Spoilers follow ...

28. Sep, 2017

The Houses October Built 2 (2017)

“Anything to get a scare, right?”

It must have been a challenge to go about a sequel to a film in which the original cast all appeared to die, but to its credit, ‘The Houses October Built 2’ – from here on in, THOB2 - actually begins as the earlier instalment ended – with the group of haunted house ‘enthusiasts’ being buried alive. Pretty soon, the ‘five thrill seekers’ are free once more.

Like the earlier production, this plays with the idea of found footage, in that it cheats with the concept by apparently including scenes that would have been impossible for the characters to film – but when it helps the flow and heightens the chaotic sense of the grotesque brutality to this extent, it is forgivable.

Like the Blair Witch trilogy before it, THOB2 takes the events from the previous movie and treats them as reality; the YouTube exploits of Zack, Mikey, Bobbie and Jeff have made headline news – and made a star out of the sole female of the group Brandy (Brandy Schaefer). Problem is, this new fame pushes the others to go further into the world of haunted houses and realistic funfair demons than ever before – and Brandy, or ‘Coffin Girl’ who has attracted 24 million YouTube hits, assuredly wants no part of it. I don’t like the way the boys cajole Brandy into the gang again, even considering the pressure they are under from their audience. Before, the group were extreme but likeable; now, that appeal has been diminished, although their recklessness proves to be entirely in character. Also, it would be unrealistic if at least one of the gang wasn’t reticent about coming for another journey. To help to understand why people enter into this kind of macabre exhibitionism, Brandy meets Dr Margee Kerr, who engages with scary things to help her ‘grow’. It wouldn’t convince me!

Other than that, it is business ‘as unusual’, as they traverse haunted houses and extreme Halloween attractions much as before. Their travelogue becomes a world where every face is horrifying, around every corner is a new reason to shudder, and fairground horrors become their life. The ‘bigger and better’ scares (and use of a drone to film them) open things up in the way sequels often strive for, but in turn, events lose some of the grimy intimacy of the first film. The enigmatic Blue Skeleton organisation is still trailing the gang, for reasons that are never clearly stated, other than their notoriety. Throughout, the haunted house network encourages them to ‘seek out Hellbent’ (a phrase which is more profound than they imagine) as an example of the most extreme experience you can get. Inevitably, when they arrive there, things are not as they seem …

I thought this was terrific. I’m not sure it topped the weirdness of the first, but Director Bobby Roe certainly tapped into the same vein. My favourite character from the first, the jerky, awful Doll Girl is here briefly and this time there are others like her. As sequels go, this is a good one. But I can’t see – now that the main characters have been exposed in such a way – how there can be any more instalments.

27. Sep, 2017

A Bay of Blood (1971)

How it must have been for a horror film fan to be of cinema-going age in the early 1970s – this is another Italian giallo film that was released into the already bulging world in 1971. Directed by Mario Bava, it contains all the hallmarks – beautiful locations, beautiful people - and someone dressed in black who is killing them all, one by one.

Bava is lauded as an inspirational to many more modern film-makers, which is great. I find his work a little hit-or-miss. Perhaps his reputation goes against him for me; I try not to read reviews of any kind before I’ve seen a film, but it is difficult to avoid Bava’s status. Perhaps if he were not so revered, I’d (unfairly) be more open to appreciate his work.

That said, this unquestionably contains some gruesome moments and handsome set-pieces for the growing number of killings. Stelvio Cipriani’s very rhythmical soundtrack plays its part in cultivating the unnerving moments too.

As always with Bava, colour is very important. Garish and lurid, even when muted by day-for-night, it presents my main issue with his work. It is too stylised, giving a stage-bound feel, even on location. Such starkness also robs the sumptuous locations of their natural atmosphere and charms.

