Spoilers follow ...

26. May, 2017

Phantasmes/The Seduction of Amy/Once Upon a Virgin (1975)

This review could well be seen as a desperate attempt to complete my modest perusal of horror/fantastique films by my favourite Director Jean Rollin, who was prolific in the field of low budget fantasy output beginning with 1968’s ‘Rape of the Vampire’ and finishing with ‘The Mask of the Medusa (2010)’, released three months before his death.

There is no escaping the fact that, in the mid-1970s, audiences were deserting horror/exploitation films for the burgeoning hard-core porn industry. Infamously, one of Jean Rollin’s finest, most poetic and personal films ‘Lips of Blood’ was such a commercial disaster, that to appease his financiers, Rollin re-edited it and inserted many hard-core scenes, releasing the resultant feature as ‘Suck Me, Vampire.’ That this new version was a success must have been galling for Rollin, who steered clear of making vampire films for years after. It did underline the audience’s passion for porn, and inclined him to meld fantastique and explicit sex to create what he hoped might be a new genre. The result is ‘Phantasmes’.

Young Amy is pursued by a deranged rapist, played by Rollin. Thrown into muddy waters and left there, she wakes in a huge gothic castle owned by mightily moustachioed Gideon. Gideon wishes to emulate the spirit of the Marquis De Sade and appears to have many other young ladies, and the occasional gent, ‘guesting’ at his spacious home. These characters come and go, and may not even be real. Not that that really matters – orgies ensue, and that is the main focus.

Of interest is the arrival of two cheeky schoolgirls who, accompanied by Benny Hill-style comedy music, break away from their oblivious teacher who is leading their two-girl school trip by the water, and sneak into the chateau. These unnamed blond plaited girls are played by Cathy and Marie-Pierre Castel, who featured in a number of Rollin’s more legitimate ventures. These characters immediately get into the spirit of the ensuing orgy before becoming virtually lost in a blur of faces and flesh and in long shots, are near impossible to identify.

A vague story exists about Gideon teetering between fascination with De Sade, and possession by his spirit, and various locations (and especially the chateau and the beach featured in the finale – although it isn’t the usual Dieppe setting) have a certain Rollin-esque atmosphere about them, this is a cheap porn flick and little else. It contains glimpses of Rollin’s trademark eccentricities, but by its very nature cannot be viewed in the same way as his fantastique films. As a venture it, too, failed to find an audience and the experiment was not repeated. Rollin continued to pursue pornographic output for the next three years before delving back into more personal cinematic journeys with his most horrific venture to date, 1978’s ‘The Grapes of Death.’

‘Phantasmes’ is very difficult to find, but is available in its original 80 minute French glory, or a cut 74 minute English version complete with credits that seem to bear little relation to the film.

25. May, 2017

La Mano de un Hombre Muerto/The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962)

Strange that enigmatic Ludwig von Klaus should be played by handsome Hugo Blanco who, with very little make-up, would be called upon to terrify people in ‘The Mistresses of Dr. Orloff’ two years after the release of this early Jess Franco directed horror story.

As it is, ‘Baron von Klaus’ sits very comfortably among Franco’s other early 60s horror releases. Apparently (as ever), funding was difficult, but you really wouldn’t know it. The cast, the locations and the overall atmosphere (and the jazzy soundtrack) are stylish and polished, especially the mighty Howard Vernon as Von Klaus senior, whose striking presence is the focal point of any scene, without the need to over-gesticulate or overact. However, somewhere in the middle of the story, the pace lapses quite severely and only partially manages to fully reinvigorate the proceedings by the end, despite a protracted and graphic sadomasochistic torture scene.

Although enjoyable and laced with some beautifully orchestrated scenes, I found this slightly less impressive than Franco’s other work from this period. I wonder if Franco, renowned for losing interest in things quickly, was getting bored with telling stories in this way? I wouldn’t dare suggest that just because I found this occasionally sluggish that he was ready to move on to more graphic content – but certainly the inclusion of a level of gratuity here would seem to indicate a possible transition between the noir-ish tendencies of his early films to the more garish, exploitative productions of his later output.

24. May, 2017

Dr. Jekyll's Mistresses/El secreto del Dr. Orloff (1964)

Depending on which version of this film’s title you prefer, this Jess Franco picture might well be seen as a return to the character of Doctor Orloff, originally played so brilliantly by Howard Vernon in ‘The Awful Doctor Orloff’(1962). As someone who became familiar with Franco’s work through his later, gaudier ‘exploitation’ pictures, these earlier entries are a revelation – truly he was masterful at weaving horror atmospherics, a truly talented director of unnerving imagery, using stark black and white to its fullest advantage.

