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Preview: Breakfast In The Ruins

Breakfast In The Ruins



Far Out isn't Far Enough.



Updated: 2018-04-15T11:11:58.066+01:00

 



Pre-War Thrills:
Doctor X
(Michael Curtiz, 1932)

2018-04-14T09:44:18.406+01:00

“It’s peculiar that the left deltoid muscle should be missing. […] Gentlemen, it wasn’t torn out - this is cannibalism!” Well, that sure put the cat among the pigeons. The speaker is Dr Jerry Xavier (Lionel Atwill), and he has has just thrown back the sheet covering a murder victim in old New York’s delightfully shabby Mott Street Morgue. We’re less than five minutes into ‘Doctor X’, Warner Bros’ first stab at a full-blooded horror movie, and one of the first out of the gates from any of the major studios following Universal’s runaway success with ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ in 1931. (1)Quite why the doctor is so confident of his assertion that cannibalism has taken place is never really made clear (I mean, were there teeth marks or something..?), but regardless - this is certainly a hair-raising way to begin a movie in 1932. Could it be an indication that the hard-boiled, straight-talking approach that had recently proved so successful in Warners’ game-changing gangster pictures was about to cross over into their nascent horror efforts..? Well, kind of, but we’ll get onto that later.For now though - apparently the cops who have called Dr. Xavier out in the dead of night to examine the body are equally as suspicious of his diagnosis as we are. When Atwill says his good nights and turns to leave (“I have a very important experiment in progress, which demands my attention..”), they spring a bit of a surprise on him, blocking the doorway and informing him that they are aware of a few other matters that demand an equal claim to his attentions.You see, the stiff on the slab is the sixth victim of a fiend the press have dubbed “The Moon Killer” as a result of his penchant for committing his crimes by the light of the full moon. And, the police have determined that all six murders were committed with the aid of a specific kind of European scalpel – an implement so high-end that the only place in the USA known to have imported any is, uh, Doctor Xavier’s medical academy - an institution which furthermore happens to be a mere stone’s throw from the locale in which all of the bodies have been discovered.“Well… shit,” the doctor may have thrown in for a cheap laugh at this point had ‘Doctor X’ been made half a century later, but as it is, Atwill maintains his cool, and Dr. X instead denies all knowledge of the crimes, demonstrating his desire to cooperate by inviting the two detectives back for a late night tour of his laboratory complex.What follows is a delightful sequence that is probably my favourite part of ‘Doctor X’, as the detectives are introduced one by one to Dr Xavier’s “research associates”, each of whom has them exchanging glances that say “ok, we’ve found our man”, only for them to then be ushered into the next room to meet somebody EVEN MORE eminently suspicious.It’s as if, in the wake of ‘Frankenstein’, Warner Bros were telling their audience, “So you like mad scientists, huh? Well boy have we ever got some mad scientists for you!” Frankly, I’m surprised The National Academy of Sciences didn’t attempt to sue the studio for bringing their members into disrepute.Professor Wells (Preston Foster, looking somewhat like Dean Stockwell in The Dunwich Horror) is “a student of cannibalism” (ya don’t say), who can barely hold back his cackles as he ogles the jar of crimson fluid in which he keeps a human heart he claims he has kept alive for three years using electrolysis. (He also has a pair of mud-caked boots drying on the radiator in his lab, and claims he was out on the waterfront “for a breath of fresh air” at around the time the latest murder was committed – but, wait, he’s also missing a hand, which would seem to rule him out, given the murderer’s penchant for strangulation – OR WOULD IT?)Professor Haynes (John Wray) meanwhile was shipwrecked off Tahiti several years past, and when he and a companion were rescued after an arduous time adrift, the third occupant of their lifeboat had mysteriously vanished, if you [...]



About that name by the way...

2018-04-12T11:12:00.982+01:00

...I'm going to change it to "Pre War Thrills". No particular reason - just sounds cooler and broadens the scope a bit. Hope nobody minds.



Pre-War Thrills:
The Unknown
(Todd Browning, 1927)

2018-04-12T11:09:08.315+01:00

A title card at the very start of Tod Browning’s ‘The Unknown’ informs us that, “this is a story they tell in Madrid… it’s a story they say is true”. I have no idea whether or not the genesis of ‘The Unknown’ actually lay in such folkloric roots (somehow I doubt it), but it wouldn’t seem an unreasonable assumption, given that, over ninety years later, the story Browning and Waldemar Young concocted here remains one of the most extraordinary tales ever put on screen. (1)This is the kind of perfectly formed yarn – rich in unfeasibly circular dramatic ironies and almost unbearably bleak melodrama - that one could easily imagine enthralling audiences in pretty much any era or context, whether presented through the lips of some soused storyteller in a disreputable Castilian bar, dramatised for the Elizabethan stage… or indeed adapted into a motion picture.Even if you’ve never seen ‘The Unknown’, if you’ve been reading around the subject of old movies or horror films for a few years, you probably will have encountered some writer or other gleefully summarising the film’s storyline, and thought to yourself, “wow, that sounds like one crazy movie, I should definitely track it down”, or words to that effect. Indeed, such is the ingenuity of ‘The Unknown’s scenario that it is practically impossible to write about the film without immediately lapsing into ‘plot synopsis’ mode. Whilst I normally try to avoid this in my reviews, hearing the story of this one recounted never fails to make me happy, so in this case I’m more than happy to follow suit. (Perhaps I should have added “some chancer writing about movies on the internet” to my list above?) So, settle in folks - it’s story time. (If you’d rather not have the plot details of a near century old movie spoiled for you, please skip to the end of the italics below.)Alonzo (Lon Chaney Sr.) is an armless gypsy knife thrower employed by Zanzi’s Travelling Circus. As part of his act – memorably portrayed in the film’s opening scene – Alonzo uses his feet to hurl knives and fire bullets at the circus owner’s beautiful daughter Nanon (a twenty-one year old Joan Crawford). As is traditional, Nanon is tied to a wooden wheel for this performance, and Alonzo lets his projectiles pass so close to her body that that her dress is cut off, leaving her exposed in a delightful flapper-era bathing costume.As it transpires, Alonzo is desperately in love with Nanon, making his feelings so plain that her father, Zanzi, is inspired to viciously beat him, insisting that he does not wish to see his daughter subject to the amorous intentions of a ‘freak’.Nanon herself however sees things a little differently. Opening her heart to Alonzo, she confesses that, “..all my life men have tried to put their beastly hands on me... to paw over me. I have grown so that I shrink with fear when any man even touches me.” As a result of this implied abuse in early life, Nanon has developed a pathological fear of men’s arms, and as such feels herself condemned to a life of loneliness. When Malabar (Norman Kerry), the circus’s lovably hapless strongman, tries to woo her (encouraged by Alonzo’s duplicitous, faux-brotherly advice), she flees from his muscular embrace as if he were a grotesque monster, subsequently weeping for her inability to accept his love.“You are the only man I can come to without fear,” Nanon tells Alonzo, and, armed with this knowledge, you’d think our hero’s chances for romance would be looking pretty good… but unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as that. You see, Alonzo does actually still have his arms, and furthermore, they’re still attached to him too. He keeps them hidden, tied across his torso in a constrictive leather corset - a deception he has devised in order to distract attention from his former (or perhaps continuing?) life as a thief, gangster and (so it is implied) a serial strangler. (2)Alonzo’s only genuine physical deformity in fact i[...]



