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30 October, 2006
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28 October, 2006
Bruno Nicolai is perhaps our favorite composer of movie soundtracks for European genre films of the 1960's and 1970s, from his charming uprhythms for Eurospy adventures like UPPERSEVEN (1965), to his rumbling, ominous atmospheres for EL CONDE DRACULA and THE BLOODY JUDGE(both 1970), to his soaring Spaghetti Western soundscapes. One of his most compelling scores was for Jess Franco's 1971 horror oddity A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, with its driving percussion beat, soulful arias and clashes of turbulent instrumentations and lyrical interludes (he reused some its distinctive cues in his score for the 1972 giallo THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS).
Nicolai's UNA VERGINE TRA I MORTI VIVENTI is finally available on CD on Oct. 31 from http://www.digitmovies.com/.
Thanks to and check out the Bruno Nicolai site: http://brunonicolai.homestead.com/nicolai.html
Commentary Copyright Robert Monell: 2006
25 October, 2006
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24 October, 2006
The entire interview was published in "2000 Maniacos" #14, 1994; Ed. Manuel Valencia. Excerpts translated by Alex Zinefilo from his interview with Leon Klimovsky.
On Horror films and Paul Naschy:
"I was afraid of making horror films, of not being qualified enough to reach the level of my favourites horror movies, but Paul Naschy encouraged me to do LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS, he was sure if I do that script I would be successful"
On Patty Shepard:
"Patty Shepard didn't want to do Walpurgis until the very end, she said that wasn't worth it"
"My influences came very much before Hammer Films, I would say Caligari, Vampyr, Epstein, Murnau's Nosferatu..."
Favorite films and Spaghetti Westerns:
"My favourites are "La Noche de Walpurgis" and "La saga de los Dracula". The ones I like less are the spaghetti westerns, I did those just for the money."
He was very old when I talked to him, very soft spoken, quiet and nice. I think of him as a very professional craftsman, but also very refined and intelligent. I guess he would love to do another kind of film, more "serious", but in any case [didn't regret] any of his movies. He was also a musician.
Thanks again to Alex for providing and translating these selections from his interview for this blog.
COPYRIGHT ALEX ZINEFILO: 2006.
22 October, 2006
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Uncle Jess enjoys a cigarette and confers with other cast members of the film-within-a-film in his wild and crazy EL SEXO ESTA LOCO, which is now available on Spanish DVD [Manga: 1.33:1; 4:3; R2-PAL; Dolby; Spanish language only]. I believe this is the first time on DVD for this rarely seen, Godardian mixture of science fiction, comedy and series Z experimentation from the outer limits of cinema where Jess Franco lives and breathes.
The scene begins as our dreaming heroine (Lina Romay) tracks her fellow "actor" and lover (Tony Skios) into the Club Europa where Jess and friends smoke, drink and play poker. She is captured, tied to chair and tortured by a couple of nude dancers! During this activity the "reality" of the scene presentation is constantly questioned by showing the clapboard thrust into the frame, technicians entering the scene, and the "director" gesturing and shouting instructions from the card table. Keep talking and smoking, Jess!
21 October, 2006
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20 October, 2006
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18 October, 2006
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17 October, 2006
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15 October, 2006
The Mask of Fu Manchu
I never really liked Christopher Lee's take on the character, expecially in the two Jess Franco versions. I know he's going for iconic aloofness but after seeing Karloff I just don't really care if I ever see him or anyone else in the role. But let's leave aside the ridiculous and consider the sublime. I had never seen Charles Brabin's 1932 film and it was a treat to have it served up in a new transfer from original camera negatives. Now that all the controversial racial material, along with the sexual-sadistic elements, has been fully restored, I'll let others argue about that. Yes, it's dated and policitally incorrect but it seems to me that this Fu Manchu gives as good as he gets. Consider his outrageously camp exhortation: "Kill the white man and take his women!" Brabin (THE RAVEN-1915) may be too dull to be considered any kind of auteur but Tony Gaudio frames Cedric Gibbon's deliciously detailed sets with style. Consider the introduction of the bad doctor in a distorting mirror or the many secret chambers, trapdoors, reptile filled grottos, torture implements, which are all filmed with the intensity of a fetishist (Luis Bunuel, anyone?). The coup de grace for me was Kenneth Strickfaden's Death Ray, which does get a work out at the climax. If Karloff and the sets weren't enough, Myra Loy's very naughty daughter of Fu Manchu is a show within the show. Her delight at the various tortures ("Harder...faster") is the central erotic attraction within the delirious mise en scene. There have been several "Daughter of Fu Manchu" films including Jess Franco's 1987 ESCLAVA DEL CRIMEN.
