Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (1975): or, How to Get A Head (or 3) in the Theater

Nota bene: this movie is set in 1903 Ireland.
Still a great poster though.
Friends, I've seen enough 1970s Italian horror/thrillers by now to know that, just because a movie has a florid, poetic title doesn't necessarily mean said verse has anything at all to do with the film it precedes. So perhaps it was naive of me to expect that Alfredo Rizzo's 1975 Old Dark House thriller The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (La sanguisuga conduce la danza--a straight translation, for once!) would involve dancing, blood, and/or someone sucking it--possibly whilst calling out promenades and do-si-does.

It's the romantic in me.

Sadly it was not to be, but that's not to say there's nothing to enjoy here. We do get slutty actresses in Victorian gear, a rampantly religious butler, lesbonic room service and bi-curious chambermaids, not to mention at least three decapitations and as batshit an ending as you could ask for. Plus voyeurism and Scooby-Doo footprints. So really, one can't complain too much.

Let me show you what I mean.

One thing director Rizzo (a prolific actor when not behind the lens, whose filmography includes in Spirits of the Dead [1968], b-movie staple Bloody Pit of Horror [1965], and an uncredited role in one of Nazisploitation's nasty masterpieces, The Beast in Heat [1977]) really has going for him here is some fantastic sets and locations. Okay, maybe that's two things...anyway, here's an example:

Cobbled As Fuck
"And in this outbuilding--the Orgy Room!"
Okay, that's two examples. I think I need a new abacus.

Our story, such as it is, begins in IRELAND, 1902. While all the natives are dancing jigs, playing the tin whistle, and wondering where (the fuck) all these Italians came from, an all-girl theater troupe has just closed its last performance. The actresses are understandably worried about what they'll do now that their corned-beef-and-Chianti money has dried up. It's never really spelled out what their show entailed, but I'm guessing there was scandalous ankle-baring involved. That's just the kind of sluts they seem to be.

Well, all except Evelyn, played by the lovely and bodaciously endowed Patrizia De Rossi, aka Patrizia Webley, whom Mad Movie fans will remember at first glance from her memorable turn as adulterous bitch-in-law Nais in the mmmmmasterpiece Malabimba, THE MALICIOUS WHORE (1979)--a movie that, unlike this one, DOES live up to its title.

Here Patrizia plays the diametric opposite of that character, as Evelyn is the good girl of the troupe--a widowed singer who spends her days pining for her lost hubby and NOT abusing stage manager-gofer Samuel (Leo Valeriano), as all the other girls never miss an opportunity to do. Luckily Evelyn's girl-next-villa wholesomeness has attracted the attention of mush-mouthed aristocrat Count Richard Marnack (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), who invites Evelyn and all her gal-pals to his secluded castle for an extended stay. Since no rich guy ever invites a group of loose women out to his country estate with anything but the noblest of intentions, the girls readily accept.

"That's right baby--I'm into the kinky stuff."
Not wanting to be entirely without chaperone (I said she was a good girl), Evelyn insists that sad-sack Samuel come along to protect them. Though exactly what protection they can expect from a milquetoast with bug-eyes and chicken arms whom they constantly berate and insult, and who furthermore looks like a mad-science genetic mash-up of Alan Cumming and Buster Keaton, is anyone's guess.


Out at the castle, the girls are greeted by Ice Queen-cum-Hausfrau Sybil, played with repressed sexual fury by Femi Benussi, whose high collars and ruffled cuffs can barely contain her voluptuousness. (If you'd like to see her a little less restrained--and really, you SHOULD--the Vicar recommends checking her out in Strip Nude for Your Killer [1975] where she...well, absolutely does that. Zang!)

Strip Nude for Your Vicar
Also on staff is butler Jeffrey (Mario De Rosa) an Evangelical Catholic given to calling down curses from the heavens the "LOOSE WOMEN! CREATURES OF THE DEVIL!" under their roof, whilst frantically stroking his King Jimmy. The fact that the troupe's HBIC Cora (Krista Nell, of the recently reviewed mannequin mystery The Red Headed Corpse) likes to get drunk and make sloppy passes at the Count, while lesbian lovers Rosalind and Penny  (Marzia Damon and Lidia Olizzi, like you care) won't even interrupt their frantic rug-brunching when innocent maid Mary (Barbara "Bang Bang" Marzano) comes a-knocking, unsurprisingly make the good Christian crusader blow a gasket.

"So I says to the theater owner, I says, 'If I'm working with a muthahumpin' DONKEY, I'm gonna need a MUCH bigger dressing room! HAW!"

"Dear Lord...please send me a poster for that wall!"

