31 December, 2007

2007: THE YEAR OF TOXIC CULTURE


Javier Bardem as the Angel of Death in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.
The best movies I saw in 2007 were Joel and Ethan Coen's controversial melding of noir and western motifs NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and David Lynch's avant garde epic INLAND EMPIRE (my choice for the year's best DVD presentation). They both are essentially low key black comedies illustrating what I term our present toxic culture of fear, loathing and human exploitation. They both critique a contemporary Hollywood which seems to be politically correct and in which hardcore gore is now a mainstream attraction. To paraphrase a line in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, they both have something to do with Death. In a year of HOSTEL and SAW sequels, HALLOWEEN remakes/ripoffs, where even Tim Burton's SWEENEY TODD drowns in arterial splatterm, I find myself withdrawing more and more from the mainstream experience. The only other mainstream movies I saw were Werner Herzog's RESCUE DAWN and GRINDHOUSE, the former taking place in 60s Vietnam, the latter lost in references to 70's grindhouse product.
It's interesting that even though NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN takes place in pre cellphone, pre-internet 1980 it eloquently and poetically speaks to our own troubled times. Bardem's professional killer is both a calm reality check and a kind of metaphysical force who reminds his victims of the random nature of the universe. That's what makes him so unsettling. He's not just another unstoppable hit man, he's the bitter Truth. This is NOT just another serial killer film. And it is ultra violent. Having been to the Texas-Mexican border regions I can attest that it's certainly authentic in its look but the film goes beyond representation into the realms of mythic allegory. I have read all kinds of wild interpretations of the film's structural system but it expresses what has evolved into a national melancholy over the real life horrors taking place in far-away deserts as our players search for tainted gold in a blasted American landscape. Some friends have expressed confusion about the ending, its unanswered questions and dangling plot points. The film is steeped in ambiguity of the kind we rarely encounter in contemporary American movies. It's not about plot, it's finally a poetic meditation on Death, the only certainly in life. I was immediately drawn into its oneiric texture and can understand how some can feel as if they've just paid to experience a nightmare. But it's a nightmare that gives a sense of where we're at, a sort of ghoulish campire cautionary tale which also acts as a global positioning system. BTW, Bardem is the nephew of the great Spanish director Juan Antonio Bardem, whom Jess Franco worked for as a writer and composer on several 1950s projects (DEATH OF A CYCLIST) and the director of THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER, which has been reviewed on this blog.
With INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch took a giant step away from mainstream Hollywood, although the action, like that of his other 21st century masterwork MULLHOLLAND DRIVE, takes place under its famous sign. Also oneiric and disturbing, it goes even further than the Coen Brothers by doing away with film altogether, creating its multiple realities on digital video without a formal finished screenplay and flying under the radar of coast to coast distribution and exhibition.
The premise is a cursed Polish movie which is being remade by a Hollywood director (Jeremy Irons) with a seemingly picture perfect actress (Laura Dern). From its opening scenes of characters with blurred off heads engaging in transgressive behavior in a seedy Polish hotel to the absurd coup de theatre of the play enacted by humanoid rabbits to the eerie evocations of the sexual underworlds of Los Angeles and Lodz, Poland, this is a daring, iconoclastic vision which takes us to places we've never been before. Time will tell if Lynch has revolutionized cinema in the same way his TWIN PEAKS once signaled a paradigm shift in commercial television.
The DVD is a thing of beauty, the digital imagery has a spectral quality with outre hues and unsettling textures. One gets the sense that if there is life after death this is what it very well may look, sound and feel like. A time and space spanning waiting room with the latest electronics, hookers, stylish lamps, dancing and a guy sawing a log in the corner. The DVD has hours of extras including extensive deleted footage, behind the scenes production footage showing Lynch in hyperaction, a Lynch short, trailers, stills and more. Take a vacation day, sit down for six hours and experience the poly-phonics contained within. 2 Disk SE from RHINO.
Other Favorite DVDS:
EL TOPO: THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWKY: I picked up the single of this from the Anchor Bay/Starz box set. I was hypnotized by the legendary cult item when I first saw it during its initial NYC run as the first Midnight Movie, thanks to John and Yoko. This lovely, much needed OAR DVD with English and Original Spanish soundtrack options actually makes the movie look and sound better than it did when I saw it on the big screen over 35 years ago. An X rated (at the time) acid western loaded with Zen Buddhist/Sergio Leone/Luis Bunuel stylistic touches. It is dated? Maybe, but the illuminating and highly entertaining commentary track proves that Alejandro Jodorowky is one of the most evolved humans on the face of the earth.
HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN (1969): Invisible since its controversial Japanese theatrical release nearly 40 years ago KYOFU KIKEI NINGEN is a transgressive ero-guro cocktail of noir, medical horrors, surrealism and Butoh performance adapted from the stories of Edogawa Rampo, the Japanese Poe. From the director of my much beloved SUPERGIANT episodes of the 1950s (released as STARMAN features here in the 1960s), the late Teruo Ishii (THE JOYS OF TORTURE) was a wild and eclectic talent. This definitive Synapse presentation is a gorgeous OAR transfer from long unavailable vault elements with numerous supplements. In terms of film history this may have been the most significant DVD discovery and release of the year. A hallucinatory experience which demands to be seen by the adventurous viewer.
MALPERTUIS (1972): Barrel Entertainment's 2 Disc presentation of Harry Kumel's mythological fantasy based on the novel of the legendary Jean Ray. You get the long sought after 119 director's cut which was replaced by a 100 minute version for a Cannes Film Festival version. That version is also included along with documentary interviews with Kumel, Jean Ray, the lovely Susan Hampshire, and a fascinating 25 minute featurette containing outtakes of featured actor Orson Welles calling his own cuts during the tempestuous filming. Kumel provides an audio commentary on the Director's Cut. An informative, illustrated booklet by David De Valle is icing on the cake. Both versions of this heady film prove to have their merits. This 16X9 HD transfer is the only way to partake of this visual feast.
HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB/THE LORELEY'S GRASP:
BCI Eclipse made 2007 the year of Spanish horror with a series of HD DVD presentations of Paul Naschy/Spanish horror double bills. The most significant and impressive was this most recent double feature which includes the first ever Paul Naschy commentary on a US DVD presentation. Naschy and director Carlos Aured reflect on the 1972 making of EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA, a longtime favorite written and featuring the legendary Spanish horror icon. A must have for collectors of Spanish horror. This is paired with another HD transfer of THE LORELEY'S GRASP (1974) from the creator of THE BLIND DEAD series, Amando De Ossorio. The image quality and colors are just dazzling in this modern day retelling of the mythological Loreley(Helga Line), her servant Alberic (Luis Barboo) and the heroic Sirgud (Tony Kendall), or it can just be enjoyed as old fashioned rubber suited monster fun. Both features are anamorphic wide screen 1.85: 1 transfers from Spanish vault elements with the Spanish and vintage English language tracks included. My only complaint is that I wish they would go back to the regular white subtitles rather than the enhanced ones on view here. I find them a bit eye straining. Scholarly, fun to read liner notes are provided by Spanish horror authority Mirek Lipinski More Naschy/Spanish horror HD transfers are promised for 2008.
Late addition:
LATITUDE ZERO (1969) Tokyo Shock's 2 Disc SE of Ishiro Honda's crazy comic book style blend of Jules Verne, environmental warnings, furry monster bats, rats, and lions, all presided over by Joseph Cotton and Cesar Romero as warring submarine commanders. Takeo Kida's psychelic-lounge sets are a sight to behold as are the brightly colored plastic costumes. In 2.35:1 Tohoscope, both the original Japanese and US version are offered with language options, trailers, crew interviews and a rather amazing deleted scenes folder. A must have for Toho fantasy collectors and it's available at very low retail prices. This may be the most fun DVD of the year. Click on the CINEBEATS link below to read her excellent review.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007