Interspersed with several cabaret scenes – a favourite distraction of Franco and one that would crop up in many subsequent projects – this appears to be the story of lovely Melissa (Agnès Spaak), who travels to a superbly realised sinister family castle owned by her Uncle Conrad Jekyll (Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui). She has been lead to believe her father Andros (Hugo Blanco) died there recently – except that her uncle has turned him into a somnambulistic zombie who sleeps upright in a glass coffin. That’s what zombies do, of course? Andros is given the full horror treatment in all ways but one. Direction, sinister musical cues, creepy lighting lay the chills on thick – and yet the make-up is far too subtle to justify the screams of hysterical fear that greet his stumbling confrontations with various characters.

Marcelo Arroita-Jáuregui is not hugely effective as Jekyll – he lacks any of the restrained sense of power Vernon had, and Manuel (Pepe Rubio) is occasionally rather irritating as Melissa’s love interest (as juvenile boyfriend characters often are), but the acting is rarely less than adequate. The characters are not as important as the atmosphere Franco weaves, and the sinister world of ‘Orloff’ is pleasingly recreated – whatever the main character calls himself.

20. May, 2017

The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

After the roundly derided ‘Blood of Fu Manchu’, director Jess Franco once again tackles Sax Rohmer’s indomitable moustache twirling super villain. Richard Greene ‘guest stars’ as sleuth Nayland Smith, and Howard Marion Crawford, in his last performance, plays second hand man, silly old Professor Petrie.

As Fu, Christopher Lee is exactly as you would expect – clipped, precise and cool. Under impressive oriental make-up, he conveys moments of anger, complacency and effective degrees of evil. His relationship with far more interesting daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) is slightly more focussed than previously, but the most interesting character here is Lisa (Rosalba Meri), 1971’s ‘Lady Frankenstein’. Lisa is a duplicitous and beautiful creation, often dressed in a suit (“She fights like a man”) – and yet, like everyone else here, she is fearfully underwritten and little more than a cypher.

Added to that, much of the stock footage that provides the more spectacular moments is generously scooped from other productions, notably a dam-busting scene from ‘Campbell’s Kingdom’ from twelve years earlier.

Despite a strong start, this soon dissolves into the kind of muddled plotting that blighted ‘Blood…’ previously. Although I actually found this slightly more entertaining than that previous film, it is still difficult to maintain interest in events when both storyline and characters are so sketchy.

A further entry into the Fu Manchu series was contracted, but due to the drubbing ‘Castle…’ received both critically and commercially, Fu’s promise that ‘the world will hear from me again’ remains unfulfilled. With a fairly generous budget (most likely due to the further involvement of Harry Alan Towers) and a good cast, it seems to me that Franco just wasn’t interested in telling a story about Fu Manchu – and subsequently, the audience felt the same way about paying to watch it.

19. May, 2017

Die Säge des Todes/Bloody Moon (1981)

Miguel (Alexander Waechter), a man afflicted with a particularly unrealistic facial scar, is sent to an asylum for rape and murder. With little evidence that he is cured, he is released five years later and immediately resumes his hobby of peering and leering at highly made-up women bedecked – barely – in stunning early 1980’s attire. One reason for his behaviour appears to be his forbidden love for his sister Manuela (Nadja Gerganoff), who is happy to parade herself around him in suggestive poses and revealing clothes but is appalled at continuing their forbidden relationship.

Various characters come and go, sinister suggestions of stalking young girls is accompanied by Gerhard Heinz’s mostly magnificent score (Pink Floyd were originally approached), and improbable and brightly coloured murders take place.

Euro sleaze, eurotrash, eurotica or euro-horror: there are plenty of labels for allegedly exploitation films such as ‘Bloody Moon’, but a lot of them are unfairly maligned by the lazy definition. A lot of films directed by Spanish Director Jess Franco are far better than their reputations suggest. This, however, promises to fit squarely within that category (Franco himself has labelled it s**t - but then, he wasn't a huge fan of many of his movies). It is Franco’s contribution to the slasher genre.

The first half is remarkably tame, with much of the running time seemingly made up from scenes spliced in from other films. Stunning locations and pretty girls and boys aside, this is something of a chore, especially when the characters display such unstinting stupidity, often on the promise of sex.

