Thursday, 29 July 2010

Sisters (1973)

Sisters is an early Brian de Palma effort, released in 1973, but the characteristic de Palma obsessions are already well in place. This is classic de Palma black comedy.

We open with an odd scene of a black man watching a young blind woman undressing but in fact it’s part of a reality TV show called Peeping Toms. After the show the black man and the blind girl head off to a night-club called The African Room (his payment for his appearance in the show was dinner for two at this club). She’s a French-Canadian named Danielle. They go back to her place and make love but the lights are off and he doesn’t see what the audience sees - a huge scar on her side. There’s also the slightly disturbing fact that Danielle’ ex-husband likes to park outside her apartment and watch her, constantly.

Early next morning he hears her arguing with someone. She tells him it’s her twin sister and that it’s their birthday. Being a nice guy he decides to buy them a cake but when he shows Danielle the cake her reaction is not quite what he expected - she reaches for a very large carving knife only it’s not the cake she’s going to cut.

The knifing is witnessed by an spiring journalist neighbour, Grace Collier. Grace calls the cops but she’s in their bad books after writing several articles about police racism and brutality so they’re inclined to regard her story with scepticism. The absence of any obvious evidence in Danielle’s apartment appears to confirm their suspicion that Grace is making up stories. But once again the audience knows a lot more than the protagonists, a typical Hitchcock technique that de Palma uses with great skill.

We soon discover that Danielle is indeed a twin, a siamese twin. But what’s the story with her sister Dominique? We are told the answer to that question in ingenious ways. It turns out that these siamese twins were Canada’s first and Grace views a TV documentary about them. Later we will find out more in a series of hallucinatory flashbacks. Grace enlists the help of a rather amateurish private eye. They’re particularly interested in Danielle’s ex-husband who may not be what he seems to be.

While it’s essentially a black comedy, and a very good one, de Palma is able to explore his various cinematic obsessions in considerable depth. Everyone seems to be watching someone else, and we the audience are not only the biggest voyeurs we’re also the most privileged ones since we get to see everything. And while the characters are being voyeurs they’re more often than not misled about what they’re actually seeing. Identity is misleading as well.

Of course there are numerous Hitchcock references but the accusation frequently made of de Palma that he merely recycles Hitchcock is very wide of the mark. He uses Hitchcockian techniques for his own ends. He’s not an imitator, he’s an artist building on the work of another artist.

Margot Kidder is very good as the mysterious twins. The other actors are at least adequate.

Bernard Herrmann’s score is as effective as any he did for Hitchcock himself.

A particular highlight is de Palma’s use of split-screen techniques. This can so easily come off as gimmicky but de Palma shows how it should be done. It’s probably the best use I’ve ever seen of this technique.

The Region 2 DVD from Pathe is reasonably good.

This is vintage de Palma. It hasn't displaced Body Double as my favourite de Palma film but it’s certainly up there in the top three or four.

Manhattan Baby (1982)

I’ve disliked the other Lucio Fulci movies I’ve seen but since Manhattan Baby was available for rental here I thought I’d give him one last chance.

Well sorry Lucio, but this 1982 effort doesn’t convince me either.

The plot is about, well actually I have very little idea what the plot is about. Something to do with Egypt. There’s an amulet. And an archaeologist excavating a tomb. Some kind of evil is let loose. Maybe it’s a spirit, or a ghost. It seems to form some connection with the archaeologist’s two kids. The archaeologist is left blinded after an encounter in the tomb.

When they all return to New York strange things happen. People disappear although it not clear why or how. The archaeologist turns to an antique dealer for help (apparently that’s what you do when you’re plagued by unexplained occult phenomena which is certainly handy to know). The antique dealer might be evil, or he might not be. Other weird stuff happens, and then the movie ends.

There’s some terrible acting which is not helped by some equally terrible dubbing. There are some embarrassingly lame special effects. Being a Fulci movie there is of course gore, and the gore seems even more unnecessary and pointless than in other Fulci moves.

