Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sweet House of Horrors (1989): or, You Can't Do That On Television!

In the pantheon of Mad Directors we are slowly but surely building here at Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, there's one man whose name cries out for greater inclusion: Lucio Fulci. I mean, besides sharing a birthday with your ever-lovin' Vicar, this is the man who gave us a duck-voiced killer, a full-on internal-organ extrusion, and the justly beloved Zombie vs. Shark! His statue should definitely be ensconced in our grand marble temple to Cinematic Madmen, which is even now being laboriously constructed on the barren hill that swells like a plague-blasted breast between the Duchy and the Vicarage.

The Duke has done his part, erecting two monuments to the maestro's achievement in the zombie subgenre with his reviews of City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery. (But then, every time Duke watches Fulci, something gets erected, IYKWIMAITYD.) It's true that many casual viewers know Fulci chiefly for his legendary zombie output, but that's only scratching the surface. Those who have probed deeper know that Fulci was much more than just a zombievangelist.

Case in point: Fulci's little-seen made-for-Italian TV* effort from 1989, The Sweet House of Horrors, aka La dolce casa degli orrori. Here the Maestro trades zombies for ghosts, and doorways to Hell for a creepy haunted mansion. Happily, though, he maintains the atmosphere, insanity, and ocular violence that we've all come to love and expect.

*Nota bene: don't let that "made for TV" designation put you off--I don't know much about Italian TV, but I do know they have it all over us Yanks. This is far and away the goriest MFTV movie I ever expect to see. Unless I move to Italy, that is.

"We'll swallow your soul! Teehee!"

We open with what looks like a classic giallo set-up: a masked, black glove-wearing figure breaks into a dark, palatial mansion, heading straight for the secret wall safe almost as if he's got inside info. Unfortunately the owners of the house pick just that moment to return early from a party, surprising the thief mid-larceny. Edging into one of the poorly balanced, vase-bearing tables that rich Italians favor as ultra-effective thief-detectors, pottery is ruined and the clumsy crook is discovered.

Even though the homeowners are stunned motionless and the path to the front door is completely unobstructed, the thief apparently decides that, since the whole home robbery career path isn't working out, perhaps he'll try his hand at BRUTAL DOUBLE MURDERY. And wouldn't you know it, the kid's a natural! First he bashes the husband's head repeatedly into the sharp corner of a pillar, until his brains are oozing down the support's surface and a grisly flap of skin hangs loose from his scalp! Thereafter he chases the wife into the kitchen, pins her on the counter, and picks up a heavy meat tenderizer/ShakeWeight prototype. Bringing it down full-force on her zygomatic bone, he succeeds in rocketing her eyeball out of its socket like a New Year's Party Popper! Then he crushes the other eye like a grape, rather pointlessly--although let's be honest, how many times in life do you get a chance to do something like that, AMIRITE?

Keep an eye out

Anyway, the murderer loads the bodies into the couple's car and cleans up the mess. However, he misses two bloodstained stones on the driveway which begin to glow ominously, almost supernaturally...nah, it's probably nuthin! Later he drives out to a nearby cliff and pushes the (clearly empty) car over. And just like that: hey, presto! Perfect crime!

As it turns out, in addition to being filthy rich, the murdered couple were the parents of two adorable little moppets, Marco and Sarah. Fulci flexes his style muscles by giving us a long tracking shot from the kids' point of view as they walk through the graveyard to bury their parents, with adults looking down at them with heartbreaking compassion. The camera ends up in the grave looking up at the two kids, who weep piteously through the service--though strangely their tears don't stop them from chewing gum like a couple of cows and even blowing bubbles through their sobs! It's an odd directorial choice to say the least, but then we'll soon learn these tots are not your average rugrats.

Bubble Yum: the Flavor Lasts Longer Than Your Parents' Lives!

Aunt Marcia (Cinzia Monreale, previously the famously blank-eyed Emily of Fulci's The Beyond) is now all the family them young'uns got left, so she and bland-to-a-fault hubby Carlo (Jean-Christophe Brétigniere, winner of the Frenchiest French Name Invitational 1987) move in to the family mansion with a view toward selling the place and putting the money aside for the kids' future. It's a sensible plan, but unfortunately one that neither bratty Italian kids nor prematurely disoculated parental spirits are likely to take lying down.

It doesn't take long for the creepiness to commence: her first night in the house, Marcia is awakened by strange noises, which she follows to the attic, never bothering to flip on a light switch. (ALWAYS a good plan.) Upstairs she finds the attic has been converted by the kids into a secret rumpus room, complete with freaky papier-mâché masks and an assortment of dolls hanging by nooses from the rafters! However, that's child's play (ba-dump) compared to the source of the noise when discovered: a giant glowing-eyed buzzing fly! WTF?

Just in time for Christmas

Turns out that's just another of the kids' toys, leading me to believe that Italian toyshops are to American ones as Italian TV is to NBC Thursday. Still, Marcia is rightly weirded out, and wants to sell the place toot sweet. To this end they call in Mr. Colby (prolific character actor Franco Diogene), proprietor of Fat Sweaty Italian Realty, LLC. As the portly property purveyor breathlessly examines the house, wheezing to Auntie and Unk that they'll have to fix up the old place before they can hope to sell, the kids squeak defiantly, "This is OUR house!" Despite the fact he's wheezing like a vacuum cleaner sucking on a cat's ass, Colby decides to venture up to the attic to complete his appraisal. As he climbs, one of the steps slides away Scooby-Doo style, sending him tumbling a flight and a half to the floor! As the grown-ups tend his broken leg, the kids lighten the mood with a sing-song refrain, "Sausage is dying! Sausage is dying! Sausage is dying!"--that's really just as adorable as you'd think.