The story revolves around the lengths people will go to safeguard what they as their inheritance. It’s a thin plot, hardly elevated by a very contrived ending. As giallos go, it has enough memorable moments to make it worthwhile (my favourite involves daft and giggly Brunhilda (Brigitte Skay) skinny-dipping, when a bloated corpse brushes against her – dissolving into hysterics. Her fate is also soon sealed), but it is far from the most compelling in the genre.

26. Sep, 2017

Speak No Evil (2014)

I found this to be a genuinely surprising horror; not that possessed children is a particularly new concept, but rather in the way their threat is treated and revealed to us. In the opening moments, a flurry of activity involving a briefly seen horned creature abducting young Joey Girl (Olivier Cavender) from her trailer park home occurs while her mum Anna (Gabrielle Stone) is in bed with her current beau Creighton (Carl Jensen IV). At first it seems that her wayward past has made Anna into a scapegoat for judgemental and very religious townsfolk, who assume she is simply a bad parent and Joey has run away – but it’s a different story when all the children in the neighbourhood disappear too. And then one day, they come back.

Yet something is wrong and the children become increasingly feral. Joey, the only injured youngster, has had her tongue removed and soon begins to exhibit sporadic possessed episodes that increase in frequency. Soon the whole town is in the grip of fear and marauding, demonic youngsters. Things have reached this point so quickly, as does the descent into animal behaviour as the possession grows in intensity; events become hard to follow. But I get the feeling this is a deliberate decision of behalf of Director/Writer Roze to highlight the sense of chaos such a rapid decline has caused.

Children – apart from Joey – are rarely treated as individuals, rather a pack of animalistic hooligans. Pivotal moments like the death of loyal, quiet Creighton happen quickly and without fanfare. Blink and you’ll miss it. This approach is highly unusual in general, and for horror in particular, where such moments of graphic violence and spectacle are usually dwelt upon. Here, we waste no time on incidents – rather, we cut away and move onto the next occurrence.

I enjoyed this unusual, choppy film. The very simple effect of hollow eyed children with black vomit around their faces and clothes is extremely effective – as is the briefly seen demon itself.

24. Sep, 2017

Vampires/Bloodless (2014)

A group of young people agree to subject themselves to a 30-day medical trial in order to win themselves £10,000 each. Among them are Rachael, who hides her illness, sensible Sam, Julie who’s every gesture and expression is a tantrum waiting to happen, feisty Tracey and journo Amanda. Among the menfolk are cockney Steve, Scott, massive Martin, non-descript Dave. The trial is conducted not in the controlled environment of a hospital, but the vast rooms of an isolated castle.

This is a low-budget production written and directed by Richard Johnstone. The colour grading and cinematography are exceptional – very bleak and foreboding, but possessed of a kind of melancholic beauty at the same time. It wasn’t until I saw the extras that I realised how much post-production work went into managing the colours and textures of the visuals.

Where the lack of budget does have a detrimental effect, however, is reflected in some of the performances and lack of actual scares. An exception to that is the scene toward the end featuring one vampire character slowly succumbing to the effects of sunlight, which is terrific.

My favourite performances might well come from the evil-doers. The Co-ordinatior (Patrick Wilde), his secretary (Judith Alexander) and especially the little girl Jessica (Holly Newton) all exude a measured level of evil that becomes more blatant and bestial toward the end, when the true nature of the vampires is revealed.

Although ‘Vampires’ doesn’t quite gel together, it is quite clearly made with a lot of skill and love –some scenes (often the simplest) have a real sinister quality about them (Rachael being called to her undoing by a whispering child, for example).

23. Sep, 2017

Warum läuft Herr R. Amok?/ Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970)

Michael Fengler and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s study of the mild mannered, slightly clumsy, well-meaning Herr R (Kurt Raab) and his slowly growing intolerance of the perceived mundanities of his life runs not unlike a film by the UK’s Mike Leigh. Every uncomfortable moment is there for all to see, and yet most of the characters are oblivious to it.

