Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Susan George in Die Screaming Mariane 1971 (and a belated Happy Birthday)

   Here's Susan George doing a wild go-go dance thru the opening credits of Pete Walker's Die Screaming Marianne from 1970. Not the best Pete Walker film as it moves a bit slow and has a hard time living up to the promise of those opening credits (which most movies would come to think of it). Susan plays Marianne, a nightclub go-go dancer (what else), who on her upcoming 21st birthday stands to inherit a bunch of money and some legal papers from her late mothers estate. Because the papers will incriminate her crooked ex-judge father (played by Leo Genn), she has all sorts of evil people pursuing her and trying to knock her off (not the least of which is her father). Not knowing her fathers true intentions she accepts the offer of a visit at his house in Portugal which begins all sorts of double crossing, murder & mystery. With the decadent family vibe and Portugal locations, it sometimes has the feel of a Jess Franco film (without all the zoom shots & nudity). Susan is pretty good in one of her first major roles and looks great in all sorts of 70's fashions. (including, but not limited to mini-skirts & bikinis).

   Susan George is another 70's actress I really like. Born on July 26 1950 in London, England, she started acting at the age of four. She worked steadily in films from the mid 60's to the early 80's and was was quite good in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs from 1971 (in a very difficult role).  In 1974's car chase classic Dirty Marry & Crazy Larry she had great chemistry with Peter Fonda and the shot of her sitting on a porch eating a creamsicle is a highlight of 70's drive-in cinema. In addition she also appeared in the still shocking and still freakin' unbelievable Mandingo from 1975. She continues to do a TV work in England lately has got into the production side of things. As it was her birthday earlier this month I wanted to give a shout out to her.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Open Season 1974

    1974's Open Season is one of those films that has sadly fallen thru cracks on home video, as it has yet to get a legit American release, as it  floats around on torrent & trading sites passed from collector to collector and has earned quite a cult following. A European production (Euro horror star Helga Line can be seen in the beginning) that was shot in Spain, England, and Italy with some exterior stuff shot in Michigan - a quick view of the old Tiger Stadium can be seen from I-75 and a trip across the Mackinac Bridge is shown in an aerial shot. Directed by Britisher Peter Collinson, who also helmed the excellent 1967 thriller The Penthouse (also missing on DVD). Collinson directed some great films (the original Italian Job from 1969 among others) and unfortunately passed away at the young age of 44 in 1980. 

  Peter Fonda, John Phillip Law & Richard Lynch play respectively Greg, Ken & Art, a nice bunch of guys on the surface who unfortunately are all pretty psychotic. Once year they head up the mountains for a couple of weeks in a cabin and along the way they always stop to pick up a random man & woman to partake in the old Most Dangerous Game scenario. Although the guys are all past military vets (Vietnam is hinted at), the military side of it is never really brought up as a reason for their behavior and in a prologue its shown that even as teenagers they had an inclination toward violence.
   On the current trip they kidnap Martin & Nancy (Alberto de Mendoza & Corneila Sharpe) who as it turns out are having an affair and with Martin unwilling to leave his wife, this ramps up the tension even more between the couple. After arriving at the isolated cabin a real claustrophobic horror show begins as the guys use mind games & psychological terror on the helpless couple climaxing with the hunt.

  As they three main character's Fonda, Lynch & Law are all quite good. Fonda seems to be the same character from Dirty Mary & Crazy Larry (also from '74) with just some added psycho creepiness. His constant giggling after each line gets a bit on ones nerves (which may be the purpose) and he really seems to enjoy playing a totally evil persona. Richard Lynch with his scarred gaunt features was one of the most reliable character actors of the 70's (including a great turn in 1973's The Seven Ups) and was a regular on TV from the 80's on. His facial scarring occurred as the result of setting himself on fire while on an LSD trip in 1967. However, its John Phillip Law who's the real standout here as he portrays perfectly the perceived nice guy who slowly turns into a psychotic monster before our eyes. In fact the best part on the entire movie is the slowing dawning realization that these guys are truly insane.

