Thursday, November 28, 2019

Joe Sarno Book Update

Joe Sarno attending a 2006 screening of ABIGAIL LESLEY'S BACK IN TOWN.
Yesterday, as I was finishing up the 1968 chapter for my current book in progress - GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: THE EROTIC CINEMA OF JOE SARNO - I had an unexpected eureka. As I’ve been working on it these last few years, my intention changed from the initial plan of writing one book about everything, to writing one book on his 1960s films and another on his work in the 1970s “and beyond.” However, as I put the final touches on the group of chapters covering his prodigious output in 1968, I came to a sudden realization that the manuscript's arc was complete: it had to end here - with the last film of his black and white period (PASSION IN HOT HOLLOWS), his final and now full-time transition to color (MARCY), and the hugely successful theatrical release of INGA.

1960-1968 may sound like a narrow field of exploration but it actually covers some 35 films, more movies than most directors get to make in a lifetime. The second volume - which I plan to call THE GREATEST ANIMAL ACT ON EARTH (a phrase used in his 1964 magnum opus SIN IN THE SUBURBS) - will actually cover fewer titles at the same depth, maybe 24, focusing primarily on his softcore work and some transitional hardcore features that warrant consideration with his best and most effective work. I’m only going to cover the dozens of hardcore quickies he made in the 1980s in a chapter of thumbnails, because Joe took no pride in them and frankly they don’t interest me either.

Dividing his oeuvre at this juncture will allow the second book to begin with Joe and Peggy’s nearly two-year stint in Sweden and Denmark, where and when they made a number of important pictures, including THE SEDUCTION OF INGA. Had I stuck with my original plan, I’d have to open Book 2 with HORN A PLENTY (presently unavailable) and THE YOUNG EROTIC FANNY HILL (a movie Joe disliked), which would not be so energizing.

So, no one could be more surprised, but I find my rough draft for Book 1 - close to 500 single-spaced pages - now suddenly in hand. The next step, of course, is to look it all over carefully and determine how much of this first half of the job is done.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Operation Commandos in Furs

Last year I realized that there are still a good many American International releases from the 1950s that I've never seen. I'd like very much to see them all - so I was delighted when I recently discovered that Shout! Factory TV (viewable directly on their website or via Amazon Prime app) is featuring a number of their rarely-seen war pictures this month.

Last night, I watched Burt Topper's TANK COMMANDOS, which takes place in Italy toward the end of WWII and features a surprisingly strong performance by Wally Campo, who I'd known only for being one of the striped-shirted workers aboard Vincent Price's Albatross in AIP's MASTER OF THE WORLD (1963). I have a feeling that not all the film was shot on location, but it's also quite possible none of it was, which made me more curious about Topper as a resourceful, overlooked low-budget filmmaker. To make it even more interesting, it's very well photographed by future OUTER LIMITS DP John Nickolaus, who makes use of some clever glass matte shots, and credited with the sound effects is... you guessed it... Josef von Sternberg.

Tonight, I continued my little film festival with TANK COMMANDOS' original co-feature, Louis Clyde Stoumen's OPERATION DAMES - which is set in Korea 1950, where a small squad of US soldiers acquires the unwanted task of helping a group of USO showgirls out of enemy territory. It's kind of a stinker, but it has moments, not to mention one of Eve Meyer's only two feature film performances. You haven't lived till you've seen her try to camouflage herself by rubbing mud all over her face and then walk furtively through California foliage sporting some of the biggest blonde hair you'e ever seen. Earlier in the picture, there's a scene of several characters talking around a campfire that makes one's jaw drop when one of them casually mentions that it's the middle of the night - it's also broad daylight.

