Sunday, May 21, 2017

BLACKENSTEIN (William A. Levey)

Thinking back to the 1970s, whoever thought that Blaxploitation would become a cult movie genre? As a regular patron of mainstream movies during that decade I avoided Black exploitation fare in general, although Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)
was a memorable exception. I regret that I skipped Bill Gunn's truly subversive vampire film, GANGA AND HESS (1973).  That film thoughtfully and artfully addressed what it was like to be African American in America of the mid 1970s.  And, most importantly, it was conceived and directed by an African American. BLACKENSTEIN THE BLACK FRANKENSTEIN (onscreen title) was not, William A. Levey, the director of SKATETOWN U.S.A. and THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON helmed with no sense of place or pace, but more on that later.

A gravely wounded African American Vietnam vet (Joe De Sue) is transported by his fiancee, who is also a f medical student (Ivory Stone) to the clinic of Nobel Laureate Dr. Stein (John Hart), for experimental surgery to restore his blown off arms and legs. The surgery goes well but an assistant (Roosevelt Jackson) who wants to eliminate the patient so he can have his fiancee for himself, administers a toxic chemical mix which turns the patient into..... Blackenstein!

The creature, complete with an expanded cranium of Boris Karloff in the 1931 James Whale classic, lumbers around Los Angeles, tearing apart everyone he encounters, including mob moll/sleaze movie actress Liz Renay, a girlfriend of LA mobster Mickey Cohen, who was also a client of the film's writer-producer Frank. R. Saletri, and that's where fact becomes more interesting than fiction. Saletri may have produced a laughably ineffective horror film but his own life became a real life horror film when he became the victim of an execution style murder by a gunshot to the head inflicted by a home invader in 1982. The police determined that robbery was not a motive. The home was the Hollywood Hills estate of the late horror legend Bela Lugosi, whom Saletri idolized, and was a serious collector of everything related to classic Hollywood horror films. Saletri, a Hollywood lawyer, also had some rather sinister underworld clients, was one of us, a cult movie fan, but whose own back story, and double life, is certainly more compelling than anything in his one completed production.

Actually, BLACKENSTEIN works as a terrific party film, one you just have to bring along to make a party memorable or play when you host your own. It's teeming with reliable LOL moments, such as the monster's deliberate, slow motion walk with arms always outstretched. I was also pleased to see the vintage electronic equipment of Ken Strickfaden, who provided the flashing light panels,  buzzing resistors and exploding bolts for FRANKENSTEIN (1931) THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), THE LOST CITY serial, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN 1971).

Director William  A. Levey does absolutely noting to improve the crude staging or atmosphere but the eye popping 1080p  Full HD resolution of this presentation gives the action a candy colored look, an impressively detailed image, with razor sharp focus. The 2.0 audio clearly delivers the Blues songs of Cardella Di Milo, which does give the proceedings a much needed boost and provides at least one nod to African American arts and culture.

The Special Features include the longer (by 10 minutes) Video release version, an interview with producer Saletri's sister, an archived television news broadcast on Salteri's murder and the investigation, an interview with Special Effects creator Bill Munns, and interviews with Director Kent Osborne and actor Richard Dix (BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE) also concerning Saletri's career and death. The theatrical trailer is also included. .

BLACKENSTEIN is a hoot and addictive fun now available on this very entertaining presentation.

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

THE DRIVER'S SEAT aka INDENTIKIT (1974)

THE DRIVER'S SEAT aka INDENTIKIT (1974): 
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The late Elizabeth Taylor plays Lise, a woman skittering on the edge of insanity in this elegantly crazy Giuseppe Patroni Griffi thriller. She's actually quite good as a middle aged woman who has gone completely over the deep end and is seeking a violent death as a kind of ultimate erotic fulfillment This is rather like an arty giallo which has numerous references to the urban terror which plagued Italy in the mid 1970s.  And what better place on Earth is there than Rome to escape to.... and die.  But his is not the Rome of LA DOLCE VITA, the city seems to take on the morbid quality of the main character, as if it were responding to her death wish. After all it's metropolis built on centuries of graves.