   The film has a nice twist ending with the prologue neatly wrapping around full circle to tie into the end. The only thing that is a bit problematic is the re-appearance of top billed William Holden at the end. Since we only see him for a few minutes at the beginning , we know he's going to show up again at some point (and most likely will be a major plot point). An excellent movie that really deserves a long overdue DVD and/or blu release.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rosalba Neri Friday # 10 - The Castle of Fu Manchu 1969

    This was Christopher Lee's fifth outing as the Oriental arch-villain for producer Harry Alan Towers and the second one from director Jess Franco. This time around Fu and his faithful daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) have a device that will freeze solid the worlds oceans. This is shown in the opening scenes of the film as he uses to sink an ocean liner in the "tropics" (which is strangely populated with passengers bundled up for winter), as this orgy of stock footage comes from 1958's Titanic opus A Night To Remember. This pretty much gives a big hint to the production values (and logic) of the rest of the movie. After discovering his new "ocean freezing" invention needs some tweaking to prefect it, he kidnaps a Dr. Heracles.

   The Dr. informs him that massive amounts of opium crystals are needed to make it work and with this in mind he takes over the governor's castle in Istanbul with the help of opium dealer Omar Pasha (along with his assistant Lisa - Rosalba Neri), because as it turns out the governor's castle has a massive supply of opium stashed there.  Opps ! - seems that the Doc has a bad heart, so next Fu kidnaps a heart surgeon and as the castle happens to have a fully equipped operating theatre (along with the tons of opium) this is no problem. After taking over the castle he double crosses Omar and throws Lisa in the dungeon. Soon Fu Manchu's nemesis Nayland Smith (Richard Green) shows up, beats up a few of the guards in some really badly choreographed fight scenes and by doing absolutely nothing at all saves the day in the end. "I think" & "somewhere" would seem to be the two most common phrases you'd use in describing the plot.

    A typical Jess Franco "I don't really care about this one" production with a very ludicrous plot and huge jumps in logic (lots of "Hey, how'd that happen ??"). Rosalba's presence (and Chris Lee) was the only thing that helped me make it thru this, as it is an endurance test. The plot clunks & drags along and when something needs to happen, it usually just happens - with no explanation. Fu Manchu needs to get the secret formula from Dr. Heracles and he won't give it up ? Hey, no problem as Fu has it in the very next scene - as things just sorta happen "somewhere".  His laboratory consists of what looks one of those chemistry sets you use to be able to order out of the Sears catalog placed upon a wooden table and the dungeon consists of paper mache rocks and lots of psychedelic lighting (to most likely help HIDE the paper mache rocks).

   Rosalba (3rd billed here in the secondary credits) shows up for about the first twenty minutes then disappears until the climax as she escapes from the dungeon and attempts to rescue Omar. For some strange reason (I'm sure known only to Jess) he dresses her a series of really ugly men's clothing - including a stripped suit and fez (??) and almost seems to go out of his way to make her seem unattractive (which is a real challenge). Not the best movie on her resume, but hey its Rosalba, so here you have it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Wicker Man - 1973

   Director Robin Hardy has posted some information over on the Studio Canal Facebook page concerning the upcoming Oct. blu ray release of his 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man. One of the truly great British horror films and featuring one of Christopher Lee's best performances, this is something to be very excited about.
   Edward Woodard plays a deeply religious police Sgt who travels to an island off the coast of Scotland to investigate the report of a missing child and finds himself face to face with the ancient pagan practices of the islanders (and a naked Britt Ekland). Lee plays the Lord of the island, plus there's also Ingrid Pitt who in her words at the time plays a "nymphomaniac librarian" (how 'bout that !) and a wonderful performance by Diane Cilento as the island's school teacher. Ekland plays Willow "the landlords daughter" and her then boyfriend Rod Stewart was reportedly (and as it turned out, most likely falsely) upset at her nudity in the film and this was played up in the films promotion.
   Although on the surface a simple plot, an extremely well written screenplay by Anthony Shaffer encourages multiple viewings as there's lots of strangle little things (and dialogue) going on here, which give hints to the film's powerful climax. Hardy and Shaffer did deep research into ancient pagan practices of the British Isles (in particular Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough). Also with an excellent score by Paul Giovanni (preformed by Magnet) consisting mainly of ancient British Isle folk music and period instruments.

