Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Valerie Gaunt July 9 1932 - Nov. 27 2016

 

     When Valerie Gaunt made her appearance in Hammer's 1958 DRACULA it made for a startling revelation and in an eye opening way let we the viewers (especially if we were younger) know that we were heading into uncharted waters as far as vampire films were concerned. Unnamed (refereed to as "Vampire Woman" in the closing credits) she presages Christopher Lee's title role entrance in the film and thus became the first vampire to appear in a Hammer movie along with being the recipient of the first staking in blood red color and in addition was the first vampire to be shown with fangs in a major western film.
     Approaching Jonathan Harker with her low cut Grecian white gown and jet black hair she turns instantly from alluring almost coy like flirting innocence into a feral and sexually charged hungry animal. The look in her eyes as she turns toward his throat indelibly stuck in my young mind upon my first viewing and when in the next moment Lee's Dracula makes his unforgettable appearance and throws her violently to the floor where she lays hissing like a cornered snake it all made for one of the true cornerstones of screen horror.
    Valerie laid the groundwork for Hammer's next decade and a half of alluring female vampires but in spite of her abbreviated appearance in DRACULA she exuded a sexual evilness into the role that for me at least was never bested in the ongoing film series (although Barbara Shelly in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS came the closest).
    She also appeared in Hammer's inaugural Gothic horror 1957's CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN where she plays the conniving housekeeper Justine to Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein and who receives a nasty comeuppance. Her back-lit walk down a hallway in a sheer nightie is one of the first instances of the studio's ongoing motif of "Hammer Glamour".
    Born July 9 1932 in Stratford-on-Avon she retired from acting after DRACULA with only two other earlier acting credits for BBC TV on her resume besides CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. She lived quietly raising her family and later in life eschewed the horror film convention circuit leaving her fans with a small but very well remembered film presence that left an indelible impression on many. She passed away on Nov.27th.










Friday, November 18, 2016

COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE 1973

aka EL GRAN ARMOR DEL CONDE DRACULA





     The year 1972 was a particularly busy one for Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy as along with appearing in EL RETORNO DE WALPURGIS (CURSE OF THE DEVIL) where he portrayed his famous alter ego as the lycanthropy affiliated nobleman Waldemar Danisky there was also THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE, HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, LA ORGIA DE LOS MUERTOS (THE HANGING WOMAN) and LA REBELIÓN DE MUETAS (VENGENANCE OF THE ZOMBIES). This year also saw the release of EL GRAN AMOR DEL CONDE DRÁCULA (COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE) containing Naschy's only portrayal of the famous Count and lord of the un-dead. Shot back to back alongside HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE by director Javier Aguirre with both films written by Naschy under his birth name Jacinto Molina.
    COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE unfolds like a euro-horror hallucinatory dream with plot elements that would have seemed to be jotted down immediately after awakening from a restless sleep of nightmares. Naschy's take on the classic vampire plays out with a crawling dirge-like ambiance that at times can be almost mind numbly slow. One of the hallmarks of Spanish horror is those meandering plots with emphasis on brooding Gothic atmosphere, heaving bosoms splattered with blood, candelabras and stories that slowly twist & wind to a somewhat ambiguous conclusion - and COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (for better or worse) revels in all these these elements.




