Monday, August 31, 2015

THE VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY 1974

  



       A busload of disparate people including Dyanik Zurakowska from FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR and THE HANGING WOMAN are all on their way to an unnamed aristocrat for employment purposes when they're suddenly stranded in the remote Spanish countryside when their driver suffers a fatal heart attack. The group finds themselves at desolate looking throwback village that is strangely deserted (along with not appearing on any map) and taking shelter in an inn they discover another a stranded traveler in form of Jess Franco stock player and Blind Dead alumnus Jack Taylor (HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES and DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN ) who’s car has broken down. The group settles down for the night and discover the occupants in the village the next morning with the nominal head of the town "The Major" (José Guardiola) who informs them that the entire village was absent because there were at a ceremony at the local cemetery (!). 
       The overseeing matriarch of the village referred to as "The Countess" is played by the very welcome presence of Helga Liné (HORROR EXPRESS & THE LORELEY'S GRASP). She takes pity on the stranded travelers offering them money along with everyone in the village also offering free room and board. Things begin to get a little grim however as the the countess asks one of the stranded passengers up to her estate to recite Shakespeare Soliloquy's (!). The young man eagerly accepts and a bit later even more eagerly jumps into bed with her. Suddenly bearing fangs the countess attacks him and then throws his body out the window down to a group of the now ravenous villagers. Eventually, most of the other passengers fall victim to vampire-like villagers with only Jack Taylor and Dyanik left alive at the end as they attempt to escape.




       Directed by Leon Klimovsky the film as with most Spanish horror from the period literally oozes Gothic atmosphere. One of the great things about Spanish horror (along with Italian) is that unlike the set bound horrors of Hammer if they needed a crumbling castle or ancient village they pretty mush just had to just to drive down the road a bit to find the real thing. Seemingly to almost to have grown out of the earth itself the village here is almost a character in the film and Klimovsky takes full use of of its crumbling moss grown walls and narrow streets. Klimovsky directed eight of Paul Naschy's films and although he's the director most associated with Naschy (and Spanish horror in general), I always preferred Calos Aured's work with Naschy. Kilmovsky films while workmanlike and serviceable seemed to lack a certain spark -  Naschy would later complain that he rushed through the productions. With that being said however ORGY is one of his stronger efforts as there's a genuine atmosphere of lurking doom with the constant grey overcast skies and the above mentioned village setting.
      There are a few instances of black humor (uncommon in Euro horror) sprinkled in the film as the stranded visitors are fed with contributions from various unlucky villagers whose appendages (which are the past off as roasts of various types) are hacked off by an axe wielding giant who intones "I'm here at the behest of the Countess" before chopping off an arm or a leg. There's also a gruesome bit of black humor with Dyanik finding a finger in her pot roast (left over from the donated arm for the evening meal) and the cook hastily summoned to the kitchen to get his finger hacked off to explain it away.


  

      VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY would appear to have a myriad of films that it draws inspiration from including H.G. Lewis's 2000 MANIACS (1964), the brilliant & unsettling MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973) and bizarrely MGM's musical BRIGADOON from 1954 (which could also be looked upon as a precursor to H.G. Lewis's above mentioned early splatter classic). It's also probably the closest a Euro horror ever came to a classic 1950's E.C. horror comic story plot-wise, as it even has a bit of cribbing from Joe Orlando's "Midnight Mess" from Tales from the Crypt #35 (which was used in 1973 Amicus anthology VAULT OF HORROR).
     The film leaves a bit of mystery to the proceedings as it doesn't stick hard and fast to the usual vampire rules as only Liné (who perhaps was the mysterious "aristocrat" that summoned the victims for "employment") appears to be a true vampire with the other villagers seeming to be something akin to zombie/possessed ghouls who that infect the unlucky visitors. There's a few terrific sequences including a young girl who's the child of one of the stranded bus passengers and who's lured to a cemetery by a mysterious local boy where they bury her doll which leads to a very creepy conclusion - and is followed up by her now possessed Mother searching for her. Another sequence on the seemingly deserted bus is reminiscent of a scene in Stephen King's 'Salems Lot.
      It's unusual to see Jack Taylor in the role of good guy hero, but being Jack Taylor he does engage in a some "peeping tom" fun in regards to Dyanik and a convenient handy hole in the wall. Helga Liné's participation in limited to about eight minutes of screen time in what is basically an extended cameo, but she is pretty unforgettable and makes for one heck of vampire.
     Code Red's dbl feature DVD pairs this with DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN (which makes it a Jack Taylor dbl. feature) and contains the unclothed export version - which is the one to see if your a Helga Liné fan.