ANTENA CRIMINAL DAY!

www.trashpalace.com/Antena.htm


"ANTENA CRIMINAL"-MAKING A JESS FRANCO MOVIE-
A VIDEO VERITÉ DOCUMENTING THE MAKING OF JESS FRANCO'S "BLIND TARGET"
SHOT IN MALAGA, SPAIN IN THE YEAR 2000 BY BRIAN D. HORRORWITZ
ADDITIONAL CAMERA WORK BY KEVIN COLLINS, LINNEA QUIGLEY AND LINA ROMAY ORIGINAL SCORE BY THE UBANGIS

ON SALE DECEMBER 31st, 2007!
2 DISC SET INCLUDES:FEATURE MOVIE (84 minutes) EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JESS FRANCO (25 minutes) OUTTAKES AND DELETED FOOTAGE (50 minutes) PHOTO GALLERY WITH COMPLETE SCORE (21 minutes)"ANTENA CRIMINAL" WORLD PREMIERE (8 minutes) TRAILER (3 minutes) LINER NOTES BY MONDO MACABRO'S PETE TOMBS
PLUS: A FREE DVD OF JESS FRANCO'S "BLIND TARGET"!
ONLY $11.98 PLUS SHIPPING!


30 December, 2007

BEST FILM BOOKS OF 2007






MARIO BAVA: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK
Tim Lucas delivered his epic length (over 1000 pages), meticulously researched Mario Bava biography which is also an invaluable film reference book and history of Italian genre cinema from the silent era to the 1980s. Lavishly illustrated, a feast for the eyes and mind. To read my longer blog on this just type ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK into the search engine and page down. To find out about ordering it click on the permanent Video Watchblog link on the sidebar.



NIGHTMARE USA
From the FABPRESS site: "Running to 528 large-format pages, Nightmare USA is a veritable encyclopedia of grindhouse cinema - it's without doubt the year's most ground-breaking film book! A kaleidoscopic journey through the heyday of Horror and Exploitation Cinema in America!"

And that's exactly what Stephen Thrower has written: the last word on US Independent Exploitation cinema from 1970-1985 with over 175 films reviewed, a 20,000 plus word essay on the origins of US Exploitation, long essays on various films, filmmakers, and interviews with participants in the product of that era. Over 50 pages of lurid color adverts, stills, and hundreds of behind the scenes photos, admats, posters, make this a must for collectors and fans of exploitation movies. A fascinating, definitive and fun to read reference work.

From LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET to DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE to BLOOD FREAK to MESSIAH OF EVIL to I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, it's all here. Full credits for the films by Julian Grainger are a welcome inclusion, along with an Exploitation Independent Checklist and index. Over 500 pages with a killer cover design depicting the flamethrower meltdown of a bloody collage of images from the films. It can be ordered from http://www.fabpress.com/
And a second volume is promised!
I'm not the most objective reader since I was gratified to be a minor contributor to both of these massive tomes but I don't think anyone will be disappointed after acquiring these.


(C) Robert Monell, 2007














28 December, 2007

Margaret Lee Tribute Site


Margaret Lee as a fatal attraction in the rarely seen 1971 Eurocrime film, THE ROGUE.

Please click on the Margaret Lee Tribute Site link on the sidebar to examine this site devoted to the British actress who appeared in European spy, war, horror, crime, erotic films of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Included are numerous images of her in THE ROGUE and other exploitation features of that time period. There is also a video of ARRIVA DORELLIK (1968), an Italian produced fumetti style parody, along with vintage film posters and magazine covers on which she posed.

She has supporting roles in Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS (1969) and THE BLOODY JUDGE (1970).