Afterwards, I happened to notice that Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS was on Amazon Prime. It felt like serendipity because my copy of the new color edition of Stephen Thrower's MURDEROUS PASSIONS: THE DELIRIOUS CINEMA OF JÉSUS FRANCO had arrived today and I spent an hour or so very happily paging through it from cover to cover. It's beautiful. I checked the quality of VENUS IN FURS, which turned out to be very nice, and ended up watching the whole thing. It's still a spellbinder; it's Maria Rohm's masterpiece, even though this version does not represent Franco's original cut. As Mr. Thrower points out, there is actually no evidence that his original cut ever saw the light of day anywhere, or indeed that he ever finished the picture. Everything after the cop shows up is a good deal messier than I remembered, and if the two available cuts - the other being PAROXYSMUS, from Italian TV - tell us anything, it's that no one has yet been able to assemble a serviceable third act - nor an explanation for why Maria Rohm's hairstyle and color changes three times during the movie. The US cut comes closer to achieving a satisfying ending (though it is presaged in the hipster narration at least a couple of times), but the Italian version feels more like a Franco movie and it has a jazz soundtrack that I can actually believe was written by Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg. 

Maria Rohm in VENUS IN FURS.
When the end credits were rolling, I noticed that the post-production work on the picture was credited to Robert S. Eisin and Harry Eisen. By checking their IMDb credits, I see that Robert was the editorial guy and Harry was primarily a music supervisor, so Robert must have cut this US version together for Commonwealth United while Harry embellished the original soundtrack with library music by Stu Phillips and others.

I was startled to discover that Robert was not only the editor of Don Siegel's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS but was in charge of its post-production work, so he was the guy who changed the ending to please Allied Artists! He also supervised the US version of RODAN, which was similarly reworked with flashbacks and voice-over narration - and edited Albert Zugsmith's CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER, which is just as trippy as the US cut of VENUS IN FURS. Bringing us back to where I started, Robert also turns out to have been the editor on a few of AIP's war pictures - SUICIDE BATTALION, JET ATTACK, and PARATROOP COMMAND. The IMDb also lists him as having done post-production work on Franco's 99 WOMEN, so it's likely that Franco's original cut of that has never been seen here. 

Eisen's career dates back almost 65 years, so it's almost certain he's no longer with us. Too bad - I'll bet he could have given a great interview.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 11, 2019


Sabrina Sharp as the Dark Lady in THROAT SPROCKETS. It's about time!

I'm not sure where the time went, but it was almost exactly nine years ago this month that I was invited to come up to the film factory at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, PA to write and direct a short film based on my 1994 novel THROAT SPROCKETS. It was decided by my friend and executive producer Robert Tinnell in advance that I would actually direct two films - one that would serve as a trailer for my book or a possible feature film adaptation, and then a short sustained scene of my choosing. I was strongly petitioned to arrive with storyboards for the latter, and though I had not actually drawn anything in many years, I postponed the task until the night before my departure and somehow managed to produce more than 100 drawings on index cards. They definitely proved useful.

Hotel Scene original storyboards by Tim Lucas.
Both films managed to be completed ahead of schedule over a weekend shoot, with Douglas film students volunteering their time. They were superb. My producers Joseph Russio and Matt Deering were masterful in providing me with locations and vehicles I had no idea of how to go about acquiring. I didn't have too much control over casting, but I lucked out with the suave Christopher Scott Grimaldi playing the Ad Man, Brandy Loveless as the tattooed temptress Nancy Reagan, and a supporting cast that included Sabrina Sharp as the Dark Lady, Allie Lewis, Adrienne Fischer, and others too numerous to mention. The films were shot by Jarrod Yerkes and cut by Stephanie Fenrisson (now Akers) and R.J. Taylor, all of whom did brilliant jobs. Stephanie, Keith Holt and Jason Baker were all indispensable comrades in arms and art. When it was all done, I showed the work to Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees and he kindly allowed me to use the Banshees' song "Umbrella" in the trailer, and provided a solo cue recorded with his wife Arban Severin for the hotel scene. He seemed favorably impressed when I showed him the final result, and I'm honored to have the music on the films.

C.S. Grimaldi and Brandy Loveless in the Hotel Scene.
Aside from a single public screening of the Hotel Scene at the 2011 Fantafestival in Montreal, few people have seen this work since it was done. Why? 

Well, for two reasons primarily: 1) I always hoped we might be able to work a bit more on the final sound mix of the hotel scene, where some dialogue is under-miked or spoken too briskly. Minimal looping would work wonders. Also, the idea was to use this material to pursue offers to complete the film, and with our respective workloads, neither Bob nor I had the time or means to do this. So the idea gradually became to hold back the material until it could promote the release of a new edition of THROAT SPROCKETS, which has been out of print now for more than 20 years. It may well come back into print in the next couple of years, but that's not now.

