Friday, September 12, 2014

BEAST OF BLOOD 1971

 

"SEE HUMAN HEADS TRANSPLANTED !"



     The third official entry in Eddie Romero's "Blood Island" trilogy BEAST OF BLOOD is probably the weakest entry as by this time Romero (here along with co-writer Beverly Miller) were clearly starting to run out of ideas. Although still an entertaining slice of sweaty and grungy Filipino exploitation the movie unfortunately leaves the monster out the plot for a good chunk of the running time, seeming wanting instead to turn itself into a jungle adventure with even a bit of James Bond mixed in. Starting off with a bang the plot limps somewhat through the middle before finally bringing itself back monster-wise (more or less) with an almost surreal climax involving disembodied talking monster heads and telepathically controlled monster bodies.
    Staring Blood Island regular John Ashley (here reprising his role from MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND as Dr. Bill Foster) BEAST OF BLOOD begins almost immediately after the climax of MAD DOCTOR with Dr. Foster aboard a ship after escaping the horror of the infamous "chlorophyll man" (AKA "Don Ramon") on Blood Island - who unfortunately has also made it aboard. After a brief fight involving spilled gasoline and torches the ship explodes, handily blowing up Ashley's as yet unseen co-stars from MAD DOCTOR which saves casting issues and allows for a new love interest/monster victim. Picked up drifting in the ocean he arrives back in civilization and naturally attempts a return to Blood Island this time accompanied by pushy reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnall from Elvis's LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE) who takes the place of MAD DOCTOR'S Angelique Pettyjohn in terms of gratuitous nudity and imperiled female plot point. Ironically both Pettyjohn and Yarnell had made guest appearances in separate episodes in season 2 of STAR TREK.




    Once back on the island they find an entirely different group of scared villagers being led by Ramu (Alfonso Carvajal reprising his role from MAD DOCTOR) along with his (now) daughter Laida (Liza Beaumonte from WOMAN HUNT). Also accompany them ashore is the boat captain played by screenwriter Beverly Miller (who in some shots with his skippers hat looks uncannily like Alan Hale Jr. from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND). The first night we're back to some good ol' Blood Island action with a negligee clad Yarnall being attacked by a sickly green monster-man, which leads Dr. Foster to the conclusion that that presumed dead Dr. Lorca from the previous film is still lurking around. A nighttime reconnaissance to Lorca's burned out mansion finds his henchman Razak (Filipino exploitation favorite Bruno Punzalan) along with a cobra in a pit booby trap.



    It's soon discovered that the now mustached Dr. Lorca is still alive (although sporting a burned face from MAD DOCTOR's climax) and has an underground laboratory along with his James Bond like evil scientist on a budget living quarters (and dungeon full of failed experiments). Eddie Garcia from BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (who has over 500 acting credits and is still working in the Filipino film industry) takes over the role of Lorca from the great Ronald Remey. It's here that the movie gets off track a bit (that is comparatively speaking as to how "on track" these movies usually are) as Lorca kidnaps Myra taking her to his underground liar (which is kind of fascinatingly decorated in a jungle lounge look), which then the movie descends to a lot of running back and forth in the jungle and shoot-outs.





    The chlorophyll monster (which escaped the earlier boat conflagration) and unseen since the prologue is also being kept in Lorca's liar where the head has been removed and kept alive with various tubes and gurgling green liquid with the body being kept on a nearby operating table. For reasons never fully explained Lorca is attempting to transplant an actual human head onto the monster body, which does lend itself to some alternately tacky and disturbing surgery footage. Additionally the monster's head is able to talk and move his body telepathically (complete with a visible member of the film crew moving the body).
   The disappearance of the monster through the majority of the movie is a bit of a head scratcher as the bloody mayhem was always a highlight in the previous films and with the more exploitative elements toned down here a bit (even though a talking headless monster does help a bit) BEAST never reaches the giddy heights of the first two. Yarnall does want she's suppose to do here, but seems to pale in comparison a bit to Pettyjohn, as who can ever forgot her in MAD DOCTOR bounding through the jungle with her massive head of hair, pink mini-skirt and high heels while being pursued by the monster all set to the frantic zoom-in/out camerawork.




