Friday, 28 September 2007

The Door with the Seven Locks (1962)

The British thriller/mystery writer Edgar Wallace, who died in 1932, enjoyed enormous popularity in Germany. This popularity was maintained for many years after his death, and spawned countless movies based on his books. The best-known are the series of krimi (or mystery thrillers) made by Rialto Films in the 60s. The Door with the Seven Locks (Die Tür mit den 7 Schlössern) marks my first exposure to this genre, and I’m completely hooked. It starts a little slowly, and at first you could be forgiven for thinking this is going to be a fairly straightforward, if rather complex, murder mystery. As the story progresses, though, it just gets weirder and weirder, and more and more entertaining. Elements of horror are added to the mix, and there’s a quite bizarre mad scientist sub-plot (with Pinkas Braun making a wonderfully crazed mad scientist). The plot is impossibly convoluted but it doesn’t matter – there’s too much fun being had to worry about the intricacies of the plot. Alfred Vohrer directs the film with energy and style. The sets are outlandish – a mixture of high-tech modernist and gothic but with some truly grotesque and fascinating touches. Heinz Drache as Inspector Martin of Scotland Yard (although made in Germany the film is set in England) makes a likeable hero, and Sabine Sesselmann is an engaging heroine. There’s a whole galaxy of major and minor villains, all played with considerable panache by a very solid cast. There’s even Klaus Kinksi in a small role as a nervous safe-cracker. The Door with the Seven Locks is fast-paced outrageous fun and I recommend it highly. I can see myself buying lots more of these German Edgar Wallace krimi films! In fact I have another one waiting to be watched at the moment – The Black Abbot.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Poison Ivy (La Môme vert-de-gris, 1953)

Eddie Constantine is today best-known for his role as special agent Lemmy Caution in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. In fact he played Lemmy Caution is a long series of French action thrillers in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the earliest of these films, dating from 1953, is Poison Ivy (La Môme vert-de-gris). FBI agent Lemmy Caution is on the trial of a gang of bullion thieves. His hunt for the criminals takes him to exotic locations such as Casablanca and Tangiers, and to various seedy waterfront dives and bars. In these bars he meets lots of hard-boiled no-good dames, which is OK because Lemmy rather likes hard-boiled no-good dames. And the dames like the craggy-featured tough guy Lemmy as well. In between chasing dames Lemmy manages to get himself captured by the gang, led by the smooth-talking Rudy Saltierra (played delightfully by cult movie icon Howard Vernon). Poison Ivy is clearly inspired by American film noir, but it’s also influenced by comic-books and, I suspect, by movie serials as well. It’s quite outrageously pulpy, and it’s a great deal of fun. It features a classic film noir femme fatale in the person of the glamorous night-club singer Carlotta de la Rue (portrayed by Dominique Wilms, who also appeared in several other Eddie Constantine movies). The acting is very campy and it’s all very tongue-in-cheek. Highly recommended to fans of B-movies.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein was made in Italy more or les simultaneously with Blood for Dracula. Morrissey had by this time left Andy Warhol’s Factory, and these two films have a definite European visual flavour to them. Although they’re often considered to be rather bizarre spoofs of the horror genre, there’s really a lot more than mere spoofing going on here. The opening and closing sequences with Baron Frankenstein’s children are very very disturbing indeed. In the opening scene the children dissect and then behead a doll, and that really sets the mood for the whole movie. The movie is very funny in parts (provided you have a somewhat twisted sense of humour), there’s rather a lot of gore, and it’s also oddly beautiful. The combination of beauty, gore and perversity are fairly typical of Italian gothic horror, but Morrissey’s very strange, very unemotional and distanced, approach to his material adds a whole new layer to the mix, and a very unsettling one. The blending of the Morrissey trash aesthetic with the European aesthetic works surprisingly well. Joe Dallesandro seems a little out of place, but then the hero of a horror movie always does seem out of place, being an outsider who has somehow become caught up in seriously weird goings-on with which he has no real connection, so it actually works. Udo Kier gives a performance that is truly unforgettable – it’s very very camp, but it’s also amazingly and horrifyingly evil, and yet peculiarly innocent as well. I doubt that any other actor could have produced such a performance.

