Friday, August 28, 2015

Rosalba Neri Friday - IL SORRISO DELLA IENA 1972

aka SMILE BEFORE DEATH
SMILE OF THE HYENA

More Rosalba Golden Age Giallo Goodliness With Murder, Blood & Treachery  !!





      I always thought it was a shame that Rosalba didn't do more giallo's during her career.  She appeared in handful of them including the very excellent AMUCK and the interesting TWO MASKS FOR ALEXA (along with the delirious TOP SENSATION if you count that as a giallo), but for the most part producers seemed more interested in sticking her in spaghetti westerns or peplums with the occasional horror or giallo mixed in. She really excelled in playing icy cold conniving bitches or black hearted murderesses (as she showed in the above titles) that when with combined with her exotic looks would seem to make her a natural for Euro thrillers.
     Written and directed by Silvio Amadio (who also was behind AMUCK the same year) SMILE BEFORE DEATH borrows a bit plot wise from the Sergio Martino's superior YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY from the same year (whether be design or not) and although the plot itself is standard giallo (long missing family member shows up and murder/treachery ensues) it throws in some interesting twists. Easy to dismiss as a standard example of 70's Italian gaillo, it does reward with some careful viewing.




     Teenage Nancy Thompson (Jenny Tamburi from THE SINFUL NUNS OF ST. VALENTINE & Lucio Fulci's THE PSYCHIC) returns home to her stepfather Marco (Silvano Tranquilli from CASTLE OF BLOOD) after the apparent (??) suicide of her mother Dorothy. She moves into the family cottage with her mother's best friend Gianna, a seemingly friendly fashion photographer played by Rosalba and soon discovers that her stepfather and Gianna are having an affair which they don't seem to worried about keeping secret. Soon Nancy begins to have suspicions about her Mother's death and revels herself to be not quite the innocent she seems as she begins to make advances toward her stepfather along with getting involved with Gianna.
      There is the standard stuff about inheritance and wills along with a suspicious housekeeper that most likely knows more then she's telling and it seems that Nancy mother also had a gigolo on the side. The movie starts off with the death of Nancy's mother in a terrifically staged scene (which doesn't give everything away) then goes bloodless until the final set of murders at the end. It's an entertaining example of the genre that maybe as a fault does try just a bit too hard to hold your interest through the somewhat boring middle section with numerous flashbacks. With that being said however the film does reward with some careful & attentive viewing as there is subtle little instances of plot twists with bits of thrown away dialogue here and there and even hints in performances and camera shots that reveal little details (and the ending throws a couple of twists in that are unexpected).




       Jenny Tamburi was extremely busy through the 70's and 80's appearing in dozens of erotica and giallo films and she's quite good here. Seeming as a wide eyed innocent at the beginning she inserts herself into the maybe (?) scheming couple's life and begins working each person against the other using her their sexual attraction to her as tool to manipulate them. Her slowly escalating seduction and manipulation of Rosalba's character is full of little nuances with gestures and facial expressions by both protagonists.
      With Nancy being the main drive of the narrative, in what at first glance would seem to be a secondary female role as the mistress is given a great range of shifting personalities by Rosalba as she goes from manipulative and seemingly in charge of the situation to realizing things are not all they seem (you almost feel sorry for her at the film's twisted climax). I know I'm bias, but she is quite wonderful here.
      Like many Italian thrillers the score would seem to be somewhat inappropriate to the plot as Roberto Pregadio's trippy lounge-like music (with wordless vocals by frequent Morricone collaborator Edda Dell'Orso) seems at odds with whats happening on the screen. I always feel like these scores do have a thematic hold to these films with their sets full of ultra modern furniture, mod clothes and bottles of J&B scotch and they help heighten the dream-like quality that permeates many of their plots. Although the main theme is played in what seems to be a continuous loop, it is a highly memorable score (you'll be humming it for days afterwards) and shows up on numerous 70's Italian lounge/soundtrack compilations along with a stand alone CD release from Beat Records.    
      Although not attaining the heights of decadence and delirium as AMUCK, this is still a decent gaillo and works well if don't go in with hopes of blood flying about and a quick moving plot. The original Italian title was IL SORRISO DELLA IENA which translates as THE SMILE OF THE HYENA (which to me is a lot more "giallo" sounding title) and unfortunately is one of those that's fallen through the cracks on home video with the only copies floating around in the collector circles (with the best one sourced from an Italian TV broadcast - complete with an annoying station watermark).









