Monday, October 28, 2013

The Embalmer AKA Monster of Venice ( Il Monstro di Venezia) 1965

"Beauty After Beauty Dragged To A Sunken Crypt...Petrified Playthings Of
 The Embalmer"

     Odd little Italian horror flick from 1965, the same year that produced the delirious Bloody Pit of Horror, the Barbara Steele vehicles Nightmare Castle & Terror Creatures From the Grave along with the Mario Bava space horror fever dream Planet of the Vampires. When placed alongside these the Dino Tavella directed The Embalmer seems almost quaint in comparison with a somewhat creakily put forth story line for 1965 (probably for 1955 also...) along with some great unrealized potential lurking there about. With its hooded killer as a fake monster and PG rated cheesecake this has more in common with the German Edgar Wallace "krimi" films being produced at the time then its fellow Italian horror projects from the same year.

   Hiding out in the catacombs of Venice (beneath a hotel & nightclub) a fiend in Monks robes and a skull mask periodically ventures out in the canals in a skin diving outfit to snatch girls off the always strangely deserted Venetian streets and drag them back to his underground liar. Once there he embalms them (off -screen of course) and places their bodies in display cases where he can "gaze upon their eternal beauty as they will never grow old".  As with the usual plot point, ineffectual police plod about looking for the killer while the the main hero guy Andrea (a newspaper reporter of course) played by Luigi Martocci (or as he's credited here "Gin Mart" !?) presciently investigates the weird goings-on.

   Luckily for the Embalmer (and for us) a bunch of twenty-something "schoolgirls" from Rome show up at the hotel chaperoned by Maureen (Maureen Brown) who upon making the acquittance of Andrea accepts his invitation for a tour of Venice. Unfortunately this means that next we're treated to some mind numbly boring travel log footage that ends up at the nightclub where an Italian Elvis impersonator (in a black turtleneck) emerges out of a coffin (!?) and bangs out a pop ditty. To help make things (hopefully) more interesting a lecherous desk clerk at the hotel has a handy some one-way glass installed in the women's dressing room.

   In addition to the random female victims (who have their face shown by a freeze-frame right before their demise) the Embalmer also knocks off a snooping archaeologist who's been poking around the basement of the hotel and sticks his body in Elvis's coffin so it falls out before the nightclub audience. After the Embalmer drags one of the schoolgirls right out of a gondola into a canal, Andrea then dons his own wet suit to track down the fiends lair while at the same time Maureen finds a secret passage in the hotel and in the best tradition of Italian horror heroines grabs a nearby candelabra and heads down to the catacombs (although quite not up to Barbara Steele's candelabra carrying, she does a pretty competent job). Its here that the movie does sluggishly come to life a bit as it creates a fair amount of tension and sets up some pretty nifty set pieces such as the room of hooded seated skeletons (old entombed monks ??).

    The big problem with this movie (in addition to the dragged out middle section & tons of filler) is that the Venice setting is never really utilized what with the dreary B&W photography (one wonders what Mario Bava could have done with this project) with even the scenes in the  Embalmer's liar having a flatness & dullness to them. What could have been great elements - petrified woman, creepy hooded monster & underground catacombs are never really exploited for their potential - plus the sometimes hilarious dubbing & a jazz library score don't help matters much. The Embalmer endlessly perfonicating in front of his displays of petrified babes does have a certain charm however and admittedly, I am a sucker for these  movies.
   It was released in 1966 on a double bill with Michael Reeves directorial debut The She Beast (which itself is a bit of a endurance test) and later in 1973 was put in a triple bill with The Corpse Grinders & The Undertaker and his Pals (where it must have seemed absolutely prehistoric by that time). A long time constant presence in those cheap horror multi-packs, Retro-media released this on DVD in non-anamorphic widescreen from a slighty worn 35mm print. Once again a big thanks to Kevin J. Olson over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies for putting this blogathon together.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Rosalba Neri Friday # 12 (Halloween Special !) - Lady Frankenstein 1971

"Only The Monster She Made Could Satisfy Her Strange Desires !"