Some of my personal favorite Margaret Lee performances and films include Riccardo Freda's DOUBLE FACE (1969), Fernando Di Leo's gory sleaze-fest SLAUGHTER HOTEL (1971), VENUS IN FURS (1969), all of which featured her alongside the legendary Klaus Kinski. She's also charming in such Eurospy items as Franco Prosperi's DICK SMART 2.007 (1967) and Giorgio Ferroni's NEW YORK CALLING SUPERDRAGON (1966). And she's just terrific as the sensual, deadly darling in the Yugoslavian lensed THE ROGUE, which I someday hope has a decent R1 DVD presentation.
I have been told that she now lives in California.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

27 December, 2007

Best DVD Boxset of 2007



Black Emanuelle's Box 2 (4-Disc Limited Edition)
dir. Brunello Rondi + Adalberto Albertini (as Albert Thomas) + Aristide Massaccesi (as Joe D'Amato


DVD boxsets seem to be gaining in popularity and Severin's BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX Volume 2, a 4-Disc Limited Collector's Edition, was the most impressive one of 2007. Included were luminous, HD transfers from original vault elements of three rarely seen entries in the 1970s, BLACK EMANUELLE series: Brunello Rondi's BLACK EMMANUELLE, WHITE EMMANUELLE was a revelation and challenges EMANUELLE IN AMERICA as the top BE title; Joe D'Amato's fun sleaze travelogue EMANUELLE AND THE WHITE SLAVE TRADE; the completist's oddity BLACK EMANUELLE 2. The fourth disc was a very welcome CD compilation of 25 Nico Fidenco cues from EMANUELLE NERA IN AMERICA, EMANUELLE E GLI ULTIMI CANNIBALI and LA VIA DELLA PROSITUZIONE. For me, the CD alone is worth the price of admission. I'll be revisiting it countless times. Viva Fidenco!

Numerous extras include deleted scenes, original theatrical trailers, interviews with the film's actors and a Joe D'Amato featurette. Black Emanuelle is, for my money, the Queen of European Sexploitation and this set delivers hours of vintage Eurotrash sights and sounds.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007





26 December, 2007

THE EUROSPY FILES



I'm not impressed by the new James Bond and all the post-Sean Connery ones leave a lot to be desired. I prefer Eurospy guys and girls of 1960s vintage; give me the classic Bond films and their imitators from that decade. As indicated by the banner on the sidebar, as a regular special feature I'll present favorite Eurospy art, films, actors and images from that era, .

The image at the top of this blog is of a personal favorite 1960s Eurospy actor in a certain espionage thriller from that Golden Age.
Can you name the actor and the European lensed spy film shown above? Or at least appreciate the threads and hairstyle circa 1965 (that's a hint).

This is a reposting of a quiz I conducted back in March, 2007. No one got it so I'm giving it a second shot.

Just type THE EUROSPY FILES into the blog's search engine to read past posts on favorite Eurospy films/actors. In the future there will also be some posts on Eurospy films from other decades but I'll be mostly concentrating on 1960s titles.
Jess Franco directed numerous Eurospy adventures from LA MUERTE SILBA UN BLUES (1962) to DARK MISSION (1989), in fact he may have made more of them than any other single European director. But that should come as no surprise. We'll be devoting a lot more space to Franco's own Eurospy filmography in the coming year as well as titles by other directors. Future Eurospy films to be critiqued will include Riccardo Freda's COPLAN films, ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS, RESIDENCE FOR SPIES, OPERATION WHITE SHARK, LIGHTNING BOLT, THE FULLER REPORT, KILL AGENT GORDON and many more.


(C) Robert Monell, 2007

25 December, 2007

HOLIDAY GREETINGS!


MERRY CHRISTMAS and Happy New Year to all of our readers and Jess Franco!
From the Contributors: I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND.


23 December, 2007

DVD's of 2007

One of Alain Robbe-Grillet's directorial efforts finally made its way to R1 DVD. That's more than noteworthy. LA BELLE CAPTIVE (1983) is perhaps his most visually entrancing, elegant film yet. A teasing erotic melodrama, a tongue in cheek spy adventure, a psychoanalytic amusement, a invocation of the Angel of Death. An oneiric compilation of images from the cinema's collective unconscious, looking back to the erotic 70's vampire films of Jean Rollin and ahead to Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT, Robbe-Grillet positions his films outside of time and ontological reality, which allows the mythologies which undermine human interactions to become visible.

To quote my original imdb review, based on a rather fuzzy video dupe with no English options:

"An erotic, virtual reality puzzle for the adventurous viewer..., 7 August 2000Author: bobmonell from New York
LA BELLE CAPTIVE may be Robbe-Grillet's most entertaining and accomplished film. It dazzles the eye by creating a series of secret encounters inspired by Magritte's surrealist painting, which the director named his film after. You don't have to know anything about art to enjoy this film, though. Motifs from vampire films and erotic thrillers are interwoven with more hermetic scenes, but it's somehow all held together by the repeated image of a black clad woman riding a motorcycle. The central situation of a man on a mysterious sexual mission and some individual scenes bear a striking resemblance to Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT (1999). "

In fact, now that they are both on DVD, a double bill of LA BELLE CAPTIVE and EYES WIDE SHUT would be most provocative. A Master Class on how two geniuses approach the same material.

Let's hope the rest of his compelling filmography (especially his early b&w L'IMMORTELLE, TRANS EUROPE EXPRESS, THE MAN WHO LIES, all of which will be reviewed on this blog in 2008) follows suit, including his most recent GRADIVA, which put local French critics in the attack mode.


Having heard Robbe-Grillet discourse on his cinema I can only hope the octogenarian is invited to do one of his charming commentaries by a enterprising DVD company on a much desired SE digital presentation of any of the above mentioned titles.

(c) 2000-2007 Robert Monell



22 December, 2007

Best Jess Franco DVD of 2007


Main title sequence in 2.35:1, from the 2007 Severin Films DVD.

Severin Film's luminous, vividly colorful 2.35:1/16:9 transfer, from the original Golden Films Internacional elements, of Jess Franco's 1982 THE INCONFESSABLE ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE presents this foray into early 80's erotica in its original Spanish language version with optional English subtitles along with the English language track for the rarely seen export version, EMMANUELLE EXPOSED.


A highly underrated and widely misunderstood title which is usually dismissed as a tame rip-off of the French and Italian Emmanuelle series. It may be a rip-off, and Jess Franco himself states in the informative supplemental interview that it wasn't meant to be an Emmanuelle film at all, but discerning viewers and Franco regulars will want this in their collection his unique, iconoclastic critique of those films. Given the limitations of French TV actress Muriel Montosse (billed here as Vicky Adams). Franco made a subversive satire on the moral hypocrisy of the Latin stud in disco era Spain, a subtle comedy of sexual mores, an illustration of how men view and use women. Elegantly designed, circular in structure, it's much more than a mindless rip-off and it's genuinely erotic.