Pre-War Horror:
Series Introduction.

2018-04-12T11:11:38.625+01:00

Update 12/4/18: New name decided upon.I’ll admit, I’ve been at a loss when it comes to trying to find a good name for the new review strand I’m currently itching to instigate.‘Pre-Code Horror’ was my initial concept, and it certainly matches what I’m going for in spirit, but unfortunately it’s also a bit of a misnomer given that I intend to include some films that sit both before and after the generally agreed upon boundaries of Hollywood’s ‘pre-code’ era (which is usually assumed to begin shortly after the widespread introduction of sounds in 1928-29, and to end with an audible screech of the brakes on July 1st 1935, when the Production Code Administration (PCA) was first established to enforce the Hays Code initially proposed (but largely ignored) in 1930).In practice, it seems to me that the Hollywood studios produced a number of proto-horror films in the late silent era that are easily lurid and outrageous enough to earn ‘pre-code’ status, and that they continued to drag their feet vis-à-vis enforcing the code significantly after the July 1st cut-off point, releasing such notably edgy items as Mad Love (which sneaked out less than two weeks later, on July 11th) and ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ (1936) after the PCA’s Year Zero for screen morality, perhaps taking advantage of the below-the-radar / not-worthy-of-consideration status enjoyed by horror films even this early in the genre’s development.BUT – I don’t want to tempt passing classic movie buffs to write in in order to patiently explain to me why half the films I’m talking about are NOT STRICTLY PRE-CODE, and as an obsessive genre cataloguer myself, I know how such well-intentioned errors can irk, so I’ll reluctantly put the ‘pre-code’ thing aside.As an alternative, ‘Pre-War Horror’ is far from perfect, I’ll grant you. For one thing, the Second World War started in a different year depending on which continent you happen to be sitting in, and for another, this title seems to draw attention to the (admittedly considerable) effect that both memories of the First World War and the grim preparations for its sequel exerted upon the development of horror cinema in the inter-war years. Whilst these themes will inevitably factor into my reviews to a certain extent, they are generally not going to be, y’know, the main point of the enterprise.So what is the main point of the enterprise, you ask? Well, as I touched upon in my write-up of Werewolf of London last year, I feel that genre fans all too often forget that what we tend to think of as “the golden age of (Hollywood) horror” - beginning when supernatural horror first became a certifiable box office draw (and thus, acceptable subject matter for motion pictures) in the wake of the success of ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ in 1931 - in fact consists of two highly distinct phases, the details of which have often been confusingly mixed up or amalgamated by more casual historians. When many viewers think of black & white/pre-1950 horror, they tend to think of a set of clichés that were actually only established after Universal had effectively ‘re-launched’ gothic horror as a more formalised genre category following the success of Rowland V. Lee’s ‘Son of Frankenstein’ in 1939. We think of the Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster running around (or Kharis the Mummy pointedly NOT running around), of set-bound castles, gypsy caravans and that ever-present village square, of Lugosi and/or Karloff turning up to show younger hands like Lon Chaney Jr and John Carradine how it’s done, and of the inevitable torch-wielding mob (probably led by Lionel Atwill) mobilising in the local hostelry to put an end to their depredations. We think of spooky stuff with howling winds and lightning flashes, of scary monsters stalking through the fog with their arms out-stretched, and of subject matter that’s perhaps *a little bit* gruesome, but basically family friendly, give or take – mil[...]



Bloody NEL:
To Outrun Doomsday
by Kenneth Bulmer

(1975)

2018-03-25T12:36:13.284+01:00


Last but not least in our quartet of ‘70s NEL SF gear, here we have another superlative cover illustration from Ray Feibush.

It’s the sense of perspective provided by the little fighting man on the bottom left that really makes this one work I think. Totally awesome is perhaps the phrase I’m looking for.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that Feibush actually gets a credit for his work this time around, hidden in the corner of the back cover. Will wonders never cease?

A hardened paperback warrior, Kenneth Bulmer (1921-2005) wrote around 160 published novels across five decades, utilising enough pseudonyms to fill a train carriage. The vast majority of his output was science fiction, but he wasn’t adverse to the occasional run of westerns, historical fiction or ‘Men’s Adventure’ series titles.

‘To Outrun Doomsday’ was originally published by Ace Books in the U.S. in 1967.



Bloody NEL:
Real-Time World
by Christopher Priest
(1976)

2018-03-22T21:26:00.212+00:00


You know that feeling, particularly common to SF paperbacks, when you begin reading a back cover blurb and think, “gosh, this sounds like one hell of a story”, only to reach the third or fourth paragraph and realise that you’re actually reading synopses of multiple short stories, rather than a single novel? No..? Well either way, you’ve got a perfect example right here.

Christopher Priest of course needs no introduction as one of the finest writers to emerge from the New Wave of British Science Fiction, so it only remains to be said that I quite like the understated cover art here.

It looks a bit like a background knocked up by the artist for a sword n’ sorcery commission, before he added the barbarians and chain mail bikini-clad maidens and so on.

Breaking our Ray Feibush streak, the SF Encyclopaedia credits this one to Chris Achilleos.





Bloody NEL:
The Omega Point
by George Zebrowski
(1974)

2018-03-19T13:13:17.235+00:00

On first glance, the back cover blurb for this one suggests a kind of post-apocalyptic variation on Edgar Rice Burroughs style science fantasy, but venturing inside, it soon becomes clear that George Zebrowski had his sights set a little higher than that.Chapters pointedly begin with quotes from Freud, Gorky and Shakespeare, and the protagonist spends the entirety of the second chapter enjoying a “percussion cantata”, beamed live to countless millions of spectators across the galaxy:“There were a hundred performers seated at the various instruments on the raised platform. Each sat at an electronic console which was covered with oversize push buttons and giant levers. The only really novel presence on the stage was the massive percussion batteries – traditional instruments, with some of the designs dating back two and three thousand years to old Earth and the first solar confederation. There were drums of all shapes and sizes; two of the drums were taller than the male performers who stood ready to operate two mounted hammers hanging above each drum. Elsewhere on the stage stood celesta, xylophones, six grand pianos, giant triangles, massive bells, clickers, and iron anvils, and two gargantuan wooden blocks which would be struck by giant wooden mallets swinging freely on chains. All the instruments were wired for sound in the modern manner.”(Something makes me think Zebrowski might dig The Boredoms..)Anyway, the iffy grammar in the above paragraph may have tipped you off to the fact that sadly‘The Omega Point’ rarely seems able to live up to it’s author’s grand ideals, but, this seems to be have been his first novel, so perhaps we can cut him some slack?Born in Austria in 1945, George Zebrowski has continued to write SF well into the 21st century, with the last published work listed on his Wikipedia page appearing in 2009, so, uh, good for him. I’m glad he persevered.‘The Omega Point’ was originally published in the U.S. by Ace Books in 1972, by the way.Searching elsewhere online, it seems generally agreed that the - excellent - cover art for this NEL edition is another Ray Feibush joint.[...]