    Along with Top Sensation (1969) this is Rosalba's best role and most likely the one she's best known for (somewhat due to its showing up on every bargain basement video label in the world). After appearing 3rd or 4th billed in bunches of peplums & spaghetti westerns (where she was usually killed in the second reel) this role and Top Sensation really gave her some juicy parts, allowing her to show her acting chops (among her other assets). Distributed in the U.S. by New World Pictures with a lurid campaign that featured a buxom bee-hived blonde on the poster, it played various double & triple feature bills before being allowed to fall in home video PD hell - with Shout Factory's recent legit release helping to rectify this.

     The movie itself is a strange mash-up of classic Hammer-like Gothic set pieces combined with 1970's Italian horror & sex. Coming near the end of the golden age of Italian horror and because of some rather choppy editing it does at times seem like two separate "Frankenstein" like story lines were cobbled together with only some of the main characters connecting the films disparate plot lines (of course having six writers credited doesn't help matters much either). Supposedly one of the Italian producers had a thing for Rosalba and had this project built around here, with American Mel Wells (Little Shoppe of Horrors) brought in to direct and co-produce (plus some script tweaking). The original story by sleaze expert Dick Randall was a Dracula/vampire type movie that later mutated into the Frankenstein thing after some script issues.

   With all this being said the film does feature some excellent production design with some great Hammer inspired vintage laboratory sets, a wicked sense of perversion running thru the second half and that weird/ fascinating Italian combination of classic horror & sex. Plus Rosalba, who because seemingly excited to work alongside a Hollywood legend (even if co-star Joesph Cotten here is a LONG way from Citizen Kane & Shadow of a Doubt) and with a script that by design or not injects a strong sense of feminism into the traditional mad scientist role puts in a really excellent performance here (although as played here by Neri the end results she's after are quite different from your typical monster creator).

   Tania Frankenstein (Neri - here under her Sara Bay pseudonym) arrives home at the family castle after graduating medical school (plus frustrated at not getting any respect) and is ready to jump right in assisting her father the Baron (Cotten) with his "animal transplant" experiments. She however knows the real purpose of his work as she's been sneaking down to his lab ever since she was a little Frankenstein to spy on him. Dismissing her and refusing help the Baron and his longtime assistant Charles (Paul Muller) are on the cusp of reanimating life after 20 years of work. Along the way they've been assisted by a slimy trio of grave robbers led by Tom Lynch (Herbrert Fux - Mark of the Devil).
  Of course the brain is damaged (Hey ! - imagine that ?) but the Baron presses on and succeeds in giving life to the creature (but not before a good portion of his face is burned away by some errant electricity). The monster complete with a cockeyed eyeball and a huge bulbous head (plus stripped pants) gives the Baron a deathly bear hug and lumbers off into the night where it starts knocking off random victims (including women in various states of undress). Its here that movie really launches into some weird sexual shinanagens -with Rosalba front & center.

   It seems that Tania's solution to the rampaging monster problem is to create a new monster to destroy it - however said monster will also serve another *ahem* even more useful purpose to her. As Charles has had designs on her for years, Lady Frankenstein concocts a scheme to transplant Charles's brain into the hunky (although mentally feeble) body of castle handyman Thomas. She explains that although she admires Charles for his mind, she REALLY needs a younger male body to satisfy her sexual needs. In a weird twist on Bride of Frankenstein, what we have here is a highly driven (not to mention highly sexed up) female mad scientist looking to create the prefect mate - for HERSELF !
  Also lurking around is a police captain played by Mickey Hargity (Bloody Pit of Terror and Mr. Jayne Mansfield). Hargity's been investigating the murders committed by the monster and as some of the victims have been Lynch and his band of grave robbers he sees some connection as he knows they were working for the old Baron. As it turns out Lynch had framed for murder the original owner of the monsters brain so the creature has been concentrating on offing the grave robbers in addition to the random naked female.
  Thomas's body is acquired in one the more erotically charged scenes in Rosalba's career (and horror movies in general) by having Tania seduce him and as she straddles atop him Charles suffocates him with a pillow and in the moment of her orgasmic satisfaction at his climax (and death) she closes her eyes, leans back and bites her wrist. (Holy Crap !!)

