29 September, 2007


Related image
The funeral procession for Catalina passes by a naked tree. One of the many stark images featured in ABISMOS DE PASION (1954), Luis Bunuel's Mexican produced adaptation of Emily Bronte's novel, WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

Mise en abyme occurs within a text when there is a reduplication of images or concepts referring to the textual whole. Mise en abyme is a play of signifiers within a text, of sub-texts mirroring each other.

The above Wikipedia definition of the French literary term, used in literary, art and film criticism, will do as a guide for these thoughts on Luis Bunuel's Mexican shot take on Emily Bronte's classic. 

The repeated application of Wagner cues over the emotional turmoils of the lovers, Catalina and Alejandro, becomes an over-the-top, some would say tedious device with which Bunuel signals his surrealist technique of blasting apart the narrative of the novel while adhering to its structure. Music is a signifier and a meta-text in Bunuel's filmography, the very same Wagner strains are heard over the flailing of another set of lovers acting out against bourgeois convention in the director's once banned L'Age D'Or (1930). And, of course, Jesus Franco, the subject of this blog, another Spanish surrealist/anarchist, also has a long history of using all types of music, from Jazz (his Clifford pen name) to classical, Liszt (SINFONIA EROTICA) to provide repeating sub-text to his films within films. 

Leaving aside the classic 1930's Hollywood version of Emily Bronte's Gothic Romance, it may come as a surprise that Luis Bunuel's 1954 version, set on a desert hacienda, is refreshingly free of the kind of pomp and hushed tones which can foredoom a film of a famous literary work. It stands as a work on its own and is perhaps best approached without reference to other films versions or the novel itself. Once one does reference those other texts Bunuel's personal involvement becomes the crux of the issue.

It's simply the story of a propriety stomping, foaming-at-the-mouth madman, Alejandro, and how he manages to destroy both himself and Catalina, the women he loves. Bunuel, as a lifelong surrealist and anarchist, stripped the story to its biological essentials: love is reduced to a sexual dysfunction.
The local landlord (Archibaldo Cruz himself, Ernesto Alonso) is obsessed with insects while neglecting his sexually frustrated wife, Catalina (Irasema Dilian). He can be seen as a convulsive masochist who unconsciously wants Alejandro (Jorge Mistral) to hurt her and to make it as painful as possible. Alejandro, being a sadist programmed by bourgeois rejection, wishes her to burn forever in Hell. They don't, and can't, make love stories like this anymore. And the roots are there in Emily Bronte's text. Bunuel opens his adaptation with a shot contemplating the tangled roots of tree somewhere in the Mexican desert. Nature's roots mimic the psychological roots of human behavior.

Bunuel goes his own way, and it's the way of madness. Alejandro is not unlike Bunuel's equally crazy protagonist in his once scandalous L'AGE D' OR, which was banned by the French police during its 1930 theatrical run. In that film the antihero goes out of his way to kick a blind man, the classic symbol of helplessness. In ABISMOS DE PASION Alejandro is a home invader and tomb violator. Born to be Bad. He twice burst into Catalina's well ordered home by crashing through double window casements. He's an unstoppable force of nature. Like the wind driven rain which drenches much of the film's action. It's no accident that most of the action seems to unfold within the collective unconscious of this cast of characters. The narration itself is deliberately unreliable.

 The setting, with its pitiless desert vistas dotted by stark cacti, evokes another genre, the Western. The rough justice meted out to Alejandro as he acts out his necrophiliac obsession looks ahead to images in another film dealing with obsession and death in Mexico, the odd Western/ Noir/Horror film composite, Sam Peckinpah's BRINGME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974), another tale of below the border Mad Love which dooms the lovers. Catalina's ineffectual husband, as played by the Ernesto Alonso, the perverse protagonist of Bunuel's 1955 ENSAYO DE UN CRIMEN, is the ultimate smug, owning class prig. Concentrated on collecting and sticking pins into his insects, he is subtly nudged out of the compositions so that only the odd close-up of his quivering hand sticking another butterfly into his glass cases acts as a reminder that he's there to essentially perform the same function on his neurotic wife.

