Friday, February 28, 2014

Rosalba Neri Friday # 17 - UPPER SEVEN - THE MAN TO KILL 1966

All Sorts Of Swingin' 60's Euro Spy Coolness With Rosalba AND Karin Dor !!!

AKA The Spy With Ten Faces

     An Italian/West German 1966 co-production, this was one of a plethora of European secret agent/spy movies that post 1965 & GOLDFINGER flooded the market in the mid to late 60’s. UPPER SEVEN stars Paul Hubschmid (The professor from 1953’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS) as British secret agent “Upper Seven” Paul Finney, who in performance and speech (as here dubbed) is eerily similar to future James Bond one shot George Lazenby in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE from 1969. Discounting the well known stable of 60’s “Bond Girls” Finney has to be one of the luckier secret agents in screen history as he gets to spend time with both Rosalba and the very beautiful Karin Dor (who herself would go on to Bond girl status in 1967’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE).

  Otherwise known as THE SPY WITH TEN FACES, which refers to in this film of the much used gimmick in other euro spy movies of the removable rubber masks used as disguises, which probably had their basis in the prologue to 1965’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The rubber mask ploy and the all around master of disguise thing is Upper Seven’s specialty which leads to the premise that none of his enemies know what he looks like. Although it is kind of ludicrous to see Finney pull on a cheap rubber mask in one scene and then cut to the other actor he’s portraying (with a few dabs of greasepaint) as the disguised Upper Seven, it all adds to the spirit of the movie including one sequence where he dons a bright red mustache & goatee along with a white British naval uniform (complete with shorts) to tail a suspect.

    Like peplums, I find most all of these movies hugely entertaining & fun (even the bad ones) and UPPER SEVEN is one of the better ones in that regard. The film features a variety of international locations including London, Rome, Copenhagen and Johannesburg (all proceeded by a bright yellow title card letting us know where we’re at) and an earnest performance by Hubschmid as the title character, who seems to take the role very seriously in spite of the sometimes wacky proceedings. Even though almost 50 years of age at the time, he handles the physical stuff very well - but oddly seems to fall a little flat chemistry wise with his beautiful co-stars, who in the person of Rosalba & Karin help immensely with the proceedings . Also adding to the “60’s spy girl vibe” is Danish actress Vivi Bach (!), who seemed to specialize in these movies during the 60’s and was known as the “Danish Bardot”

   All the usual Bond trapping are here including the gruff but kindly head of the section; the witty dialogue with the secretary, a Far Eastern nemesis (working thru a major crime network) and of course some gadgets - which include an exploding belt (!?) and a cane which can do a variety of things. In addition it’s always fun to see in these movies how they replicate the awe inspiring Ken Adam interior design work of the Bond movies on an infinitely smaller budget. The plot gets very convoluted very quickly with counterfeiting, robbery, secret missile bases, and a poisoned water supply all jostling for screen time, but eventually thing get sorted out leading to the climax in the villains underground liar complete with explosions, judo, remote control machine guns and one piece silver jumpsuits.

   Rosalba plays Pauline, who as Upper Seven’s London based girlfriend appears to be some sort of model and gets to ride in a big chauffeur driven Chevrolet convertible. Unfortunately she also works for Kobras (which seems to be both the name of the lead villain & his organization) and by setting up a hidden camera in her bedroom after their date hopes to get some film on him, which although maybe having something to do with his unknown identity is never fully explained. After ducking in to take a bath, she re-appears in a bright yellow terry cloth robe and warbles the (dubbed) title song while accompanying herself on acoustic guitar! Sadly, she’s dispatched rather quickly and doesn’t make it past the 20 minute mark in the movie with her total screen time adding up to about 8 minutes. All this is really a shame as she has a wonderful look here and it’s too bad we don’t get more of her.

