Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein is the celebrated 1935 sequel to Universal’s 1931 hit Frankenstein. Both movies were directed by James Whale, a man with an extraordinary and to my mind slightly mystifying reputation as a great director of horror movies.

We start with a rather unnecessary prologue featuring England’s most degenerate poets, Byron and Shelley, listening to Shelley’s wife Mary continuing her story where the novel left off. And the movie then takes up the story at the exact point at which the 1931 Frankenstein ended, with the monster incinerated in the burning barn and the body of the hapless Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) being returned to his castle and to his grieving fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson).

Henry Frankenstein is however not quite dead. He recovers and is determined to forget all about his terrible experiments. The arrival of his old teacher, Dr Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), changes all this. Pretorius has been working (in a particularly bizarre way) on the creation of artificial life as well, and he wants Frankenstein’s help. He intends to get that help, even if he has to resort to extreme methods to persuade Frankenstein.

Pretorius wants to create a female monster, a mate for Frankenstein’s original monster. The monster, like its creator, survived the fiery furnace and now is now roaming the countryside causing mayhem and trying to make friends, which in turn creates more mayhem. The monster’s wanderings will eventually bring him to Frankenstein’s castle where Pretorius will use him to force Frankenstein’s hand.

Finally, after an hour of mostly irrelevant sub-plots and maudlin interludes, the movie kicks into high gear as Frankenstein and Pretorius bring the monster’s mate (played by Elsa Lanchester) to life with unexpected and catastrophic results.

James Whale clearly had no genuine interest in horror films and no real respect for the genre. As in most of his horror efforts he insists on playing far too many scenes as comedy and unfortunately comedy was something for which he had little flair. The entire movie seems to be intended as a mockery of the horror genre, and of Mary Shelley’s original story and quite probably mockery of the audience as well. To make sure that the movie’s impact as a horror film is blunted as much as possible Whale agains calls on the services of Una O’Connor who had almost single-handedly wrecked The Invisible Man. She throws herself into her task of wrecking The Bride of Frankenstein with great enthusiasm.

Many many writers worked on this film so perhaps it’s not surprising that the final script is a little disjointed and unfocused.

The acting is extremely uneven. Apart from the appalling Una O’Connor we get more unfunny comic relief from E.E. Clive as the burgomaster. Colin Clive is dull, as he was in Frankenstein. Ernest Thesiger is mannered and arch and while he tries hard to be the personification of evil and vice at times he becomes just irritating.

On the credit side Elsa Lanchester is memorably bizarre in her dual roles as Mary Shelley and as the monster’s bride but gets little screen time and little time to do any actual acting. Karloff is good, as always, although he strongly disagreed with the decision to make the monster speak. Dwight Frye as the sinister Karl is another bright spot.

The scenes involving Dr Pretorius’s miniature people are technically impressive but they’re silly and pointless and they greatly weaken the film.

While the script, direction and acting are uneven the superb visuals do much to compensate for the movie’s other weaknesses. The bringing to life of the monster’s bride is a spectacular visual tour-de-force. Whale seems suddenly to come to life, throwing one stunning image after another at us. There’s some superlative editing also in these scenes. The movie is well worth seeing just for these absolutely superb sequences.

Whatever its weaknesses this is technically an exceptionally well made motion picture. The sets are excellent. The Bride’s makeup effects are terrific. John J. Mescall’s cinematography (he described the lighting approach he used as Rembrandt lighting) is magnificent. James Whale had worked as a set designer and apparently had quite a bit of input into the impressive art direction of the film.

Universal’s Blu-Ray presentation looks great and there are plenty of extras, including an embarrassingly worshipful audio commentary.

Bride of Frankenstein is certainly a vast improvement on Whale’s The Invisible Man. It has some very very good moments. The changes of tone are somewhat disconcerting. For most of the earlier part of the film it just doesn’t quite work, perhaps mostly because it’s obvious that James Whale never really wanted to do the film in the first place. The last twenty-five minutes though are as good as anything that has ever been achieved in a horror movie. Despite the reservations I have about it Bride of Frankenstein still has to be recommended.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

She Came on the Bus (1969)

She Came on the Bus is a fairly late entry in the sexploitation roughie sub-genre and it manages both surprisingly tame and still oddly depraved.