Whichever scene you may be watching, you can be fairly assured that Herr Raab, gentle and genial as he is, will be on the periphery. Rarely spoken to, often spoken of. Loved by his wife, but in a way that an owner loves a big dopey dog – and Raab is only occasionally moved to break away from the stereotype he has had thrust upon him.

When he is not around, he is spoken of as a commodity, as a cash-cow whose promotion at work is an obsession for his wife, and used as a basis for social one-up-man-ship masquerading as gossip amongst neighbourly coffee mornings. Cigarettes accompany everything. We have people politely enjoying themselves or bickering as a formality.

When Raab finally gets drunk enough to make a speech at the workplace, he clears the room in what is surely the film’s most excruciating scene. Although an early episode in a record store, where Raab’s enquiries concerning a particular track is made especially awkward by the protracted adolescent rudeness of the two giggling assistants, runs a close second.

SPOILER: Of course, watching amiable but boring people being perfectly amiable but boring, could result subsequent boredom from the audience. The superficial, banal chit-chat just begins to shift from ‘fly-on-the-wall studies of human behaviour’ to ‘overwhelmingly infuriating’ - when quite without warning, Herr Raab clubs his neighbour, his wife and his son to death. He does this without a show of any emotion, much like majority of his day-to-day life. When his subsequent fate is revealed to an office full of his co-workers who barely acknowledge his existence anyway, the film sharply ends.

Once seen, never forgotten, this is a fine observation on the endless embracing of the normal. Pressures to succeed, to conform, to literally keep up with the Joneses, delivered so casually on a day-to-day basis with no possible way out shows very well the smallness of existence. Of course, Raab’s compliance doesn’t help his situation, but there’s no denying this is a production that stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

22. Sep, 2017

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

There’s an instantly arresting opening credit sequence to this. Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) playing some dreaded progressive rock with his band, interspersed with a back background punctuated with a graphic beating heart. Ah, this will be directed (and co-written) by Dario Argento then!

The first few scenes are suitably macabre and bizarre also. Gruesome events are witnessed and apparently recorded by a strange figure wearing an outsized doll mask. Like Pete Walker’s later ‘The Comeback (1978)’, a male musician, rather than a female, is the victim of sinister events. In this case, this results in a lack of one of the many merits of giallo – no strong women characters. As Tobias’ wife Nina, Mimsy Farmer seems too weak-willed to stand up to him much of the time, and Nina’s cousin Daria (stunning Francine Racette) is very happy to fall into his arms (in the bath-tub no less). And yet the nervous Tobias is somewhat brash and arrogant, despite Brandon’s convincing portrayal, and this adds to a paucity of characters to identify with, much less side with.

Dario Argento’s occasionally overtly gaudy, wilfully weird set-ups and execution can sometimes actually work against the atmosphere of the films I have seen under his stewardship. This is very much the case here. There are some psychedelic moments, some truly surreal set-pieces and some impressive killings. He has a style which is very much his own, and rightly he has been lauded for his sense of unique imagery. And yet to my tastes, this is at the expense of a narrative I can really get involved in.

This was the final part of the ‘animal trilogy’ that had also included ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)’ and ‘The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971)’, all of which contain traits similar to this. Enjoyable giallo entertainment, but I’m not entirely enamoured of the lurid execution.

21. Sep, 2017

Dracula (Spanish version) 1931

Whilst Universal films toiled during the days, Director George Melford and his team of Spanish film-makers worked through the nights using the same sets and adapting their own version of the story via the 1924 stage version.

Spanish Dracula is played by Carlos Villarias, the only member of the crew allowed to see the rushes of the Universal rushes so he could imitate Lugosi’s mannerisms. This might do Villarias a disservice – there could only ever be one Lugosi performance, which is a very singular, much-copied affair that caused such a sensation that he was cursed (or blessed) to play horror characters for most of his career. Villarias could be seen as a tribute act – lots of grimacing and lizard-like movements, but little of the presence. He succeeds over Lugosi during the second half, where The Count is required to mingle with high society. Whereas Lugosi’s mannerisms were so extreme, the polite responses around him were rendered ridiculous, the Spanish Conde makes some effort to ingratiate himself with the company. Villarias should not be criticised for not being Lugosi in my view, and he is perfectly fine in the role.