After a strange interlude in which the VERY SUSPICIOUS LOOKING gardener Guido (Lino Salemme of Demons, Delerium: Photos of Gioia, and The Passion of the Christ [?]) sees blood on a pillowcase and promptly quits his job (hmmm....), we find the children in their very Paperhouse-esque bedroom, mourning their parents sans bubble-gum. "Uncle Carlos and Aunt Marcia aren't bad people," Marco opines, "they're just idiots!" As he drifts to sleep on his tearstained pillow, the tot wishes his Mama and Papa would come back "from the Moon," where he figures they buggered off to, I guess. As if in answer to his prayers, two very badly superimposed candle flames appear, giggling demonically, which the kids immediately recognize as the spirits of their deceased parents! Huzzah!

"No, Guiliano, YOUR left!"

Yes, the folks have been haunting the place ever since their murder, and thanks to their children's love have been steadily gaining strength, to the point that they're now able to materialize. After comforting the children, they decide to get revenge on their killer--no points for guessing who THAT turns out to be.

As Guido is collecting his last check from Uncle Carlo, he is suddenly overcome with a feeling of dread, which is only exacerbated when he starts spontaneously bleeding out the side of his face! Driven mad with fear, he starts shouting a 'Nam flashback-style confession, running from the house without his lire while screaming, "You've seen my face! I've got to murder you all!" The wheels of Supernatural Justice turn swiftly in Italy, as Guido is attacked by a huge black dog out of nowhere, which in mid-air changes into a speeding semi-truck! Once again Fulci takes this opportunity to crank the gore up to the "Ridiculous" setting, as we see both wheels traverse the gardener's torso, leaving him split open like an overripe casaba melon!

Pro tip: you never want to tour the salami factory.

Say what you will about the stereotypical excitability of Italians, but when it comes to poltergeist activity, they're apparently cool as cucumbers. Even after all the weirdness up to this point, Marcia and Carlo pretty much shrug everything off as perfectly normal--even when Colby reappears, is blown around the living room by a phantom wind and burns his hand on a crutch superheated by the giggling candle flames! Similarly, when the children decide to help their folks along by putting on their strange masks, holding a necromancy ritual, and praying to "the spirits of the earth and air" to bring back "our Mama, our Papa, and if you can manage it, our little dog Bananas!" (?), Marcia tells Carlos it's no big whoop. "It's a very ancient rite--you mask up, you walk around, and you call out to whatever spirit you need to talk to." What, didn't you go to Catholic school, ya rube?

The ritual works like a charm: the parents fully re-materialize and promise never to split the family up again. Much like Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis learned to live with Wynona Rider at the end of Beetlejuice, Mama and Papa (and Bananas!) settle into a daily routine with the kids, picknicking, pushing them on the swings, and tucking them into bed in their attic/Dolly Dungeon. Marcia and Carlos can't see the ghosts, but know they're there--especially when they try to take the kids away, and the spirits levitate their Jeep three feet off the ground to stop them leaving!

But every Beetlejuice has his Otho, and in this instance the Otho character is played by Vernon Dobtcheff as perhaps the douchiest German exorcist EVAR. I mean seriously, just look at this guy:

Turn-ons: girls named Hildegard and Eau de Sulfur
Turn-offs: ghosts, puppies, and the letter "w."

Resplendent in his half-cape. pubey Amish beard, and beyond-gravelly German accent, the exorcist wastes no time calling the loving parental spirits "worthless" and "disgusting!" The torrent of abuse this guy throws at the spirits--who after all are only there because they love their kids so damn much--is really shocking, with lines like, "You will be thrown down by the force of my will!" and "Free the air of the stench of your miserable souls!" being among the nicest of the lot.

After a douchey seance ends in abject FAIL, the Exorcist returns with Colby and an excavator in tow--Colby agrees to buy the house, just to demolish it and sell the land. The spirits stop the excavator, but at great expense of power, and the Exorcist apparently succeeds in driving them away. Their goodbye scene with the house going nuts around them and other, less friendly spirits pushing at the gateway between worlds was pretty crazy, though I found it touching in the "Alec and Geena crumble in their wedding clothes" manner. The effects, though, leave something to be desired. In fact, any effect not involving lots of caro syrup and pig guts is pretty suspect in this flick.

Spooky, eh?

With their parents gone for good and the Douche Lord triumphant, the kids are extremely depressed--however, they happen to find a couple of glowing stones in the driveway, the talismans of their parents' power. They quickly pocket them to bring along to their next home. Douche Lord sees them do it however, and demands they hand them over--leading a last-minute freeze-frame comeuppance that recalls in equal parts the last shot of City of the Living Dead and the Nazi deathstravagazna in Raiders of the Lost Ark!

Friends, this is a MAD movie of the first order, but it's also an extremely well made one. Fulci's flair for atmosphere and active camera work are in full effect, with wonderful fog-shrouded night shots, some beautiful color-scheme/composition work, and enough chunky gore to please even the most jaded hellbeast. As I mentioned, there are a few extremely cheezy superimposition effects, and an ill-advised cartoon "spirit" that looks like it came out of a Casper the Friendly Ghost short, and now and then the soft-focus seems to case a film of gauze over the screen, but overall I have few complaints about the technical side of the viewing experience.

"Duke! Come back! I loooooove yooooooou!"

Story-wise, it's an interesting hodgepodge of genre tropes, starting out in giallo territory, moving quickly into Gorehound Plaza, and finally ending up in Poltergeistville. In fact, the movie could have been made with almost no gore at all--the really juicy scenes are so over the top as to seem almost out of place. I kind of picture Fulci as having the directorial mentality of a shark--once the first drop of blood hits the water, he doesn't want to stop until everybody is torn to pieces! Whether that's a caveat or a recommendation will depend on your peculiar movie-watching tastes.