A gang of juvenile delinquents, four guys and a girl, embark of a rampage of rape, petty theft and more rape. In the course of their adventures they steal a bus which becomes a sort of mobile headquarters. They begin by breaking into a house and raping a young housewife, then turn their attentions to a door-to-door saleslady. When this gets boring they head off in the housewife’s car and then get the bright idea that hijacking a bus would provide lots of thrills.

They pick up a couple of young female passengers who end up getting the sort of bus ride they hadn’t expected. One of them decides she really likes being ravished by juvenile delinquents; the other doesn’t like it one little bit. After a while the bus ride gets boring so they go back to the housewife’s house, then that gets boring so they get back on the bus. The bus will be their life in future.

Not much of a plot, although with enough energy and style it could have been enough. Sadly the energy and style aren’t quite there.

Writer-director Curt Ledger clearly belongs to the school of film-making where you roll the cameras for a while and see what happens. That kind of cinema verité approach can be effective but here it (mostly) doesn’t work.

This is not just low-budget film-making, this is at the very bottom of the heap. There’s no synchronised sound, no dialogue, just a voiceover narration that tries to be portentous and disapproving and some bizarre sound library choices. Given the lack of dialogue, and the lack of anything but the most basic storyline it’s impossible to say anything about the acting.

I use the term juvenile delinquents quite deliberately. These kids do almost seem like the kinds of juvenile delinquents you’d see in movies in the 50s. The jarring note is that while their demeanour is tame in a very 1950s way their actions are pretty perverted. It’s like a movie caught in some kind of constantly reversing time warp.

What makes this movie particularly odd is the tameness, rather surprising for 1969. There’s no frontal nudity at all and just one brief shot of a naked behind. There are plenty of topless scenes but for 1969 the nudity quotient is incredibly low. The sex scenes are also remarkably coy. You get a sex scene in which the guy leaves his trousers on and the girl keeps her panties on. I guess he is a juvenile delinquent so maybe he wasn’t paying attention in biology class when the topic of sex was covered and so the idea that it might be a good for the panties to come off just didn’t occur to him. Although it’s also quite possible that these girls have their panties actually welded on. Mostly the sex scenes are not much more than heavy petting.

On the other hand while the visual content is extremely mild the ideas are genuinely depraved. These are nasty vicious people but they’re doing nasty vicious things in an oddly innocuous sort of way. For the most part the rape scenes have no impact whatsoever since absolutely nothing is actually happening beyond a bit of clumsy and rather diffident groping.

There’s no sexual frisson to any of this, and no effective shock value either. The consensual sex scenes involving the girl juvenile delinquent are equally coy. This girl also has the kinds of panties that can only be removed with industrial cutting equipment.

A major problem here of course is the lack of dialogue. We get no sense whatever of the personalities of any of the participants, not even the briefest sketch, so we feel no emotional involvement. We don’t feel the terror of the women involved. We also find it hard to believe that these women are in any real danger. There’s no sense of menace. The victims don’t seem real enough and the perpetrators don’t seem actually scary.

There is one exception. There is one scene on the bus that does actually manage to be quite raunchy and to pack a real punch. It actually seems weirdly out of place. It’s at least mildly  shocking in a way that the rest of the movie isn’t.

Naturally there’s a go-go dancing scene which must qualify as the most gratuitous and out-of-place such scene in movie history.

Something Weird released this one as part of a triple-header that also includes Sin Syndicate and Sin Magazine. The transfer for She Came on the Bus is quite OK if hardly dazzling. This is of course a movie that probably never looked dazzling to begin with!

This is definitely one of the lesser roughies. If you want a roughie with a real impact and some subtlety The Defilers is infinitely superior. If you want full-blooded depravity it’s hard to go past The Touch of Her Flesh. And if you want roughies that deliver deliciously weird entertainment then mid-period Doris Wishman (such as Bad Girls Go to Hell and Another Day, Another Man) can be recommended. If you want genuine style, Russ Meyer’s Mudhoney is the real deal.