Pablo Alvarez Rubio’s Renfield is possibly more manic than was Dwight Frye’s (but lacks the subtle fragility), and it is reassuring to know that Renfield’s warden, Martin (Manuel Arbó), behaves just as inappropriately as his ‘cockney’ counterpart. Of course, it is difficult to appreciate the performances fully as I cannot speak Spanish, but it seems also that Eduardo Arozamena as Van Helsing, whilst authoritative, is not as stuffy as Edward Van Sloan’s fastidious version. Kudos to Barry Norton for at least turning up to play the unrewarding and forgettable role of Juan Harker.

The biggest contrast might well be the character of the main female victim. Helen Chandler’s character Mina is a fragile, delicate creature – Lupita Tovar’s Eva is more full-blooded, more sensual. Both versions of this character are excellent to my mind (Tovar died in 2016 aged 106).

Whereas Melford’s version doesn’t quite measure up to the saturation levels of spooky atmosphere the American version displayed, it enjoys a far more watchable second half. The Direction is more assured, more filmic and less like a stage play. Villarias’ first meeting with Renfield, after several lingering distant shots earlier on, is quite spectacular. The camera leaps from Renfield’s viewpoint and rapidly tracks up the huge staircase to find El Conde perched and waiting, just in front of an equally impressive spider’s web. The Castle remains a tremendous set, and is explored beautifully by Melford’s camera, its huge scale revealed by some terrific camera angles. Even Dracula’s rising from the coffin is handled imaginatively: always an awkward moment (we never see Dracula’s undignified stepping out), here he merely rises from behind the open casket, framed by billowing smoke (clearly standing behind the coffin, not in it), as the lid slowly closes. Also, the welcome inclusion of the ‘woman in white’ is brief, but chilling.

Is this ‘better’ than Tod Browning’s version? Who cares? It is talky but brilliant. That’s all the matters to me.

20. Sep, 2017

Monster Hunter/Dark Was the Night (2014)

Something is amiss in the small town community of Maiden Wood. Animals are going missing, and people are being reduced to dismembered limbs scattered amongst the autumn leaves. In fact, this is a very autumnal film – in many scenes, the colours are bled out of the images, or a subtle filter is placed on the camera, reducing the atmosphere to a dawn coldness. The soundtrack, too, is a mixture of sombre music and what could be the sound of a hollow wind. Director Jack Teller certainly imbues his world with an unsettling unease.

Into this, Sherriff Shields (Kevin Durand) tentatively strides, acting on varied reports of ‘something in the trees’. Shields is played with a kind of weighty sense of unease and disappointment. The emergence of muddied hoof-prints running through the area does nothing to lighten his mood. His estrangement with wife Susan (Bianca Kajlich) and son Adam (Ethan Khusidman) is nicely underscored: two people torn about by a tragedy who were clearly meant to be together. Never over-sentimental, but quietly powerful.

Windiga, a creature from Native American legend, is revealed very slowly, a limb at a time. It finally makes its appearance during a terrific, isolating snowstorm. Sometimes what you don’t see is more effective – but the way the creature is realised doesn’t let anything down. The showdown is terrific. What comes after is even better.

It’s a monster-on-the-loose film, and is an exceptional example of its kind.

