Monday, March 31, 2014


Claudio Guerin, 1973
Starring: Renaud Verley, Viveca Lindfors, Alfredo Mayo, Maribel Martin, Nuria Gimeno

The young Juan (John in the bad English overdub), a rebellious practical joker with an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide, is being released from an asylum. He heads home to seek revenge on his aunt and three cousins; they had him placed there on false charges so that they could steal his inheritance after his mother’s death. Juan works in a slaughterhouse for a while, apparently just long enough to learn a few tricks about killing animals and preparing corpses. Then he returns to his mother's home, which has been empty since her death and his imprisonment. He prepares a series of complex "jokes" as revenge and invites his aunt and cousins over to see the house, which he has restored to how it looked when he lived there. Juan prepares to slaughter all four women, partly in revenge and partly to be free of them, but will he go through with it?

A Bell from Hell is a subversive, surreal, and occasionally funny slice of Eurohorror that must be seen to be believed. It ranks as one of my favorite horror films of all time and there is nothing else quite like it. Much Spanish horror from this period – The House That Screamed, The Blood Spattered Bride, Cannibal Man, Spirit of the Beehive, the works of Jess Franco, and more – is a reaction against the fascist yoke Franco forced upon the country for many years. These films managed to tell subversive, often horrifying stories while avoiding the gaze of fascist censors, but none of them go quite as far as A Bell from Hell. Almost Buñuel-like in its use of humor and surrealism to deliver a scathing indictment of fascism, the combination of practical jokes and violent and/or sexual acts are impressively creative.

This truly singular film has been sadly neglected, but is a fine example of Spanish horror cinema, bearing a close relationship to other darkly surreal works of Franco-era cinema. It is awash with an atmosphere of the Gothic and has numerous Poe references. In many ways, it's kind of a weird horror hybrid of Jean Rollin and Buñuel. There is a dreamy, disturbing atmosphere, as well as an insistently anti-bourgeois flavor.

Much of the film's strength relies on protagonist Juan, who is genuinely likable despite some of the horrible acts he commits. This is, at its core, a revenge film and writer Santiago Moncada (Cut-Throats Nine, All the Colors of the Dark, Hatchet for the Honeymoon) pulls out all the stops to make Juan convincing. He is filled with rage, but also sympathy, and like several other Spanish cinema protagonists of that era, views the world fundamentally differently than those around him. The magical Renaud Verley (The Damned) is perfect as Juan, displaying disgust at some of the things he must do and a genuine doubt as to whether or not he is mad. He is also seemingly the lone voice of reason in a town full of criminals and hypocrites.

Though some of the acting from the side actors is a little rough, there are fine performances from all the leads, which include a number of genre regulars. Viveca Lindfors (Creepshow, Frankenstein’s Aunt), Maribel Martin (Blood Spattered Bride), and Christina von Blanc (A Virgin Among the Living Dead) are all beautiful and do their justice to their roles as Juan’s deceitful relatives. Alfred Mayo (The Hunt) and Saturno Cerra (Tristana) also make welcome appearances.

Director Claudio Guerin famously fell from the bell tower on the last day of shooting and died, so the final shots of the film were finished up by Juan Bardem (uncle of actor Javier), who is also responsible for the imaginative editing. This beautiful, haunting film feels a little disjointed, probably because of Guerin's death, but gleefully dives into the unexpected and rips the ending right out from under you. Playfully subversive, Guerin uses the conventions of cinema to fool characters within the plot and viewers (make-up, soundscape, storytelling, etc.). 

Surreal, subversive horror is my favorite kind and A Bell from Hell is an excellent example of this. It comes with the highest possible recommendation. Fortunately, it has become easier to find in recent years. It's finally available on region 1 DVD from Pathfinder, though it's not the completely uncut Spanish version and suffers from poor dubbing. Hopefully someone will release an uncut, restored Blu-ray version sometime soon.


Vicente Aranda, 1972
Starring: Simón Andreu, Maribel Martín, Alexandra Bastedo, Dean Selmier

A young woman named Susan is on a honeymoon with her husband, but becomes anxious and distressed when she imagines a man raping her in their hotel. A strange woman also seems to be following them, though only Susan sees the woman. Her husband agrees to leave and they travel to his ancestral home, a mansion out in the countryside. Still anxious and remote, Susan explores the house and learns that the portraits of the female Karnstein descendants are all kept in the basement and one of the portraits has had the face cut off. Her husband explains there is a family legend that the woman, Mircalla Karnstein, killed her husband on their wedding night when he tried to do unspeakable things to her.

Susan begins to have increasingly bad dreams and finds a dagger on her pillow, which returns regardless of how many times her husband tries to hide it. She begins to have nightmares where the mystery woman encourages her to murder her husband. He is out on the beach one day, when he discovers a nude, disoriented woman buried in the sand. He takes her home to recover and she bonds closely with Susan. The woman says she is named Carmilla, but can’t remember anything else about herself, though Susan recognizes her as Mircalla Karnstein and the woman from her dreams. Though Susan is at first afraid, she and Mircalla begin an affair and Mircalla drinks her blood. Her husband finally believes her, but it is too late, as Susan and Mircalla go on a killing spree across the Karnstein estate.

Also known as The Bloody Bride, Bloody Fiancée, Blood Castle, and ‘Till Death Do Us Part, Blood Spattered Bride belongs to a tradition of similar films from around the same period, many of which were adaptions of Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale of lesbian vampire love, “Carmilla.” Examples include Belgian film Daughters of Darkness, Hammer’s Karnstein trilogy, including Vampire Lovers, Lust of a Vampire, and Twins of Evil, Jean Rollin’s handful of erotic vampire films, Roger Vadim’s sublime Blood and Roses, and even a Z-grade American film like The Velvet Vampire. But if you find the aimless erotic romps of Rollin’s films frustrating, the unsettling Blood Spattered Bride may be for you. There is the requisite amount of gore, gothic sets, and girl-on-girl action, but not of it is particularly excessive. There is always the sense that writer and director Vicente Aranda puts the story first, bolstered by plenty of surreal and nightmarish moments.

While the beginning of the film is full of unspoken dread and menace, thanks to Susan’s rape hallucination and tensions with her new husband, the second half becomes a full-fledged lesbian vampire flick, mostly due to the fact that her husband refuses to believe anything she tells him. There is the dagger that just won’t go away and, like Susan’s growing subconscious fears, the threat of death and violence manifests in the seductive form of Mircalla. It’s particularly interesting that the film changes at the point when Susan’s husband summons a doctor to examine her – it he is who introduces the idea of vampirism.

As with basically every lesbian vampire film ever made, the pacing is slow and the plot is dreamlike. This is surely one of the most effective though, with some very memorable scenes like Susan’s imagined rape and Mircalla’s introduction – buried alive in the sand, breathing through a snorkel, with her breasts exposed. In another dream sequence, a heart is cut out, but that is probably the most overtly violent thing that happens in the film.

You are either going to love this film or find it incomprehensible. There’s some wonderful cinematography from Fernando Aribas and plenty of effective, dreamlike imagery, for example a wonderful scene where a terrified, silent Susan locks herself in a giant bird cage to get away from her husband. She ties the key to a bird, which flies away. The gloomy ending packs a punch and concludes on a wonderfully ambiguous note, where Susan’s husband will be punished for her literal crimes and his more figurative sexual ones.

