Saturday 17 December 2016

Some thoughts on…
The Witch
(Robert Eggers, 2016)

Arriving in my household this December on the back of a veritable avalanche of critical adulation (a major studio distributed horror film won “best director” at Sundance? Really?), Robert Eggers’ directorial debut proved… heavy going, to be honest.

Rendered in the dour, near-monochromatic style that so often seems to predominate in 21st century films that aspire toward “seriousness” (don’t get me wrong, I know life for the 17th century Pilgrim Fathers wasn’t exactly a riot of Technicolor extravagance, but I’d at least like to think they at least encountered the occasional dash of blue or green amid the grey, and managed to look at each other without frowning every now and again), ‘The Witch’ is nonetheless refreshingly unequivocal about its identify as a hackle-raising, scare-yr-pants-off horror film.

Indeed, in purely utilitarian terms, it succeeds extremely well in this area. Despite its overtures toward what I suppose we’re obliged to call in shorthand the “arthouse crowd”, I’ll readily admit that ‘The Witch’ was the most viscerally frightening film I’ve seen in years. Full-on sneaking-glimpses-of-the-screen-through-my-fingers terrifying in places in fact. So, yes - if you are the sort of person who is inclined to judge horror films based primarily on their capacity to be “scary”, you can anticipate a right doozy with this one, irrespective of its somber tone and subject matter.

Whilst I was busy being reduced to a quivering wreck by the film’s overpowering aura of dread and persistent threat of imminent, soul-wreaking violence however, I was also uncomfortably aware of the fact that the techniques Eggers was employing to generate these responses from me were just as cynically manipulative as those found in the most base of jump-scare filled slasher flicks.

From the slow, steady-cam crawls through unfamiliar locations to the nerve-shatteringly loud Penderecki-via-Hermann score, the rapid movements erupting from still life-esque quietude, semi-hidden tableaus of alarming Goya-esque beastliness and aggressive soundscapes of rumbling earthquake drone and chittering demonic feeding - every trick in the Hideo Nakata-via-David Lynch playbook for scaring the bejeezus out of your audience whilst still remaining artistically credible is exhaustively exploited here, whilst the more basic conceit of constantly imperiling children and other innocents simultaneously delivers the can’t-fail coup de grace to our ailing nerves.

Though it is confident in its execution and ruthlessly efficient in its effect, I couldn’t help but feel that this heavy-handed approach to the “scary stuff” was to some extent counter-productive, detracting our attention from the very elements that do actually make ‘The Witch’ a rewarding and genuinely disturbing piece of work – namely, those arising not from the heavy-handed direction but from the film’s writing and performances, which are both extremely good.

As the story initially got underway, I was surprised and rather impressed by the extent to which the script takes the strict puritan beliefs of its characters – a mind-set that is so alien to us in the 21st century West that it is almost impossible to approach it without implicit or explicit criticism – and presents them entirely at face value.

The “witch”, we initially feel, is an external force of parasitic evil whose wrath can be avoided only through a regime of prayer, obedience and enforced purity of thought. The soul of a child who dies prior to baptism meanwhile is headed straight to hell, and that is no laughing matter – especially as regards the burden of guilt which must subsequently be borne by the already grieving parents whose modest lapses in duty are seen as having allowed such a circumstance. Needless to say, it is in this invisible realm of Christian cosmology that the film’s real horror lies.(1)

As the story develops and we delve deeper into the internal lives of the film’s characters though, and as the situation facing them becomes increasingly desperate, ‘The Witch’s moral universe gradually shifts upon its axis in an extremely interesting fashion. Though the change is almost too subtle for us to even notice at first amid all the horror movie nerve-jangling, what eventually begins to emerge is a uniquely involving method of retelling an old, old story.

Though the notion that a seemingly external threat actually grows from within has been a given in haunted house and exorcism type narratives for decades (or indeed centuries, if we fall back on the gothic tradition), I have rarely seen this theme elucidated in quite such a compassionate and compelling manner as it is here, as, taking a page or two from the none-more-obvious reference point of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’, ‘The Witch’ essentially becomes a tale about the way in which the seemingly unbreakable bonds of love and trust within a close-knit family unit can be strained, twisted and eventually destroyed in the face of stressful and traumatic circumstances.

As hardship and anxiety increases, minor vanities and personal failings that could be indulged and forgiven under more comfortable circumstances widen into fatal flaws, allowing nagging seeds of doubt to flower into full blown paranoia, which in turn becomes entwined with the family’s rigidly inflexible belief system, legitimising increasingly unhinged and dangerous patterns of behavior that move the story toward a far more nuanced and thought-provoking condemnation of religious extremism and its social & psychological consequences than we horror fans are usually asked to process via one-sided diatribes of the ‘Witchfinder General’ variety.(2)

Played out by a gifted cast with all the weighty intensity they can muster (I’d normally single out some names at this point, but frankly it’s just easier if I just refer to the IMDB cast list, as each member of the film’s central family is equally outstanding, the child actors in particular), it is this theme which serves to elevate ‘The Witch’ to a level of dramatic legitimacy that I confess makes all the Luciferian goats and monster-clawed hags that Eggers throws at us seem rather silly in comparison.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that ‘The Witch’ might even have worked better as a naturalistic, real world drama rather than as a horror film. This may seem a stretch, but the more I think about it, the easier it is to imagine the essential structure of the script being transferred wholesale to, say, the travails of the family trying to survive in a contemporary Middle East combat zone, without altering the beats of the story in any significant fashion. Just exchange the “the witch” for “the war”, and everything pretty much falls straight into place, with a result that would likely remain just as emotionally coherent, and even more harrowing.

(Of course, THAT film could probably never make it to the screen in quite the way I imagine it, even via the neo-realist film traditions currently prevalent in countries like Iran, simply because it would be near unbearable to sit through. After all, the perverse webs of escapism and thematic metaphor that inform our enjoyment of fictional narratives here in the First World dictate that it is a lot easier to contemplate a baby spirited away by a witch’s familiar than a baby blown to pieces by a cluster bomb, even as the latter continues to be tolerated and enabled every day by the same global power structures that allow us the comfort in which to enjoy tales of the former…. but, I digress.)

One thing that would probably not work in the kind of substitution I have described above however is the ending of ‘The Witch’, which I hope I can briefly discuss without straying into the realm of out-right spoilers.

In essence, there is something fairly extraordinary about the way in which Eggers dovetails ninety minutes of relentless terror and misery with a few giddy, closing moments of what feels almost like a post-annihilation/ego-death liberation of sorts – a kind of ‘flip the script’ alchemical rebirth that leaves us feeling unmoored and light-headed, as the lingering fear we’ve become accustomed to falls away into acceptance. It’s a great ending.

As my wife insightfully observed, by the end of the movie, the mysterious witch cult that we have been living in mortal terror of thus far begins to seem very much like the coven of female convicts in Shunya Ito’s ‘Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41’ (1972) – a society of outcast women transformed into predatory savages because the authoritarian society that has rejected them allows them literally no other options for continued existence. And if I tell you that the ending of Eggers’ film succeeds in capturing even a fraction of the transformative spirit of Ito’s, readers familiar with the latter will know that they can take that as a pretty strong recommendation.

In my more pompous moments, I’ve been known to declare that the only kind of fictional narrative that can be considered in any way relevant to an understanding of the human condition is one that features no clearly delineated ‘villains’, but instead posits a variety of ultimately sympathetic characters who provoke conflict through their contradictory or misguided actions. As such, it could perhaps be said that Robert Eggers’ greatest achievement in ‘The Witch’ lies in his finding a way to combine this principle with a tale of shrieking, inhuman terror that leaves just about everyone dead and eternally damned, and to somehow make it work.


(1) As a wanton digression that doesn’t easily fit anywhere else in this review, I should note that, purely in terms of supernatural horror, it was this earlier section of the film that I found to be by far the most frightening. Given that the family portrayed in the film (and indeed, the wider community from which they have separated themselves) seems to exist upon the edge of a wilderness largely untouched by humanity, I kept thinking, well, what the hell *is* this ‘witch’? Where did it come from? I mean, an old-fashioned witch cult existing as an off-shoot of an established Christian society – that’s something I can deal with. But the possibility of that *unknown other*…? Remember that quote (was it William Burroughs?) about how, before the white man came to America, and before the red man came, there was already something evil there, some lurking at its heart…? Now THAT’S a scary thought when you’re stuck in an isolated homestead surrounded by impenetrable forest. Though ‘The Witch’ doesn’t ultimately go in that direction, it hovers around it for long enough and convincingly enough in its first half to put the wind up me.

 (2) For wanton digression # 2, it behoves me to point out the similarities between ‘The Witch’ and what is quite possibly my all-time favourite horror film, Piers Haggard’s ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’ (1972). Not only are they amongst the only horror films I’m aware of that create and sustain a believable 17th century setting, complete with period appropriate dialogue, they are also the only two films in my experience of the genre to operate on the basis of a period-appropriate puritan Christian belief system without foregrounding a contemporary critique of said belief system. 

Whilst that may sound like an odd thing to celebrate on one level, it is this straight-faced portrayal of the characters’ beliefs that I think gives both films some of their unique power. Add a number of more nebulous similarities – the association of nature and “the woods” with untamed, pagan nastiness, the corruption of children by an insidious evil, the quasi-political implications of a coven of young/female/sexually active outsiders attacking a repressive patriarchal society – and one wonders how closely Haggard’s film might have played into the development of ‘The Witch’, despite the vastly different tone of the two projects.

