Thursday 29 March 2012

Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye (1973)

SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE opens with a prowling camera and some dramatic music which reaches an almighty crescendo as we zoom in on a rather fat sleepy-looking ginger cat. Cue the title card in case we haven't quite got the point yet. Then someone gets slashed with a razor and pushed down a flight of stairs into a cellar. Before you can say 'those rats will take ages to gnaw his face off' they have and don't look in the slightest bit fatter for the rather victim-rich meal they've just ingested. After the titles we get to see a horse and cart bringing Jane Birkin to her ancestral Scottish-Italian castle in the company of a very Italian coachman recognisable from countless other giallos dubbed with a very Eurocentric Scottish accent. Jane's back because the school term has finished early, although later she admits that she's been expelled. Up till then I had assumed she was one of the teachers but as this movie is also somewhat reticent about revealing what period our story is taking place in (probably the 1920s but who knows? One sometimes gets the feeling these things were often down to what they could find in the Cinecitta dressing up box at the time) one presumes that Jane, like the movie, is somehow meant to be existing outside time.
       Did I mention story? Well, this particular isolated Scottish castle contains the usual kinds of people one would expect to find in an isolated Scottish castle including an evil doctor, a sexy lesbian French teacher, a gorilla, and a possibly mad handsome cousin. Yes I did say gorilla - well spotted there, we'll be saying more about that in a bit. Anyway in this castle murders start to occur, perpetrated by our usual suspect the Person People Recognise But Don't Identify By Name When They Are About To Be Killed & Who Wears Black Gloves. Police detective Serge Gainsbourg turns up and instead of writing a song or getting Jane to sing one just leans about looking very bored in the way only certain French actors can. Each murder takes place in front of our poor old ginger friend, shoved into shot just before the killing takes place and looking for all the world as if he'd rather be tucked up with a nice saucer of milk laced with the J&B that this film's period setting is too old to allow the product placement of. There's a gorilla in a cage that was apparently dropped off by a travelling circus and which proves to be nothing more than a red herring, making one wonder if all that was left in the dressing up box after they'd taken all the period costumes was a tatty old monkey outfit so they thought they may as well use that as well.
       The film meanders a bit in the middle before we get to the denouement and the unmasking, which is every bit as ridiculous as giallo fans have come to expect. The explanation for the killer's motive also has to be the most longwinded reveal crammed into the shortest possible time that I can remember in one of these things. Then they meet their just deserts, and Jane gets a cuddle. The End. SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE is one for genre completists only. And Jane Birkin completists. And big fat sleepy ginger cat completists. But that's about it.