Aranda also leaves some nice ambiguity as to whether Mircalla is really a vampire or not, which ties in nicely with the film’s themes of female sexuality and the historically repressive nature of heterosexual love. This is one of the few horror films with an overtly feminist theme that I’ve been able to enjoy, probably because it tries to operate on the level of the primal, instinctive, and subconscious.

Maribel Martin (A Bell from Hell) is excellent here as the confused, naïve Susan. Her nude scenes were apparently done by a stunt double because of her young age in this film. Alexandra Bastedo (The Ghoul) is lovely as Mircalla and uses her limited dialogue effectively, remaining more a figure of fantasy than a solid, developed character. Simon Andreu (Trauma, Death Walks on High Heels) is fittingly unlikable as Susan’s invasive, insensitive husband. While he obviously has affection for her, he doesn’t seem to view her as a person capable of her own thoughts or feelings and this attitude is ultimately why events spiral out of control. Genre regular Angel Lombarte (Autopsy, Horror Rises from the Tomb) also makes a welcome appearance as his thoroughly unsympathetic servant.

Blood Spattered Bride is a strange film and probably an acquired taste, but it comes with a very high recommendation. It’s available on DVD, though it was also released in a two-disc DVD set with the similarly themed and equally excellent Daughters of Darkness (1971).

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Eloy de la Iglesia, 1973
Starring: Vicente Parra, Emma Cohen, Eusebio Poncela

Marcos, a butcher working at a slaughterhouse, has an altercation with a cab driver and accidentally kills the man. His young girlfriend witnessed the murder and begins to nag Marcos about marriage. She decides to go to the police about the cab driver, so Marcos strangles her and stows her body in his home. This quickly spirals out of control, as anyone who ventures into his house and threatens to find the growing number of bodies also becomes a victim, particularly as Marcos grows more paranoid. He doesn’t know how to dispose of the increasingly ripening corpses, but gets the idea to cut them up and bring them down to the slaughterhouse, where he will mix them in with meat to be sold to the community…

Cannibal Man is a thoughtful, challenging film that — at least in terms of reputation — is overwhelmed by its title. The only cannibalism takes place off screen, when Marcos disposes of the bodies in the bulk soup made at the meat factory, something that is sold to the poor citizens of the neighborhood. Director and writer Eloy de la Iglesia — also responsible for Bulgarian Lovers and underrated giallo film The Glass Ceiling (1970) — made a sort of Spanish blend of Maniac, Repulsion, and The Tenant. It’s more a psychological thriller than a gory horror film and has a definite Kafkaesque feel. 

As with most horror made during this period in Franco-controlled Spain, there is a political context at work. The cab driver is a clear example of this and Marcos ultimately is forced to kill him because of his repressive, violent attitude (he attacks Marcos and his girlfriend because they are kissing in the back of the cab). Poverty is another major issue of the film and Marcos’s latent rage is due to the poverty that he seemingly cannot escape from. 

This was one of the infamous Video Nasties, though I suspect this is more out of thematic content than the actual violence. The violence mostly occurs off screen, though there’s a strangulation and throat slitting that are mildly graphic. Though this is a subtle film, it moves at a decent pace as Marcos kills basically everyone in his life. De la Iglesia mostly keeps the tone serious and grim, though there are some occasional, effective uses of comedy. There’s a particularly tense and comical scene when Marcos is bringing a duffel bag full of body parts to work to dispose of and his coworkers snatch it. They spend an anxiety-inducing few moments tossing it around and keeping it from Marcos. 

It’s a somewhat silly plot device that Marcos doesn’t know what to do with the increasing number of bodies in his home, particularly since he works in a meat plant and deals with animal corpses all day. I think this also relates to his desire to keep the people he loves with him, even after they are gone. 

Nearly all the major characters are desperate for love or at least some physical affection, including Marcos’s unfortunate girlfriend, his brother and his fiancee, the barmaid Rosa, and Néstor. This at the heart of Cannibal Man and Marcos himself is struggling with more than just what to do with the mounting bodies — he seems to only really be comfortable and relaxed around Néstor, though gay relationships were forbidden both in public, private, and on screen during this period. 

Marcos kills in girlfriend while kissing her, in an odd, though effective scene, and one that is thoroughly un-erotic. Like few other horror movies from the period, Cannibal Man conveys the fear of being trapped in a domestic life and anxiety about conventional sexual mores. There’s plenty of class tension and much of Marcos’s frustration is due to the lot he has been given in life. Néstor, of course, is the contrast of all of these things - release, relaxation, wealth, and forbidden, unspoken homosexual love. 

Vicente Parra (Soft Skin on Black Silk, Cotolay) is quiet, but compelling as Marcos. He’s excellent at building tension and anxiety throughout the film, both directed at him and his victims. He’s a sympathetic figure because he doesn’t want to kill, but keeps doing so because he made (and continues to make) bad or stupid decisions. Eusebio Poncela (Matador, Law of Desire) is likable as Néstor, Marcos’s neighbor and friend.

Cannibal Man has somewhat of a unique place in Spanish cinema. It’s different from the monster films being made by Paul Naschy, and much more thoughtful than the Spanish attempts at the giallo being produced at the time. It is the most similar to A Bell from Hell, Cannibal Man opens at a slaughter house and concerns a reluctant, inexperienced murderer. Both films share elements of the surreal, the absurd, and have a stubborn strain of anti-fascist, antiauthoritarian sentiment. It comes highly recommended and is available uncut on DVD

Friday, March 28, 2014


Jess Franco, 1970
Starring: Diana Lorys, Colette Giacobine, Paul Muller

Les cauchemars naissent la nuit aka Nightmares Come At Night is one of three Jess Franco films that Kino and Redemption are releasing on Blu-ray in the wake of Franco’s death earlier this year. Only originally distributed in Belgium, the film was believed to be lost for several decades until a print was discovered in the mid ‘00s. Though there was a Shriek Show DVD released a few years ago, Kino and Redemption have lovingly restored the film and included a number of nice special features that make this a must have for fans of Franco or Eurohorror.

Anna (Diana Lorys), an erotic dancer, fears she is losing her mind. Her manipulative lover, Colette (Colette Giacobine), forces her to stay at their mansion home and insists that her psychiatrist friend, Dr. Lucas (Paul Muller), regularly visit Anna. She has reoccurring nightmares about killing a man and begins to doubt Colette’s affection and intentions. Meanwhile, a man and a woman spy on the house from next door, patiently waiting. 

Nightmares Come At Night is somewhat difficult to review, because while I loved the film, it is an acquired taste and many others will no doubt find it frustrating, boring, and difficult to follow. There is little in the way of conventional plot structure, but I found the film to be a compelling mystery nonetheless. It is almost hypnotic, drawing you towards the somewhat surprising and violent, yet almost anticlimactic conclusion. The atmospheric and visual splendor make the film well worth checking out, particularly if you are a fan of Franco, Jean Rollin, or more obscure Eurohorror. Though this is his lowest budget film, it still looks beautiful and is really only hampered by a series of lengthy shots from the inside of a car. 

Voyeuristic, erotic, slow, and dreamlike, this isn’t one of Franco’s best films, but it is a hidden treasure worth seeing for fans of his less linear, more introspective works. As Tim Lucas mentions in his commentary, it is interesting to think of the film in terms of a progression in Franco’s career. Many themes here are certainly found in other films, such as brain washing and mind control, and Nightmares Come At Night bears much in common with Succubus. Franco also regularly uses characters and side characters who are erotic performers. 