Friday 9 December 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
Blazing Magnum / ‘Strange Shadows in an Empty Room’
(Alberto De Martino, 1976)

Shot in Ottawa, Canada with a largely American cast, ‘Blazing Magnum’ is one of those latter-day Italian co-productions that tries so hard to hide its Italian origins that viewers coming to it blind may be apt to think they’ve simply stumbled upon some sublimely ridiculous Canadian TV movie. For those of us ‘in the know’ however, the fingerprints of producer Edmondo Amati and director Alberto De Martino (whose other joint ventures included 1974’s ‘El Antichristo’ and 1977’s ‘Holocaust 2000’) can be identified all too plainly in the movie’s woefully damaged plotting and unwavering dedication to the cause of senseless mayhem.(1)

Though often listed as a poliziotteschi on the basis that it is a ‘70s cop movie made by Italians, ‘Blazing Magnum’s transatlantic status lends it an entirely different feel from the kind of crime films being made in Italy at around the same time, and, despite Amati and De Martino’s obvious desire to crib as much as possible from the gospel laid down by ‘Bullitt’, ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘The French Connection’, the end result isn’t quite like any other crime film I’ve ever seen.

To cut a long story short, what I think happened here is that the scriptwriters (see footnote above) had an unused treatment for a run-of-the-mill giallo lying around, but, realising that this wasn’t really what internationally-minded producers like Amati were looking for in the mid’70s, they took the decision to graft a load of testosterone-huffing, hard-boiled cop action onto the shell of their story, whilst crucially failing to actually incorporate the latter elements into the thread of the pre-existing narrative in any meaningful fashion.

What emerged, needless to say, is an unwieldy genre Frankenstein whose Hollywood cast and incongruous Canadian locations (presumably adopted for tax shelter purposes) serve to further confuse the film’s identity – especially given that the giallo segments are leavened with just about enough horror and sleaze elements to allow the film to be misleadingly foisted upon the U.S. public as ‘Strange Shadows in an Empty Room’, with a proto-slasher poster to match (see below). (2)

As such, we first meet Captain Tony Saitta (Stuart Whitman) – an allegedly rule-breaking, mad dog middle-aged cop with an incongruously compassionate, sleepy demeanour – as he single-handedly takes down a gang of violent, heavily armed bank robbers, his titular Magnum leaving two of the perps dead, as the remaining crook cowers before him and begs for mercy. (PRO-TIP: apparently if you stand behind a column and just step out to pick them off quite quickly, those desperate criminals with high calibre machine guns just *won’t stand a chance*.)

Whilst Tony was doing that however, he missed a call from his sister Louise, a drama student played by the at-least-thirty-years-his-junior Carole Laure (who probably won’t thank me for listing her other credits as including ‘Naked Massacre’ (1976) and ‘Get Out Your Handkerchiefs’ (1978)). Later that night, poor Louise is dead, her heart having mysteriously failed shortly after she was given a tonic by one Dr Tracer (Martin Landau) when she had a funny turn at a campus party.

When it transpires that Louise had been seen in public earlier that day having a violent argument with said doctor, her brother is on the case, and for the next twenty minutes or so, everything goes a bit ‘Colombo’ as we trudge through earnest interviews with the deceased’s nearest and dearest and unnecessary background on Landau’s character. (Though a fine actor, Landau is such a pointless red herring here he might as well have come to work in a fish costume.) No Magnums, blazing or otherwise, are in evidence, and at this point this movie’s prospects ain’t looking too hot, to be honest.

Stick with it though, because when ‘Blazing Magnum’ does heat up – oh boy.

The first sign that we’re in for something a bit more memorable than an afternoon TV time-waster comes when, out of nowhere, we see a streetwalker violently bludgeoned to death in a darkened alleyway, then witness her dismembered remains discovered the next morning when some unlucky construction workers fire up the conveyor belt at a local quarry. All of which is a bit of a shocker, to be honest.

Before you know it, the great John Saxon (sadly under-utilised here as Whitman’s exposition-spouting partner) has managed to keep a straight face whilst delivering the immortal line, “Remember that girl we found in the rock crusher? Turns out she wasn’t a girl at all!”, and, armed with some tenuous connection to the death of his sister (I forget quite what), Captain Saitta immediately hits the nearest sex shop for some leads on Ottawa’s transvestite hooker scene.(3)

This promptly leads our hero to a swanky rooftop apartment shared by three drag queens, who are seemingly busy dolling themselves up for a day(?) on the town. Saitta barges in and starts firing questions at them without even identifying himself, which isn’t very nice, but even so, the drag queens’ reaction is a bit excessive.

Basically, they immediately set out to kill him like a pack of wild animals - hurling furniture, lunging at him with knives, and eventually leaving him dangling by his fingers from the rooftop. Needless to say, when Tony gets back on his feet to retaliate, there follows what I believe is referred to as a ‘knock-down, drag-out fight’, incorporating several slow motion plunges through shattering French windows and concluding only when Saitta has the last conscious cross-dresser cornered at gun-point in their en-suite swimming pool.

I confess, it took me quite a while to retrieve my jaw from the floor after this outburst of wanton fury, but I needn’t have bothered really, as from hereon in, ‘Blazing Magnum’ just never lets up.

The great thing about the series of adrenaline-pumping action sequences that comprise the middle half hour of this movie is that they are so brazenly gratuitous, so totally removed from the vaguely credible chains of cause and effect that usually drive such police procedural storylines, that they barely graze the surface of the central murder mystery plotline at all. Instead, we watch with something near to awe as each contrived set-piece concludes with Sciatta merely discovering another who-cares-anyway ‘clue’ that he could have more easily ascertained simply by talking to people – and sometimes not even that.

A perfect case in point comes when, whilst working through a list of known fences who may or may not have handled the stolen necklace that may or may not hold the key to his sister’s death (or something), Sciatta pursues a fleeing suspect for a full five minutes of screen time in a desperate foot chase through a crowded subway station, eventually cornering him in a toilet cubicle and forcing his head into a full wash basin trying to make him to “talk!”, as members of the public look on aghast. We then cut immediately to Whitman back above ground, sharing a coffee with Saxon in the patrol car and saying something to the effect of “eh, that guy didn’t know anything”, before they head off to terrorize the next poor rube on their list. Incredible.

This pattern is repeated, amplified to the power of ten, for what is unquestionably ‘Blazing Magnum’s highlight – an prolonged car chase that must be seen to be believed. This begins when Sciatta knocks on the door of another fence, who again flees for no readily apparent reason [well to be fair, the way Whitman’s character behaves in this film, I’d probably run away from him too] and jumps in his bad-ass ‘70s muscle car. Sciatta is soon behind the wheel of his own bad-ass ‘70s muscle car, and the chase is on.

A blatant attempt to top the legendary chase in ‘Bullitt’, this sequence may lack the tension and technical acumen of Peter Yates’ film, but in terms of pure, death-defying spectacle, it beats it hands down. I mean, seriously folks – I may have been pretty snarky about this film up to this point, but the stunt-driving showcased here is incredible, becoming more so as the chase continues far beyond the point at which we might have naturally expected it to end, eventually climaxing with a jump-through-the-middle-of-a-moving-train stunt that would have done mid-‘80s Jackie Chan proud.

Though it is largely captured through fairly conventional long-shots, and takes place on obviously cleared streets and disused parking lots (complete with conspicuous piles of empty cardboard boxes), this is nonetheless high octane, gonzo action movie business of the highest order, and whatever those drivers got paid, it wasn’t enough. Mercy, as the Big O might have exclaimed.

By the time the chase concludes, both cars are mangled wrecks, still skidding after each other on their sides along a final few hundred yards of empty highway. And when the drivers emerge and dust themselves down, can you guess how the ensuing conversation goes? As I recall, it’s something like;

SCIATTA: ah, sorry about the scratches, heh heh
FENCE: no worries cop, what can I do for ya?

I really have no words with which I can express my reaction to that. I’d make a sound, but it doesn’t really work in written text.

Seemingly realising that they’re never going to be able to top that in terms of action, the final half hour of ‘Blazing Magnum’ reverts back to the giallo/thriller angle, as the desperate killer, realising the cops are closing in, and breaks out a big, shiny knife to begin stalk n’ slashing his/her (no spoilers here, folks) way through the remaining cast in much the way that desperate killers are want to do in these things.

This last minute reign of terror begins with a botched attempt to take out Whitman’s sister’s angelic blind roommate (played by a pre-‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ Tisa Farrow), thus demonstrating that the script-writers have also seen the Audrey Hepburn movie ‘Wait Until Dark’ (1967), and precedes to bring us a few bracing moments of theatrical gore and entry-level misogynist sleaze, before the inevitable cavalcade of twists, flashbacks and curtain pulls finally bring us to an agreeably loopy, magnum-blazin’ finale that I won’t spoil for you here.

And, there you have it ladies and gents – ‘Blazing Magnum’, a film that truly has it all.

Actually, the one thing it WAS missing, and that I think may have raised proceedings to a whole new plateau of inadvertent genius, is a scene in which Tony Sciatta is hauled in for a meeting with his superior officer, to explain why, in the space of one working day, he has instigated a brawl that caused extensive property damage and left two people unconscious, nearly drowned an innocent man in a public bathroom, written off his car after driving it straight through a toll-booth and contributing to at least six major traffic accidents, and interviewed an important witness at gun-point in a motel room doorway…. all in the pursuit of a case he hasn’t even yet been officially assigned to work on!