As is often the case, the acting here is the least compelling facet of the proceedings, taking backseat to visuals, atmosphere, and general weirdness. The kids are squarely in the "annoying Italian child" mold, which if you've seen House by the Cemetery will say all you need to hear. Their high-pitched, sing-songy dubbing does seem believably evil and sadistic when called for, however, so there's that. Everyone else is pretty bland (Marcia, Carlo) or overly broad (Colby, Guido)--though the Exorcist is so horrible and arrogant that he transcends his role and becomes a kind of minor icon.

Before Donkey Kong hit it big, Mario took whatever odd jobs he could get.

So in the end, if you're looking for something gory, over-the-top nuts, but also interesting to look at--or else if you just want to see what you're missing every Friday night on Italian network TV--you should definitely give Sweet House of Horrors a try. 3 thumbs up. Just be sure to brush your teeth after.

A few more images from The Sweet House of Horrors (1989):

More than a little creepy

I had one like that

In the afterlife, it's all pineapples and bananas.

CrabGirl and Bluebird test their latest gadgets

"You see zis glove? It once talked sass to me too!"

"Sorry kids, but Bananas is in Hell. He was a very bad dog."

Douche Lord (Mother Mother)


Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970), Or How No Ladies Are Above Suspicion In Italy!

A courier arrived recently at the Ducal estates (known locally as “That creepy-ass huge McMansion on the hill, you know, the one with the constant parade of freaks coming and going, oh and the weird, mute doorman with no ears, not to mention the super fat, sexually virile rich dude that lives there” by the local teens). I knew this to be a special delivery by the outward look of the courier alone: riding a creaky, ancient pennyfarthing bicycle, he was dressed in an elaborate peacock cloak and hunched his shoulders like a dog trying to pass a peach seed. His pock-marked face belied a sort of hideous retardation that at once frightened me and aroused my curiosity. Surely only the most powerful of men could control a freak such as this!

Turns out, he was sent by the Vicar (I should have known). In his leathery hand, he extended a parchment-wrapped parcel, sealed with the Vicar’s own glyph, which was pressed into wax made from the rendered fat of an uncut yak penis. I unwrapped the package as the the dullard knuckled his forehead in my direction, turned and sped off back down the way, a single honk from his bicycle horn echoing sonorously across the expanse of my front acreage.

Inside, a gem of a giallo, dealing with filthy blackmailing Italians, red-headed hotties, and more cane-knives than you can shake a stick at. Huzzah! I exclaimed. The Vicar does love me so.

Let us explore, shall we?

Our movie opens with the young Minou (played by the luscious Dagmar Lassander) taking a bubble bath. Sure, she may have the real-life name of a surly stevedore from Portsmouth, but make no mistake, this is Grade-A Euro-babe hawtness, 100% organic free-range teat, folks. We get no nudity this early, but with Dagmar we don’t need it (well, I told myself this while watching), as her figure is striking whether it’s covered by suds in a tub, or drenched in The Duke’s Own™ Man-Ranch.

But not above smoking in the bathtub, clearly.

As she bathes, Minou gives us a bit of inner monologue about how she’s going to stop drinking so much, and how she’s going to give up taking tranquilizers(!). Now, I can’t speak for all of you, but the thought of a drunk, tranquilized Eurohottie gets me all excited, like. All down in my nethers, even. It isn’t long before Minou violates her own covenant, dropping a horse pill down her gullet with a bourbon chaser. You see, she’s pining for her husband, Peter, who has been neglecting his marital duties of late due to a massive workload.

"Mirror mirror, on the wall, who's the least suspicious of them all?"

Minou decides to go out later that night for a nice walk by the pier a little ways from her house. Before we can shriek “Watch out, Minou, it’s a slimy Italian male!”, a slimy Italian male accosts her by riding up on a motorcycle to leer. Minou flees, but he pursues, using a short cane that is almost like a cudgel, except more, uh, cane-like. Quickly revealing a hidden blade (as all good canes and cudgels should have), he uses it to capture Minou and forces her to the ground. He straddles her, and she fears her worst fear (as well as the top fear by most of planet Earth) is about to be realized: unwanted, surprise insemination by a sleazy Italian.

That's one spicy meatball!

It seems Mr. Blackmailer (as he’s known in the credits, played with obvious aplomb by Simon Andreu) has other ideas than simply cavorting in her cinnabar crevice. He lets her know that her husband is not all he seems he is, and is indeed a murderer! He uses his cane-knife to cut open the top part of her dress, revealing little but hinting at a lot more. He assures her that he’ll leave her honor intact, for the moment, for eventually she’ll beg him to take her. With that, he leaves her be.

Winner of the "Awesome Things To Do With A Cane-Knife" Contest.

Minou rushes off to a nearby bar, where a couple of drunks watch her down roughly 20 beers while waiting on her husband Peter to arrive. A humorous side-note here, the camera sure does linger over shots of the strategically placed bottles, for a brand called “Carlsberg”, which is, it turns out, now the 4th largest beer brewery in the world, and popular most anywhere suds are are popular, minus parts of Arkansas and most of the Darfur region of the Sudan. Minou explains that a sexual deviant accosted her, leaving out the parts about Peter, choosing wisely to keep those to herself for a while yet.

Carlsberg: the J&B of Beers.

Once again, Peter rushes back to the office, leaving Minou to her own devices. She uses this time to hook up with her best friend Dominique (the yummy Nieves Navarro) to go clubbing. Much to my horror, Minou covers up her delicious red hair with a so-white-it’s-blond wig which, complete with the silk pantsuit she decides to wear, just screams “old lady” to me. She resembles Dolly Parton in Nine to Five, only without the ludicrously huge bazooms and backwoods-of-Kentucky accent.

"More suspicious *with* the wig, or without? Be honest, now."

After dancing like a couple of ‘shroomed-out hippies, they have a seat at a nearby table to gossip. Dominique casually mentions the death of an older gent, who happens to be the business associate of Minou’s husband. Later at home, Minou reads more about the death in the local paper. It seems the death was rather mysterious, the deceased having been killed by embolism of the kind divers get from surfacing too quickly. Peter comes home and Minou asks him about the dead fellow, and as it turns out Peter owed the man a considerable sum of money. Hmm, the plot thickens!

