Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MARI-COOKIE AND THE KILLER TARANTULAMari-cookie & The Killer Tarantula/incubus (Jess Francoversio[ A VINTAGE REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED ON MHVF in 2000; Thanks to John Charles]Produced by One Shot Productions/Draculina Cine Directed and Written by Jess Franco
Photography: Raquel Cabra
Music: Jess Franco
Cast: Lina Romay (Mari-Cookie), Analia Ivars, Linnea Quigley,
Michelle Bauer (Sheriff), Robert King, Peter Temboury, Amber Newman.

During the Spanish conquest of Europe a pregnant woman is raped by a conquistador. Shortly afterwards, a tarantula enters the woman and 
deposits its eggs. The spawn is a mutant female who transforms into a lethal spider when sexually aroused. Centuries later, in present day 
Spain an erotic dancer performs in a bizarre persona,The Killer Tarantula. After her shows she picks up willing victims who will end up
entangled in an awesome, tortuous web back at her lair. A local Sheriff (Michelle Bauer) becomes attracted to the performer while investigating
the disappearances of several club patrons. Meanwhile, the distraught mother (Linnea Quigley) of a wayward stripper (Amber Newman) seeks out 
her daughter. All will eventually bear witness to the seductive powers of the mysterious creature.

A squiggly, green title announces "An Outrageous Film by Jess Franco," as his long time fans needed to be primed for this softcore horror 
fantasia. The focus is on kinky sex and elements of deliberate self-parody are constantly popping up. The spider-woman motif goes all 
the way back to the director's 1961 pastel-colored musical VAMPIRESAS 1930 and Estella Blain in the classic MISS MUERTE (1965). The naked, 
tormented half alive bodies of victims hanging in the awesome web festooned across the tarantula's living room, the sado-erotic arachnid 
rubber-gear, the obsessed audience at the club, are all images which continue Franco's career long obsession with Performance.

The eye popping visual design of glittering colors and outre costumes hold sway during the extended sexual encounters between Romay and everyone else in
the cast. Even such risible effects as the inflatable tarantula with a human face seems a reasonable synapse and bears comparison with the 
mutations in the 1950's version of THE FLY. But this is late 1990s Jess Franco at his most unhinged. No other filmmaker could have imagined, much less filmed, this demented scenario. It's a high spirited Adult cartoon which ensnares its viewers by sheer oddity value. 

Lina Romay performs with enthusiasm and humor in a role few other actresses could handle. She easily manages to upstage 
American scream queens Bauer and Quigley, although Bauer's Sheriff-outfit of black leather jacket, fedora, g-string and boots is 
something to behold. It all ends with the classic Fu Manchu threat, the world will hear from her again. In the spirit of the old Warner's 
cartoons there's a final imprint of "That's All Folks!"

Friday, August 11, 2017

BEYOND THE DARKNESS (Joe D'Amato, 1979--Severin Films Blu-ray Reviewed)

Beyond The Darkness [Blu-ray + CD Soundtrack]
A disturbed young man (Kieran Canter) drives up a country road somewhere in Italy as a lively, sinister GOBLIN theme pulls us into the scenario. He is on his way to make a pickup of a dead simian which, as a taxidermist, he will embalm and add to his macabre collection. But things get complicated for anti-hero Frank Wyler. It will turn out that Frank is a necrophiliac, cannibal and a murderer. Any one of those is problematic in the "normal" world, but to be all three, and a momma's boy to boot...! Well, you've got a problem there in Northern Italy, Brixen, to be exact, where this monster cult item is set. Frank is the monster, but a human monster, and the cult movie is Joe D'Amato's 1979 BEYOND THE DARKNESS.

You know something is wrong with Frank right from the very first shots. He seems to wear a look of startled lust, which becomes his default visage. Frank prepares his baboon for treatment while housekeeper Iris (Franca Stoppi) is busy presiding over a voodoo ceremony where a local sorceress sticks pins in a doll representing Frank's beloved Anna (Cinzia Monreale), who is dying in a nearby hospital, the result of an ongoing curse. Frank arrives at her side just in time for a last kiss. As she flat-lines he vows that death will not separate them.... 