Saturday 24 March 2012

The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

One of the plethora of delicious EuroHorrors served up by Spain in the 1970s, THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE  is genuinely surprising, possessing an outrageous approach that’s extreme even for a sub-sub genre not exactly known for its subtlety.
We open in a German village where either the beer seems to be served in gallon-sized glasses or the inhabitants are very very small. Walking home young student Ugo gets a bad attack of the tummy cramps and falls down dead in the street. Gotho, the hunchback of the title (Naschy in a bad wig but no ugly makeup – he’s the star, remember?) just happens to be nearby and finds a photograph of Ugo’s girlfriend Ilse while innocently searching the dead man’s pockets. We suspect Ilse isn’t going to last very long as she’s played by the same actress who was the first to get killed by the zombie Templar Knights in Amando de Ossorio’s TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD. Sure enough, after taking Ugo’s body to the morgue (and sawing his hands and feet off for no reason other than to up the yuk content – and why not) we see Gotho visiting Ilse in hospital. She’s a terminal case as according to Doctor Vic Winner “her lungs are all gone”. At least he actually sees some patients as opposed to his four colleagues who seem to spend their time taking the piss out of our hunchbacked hero and getting into fights with him. In fact these naughty medics give Gotho such a good kicking he ends up being taken home by local doctor Elke to heal his wounds. Whether it was his house or hers I’m still not sure but there was what looked like half a garden fence in the lounge as well as Ugo’s severed hands lurking in the bottom right hand corner of the frame. Still, seeing as Elke works up at the local women’s prison where cell-sharing seems to be on a ‘as long as you don’t flog the living daylights out of your room-mate’ basis it’s always possible they’re someone else’s hands that she picked up on the way home.
Ilse dies, which is too much for poor old Gotho as by now he’s hopelessly in love with her, so he does what anyone lovesick hunchback in one of these films would do and carries her off to the vast and labyrinthine catacombs beneath the town that no-one else seems to know about, even though the Spanish Inquisition seem to have left a lot of their torture instruments lying around. And some of their skeletons too, by the look of it.
And the movie’s only just getting started. Ilse’s corpse starts to get gnawed by rats which then get set on fire by Gotho (animal / rat lovers beware this bit as it’s obviously real) but just as things are starting to look bleak for the hunchback up pops mad doctor Alberto Dalbes who has just had funding for his research at the university refused, which is just as well once we find out what it is.
But first he has to build his laboratory in Gotho’s torture chamber, complete with acid bath to dispose of ‘unwanted flesh’. All that Gotho asks in return is that Dr Alberto brings back to life Gotho’s dear dead Ilse. “No problem,” says the rather optimistic mad scientist. Oh but there is a problem – the workman who have helped build the aforementioned underground “secret” laboratory, distracted from their game of ‘Snap’ by the odours emanating from the dead girl, decide to dump her in the acid.
Dr Alberto tries to console Gotho by getting him to bring him a corpse’s head, which he proceeds to cram into a large jar already filled to the brim with blancmange and lungs.  This appear to do the trick as regards the doctor’s creation, however, as the resulting transformation is so terrifying and so beyond the limits of the budget that we aren’t even allowed to see it. The creation, living behind one of those heavily bolted wooden doors with a tiny window in it so the doctor can peek in and tell us just how terrible it is from time to time, needs girls to eat, so off goes hunchbacked Paul to pinch a few, taking time out to exercise the part his contract that says that no matter what part he plays he gets to go to bed with at least one naked Eurohorror actress.
The end is fast approaching and yes, we do eventually get to see the monster, which looks like more blancmange but more man-shaped this time. Nearly everyone dies except Dr Vic Winner (who doesn’t deserve to as he has done absolutely nothing throughout this entire film) and his girlfriend Maria Perschy, who ran the ladies loony bin but now gets to escape to face the blind dead herself in their third outing THE GHOST GALLEON. A lot of Paul Naschy’s films have finally seen release on DVD over the last couple of years. Some are great, some are middling, and some are downright awful, but if you are as yet unfamiliar with the work of one of the greatest stars of Spanish exploitation cinema THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE is a fine place to start.

Sunday 18 March 2012

The Devil Inside (2012)