     Opening with two workman delivering a crate to an abandoned sanitarium (and who both speak like characters out of a Warner Bros. cartoon) in whose catacomb like cellar they find a roomful of coffins. An unseen figure hidden in shadows attacks one of the men while the other flees in terror and upon running up some stairs an ax is buried in his head and he falls in slo-motion back down the stairs. Drawing us almost immediately into the dream like atmosphere this sequence is repeated through the opening credits while Carmelo Bernaola's organ based score eerily plays.
     Starting off proper with an opening sequence that appears in almost every other Dracula themed movie as were introduced to a group of travelers in a horse drawn coach galloping through the countryside in the area around the Borga Pass. An accident leaves them stranded in the vicinity of an abandoned sanitarium (which happens to be the former residence of Count Dracula) which was overseen by a Dr. Kargos (i.e. "Karloff-Lugosi") and who was later hung by the local villagers for conducting sadistic experiments on the inmates (where's that Naschy film ?!?). The travelers include Imre (Naschy regular "Vic Winner" aka Victor Alcazar), Senta (Rosanna Yanni THE AMAZONS along with Jess Franco's KISS ME MONSTER & TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS), Elke (Mirta Miller VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES), Karen (Haydee Politoff QUEENS OF EVIL) and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo MANIAC MANSION).
     Seeking shelter in the sanitarium the group is welcomed by the new owner Dr. Wendell Marlow (Naschy) who keeps it in readiness for stranded travelers (reminiscent of Hammer's DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS). Quickly getting into the spirit of things the women slip into their nightclothes and begin wandering about the premises while Irma runs into one of the delivery men from the prologue (who is now a vampire) and is instantly initiated into the coven of the undead. It's interesting to note how the man of the group is the first one bitten which follows a previous attack on the male deliveryman in the prologue and it's this that sets in motion the vampirism of the female cast with the seemingly male hero sidelined immediately.
    It's soon revealed that the kindly Dr. Marlow is Count Dracula and has in mind a highly convoluted scheme to resurrect his dead daughter Rodna "Countess Dracula".




     Naschy plays his Dracula character here much like his Waldemar Danisky alter ego - that of the sympathetic monster agonizing over lost/never to be had love while wrestling with his destiny its and attached curse(s) -and as with his werewolf Nascy portrays a much stockier and barrel chested Dracula then we're used to. Though he does have a truly evil plan here involving the sacrifices of various female victims for his sister's rebirth he also takes long walks with Karen (who he alternately sees as physical lover and a sacrifice to his daughters resurrection) while engaging in some ludicrously hilarious dialogue with her as she intones at one point "These have been the most terrible and happiest days of my life ..". The English dubbed version is a veritable goldmine of this type of priceless dialogue
     With an almost hypnotic fascination, the plot drags along ponderously at certain points with seemingly endless wandering down hallways or walks in the woods. Alternating between scenes of bizarre interludes (such as the female cast taking a morning skinny dip in the sanitarium's stone pool) along with the sight of two female vampire jumping in slo-motion to a rooftop (complete with a penny whistle on the soundtrack) along with poetic-like sequences such as the mist filled basement with the negligee clad cast gliding through its hallways or the female vampires in waist high blowing foliage stalking a victim.




      Director Agguire stages some scenes of highly charged erotic horror that make Hammer's "nudge nudge wink wink" nudity such as in in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS pale in comparison with the highlight being two female vampire eagerly feeding upon the breasts of their reclined victim. The film also features healthy dollops of blood and sadism with Naschy and his female vampire companion savagely whipping a captured women and bloody feedings by the gaggle of un dead. Naschy's Dracula fades in the background for lengths of the plot with the female trio of vampire taking center stage violently and lustfully with Rosanna Yanni's Senta putting a scythe to good use at one point.
      Part of the allure of COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE was that it was one of the few Naschy films (at least in my neck of the woods) that played regularly on television during the coming decade or so under various titles including an American theatrical branding of CEMETERY GIRLS (or TRAMPS in some cases). When the uncut version began circulating on the video market for many a folk (including me !) the full strength version was a revelation as with its bright red blood splattered about and the profusion of nudity was quite an eye opening experience as this was one of the first Spanish horror films I saw in all its glory.
      Although the uncut version in various forms has been floating around for quite a while (showing up from both Code Red/BCI and Rhino's Elvira DVD line among others) the new Blu-ray/DVD combo release from Vinegar Syndrome (containing both the original Spanish language and English dub) is an eye-opening beautiful viewing experience. An added bonus is a subtitled audio commentary from Naschy and Javier Aguirre that was originally recorded for an unreleased entry in Navarre's line of Spanish horror DVD's.