   Karin Dor plays Helen Farheit who as Upper Seven’s FBI American ally (ala’ Bond’s Felix Lighter) makes for a very strong presence and almost upstages him in the action and judo stuff, including a great scene where she whips a knife out her garter belt and later when she participates in the final ass whoppin’ on the villain. She had starred in a bunch of the German Edgar Wallace “Krimi” films and in 1967 along with her Bond role would also appear in the excellent gothic horror THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (and to top it all off it was her 76th birthday on Feb. 22 !) Fun Stuff !!

Monday, February 24, 2014


Mad Scientist With a Green Thumb Cameron Mitchell Hangs Out On a Deserted Island Growing Blood Sucking Plants In a Creepy Old Villa While Disposing Of Pesky Visitors !!

"What Was The Terrifying Secret Of The Vampire Tree ?"

              AKA Maneater of Hydra / Bloodsuckers / Baron Vampire / La Ilsa De La Muerte

    Under the title MANEATER OF HYDRA (although no one gets eaten) this Spanish/ West German co-production from 1967 had frequent airings on late night television during the 70’s where in the hazy/half-asleep world of local network pre-dawn TV horror it must have made quite an impression on viewers (particularly if you were on the young side).
   Opening with some rather oddball animated credits, this has Cameron Mitchell in a fairly (initially at least ) restrained performance (especially by Cameron Mitchell standards) playing Baron Weser who as botanist living in a large villa on a secluded island has been experimenting with crossbreeding carnivore plants. The end result is a large bloodsucking tree that shoots appendages out and attached itself to unwary victims in the form of some unlucky tourists who happen to drop by for a visit.

   Forgoing a row of nice shiny tour buses a group of tourists decide instead on what looks to be a WWII German staff car driven by Ricardo Valle (Morpho from THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) who invites them to enjoy the wonderful botanical delights on Baron Weser’s private island (hint.. hint). The group includes a bickering couple in the form of older husband James Robinson (Rolf Van Nauckhoff) and his younger and perpetually horny younger wife Cora (Kais Fischer)-or as she’s called here Mrs. Robinson (!) and there’s love interest in the person of nominal hunky hero type David (spaghetti western star George Martin) & probable future bloodsucking tree victim Beth (Elisa Montés). Plus there’s noisy obnoxious Myrtle Callahan (Matilde Samperdo - who as dubbed here sounds like Fran Drescher’s mother) and geeky botanist Prof. Julius Demerist (from the University of Michigan !) as played by Herman Nehlsen.

    Upon arrival on the island the Baron shows off his weird (and hungry) plant collection and the group settles into their expected stereotypes. Cora starts prowling around for any available man - including the driver (with whom she was playing footsie in the car earlier). Unfortunately for her (and unbeknownst) by this time he's become monster tree fodder. Moving on to the Baron he rebuffs her and she sulks back to her room to become the next item on the buffet. Also lurking about is the baron's creepy manservant Baldi, who's twin brother was found did earlier in the movie and serves the purpose of a red herring for the plot.
    Beth and David start to click and the nosy botanist begins to ask to many questions of the baron's gardening practices which necessitates Cameron taking him out via a rather nifty poisonous Indian God statue. All the while the baron slowly becomes more and more unhinged, slowly turning into the wonderful scenery chewing Cameron Mitchell that we all know and love. The films climax is truly mind boggling complete with great geysers of tree blood & axe fighting in a thunderstorm while the heroine struggles in the clutches of the monster tree (and Cameron going way off the deep end).

  To the movies credit the attacks are all shown from from a POV shot that keeps the identity and look of the monster unknown until the climax and there is some beautiful lightning and photography used. The monster tree considering the budget restraints has a great design, looking like a monstrous cousin to Little Shoppe of Horror's Audrey and the close-ups of its clear blood sucking feeders and wildly flailing appendages look like something out of Lovecraft.