The film opens with images of gnarled roots over which the credits unfold, as if to illustrate that this will be an examination of the roots of sexual dysfunction. The the next shot shows birds being blown off the branches of a tall tree by blasts from Catalina's shotgun, her weapon of choice. The image of the gun toting heroine blurs her sexuality. Her masculine side expresses itself in violence just as her husband's feminine side finds expression in his sedentary hobby of decorating the villa with cabinets of pinned insects. In the midst of all this, Alejandro, who prefers to enter the villa bursting through windows rather than walking through doors, can be understood as a viable alternative for Catalina. The fact that they are from two different classes and that their bond was sealed in childhood makes their relationship a socially subversive act resulting from the developmental stage. Class boundaries are there to be broken in Bunuel's films.

Bunuel plays the action in long shots which coolly analyze the symbolic nature of the drama, or shall we say Mexican Melodrama. For example, the necropolis where Catalina is buried is photographed from the same angle as the villa and the nearby workers quarters. Life, Work and the Tomb are all given equal value. The roots in the opening image and the final shot of the metal doors clanging down effectively frame the director's "to-the-earth-we-will-return" overview. Bunuel orchestrates his grim mise-en-scene as an extremely scaled down black and white [Wagner] opera, and it's no coincidence that he has chosen cues from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" as an ironic musical commentary (cf. L'AGE D'OR). And in Bunuel's film text Catalina can be read as a 19th Century Feminist, forthright, living her life on her preferred emotional playing field, sharing love with two inferior men and asserting herself within a subservient role while trapped in a sick body. She is never a victim, although she may be a femme fatale.

ABISMOS DE PASION is no masterwork. It's not in the same league, for instance, as the searing LOS OLVIDADOS (1950). The tone is uncertain at times and the acting ranges from acceptable to mediocre. Irasema Dilian and Jorge Mistral are essentially miscast as Cathy/Catalina and Heathcliff/Alejandro, but the film still works despite that seemingly fatal flaw. Actually, their somewhat awkward performances sometimes telegraph the out-of-control L'Amour Fou within their characters. It's Bunuel working with a text in which the Surrealists found a compelling spirit (he collaborated on a shooting script in 1931) and he has remained faithful to that spirit and to himself. It's possible for someone to know nothing about Luis Bunuel and his career and still enjoy the film as a Latino retelling of Bronte's popular classic. The signature Bunuel wicked humor is there, but one must read against the grain to fully appreciate it. A fascinating example of how Bunuel, the culture jumping auteur, can adapt a well known literary work from another culture and make a personal film out of it.

The above review is my contribution to the Bunuel Blogathon at www.flickhead.blogspot.com/

(C) Robert Monell, 2018 renewed.

28 September, 2007


" WANTED: ABLE-BODIED MAN FOR DEPRAVED WOMEN. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. A dark and dreary old house occupied by demented women is the lurid scene of bizarre occurrences. But there may be rooms for rent when the love-starved women trick a good-looking ex-convict into working for them..."

I just dug out my old prerecord of the 1973 Carlos Aured directed Paul Naschy vehicle, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN Ojos azules de la muñeca rota, Los (1973) which was distributed in North American in 1975 by Independent-International Pictures Corporation. The video is dated 1988 VidAmerica Inc, which released it under their "World's Worst Videos" TM. It actually looks pretty decent in this dubbed fullscreen presentation. The color styled flashbacks of the disturbed sex offender protagonist (one of Naschy's most realistic performances) are quite vivid. Some of the other colors look faded and I hope that the plans I had heard about for a future BCI-ECLIPSE SE pan out so this fast paced and twisty Spanish thriller can be fully appreciated.

Jess Franco starlets Diana Lorys (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, THE BLOODY JUDGE, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT), Eva Leon (MANSION OF THE LIVING DEAD, BAHIA BLANCA) and the late Maria Perschy (THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU) are the psychotic women of the title. sexually frustrated spinsters who make life Hell on Earth for Naschy. You have to appreciate the above video cover, a classic schlock image. Although it's not the VidAmerica VHS box I have, the artwork of the man being flayed is the same and the copy on the back amusingly notes that it's filmed in "Psycho" Color. The acting is all excellent and another campy, catchy score by Juan Carlos Calderon (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES) adds greatly to the entertainment value.