16. Sep, 2017

The Poltergeist of Borley Forest/You Will Love Me (2013)

Talented artist, college student and waitress Paige (Marina Petrano) is sitting at the edge of a forest alone, while her friends party nearby. Unhappy, she wanders off. Finding a singular piece of rope hanging from the branches of a creepy willow tree, she brushes her hand against it, and recoils at the sensation.
Although clearly made with a miniscule budget, these opening scenes are moderately sinister, but not as (possibly unintentionally) frightening as Paige’s parents, who we meet in the next scene. Her Dad is a slab of clichés concerning studying and ‘the future’, and her mother adopts a sardonic, belittling tone ALL THE TIME. It’s a wonder that Paige and her friends - including love interest Cooper (Nicholas Barrera) and brother Tommy (Christopher Ingle) - are as grounded as they are (at times it seems as if Cooper could be the ghost featured in the title). Paige certainly doesn’t deserve to be terrorised by whatever spirit she brushed against in the woods.

This is not compelling. The slow pacing during the first half requires you to summon up interest in Paige’s day-to-day life, which isn’t made too difficult because she’s likeable. Her visitations are few and far between and consist mainly of shadows moving behind her that she doesn’t see. Things aren’t so dull that I was tempted to switch off or meander, because there’s some nice dialogue, some performances that succeed despite the inexperience of the actors, and the definite feeling I wanted to find out where it was all heading.

At over 100 minutes, this is simply too long. Twenty of those minutes could have been pruned, which would have improved things a lot. Some scenes simply meander without adding anything. Some of the characters’ dialogue is hard to make out, especially in the lengthy scenes explaining (to some extent) the mystery of Borley Woods, which is unfortunate. In contrast to tis, there’s a nice twist at the end, which is perfectly executed.

As someone who wouldn’t have the first idea how to make a film, I commend Stephen McKendree on his work. As a viewer, I would say that with more polish and refinement, this would have been much more consistent in its enjoyment.

15. Sep, 2017

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

I’m not sure what it is about Giallo films. They’re very stylish and often beautifully put together, but have a certain uniform similarity about them: lurid colours, an exotic musical soundtrack, a killer wearing black gloves, glamorous males and females. And yet for all the familiarity, they are always fairly thrilling viewing. I rarely tire of their exotic set-ups of jeopardy, or the rolling locations and arty direction. Here, Dario Argento certainly does not disappoint. Each shadow and reflection has sinister possibilities.

Ennio Morricone provides another in his inexhaustible supply of melancholic, haunting, beautiful musical scores, and the twists that come at the end are once more expertly handled. In fact, it is actually during Inspector Morosini’s (Enrico Maria Salerno) summary explanations of events that the credits roll – almost as if the film’s running time is not enough to contain it!

But there are no errors here. Argento handles everything with precision. My notes about the familiarity of giallo films and their style and structure have little bearing on ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’. There were still plenty more such Italian horror-thrillers to come by this time; it is just that I personally have seen many of them out of order.

Amongst the cast (apart from Salerno’s sterling Inspector) are Tony Musante as main man Sam Dalmas, British Suzy Kendall as Julia and Reggie Nalder stealing all his brief scenes as ‘the assassin’.

14. Sep, 2017

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977)

This is certainly a curio - a fairly average story sprinkled thinly over lots of softcore sex scenes, with very occasional moments of pretty graphic gore. How does this differ from certain Jess Franco films? Difficult to answer really (Nico Fidenco’s score – a definite highlight of this and his other Emanuelle films - is both wonderful and inappropriate in some of its usage, echoing Franco’s habit of overlaying graphic scenes with the least assuming musical suites that work against the action rather than enhancing it)); superficially they are similar in style. And yet this lacks the fluidly eccentric directorial strokes of Franco. I note this purely as a personal observation; there’s no reason to believe Franco or ‘Emanuelle’ Director Joe D'Amato were in any kind of competition. The dubbing is at times lacking, with such an effort made to match the words with the lips of the actors, sentences often have. Long. Pauses. In the. Middle. Of them.

There’s a moment where Emanuelle and Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti) grimly watch stabbings, flesh-eating, dismemberment and rape before leaving their hiding place saying “Let’s do something.” A little late perhaps!