     Although the Image DVD box proudly displays the 1971 GP rating it still contains its fair share of nudity and gore (although as mentioned toned down a bit from MAD DOCTOR) and along with the other entries in the series use to show up uncut on late night television, which along with their massive coverage in FAMOUS MONSTERS made them a highlight for many a monster kid. Unfortunately producer Sam Sherman went back for this DVD release and attempted to fix some of the day for night photography which results in a blotchy blue color over several scenes (most apparent during Laida's attempted seduction of Dr. Foster). The next entry was the semi-official BRAIN OF BLOOD which was Sam Sherman's attempt to pass off his own American made production as one with Filipino linage and later in 1971 Eddie Romero and John Ashley would team up for the highly entertaining BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT (which should be showing up here before too long.).









Friday, September 5, 2014

Rosalba Neri Friday - LA MUERTE INCIERTA 1973





     For years this was something of a holy grail for me as it was frustratingly hard to find (let alone find any info about - especially in the days of pre-internet video collecting). As it was even missing from the Phil Hardy book, all I had for the longest time was a couple of intriguing stills photocopied from a Spanish film magazine. Never released to English speaking countries this was considered a lost film for years (with even the exact date of a European release in question), it translates as Death The Uncertain and was a Spanish/Italian co-production from MGM. A couple of years ago a faded to pink and emulsion scratched 35mm print (bearing a 1971 date) was found and transferred, which began making the rounds with eventually some color correction done and subtitles added by a much appreciated fan.




     Directed by José Larraz (VAMPYERS and BLACK CANDLES) it has a look and feel totally unlike any other Spanish horror of the period (with the closest being THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED from 1969) and along with a short but very memorable (and lingering) appearance from Rosalba the movie also features Mary Maude, a wonderful English actress with a very unique presence and who with a neat bit of happenstance also appeared in the above mentioned THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED.
    Although its a bit hard to discern on the currently available copy the movie features some excellent moody photography by Riccardo Pallottni (who also shot Rosalba's LADY FRANKENSTEIN) and Larraz's direction is a marvel of slowly encroaching claustrophobic horror, which stands in direct contrast to his next film being the blood and nudity soaked VAMPYRES. With the only known copy of MUERTE originating from a Spanish source there's been talk of perhaps a "harder" cut as Spain was still under the censorship of the Franco regime at the time and often a different version was filmed of certain scenes in regards to nudity content for export. With that being said there are a couple of sequences that perhaps could exist "unclothed" (with one being Rosalba's opening scenes) however the film would seem to work fine as is (as is too with THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED) with the ever heightening sexual tension in house playing out in the background without it being pushed to the forefront.
    Like Hammer's THE REPTILE (1966) and A.I.P's THE OBLONG BOX (1969) it touches upon the "sins of colonialism" but instead of the monstrous relative kept locked up in a secret room  LA MUERTE INCIERTA plays out like a Gothic English ghost story (although in the best tradition of gothics, there is a flashback to an insane relative kept chained up).




    In 1930's India rich Englishman Clive Dawson (Antonio Rojo) brings his new bride Brenda (Mary Maude) home to his isolated plantation. Upon arrival he finds all the servants have fled with the feeling that a curse has been placed upon the house. In a preceding prologue we saw that Clive had been carrying on with a local woman named Saheen (Neri), with hints that she may be a kind of sorceress/witch and upon his banishment of her from the house she places a curse upon him and all who dwell in the house. She strides out of the house with her footsteps echoing and jewelry clanging (sounds that will play a later part in proceedings). Later her body is found floating in a river and is burned after Dawson flees back to England where he meets Brenda.
   Upon arriving back at the house Dawson begins drinking heavily and becoming distant from his new bride as a slowing enveloping atmosphere of sexual tension and eeriness begins to permeate the empty house. Part of this is Dawson's son Rupert who paints strange pictures up his room and is having an affair with a neighbors wife (Yelena Samarina from THE WEREWOLF VERSUS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN and EXORCISM'S DAUGHTER) who seem to be the only people from the outside world who visit the house. There are also hints that Rupert was also involved with Saheen and in addition he attempts to seduce Brenda which seems to add to the fulfillment of the curse.