Generally I love horror movies dealing with ancient Egypt but this one did nothing for me. And generally I don’t mind incoherent plotting as long as the movie has style, but style s something this movie does not have.

I might have found it scarier if I’d had more idea what was going on.

I know Fulci has many enthusiastic fans but I must be missing something because I cant recommend this movie at all.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Navajo Joe (1966)

Sergio Corbucci’s Django is my favourite spaghetti western so I felt I was entitled to have fairly high hopes for his Navajo Joe, made in the same year (1966). And while it’s not in the same league as Django it’s still a decent entry in the genre.

A guy called Duncan leads a gang of cut-throats and bandits. Their favourite means of income is killing Indians and selling the scalps to the local townspeople for a dollar a head. Their preference is for butchering defenceless Indians in surprise attacks. One raid on an Indian village turns out to be a very bad mistake. They leave one survivor, an Indian known as Navajo Joe (Burt Reynolds). And Navajo Joe turns out to be a one-man army, and he’s bent on vengeance.

Duncan has discovered that a train carrying half a million dollars is headed for the town of Esperanza. The town’s doctor has a shady criminal past and he makes a deal with Duncan to help steal the money. This is a peaceful little town where no-one carries guns and they are going to be entirely unable to defend themselves against Duncan’s gang. Unless they can get some assistance. Some assistance from one-man mayhem machine like Navajo Joe, for instance. And Navajo Joe is willing to help since it’s likely to provide a convenient opportunity for him to take his revenge.

Joe gets little help from the townsfolk in general, but he does have a few unlikely allies. The saloon-keeper and his saloon girls display more courage than the rest of the townspeople combined and get Joe out of a particularly tight spot. And a beautiful half-Indian woman also lends a hand. She sees like she’s being set up as the love interest for Joe but nothing eventuates, and eventually we find out why. But mostly Joe is a one-man band and pitting this one Indian against a gang of several dozen hardened outlaws is hardly a fair fight - the outlaws don’t really stand a chance!

There’s very little substance to this film. It’s mostly an excuse for lots of action sequences and lots of gunplay and assorted carnage. Fortunately Corbucci is very good indeed at this sort of thing and the action scenes are exceptionally well executed. And there are enough of them to keep any spaghetti western fan very happy. The ambush of the train is a standout.

Corbucci and his director of photography Silvano Ippoliti (who has had an impressive career) have crafted a visually extremely impressive movie. Something is always happening, and they always film it in an interesting way but without appearing gimmicky. The violence is relentless but without much in the way of gore. The movie generates sufficient excitement not to require the gore.

Despite some dodgy makeup Burt Reynolds does a solid job as Joe. He’s a convincing action hero and he isn’t required to do much more. The characterisation in this movie is basic to say the least. Aldo Sambrell makes a suitably villainous bad guy as Duncan.

And as an added bonus it has a score by Ennio Morricone.

Surprisingly enough the Region 4 DVD release is excellent with a beautiful transfer preserving the correct Technicope aspect ratio.

Not one of the all-time classic spaghetti westerns but fans of the genre will find plenty to enjoy despite some deficiencies in plotting and characterisation. Recommended.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Cash on Demand (1961)

Although made in 1961 and contemporary with Hammer’s psycho-thrillers such as Paranoiac, Cash on Demand is more of a throwback to Hammer’s film noir of the early 50s.

The Haversham branch of the City and Colonial Bank is not a happy place to work, even on Christmas Eve. The manager, Mr Fordyce (Peter Cushing), is humourless, cold, pedantic and unforgiving of even the most trifling errors. His chief clerk, Mr Pearson, is an easy-going chap but Mr Fordyce has it in for him. Possibly because Mr Pearson is so easy-going, and is popular with the staff.

Fordyce prides himself on his efficiency but his natural tendency to grovel to his social superiors puts him in the most difficult position of his life when he agrees to see a certain Colonel Gore-Hepburn (André Morell) in his office. Gore-Hepburn claims to represent the bank’s insurance company and to be conducting a snap investigation of the bank’s security systems. He sounds upper class so Fordyce is too busy ingratiating himself to bother checking that Gore-Hepburn really is from the insurance company. In fact persuasive colonel is a daring bank robber. He informs Mr Fordyce that his wife and child have been taken hostage and that they will be killed unless he assists in robbing his own bank.