I revisited this footage earlier today, made curious by an interviewer who asked to see it. It brought back such wonderful memories of the time I spent with all those gifted obsessives, many of whom had read my book - and I have to assume that some of them never saw this footage - so I asked Bob Tinnell (who is currently occupied with opening his new feature, FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES) if he would mind if I set loose the Kraken.

He shot back, "DO IT!"

And so I am - and if I need a reason after all this time, here's a good one. It's 2019 - the 25th Anniversary of my first published novel.

And so... ladies and gentlemen, step right up.

Here is your ticket to the THROAT SPROCKETS trailer.
The password is "eros."

And here is your ticket to the THROAT SPROCKETS Hotel Scene.
Again, the password is "eros."

The unclear dialogue at the outset of the Hotel Scene is as follows... 

NANCY: That campaign's everywhere nowadays. Is it one of yours?
AD MAN: Why do you say that?
NANCY: Because it looks like the poster for the...
AD MAN (shushes her): 'Subliminal' means you're not supposed to notice!

The poster she's referring to is this one:

Original poster art by Dorian Cleavenger and Radomir Perica.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

This Month: Harryhausen at the New Beverly

The awesome Tales attack in Ray Harryhausen's JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
This month at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, they are hosting a month's worth of Ray Harryhausen matinees - a rare opportunity, for those in the area, to immerse themselves in Dynamation on the big screen in 35mm! They asked me to write about the four pictures being shown this month and here's a link to my article.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.  

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Thoughts on Hammer's TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL

Paul Massie as Hyde.
Paul Massie as Jekyll.
I may be alone in this, but I admire THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (which I just watched as part of Indicator's forthcoming HAMMER VOLUME 4: FACES OF FEAR box set - a beautiful presentation) and consider it one of the most interesting interpretations of the tale. People have problems with it because it’s not a horror film and Jekyll doesn’t become a “monster” in the literal sense. The movie’s one insurmountable problem has always been Jekyll’s beard - where does it go when he becomes the clean-shaven Hyde? Director Terence Fisher must have been aware of this; I don’t know if it was specified in Wolf Mankowitz’s script, but it got past any number of possible objections before it reached the screen, so it must have a reasonable explanation. 

Watching the movie again, the thought came to me that people see in other people what they want to see (think of those young infatuated women who attended Ted Bundy’s trial); they also see in themselves what they want to see, whether they are being narcissistic or hyper-critical. So it’s becoming my interpretation that the film is subjective rather than objective, or at least an objectively presented story tainted with subjectivity; that it’s Jekyll’s own deluded dream of what happens, the account as he (or Hyde) writes it down in his notebook. For all we know, it could be Jekyll’s own belief in Hyde that persuades others that he is two different people. I shared these thoughts with my Facebook friends, some of whom pointed out that it is just a movie, and that the detail of Jekyll's vanishing/reappearing beard shouldn't be any harder to accept than his ability to change his sex back and forth in DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971).

At the bottom line, this is a story - a fantastic story at that - I can accept as being told in a symbolic way. Indeed, after seeing this film ten times or more over the years, I’m beginning to wonder if Jekyll’s wife Kitty and the snake dancer are really two different women, as a big part of Hyde’s scheme is putting the two of them in each other’s beds - that is, reconciling them (and thus himself, in relation to them) in both his mind and libido. At any rate, this study in anarchy juggles more interesting ideas and issues than most other Hammer films combined, so it’s always been a favorite.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 04, 2019

WEREWOLF and BYLETH: New Severin Titles Reviewed

Coming to Blu-ray tomorrow - Tuesday, November 5th - from Severin Films are two Italian horror items: Paolo Heusch's WEREWOLF IN A GIRL'S DORMITORY (1961) and Leopoldo Savona's BYLETH, THE DEMON OF INCEST (1972). Though produced a decade apart, the two unrelated films prove to be fairly well-matched as a double feature.