   Without giving too much of the climax away, but along with the usual suspects here (pitchfork & torch bearing villagers, fires and a battle to the death between monsters) Tania's expected comeuppance is pretty special with her cravings becoming part of her downfall.
   The movie does have its issues as most of the monster rampaging scenes are just randomly inserted in the movie as if they were added after shooting had completed (Hey !- we need some more skin & some more monster rampaging !), plus the main monster itself is kinda (OK - its really) goofy looking. However, the movie does look great production-wise and the main leads all do a fine job with Rosalba in gorgeous form here - watch her during the climatic monster battle as she becomes a sexually charged feral animal in heat while hungrily eyeing her creation (and her fathers) fight it out.

    The DVD by Shout Factory (as part of their Vampires, Mummies & Monsters 2 DVD set) reinstates about 13 minutes of footage that was cut by Roger Corman to get the picture down to double feature length and although sourced from a TV print the extra footage is nice to finally have.
    A big thanks to Kevin J. Olson over at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies for putting together this blogathon. Should make for some really interesting & fun reading.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I Spit On Your Corpse ! AKA Girls For Rent 1974

"Delightful, Dirty & Deadly !"

 One of the better Independent - International Adamson/Sam Sherman efforts, this one features Georgina (The Devil in Mrs. Jones) Spelvin in one of her first non porn roles as one half of a female hit team pursuing Susan McIver (Dean Martin's Golddiggers) across miles & miles of desolate desert (which is populated almost exclusively by bumpkins & dirty old men).

  Georgina plays Sandra who's busted out of a female chain gang crew by Erica (Rosalind Miles - Shaft's Big Score) as she's been recruited to join "the syndicate", a crime organization run by Moreno (Adamson regular Kent Taylor, in his last role). Sandra has been brought on board to be V.P. in charge of operations (!?) of Moreno's all girl gang (hanging out in bikinis on a poolside leather sofa) and who specialize in blackmailing & knocking off big wig politicians & law enforcement types.
   Sandra's first job gets a bit off track however as she hires prostitute Donna to drug a politician to get some compromising picture of him. However unbeknown to Donna she's slipped him lethal poison instead and after he dies she flees in panic to Mexico with Sandra (who turns out to be a bit of a psycho) & Erica in hot pursuit with orders to kill her. Catching up to her on a desolate stretch of desert highway Sandra & Erica attempt to run her off the road in a "high speed" (involving a Ford Pinto ?!) chase whereupon the hit ladies car is wreaked and Donna escapes and stops at a remote gas station.

   While at the gas station she meets a female hitchhiker, who after Donna refuses to a give a lift to, steals her car (which leads to a grim piece of mistaken identity later). Finding herself stranded she turns down a ride from normal guy Chuck and instead catches a ride from creepy old guy H.R. in his pick-up (veteran cowboy actor Bob Livingston) who takes her back to his isolated ranch as a "present" for his mentally challenged son Ben. After stripping down for him Donna discovers that Ben isn't quite up to the task and as he stands there befuddled she hot tails it out of there stealing H.R.'s pick-up.

   Hitchhiking after wreaking their car Sandra & Erica steal one by having Sandra do a boob flash at a carload full of guys and after getting them to stop she kicks some ass with topless kung-fu. Tracking Donna back to H.R.'s ranch Sandra kills son Ben by getting him sexual aroused by grinding away on his lap with her pants down and shirt open, then blasting his brains out just as he climaxes (and then knocks off H.R.).
  By know after running out of gas in the stolen pick-up Donna meets back up with Chuck from the gas station and he agrees to help her (after getting it on at his campsite by campfire). Sandra & Erica soon show up which leads to running gun battle and climaxing with exploding cars and dune buggy chases.
   Despite some slow parts and filler the story generates some real tension and Spelvin & Miles make a great team (their acting is by far the best here). Spelvin is especially good - maniacally killing almost everyone she comes across plus bounding up & down rough terrain and rolling down rocky hills.

   Torma's DVD is one of their nicer Sam Sherman releases image wise. There's also an as always enjoyable commentary with Sherman where he relates many stories concerning the production - including the refusal of Miles to do nudity upon her arrival on the set, which met the scuttling of a skinny dipping scene with her & Spelvin (which undoubtedly would have been a highlight here). Sherman also reminisces about his friend & partner Adamson who was killed by a contractor working on his house in 1995 and was later found buried under an indoor jacuzzi in his house.
   Regina Carrol (The Freak-Out Girl !) who was Adamson's wife and frequent star was wardrobe mistress on this and all-around exploitation guy Gary Graver was the cinematographer.