Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy Birthday Barbara Steele (CASTLE OF BLOOD 1964)

  Happy Birthday to the Queen of Italian Horror &
That Beautiful Face Which Launched a Thousand Nightmares

    The (sometimes reluctant) face of Italian Horror was born on this day in 1937 in Cheshire, England. Starting out as a young (and one of the last) contract players at Rank, at one point she was loaned out to Fox for the Elvis picture FLAMING STAR and after being dropped because of her accent (and given a blond dye job) she fled back to Europe. Her photo was spotted in a magazine by director Mario Bava who cast her in his directorial debut LA MASSHERA DEL DEMONIO (BLACK SUNDAY) in 1960 and history was made.
    In 1961 A.I.P brought her back to America to star in the Roger Corman's THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM alongside Vincent Price, which after the success of BLACK SUNDAY cemented her reputation as a horror star. In 1962 she appeared in a small but memorable role in 8½ (which she always reminded people of ), but it was not released until 1963 by the meticulous Fellini. However, much to her annoyance at the time her horror icon status was cemented after 1963's THE GHOST & THE HORRIBLE. DR. HICHCOCK. She once said in an interview "I never want to climb out of another freakin' coffin again !"
   Because of her expressive eyes along with a beautiful & unique facial structure (wonderfully highlighted by directors such as Bava & Antonio Margheriti) she had the perfect look & presence for Gothic horrors. In  recent years Barbara has seemed to have become a bit more comfortable with her past as she was interviewed on the Arrow release of BLACK SUNDAY and has made sporadic convention appearances.

"The Living And The Dead Change Places In An Orgy Of Terror"

   Directed by Antonio Margheriti (here working under his Anthony Dawson pseudonym) 1964's DANSE MACABRE (CASTLE OF BLOOD) is the ultimate Gothic horror love poem to Barbara Steele. Based on a non-existent Edgar Allan Poe story the plot concerns a journalist Alan Foster (Georges Rivière) who is prodded in to a wager by visiting author Edgar Allan Poe (!?) and his companion Lord Blackwood to spend an evening in Blackwood's supposedly haunted ancestral English castle.

    Upon arrival there he soon discovers Elizabeth Blackwood (Steele) lurking about the allegedly deserted castle along with Julia (the very gorgeous Margrete Robsham). Instantly falling in love with Elizabeth, Alan soon discovers that the women (along with a several other people) are all ghost like vampires who are forced on this particular night to relieve their deaths and search for the blood of a victim so that they may live beyond the singe night.

   Overflowing in B&W Gothic atmosphere with graveyards, crypts, billowing curtains, cobwebs, roving candelabras and the hauntingly beautiful presence of Barbara Steele. Blond Norwegian actress Robsman makes a striking counterpoint to the dark haired Steele and it's a shame she didn't work more after this picture (allegedly she was uncomfortable with her having to kiss Steele).

   Available on DVD from Synapse which adds the topless scene of  Sylvia Sorrente (filmed for the spicier "continental" version), along some of the lesbian kissing of Steele & Robsham, Steele's orgasmic facial expressions during a love scene and a bit of blood, all of which were cut for the American release.
   An excellent example of why we love Italian horror and the perfect way to spend Barbara's birthday tonight (with all apologies to Mario Bava & Black Sunday).

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gordon's War 1973


"They Said It Would Take An Army To Get The Mob Out Of Harlem"
"This Is The Army !"
"This Is Gordon's War !"

    Though most often categorized as a standard Blaxploitation/urban revenge film, 1973’s Gordon’s War tries to approach its subject matter with a little more gravity and seriousness then usually seen and along with some solid performances by the leads makes this a really excellent (and somewhat unsung) piece of 70’s cinema.


    Paul Winfield plays Gordon Hudson who after returning from service in Vietnam finds his wife dead from an overdose and his Harlem neighborhood overrun by drugs & prostitution. Gathering together three of ex-army buddies they attempt to clean up the streets with their ultimate goal being the local drug boss Spanish Harry (Gilbert Lewis - ACROSS 110th STREET and the King of Cartoons from the 1st season of Pee Wee’s Playhouse). Being all ex-military men they carefully plan out their operations and have a set up an HQ in an abandoned building complete with maps and police scanners.
   It’s interesting to watch this as there is a deliberate and exact course to their actions, which may leave some action movie fans restless. Although the film does kick the plot into gear immediately with Hudson visiting his wife’s grave in a pre-credit sequence followed in the movie proper by his tracking down of his wife’s pusher and the recruitment of his army buddies, it takes it time before any gunplay. In addition Hudson is not portrayed as a gun blazing vigilante hero, but as a real person. After his encounter with his wife’s pusher he just beats him up (and smashes up his car with a trash can) which later leads himself to getting a pretty major whoppin’ from the pusher’s gang.