"I've told you before, honey. Never take the horse tranquilizers with no booze in your stomach."

The next day, Minou has a lunch date with Dominique. At a small cafe, Minou discusses her run-in with the shady, hairy Italian pervert. Dominique is entranced, exclaiming “Oh! I would love to be violated!” I guess I need to expand the Ducal B&B Promotional mailings. At any rate, the girls retire to Dominique’s house, where she wastes no time in getting the young Minou to leer at pornographic pictures, most all of them containing Dominique being rogered and groped by sweaty, hairy Italian poon-hounds. Minou happens upon a pic of a man pawing Dominique’s ample bosoms, and realizes it’s the blackmailer dude! Asking if she can have that one (Dominique doesn’t mind spreading the porn), Minou takes off without explaining why she’s suddenly acting funny.

"Why yes, I have time for a survey.... Oh, no, sorry, I am not in fact a lady above suspicion."

The next day, we see Peter at his office, and find out he’s involved with diving equipment, including pressurized tank construction! Hmm, mysterious death due to embolism... potentially deadly scuba stuffs.... nah, couldn’t be! Later that night, as Minou and Peter sleep, Mr. Blackmailer calls on the phone, talks to Minou and plays her a recording that is of Peter and his coworker, discussing the killing of the now-deceased guy he owed money to! Minou is suitably horrified, but still determined to protect Peter.

Minou heads to the blackmailer’s apartment. The place is really something, covered in plaster hands reaching from the walls, with a love-nest in the middle of the floor and weird demon statuary of the sort seen around the Vicar’s pantry. Minou tries to pay him off with $1000, but he just tosses it away. He informs her that his sole intent is to sex her up, but she’s gotta ask him for it. He threatens to go to the police with his recording when she recoils in horror at his hairy, sweat-covered body. Finally Minou relents, and spends a busy afternoon having the equivalent of a wet dog rubbed over her naked flesh, as the Italian blackmailer has his way with her. In the end, he gives her the audio tape, which she chunks into the nearby ocean when she leaves his apartment.

"What has seven hands and is dying for a blow job?"

Arriving back home, she finds Dominique hanging out with Peter. Since her excuse that she was with Dominique doesn’t hold much water now, Minou stumbles about under Peter’s harsh gaze until Dominique finally manages to cover for her. Later that night, still obsessing over her sexy-time, Minou once again hits the tranquilizers. Minou just can’t let go, reliving her nightmarish day over and over. We see more tidbits of her time with the blackmailer/rapist, including him donkey punching her in the face!

The next day while Peter is out at work, Mr. Rapist shows up at Minou’s apartment! He tells her the tape of Peter was a fake, and that all he wanted to do was have her submit to him. He shows her pictures that he somehow had taken while they were mid-coitus, and that she can’t tell Peter unless she wants the photos to come out into the open! Not knowing what to believe anymore, Minou turns to tranqs and alcohol as she spirals further down the rabbit hole.

Minou heads over to Dominique’s house, and it is revealed to us that Dominique is sleeping with Peter! He slips out the back door as Minou arrives at the front. She eventually confides in Dominique, confessing the whole thing. Dominique wants to help, so she helps Minou get together $20,000 in order to really well and truly buy off the blackmailer this time. Minou pawns some of her jewelry to make up some of the cash, then heads over to the rapist’s apartment. He’s having none of it, though! Giving her 3 days to once again submit to him, he lets her leave unmolested, this time.

"As you can see, we have a wide variety of gluepots available for your sniffing pleasure."

Dominique goes to Plan B: getting Minou to confess to Peter, which she does. Understandably, Peter is upset, but he calls in a favor with the local police commissioner, who arrives and takes statements. The party heads over to the rapist’s house, which turns out has been empty for at least a year. Minou really starts to come unglued at this point, and even contemplates suicide the next day while standing up on a high trolley station above the nearby bay.

"I'm sorry, Peter. You're neither hairy nor sweaty enough to arouse me anymore."

The rapist/blackmailer keeps taunting Minou, including showing up at her apartment late at night while a storm rages. He gives Minou a creepy Italian leer from outside a window while the rain pelts down. Screaming, Minou calls for Peter, but of course Mr. Poon-hound is long gone. Minou remembers her photo that she took from Dominique, but in looking for it she finds it’s gone. She talks Peter and the commish into going to Dominique’s flat, so she can confirm the existence of the photo. Dominique tells them she can’t recall giving any photo to Minou.

At this point, the writers of the movie are really trying to keep the viewer as confused as Minou. On one hand, we have Peter seemingly involved in a murder via decompression chamber, and on the other we have Mr. Rapist, who could have just invented the whole thing. We also have Dominique acting coy but seeming to know all that is going on with just a few glances or chance looks at Minou.

Everything comes to a head the next night, when Minou is home alone once again due to Peter having a business engagement. She hears a noise, goes to investigate, and finds a turtle has somehow gotten into her house. Suddenly, the lights go out, and she sees what she thinks is the rapist, holding his cane-knife! Only it turns out to be a creepy mannequin. As she’s staring at the mannequin, a hand reaches out from under a nearby curtain and grabs her leg! She hammers it with a nearby statue, and it lets go.

Out from under the curtain comes the rapist, of course. He retrieves his cane-knife and knocks Minou down, straddling her once again. He begins to make tiny incisions along her neck, all the while kissing her! Meanwhile, Peter realizes he left some important papers at home, so he rushes back, arriving just in time to see Mr. Rapist straddling his wife. Calm as a flat sea, Peter sets his briefcase down, pulls out a pistol, and shoots the blackmailer square in the back, killing him instantly!