This is a more layered and personal film than another Muriel Montosse-Jess Franco collaboration from the same period, ABERRACIONES SEXUALES DE UNA MUJER CASADA (1981).*

For a much longer review of Severin's INCONFESSABLE ORGIES..just type the title into the blog's search engine. Severin also released a 2.35:1 high quality transfer of Franco's Sadean erotic melodrama, THE SEXUAL STORY OF O (1981), another Golden Films Internacional production which is also very much worth seeing.

There were also a number of R2 DVD releases of Jess Franco films, notably from Spain and the UK. I'll mention them in an upcoming blog. Probably the most disappointing Franco disc of the year was Dark Sky's COUNT DRACULA, which was in excellent video quality but missing some important footage found in previous home video presentations. My review of that DVD is also in the blog archives.

*Blue Underground will release the French language version of ABERRACIONES....(Retitled CECILIA), post production/dubbing supervised by Eurocine and Olivier Mathot(aka Claude Plaut), in January 2008. This version is reportedly around 105m, the longest run time yet. I've seen the shorter, English language alternate of CECILIA, which somewhat alters Franco's intentions. The original Spanish language track of this would be highly desirable, but it should be an interesting release. We'll be covering that and BU's upgraded EUGENIE (1970) asap, in the meantime hit the Video Watchblog link on the sidebar for a preview of the latter. I haven't seen BU's 2007 discs of WOMEN BEHIND BARS (1975) and CANNIBALS (1980) mainly because the only language options were the English dub tracks.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007





21 December, 2007

More Jess Franco Foto-Roman

It seems that they had two Dario Argento hits in mind when they came up with this retitling. Typical Euro-exploitation strategy.

The story ends tragically for brother and sister, who meet a suitably grisly fate, while our heroine (Olivia Pascal) is saved by our hero. I wonder how many copies of these sold.







19 December, 2007

SUGGESTED CHRISTMAS GIFT...

Coming: Christmas 2007! Place your order now by overnight mail for the Bravo Film Foto-Roman of Jess Franco's most popular film. You'll have to act fast to get it by Christmas! It tells the entire story of what happened one night in Room 13 at the International School of Languages in Spain to a group of innocent students who should have stayed at home.

Both the offer and the movie itself are jokes: me kidding the just-got-to-have-it-by-Xmas rush and Jess Franco doing a critique/parody on all the post HALLOWEEN post slashers.

I'll even throw in a quiz. What is the name of the Clinic Director Jess Franco plays in this film?
If you get this you don't get 10% off on postage!

There will be more Jess Franco Christmas items to come...





17 December, 2007

THE MAN WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES

Jess Franco meditates on our NEW BLOG DESIGN!


Kimberly Lindbergs, the talented Web Designer and creative force behind the CINEBEATS blog, has given our valued blog readers and myself a very special Christmas present: a terrific new blog design! It's the best kind of present since it can be enjoyed by all who behold it and will last all year round.

I have been a fan and regular reader of Kimberly's elegantly designed, thoughtfully written blog since I came upon it. Her reviews, profiles, essays, perceptively focus on all kinds of cinema from the 1960's and 1970's: mainstream, international arthouse classics, gialli, Eurohorror, Japanese Pink films, to name but a few areas she regularly covers. She also presents informative profiles of cult movie actors from the past, from Hollywood legends to Japanese performers who might not be that well known in the West outside of Asian Cult Cinema collectors. Since I am also a big time fan of all things 1960's and 70's CINEBEATS has become an oasis. A place to go to get away from the stress of the modern world and current Pop Culture, which I really can't relate to very much.


Kimberly's talents as a Web Designer are proudly displayed here, her imagination and hard work have given this blog a new face. Being pretty much computer illiterate I just vaguely asked her for something which would be hallucinatory, psychedelic, outre and she almost immediately came up with The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes template at the top surrounded by the Op Art wallpaper. It immediately struck me as perfectly in sync with the visual aesthetic of so much of Jess Franco's best late 60's and early 70's work as well as the many other filmmakers we deal with here.


My main goal is to keep this blog fun and surprising and we should all give a big Shout Out of appreciation to Kimberly for giving her time and creativity to help do that. Welcome to Kimberly as our new Designer/Art Director and I promise there will be more pleasant surprises to come in 2008.

If you haven't discovered CINEBEATS you are in for a treat: http://www.cinebeats.com/

You can meet and greet Kimberly here: http://cinebeats.blogsome.com/2007/11/22/meet-greet/



(C) Robert Monell, 2007

14 December, 2007

THE BEST DVD OF 2007?

Does he remind you of a certain established Japanese giant monster? Well, this is a South Korean kaiju and our horned creature drinks petroleum during the evening cocktail hour. A dyanically composed image from the 2007 MGM MIDNITE MOVIES 2.35:1 transfer of Daeguesu Yonggary.


What's your vote for the best DVD of 2007? It doesn't have to be a Jess Franco film presentation. As you can see we cover all kinds of related and unrelated Eurohorror, world genre films, Hollywood mainstream fare and even Asian cinema. In fact, one of my favorite 2007 disc's is MGM's MIDNITE MOVIES amazing 2.35:1 transfer of Kim Ki-Duk's 1967 ROK giant monster feature YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP as a double feature with AIP's 1961 giant ape epic, KONGA.


YONGARY (Daeguesu Yonggary), has always seemed sillier than the average post GOJIRA TOHO kaiju, mainly due to the tacky special effects (it was a big enterprise for South Korea at the time, but certainly has a downmarket look and tone) and presence of a really annoying child character who has invented a ray which makes people suffer itching spasms! Well, the kid is still irritating but the film looks spectacular in term of HD video quality with a surrealistic color juxtapositions and odd details decorating every over packed scope frame. Did Andy Warhol secretly direct? It looks simply stunning.