I mean, maybe that’s just the way the cops roll up in Ottawa, but lord, imagine what Harry Callahan could have done with such a free hand. Hell, maybe someone over in ‘70s-movie-cop-land should have put the two of them in touch and suggested a job swap… especially given that Stuart Whitman spends most of this movie looking as if he’d be happier attending a poetry reading at the City Lights bookshop.

Well, anyway. I’m sorry to have relied so heavily on the “…and then this thing happens” school of movie-reviewing on this occasion, but when faced with an item like ‘Blazing Magnum’, it really seems the only sensible option.

By any conventional yardstick, this is not a good film. The direction is formulaic, the pacing, plotting and tone are all a complete mess (as is discussed at length above), and, whilst no one is questioning the chops of Whitman, Saxon or Landau, performances remain wooden throughout, in that particular “what the hell am I doing here? I’ll just say the lines” manner common to ill-conceived international co-productions the world over.

Shallow, cynical and pointless as ‘Blazing Magnum’ may be though, it is nonetheless – as I hope I have made clear above – the kind of movie that will leave action/exploitation fans utterly satiated, beaten into submission by more ridiculous fun stuff than they can possible process in one sitting. So if that sounds like a recommendation to you - take it!

Whilst I hate to fall back once again on food metaphors, watching ‘Blazing Magnum’ eventually ends up feeling a bit like sitting on the sofa for ninety minutes with a plate of cheap hamburgers in front of you, gradually eating them just because, well, you might as well.

A feeling of bloated dissatisfaction and vague spiritual emptiness is the inevitable result, but nonetheless, I feel it is a challenge many of my readers here will wish to take on - so pass the f-ing ketchup and let’s get on with it, I’ve got the disc right here.


(1) We may also wish to note at this point that screenwriters Vincenzo Mannino and Gianfranco Clerici went on to collaborate on such projects as ‘House On The Edge of the Park’, ‘The New York Ripper’ and Fulci’s ‘Murder Rock’, whilst each can also boast a similarly illustrious (ahem) list of solo credits.

(2) Whilst on the subject of this movie’s faux-horror re-titling, I can’t express the extent to which it saddens me that, even during the high watermark for human civilization that was the 1970s, there apparently weren’t enough punters willing to buy a ticket to see Stuart Whitman and John Saxon in ‘Blazing Magnum’, as advertised by the poster at the top of this post, when it hit their local cinemas. Proof positive that, then as much as now, people just don’t know what’s good for them.

(3) For more memorable examples of John Saxon knocking off ludicrous dialogue like a pro, see my earlier ruminations on ‘Blood Beach’ (1980).

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
Manhattan Baby
(Lucio Fulci, 1982)

(These Thai posters are great, aren’t they?)

It occurred to me recently that, despite counting myself as more-or-less of a fan of Lucio Fulci’s horror movies, I had never actually taken the time to watch this oft-maligned black sheep in the flock of his early ‘80s “hits”, and that my reasons for avoiding it were flimsy to say the least.

After all, the similarly overlooked ‘The Black Cat’ (1982) holds a huge place in my heart, and the broadly similar line taken by fans when trashing ‘Manhattan Baby’ – that its subject matter is weird, it makes no sense and it features an insufficient quantity the director’s trademark gore set-pieces – actually makes it sound like exactly the kind of Fulci film I might enjoy a great deal (by which I mean, I can take or leave the gore, but I’m *all about* the weirdness).

So - ‘Manhattan Baby’.

[Long, awkward silence.]

Well, uh… that was… something?

Ok, let’s back up a bit, and start by saying that, whilst ‘Manhattan Baby’s script can probably hold its own against any other ‘80s Fulci movie in the high stakes game of making-no-bloody-sense-whatsoever, what I found most difficult to grasp about the film was less the familiar holes in the action that transpires on-screen, but rather the more profound mystery of how this production came to exist in the first place.

Basically, I suppose you could say that the production system fans often refer to as “the great Italian rip off machine” worked primarily on the basis of constant forward momentum. Source material (Hollywood hits, other successful cultural properties and trends) were fed in at one end, whilst unexpected hybrids, reworkings and wildly unlikely combinations emerged at the other, hitting cinemas (or, subsequently, video stores), making back their money and disappearing into the abyss before anyone had a chance to re-read the warped plot synopsis and exclaim “hang on, this doesn’t make any se…”.

Sometimes though, the machine got a spanner in the works. The parts didn’t cohere, the gears crunched together… but the momentum could not be allowed to slow. There was no time for anyone to get in there and fix the problem, and so the mangled movie was spat out into the world anyway and left to fend for itself.

And, boom, there you have it – a mutant like ‘Manhattan Baby’ lies writhing in a pool of goo on the floor, as the movie industry stands around scratching their heads, wondering what the hell they’re supposed to do with some misbegotten mash-up of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’, as directed by a visionary, misanthropic sadist and scripted by a couple (Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti) who’d find it difficult to get through a knock knock joke without contradicting each other and getting lost in the resulting plot holes.

I mean – firstly, who was this thing supposed to be aimed at? The action-adventure tinged storyline, the concentration on child characters and familial relationships, and the complete lack of sexually suggestive content or what the BBFC might term “adult themes”, all leads me to suspect that the original intent may have been to gear the film toward a family audience. But, needless to say, the fevered directorial decisions, scenes of extreme violence and general aura of raging insanity that Lucio Fulci brought to proceedings render that an impossibility, resulting in a tonal disjuncture that pretty much leaves all potential demographics unsatisfied.

And secondly, why in the hell is it called ‘Manhattan Baby’? What a terrible name for a horror movie! [Before anyone writes in, I believe this title was also used for the film’s Italian release too.]

After pondering this question for quite some time (because, you know, it’s the kind of pressing issue that tends to me on my mind in the dark of the night), I can only suppose that the title was intended to echo of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. But then, why would they want to imply a connection to a film that came out fourteen years earlier, and that furthermore has no real similarity to this film’s storyline whatsoever, beyond the fact that both feature somewhat occult-ish goings on afflicting people in a New York apartment building? And to then imply this connection in such an obscure fashion that I daresay most viewers never even noticed it..? Man, the “great rip-off machine” must have really blown a fuse the day it came up with this one.

Whilst such questionable decisions may have hurt ‘Manhattan Baby’s commercial potential though, I think it is fair to say that they do not necessarily mitigate against the possibility of euro-horror aficionados such as you or I enjoying the film thirty-something years down the line. No, what does the mitigating there is the unfortunate realisation that this production’s on-set execution was just as confused as its conception and marketing.

Admittedly, the Indiana Jones-ish opening scenes, set in some gloriously clichéd Movie Egypt, are pretty cool. For a start, it looks as if they did actually go out on location in Real Egypt, with desert panoramas, monolithic ruins and bustling market places all present and correct. The atmosphere of grandeur and dread that Fulci’s roving camera conjures from these environs is quite impressive too, leading us to keenly anticipate the adventures that surely must follow after Christopher Connelly’s two-fisted archeologist is blinded by an ancient laser beam during a sacred-site-of-ancient-devil-cult defiling tomb-raiding expedition and his daughter is meanwhile presented with a sinister amulet by a spectral crone.

Sadly though, once Daring Dr Connelly (who I’m sure must have done brisk business in the ‘80s as “that guy who looks like a slightly older Harrison Ford”, incidentally ) calls the whole thing off and the action shifts back to the rather pokey interiors of his family’s “New York” apartment, well, all bets for a fun time are off.

To some extent, Fulci’s characteristic disinterest in his human protagonists must take the blame here – after all, establishing and maintaining our interest in the characters and their relationships to each other is integral to the success of this kind of “evil creeping into a nuclear family” set-up (‘The Shining’, ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Poltergeist’ would all be go-to reference points here), but, in the wake of ‘The Beyond’ and ‘The New York Ripper’, one suspects the director was simply not in the right frame of mind to deliver on this more subtle, slow-burn kind of horror picture. Instead, he keeps things cold, distant and faintly inhuman, leaving his cast to stare blankly into the camera and denying us the sense of empathy that would more conventionally pay off later in terms of tension and fear once characters we’ve come to care for are imperiled.

Regardless of this however, what I think really killed ‘Manhattan Baby’ for me is just its sheer lack of *mystery*. Whilst the opening (as outlined above) is somewhat intriguing, like many Italio-horror films that deal with occult-ish subject matter, the basic set-up is mundanely predictable, poorly developed and blindingly obvious from the outset.

I mean, come on - the scary amulet is causing the kid to become possessed, or else causing her to act as a conduit for evil spirits or a gate to another world or whatever, as an act of vengeance for her dad having desecrated the tomb – any idiot who ever watched a mummy movie already knows this, so why don’t we just cut to the chase, wheel on the learned Egyptian exorcist guy from the dusty old bookshop and get this show on the road, right?

Apparently unaware of this though, Briganti and Sacchetti tiptoe around their ‘big reveal’ for what seems like hours, expecting us to remain on the edge of our seats as they feed us obtusely spooky ‘clues’ (ghostly images turning up on polaroids, sinister strangers mouthing words from balconies, that sort of thing), whilst simultaneously failing to expand upon the imagery or mythology of their tale in any terribly satisfying fashion. (Ok, the idea that the daughter and other characters are being taken on “journeys” to some alternate world ancient Egypt, returning in a flurry of wind and sand, is pleasantly bizarre, but it’s too little too late to really overcome the feeling that the screenwriters are just cribbing straight from ‘Egyptian Curses 101’.)