In Flesh for Frankenstein Baron Frankenstein is trying to create a new and perfect race, but his motives have nothing to do with any desire to benefit humanity. This new race will obey his every order and he will become, in effect, a god. Firstly though he has to persuade them to start producing children. He already has his new Adam and Eve, but his Adam still needs the right head. It has to be the head of a man dominated entirely by sexual desires. The baron’s own sexual desires are unusual, to say the least. He is married to his sister, but necrophilia is also on his personal menu. And not just necrophilia, but necrophilia involving assorted internal organs. Especially the gall bladder! Meanwhile Baroness Frankenstein is amusing herself with the sexual favours of the gardener (Dallesandro). And the two children are much too interested in things they shouldn’t be interested in. The Frankenstein family could be described as just a little on the dysfunctional side.

The Region 4 DVD unfortunately lacks the rather tempting extras that are included in the various R1 and R2 releases, but on the other hand I’m surprised it got a Region 4 release at all. The movie is worth seeing anyway, but Udo Kier’s performance makes it an absolute must-see.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

The Velvet Vampire is a very low-budget 1971 American vampire movie, and is unusual for a horror movie of that era in being directed by a woman, Stephanie Rothman. It’s an odd mix of traditional and non-traditional vampire movie elements. It has a very conventional plot, with a young couple staying at the house of a mysterious woman who turns out to be a vampire. On the other hand it has a contemporary setting (still unusual for a vampire flick in 1971), a vampire who spends a lot of time in the sunshine, and a complete absence of gothic trappings. And a complete absence of shadows – everything is bathed in brilliant sunshine. The biggest problem is the acting, which really is dire. The desert setting works very well, and there are some nice visual touches. The dream sequences, with the young couple making love in a bed in the open in the middle of the desert, watched by the vampire woman, are very effective. Rothman achieves an unsettling dream quality very economically without any special effects. Visually the movie is always interesting, with a bold use of colour (perhaps not surprising, as Rothman had worked with Roger Corman). The soundtrack kept reminding me of the classic (and very disturbing) early Doors song The End, and it also works well. The movie could be seen as showing the clash between two counter-cultures, the decadent vampire counter-culture of sex, death and blood and the hippy free love and peace counter-culture of the early 70s. The vampire lady doesn’t have to work terribly hard to seduce these two young people! I suspect that the actors were cast because they looked right for their parts, which they do. They certainly weren’t cast for their acting abilities! It’s a fairly slow-moving but strangely hypnotic film. Despite its faults, and despite some slightly cringe-inducing 70s moments, it has more than enough interesting qualities to make it worth your while trying to find a copy. If you’re a vampire fan you’ll definitely want to see it. It probably won’t appeal to modern horror fans accustomed to large doses of gore and mayhem, but if you enjoy subtle and off-beat horror it’s highly recommended. The Sinister Cinema DVD looks surprisingly good – it’s fullscreen (I have no idea what the original aspect ratio was) and a little grainy in places but overall it’s clear and bright and the colours are vivid and natural-looking.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

I Don't Want to Be Born (1975)

I Don't Want to Be Born (also known as The Monster and The Devil Within Her) is a 1975 British horror flick starring Joan Collins. It’s one of several horror movies she made in the 70s. She’s a stripper who has a curse put her on her by her partner in her night-club act, a dwarf, whose sexual advances she has spurned. As a result she gives birth to a demonic child. Now I know what you’re thinking – not another “woman cursed by sex-starved dwarf” movie – but how many movies are there with evil babies that punch people out and drag corpses about? For some reason that is never explained the evil baby concerned did not want to be born, and now that it has been born it’s really peeved. It expresses its annoyance by making large amounts of noise, throwing its toys about the nursery, and killing people. It’s possible that some of the people involved may have believed they were making a serious horror movie. I’m quite certain that Joan Collins did not share this delusion. She gives an outrageously camp performance, and she’s one of the main reasons the movie is worth seeing.