It has a striking piano score by Franco Mannino, is beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro (LAST TANGO IN PARIS) and is edited in a compellingly nonlinear fashion by Franco Arcalli (editor of THE CONFORMIST). It took some courage from Elizabeth Taylor to play this role considering the perverse nature of this character and the harrowing final scene. Ted Rusoff dubs the thuggish Roman police investigator trying to untangle the complicated case. Andy Warhol has a minor role as a strange aristocrat, supposedly an English Lord, which probably wasn't too much of a stretch.

This film reminds me somewhat of Jess Franco's NECRONOMICON/SUCCUBUS (1967) and makes an interesting double bill with John Huston's adaptation of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (1967), in which Taylor played the polar opposite of her character here.

I probably wouldn't have bothered to watch this but my friend Robert Guest insisted that I check it out and I thank him for sending a copy of the old US VHS, which is apparently uncut. Other versions, including the original US release, were trimmed according to the IMDB.  It's very difficult to locate an uncut version of this film in good video quality.

Based on a novel by Muriel Spark, which I haven't read, but there is a distinct feminist undercurrent as it examines the masochism of the main character within a male dominated social-political matrix. 

(C) Robert Monell, 2017

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

LES GLOUTONNES /THE GREEDY/EROTIC EXPLOITS OF MACISTE IN ATLANTIS (1973)

Here's a reprint of my brief review of LES GLOUTONNES, Jess Franco's Z peplum from 1973. Actually this and YUKA, made with same cast, on the same locations, are good, no-budget fun. Originally published by the wonderful Club Des Monstres!

Directed under his French name feather Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took a supposedly "serious" movie and made it into a delirous collage of peplum, adventure, comedy, erotic and Fantasy patterns. It's Wal Davis as Maciste vs. Robert Woods as the evil Caronte who attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers" the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (see LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who watches the antics with his horny expectant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck / Bigitoni. A very interesting, electic score by Robert Viger [?] Is a bonus. There's even a hardcore sex scene thrown in the mix. Mark Forest was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco. The opening sequence of a misty valley and the first view of the stormy coast of "Atlantis" are outstanding images but unless you are a Franco completist you may hate this film. Franco aussi made YUKA (also 1973 with Davis / Wohlfaart Waldemar and Robert Woods playing the lead in Reviews another erotic "peplum" set in the Middle Ages. Robert MonellFor more reviews:
The greedy aka Maciste and greedy aka Erotic Exploits of Maciste in Atlantide- Jess Franco, 1973, France, 80m
Directed under his French name feather Clifford Brown, this is a fascinating mess due to the fact that Robert de Nesle, or somebody, took a supposedly "serious" movie and made it into a delirous collage of peplum, adventure, comedy, erotic and Fantasy patterns. It's Wal Davis as Maciste vs. Robert Woods as the evil Caronte who attempts to overthrow and kill the Queen of Atlantis, played by Alice Arno. Maciste prevails with the help of "the gobblers" the women of Atlantis. Howard Vernon makes an appearance as Cagliostro (see LA MALDICION DES FRANKENSTEIN), who watches the antics with his horny expectant, played by the puckish Rick Deconninck / Bigitoni. A very interesting, electic score by Robert Viger [?] Is a bonus. There's even a hardcore sex scene thrown in the mix. Mark Forest was supposed to play Maciste, according to Franco. The opening sequence of a misty valley and the first view of the stormy coast of "Atlantis" are outstanding images but unless you are a Franco completist you may hate this film. Franco aussi made YUKA (also 1973 with Davis / Wohlfaart Waldemar and Robert Woods playing the lead in Reviews another erotic "peplum" set in the Middle Ages. Robert Monell

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

BEST FILMS/BLU-RAYS/DVDS of 2016

Symptoms (Blu-ray)
Best of 2016: by Robert Monell

THE NEON DEMON: The high fashion world of Los Angeles is on grotesque display in this glossy art-horror film from Nicolas Winding Refn. It’s a world where vicious competition, soul vampires and casual cannibalism are omnipresent. A visually entrancing satire about a world where appearances are everything. This was the best new film a saw in a theater (nearly empty) in 2016.