Bloody NEL:
Time and Timothy Grenville
by Terry Greenhough

(1976)

2018-03-15T20:36:55.522+00:00


Is it possible to imagine a book that would look more at home on my shelves than this one? Or, you know that uneasy sensation you get when you suddenly start to feel like a ‘target audience’?

Terry Greenhough (1944-2002) seemingly enjoyed a brief but productive literary career in the latter half of the 1970s, with five science fiction novels and a historical romance seeing print between ’75 and ’80, four of them within New English Library covers.

‘Time and Timothy Grenville’ (note the curious similarity to the author’s name) was the first of his SF efforts. I’ve not read it yet, but sf-encyclopedia.com tells us that, “..typically of this writer [it] somewhat discursively exploits an uneasy, oppressive relation between the world at large and its protagonist in a story of complex Time Travel and Aliens, in which Earth itself proves to be at stake.”

By that as it may, I’m going to point to the echoes of both Alan Garner and Nigel Kneale in the back cover blurb, and single this one out as a potentially key exemplar of stone circle-sploitation - a phenomenon largely unique to the late 1970s that I’ll write an unconvincing monograph (or at least, a Found Objects post) about one day.

The SF Encyclopaedia page linked above also helpfully credits the cover art on this edition to prolific NEL SF artist Ray Feibush.



Bloody NEL:
The Making of Tania:
The Patty Hearst Story

by David Boulton
(1975)

2018-03-09T10:51:44.450+00:00

If I approached New English Library’s cash-in Patty Hearst book expecting the same kind of questionable laffs I extracted from their cash-in Manson book, disappointment was soon the result. Perhaps having learned a thing or two since they entrusted their earlier true crime opus to a pseudonymous London-based hack channelling a fictitious Californian hipster, NEL instead assigned this gig to David Boulton, a legit journalist and broadcaster whose achievements to this date had included a book about Conscientious Objectors during the First World War and a history of the Ulster Volunteer Force. As such, ‘The Making of Tania’ presents what I am inclined to believe is a fairly sober and credible overview of the facts as they stood at the time of writing, largely avoiding the kind of sensationalism I was expecting (and, to be honest, quite looking forward to), and resorting to speculation only when gaps in the factual narrative make it unavoidable.Above all, Boulton’s book serves to remind us that, extraordinary though the Hearst case may seem when viewed at a distance, the deeper one digs into the details, the more senseless and depressing the events surrounding Patty’s kidnapping in February 1974 become. Tapping into the very dankest corners of America’s pre-Watergate darkness, it is a story that leaves almost everyone involved looking irresponsible, ineffectual and ultimately idiotic. One of the most interesting aspects of reading a factual account written so soon after the events described is the huge holes that remain in the centre of the narrative Boulton builds from the sources available to him (holes that to a certain extent remain unfilled, or at least bitterly contested, to this day). At the time of writing, the majority of the Symbionese Liberation Army’s core members were already dead, and the survivors (including Patty/Tania) were on the run, their whereabouts unknown. Unsurprisingly, none of them had stopped to give any interviews. Whilst the SLA’s movements and activities could be pieced together with a reasonable degree of accuracy (more thanks to the efforts of the media than the police, it seems), the details of what actually transpired within the group – their personal relationships, the balance of power, decision-making processes, and the means by which the members (most of them fairly comfortable, educated, white twenty-somethings lest we forget) ended up being driven to such an extreme degree of fanaticism – all of these things were (and to a significant extent, still are) a complete unknown. Although a substantial amount of space in the book is taken up with reproducing the SLA’s assorted communiqués and tape transcripts in full, this feels less like an easy way to fill pages, and more like a necessary decision on Boulton’s part. After all, these unedifying diatribes – so charmless, hypocritical and sickeningly self-congratulatory you’re forced to wonder how their authors could possibly have taken them seriously – represent the only insights we have into the thought processes of the people who are ostensibly the “main characters” of our story.One can easily imagine the frustration that legitimate activists working for left-wing/socialist causes must have felt when these ridiculous, gun-toting bozos suddenly came out of nowhere to instantly dominate all media coverage of progressive politics, but, they could hopefully at least take some succour from the fact that the SLA saga also served to show the USA’s state and federal law enforcement agencies at their absolute worst.Repeatedly, the authorities’ failure to properly secure crime scenes or follow up evidence led to them missing easy chances to apprehend SLA members (potentially without bloodshed), and, when they did eventually catch up with them – in a casual rooming house in Compton, South Centr[...]



Exploito All’Italiana:
Delirium: The Photos of Gioia
(Lamberto Bava, 1987)

2018-03-01T17:09:58.525+00:00

As a lover of the irrational in cinema, it saddens me to report that one of the most delirious things about this late period giallo opus from Lamberto Bava is probably its name. First off, this ‘Delirium’ should definitely not to be confused with Renato Polselli’s more comprehensively delirious 1972 ‘Delirium’, nor indeed the 1979 American horror film of the same name. And, if you’re thinking, hang on, pictures of what? Well, ‘Gioia’ is the Italian version of ‘Gloria’, which is the name of the central character in the English dub under review here, so, there you go; it’s not just a poster typo that stuck, although quite why the title wasn’t anglicised to match the dub heard in English territories is anyone’s guess. (1)So, having got that out of the way, let’s crack on and see what kind of enjoyment we can wring from the younger Bava’s attempt to sew up elements of Argento, De Palma and indeed his father’s own ‘Blood & Black Lace’ (1964) into a kind of crudely assembled Ultimate Giallo, telling the can’t-miss tale of Gloria, the excruciatingly rich and tasteless publisher of a soft porn/fashion magazine named ‘Pussycat’, and of a vengeful killer stalking and murdering the models in her employ.As you might well have anticipated, ‘Delirium’ is first and foremost a veritable riot of out-of-control ‘80s kitsch. The film’s visuals immediately recall the slick, hyper-real fantasias of Argento and Michele Soavi’s ‘80s films, whilst the fetishised, Helmut Newton-esque fashion / photography milieu that provides much of the local colour seems like a direct homage to ‘The Eyes of Laura Mars’ (1978), executed here with a level of garish, exploitative tackiness that makes Irwin Kirshner’s film look like a model of taste and restraint in comparison.This aesthetic is carried over wholesale into the movie’s shamelessly prurient stylised murder sequences, and, needless to say, the wardrobe and hair-styling throughout must be seen to be believed, whilst the displays of conspicuous consumption highlighted in the production design are such that the characters may as well be lounging around on furniture made of gold doubloons.Another thing viewers will soon note is that lead actress Serena Grandi has unsettlingly large breasts. Not the cool, Russ Meyer / Tura Satana kind of large breasts, but the kind that look out of proportion with the rest of her body and tend to make you worry about the terrible back pain she must be suffering.Realising it is his solemn duty to exploit these assets appropriately, Lamberto does so not just via a ludicrous climax that sees Gloria going one-on-one with the killer whilst wearing Victoria’s Secrets-style lingerie, and also through the means of a sub-plot in which she reignites her love affair with a jobbing actor, aptly played by the ubiquitous George Eastman. In a delightful touch, Eastman is introduced whilst in costume for some kind of barbarian movie his character is appearing in. [I’ll put money on the fact that this actually WAS his costume from Ruggero Deodato’s ‘The Barbarians’, released the same year].Grandi and Eastman’s passionate-in-inverted-commas jacuzzi love scene is… quite the thing, proving beyond doubt that wherever the younger Bava’s talents lay, it was certainly not in the arena of eroticism.During ‘Delirium’, I wasn’t overly troubled by the notion that Grandi might be a gifted actress, but, in fairness, IMDB reveals that she has over fifty credits in theatrically released Italian pictures across four decades, so she must be doing something right. Perhaps it was just the combination of a distinctly iffy English dub and general tone of OTT melodrama that torpedoed her here, who knows.Happily though, Grandi is flanked by a battalion of familiar faces in the support[...]



