Wednesday, October 15, 2014

THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN 1975 - Creepy 70's TV Historical True Crime !



"Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one"



    Premiering during ratings sweeps on Feb. 10 1975 this was one of the best remembered and controversial TV movies released during that golden age of small screen movies. Although not a horror movie by definition THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN was one the more creepily unsettling viewing experiences of the time and thanks to its long unavailability (up till now) on home video and the impression it made on young minds (if you were lucky enough to have seen it) it has become something of holy grail for baby boomer horror movie fans. Up till now the only way to see this was via bootlegs of varying degrees of horrible quality, but a nice region 1 DVD from New Video Group (licensed from CBS Home Video) has recently been released.
   Viewing it again after almost 40 years its amazing to see how well its held up and how many of the things that were vaguely unsettling to me as a young teenager are now brought even more to the forefront (not to mention the copious amounts of blood flying about). Playing out as a weirdly hypnotic combination of American Gothic merged with a European art house film it remains to this day an unnerving viewing experience with some not to vague (and even some outright) references to necrophilia, incest and drug use lurking about in it's plot. Anchored by a mesmerising performance by Elizabeth Montgomery it was based on the actual events that incurred in Fall River Mass. during the summer of 1893 concerning the hatchet murder of Andrew & Abby Borden followed by the sensational trial and acquittal of their daughter Lizzie (Montgomery) for the murder.




    Following the actual events closely (some of the other family members present in the household have been removed) the film starts off like many true crime films with the discovery of the murder and then following through with the subsequent trial and its outcome, it has been criticized for simply being a drawn out TV courtroom drama (which at its core it is). However thanks to the above mentioned performance of Montgomery (along with a bunch of familiar TV faces), some truly disturbing flashback/dream sequences and the overall atmosphere of morbid family secrets in a sweaty (the actual murders took place in the midst of an oppressive summer heatwave, which the film brilliantly recreates) & claustrophobic setting the film does rise above your typical TV fare of the period.
   Sharing another plot point with other true crime films the movie presents the murder as a flashback during the trial and because the actual facts of the murder are still unknown to this day the film presents them as a "what if" with Lizzie Borden thinking back to the events of the murders. Although there have been other theories put forth to the identity of the perpetrator most scholars agree that Lizzie got away with murder and the movie does show her as the murderess (although it's been put forth that perhaps this sequence in the film is meant to be a dream). One of the mitigating circumstances that allowed her to be declared not guilty was the complete lack of blood seen on her immediately following the discovery of the crime (which had just happened prior to a maids discovery). The film puts forth an alternate theory (which leads to one of the best remembered sequences in 70's TV) that Lizzie stripped down naked and washed herself after each murder.




    The scenes of Montgomery slowly stripping down (at one point even caressing the hatchet handle) and later washing up are some of the more erotically charged sequences seen on TV up till that point and must have made quite an indelible impression on young minds (I know it did mine). Supposedly there was a harder cut prepared for Europe that showed Montgomery with full frontal nudity and when viewing the DVD today there is some brief instances of a visible nipple that does show that at the very least she did the scenes topless.
   The daughter of actors Robert Montgomery and Elizabeth Allen, Elizabeth Montgomery is most famous for her role as Samantha Stephens in BEWITCHED which ran from 1964-72 (in a role she grew to feel increasingly frustrated in) and later would work primarily in TV movies with roles here and in 1974's A CASE OF RAPE giving an example of what a gifted actress she was. Married to producer William Asher (the "Beach Party" movies) from 1963 to 1974 (and earlier to actor Gig Young and later to Robert Foxworth) she passed away in 1995 from cancer. Here as Lizzie Borden she gives a wonderful shape shifting chameleon like performance alternately creepy and vengeful and then playfully flirting with the men in the courtroom.




    Along with Montgomery it features a terrific cast of supporting characters including Ed Flanders (who appeared at one time or another in about every TV series), Katherine Helmond as Lizzie's sister and Fritz Weaver as the father (who seem to specialize in playing tyrannical family patriarchs). Although most likely not generating a bunch of press, for me this is one of the top DVD releases of the year. Amazon still seems to have a couple of the iffy releases listed, but this is the one you want.