While this film is somewhat similar to the plots of Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark, and Franco’s A Virgin Among the Living Dead, and features a woman on the verge of losing her mind, plagued by nightmares and hallucination, it is far less linear than any of those films. At first I was skeptical about the opening credits, which are essentially a collage of scenes from throughout the film, but it makes a lot more sense the second time around. Franco’s use of dream sequences, moments that could potentially be hallucinations or memories, and some hazy sex scenes greatly contribute to the thin plot, which is not totally revealed to us until the end of the film. 

Nightmares Come At Night benefits from some great performances, particularly star Diana Lorys, who is really given an opportunity to shine, though she had smaller roles in some of Franco’s other films (namely The Bloody Judge) and gave a good performance in one of my favorite Spanish horror films, Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll. She is naked or partially naked for nearly the entire film and is incredibly vulnerable throughout. Paul Muller (I, Vampiri) is also excellent and gives a complex, sensitive performance. The lovely Soledad Miranda makes a welcome appearance. Though she isn’t in the film long, she spends much of the time lounging around bottomless in a room with “Life Is All Shit,” written messily on the wall. These scenes were shot during the filming of Eugenie de Sade, which is why they almost look like they belong to a completely different film. 

Where Franco uses a lot of his normal elements here - voice over narration, mirror images, framing, and reflection - they work together very well for a much more mature, poetic film than some of his flashier horror or erotic efforts. Though there is some violence, much of it is subdued and the use of blood is sparing. Be forewarned that the film is full of almost constant nudity, frequent sex scenes, and a lengthy, if somewhat boring strip tease. 

With a 1.66:1 aspect ration and 1080p AVC print, Nightmares Come at Night looks lovely in certain scenes, but suffers from a lot of filming issues and age damage. There are a number of scenes that are almost black, making key parts of the plot confusing, and many that suffer from extreme grain, particularly the dream sequences. I’m sure it will never look better than this and it would be easy to watch the film and feel a sense of nostalgia at some of the faded colors and age issues. We are lucky to have this film on Blu-ray at all and any fault is due to the existing 35mm print. 

While there are two audio tracks available, a French LPCM Mono track with English subtitles and an English dub, the latter is simply not worth watching. The French mix is just far superior and gives the film a more natural flow. The audio is clear, particularly the infrequent dialogue, though there is some obvious age damage and occasional hissing and crackling, but not to an annoying or distracting level. Bruno Nicolai’s score, though not quite as thrilling as his work on A Virgin Among the Living Dead, still sounds wonderful and benefits the film with some very diverse themes. 

As with all three of the Franco titles Redemption has recently released on Blu-ray, Nightmares Come at Night has a number of excellent special features. First and best among them is the thoughtful and informative commentary from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas. While most people may not want to watch Franco’s films two times in a row, I have been unable to resist doing this to listen to the commentary tracks, which are indispensable. Also included is "Eugenie's Nightmare of a Sex Charade," a twenty minute documentary about the making of the film with a number of valuable interviews, including a vintage one with Franco. "Jess! Where Are You Now?" is the tribute feature included on all three of these releases and "About the Master" is an interesting short piece narrated by Bret Wood about transforming Nightmares Come At Night into HD. 

While Nightmares Come at Night is not for everyone, it is a special film and is one of Franco’s most obscure, dreamlike efforts. If you enjoy films about madness, mind control, dreams, memory, and hallucination, this comes highly recommended. With their Blu-ray releases of this film, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, and The Awful Dr. Orloff, Kino and Redemption have really done Franco (and his fans) a great service and all three of these are must haves for Franco fans and anyone who enjoys more adventurous horror and erotic cinema. 


Jess Franco, 1973
Starring: Howard Vernon, Christina von Blanc, Britt Nichols, Anne Libert

Prolific Spanish director, actor, and writer (and much more) Jess Franco sadly passed away early in 2013. Though his catalogue is largely an acquired taste, he is one of the most important figures of Eurohorror and each of his films, no matter how small the budget, are marked with his indelible personal style. Kino and Redemption are honoring his sizable contributions to genre cinema, including horror, erotica, women in prison films, crime and spy movies, and many more, by releasing a few of his films on Blu-ray. A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) is one of Franco’s better known efforts, combining horror, erotica, lovely ladies, lush visuals and a surreal plot. 

Originally known as The Night the Stars Died (La nuit des étoiles foilantes), Christina, Princess of Eroticism aka A Virgin Among the Living Dead is the loosely plotted tale of a young woman, the titular Christina, who returns to her isolated family estate after the death of her father. She hasn't seem him or any of her family members since childhood and was raised at a boarding school. Locals insist the estate is abandoned, but she finds the house full of her somewhat creepy extended family, led by her Uncle Howard. After her father’s will is read and she is plagued by frequent nightmares, Christina learns her family members are actually dead. She is forced to endure a number of bizarre scenarios, including a sexual assault that ends in a satanic ritual, zombies rising from the earth, and odd conversations with a blind girl who wanders the mansion. Christina witnesses a fair amount of sex, including an erotic scenes involving blood and scissors, and more. 

Despite its low budget, the film benefits from a beautiful Portuguese setting, the lovely house, some unforgettable imagery, and cinematography from Jose Climent. As with some of Franco’s other works, this doesn't follow logic or linear storytelling in a particularly faithful way and the film feels like half fairy-tale, half nightmare, which will please some viewers but frustrate many more. While the pace sometimes moves slowly, the film is packed with odd events that keep things moving towards the melancholic conclusion. There is also a surprising amount of black comedy, including one wonderful scene during a funeral where a bored character paints her toenails.

Christina von Blanc is lovely as the titular Christina, but fails to take the place of Franco’s former leading lady, Soledad Miranda. Though she isn't a particularly compelling actress, she serves the role well and wanders the film looking suitably doe-eyed and anxious. Franco regular Britt Nichols as Christina’s chain-smoking cousin Carmencé and Anne Libert (Diary of a Nymphomaniac) as the Queen of the Night are particularly beautiful, welcome inclusions in the somewhat odd cast. Franco himself plays the creepy Basilio and his regular lead Howard Vernon (The Awful Dr. Orloff) is compelling as Uncle Howard. Ernesto Pablo Reiner (The Devil’s Commandment) is only on screen briefly, but he is memorable as Christina’s dead father. 

In his commentary track for the film, Tim Lucas notes the similarities between the plot of this film and Bava’s magical Lisa and the Devil, a haunting, surreal meditation on death. Like Bava’s late masterpiece, Christina may be disjointed and nonsensical, but it is a deeply personal reflection on death, depression, and grief. Soledad Miranda died a few years before this, in 1970, and she was undoubtedly still on Franco’s mind during the writing and filming of Christina. The suicide of Christina’s father and her longing for family, regardless of how odd and sometimes menacing they are, lingers throughout the film and provides something of a grounding point in the midst of the dreamlike story. It is often difficult to tell what is real and what's happening in Christina's mind, whether we are dealing with fantasy, dreams, nightmares, or, as we later learn is a possibility, Christina’s hallucinations. 

Presented with a 1080p resolution from an MPEG-4 AVX codec and the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, A Virgin Among the Living Dead looks better than it ever has. One of the things I respect so much about the Kino and Redemption Blu-ray releases is that their remastering is all natural and is simply intended to make ‘60s and ‘70s cult films look as good as possible without the flat texture often left behind by digital remastering. As a result, both prints of the film do have some age damage, namely debris and scratches, but once the opening sequence has passed, it is not really noticeable. Franco’s colors look wonderful and balanced and overall the film is incredibly clear. There are moments of muddiness and some blurring during darker scenes, but they are likely due to the cinematography. 