It would be grossly unfair to condemn this film for its treatment of women; it is guilty, yes, of titillation and exploitation, but it is far from alone in that at the time it was made. You could say it balances it out with the fact that Emanuelle, a female, is the heroine and is responsible for using her sexuality (and skin tone) to ultimately save her group.

This film isn’t as bad as I imagined it might be. It is, however, tonally disjointed with scenes of genuine horror mixed with leisurely sexual antics. There’s no denying that Indonesian-Dutch born Laura Gemser is a definite presence onscreen.

This Emanuelle, or Black Emanuelle, is not to be confused with Emmanuelle, the French soft-core movie character based on the 1959 novel of the same name. This is the Italian variation. By removing one letter from the name, they somehow legally managed to skip through the copyright loophole and produce their own series of films, featuring Gemser.

13. Sep, 2017

The Reptile (1966)

It is a huge shame that – and this may be considered a spoilers – the make-up for the titular creature is so tatty and unconvincing, because just about everything else about this film is excellent.

Charming couple Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) and Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) arrive at a remote and unfriendly Cornish village to read the will of Harry’s recently deceased brother. They have been left only ‘the cottage’, a place that the locals spare no time in assuring him is not a place they want to live. Assuring landlord Michael Ripper even says ‘they don’t like strangers round these parts’, as Harry succeeds in emptying his pub on more than one occasion.

The Spaldings are excellently played, and for a ‘second-tier’ Hammer film, they are aided by an exceptional cast. Mighty veterans John Laurie, George Woodbridge, Charles Lloyd Pack, Marne Maitland and a superbly sinister Noel Willman prop up every densely atmospheric scene. Future ‘Blake’s 7’ phenomenon Jacqueline Pearce is exceptional as fragile, frightened Anne Franklin, displaying the same compelling talents as she does in ‘Plague of the Zombies’, which Director John Gilling filmed back-to-back with this, using many of the same sets, and locations.

The Cornish coasts have always been used to great effect in surprisingly few horrors, but they once again prove a perfect fit.

12. Sep, 2017

Alla ricerca del piacere/Amuck! (1972)

Rosalba Neri looks stately and picturesque when holding a cigarette, but never entirely convincing when smoking. She stars as Eleanora in this exotic, erotic giallo as the wife of novelist Richard Stuart (Farley Granger). Between them, they exude an aloofness that inclines you to believe they know everything that is going on, certainly more than the audience. So when Greta Franklin (Barbara Bouchet) arrives on their stately island near Venice as the new secretary, their initial smoothness soon becomes something more. A crushed tablet in her drinking water, and soon Greta and Eleanour are stripped naked and getting to know each other.

Greta is posing as a secretary to investigate the disappearance of the Stuarts’ former employee, Sally, who was Greta’s lover. The upmarket sleaze and atmosphere of kinkiness prevalent in their stately home can be ascertained when you look at some alternative titles for this: ‘Maniac Mansion’, ‘Leather and Whips’ and ‘Hot Bed of Sex’ give you every reason to believe that the sex quota in this giallo is generous indeed.

Petar Martinovitch is excellent as simple-minded Rocco, a hugely physical fellow who is aroused by the sexuality around him and cannot control the after-effects. Is he a victim in all this? He is certainly deliberately used, and his resultant unrestrained qualities have a large part to play.

This may be Neri’s best role. She’s terrific throughout, and has an incredible presence that dominates the screen. But she’s not given an easy ride by Bouchet, who is compelling and never reduced to being a screaming cypher. As is nearly always the case with giallos, the girls get the best moments. Farley Granger shouldn’t be overlooked though – his delicate flamboyance as Richard masks a villain in the classic line of frustrated weaklings.