Wednesday, August 26, 2015

DON'T OPEN THE DOOR 1974

      

More 70's Sweaty Gothic Terror from Texas Low Budget Auteur S.F. Brownrigg 




     Texas filmmaker S.F. Brownrigg made a series of four horror/exploitation films in the 1970's (one of which 1976's KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN I've covered here before) with others being DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (aka THE FORGOTTEN 1973), SCUM OF THE EARTH (aka POOR WHITE TRASH II 1974) and this unsettling little gem, also from 1974. Brownrigg's movies are fascinating exercises in low budget film making. Filmed in small towns around east Texas they all feature spooky southern Gothic ambiance filtered through 1970's drive-in horror. They played for years on double and triple bills snaking their way through various distributors and leaving an indelible impression on many a movie goer.
    Brownrigg's first feature DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT was originally titled THE FORGOTTEN but the title changed when it went out on a double feature with Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT where it shared its tagline "To avoid fainting keep repeating...it's only a movie...it's only a movie...it's only a movie". For this second feature Brownrigg most likely thought thought to capitalize a bit from his first run with Last House, a tile theme he would continue with KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN in 1976. Although he does plays the total pent up atmosphere a bit of his earlier efforts, DOOR contains all the classic Brownrigg elements - a small Texas town, a seemingly isolated house, close-ups of sweaty characters with bad complexions and yellow teeth (all driven by dubious motives, greed and/or twisted sexual desires) and a claustrophobic humid setting.




     Pretty Amanda Post (Susan Bracken) receives a mysterious phone call asking her to return to her family home as her grandmother is extremely sick. Thirteen years ago Amanda's mother had been brutally murdered in that same house with Amanda sleeping in the next room and perpetrator never having been caught. Arriving at there she discovers her grandmother a bedridden invalid (only able to utter "Go now...Go now...") along with Dr. Crawther (James Harrell) who refuses to admit her grandma to the hospital and who appears to be under the orders of "Judge" Stemple (Brownrigg regular Gene Ross who was also in Charles B. Pierce's LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK). In addition there is Claude Kearn (an unsettling wonderful performance by one and done actor Larry O'Dwyer) who runs the local historical society and museum. All three seem to engaged in an unexplained conspiracy that has them angling to gain control of the house (along with the judge and Claude practically drooling at the sight of Amanda in her tight pink tank-top).
      Accepting an invitation by by Claude to visit the museum, Amanda disturbingly finds a mannequin dressed up as her mother along with many items from their household and a creepy doll collection (which Browrigg had used to great effect in the opening credits & makes references to throughout the movie). Claude also makes some squeamish remarks alluding to Amanda as a child and his attraction to her with some not so too subtle allusions to past molestation. Wanting to get her grandmother into a hospital Amanda calls her boyfriend (who luckily is a doctor) and gets her admitted. Once back at the house alone (the boyfriend has handily stayed at the hospital) she begins to receive increasingly creepy and obscene phone calls from someone who appears to be watching her.




     The calls increase with at one point in a highly disturbing fashion the caller threatening Amanda's grandmother and forcing her to caress herself while he does the same to a doll he's foundling. Like other of Brownrigg's films the identity of the protagonist is caller is revealed early (although its fairly obvious) but the tension in maintained with a slowly ratcheting sense of terror. Brownrigg always seemed to have an affinity for finding great acting talent for his small films (probably finding them in local theatre) along with getting above average performances from virtually unknown talent. He usually worked with the same few regulars with Gene Ross also appearing in SCUM OF THE EARTH and KEEP MY GRAVE OPEN and later going on to a long career in TV. Annabelle Weenick who appears here in a small was a regular in S.F.'s films and earlier in some of Larry Buchanan's impoverished Texas production upon whom Brownrigg also cut his teeth as a filmmaker.
    Unlike his previous productions Brownrigg does show us a bit of the outside world with the Judges odd railroad car house and the museum. The house itself although well lite and neat in appearance has an unsettling atmosphere and supposedly crew members on the film did reported odd happenings during the shoot. Unlike his usual stationary camera focused on unsettling faces, Brownrigg sets up some wonderful prowling shots (in particular one that follows Amanda up floor by floor as she ascends a wrap around staircase). There some hallucinatory Mario Bava lighting used in a scene in an upstairs attic (that unfortunately is  over saturated on the DVD). Brownrigg's usual composer Robert Farrar contributes an off setting score with flutes and chamber music interspersed with distorted guitar.