Friday, August 28, 2015

Rosalba Neri Friday - IL SORRISO DELLA IENA 1972

aka SMILE BEFORE DEATH
SMILE OF THE HYENA

More Rosalba Golden Age Giallo Goodliness With Murder, Blood & Treachery  !!





      I always thought it was a shame that Rosalba didn't do more giallo's during her career.  She appeared in handful of them including the very excellent AMUCK and the interesting TWO MASKS FOR ALEXA (along with the delirious TOP SENSATION if you count that as a giallo), but for the most part producers seemed more interested in sticking her in spaghetti westerns or peplums with the occasional horror or giallo mixed in. She really excelled in playing icy cold conniving bitches or black hearted murderesses (as she showed in the above titles) that when with combined with her exotic looks would seem to make her a natural for Euro thrillers.
     Written and directed by Silvio Amadio (who also was behind AMUCK the same year) SMILE BEFORE DEATH borrows a bit plot wise from the Sergio Martino's superior YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY from the same year (whether be design or not) and although the plot itself is standard giallo (long missing family member shows up and murder/treachery ensues) it throws in some interesting twists. Easy to dismiss as a standard example of 70's Italian gaillo, it does reward with some careful viewing.




     Teenage Nancy Thompson (Jenny Tamburi from THE SINFUL NUNS OF ST. VALENTINE & Lucio Fulci's THE PSYCHIC) returns home to her stepfather Marco (Silvano Tranquilli from CASTLE OF BLOOD) after the apparent (??) suicide of her mother Dorothy. She moves into the family cottage with her mother's best friend Gianna, a seemingly friendly fashion photographer played by Rosalba and soon discovers that her stepfather and Gianna are having an affair which they don't seem to worried about keeping secret. Soon Nancy begins to have suspicions about her Mother's death and revels herself to be not quite the innocent she seems as she begins to make advances toward her stepfather along with getting involved with Gianna.
      There is the standard stuff about inheritance and wills along with a suspicious housekeeper that most likely knows more then she's telling and it seems that Nancy mother also had a gigolo on the side. The movie starts off with the death of Nancy's mother in a terrifically staged scene (which doesn't give everything away) then goes bloodless until the final set of murders at the end. It's an entertaining example of the genre that maybe as a fault does try just a bit too hard to hold your interest through the somewhat boring middle section with numerous flashbacks. With that being said however the film does reward with some careful & attentive viewing as there is subtle little instances of plot twists with bits of thrown away dialogue here and there and even hints in performances and camera shots that reveal little details (and the ending throws a couple of twists in that are unexpected).




       Jenny Tamburi was extremely busy through the 70's and 80's appearing in dozens of erotica and giallo films and she's quite good here. Seeming as a wide eyed innocent at the beginning she inserts herself into the maybe (?) scheming couple's life and begins working each person against the other using her their sexual attraction to her as tool to manipulate them. Her slowly escalating seduction and manipulation of Rosalba's character is full of little nuances with gestures and facial expressions by both protagonists.
      With Nancy being the main drive of the narrative, in what at first glance would seem to be a secondary female role as the mistress is given a great range of shifting personalities by Rosalba as she goes from manipulative and seemingly in charge of the situation to realizing things are not all they seem (you almost feel sorry for her at the film's twisted climax). I know I'm bias, but she is quite wonderful here.
      Like many Italian thrillers the score would seem to be somewhat inappropriate to the plot as Roberto Pregadio's trippy lounge-like music (with wordless vocals by frequent Morricone collaborator Edda Dell'Orso) seems at odds with whats happening on the screen. I always feel like these scores do have a thematic hold to these films with their sets full of ultra modern furniture, mod clothes and bottles of J&B scotch and they help heighten the dream-like quality that permeates many of their plots. Although the main theme is played in what seems to be a continuous loop, it is a highly memorable score (you'll be humming it for days afterwards) and shows up on numerous 70's Italian lounge/soundtrack compilations along with a stand alone CD release from Beat Records.    
      Although not attaining the heights of decadence and delirium as AMUCK, this is still a decent gaillo and works well if don't go in with hopes of blood flying about and a quick moving plot. The original Italian title was IL SORRISO DELLA IENA which translates as THE SMILE OF THE HYENA (which to me is a lot more "giallo" sounding title) and unfortunately is one of those that's fallen through the cracks on home video with the only copies floating around in the collector circles (with the best one sourced from an Italian TV broadcast - complete with an annoying station watermark).









Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DON'T OPEN THE DOOR 1974

      

More 70's Sweaty Gothic Terror from Texas Low Budget Auteur S.F. Brownrigg 




     Texas filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg made a series of four horror/exploitation films in the 1970's (one of which 1976's KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN I've covered here before) with others being DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (aka THE FORGOTTEN 1973), SCUM OF THE EARTH (aka POOR WHITE TRASH II 1974) and this unsettling little gem, also from 1974. Brownrigg's movies are fascinating exercises in low budget film making. Filmed in small towns around east Texas they all feature spooky southern Gothic ambiance filtered through 1970's drive-in horror. They played for years on double and triple bills snaking their way through various distributors and leaving an indelible impression on many a movie goer.
    Brownrigg's first feature DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT was originally titled THE FORGOTTEN but the title changed when it went out on a double feature with Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT where it shared its tagline "To avoid fainting keep repeating...it's only a movie...it's only a movie...it's only a movie". For this second feature Brownrigg most likely thought thought to capitalize a bit from his first run with Last House, a tile theme he would continue with KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN in 1976. Although he does plays the total pent up atmosphere a bit of his earlier efforts, DOOR contains all the classic Brownrigg elements - a small Texas town, a seemingly isolated house, close-ups of sweaty characters with bad complexions and yellow teeth (all driven by dubious motives, greed and/or twisted sexual desires) and a claustrophobic humid setting.




     Pretty Amanda Post (Susan Bracken) receives a mysterious phone call asking her to return to her family home as her grandmother is extremely sick. Thirteen years ago Amanda's mother had been brutally murdered in that same house with Amanda sleeping in the next room and perpetrator never having been caught. Arriving at there she discovers her grandmother a bedridden invalid (only able to utter "Go now...Go now...") along with Dr. Crawther (James Harrell) who refuses to admit her grandma to the hospital and who appears to be under the orders of "Judge" Stemple (Brownrigg regular Gene Ross who was also in Charles B. Pierce's LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK). In addition there is Claude Kearn (an unsettling wonderful performance by one and done actor Larry O'Dwyer) who runs the local historical society and museum. All three seem to engaged in an unexplained conspiracy that has them angling to gain control of the house (along with the judge and Claude practically drooling at the sight of Amanda in her tight pink tank-top).
      Accepting an invitation by by Claude to visit the museum, Amanda disturbingly finds a mannequin dressed up as her mother along with many items from their household and a creepy doll collection (which Browrigg had used to great effect in the opening credits & makes references to throughout the movie). Claude also makes some squeamish remarks alluding to Amanda as a child and his attraction to her with some not so too subtle allusions to past molestation. Wanting to get her grandmother into a hospital Amanda calls her boyfriend (who luckily is a doctor) and gets her admitted. Once back at the house alone (the boyfriend has handily stayed at the hospital) she begins to receive increasingly creepy and obscene phone calls from someone who appears to be watching her.




     The calls increase with at one point in a highly disturbing fashion the caller threatening Amanda's grandmother and forcing her to caress herself while he does the same to a doll he's foundling. Like other of Brownrigg's films the identity of the protagonist is caller is revealed early (although its fairly obvious) but the tension in maintained with a slowly ratcheting sense of terror. Brownrigg always seemed to have an affinity for finding great acting talent for his small films (probably finding them in local theatre) along with getting above average performances from virtually unknown talent. He usually worked with the same few regulars with Gene Ross also appearing in SCUM OF THE EARTH and KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN and later going on to a long career in TV. Annabelle Weenick who appears here in a small was a regular in S.F.'s films and earlier in some of Larry Buchanan's impoverished Texas production upon whom Brownrigg also cut his teeth as a filmmaker.
    Unlike his previous productions Brownrigg does show us a bit of the outside world with the Judges odd railroad car house and the museum. The house itself although well lite and neat in appearance has an unsettling atmosphere and supposedly crew members on the film did reported odd happenings during the shoot. Unlike his usual stationary camera focused on unsettling faces, Brownrigg sets up some wonderful prowling shots (in particular one that follows Amanda up floor by floor as she ascends a wrap around staircase). There some hallucinatory Mario Bava lighting used in a scene in an upstairs attic (that unfortunately is  over saturated on the DVD). Brownrigg's usual composer Robert Farrar contributes an off setting score with flutes and chamber music interspersed with distorted guitar.



     With the negative most likely destroyed at some point and 35mm prints that have been dragged through countless drive-in projectors Brownrigg's catalog has always been problematic on home video as his features (in particular BASEMENT) seem to show up in less then stellar quality on every one of those bargain multi pack sets. VCI is the best bet for DON'T OPEN THE DOOR & DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT as their available in a nifty dbl. disc set that can be had for less then $10.00. DOOR is widescreen and both have about the best quality you're going to find (Every so often a rumor surfaces about a new edition of BASEMENT, but it only turns out to be the same full frame master). 
    DON"T GO IN THE HOUSE can be looked at as a bit of an early slasher (1980's DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE seems to have borrowed a bit from it) and some folks have mentioned that perhaps Craven cribbed a bit from this for 1996's SCREAM.