   Seeking to escape the oppressive house Dawson leaves with his wife for a safari but ends up getting badly mauled by a tiger (in a fairly gruesome scene that's interspersed with quick glimpses of a naked woman) which has been seen slowly stalking around the plantation and seems to be possessed by the spirit of Saheen. Once back and confined to bed with his wounds Dawson begins seeing quickly glimpsed faces and hearing noises with the jungle seeming to become alive with outreaching plants and weird noises (all set to background thunderstorm of course) as he begins to believe that he will die like his father - a madman who was chained to his bed.
   Although filmed in Spain (and partially in Italy) with the India setting represented by stock footage and a bouncing process shot standing in for an elephant ride the film oppressively recreates the humid fetid atmosphere of the jungle setting. Even though Rosalba is only shown in the first few minutes her unforgettable opening presence hangs over the entire movie as partial visions and/or apparitions are quickly glimpsed along with the lingering sounds of her earlier banishment echoing through the empty house (and not to mention those unforgettably exotic eyes opening and closing the film). Hopefully one day better elements will be found as this really deserves a nice DVD release. For the curious, it's up on You Tube.



  







Monday, September 1, 2014

NIGHT OF THE DEMON 1957



"It has been written since the beginning of time, even unto these ancient stones, that evil supernatural creatures exist in a world of darkness. And it is also said man using the magic power of the ancient symbols can call forth these powers of darkness, the demons of Hell." 


    I know this one's been covered ad nauseam, but it's a favorite and I just got the beautiful French blu-ray which reminded me all over again what an excellent film this is (BTW, screen caps are from the Region 1 DVD). Produced in Britain by transplanted American former child actor (Monogram's THE EASTSIDE KIDS) Hal E. Chester and directed by Val Lewton alumnus Jacques Tourneur NIGHT OF THE DEMON was one of the first British films to present demonology and witchcraft as serious subject matters and place them in a modern setting, but also tying them to Britain's past with its images of Stonehenge and the use of ancient folk melodies. It can be looked upon as a precursor to CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) and the THE NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1962), in addition to Hammer's THE WITCHES (1966) and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968).
    Based upon the short story "Casting The Runes" by Edwardian ghost author M.R. James, it was released in the U.S. by Columbia as CURSE OF THE DEMON and was trimmed from the 95 min. British cut down to 81 min thereby making it more adaptable to double features, where it was often paired up with Hammer's THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In the pre-home video world this was bit of a holy grail for horror fans (especially the mythical "British cut") as it was infrequently shown on TV, but was always heavily promoted in Famous Monsters with that ad for the Castle 8mm version staring out from the back ads in practically every issue. In 1987 Columbia by happy accident released the British cut on laser disc (with the CURSE title card slapped on) and this was the version seen going forward until a 2002 DVD release presented both versions as two separate films.




    Starring former Hollywood quasi "A" lister Dana Andrews as Dr John Holden, a seemingly world famous American psychiatrist (and non-believer in the supernatural) who travels to London to attend a conference on the paranormal, that's end purpose seems to be the ruination and discrediting of cult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (as portrayed by the wonderful Naill McGinnis). In the opening sequence we're shown Holden's British colleague Henry Harrington traveling through a darkened countryside (in a beautifully atmospheric succession of shots) to the large country estate of Karswell. Once there he begs Kraswell "to put a stop to this thing" and after being hastily dismissed by him travels back home where is killed by a huge winged demon figure (still one of horror's most startling apparitions) that materializes out of smoke & light along (along with an oddly creepy "chirping" sounds).
    There has always been much debate on the full-on showing of the demon and Tourneur's participation (or lack thereof) in filming the two sequences showing it. The French born Tourneur cut his teeth for RKO in the 1940's working on Val Lewton's famous series of low budget and atmospheric horror films. He directed THE CAT PEOPLE (1942) along with 1943's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE & THE LEOPARD MAN and always maintained that it was his intention that the demon remain largely unseen and that the sequences with it fully visible were added post production while producer Chester claimed that they were filmed by Tourneur. Originally Ray Harryhausen was contacted to model the demon figure in stop motion but when he was unavailable a puppet was used along with a close up of an articulated rubber head and claw (and in one memorable shot, a huge cloven hoofed leg). The special effects hold up remarkably well to this day, but for the climax the puppet is strangely substituted for an obvious man in in a rubber suit (and a rather pudgy one at that).




