Friday, June 8, 2018

THE TOUCH OF SATAN 1971



     One of the countless low budget Satan based occult films that proliferated in the 70's this slow- moving oddity was released numerous times over that decade under various titles usually meant to cash in on whatever movie was popular at the time such as 1973's THE EXORCIST. It's best remembered today as an early work for cinematographer Jordan Cornenweth who later shot BLADERUNNER and had just completed BREWSTER MCCLOUD for Robert Altman. Director Robert Henderson also directed the Crown drive-in classics THE BABYSITTER (1969) and WEEKEND WITH THE BABYSITTER (1972) and there've always been persistent rumors that it's Tom Laughlin (BILLY JACK) working under a pseudonym.
    In a prologue where shown what appears to be an elderly woman with a horrifically scared face killing a farmer with a pitchfork and setting his house on fire. Stumbling home, she's meet by her family consisting of an elderly couple and a young girl who argue over the best course of action and allude to the fact that this has happened before.



     Nice guy Jodie (Michael Berry) is rambling about the USA in his new Ford Mustang when he stopping to eat he meets Melissa (who was the young girl from the prologue and his played in all sorts of beguiling 70's cuteness by Emby Mellay (BLACK JACK 1972). Instantly attracted to each other Melissa explains that she lives on a nearby "walnut ranch" (??) and invites him home for dinner.
     Her parents (the couple from the prologue) while initially hesitant about his presence soon warm to and discuss among themselves how it'll do Melissa good. Jodi who's under pressure from his father to settle down accepts their invitation to stay on for a few days with the burgeoning romance with Melissa also factoring in. His first night there the elderly woman from the initial killing scene wanders into his room and warns him to leave after which Melissa explains her away as her grandmother.
     There's a flashback sequence showing the burning of a with during the 1800's which ties into modern times regarding Melissa and her "grandmother" which shouldn't be too hard for most viewers to see coming, but the ending does have a bit of a twist and 70's downbeat vibe. The juxtaposition of New England folk-horror and witchcraft into sunny California is an inter sting idea but the movie spends way too long on the romance between Jodie and Melissa and too little in the witchcraft side of things. The script is full of odd little phrases and asides including the above mentioned "walnut ranch" and Melissa pointing to a pond and saying, "That's the pond where the fish lives".



     Some more fleshing out the supernatural/witchcraft elements would have helped, and if you want to see just how effective a story of an outsider blundering into a modern witchcraft setting can be just watch 1960's CITY OF THE DEAD (1960) or THE WICKER MAN (1973) - although to be fair the British do have a knack for this type of thing. Several bloody killings help elevate it above 70's TV fare and Emby Mellay is good in her role as the mysterious child-like Melissa. Although she has zero chemistry with Jodie,  it's easy to see how a young man could fall for her. Not a great movie (or as some would argue not even a good one) it consistently falls into one of those "worst movies ever made" discussions and it even had the requisite MST3K drubbing. I find those low budget oddities from the 70's & 80's endlessly fascinating and there always seems to be one more of these weird little "gems" waiting to be discovered with each having their own little charms.
    Cornenweth's work as DP helps elevate the film a bit including some beautiful shots of the sun dappled California countryside (in was filmed in Santa Ynez which is near Santa Barbara) and an impressive 360 degree shot as it circles Melissa when she slowly realizes the true horror of her grandmother.
    Under various times this has been released as THE TOUCH OF MELISSA, THE CURSE OF MELISSA, PITCHFORK and it even popped up in the early 80's as NIGHT OF THE DEMON (not to be confused with the 1957 Jacques Tourneur classic or James Wasson's 1980 bigfoot gore film). It's been released on various budget labels and is paired with James H. Kay weird SEEDS OF EVIL (1974) on a Code red DVD with the colorful, but emulsion scratched TOUCH OF SATAN (bearing a NIGHT OF THE DEMON title card) looking like it was dragged through the parking lot of a drive-in which does add a nice bit of grindhouse flavor to the proceedings.











Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Rosalba Neri News # 29 LADY FRANKENSTEIN On Blu


 

    While I've been eagerly awaiting the Nucleus Films release of this classic slice of Rosalba Italian Gothic, I-Catcher Media have released a packed to the gills mediabook edition. Packaged in a choice of two covers in a limited edition of 499 each it's still available on Amazon DE as of this posting. I went for the top one which features some beautiful Italian poster art that has nothing to do with the actual movie as it looks like something from a bodice ripping romance novel. 
   Along with a 32 page German text booklet the package also includes the uncut 99 minute version of the film (the same length as the upcoming Nucleus release) on Blu along with a boatload of extras spread across the Blu and two DVDs. The audio based extras including a commentary from actor Herbert Fux and interviews with Fux, Mel Wells and Rosalba (among others) are not English friendly but there's also scans of 100's of poster, pressbooks and assorted promotional material from around the world. Audio on the the disc is German/English with optional English subtitles. 
   Also included are scads of trailers, TV spots, alternate openings and extensive filmographies for Fux, Rosalba, Joeseph Cotton and Mickey Hargitay. Numerous Easter Eggs are also included in the filmographies which pull up trailers for the respective films. 
  Sadly the Blu while colorful contains a healthy dose of DNR slathered over the image resulting in a waxy look which is especially evident on the faces. While I'm happy with this purchase for my Rosalba collecting obsession & the extras, I'm still eagerly awaiting the Nucleus edition which I'm sure will be the definitive release.

















All above screen caps are from the I-Media Blu





Saturday, June 2, 2018

THE WITCHES aka THE DEVIL'S OWN 1966


Hosted by Cinematic Catharsis Realweegiemidget Reviews




     THE WITCHES is often one of those Hammer films that falls through the cracks and although it doesn't stack up to that studios other forays into witchcraft & folk horror such as THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966) and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968), it does feature a keep you guessing script by Nigel Kneale (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and THE STONE TAPE) and an earnest and serious performance by Joan Fontaine. It also shares the injection of African/voodoo religoIONS injected into the British countryside thar was explored in the same years THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. Filmed in Buckinghamshire it has beautiful Technicolor English countryside and although some interiors were filmed on some familiar Bray it does have a look unlike most other Hammer productions in addition being a contemporary horror setting rather than a period one.
    The film could be looked upon as Fontaine's entry in the "hag horror" genre that was flourishing at the time as studios looked to golden age Hollywood actresses for Gothic and horror/thriller box office - with Joan's sister Olivia De Havilland in HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE and LADY IN A CAGE from 1964. This was Joan's last movie role and her last acting until she started showing up on TV in the mid 70's. She's credited as a co-producer on THE WITCHES and owned the rights to Norah Loft's source novel THE DEVIL'S OWN (which was the U.S. title as distributed by 20th Century Fox).




    Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield a teacher just returned from Africa where in a prologue sequence her school was attacked by a fearsome mask wearing witchdoctor during a tribal rebellion. Back in England, she meets up with Alan Bax (Alec McCowan FRENZY) a vicar who along with his sister Stephanie (Kay Walsh (DR. SYN) who run a school in the small village of Heddaby she takes a job as a teacher. Arriving in the village she discovers that Bax really isn't a vicar ("I wanted to enter the church, but I failed") and the rectory is in ruins.
    As school begins the only other teacher Sally Benson (Ann Bell DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS) is mysteriously late in arriving and a burgeoning romance between two of the young students Ronnie (Martin Stephens VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE INNOCENTS) and Linda (Ingrid Bolting) is frowned upon by both the parents and the villagers. Kneale's script (which Robin Hardy's THE WICKER MAN resembles) is wonderful in showing how slightly odd the village is and the slowly encroaching way in which Gwen begins to realize something is not right. Kneale was always good at showing the effects that paranormal or occult beliefs could have on modern society and how non-believers would slowly come to the realization that logic can't explain them away. The film also touches on "sins of colonialism" that other horror films such as THE OBLONG BOX (1969) would explore.




    The feeling of dread is beautifully maintained through the first part of the film with such things a headless doll in the crock of a tree and oddly enough a sheep stampede and the opening Africa sequence is pretty terrifying. The plot comes apart a bit toward the end of the movie with interpretive dancing and a bizarre climax that will have you re watching it just for Kay Walsh's off the rails performance and one of the more out-there devil worshipping sequence ever committed to film. Walsh (who at one time was married to David Lean) almost walks away with film with a performance that grows more bizarre by the minute, although Fontaine is quite good and carries an air of old Hollywood glamour about her even while recoiling and screaming in the face of occult puppets.
   With Arthur Grant's cinematography, it's a beautiful looking film and the bright sun shinny exteriors contrasting with the dark goings-on in the village.  Although Hammer's bare breast and blood era was still a few years ahead even for 1966 THE WITCHES seems a bit chaste as we get a fully clothed orgy.  Director Cyril Frankel also directed the powerful NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER in 1960 for Hammer and THE WITCHES is filled with a host of familiar English faces including Duncan Lamont from QUATERMASS AND THE PIT ("are you insured..?, it's good to be insured...) as a grinning almost maniacal butcher who gleefully skins rabbits and Leonard Rossiter (DEADLIER THAN THE MALE 1967) as the village doctor.