A found footage movie that is as daft as it is entertaining, THE DEVIL INSIDE manages to pull off the difficult feat of being utterly silly but never less than watchable for its brief running time of just over eighty minutes.
Back in the 1980s we discover via newsreel footage that three people at the US house of Maria Rossi have ended up dead during the course of an exorcism. Thankfully Maria wasn’t left too traumatised to be able to telephone the police, but after being found guilty of the murders but insane, for some reason rather than be confined to her friendly local neighbourhood hospital for people who’ve gone bonkers due to exorcisms Maria gets carted off to a Catholic Hospital For The Hopelessly Insane in Rome. As you do. Many years later (in 2009 to be exact) Maria’s implausibly photogenic daughter Isabella (Fernanda Andrade) has decided she wants to know what’s going on, and that the only way this can be achieved is by having a documentary filmed about her by Michael the cameraman, who obviously hasn’t seen [REC] or he’d know that being in a low-budget European-based found footage horror film essentially means it’ll be curtains for him at some point (probably the end, actually).
So off Isabella travels to Rome where despite having never been there before she shows remarkable ability at being able to drive around the city centre while talking to the camera and pointing out various landmarks. Next she’s off to the highly-unlikely-sounding-to-really-exist Exorcism school where she interrupts a lecture and we get to see a sub-sub version of The Exorcist on video, after which the priests get to debate about whether or not the girl is possessed or if she’s just a bit mental.
Isabella hooks up with two of the priests, bristly bearded twitchy Father Ben (Simon Quarterman) and nervous ex-doctor Father David (Evan Helmuth). After a visit to see her mother in a very Italian horror film lunatic asylum where the old woman burbles madly, shows Isabella all the little crucifixes she’s carved into herself and that she knows Isabella has had an abortion even though there’s no way she possibly could, Ben and David let slip that with very little training and absolutely no endorsement from the Catholic Church whatsoever they are doing exorcisms on the side. With a prime candidate in Mrs Rossi and all the medical equipment that David has presumably stolen from his former job to help them, nothing could possibly go wrong, could it?
I shouldn’t really say much more about this in case people want to watch it for themselves. THE DEVIL INSIDE has had a cascade of quite terrible reviews but if you love low-budget horror, and especially low-budget Italian Exorcist rip off horror, don’t for one second let the opinions of those less well informed than yourself put you off. As a run up to Mrs Rossi we get to see the boys exorcise a young girl who has naturally been put by her parents in their dripping brick-lined basement rather than tucking her up in bed, and this whole scene is really rather good, as are a number of other shock moments and horrific scenes that are telegraphed and orchestrated very well indeed.
The reason many people will not like THE DEVIL INSIDE is that it really does get pottier as the film goes along, to the extent that you will either be cheering or you’ll have left the cinema. At one point during the proceedings, having been through hell and in fear of excommunication, Father David pops off to do a baptism which, for no reason at all, Michael decides to pop along and film as well, which is just as well because otherwise we would have had to rely on them just telling us about the crazy baby-font horror fun that ensues rather than seeing it for ourselves.
The movie reaches a splendidly frenetic and silly climax in a hospital, where again director William Brent Bell proves that he’s actually rather good at orchestrating mayhem. This is then followed by an ending so silly and so abrupt that this has to be the first time in ages I’ve seen a British cinema audience actually sit through the credits rather than get up and leave. I'm also presuming that the reason there's no music over the end titles is because they couldn't get the rights to the INXS song but by the time they found out the composer had gone home.
        THE DEVIL INSIDE is not for everyone. In fact I’d go so far as to suggest it’s for hardly anyone. It’s a load of old rubbish, it really is, but very very entertaining rubbish. Besides, any movie where a blind nun turns up for a fraction of a second just so her face can go on the poster has its exploitation heart in the right place. 

Thursday 15 March 2012

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)

Here’s a film that holds very special memories for me as I first watched it many years ago and on the big screen no less, thanks to the efforts of the Abergavenny Film Society, who I am sure had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they hired a print of this back in the very early 1980s to be a part of an otherwise rather more highbrow European film season. “Apparently it’s very popular with university students,” I was told by one of the elderly committee members during the break as we sipped our mellow Birds coffee and munched our Rich Tea biscuits in the old school room that was serving as a cinema “the print is fully booked up for the next year!” I remember trying to educate the non-horror non-Eurotrash-loving film society about the works of Fulci, Lenzi et al but didn’t get very far before we went back to watch the film’s second half. So that’s how I prefer to remember Jorge Grau’s seminal zombie epic - all splicey and crackly with poor sound and a shocked audience laughing rather bewilderedly at the dubbing and the rather peculiar plot developments.
But despite its (few) negative aspects there’s an awful lot to love about THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, not least of which is the backdrop against which the events on screen take place. Asked to deliver a Euro version of George A Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Grau and his team (some of whom would later work with Fulci on his classic zombie movies including makeup man Gianetto de Rossi and editor Vincenzo Tomassi) decamped to England’s lake district and were fortunate enough to catch it in typical English weather. The gloomy, dreary countryside is somehow given an otherworldly, lush feel to it by the mostly Spanish crew. Even the village in which the action takes place feels as if it isn’t really in England at all, but part of the Euro neverneverland where all the weird monsters live.
Ray Lovelock is George, heading off to the countryside for a quiet weekend “listening to the grass grow”.  Edna (Christine Galbo) backs over his bike at a petrol station and soon she’s giving him a lift. She’s there to visit her heroin addict sister but before you can say “They’re coming to get you Edna” the recently resurrected corpse of Guthrie the loony is trying to do just that. It’s all because of a pest control system that looks like a combine harvester without, well, the harvester bit that’s been set up in a local field. As well as resurrecting the dead it’s turning babies into killers and sadly we don’t get to see much more of that after one blinds a nurse. Edna’s sister’s husband gets killed and there’s only one suspect, at least according to shouty shakey handy policeman Arthur Kennedy who rants a lot about long haired hippies while wondering where he’s mislaid that bottle of J&B he really should be regularly swigging from. 
It all goes zombie-shaped at the end of course with the undead attacking a hospital, doing quite unspeakable things to the telephone operator and killing both George and Edna with a scant few minutes for a coda and a freeze frame on the naughty machine that started it all.
I’ve seen this several times now since all those years ago in Abergavenny and thanks to DVD it now has a new lease of life and thankfully a much cleaned-up print. Like so many EuroHorrors of that time the dubbing is a bit rubbish, the plot is a bit ropey but none of that matters because there’s such an atmosphere to almost every scene that you cannot help but want to immerse yourself in it. There’s nothing quite like THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, and no film as far as I am aware has managed to give the Lake District such a sense of lush, bleak, grim forbiddingness that really does make it feel like nowhere you’ve been, or would ever want to go.
Not in real life, anyway.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Horrible (1981)