Yet it is worth continuing. The murders increase in frequency and bizarre gratuity (beheadings, stabbings and a knife protruding somewhat improbably from a nipple). The character of Angela (Olivia Pascal) staggers from witnessing one obscene set-piece after another and understandably is the scream-queen of this particular project. The scenes she witnesses actually gather together the somewhat isolated moments from earlier on and give them a coherency I wasn’t expecting.

In the end, against my earlier misgivings, ‘Bloody Moon’ ends up with a satisfying bloodbath filled with imaginative moments and a fairly convincing twist. Not Franco’s best film, then, but somewhere in the middle.

18. May, 2017

Clown Kill/Lock In (2016)

Jenny, or ‘Babes’ as she is often called (Jessica Cunningham), does not have a lot of luck as this film begins. Drunken, spiked and raped in the toilets of a club, hassled by a burn-scarred janitor Jennings (Stephen Greenhalgh) and victimised by boss John (Roy Basnett). The acting is extremely naturalistic, and the scenes are like eavesdropping on genuine work-related conversations. What lets things down at times, however, is the uneven sound quality which occasionally obscures dialogue. The feisty women in the advertising world are not to be messed with, and Boss John – mouth like a potty – is feeling the pressure too.

There is much humour here, a lot of it laugh-out-loud banter between the characters (especially the security nightshift George and Colin (Tim Paley and James Thompson)) - reminiscent of ‘The Office’ comedy (BBC, 2001-2003), which is no bad thing. Occasionally this balances nicely with the feelings of impending horror with what seems to be a killer clown in the locked-down offices – and occasionally it undermines the action. But I’ve a feeling that is deliberate. A familiar modern furnished office in an industrial estate is a remarkable sinister place when the night comes and 90% of the staff have (apparently) gone home.

In-keeping with the off-beat nature of the story, the ending could mean any number of things. The whole thing was Jenny’s drug addled dream or Boss John was dressed as a clown in a bid to incriminate Jennings (who is psychopathic anyway) … who’s to say? Whatever the outcome of the hyper finale, I had a ball watching this. Clearly it was done on a budget (the gore was never seen to stain the office location walls or carpets), but it remains great fun throughout. The pace rarely slackens and although the killer clown’s identity is pretty obvious from the first time we see him, this is a hugely enjoyable horror frolic.

17. May, 2017

Son of Dracula (1943)

Once you have been introduced to the non-descript but bombastic strains of Universal’s familiar opening music, and a hand wiping away cobwebs on the credits to reveal the film’s title, you might be lead to believe this isn’t going to be a measured, skilfully balanced exercise in horror. By this time, the name Lon Chaney (no longer ‘Jr’) topping the bill pretty much guarantees a monster stomp-around to give the kids a scare and amuse the adults. Veteran Evelyn Ankers also stars (she and Chaney often shared a fractious relationship professionally, but she starred in many films with him). However, it is a black wigged Louis Allbritton who plays the female lead, Katherine Caldwell, the flowing robed maiden with a faraway look in her eye who has the dubious privilege of marrying the curiously named Alucard. But hang on – Alucard backwards is … oh, of course.

It could be argued that the chunky, out-doorsy Chaney is miscast in many of his horror roles. He is, I think, no more suited to playing a seductive vampire lord than he is to playing a cadaverous mummy or a sympathetic Frankenstein monster. And yet, with that in mind, he makes a particularly good job of the role here. Restrained for the most part, quietly spoken and disinclined to overplay the titular character, it comes as little surprise that, rather than the son, he is playing Dracula himself!

The story, by Universal veteran Curt Siodmak, is very good – creepy, and tinged with a macabre sense of romance and lost love. The loser is Frank Stanley, the hero, who is not afforded any kind of ultimately conclusive ending. Robert Paige plays him exceptionally well, making his decline a convincing emotional journey. The other Siodmak, Robert, co-directs this effectively too, making the most of the supernatural elements. The first meeting of Alucard with his bride, features the vampire emerging as mist from a floating coffin, and then appearing to hover above the water. Although the effect is attempted very economically, it is a great moment. Later on, Stanley shoots at Alucard; Katherine shelters behind him, and the bullet passes harmlessly through the Count and into his wife, apparently killing her. Later, the image of the bat biting its victim is captured in silhouette. All terrific stuff.

The story follows the machinations of the original film – Dracula has a face-off with his knowledgeable nemesis, in this case Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg), and is overcome by the power of goodness; later, a child is found with mysterious bite marks. And yet events are handled so engagingly that there’s never a sense of restatement.