Amando de Ossorio's HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES (GHOST GALLEON) and two Al Adamson epics [HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS, BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR] also could be found on Mom and Pop video store shelves in the late 1980s under the "World's Worst Videos" banner. I also have those prerecords and I'm not planning on trashing them even though I have superior DVD versions.

Hopefully, the uncut Spanish version of HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN will be get a R1 HD DVD release in the near future.


(C) Robert Monell, 2007

24 September, 2007


I can't get enough of Aldo Sambrell (b. 1937), the prolific Spanish actor who has worked with many famous European genre directors such as Sergio Leone and Jess Franco (KILLER BARBYS; KILLER BARBYS VS DRACULA). The image above shows him as one of Lee Van Cleef's henchmen in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966).

The best thing about LA BIMBA DI SATANA is Aldo's typically intense presence as Antonio Aguilar, a degenerate heroin addict who terrorizes his very dysfunctional family. Mario Bianchi's LA BIMBA DI SATANA is now available in a superior Severin Films DVD edition under the English language title SATAN'S BABY DOLL.

Playing the heavy once again, Sambrell never seems to run out ways to make the various bandits, horror movie monsters and real life maniacs he plays seem larger than life. His career includes 150 plus films as an actor along with a number of films which he has directed.
A minimalist remake of Andrea Bianchi's [superior] MALABIMBA (1979) this film was packaged as a quickie cash-in. The veteran director Mario Bianchi discusses LA BIMBA... in a fascinating 16 minute documentary extra, EXORCISM OF BABY DOLL, which is actually more compelling than the actual feature presentation. After talking about his early career in B minus Spaghetti Westerns he reveals that MALABIMBA writer Piero (I VAMPIRI) Regnoli basically presented him with a short treatment which, being a happy hack, Bianchi accepted after some brief complaints. Bianchi appears to be a pleasant fellow and it's interesting to hear him talk about his admittedly modest career. He points out that he was basically hired because he was quick and never made a film which lost money. MALABIMBA producer Gabriele Crisanti kept the budget for this follow up so low that it had to make a profit through advance bookings and profits kicked back into production.
Mariangela Giordano returns in the nun's role, this time as Sister Sol, who again sacrifices herself to exorcise her charge. There's some sex, more gore than in MALABIMBA (including a servant biting the head off a live chicken!) and a perfunctory sense to the proceedings. Mario Bianchi (directing as Alan W. Cools [!]) basically uses two tools, the zoom lens and more of the zoom lens. Without the music of Berto Pisano and the talents of Franco Villa this story doesn't really survive the second time around.However, Sambrell and Ms. Giordano do very good work under the circumstances. Sambrell has got the physical representation of a jonesing addict down to a science. His acting out of the addict's desperation, spasms, shooting technique and lapses into drug induced ecstasy are spot on. Jacqueline Dupre does not impress as the possessed Bimba.
The film does have its neo-gothic moments set in the bowels of the dank Castello, but not enough of them. But it's short and, as a midnight sleazefest, acceptable enough.
MALABIMBA is the real ticket. Andrea Bianchi gives the impression of a lavish, decadent EXCORCIST rip off by directing his cast to go way over the top and stay there. Patrizia Wembly as a manipulative slut and Enzo Fishichella as the guilt ridden father of the title character are quite good but it's the gravitas of Mariangela Giordano as Sister Sofia pretty much holds the film together even with the confusion evident about what kind of film the makers wanted to produce. It's a hardcore feature which doesn't really benefit from the graphic clinical closeups, some of which were obviously, if skillfully, incorporated into the film after being shot post production. Katell Leannec's feral, disturbed Bimba is enough. Castello Balsorano and its remote surroundings are cleverly deployed by veteran DP Franco Villa, who also lights the interiors to make some colorful tapestries and a few pieces of furniture give the impression of a sumptuous environment. The handheld forward tracking shots, used to represent the presence of the female demon, are a very effective touch, a low budget way of approximating the high tech FX of THE EXORCIST.
Berto Pisano's atmospheric, menacing music cues are mostly recycled from his earlier score for Joe D'Amato's DEATH SMILES AT MURDER (1973) but work just as well here. Besides the documentary featurette, discussed in our previous blog on this presentation, the most important extra feature is that there are three different ways to watch the film. As the Integral Version, which includes about 10 minutes of "deleted scenes" incorporated back into the feature (these are in rather poor VHS quality), as a stand alone 88 minute feature or just watching the 88 m version and then paging through the individual deleted scenes afterward. The runtime of the Integral Version is 1hr 37m 53s.
In a clear, colorful 1.85:1/16:9 transfer MALABIMBA looks better than it ever has before. The video quality of the deleted scenes do clash if one watches the Integral Version but given the options I'm glad they are available and I wish more DVD companies would attempt both Integral and the separate deleted scenes folder options.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007