     With the negative most likely destroyed at some point and 35mm prints that have been dragged through countless drive-in projectors Brownrigg's catalog has always been problematic on home video as his features (in particular BASEMENT) seem to show up in less then stellar quality on every one of those bargain multi pack sets. VCI is the best bet for DON'T OPEN THE DOOR & DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT as their available in a nifty dbl. disc set that can be had for less then $10.00. DOOR is widescreen and both have about the best quality you're going to find (Every so often a rumor surfaces about a new edition of BASEMENT, but it only turns out to be the same full frame master). 
    DON"T GO IN THE HOUSE can be looked at as a bit of an early slasher (1980's DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE seems to have borrowed a bit from it) and some folks have mentioned that perhaps Craven cribbed a bit from this for 1996's SCREAM.



  
  
  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Rosalba Neri News # 18 - Jess Franco's MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE Coming To Blu



     Over on their Facebook page Bill Lustig & Blue Underground has posted some news concerning more Rosalba on blu-ray. Jess Franco's JUSTINE was one of a series of films he did for British producer Henry Alan Tower which mixed among them are some of his better works including the excellent historical drama/horror THE BLOODY JUDGE with Christopher Lee. Afforded a larger budget then usual (at close to $1,000,000 1969's JUSTINE was Jess's highest budgeted film) he created a visually stunning film, but one that is still grounded in his off-kilter (and sometimes incomprehensible) universe.
    The film has a pretty unbelievable cast including a deranged Klaus Kinski as de Sade, Franco regular Maria Rhom, along with Mercedes McCambridge (who worked with Franco in the same year on 99 WOMEN - also with Rosalba), Akim Tamiroff , a REALLY deranged Jack Palance (who appears happily drunk off his ass in his scenes), the ubiquitous Howard Vernon and of course Rosalba. Wearing one heck of an outfit (that alone is worth the price of admission), she appears as some sort of disciple and/or sex slave for a monk-like society headed by the scenery devouring Palance.
   Coming on blu-ray Dec. 15 (which includes a CD with Bruno Nicolai's score), this 1969 production was released as DEADLY SANCTUARY in 1972 for the U.S. market by A.I.P. in a heavily edited version that must have left grindhouse patrons scratching their heads in bewilderment. Originally Franco wanted Rosemary Dexter for the title role but a Hollywood backer insisted on Romina Power (daughter of Tyrone Power) for the lead role which caused Franco to take most of the highly erotic content out of the script and re-write much of the dialogue for her.




Wednesday, August 19, 2015

NAKED ANGELS 1969

"Mad dogs from hell !"


"Hunting down their prey with a quarter-ton of hot steel between their legs !"
(and its in Eastman Color !)





     In 1966 Roger Corman unleashed THE WILD ANGELS and kicked into high gear the biker genre (which could lay its roots back to 1953's THE WILD ONE) and dragged it kicking and screaming into the world of 60's radicalism, LSD and low budget drive-in movies featuring the requisite sex and violence. After THE WILD ANGELS success the the screens were flooded with dozens (if not hundreds) of independent and major film companies takes on scuzzy black leather bikers with Nazi regalia (along with their female counterparts) roaring down highways and terrifying middle class America. Its kinda amazing when watching THE WILD ANGELS today on how well scrubbed and nattily dressed Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra are as the leads
     Their cheapness to produce was another reason the biker film was a popular genre with independent filmmakers. Along with very minimal special effects usually needed you could make a deal with a local motorcycle shop for loan of some bikes, the desert locals which were popular with the genre was cheap and easy to film in since the need for permits could be avoided for the most part and for background extras a local cycle gang could probably be rounded up without to much trouble for the price of a few cases of beer.
    NAKED ANGELS was released in 1969 and although it has all the standard hallmarks of other low budget biker flick such as desolate desert highways and a garage rock based score (more on that later) it does feature some above average work by its leads, a neon filled Las Vegas sequence and some quirky editing that gives it an almost art house look (albeit a low budget grungy one) to it. Directed/written by Bruce D. Clark and co-written by Marc Siegler (who later  teamed-up for New World's GALAXY OF TERROR) it also features early screen credit for future ace cinematographer Dean Cundey (HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) who's credited here as make-up artist - and most likely spent a little time behind the camera.