There are other reasons to see it, though. There’s some mind-bogglingly awful dialogue, much of it delivered by Ralph Bates in one of the most unconvincing Italian accents I’ve ever heard. There’s Eileen Atkins as his sister the nun, with an even worse Italian accent. There’s Donald Pleasence as her doctor (and I’m sure Donald Pleasence also cherished no illusions about the quality of this motion picture). When you’re giving birth, what could be more comforting than to notice that the doctor in attendance is Donald Pleasence? You just know everything is going to be fine then. Yeah right. There’s also an exorcism scene, and they’re always fun. The movie tries to copy both The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, and while it fails miserably it does have the advantage over those films of having the aforementioned sexually frustrated evil dwarf. And the final reason for seeing this cinematic gem is to see the strip club in which Miss Collins earns her living. I have no idea what strip clubs were like in London in 1975, but I’m fairly sure they were nothing like this. It seems more like a combination o a 19th century music hall, a circus and a ballet. Perhaps strip clubs really were like this in England in 1975. If so it’s a scary thought. And I’ve never seen a stripper wearing so many clothes! I always imagined that strippers took their clothes off, but Miss Collins seems to have added several additional layers of clothing. Curiously enough she does do a nude scene in the movie, but not in the strip club, which makes one wonder why they made her character a stripper? One can only assume it was done in the hope that audiences would flock to the film expecting Joan Collins to be naked for most of the running time, when in fact she’s naked for about six-tenths of a second.

The special effects were kept to a minimum, and you don’t see the evil baby performing any of its numerous acts of mayhem and murder. Presumably it was felt (quite rightly) that there was no way you were going to be able to convincingly portray a baby wielding an axe. The few special effects that are used are remarkably unexciting. Peter Sasdy had directed several quite good horror films for Hammer in the early 70s but he never really gets a grip on this one. I Don't Want to Be Born has just about everything you could hope for in a bad movie, and the end results are wonderfully entertaining. A true camp classic.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The Black Pit of Dr M (1959)

If you see The Black Pit of Dr M (Misterios de ultratumba) expecting something in the so-bad-it’s-good or the amusingly camp categories you’re in for a surprise. This 1959 Mexican production is a serious horror film, and a very good one. This is no camp classic - not that I have anything against camp classics, in fact I adore them, but The Black Pit of Dr M is not that type of movie. It reminds me quite a bit of the Val Lewton RKO horror movies of the 40s – there’s the same emphasis on atmosphere, and the cinematography and set design have a similar feel. Like Lewton’s movies it has at times almost a film noir feel. You can also see the influence of the best of the Universal horror classics of the 30s, and there are definite touches of Expressionism. There is nothing cheap or shoddy about this production. While it was undoubtedly made on a very limited budget, it doesn’t look low-budget; in fact it looks classy and very very professional. I doubt that anyone could teach Víctor Herrera, the director of photography on this movie, anything at all about the use of shadows and fog and noirish photography. I don’t think anyone could teach director Fernando Méndez anything about directing horror films either – he does an extremely assured job.

The plot is delightfully twisted and nasty. Don’t worry, I’m not going to reveal any spoilers – this is much too good a movie to ruin for anyone by doing that. The movie starts with three eminent doctors who make a pact with each other that whoever dies first will find a way to get a message to the others, revealing the means by which a person can travel to the world of the dead and return to the realm of the living, and thus reveal the secrets of the world beyond the grave. As you might expect in a horror movie, things don’t work out as nearly as they had hoped! The acting is very competent and it’s nice to see all the players in a horror film taking their roles seriously – there’s no scenery-chewing going on here. Rafael Bertrand is particularly good as Dr Masali, the man who receives a communication from the afterlife from the deceased Dr Aldama. The movie is essentially an exercise in psychological horror, with very little reliance on gore. The special effects are simple and used sparingly. And I can’t recommend the Casa Negra DVD too highly – the picture and sound quality are both absolutely superb, and the extras include an exceptionally good commentary track. It’s great to see a fine movie getting a high-quality DVD release. I’m looking forward to buying more DVDs from this company. Overall this very entertaining, very stylish and genuinely chilling little movie is a must for any serious horror fan.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977)