Probably the best way to approach the experience of BEYOND THE DARKNESS is to first watch Mino Guerrini's 1966 horror thriller THE THIRD EYE (IL TERZIO OCCHIO). This somewhat obscure, but well crafted black and white film, whose story is credited to Gilles De Reys (sic), is a tale which another historical transgressor, The Marquis de Sade, might have penned. A young Count (a pre-DJANGO Franco Nero), who also practices taxidermy, is engaged to a young woman (Erika Blanc) who dies in a car accident engineered by his jealous housekeeper (Gioia Pascal). The emotionally dominated protagonist finally runs amok when the housekeeper also arranges the death of his domineering mother. Murder, mayhem and a final reckoning follow after an ironic undercurrent subtly displaces the lurid scenario into the realm of classical tragedy. On the other hand D'Amato's 1979 remake screams Tabloid! Guerrini's film (he also is credited as a writer on BEYOND THE DARKNESS) is hauntingly scored by the great Francesco De Masi with a Viennese type waltz theme which he also used in his score for Riccardo Freda's 1963 Barbara Steele Gothic, LO SPETTRO (THE GHOST). Both films are very much worth seeing for comparison and contrast, with a nod to Franco Nero delivering possibly his career best performance in the 1966 version. Hopefully, a future HD release with English subtitles with give THE THIRD EYE a much deserved resurrection from obscurity. 

The genius of D'Amato, who also directed the 16mm cinematography, was to stage all the macabre events in a completely different key than was used by Mino Guerrini in THE THIRD EYE. The same story, the same characters, the same setting, but the somber melody this time around is played by a madman pounding on the piano keys in between disembowelments, mutilations, feasts of flesh and internal organs. A frenzied tale of mad love which also has elements which might have been imagined by Edgar Allan Poe, BEYOND THE DARKNESS might not be D'Amato's very best film but it's certainly his most emotionally intense, with a delirious, urgent GOBLIN (credited as The Goblins) score, which puts us right into the skin of the demented protagonist. Much of the film's power comes from the performances of Canter and Ms. Stoppi. He's well cast as an underground man who is painfully shy in public but capable of the grossest atrocities when left alone with his corpses. Ms. Stoppi is an actress who, as she demonstrates in the interview THE OMEGA WOMAN, is sensitive to the internal forces which propel her manipulative character.

The shock scenes here, the detailed embalming, the hacking apart of the hitchhiker, the cannibal attack on the jogger, are strong stuff and the actors are wise enough to indicate their character's complete immersion in the mayhem without going over the top. The sensitive English language voicing provided by the skilled team of Ted Rusoff and Carolyn De Fonseca, really adds layers of emotion and ambiguity to both characters and the English option is the recommended track for playback. The Italian track is also available, but the subtitles are actually dub titles of the English language dialogue. Both tracks and the music are crystal clear and resonant in the 2.0 mix. BEYOND THE DARKNESS is one of the most enduring and popular of all Italian horror films and this Blu-ray presents it in 1080p full HD resolution and 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono Audio. The shot -on-16mm images reveal a distinct graininess at first but the improved color and detail are impressive, especially in the night scenes of Frank in the graveyard, in which the crimson flora on the memorial wreaths seem to glow in the dark and the names on the stones are actually readable as our sick necrophile digs up his Anna for future sex games. 

BEYOND THE DARKNESS has had several previous releases. Including the 2001 Shriek Show DVD, to which I contributed a text bio of Joe D'Amato as part of the retail booklet. That disc only had English audio available and included some good bonus materials including a commentary by Assistant Director Donatella Donati and an interview with actress Cinzia Monreale, both conducted by Kit J. Gavin. The Severin Blu-ray edition has a new interview with Ms. Monreale in which she discusses the location, her impressions of Canter and Franca Stoppi and how she managed to be very convincing as a beautiful corpse. The interview with the late Ms. Stoppi also reveals an exceedingly talented, nice and generous person who seems the polar opposite of the vicious characters she plays in BEYOND THE DARKNESS and THE OTHER HELL.

 A 20 minute featurette revisits the locations today. Also included is a 3 minutes theatrical trailer, narrated in English by Ted Rusoff, which manages to cram each and every lurid moment into its short run-time. GOBLIN perform the opening theme live in Buio Omega LIVE 2016. A 60 plus minute documentary, Joe D'Amato: The Horror Experience, from the feature Joe D'Amato; Uncut, is an in-depth sit down with the late, good natured director, who reveals his own favorite of his films was the non-linear Gothic DEATH SMILES A MURDER (1973). He also discusses working with the notorious Klaus Kinski, experimenting with hardcore sex and gore in EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and expresses satisfaction at having produced the first feature film of Michele Soavi (STAGE FRIGHT) and the last film of Lucio Fulci (DOOR INTO SILENCE). On camera comments by frequent D'Amato actors "George Eastman" and Donald O'Brien are also included. The director makes a salient point toward the end, noting that director's like Riccardo Freda, Lucio Fulci and himself were an dying breed, an endangered species at that time, the mid 1990s. How sadly true that comment turned out to be. Only a few years later all three genre titans would be dead.

