Saturday, June 24, 2017

Five Naschys on Blu-ray Velvet

I recently cracked open the shrink-wrap on Scream Factory's new release THE PAUL NASCHY COLLECTION. It offers five Naschy vehicles on Blu-ray for the first time: HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES, BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL, HUMAN BEASTS and NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF, complete with alternate and deleted scenes, trailers, stills galleries, Spanish credit sequences, a 24-page illustrated booklet featuring production notes by The Mark of Naschy's Mirek Lipinski, and three audio commentaries by Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn, the hosts of the Naschycast podcast.

I have generally positive feelings toward all of the films in this set, but I went directly to Carlos Aured's BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (Los ojos azules de la muñeca rota, 1974), which received a theatrical release in this country (in somewhat censored form) as HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN. I've seen the film many times and primarily wanted to check the commentary, because Rod and Troy are personal friends and I was curious to see how well they adapted their podcast approach to a more formalized commentary presentation. I'm pleased to say that I don't have to take a diversionary "they're both great guys" approach because the commentary managed to be relaxed and entertaining, well-synchronized to the onscreen action and educational. The pronunciations of a name or title or two get slaughtered along the way, but I'm not exactly innocent of this myself; the important thing is that they've done the reading to know these people and topics and they pay them the proper respect. Bottom line: I enjoyed the commentary a great deal, and I came away from it with a deeper appreciation of the film itself - so top marks!

In fact, I'll go that compliment one better in that Rod and Troy's discussion of BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL stimulated my own thinking and made me repeatedly wish I could have been a third wheel in their commentary (as I have been a couple of times on their podcast). But therein lies the beauty of still being a blogger at this belated day and age: I can round up some of those thoughts here!

At one point early in the commentary, Rod points out that this film, while Spanish, is actually a giallo and that he won't brook any argument on this subject because it's such an obvious fact that it would be foolish to contradict. To contradict, perhaps; but to discuss, I think not. I personally would argue that BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL is a giallo more by design (or imitation) than birthright - by which I mean that it's analogous to a film like Jess Franco's DEATH PACKS A SUITCASE (1970), which was officially part of the West German Bryan Edgar Wallace series of thrillers but didn't quite feel a perfect fit. (Indeed, Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE was released in Germany as part of Rialto's Edgar Wallace series, which it wasn't properly part of, and I daresay BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL wouldn't be, either.) That said, the film has every outward sign of being a giallo, from its abstractly decorative title to its eroticized murder scenes and flaunted cinematographic techniques. But I truly feel that these are present because Naschy was imitating what was then a commercial trend in European cinema, much as he had imitated the Universal Monsters series for so many films. Much as we tend to distinguish between the Spaghetti Western and the Paella Western, BLUE EYES is a different creature from its Italian counterparts; Spain had no giallo tradition because its national censorship forebade this. You  can find paperback counterparts to the Mondadori gialli in Great Britain and France, but not in Spain.

The beauty of BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL not belonging at the giallo table proper is that it is therefore free to use its ideas toward becoming its own thing, and Naschy embraces this prospect with anarchistic enthusiasm. I was impressed to notice on this viewing that Naschy and Aured's imitation had some noticeable influence on the giallo itself. Naschy casts himself as Gilles, an ex-convict, hitchhiking through the French countryside following his release from prison, who takes a job as a handyman in a secluded house inhabited by three very different sisters, each of whom is disfigured or disabled in some way. Aside from the obvious value of a "three sisters" concept to Dario Argento, even before Gilles reaches the house, we are privy to a series of red-tinted reveries or fantasies or possibly memories that depict him strangling different women - which don't recall much that existed within the gialli at that point in time, but look very much ahead to the way Argento filmed the roaring headaches suffered by his shadowy killer in TENEBRAE, made almost a decade later in 1981. Likewise, the death shrine exposed in the final reel looks forward to the room reserved for Nicholas in Argento's TRAUMA (1993).

Given these subjective cutaways to the inside of Gilles' mind, by the time he meets his three beautiful co-stars (Maria Perschy, Diana Lorys and Eva Leon), the viewer is somewhat indoctrinated into viewing the sisters less as three distinct women than as three facets of all women, as interpreted by his fractured psyche. There is a sister who is purely physical (because she's a nymphomaniac), one whose disfigured arm and hand cause her to wear a prosthetic, and a third who is more purely intellectual (because she is bound to a wheelchair). The middle sister, the most self-consciously damaged of the three, is thus equal parts mental and physical - and the sisters, as a trinity, can be viewed as semi-mechanical and thus doll-like (though it is not their blue eyes that give the film its title). This being a Naschy film, Gilles gets to assert his bare-chested, axe-wielding masculinity toward two of the sisters; this being a horror film, he suffers to some extent from each conquest.

