Thursday, August 21, 2014

THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE 1957

CREEPY GANG OF LIFE SUCKING SCIENTISTS SET UP SHOP AT GIRLS REFORM SCHOOL AND THEN THE FLANNEL NIGHTIE CLAD BODIES START PILING UP !!!



"You'll Tremble With Suspense !




    In addition to Ray Harryhausen's IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, during the 1950's producer Sam Katzman cranked out dozens of "B" films including a handful of horror titles (the majority of which were distributed by Columbia) that while being undeniably low budget & schlocky do exclude a certain perverse curiosity with probably the most (in)famous being 1957's THE GIANT CLAW. In 2007 Sony issued a nifty 2 DVD set that collected four Katzman productions including the aforementioned CLAW along with the interesting wolfman via 1950's atomic paranoia THE WEREWOLF (1956) and CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955), plus ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957).
    Although 1957's THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE didn't make the cut for the above package, it has shown up through the Sony MOD program which is good news indeed. Like most of Katzman's productions its a bit talky and sometimes slow moving, but in it's own way does have a weirdly surreal atmosphere running through it (whether by design or not) with a closing shot that is strangely haunting. Throwing some 1950's female JD plot elements (ala' REFORM SCHOOL GIRL) into a low budget horror programmer is an inspired idea and as helped along by the presence of veteran character actors Victor Jory  & Ann Doren, plus the work of cinematographer Benjamin H. Kline (who shot many of The Three Stooges shorts) the film is an entertaining example of "B" 50's horror.




   At the La Salle Detention Home For Girls (where most of the "girls" seem a bit long in the tooth) strange things have been happening with the sudden death of a number of the residents (usually proceeded by a blood curdling scream) which begins to arouse the suspicion of sympathetic new social worker Carol Adams (Charlotte Austin from FRANKENSTEIN 1970). The victims are usually found to have died of a "heart attack", but when one of the inmates turns up as a suicide and is found hanging in the dormitory ("she would no sooner commit suicide then she could've flown over the fence !"), Carol becomes convinced something nefarious is going on.
   Helped by her assistant & inmate Tracy (Jean Willes - who in a few years would be hanging out with Frank & The Rat Pack in OCEANS 11) along with visiting state appointed psychiatrist & soon to be love interest Dr Jess Rogers (William Hudson - best known as Allison Hayes philandering husband in ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN) Carol begins investigating the strange goings on - which seem to be tied in to a spooky bunch of recently appointed school administrators who include Dr. Murdock (Victor Jory), his creepy assistant Mrs. Ford (Ann Doran -who appeared in literally hundreds of movies and TV shows) and their REALLY creepy associate/ henchman Eric (the grim and never smiling Freidrich von Ledebur).




    It's soon discovered that Dr. Murdoch and his gang are actually a group of 18th century scientists who have discovered the secret of eternal life that consists of literally transferring the life energy out of young girls, which entails placing the victims in a metal bathtub and then hooking up some Ed Wood-like electrical equipment to an electric chair looking device that transfers their life energy to the 200 plus year old protagonists. A downside to the procedure is that the process is only temporary and that without a regular repeat of the life sucking electric bath the recipient will harden and pretty much "turn to stone". As it's been discovered that young females (imagine that !) work best, we've ended up at the school for delinquent girls with the back story being discovered via a handily procured diary (that makes some references to alchemy & the Count St. Germain).




   The gaunt & cadaverous Eric makes periodic appearances carrying off hapless female victims and once even breaking in on dorm room full of them. Like most movies of this ilk it drags a bit during the "investigating" portion of the movie, but the script is fashioned with enough female abductions every so often to keep ones interest and somewhat flat direction by László Kardos (credited here as  Leslie Kardos) is offset by Benjamin Kline's moody cinematography which is shown to great effect in the closing shot with the nightgown clad women standing silently watching as the scientist's laboratory/house burns.
 





    



Monday, August 18, 2014

Happy (Belated) Birthday Barbara Bouchet !! MILANO CALIBRO 9 - 1972

AKA CALIBER 9  




    Born on this past Fri. the 15th of Aug. in 1943 in Germany she and her family moved to San Francisco after WWII and as a teenager she became a dancer on the THE KPIX DANCE PARTY show and won The "Miss Gidget" beauty contest. In 1962 she moved to Hollywood and appeared in such films as 1965's IN HARM'S WAY as Kirk Douglas's cheating wife & CASINO ROYALE from 1967. She also made numerous TV appearances including THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and STAR TREK. In 1970 she relocated to Italy where she made a name for herself starting in various gaillos, poliziotteschis ("cop" movies) and thrillers among them BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA (1971), AMUCK (1972 - with Rosalba Neri !), THE LADY IN RED KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972), DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972) and THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS (1972). She had a small role in Martin Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK from 2002 and continues to work to work steadily up till today. 