And one can lose the excruciating vintage English dub track by listening to it in Spanish or French with English subs. I recommend trying the Spanish first. Who knows what happened to the original ROK track.


It's particularly amusing to watch the creature plow through the plastic models representing Seoul. They look more unreal than ever, but that somehow adds to the fun of it for me.

Given current events, turmoil about the best way to fight global terror and the debate about North Korea, it's interesting to note that a nuclear test in the Middle East unleashes the creature and the first reaction of the ROK government is to declare martial law! Wait a minute! What about civil liberties? It's only a monster attack. Let the toy tanks defend the homeland. These guys are sure in a hurry to declare martial law. Of course, YONGARY expresses ROK paranoia about the North. The final act is taken up with the bombing of the creature with ammonia which causes it to expire in twitching in a pool of blood as the hero and heroine crack up at the thing's death spasms. The annoying youngster protests the chemical poisoning and brings the adults to their senses. Was Kim Ki-Duk an auteur? Your guess is as good as mine.


AIP picked up this film in 1969 and released it directly to US television, where it played in a hideous pan and scan incarnation throughout the 1970's. Always laughable, but now much more entertaining and a revelation to watch in its OAR.

This is also part of MONSTERS & CREATURES: VOLUME ONE, a five disc set including four double feature discs along with a single of Bert I. Gordon's 1976, THE FOOD OF THE GODS, which has been a sought after title for years but even in superior quality demonstrates what worked in the 1950's as high camp doesn't necessarily translate into the mid 1970s. The other disc in this set I would recommend are the double feature of THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES (1955) and the truly outre Z monstrosity THE BEAST WITH 1.000.000 EYES, a rarely seen 1958 Roger Corman production. The lurid original artwork on the cover actually caused problems with authorities in some venues during the initial run of PHANTOM... and may be worth the price of admission. No budget b&w science fiction constructions for sure, but they look great on these discs, probably better than they did on the big screen at the time of original release.


I'll also try to find time to discuss the important DVD debut of Terence Fisher's fascinating 1964 sci-fi obscurity, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, which has only been available for decades in very inferior video quality. It looks absolutely terrific here. If you're a giant monster fan, a B movie collector or just want to see these titles in superior video and audio quality consider buying them either as singles or as a set. They are very reasonably priced. We'll return with more of the best DVD's of 2007 later in the month.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007



08 December, 2007

LES EBRANLEES (1972)

Rare advert for Les Ebranlees


Alternate titles:
Maison du vice
Dolls for Sale

Directed by Clifford Brown [Jess Franco]

A CFFP production

Producer Robert de Neslé

Screenplay Jess Franco

Photography Javier Perez Zofio, Gérard Brissaud

Music Daniel Janin, Robert Hermel




Transvestites, transsexuals, stippers, prostitutes, sex slaves of a thousand sexes, and combinations of all these categories, populate the low rent world of LES EBRANLEES, surrounding a morally clueless Howard Vernon.

This is a difficult film to like, even for the Jess Franco veteran, and it's certainly not for the JF novice/curious. "Vibrating Girls" [there doesn't seem to be an English friendly version on video and it's unclear if it ever played theatrically in any English language print] plays as a rather confusing mess in which some footage may been lost due to an overused source print. The fullscreen French video under consideration here lends new meaning to the term "squeezed" in that the image is tortuously stretched to fill the frame and beyond, creating an extremely distorted image. It looks like it came from a battered 35mm print which played every grindhouse in France before being buried for a few decades. This seems somehow appropriate considering this an an ultra-sleazy (even for Jess Franco) foray into a feral Euro-underworld uncovered by the director's favorite private eye, Al Pereira. The detective has been ably portrayed by Eddie Constantine in the 60s (Attack of the Robots) and Antonio Mayans in the 1980s (Camino solitario, etc.). Vernon, usually appearing as a villain in roles for Franco, Fritz Lang (The 1000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse), and Godard (Alphaville) here shows he is just as adept as the lowdown, but somewhat ethical (considering the company) protagonist who eventually earns sympathy just because he manages to keep a haggard dignity in the midst of the human trash he must deal with. I don't think any other actor could have given this grade Z crime obscurity a sense of gravity amid its porno designation.

LES EBRANLEES is all about sex and greed with torture and murder thrown in. It's a termite neo-noir/sexy crime number drowned in blood, sweat and tears. The plot synopsis published in OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO bears little or no relation to the version under consideration here. But since the continuity is so choppy, and that it seems to have been designed as a kind of soft-core loop with nude dances, strips, and sex scenes taken as autonomous elements which could be placed at any point within the very brief run time, it's hard then to offer an alternative scenario.

Al seems to be investigating a drug/prostitution operation in which a strip club and a nearby hotel are used as staging areas. After brushing off some pimps and thugs, he is abducted by Hansa and threatened by club owner Thomas. Told to shut up and look out for trouble, he hides out with a stripper (Montie Prous) attempting to use the sex slave to infiltrate the criminal organization. One could write a separate essay on the delicate beauty of Montserrat Prous in her Jess Franco roles.

A lot of the runtime is taken up with Al driving his vintage compact from nightclub to nightclub where he lingers to watch live sex performances. This is the world Jess Franco is adept at creating. There is little differentiation between the scenes which telegraph information.

Prous' stripper can charm Al out of his isolation, but when she is tortured to death by the club owner [Doris Thomas] and amazon Hansa [Marisol Hernandez] his revenge is impulsive and furious. The final scene has the sexually ambiguous Dany Sam gutting nude sex partner Anne Libert with a mean looking blade only to get the same treatment while the weapon is still dripping with her victim's blood. But there is more to it than that. Al literally sinks into a universe of moral slime as the sea laps at the beach a few meters away. It's a depressing conclusion which is part of a long list of Jess Franco films which end with the protagonist at the edge of the ocean (VENUS IN FURS, NECRONOMICON, etc).