Which brings me to another important point of reference, namely Don Siegel's THE BEGUILED (1970), a film recently remade by Sofia Coppola and based on a novel (well worth reading) by Thomas Cullinan. In this Civil War-based story, Clint Eastwood played an injured deserter who is found and taken in by the students of a Southern school for young women. There he is furtively cared for by the girls, and his personal charm becomes a lightning rod for arousing their nascent sexual feelings and sparking petty jealousies, until his presence is made known to the adult instructors, whose sexual feelings are more mature and ultimately more deadly. Once the man is properly nursed back to health, he wants to leave, and the women amputate his leg to keep him there - a form of castration that unleashes the worse side of his male character in compensation for his loss.

There is a somewhat complementary scene in BLUE EYES in which Gilles is stabbed in the abdomen by the handyman he's replaced, and his seeping wound is tended by two of the sisters (Lorys and Léon) and Michelle (Inés Morales), the pretty blonde nurse who tends to the needs of the third sister. The close-ups of the seeping and frankly labial injury recall the subversively erotic imagery of Caravaggio's 1603 religious painting "The Incredulity of St. Thomas." Considering Naschy's own recorded comments about his belief that making horror films in Spain at this point in history was a revolutionary act, the comparison isn't far-fetched.

SPOILER: The meaning of the film's baroque title is ultimately revealed when it is learned that the eye-gougings from a rash of murders surrounding the sisters' property are the doing of a local doctor (Eduardo Calvo) determined to reconstruct the corporeal form of his late daughter. This revelation - which follows the surprising death of Naschy's lead protagonist as the film continues for another reel - would seem to wrest the film away from its giallo pretensions back to its fundamentally Spanish origins, as the conceit of a determined doctor working to restore/reconstruct a damaged female form - despite originating in Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Les yeux sans visage, 1959) literally extends from Jess Franco's seminal THE AWFUL DR ORLOF (Gritos en la noche, 1962) to Narciso Ibańez Serradór's THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (La residencia, 1970). The irony of the film's finale resides in the fact that the doctor's selfless (albeit criminal) attempts to make his daughter whole again mirror Gilles' more selfish manipulations of the three sisters, each of them incomplete in some way, which are genuinely curative until the sole unconquered sister brings everything crashing down.

Like its companion feature VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (directed by Léon Klimovsky), THE BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, while the others in the set are framed at the more expected 1.85:1.  It is fairly unusual to see a 1974 film lensed this way, not least of all one involving the precepts of the giallo, a genre almost always composed for anamorphic widescreen lensing. This was almost certainly the choice of cinematographer Francisco Sánchez (who, interestingly, also shot VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES) and perhaps made this decision to better accommodate the high-ceilinged, split-level interiors of the villa in Madrid where they were filming, as well as the tall-treed locations where Naschy's character makes his last run toward freedom. (Sánchez did not always opt for 1.33:1, as his earlier 1.85:1 CURSE OF THE DEVIL with Naschy shows.) I looked very closely at the framing for fault but could find absolutely none; in fact, certain shots - like the overhead climactic shot inside the house - appear ideally composed.

If this first dip into THE PAUL NASCHY COLLECTION is just a taste of its pleasures, it ought to be well worth the purchase price indeed.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017


Teri Tordai as Marguerite of Burgundy.

A title like TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS conjures up a certain set of preconceptions, most of which this 1968 German/French/Italian co-production (originally titled Der Turm der verbotenen liebe, or "The Tower of Forbidden Love") quickly dispatches. 

There is no screaming, per se; there is only one virgin in the scenario, and he's male; however, there is a tower - a not very convincing scale model of one, not unlike those we see under the main titles of Hammer films. The direction, credited to François Legrand, was actually a collaboration between Franz Antel and Fritz Umgelter. Now comes the real surprise: it's a swashbuckler, which the English credits vaguely inform us was based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas; that novel was in fact a play entitled La Tour de Nesle, which Dumas only revised from an original text by Frédéric Gaillardet, based on the stories of debauchery concerning Marguerite, daughter of the Duke of Burgundy, and other members of the royal families of France and England, who were said to use an old guard tower on the edge of the river Seine for their adulterous revels in 14th century France. In 1955, the great Abel Gance adapted the play into a fantastic and erotic adventure concoction, La Tour des Nesles, starring Pierre Brasseur (EYES WITHOUT A FACE) as the heroic swordsman Buridan and Silvana Pampanini as Marguerite de Bourgogne. In Gance's telling, Marguerite was the kinky ringleader of a scheme in which new young men were serially invited to the Tower for a night of bliss, with either her or one of her handmaidens, dressed in a mask and nothing else, after which they were slain by the armed guards and tossed into the Seine.