"Hey, I have to WASH those sheets, you know!"
Then again, that last episode does make the wide-eyed washer woman sufficiently curious to convince her coworker/roomate to make the Beast With Four Boobies with her, so maybe the belligerent butler has a point.

"Go on, squeeze 'em. They make squeeky noises."
Meanwhile, the Count has installed Evelyn in The Dragon Room, a suspiciously appointed fuckpad bedroom that just happens to share a door with his boudoir. A door that doesn't lock, and that he doesn't hesitate to rush through at the slightest sound of disturbance--in case Evelyn's having a bad dream, needs warm milk, or help unlacing her corset, I guess.

"If you need anything, madam, just massage the bedside dragon's prostate. I'll be here in a jiff."

To her credit Evie is not altogether on-board with this, even less so when she discovers a portrait of the Count's disappeared-and-presumed-dead wife, who of course (stop me if you've heard this one) looks EXACTLY like Evelyn!

"You've gotta be fuckin' kidding me."
But waitaminnit, you might be saying to yourself--lesbianism and Dragon Rooms are all well and good, but isn't this supposed to be a horror-thriller? Why no bloodshed? No carnage? No bumps in the night? (Besides lady-bumps, natch.) I admit I asked myself the same thing. Sure, there's the weirdness of the missing Countess; the constant abuse of the increasingly frustrated Samuel; the laser-like green beams of jealousy Sybil's eyes shoot at Evelyn every time the Count mutters his affections; the apocalyptic curses of St. Jeffrey whenever one of the girls gives him a hard-on; and the voyeuristic tendencies of brutish stablehand Gregory (Luciano Pigozzi, a familiar face to genre fans). But as fun as that is, Rizzo seems to be spending all his time establishing extremely plausible suspects, and absolutely no time giving us, you know, an ACTUAL CRIME. Which is kind of important in this sort of flick.

"I heard screaming!"
"Damn straight you did, Daddio."

And the set-ups continue for a bit yet. Gregory knows something about Sybil, something sufficiently embarrassing to enable the old codger to blackmail her for sex! Weirder still, she seems kind of into it. Also, turns out the Count's grandfather beheaded his grandmother for adultery...then 20 years later, the Count's father murdered his wife for the same reason before leaping into the sea! And the current Count (that's 3) keeps his father's dagger on display in the drawing room--the very weapon that MURDERED HIS OWN MOTHER. Nope, nuthin' weird about that! Oh, and the current Countess didn't disappear--she took a lover and ran away to the city before Marnack could complete the adultery triple-header!

Counter-intuitively, this makes Evelyn weirdly hot--she finally falls for the marble-chewing aristocrat, leading to a falling-in-love montage and mucho sexy time. And Cora, desperate for cock, beds a stocky fisherman, the son of Gregory. Jeffrey continues to wait for God's wrath to strike them all dead.

Fortunately for him (and us!) the wait is over!

How do ya like THEM apples?

Waiting for the Wig Fairy

"Don't ask me--I'm stumped."
(Spoilers, btw.)

Yes, in rapid succession Cora and the Lesbians (cool band name alert) have been dispatched, all of them beheaded! Is this the spirit of the Count's grandfather, wreaking ghostly vengeance via harlot-disposal? Has the Count himself, traumatized by the loss of his mother AND wife, finally snapped? Or is the snappee Jeffrey? Or Gregory? Or poor old beleaguered Samuel?


Does the fact that Evelyn was in an asylum before she joined the troupe, driven mad by the loss of her villager husband, signify at all? Is she actually the Count's amnesiac wife, returned for her cursed punishment? Or is there something far more sinister and STUPID going on?

"Come play with us, Danny."
Despite the lack of vampire square-dances, The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance is a gorgeous movie, full of sumptuous sets, grand locations, and some really beautiful compositions. Rizzo definitely has an eye for a nice visual, even if his sense of pacing is a bit off. But then he is Italian, so maybe that's genetically unavoidable.

Also in the plus column is the gorgeous cast. Webley and Benussi are a couple of the hotter 2nd-tier Eurobabes of the era for my money, and both are fairly good actresses to boot, at least on the sliding scale of 70s genre cinema. I do think Webley seems more comfortable in the "bitch" role a la Malabimba, and struggles a bit maintaining the innocence and vulnerability the role of Evelyn requires--particularly when she bursts out of her corset and beds the Count, getting down like no good girl should, IYKWIMAITYD. The other actresses are lovely and often nude, offering plenty of eye candy for those viewers to whom such trivial things are important.


It was a dark and horny night.

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall...who's the sluttiest of them all?"
"You are. Totes M'Goats."
"I...couldn't help overhearing."