Mr Pearson has already been on the carpet once this morning so he decides that perhaps it might be wise to demonstrate his zeal and efficiency by checking up on the colonel, but the phone system is overloaded with people making Christmas phone calls and the call is delayed.

This is a tense and effective thriller that is somewhat let down by a corny and anti-climactic ending. The entire film takes place within the bank and the atmosphere of claustrophobia adds to the tension.

What makes Cash on Demand special is Peter Cushing’s performance. Mr Fordyce starts out as a very unlikeable character indeed but as the movie progresses we slowly start to see that he is really an unhappy and insecure little man. We start to feel sorry for him. He lacks Mr Pearson’s ability to make people like him, and he obviously decided many years earlier that if he couldn’t make people like him he would make them fear him. He’s a typical petty tyrant but Cushing makes him human.

André Morell as Gore-Hepburn and Richard Vernon as Pearson give solid support but it’s Cushing who dominates the film.

It’s unfortunate that the cleverness of the script doesn’t extend to the ending. Apart from being dramatically not very satisfactory it also isn’t consistent with the mood of the rest of the film. But it’s worth seeing just for Cushing.

Interestingly enough the very same basic plot was used for another thriller made the same year in the US, Five Minutes to Live, which is a truly bizarre movie starring Johnny Cash.

Cash on Demand is included in the excellent Hammer Icons of Suspense boxed set.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Eve and the Handyman (1961)

Eve and the Handyman was Russ Meyer’s second feature film, and although it’s not without some charm to be brutally honest it’s probably only going to appeal to Meyer completists.

In 1959 Meyer had invented the nudie-cutie genre with his landmark The Immoral Mr Teas. By this time it had become more or less established that nudity on its own would most probably not get a film banned but the nudity had to be presented in as non-sexual a way as possible. The result was the explosion of nudist camp movies in the late 50s.

But one can only take so much volleyball, even naked volleyball, and it was obvious that nudie movies had to be made more entertaining. Meyer came up with the solution, by adding a plot (of sorts) and lots of gags. The Immoral Mr Teas made truckloads of money. His follow-up movie was Eve and the Handyman. It more or less utilises the same formula but with a surprising difference. Its a nudie-cutie with almost no nudity. As a consequence it has to rely on the plot and the gags. When Meyer returned to the nudie-cutie genre in 1966 with Mondo Topless his skill as a film-maker had developed to the point where he could dispense with plot entirely and still make an entertaining movie. But Eve and the Handyman doesn’t quite make it.

Meyer’s wife at the time, Eve, stars. She’s a private detective of sorts, and she’s shadowing a man. But he’s no big-time criminal, just a humble handyman. Eve Meyer takes numerous other roles as well, appearing as various women encountered by the
handyman. He just seems to keep running into these well-endowed and very desirable women. It’s all a gag of course; the handyman really is just a handyman.

Even this early in his career Meyer is starting to show signs of his prodigious talent for shot composition and editing. He hasn’t yet evolved the frantic editing pace that characterises his best films but it’s still a well-crafted little movie. Meyer wrote, directed, photograhed and edited the movie.

This almost plotless movie doesn’t really require any acting. Meyer was not yet using synchronised dialogue so all the actors really had to do was to look the part and not fall over the furniture. Anthony-James Ryan is suitably gormless as the handyman, and Eve Mayer is suitably glamorous as Eve. She does the voice-over narration as well.

Apart from the photography the main reason to watch this one is Eve Meyer who manages to be utterly charming, plus she has that ability to light up the screen.

There’s some amusement to be had but one can’t help wondering why Meyer chose to make a nudie-cutie with hardly any nudity. The comedy just doesn’t quite have enough going for it to carry the movie on its own.