Giallo touches in the Werewolf film.
Its American title makes a ready mockery of WEREWOLF IN A GIRL'S DORMITORY, originally titled Lycanthropus. It's actually a humorless tale of stirred and thwarted male libido set in a girls' reformatory - an important key to its subtext. Though an early entry from the Golden Age of Italian Fantasy, it's unusual in that it's a contemporary gothic, with its whodunit aspect more akin to a giallo than a supernatural horror movie. Surprisingly, it even includes a scene involving an archetypal black-gloved killer, wielding a scary syringe, a few years before Mario Bava made such imagery his own in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964).

Mark Damon as the haunted anti-hero of BYLETH.
On the other hand, BYLETH, THE DEMON OF INCEST (Byleth, il demonio dell'incesto) was made six years after the last gasps of Italy's classic horror cycle (1957-66) and thus represents one of a few vain attempts to revive or sustain a specifically Italian twist on the genre. A historical gothic with kinky elements, it's about a noble-born incel who comes unhinged when his more-than-beloved sister pays a visit to his isolated castle with a new husband in tow.

Weirdly, WEREWOLF, the more contemporary of the two films, is set in England and shot in black-and-white, while BYLETH, the historical thriller, takes place in 19th century Italy (it's incredibly rare for an Italian thriller to admit its nationality) and is lensed in color. Also, though I could not find a perfect match to illustrate my point, the exterior locations in both films seem related and they may have shared one or two exterior locations (see below). In his book Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1970-1979 (McFarland) Roberto Curti reveals that BYLETH was filmed at "the baronial palace in Borgo del Sasso, in Cerveteri."

Not precise matches, but eye-catching nonetheless.

Not your hairiest werewolf.
Scripted by Italy's genre-writing machine Ernesto Gastaldi, WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS' DORMITORY was given the usual English camouflage before it was released - Heusch credited as "Richard Benson," Gastaldi as "Julian Berry," and composer Armando Trovajoli as "Francis Berman," etc. Indeed, in the States, MGM swept away most of these irrelevancies from the outset to focus for maybe 10 seconds on a tie-in theme song, "The Ghoul In School" by The Fortunes - not to be confused with the same-named British beat group who scored a hit around this same time with "You've Got Your Troubles." The song was released with some self-respecting distance on MGM's Cub Records sub-division label. Cursory but contractually obliged actor credits were clipped from the front and tacked onto the end. The film's producers did not renew their MGM contract when it expired, so that version fell into the public domain, resulting in several poor quality, incomplete, and ultimately misleading versions infiltrating the marketplace.  

Barbara Lass.
Running about a minute longer than the American version, the original Italian cut presented on Severin's disc is, by far, the best the film has ever looked or played in this country. The original opening titles show a Saul Bass influence and allow the film its intended somber quality. If you choose the Italian language option with English subtitles, you'll find that a more adult film results, one in which the characters and their teachers come across as more mutually compromised and corrupt. Carl Schell, the male lead, is a new teacher at the reformatory, sent there as penance for a charge of manslaughter; the female charges, led by the soulful and winsome Barbara Lass (née Kwiatkowsa, the first wife of Roman Polanski - who plays Brunhilda in the Italian version, Priscilla in the English dub), are accustomed to selling their sexual favors in exchange for preferential treatment; Sheena, an icy aging instructor in the Harriet Medin tradition is married to an impoverished nobleman (Maurice Marsac, whose career extends to much American television including The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres) whose sexual trysts with the werewolf's first victim lead to blackmail and a not-very-energetic police investigation. The film is sometimes criticized for its not-very-hairy werewolf but this is a cultural variation and one probably truer to actual case histories of lycanthropy than what movies like THE WOLF MAN (1941) gave us. The script stops just short of drawing a pronounced parallel between the werewolf and the sexual predator but the pieces are certainly there to be connected, as is the similar relationship between the respective partners who have perhaps enabled their behavior to prolong the illusion of their own happiness.

Curt Lowens and Luciano Pigozzi.
Gastaldi is the real auteur here, as the story and its characters resonate with others he created in other films; Heusch's direction is not particularly inspired but competent. The atmosphere is due entirely to Renato del Frate's cinematography and special effects and particularly the oboe-driven Trovajoli score, alternately glimmering and gloomy, which bears many similarities to his music for Mario Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (Ercole al centro della terra, 1961), made that same year. Bava favorite "Alan Collins" (Luciano Pigozzi) also brings interest to the film as a disfigured groundskeeper, as do uncredited walk-ons by the similarly ubiquitous John Karlsen and SUSPIRIA's Giuseppe Transocchi.