10. Sep, 2017

The Innkeepers (2011)

‘Going out of business,’ proclaims the notice on the door as Claire (Sara Paxton) begins her shift. Inside, the other employee of the Yankee Pedlar Inn is Luke (Pat Healy). To fill in their final days in the spacious building, they are determined to see if there is any truth in the rumour that the place is haunted and spend much of their time scanning the internet, as well as observing the security cameras looking for (and usually missing) any suspiciously haunting clues.

Claire is a plucky, funny, asthmatic girl. Needless to say, she’s a million miles away from, and far more likeable than, the painted models that often strut their way through horror films. Equally, Luke is arch, cranky and in his own way, equally likeable. He’s real, and not the slick, slack-jawed beefcake champion of blandness that barely fills a vest on the set of more gratuitous, less compelling chillers.

Events drag on far too slowly, I’m sure, for some viewers until we are reasonably convinced we’re not going to see anything frightening (we are wrong, of course). On one occasion, Claire reacts to something standing behind Luke that we never even see.

We meet two other guests: former actress and spiritually sensitive Leanne (Kelly McGuilliss), and the unnamed Old Man (George Riddle). While the fate of the latter is excellently handled and very shocking, the other glimpses of gore are actually fairly perfunctory, but what makes them effective is the build-up, and the apprehension we are fully acquainted with already. Director (and writer and co-producer) Ti Westhandles his tiny cast and low-budget with expert precision, especially when it comes to the characters.

When horrible things begin to happen to Claire, we are so attached to her at this point that we don’t just care about her, we’re appalled when what happens … happens! Recommended for fans of slow-burners.

9. Sep, 2017

La polizia chiede aiuto/What Have You Done to our Daughters (1974)

This giallo doesn’t mess around: after the opening, the very first scene features police bursting into a room to find a young naked girl hanging. Dead. What makes the scenes that immediately follow so horrifyingly effective is by Director (and co-writer) Massimo Dallamano having his camera observe events from the girl’s height, almost from her point-of-view, and as such, half the screen is filed with her dead face, mouth agape – almost as if she is observing events. She was promiscuous 15 year-old Sylvia (Sherry Buchanan) who promised her mother that if she told her father of her activities, she’d kill herself. And yet Sophia Loren-alike Asst. DA Vittoria Stori (Giovanna Ralli) is sure it was murder.

It was felt at the time that giallo films were not as popular as they once were (which, if true, is understandable; there had been many made during the previous few years), and so this became a fusion of giallo and poliziotteschi, with more attention paid to police procedures than focusing on more ‘standard’ civilian characters. Dallamano made this as part of a trilogy of such films, beginning with 1972’s terrific ‘What Have You Done to Solange?’ and ending with ‘Red Rings of Fear’ in 1978 (sadly, he died before completion).

This slight change in style provides a welcome change in emphasis, as far as I am concerned. I find giallo a highly enjoyable genre, but this works well as an extention of that. Some truly gritty, gruesome set-pieces enlivened with Stelvio Cipriani’s excellent score, ensures that the pace very rarely slackens. There are disturbing scenes too, when the police listen to recordings of intimate events occurring in the teenage prostitute ring that may or may not be behind the death. Even with the dubbed voice artists, it is uncomfortable listening. It gets even more uncomfortable when it seems Inspector Valentini’s (Mario Adorf) own daughter may be involved.

Alongside Vittoria Stori, we have Inspector Sylvestri (Claudio Cassinelli), who is the nearest we get to the staple of most giallos: a tough talking gent who is a bit of a twit. He comes good in the end though, reacting like granite when he helps apprehend and uncover the identity of the miscreant. Getting the authorities to act upon such a major vice ring connected to some very high places, however, is another matter. How little times change.

A big hand too for the blood. Far more realistic than the bright paint used in similar films.

8. Sep, 2017

Il gatto dagli occhi di giada/Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

Another enjoyable entry into the Italian giallo genre, although this veers more towards ‘solid’ than spectacular. The locations are less arresting than usual in these films, but there is a fine conveyance of squalor and run-down industrial landscapes which, when located within the rolling landscapes, provides a particularly stark backdrop to the gloomy events.