The Arrow Films Region 0 PAL DVD also includes The Immoral Mr Teas which is somewhat more entertaining. The main interest in these very early Meyer films is that they’re so goofy and good-natured. All this was to change dramatically in 1964 when he made the first of his redneck melodramas, Lorna. With that film he finally found his feet as a film-maker.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Scandalous Photos (1979)

Scandalous Photos (Photos scandale) is one of a number of very obscure 1970s and 80s French erotic films released on DVD by Nucleus Films on their cutely but aptly named Naughty DVD label.

This 1979 movie combines a B-movie mystery espionage plot with some very tame softcore elements. The results are lightweight in the extreme but it somehow manages to be more likeable and more charming than you’d have any right to expect. The whole thing has a nicely subtle tongue-in-cheek feel to it.

Juliette (Brigitte Lahaie) and her boyfriend Chris are small-scale blackmailers. Juliette pretends her car has broken down and whenever a passing male motorist stops to help (which is pretty frequent since Juliette is an attractive young lady) she seduces them while Chris snaps some incriminating photos.

Juliette however has much bigger ambitions. If you’re going to be a blackmailer, do it on the grand scale. Her idea is that Chris should seduce wealthy heiresses who fancy a spot of rough trade while she will take the photos. Chris isn’t overly bright but she’s confident his considerable skills in the bedroom will stand him in good stead. You might wonder if wealthy industrialists in 1979 would be prepared to pay out big money to keep their erring daughters’ sexual escapades out of the papers but Juliette has thought of this. A group of very rich businessmen are trying to put together a major deal with an even bigger and richer magnate who happens to be a devout and very conservative Mormon. So in this case they will have to pay up or risk seeing the deal go belly-up.

After Juliette and Chris have snared their first victim her father employs famed private detective Jim Ravel to find the two blackmailers. The other three industrialists involved in the big deal are named Bruckner, Mahler and Bartok. I’m not quite sure why everyone seems to be named after a composer. Jim Ravel manages to extricate one of the heiresses from the clutches of the blackmailers and then promptly falls in love with her. In fact the feeling is mutual.

Ravel’s investigations lead him to Juliette’s sister who is involved in a major spy ring. Actually she’s involved in two major spy rings. She’s a busy girl. Her work as a very high-class and expensive prostitute provide a cover for these dangerous but lucrative endeavours. There are the expected twists and double-crosses. We’re not meant to take any of it too seriously and it’s executed with a light enough touch to just about get away with being a gentle spoof.

The movie also takes a sardonic look at the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful and again it’s done subtly enough not to be annoying.

The film’s greatest asset is Brigitte Lahaie. She made her initial reputation as a porn star in both hardcore and softcore vehicles. But those were the heady days when even hardcore sex films had plots, and dialogue. And even scriptwriters! And porn actresses were expected to be able to act. Lahaie went on to demonstrate that she could most certainly act, in movies like Jean Rollin’s Night of the Hunted. And in this movie she once again reveals herself as a competent and charismatic actress.

There’s really not very much sex and nudity in this one, and it’s all strictly softcore and pretty tame softcore at that.

Writer-director Jean-Claude Roy keeps the pacing tight and the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s no masterpiece but it’s a harmless enough time-killer and Lahaie just about makes it worthwhile.

The picture quality on the DVD isn’t great but apparently the only surviving source materials were in pretty bad shape. The occasional speckles and the slight muddiness actually enhance the viewing experience is some ways, giving it a proper grindhouse feel!

Probably only really worth buying if you’re a serious Brigitte Lahaie fan.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974)

Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters? was a sequel of sorts to his earlier What Have You Done to Solange? although the Italian title, La polizia chiede aiuto , suggests it was not really intended as such.

It does deal with similarly sleazy and controversial subject matter. In this case the discovery of the apparent suicide of a 15-year-old girl leads Inspector Silvestri and Assistant District Attorney Vittoria Stori to a teenage prostitution racket. Their investigation will uncover the involvement of some very powerful people, and this will raise serious doubts as to whether the case will ever reach the courts.

