Asbury Lanes is a must-visit venue. It’s a classic bowling alley that features live rock music, a full-service bar, lowbrow original art on display and the best fried snack foods you’ll ever want to nibble on.

Summing up, if you have to get dragged by your friends to a burlesque performance, make sure it’s “Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse.” You won’t even have to exact your revenge by insisting on picking the next film for group movie night!

Painting – Montage: March 6, 2008

Dear internets,

My apologies in advance for not offering up any delilcate nibbles of snark this Friday morning. I have been remiss in my movie-watching, but it’s all for A Good Cause. I’ve actually been applying the fruits of my four-year fine art degree to Projects! I will share with you the first completed painting I’ve created in the past eight years:

Watercolor on paper, 15″h x 20″w
Thank you, internets, for being a bottomless source of weirdness and inspiration. I like to paint food, boobs and cheekbones–it’s nice to think that someone out there likes to look at paintings of food, boobs and cheekbones.

The Dead Travel Fast [Book] [2007]

Vampires. I’m pretty torn on the topic of vampires. I like badass Hammer Films monster vampires, I like Bela Lugosi buried-in-his-Dracula-outfit vampires, I like Eurotrash lesbian vampires, I even like Chinese hopping vampires. Entirely more problematic are Anne-Rice-style vampires… and the fans of Anne-Rice-style vampires. This hasn’t kept me from saying “yes” to watching a metric hell-ton of vampire movies over the course of my life (although I’ve gotten better at resisting the allure of most vampire novels, much to the benefit of my sanity).

When I first heard of “The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula,” a sociological study of vampires in history and fiction by Eric Nuzum, I resigned myself to the fact that those hours of reading were already spent. Event the title was alluringly snarky. I was sold.

It pleases me to report that the book does not disappoint. Sure, Mr. Nuzum and I disagree on some key points (his views of the films he watches, including Jean Rollin’s “Rape of the Vampire” and Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” for example), but his biting wit and unapologetic tone when discussing these matters quickly won me over. Early on in the book, the author sets up a narrative voice that is strictly editorial–these are *his* words and *his* opinions relating to *his* experiences, to be separated from tidbits he presents as historical fact.

The book is at its best when Mr. Nuzum is experiencing aspects of “vampire culture” firsthand, because he gets so damn much, so damn right, even with his outsider’s point of view. In order to fully understand the fascination with vampires, he works in a haunted house, goes on a “Dracula Tour” of Romania, attends a “Dark Shadows” convention and–in what is *doubtless* my favorite bit–goes to the “Court of Lazarus” in New York City where the realvampirevolk* gather. Gentle readers, I can report that I have been to the Court of Lazarus once (I have also been ejected from the Court of Lazarus once, the reason for which I can only surmise was that I was Having Too Much Fun), and Mr. Nuzum’s account is so deadly accurate that I won’t even bother to recount my own experience. Sorry, you’ll have to read his book–he actually interviews some of the “real vampires,” and namedrops a couple of personages of some note who I’ve had encounters with. It’s sweet, delicious internet-brand krazee at its finest.

As a light-hearted, fast, and enjoyable read on the topic of vampires, I highly recommend this book. As a thorough, fair-and-balanced, anthropological discussion on the topic of vampires, look elsewhere. And maybe lighten up, too…

*My word, not theirs. I’m pretty sure they call themselves something out of Poppy Z. Brite or a White Wolf game.