This is a refreshingly sinister and engaging film, sometimes unfairly lumped in with the Universal ‘quickies’ produced around this time. It is very intelligently and respectfully written, and to my mind, Chaney has never been better.

15. May, 2017

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The effects of ‘The Blair Witch Project (1999)’ should never be underestimated in my view. With it came to many peoples’ attention a whole new way of telling (mainly horror) stories: found footage. It was a phenomena, a huge low-budget hit. The inevitable backlash from the fickle public mainly whinged about the effects of ‘shaky’ webcam making the delicate souls in the audience feel queasy. Imagine then, if a film could be told using static security cameras endlessly filming every room in a haunted house. Perfect! For a limited time, it was certainly very effective.

Katie and Micah live in the unlikeliest haunted house. No dank corridors or Victorian era décor – this is a thoroughly modern homestead devoid of dank shadows and possessed cellars. The couple are likeable and real, and Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat are naturalistic performers and have a certain casual chemistry. The production is genius in its simplicity. Watching stilted views of familiar rooms command the attention, dare the audience to examine every inch of the scene for any sign of unnatural movement – and even if nothing happens, there is growing tension merely in being so drawn into it.

Micah’s scepticism in the face of visiting psychic (Marc Fredrichs) marks him out quite early as fairly vexatious, especially when Katie seems to have been sensitive to paranormal activity from a young age. And yet every horror film needs a sceptic. I remember being very irritated by him when I first saw this, but watching again, I find he is a lot more understanding than I gave him credit for.

Unspectacular occurrences are a lot more effective because they are filmed as ‘live’, and we get the couple’s instant, undiluted reactions to them. The scene where Katie is simply standing beside the couple’s bed, staring at Micah’s sleeping form, doesn’t sound much on paper, but is incredibly sinister. Such moments, gradually built up throughout, are simple and unnerving – far more so in this film than in the numerous sequels and prequels, which desperately introduce new characters and build unreasonably on the ‘curse’ (which is not that interesting) to try to maintain the interest. To my mind, the only sequel that works is 2014’s ‘The Marked Ones’, because it is a fairly self-contained ghost story in its own right.

Yet ‘Paranormal Activity’ should have remained a very effective one-off, in my view. Its huge success persuaded Paramount Pictures, who had bought the film from its original independent distributors, to add a new ending, which would then lead into further numerous ways of wringing money from what had become a new franchise.

At the end of my first viewing of this, I had to turn all the lights on in every room, just to make sure there wasn’t a figure standing there. A sure sign the film has done its job …?

13. May, 2017

Theatre of Fear/The Midnight Horror Show (2014)

Jared Morgan plays Doctor Deimos Moreau, surviving head of the strangest bunch of delinquents you might have seen since Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects (2005)’, to which this project has been compared. Amongst his crew of travelling performers are Trinculo the scarred clown (Nathan Head), Janus the ventriloquist (Lee Bane), Venus the manipulative sister (Shireen Ashton), and Apollo (Sam Harding) who can never, ever do anything right in the eyes of his family. And what a family they are.

Images remain long after ‘Theatre of Fear’ has ended. Trinculo stooped and heart-broken like a hollow-eyed goth, after seeing his friend Jenny (Tiffany Ceri) back romancing her bullying boyfriend Vincent (Kris Richards); Janus slumped and defeated after the ventriloquist’s dummy commits another grisly murder. Of course, the dominating dummy story has been done before, probably most memorably in ‘Dead of Night (1945)’, but it is done well here – and we are never sure how the wooden faced grinner has gained the upper hand. A genuine supernatural presence, a product of Janus’ submissive mentality – or just another chapter of madness amidst this dysfunctional, murderous brood? Interesting that Janus adopts the dummy’s personality (often coming out with some brashly funny lines) towards the end.

Angela, who inexplicably disappears during the first act we see, has a vengeful father, who employs the services of The Duke (Kevin Horsham) to track down those responsible.

Skilfully, when the family are caught by the hitman, director, writer and producer Andrew Jones invites us to side with the depraved performers and not the intimidating good guy. A conversation between Deimos and The Duke, where they reluctantly agree they are the same because they kill people for enjoyment, is a pivotal moment in this.