She Came on the Bus has the right ingredients but fails to deliver.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Daddy, Darling (1970)

Daddy, Darling is a 1970 softcore flick about incest so you know this is going to be a sleazy exploitative little film. Except that it’s a Joe Sarno film, and it’s one of his more artistically ambitious efforts (and Sarno could be pretty artistically ambitious). And it isn’t really sleazy or exploitative at all. Sarno approaches his subject matter seriously and with sensitivity, as he often did, and on this occasion it works surprisingly well.

Katja Holmquist (Helli Louise) is a 19-year-old girl whose father Eric (Ole Wisborg) has brought her up on his own since her mother’s death. Katja and her father are very close, which is natural enough. The trouble is that Katja is a teenager, her hormones are raging and she’s a virgin. She’s becoming a bit too attached to her dad. It’s perhaps unfortunate that her father has chosen this moment to remarry. He is going to marry Svea (Gio Petré), a woman for whom Katja has already conceived a certain dislike. It’s not especially unusual for a girl in this situation to be somewhat jealous now that she’s no longer going to be the sole focus of her father’s affections, and it’s not unusual for the girl to feel a little bit emotionally confused. Unfortunately Katja takes things a bit further. Her feelings for Eric have started to become sexual. In the normal course of events she’d probably grow out of this phase without any damage being done but now that there’s another woman staking a sexual claim on her father Katja’s feelings have taken on a new urgency. She’s determined to stake her own claim first and she starts making frankly sexual advances to him and he (perhaps naturally) either fails to get the message or deliberately chooses not to admit what is happening.

As things get more and more tense Katja develops a friendship with a female artist. The artist is your basic predatory lesbian (and where would sexploitation films be without predatory lesbians) but Katja is kind of naïve about such matters and has no idea of her friend’s tastes. Katja’s naïvete is of course part of her problem.

Sarno’s approach was always more successful when he had a decent cast and that is something that doesn’t happen very often when you’re making low-budget sex films. In this case he was pretty lucky.

Daddy, Darling was made during Sarno’s Swedish period. Making films in Sweden generally allowed him to find reasonably good acting talent not afraid to appear in movies about sex. Ole Wisborg as Eric and Gio Petré as Svea are certainly quite competent.

Helli Louise as Katja is another matter. She’s more than competent, she’s very very good. She clearly decided to approach the role as a real acting job and she proves she has the acting chops to do so. It’s a nicely nuanced performance. Katja is dangerous, but she’s dangerous because she’s confused, not because she’s evil or calculating. She’s not crazy and she’s not a scheming little minx.  She’s a teenager. She has the emotional and sexual desires of a woman but she has no clear idea what to do with those desires. She’s not malicious. She can be conniving, but she is conniving the way a child is conniving.

Helli Louise is very pretty and very sexy but she’s not an obvious sex kitten type, and that’s important because Katja is not a sex kitten.

All three main characters are really fairly ordinary people doing their best but sometimes not handling things as well as they should.

Sarno is being very ambitious in this film. He was often ambitious. The results didn’t always live up to the intentions. As a writer he could come up with decent story ideas but he had no great ear for dialogue. As a director he lacked the visual brilliance of a Radley Metzger. What Sarno had was a genuine fascination with the emotional dimensions of sex and his best films did have some emotional depth. And while he may not have had great stylistic flair he knew how to shoot a sex scene that combined eroticism with emotion.

Of course Sarno’s ideas on how to shoot sex scenes weren’t always quite what you expect in a softcore sex film. There’s a fine example in Daddy, Darling. Katja is staying for a few days at a female friend’s house. They have to share a bed. That becomes a slight problem when Katja’s friend decides she wants to share the bed with her boyfriend as well, and she and the boyfriend start having sex. This is an obvious opportunity for a hot sex scene with a hint of kinkiness. So what does Sarno show us? Almost nothing, as far as sex is concerned, just dim blurred shapes in the background. Instead the camera focuses entirely on Katja’s eyes as she lies in bed beside the love-making couple. It focuses on Katja’s eyes for the entire sex scene. The sex in the background is of no interest to Sarno. He is interested in Katja’s reaction. It’s a very effective scene but it’s going to be very disappointing for anyone hoping to see some hot sex. It’s a pretty bold approach to take in a softcore skinflick. We do however get some insight into Katja’s problems. When it comes to sex she’s really all at sea. She’s not afraid of sex but she’s rather bewildered by it.