The first pointer that there is something more sinister than meets the eye is the discovery that the girl, Sylvia Polvesi, was in fact murdered. An audio tape contains some vital clues but while the police pursue suspects a meat cleaver-wielding motorcyclists is pursuing the witnesses. And Assistant District Attorney Vittoria Stori finds herself being pursued as well.

It’s an exceptionally well made film. Dallamano had been a cinematographer, working with people like Sergio Leone. As you’d expect from this pedigree his films look superb and his skill in shot composition is never in doubt. And he knows how to shoot an action sequence. I’m not a fan of car chases but the car chase in this movie is imaginative and exciting. The scene in the undercover car park is just as gripping.

The acting is very good. Giovanna Ralli as Vittoria Stori and Claudio Cassinelli as Inspector Silvestri are good and there’s an all-too-brief cameo by the underrated Farley Granger.

Dallamano maintains the dramatic tension very effectively. There’s quite a bit of gore but it’s at least done with style, while there’s less sleaze than you might expect.

So why was I not completely sold on this film? For me the main problem was that we don’t get to know any of the characters well enough to really care what happens to them, and as a mystery thriller it’s a bit too predictable. We’re told that it’s unusual in 1974 for a woman to hold a position as an Assistant DA so we’d like to know more about Vittoria Stori. We’d also like to know more about why Inspector Silvestri is so driven.

I don’t think it qualifies as a giallo even though it deals with sex-related murders. It’s really more of a police procedural. And judged in those terms it’s very competent. It’s entertaining and well-paced, so really its flaws don’t detract in any significant way from the enjoyment of the film. My problem may have been that other Dallamano films I’ve seen such as Venus in Furs and The Secret of Dorian Gray are just so good, so original and so character-driven that my expectations were very very high. Perhaps too high.

The Shameless DVD is what you expect from this company - the movie looks sensational. There’s virtually nothing in the ay of extras, but Shameless’s releases are so ridiculously cheap there’s no reason to complain.

Based on the four Dallamano movies I’ve now seen my conclusion is that he was incapable of making a bad film. My quibbles about this one are fairly minor. Mostly I think he was simply too good a director to be making fairly routine police procedurals, but as police procedurals go this one is stylish and entertaining.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Giants of Thessaly (1960)

The story of Jason and the Argonauts was for many years a perennial favourite with film-makers and the Italian peplum or sword & sandal book of the late 50s and early 60s produced several versions. Including this 1960 effort, The Giants of Thessaly (I Giganti della Tessaglia).

Jason, the rightful king of Iolcus, must find the missing Golden Fleece otherwise the land will be destroyed by volcanoes. He leaves his wicked uncle behind to plot and cause trouble and sets off in the Argo.

Considering the many and varied adventures that awaited the Jason of mythology the surprising thing is that there’s not much adventure to be had in this movie. The heroes reach the island of Lemnos, inhabited by witches who have murdered all their menfolk. Some unlucky members of the crew get turned into sheep. They encounter the Cyclops. That’s pretty much it in the adventure department.

The scene where Jason retrieves the Golden Fleece by climbing a gigantic statue is one of the better sequences in the film.

There are endless discussions. More adventures and fewer discussions would definitely have helped.

The main problem seems to be that the movie takes the subject matter a bit too seriously. It’s afraid of being camp but these sorts of movies always work best when the camp factor is at a maximum. The acting is fairly dull as well which makes matters worse.

Of course the movie would undoubtedly be somewhat more enjoyable in a decent restored print. I saw a truly horrible public domain version. It’s also horribly dubbed. Director Riccardo Freda made some good gothic horror pictures, with The Horrible Dr Hichcock being particularly notable, but he just doesn’t manage to bring the story of Jason alive.

I love these types of movies but this one was generally pretty disappointing.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Bad Man’s River (1971)

I’ve decided to explore the spaghetti western genre further but I’m not sure if Bad Man’s River (originally released as Hunt the Man Down) qualifies. This 1971 Franco-Spanish-Italian co-production was filmed in Spain with a Spanish director. But it’s definitely a euro-western, and it does star Lee van Cleef.