Jean Piat as the dashing Buridan.

 If it surprises some that something called TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS is a remake of an Abel Gance film, it's still more surprising that it's not a bad one. It's actually a good deal like Gance's film (alas, only available as a French DVD without English options), including an abundance of bare breasts, but without any of the shock value accrued by being made in 1955. Made in 1968, which accounts for some of the punches it pulls in terms of violence, it is beautifully photographed by Oberdan Trojani - whose screen credits include Orson Welles' OTHELLO, THE GIANT OF METROPOLIS, HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN and THE LEGEND OF BLOOD CASTLE - a brace of marvelous titles I've never suspected of sharing such patrimony. 

Jacques Herlin and Uschi Glas. 

And yet there is something delightfully off-kilter about it all: despite its dark subject matter, it's an exuberantly happy swashbuckler, thanks to an irresistibly charming, sometimes fourth-wall-breaking lead performance by Jean Piat (who made his screen debut playing Gaston Leroux's detective character Joseph Rouletabille and was featured in Sascha Guitry's 1955 remake of Gance's NAPOLEON, along with Orson Welles); the women (led by Teri Tordai and Uschi Glas) are just as relentlessly beautiful, garbed in a kind of kinky fantasy version of 14th century dress - half fairy tale, half Roger Vadim/Barbarella fantasy; it boasts some extremely grand production design by Peter Rothe, which extends to a giant chessboard obsessed over by the King (THE WHIP AND THE BODY's Jacques Herlin); it's scored (by Mario Migliardi, Margheriti's BATTLE OF THE WORLDS) against its historical setting with music that seems to have escaped from an Edgar Wallace krimi, with lots of blood-icing organ and skulking electric bass; and it's dubbed with those bright, uber-contemporary voices you may remember from the English versions of the SCHOOLGIRL REPORT pictures. It may be a mutt, but so is Spumoni ice cream.

TOWER OF SCREAMING VIRGINS was first released on home video, decades ago, as a scratchy, washed-out, poor quality VHS from Video Yesteryear. Seeing the film on this limited edition BD-R disc from Snappy Video, with its rich - if often fluctuating and overly hot - color intact, is a pleasant surprise, a delicious and sometimes delirious sensual experience. It was originally announced as having a limited run of only 100 copies, but after these sold out from Snappy's website, the title reappeared at Amazon. The disc is sourced from a surviving 35mm release print from its US distributor Maron Films Limited - the same company that released Luís Buñuel's TRISTANA, Sergio Martino's THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH as NEXT!, and the Fima Noveck-doctored version of Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, so I presume the actual rights to this film are held by some overseas company, as is the case with those other imports. I'll leave it to others to decide how authorized a release this Region A/B/C disc is, with its "M" (Mature) rating (it was rated X and reduced to an R rating in its US theatrical release) - but I will say that, while it's the very definition of a no-frills package, with no extras, no subtitles, and no color timing (there's a bit too much magenta in this Spumoni), it's a nice souvenir of a mostly forgotten and diverting picture, which you may find worth seeking out.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

RIP Adam West (What A Way to Go Go)

RIP Adam West, age 88, the only real Batman of all the Batmen, and one of the very few American actors I can think of who could give both a genuine performance and a surrealist wink at the same time. Who could wear both a Bat-suit AND a pair of clown-colored baggies in a surfing competition with the Joker, or awkward with a sexy lady, or be up to his cowled neck in a giant Frosty Freeze sno-cone and still walk away with his dignity intact. He caught my attention even before BATMAN, playing Captain Quick in a series of TV commercials for the chocolatey milk supplement, as astronauts in ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS and the OUTER LIMITS episode "Invisible Enemy" and as the dashing young hero of a Three Stooges feature, THE OUTLAWS IS COMING - and he shone in later roles as well (THE MARRIAGE OF A YOUNG STOCKBROKER is one of his more unfairly overlooked performances) - but few of my childhood icons were as completely and originally realized as his Batman. His resourcefulness was played for laughs, but his intelligence never was, and he was the first crime fighter in my experience to tap into the outré to solve crimes - meditation, mysticism, that side of himself that knew that nothing awakened such fright in the criminal element as the shadow of a bat. I suppose my childhood will never be dealt a bigger ZOWIE! of a death blow till the Big One comes along.