**** spoilers beyond this point, I suggest you skip the next few paragraphs if you want to retain your innocence! ****

Minou awakens to find Peter about to make a phone call, instead of checking on her of course. Peter reveals that it was him all along, that yes indeed he murdered the business rival, but that wasn’t enough, he had to set up and elaborate web of lies that included having Minou murdered for insurance money. Only the guy he hired, Mr. Rapist Blackmailer, took his job too seriously and instead toyed with Minou when he was only supposed to kill her. Just as Peter is about to shoot Minou, the police rush in along with Dominique, and the commish guns down Peter!

Forbidden Photo of a Lady (Below a Suspicious Italian).

Minou is wheeled away to the hospital, her external wounds merely superficial, but her mental scarring understandably deep. Dominique explains to the commish that she had slowly put things together when she realized that Peter had taken out a large life insurance policy on Minou. We cut to a few days or perhaps weeks ahead, and Minou is leaving a psych ward, good as new. Dominique picks her up in a convertible, and the two drive off, with Dominique joking that she has some new pornographic pictures to show Minou. It is to laugh! The two drive off, screeching like drunken harpies. Fin.

**** end spoilers ****

"How dare you suspect my wife of anything. She's above that, sir!"

As gialli go, this one was actually pretty enjoyable. There wasn’t a whole lot of nudity, and all of the sex was pretty much done clothed, but what nudity existed was tastefully done. The storyline really kept me guessing along with Minou, but then I’m easily duped by movies so perhaps my illustrious readers would have had it figured out very early on. Some things are never really explained, like how did they set up the rapist’s apartment in order to make it seem like no one had been there for a year? Dominique’s having photos of the rapist were never quite explained either, I guess except for her promiscuity. The writers used Dominique as a red herring quite a bit.

A lot must be said for the direction, done by the great Luciano Ercoli. His use of pacing and suspense really added a lot to what could have easily been a mediocre giallo. Cinematography by the fab Alejandro Ulloa (of El Caminante fame) was eye-popping to say the least. Every shot was beautifully framed, and his use of light and shadow during the night scenes really added to the tension. Special props go to Ennio Morricone’s score.

In the end, I have to give this one 2 Thumbs Up, despite the lack of rampant nudity and the fact that it was packed to the rafters with sweaty Italian men. I prefer my men hairless and Scandinavian, but that’s a conversation best left for a long winter’s night. Friends, if you enjoy a good giallo from time to time, you could do a lot worse than Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion.

Bonus Sweaty Italian


We'll Tumblr for Ya!

Friends, the Duke of DVD and I are nothing if not slaves to peer pressure. After watching a lot of our friends and colleagues make use of "The Tumblr," it was only a matter of time before we flocked like a pair of desperate lemmings to the precipitous cliff that is this new (to us) blogging tool.

Therefore, prepare to add these to your bookmarks!

The VHS Vicarage - The Vicar's Tumblr
The Ducal Estate - The Duke of DVD's Tumblr (Note! Far too ribald for your place of employment!)

Fear not, parishioners--these sites will not be replacing the Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies you've come to know and lust after. Think of them as supplemental materials, the doodlings in the margin of the grand illustrated tome we put forth here week after week. Expect random observations, groovy posters and stills, links to matters of interest, and anything else that doesn't fit strictly under the MMMMMovies aegis.

As an example of the kind of stuff we'll be dumping on you with this new outlet, please click here to read/download my 2008 interview with horror-metal icon King Diamond, originally written for City Slab magazine but sadly never published before...until now!

But wait, there's more! Taking a tip from the illustrious Tenebrous Kate of Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire and her cohort Darius Whiteplume of Adventures in Nerdliness (and a gajillion other blogs and tumblrs), with their tribute to the hissy-throwing sexiness of one Herr Helmut Berger, we've erected a new webshrine for the patron saint of MMMMMovies!

Fuck Yeah, Paul Naschy! Tumblr

("Erect" being the operative word, obvously)


The Vicar


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Too true.
Look, folks, you know I like to give the movies I watch the benefit of the doubt. No matter how ineptly made, how crudely plotted, how bargain-basement the effects, I always try my damnedest to work with the filmmakers and find those little nuggets of inspiration, those small successes that may not redeem the entire work, but at least keeps it from being a total waste of time.

This is particularly true in indie movies. I mean, God bless the Indie Filmmaker, right? Without the resources of a major studio at their disposal, with just an idea and a dream, these cinematic warriors get out there and do their best to realize their visions. They don't let the things they lack--money, time, equipment, often even basic movie-making talent--stand in their way. I respect that, I do. It's the Doctrine of the Glorious Failure the Duke and I lined out in or MMMMManifesto: to wit, it's better to aim for the stars and miss, than to aim for a pile of shit and hit it.

But if you go back and read the above-linked mission statement, you'll find another tenet of our philosophy that's just as important, the First Inviolable Commandment of the Church of Mad Movies, the one that must be upheld no matter what else goes wrong: THOU SHALT NOT BE BORING.

I think you can probably guess why I'm telling you this.

I recently received these two straight-to-DVD movies for review: A Nocturne: Night of the Vampire (2007) from Troma DVD, and Inbred Redneck Vampires (2010) from MVD Entertainment. The films share a few things in common. Both are indie films--so indie, in fact, that I was unable to find either of them on imdb.com. Both are about vampires. Both look like they were made on consumer video equipment, whether they actually were or not. Both break the Cardinal Rule of Mad Movie enjoyment. And neither should be watched by you.

Let's get through this as quickly as possible, shall we?

A Nocturne caught my attention because the back cover sported some glowing pull-quotes on the back cover, comparing the flick's visual tapestry to that of Vicar-fave director Jean Rollin and similarly vamp-obsessed reprobate Jess Franco. Near as I can figure, the only reason for the Rollin comparison is that the movie is about vampires, and at one point there's a woman in it who speaks French. Otherwise--not so much.