The ending recycles us back to beginning in vintage adult loop fashion: The action commences in the middle of an erotic performance (cf: Succubus (1967), Exorcism (1974) at a trashy nightclub where trashy patrons gawk at leather clad Kali Hansa vibrating over a red and white checkerboard stage to the frenetic Janin and Hermel electrified lounge score. The most erotic segment is a minimalist striptease by Montie Prous (who knows that the tease is more important than the strip) as she removes nothing more than her black leather gloves, taunting the viewer directly as Franco allows her to drink in the camera lens with her wide, seductive eyes. It may be the sexiest scene in Franco's entire filmography, and that's really saying something!

The lounge-jazz-rock of Daniel Janin-Robert Hermel goes down a lot easier than the film it supports. I'd certainly welcome it on CD. Memorable moments include Hansa getting the drop on Al by holding a gun to his private parts, and Al's slow burn when he discovers the stripper has been murdered. These arresting, brief encounters in an episodic, repetitive structure leave brands which play in the memory long after the porno loop design burns itself out.

Alternately hypnotic and narcotic, this is a rather grim tidbit which will be of interest to Franco collectors due to its long standing unavailability on video and to those who need to see another chapter in one of the director's longest running roadshows-the Al Pereira Chronicles.Franco's customary appearance is one of his hardest to spot cameos, partaking in some kind of depraved drug/sex orgy, he is seen stoned amidst the nude gamers in the red lit room behind the curtain which Al investigates on his way to bloody revenge.

I assume this is the French Videobox release. I've been watching it for the better part of two decades and I would appreciate an upgraded altenative. I would like to see it in its OAR with an English language option to better evaluate the complicated plot and Franco's contribution as director, but don't expect it on R1 DVD anytime soon. Janin and Robert Hermel also composed an equally outre score for Franco's 1973 Sade adaptation, PLAISIR A TROIS.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007


04 December, 2007

The Return of THE PSYCHIC


I've just watched, and more importantly listened to, the updated, audio-corrected disc of Lucio Fulci's THE PSYCHIC. As noted in my previous post on this new Severin Films DVD presentation, there was an issue with low audio levels. I'm happy to report that it now features excellent, dynamic sound quality: full bodied and layered, with dialogue, sound effects and the vintage 1970's Bixio-Tempera-Fabio Frizzi music score perfectly separated and resonant. Very important for a film with such a complex plot and where sound, music and dialogue are as crucial as the visuals.
Now one can fully enjoy one of Fulci's most underrated gialli in superior audio as well as video quality. Kudos to Severin for being so responsive and fixing this problem with such speed and efficiency. It's about time this had a R1 digitial presentation and I can now highly recommend this DVD.
Watching THE PSYCHIC for the third time in as many weeks I was pleased to note that it plays with just as much suspense and verve even after one is aware of the key twists and turns of the plot. It's a superbly crafted thriller, perhaps Fulci's most Hitchcockian film, which closed off an important stage of his career. A must-have for Fulci and giallo fans.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007


30 November, 2007

KARIN SCHUBERT: IL PAVONE NERO

You all probably have seen at least one film with the German actress Karin Schubert, whose prolific career ranged from Sergio Corbucci's COMPANEROS (1970) to European soft core, XXX porno and beyond, way beyond. There's reportedly one or two where she does things with.... Well, we won't go there.

Appearing in over 60 films from the mid 1960's to the 1990's she seems to have since dropped off the map. She is something of a legend of Eurotrash nonetheless: the slim, blonde cult movie siren, kind of like a white version of Laura Gemser, with whom she appeared in the Black Emanuelle template, Bitto Albertini's EMANUELLE NERA (1975). But she doesn't have Gemser's special magic, at least not in the films I've seen her in, which isn't many. She may also be remembered for short, sleazy bits in lower tier gialli such as THE COLD EYES OF FEAR (1971) and THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A (1974), or opposite Richard Burton in BLUEBEARD (1972), one of her few projects which enjoyed some US mainstream theatrical distribution.

One of her most obscure films is the 1974 Italian production IL PAVONE NERO, directed by Osvaldo Civriani (OPERAZIONE POKER), a competent genre journeyman of the 1960s and 70s. This has never had any legitimate home video R1 presentation on any format and don't expect a deluxe DVD presentation any time soon.

This strictly soft core effort combines sexy Caribbean voodoo rituals, mild horror elements, interracial sex, dream sequences and some nudity. Ms. Schubert plays Laura, the upper class wife of an Italian engineer (BAY OF BLOOD's Chris Avram) who is charmed by a voodoo priest when they visit Santo Domingo. As her husband draws up plans for a local construction project she discovers Voodoo dolls in odd places, runs off into the jungle at night to visit fevered rituals presided over by the master, played by singer, composer, actor Don Powell (BLACK EMANUELLE 2). In one delirious scene Schubert, who has Big Hair and isn't afraid to suddenly strip for the nearest male, discovers the white person in every black when a local dancer tears off her own skin and reveals Karin Schubert as the woman hidden within her flesh! Another scene contains a memorable shot of Powell carrying our scuba diving heroine in his arms on the ocean floor. Husband Chris finds out about all this obsessive-compulsive behavior and locks Laura up but the witch doctor gets her anyway, tying her to a sacrificial post for the ultimate sacrifice...

Laura is saved at the last minute by the local police but Chris still has problems with her back home until he finds and burns the voodoo fetish, after which he discovers his wife has become tame as the family dog. Just the way he likes her!

It's all very sexist, racist and totally Politically Incorrect. With a catchy, throbbing, drums-in-the-tropics score by Powell (who doesn't sing here) and Lallo Gori. This somewhat anticipates the later Dominican Republic lensed sex/horror mixes of erotica, zombies, voodoo and gore from Joe D'Amato (cf VOODOO BABY; EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD; PAPAYA: LOVE GODDESS OF THE CANNIBALS, coming on R1 DVD from Severin next year).

IL PAVONE NERO isn't great but registers as a compelling oddity which has some striking scenes and is kind of worth checking out, but it's available in N. America from grey market dealers in Italian language only. The video dub I have is letterboxed, watchable, but hardly HD.

We'll be looking at some other Karin Schubert adventures in future blogs.

(C) Robert Monell











28 November, 2007

A DIRECTOR DIRECTS...