Jess Franco’s Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne) tells the story of a young woman, Maria Rosalea, in 17th century sent to a convent against her will. She soon discovers that these nuns have dedicated themselves to serving Satan rather than God, and they have plans to sacrifice her chastity to the Evil One. Anyone who regards Jess Franco as a technically incompetent film-maker really need to see this movie. It’s not just a well made film, it’s a beautifully made film. For once Franco has a decent budget to work with, and the results are ravishing. The movie avoids the creepy cobwebs-and-ruins gothic look of so much 60s European gothic horror - this is a movie of gorgeous architecture bathed in brilliant sunshine, and sumptuous-looking sets, which makes the events seem all the more horrific. The movie visits the same sorts of territory as Ken Russell’s 1971 masterpiece The Devils, with religious hysteria and sexual repression leading to inevitably ghastly results. Compared to The Devils it’s quite restrained, although admittedly the DVD version has been rather savagely cut. Franco makes his point efficiently and economically. The film benefits from some very fine acting. William Berger as the sexually depraved priest who acts as confessor to the nuns and Ana Zanatti as the Mother Superior are exceptionally good, but it’s Susan Hemingway as the young Maria Rosalea who walks off with the acting honours. She gives a powerful and moving performance. There’s no scenery-chewing in this picture – the actors play it straight and they have the acting chops to carry it off.

The Anchor Bay DVD release looks absolutely marvellous. The colours are glorious, and there are really no problems at all with the picture quality. This is Franco in a serious mood, and it’s a disturbing and effective movie. It’s a treat for all serious Franco-philes, and indeed for all serious horror fans. And of course it’s a must for everyone who loves movies about devil-worshipping nuns - and let’s face it, who doesn’t?

Friday, 14 September 2007

99 Women (1969)

99 Women was Jess Franco’s first attempt at a women-in-prison movie. It‘s a genre that he revisited on many occasions. Released in 1969, 99 Women is rather tame by the standards of later movies of this type but it’s still an entertaining and very effective movie. The film opens as a new batch of women prisoners arrive at a notoriously tough and brutal island prison, a sort of Devil’s Island for women. Among the new inmates is Marie, convicted of murder although (as we find out later) she actually killed in self-defence. The prison supervisor is a particularly vicious and sadistic woman, played with relish by Mercedes McCambridge. Just as unpleasant is the island’s governor, the corrupt Santos, who regards the sexual favours (whether given willingly or more usually unwillingly) of the women prisoners as being one of the perquisites of his office. Their rule may be about to come to an end, as a new supervisor (played by Maria Schell) is about to take over, although events are already moving towards a crisis that no change of policy will be able to avert.

The movie benefits from a rather strong cast. Maria Schell gives a solid performance. McCambridge overacts, but it’s a role that really demands that type of approach and she’s certainly entertaining. Herbert Lom is delightfully sleazy as Governor Santos. Maria Rohm is adequate as Marie. Rosalba Neri is outstanding in a part that could easily have become a mere stereotype, the evil lesbian predator. Instead she makes the character believable, complex and rather sympathetic. Franco’s approach is quite restrained, and the film is surprisingly lacking in sleaze or tackiness (at least by the standards of a women-in-prison movies). There’s no explicit sex, and very little nudity, and the violence is fairly muted as well. Franco nonetheless manages to convey the cruelty and viciousness of the prison quite convincingly. There is of course the escape through jungles and swamps, without which no women-in-prison movie would be complete. The DVD includes a couple of alternate scenes and a trailer, and a 17-minute interview with Franco. He is, as always, interesting and enthusiastic. In general 99 Women delivers the goods, and the Region 4 DVD release looks reasonably good if just a little grainy.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Night of the Eagle (1962)

Night of the Eagle (released in the US as Burn, Witch, Burn!) is a 1962 British movie based on Fritz Leiber’s superb novel Conjure Wife. It’s a fine example of understated horror, made at around the same time that Robert Wise was making The Haunting and Jack Clayton was making The Innocents – the early 60s was truly a great time for subtle cinematic horror. Norman Taylor is a university lecturer, whose main field of academic interest is the occult – but he is most emphatically not a believer in the supernatural. In fact he has dedicated his carer to debunking the occult and ridiculing what he sees as primitive and naïve superstition. His approach to the subject is psychological – to him belief in the supernatural is evidence of neurosis, of an ability or unwillingness to face reality. He believes in reason. So when he discovers that his wife Tansy is a practising witch it comes as something of a shock, to say the least. Actually, to be strictly accurate, she is more of a conjure woman since her practices have more in common with voodoo and similar religious beliefs than with more traditional notions of classic European witchcraft (although the movie does at times seem to confuse these two quite distinct practices). Norman and Tansy had lived for some time in the West Indies, which is presumably where she picked up these beliefs. Norman hasn’t been at the university for very long, but his career has been going very well indeed and although comparatively young he is in line for a very prestigious academic appointment. Tansy tries to explain to him that his career has prospered mainly because of her conjure magic, but naturally he dismisses this opinion as childish and unworthy of the wife of such a distinguished champion of rationalism. He persuades her to destroy her magical charms and to give up her magic. Unfortunately from this point on things start to go badly awry for Norman – in fact just about everything that could go wrong does go wrong. When Norman realises that both his life and Tansy’s are in real danger, he must re-evaluate his attitudes towards magic.