The real treat here is that Kino and Redemption provide both versions of the film. Christina, Princess of Eroticism is essentially Franco’s first complete cut of the film and is the version I prefer. A few years after it came out, during the European zombie craze, extra scenes were shot by French horror-erotica director Jean Rollin and cut in. This version is known as the wonderfully titled, A Virgin Among the Living Dead. There is yet another softcore version, sort of Christina version 1.5, with more scenes of erotic cut in, and some of this extra footage is included in the special features. 

There are two LPCM 2.0 Mono tracks, the original French track, with optional English subtitles, and an English dub. I watched both and while I generally don’t prefer dubbing, the English track isn't that bad. Though there is some slight hissing and a few other age related issues, the film sounds great, certainly better than past releases. Dialogue is clear in both the English and French versions. The real star here is Bruno Nicolai’s impressive and wide ranging score that perfectly matches Franco’s film. As Tim Lucas states in his commentary track, Nicolai and Franco had an excellent working relationship and Nicolai often encouraged Franco (a musician in his own right) to contribute to the score arrangement. There are some jazzy, Goblin-like moments, but overall Nicolai’s score is haunting and ethereal. It also benefits from Ennio Morricone collaborator Edda Dell’Orso’s vocals.  

There are some nice extras, chief among them a great commentary track from Tim Lucas. It not only explains many elements of the production and Franco’s career, but may shed some light on the film itself if you find the limited plot frustrating or confusing. Also included is “Mysterious Dreams,” one of Franco’s final interviews where he discusses A Virgin Among the Living Dead. There is also a five minute compilation of extra softcore erotic footage. “The Three Faces of Christina” discusses the different versions of the film and “Jess! What Are You Doing Now?” is a sad, but heartwarming tribute to Franco where his friends discuss what they think he is doing after death. 

A Virgin Among the Living Dead is certainly acquired taste, but if you enjoy more surreal and introspective horror with an emphasis on eroticism and black humor, it comes highly recommended. Kino and Redemption have really outdone themselves with this release and it is the only way you can currently see the two major versions of the film together and on Blu-ray. This release, along with equally excellent Blu-rays of Franco’s less seen Nightmares Come at Night and his more popular The Awful Dr. Orloff, is a fitting tribute for Franco and I hope to see many more of his titles from Kino and Redemption. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Jess Franco, 1971
Starring: Susann Korda (aka Soledad Miranda), Fred Williams, Paul Muller, Howard Vernon, Ewa Stromberg, Horst Tappert, Jess Franco

She Killed in Ecstasy  is a sort of sister film to another Franco-Miranda production I've already reviewed, Vampyros Lesbos. It has a handful of the same actors and is also a Spanish-West German production. Hueber and Schwab, the musicians who composed the amazing score for Vampyros Lesbos, also scored this film. And like Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy has a meandering, nonsensical narrative structure, but works on the strength of Soledad Miranda's performance, charisma, and visual appeal.

A doctor (the sexy Fred Williams, a Franco regular) is criticized and alienated for his experimental research that involves human fetuses, which leads to his suicide. His wife, very much in love with him and driven a little insane by his death, gets bloody vengeance on the team of doctors who drove him to death. Unsurprisingly, she dons a number of paltry disguises and seduces the men (and one woman), hypnotizing, deceiving, and then killing them. There is some random necrophilia, which is effectively creepy and also sadly sweet. The death scenes are completely implausible, but it doesn't matter within the loosely surreal narrative world of Franco’s film.

As with many of Franco’s films, this is a rehashing of familiar themes and includes elements from his enjoyable Venus in Furs with Klaus Kinski. He reused much of the same crew from Vampyros Lesbos, which explains the similarly robust (and very ‘70s) sense of style. I don’t think this was a direct influence on Franco, but lately I’ve been reading a lot of Cornell Woolrich novels, particularly his “Black” series and its themes of obsessive love and murder. Woolrich has several characters who lose a loved one (the death is usually accidental) and then going a killing spree to get revenge for his/her death. Truffaut adapted the first of these – The Bride Wore Black – and She Killed in Ecstasy has a similar, if campier and more exploitative feel.

There is a sort of je ne sais quoi at work that I am completely unable to explain. This film, along with Vampyros Lesbos, is slow and dream-like and operates on some sort of otherworldly Eurotrash reality. There is an air of genuine sadness that is absent from most "black widow" killer type of films. Soledad Miranda is lovely and charismatic and, fortunately, is in almost every shot. Also fortunately, the film is short, running about 80 minutes, so anyone who doesn’t generally have a whole lot of patience for Eurohorror may want to give this a chance. It comes across more as a series of sexy, murderous vignettes than a particularly coherent narrative film.

In addition to Miranda, who steals the film, as always, there are some nice appearances from other Franco regulars. Paul Muller, the always-enjoyable Howard Vernon, Horst Tappert, and Ewa Stromberg (also in Vampyros Lesbos) do a decent job here, though the dialogue and script is all over the place. Franco himself also makes a cameo here as one of the malicious doctors. 

I'm reviewing the Synapse DVD, which is out of print. The Image DVD 
is basically the same, but remastered, so it has a slightly better print, but nothing mind-blowing. I recommend this film if you like Franco and Soledad Miranda, or if you enjoy Eurotrash. This is a bit faster paced than Vampyros Lesbos, so Franco newbies or sceptics might do alright checking this one out. I think it is one of his most accessible films and one of the most enjoyable female-centered revenge-horror films of the ‘70s. 


Jess Franco, 1971
Starring: Soledad Miranda, Ewa Stromberg, Dennis Price, Jose Martinez Blanco, Andres Monales

Linda (Jess Franco regular Ewa Stromberg) begins to have disturbing dreams about a mysterious woman (Franco’s first muse, Soledad Miranda). She encounters the woman during a strange striptease show in a club and again later when her job as a lawyer takes her out to a Mediterranean island. The beautiful woman is Countess Carody, who holds a dangerous, erotic sway over Linda. It turns out that Carody is the heir of Dracula and has her vampiric, lesbian designs fixed on Linda. Will she drive Linda mad, turn her into a vampire, or sacrifice her own, immortally perfect body and spare Linda out of love?

Vampyros Lesbos is undoubtedly an acquired taste – as are all of director Jess Franco’s films – but those who enjoy slow, dreamy, arty horror films will find a lot to love here, namely the performance of the exquisite Soledad Miranda (Count Dracula, She Killed in Ecstasy). Miranda is certainly one of the sexiest women of ‘70s cinema and was Franco’s muse until her unfortunate, early death as the result of a car accident. Though Ewa Stromberg (She Killed in Ecstasy, The Devil Came from Aksava) is enjoyable, she doesn’t hold a candle to Miranda. There are also average performances from Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets), Franco regular Paul Müller (I Vampiri, Count Dracula), and an uncredited cameo from Franco himself. 

The plot is supposedly based on Bram Stoker’s story "Dracula's Guest," which I’ve read a handful of times. Vampyros Lesbos has about the same connection to "Dracula's Guest" that Dracula, The Dirty Old Man has to Stoker's novel. Franco does take a number of strange liberties with vampire myth, including one scene where Carody sits outside, sunbathing, and doesn’t burst into flame or turn into a pile of ashes. Her ridiculous manservant, Morpho, adds another element of the strange and surreal to the proceedings. There is also a Renfield-like character, a girl named Agra housed in an asylum who looks remarkably similar to Linda. Apparently her obsession with Carody drove her mad.