  






Sunday, October 12, 2014

DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN 1971

aka DOCTOR JEKYLL Y EL HOMBRE LOBO





    Directed by León Kilmovsky, this was Paul Nacshy's sixth outing as Waldemar Daninsky the Polish nobleman seemingly forever cursed as "El Hombre Lobo". As seen by the title the film attempts a monster team-up (Naschy was a huge fan of the 1940's Universal "monster rally" pictures HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA) and although the two title monsters don't do battle, it is fun to watch Naschy try another classics horror figure on for size. Although there are certain parts of this one that structurally don't work too well, as at times it seems like two movies mashed together and the plot takes a bit too long to get moving, this has always been one of my favorite Naschy films. It feature a great score by Antón García Abril (with some familiar cues from his Blind Dead scores), a great over the top "Mr. Hyde" from Naschy, the presence of the very beautiful Shirley Corrigan (from THE GODFATHER SQUAD and THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE) and once the plot does kick in it does move along briskly while taking some rather bizarre left turns with a bit of "Mr. Hyde" S&M thrown into the mix in its 85 minute running time.




   Starting out in contemporary London newlyweds Justine (Shirley Corrigan) and Imre (José Marco from WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN) head off on a honeymoon to Imre's homeland of Transylvania, before of which they have a get together of friends where we're briefly introduced to Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jess Franco regular Jack Taylor and from THE GHOST GALLEON), a relative of the famous "Mr. Hyde" Dr. Jekyll. Upon arriving in Transylvania (where as in most horror movies - no matter what the year is, time stands still at 1880 in Transylvania) they are warned against visiting Imre's ancestral graveyard as its in the vicinity of the "black castle".
   Upon arriving at the graveyard their startled by a leper hunchback and then set upon by a gang of thieves (a favorite plot point of Naschy) whereupon Imre is killed and Justine facing an impending rape is saved by Waldemar Daninsky (Nacshy) who proceeds to do the usual Naschy ass kicking job on the attackers, giving one a killer bear hug to and smashing another one's head with a rock while the third flees. Taking Justine back to his castle to recover she there meets his housekepper/nurse Uswika Bathroy (!) played by Naschy regular Elsa Zabala (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES, CURSE OF THE DEVIL and Jess Franco's 99 WOMEN) and discovers Daninsky's wolfman tendencies. Justine suggests that they go to London as perhaps Dr. Jekyll can help cure Daninsky, however they first must deal with the revenge seeking survivor of the trio of thieves who gets the local villagers riled by decapitating Uswika (who they believed to be a witch) and killing the hunchback leper (who was a confederate of Daninsky), all of which causes them to break out the 'ol torches and pitchforks.



You can't have a Spanish horror film without
 the negligee clad heroine and a candelabra

   Once arriving in London Dr. Jekyll proposes an experiment whereby Daninsky is injected with Jekyll's ancestors formula during the full moon which somehow balances everything out (which although explained by Jekyll is never really made clear to exactly how it works). Unfortunately Jekyll's assistant Sandra (Mirta Miller from COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE) becomes jealous of his attention to Justine and injects Daninsky with the Hyde drug during an inopportune time frame causing him to go into full Hyde mode and begin stalking through London, with Sandra joining in with him on some S&M tortures involving Jennifer.
   Naschy's Hyde with his bulging eyes. pasty face and leering drooling expression is one of his greatest creations outside of his famous wolfman and even goes old school as he stalks about London in a cape & evening suit, top hat and walking stick. The highlight being his transformation from Hyde persona back to "normal" and then into a wolfman all within the space of a few minutes in crowded 70's London discotheque.




   Even though the inclusion of two monsters makes for a somewhat cluttered plot the story takes a rather long time to kick into gear, with almost 40 minutes going by until things get moving. Klimovsky who directed eight of Naschy's films (along with movies in virtually ever genre) is always credited with helming some of best of "Señor Lobos" best work but while although they may have had the better plots his direction always seems a bit flat and rushed (Naschy himself in his autobiography would say that Klimovsky rushed through takes). DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN is rather unique that it does give some more meatier roles to the female participates, in particular Mirta Miller in her role as Hyde's willing partner. This is availible on a nifty double feature disc from Code Red teamed with Kimovsky's THE VAMPIRES' NIGHT ORGY (with Helga Liné ! - and which will be the subject of a future post).








Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Birthday Angie Dickinson ! - PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW 1971






    One of the more odd major studio movies to be released during the 70's, as it makes one wonder what MGM's thought process was during its production gestation as far as what they were making and how it was to be marketed and probably most importantly what those thoughts were when they saw what they ended up with. PRETTY MAIDS is a combination black comedy/exploitation/social drama & murder mystery that in addition looks ahead a bit to both the slasher and horny teen comedies of the next decade (even working in the "will they win the big game !?" scenario). What as first on paper would seem to be an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen somehow/someway manages to work in its own bizarre way with a eclectic cast of both veterans and newcomers along with a witty multi layered script written by Gene Roddenberry (complete with a plot point that could never pass muster today outside of a porn movie).
    Directed by Roger Vadim, which combined with a script from STAR TREK scribe Roddenberry makes you wonder if perhaps this was figured by MGM to be a hip "counter - culture" comedy that would appeal to the post 60's crowd. Vadim was a pretty hot commodity at the time most famous for directing movies such as AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (1956), BLOOD AND ROSES (1960) and of course BARBARELLA in 1968. The PRETTY MAIDS poster in itself is a marvel of pre-PC marketing with the tagline "Roger Vadim, the director who uncovered Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Jane Fonda, now brings you the American high school girl". Despite heavy promotion (including 5 pages in Playboy) it was a massive flop upon release, but not surprisingly would gather a cult following in the coming decades with sporadic showings on late night cable and a 1999 VHS release. After it turned up in one of their polls as a "most requested title" Warner issued a DVD through their MOD program a few years ago.




     Admittedly I find most of Vadim's work a yawn inducing endurance test (BLOOD AND ROSES has some great imagery going for it - but I've never been able to make it through BARBARELLA), however whether it being the Roddenberry script or the cast this is an amusing and interesting little film. It's still somewhat of a schizophrenic jumbled mess, but to it's credit it's a fascinating schizophrenic jumbled mess. In addition Vadim seemingly freed of the visual excesses of BARBARELLA uses the camera to focus on the multitude of attractive actresses at every available opportunity, sometimes almost using it as a "peeping tom" type character within the movie as it peers up skirts and down the front of blouses, focuses in on girls calestatics classes or zooms in on legs & bottoms in shorts.
    Taking place at a fictional Southern California high school, it was filmed at University High in West Los Angeles (you wonder what school administrates thought of the finished movie) and was the French born Vadim's first American film. The film nominally centers around student Ponce De Leon (!) Harper played by John David Carson (almost Keith Partridge on THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY), who feeling shy and uncomfortable around the opposite sex is taken under his wing by football coach and "guidance counselor" Michael "Tiger" McDrew (Rock Hudson). Seeking to help out Ponce, Coach McDrew enlists the help of new substitute teacher Mrs. Smith (Angie Dickinson) to teach Ponce the ways of the world.




     In a parallel plot point the coach is also giving special closed door "guidance" tests to various female students (the "Pretty Maids"- with some startling amounts of nudity for a major studio release in 1971) and in addition someone begins killing off the said "Maids" leaving their bodies laying around various places about the school. The principle (Roddy McDowall) seems only to care about the schools image, as the killings bring in a state police investigation in the form of Capt. Sam Surcher (Telly Salavas - seeming to be here in practice for KOJAK) along with his underlings William Peterson (DEMENTIA 13) and James Doohan from STAR TREK. As if all this weren't quite enough you also have Keenan Wynn as the dim witted local chief of police and Susan Tolsky as a ditsy and frazzled school secretary you are both on hand for some broad comedy relief. Lalo Schifrin contributes an alternately bouncy & moody score (complete with The Osmonds over the opening and closing credits). 




    As in my previous post the cast includes an intriguing bunch of soon to be cult actresses including Joy Bang (MESSIAH OF EVIL), June Fairchild (THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT) and Margaret Markov (BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA). In addition a breathtakingly beautiful Barbara Leigh (who was to be Vampirella in Hammer's aborted film) plays Hudson's very understanding wife. Still a few years behind her big breakout roles in BIG BAD MAMA for Roger Corman and TV's POLICE WOMAN, Angie appears to be having a great deal of fun with her role (a role for which she was perfectly cast) and the entire cast plays it as if their all in on one huge joke (Next to SECONDS this is one of Hudson's best performances). Having just turned 40 years old here Angie more then holds her own against the bevy of younger starlets.