‘Theatre of Fear’ is an intriguing, curious little gem. It is low budget, and some performances aren’t as strong as they might be, and there are some sound problems – but the over-riding sense of weirdness and carnival perversion makes up for all of this. Many scenes are shot in uncomfortable close-up, often in sickly, artificial colours inviting us into a sulphur-lit intimacy with the ‘freaks.’

And yes, this is head and shoulders more enjoyable than Rob Zombie’s film in my view.

12. May, 2017

Una Farfalla con le ali Insanguinate/The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)

I’m a firm believer that rain can add atmosphere to any scene, whether on film, television, book or photograph. The downpour that accompanies many of the events at the beginning of this Duccio Tessari directed giallo is welcome after the very lengthy introduction, via a never-ending opening credits sequence introducing many starring characters.

The rainstorm adds additional horrific grit to the murder of beautiful student Françoise Pigaut (Carole André), after which toupee-sporting sports presenter Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia) is arrested. We then learn his wife is having an affair with his lawyer, and that even after Marchi’s incarceration, further murders take place …

‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ has garnered much praise for resisting the flamboyant nature of many giallos and concentrating, in a very measured way, on the various characters and possible murderers. The police investigations are methodical and Silvano Tranquilli’s Inspector Berardi and his men spend as much time in the dark about things as we do. The reluctance to dwell on gore, sex or elaborate plot details tend to make many events quite dull viewing in my view.

Usual giallo standouts are very much in evidence here: Gianni Ferrio’s score is wonderful, the locations, drenched in sun or hammered by rainfall, are spectacular throughout. The reveal at the end is entirely in-keeping with the restrained manner throughout the 95 minutes – satisfying but hardly spectacular.

11. May, 2017

Wake the Witch (2010)

Clearly made on a shoestring budget, at nearly two hours much of the interest in the fabled witch in the woods wears thin - which is a shame, because this film has its heart in the right place.

Stefanie Tapio plays Deb, an appealing young photographer who occasionally exhibits a callous nature. Although she looks about 12 years old, she and her friends are presented as a variant on the usual ‘rock chick’ – their exploits are accompanied by high school grunge music, and they spend a fair amount of time discussing the merits, or otherwise, of ‘boys.’ But they are an otherwise unaffected bunch, and worlds away from the usual manicured prom brats we often get in stories like this. The acting is occasionally ropey but competent for an independent film. What lets things down though is the sluggish, drawn-out plot. The first half in particular drags and it is a pity some judicial pruning didn’t cut the running time down by about half an hour.

Things become rather more interesting when friend Karen (Karis Yanike) appears to get kidnapped by a spooky bunch of hooded figures in the woodlands. No-one else seems remotely bothered about her disappearance. Added to that, after a mysterious illness sweeps over Deb’s family, she teams up with brother Mark’s friend Brent (Jeremy Gillmore) to try and make sense of this blurred mystery.

The small town gradually cut off from normality due to this spreading sickness is effectively, and economically, conveyed. The low budget allows the blossoming curse to project an intimate, sticky, dirty sense of horror. The finale is unspectacular but surprisingly creepy. Lovecraftian, even. Whilst effective, it is a pity it didn’t end more conclusively. After staying with Debs for so long– Director and writer Dorothy Booraem (this film marks debuts both for her and Tapio) clearly put a lot of work into every scene, and she was determined to use it all – it would have been more satisfying had the denouement not been so opaque.

10. May, 2017

Blood and Lace (1964)

This is a very early giallo film, and already makes really good use of what would become staples in the genre. Lurid colours (lots of blues and deep reds and mauves), lots of young ladies the victims of violent distress, a mysterious black gloved killer, and some briefly gory scenes.

It seems to me that Director Mario Bava’s eye for exaggerated colour palettes inspired films like ‘Suspiria (1977)’, and the music by Carlo Rustichelli also adds to the striking visual set-pieces.

A dazzling and gory production for its time, the story beneath is somewhat ponderous and something I found difficult to engage with. As with ‘Suspiria’, I found the directorial flourishes a distraction rather than an enhancement, although certain scenes undoubtedly work very well. The characters are somewhat drowned in the stylish presentation too, although the acting throughout is accomplished.

8. May, 2017

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

The number seven crops up more than once in Giallo films – ‘Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye’, ‘Seven Blood Stained Orchids’, and this. Doll faced beauty Barbara Bouchet plays Kitty, surviving sister to Evelyn, a precocious, violent creature, who has seemingly perished. However, events seem to emulate the old family curse in which, every hundred years, the ‘Red Queen’ is raised from the dead to kill seven times. Classic images of stabbings by an unknown black-gloved figure with dark hair and a red cloak (1973’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ imagery seems to owe a lot to this) follow.