Recently at Probert Towers we subjected ourselves to Joe D’Amato’s THE ANTHROPOPHAGOUS BEAST aka THE GRIM REAPER. It was our first brush with the directorial oeuvre of Mr D’Amato and also happened to be one of the most boring horror films I have ever seen, consisting of about seventy minutes of Tisa Farrow and her friends wandering around a deserted Greek island followed by twenty minutes of really tasteless murders. The film had so little in the way of redeeming features (none, in fact) that I didn’t feel moved to review it for House of Mortal Cinema. On the documentary that accompanied ANTHROPOPHAGUS (oh yes I watched that too) the late Mr D’Amato states that the film was such a success that he made a sequel, titled ROSSO SANGUE aka HORRIBLE aka ABSURD aka ANTHROPOPHAGOUS BEAST PART 2. D’Amato (real name Aristide Massaccesi), never one to pass up the opportunity to hide behind yet another pseudonym, credits the direction of HORRIBLE  to one Peter Newton. After the first film my expectations were absolutely rock bottom, which may go a long way towards explaining why I ended up having a bit more fun with this one.
George Eastman / Luigi Montefiore, tall, imposing and rather scary looking star of ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, BRONX WARRIORS, NEW BARBARIANS and many others is being chased through the grounds of a country house by priest Edmund Purdom. He climbs over the iron gates that border the property but whoops! slips and impales himself on the railings. He toddles along to a local house with his guts hanging out and is taken to a nearby hospital, where they patch him up. He wakes up during the anaesthetic but apparently his ECG is okay, which is odd as the device being used to monitor his heart rate is a cathode ray oscilloscope but to be honest that’s the least of the mistakes on display in this bit, including surgical gowns that only come down to the elbows so you can see the sleeves of the actors’ jumpers and not just one but a whole collection of X-Rays that someone has put up  upside down. 
        George wakes up, shoves a handy drill through a nurse’s head and escapes to go on the rampage. The police turn up, as does the priest, who explains that George is the product of an experiment that has gone wrong so that now as well as being mental he’s almost impossible to kill. Apparently he’s also Greek which allows a very tenuous connection with the first film that will later prove to be completely irrelevant but more on that in a bit. George utters not a word of dialogue as he goes off on one of the most tasteless killing sprees ever committed to celluloid, with a bandsaw to the head death in a slaughterhouse being particularly unpleasant, although a pickaxe through the skull of a babysitter is pretty horrible as well.
George ends up back at the house he first went to when he was injured. Mum and Dad have gone out, leaving their babysitter to look after one of the worst child actors in history, one of the most badly dubbed dogs ever, and a girl with her head in traction who’s upstairs and confined to her bed as she can’t move.
So far we’re about forty minutes in and I have to say it’s one of the breeziest, sleaziest, daftest, funniest forty minutes of horror I’ve seen in quite a while. The action slows down a bit while the grim and grotty police drive around the same couple of streets searching for him. There are some more murders and eventually the girl in traction has to get out of bed, taking an age to do so while her nurse gets killed in another excessively nasty scene with her head being shoved in an oven before she eventually has to be stabbed to death with scissors. The girl blinds George before, after a bit of cat and mouse stuff, she hacks his head off. The End.
Joe D’Amato’s best work has been in roles other than director, specifically either as director of photography (WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?) or producer (STAGEFRIGHT). He does a better job here than on ANTHROPOPHAGOUS but still hasn’t learnt the value of close-ups, medium shots or anything that involves him having to do much more than just wave the camera in the general direction of whoever’s speaking at the time. How this is meant to be a sequel to ANTHROPOPHAGOUS I have no idea. In the ANTHROPOPHAGOUS documentary D’Amato claims it’s a prequel to the first film, so how George gets his head sewn back on and his sight restored before losing all his hair and going back to Greece to try and eat Tisa Farrow is presumably something Joe was saving was ANTHROPOPHAGOUS 3. HORRIBLE is just that, but it is buckets of fun compared with its predecessor. If you really, really have to watch a Joe D’Amato film then this is probably the one to subject yourself to.

