14 July, 2007

Satan is Coming, Make Mine a Double!

I asked for Eurotrash and they gave me Eurotrash. Two Eurotrash obscurities served up on a low priced platter garnished with a number of vintage trailers for such 70's and 80s drive-in material as THE PICKUP, PRIME EVIL, DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE and the Asian Trash epics SISTER STREETFIGHTER and LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI. Also included are those blaring OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION notices in appropriately scratchy condition just as they were in this project's template, the feature film GRINDHOUSE, released earlier this year to mostly good notices and sharply disappointing box office results. You can see from the images above that the DVD's producer's also based their cover art on the film's garish poster, designed in basic black and blood red. But where the poster for the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino GRINDHOUSE is eye-fetchingly packed with amusing detail, hyperbolic text and graphics the DVD cover is laid out in a rather clumsy, overcrowded fashion. In fact, the actual DVD looks even worse in hand as the bright reds have turned into color faded, smudgy lettering against what reproduced as a muddy background. The copy on the back, especially the film's specs, are difficult to read and need to be held under a light. Intentional? Maybe. But for me this is the ugliest DVD cover of the year.
Now, I'm not going to trash the entire enterprise, since I did want both of these on DVD and EVIL EYE turns out to be quite a nasty and compelling slice of mid 1970s paranoia fueled satanism. The price is certainly right. I just wonder about the wisdom of piggybacking on a notably unsuccessful project, at least in its brief US theatrical run, although GRINDHOUSE may turn a tidy profit on its coming DVD. In the previous blog we discussed our preferences concerning the popular brandings EUROTRASH vs EUROCULT. These films definitely cry out to classed as the former, despite the fact they both feature very aggressive satanic cults. WELCOME TO THE GRINDHOUSE is the kind of product which invites off-the-rack impulse purchases but I've yet to come across a copy after visiting numerous retail locations. Hopefully, the people behind this will sort things out and maybe there will be a couple of other Eurotrash items they'll be releasing which might find their way into this blog.
EVIL EYE (both films are presented in 1.85:1 widescreen ratio) is a very welcome and watchable transfer of Italian hack Mario Siciliano's 1974 Mexican-Italian-Spanish giallo-horror combo MALOCCHIO aka EROTICOFOLLIA. I would have preferred the latter title onscreen but EVIL EYE is the correct English translation. The late Siciliano (1925-1987) directed a number of Spaghetti Westerns before his career burned out with a series of low-budget porno items (ORGASMO ESOTICO). EVIL EYE is presented in a rather grainy print which looks like it was taken directly from a film element rather than a negative, which is just fine, since the film quality rather suits the subject matter and delirious style, and the film does have a style, even if it's mostly provided by the mid 1970's wardrobes and porkchop sideburns which most of the male actors sport. It looks like one of those post EXORCIST horror films which jump back in time to late 1960's psychedelic aesthetics with a crude attempt to make it all hang together using trendy flash forwards, crossing cutting, odd camera angles and an assortment of tricks which don't really work. But that's part of the fun.
Mexican hunk Jorge Rivero is a bizarre casting choice for American millionaire playboy Peter Crane who is tormented by dreams of being driven to murder by a mysterious sect who perform rituals with oversized candles while wearing the required red and black hoods or jump around in the nude screaming into wide angle lenses. When the dreams seem to start becoming reality Crane consults his psychiatrist (THE GODFATHER's Richard Conte) as he is tracked by a suspicious police detective (THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE's Anthony Steffen). It will all end badly for Peter and incomprehensibly for the viewer. I wouldn't have it any other way. Value added extras include a delightfully "groovy" score by maestro Stelvio Cipriani and a wildly eclectic Italian-Spanish supporting cast including Luciano Pigozzi (THE WHIP AND THE BODY), Lone Fleming (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD) and Eduardo Fajardo (DJANGO) as Crane's proper English butler who ends up vomiting toads just like Elke Sommer in HOUSE OF EXORCISM. Conte looks somewhat uncomfortable with his involvement while Steffen appears to be having fun while picking up his paycheck. This made me want to see Siciliano's THE SATANIC MECHANIC (you have to love that title!) featuring Lee Van Cleef in a script by sometime Jess Franco scribe Santiago Moncada.
BLACK CANDLES (1982) is another story. The English language equivalent of Jose Ramon Larraz's LOS RITOS SEXUALES DEL DIABLO, bears a 1980 date and his name on the title of the print, which is alternately over and underexposed with somewhat faded colors. It's actually credited to Joseph Braunstein, one of the Spanish director's Anglo beards and the rest of the cast also get similar name changes. The English dubbing is annoyingly out of synch and voice cast with mid Atlantic accents which I also found irritating. Poor Helga Line was nearing 50 when she agreed to strip off and perform in numerous autoerotic and orgy scenes in this dubious enterprise. Still trim and fit, she proved a trouper. Born in 1932 as Helga Lina Stern in Berlin, she fled Germany and wound up acting in Spanish and Italian dramas, horror (THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER), spy films (OPERATION POKER), westerns (HANDS UP DEADMAN, YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!) and still appears on Spanish TV. She was one of the Queens of Spanish horror in such titles as HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB and THE VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY (both 1972). She's fine here as the "bitch in heat" who is a Player in the satanic cult hidden away in rural England and the only performer in the cast who appears to know how to act. The hapless supporting cast includes Vanessa Hildago and Carmen Carrion, who also appeared in Jess Franco's much better SEXUAL STORY OF O around the same time. The plot is an unimaginative rehash of ROSEMARY'S BABY and the 1965 INCUBUS, without the skillful direction of the former or the gothic atmosphere of the latter. The ending is recycled from the classic DEAD OF NIGHT. Larraz seems to have been going for a soft-focus elegance but comes up empty handed. There are a lot of extended sex scenes, none the least bit erotic, including a notorious one involving a goat (that one is also lifted from INCUBUS). The director has since rejected the film as a hopeless project which he used as a way to stay afloat at the time. Larraz and Line would also work together on ESTIGMA (1982). Missing from this print are approximately two minutes of exit music where Marcello Giombini's score (lifted from 1974's THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW) played over a black screen. It was the only thing which I found effective about the film, since it gave the familiar proceedings an oneiric spin and a long goodbye which cleared the mind. Larraz will be remembered as the talented director of a series of 1970's horrotica, including DEVIATION, SCREAM AND DIE, SYMPTOMS, EL MIRON, and VIOLATION OF THE BITCH, which are all excellent and really need proper DVD presentations. His WHIRLPOOL, EDGE OF THE AXE, DEADLY MANOR and REST IN PIECES are also worth seeing and notably absent on DVD.
*To access my review of the movie GRINDHOUSE type in the title in the SEARCH function at the top of the blog.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007