Bunuel Blog-a-Thon

A Luis Bunuel Blog-a-Thon starts today sponsored by www.flickhead.net ... Bunuel (1900-1983) is the great Spanish Surrealist director of UN CHIEN ANDALOU, LOS OLVIDADOS, VIRIDIANA, BELLE DE JOUR and many other acknowledged film classics. There's more than a National connection with the equally anarchic Spaniard, Jess Franco. In the early 1970s Bunuel and Franco were named by the Vatican as the two most dangerous directors for Catholics!
I'm going to try to put up a blog on some of Bunuel's Mexican ventures as my contribution.

21 September, 2007

The MARIO BAVA Book Arrives....

Are you ready for a 1000 plus page journey behind the smoke of mirrors of a humble genre stylist's universe?

Mario Bava (1914-1980) in the mid 1970's....

It actually arrived last week at the designated mailing address but due to my working hours and travelling I didn't get a chance to lay it on my dining room table and begin to examine it until about 2pm this afternoon. I was going to browse though it for about 15 minutes and then do some other things. I sat there unable to stop reading for over three hours! It's still lying there on the table and I'm tempted to just leave it there open at one of its impossible to enumerate, richly colorful spreads overnight to see if it has dissolved by morning. No, it's not a dream. Tim Lucas' MARIO BAVA: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK is the endpoint of a 32 year long march, an epic biography, a seminal Film History of nearly 100 years of Italian Cinefantastique and is itself an elegant art object.

The intensity of the detail is unrelenting. If this were just a biography of a cult director of Italian genre films it might have been as excessive and prolix as I sometimes feared it would turn out. It IS excessive, but in a way I really appreciate. It doesn't let go of its subject until he's examined from each and every possible historical, aesthetic and human angle. Tim has broadened his scope to tell the story of and historically position Mario's father, Eugenio Bava, "the invisible man of Italian cinema''/cinematographer/visual effects creator who worked on the silent classic CABIRIA and other peplum templates. And there are many other stories: of the rise of Cinecitta, of popular cinema during the Italian Fascist era, the rise of neorealism, and the eventual dismantling of the Italian fantastic cinema machine which geared up with Bava's 1960 international hit, BLACK SUNDAY. Mario Bava's low budget, often innovative and influential features from that seminal horror film onward are covered in long individual chapters detailing their set up, cast, production, distribution. Bava's equally important, but much less well known career as a highly regarded cinematographer of genre films from the late 1930s to the late 1960s is also covered and there are regular sidebar chapters which document his secret career as an uncredited DP/special effects technician on a large number of features made by other directors.

The book is Heavy, as hard to pick up as it is to put down and storage might be a problem even though I live in a huge old house, but this is a book I'll be reading for the rest of my life. And Mario Bava is NOT my favorite Italian film director or even my favorite Italian horror movie director. But that doesn't matter. It's an awesome work, quite unlike anything ever done about a director largely unknown to our present popular culture and to many mainstream moviegoers. We're not talking Orson Welles, John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock here, but even my cursory reading indicates the scope and depth of this book takes Bava just as seriously without distorting film history and his place within it. Its design, imagery and writing just stopped me dead for the last three hours, froze me in place.