There are two major problems that made this movie very difficult to enjoy. The first was the quality of the Region 4 DVD release from a company called Reel Entertainment. This is the most disgracefully shoddy DVD I’ve ever encountered. The picture quality is terrible and the colours are all wrong. That’s just for starters. Not only is it pan-and-scanned, the top of the image has been cropped. Not only are the tops of characters’ heads missing, in many scenes their entire heads are missing!

The second problem is the truly awful soundtrack. There are several incredibly irritating songs that will have you reaching for the nearest Gatling gun so you can blow away everyone involved. All the music in this film is atrocious, and it’s all intrusive and annoying.

As to the movie itself, it has a plot so convoluted that most of the time I had very little idea what was going on. Lee van Cleef is Roy King, leader of a gang of bank robbers. They specialise in blowing stuff up. He meets a beautiful woman named Alicia (Gina Lollobrigida). She persuades him to marry her, on the spot (she travels with a priest in case she suddenly needs to get married). King gets more than he bargained for when she has him put into strait-jacket and committed to an asylum for the insane.

After he gets out of the asylum he gets another job offer, from a Mexican revolutionary named Montero. And the go-between is none other than Alicia, who has also managed to marry Montero. There’s a plan to blow up an armoury and then steal a shipment of money that the Mexican government is sending to replace the guns destroyed in the explosion. There are rival groups of revolutionaries, rival bandit gangs and government troops all fighting it out from this point on and keep tracking of who’s allied with whom becomes rather bewildering.

But of course coherent plot isn’t really an absolute requirement in European cult cinema. Style matters far more. Writer-director Eugenio Martín made a couple of superb horror movies at around the same time as this movie - A Candle for the Devil and Horror Express. And he demonstrated in both those films that he is a very stylish and skillful director. Horror Express is perhaps the best point of comparison since it’s a fast-paced adventure romp with comic elements as well as a horror film. And in Bad Man’s River he seemed to be aiming at a similar result - an exciting adventure romp but with an even heavier emphasis on comedy.

I’m not sure it entirely succeeds but it does have its moments. And there are some nice visual set-pieces. Fans of explosions will be left well satisfied, and there’s plenty of mayhem. The mayhem is strictly of the non-gore variety but it’s done with panache.

James Mason plays Montero and it’s the first disappointing performance I’ve ever seen from him. Lee van Cleef on the other hand is extremely good. But Gina Lollobrigida totally steals the picture. She’s delightfully wicked, outrageously devious, very sexy and very amusing. The screen lights up whenever she appears. Diana Lorys plays the film’s second femme fatale and she’s also very good.

I believe this movie is available in a widescreen DVD edition in Region 1. It’s not easy to formulate a hard-and-fast judgment on this movie based on the horrible Region 4 disc. Seeing it in a decent transfer it might well turn out to be a highly entertaining movie indeed. Even in the butchered version I saw it’s not without its charms despite the incomprehensibility of the plot.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Nabonga (1944)

I’m still hooked on the jungle movie theme. Nabonga, made in 1944 by Poverty Row studio PRC, turns out to be a reasonably entertaining example of the breed.

An aircraft crashes somewhere in Darkest Africa. On board are an embezzler, the stolen loot from the bank he worked at, and his young daughter. Years later Ray Gorman (Buster Crabbe) the son of the manager of the bank, hears a rumour of a downed aircraft somewhere in the jungle. He sets out to find the embezzled money, to repair his father’s reputation (he was apparently held somewhat to blame) and to right the wrong that had been done so long ago. The rumour also speaks of a mysterious white witch living somewhere deep in this very forest.

The white witch is in fact the daughter of the embezzler, and she’s become a kind of female Tarzan. She is not all that enthusiastic about Gorman’s plans. And convincing her to co-operate isn’t easy, since she has a gorilla friend who is devoted to her and who tears apart anyone who threatens her (gorillas being notoriously savage and bloodthirsty creatures).