Plot-wise, as I said, there's an awful lot of set-up for very little pay-off, but the set-up is fun in its own way. As long as you're not too worried about when exactly something will HAPPEN, you can sit back and enjoy Jeffrey's still-timely brand of hateful religiosity, Cora's harlotry, the Count's sometimes indecipherable Tommy Wiseau-esque dubbing, and the usual accumulation of nonsensical gothickry that make these old dark house movies such a joy to me.

And the final "reveal" is wacky even for this genre, including a detective who solves the crime by pulling completely fabricated guesses out of his ASS until he happens on the correct one by sheer luck (again, Italian); a confession that is false, unnecessary, and never explained; a SHOCK REVEAL that actually made me glee-squee a little; and enough nonsensical twists and turns to leave even a seasoned viewer wondering WTF just happened.

In short, a good time. 2.5 thumbs.

Still Yet MORE images from The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (1975):
You tell me: is there a Volkswagen in this picture?

Buster Keaton in "Steamboat Bill's Night at the Bordello"

"I hate myself."
"I hate you too."

Late Bloomers

Worst. Gravedigger. EVER.

"Why, Johnny? Why? Johnny, why? Why?"


Friday, July 15, 2011

Blu-Ray Review: Camille 2000 (1969)

Marguerite (the stunning Danièle Gaubert) is a girl who seems to have it all. Young, beautiful ,and married to a fabulously rich duke who puts few demands on her time and fewer still on her body, she is free to explore all the pleasures and excesses that late-sixties Rome has to offer.

These, you will find, are considerable.

We watch Camille as she organizes and attends a series of galas, orgies, and freak-out happenings, against some of the most sumptuous settings and clad in the grooviest fashions imaginable. She drinks, shoots up, and pops pills with abandon, floating from one erotic adventure to the next in a haze of altered reality. (When one of her exhausted, tripping friends asks breathlessly, "Marguerite, don't you ever come down?" she replies, "Not if I can help it!") The victim of an unspecified wasting disease, Marguerite has apparently decided to live life to the fullest every day, and to grab all the sexy goodies she can in the process.

Directed by Radley Metzger, the infamous auteur behind art-house classics (The Lickerish Quartet, 1970) and less-respected but no less arty porn flicks (The Opening of Misty Beethoven, 1976), Camille 2000 is a movie with so much style, substance almost doesn't enter into the equation. From the lush cityscapes of Rome, to bedrooms with inflatable furniture and mirrored walls, Metzger delivers one visual treat after another, for which the main story of Marguerite's affair with comparatively stodgy businessman Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) is simply the framework. The new Blu-Ray release from Cult Epics does great justice to Metzger's film, and should have arty-erotica fans standing at attention and saluting.

Nota bene: I do not have screen-capture capability on my blu-ray...therefore I have shamelessly stolen all the images in this review (unless otherwise noted) from Retrocinema by Wetcircuit, an excellent site that everyone should visit immediately. Full credit to Wetcircuit, who I hope will not hate and/or sue me.

About that story--Marguerite's world of carefree, casual sex and drug use is rocked when she meets and falls in love with Armand, the son of a wealthy Italian tycoon in Rome to learn the family business. After some rather stoic flirtatiousness at a couple of parties (including an orgy featuring a Eurobabe in an amazing mesh bikini), Marguerite takes Armand to her bed, kicking off a series of sensual sex scenes and an affair that will change everything for her, and not really in a good way. While Marguerite is a free-love kind of girl, Armand demands faithfulness.


When he tells her he wants her to be his alone, Marguerite sighs, "Are we there already? Measuring love like a coffin? Who loves the most, how do we measure it? In carats, or ducats?" Armand is not to be dissuaded, however, and Marguerite reacts by breaking a date with him so she can make love to a cruel young Count with whom she has a strange sex/power relationship. When Armand learns of the betrayal, he responds as you would expect--by sending a model to Marguerite's bedroom, who then strips nude to reveal a note on her back reading "YOU ARE A WHORE! I WAS AN IDIOT!" 

Okay, maybe you wouldn't expect that. But it does make an impression.

"No, it wasn't the couch...that one was all me."

The rest of the film is about Marguerite's relationship with Armand, how his need for faithfulness and hers for freedom clash. This comes to a head when Armand's father confronts her and warns her off, leading to a break-up, misunderstandings, erotic revenge, and a glittery partner-swapping bondage party with chain-mail dresses and public sex! Finally, Marguerite's strange malady reappears, lending a tragic end that you pretty much had to think was coming.