  

     MILANO CALIBRO 9 (CALIBER 9) was one of 13 (!) films Barbara appeared in during 1972 (as partially seen in the brief list above) and was the first part of a loose trilogy by director Fernando Di Leo that was followed by LA MALA ORDINA (MANHUNT - U.S. Title THE ITALIAN CONNECTION 1972) and ILL BOSS (THE BOSS 1973). Although he dabbled in other genres (most notably spaghetti westerns and the weird gaillo ASYLUM EROTICA from 1971 - with Rosalba Neri !) his best work was undoubtedly the crime films he made during the 70's.
    Filled with garish clothes & decor, machine guns, violent shootouts & beatings, car chases and larger then life characters the Italian police/crime films of the 70's have been rather sorely unrepresented on region 1 DVD, but Blue Underground released some awhile back (including Enzo De Castellari's excellent STREET LAW) and Raro has brought out two blu-ray sets collecting the best of Di Leo's crime films.


    1972's CALIBER 9 is one of his best and along with an excellent performance by Barbara (this is my favorite of hers) it features gritty and restrained performance by Gastone Moschin as the lead protagonist which is balanced out by a delirious scenery chewing Mario Adrof as his nemesis. Moschin plays Ugo Piazza (love that name !), a gangster who upon being released from prison finds himself the center of attention from both the police and the mob as they believe he knows the whereabouts of $300,000 that went missing during an elaborate money changing scheme shown in the prologue.



    Mario Adorf (who was Peckinpah's initial choice for Mapache in THE WILD BUNCH) plays Rocco who engages in an elaborate and brutal game of cat and mouse with Piazza as he seeks to learn the whereabouts of the missing money (which may or not be known by Piazza). Overseeing everything mafia-wise is the "The Americano" played by Lionel Stander (who pre - HART TO HART had quite a career going in Italy during the 70's).
   Although the basic story is an oft used crime/mob plot the film moves at a terrific pace as it only gets bogged down in a series of what seems like endless debates between the two main police characters concerning communism vs. fascism - which was a common underlying theme in many of these movies.  Moschin (best known for playing Robert DeNiro's early NYC nemesis in THE GODFATHER PART II) is excellent as the ex-con who while initially coming across as a mindless hulking thug (as are most of the male characters) actually carefully plans out each move and its fascinating watching him pit various characters against one another.




    Barbara plays Nelly a go-go dancer (who lives in a mind bogglingly decorated apt.) and was Piazza's girlfriend and while not being entirely faithful to him while he was in prison she does come back to him (although her means to an end aren't exactly 100% kosher). Her go-go dancing sequence as filmed with tilted and sideways camera angles along with pulsating lights is one of the highlights of the film (and probably 70's Italian cinema in general).
   Still currently living in Italy, in the mid 80's she came out with a line of exercise videos and books and opened up a health club in Rome.










 

Friday, August 15, 2014

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB 1973




     1973's HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB was one of four collaborations between Naschy and director Carlos Aured with the others being the giallo inspired HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN (1974), 1973'S THE CURSE OF THE DEVIL and Naschy's excursion in the mummy mythos, the very gory VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY from 1973. It's always kind of interesting to see Naschy play a thoroughly despicable character as unlike the somewhat heroic and tragic figure of the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, here as the resurrected warlock Alaric De Marnac he channels pure evilness.




     Often cited as a favorite among Naschy aficionados as its overflowing with Gothic atmosphere, (lots of) blood, along with nudity and a seemingly throw everything into the plot mentality (some Norse mythology is even worked in) that all add up to a highly entertaining slice of Spanish horror. Although filled with all these definite trappings (along with the very welcome presence of Helga Liné - always a plus) it also seems to have a bit of over the top sensibility to it (even comparatively speaking to other Spanish horror) with the protagonists able to disappear and reappear instantly (you keep waiting for them to twitch their nose ala' BEWITCHED) and Naschy's scenery chewing portrayal of the vengeance seeking warlock. In his introduction to the BCI disc Naschy remarks "remember just have fun". Balancing all this out somewhat is a dreamlike feeling running through the film with long stretches of little or no dialogue and a plot that leaves it up to the women characters to take the lead in the action as the men are shown to be rather ineffectual.