The movie is about a male/female vampire couple, "X" and "Y" (seriously), who have been alive for hundreds of years and are SO VERY BORED. They communicate this boredom to the viewer by staring off into space, not saying very much, and walking around in a blank-faced daze for fully 2/3 of the movie. There's an old man who I think is a priest but is certainly a cannibal, who indulges in long nonsensical wannabe "poetic" soliloquies about his dead wife, which you can barely hear over the pervasive microphone hiss. Every now and then the vamps kidnap someone we've never seen before, who obviously wanders in just to be bitten, and bite them. There are a couple of Nietzsche quotes, and the aforementoned French woman who comes in for an info-dump monologue that doesn't really explain much, and what it does explain is stupid. At the end, somebody else we've never seen before shows up out of nowhere and kills one of the vamps. Fin.

Really, that's IT. There's no character development, no plot to speak of, and nothing much happens. At least in Rollin, even when characters went for 40 minutes without a line of dialogue, SHIT WAS HAPPENING. Mad shit. Here--no.

But as I said up above, I really like to work with movies to see if I can find something good. So here are the good things about Nocturne:

  • There's periodic nudity, pretty good, usually with blood.
  • The crazy old cannibal, while never making sense, is clearly totally committed to his role, to an almost admirable degree.
  • The aforementioned French actress seemed to actually know her way around a line of dialogue, and was by far the best actor in the movie.
  • The movie really succeeds in making you feel the boredom of its protagonists, by making you feel like you've been just that bored for 400 years.
  • It helped me determine that the fast-forward button on my remote was in top working order.
Moving on...

Inbred Redneck Vampires is just what it sounds like, but worse. Here's the company synopsis, straight from MVD Entertainment's website:
Sexy vampire Catherine and her familiar Lendel are on the run from a ruthless vampire hunter. They hide out in the small redneck town of Backwash, where Catherine hatches a plan to turn the backwoods folk into an army of her vampire slaves. Cultures further clash when Ma Poissier wins a free room redecoration by fruity Frenchman Jean-Claude Les Eaux, who tries his best to fit in with crazy hillbillies like Lil' Junior and his buddy Cletus. Beer drinking, bean eating, tripe cooking, shower peeping, competitive farting, strip poker playing and all manner of insanity follow, all leading up to the town's annual Tripe Days Festival.
Hoo, boy.

It's a maxim by now that of all the "bad movie" categories, the worst of the worst is "bad comedy." Think of it--with any other genre, be it Bad Horror, Bad Scifi, Bad Action, or Bad Drama--you can at least laugh at the ridiculousness of it, or chortle affectionately about the filmmaker's wrong-headed but right-hearted attempts. Bad Comedy, however, removes that possibility of enjoyment. If a comedy makes you laugh, it's not bad--it's GOOD. Therefore, a bad comedy is by definition one you CANNOT laugh at.

Inbred Redneck Vampires is a very, very bad comedy. The "shower peeping" (in which the peepers fail to notice when a sexy trailer park woman switches out with her hairy boyfriend--hilarious?) and "competitive farting" scenes (this latter goes on for a good 5-10 minutes, and is just three guys at a table eating beans and farting on each other--laffin' yet?) alone make Mama Dracula look like Lust for a Vampire. The "redneck" humor is sub-sub-Hee Haw! levels. (Think about that: it's LESS FUNNY than HEE HAW.) I only chuckled once in the whole movie, and that was when a nude, obese, one-eyed woman stumbled backward to crush a vampire's head with her gigantic ass. Sue me, I was desperate for mirth.

With both the redneck and the vampire portions of the plot, the filmmakers never reach beyond the broadest, most obvious joke. That Frenchy, he talks funny! Hey, Cletus is a midget, and he always calls Frenchy "Peckerwood"! Somebody put cat shit in the tripe! The Frenchman thinks it's delicious! That vampire ate some garlic by mistake! Stop it, my sides!

But again, there's enough negativity in the world. Good things about the flick:
  • Again, there was some passable-to-decent nudity, and most of the redneck chicks were fairly hot, if you could get past their terribly overwrought country accents.
  • The "sexy vampire queen" did a pretty good impression of Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein. This was annoying at first, but by the end marked her as the best thespian in the flick.
  • There was a Rube Goldberg-esque vamp-staking that was borderline creative.
  • Umm...that's it.
We all love the Ideal of the indie filmmaker--someone outside the bounds of Hollywood, pursuing his or her unique vision and overcoming all obstacles to bring something personal and creative to life. And periodically that happens--but more often, it seems, we get uninspired, unsuccessful imitations of movies that weren't that good to begin with, made without a trace of the passion or drive required to make the results watchable.

Unfortunately, these two films are examples of this latter trend. While I can respect the work it must have taken for the filmmakers to get their work out there, and don't doubt they all had a good time seeing it through, I didn't enjoy watching them, not one little bit. I sincerely hope both find better projects in the future, and realize them more fully and entertainingly. But in these cases, I can only say this: no thumbs. AVOID.

These two deserve better.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

El Caminante (1979): or, The Devil Walks Out

My friends, The Duke and I have been in mourning for quite some time now. As longtime readers are doubtless aware, Spanish horror icon and world-class creative force of nature Paul Naschy, nee Jacinto Molina, passed away in November of last year from pancreatic cancer. Paul was and continues to be the patron saint of Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, the impetus of the project itself and the subject of its very first review. Over the course of our explorations into the wild and the woolly of world cinema, Naschy has always been the giant upon whose shoulders we planted our feet--the cream in our coffee, the wind beneath our wings, the everlasting inspiration for all we do and say.