Except that's not really what the film's about. What it's about is the visual experience of Metzger's imagery, the amazing sets and costumes and compositions, which are usually centered around the act of sticky love. Two long sequences in Marguerite's amazingly appointed bedroom are visually stunning, containing some representations of oral sex (but cunni- and fellati-) that are both artistic and tasteful. (ba-dump) To be honest the story drags a bit at times, but if you give yourself over to the beauty of the images on the screen, it's well worth the trip.

For Mad Movie fans, there is joy to be had in the amazing costumery of Marguerite's hippie entourage, including some that look like they just walked off the set of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Also, though the flick was filmed in English, few of the actors seem comfortable in the language, and Armand's father's mush-mouthed delivery is an unintentionally hilarious highlight. The acting throughout is fairly wooden, but whether that's a directorial decision, or a result of the language barrier, or just how Europeans acted in the 60s, it's still rather secondary. Gaubert is stunning, Rome is beautiful, and the camera drinks it all in. That's all you really need.

Promo Art from Cult Epics

Cult Epics has done a great job with the Blu-Ray presentation, improving greatly upon previous transfers (despite some perhaps inexpungable print damage). The colors and sound are great, and the disc is packed with extras, including behind-the-scenes and restoration featurettes, commentary by Metzger himself, deleted scenes, outtakes, and trailers. A great package for lovers of 60s sexploitation.

Movie: 2.5 thumbs
Blu-Ray:  3 thumbs

And be sure to visit for more great images from this and other films!

Not from the Cult Epics transfer, but it does appear in the film, and was too wild not to show. Credit to Tenebrous Kate for the grab!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: SHOCK VALUE by Jason Zinoman

Jason Zinoman's new book wears its heart on its book jacket--or rather in the verbose title on the jacket, Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror. Published just this month by Penguin Press, the book does exactly what it says on the cover, tracing the development of "New Horror" from its beginnings in milestone films such as Psycho and Rosemary's Baby, and through many of its more revered examples (Night of the Living Dead, The Last House on the Left, The Exorcist, and of course The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Along the way Zinoman travels over a lot of well-worn ground that most horror geeks will have visited before, but takes enough interesting detours to make the book worth a look for the curious.

Zinoman begins by making the customary distinction between "Old Horror," dripping cobwebs and peopled with creaky old monsters, and "New Horror," its grittier, more dangerous cousin. He explains how Roger Corman and William Castle, both grand masters of Old Horror, each inadvertently had a hand in birthing the genre's next stage--Corman through his bankrolling of Peter Bogdonavich's excellent Targets (1968, reviewed on MMMMMovies here), and Castle by optioning Ira Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby, which he planned to direct himself, but was famously (and fortunately) forced to cede the director's chair to young upstart Roman Polanski. The author then follows the repercussions of these films (along with Hitchcock's Psycho, of course) and the cinematic dialogue they inspired in a new crop of hungry, visionary directors throughout the next decade.

As the title suggests, Zinoman definitely subscribes to the auteur theory of film criticism, though at times he glancingly admits its limitations. He follows a few select directors--Polanski, George Romero, John Carpenter, William Friedkin, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, and Brian De Palma--considering how each was influenced by or reacting against "Old Horror," as well as work of the other young directors under discussion. In doing so Zinoman tells a lot of stories that will be very familiar to afficianados of the genre--Polanski and the Manson murders, Romero's "accidental" commentary on Racism and carelessness with copyright, the cast tensions and mob connections in TCM's history, etc. But he also paints an interesting picture of the sometimes volatile personalities involved in each film, and the friendships that were made and often destroyed along the way.

Most interesting to me was Zinoman's portrait the partnership/rivalry between John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon, who worked together on the sci-fi oddity Dark Star and each made their own marks on modern horror. O'Bannon particularly gets a lot of ink, painted as an eccentric, combative outsider very bitter at his perceived betrayal by Carpenter after their collaboration. Carpenter comes off as cold and sometimes petty, lording his success over his former friend. O'Bannon's involvements in Zodorowsky's Dune and later Ridley Scott's Alien are explored in detail, though his zombie classic Return of the Living Dead is only mentioned briefly. Still, it's an interesting picture of a fascinating personality.

As an introduction to the "New Horror" of the 70s, Zinoman's book fits the bill; however, someone already fairly familiar with the decade's horror output might not find much new information. And as is always the case, every horror fan is going to find himself wondering why this or that movie was overlooked. (I found myself wishing Zinoman had given more thought to the influence of Italian horror--he mentions gialli and talks about Dario Argento briefly in relation to Romero's Dawn of the Dead, I felt there might well have been more to be said, particularly in relation to the American Slasher genre.) Still, Zinoman's style is clean and easy reading, and the book not too long to get encyclopaedically boring. If you're looking for a way "in" to 70s American horror, Shock Value is a good enough doorway.


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