This is a movie that makes virtually no use at all of special effects, relying instead on an intelligent script, good acting, moody and atmospheric black-and-white cinematography and skilful direction. There is also no gore, but there is a great deal of suspense as Norman desperately tries to find a way to save himself and his wife. Peter Wyngarde (looking rather odd without his trademark Jason King moustache) is absolutely perfect as Norman. The character has to be both arrogant and likeable - not an easy trick to pull off but Wyngarde does it splendidly. Janet Blair gives a restrained an effective performance as Tansy, and there’s a fine supporting cast. Margaret Johnston is quite over-the-top but delightfully entertaining as Flora. Night of the Eagle (retitled Burn, Witch, Burn! for its US release) is a tense and gripping and very entertaining piece of British horror movie-making which I highly recommend.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Valley of the Dolls (1967)

Since I managed to pick up a DVD copy of the movie in a bargain bin for a dollar I thought that was sufficient excuse to sit down and enjoy Valley of the Dolls all over again. It did not disappoint. It never does. In fact my admiration for this film grows and grows. Any movie can have the odd line of embarrassingly bad dialogue. Some have quite a few. But every single line of dialogue in Valley of the Dolls is magnificently awful. Each viewing brings out more of the truly epic quality of Patty Duke’s bad acting. It’s the kind of performance that comes along once in a lifetime. Sharon Tate gets to deliver a line that is exquisitely cringe-inducing even by this movie’s standards – yes, I mean the line about the bust exercises. Barbara Parkins is fighting out of her class in this company but she’s a game little trouper and she gives it her best shot, although one can’t help feeling that she didn’t know what movie she was making.

Susan Hayward is of course the one member of the cast who understood what was happening. She knew how bad the movie was, and she loved every minute of it. It was a role originally intended for Judy Garland, but I don’t think anyone could top Hayward. I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching this movie. It would be like growing tired of chocolate. In fact the pleasures of this movie increase with each viewing, because of the delicious sense of anticipation when you know that a really horrendous piece of dialogue is coming up, or an instance of overacting that achieves true grandeur, or a positively outrageous slice of maudlin sentimentality or, best of all, those moments when the film delivers one of its important moral messages.

This movie is the standard by which any movie that aspires to be a camp classic must be judged, and very few films have ever surpassed it. I just can’t wait to watch it again!

Friday, 7 September 2007

The Long Hair of Death (1964)

Barbara Steele started her career in Italian horror on a very high note indeed, in Mario Bava’s brilliant Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio). Her subsequent Italian movies never quite equalled that masterpiece, but the strangely-titled The Long Hair of Death (I Lunghi capelli della morte) is actually not bad at all. It’s a tale of a woman falsely accused of a crime and suffering death at the stake, of witchcraft, of revenge and betrayal, of dead women who refuse to stay dead, of adultery, and of a country and its leader cursed from the grave. It has all the ingredients you could possibly want in a gothic horror movie, and it has the gothic atmosphere in spades. Director Antonio Margheriti was no Bava, but he was extremely competent and was always at his best working in the gothic horror mode. When you’re making a movie with Barbara Steele you need to be able to make the most of her considerable screen presence and her striking and unusual beauty, and Margheriti manages to do just that. And Steele, given a pretty decent role, does a very fine job. The movie is, by the standards of 1964, rather gruesome, but this quality is used effectively and contributes to the mood of mounting corruption both personal and political. Italian horror of this period sometimes relies almost exclusively on the visual elements, but this one has quite a strong plot - it’s complicated but it hangs together well, and it has a nice symmetry to it. It’s a consistently entertaining movie with some moments of real terror, and a powerful and effective ending.