In another very Sarno sex scene all we see is Katja’s panties around her ankles, and we see her face. That’s all. Perhaps not the sort of scene to please the distributors but artistically it’s devastatingly effective.

This is a movie that certainly deals with incestuous feelings but there’s no actual incest. There’s only one sex scene between Katja and her father and it’s a dream sequence. The subject is handled sensitively and with sympathy for the characters concerned and Sarno’s approach works.

Seduction Cinema released this film as part of their Retro Seduction Cinema line. The transfer has major strengths and major weaknesses, presumably reflecting the source material. There is a lot of print damage. On the other hand the image is reasonably crisp and the colours look pretty good. And there are a few extras including an interview with Joe and Peggy Sarno.

Of course much depends on what you are actually wanting out of this movie. As softcore porn it’s perhaps not a great success. There’s a fair bit of nudity and sex but it’s all very tasteful, possibly too tasteful for some. As an emotional/sexual melodrama it is however fairly successful. And Helli Louise’s performance is superb. This is a very Joe Sarno movie even by Joe Sarno standards and it’s one of his best efforts. Highly recommended.

Friday, 29 September 2017

The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Universal’s The Phantom of the Opera, released in 1943, is a rather odd hybrid, part musical and part horror film. The Paris Opera had provided a great setting for Gaston Leroux’s immensely successful 1910 novel but with Nelson Eddy getting top billing in the movie it made sense to put much more emphasis on the music. There’s not much point in having Nelson Eddy as your star if he doesn’t sing.

There have of course been countless film and stage adaptations of Leroux’s novel, including the celebrated 1925 silent version with Lon Chaney while Hammer did their own version in 1962.

As far as this 1943 film is concerned the story starts with violinist and aspiring composer Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) being fired from the Paris Opera orchestra. He had developed a problem with his left hand that affected his playing. Unfortunately being unemployed hits Erique hard. Although he had been well paid he has not saved any money. All his money has been spent paying (anonymously) for singing lessons for up-and-coming soprano ChistineDuBois (Susanna Foster).

Erique is hopelessly in love with Christine but his love is not requited. She has firmly friendzoned him. In fact she has (perhaps without being aware of it) committed the ultimate act of cruelty. She has pitied him.

Erique hopes to revive his fortune by means of a concerto he has written but he becomes convinced that music publisher Pleyel has stolen his work. This has tragic, indeed fatal, consequences and Erique is left horribly disfigured after being doused with acid. He takes refuge in the Opera, not difficult to do since the building is a bewildering warren of literally hundreds of rooms and passageways both above and below ground. He becomes a shadowy presence in the building, leading to rumours that a ghost is stalking the Opera.

Christine has two suitors for her hand, baritone Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) and detective Raoul Daubert (Edgar Barrier). Their rivalry provides some comic relief as well as romantic tension and also serves to emphasise the utter hopelessness of Erique’s love.

Erique has plans to advance Christine’s career, by drastic means. He is clearly becoming more obsessed and more unhinged and he has convinced himself that he can still win her love. He will do anything to further his plans, including murder. If necessary multiple murders.

Universal at this time relied mostly on B-pictures and cheap A-pictures but this time they decided to spend some real money (well real money by the studio’s parsimonious standards) and shoot the film in Technicolor. This does cause a slight problem. The musical side of the film is certainly enhanced by the lush visuals but the visuals that suit a musical are not those that make for an effective horror film. The horror parts of the film do look surprisingly atmospheric and spooky but it is a bit jarring switching constantly between lavish musical spectacle and creepy horror picture.

The sets are pretty impressive. Erique’s lair beneath the Opera in particular looks wonderfully atmospheric.

The acting is a bit strange, since Claude Rains is really the only one whose performance is close to what you expect in a horror movie. Everyone else is giving light-hearted musical comedy performances. The cast is likeable enough but they seem out of place in a chiller.

Rains does pretty well. He makes Erique’s behaviour comprehensible and he’s convincingly obsessive. If course we’re going to suspect that his obsession is indeed partly musical, but also partly sexual as well. You don’t spend every cent you have on financing a young lady’s musical career merely because you like her singing. Unfortunately this aspect is so downplayed that the full impact of his tragic obsession is lost.