What makes all this flim-flam worth sitting through – and indeed, allows ‘Manhattan Baby’ to remain a moderately worthwhile film overall – is the sheer extremity of Fulci’s direction. Despite the film’s relatively restrained subject matter, in purely technical terms I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Lucio go quite so far off the leash as he does here.

Once things get underway, almost every scene shot on the cramped interior sets becomes a riot of unnecessarily high or low angles, Franco-esque roving zooms, sudden pans and shock cuts that mock a mockery of the spatial relationships between character and the objects around them. Mundane dialogue scenes are conveyed to us via a mixture of extreme facial close-ups and shakey handheld footage of people’s torsos, and by the time the horror business heats up in the second half, Fulci seems determined to beat us over the head with jarring audio and visual stimuli until we reach the far end of Pure Cinema delirium, never to return to the mundane realm of cause and effect-based logic.

Happily, the director falls back to some extent here on the defiantly irrational approach to supernatural horror he pioneered in ‘The Beyond’ and ‘City of the Living Dead’, wherein the story’s rather nebulous “evil” manifests itself not through the more traditional auspices of some meandering physical monster, but rather via a series of completely inexplicable, terrifying incidents that descend upon the protagonists almost like natural disasters.

As well as providing a good time for filmmakers (allowing their imaginations to run riot without the tedious necessity of having to explain their ghastly set-pieces), this approach, whether by accident or design, also lends the aforementioned Fulci films a touch of impersonal Lovecraftian terror that is also felt somewhat in the closing chapters of ‘Manhattan Baby’, despite the far less intense nature of the bloodshed and cruelty on display.

Rather than anything dreamed up by the writers or effects team, it is Lucio’s camera itself that (along with an honourable mention to the film’s aggressive sound mix) is the main assault weapon here, and, if you’ve ever harboured a wish to see our man go full-on ‘Exorcist’, the finale of ‘Manhattan Baby’ won’t disappoint. A subsequent sequence that sees the exorcist guy being torn apart by reanimated stuffed birds(!) feels both gratuitous and ridiculous, but, by that point in proceedings, many viewers (your correspondent included) will feel so utterly disorientated they’ll barely be able to comprehend what’s going on, let alone criticise it.

Though it is a film that is difficult to describe as ‘enjoyable’, and frankly a mass audience was never likely to deem it even ‘tolerable’, there is nonetheless quite a bit for us hermetic, horror-lovin’ weirdos to get our teeth into in ‘Manhattan Baby’. Between the chuckles that can be gleaned from the drool-brained scripting and cardboard performances and the pleasures of getting our socks knocked off by Fulci’s sturm-und-drang direction in fact, I’d even go so far as to hesitantly commend this one to you as worthwhile viewing, regardless of its status as a flailing, god-forsaken mess of the highest order.

Certainly, if you make a habit of subjecting yourself to VHS-era Italian exploitation, you’ll have seen far worse train-wrecks than this on a fairly regular basis. Best therefore to file it under “worth a(nother) look”, and expect it to remain there in perpetuity.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Exploito All’Italiana:
(Umberto Lenzi, 1974)

Well, my Exploito All’Italiana season earlier this year may have stalled after three measly reviews, but my concerted attempts to watch and write about as many horror movies as possible during October certainly helped get things back on track, with a few delirious evenings spent in the company of Cinecittà’s favourite sons, so – let’s get going with some more glorious, blood-soaked escapism...

Over the years, I’ve developed quite a soft spot for the work of Umberto Lenzi, and I tend to feel he gets somewhat of a raw deal from more – uh – ‘high-minded’ fans of Italian cult cinema. At his best, Lenzi was capable of delivering genuinely great movies (his ‘70s poliziotteschi entries chiefly spring to mind), and, even if circumstances rarely allowed him to deliver said ‘best’, his remaining filmography is nonetheless characterized by such a surfeit of high energy, non-fuck-giving, eager-to-please craziness that it would be churlish not to simply give in and be entertained by the majority of the pictures that bear his name, however shamelessly awful they may be in conventional terms (his much-loved ‘Nightmare City’ (1981) is a perfect case in point).*

Though it has rarely found favour with genre critics, I was thus delighted to discover that Lenzi’s late-to-the-party giallo ‘Spasmo’ (its title simply the Italian for “Spasm” you’ll note, rather than an insult to cerebral palsy sufferers) follows this latter formula to a tee, transforming a production that could easy have been a bit of an also-ran within the genre in the hands of another director into an uproariously enjoyable exercise in mild to moderate level celluloid delirium.

Veering somewhat toward the more excessive/ridiculous end-point of the genre already explored by Emilio P. Miraglia in ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’ (’71) and ‘The Red Queen Kills Seven Times’ (’72), ‘Spasmo’ dials down the sexual content and gothic decadence of those films, but otherwise adopts very much the same game plan vis-à-vis submerging us headfirst in a swirling, irrational nightmare of nonsense that seems purpose-built to break the brains of anyone actually approaching this thing as an ostensibly solvable whodunit.

Beginning from a relatively linear (if extremely sketchy) starting point that sees an idle Tuscan playboy (Robert Hoffman) ditching his wife(?) at a yacht party in order to embark on a tryst with mystery girl Suzy Kendall, ‘Spasmo’ proceeds to bombard our poor, free-lovin’ hero with such a relentless profusion of inexplicable events and breakneck changes of plan that I spent the first hour or so convinced that there was *no way on earth* Lenzi could actually tie all this stuff up into a single, coherent plotline – especially given that Hoffman consistently responds to these challenges with some of the worst decision-making I’ve ever witnessed from a horror/thriller protagonist. (Yes, the “no, don’t do that – you idiot!” guy at your hypothetical viewing party will likely need some extra blood pressure pills to get through this one.)

Nonetheless though, ‘Spasmo’ pulls off a series of shock revelations in its final act (including a fine example of the ever popular Ivan Rassimov-ex-machina) that kind of, sort of, just about leaves things making a flimsy sort of sense… assuming you don’t start factoring issues of believable human behavior or psychology into your calculations.

What I liked most of all about ‘Spasmo’ though is that it is completely, unmistakably a giallo, flyin’ its flag without shame. Where other directors opted to downplay the more clichéd aspects of the genre or to turn them on their head as things drifted toward self-parody once Argento and Martino had nailed down the template for all time in the early ‘70s, Lenzi instead seems happy to fully embrace the genre’s trademark aesthetic, to the extent that, were someone to come out of the blue and ask me “so, these giallo movies, what are they all about then?”, I’d be tempted to screen ‘Spasmo’ for them in preference to the work of any of the genre’s more celebrated proponents.

Though Lenzi may lack the technical flair and strength of vision possessed by said proponents, as an unpretentious, base level example of everything that made the emergence of this genre in this particular time and place such wonderful fun, ‘Spasmo’ does the business just perfectly.

Along with the aforementioned plot convulsions, the film’s exquisite atmosphere of shabby-genteel ‘70s Mediterranean languor remains unmatched this side of a contemporary Jess Franco flick, at least in my movie library. Fashions, accoutrements and interior décor are as beautifully garish as could be hoped for (at one point, a fugitive Hoffman returns to the scene of a crime because he left his medallion behind), and Lenzi & co make use of some absolutely fantastic shooting locations too -- most notably, a refurbished cliff-top watchtower whose atmospheric environs add a welcome frisson of gothic horror-ish isolation to the movie’s middle half hour, helping stave off any hint of boredom as the plotting loops the loop like an out of control bi-plane.

Though one imagines he probably didn’t exactly bring his A-game to the studio for this one, Ennio Morricone’s score nonetheless adds greatly to proceedings too, as the maestro comes through with some choice moments of slithering funk and atonal electronic freakery, in the rare breaks between incessant repetitions of his obligatory harpsichord-blasting main theme – all adding up to a kind of giddily familiar “mega-mix” package of the sort of material he provided to more celebrated gialli in the past.

One reason for ‘Spasmo’s low critical standing amongst fans may be its perplexing lack of any particularly memorable or blood-thirsty murder set-pieces, but, much as you’d expect with good ol’ Umberto at the helm, violent incident is nonetheless both frequent and jolting – particularly when he begins to whip things up into a more frenzied pace in the film’s final act, instigating bouts of aggressive jump cut montages and ‘am-I-the-one-going-crazy?’ unreliable narrator flashback stuff that recalls the excesses of Renato Polselli’s aptly named ‘Delirium’ (1972).

Factor in the somewhat surrealistic sub-plot that sees somebody lurking about in the dark leaving grotesquely mutilated latex sex dolls in Hoffman’s wake, and a sinister hired killer who seems to have been made up to look almost exactly like Dario Argento (one of several bits of wacky, intentional humour I think you can identify ‘Spasmo’, should you have a mind to), and I would invite readers to pause and ask themselves: really,  what more could one ask of a rip-roaring second tier giallo…?

Basically, the whole thing feels rather like staggering about on some treacherous Tuscan cliffs late at night in the company of strangers whilst ripped on several bottles of bootleg Chianti - and that, needless to say, is a feeling that this blog can wholeheartedly recommend. Aside from the fact that the film’s producers seem to have struck a product placement deal with Johnny Walker instead of J&B (heresy!), this is ninety minutes of pure giallo nirvana so far as I’m concerned.