In the months since Naschy's death, I've continued to watch and enjoy his movies, but have felt strangely unequal to the task of writing about them. They have still brought me the kind of joy rarely matched by any other filmmaker's oeuvre, but when it came to putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper to sing their praises, my muse would invariably flee. Perhaps the wound was still too raw, the joy too tinged with bittersweet nostalgia and the dark sour void of our loss. The King is dead--how can I, his unworthy knight, sally forth again into this newly silent realm?

But then, a voice called out to me from across the vastness of time, if not indeed from beyond the very grave. It spoke words of comfort, of encouragement, of the importance of the yet-unaccomplished quest. It was Naschy's voice, of course, speaking from the awe-inspiring monument of one of his greatest works. The magnum opus? 1973's El Caminante, aka The Traveler.


We open in Medieval Europe--Flanders, perhaps?--to find bearded, rag-clad traveler Leonardo (Naschy) walking a dusty path. He happens upon another traveler--a formerly rich gambler now down on his luck--who offers to share his wine and food in exchange for company. He tips Leonardo of a farm about fifteen miles away, where the kind farmer and his lovely wife opened their doors to him and gave him the bounty they now enjoy. However, when the gambler expresses doubts about Leonardo's account of his own military service, the Traveler repays the insult by blinding his benefactor with ash and then stabbing him in the throat! Helping himself to the remains of the dead man's food and gold, Leonardo sets off again. "The world is so beautiful," he says to himself, cryptically. "I shall enjoy it!"

For the rest of the movie we follow Leonardo on his travels, witnessing his various adventures. It's a tale in the classic picaresque form, as our Traveler is a rascal and a rogue, living by his wits, and not above theft, rape, and outright murder in pursuit of a more comfortable fortune. A philosopher as well as an anti-hero, Leonardo is prone to pronouncements like, "Man is the only true evil being of Creation," and "Religion, qualms, conscience...that's all loser's tripe!" As time and time again his precepts are proven true, the film hints that our Traveler may indeed be much more than he seems...

After his initial murder, Leonardo's next encounter is with a farmer tending his crops--and by "tending" I mean "fertilizing them with his own fundament!" As the squatting horticulturist sits helpless mid-loaf, Leonardo ransacks his melon patch, then casts a large stone with deadly accuracy, nearly bashing the old man's brains in and sending him sprawling backward into his own filth-pile! It's the first medieval-style scatological slapstick we see in the film, and it certainly will not be the last.

It's all in the delivery.

A bit later Leonardo meets a blind scholar and his young serving boy Tomás (David Rocha, who would work with Naschy again in Night of the Werewolf [1981]). Undetected by the old man, Leonardo listens as the scholar preaches frugality, using this lesson as an excuse to short the kid on rations and abuse him when he complains. When the scholar sends Tomás for water, Leo calls the boy over and sends him back with a cup full of steaming Naschy piss! The old man takes a stiff snort and sputters curses, whereupon Leo nearly drowns him in the river before making off with his money, his food, and his serving boy.

Together, Leo and Tomás head to the farmhouse where the gambler got his money, and there meet the farmer and his wife Inés (the lovely Silvia Aguilar, whose later Naschy credits include Human Beasts [1980], Night of the Werewolf [1981], and the disastrous comedy flop Madrid al desnudo [1979]). The farmer is as kind as his reputation, and leaves Leo to chop firewood while he meekly tends the fields of his master. Inés, who has a maimed leg due to an accident, has little else wrong with her, but apparently the farmer's been falling behind in his husbandry, IYKWIM. Leo sneers after his host, "You benighted peasant--your wife is in heat and yearning! You shouldn't leave her alone with me!" Which is of course true of any character Naschy plays, but in this case particularly so.

Naschy's left hand finds its mark

It doesn't take long for Leo to work his woo on the woman, using charming words and a blasphemous ballad to get her thinking of him as more than the hired help. She resists his initial advances, but Naschy seals the deal by graphically making out with her leg wound, working his tongue over the scar tissue like it was Wonka's Lickable Wallpaper! Soon Inés is riding the Great White Horse. "Oh, my goodness!" she gasps. "The pleasure! I've never felt anything like this before! It's like...like I'm being possessed by the Devil!" Oh rrrreaallly....?

Once he's taken her to the heights (depths?) of pleasure, Leo demands payment for his stud services in the form of all the cash in the house. When Inés claims poverty and prays to the Apostles to deliver her, things turn ugly. "The Apostles were not on your mind when we were fornicating last night!" he reminds her, and threatens violence unless she coughs up the loot. Disappointed in the paltry haul, Leo further hints, "A shabby loot. If you only knew by whom you were had!" Not one to leave without making his mark, Leo finishes by carving an upside-down cross on Inés's backside!

It's symbolic, of course.

Back on the road and through another series of adventures, more and more we're given to believe that Leonardo is not a simple traveler as he claims, but something much more powerful and sinister. On the road to Court to earn even greater riches, Leo and Tomás first rob a moneylender and his wife in an entertaining comic scene. (Naschy pretends to be an "idiot," and clearly has a great time going nearly full-retard, pulling the lady's hair, stroking her breasts, and finally pissing on her shoes! The offense doesn't stop the woman noticing the size of his "rod" however.)

What, no one told you about the Naschy Boob-Touching Rider™?

That dirty deed done, they next seek shelter with Doña Aurora, a widowed aristocrat whose daughter is on the verge of death. Leonardo says he will save the girl with his healing arts, but only if Mom will have sex with him in exchange. Desperate, the lady agrees, and in the morning her little tot is looking the picture of health. However, after Naschy takes his booty (which is to say, HER booty) and leaves, the child quickly falls ill again and succumbs. As if her sudden bereavement and loss of honor isn't enough, Aurora soon finds she's pregnant with Leo's child! And what rough beast is this?

"Come to Naschy."