In the original draft of the script Claudin is Christine’s father. That idea was dropped which was probably a good idea since having Claudin romantically and sexually obsessed would have given the story more punch and would have made Claudin’s situation more tragic, had the screenplay been prepared to go in that direction.

Claude Rains took his role pretty seriously. Prior to the beginning of shooting he learnt to play both the piano and the violin so that he would look convincing when Claudin was playing those instruments.

The real problem is that there’s way too much opera and not enough phantom. This is a musical comedy romance with the horror bits tacked on as an afterthought. And the horror elements don’t have the necessary punch. Partly this is because none of the victims are sympathetic so we don’t really care when the Phantom kills them. Even Christine is not sympathetic enough to make us care too much about her, cheerfully playing with the affections of two handsome men whilst casually ripping poor old Erique’s heart out. In a musical comedy she’d be a successful character and we’d know that she’d end up choosing the right man but for the purposes of this story she’s too worldly and calculating to be the innocent victim in danger from a maniac.

The film also lacks any real sense of mystery, or suspense, or weirdness. We know from the start that the Phantom is Erique and we know there’s nothing supernatural going on. We know why he’s doing what he’s doing and what he’s hoping to achieve.

I’d only previously seen this film on VHS and seeing it again now on Blu-Ray certainly makes a difference. Universal have provided some very desirable extras including an audio commentary and a documentary (which provides some truly fascinating information about the 1925 version as well).

The Phantom of the Opera just doesn’t quite come together. It looks great but it doesn’t deliver the goods as a horror film.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Curse of Her Flesh (1968)

The Curse of Her Flesh, released in 1968, was the second instalment in Michael Findlay’s notorious Flesh trilogy, perhaps the most deliriously perverse of all 1960s sexploitation movies. This is bizarre entertainment, although entertainment may not be the right word to use to describe these cinematic sleazefests.

The roughie sub-genre emerged as audiences began to tire of the rather innocent shenanigans of the nudie-cutie genre. If nude volleyball was beginning to pall why not add lashings of violence and add a kinky edge to the sex? Actually the nudie-cuties didn’t have any sex, just nudity, but by the mid-60s it was starting to be possible to depict sex as long as care was taken to ensure that very little was actually seen. Violence on the other hand was much easier to get away with.

There were roughies, and then there were the films of husband-and-wife team Michael and Roberta Findlay. The Findlays didn’t just push the edge of the envelope. They ripped up the envelope, set it on fire and then stomped on it. Their films were exercises in bad taste, misanthropy, weirdness, kinkiness and excess. Michael directed and often starred in the films while Roberts handled the cinematography. They co-produced and co-wrote the productions. Roberta occasionally acted as well. Roberta was one of the fairly small number of women involved in actually making sexploitation movies rather than just appearing in them. 

Considering the nature of their films it’s unusual enough for a woman to be involved in the production side. It’s even more surprising for a married woman to be doing so. You have to wonder what their marriage was like!

Watching such movies you’d have to suspect that Michael had a few issues. In fact you’d have to suspect that he had lots of issues. Whether this was true or not I have no idea. For all I know maybe he was actually a nice regular guy in real life.

This one takes up where The Touch of Her Flesh left off. Arms dealer Richard Jennings, having bumped off his unfaithful stripper wife, along with sundry other hookers and strippers, is back and his mental state hasn’t improved any. He wants more revenge. And he intends to get it, in the most extreme manner possible. It’s not really necessary to tell you much more about the plot. This flick is a series of strange and depraved sequences and plot coherence was not a major priority.

Apart from the revenge theme there’s also something connected with an inheritance but I’m still not quite clear what that was all about.

Richard as usual is venting his anger on strippers and in this case he’s particularly targeting a girl who does a kinky lesbian stage act. He deals with her indirectly but in a suitably gruesome and nasty manner.

There’s also another girl who is the girlfriend of his main target, the man who stole his wife. She has somehow managed to convince the guy that she’s a virgin. In fact she has plans to restore her lost virginity and that offers Richard an opportunity to make his vengeance very devious indeed.