   All Above Screen Caps Are From The Vinegar Syndrome DVD 
     




Friday, November 4, 2016

HEADLESS EYES 1971

"He's out there...out of sight, and out of his mind !"



    "Grindhouse" has become somewhat of a hip term the past years with seemingly every low budget movie of the past 50 + years being branded with this nomenclature just as every B&W crime film is now labeled film-noir. As someone who grew up watching these films initially at the theater and later during the home video boom of the early 80's (and obviously continue to watch to this day) I've always had a fairly definitive idea of my own (although inexpiable) of what constitutes a grindhouse film and for me HEADLESS EYES fits that tag perfectly.
    With a blink or you'll miss it 1971 theatrical release (with a self imposed "X" rating), it gained a second life on home video via Charles Band's Wizard Video label. Blessed with one of the greatest box art designs from the golden age of big box videos ("Too Gory For The Silver Screen !") it literally leaped out at you from the shelf of your local mom & pop video store and along with the Wizard release of ZOMBIE this was one of my fondly remembered rentals from back in that wonderful era of awe and discovery.
    Shot for a shoestring budget on the streets on NYC (for fans of grimy Nixon-era New York this is trip back in time) and seemingly cast with whoever was available walking down the street at the time, it was written and directed by Kent Bateman (father of Jason and Justine). Evoking the "demented artist" plot that hearkens back to Roger Corman's BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) and H.G.Lewis's 1965 gore opus COLOR ME BLOOD RED (with the bloody effects even being reminiscent of H.G.'s work) it also looks forward a bit to William Lustig's grim MANIAC in 1980.




     Struggling artist Arthur Malcolm (Bo Brundin RAISE THE TITANIC) being short of rent money decides to break into a women's apt. in order to procure some funds. Unfortunately she happen to be home and during the ensuing struggle she gouges out his eye with a spoon that is handily laying on her nightstand which sends him screaming into night with a shriek that is looped over and over again on the soundtrack. Now sporting an eye patch (which gives him an appearance similar to Michael Findlay in his infamous FLESH trilogy) and going totally bonkers he clobbers a neighboring couple to death with a hammer. During the ensuing nights he's tormented by nightmares of eyeballs hanging from a sort of abstract mobile while he keeps his dislodged peeper in the frig.
    Venturing out to the streets of NYC he approaches a prostitute and within minutes she thinks nothing about accompany a clearly deranged sweaty man with an eye patch, bloody hands (along with what sounds like a gurgling Swedish-like accent) up to her room where she ends up dead in her bathtub and missing her eyeballs. With newspaper headlines screaming "Eye Killer Slays 14th !"  Arthur continues his eyeball collecting vendetta stalking women through streets and office buildings and in one scene that almost has a poetic like quality to it he pursues a woman across a rooftop through billowing sheets of hanging laundry. At one point there's even a bizarre news broadcast from the sidewalk in front of one of his murder scenes complete with man on the street interviews.




     Alternately hanging out in his squalid apt./studio or stalking through the streets with his arms uplifted while crying out, he agonizingly launches into long soliloquies concerning his life and his now fevered purpose. At one point his ex-girlfriend shows up (looking like she wandered over from the Andy Warhol Factory) and they discuss his missing eye and later a young women shows up as she admires his artwork and they begin a short courtship with an with a strangely touching ocean side picnic.
    Obviously shot for a very low budget the film progresses from one bizarre sequence to another including a trip to a graveyard in which to dig up a recent victim and culminating in meat packing warehouse, all of which are strung together by Arthur's increasingly delusional rants. Closeups of sweaty faces bring to mind the work of Texas filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg and the whole thing is undeniably compelling with Full Moon's VHS sourced DVD while admittedly an iffy viewing experience adding to the grimy atmosphere.  
   Some of it's few play dates were on a double feature with Andy Milligan's THE GHASTLY ONES  which makes for one of the more mind altering twin bills in history and one wonders what patrons reaction was to Andy's poverty infused Staten Island gore fest combined with this low budget Manhattan oddity.