SYMPTOMS: The best Blu-ray release of 2106. Jose Ramon Larraz was a Spanish master of light, shadow and madness, all on display in this moody study of a murderess on rampage in rural England. With  brilliant performances by Angela Pleasence and a small but memorable supporting cast. This release finally allowed the world to see this great film in HD, after years of being available only in poor video dupes from battered prints. A stunning experience. From Mondo Macabro.

DR. BUTCHER M.D; BURIAL GROUND: two outrageous  early1980s Italian gorefests featuring endless cannibal/zombie attacks in candy colored HD! Each fully loaded with a titanic cargo of special features: the DR. BUTCHER MD Blu-ray  presents two versions of the film. BURIAL GROUND includes the Italian language track and everything you ever wanted to know about Peter Bark! Both are Highly Recommended.  From Severin Films

COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE: A Blu-ray – DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome of Paul Naschy’s Gothic-experimental take on the Dracula legend. A vividly colorful HD remastering, check out Dracula’s crimson lined cape! Special features include the Spanish language track with English subtitles, a commentary track with director Javier Aguirre and Naschy, a fascinating interview with Mirta Miller by Elena of Spanish Fear, and more. A must have.

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND DESIRES [MIL SEXOS TIENE LA NOCHE]: a welcome Blu-ray release of one of Jess Franco’s most personal and delirious 1980s erotic thrillers, involving mind control, betrayal, seduction and murder. A visual stunner in HD. From Mondo Macabro, your go-to place for quality releases of cult cinema from around the world.

THE FORGOTTEN FILMS OF JESS FRANCO: Dorado Films hits a home run with their first HD release which includes 4k scans from 35m of two rarely seen Jess Franco thrillers, THE SINISTER EYES OF DOCTOR ORLOFF and SILENCE OF THE TOMB (both 1972), both featuring Lina Romay lookalike Montserrat Prous. An interview with star Robert Woods, an informative booklet from Francesco Cesari and Robert Curti are also included among other special features. A recommended collector’s item.

CRIMSON: THE MAN WITH THE SEVERED HEAD: A crazy 1973 crime film featuring Paul Naschy as a robber who gets a brain transplant. The standard and the longer, explicit Euroversions are both included, along with English subtitles and commentary track by Richard Harland Smith.

SEX-MURDER-ART: Fullly loaded multi disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition, featuring four legendary transgressive epics from the master of body decay, Jorg Buttgereit, NEKROMANTIK, DER TODESKING, NEKROMANTIK 2 and SCHRAMM. There’s not other filmmaker anywhere like Buttgereit, he highlights the grotesque and unspeakable with liberating humor and special insight. Includes CDs of the film’s soundtracks, making of featurettes, a documentary, JB’s short films, a 40 page booklet, commentaries, interviews with the director and collaborators and much more.   New HD, fully uncut & uncensored versions of all four films along with two versions of NEKROMANTIC and director’s introductions to all the films. Cult Epics.

THE KILLING OF AMERICA: Amazing, shocking and brilliant mondo-documentary style survey of decades of all American violence, featuring Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wayne Gacy, Jim Jones and an array of proud-to-be mass murderers. Includes the longer, even more outrageous Japanese versions along with a full metal jacket of extras. From Severin Films.

