Tag Archives: Horror

#169 – House at the End of the Street of the Dead, The

(1980, It, 86 min) Dir Sergio Patrino. Cast Sal Lion, John Morghen, Annie Belle, Pat Bellows.

A curious conflation of the post-Fulci zombie film and the post-Last House on the Left revenge fest. Carl and Manny (Lion and Morghen) are a pair of New York street punks out for thrills who decide to indulge in their favourite pastime – breaking into people’s houses so that they can rape and torture its occupants. The first house they happen upon is Annie Belle’s swish, modern digs and they have their gruesome fun there. The next house – as they have apparently not sated their bloodlusts – is further down the street and, as they find out, is populated with the recently revived dead. Meanwhile victim house #1 are on the blower to the fuzz and within no time our punks are the filling in a sadist sandwich between a slice of the law and a slice of the undead. It’s a cheap flick to be sure and not as hardcore as it makes out it is which will be a relief to some and will dismay others. On the plus side it betrays an invention that is pure Patrino, who couldn’t stop himself even when he was onto the nastier type of no-budget schlock.

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#159 – Back Again To Be Bad

(2012, GB, 100 min) Dir Christopher Smith. Cast Reece Shearsmith, Peter Serafinowicz, Alexi Sayle, Julie Andrews.

Supernatural comedy. The Grand Order of the Everlasting Night had a foul plan – they were going to raise from the dead the most nefarious, bloodthirsty tyrants that history has to offer to wreck the most profound and unimaginable havoc on earth. From the four corners of the earth they summon Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan, Elizabeth Báthory and, by accident, Jim Morrison. The trouble is they have no idea what to do with them now that they have them, all five seemingly unable to raise dread armies at the drop of a hat and also a bit depressed at being reanimated. The solution? Bung them all in a remote Scottish cottage for the time being while a Plan B is hashed out. So Stalin and Hitler are continually fighting over the bedrooms, Genghis is making all sorts of odd smells in the kitchen, Báthory’s taking forever in the bathroom and Morrison refuses to tidy up. An equilibrium has yet to be reached when there is a knock at the door. It’s only Churchill, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, a not dead Julie Andrews and, by accident, the Big Bopper and they’re there to sort out the tyrants once and for all. Cheap, slapdash and hilarious with a very unexpected good sport cameo from Andrews.

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#138 – In Lamplight or Candleflame

(1977, GB, 69 min) Dir Eric Conway Bryce. Cast Thomas Pretton, Billie Whitelaw.

In Lamplight or Candleflame was supposed to kickstart a series of annual films that would rival the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas but despite being perhaps Conway Bryce’s best film (and definitely his last) hardly a soul watched it upon broadcast and those who did found it, in the words of the Times’ reviewer, “turgid and murky”. Despite not being held as fondly in the public consciousness as A Warning to the Curious or even Schalcken the Painter a lavish reissue was mooted in recent years until it was discovered that the only remaining copy had somehow been spirited from the vaults. Despite this there are those, like I, who had the exceptionally good fortune to have seen it on first broadcast who will attest, in defiance of the opinion of the time, to how terrifying a watch it really was, despite the fact that, like those who I have discussed the film with, I can’t recall exactly what it was that I saw in the film’s flickering candlelight that frightened me so. Pretton plays a reclusive lord rattling around his vast country estate with only the imagined voice of his mother (Whitelaw in voiceover) for company though the speed with which she alternates between love and anger makes her uneasy company at best. As time wears on in his dark midwinter house he begins to perceive that perhaps there may be a figure out in the fluttering darkness beyond his meagre illuminations and while she’s not telling he begins to suspect that figure may be that of his long dead mother…

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#132 – Carrion Crow

(1974, GB, 100 min) Dir Harold Andsley. Cast Ian Ogilvy, Franco Francini, Maria Perschy.