Legendary Grade-Z director Andy Milligan [identified by our able blog readers] gives hands-on instructions to a disturbed looking actress during production of THE BITCH (alternate title?). He looks pretty disturbed himself. This production still which I happened upon is something of a mystery, so if anyone can clarify the exact project, please do. I'll be back to talk more about him and his films maudit or just plain bad movies, but bad movies which are sometimes addictive, uncommon fun.



25 November, 2007

Fernando Fernan Gomez (1921-2007)

Fernando Fernan Gomez, with one of his numerous intenational awards, was one of Spain's most accomplished actors and directors. He was also a key collaborator in the early career of Jess Franco. His recent death is a milestone in the history of Spanish popular culture.


The prolific Spanish stage and screen actor (over 200 film and television appearances from the early 1940s to this year), director of television, film and theater productions, novelist, screenwriter, playwright and poet, he was one of Spain's cultural icons during the second half of the 20th century.

A friend and colleague of Jess Franco, he gave a heartfelt, soulful performance as the doomed Detective Miguel Mora in RIFIFI EN LA CIUDAD (1964), a tremendous film noir set in a corrupt South American police state which remains one of Franco's very best, if rarely seen, works. Those who complain of Franco's technical incompetence, zoom shots, etc, should take the time to see this superior b&w thriller, which is definitely in dire need of a subtitled R1 DVD presentation. Orson Welles was so impressed when it was screened for him that he hired Franco to direct second unit for his CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. One of Gomez' most memorable film roles was in Victor Erice's critically acclaimed SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (1973).


As a director, actor and writer Gomez was equally at ease with comedy and drama, finding an acting role for Franco, as the mentally stunted Venancio, in his black comedy Extraño viaje, El (1964). Voted the seventh best Spanish film of all time EL EXTRANO VIAJE is not as well known in the US, perhaps that will change in the future. Gomez died November 21, of cancer. He had been married to his long time companion, actress Emma Cohen (AL OTRO LADO DEL ESPEJO), since 2000.
If you are a serious Jess Franco collector lobby an appropriate US DVD company to release RIFIFI EN LA CIUDAD.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007

23 November, 2007

REG PARK: THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE MOVIES


Reg Park (1928-2007), the man, with his wife in a recent photo before his demise yesterday after a heroic battle with cancer.

When I looked at my email inbox Thanksgiving morning I noted the header on the first one: Reg Park (1928-2007) and I experienced that chill which always comes when one is faced with the reality of death. In this case, the death of a performer who has brought me hours of pleasure in his signature role of Hercules. The email was an official notice from the Park family that he had finally passed on after an extended bout with the illness. He was surrounded by his loved ones and numerous messages of good will. I was saddened even more by the fact that I had fallen out of touch with him, via his website, and hadn't made it a priority to send him a message of support in his final days. Life is precious and sometimes we wait too long or expect a man of out sized proportions to live forever.

Reg Park will be remembered as a legendary body builder, first winning the title of Mr. Universe in 1951, over another movie Hercules, Steve Reeves, who had won over him the year before. He would go on to inspire Arnold Schwarzenegger, who personally trained under him in his adopted homeland, S. Africa, in the 1960s, and many more aspiring athletes. He had built a thriving business as a lifter, personal trainer, poser, spa mogul by the 1960s as he moved his base from his UK homeland to South Africa. During that period he was called upon to appear in five Italian produced"sword and sandal" films.


Sfida dei giganti, La (1965) .... Hercules... aka Hercules the Avenger (USA)
Ursus, il terrore dei kirghisi (1964) .... Ursus... aka Hercules, Prisoner of Evil (USA) ... aka Terror of the Kirghiz
Maciste nelle miniere di re Salomone (1964) .... Maciste... aka Maciste in King Solomon's Mines (USA: TV title) ... aka Samson in King Solomon's Mines (USA)
Ercole al centro della terra (1961) .... Hercules (Ercole)... aka Hercules at the Center of the Earth (International: English title: literal title) ... aka Hercules in the Center of the Earth (International: English title) ... aka Hercules in the Haunted World (USA) ... aka Hercules vs. the Vampires ... aka Sword and Sandal (Australia: TV title) ... aka The Vampires vs. Hercules ... aka With Hercules to the Center of the Earth
Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (1961) .... Ercole (Hercules)... aka Hercule à la conquête de l'Atlantide (France) ... aka Hercules Conquers Atlantis (UK) ... aka Hercules and the Captive Women (USA) ... aka Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (International: English title) ... aka Hercules and the Haunted Women

Reg Park would become the incarnation of the mythic Hercules in three films, once (in the retitled HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL) involuntarily.
Vittorio Cottafavi's Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide was easily the finest of these projects due to the smooth fit Park made into the role: full of humor, goodwill and an appetite for fine dining (amidst a chaotic tavern brawl at the film's outset), he was to be the perfect Hercules, superhuman strength offset by a taste for la dolce vita on off hours. Steve Reeves always looked the part in his two Pietro Francesci directed late 1950's Hercules adventures, and their stateside success insured him a decade-long career in European costume epics, but there was something missing. His directors often noted the same feeling. Sergio Leone (1959's THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII) termed him a "robot." Sergio Corbucci (DUEL OF THE TITANS) wondered aloud about his actual strength, outside of his pumped-up physique. Whatever he brought to the role, humor was not his forte. Mark Forest was merely adequate in 1960's THE REVENGE OF HERCULES, known as GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON in the US. In any case, ...ATLANTIS, at least the original version, is well worth searching out for its impressive visual pyrotechnics, human and inhuman monsters, delirious fantasy atmosphere and Park's unique take on the role.
In his massive biography ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, author Tim Lucas offers evidence that Mario Bava was an uncredited special effects contributor to ...ATLANTIS and Bava would get the job of directing Park in his second best peplum, ERCOLE AL CENTRO DELLA TERRA (US title: HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD), a visual feast sometimes flawed by too much "comic" relief from a supporting actor who didn't have Park's brand of ironic wit.