Naturally there are other sinister figures also on the trail of the crashed aircraft and the treasure it contains. The adventures are fairly predictable, and there’s lots of stock footage, but it’s done with a certain amount of energy and it remains entertaining. If you’re a fan of the jungle adventure genre it’s worth a look.

There are various public domain copies of this movie floating about. They’re not great, but this movie is not exactly great cinema so it’s not likely to get released in the Criterion Collection any time soon. The dodgy quality of the PD prints does at least give the right B-movie viewing experience!

Fantasm (1976)

I'm slowly working my way through Umbrella Entertainment's ozploitation boxed sets. All the movies are available for rental through Quickflix (like Netflix but Australian). Fantasm (1976) is no masterpiece but it’s fine for what it is. It was the second collaboration between director Richard Franklin and cinematographer Vincent Morton and like their first effort, The True Story of Eskimo Nell , you could argue that it's directed and photographed with a lot more style and class than the material really requires, or deserves. Even on the lowest of budgets they seemed incapable of making a movie that didn't look good.

It works better than The True Story of Eskimo Nell because being merely a series of vignettes the weakness of the writing doesn't matter, and it's a lot more focused. It knows what kind of movie it is. It's a good example of 70s softcore porno chic, kind of an Australian Emmanuelle. Like Emmanuelle it what was an attempt to appeal to a slightly broader audience including couples rather than just the dirty raincoat brigade by being ostensibly a series of female sexual fantasies. Since it's all supposed to be fantasies and it's filmed in a style that makes it clear that these are fantasies it's much less offensive and sexist than a plot synopsis would suggest.

There’s a framing device, which adds a touch of humour as the renowned sex therapist Dr Notafreud introduces the various case histories. It works well enough.

A couple of the episodes do achieve a genuinely erotic quality (especially The Beauty Parlour sequence), and fans of Uschi Digard will be pleased to see her in all her glory.

It’s an unusual film in that although it was entirely an Australian production it was mostly filmed in Los Angeles, an interesting reversal of the practice that had been so common in previous decades of overseas companies shooting movies on location in Australia.

It ain't Citizen Kane, but it's stylish 70s softcore and doesn't try to be anything else, and it compares quite favorably with similar movies from other countries from the same era.

The sequel, Fantasm Comes Again, included on the same disc, is basically just a retread of the original. Both movies were relatively tame compared to the sex movies being shot in the US and Europe at that time, being strictly softcore (although one or two sequences are borderline hardcore). But considering the very strict Australian censorship they must have been pushing things about as far as it was possible to go in Australia at that time.

They also demonstrate convincingly the essential superiority of softcore over hardcore - when you can’t show everything you have to actually put some effort and imagination into proceedings to achieve the desired erotic frisson, and these two movies generally manage to do that. And they’re representative of a vanished era in Australian film-making.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Rebel Set (1959)

I adore 1950s juvenile delinquent movies. The bad news about The Rebel Set (Beatsville) is that despite being included in a boxed set of JD movies there isn’t an actual juvenile delinquent in sight. The good news is that it’s a fairly entertaining little movie anyway.

So if it’s not a JD movie, what is it? In fact it’s a crime B-movie, a heist movie to be more specific, but with beatniks. It follows the classic pattern of a brilliant criminal mastermind coming up with an elaborate and ingenious plan for a spectacular robbery and then recruiting a team of expert thieves to pull it ff. Only Mr T (the criminal mastermind in this movie) doesn’t recruit a team of expert thieves.He recruits a team of beatniks. And they’re not experts in anything. They’re total losers. At one point he tells them they’re not beats, they’re just beaten.

So why beatniks and losers? He wants losers because they’ll try harder, being really desperate! And they’re beatniks because this was 1959 and beatniks were the social threat of the moment, undermining freedom and democracy and all the rest.