   Directed by actor Ossie Davis (who earlier had helmed COTTON COMES TO HARLEM) the film makes excellent uses of gritty blighted 70's NYC locations (plus we got bunches of big ol' Cadillacs, floppy hats & technicolor clothes) and really tries to show how rampant drugs & crime were eating away at the neighborhood. If the movie has a fault its that the middle section gets a bit convoluted plot-wise (as if chunks of the script and some transition scenes were jettisoned before filming) and the ending has some of that "we're out of time - gotta wrap this up in hurry" look.

    Gordon's three buddies are all given well written characterizations that allow them individual and remembered roles, as it just not Winfield and a bunch of guys following him. Winfield homself is especially good here giving a nice stoic performance (plus he gets to burn a guy's face off with an aerosol can & cigarette lighter !) and the cast is filled with many familiar faces from 70's  Blaxploitation and T.V. As mentioned before, the film takes its time but after the first hour really kicks into high gear with a raid on heroin cutting operation, a shootout with sawed off shotguns and finishes off with a really neat car/motorcycle chase thru the NYC streets (including a tunnel !). Look for a quick bit by Grace Jones a drug mule.
  Long unavailable on home video this was released by Shout Factory on a dbl. feature DVD with the rather odd pairing of OFF LIMITS.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

TCM Remembers 2013

  Turner Classic Movies has put up their annual "TCM Remembers" video. Here's a link to it. Though saying I look forward to each year sounds a bit strange, its always a part of my year end ritual to watch this at least a few times. Its always nice to see how they acknowledge the "character" faces and the behind the camera artists such as screenwriters, producers, set dressers & cinematographers.
  I'm always a bit saddened to watch this and invariably I see people that I didn't know had passed, as this time I noticed John Kerr (THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM) had left us. In the years past they've missed some of the "cult" (for want of a better word) actors and actresses, so it was nice to see (and with a lump in my throat) that this year they included Jim Kelly (ENTER THE DRAGON), Haji (FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!) and my favorite Hammer actress Diane Clare (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas !!!

The Oak Drive-In Wishes All My Fellow Bloggers & Followers
 a VERY Special & Happy Holiday Season !

 Rosalba looking all Christmas & festive in her leopard skin bikini, has just finished decorating the tree and hanging her stockings with care in the hope that Santa will soon be there.....

A Very Happy Birthday To Edwige Fenech !!

Happy Birthday ! (and still a knock-out to this day)

   Holy Cow ! Bunches of Birthdays this month !! A VERY special and happy birthday wish goes out today to this blog's OTHER favorite actress - the very gorgeous & talented Edwige Fenech.

    Born on this day in 1948 in Constantine, France she won several beauty contests as a young woman, including a Miss France. Starting out as a magazine model she soon moved into cinema, beginning in some late 60's West German sex comedies. Because of her exotic looks and smoldering sexuality she soon became very much in demand actress in the burgeoning European exploitation movie industry and worked in West Germany, Spain. France and Italy.

   It was in Italy starting in 1971 she made a series of giallos for director Sergio Martino that cemented her cult status with Euro horror fans including THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971), ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972) and  AND YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED DOOR AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972).
  She worked in pretty much every genre and with directors such as Mario Bava (5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON 1970), Andrea Bianchi (STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER 1975), Umberto Lenzi (THE BIGGEST BATTLE 1978) and Ruggero Deodato (PHANTOM OF DEATH 1988) among others. Although an obviously beautiful woman (who luckily for fans would drop her clothes without hesitation) she is also a very talented actress (which people seem to forget) who showed an amazing depth when needed - just watch her in ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. She is particularly delightful & uninhibited (and obviously having a bunch of fun ) in a series of Italian "school teacher" sex comedies made during the 1970's.

   In the 90's she began producing and later founded her own company Immagine e Cinema S.r.l where she produced the MERCHANT OF VENICE in 2004 starring Al Pacino. In 2007 she had a small part in Hostel II.