     Gang leader "Mother" (Michael Greene from TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.) returns to his buddies after spending two months in the hospital from beating at the hands of a rival gang. Greeting his second in command "Fingers" (Richard Rush THE STUDENT NURSES) by engaging in drinking game where they spit mouthfuls of beer back into each others glasses and then announces his plan to head to Las Vegas to exact an ass kicking revenge on the rival gang which goes by the name of the Vegas Hotdoggers. He also lays claim to the strawberry blond foul mouthed Marlene (the wonderful Jennifer Gan from WOMEN IN CAGES - and who looks cool as hell here filling out her open stitched leather pants).
     Heading into Las Vegas Mother and company first stop by a topless bar and kick the crap out of a guy to get him to tell where the rival gang is located. Out and about in Vegas Mother picks up a pretty brunette and after getting her back to her place her gangster boyfriend shows up and chases him up on a roof before the police and his gang intercede. The Vegas sequences are beautifully shot and give a nostalgic view of a pre-theme park hotel Vegas on Fremont St. (you can even spot a movie theatre marquee advertising TORTURE GARDEN and THE COLLECTOR) with still shots interspersed in that whether by design or not gives the film a European art house type feel to it. The cinematography is by Robert Eberlen who strangely only has a few other obscure DP credits on his resume. There is some great use of the wide open desert spaces with the climatic stand-off on a barren salt flat composed particularly well, but to be honest the endless time killing driving through the desert gets a bit monotonous.

  


     As with most movies of this genre there's a bit of a misogynistic streak running through it with Mother's brutal sex with Marlene in barn the group has taken shelter in after fleeing Vegas and later offering her up to the gang as a punishment for defying him and being a bit too frre & easy when he was in the hospital. Mother's increasing erratic leadership (there's hints that perhaps his brain got scrambled as a result of the beating) leads to a mutiny by his gang as they refuse to follow him further into the barren desert in his quest for revenge. Heading off on his own Mother soon finds himself beset by thirst and lack of gas along with heat stroke induced hallucinations that have him and his acquaintances in a wild west setting complete with a saloon shoot-out.
    For a low budget biker film the acting is pretty darn good with Michael Greene's slowly going psychotic Mother character giving an intense and creepy stare down with a crazy gas station attendant at one point and in a perfect world the New York theatre trained Richard Rust would have been a bigger star (his speech to Mother upon the gangs mutiny is striking). Also in a bit of a twist, there's there's some actual tenderness shown in the burgeoning romance between Rust's Fingers and Gan's Marlene. With her wild mane of hair and iron cross festooned bare midriff blouse Jennifer Gan is wonderful here seeming to be having a ball with her role as she deliciously spews out out her dialogue. Along with her role in the Filipino WOMEN IN CAGES she also played a biker chick in The Monkees episode THE WILD MONKESS from 1967 and had small parts in IN LIKE FLINT and VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Like Richard Rust (who passed away in 1994) she left us much too early at the age of 62 in 2000. Director Penelope Spears can be seen lurking about as one of the biker chicks.



    Being released in 1969 Corman was nominally attached to NAKED ANGELS as an unnamed associate producer as this was just a short time before he left A.I.P. to start New World and although not technicality  a "Roger Corman film" it did later became an unofficial part of the New World film catalog. Along with ANGELS DIE HARD (1970), BURY ME AN ANGEL (1971) and ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME (1971) this was rumored to be part of an "Angel" collection that was to be released by Shout Factory as part of their deal with New World. Sadly this fell by the wayside after their New World releases sputtered out and Shout later released NAKED ANGELS as a bare bones stand alone release from a full frame master.
    The terrific acid drenched fuzz guitar soundtrack (one of the best of its kind) is by Mothers of Invention bassist Jeff Simmons and was released by Frank Zappa's Straight label. NAKED ANGELS originally went out on the top of a double bill with Jack Hill's excellent b&w racing drama PIT STOP.