Mr T is played by Edward Platt, best known as the Chief from Get Smart. He’s a chess hustler (yes, a chess hustler) who owns a beatnik coffee shop. He intends to pull off an armoured car robbery. The gang will catch the rain to Chicago, commit the robbery, and then return by train. The three beatniks he assembles for the heist are a spoilt rich kid, a would-be writer and a would-be actor. The robbery goes off as planned but of course complications ensue in the aftermath as the gang make the return train journey.

The heist isn’t all that spectacular, this being a very low-budget movie, but it’s still quite well done. And while the acting is B-movie standard, it’s reasonably OK B-movie standard. Edward Platt makes an amusing middle-aged beatnik.

While it lacks actual juvenile delinquents it’s possible to see it as a kind of JD movie if you consider the beatniks as representing the dire threat of youth culture. They play the same role as juvenile delinquents in 1950s exploitation movies, thumbing their noses at authority and decent respectable society. The coffee shop scenes are the most entertaining part of the film, with I. Stanford Jolley (who generally appeared in B-grade westerns) doing an amusing turn as beat poet King Invader. And there’s a dance sequence featuring an obviously zonked young beatnik woman which provides further fun.

By the standards of this kind of movie it at least looks fairly professional and it’s nicely paced. Good B-movie entertainment.

It’s included in the St Clair Vision Classic Teenage Rebels DVD boxed set along with a host of other great public domain movies of the same type. There’s a fair bit of print damage but on the whole the picture and sound quality are quite acceptable. It’s a great value set.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Soul Vengeance (1975)

There are bizarre movies and there are really bizarre movies. And then there’s Soul Vengeance. Bizarre is simply a hopelessly inadequate word to describe this 1975 blaxploitation flick.

It starts off appearing to be a fairly routine blaxploitation feature. A drug deal goes wrong when the cops turn up. They pursue the two black suspects. A prostitute working the streets tries to help one of them escape. Then the cops set off for the precinct house with one of the suspects. So far pretty standard stuff.

Then one of the cops tells him partner to pull off into a laneway so he can work the suspect over. He gets more than a little carried away. And now the movie makes its first turn towards weirdness. The cop tries to castrate the black dude. OK, maybe not too weird, but keep watching.

Then we find out why the cop was so excited. On a stakeout he and his partner spot a black drug dealer having sex with a white woman. Only the white woman happens to be the crazy cop’s wife. And then we find out that the said cop just can’t cut the mustard in the bedroom any more which is why his wife is looking for satisfaction elsewhere.

The black guy we saw being arrested earlier is named Charles and three years later he’s released from prison. He wants revenge on the cops who busted him, and on the prosecutor and the judge who sent him down as well. It still doesn’t sound too strange, but like I said, keep watching. Charles had a girlfriend named Twyla, but she’s now working as a stripper and shacked up with a really nasty bad guy.

Charles has met up with the hooker who tried to help him three years earlier and they fall in love and move in together. But Charles is still determined to have his revenge. And now we come to the method by which he does this. It seems that the crazed cop didn’t manage to cut his manhood off, but for some obscure reason (which may have been explained but I missed it) his manhood has now mutated into a gigantic Penis of Death. The Penis of Death has a number of useful properties. It can (temporarily at least) turn women into zombie-like slaves. And it can be used to strangle his enemies. I told you this was going to get weird.

Now you might think that any movie as twisted and odd as this has to be entertaining at the very least. Unfortunately Soul Vengeance has some major problems. The pacing is glacial. The acting is exceptionally bad but it’s not bad in an entertaining Z-movie way, it’s just bad in a dull way.

And while the premise would seem to be ideally suited to a rather campy over-the-top approach writer-director Jamaa Fanaka instead tries to get arty. With very mixed results.

The Region 4 DVD release seems to be uncut, so the incoherence of the plot can’t be blamed on missing footage. This DVD is also widescreen but unfortunately it’s a horrendously bad transfer which doesn’t help matters.

Originally released as Welcome Home Brother Charles this movie can’t really be considered a success on any level but it has such a massive weirdness factor that despite its serious flaws it’s worth seeing just for that reason. It’s the sort of movie that sounds too improbable to exist but it’s real. The 70s were truly a golden age for eccentric movies.