I did watch Jess Franco's final Fu Manchu, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU directly after MASK and it really could be considered the death knell of the legend, leaving aside the Peter Seller's parody, etc... . Franco inserts miles of stock footage, from previous Fu Manchu films, other films, explosions, etc, and himself into the action as the Turkish police inspector, but he's only present as an ironic observer, a witty tour guide who has fun with his color gel lighting, his only remaining signature from a project which he knew would be edited by others and thrown to the dogs. But even Jess Franco probably cannot kill Fu Manchu and he has revisited the oriental-villain ethos with his more recent DR WONG'S VIRTUAL HELL.
The above image depicts an earlier video presentation, not the DVD from the Warner Brothers boxset.
I have the feeling the world will hear from Dr. Fu Manchu again, until then this lavishly appointed new DVD presentation (which comes with an expert commentary and 5 other 1930s horror rarities) is highly recommended.
13 October, 2006
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08 October, 2006
"I'm an unspeakable dream. I'm everything that's forbidden, that's shameful...a black woman with undefined sexuality...shameless and irresistable." Princess Tara Obongo
Bahia Feliz, Canary Islands: Princess Tara Obongo (the late, legendary Ajita Wilson)is the living dead "mirror of evil" warns Meme (Jess Franco), capable of possessing her victims through a sinister form of sexual voodoo. Her most recent targets are tourists Alice Brooks (Lina Romay), a real estate agent, and her husband (Antonio Mayans), who is working on a new novel. Their vacation at "Happy Bay" is interrupted when Alice's employer calls to ask if she can locate the wealthy local resident Tara Obongo and offer her a property in Atlantic City. Tara eventually seduces and sexually enslaves the couple , but each time they believe they have escaped her erotic snares another level of the nightmare begins. Is it all an obsessive, macabre sex fantasy, a premonition, one of her novelist husband's stories coming to life, or something else altogether?
Ever have a nightmare from which you couldn't awaken? You know it's only a dream but each time you think it's over another chapter starts. MACUMBA SEXUAL (1981) opens in the midst of one of Alice's serial erotic fever-dreams and ends with her encountering an omnipresent voodoo fetish signaling the onset of yet another hallucinatory state. And it all seems willed by Tara, a Black Athena who invades the Unconscious without having to leave her perch atop a sand dune under the blazing tropical sun. The disturbing fetish (which resembles a shriveled up Donald Duck!) keeps appearing as a kind of warning. There is no escape from the psycho-sexual curse according to Meme. Every time Alice sleeps Tara takes control, thrusting her into totally alien reality: sexually magnetic, terrifying and rich in ancient African symbols.
One of Franco's most delirious films, MACUMBA SEXUAL is a mind warping, sex-drenched shocker set on the sun baked Canary Islands where the landscape and architecture evoke Mother Africa. For Jess Franco, who wanted to reclaim his Spanish cultural identity after decades abroad, it is a milestone and probably the most representative of his Horror y Sexo Golden Films Internacional period: made with total creative freedom, almost dialogue free, nearly hard-core and driven by the moaning, eerie voodoo rhythms credited to "Pablo Villa", a name which usually indicates the composing team Daniel White and Jess Franco. These synth-driven voodoo chants are just about perfect in their uncanny ability to establish the locale and create a sense of floating dread. They greatly enhance a film that immediately puts the viewer in an altered state mind which lingers long after the final chilling image. Lina is in her prime scream-queen mode, wearing a blonde wig, running around in a skimpy bikini or totally nude. Franco's own bit as the babbling Meme is a way over the top reprise of his role as Memeth in the similar VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), his first appearance amidst a collection of petrified subaquatic life forms is a jaw dropper worth the price of admission. Franco amusingly discusses how much he enjoys playing mentally defective characters in the accompanying documentary interview.