* Without wishing to interrupt the main text with such concerns, I would like to make clear that this positive assessment of Umberto Lenzi’s work does not extend to his early ‘80s cannibal films, and the deeply regrettable animal cruelty featured within them. Just for the record.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Belated Plug:
Nucleus Films Euro-Cult
Restoration Project.

Well, for the moment at least, life goes on, and another blogging responsibility that slipped through the cracks during this Halloween season and its ugly aftermath is the necessity of my telling you about Nucleus Films’ Euro-Cult Restoration Project, a recently launched crowd-funding initiative whose initial goals (it would be nice to think there will be more to follow, should things go well?) involve bringing lovingly restored and reconstructed versions of Lady Frankenstein (Mel Welles, 1971) and Death Laid An Egg (Giulio Questi, 1968) to the people.

To be honest, I recall finding ‘Lady Frankenstein’ a bit so-so when I watched it via a bootleg a while back, but I’m still looking forward to the opportunity of reassessing its virtues via the medium of a shiny new blu-ray. The real prize here from my POV however is ‘Death Laid An Egg’, a surrealist (in the legit sense of the word) art-house giallo whose blackly comic tone (yes, it’s set on a chicken farm) and Godardian formal transgressions ensure that it does just as much of an unforgettable hit & run job on its nascent genre as Questi’s legendary ‘Django Kill’ did on the Spaghetti Western.

At the time of writing, Nucleus’s campaign has not quite reached the amount needed to guarantee ‘..Egg’s restoration, so… I know the world at large has one or two other bigger fish to fry right now, but could you at the very least consider doing your duty for the preservation of bold & weird cinema and pledge some cash before the closing date crashes down at the end of the month? Nucleus are good guys with an admirable track record of movie-related shenanigans, and I am confident that they will do right by both these films and their customers, so come on – what have we to lose but our dignity?

All the further info you could wish for can be found in the link above.

Speechless (but not quite).

Before we move on with routine business here, it behoves me to throw down a quick line on yesterday’s US election results.

Groan all you like, but to be honest I’ve always felt frustrated by the determination of so many entertainment media outlets to remain “apolitical”, as if life-changing crises and fundamentally opposed worldviews can be put aside as we all get together and natter about the day-to-day trivia of, I don’t know, pop music, or Star Wars or something. Culture reflects the political landscape that surrounds its creation, and political realities reflects back upon the way in which we interpret culture – even on a blog that rides the currents of escapism and nostalgia as heavily as this one.

In fact, I’d even contest that this tendency to put on the blinkers and leave issues of everyday existence to the “political animals” has to some extent contributed to the formation of the black hole in which global public discourse currently finds itself, so, if you don’t consider this a valid forum for me to discuss such issues occasionally when the need arises, then… that’s too bad I’m afraid. I don’t consider my views on the wider world to be extreme or unreasonable, and I try not to become overly strident or repetitious in my expression of them, so hopefully you can still hang out here and enjoy the sights - but, neither do I feel that my beliefs should be kept out of sight, like mutant appendages at a dinner party.

I would have liked to have found some pithy way to tie things in with this blog’s usual subject matter… but I just don’t have the stomach for it right now to be honest. Like many people who continue to care for the well-being of their fellow human beings (and indeed, life on earth more generally) I have found the events of 2016 depressing beyond words, and a Trump election victory feels like the end of season finale.

None of us knows what happens next, so I’ll try to rein in my natural tendency toward doom-mongering, and keep the dozens of tangential diatribes I could launch into to myself. Let’s just say that, at best, I feel that representative democracy is on the skids on both sides of the Atlantic. The last time big-mouthed opportunists managed to make this amount of headway marshalling a dissatisfied proletariat with dangerous lies was in the 1920s and 30s, and you can end this sentence however you like, because I haven’t the heart for it.

Even if the resultant collapse of the geo-political status quo that has kept “our way of life” broadly intact over the past half century remains on the now-familiar level of infighting, chaos and indecision however, the predatory mixture of totalitarianism and free market capitalism currently gaining ground elsewhere in the world lies in wait. And as a worst case scenario meanwhile, I’m probably not the only one contemplating the manner in which an America-First President Trump, unshackled from NATO, is liable to respond to a 9/11 scale shocker on U.S. soil.

What was that I said about doom-mongering? Ok, let’s can it.

Whatever happens, it is as always the poor and voiceless and stateless who suffer first, and die first, whilst those of us who already have food on our plates bang the table like petulant children and demand we’re paid attention to. My most earnest wish right now is that selfish nation states would shut the fuck up and lend a hand to their neighbours, but it seems I’m paddling upstream on that one, so what the hell do I know.

For any readers in the U.S. grappling with more immediately pressing domestic concerns meanwhile, uncouth fighting words are probably the last thing you need right now, but I’ll nonetheless refer you to the words of the late Hunter S. Thompson, responding to the 2001 election of Bush Jr in one of his last published missives, because they are words I’d be keeping close to my heart were I over there with you. Just try not to throw them around too loudly in mixed company for a month or two – it probably won’t help.

Normal service to resume imminently. Thank you and good night.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Belated Deathblog:
Ted V. Mikels
(1929 – 2016)

Last Friday night, my wife and I re-watched Ted V. Mikels’ ‘The Astro-Zombies’ (1968) in tribute to the great man, who passed away a few weeks ago. Back in 2010, I rated this my 20th favourite horror movie of all time, no less, and I’m happy to report that in 2016 it remains just as much of a jaw-dropping masterpiece of audaciously loopy un-cinema.

Though ‘Astro-Zombies’ was Ted’s first horror film, instigating the series of oddball exploitation features for which he was best known, it was most assuredly NOT his first film overall. Indeed, though I have not yet managed to watch them myself, I have read several sources which insist that the black & white thrillers Mikels directed in the early ‘60s (‘Strike Me Deadly’ (1963), ‘The Black Klansman’(1965)) are very impressive and professional pieces of work.

Taking this claim at face value, I can only assume that ‘The Astro-Zombies’ and the astonishing run of movies that followed it represent a kind of American equivalent of Jess Franco’s output in the early ‘70s – an example of a technically proficient filmmaker throwing away the rulebook and just letting it all hang out, doing whatever the hell he felt like from day to day and stapling together the results into a wild n’ wooly collage of garish, over-saturated comic book depravity that must have left drive-in double-bill patrons speechless and appalled, subsequently disappearing down a black hole until they were rediscovered by the SWV/bad-movie-fan crowd in the 90s – an audience who were presumably more able to process them than their forebears.

As far as Mikels’ other films are concerned, his surprisingly small output is… variable, to say the least. Though it has its fans, I didn’t really get much out of his H.G. Lewis-ish gore flick ‘The Corpse Grinders’ (1971) when I watched it a while back, but I do however have a massive soft spot for his next film, ‘Blood Orgy of the She Devils’ (1973) – a sprawling, near plotless mass of treacle-thick early ‘70s post-psychedelic occult freakout vibes, packed with more artlessly discordant electronic music, somnambulantly drawled faux-spiritual blather and near-stationary ritual happenings than the human mind can bear, guaranteed to enrage and repel about 98% of potential viewers, but pure manna from heaven to the likes of me.

I’ll also confess a fondness for the same year’s proto-Charlie’s Angels action/adventure flick ‘The Doll Squad’, and I even had fun with its threadbare pseudo-sequel ‘Mission: Killfast’ (1987). It seems that Mikels found a way to incorporate espionage, walkie-talkies, radio signals and disparate groups of peculiar people chasing each other around into just about every movie he made, so in a way the genre of these films seems a perfect fit for him, although sadly his lack of proficiency in pacing and staging an effective action film is evident throughout.

Such pedestrian drawbacks however are largely irrelevant to the rather different appeal of Mikels’ cinema; the aforementioned films (and indeed, all the films I have seen from Mikels’ shot-on-film era) have an eccentric charm, a beautiful, trash-saturated visual aesthetic and a gutsy dedication to the cause of entertainment that overcomes all of their miscellaneous technical failings. His movies pulse with energy, good humour, sincerity and a keen sense of fun, all laced with just enough flat-out madness to get us to the finish line smiling.

All of which seems, insofar as I can judge, to be a testament to the unique strength of personality possessed by Ted V. Mikels himself. I actually know surprisingly little about the man beyond what can be gleaned from his films, but perhaps by filling in the gaps between his early appearance as a shirtless bongo player in the incredible strip-tease club sequence in ‘The Astro-Zombies’ and the late period photograph of him you see above (waxed ‘tache, walrus tusk necklace, smile a mile wide), we can simply conclude that he was a force to be reckoned with.

An anonymous trivia entry on his IMDB page states that Mikels “started out as a magician, acrobat and fire eater before becoming a documentary film maker in the 1950s” (well I mean, of course he did), whilst pretty much every piece of writing I’ve ever read about him has repeated the fact that, at at least one point in his life, he lived in a castle in Las Vegas [CORRECTION: in California - see comments] with his own harem of female followers. I have never actually managed to ascertain the truth of this claim, or indeed to find much in the way of further details on the subject, but let’s just go with the “print the legend” option and regurgitate it again here for new readers to wonder over.

Looks like he went a bit ‘off-message’ to say the least after he made a Shot-On-Video comeback from the late ‘90s onwards, but hell, who didn’t? And, for better or worse, at least he kept churning ‘em out – practically tripling the length of his filmography - with his subject matter remaining admirably bizarre, even if only the very bravest of cult film explorers are liable to want to subject themselves to, say, 2015’s ‘Paranormal Extremes: Text-Messages from the Dead’, or 1997’s absolutely extraordinary sounding ‘Apartheid Slave-Women's Justice’ (check the reviews of the latter here).