There’s a definite arty edge to this film, or rather there’s a definite attempt at artiness. Trying to be arty is something that is generally best avoided and to be honest Radley Metzger was the only film-maker capable of convincingly combining erotica and art (which he did most successfully in his superb The Lickerish Quartet). The Findlays don’t really get away with it here. They give the impression of trying too hard and the result is a movie that is slow-moving and muddled rather than artistic. It’s also debatable just how successfully anyone could have combined this much sleaze with art.

The acting is mostly typical of the genre, in other words the performers were chosen for their willingness to engage in cinematic kinkiness rather than for their acting chops. It does have to be said though that Michael Findlay makes a fairly convincing psychotic killer.

There’s a stupendous amount of depravity in this movie although it’s too bizarre and unhinged to be genuinely disturbing.

Something Weird released all three of the Findlay Flesh films on one DVD. They’re not very long films so this involves no real compromises as far as the quality of the transfers is concerned. The Curse of Her Flesh gets a fullframe transfer (which is correct since it was shot in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio) and looks very good. There are no extras, hardly surprising with three movies on one disc.

The Curse of Her Flesh is not for the faint-hearted. This is one strange and grubby little movie. It has a certain morbid fascination but on the whole it lacks the fun that makes so many 60s sexploitation movies so enjoyable. And if you want depravity Dave Friedman’s The Defilers does it better and more intelligently. I think this one is strictly for fans of the Findlays.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The Invisible Man (1933)

Universal’s 1933 The Invisible Man left me decidedly unimpressed when I last saw it some years back. That was on VHS and I thought that seeing it on Blu-Ray might perhaps improve the experience. It didn’t and I will try to explain why.

The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale who established a very high reputation as a horror director with Universal with films such as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

The adaptation, by R.C. Sherriff, takes some liberties with the plot of the original story by H.G. Wells and even greater liberties with the intent of the original.

The movie opens with the Invisible Man making his appearance, swathed in bandages, seeking shelter in an English country inn. He needs a place to work in secrecy. He is a troublesome lodger and soon finds himself ejected from the inn, a procedure to which he takes violent objection. We gradually learn the reason for his invisibility, and for his apparent instability and violence. He has discovered a cocktail of drugs that renders him invisible but with unfortunate effects on his sanity. An invisible man is potentially dangerous; an unhinged invisible man is a very definite danger.

We also learn his identity. He is Jack Griffin, a promising young scientist who disappeared from his laboratory in mysterious circumstances.

The police are soon on his trial, an undertaking which predictably presents them with extreme difficulties and as their pursuit intensifies Griffin’s behaviour becomes increasingly violent and bizarre. He starts to lose interest in finding an antidote to his invisibility drugs, preferring to daydream about the limitless power that he imagines is going to be his.

There are many many problems with this film. It’s possible that the biggest problem of all is James Whale. His insistence on treating the story mostly as comedy not only removes most of the drama and suspense, it also strips the film of any emotional depth. Whale’s contempt for the horror genre is obvious in all his films in the genre and is perhaps the reason he insisted on adding so much ill-advised comedy.

Another weakness is that the Invisible Man is ready clearly deranged and homicidal when the character is first introduced. We never see him as a presumably dedicated and quite human young scientist but only as a murderous madman. The result is that we simply don’t care what happens to him. The sooner he is hunted down and killed the better. There is no element of tragedy to the story. There is no drama and it’s difficult to build suspense when it’s impossible to care about the fate of the protagonist, and in this film it’s actually impossible to care about the fates of any of the characters.

The extraordinarily annoying performance of Claude Rains in the title role, and the excessive ham-fisted comedy, add to the problems.

We also don’t get to see anything of the relationship between Griffin and his fiancée Flora (Gloria Stuart). We don’t get to know Flora at all and Stuart’s performance is lifeless (admittedly the terrible script gives her little to work with). This means there is no effective romance angle to give us a reason to care about either Griffin or Flora. Whale seems to have had zero interest in emotional relationships. This is to an extraordinary degree an emotionally sterile film.

The acting is universally broad, obvious and generally awful. Una O’Connor screeches a lot, which seems to have the limit of her acting talents. She seems to have been one of Whale’s favoured actress and she’s as tiresome here as she is in Bride of Frankenstein.