Severin's 1.66:1 disc includes a new interview with Gastaldi, which focuses almost exclusively on this film and reveals that Paolo Heusch was gay, known to his crew as "Paolina," and often directed his scenes while reclining on a chaise longue. (I can't wait for the Tim Burton movie.) The set also includes David Del Valle's interview/commentary with the film's werewolf Curt Lowens from the previous Retromedia DVD, a booklet reprinting an article on the film from one of the old Charlton horror magazines, and a second disc of Trovajoli's score (14 tracks, previously released by Digitmovies with the same composer's score for ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, Seddock, l'erede del Satana, 1960).

BYLETH, on the other hand, is a genuinely fresh discovery, never previously available in this country and a film that Severin discovered on the cusp of extinction, surviving only as a mildly imperfect German print called Trio der Lust, which is matched here with the incomplete surviving Italian track, both playable with English subtitles. It may be an Italian film, but the audio track defaults to German so much, and so distractingly, I recommend sticking with the German track - which is better acted anyway. Director Leopoldo Savona is probably best-known for the movie he did not make: it was he who began shooting the Viking Western Helmut il solitario, which ran out of funding and was later completed as KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (Raffica di coltelli, 1965) by Mario Bava.

Lionello spies on his sister's marital happiness.
After a pre-credits, post-coital murder that establishes the film's voyeuristic, psycho-sexual terrain, we cut to the opening titles, illustrated with various details of Gustave Doré etchings from Dante's Inferno, before Mark Damon is introduced as Duke Lionello Shandwell, to the tune of someone's electric fuzz guitar. (The score is credited to Vasili Kojucherov, who would subsequently score Damon's THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT.) Prone to nervous breakdowns as a child and incestuous longing for his sister Barbara (Claudia Gravy) since puberty, Lionello has spent some years alone since Barbara placed some deliberate distance between herself and her sibling. Left to his own devices, Lionello has become a solitary voyeur spying on the hayloft frolics of the hired help - but word of Barbara's pending return raises his hopes for the shared life he's always dreamed of. Unfortunately, she arrives with a husband, Giordano (Aldo Bufi Landi), who tries his best to befriend the brother who can only see him as a hated rival. Other expendable women pop up, allowing more murders to take place, and Giordano eventually traces the cause to a demon named Byleth - the most beautiful of all demons, according to legend, garbed in black astride a white horse. Barbara recalls that this obscure name was first invoked by Lionello as a child, around the time of his mother's violent death, and he has invoked it once again, summoning Byleth to punish the sexually active ladies with a trident-like neck impaler. The film's back story invokes the Catholic rites of exorcism more than a year before William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST (1973). 

Lionello unburdens himself to Barbara.
Italian Gothic horror encompasses a good many supporting characters like Damon, ranging from Franco Nero in THE THIRD EYE (Il terzo occhio, 1965) to Alessio Orano in Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL (Lise e il diavolo, 1973), and Damon takes his performance through the roof, reminding us of Oliver Reed in CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) and almost every role ever played by Michel Lemoine. Unfortunately, none of the other roles are as persuasively cast, with Gravy most bland of all as the object of Lionello's obsession, so the story's perversity becomes more deadweight than pleasure. Savona's directorial bag of tricks is limited, his lack of visual imagination aggravated by a propensity for zooms, plodding POV shots of boots climbing stairs, and subjective handheld murder scenes. Despite these traits, BYLETH's rarity makes it a necessity for Italian gothic completists, but most any film of similar genre from this time and place is better. I could best compare it to Aristide Massaccesi's DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (1973), as I imagine it might play if deprived of Klaus Kinski's commanding cameo and Berto Pisano's literally enthralling score.

In his aforementioned book, Roberto Curti lists BYLETH's original running time at 95 minutes and the German version at 81 - the running time here rounds out to 83 minutes, so there must be a great deal of footage missing from the irretrievable Italian version. This may be one of those cases where the tighter presentation is the kinder gift to posterity.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.