I was pleased to be a contributor to this mammoth publication as a research assistant, providing some interviews, information and materials over the years. But my part was a very small one. It will certainly be a treasured possession. My sincerest congratulations to Tim and Donna Lucas for producing MARIO BAVA: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

Robert Monell, 2007

20 September, 2007


One of the Jess Franco films I would most like to see on a HD R1 DVD presentation is his 1960 comedy LABIOS ROJOS, which introduces the Red Lips, his famous team of female detectives.
There doesn't seem to have been a video release of this anywhere, ever. Carlos Aguilar, who has seen the film, told me he considers it one of Franco's best works. There may be a good quality 35mm print still around in Spain, but who knows?

LA VENGANZA DEL DR MABUSE (1971) is the delirious final chapter in the long playing Dr. Mabuse series begun by Fritz Lang in the early 1920s! An interesting film with psychotronic visuals and a quirky Jess Franco music score. I've just seen the Spanish language version, but would like to see the longer, alternate German cut DR M SCHLAGT ZU.

FURIA EN EL TROPICO (1983) is one of Franco's more obscure WIP excursions. OUTLAW WOMEN (1986) was a later, reworked version. A rumored hardcore version is even harder to locate. None have appeared in any R1 video format, outside of dubs of Spanish language videos.
(C) Robert Monell: 2007

18 September, 2007


When I recently complained about the reality of turning 55 a female friend assured me that 55 is the new 30. If that's true, then Mariangela Giordano (Jess Franco's KILLER BARBYS) proves that 70 is the new 39 in MALABIMBA UNCOVERED, Severin Films documentary extra on their brand new MALABIMBA DVD. Vivacious and still alluring in her 7th decade she demonstrates to us all how to age intelligently. This elegant, talented lady has been acting in all sorts of European genre films for over 5 decades for such directors as Riccardo Freda, Jess Franco, Mario Landi (PATRICK LIVES AGAIN) and Mario Bianchi, whose SATAN'S BABY DOLL (1982) will also street in a superior Severin Films DVD presentation on September 25.

Mariangela plays dead in Andrea Bianchi's BURIAL GROUND: THE NIGHTS OF TERROR.

MALABIMBA (1979) is Andrea Bianchi's outrageous erotic horror film featuring Mariangela as a nun who attends to the needs of a highly dysfunctional Italian family and ultimately sacrifices herself to save the main character from eternal damnation. Yes, it's MARIANGELA, THE EXORCIST. Bianchi (credited as Andrew White) directs with blasphemous gusto, leaving plenty of room for post-production hc inserts.

Katell Laennec is the young lady who becomes possessed by some kind of demon and causes all Hell to break loose in the picturesque Castello Balsorano, where numerous 50s, 60s and 70s Italian horror classics were lensed, including SATAN'S BABY DOLL, which also features Mariangela in virtually the same role as MALABIMBA. Both films were written by the prolific Eurogenre scribe Piero Regnoli (I VAMPIRI) who would become a horror director with THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (1961). That fact may explain why both films have the same characters, story, individual cast members and locations. But that doesn't get in the way of the fun, it enhances it in it's-deja-vu-all-over-again fashion.* Ms. Giordano shares the focus of the documentary with veteran cinematographer Franco Villa (SLAUGHTER HOTEL) who notes that MALABIMBA is a "dignified" horror film which he attempted to compose with a touch of class.

Both features are presented in excellent 16:9 transfers and are a pleasure to view after years of fuzzy, untranslated dupes. I'll be doing another blog on the films, the DVD specs, the extras and Mariangela in the near future.

In the meantime get ready for a Halloween double bill of wild and crazy Italian EXORCIST rip-offs!

Bonus Quiz: What famous Jess Franco starlet is featured in the 1961 Italian peplum URSUS along with Mariangela Giordano?

*Thanks to Yogi Berra

(C) 2007 Robert Monell

15 September, 2007


Riccardo Freda (1909-1999) does a slow burn as Dr. Hichcock [below] prepares his drugged wife for the evening's entertainment. Freda also directed under the names Robert Hampton, Willy Pareto and George Lincoln.