Good old Harrow Productions – there wasn’t a popular British film of the seventies that they didn’t half-assedly rip off and in Harold Andsley they had their star director. The Devil Rides Out does well? He can get you Death to the Devil! knocked off in a fortnight. Witchfinder General causing a stir? He’ll get you Carrion Crow – the tale of a medieval demon hunter – in a trice. The one thing that nobody could have foreseen however is that Andsley might have made a good film. Perhaps it was his passion for the subject, having studied the Middle Ages in Oxford? Perhaps it was a complete accident? Who knows! Carrion Crow is Ogilvy’s Crusades scarred knight brought into the service of the church to scour the haunted isles of Britain, rooting out the demonic influence that is trying to take hold with his aged Italian aide Father Carfat (Francini). The film finds them having completed passage to Ireland where it seems they might have met their match in rural priestess Maria Perschy (who was Austrian but dyed her hair red for the part and was totally dubbed so let’s not split hairs) and her village of acolytes. A surprisingly effective and atmospheric picture and worth seeing for evidence that Andsley could make a good film if he really tried.

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#114 – Baroness Lesbos

(1978, Fr/Sp, 99 min) Dir Catherine Dominique. Cast Ewa Rohm, Adrianna Belle, Hans, Peter Allison.

Originally titled The Mother of All Sin this is the one film of Dominique’s she seems incapable of standing behind, despite what even she admits are some moments of beauty studded throughout. “It was taken away from me by the bastard producers,” she told me at a 2010 retrospective in Berlin, “They cut it and take out what they don’t like. They film more things and put them in too. Even they take it’s name. I find it hard to look at still, you know?” As you might expect what was taken out was atmosphere and what was added was sex, but that’s not what upset Dominique: “The actors – Adrianna and Hans and Peter – they all work with me before so they refuse to not work with me. All they have then is Ewa, who I never wanted anyway.” That’s not all they had – they also had another woman in a blonde wig pretending to be Adrianna Belle but who looks so unlike her it completely sinks the back half of the film which is a shame as the first half is as strong as anything she has made with fantastic use made of the sunsets along the Spanish coast. Dominique would be back on solid ground three years later with the crown jewel of the sexploitation half of her career – the beautiful and romantic Falling Blossom.

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#113 – Bête érotique avec quatre jambes, La (Four Legged Sex Beast)

(1974, Fr, 88 min) Dir Catherine Dominique. Cast Beau Modeste, Jean Fillet, Peter Allison.

A midway film from Dominique, straddling her earlier art house efforts and her later sexploitation work, the amusingly titled Four Legged Sex Beast concerns the porcelain Modeste as the powdered and perfumed Lady Pea who is being transported to the home of the man that she is being married off to by her father when one of the carriage wheels breaks on the rutted country road, stranding them in the dark woods. As night falls first the coach driver is taken screaming into the night and then her father too. It’s only a matter of time before whatever it is that’s out there returns for Pea. Of course the beast wants something more than meat from her too – the last twenty minutes of the film form the notorious extended sex scene that saw the film quietly banned in a lot of places. But what is the nature of the beast? Is it a real life Sasquatch type or is it the physical manifestation of Pea’s suppressed sexuality? Who knows! The only film starring the beautiful Modeste, filmed as she rested on the cusp of fame after the one-two hits Je Suis un Tracteur and Petit Chat de Fourrure stormed the French charts and before the suspicious snorkelling accident that took her life. Her performance is limited to be sure but the camera just can’t take it’s eye off her.

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#110 – Three Deaths for the Magi

(1973, It, 93 min original (61 min surviving)) Dir Andrea Tontorre. Cast Marco Bostoni, Angella Min, Franco Francini.

Super rare festive knife-fest from shooting star Andrea Tontorre, the Jean Vigo of the giallo with a mere two films to his name before he died, run over by his own car on the outskirts of Rome when he opened the driver’s door to be sick and fell out. Unlike Vigo his innovations went unheralded by the film mainstream and his features remain out of print – I’ve only seen Three Deaths for the Magi by virtue of attending a private party thrown by octogenarian über-producer Hans Belli, appropriately enough in the catacombs under Paris. The print was old and scratched and the loss of two of its six reels left more gaps in logic than is usual, even in giallo, but despite this Belli’s old eyes were brimming with tears by its end, so moved was he by the sight of so much youthful vigour lost. The basic plot is your basic giallo meat and potatoes – Marco Bostoni witnesses a murder and finds himself of the killers hit list. There are only three days until Christmas and killer’s M.O.? You guessed it – leaving gold, frankincense and myrrh at the crime scenes. Can Marco work out the connection and find the killer? The set prices that remain still stun, bursting with a colour and verve that should be equally credited to Tontorre, similarly doomed cinematographer M. Bris (seafood accident, 1977) and soundtrack artists Imp. Hopefully one day Tontorre’s slim oeuvre makes it out of an old man’s catacomb party and into the world at large…

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#104 – Night of One Thousand Bastards, The

(2011, HK, 100 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Nicolas Cage, Regina Ho, Mo Yun-Fang.