Whatever you may think of the man and his films however, it is with great sadness that we must reflect that Ted V. Mikels was pretty much the ‘last man standing’ amongst his era’s roll-call of defiantly idiosyncratic, independant populist independent American filmmakers. Meyer, Lewis, Steckler, Wishman, Milligan, Wood, Adamson – all are gone, and now that Mikels has joined them, the line is severed for good, the unique world that all of these men (and women) created and occupied for so many years consigned to the past.

R.I.P. Ted, and once again - thanks for the Astro-Zombies.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

The Ninth Annual Stereo Sanctity / Breakfast in the Ruins Samhain Freakout.

Cross-posted with Stereo Sanctity.

Hopefully arriving with sufficient notice for you to fully absorb it as you set about cultivating appropriate state of mind prior to next week’s big night, I’m afraid I must warn you that, for better or worse, this year’s Halloween comp has emerged as quite possibly the darkest and gnarliest to date. Decidedly low on jollity, what we have here is a thoroughly shuddersome mixture of anguished subterranean punk, ferocious funereal metal and eerie psychedelic aberrations of one kind or another, guaranteed to get you in the mood for a full-on, cemetery-stalking Halloween.

Once this general atmosphere had taken hold, I thought I might as well go with it, and as such I have finally taken the opportunity to include in its entirety one of my all time favourite trad doom tracks, Reverend Bizarre’s ‘Strange Horizons’. You may think you know ‘epic metal’ with yr new fangled Neurosis and Opeth and what-not, but trust me my friends – this is one you need to experience. It’s a thing of beauty.

Also noteworthy here meanwhile is the inclusion of the first ever hip-hop track on one of these mixes (courtesy of my long overdue immersion in Gravediggaz’ ‘Six Feet Deep’ album – hey, only nineteen years late), and, I believe, our first ever vocal jazz ballad too, courtesy of Ada Moore. Let’s hope there’s more of both to come in future.

Relatively little movie content this year, but nonetheless, featured films include: ‘Les Demons’ (Jess Franco, 1972), ‘All The Colors of the Dark’ (Sergio Martino, 1972) and ‘Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey Into Perversion’ (Jess Franco, 1970).

As ever – enjoy.

Downloadable here.

Monday 17 October 2016

October Shorts:
A Pre-Halloween Horror Round-up.

Every year, when October rolls around, I survey the movie bloggers and film forums undertaking “31 films in 31 days” pre-Halloween countdowns and so forth, and feel a profound sense of envy as I consider those lucky enough to enjoy a lifestyle that allows them the time to view, let alone write about, a feature film every single day - that being a circumstance which usually feels beyond the reach of my wildest dreams at this time of year, sad to say.

Nonetheless though, this year I’ve been doing my best – aggressively ring-fencing movie-watching time, squeezing in double-bills wherever possible, prioritising horror above all other genres and trying to find a few minutes to scribble down some thoughts afterwards. Thus far I’ve only clocked up a mere six films in seventeen days, but believe me – under the circumstances, I count that a success.

Hopefully I’ll be able to rack up enough to compile a “Part # 2” to this post later in the month, but for now, let’s crack on. Needless to say, all the write-ups that follow are “first thought / best thought” type efforts banged out with a minimum of forethought or proof reading, so make of them what you will.

The Wasp Woman 
(Roger Corman, 1959)

Well, this was… quite alright I suppose. It’s snappily paced, smartly scripted (by b-Western ‘heavy’ actor Leo Gordon, no less), has an agreeably loopy premise and is full of likeable characters portrayed by a crew of familiar AIP/Corman faces. Unlike Corman’s best black & white era films however, ‘The Wasp Woman’ never really manages to transcend its status as a five-day-wonder double bill timewaster, failing to offer up anything that is liable to live long in our memories the way that ‘A Bucket of Blood’ or ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ did, or to challenge an audience’s pre-existing expectations of a movie named “The Wasp Woman”. There are any number of interesting directions that the Countess Bathory-esque ‘aging-woman-will-go-to-any-lengths-to-preserve-beauty’ storyline could have been taken in, but instead Corman and Gordon just serve it straight, avoiding of any social commentary/satirical twist despite the film’s self-aware, cosmopolitan atmosphere and Madison Avenue setting.

Still, it’s a thoroughly diverting seventy-something minutes that remains approximately 126 times as entertaining as what might have resulted had any other director active in 1959 made a film about a woman turning into a giant wasp with a budget roughly equivalent to Charlton Heston’s dry-cleaning bill.

Shock Waves 
(Ken Wiederhorn, 1977)

Similarly, this little number – in which Peter Cushing and John Carradine lead a cast of younger/lesser known performers pitting their wits against undead Nazi super-soldiers in the Florida keys – has all the necessary ingredients in place for an absolutely bad-ass under-the-radar ‘70s horror…. but somehow, it just never manages to get the engine running.

The main boons to the film’s intermittent effectiveness come from it’s incredibly atmospheric shooting locations, which convey a convincing sense of isolated deprivation, and it’s uniquely conceived antagonists, who rise from the water uniformed and be-goggled like some nightmare combination of Golan-Globus ninjas and Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead. The cast are all fairly good too (Brooke Adams, who went to better things in the ’78 ‘Invasion of The Body Snatchers’ particularly stands out), and much of the photography is superb, despite being shot on 16mm.

Quite why such a promising outlay eventually fails to deliver the expected thrills therefore, I’m unsure, but let’s reluctantly grit our teeth and think it through. Firstly, continuity is all over the place (at several points early in the film, the characters seem to be discussing and acting upon terrible events that we have not been privy to), and, cool though it is, the whole Nazi zombie concept is rather undeveloped, as early suggestions that we’re dealing with an occult/supernatural menace are dropped in favour a presumably scientific rationale for their existence, which likewise remains unexplored, as does their obvious thematic status as a potent return-of-the-repressed atavistic terror, ala those aforementioned Blind Dead.

Furthermore, once they’re wandering about on land, the zombies gradually shed their initial menace, moving like ordinary human beings (presumably whilst being shouted at by an Assistant Director) and failing to demonstrate any abilities that would render them significantly more threatening than any other bunch of semi-mindless, unarmed men.

Perhaps most damaging of all though is the production’s decision to avoid any gore or explicit violence, which, though in some sense admirable, also wreaks havoc with the essential build up and release of tension necessary to the success of any chase/stalk/kill-orientated horror movie. When the expected crescendo of bloodshed that would traditionally accompany the demise of each of the zombies’ victims is watered down to an “oh, well… I guess he’s supposed to be dead now?” damp squib, the theoretically remorseless survival horror showdown of the film’s final act is stripped of any real urgency, leaving us instead to simply admire the view and reflect that the poor extras in the nazi/zombie get-up must have had a really rough time shooting this thing.

Carradine and Cushing are both under-used – presumably bacause the production cut corners by only hiring them for a few days each, which I’m cool with – but, whilst the former is as boisterous as ever, this is sadly one those mid-‘70s movies in which poor Peter seems to be at his lowest ebb, looking more cadaverous than ever before. Though professional to a tee, his lack of engagement with the material is clear, as he fails to really put any meat on the bones of his potentially fascinating character, the way he would almost certainly have done a decade earlier.

But, I should step back at this point and stop knocking this movie. I’ve made my point. If nothing else, it’s a fairly unique entry in the canon of ’70s American horror, and if you come to it with your expectations primed for ‘interesting failure’ rather than ‘lost classic’, you’ll likely find it a somewhat worthwhile experience.

Count Dracula’s Great Love 
(Javier Aguirre, 1972)

Ah, now we’re talkin’! Despite a plodding and rather campy opening half much concerned with hunts for lost coach wheels and inconsequential romantic trysts, Paul Naschy’s sole outing as the Count eventually warms up into not only one of his best films, but one of the most exultantly delirious slices of euro-horror nirvana ever to emerge from the sainted ‘70s. The set up that gets us there may be clumsy, but as soon as “Dracula”s voice-over starts delivering ultra-reverbed metaphysical pronouncements and his be-fanged ladies begin their slow motion peregrinations through the cobwebbed corridors, we’re on a different plain entirely, supping an intoxicating brew that leaves our heads spinning happily as love and death commingle, footsteps clang through a brace of effects pedals and Kensington (Madrid?) Gore dribbles ‘pon cleavage.

Infused (in its stronger ‘export’ cut, at least) with a degree of sexual content that pushes it firmly into the realm of the Erotic Castle Movie, the genius of ‘Count Dracula’s Great Love’ is that, whilst it is undoubtedly delirious, it nonetheless remains emotionally coherent throughout, as the trivial faffing about of the film’s poorly drawn human characters is gradually replaced by that of a love story from another world, played out with aching seriousness, as Naschy – ever the tragic romantic – essays one of strangest and most conflicted Draculas in screen history, anticipating a conclusion that is startling to say the least for devotees of vampire lore.

Over the past few years, I’ve watched this film several times in various stages of degradation, and each time the closing card rears up and the music plays out over blackness, it never fails to hit me with that feeling of having just awakened from some extraordinary dream, the usual whys and wherefores of cinema long forgotten – an instant hit of exactly the phenomena that keeps me coming back to these mind-warping euro-horrors again and again in other words, and to finally see it returned to its full glory via Vinegar Syndrome’s recent blu-ray edition feels like a minor miracle. Really, just an absolute pleasure to experience this one again in such fine form.