I'm so glad he was able to make his final bow in his definitive role, alongside once-youthful ward Burt Ward's Robin, as the voice of Batman in THE RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS - and with a BATMAN '66 comic doing well wherever fine comics are sold. 

Speaking of comics, Adam's loss - reportedly due to a short battle with leukemia - brought back some potent memories of that time of life when he loomed largest.As a nine year-old, I had some DC Comics in 1966 (I've recently been feeling a strong pull toward re-acquiring some of those 80-Page Giants) but I was a Marvel kid from roughly 1963 on. However, when the BATMAN show premiered on ABC-TV in January 1966, I had to start adding BATMAN and DETECTIVE comics to my monthly pile. This was the first issue I bought, #178, January 1966. Cover art by Gil Kane. As I recall, the art inside was attributed to "Bob Kane" - bland, stiff, not half as exciting. But the next issue had The Riddler on the cover, art by Carmine Infantino. Those Infantino covers would have been worth the 12 cents without ANYTHING inside.

For reasons unknown to me, when the series first went on the air, 20th Century Fox was caught short in terms of releasing an authorized soundtrack album - so the breech was filled by a lot of cover albums, including one by an anonymous outfit calling themselves The Bat Boys. (Does anyone know their story? Any moonlighting jazz legends in this ramshackle combo? I'm told it was a product created for Pickwick, so it's not impossible that Lou Reed or John Cale were involved. Hey, I wouldn't admit it either. ) Anyway, I remember playing this one a lot before the Neal Hefti and Nelson Riddle albums came along to replace it. One thing that endeared it to me was a noticeably wrong chord on the electric organ - an honest-to-God mistake - around the 1:32 mark... which the uploader of this track has apparently taken the time to fix after all these years. Or was it exclusive to the mono version? Or was a bum take accidentally released on the first pressing?

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Of WonderFest, Drive-Ins and Legacy

This past weekend, Donna and I made our annual trek down to Louisville, Kentucky to attend WonderFest. The fact of the matter is that neither of us really ended up attending WonderFest, per se - aside from going out for meals, we didn't get downstairs at all! We hear there are good people and good things going on down there, but the reason we go is to spend time with our friends and we couldn't break away from our duties in what has come to be known as The Kogar Suite. Named in respectful deference to our friend and mentor Bob Burns, each year the Kogar Suite grants sanctuary to those nearest and dearest to us, while observing a different room theme. One year, it was Kogar and other assorted apes; then it was DARK SHADOWS... and this year, Donna and Lisa Herzog came up with the idea for a Drive-In theme. It proved to be pretty popular among the attendees, especially once it was decided to include a free concession stand - complete with taste-tempting hot dogs, mouth-watering popcorn, delicious candy, and a host of sparkling soft drinks! Traditionally, the Suite is a place where we all gather to discuss the most important topics of the day (for example, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD) as Donna plays hostess, welcoming people and mixing up something she calls a Vodka Sunset. This year, something called a Re-Animator was added to the cocktails menu (or is that a Reanna-mator?) and our special guests included actor Brian Howe and Nashville's own diabolically rockin' The Exotic Ones.

Yes, even The Exotic Ones (and John Davis) enjoy Kogar Suite Hot Dogs!
This must have been our fifteenth year of attending, as it was also the fifteenth year that David Colton has presented the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards down there. VIDEO WATCHDOG and I were nominated in several categories but we didn't end up in the Winner's Circle anywhere on the ballot. So you can imagine our surprise when host David Colton suddenly announced "something new" - a new award, not necessarily to be given every year, but in consideration of "special achievement" - and then proceeded to present Donna and I with the first-ever Rondo Legacy Award for having produced 27 years of VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Donna and I with David Colton and our new addition.
There is video of our acceptance - apparently too large a file to share here (thanks, Blogger) - but, trust me, the award came as a complete surprise. I was genuinely speechless and grateful to Donna for meeting the moment with some eloquence. I am especially pleased that her name is on the award. I've often had to remind her that all of our Rondo wins for Best Magazine and Best Book are shared by her, but this is the first Rondo Award that actually bears her name. It's now my hope that Jim & Marian Clatterbaugh will win one of these next year for their many years of producing that beautiful magazine, MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT.

I want to close this entry with a special word of thanks to David Colton... not just for creating this special award that brings a touch of blessed closure to something that had to end much too suddenly, but for bringing the Rondo Awards each year to WonderFest. Had he not done this fifteen years ago, I might never have discovered this convention or met so many amazing people who have become some of my dearest friends. You've made a real difference in my life, David - Donna's too. Thank you.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.