Red actually crops up rather a lot in this, on clothes and cars – splashes of crimson in the midst of pleasingly rainy night scenes; either a subtle clue as to the identity of the killer or a ‘red’ herring.

Magnificently moustachioed Marino Masé plays the chief inspector (Toller), the dapper gentleman trying to unravel this enigma, whilst looking uncannily like Freddie Mercury in certain scenes. This whole dark mystery is presented very much as a television horror/thriller than a film – more so than most giallos, I’d say.

The ghost-faced killer is featured only very sparingly, which is a shame as she is featured prominently on promotional material and looks effectively sinister.

Another well crafted, solid giallo film.

6. May, 2017

Mischief Night/Devil's Night (2014)

There are a number of films called both ‘Devil’s Night’ and ‘Mischief Night’. This is the 2014 project written and directed by Travis Baker. It stars Brooke Anne Smith as Kaylie, the sardonic, bored, scratchy voiced precocious ex-self-harmer who has been lumbered with a baby-sitting job because the original baby-sitter, and Kaylie’s friend, is ill. Actually, her friend isn’t ill at all, and ends up as the first throat-slashed victim of a killer.

Anyway, a masked miscreant breaks into the house and gets caught up in the inevitable mild violent exchange with feisty Kaylie. With the baby long forgotten, the two then strike up an, ahem, unlikely bond, and are soon charging round the neighbourhood enjoying some Hallowe’en trick-or-treat pranks. The misunderstood unmasked man and the dough-eyed wildcat blond strike up a bond of profound stature, two bland posers psycho-analysing each other to the sound of tinkling synthesised music. Two misunderstood youngsters flirting heavily whilst drinking all the alcohol in the house of the parents of the baby no-one cares about.

As the unnamed man behind the mask Marc Valera makes the most of the emotional backstory he is given, but the audience is being asked a lot to suddenly relate to someone who it seems has just cut the throat of a local girl. It is all rather more than a little twee and seems to be setting itself up for some highly unlikely self-analysis between two pretty shallow people.

However, what resulted is something a lot more intelligent than I gave it credit for, and although others may guess the outcome, I found the storyline surprising in all the right places. It might occasionally seem like a struggle to get through at times, but ‘Devil’s Night’ is worth sticking around for until the very end.

Malcolm McDowell, who plays a curious, extrovert local ‘do-gooder’, appears to have a great time with what it little more than a cameo. So much so that his various out-takes actually crop up after the end credits.

5. May, 2017

La Corta Notte Delle Bambole di Vetro/Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

I don’t know why I find it comforting that there are many giallo films, especially from the early 1970’s, but I do. Those I have seen are consistently well made and well told, competently acted (compromised often by occasionally poor dubbing into English) and never less than interesting. They follow a similar pattern – often there is a black-gloved/masked killer and several nubile young women in jeopardy. The male heroes often appear to compete with them in the beauty stakes. Here, the meticulously styled Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) is the main man here, but he is upstaged regularly by the wonderful Barbara Bach as his girlfriend Mira (“You’re adorable,” he tells her at one stage, and I can only agree). She is particularly striking in her final scenes.

The main difference between this and others of its genre is when we first meet Moore, he appears to be dead. We return to his unblinking, unmoving body at various stages of the story as it is prepared at the mortuary – the shocker is that Moore still appears to think and to reason. Quite how this has come about and continues, is a mystery throughout; luckily for us all, the film is mainly told in flashback, and it deals with the lead-up to Moore’s apparent incarceration and the disappearance of Mira.

Giallos are often leisurely paced, at least initially, and this is certainly no exception – in fact there are no glimpses of any answers for a lot of the running time, which often makes the viewing annoyingly opaque.

When they come, the revelations are particularly harrowing and exciting, and things race to a head in a wincingly powerful way. And then, at this peak, the end credits scroll down; it is over. It is a frustratingly sharp finale, but expertly handled, the finale brings things to an end in a way you may not forget in a hurry.

4. May, 2017

Plan 9 (2015)

Plan 9 is set in Nilbog, a town invaded by aliens. It begins with Mister Lobo playing Criswell, the kiss-curled real-life American psychic (1907-1982), whose mental powers are completely ignored here. Equally, the actor couldn’t look less like Crisswell. What we get is the kind of OTT performance that lets you know exactly the style the makers of this remake of ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)’ (often labelled the worst film ever made) are embracing. There are some pleasing nods to the original of course. The bereaved gentleman played by Bela Lugosi hangs himself whilst wearing a Halloween Dracula cape, Lucy (Sarah Eshleman) playfully dangles a lightshade over a miniature town model, echoing the hub-cap spaceships in Ed Wood’s project.