    Upon arrival in England Holden meets up with Harrington's daughter Joanna (played by Peggy Cummins - who had appeared in Joseph H. Lewis's delirious and ground breaking GUN CRAZY in 1950). In spite of Holden being the well respected Doctor, its Joanna playing a kindergarten teacher (Karswell himself at one point refers to her as "that terribly bright young woman") who serves as the believing voice of reason as the stubborn Holden seems headed to the same fate as his earlier colleague. It's amusing to see that in this being a British production Holden is portrayed as the pig headed and know-it-all American (obliviously headed to his doom) while its up to the crafty Brits (both in terms of his allies and nemesis) to set him straight.
    As far as his nemesis there is much to be said for the performance of British character actor Naill MacGinnis as the warlock/ cult leader Julian Karswell. With his wild tufts of hair and pointed goatee he could be easily played as manically laughing villain all the while stroking his said beard and chewing bunches of scenery, but its to MacGannis talent (along with Tourneur's direction) that he is played absolutely straight (in keeping with the entire tone of the plot) and is even able to invoke some pity from the audience. In a very moving scene (missing from the U.S. prints) he tells his mother, with whom he leaves alone with in his vast country house, that their entire life is wholly dependent upon his immersion in the black arts and that there is no going back. Obviously totally friendless in the world, he's seemingly as afraid of his conjured demons and powers as much as his followers, along with his intended victims.




    In addition, along with some of Holden's beginning airplane flight scenes (where he initially meets Cummins) and a bit of their later visit to Kreswell's estate (where Kreswell appears as a clown hosting a children's party) another sequence cut from the American print is Holden's visit to a desolate farm (featuring some wonderfully creepy sets from production designer Ken Adam) where the people live in abject 19th century like poverty. Going there to receive permission to study their son (an ex-follower of Kraswell who's now insane) it becomes apparent that they along with many others turn the majority of their wealth over to Kraswell for fear of his powers.
   Adam, who in a few years would gain fame on the James Bond movies, creates some marvelous sets here including the interior of Kraswell's country estate and the long maze like hallways of Holden's hotel. In spite of a few obvious process shots at the airport and later in the British Museum the film has a rich look for a then perceived "B" picture (helped in no doubt by Tourneur's Lewton influence) with a sequence in some moon shrouded woods where Holden is chased by an unseen figure (with only smokey footprints appearing) being one of the highlights of British horror cinema - and if Tourneur's claims are to be believed, this most likely would be the extent of what we would see of the demon in question.




    Dana Andrews while appearing in several notable Hollywood films such as LAURA (1944) and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946) never seemed to quite make it to the upper hierarchy of leading men. He was a solid and dependable if not spectacular actor and later become president of the Screen Actors Guild where he was an advocate of actresses rights, particularly in their right of refusal to do nude scenes. Into the 50's and 60's he would continually work in both low budget horror and exploitation movies such as HOT RODS TO HELL (1967) and THE FROZEN DEAD (1966) and major films such as IN HARM'S WAY (1965). He also appeared in the airplane disaster film ZERO HOUR ! in 1957 (as "Lt Ted Stryker") which was the main inspiration for 1980's AIRPLANE ! and ironically would finish his career by crashing his plane into the jet in AIRPORT 1975.