Exploito All’Italiana:
Syndicate Sadists
(Umberto Lenzi, 1975)

2018-02-22T11:37:48.175+00:00

Despite its lurid English release title – and despite the fact that director Lenzi was responsible for several of the more savage entries in the poliziotteschi canon – ‘Il Giustiziere Sfida la Città’ [literal translation: ‘The Executioner Challenges The City’], which hit Italian screens in August 1975, actually stands as one of the mildest, most easy-going contributions to the genre.In fact, you’d also need to snip away a few brief moments of violence here and there and you could probably present this one as a family friendly action-adventure movie - about as far removed from the excesses of films like Mad Dog Killer as it’s possible to get whilst still remaining under the wider umbrella of ‘euro-crime’.For better or for worse – and really, it’s a mixture of both - It appears that the responsibility for this surprising shift in tone sits primarily with the star of ‘Syndicate Sadists’, the late, great Tomas Milian.After spending the better part of a decade portraying a variety of boggle-eyed peasant tricksters and fevered psychopaths in Italian genre films, the sheer gusto Milian brought to the screen had by this point made him somewhat of a bankable - if unconventional – star in Italy, and it seems he thought he deserved a chance to prove himself as a straight action hero. Apparently the producers/backers of ‘Syndicate Sadists’ agreed, and Umberto Lenzi (now equally late and great, sadly) was engaged to direct what basically amounts to an unashamed star vehicle for the Cuban dynamo. Lenzi had previously worked with Milian on the preceding year’s ‘Almost Human’ [‘Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Può Sparare’], a stone-cold classic of misanthropic ‘70s crime/exploitation cinema that arguably marks a high watermark for both men’s careers. Such was the intensity with which Milian’s character committed bloodcurdling atrocities in ‘Almost Human’, the film was marketed as a horror movie when it reached the USA, and, again, the extent to which ‘Syndicate Sadists’ pulls a total 180 on any expectations this may have been in place for the director and star’s subsequent crime picture is remarkable.Having pushed himself about as far into the realms of nihilistic psychopathy as it’s possible to go whilst still returning safely in ‘Almost Human’, it is perhaps understandable that Milian thought his screen persona was in need of a little TLC, lest he spend the rest of his life watching people cower in fear when he passed on the street, and it is plainly obvious that reinventing himself as a card-carrying Good Guy was his main objective in ‘Syndicate Sadists’.To give you an idea of the level of control Milian exerted over this production, legend has it that whilst en route to Rome to begin shooting, he picked up a copy of David Morrell’s novel ‘First Blood’ (which would of course become the basis for the 1982 film of the same name, introducing the world to Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo for the first time) at the airport. Apparently impressed by the book, Milian is said to have demanded that his character in ‘Syndicate Sadists’ be named “Rambo” – in spite of the fact that the name was perceived to be both meaningless and faintly comical to Italian audiences.Nonetheless though, the star got his way, and ‘Syndicate Sadists’ is all about RAMBO. Everybody in the somewhat anonymous version of Milan in which the film takes place knows about Rambo. Men respect him, women adore him, and evil-doers freeze in fear at the very mention of his name. Swathed in gigantic driving goggles and sporting a fetching variety of winter jackets, woollen hats and scarves (most of them red) alongside his shaggy hair and full beard, Rambo certainly cuts a striking figure during the movie’s opening credits, as[...]



Concluding thoughts on...
Twin Peaks: The Return
(2017)

2018-02-18T17:23:19.932+00:00

(Poster by Cristiano Siqueira.)Note to readers:Having now completed my viewing of 2017’s ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’, this is a follow up to my earlier post from January, in which I pre-emptively offered up my thoughts on the first nine episodes of the series.In contrast to my earlier post, SPOILERS WILL BE RIFE this time around, so please proceed with caution.1.So, my prospective death-of-the-American-dream / evils-of-science / nuclear apocalypse angle didn’t really pan out… but I’d still like to think it’s in there somewhere, lurking in the background, particular in and around the ‘Got a Light?’ episode, ready to be picked out of the series’ televisual tarot deck [see below].2.In my earlier post, I reflected on fact that the trauma/abuse narrative at the core of the 1990-91 ‘Twin Peaks’ seemed to be entirely absent in the first half of the 2017 reiteration. At that point, I saw no indication that Frost and Lynch wished to reconnect with this, given their apparent preference for taking a straight supernatural/science fictional angle on the series’ mysterious happenings, rather than engaging with the subjective perspectives and/or internal life of their characters. Well, count me dead wrong on this score too, as I was surprised - and impressed – by the way that the final stretch of ‘The Return’ brings these themes back with a vengeance, throwing shadow and suggestion over much of what we’ve previously seen in the process. In this respect, the final hotel room confrontation between Laura Dern’s Diane and Gordon Cole’s FBI team effectively serves to realign the orbit of the entire sprawling epic we’ve been watching over the preceding weeks – arguably the most jaw-dropping and emotional shattering scene the series has to offer, it is an unquestionable dramatic highlight – the moment when, suddenly, all this shit starts to fall into place on a human level.In essence, all of Lynch’s cinematic work subsequent to the first series of ‘Twin Peaks’ [well, except ‘The Straight Story’, obviously] has dealt with the idea of people’s identity and perception of reality becoming fragmented and destabilised as a result of trauma too terrible to face. The director explored this notion for perhaps the first time through the characters of Laura and Leland Palmer in 1990-91, and, as such, it is entirely appropriate that ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ eventually resolves itself into an especially bleak and indigestible meditation on this theme.As will no doubt have already been noted by hundreds of fans and speculators, it eventually becomes clear that the assorted female characters Cooper encounters during his peregrinations through The Lodge in the early part of the series (prior to his ‘rebirth’ as Dougie Jones) in fact represent aspects of the earth-bound women who have been damaged / abused / possessed by the roving spirit of Bob (whether within the skin of his “Bad Cooper” avatar, or his earlier vessel, whose identity will not be clearly stated here JUST IN CASE some lunatic who has not watched the first series of ‘Twin Peaks’ is reading this).The buxom, opera singer-ish lady, the skeletal elderly woman – these characters may not be played by the same actresses as their potential earth-bound analogues, and there may be no cryptic clues thrown in to help us nail down their origins… but, there is enough of a vague, archetypical similarity for us to make the necessary connections [paging Dr Jung].The subtlety with which Lynch & Frost suggest (whilst never explicitly spelling out) these links and connections between different fragmented personas, in different worlds, is admirable.There is a pitch black poetry to the way that Diane (invisible to us for so long in the earlier s[...]