Like many of Franco’s other films, plot is secondary to style and surrealism. Perhaps frustratingly, there are a lot of random images and shots throughout the film of objects that relate, in no way, to the story as a whole, such as shots of a kite or a boat. If you’ve seen enough Franco films, this isn’t unusual, but it is likely to confuse Franco newbies. Both sleeping and waking dreams have a constant presence in his films and this one is no exception.

Like many of Franco’s films, Vampyros Lesbos is deeply flawed, and yet I enjoyed it despite (or perhaps because of) these issues. A lot of things work against the film, such as the dialogue, but it has a certain surreal charm that soaks through most of Franco's work. Soledad Miranda has an inexplicable sort of charisma where she can say nothing, do little, and as long as she's on screen you can’t help but watch her. This film defies logic. I really enjoyed it, but I have no idea why. I’ve read plenty of reviews where the critic passionately hated it, but, again, Franco’s work has always been an acquired taste. 

This West German-Spanish coproduction with a Turkish setting is very stylish and is a delightful reminder of jazzy, ‘70s flavor. The Turkish sets are lovely and there’s some excellent cinematography. The dubbing is absolutely appalling, but that shouldn’t surprise fans of Eurohorror, where the productions are generally made up of actors from all over Europe speaking dozens of languages on set. 

Vampyros Lesbos comes highly recommended to fans of other Eurohorror fans. If you’re new to the subgenre, chance are you will either love it or fall asleep. I do, however, highly recommend the amazing psychedelic jazz score by Manfred Huebler and Siegfried Schwab, released on CD as Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party

There is no definitive print of this film. I'm reviewing the out of print German-language Synapse region 1 release, though from what I understand the Image region 1, which is currently in print, is the same, dubbed in English instead of German. This isn't really the type of film where it matters what print you get, just beware of a version called Las Vampiras, which is the cut version. And no one in their right mind wants to watch a Jess Franco movie with less nudity. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Amando de Ossorio, 1975
Starring: Víctor Petit, María Kosti, Sandra Mozarowsky, Julia Saly

A doctor and his wife move to an isolated coastal town, where he is to begin a medical practice. They are at worst rudely shunned by the villagers and at best ignored by them for reasons they can’t quite discover. One night they hear what seems to be a party on the beach and soon learn that every seven years, undead, evil Knights Templar rise from the sea and the town must sacrifice a virginal woman for seven knights in a row. Along with Teddy, the village idiot, the doctor saves a young woman, not realizing he has just doomed them all.

Also known as Don't Go Out at Night is the fourth and final film in the Blind Dead series written and directed by Amando de Ossorio. As with the third film, The Ghost Galleon, Ossorio’s script for Night of the Seagulls is more inspired than the second entry in the series, Return of the Blind Dead. Where Ghost Galleon borrowed loosely from legends about ghost ships, Night of the Seagulls has a mythic feel to it. The plot centers around the sacrifice of a virgin every seven years, tied to the rocks like Andromeda and the sea monster. I absolutely love this element of the script and while I felt the film could have gone a lot further – much like Ghost Galleon it is pretty tame in terms of nudity and violence – it is still a successful effort in the Blind Dead series. 

Though there are some great locations in the first film, I think this might have the most impressive set over all. It’s hard to top a castle on a cliff overlooking the sea or a crumbling old coastal village. The atmosphere is consistently dark and gloomy, though there aren’t quite as many scares as in the first films. The scenes of black-clad women leading a procession down the beach to chain a virginal girl in all white to the rocks is very effective. One of the best moments of violence involves the Templars ripping the heart out of a woman’s chest and offering to some unmentioned deity, perhaps Satan (or Cthulhu or a Greek sea monster).

Where the other films had slightly different variations on why the Templars were cursed to become the undead, this film refreshingly doesn’t bother with an explanation, because chances are, if you’ve seen Night of the Seagulls, you’ve seen the others first. And, if you’ve seen the other films, you’ll know not to expect a lot from the acting or the often laughable dialogue.

The doctor is a sadly dull and unlikable protagonist, though actor Victor Petit does his best with the role. His lovely wife (Maria Kosty) wants to leave, but he refuses, presumably out of sheer stubbornness. The wife’s character is barely sketched out, while the townsfolk (including Teddy, the mentally-impaired man) are all either stereotypes or basic, two-dimensional outlines of characters. There are at least some welcome faces from genre regulars Maria Kosty (Night of the Sorcerers), Julia Saly (Night of the Werewolf), and the young Sandra Mozarowsky (School of Death).

Eurohorror fans will definitely want to check out Night of the Seagull, particularly anyone who enjoys the dreamy, vague, and atmospheric works of Jean Rollin. While it isn’t quite as lovely as some of his seaside films, there’s a lot to enjoy. It’s available in the wonderful Blind Dead box set, which includes all four films, special features, and is packaged in a coffin. 


Amando de Ossorio, 1974
Starring Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Barbara Rey

Two models are told to pretend to be stranded for a publicity stunt, but they stumble across a strange, old galleon covered in fog and mist. When they board the ship, they lose contact with their boss, who decides to go searching for them. He brings along one of their suspicious friends to make sure she doesn’t run to the police, and a strange professor who claims to know of a ghost ship that slips in and out of different dimensions. To their horror, the models discover that the galleon is home to a number of undead, eyeless, Satan-worshipping Knights Templar who feast upon humans and are hoping to spread their plague across the Earth.

Also known as Horror of the Zombies, this is writer and director Amando de Ossorio’s third film in the Blind Dead series. This seems to be the least favorite for many Blind Dead fans and film critics, but I can’t help and enjoy it. First and foremost, I love nautical and aquatic horror. Growing up, Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was one of my favorite horror tales and I devoured books about The Flying Dutchman and The Mary Celeste, as well as the Bermuda Triangle. So I can’t help but enjoy this film about horror on the high seas, a clear inspiration for John Carpenter’s superior film The Fog.

The film is often unintentionally funny due to the silly dialogue and nonsensical editing, some unfortunate close ups of the Templars, and a few of the dumbest characters ever captured on screen. None of the characters are likable or particularly well fleshed out and the movie’s star, Jack Taylor (a Paul Naschy and Jess Franco regular) is as astoundingly wooden as ever, though also oddly charismatic. Professor Grüber (Carlos Lemos) is possibly the most outrageous character in the film. He’s the first to guess who and what the Templars are, the first to automatically assume that they are all in another dimension, and offers up his expert exorcism skills to save the day (?).

The Templars appear relatively little in the game and don’t do much. The death scenes aren’t nearly as gory or creative as in the first two films. Regardless, they look great, as decrepit and rotting as ever. There is a strange plot point where the Templars don’t really attack until the characters fall asleep. On one hand, this could be read as an incredibly flimsy plot point; on the other hand, it gives the film a nightmarish feel – perhaps the characters are trapped in a horrible dream, rather than another dimension.

As with Tombs of the Blind Dead, this focuses less on nudity or gore and relies more heavily on a gothic, almost Universal horror-like atmosphere, of which there is plenty. The fog machine is seemingly never turned off and the ship is full of menacing creaks and groans, bolstered by the excellent, if recycled soundtrack from Anton Garcia Gabril. Mainly confined to the ship for much of the running time, the set is fittingly claustrophobic, though it’s a shame the pace drags along so slowly for many scenes. The production quality is also embarrassingly cheap and numerous models were used as a stand-in for the haunted ship.

Despite the lack of overt eroticism, some exploitation is still at play here with the female character trotting around in bikinis for much of the running time and the unfortunate, though now expected rape scene. Horrifyingly, the rapist offers his victim a cigarette after the fact, as if they have just enjoyed consensual sex together. While the first two films had a rape scene and an attempted rape scene respectively, here it basically makes no narrative sense.