Dracula AD 1972 
(Alan Gibson, 1972)

As you will no doubt be aware, this film has attracted its fair share of mockery and critical brick-bats over the years, so now I think is as good as time as any to come out and say it loud and proud: I really like ‘Dracula AD 1972’.

Though it is certainly not one of Hammer’s best, and the damaging effect it’s oft-lamented drawbacks (the five-years-out-of-date Swinging London goofery, the almost total absence of Dracula, the rushed and inconclusive final confrontation, the antics of “Johnny Alucard”) remains substantial, I nonetheless maintain that this one is a lot of fun, and actually has quite a lot going for it beside the potential for ironic sniggering. Though not in the same league as the genuinely great ‘Taste the Blood of..’ (which the script here to some extent reworks), I’d probably place it above most of the other ‘Dracula’ sequels.

For one thing, I love the way that it – as is only appropriate, I suppose - oozes pure essence of “Britain in the early ‘70s”, in spite of the uproariously off-message ‘youth culture’ stuff. From the young Mr Alucard’s straight-from-a-NEL-paperback occult proclamations at his black mass, to the heavy-handed allusions to the Manson murders, to the Scotland Yard detective with a desk covered in ‘executive toys’ who dresses and behaves like a slightly younger and posher dry run for Jack Regan in ‘The Sweeney’ (I particularly love the bit where his partner begs some time off to get “a cup of coffee and a cheese roll” before they head off to bust the kids’ drug party)…. you could just bottle this stuff and I’d buy it by the crate.

It helps too that Alan Gibson largely directs the picture more like a crime drama than a traditional horror, rendering it one of the snappiest films Hammer ever made, with Van Helsing Jr and the cops’ pursuit of the vampire menace taking on a frantic feel akin to an episode of ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ – an approach I very much appreciate.

The ‘deconsecrated church’ set upon which much of the action takes place is genuinely impressive too, and the aforementioned black mass, with reversed tape recorder freakouts and Johnny slitting his wrists all over Caroline Munro, is a real showstopper, probably one of the coolest scenes of its kind in early ‘70s horror.

Meanwhile, Peter Cushing – in stark contrast to his subdued turn in ‘Shock Waves’ - just radiates gravitas here, playing it straight enough to add weight to any amount of patently ridiculous plotting, and momentarily imbuing his final confrontation with Lee with a fateful intensity that successfully recalls their hair-raising showdown in Hammer’s first Dracula all those years ago (until the filmmakers bugger it all up a few moments later, but the less said about that the better).

I even quite like weird, ‘alternate world’ aspect of the script, wherein we’re presented with a 1970s wherein Count Dracula isn’t a pop culture household name, but a dread figure of obscure esoteric lore, mentioned alongside Belphegor and Belial in Johnny Alucard’s run-down of demonic top trumps, whom “legend has it” was buried somewhere in Hyde Park one hundred years prior.

Oh yeah, and if that wasn’t enough to win you over, I’ll put it to you that Stoneground’s ‘Alligator Man’ absolutely rules – a monster jam that sounds like it could have come straight off Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’, perhaps lending credence to the argument that those upright cats at Hammer weren’t as far off the pulse of AD 1972 as is generally supposed.

The Brood 
(David Cronenberg, 1980)

Almost four decades later, and this remains Cronenberg’s most thoroughly disturbing film to date [persuasive counter-arguments welcomed at the usual address]. Almost entirely devoid of the “don’t worry kids, it’s just a horror movie” retreats into genre convention that softened the unsavoury subject matter of his earlier (and indeed, later) efforts, his heavy-handed use of a SF/horror metaphor to unpack the cyclical nature of familial abuse, together with a side order of disdain for the machinations of the psychiatric profession, grinds toward its conclusion with a sense of doom-laden inevitability, leavened only by the creepy feeling of ‘scientific distance’ from human behavior that characterizes so much of the director’s work.

With the exception of a startlingly effective horror movie ‘kill scene’ early on, no diversions, escape routes or sign-posts toward more conventional “entertainment” are offered to the viewer at any point, as Cronenberg’s determination to rub our faces in the nasty, serious business of his troubled characters’ case histories, and to generally go there each time we kinda wish he’d hold back, make this both, a) a remarkable and shocking film, and b) an extremely poor choice to open a Saturday night horror movie marathon. Cue uneasy silence and sombre discussion as the credits roll.

A couple of observations that occurred to me on this particular repeat viewing:

1. There are some striking (if entirely incidental) crossovers with the narrative of Andrzej Zulawski’s ‘Possession’ going on here. Given that that film was made roughly a year later, could we consider the possibility that a few scenes and ideas might have sunk into Zulawski’s consciousness during a screening of ‘The Brood’ and popped up again during the writing process for his own film..? Somehow I’d imagine no one ever dared put the question to him, but… just a thought.

2. Oliver Reed’s performance in ‘The Brood’ is really good. The character he plays is extremely ambiguous, as scripted –  a cruel arch-manipulator whose Frankensteinian disregard for professional ethics was solely responsible for letting the film’s supernatural menace get out of hand, but who also backs up his ‘tough love’ attitude with a genuine streak of well-meaning heroism - yet Reed embodies these contradictory impulses brilliantly. At this stage in his career, you’d have very much expected him to phone in his turn in a cheap Canadian horror flick from the nearest hotel bar, so it's surprising - and great - to instead find him putting in one of his best ever turns as a ‘serious actor’.

Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers 
(Fred Olen Ray, 1988)

And meanwhile, at completely the other end of the horror spectrum... let’s just say that if you knowingly sit down to watch a film named “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers”, you’ll get exactly what you expect and/or deserve from this godawful piece of weirdly charming crap.

Camp as a row of tents and artlessly shot on what seems to be the same grubby, rescued-from-a-bin film stock utilised by John Waters on his early features, this basically seems to chronicle what happens when some people who theoretically work in ‘the film industry’ lower their expectations and instead begin competing with backyard SOV gore flicks made by horny teenagers – and if we think they should know better at their age, well, we’re the ones who paid money to watch the bloody thing, so who’s laughing now?

Telling the tale of a generic hardboiled private eye (yes, there are “private dick” jokes aplenty) who ends up on the trail of a cabal of prostitutes who belong to a quasi-Egyptian “chainsaw cult”(?!) overseen by TCM’s Gunnar Hansen (who, it turns out, has the least appropriate speaking voice imaginable for playing a cult leader), what we’re left with is essentially a non-stop pep rally for the delights of good ol’ LA sleaze, nothing more, nothing less, but if you’re in the right mood, then hey - dive right in.

The ostensible “gore scenes” – in which topless women wave chainsaws at off-screen victims whilst stage-hands throw blood and rubber limbs at them – are a disgrace to all concerned, whilst the relentless one-liners and tongue in cheek misogyny runs the gamut from knee-slapping to groan-inducing depending on your state of mind. Happily on this occasion, I found myself veering more toward the former. (“What do ya do, pray to Black & Decker?” was my favourite).

By the closing act, the whole thing has built up enough of a head of steam to become pleasantly deranged, and when we get to Linnea Quigley’s body painted double chainsaw dance, well… what need I do except repeat the phrase “Linnea Quigley’s body painted double chainsaw dance” and remind you that this film is commercially available on various formats? Actually, she doesn’t appear to be dancing all that effectively with those saws (they must have been quite heavy), but what the hell, it's still great, and Fred Olen Ray wins again!

Seriously though, for all my nose-holding, I had a pretty good time with this one – it’s a heck of a lot more likeable and good-natured than the Troma-type films it was presumably in competition with upon its initial release, and it’s really short too, so as long as you don’t make the rookie error of watching it sober, you’ll be home safe.


To be continued (I hope)....

Monday 3 October 2016

The Great Jess Franco Location Tour, Part # 1: Calpe.

Whilst visiting friends and attending a music event on Valencia’s Costa Blanca in Southern Spain this September, I naturally made sure that we put a day aside to pay a visit to the town of Calpe [Calp in its alternative Catalan spelling], which lies but a short drive East along the coast from the high rise nightmare of Benidorm and the idyllic historical town of Altea.

Although there are a number of equally sacred spots for Jess Franco fanatics scattered around Western Europe, Franco returned to Calpe to film again and again throughout his career, giving it, I think, a pretty good claim to being the director’s spiritual home – helped no doubt by the fact that Alicante and the Costa Blanca was also his actual home and base of operations for the last thirty plus years of his life.

Whilst it is still to some extent a working port town with a small fishing fleet, Calpe in 2016 is largely resigned to its status as a tourist town, if thankfully one with a slightly more refined and low key character than the nearby ‘fleshpots’. The gleaming, recently built towers of the town centre and shopping district have a rather bland, comfortable feeling about them, which extends unchallenged through the rows of identikit tourist restaurants that line the pristine beach-front, leading to the slightly lower and shabbier high rises of the older hotels around the harbour. (And who knows what kind of shenanigans Franco might have filmed within them over the year, although unfortunately trying to identify forty year old hotel interiors is likely to prove a pretty tough gig.)

One feature of Calpe that is definitely neither bland nor comforting however is the astonishing Peñón de Ifach, the titanic limestone rock formation that overlooks the harbour, its shape visible along the coastline for miles in either direction.

Wherever you are in Calpe, the Peñón will invariably draw your attention – it dominates the town to an extent that is almost surreal, with its sheer size becoming almost head-spinning at close quarters. As such, it’s no wonder that it requently caught the eye of Jess Franco’s ever-roving camera lens, often appearing like some weird totem before he pans down and across into an establishing shot of the harbour area.