Reg Park attempts to burst out of a deadly trap in Piero Regnoli's MACISTE IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1964).
He was Ursus in Antonio Margheriti's 1964 URSUS, IL TERRORE DEI KHIRGISI, an imaginative blend of fantasy, peplum antics, werewolf horror and a spectral eroticism which enveloped the character of a seductive witch who transforms him into her bestial slave. Clean shaven and depicted as a conflicted titan, Park gives one of his most interesting performances here. Unfortunately, the film was retitled HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL for US showings and there is no acceptable R1 video version as of this writing.
He remained beardless and more one dimensionally heroic in Piero Regnoli's South African lensed MACISTE NELLE MINIERE DI RE SALOMONE, his offical goodbye to the genre and film acting. HERCULES, THE AVENGER, the 1965 composite of the superior ....ATLANTIS and ...HAUNTED WORLD would revive his Hercules scenes in an attempt to squeeze more money out of the played out franchise. One wishes for a complete [101m] R1 DVD presentation of HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS at some future date, without the US added Leon Selznick narration and with its original music track intact.
Reg walked away from it all and into body building immortality. Heroes never die....
(C) Robert Monell, 2007






21 November, 2007

Jess Franco Quiz: Who is this actor?


Can you name this actor? He appears in numerous JF films from the 1970s and 1980s. A tougher question: Can you then name ALL the JF films in which he appears? The second question is kind of tricky.




He also has appeared in a great many Italian films of a certain genre from the 1960s onward. If you can name them all, you're good... real good.





18 November, 2007

THE EROTICIST DVD



Lucio Fulci (1927-1996) baits his hook with human meat in NIGHTMARE CONCERT (CAT IN THE BRAIN), his 1990 post modern satire of himself and his horror films (cf Wes Craven's SCREAM).
After working as a screenwriter/assistant director for his master, Steno, he began directing comedies with the legendary Toto and the popular comedy team Franco and Ciccio before moving onto the Spaghetti western genre (the excellent MASSACRE TIME-1966) and making his first giallo (UNA SULL' ALTRA-1969).
Made after the delirious, psychedelic-fueled UNA LUCERTOLA CON LA PELLE DI DONNA (1971) he returned to comedy with All'onorevole piacciono le donne (Nonostante le apparenze... e purché la nazione non lo sappia), a 1972 bawdy satire on contemporary Roman politics, sexual hypocrisy, the Vatican and the Italian police state, a huge agenda fulfilled with style, sophistication, artistic daring and targeted jibes at the mass media. It was finally released in the US in 1975 as THE SENATOR LIKES WOMEN [!]. Now we have it on a superior, revealing R1 DVD presentation as THE EROTICIST.




Senator Puppis (Lando Buzzanca) finds himself neck and neck with an older, conservative politician in a high stakes Italian Presidential race. A hard working Liberal with a progressive agenda Puppis may just pull off an upset when a watchful television technician finds evidence that the Senator has a secret: a shocking predilection for "feeling out the South." No, it's not a political strategy, but a sexual compulsion wherein the Senator finds himself unable to resist reaching and touching women's backsides. Any and all women become targets of his addiction: female politicians, nuns, the wives of colleagues, even the occasional Scotsman in a traditional skirt!
THE EROTICIST is that rare thing, an intelligent sex comedy that provokes deep, liberating laughter while making one think. It has a lot in common with the work of the great Spanish Surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel, especially THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, which take a similar, corrosive attitude toward the public and private absurdities of Church, State, and human nature. One has to only examine the opening sequence, an in-depth televised political discussion is broadcast through a bank of public televisions which no one is watching, the crowd is gathered in front of the local soccer telecast instead. This is matched by the final scene in which President Puppis' dramatic appeal for National Unity is preempted by a popular TV game show. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Senator Puppis is in the midst of self destructing as a powerful Cardinal (the always overblown Lionel Stander), his personal confessor (a sinister minister amusingly played by Renzo Palmer), a randy nun (a pre-scandal Laura Antonelli) heated up by the Senator's abusive night at her convent, along with various advisers, police officials, military intelligence, political rivals struggle to hasten/exploit his demise. It's all monitored by the always scandal-hungry Italian news media, depicted as a cutthroat horde. Look out for Anita Strindberg (the voracious Julia from A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) as an ambassador's wife who Puppis drags into the bushes during a public event. This is all very politically incorrect and that's what makes it tick so inexorably.
Buzzanca was an inspired casting choice. He wisely underplays Puppis' sexual addiction to the point where it becomes a kind of game to notice it. He uses his eyes and small gestures to indicate the Senator's downward spiral. Wearing a combed back wig, spectacles and conservative business suits he's a subterranean freak in the midst of the media madness which was Italian politics then and international politics now. The fact that the film has a special relevance to the affairs of Bill Clinton and the US Congress of the last few years attests to its prescience and durability.
Buzzanca's clever make-up and a Felliniesque fantasy episode [cf JULIET OF THE SPIRITS] involving a giant tree entwining nuns and the fondling of forbidden fruit in a cloudy empyrean are courtesy of the great Giannettto De Rossi, the future creator of the innards orgies of Fulci's ZOMBIE and THE BEYOND. De Rossi, Buzzanca and DP Sergio D'Offizi (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), whose zesty, candied colored compositions give the film a radically different look than Fulci's more well known gialli and horrors, are interviewed in a 43m documentary, A HISTORY OF CENSORSHIP, an extra on the new Severin DVD. The luminous 1.85:1/16:9 transfer of primo vault elements couldn't be better and showcase the careful craftsmanship of all involved. Presented in Dolby Digital Mono Italian with Optional English subtitles, the original soundtrack is highlighted by Fred Bongusto's ironic, popular music score, which enhances the layered satire.
One of Lucio Fulci's best films, THE EROTICIST is the notorious director's barbed commentary on and deconstruction of the hugely successful Italian sex farces of that era, a revelation for those unfamiliar with his work in comedy, which, as everyone here knows, is a much harder genre to crack than straight drama or horror.
Severin's excellent DVD is highly recommended for regulars, newcomers, and collectors of Lucio Fulci's films.
(c)Robert Monell, 2007