‘Night of the Living Dead (1968)’ and ‘The Fog (1980)’ are also referenced, as are scenes from other well-known horror films.

For me, ‘Plan 9’ is guilty of the same thing as the film that inspired it: it is a little boring. Not so bad it is good, not so bad it is bad, it just continues long past the point the audience cares. A cheap, campy film with often (deliberately?) cardboard performances and lacklustre monsters, encompassed in a pulpy sci-fi concept, is only entertaining for a limited time before the audience want something more ‘solid’ to invest in. Taken as it is, it might well be best watched with friends, over pizza and other occasional distractions.

29. Apr, 2017

The Last Survivors/The Well (2014)

Opening with a lengthy dialogue-free scene, Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) appears to be the sole survivor of some apocalyptic occurrence that has left the world ravaged and arid. As it turns out, she is one of a handful of characters who are all trying to survive in their sun-stung waterless desert.

Kendal and her sick friend Dean (the wonderfully named Booboo Stewart) are attempting to protect their life-saving well from the wandering evil water baron Carson (Jon Gries) and his band of scavengers, who are attempting to secure all water-giving appliances as his own.

Despite a slow beginning, and the burning feeling that this might just be a catwalk teen-soap, this soon developed into something far more interesting. Richardson is convincing and appealing as Kendall, and even the young actor Max Charles, who could have been precocious as juvenile survivor Alby, is very good.

The finale plays out very much like a Western, with a well-staged showdown between various characters. The ending is low-key in a way that befits the story being told, and the stunning scenery, shot in California, is a double-edged sword: beautiful but deadly. Recommended.

28. Apr, 2017

Justine and Juliet/Marquis de Sade (1969)

The opening scenes are like a parody. Klaus Kinski, imprisoned, dreams of shackled, naked girls in a flurry of out-of-focus zoom-ins courtesy of Director Jess Franco, with a thumping, grandiloquent musical score that quite defies the fact that nothing of any merit is actually happening. It is as if Bruno Nicolai’s soundtrack has swept in from some spectacular epic to accompany these scenes; a towering presence Kinski undoubtedly was, but even he doesn’t merit such extravagance when he is, in effect, doing nothing.

Adding the usual spice to the cast are Franco friends Maria Rohm, Howard Vernon and a seemingly inebriated Jack Palance. The performances here are larger than life, and such a style befits this a huge, expensive looking, ribald romp full of exotic characters and costumes and locations, where everyone we meet could conservatively be described as ‘heightened’ – except, perhaps understandably, for Romina Power (daughter of Tyrone), who gives a very grounded performance as Justine. Rather unkindly, Jess Franco has made it clear her casting was forced on him and that he would have chosen someone else. Charisma she may lack compared to the extravagance of those around her, but for the sake of contrast if nothing else, her performance just about works. "Most of the time [Power] didn't even know we were shooting," Franco is quoted as saying.

As for Kinski’s appearances, they are silent and they do not integrate with anyone else. The possibilities between the eccentricities of Kinski and Franco were never fully realised, it seems to me. The closest we have come to realising the meeting of these two greats comes together in 1976’s ‘Jack the Ripper’, but despite how enjoyable that film was, one would have hoped for a less restrained team-up.

‘Justine…’ film has been heavily censored for some releases, not for reasons of graphic nudity or gore (at least, I don’t think so – it is very tame on that score), but probably because the 124 minute version I have seen is way, way too long to justify the character of Justine falling into one mishap after another, which is the storyline in a nutshell.

My favourite Franco take on this idea is ‘Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Boudoir' (1970), which seems much more low-budget, but condenses the tale more successfully.

27. Apr, 2017

Footsteps in the Fog (1955)

When grief-stricken Stephen Lowry (Stewart Grainger) faces life alone after burying his wife, our heart goes out to him. Rarely has a house looked so sumptuously forlorn and bleak, cold and kissed by the rain’s cold embrace. A theatrical statement it’s true, but fittingly so, because this is an epic matinee from Columbia; a huge, star-stuffed extravaganza. Our sympathy lessens when Lowry (a) kicks his cat and almost as bad, (b) is found to have poisoned his dear departed, causing her demise.