Pan’s People:
The Saint Sees it Through
by Leslie Charteris

(1962)

2018-02-11T21:24:03.532+00:00



…and finally, our whistle-stop tour of Pan’s dawn-of-the-‘60s crime list brings us to ‘mad’ Manhattan in the company of ol’ Simon Templar.

As far as perennial series characters go, I must confess I’ve never really cared for The Saint. I mean, he’s just such a smug bastard, isn't he? I mean, I know that’s kind of the point of the character, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to take an interest in his shenanigans. In fairness, perhaps Roger Moore is more to blame for my distaste than Leslie Charteris, but nonetheless.

I will however make an exception for the sake of the artwork for this particular edition, which is superb - so busy, so much colour... yet it works brilliantly.

Sadly however, I’m once again not coming up with much more online than “cover artist: unknown”.

Anyway, feast your eyes chums, because we’ll be back to movie reviews for a while from next week, likely as not.




Pan’s People:
The Little White God
by Edwin Brock

(1965)

2018-02-09T21:12:05.095+00:00

After Paris and L.A., we move to the more familiar environs of South London, circa 1965.

I love the Times quote on the front. (For the uninitiated – Z Cars.)

Edwin Brock (1927-1997) was primarily known as a poet, and this seems to have been his only novel. Once again, it looks as if it might well be worth a read. And, yet again, beautiful cover art too – a quintessential example of 50s/60s Brit-crime imagery that, frustratingly, I can’t find an artist credit for online. Good ol’ Pan.




Pan’s People:
Experience With Evil
by John Ross Macdonald

(1958)

2018-02-07T21:02:09.188+00:00



Over the past year or so, I’ve really been getting into the work of Ross Macdonald (he soon dropped the ‘John’, for whatever reason).

Coming on as if Raymond Chandler had knocked the ‘frustrated-literary-novelist’ bit on the head and settled into a routine of knocking out two hard-boiled thrillers per year, the Macdonald books I’ve read thus far have all been absolutely first rate, mixing up the requisite laconic humour and restless plotting with consistently sublime prose and an acute sensitivity for the tragic quirks of human nature, all baked in an atmosphere of creeping malaise and cynicism that is pure mid-century California noir.

If you’re into crime fiction and yet to discover Macdonald, doing so is an experience I can highly recommend.

‘Experience With Evil’ originally appeared in 1953 under the delightful title ‘Meet Me At The Morgue’, and though it doesn’t feature Macdonald’s signature character Lew Archer, I’m nonetheless confident that Pan’s blurb-ists weren't lying when they deemed it “a kidnap mystery for the connoisseur”.

The cover – by our old pal Sam “Peff” Peffer – is of an equally fine calibre (no firearms pun intended), and in fact, finding this book a few months back represented a rare quadruple win for my paperback collection: a great writer, great art, great condition, and a great price (£2). Satisfying!




Pan’s People:
The Law of The Streets
by Auguste Le Breton

(1959)

2018-02-04T20:57:01.311+00:00


Staying in France, this one is also high on the ‘to read’ pile, needless to say.

I haven’t been able to pin down an art credit for this cover, but there’s a sketchy/blurry/over-busy quality to it I quite like; it’s just a touch crazier than the usual ‘classy’ Pan house style. Postcards at the usual address if you’ve got a name we can attach to it.



Pan’s People:
Villainy Unlimited
by Derick Goodman

(195?)

2018-02-02T11:37:53.485+00:00



N.B. – I’m unsure whether or not this Pan edition actually dates from 1957 – only the copyright / first publication date is given. Given the Pan catalogue number (G327) I’m guessing 1959/60-ish.

Since I last shared some Pan paperback covers here in 2016, I’ve been fortunate enough to add some really great new Pans to my collection, particularly with regard to the imprint’s always interesting crime list. So, the next few weeks seems as good a time as any to share them with you. Expect a new post every few days.

As I’ve observed in the past, these books remain cheap and easy to find, without too much of a cult cache or a collector’s market sniffing around them, but nonetheless they are frequently things of beauty – none more so than this wonderfully atmospheric cover by Dave Tayler. (Source.)

The silky light and shade here reminds me of a golden age Hollywood movie poster more than anything, and, needless to say, the book itself sounds like a fascinating read too – I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into it at some point (perhaps during a future trip to Paris, fingers crossed).




Half Time Report:
Twin Peaks: The Return
(2017)