PRIVATE VICES PUBLIC VIRTUES:  In 1976 legendary Hungarian director Miklos Jancso went to Italy to make this sprawling, surreal account of a bacchanal set in a Central European Kingdom which ended in the shocking death of it’s host, the Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This high spirited staging of the infamous “Mayerlilng Affair” in the late 19th Century is closer to Fellini than a dry historical text and may be the wildest party ever put on film. With Teresa Ann Savoy. A light blasted, deliciously overripe depiction of decadence and death from a master. The shimmering HD transfer from original elements. The alternate English soundtrack is also available. Another essential delight unearthed and restored by Mondo Macabro.

THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK: I’m just happy that what I consider the greatest film from the “Golden Age of Italian horror” finally got a Blu-ray debut this year. It looks better than I’ve ever seen it. This is the shorter US release but it will do until a proper restoration comes along.  Olive Films.

THE HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS FEAST: The true Godfather of Gore passed away in 2016 but he lives on in this 17 Disc Limited Edition Box set of Arrow Films bursting-at-the-seams box set is a high ticket item  but nevertheless essential for gorehounds, exploitation historians, fans and collectors. It contains 14 of his most iconic films. These are his 100 proof gore classics, BLOOD FEAST THE WIZARD OF GORE, COLOR ME BLOOD RED, THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (a personal favorite), A TASTE OF BLOOD (one of his more Mario Bava-esque productions), THE GORE GORE GIRLS and more. Featurettes, interviews, video essays, audio commentaries and HGL intros are among the too numerous to mention special features. I’ve only gotten through a few of them, the rest will keep you busy for …. A lifetime. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

FALL OF THE EAGLES (1989): New Review....

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LA CHUTE DES AIGLES aka LILLI, UNE CHANSON POUR BERLIN/FALL OF THE EAGLES/UNA CANCION PARA BERLIN (Spanish video title): Working titles: WAR SONG/WAR ZONE
France-Eurocine, Paris

It opens with documentary footage of Adolph Hitler emoting and reviewing marching Nazi troops, but if you are expecting a traditional, action oriented war film you are going to be disappointed by Jess Franco's FALL OF THE EAGLES (1989). You may also be surprised, this a Jess Franco film, after all, that it contains absolutely no erotic scenes, no gore and not a hint of sleaze. It was a set-up for a hack to step in and deliver a typical Eurocine genre film, cheaply and quickly. But Jess Franco delivered something more than that. Despite the inclusion of a generous amount of stock footage from previous Eurocine war films (including EAST OF BERLIN-1978, the closing credits read "Pre-recorded footage by LES [Lesoeur?] Company"*) this maintains a sober focus on a group of Germans who live through, and are profoundly changed by, the tragedy of World War II. 

The scenario, by veteran Eurocine founder Marius Lesoeur, writer-director Georges Freedland and Franco, covers the crucial years of 1939-1945. The main story opens with the birthday party of Lillian Strauss (Alexandra Erlich), the daughter of wealthy banker Walter Strauss (Christopher Lee), who is making a fortune selling war bonds. Lilli is a talented singer and a young woman who also supports Germany's political/military aspirations. Her goal is to sing for wounded Wehrmacht soldiers in hospital. Lilli is in love with Peter Frohlich (Ramon Sheen), a young idealistic musician who does not share her enthusiasm for Hitler's political and military plans. She is pursued by Nazi supporter Peter Froelich (Mark Hamill), who already wears a German uniform. Lilli and Peter also join the Army. Peter is sent to the North African theater, where he becomes cynical and refuses to answer Lilli's letters. He is seriously wounded in battle and hospitalized while Lilli is sent to the Russian front where her train comes under attack. She survives, falls in love with a young Russian folk singer who is killed while trying to sabotage a Nazi meeting place. She makes friends with a secretly gay Nazi officer (Daniel Grimm), who is also killed. Lilli finally reaches the bedside of the mortally injured Peter and agrees to marry him and deliver a last kiss before he dies before her eyes. Finally reunited with first love Karl,  But her downward spiral is completed when he is shot down by American forces as they try to escape the carnage. Hitler is dead and Germany is defeated. The last scene takes place in a crowded pub as Lilli now sings tawdry songs for the Allied victors as her now destitute father, ruined by the economic collapse of Nazi Germany, looks on disapprovingly. 