I think this was Ossorio’s attempt to return to something original, as he did with Tombs of the Blind Dead. Return of the Blind Dead was almost a clone of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, so it’s nice to see him do something different here. This is certainly one of the only ‘70s horror films to be set at sea and though I think he could have taken the idea a lot further, it’s still a worthwhile effort.

The film comes recommended, though you’re either going to love or hate it. It’s available in the wonderful Blind Dead box set, which includes all four films, special features, and is packaged in a coffin. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Amando de Ossorio, 1973
Starring: Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanzo Roy

Diverging from the origin story of Tombs of the Blind Dead, this sequel opens with a flashback to the malevolent Knights Templar. The villagers of Bouzano (called Berzano in the first film) have rounded up the Knights, sentenced them with witchcraft, and burn them to death. When they promise revenge, the villagers burn their eyes out before executing them.

500 years later, Bouzano is preparing for a festival day to commemorate vanquishing the satanic Knights. The mayor, Duncan, has prepared a huge gala and hired a former soldier, Jack Marlowe, to organize a fireworks display. Jack also happens to have a past with Vivian, the mayor’s secretary and fiancée. During the festivities, the Templars awaken and begin killing townsfolk. Though the mayor is reluctant to believe it at first, Jack and Vivian flee, gathering other survivors just in time for the party to turn into a bloodbath. They hole up in a church, looking for a way to escape or hold the Templars back long enough to survive the night.

Also known as Return of the Evil Dead, Tombs of the Blind Dead creator Amando de Ossorio returned to write, direct, and design the look of the undead Knights Templar. His musical collaborator from the first film, Anton Garcia Gabril, returned to write the score. It does not directly follow the events at the end of Tombs of the Blind dead, though disjointed sequels seems to be a somewhat common theme in Spanish horror. Paul Naschy regularly used this tactic on his El Hombre Lobo series; while the films are linked by a common central character (Naschy’s werewolf) and shared world, the side characters and origin stories are often different. This might be baffling to genre newbies, but it’s easy to get past as the stories are very similar.

Though the first sequel is surprisingly entertaining, its biggest flaw is that it’s far less original than the first film. The plot – ultimately about strangers locked in a building, trying to avoid being eaten by the undead – is clearly taken from Night of the Living Dead. The Templars are reduced to little more than zombies and there are a few frustrating scenes where people quietly sneak right past them. This sort of backpedaling is frustrating, but fans of Tombs of the Blind Dead will still find a lot to enjoy.

Though the acting is often unintentionally hilarious, there are some welcome appearances from genre regulars, including Tony Kendall (The Whip and the Body) as the ass-kicking, name-taking Captain Jack Marlowe, Fernando Sancho (The Devil’s Cross) as the pathetic mayor,
Frank Braña (Pieces), Loreta Tovar (Inquisition), and Jose Thelman and Lone Fleming both returned from Tombs of the Blind Dead, albeit in different roles. The characters here are fairly ridiculous, but are far more fleshed out in the first film.

Return of the Blind Dead has a relatively high exploitation quotient and there are more sex scenes (as well as romantic intrigue) than the first film. There is also an attempted rape scene here that is fortunately not consummated, unlike the first film. The carnage is kicked up a notch here thanks to the increased cast and Ossorio shows us decapitations, hearts ripped out, limbs removed, etc.

There’s a nod to the first film and its conclusion where a mother is killed by the Templars in front of her child. Here is a child is used as a decoy by the mayor, so that he can try to escape the church. Unsatisfyingly, no harm comes to the girl, though there are a few tense moments. Ossorio seems to have lost his nerve a little. The film’s pacing is a bit better than the first film, particularly because the events span a single day, rather than the meandering couple of days in the first entry.

Return of the Blind Dead is available in the excellent series box set and contains both versions – the complete Spanish print and cut English-language version know as Return of the Evil Dead. It comes recommended for fans of Tombs of the Blind Dead, ‘70s zombie films, and Eurohorror. Fulci fans might want to check it out too, as something about the eerie conclusion reminded me a bit of The Beyond

Monday, March 24, 2014


Amando de Ossorio, 1971
Starring: Lone Fleming, César Burner, Maria Elena Arpon

College friends Betty and Virginia meet up at the local pool and reunite. Virgina’s friend Roger invites Betty along on a recently planned trip through the country. Though she agrees, it turns out that Virginia hasn’t quite forgotten about the affair she and Betty had in school. She becomes resentful of the flirting between Betty and Roger and hops off the train, determined to go camping in the scenic countryside alone. It seems the ruins she chose to camp in holds the graves of undead Knights Templar, executed hundreds of years ago because of Satan-worshipping, blood drinking, and sacrificing young women.

The knights rise from their tombs and feast upon Virginia before spreading throughout the countryside. Roger and Betty search for her, eventually discovering her mangled body at the morgue. She rises, undead, and kills a morgue worker. She also tracks a young girl to the factory where Betty creates mannequins and attempts to kill her. Meanwhile, Betty and Roger meet with a medieval history professor at the library. He explains the legend of the knights to them and seems bizarrely excited when he learns that the dreaded knights have arisen. The flesh-eating knights are heading towards the city and it doesn’t look like Betty and Roger will be able to stop them…

Also known as Crypt of the Blind Dead, Night of the Blind Dead, or The Blind Dead, director Amando de Ossorio’s first film in a four-part Blind Dead series is one of the best known films in all of Spanish horror. Ossorio mined history for his script and used general information about the Knights Templar as the basis of his script. The Templars were an aristocratic, 200-year-old organization declared heretics by the king after a series of political issues, and then tortured and burned alive. Ossorio envisioned them as blood-drinking Satanists obsessed with eternal life. Because their eyes were pecked out by birds after their execution, the knights are blind. Ossorio also never really reveals why the Knights are revived from their graves. This detail never really bothered me, because I always assumed Betty’s sudden arrival in the abandoned monastery roused them from their slumber. Another unexplained detail is why the Knights are able to ride horses. Are the horses undead? Where did they come from? Where they executed too? I’ve always thought this was such a cool detail that I ignored some of its more ridiculous aspects.

The Knights are only zombies in a loose sense, though their bites do turn their victims into the flesh-craving undead. While Ossorio’s plot is pretty basic, the creation of the Knights as his main villains was an inspired decision. They remain among the most creative monsters in ‘70s horror. Though they are often referred to as Knights Templar, they are never actually called that within the film, but are referred to as “Knights from the East.” Their makeup from Luis Campos looks wonderful. The bony, desiccated Knights are shrouded in moldy robes and their skeleton hands reach eagerly towards their prey. The Knights’ blindness was an interesting touch and required some effective moments of silence throughout the film.

Genre regulars Cesar Burner (Green Inferno), Lone Fleming (The Possessed), Joseph Thelman (Night of the Sorcerers), and Maria Silva (The Awful Dr. Orlof) all give decent performances, but the atmosphere and set are the real stars of Tombs of the Blind Dead. The decaying, isolated monastery, heavy with fog during the nighttime shots, is absolutely beautiful. During this period Spanish horror directors in general were far ahead of, say, Hammer horror. In the latter films, it is often difficult to discern between daytime and nighttime shots, but in Tombs of the Blind Dead that is never an issue. Ossorio maintains some creative set pieces away from the old monastery; for example, there’s also a wonderful scene in a mannequin factory, where one of the characters is stalked and attacked by the undead Victoria.