All of this means that the movie has only one thing going for it, that being the special effects. They are impressive for 1933 and in fact are still pretty impressive today. On the whole though the movie is visually much less interesting than most of Universal’s horror movies of the period, with no real atmosphere.

Universal’s Blu-Ray release looks terrific. Unfortunately it’s let down by a horrifically useless menu system so while there appear to be some tempting extras don’t be surprised if you can’t access them.

Are the flaws of The Invisible Man serious enough to make it not worth seeing? Sadly I’d have to say that the answer is yes. Apart from the invisibility effects I can’t think of a single thing about this movie that works. It’s not just uninteresting, it’s positively irritating.

Avoid this one.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Hollywood Babylon (1972)

Hollywood Babylon is a softcore sexploitation expose of Hollywood in the silent era. It’s a clever idea - take lots of stock footage from the First World War and the 1920s and lots of footage from silent movies, purporting to tell the story of Hollywood, then mix in some hot softcore sex scenes illustrating the most colourful episodes of Tinseltown depravity. So you get an 87 minute movie but you only need to shoot about 40 minutes of new footage and since all of the new footage is wall-to-wall nudity and sex you still have a potent little sexploitation feature.

There’s also the advantage that all the sex scenes are period scenes, with Jazz Age trappings and clothing (although the ladies tend to shed their clothing pretty quickly). 

And there’s the further bonus that all this depraved and illicit sex involves celebrities.

It’s based loosely on Kenneth Anger’s infamous 1965 book Hollywood Babylon. The book details the degenerate lifestyles of Hollywood’s rich and famous in salacious detail although to a large extent it’s mere gossip. Anger assumed that if there was a scandalous rumour about a Hollywood star then it must have been true. Of course the Hollywood elite did lead lives of staggering excess and there was undoubtedly a great deal of illicit and often perverted sex, even if the particular stories retailed by Anger were not necessarily true.

True or not these stories do make great material for an exploitation movie. And they’re done in full colour, in a fairly glossy style (by low-budget movie standards) with some very attractive actresses and absolutely copious quantities of sex and nudity and assorted naughtiness.

During the 20s Hollywood was rocked by a series of scandals, the most famous being the Fatty Arbuckle case. Aspiring actress Virginia Rappe died soon after attending a party thrown by Arbuckle at a San Francisco hotel. Arbuckle, one of the most popular silent comics, was accused of raping her and causing her death. He was acquitted but his career was ruined. Anger, and the fim-makers, have chosen the most outrageous and titillating of the many rumours surrounding the case, the rumour involving a somewhat unconventional use of a champagne bottle as a sex aid.

Equally over-the-top is the sequence involving Charlie Chaplin, his child bride, his aversion to ordinary sex (given that he’d been trapped into marriage by a pregnancy) and his efforts to persuade his bride that his favoured alternative to regular sex was actually perfectly normal, even though it was contrary to the California Penal Code. She finds his story a bit hard to swallow, if you’ll forgive my unforgivable pun.

And then there’s the celebrated story about the It Girl, Clara Bow, being serviced by an entire football team, a proceeding from which (in the movie) she seems to derive considerable satisfaction.

For cult movie fans the highlight is probably going to be Uschi Digard as Marlene Dietrich, a sequence featuring not just lesbian sex but lesbian domestic violence (you would certainly not get away with such a scene today), some kinky dressing-up games and some fairly hot heterosexual sex as well (Marlene being a gal who played for both teams).

Various drug scandals are dealt with as well, and of course if you’re going to deal with drugs you naturally want the actresses to take their clothes off. There’s also a rare orgy scene that manages to be genuinely decadent, and even genuinely erotic.

The totally episodic format of the movie meant there was no need to worry about a plot and the newly filmed inserts could be concentrated entirely on the sinful doings of the stars.

Hollywood Babylon is included as an extra on Bayview Entertainment’s DVD release of The Beast and the Vixens. Hollywood Babylon is in some ways the more entertaining film.

Hollywood Babylon is amusingly scandalous, genuinely sexy, quite kinky and it achieves a truly decadent feel. It succeeds rather well in doing what it sets out to do. Recommended.