A 24 track CD of the GOBLIN score is also included when ordering the BD + CD edition. Over the years this has evolved into my own favorite GOBLIN film score and alone makes this a worthwhile purchase. 

I really can't report on the previous Blu-ray releases but Severin's HD presentation is probably going to be your go-to option for experiencing this defining example of European Trash Cinema. 
Reviewed by (C) Robert Monell, 2017

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tout le monde il en a deux (original title)
Bacchanales Sexuelles; Fly Me The French Way

1.66:1 Anamorphic widescreen transfer
Original French language audio
English subtitles
Chapter Selections
103 minutes
2002 release

According to the notes on the back of this DVD box this is the full version of a film cut by almost 30 minutes for its US release. I haven't seen this shorter cut on video and don't know if it has ever appeared on disc of online or had a North American theatrical release. 

Valerie (Joelle Coeur) and her friend Sophie (Britt Anders) move into her cousin's apartment while he is away on business in America for six months. The two share an intimate relationship and the first 20 minutes of so feature an extended lesbian encounter between them. Suddenly, two women in cat burglar tights and masks break into the apartment and kidnap Sophie, taking her to the rural castle of Malvina (Israeli actress Brigette Borghese). It turns out that Valerie's cousin, a free lance journalist, has taken some photos of cult activities at the chateau and is blackmailing Malvina. Sophie knows nothing about this but is ordered tortured for further information by Malvina. Valerie finds out where her friend is being held and goes to investigate. Meanwhile, Malvina's agent, disguised as a maid, visits the apartment to steal the incriminating photos. A new cult candidate (Annie Belle/Brilland LIPS OF BLOOD) is also in the process of being initiated into the cult. Numerous complications, sensual liaisons, disguises, break-ins, tortures, cat fights and other sado-erotic events unfold before Malvina's evil empire is destroyed and the heroines escape.

Brunette Joelle Coeur made an impression as the sadistic Tina in Rollin's surrealist pirate movie, DEMONIACS (1973) as well as his "Michel Gentil" signed soft-core of the same year, JEUNE FILLES IMPUDIQUES. She also demonstrates a talent for rough house comedy. This is probably the best of Rollin's "for the money only" soft-core titles, in terms of production values, plot interest and pacing. At least there's an element of Rivette-like complot. It's actually quite amusing in the way it complicates its erotic passages by interrupting them with surprise entrances and exits by villains out to get what they want from Valerie and co. Two French maids are on hand, which one is real and which the secret agent? Why is the Valerie's bath water bright blue? What else do the cult do except plan orgies and punish offenders? It's all paced with such dispatch and shot with artful poise that logic isn't an issue here, it's a disposable distraction from the fun. A witty, energetic music score by "Rex Hilton", his only credited film score, boosts the action and sense of comic book style parody. This film functions as its own erotic "Cinesex" style photo-novel of the era. The film is perhaps a bit overlong at over 100 minutes but it has an internal energy which really rivets attention even during the extended erotica, sometimes shot in extreme close-up, with some obviously simulated hard-core moments. 

The Castel twins float through the action in costumes which suggest a Fantomas scenario or Franju's JUDEX (1963). Yes, this is an erotic exploitation film but Rollin imbues it with a distinct sense of Fantastique, as only he can. The formidable Brigitte Borghese (born Tamar Elkayam in 1955 in Israel, died on Febuary 9, 2013) was an actress who fits very well into the Fantastique realm, as she did in Rollin's LES TROITTOIRS DE BANGKOK (1984), and played the female lead, as the terrorist Britta in N.G. Mount's OPERATION LAS VEGAS (1990)*. She debuted in Menahem Golan's 1969 MARGO SHELI and made other adult features before appearing in TOUT LE MONDE IL EN A DEUX. She also appeared in the fanta=horr TENDRE DRACULA, with Peter Cushing and Rollin's NE PRENDS PAS LES POULETS PUR DES PIGEONS, Chickens pretending to be pigeons?! She also appeared in Mount's TREPANATOR (1992) and LE SYNDROME DE D'EDGAR POE (1995). She also worked on several unfinished N.G. Mount projects including BROOKLYN COP in the 1990s.  

Rollin went on to make about a dozen more of these pseudonymous erotic features, as well as the appalling LE LAC DES MORTS VIVANTS (1980), in order to finance his "serious" horror films such as LIPS OF BLOOD, FASCINATION and LES DEUX ORPHELINES VAMPIRES.

*N.G. Mount is Norbert Moutier, the former owner of a Parisian video store, in which he collected and sold cult videos for years. Some scenes in his features were shot in the basement of the video store. He is reportedly retired in Orleans, France. Thanks to Pete Tombs and Lucas Balbo. 

(C) Robert Monell,2017