Note that a "Lorna Green" (the name of the main character in SUCCUBUS) is credited as a supporting actress, this is actually Genoveva Ojeda, who, along with Jose Ferro, appears as one of Tara's nude, dog-collared sex slaves. Ajita Wilson is absolutely hypnotic in the role she was born to play. Her overwhelming presence, the nightmarish music and visuals of this exotic chamber piece are far more effective than the minimal narrative, which is obviously derived from Franco's 1970 Soledad Miranda vehicle, VAMPYROS LESBOS. All these elements are finally given a proper chance to perform their magic in Severin Films pristine, luminously colorful DVD, which presents the film in 2.35:1 OAR, is 16X9 enhanced, DD Mono and offers the original Spanish language soundtrack with correct, optional English subtitles. For a film which is essentially Pure Cinema and so dependent on location, mood and music, seeing this DVD was like seeing it for the first time after having to suffer a fullscreen, fuzzy VHS mailorder dupe which was our only alternative until now. One of Franco's most carefully composed films, the compositions are stuffed with pertinent details--the African sculptures, the primitive local architecture, the geometric arrangements of the actors in the numerous group sex scenes can all now be fully appreciated, along with the almost phosphorescent hues and blinding sun devils.
Essential Franco and an essential new DVD presentation available from Severin Films on Oct. 31st.
COPYRIGHT ROBERT MONELL: 2006
06 October, 2006
These discs will be must-haves for all serious fans of Jess Franco. Detailed reviews of both discs and the accompanying documentaries will soon follow. Stay tuned...
COMMENTARY BY ROBERT MONELL: COPYRIGHT 2006
05 October, 2006
A wonderfully dubious pleasure, L'AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO (1960), which beat Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY to the post as the first modern Italian vampire film (Freda's 1957 I VAMPIRI had no vampires, only a blood-draining scientist), is a film in which one shares its author's amusement with its wacky characters and atmosphere. It never takes itself too seriously and like the Cheshire cat, leaves its smile behind. Perhaps RP took his cue from Ernesto Gastaldi's script, but vampirism in that film is presented as a an evolutionary perversion, a kind of codependency practiced by Walter Brandi's marauding blood bank which is visited for regular withdrawls by the Countess. Quoting Fisher's DRACULA, Dreyer's VAMPYR and Fernando Mendez's Mexican brace, IL VAMPIRO and its sequel (also quoted in Polselli's even more outrageously avant-garde IL MOSTRO DELL OPERA (1964), Polselli also created another genre mutation: the horror-musical. Brandi's unique, ugly vampire in L'AMANTE... and Giuseppe Addobatti (someone should write some kind of study on this great, neglected actor) in IL MOSTRO...are like no other vampires before or since. The slutty "ballerinas" of the former and the trashy ballet of the latter provide the sleaze for boxoffice while Polselli presents his horror scenes from one stunningly original camera angle after another. There's also a sense self reflexive humor and an incongrously light, breezy tone to the affairs alternating with the thunderously scored vampire attacks.
LA VERITA... doesn't tell the gospel truth at all, ironically, but is a series of "lies" which add up to a version of the truth: Ravaioli stages his murder as kind of the ultimate sexual/emotional revenge only to get caught in his own dialectic, finally getting a much desired and deserved real death the second time around, leaving the murderess to phone the police on herself. This is all interrupted by Ed Wood-style orgies (cf TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE) orchestrated by a wildly enthusiastic black actress with VERY big hair. She's a joy to behold. This film also has one of the most hauntingly beautiful female vocals lines we have ever heard.
Interestingly, the final image of LA VERITA..., or at least the version we consulted, is exactly same as one the opening shots of OSCENITA: the film's heroine posed nude in a stylized posture on a table as pulsating colored lights play over her body.
Filmed at Gordon Mitchell's legendary Cave Filmstudio there are everal hardcore and softer versions of OSCENITA, all of which are nearly impossible to see except through 9th generation bootlegs. This was made, according to Polselli, to illustrate the abuse of the female of the species in a socio-historical context. Some will damn it as vile sexploitation. Opening scene: a man forces himself on a female patron in a cinema playing a film featuring Dean Stratford (Dino Strano) ripping off the clothes of the female lead in OSCENITA which becomes a Catch-22 style structural conundrum as our screaming heroine flees Stratford's assault by flagging down a passing motorist only to be sexually assaulted by the equally brutish driver who pulls her out of the car, begins to rape her but is elimated by some guys who pop out of the bushes only to continue their own attack upon our heroine, who is eventually rescued by Stratford after he has finally caught up with the action. But we never get a similar chance to "catch up" to the increasingly frenetic and always sexually explicit action as Polselli's wildly swish-panning camera, blinding lighting design and free-associative montage is designed to barrage the retina, tease the Unconscious and outrage the moral majority in all of us.