scott said...

I have always been found of Larraz work but have only seen VAMPYRES, SYMPTOMS, VIOLATION OF THE BITCH, DEVIATION, and SCREAM AND DIE. the blog on BLACK CANDLES sounds very enticing as well as the other film I haven't seen either.

mike said...

I'm a big fan of Larraz as well and was planning on picking up the DVD since it was so cheap and I hadn't seen the film yet. DEADLY MANOR is actually available on DVD in the UK for pretty cheap; the DVD itself is decent but it's lacking any extras; I agree that the film is decent. I don't *think* that it's cut at all, but I could be wrong.

Robert Monell said...

Scott, EVIL EYE is actually quite interesting. I've already watched it several times in the few days I've had it. Very entertaining. Mike, I've got DEADLY MANOR in a fairly good fullscreen video. Didn't know it was out on UK DVD. Thanks for the information. More Larraz needs to be out on DVD!

Cinebeats said...

I've kind of ignored these Grindhouse DVDs since the first few didn't really interest me much, but now I'll give them a look soon. Thanks for the great review!

Anonymous said...

Parts of Giombini's score for EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW also show up in Naschy's NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF.

Robert Monell said...

Thanks, Cinebeats. The other GRINDHOUSE titles are mostly US made 70s and 80s sexploitation/horror which don't interest me either. But this is worth getting for EVIL EYE, which is prime 70s Eurotrash, and even though BLACK CANDLES fizzles its worth a look tracking the career of Larraz.

Robert Monell said...

I forgot about Giombini's music being in that CAM score in the Naschy. There are a lot of different cues in that score from Italian composers.