There's a lot of plot here, most of it telegraphing the theme of the futility of war in the fashion of high melodrama. Given that the war scenes occur via either stock footage, reported by radio broadcasts or are talked about after the fact, it is left up to the actors to engage interest. With the exception of an pathetically unprepared Ramon Sheen, they do a pretty credible job, especially the aging but still towering Christopher Lee as the slowly deflating banker and Alexandra Erlich who performs her musical numbers and love scenes with equal verve. Her cabaret scenes are accompanied by frequent Franco composer Daniel J. White, who plays piano in front of a Nazi flag toward the beginning and in front of a large American flag in the final scene. The dialogue, adapted by Franco and veteran Eurocine scribe Georges Freedland, is sincere in a 1980s television miniseries mode, "People hate us, They should realize it's for their own good. We're bringing them a new order for a better world." The final shot of Lilli's emotionally ravaged, hardened, coarsened face telegraphs the theme more effectively. 

There are little "Jess Franco" touches throughout, such as the elegant music box topped with waltzing ballerinas which is used as a transitional device and the "last kiss" between Erlich and Hamill. The most interesting character, the gay Nazi officer, delivers a line which is pure Jess Franco, "Nobody respects a nice guy," before expiring. This does not look or play like any other Jess Franco film, it's played straight and serious from beginning to end. It probably won't please fans looking for scenes of the director's trademark "horror y sexo" nor will it satisfy war movie enthusiasts. But given the material and conditions it's obviously that Franco took it seriously and did the best job he could. It's not as unwatchable as most Eurocine World War II exploitation (HELLTRAIN, ELSA FRAULEIN DEVIL SS), has a number of effective dramatic scenes and delivers its admittedly unoriginal message that "No one wins wars, everyone loses" in a fairly resonant manner. The use of music, a wedding march played like a dirge by a Nazi, the war songs given a sexy twirl by Lilli and some familiar Daniel J. White cues are sometimes the only indicator that this is a Jess Franco film. Also, the inclusion of "good Nazis" in the sweeping scenario may cause some to feel this is a morally ambiguous, agathokakological war film. 

The end scroll includes a lyrics credit for "Clif Brown" and the final Ultra Stereo mix by Eric Lardy (who would co-produce Franco's next project, LA PUNTA DE LAS VIBORAS/DOWNTOWN HEAT--1990) has stability and resonance in the English language version screened for this review, which thankfully includes the real voices of Christopher Lee and the other actors, recorded in what appears to have been in direct sound. Other versions are reportedly more problematic. Franco had considerable difficulty with the system during post-production, prompting him to walk away, severing his longtime ties with Eurocine.  For comparison sake, a viewing or reviewing of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's LILI MARLEEN (1981) or Bob Fosse's CABARET (1972) is recommended. 

Thanks to Nzoog.

*There also appears to be some additional footage from Patrice Rhomm's 1977 ELSA FRAULIEN SS and Alain Payet's TRAIN SPECIAL POUR SS here and there.  Footage from Alfredo Rizzo's Spaghetti War epic I GIARDINI DEL DIAVOLO (1971) was also acquired and is extensively used, as it was in Franco's previous Eurocine Nazi-related co-production LA TUMBA DE LOS MUERTOS VIVIENTE/OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (1981), and as in that project the grading, formatting and style of that Italian war movie obviously clashes with the Franco shot footage. This Italian produced footage was also used in RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES, a 2103 horror-war web series by Mathis Vogel and Robert Monell, available on Blu-ray and DVD from Spain's CAMEO MEDIA S.L., as a supplemental feature to Jess Franco's last completed film, AL PEREIRA VS. THE ALLIGATOR LADIES (2012).

(C) Robert Monell, 2013