As with much Eurohorror from this period, Tombs of the Blind Dead relies on atmosphere, rather than gore. With that said, there is a fair amount of the red stuff, it’s just not gratuitous. Much of the violence – particularly the incredible ending – is implied, but I think this makes it far more effective. There is certainly and exploitation flavor with some scenes of nudity and sexual content – a lesbian love scene, semi-nude women being tortured by the Knights in flashback, a woman being eaten in front of her child, and… a rape. For whatever reason, there is a rape scene in every single of one these Blind Dead films and in a few other Spanish horror entries from the period. I’m guessing this has to do with the censorship issues in Spain, which lasted until 1975 and the death of director Francisco Franco. If you dislike watching rape scenes, these aren’t too graphic and are over fairly quickly. Since he kept returning to the theme, I’m still a little surprised de Ossorio didn’t make a fifth film in the series, Rape of the Blind Dead.

Of course, a professor of Medieval Studies is consulted and related the tale of the unholy Knights Templar. Ossorio does a decent job with the exposition here and the scene moves along at a decent pace thanks to some mid-story flashbacks showing the living Templars at work. The pacing does slow down, particular during the middle of the film. I’ve heard some complaints about this, which I find a little frustrating. Anyone who needs quick editing and action-packed pacing should avoid European horror (and probably European cinema) all together. And you should also grow up and learn to refine your tastes a little.

This has one of my favorite endings in all of ‘70s horror and should be seen at least once to appreciate the delightful nihilism of the final scene. The undead Knights fill a crowded, moving train and being an orgy of feeding and violence against its inhabitants. One of my other favorite things about this film is the incredible soundtrack from Antón García Abril, who also occasionally worked with Spanish horror writer/director/star Paul Naschy. It includes eerie piano sounds, groaning, chanting, and other horrific wonder. For my money, it has one of the best main themes in all of ‘70s horror.

On an interesting, final note, when Tombs of the Blind Dead was first released in the U.S., distributors changed the title and tacked on a new prologue to loosely connect it to the Planet of the Apes films. Of all the baffling distribution stories about European horror films being shown in America, I think this really takes the cake.

Tombs of the Blind Dead comes very highly recommended and is available as part of a great DVD set that comes in a coffin-shaped box. It comes with all the films in the series: Return of the Blind Dead (1973), The Ghost Galleon (1974), and Night of the Seagulls (1975). If this series isn’t enough for you, Jess Franco also made a somewhat similar film, Mansion of the Living Dead. If you are going to watch only one film in the Spanish horror canon, it should probably be Tombs of the Blind Dead. Traditional zombie fans won’t be disappointed. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Paul Naschy, 1976
Starring: Paul Naschy, Daniela Giordano, Mónica Randall

Bernard de Fossey, a witch hunter, arrives at a plague-ridden town in the countryside with some colleagues. He quickly falls for a nobleman’s daughter, Catherine. Meanwhile, he is off busily accusing, imprisoning, torturing, and executing suspected witches. When Catherine’s fiancé is killed, she believes the inquisitors are responsible and makes a pact with Satan to get the ultimate revenge on de Fossey and his friends. She uses their developing romantic relationship to manipulate and damn him, learning too late that things may not be as they seemed… 

Spanish horror maestro Paul Naschy wrote, directed, and starred in Inquisition — it was actually his directorial debut. Seeing as Naschy made so many different types of horror films — he starred as Dracula, the Wolfman, a mummy, a Gilles de Rais-type medieval Satanist and murderer, a hunchback, voodoo master, and more — that it was only inevitable that he eventually tackled the witch hunting subgenre that rose to popular in the mid-‘60s with films like Witchfinder General, Mark of the Devil, Cry of the Banshee, and more. 

This is a surprisingly good entry in the Naschy canon. While I typically recommend his films only to Eurohorror fans, anyone who enjoys witch hunting movies should check it out. For this script, Naschy actually did quite a bit of research and based his story on a real tale from medieval France. A magistrate/inquisitor fell in love with a woman suspected of witchcraft. They were found out and burned at the stake. As with Vengeance of the zombies, there are few dialogue heavy scenes where the characters explain witchcraft and satanism in detail. I can’t decide if these are interesting or simply too much, but if you’re a newbie to the witch hunting sub-genre or have never read anything about the medieval witch hunts, you may find it fascinating. 

Though the atmosphere isn’t quite as effective as some of his other films, there are still some interesting sequence, including one where Catherine picks up a skull that is actually covered in maggots. As with Vengeance of the Zombies, there are hellish dream sequences depicting Satan; in one particularly nice moment, he drinks blood from a human skull. Naschy, of course could not miss out on the chance to appear in a second role as the Prince of Lies. 

While it may not have the force of atmosphere of some of his other film, it does manage to capture a realism not usually found throughout his work. Inquisition also doesn’t shy away from depicting the poverty and general misery of medieval life, particularly during a plague epidemic. There is a fair amount of nudity and toplessness in this film, but several shots of topless female plague victims is somewhat disturbing. There are also plenty of effective torture scenes and based on these, I think this has probably the best use of effects out of any Naschy film. There’s also a lot of nudity. Though much of it is mixed with violence (the torture scenes), there’s a more tranquil shot where four naked women are splashing out in a lake. 

As with Cry of the Banshees, this is a rare witch hunting film from the period that depicts actual witches. In Inquisition, they are depicted as primarily benevolent until the wholesale torture and suspecting witch killing drives them to further action, which includes making pacts with Satan. Satan does actually deliver vengeance for Catherine, but in the end he is disappointingly unable to vanquish the powers of God. 

While it steals some plot elements from other witch hunting films, such as the doomed central romance from Witchfinder General, Naschy’s de Fossey is sympathetic. His love for Catherine humanizes him, though there can’t be a Naschy film without at least one female character falling in love with him. 

There are some decent appears from genre actors, including Mónica Randall (The Witches’ Mountain), Ricardo Merino (Trauma), Tony Isbert (Rest in Pieces), and Eduardo Calvo (House of Psychotic Women). Naschy regular Julia Saly (Night of the Werewolf) is particularly lovely and leading lady Daniela Giordano (Gently Before She Dies) has decent chemistry with Naschy during their scenes together. 

This is one of Naschy’s most violent films and is relatively on par with the infamous Mark of the Devil, though Naschy’s effects are cheaper. There is a nice scene of nipple removal and some other mayhem. Between Lucio Fulci, Burial Ground, Inquisition, and others, the ‘70s were a rather unpleasant time for nipples in Italy and Spain. It comes recommended for all fans of witch hunting movies and Eurohorror in general. There is no English-dubbed or subtitled DVD available, though you can find Inquisition online. 

Friday, March 21, 2014


Carlos Aured, 1973
Starring: Paul Naschy, Jack Taylor, Maria Silva, Helga Line

In ancient Egypt, the bloodthirsty Pharaoh Amenhotep is killed by the High Priest of Amen-Ra, because he and his consort Armana have been torturing and sacrificing young women. His crimes also include drinking the blood of virgins and eating the flesh of his citizens. Amenhotep is cursed to never enter the afterlife and doomed to become a mummy. Many years in the future, archaeologists dig up his tomb and accompanying scrolls and take them back to the British Museum in London.

He is followed by Egyptian professor Assad Bey, who claims he is interested to learn more about Amenhotep’s legend. Really Bey and his female colleague Zenifer are descendants of Amenhotep and Armana, there to resurrect the mummy and his lady love. To do this, they must pick up where Amenhotep left off and sacrifice 42 virgins, then mix their blood with the sacred leaves that will reawaken Amenhotep. They must also find a young girl’s body to use for Armana’s reincarnation. An archaeologist from the museum and his girlfriend eventually clue in to Bey’s activities and set out to stop the mummy.