It would be nice to say that the DVD release, on the Sinema Diable label, was worthy of the film, but sadly I have to say the picture quality is pretty dubious. This movie deserved better treatment. The Long Hair of Death is more than good enough to compensate for these deficiencies however, and if you have any interest in 60s eurohorror then this is a movie you simply have to see.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Shaft (1971)

Despite the 1971 fashions and the 1971 urban hip slang Shaft is a movie that has aged surprisingly well. Partly it’s because the acting is not only generally competent, it’s also somewhat understated. The temptation to go totally over-the-top is resisted, and the dialogue is delivered with such conviction that even though it should sound embarrassing, it somehow sounds right. Richard Roundtree is even able to get away with lines like “Can you dig it, man?” Roundtree actually is extremely good – he has plenty of attitude, he doesn’t take any crap from anybody, and he’s not averse to forceful expressions of indignation (to say the least) when he encounters racism, but he doesn’t overdo it. He plays Shaft as a man who gets angry when there’s a reason to be angry, but he doesn’t play him as an angry man. In fact Shaft is basically a guy who is doing OK in life and he’s enjoying himself. It’s possible that the movie struck such a chord among black audiences at the time for precisely that reason – it has a black protagonist who is in control of his life and although he has problems like everyone else he’s having a pretty good time. Shaft of course is a movie with not only a mainly African-American cast but also an African-American director, Gordon Parks. Parks is careful not only to avoid black stereotypes but also white stereotypes as well. Most of the bad guys are white, but they’re bad guys because they’re gangsters, not because they’re white, and the black gangsters are portrayed as being just as vicious as the white ones. And the white detective who is involved in the case is a decent guy (a very good performance by Charles Cioffi in a role that could easily have become a clichéd crusty cop with a heart of gold but doesn’t).

The plot of the movie is, well really it’s so threadbare it’s hardly there at all (black gangster hires black private eye John Shaft to retrieve his daughter kidnapped by rival gangsters), but you don’t watch a private eye movie for the plot, you watch it for the atmosphere and the attitude, and in those areas Shaft delivers the goods. And it’s a great deal of fun. With wonderfully quotable 70s hipster dialogue. The print shown by TCM was very grungy. They may have cleaned it up for the DVD release. I hope not, since I’m sure Parks intended the movie to look nicely grungy. This wasn’t the first blaxploitation movie, but it was the movie that established the genre at the box office. Plus you get to hear the classic Isaac Hayes theme song for which he picked up an Oscar!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971)

Joël Séria’s 1971 debut feature Don't Deliver Us from Evil (Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal) was inspired by the same murder case as Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, although Séria’s film makes no attempt to follow the facts of the case at all - it's merely a point of departure for a thoroughly fascinating and disturbing little movie. Don't Deliver Us from Evil also has major autobiographical influences as well – Séria’s relationship with his own parents was extremely bad, and he had an unhappy childhood made infinitely more unhappy by being sent to a Catholic boarding school which he regarded as being no better than prison. The movie tells the story of two teenage girls at boarding school who are experiencing the usual problems – a repressive and guilt-laden atmosphere coupled with their own awakening sexuality. In the case of Anne and Lore, though, there is a complication – an excessively close emotional bond between the two girls causes them to withdraw more and more into their own private world, a world in which they can make the rules. One of the rules they make is that they should dedicate their lives to each other, and to evil. Their first attempts at evil are little more than run-of-the-mill adolescent rebellion, but they slowly and inevitably work their way up to more serious acts. They are particularly attracted by the idea of playing sexual games with men, to see how far they can push things. Inevitable they eventually push things too far, with tragic and unforeseen consequences. The movie builds to a conclusion that has lost none of its shock value in the 36 years since the film was made. Along the way Séria manages to include a truly astonishing amount of material guaranteed to enrage Catholic sensibilities.