Monday 5 March 2012

Don't Torture A Duckling (1972)

Another giallo with a daft title and a ludicrous explanation for it that we don't get until the 88 minute mark, DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING was Lucio Fulci's follow-up to the similarly irrelevantly-titled LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN. It is, however, a much better film. Someone is murdering little boys in a remote Italian town. Is it naked Barbara Bouchet with her wave tank and drug problem? Or mad Florinda Bolkan who likes to stick pins in wax effigies and bury them next to the skeleton of her aborted child? Yes we're firmly in Italian horror film territory from the get go with this, which is actually a lot better than Fulci's previous giallo effort. In fact I've probably done it an injustice by so far making it sound a bit sillier than it actually is. Typical gialli of the early 1970s tended to emphasise 'with it' characters living in fashionable apartments and enjoying glossy lifestyles. DUCKLING's setting is an Italian peasant town, with sometimes dressed (and whenever she is it's always fashionably) Barbara Bouchet looking as anachronistic as the concrete highway that towers over the landscape and olde worlde town where all the action takes place. DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING's story unfolds  not in the world of high rise penthouses and devious scheming murderers, but in a far more old-fashioned milieu of superstitious peasant folk and the all-pervading presence of religion. Fulci's directorial style is thoroughly dispassionate throughout - we are shown the events but are only rarely encouraged to relate to the characters on screen. It's interesting to note that the one time we are it's when Fulci involves us in the horrific torture and murder of Bolkan's character by a quartet of local men seeking revenge. Fulci's bleak bitter view of humanity comes to the fore here, where not only is Bolkan portrayed more sympathetically than at any other time in the film, but extra emphasis is placed on the unwillingness of those driving past the cemetery in which the attack takes place to stop and help. And as if he's worried the audience hasn't been manipulated enough Fulci rams his point home by having Riz Ortolani's music play a sweet and soulful song as Florinda gets beaten to death with chains. 
         Again contrary to many of the gialli of the time, the reason for the murders is anything but ludicrous and despite its catchpenny title DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING has one of the better (and less ridiculous) giallo denouements, with a typically horrific end for the killer. The use of a headless toy duck as the key to the mystery is really rather silly, but it's interesting to note that fourteen years later Fulci returned to the giallo form with his controversial and bleak slasher film THE NEW YORK RIPPER, which also featured a toy duck as a vital clue in identifying that movie's quacking-voiced killer. Perhaps Fulci had a thing about them, in which case we should be glad he never ended up making MR POPPER"S PENGUINS. But then again, that might have been interesting...