I'm still waiting for the R1 SE DVD of Riccardo Freda's 1962 L'ORRIBLE SEGRETO DEL DR HICHCOCK, the ne plus ultra of Italian gothic cinema, also released in the English language variants, THE TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK (UK version) and THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK (US version). I would prefer the presentation include the Italian version (with English subtitles), the reworked shorter US version and the longer UK version, in original aspect ratio. It would be a seminar on the variations between the three key versions of my favorite Italian horror film. I have numerous versions of this on tape and DVD R, including an Australian TV print of the Italian which is the best looking of the bunch. I also remember an odd US TV print seen on cable in the 1980s which repeated one brief scene between Harriet White and Robert Flemyng. The look of this film is everything, since it's really about conflicting layers of reality and how appearances condition what we believe and how we think, act and react to other people and situations. It's also pure cinema which works in any language and the best scenes (the evocative funeral in the rain; Steele's nocturnal explorations of the villa's complex of corridors) bring to mind the classics of Silent Cinema where emotion was creating through camera position, tinting, pacing, movement, gesture and music. Freda's masterwork achieves its optimal performance without dialogue.

I have had an irregular correspondence with the film's writer, the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi, for the last decade and recently once again shared my appreciation with him for what Freda did with his script. Given that Freda cut the script Ernesto still admires the director and film and agreed Freda remains an underrated figure. Freda's feature film directing career (1942-1980) brackets Mario Bava's and is barely represented on R 1 DVD outside of I VAMPIRI, THE GHOST, various poor fullscreen versions of THE WHITE WARRIOR, unsatisfactory discs of his ultra stylish, imaginative pepla THE GIANTS OF THESSALY, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, MACISTE IN HELL, and no R1 presentations of his excellent gialli DOUBLE FACE (1969), THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE (1971), or his final horror epic film, the hallucinatory MURDER OBSESSION/FEAR (1980). And that's not even factoring in dozens of 40s and 50s historical epics and his mid 60s Eurospy films, all of which, despite various flaws in script, production and acting, reveal an extraordinary visual artist capable of an almost Wagnerian aesthetic synthesis. I know there are European DVDS of some of the titles listed above, and if anyone can report on them please do so. I'm also aware of the complicated rights issues. I understand CALTIKI, THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959) is coming, but that is pretty much a Mario Bava film in its end product.

HICHCOCK, though rushed through production, is rich in visual allusions to 19th Century Gothic literature and art, post Freudian psychosexual theory, the ouevre of Alfred Hitchcock (and not just in terms of the title), classical sculpture (Freda was a sculptor and art critic before becoming a director) and Romantic opera. And it has the iconic Barbara Steele in her ultimate victim role. The lighting and camerawork of Raffaele Masciocchi enables a threadbare production to look lavish, detailed with gorgeous pools of colored lighted illuminating the period sets while expressing the main character's fetishistic mindset. L'ORRIBLE SEGRETO DEL DR. HICHCOCK is still strikingly daring in its unblinking detailing of the dynamics of necrophilia. I don't think any presentation has yet given the film's flamboyant mise en scene its due. Some reference sources cite a scope OAR, but it was more likely shot in a nonanamorphic widescreen ratio. Try watching this on a double bill with Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT and witness its obvious influence on another great cinema virtuoso. THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK played on a popular double bill in US theatrical venues with Jess Franco's equally subversive and influential surgical horror, THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF (GRITOS EN LA NOCHE).

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

11 September, 2007

Bring Me The Head of Fernando Mendez

Horror at the hacienda investigated by Cowboy Santos and co. in the obscure Mexican western/adventure/horror film THE LIVING COFFIN (1958).