2018-02-08T16:25:57.354+00:00

PLEASE NOTE: For the avoidance of confusion, I’ve chosen to refer to the third series of Twin Peaks aired in 2017 as “Twin Peaks: The Return”, or “Twin Peaks 2017”. The blu-ray box set sitting next to my TV may herald it as “A Limited  Series Event”, but that makes it sound like promo for a range of aftershave or something, so I’ll avoid it and just stick to shorter suffix if nobody minds. ALSO: As a side effect of my decision to stick to general impressions rather than being drawn into the discussion of individual plot points or story elements in the text below, this post remains largely free of spoilers, so – readers who are even later than me in catching up with the new ‘Twin Peaks’ are advised to read on and fear not.Given that I posted my reflections on revisiting the original 1990-91 run of ‘Twin Peaks’ almost exactly two years ago, I suppose there may conceivably be some readers wondering what I made of the series’ much heralded 2017 reiteration. So, eight months late (which in fairness beats the 40+ years of lateness that apply to most of my posts here), it’s time for me to come down from the mountain and present my thoughts on the first 50% of this project’s epic eighteen episode run, which I have been watching for the first time this month.At some point in the near future, I will aim to follow this up with another post, in order to assess how these half-digested impressions, opinions and hypotheses hold up once I have completed by viewing of the series.1. Running on Empty: Episodes #1 - #6Though episode # 1 sailed by nicely on the excitement and anticipation of being back in this world and meeting these familiar characters again, I’m afraid I can’t avoid the fact that episodes #2 to #6 proved a real drag. My experience of watching them was in fact characterised by a slow realisation that ‘Twin Peaks’ 2017 was shaping up to be a considerable disappointment – either an entirely cynical venture on the part of David Lynch & Mark Frost, or else a colossal artistic miscalculation.It’s not that the footage and ideas of which the seemingly endless, disjointed narrative strands that comprise these episodes are objectively bad, or boring, or offensive or anything, but… how can I best put this?The core episodes of the original 1990-91 ‘Twin Peaks’ (which I would define as including everything up to and including the unmasking of Laura Palmer’s killer) were alternately mysterious, terrifying, funny and charming.That’s not just a random list of subjective hyperbole either – it’s a very specific one. It is difficult for a piece of narrative film to maintain any of those feelings over an extended period of time, yet ‘Twin Peaks’ succeeded in delivering a intoxicating mixture of all of them, in over-powering quantities, week-on-week. That – more than any of the cultish Lynchian weirdness that people immediately associate with the show – is the reason why it made such an impression on viewers, and why it has acquired such legendary status.This achievement is thrown into stark relief by the fact that the initial batch of episodes of the 2017 ‘Twin Peaks’ – as master-minded by a pair of creators now gifted with total freedom and seemingly unlimited resources – initially fail to deliver on any of these qualities.Somewhat uniquely in my experience of watching film and television, they furthermore beg our indulgence in asking us to sit through an expanse of footage longer than some directors’ entire filmographies, before any equivalent redeeming qualities may or may not eventually begin to coa[...]



Annual Report:
The Sweeney / 1978.

2018-01-07T12:01:28.212+00:00

If there’s one thing I always like to find under the tree on Christmas morn, it’s a bloody good annual, and as such, I’m happy to be able to revive the ‘Annual Report’ feature I instigated here two years ago, this time with a look at one of the gifts I was lucky enough to receive during the recent festive period – The Sweeney Annual, as published by Brown Watson in 1978.For readers outside the UK who may be unaware of the precise significance of The Sweeney, or indeed unfamiliar with the concept of annuals as a whole – never fear. Basically the cover reproduced above tells you everything you need to know. I’m sure that your own home country must have boasted its own equivalent TV show (and questionable cash-in merchandise thereof) during the 1970s, thus equipping you perfectly to conceptualise the riches that The Sweeney Annual (1978) is about to rain down upon us, swept in upon a magnificent tide of orange, brown and grey. [If you do require further clarification however, here's a wiki link.]As was usual practice in this era, the writers, artists, editors and designers who contributed to The Sweeney Annual remain entirely anonymous – and indeed a case could be made that they may have been happier that way, given the obvious haste with which this volume seems to have been thrown together. There’s not even a contents page, or any introductory text – it just gets straight down to business with the comic strip below.As you’ll note, the art here is a tad inconsistent, although the decision to lead with a story in which The Sweeney take on international terrorists, rather than the domestic crooks who normally filled their schedule, is an interesting one. Otherwise, the mixture of casual racial stereotyping and a notable lack of the usual pungent Sweeney badinage leave me feeling a bit “meh” about this one, although there are some very nice individual panels here and there.After a space-filling article on ‘Famous East End Criminals’ (no prizes for guessing which one gets the most space), we move on to that highlight of any annual – the crossword!Remember what I said about suspecting this annual was put together in a bit of a hurry? The prevalence of pages like the one below speaks for itself I think.I love the combination of the photo and title/font accompanying the text story below. It would have made a great readymade record cover for some second wave aggro-punk band that might have formed a few years after this was published.If the earlier comic strip was a bit of a disappointment, the colour one scanned below is an absolute belter I think, neatly compressing everything that was good and right about The Sweeney into a concise six pages. A bang-up job by whichever anonymous British comics freelancers were responsible.No, me neither.There follows another boring article about the applications of science in modern policing, but…. cor, strewth, turns out maybe I should have scanned those bits for you anyway – looks like we’ve got to take a test! What is this, school!?And, that’s it! Final page – we’re outta here!To check your answers to the Sweeney crossword and quiz, please check Found Objects postings for January 2018.[...]



The 25 Best Films I Watched for the First Time in 2017.

2017-12-26T19:43:06.438+00:00

Reminders of a better world, more or less. 1. Belladonna of Sadness (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973)Words like “astounding” and “inexplicable” don’t even begin to do justice to this one-of-a-kind motion picture, wherein a team of ambitious creatives working for manga godhead Osamu Tezuka’s short-lived animated film studio were somehow allowed to create a feature length psychedelic fantasia loosely inspired by Jules Michelet’s 19th century mystic reinterpretation of the European witchcraft mythos, ‘La Sorcière’. Constructed principally around hundreds of ink & water-colour images created for the project by idiosyncratic illustration genius Kuni Kukai, the film is further enlivened both though the application of every kind of wild and ramshackle animation technique that anime circa 1973 had to offer, and by a hair-raising freak-rock/avant-jazz/enka score from composer Masahiko Satô. The resulting exploration of feudal suppression, female empowerment, psychotropic delirium and manichean cosmology is by turns erotic, grotesque, harrowing, frightening, transgressive and almost overpoweringly beautiful, throwing weighty symbolic/sexual imagery around with the wild abandon of Alexandro Jodorowsky gate-crashing an acid test in the offices of Metal Hurlant magazine. It’s pretty damn far-out, and if you’ve not yet seen it, you really should.2. Lone Wolf & Cub: Babycart at the River Styx (Kenji Misumi, 1972)One of my greatest cinematic pleasures in 2017 has been finally getting around to watching the ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’ series in its original (non-‘Shogun Assassin’-ated) form. Though the first film (‘Sword of Vengeance’) is decent enough, it is with this second instalment that things really take flight, as the usually mild-mannered Kenji Misumi unleashes one of the most spectacularly surreal celebrations of extreme violence ever seen on screen.Any sense of narrative structure or physical logic is soon lost as blood and limbs fly, colours dance and trampolined bodies pirouette through the air in slo-mo, transforming Kazuo Koike's austere manga into a psychedelic nightmare of bushido melodrama taken to ever more ridiculous extremes.Utilising both sheer excess and an almost cartoon-like sense of visual imagination, Misumi and his collaborators take advantage of the unusual degree of freedom offered by Shintaro Katsu’s independent ‘KatsuPro’ studio to deliver a fantastical martial arts epic as jaw-dropping as anything achieved by Hong Kong’s more technically accomplished action cinema… 3. Lone Wolf & Cub: Babycart to Hades (Kenji Misumi, 1972)….and, this somewhat less celebrated third movie in the series is just as good! Picking up exactly where he left off, Misumi & co. if anything go even crazier in this one, whilst the director also somehow finds time for some surprisingly tender moments, expanding upon Ogami and Diagoro’s father-son relationship and allowing us a glimpse of the latter’s fairly unique experience of the world, reminding us of the affecting mixture of bloodshed and pathos that defined Misumi’s best entries in the ‘Zatoichi’ franchise.Also, the finale of this one, in which Ogami Itto literally takes on an entire army single-handed, is arguably the highlight of the entire series – a sequence so extraordinary and shamelessly absurd, you’ll scarcely have time to question where exactly Ogami went in Tokugawa-era Japan to get his baby-cart kitted out with a brace of apparently recoil-free sub-machine guns, before the next onslaug[...]