This is how the Peñón de Ifach appears in what is (to my knowledge) the earliest film Franco shot around Calpe, 1966’s Cartes Sur Table / ‘Attack of the Robots’:

And this is as close as I could get to recreating that shot in September 2016:

Spinning around to a reverse shot meanwhile, this harbour will be all too familiar to Francophiles…

…and, I’m pretty sure that this must be the road on which the ‘final girl’ character in Bloody Moon (1981) has a run-in with an unconvincing falling ‘boulder’ and subsequently instigates a health & safety-related altercation with the local police. No doubt she’d be pleased to see they now have a warning sign up there.

Turning back toward the ocean meanwhile, the lighthouse at the end of the spit that forms the entrance to Calpe’s harbour appears to have been slightly remodelled since 1973 (perhaps as a result of storm damage?), but is still clearly recognisible as the port from which Robert Woods and Tania Busselier cast off, bearing Lina Romay to the “island” of Count and Countess Zaroff in that year’s Countess Perverse.

Although both ‘Countess Perverse’ and She Killed In Ecstasy (1970) create the illusion that the iconic ‘Xanadu’ building designed by architect Ricardo Bofill stands alone on a remote island, it is in fact located on the mainland, about a twenty minute walk along the beach-front from the harbour pictured above, in a heavily developed clifftop area just on the other side of the bay around which the town is built.

This imaginative reordering of the local geography must have proved pretty disorientating for any viewers familiar with the area, but for visitors following the path of Franco’s characters by land, the right road to follow is pretty easy to spot once you reach the far side of the beach;

After a few minutes journey along the cliff-top path, we turn a corner…

…and lo and behold – there it is!

Helpfully, there is an information board for visitors, with English text included, which saves me from having to fill you in on the pertinent details myself.

Descending those spine-tinglingly familiar steps down the cliff-face to the shore (see below), my first order of business is to solemnly tread the same ground Soledad Miranda herself once stood upon, as her character gazed out to sea mourning the death of her husband in ‘She Killed in Ecstasy’.

Whilst my cheap digital camera couldn’t really compete with the low angle majesty of Franco’s camerawork, the shots below are about as close as we got to matching up with my reference pic. (Many thanks to Satori for her modelling assistance here – as you can see, she picked her finest mod threads for the occasion).

In the opposite direction meanwhile, collapsed paving stones now make it difficult to stand on the exact spot from which Soledad once looked out to sea, but you’ll notice that the small outcrop of rock in the lower half of both of the pics below, which remains recognisible almost fifty years later.

(Note too the manner in which Franco has framed his shot to drastically crop the top of the facing headland, hiding the other buildings from view in order to maintain the illusion of a ‘private island’, whilst also making the fairly gentle cliff face look taller and more severe into the bargain. Low budget ingenuity at its finest!)

Returning to ‘Countess Perverse’, the sandy beaches and jagged rocks upon which the victims of the Zaroffs are initially seen landing upon the “island” must be located elsewhere (as the preceding photo demonstrates, the shore directly beneath the Bofill complex is actually pretty sparse), but thereafter we can at least retrace the characters’ progress toward the house up those magnificently sinister steps.

Beginning with a few shots of Kali Hansa making the ascent at the start of the film, we will subsequently move onto a few shots from later portions of the movie.

As pictured in some of the preceding shots, the circular stone archway through which Count and Countess Zaroff (Howard Vernon and Alice Arno) are seen viewing boats approaching their island in ‘Countess Perverse’ can be found halfway up the stairway leading to Xanadu. Note again how Franco’s frame is carefully arranged to disguise the fact that the headland visible on the far left is in fact the all-too-familiar Peñón (which is of course supposed to be situated far away on the “mainland”). Once again, Satori steps in the model for the third picture below.

Another part of the Xanadu / Bofill complex that Franco used extensively is the single-storied, round-windowed stone building overlooking the ocean at the bottom of the stairway. I’m unsure whether or not Ricardo Bofill actually played a role in designing this building, but it apparently used to function as a restaurant (or at least, cooking and dining area) for the residents of the apartments above.

It is here that the Zaroffs’ cannibal feasts take place in ‘Countess Perverse’, and it is also where Soledad Miranda stalks Paul Muller’s character in ‘She Killed In Ecstasy’.

Regrettably for the present day residents of Xanadu and La Muralla Roja however, 2016 finds this building in a pretty sorry state. Entirely ruined and left open to the elements, it seems to have become a haunt for vagrants and/or local teenagers. Covered in graffiti, it carried a pungent aroma of rotting trash and sun-baked urine on the blisteringly hot day upon which we visited, although the shade it provided was welcome, at least.

[Intriguingly, the closest I can get to a viable translation of the graffiti on the roof is possibly something like “with you until the moon forgets your face”..? Any Spanish speakers out there able to clarify?]

For me personally, seeing the site of such mod-ish Mediterranean ‘70s grandeur reduced to little more than rubble proved quite affecting, even as the chance to spend some time exploring a quintessential part of Franco’s unique interior geography, feeling it transform into an actual, physical space before my eyes, was simultaneously exhilarating. A strange mixture of feelings.

Here then are a few comparisons I attempted with frames from the meal scene in ‘Countess Perverse’, followed by a few additional shots illustrating the current state of the round-windowed dining room.

[Note the ‘elder sign’ graffiti in the last picture.]

I’m not sure whether Howard Vernon’s Count Zaroff made use of the barbeque / oven adjacent to this dining room to prepare his “speciality” dishes in ‘Countess Perverse’ - having re-checked the film, all we’re offered are close-up insert shots of a slab of meat sizzling on a grill, its location unclear – but it would certainly be nice to think the Count did his cooking here.

In Franco’s 1980 version of Eugenie - which was shot almost entirely in the vicinity of the Bofill buildings - we learn that, at that point in time at least, the ‘restaurant’ building also incorporated a swimming pool and sun-bathing area (which, needless to say, Franco’s characters proceed to make full use of for some erotic shenanigans).

Again, to survey the ruins of this lost corner of the Costa Blanca high life, memories of its former glory inadvertently kept alive by diehard Franco fans as bootleg VHS transfers of the film travel between servers and hard drives across the world, it a strange feeling indeed.

Of course, for those visiting the ‘Carrer Ricardo Bofill’ primarily as modernist architecture aficionados, Xanadu and its curious annex will be little more than a warm up for the main attraction, which stands adjacent to them in a slight natural valley – the extraordinary ‘Muralla Roja’. (The reference pic below is also taken from the 1980 ‘Eugenie’.)

In actual fact, Franco featured the exterior of La Muralla Roja surprisingly rarely in his films. Although Stephen Thrower’s book reveals that he began shooting an unfinished project named ‘El Misterio del Castillo Rojo’ there in 1972, the aforementioned ‘Eugenie’ is one of the few extant films in which it is used as a primary location. Conversely though, views of the building’s interior turn up frequently through the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In particular, Franco seems to have been fascinated by the network of bright red, Escher-esque interlocking staircases that connect the building’s apartments. These are used to represent an expressionistic ‘descent into hell’ in numerous Franco films, from ‘Countess Perverse’ (it which the local geography is further warped by the suggestion that the staircases connect the Xanadu building to the dining room beneath it) to the surrealistic conclusion to Los Noche de los Sexos Abiertos (1983), which posits it as the interior of some kind of coastal tower / lighthouse (presumably located elsewhere in this area, although I’m not sure where exactly).

Much to my disappointment however, the interiors of La Muralla Roja are very much off limits to casual visitors in the 21st century. The current residents of the complex evidently value their privacy, and the building is surrounded by security fences, locked gates bearing anti-trespassing notices and, in some places, thick rows of trees that seem to have been deliberately cultivated to block the view from outside.

At the time of our visit, some of the residents were busy preparing tables for a formal meal in the grounds of the complex, and, given that none of them gave any indication of looking favourably upon the nosy foreigners skulking around outside their gates wielding cameras, any hope I may have entertained of stealing a glimpse of those famous staircases, or indeed the equally iconic crucifix-shaped swimming pool on the roof, was firmly off the menu.

Whilst these circumstances regrettably forced me to abandon any attempts to match up any particular shots from Franco’s films, the exterior façade of La Muralla Roja remains jaw-dropping – one of the most striking and beautiful 20th century buildings I have ever seen in fact, as the following shots will hopefully to some extent testify. (And if not, a far more extensive and professional range of photographs can be enjoyed on Ricardo Bofill’s website here.)

And so, this brings us to the point at which, exhausted by our sight-seeing exertions and feeling our skin practically sizzling under the sun’s assault, we bid farewell to this otherworldly corner of the Mediterranean dream, and retreated at full speed back toward the beach and the air-conditioned comfort of the nearest tourist restaurant, where ice cold beer and reassuringly tasteless pizza awaited.

Shortly thereafter, our schedule dictated that it was time to bid farewell to Calpe. It would be nice think that I will be able to return at some point in the future, perhaps spend a bit more time soaking up the atmosphere, scouting some less obvious Jess Franco shooting locations, perhaps even try to book in advance for a few nights in the one no doubt highly coveted holiday apartment within La Muralla Roja.

In reality though, who knows then I will be back. As mentioned in my introductory paragraph, there are so many other Franco Location Tour hot spots to hit over the course of future holidays… and if any spendthrift publishers in the audience want to consider covering my travel expenses for a coffee table book on noteworthy Euro-horror locations, well, I’m all ears.