The remainder of the journey takes a downward turn for Leo. After killing a Lothario and taking his place with his married mistress (and therafter marking her cuckolded husband with another asswards St. Peter's Cross), Leo and Tomás are themselves robbed and left to start over again. Luckily they are able to waylay a couple of priests who stop to help them, proving once again that in horror movies, Good Samaritans are suckers. Disguised as men of the cloth they enter a convent for shelter, where Leo quickly seduces the Mother Superior, Elvira (Blanca Estrada of The Ghost Galleon, aka Blind Dead 3). He also exposes a horny orchard boy as the sexual "demon" who's been haunting the nuns, and is nearly killed by the boy for his trouble! Thereafter our pair find themselves at a brothel--which is the best place to go if no nunneries are available, clearly--and go to work for the Madame as bouncers. Of course they get their pick of the staff as payment, leading to a fast-motion montage that lacks only Yakkety Sax to be a Benny Hill moment!

I really don't think I can add anything to the glory of this picture.

At last it seems that Leonardo's wickedness has caught up with him when he and the Madame agree to sell Tomás's favors to a powerful gay nobleman. After all, Leo reasons, "no arsehole on earth is worth 100 ducats...but then, no friendship is worth 100 ducats either!" The deal goes down, and Leo robs the matron of her cut and then heads out on the road alone. Tomás has learned his teacher's ruthless lessons well, however, and with his new lover's support sets out in pursuit. They catch up to Leonardo, who is beaten, berated, and finally crucified in a ruined abbey for the striking climactic scene. Hanging helpless across from a stone Jesus, Leonardo offers his own Calgary speech: "Good Lord!" he cries out, "How could You give Your life for these pigs? I don't understand! I don't understand!"

Wow. Just wow.

End spoilers coming, if you care by this point:

The film comes around to end pretty much where it began, with Leo crippled and limping on the road, cooking his meal while another traveler comes up beside him. Leo offers him food and drink, anything to assuage his unbearable loneliness. To pass the time, Leonardo tells a fascinating tale.
"Let me tell you an old legend. A tale about the Devil. Once upon a time, the Devil was getting bored in Hell. And so, transformed into a mortal, he chose to visit Earth. He accepted all the weaknesses that came with living in the flesh. He could get sick, or even die. He rarely used his powers, for he thought things would be easy. He started off poor, so that he could move up through mischief and evilness. What human could stand up to him? After all, he was the Devil.

"The Devil went through every felony. He fornicated, killed, cheated, stole...and eventually became rich. He was having fun. He was happy. He begat a son, and he loved. But then his luck began to change. He was swindled, mocked, robbed and ravaged. Love made him lose his power. He ended up in misery. And the poor Devil found out that men were more wicked than himself."
"Haven't you guessed?"

Paul Naschy seldom gets the praise I think he deserves as an actor, though I admit upfront my bias in this regard. However, in El Caminante he gives a tour de force performance that anyone should be able to appreciate. His sneer of cold command, the malevolent intelligence in every gaze, the world-weary but still bemused manner of his philosophical lessons--it's a study in Evil with a capital "E" that surpasses even his portrayal of Alaric de Marnac, in my opinion. In fact, as I said to the Duke of DVD after our viewing: "You know how we always wished Paul and Coffin Joe had made a movie together? Well, Leonardo IS Paul's Coffin Joe!" And if you don't know what high praise that is...well, I don't know what to tell you.

The movie also seems a very personal work from Naschy, who also wrote and directed. (According to the indispensable Mark of Naschy website and the man himself in his autobiography, Paul counted this one of his best films, and possibly his personal favorite.) In addition to the black comedy and bemused if bleak view of humanity the story offers, Naschy also waxes serious when Leonardo sends Tomás visions of the future in a dream. These take the form of stock footage from World War II concentration camps and presumably the Spanish Civil War, both extremely formative influences on Paul's personal development. The grainy black and white images of bombs dropping, mass graves, and marching soldiers are in stark contrast to the sumptuous color cinematography by Alejandro Ulloa in the rest of the film, and cast an intentional pall on the film's comic elements that is as jarring as it is effective.

St. Paul

I first became aware of this movie while reading Naschy's excellent autobiography, Memoirs of a Wolfman. (Order a copy now, and damn the cost!). Never released to English-speaking audiences, El Caminante has been criminally unseen on this side of the pond, at least by the tragically monolingual. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, fans have taken up the gauntlet and subtitled the previously unsubtitled film--to those involved in this labor of love, my heartfelt and eternal thanks, because this movie, from my point of view, is just about perfect. Well-made, wonderfully acted, full of the fantastique elements and gorgeous Eurobabe nudity we know and love from Naschy, and so very, very much more...really, this one has it all.

For now these bootlegs are all that's available for English speakers to my knowledge, which is a shame--this movie needs to be seen by a much, much wider audience, especially now that Paul's contribution to world horror cinema is better appreciated. Still, if you're a fan of Naschy or 70s fantastique in general, you NEED to track down a copy, by hook or by crook. Really, it's just that good.

I remember the night that I learned Paul Naschy had died, I felt I needed to watch one of his films to mark his passing. I chose Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (ably and entertainingly reviewed here by Empress Kate of Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire). I was worried that my sadness at his death would color my enjoyment of the film, that I'd never be able to get through it without wallowing in the loss. However, once the movie began and the story sucked me in, the sadness disappeared, leaving only that contagious, chest-filling joy that has always been Naschy's peculiar gift. He keeps on giving, even now--reasons to smile, reasons to thrill, reasons to keep on singing his praises. He's still with me--with us--and I can never thank him enough.

All the Thumbs, ever.

I miss you, Paul.

Thanks to you, my friend.

Some more great images from El Caminante (1979):

Paul, seconds before making a daring run down the heart of the All Blacks' defense.

Harsh, but fair.

"Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

I don't know much about art, but I know what I like.

There is no comparison.

A fellow of infinite chest.

Can't be too 'sploited.

"...OF COCK."

"There, fixed it."


That's the spirit.

Infernal Majesty


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