Exploito All’Italiana:
Night Train Murders
(Aldo Lado, 1975)

2017-12-17T20:26:32.345+00:00

In the course of writing previous reviews for this ‘Exploito All’Italiana’ thread, I’ve made frequent references to “the great Italian rip-off machine” and suchlike, but how are we supposed to respond on occasions when this “machine” upsets our patronising critical notions by delivering a “rip off” that is actually considerably better than the source film it is imitating…?In qualifying this assertion, I should probably admit straight away that, influential and epochal though it may be, I’m not a fan of Wes Craven’s ‘The Last House On The Left’ (1972). If that means I have to hand in my badge at the front desk and surrender my right to pass judgement on exploitation movies, then so be it, but what can I say? When cinema gets down to the ‘Last House..’ level of nastiness, I’m basically just too nice for this game, and, unless there’s some reassuringly legit good filmic artistry to go along with the sleaze, I’m bailing out.Which, conveniently, is exactly where Aldo Lado comes in, with his film ‘L'ultimo Treno Della Notte’ (‘Last Stop on the Night Train’, aka ‘Don't Ride on Late Night Trains’, ‘Torture Train’ and ‘Xmas Massacre’, but best known in the English speaking world simply as ‘Night Train Murders’), which hit Italian screens in April 1975.As you might well expect given the thoughts expressed in the preceding paragraphs, I have previously tended to avoid Italy’s attempts to cash-in on ‘Last House On the Left’ like the proverbial plague, and ‘Late Night Trains’ is, undeniably, an imitation of ‘Last House..’.  In terms of plot synopsis in fact, the two films are virtually identical, with Lado adding little to Craven’s minimal rape/murder/revenge scenario beyond the addition of a train.(Of course, Lado may well have claimed he was taking his inspiration from Inger Bergman’s ‘Virgin Spring’ (1960) – the original source for ‘Last House..’ – but no prizes for guessing whether it was Bergman or Craven’s box office that the producers had in mind when they took this particular project to market.)(1)Thank heavens then that Aldo Lado was far from your typical exploito-sleaze merchant. In fact, he is a director I am increasingly inclined to regard as some kind of unheralded savant of Italian genre cinema, at least on the basis of the three films by him I have seen to date. His two gialli (1971’s ‘Short Night of the Glass Dolls’ and 1972’s ‘Who Saw Her Die?’) are among the best, and most unconventional, films that genre has to offer, and as such, it was Lado’s name (along with admiring comments from several critical voices whose opinions I value) that finally convinced me to take a deep breath and press play on ‘Night Train Murders’. And, without wishing to sound too pompous about it, I’m very glad I did, because, as it turns out, this is a far more challenging and rewarding film than its subject matter, promotional material and unsavoury reputation would ever have led me to expect.Certainly, there is little in the film’s lengthy opening sequence – a tightly edited montage of footage of the bustling, pre-Christmas shopping streets of Munich, set to Demis Roussos’s exuberantly good-natured pop hit ‘A Flower is All You Need’ – to suggest that we’re about to take a stumble into bleak video nasty territory. Instead, it is happy merely to function as a lively and extremely skillful slice of visual storytelling, ensuring that, by the time they’ve boarded a train bou[...]



Exploito All’Italiana:
Mad Dog Killer
(Sergio Grieco, 1977)

2017-12-11T23:10:08.281+00:00

Arriving towards the tail-end of the poliziotteschi’s ‘golden age’ in October 1977, the premise of Sergio Grieco’s ‘La Belva Col Mitra’ (which google tells me this translates literally as ‘The Beast With a Uterus’ – surely some mistake!?) most closely resembles that of Umberto Lenzi’s seminal ‘Almost Human’ (1974), telling as it does the unedifying tale of Nanni Vitali (Helmut Berger), a remorseless, adrenalin-crazed psychopath who has just broken out of prison with the help of his loyal gang of thugs, and  of Inspector Santini (Richard Harrison), the dogged cop who is hot on his trail.Despite adopting this ‘Dirty Harry’-derived “cop vs psycho” framework however, ‘Mad Dog Killer’ (let’s just call it that and avoid the whole ‘uterus’ business) never really gets the engine running as either a police procedural or an action movie, with Grieco instead spinning the wheel in a different direction entirely. (1)Clearly this was a pretty rushed, slap-dash production, and Grieco’s direction often feels pretty amateurish. Editing is ragged, continuity between shots is all over the place, and DP Vittorio Bernini’s framing and photography is the very definition of ‘perfunctory’, all of which suggests that this crew had little desire to compete in the high stakes game of ‘70s crime movies.To highlight one of the movie’s more glaring technical shortcomings - we expect exterior shots during car chase sequences to be undercranked in films like this in order to create the illusion of speed, but how are we supposed to react to a movie that apparently can’t be bothered to re-adjust to the correct speed for interior car shots, thus lending the vehicles’ occupants the twitchy, insane mannerisms of hummingbirds? Or, to put it another way, can you imagine the sheer amount of non-fuck-giving it takes to shoot footage like this and keep it in the final cut of your commercially released crime movie? Even Jess Franco – who was occasionally known to fake slow-motion by getting his actors to move slowly – must surely salute Grieco’s audacity here.If questioned on the matter, I’d imagine Grieco’s answer would likely have been that there was no time to re-shoot, and anyway, it looks wild, so gives a fuck? Such is the punk-ass ideology that seems to prevail throughout ‘Mad Dog Killer’, and, once you get into the spirit of things, it’s difficult to deny that it suits the film’s unpalatable subject matter pretty well.More problematically however, this approach also serves to make a nonsense of what should be one of the movie’s pivotal set-piece scenes, in which Berger’s gang carry out a raid on the factory where Marisa Mell’s character’s father works as a security guard, unaware that Harrison’s cops await them in hiding. It’s the perfect set-up for an absolutely storming, off-the-hook action sequence, but unfortunately things are conceived and staged in such a nonsensical manner that it falls completely flat, with logic, character motivations and physical geography all so woefully skewed that viewers are simply left confused, rather than enthralled. You’d think a guy who spent most of the ‘50s and ‘60s making pirate and spy movies would be able to keep a better handle on things, but again, Grieco’s spirit whispers in my ear, who gives a fuck? I mean, this clearly wasn’t the kind of thing they were going for here anyway.What they were going for, in a word, is *nastiness* - pure, nails-down-th[...]