I enjoyed talking with Jess Franco a few years ago about his early career working as an assistant to such respected Mexican directors as Emilio Fernandez and Chano Urueta, both of whom, according to Jess, lived on the wild side (both directors appear as villains in Sam Peckinpah's 1974 film maudit BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, one of my personal favorites in the horror-western subgenre).
Speaking of horror-westerns let's consider EL GRITO DE LA MUERTE (1958), which is out on a very welcome DVD edition from the estimable CasaNegra, a company dedicated to the restoration and quality presentation of classic Mexican horror complete with original Spanish language tracks with English subtitles (tinted blue for easy reading), the English language export track, cast biographies, still and poster galleries and, in this case, an informative essay on the history of this subgenre from Mexican film authority David Wilt.

This film has a definite fantastique quality which is established in the brief precredit sequence as the camera pans up from a skeleton which has partially sunk into the haunted swamp to reveal a flayed man staggering out of the steaming underbrush as a female moans loudly offscreen. Yes, it's the Mexican fantasy legend of "The Crying Woman" set on a remote hacienda visited by Cowboy Gaston Santos (costumed in the clean cut, fringed range jacket style of Alan Ladd in SHANE) and his tiresome sidekick, Crazy Wolf (sporting an atmosphere shattering coonskin hat!). Therein lies the problem. This guy ruins the atmosphere as much as that idiota who played the irritating sidekick in Mario Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD. These guys aren't Bob Hope or Lou Costello, they're just NOT FUNNY! I guess even good directors have bad taste or have to follow orders from upper management.

The image of the knife in the clock evokes Dali and Jess Franco himself bending the clock hands at the climax of VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. The Crying Woman evokes some frissons appearing out of a sliding panel, but this film, written by the prolific Ramon Obon, goes the same misguided route as Rene Cardona's 1970 cop-out mummy film, LA VENGANZA DE LA MOMIA, which also has a loud, unfunny "comedian" there to rob the proceedings of suspense and gravitas. I guess they wanted to have a "family entertainment" element. But I appreciate the film as a compelling oddity and a more than welcome experiment. This is the only way to present Mexican horror on DVD, in my opinion.

In any case, the odd color scheme of brown, black and red reminds one just how much Mendez's better 50s horrors EL VAMPIRO and THE BLACK PIT OF DR. M (also available from CasaNegra in Highly Recommended editions) benefited from b&w stock, deep shadows (and a few remain here) and the power of the imagination.
An added note: the colors are a bit faded and the image a bit soft but considering the film's rarity and age this is a really nice 1.33:1 fullframe transfer.

I'll be reviewing CasaNegra's THE MAN AND THE MONSTER in an upcoming blog. I hope they can stay afloat as they are a class act and worthy of your unconditional support.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

10 September, 2007


I love costumed superhero films (especially with spy and science fiction twists) from the 1960s from Gianfranco Parolini's THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN to the Japanese giant, ULTRAMAN.
Presented above are images from Jess Franco's 1967 Eurospy spoof LUCKY, EL INTREPIDO featuring the great Ray Danton (along with Jess Franco in two amusing cameos) and the 1973 followup (one of many) to ULTRAMAN, Toho's deliriously frenetic ZONE FIGHTER, which although made in the early 70s has a very 60s ambience. Vintage Japanese fantasy/science fiction is one of my passions along with 60s and 70s Eurogenre, Film Noir and B minus cinema.
Beside the non-stop quips delivered by Danton in high style, the element I like most in LUCKY is the typically quirky, high-spirited Bruno Nicolai score (see if you can find it on CD). The main theme, with its crazy vocals and thumping two note refrain is great fun and I never get tired of putting it on.
Having had to make do with a partially letterboxed, fuzzy looking PAL dub for years I sure would like to see a Techniscope print of this film come out on R1 DVD. I think it would do quite well since the appeal is there both for the Jess Franco club and Eurospy fans. Even those who dismiss JF's work tend to have a like it once they see it. It looks, sounds and feels as if it were made in a state of pure joy. Favorite scene: the Roman open air market where "secrets" are sold. And that ending....!
ZONE FIGHTER (RYUSEI NINGEN ZOON) was broadcast in 26 episodes in 1973. Jun Fukuda and the great Ishiro Honda (GOJIRA) were the directors. A family from the planet "Peaceland" is pursued by nasty aliens with bug-like heads to Earth where one of the sons becomes the 40 meter tall Zone Fighter to battle the invaders and other monsters. King Ghidorah and Godzilla make guest appearances in several episodes. The family travels around the Earth in a nifty flying car. The episodes last about 25m each and make terrific Saturday morning entertainment or mind clearing breaks between your evening's DVD features. I've got some of these on tapes in Japanese language only. I guess rights issues are holding up North American R1 DVD releases.
So let's hear it for R1 DVD releases of LUCKY, THE INSCRUTABLE and ZONE FIGHTER....
(C) Robert Monell, 2007