Wily, picked-on maid Lily Watkins (Jean Simmons) uses her knowledge of this to gain career momentum within the house. The inappropriately jovial behaviour of the court where Lowry faces a trial for murder notwithstanding, he and Watkins appear to share a curious connection – she is quite the most sympathetic and appealing blackmailer portrayed in a film, and it is understandable she and Lowry strike up a believable relationship: they have both met their match. The two leads are excellent throughout, with a very subtle ‘knowing’ performance from Grainger; backed up by an excellent cast including Victor Maddern, Bill Travers, Peter Bull and the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell.

A dark-humoured exercise in dealing and double dealing, of macabre machinations and sinister goings-on behind closed doors – and all wrapped up in lavish atmospherics of swirling winds, pea-soupers and other such horror trappings. Rarely have they looked so good.

22. Apr, 2017

Altar/The Haunting of Radcliffe House (2014)

Mum, Dad and two daughters arrive in a car, looking over bleak and blasted moorlands at a gloomy Yorkshire mansion. Mum Meg (Olivia Williams) has been hired to renovate the premises; when she promises they’ll have fun there in their new temporary home, the faces on her family say it all. Grizzled dad, artist Alec (Matthew Nodine) is possibly more enthused about the place than anyone; he feels he will accomplish great art there.

The two children achieve a rare and wonderful thing. Troubled and anxious not to be there, they are terrifically convincing and utterly unspoiled. By that, I mean the precocious nature of youngsters in films is entirely absent. Antonia Clarke and Adam Thomas Wright are excellent as Penny and Harper Hamilton: funny, natural, engaging and likeable – subsequently we care when they find themselves in jeopardy. And as this is a solid haunted house mystery, they do, with increasing intensity.

The narrative begins well, bringing forth measured, intriguing scares more than hugely spectacular jump moments. The atmosphere is what is most successfully conveyed – the setting is truly barren, the house is a huge, empty, neglected shell in the midst of some gloriously bleak countryside. It looks truly breath-taking and writer/Director Nick Willing takes full advantage of that.

As it progresses, the story becomes more than a little confusing. Two characters enter the proceedings who are there to explain things a little – first, creepy Charles Kendrick Walker (Stephen Chance) whose origins are enjoyably disconcerting; and secondly, ghost hunter Nigel Lean (Steve Oram), whose appearance is little more than a cameo.

I’m quite fond of stories that don’t answer all the questions, as the uncertainty that places in the mind of the viewer can be perturbing and add to the overall effect. Yet a bit more clarity would have been welcome here, especially in the closing moments. Other than that, this is a well-made, solid ghost story and well worth your time.

20. Apr, 2017

La Morte Cammina con I Tacchi Alti/Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

Somewhat flighty exotic dancer Nicole (Nieves Navarro) finds herself pursued by a masked killer with unnaturally bright blue eyes. Much of this film’s running time is devoted to a partially clad Nicole taking her work home with her, first with hot-headed boyfriend Michel Aumont (Simon Andreu), and then with saucy, middle-aged Dr. Robert Matthews (Frank Wolff), into whose arms she runs when she suspects Michel might be her black-clad pursuer. This latest, more mature admirer looks after her far better than Michel did.

This giallo has much in common with other films of the genre – a sumptuous musical score (by Stelvio Cipriani), a lovely lady in jeopardy, and (far too) much softcore titillation which, to be honest, bungs up the plot and stifles much in the way of tension – at least in the first half. There are suspects galore – one handed Hallory (Luciano Rossi), the good doctor himself (who seems too good to be true) and silly old spurned Michel (who, if innocent, is right to feel unjustly jilted, despite his volatility). And shocks, too – main characters die when you least expect it. This causes a readjustment on behalf of the audience; when someone we have invested in from the beginning of the film, we are left with more peripheral characters who then take centre stage, and we have to reboot our interest in them. It’s good to have these shocks and surprises, but it takes a special skill for the story to continue with the same amount of interest. After some shaky moments, ‘Death Walks on High Heels’ just about manages it.

The locations, mostly set in the coast of England, are lovely. Such scenic backgrounds provide a heavy slate-grey canvas for the increasingly colourful goings-on. Things become so entangled as to threaten to topple into confusion, but a terrific twist and action-infused finale livens things up toward the end. Featuring some meticulously choreographed fight scenes and convincing gore, ‘Death Walks on High Heels’ is an enjoyable entry into the world of giallo.