I know he’s had a long and a varied career but still, it’s hard to reconcile the disreputable Jackie Woo of old with the disreputable Jackie Woo who is now deemed worthy of invitation to Cannes but I guess that says a lot about the post-Grindhouse world we live in. His inaugural fest film was Bloody Dolls, an uncharacteristic convent-set revenge flick that spent the guts of it’s runtime following the actresses gazing wistfully out over the mist-shrouded countryside and not, you know, disembowelling someone. He was back to his old form with this, his third film of 2011, and not only that but he snagged Nicolas Cage too! Okay, late-period low-budget in-hock-to-the-tax man Cage but still, it’s something. So Cage is a US government hitman in mainland China, there to kill a party functionary (Yun-Fang, looking tired) holidaying in some backwater town when the titular bastards arrive – a horde of freshly dead zombies hungry for blood. The tables now turned, Cage and Yun-Fang must team up to survive. The luminous Regina Ho plays Yun-Fang’s daughter and Cage’s inappropriately young love interest who spends the whole film under a table screaming. Don’t let the chorus of boos that trailed the film from Cannes fool you – this is a fun bit of trash that doesn’t attain Woo’s manic heights of the past but will keep you going the four months until he makes another.

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#103 – Dark Watch, The

(1996, GB/Ire, 105 min) Dir Fintan O’Driscoll. Cast Bob Hoskins, Stephen Rea, Bronagh Gallagher.

Belfast, 1974. Joe Wilson is the head of the Dark Watch in Northern Ireland – a secret regiment deployed into warzones on behalf of the British army to spread superstitious fear. He’s an older man now, a veteran of service against the Mau Mau in Nigeria and various unspecified deployments in South East Asia. Now he’s using the popularity and the scandal of the recent films like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and so on to leave evidence of black magic and witchcraft in the bombed out buildings of Belfast and Derry, to instil fear into the population and make them think twice about going out at night. Unfortunately for him this means that Wilson himself is out at night with three decades worth of ghosts in his head. Is this why he’s seeing the devil in the shadows of burned out buildings? Is that why he hears the sound of hooves following him down the empty streets? A fantastically atmospheric chiller with a cracking performance from Hoskins that has the advantage of being filmed on the streets of a Belfast still divided by conflict and marked out O’Driscoll, following the also excellent The Peat Cutters, as a director worth watching. While dismissed by many a critic at the time for the absurdness of it’s premise it has been found, in recent years, to have had a greater basis in fact that might have been supposed.

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#94 – Zwarte Piet (Black Peter)

(1921, Neth, 27 mins, b/w) Dir Dick Binger. Cast Annie Dommelen, Oscar van Victor, B. A. van der Veer.

Not so much a film as an extended skit, pretty much, this silent comedy film about the then fine and now controversial Dutch Christmas character Black Peter was a great success at the time of it’s release and until very recently was a TV seasonal fixture. To the uninitiated Black Peter is the companion to Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands) who doles out sweets to the good children and, to the bad, a whipping with a bundle of birch twigs. The controversy? Well, Black Peter is a moor you see, who is traditionally played by a blackfaced actor in a curly wig with big red lips. In addition to this he is played in this film by Annie Dommelen who is, as her name might suggest, a woman. Needless to say debate about the suitability of this character continuing to play a part of the celebrations of Sinterklassavond on December  5th each year continues to rage. But anyway – now that the layers of cultural context are peeled back, what of the film? Well Black Peter is hopping from rooftop to rooftop as the film begins, consulting his list and tossing sweets down the chimneys of the  good. Before long he happens upon the house of a bad child and, birch bundle in hand, climbs down with great enthusiasm to beat him. A frantic chase about the house commences with Black Peter eventually coming out on top. A strange little film with more about it to frighten than amuse for this viewer but were I a Netherlander of a century ago would my opinion be different?

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