Mummy films aren’t the most popular sub-genre in horror and Karl Freund’s original The Mummy has been remade or adapted fewer times than most of the other entries in the Universal monster canon. Likely this is due to the fact that the monster is slow and shuffling, and the plot is little more than a reworking of Dracula. But Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy – who had made his career as the Wolfman and also starred as Dracula, a Hunchback, Gilles de Rais, and a voodoo master, among others – decided to give The Mummy his own turn and he appears here and writer and star.

As with some of his other films, namely Horror Rises from the Tomb and Vengeance of the Zombies, Naschy plays multiple roles with aplomb. Though Boris Karloff also did this in The Mummy, it’s refreshing that Naschy provides a totally new take on the character. Rather than a doddering, if malevolent occult dabbler with a broken heart, his ancient mummy is sadistic, bloody thirsty, and only bent on reincarnating his mistress because her penchant for cruelty matches his own.

Naschy and co-star Helga Line had already starred together as the murderous, Satan worshipping couple in Horror Rises from the Tomb. Here they somewhat repeat those performances, as the two plot are very similar, but The Mummy’s Revenge feels fresh enough thanks to the Egyptian themes. Naschy’s take on the mummy is also entirely his own. On one hand, Amenhotep looks more like a burn victim than a thousand-plus year old mummy. On the other hand, his mummy is extremely violent and athletic, chasing down young virgins and smashing skulls with ease. As with Hunchback of the Morgue, Naschy’s character spends the second half of the film going on a full-tilt rampage and killing anyone with an intact hymen he can get his hands on – and a few others for good measure.

There’s a lovely scene where the police chase him through Hyde Park. With its fog-shrouded shadows and Universal horror-like imagery, it’s somewhat reminiscent of the later scenes from Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman. The numerous museum set pieces are also impressive and take advantage of such things as a room filled with suits of armor, dark corners, and massive pillars. This was his final film with director Carlos Aured and while I think Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll is their best film together, this is more entertaining than it has any right to be. They make good use of the supposedly Victorian London set (a common feature on several Naschy films), beautiful women, and loads of atmosphere. The Egyptian costumes are pretty kitschy, but in an amusing way, and Helga Line looks wonderful in them.

Why is Jack Taylor (the archaeologist) wearing so much eyeliner? He is equally flat and surprised looking as he was in Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf, but the script here gives him more improbable action, such as beating the crap out of Naschy, and ridiculous dialogue. His costar, Maria Silva (Curse of the Devil), is lovely, but gives a performance that is equally wide-eyed and campy.

There is a PAL DVD of The Mummy’s Revenge, but nothing NTSC or region 1 as far as I’m aware. You can find the film online, though it really only comes recommended to Paul Naschy lovers or mummy completists. Though if you’ve always wanted to see a mummy go buck wild, now’s your chance.


León Klimovsky, 1973
Starring: Paul Naschy, Romy, Mirta Miller, Maria Kosty

After women are killed around England, they are raised from the dead by a mysterious masked man. He uses them as murder weapons, to get vengeance on miscellaneous men for some unknown offence. Meanwhile, an Indian guru, Krisna, and his girlfriend travel from London to an isolated estate with one of their followers, a troubled young woman named Elvira. While Krisna is attempting to help the smitten Elvira, Scotland Yard is investigating the string of zombie-murders. The detectives, with the help of an occult expert, figure out that the murders are somehow based around Krisna’s estate.

Bizarre and delightful, Vengeance of the Zombies doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it really is a lot of fun. Fans of Eurohorror will definitely want to seek this out, though anyone who expects a rational plot is probably going to be confused or disappointed. Star and writer Paul Naschy is great in three roles here – as the guru Krisna, a pretty racist and kind of creepy Indian stereotype, as an incredible looking Satan, and as Krisna’s evil, deformed brother Kantaka. Though it isn’t clear until closer to the end of the film, he is responsible for the wholesale slaughter. Kantaka wears a mask for much of his screentime, so his burn scars (and resemblance to Krisna) aren’t evident till late in the game. He is certainly one of the more entertaining characters and nearly every single one of his scenes involves murder, black masses, voodoo rituals, and other kinds of insanity.

If, like me, you absolutely love voodoo-themed zombie films, then Vengeance of the Zombies is for you. Make no mistake, it is wildly entertaining, though in a so-bad-it’s-good and unintentionally hilarious way. There’s some truly incredible dialogue, rivaling some of the better lines from A Dragonfly for Each Corpse. One of the zombies kills someone with a soda can and there’s some other unexpected gore. Scotland Yard is amusingly accepting of the zombies’ existence and they are essentially only in the film to intercede in the sadly lame and predictable ending.

Along with Live and Let Die and Sugar Hill, voodoo deity Baron Samedi is a presence. The script is a bit confused about what tradition it’s following and blends Satanism, Kali worship, and voodoo together. Allegedly, after seeing the film, some people were so convinced that they reached out to Naschy and asked him to be their cult leader. I have a little trouble believing that, but the scenes of Satan worship do look pretty wonderful.

There’s some great atmosphere here. The black-clad female zombies were clearly designed with cheap effects, but their movements are surprisingly effective. As with the female vampires in Naschy’s Werewolf Vs the Vampire Woman and Count Dracula’s Great Love, the zombies move in slow motion, often through fog and shadows, giving their scenes a feeling of eeriness. The dream sequences are also quite incredible, featuring Naschy as a grinning, oppressive Satan with some great make-up, demons, a woman painted gold and stirring a cauldron, and more strangeness.

There are some nice scenes surrounding the supposedly cursed “Devil House,” which is where Elvira has her nightmares. For the most part, they are unexplained, but I assume that they came from the house, much like the excellent British film Curse of the Crimson Altar from just a few years prior in 1968. Vengeance of the Zombies shares enough plot elements with that film that Naschy must have seen it and been inspired by it. On a similar note, Naschy’s obsession with Universal horror made me think of the underrated Bela Lugosi-vehicle Night Monster (1942), which also involves a swami and some mysterious occult horror that takes place in a manor house in the isolated countryside.

Naschy regulars Mirta Miller (Count Dracula’s Great Love), Aurora de Alba (The Mark of the Wolfman), and Antonio Pica (Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll) all put in decent performances, and Romy (The Killer with a Thousand Eyes) is nice to look at. Her character, Elvira (the name of Naschy’s wife and several of his female characters over the years), honestly seems pretty useless throughout the film. Though the action often comes to her – as well as some pretty incredible nightmares – she doesn’t do a whole lot other than look pretty or distressed.

Vengeance of the Zombies is far from perfect. Naschy’s script, as always, is completely incoherent and there are some dull parts, primarily when the detectives sit around Scotland Yard discussing the case. The soundtrack from Juan Carlos Calderon is absolutely insane. Whether Naschy intended to take this film seriously or not, the soundtrack completely prevents that with some funky, jazz-fueled interludes delivered at exactly the wrong times – or the right times, if you’re looking for a laugh.

Somewhat surprisingly, considering its obscurity, Vengeance of the Zombies is available on both DVD and Blu-ray; the Blu-ray is a double feature with Night of the Werewolf. It comes highly recommended to fans of Naschy, Spanish and Eurohorror, and anyone who likes nonsensical genre films. Parts of this film must be seen to be believed.