    Starting off in medieval France in a setting that every resurrected warlock/witch film is obligated to open with - the evil satanists receiving their comeuppance in a lonely desolate looking countryside. Being led to their execution in a slow moving ox cart is Alaric De Marnac (Naschy) along with his mistress Mabille De Lancre (Helga Line) while overseeing the proceedings is Hugo De Marnac (again Naschy - although with a scar) who condemns his brother to death by reading off a whole laundry list of various evil crimes the satanic pair have perpetuated including vampirism, lycanthropy, black magic, human sacrifices (the list goes on and on...). Alaric is beheaded (with a really nifty prosthetic head), but not before cursing his brother's descendants and Mabille is stripped, hung upside down from a tree and also killed (but not before she too gets to spew put a curse or two).
   Fast forwarding to present day Paris (or at the very least present day Paris via stock footage) we're introduced to Alaric's present day descendant Armand De Marnac (a third appearance by Naschy !) a womanizing playboy-type who counts among his friends a painter Maurice Roland (Víctor Alcázar from IT HAPPENED AT THE NIGHTMARE INN which is soon to be released on blu from Scorpion) who also happens to be a relative of one of the participants in prologue's medieval execution. Hooking up with their girlfriends and another couple they participate in a seance (never a good idea in 70's horror) and are rewarded with the apparition of Alaric's head floating over the table informing them of the location of his decapitated head (which happens to be on Armand's ancestral estate). Armand & Maurice along with their repective female companions decide to head up to the estate for a little "warlock head" scavenger hunt.




    Along the way they meet with some thieves who are quickly dispatched by some Paul Naschy ass-whoppin' and then a group of local villagers arrive (who are introduced in order to provide some more zombie warlock fodder later in the movie) to finish them off with a shotgun and a good old fashioned lynching. The theme of robbers lurking in wait on desolate roads is a common theme in Naschy's films and you wonder if that was referencing a incident in his life (although nothing is mentioned in his autobiography).
   Upon arriving at the estate they find the caretaker along with his two daughters and rather easily happen upon (thanks to Maurice going into a trance) the burial place of Alaric's head and thanks to meddling villagers it's soon "released" later to be joined with his body along with the resurrection of Mabille. Along with some vamparic plot elements in regard to the resurrected couple they also are sustained by ripping out their victims hearts (a favorite modus operandi of Spanish horror) and are able to taker over their victims minds/bodies and later after being bloodily dispatched by one of their minions they're able to resurrect the gory remains as zombies. This all sets up virtual cornucopia of beautiful women in lingerie wondering down hallways with candelabras, gory death by sharp farm implements, some NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD inspired zombie action and of course Helga Liné and a larger then usual cast of 70's Euro babes (unfortunately we do NOT get the hoped for Naschy vs. Naschy climatic duel). The make-up (with the the zombies being a standout) is particularly well done 

  


    Bizarrely some of the sequences that could have really been set up as something special are dispensed  rather unimaginatively such as a batch of zombies are shown shuffling through the misty swampland, but we're shown them in a faraway distant shot that initially is confusing to who they even are. In addition the resurrection of Alric's head and body is dispensed with in a perfunctory manor with his head simply plopped down in the coffin on top of the body and "whala" up he rises. Mabille's resurrection is handled a bit better with some vague necrophilia overtones and a bloody sacrifice. 




   As usual Naschy seems to have fun in a dual role (with even a bit of a trifecta here) and although he does embellish the modern hero type figure with a bit more personality then usual, it's obvious he's having a lot more fun in the evil warlock role. Although this is not my favorite Naschy it's still vastly entertaining and not to belabor the point, but the film is helped immensely by the presence of Liné (one of this blog's OTHER favorite actresses). With a gorgeous facial structure comprising a look both exotic and aristocratic she was born in 1932 in Berlin and also appeared with Naschy in the well worth seeking out VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY. She also appeared with Barbara Steele in NIGHTMARE CASTLE (1964),  a sultry spy in 1972's HORROR EXPRESS, a heart tearing out reptilian river siren in THE LORELEY'S GRASP and a pretty unforgettable (in more ways then one) vampire in THE VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY. She worked steadily up till the mid 2000's and was still shedding her clothes into her 40's - most famously in the the very weird & twisted satanic thriller BLACK CANDLES from 1981(which is rumored to be getting a spankin' new HD release from Code Red at some point). 
   The film was partially shot at the Spanish country home of Naschy in the obvious dead of winter (snow is visible falling in several shots) which most have made it rather uncomfortable for the cast (especially in regards to the female ones).