08 September, 2007


Who is he? What Jess Franco film did he appear in? In which Eurowestern did he play a character who gets killed by William Shatner? What Spanish horror film is this image from?

Hint: he could be called the Spanish equivalent of Alan Collins/Luciano Pigozzi.

The first person who answers all four questions correctly gets a certificate stating he/she is a Level One Jess Franco-Eurowestern-Spanish Horror Scholar. The certificate will be presented by the ghost of Howard Vernon this coming Halloween!

06 September, 2007


Since I don't have an image from Jess Franco's BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (1985) here's a screenshot from a similar no-budget production made back to back with it, VIAJE A BANGKOK, ATAUD INCLUIDO, inspired by the stories of Edgar Wallace! Behind the counter is my friend, and reader of this blog, the Spanish film historian/critic/novelist Carlos Aguilar with JF regular Howard Vernon. Thanks to our regular blog contributor Nzoog for pointing out [he has actually seen VIAJE... ]that it is listed as a "Manacoa Films/Madrid" production, indicating it was financed by Jess Franco's own company, rather than Golden Films Internacional production as I first posted. I do wonder though, considering that scenes for BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE were shot during the production of VIAJE... according to JF, if these two titles are another example of Franco making two films for the price of one. Nzoog also adds that Katja Bienert (EUGENIE, HISTORIA DE UNA PERVERSION) was originally cast as the female lead in VIAJE...., only to be replaced by the comparitively insipid Helena Garret, also the female lead in BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE (Nzoog offers the English translation, BANGKOK, APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH).

BANGKOK, CITA CON LA MUERTE is a fun, frenetically staged, crime/adventure/martial arts conglomerate shot in very bright Fujicolor by the resourceful Juan Soler Cozar. A frenzied lark with a downbeat ending and another Franco obscurity. Bork Gordon (Christian Bork) plays the role of Panama Joe, a Private Eye very much in the rumpled mold of Peter Falk's COLUMBO. I only know this film from the unfortunate VSOM video dub taken from Spanish TV. If anyone knows of a good DVD version, please contact me. I would also welcome a rare advert.

It opens with shots of the characters introducing themselves with dialogue written in what looks like a magic marker pen very crudely printed in cartoon balloons. The direction is credited to "Cliffor Brawm"[!]... No, that's not a typo. A new take on Franco's old Clifford Brown nom de plume.

Lots of stock footage of Bangkok and Macao intercut with scenes shot in Alicante and the Canary Islands. Antonio Mayans is the Fu Manchu-like villain, complete with an elaborate moustache. Lina Romay is the pirate, Queen Aminia. She looks pretty sleek in black karate gear. As in VIAJE... Carlos Aguilar was assistant director and plays a role. If anyone can tell me where to find him in the film I would appreciate it.

Another strange series Z Golden Films Internacional programmer with some of the most absurd martial arts "action" scenes West of Godfrey Ho!

Look for the always excellent Eduardo Fajardo (DJANGO; LISA AND THE DEVIL) as a millionaire who is not what he appears to be. The "Pablo Villa" score takes off from the themes of Franco's 1960s Fu Manchu epics. But I enjoy this more and it seems like it has the unique Franco signature which those films lack.

Thanks again to Nzoog for the additional information on these titles.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

01 September, 2007

Jess Franco Quiz

Who is the actor in this image and which Jess Franco film is it from? Hint: he's also in at least one other JF film and appears in numerous Spanish and Italian genre films of the 1960s and 70s, including a memorable role in a notorious Spaghetti Western.