     Sadly, The Wicker Man has had one of the more tragic distribution stories ever afforded a film. Hardy's original (and still somewhat compromised) cut ran 99 min and Lee claims that several important scenes were still missing. Roger Corman had expressed interest in distributing the film in America and a print was shipped off to him. In the the meantime the British distributor British Lion was being sold and the new owners were not happy with the finished product as they wanted a "happy ending" (which luckily did not come to pass). After viewing the print Corman suggested another 13 min be cut (Roger was always looking at a double feature for his films - hence everything had to come in below 90 min).
    He evidently passed on it but the new heads of the British studio took his suggestions and cut the film to 87 min with sequences re-arranged (which totally ruined the film's flow) and most of the nudity & sexual content gone. Afterward it was dumped on the lower half of a double bill with Don't Look Now for British audiences. Christopher Lee was ardent supporter of the film and called up several critics begging them to view the film and it recd. enthusiastic reviews but unfortunately faded into viewing obscurity.

     Over in America the film ended up at Warners, who did a small test market showing of it, then passed on it on to a small distributor named Abraxas in 1976. To their credit Abraxas was going to allow Hardy to try and re-assemble his cut, but all the footage had since been destroyed by the studio (allegedly dumped in a land fill and buried under the M3 Motorway). Since Corman's print was the only copy left of the "longish" cut a dupe was made and Hardy assembled a 95 min version. At the suggestion of Abraxas, Hardy left out the introductory footage on the mainland (which he was never too fond of anyways) and this version played in the U.S., with Cinefantastique magazine devoting an entire issue to it.
   StudioCanal of France (which now owned it) again attempted a full restoration in 2001, but by this time even Corman's print was nowhere to be found. Joe Dante recently said he had shipped the print off to Abraxas after they requested another copy and after their bankruptcy the print disappeared. ANOTHER new cut was assembled from a 1" tape master for the missing scenes, this time with the introductory footage put back in and this was released on DVD back in 2002.
   The big announcement from StudioCanal this week was that 35mm print of the 99 minute version had been found & Hardy was working on a restoration (yet again !) for a DVD/Blu release in Oct. (preceded by some U.K. theatrical showings in Sept). This will be Hardy's cut he did for Abraxas in '76, so more then likely some of the footage from the 2002 DVD will be missing (so hang on to those).
  Unfortunately Edward Woodard passed away in 2009 and Shaffer in 2001, but as Chris Lee and Robin Hardy are still with us, its always a good thing when a film can get a proper release with some of its principals around to enjoy it. A very unsettling film and perfect for Halloween viewing. Avoid at all costs the truly horrible 2006 remake - the less said about that the better.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Happy Birthday Erika Blanc


    A very Happy Birthday to Italian actress Erika Blanc (one of this blogs OTHER favorite actresses). Born on this day in 1942 in Gargnano, Italy and the star of many films of the classic European/Italian horror & giallo cycle of the 1960's and 70's (plus some crime & spaghetti westerns). Among them are Mario Bava's Kill Baby Kill (1966) & The Night Evelyn Came Out of The Grave (1971), The Devils Nightmare (1971) and So Sweet...So Perverse from 1968 co-starring Carroll Baker. Because of her unique look (have a look at those cheekbones !) she lent a very beautiful & exotic presence to her roles.
    Here's Erika from 1971's The Devils Nightmare, a French/Belgian co-production that has her playing a succubus who shows up at the castle of a cursed family to start knocking off some stranded guests who themselves represent the seven deadly sins. Not the best movie of the genre but a classic of 1970's Euro horror and great starting place for the uninitiated. Erika seems to be having a lot of fun in the role, plus there's a sepia toned Nazi flashback, nudity & lesbians, an iron maiden & a guillotine and a great weird & trippy score. Not to mention you gotta love Erika in that dress.

I wonder what the Priest is thinking ???

Erika in full tilt succubus boogie mode !!