This is a very low-budget movie, with both cast and crew including a large number of non-professionals, but it has none of the slapdash or amateurish feel that you would expect in such circumstances. It’s a very assured and visually arresting production, and the performances by the two lead actresses, Catherine Wagener and Jeanne Goupil, are superb. They succeed in making their characters both frightening and sympathetic, and both dangerous and vulnerable. Goupil had had no previous acting experiences whatsoever and the director made the bold decision to allow her absolute freedom in her interpretation of the role – a bold decision that paid off handsomely (and launched Goupil on an acting career that continues to this day). Don't Deliver Us from Evil is one of those European movies that is able to succeed as both an exploitation movie and an art film. It’s a rather obscure movie, and it’s to be hoped that the DVD release will make it much better known. It certainly deserves to be better known. Mondo Macabro have done a fantastic job with the DVD – the movie looks great and the extras include an interesting featurette on the influence of the infamous Pauline Parker/Juliet Hulme murder case on the film as well as interviews with the director and with star Jeanne Goupil (who is delightful and very entertaining). I recommend this one very highly.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Lips of Blood (1975)

A man is troubled by returning memories of his childhood, and in particular by memories of a strange young girl. Quite by chance he comes cross a photograph of a ruined chateau, which triggers further memories. His mother tries to persuade him that the girl never existed. Visions of the girl keep recurring, however, and lead him to a graveyard, and to a crypt. Knocking over a cross that stands guard at the entrance he opens a coffin, from which two young women emerge. They are vampires, which of course is only to be expected if you start following beautiful young women into graveyards at night. He finds that vampires have played a significant part in his past, and it is his memories of the vampires that had been erased from his memory. Jean Rollin’s 1975 film Lips of Blood (Lèvres de sang) combines eroticism, horror and evocations of childhood and loss. It’s also a movie that, like so many vampire movies, addresses issues of female sexuality and the anxieties that female sexuality provoke. The hero is eventually offered a choice, and in effect it is a choice between his father and the authority he embodies and the woman and the rebellion that she represents. Vampirism as a metaphor for the threat that female sexuality represents to tradition, order and authority is here made very explicit (another vampire movie that illustrates this same point is the underrated 1967 Hammer film Dracula, Prince of Darkness, especially in a particularly chilling staking sequence).

As is usual with Jean Rollin, the movie features some effective gothic imagery, although it’s not as impressive visually as earlier films such as Requiem for a Vampire and Shiver of the Vampire. Lips of Blood is, however, an intriguing movie about memory and about the pains and joys of growing up. Unfortunately by 1975 audiences expected either a lot more sex, or a lot more gore and violence, in their horror movies and Lips of Blood sank without trace at the box office. The Redemption DVD release doesn’t offer much in the way of extras, but the movie looks superb and it’s a must for fans of 1970s eurohorror.

Russ Meyer’s Lorna (1964)

Russ Meyer’s Lorna, made in 1964, lacks the extreme campness of later Meyer films. It’s actually rather dark in tone, a tale of lust, jealousy and sexual frustration in the boondocks. Lorna has been married for a year. Her husband Jim is a decent sort of guy, and he’s studying at night to try to better himself. Unfortunately his studies only leave him enough energy to satisfy his own sexual needs, and not Lorna’s, and young Jim doesn’t seem to realise that women actually have sexual needs. So when a good-looking bad boy comes along it’s not surprising that Lorna is tempted to stray from the path of marital fidelity. Although darker than his later films it has most of the Meyer trademarks. The men are either sexually inadequate or they’re violent morons, or both. The women want more out of life than their men are offering them, and they take steps to get it. The women have, of course, the physical attributes you expect from the women in a Russ Meyer film, and those physical attributes are freely displayed. There’s nudity, there’s sex, there’s violence, and there’s also humour (much of this coming from the fire-and-brimstone preacher man who introduces the story and provides the postscript to it). As with all of Meyer’s movies it’s difficult to take offence at any of the content – Meyer’s sympathies are so clearly with his female characters, and the violence is so clearly shown as being the result of male inadequacies and fears and lack of understanding of women. Meyer had the gift of being able to make highly successful softcore sex movies that gleefully subvert and mock the whole concept of that type of movie. And as usual the camerawork and editing are amazingly energetic and imaginative – Meyer could make low-budget movies that just looked so terrific, and still look terrific even today. If you’ve only seen his later movies then Lorna is worth seeking out – it’s a wonderfully overheated saga of backwoods sleaze and passions running amok. Very entertaining.