   Directed by American Mel Welles (LADY FRANKENSTEIN - here working under the pseudonym  Ernst von Theumer), the film has a great atmosphere about it and a surprisng amount of blood  & gory make-up for the time. As a matter of  fact Welles did appear in Roger Corman's original LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS from 1960 and even help direct a bit of it. It's a shame there isn't a better copy of it legitimately available as in spite of its rather ludicrous premise (but hey, that's why we love these) its a neat little example of Euro horror. It's available on one of those Shout Factory Elvira double packs with the superb The House That Screamed. Unfortunately its pretty ugly looking, with a cropped and edited for television print (complete with fade-outs every 10 min for the Elvira interruptions). However a nice looking widescreen print has recently surfaced (Thanks Cinemageddon !), but hopefully one day we'll get a nice legit release.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

70's T.V. Terror - THE NIGHT STALKER 1972

    On Tuesday night Jan. 11 1972 at 8:30 PM over half the T.V. viewers in the United States tuned into watch the ABC Movie of the Week, concerning a vampire stalking thru contemporary Las Vegas (which when you think about it is the perfect place to be a vampire). Scoring a 33.2 rating and a 54 share (which in TV talk is off the charts), it blew away the previous record holder BRIAN'S SONG and became the highest rated TV movie up till that time and still ranks among the top. A once in a lifetime confluence of "right time at the right place" talent including a literate script by Richard Matheson, production by Dan Curtis (TRIOLGY OF TERROR & DARK SHADOWS),direction by John Llewellyn Moxey (HORROR HOTEL) and of course a career defining performance by Darren McGavin as pain in the ass reporter Carl Kolchak . It became THE TV horror movie event of the decade and there is even an argument to make of it being the finest horror movie of the 70's including theatrical releases.

    Although the vampire & horror elements all presented with grim seriousness, the movie has just a light touch of humor thanks to the wonderful performance by Darren McGavin (can you picture ANYONE else in this role ?) and his interaction with a whole gang of familiar faces. One of the cool things about 70's TV movies is that they gave work to hosts of character actors, as by now with the decline of westerns & low budget gritty crime films work for those "faces" became network television. Oakland as Kolchak's long suffering editor is basically written as a one note character ("stand behind desk & yell"), but Oakland somehow rises above this and gives Tony Vincenzo depth and humor (plus you just know he secretly has a begrudging respect for Kolchak).

    It’s their fireworks together that gave the movie (and its subsequent sequel and later TV series) some of its best remembered scenes – excluding the monsters. Also in the cast are Charles McGraw, Claude Akins, Ralph Meeker, plus Carol Lynley, Larry Linville (M.A.S.H) and a cameo by Elisha Cook Jr. Watching it today it’s pretty amazing to see what a nail biting experience it still is and how truly creepy the film is as it ratchets up a considerable amount of tension with the horror elements pushed to the forefront as much as possible, including close-ups of bloody necks and a women kept tied to a bed and used as an ongoing source of nourishment. Plus some other elements that are broadly hinted at - such as what Carol Lynley, who as Kolchak's girlfriend, actually does for a living.

   Narrated by McGavin’s charctor the plot kicks in immediately with the first murder and proceeds thru to the conclusion at rapid fire pace with Kolchak butting heads with unbelieving officials along the way. The vampire killings are shown by both the actual attacks alternating with the aftermath of others and along the way we get a couple of pretty nifty brawls including an attempted blood theft at a hospital and later the police attempting to subdue the vampire in a residential pool.

    The movie does show its TV lineage at certain points including an obvious stunt double for Atwater in some of the fight scenes and depending on your TV screen you might catch a glimpse of the stuntman’s fall mattress during the hospital brawl. Although there is some establishing exterior shots in Las Vegas (along with some casino interior stuff) , the rest of the movie is rather set bound with those familiar Universal back lot streets filling in for residential Vegas (you keeping expecting to see ADAM-12 come cruising by). McGavin and Oakland would relocate to Seattle for 1973’s very worthwhile alchemy based sequel THE NIGHT STRANGLER (which substituted John Carradine for Elisha Cook as far as your horror cred cameo) and later both would appear in THE NIGHT STALKER TV series. With his seersucker suit, porkpie hat and tennis shoes McGavin’s presence makes all these worthwhile with the zombie episode from the TV series being a true standout.

Here's the Pussycat Go Go Bar where Raquel Welch was tearin' it up in 1969's FLAREUP