Exploito All’Italiana:
Five Dolls For An August Moon
(Mario Bava, 1970)

2017-12-05T11:14:53.399+00:00

Quite possibly the least celebrated of Mario Bava’s many contributions to the horror / giallo field, ‘5 Bambole per la Luna d'Agosto’, realised in Italy in March 1970, is unlikely to find a place on many Bava fans’ top ten lists… or even many Edwige Fenech fans’ top ten lists, for that matter. If you’re a dedicated viewers of European genre movies, perhaps it won’t even make your top ten William Berger films. Hell, even top ten films for which Piero Umiliani did the music might be pushing it. But, nonetheless, I still retain a huge soft spot for this underachieving body count picture. Taken purely as a compressed dose of pure 1969/70 Italian Riviera decadence in fact, I actually find it pretty unbeatable. (1)It is well-known by this point that Bava directed this film under protest, after the producers refused him the extra time he had requested to rework Mario di Nardo’s script into something he considered workable. And, watching with almost fifty years hindsight, I think we can probably share Mario’s pain, for it is di Nardo’s shoddy and derivative plotting – and the production’s dogged determination to stick to it – that is ultimately responsible for ‘Five Dolls..’ failure to attain the same level of quality as the classics Bava usually seemed capable of banging out like clockwork whenever he was allowed near the horror or giallo genres.Vague and incoherent (though not in a particularly fun way), this Agatha Christie-derived island-bound whodunit scenario revolves – thrillingly - around the formula for a new kind of industrial resin. This is held solely within the bonce of Berger’s grumpily moralistic Herr Dr Scientist (who is immediately differentiated from the conniving playboys around him through his decision to wear an uncomfortable-looking woolly jumper to his sunny island retreat). Needless to say, the aforementioned conniving playboys and their equally conniving wives are all on the case to obtain said formula, and soon million dollar cheques are being idly tossed around as inconvenient corpses concurrently start to pile up, the latter generating a sense of mild annoyance in the surviving characters roughly equivalent to which might be expected if they discovered that, say, the meat for their dinner had gone bad or something.Such is the overwhelming disinterest generated by this scenario that, when the characters start indulging in sordid extra-marital liaisons and accompanying back-stabbing, the sense of transgression is somewhat muted by the fact that we can’t quite remember who most of them were supposed to married to in the first place.Unfortunately, my own (non-conniving) wife tends to be a stickler for all this bloody “plot” rubbish, so, after the film’s spectacularly nonsensical attempt at a twist ending rolled around, we were obliged to spend a good ten minutes vainly trying to establish what was going on – including replays of certain key scenes – before she’d let it be. In the end she reckoned she’d solved the mystery to her satisfaction, but I remain happily and uncaringly mystified.Never fear though, because, more so than ever in Italian genre cinema, IT DOES NOT MATTER what is actually going on here. Effectively leaving the script for dead at the side of the road, Bava instead wisely concentrates his efforts upon distracting us from its all-too-evident shortcomings, doing his utmost to make each shot more striking, more gloriously opulent and packed with more[...]



Got Carters.

2017-11-26T18:01:50.930+00:00

Much like the later New English Library Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks, collecting these Carter Brown books with the Robert McGinnis girly artwork can start to feel like assembling a pack of trading cards or top trumps after a while.Perhaps paperback collectors should devise some sort of game where we deal them out and play for keeps, using a system of values based on the coolness of the cover art, or something?Anyway, here are three particularly choice additions to my hand, all picked up on a trip to Hay On Wye over the summer. ‘The Velvet Vixen’ in particular is one of my absolute faves I think. Look at that foot!All of these were published in the UK by New English Library’s Four Square imprint between 1964 and 1966.[...]



October Horrors Bonus Edition (#15):
The Devil’s Men /
‘Land of the Minotaur’

(Kostas Karagiannis, 1976)

2017-11-11T15:22:17.275+00:00

Yes, I know it’s no longer October and Halloween has long been and gone, but - would you believe that, on the same night that I watched The Flesh & The Fiends last month, I took another random pick from my pile of unwatched British horror films and *accidentally* managed to cue up a Peter Cushing & Donald Pleasence double bill? I didn’t get a chance to finish my review of the second feature in time to slot it into October’s marathon, but, in light of such a splendid synchronicity, it would seem a shame to leave the second Don & Pete extravaganza un-reviewed, so here we go.---A long, drifting, rather sun-dazed expanse of nothing of particular importance, ‘The Devil’s Men’ (released in the USA under the somewhat more instructive title ‘Land of The Minotaur’) forms part of a small sub-set of ‘70s horror films that attempted to relocate the familiar atmospheric traits of gothic horror to the more ‘exotic’ terrain of Greece - a country that had recently become a lot more accessible to foreign visitors as a result of the contemporaneous boom in package holidays.Sitting in a loose triumvirate of “Hellenic horror” alongside Robert Hartford-Davis’s troubled ‘Incense For The Damned’ (1970) and Julio Salvador & Ray Danton’s ‘Hannah: Queen of The Vampires’ (an American/Spanish co-production, aka ‘Crypt of the Living Dead’, 1973), I'm sorry to have to report that, even when placed in this less than august company, ‘Land of the Minotaur’ probably stands as the weakest entry in this most marginal of sub-sub-genres, despite being the only one actually directed by a Greek, and the only one to make use of the opportunities presented by Greek mythology and culture.The story here posits an island (Crete presumably, although I’m not sure where the film was actually shot, and an exact location is never specified in the script) on which a remote, mountainous town has rather unfeasibly fallen under the control of – wait for it - Count Corofax, an exiled Carpathian aristocrat, played of course by Cushing. In his new home, Corofax (did he live in the next valley over from Count Filofax or something?) has seen fit to revive an ancient Minoan fertility cult, convincing the local populace to join him in a kind of Lord Summerisle-type arrangement that sees them assist him in sacrificing wandering tourists to a fire-breathing Minotaur statue(!) located in a secret chamber beneath the town’s (extremely impressive) ancient ruins.For some reason, the sacrificial victims must always take the form of a male/female couple, which would rather seem to contradict the conventional notion of the Minotaur being offered an annual selection of virgins, but… well, as you’ve probably already gathered, this is not the kind of movie in which attention to such historical detail plays a big role.On the other side of the island meanwhile, Father Roche (Donald Pleasence) is an irascible but good-natured Irish priest with a penchant for befriending the happy-go-lucky, hippie-ish traveller types who seem to keep crossing his path in their VW camper vans. Several of the Father’s young friends have already gone missing after venturing into Corofax’s realm, and being at heart a priest of the old fashioned type, he needs little encouragement to begin ranting about how said land belongs to the devil and no god-fearing person should go near it etc etc.Early on, [...]