I think the word ‘gloomy’ covers things really. There are no real standout characters; no Edwidge Fenechs of Rosalba Neris, or even a stubbornly chauvinistic male hero to hiss at. We have instead, nice Lukas, played by Corrado Pani, who attempts to investigate the dark goings on.

Paola Tedesco plays Mara, a young dancer, who witnesses the murder of a local pharmacist. A string of killings then take place, all nicely staged. ‘Watch me When I Kill’ is a decent rather than engrossing giallo that only occasionally captures the sinister atmosphere of others of its type.

7. Sep, 2017

Deadly Strangers (1975)

Belle Adams (Hayley Mills) catches a lift with a local driver, amidst rumours of a maniac on the loose. Seems like someone has broken out of the nearby Greenwood Sanatorium. Interesting that the local reports don’t specify whether the escapee is male or female. Anyway, the driver quite candidly feels he has the right to attempt to rape her as a form of ‘settling the fare’. When she is rescued by a tipsy Simon Ward (as Steven Slade), he tells her ‘she asked for it.’

It is strange to see former child star Hayley Mills as a focus for lust among the men (she is, after all, 29 at this time). And smoking ciggies as well! Her wholesome image endures however and Adams is either very naïve or very brave to be travelling alone during such times on what appears to be a whim. Several flashbacks throw suspicion on both her and Slade, and it is good to see dependable Peter Jeffrey playing another rogue.

They stop at a petrol station, where the young female attendant flirts with Slade. He has an eye for the ladies and his behaviour is a little odd. Not too surprising to find that she is murdered shortly after. Slade and Adams have temporarily split up during this time, leaving them both suspects. Unruffled, they reunite after Slade has apparently ‘made a phone call’, and continue their journey.

From then on, it is one mishap after another. Belle meets up with the eccentric Malcolm Robarts (Sterling Hayden), who is clearly not going to let a thirty year age-gap stop him trying to woo Belle.

The British locations are wonderful, all winter trees, barren roads, dilapidated petrol stations and, latterly, a windswept seaside town. Directed rather like a television movie by the prolific Sidney Hayes (who went on to have great success directing American series including ‘Baywatch’, ‘Knight Rider’ and ‘Magnum PI’, and his previous brush with horror was 1960’s ‘Circus of Horrors’), who wrings as much intrigue and tension out of the low budget. Interestingly when, during the finale, one character kills another character (you’ll get no names out of me) there is no music, just the sound of taut rope being stretched around the throat of the victim.

This is a terrific, sparse road-tale of psychological horror with a tiny cast of excellent actors, set in a bleak world where most people you meet are either sex-maniacs or hooligans. I always felt that Simon Ward never really had quite the success he deserved. The wonderful Mills moved away from acting for a few years after ‘Deadly Strangers’ before returning to television in 1981 for the highly-regarded ‘Flame Trees of Thika’, which lead to a renewed interest in the profession.

6. Sep, 2017

The Toymaker (2017)

Germany, 1941. A handful of Nazis – all the menfolk sporting designer stubble – are hunting a man who presents a threat to national security. Hoffman is his name, and he has apparently stolen a document that threatens ‘national security’. The document takes the form of a book.

The eccentric, elderly Amos Blackwood, Toymaker, gains possession of the book, and the strange powers therein inform his work: he owns a struggling local business, and the toys he makes appear to come to life. This is too much for his sole employee Abigail (Claire Carreno), who leaves and informs the Nazi officers of the document’s whereabouts.

It’s very brave for a low-budget venture such as this to attempt to recreate Nazi Germany, but despite a few lapses into modern dialogue, the results are commendable. For this is from the stable of Andrew Jones, who has quite a history of independent horror films, and this is his most polished. Stalwart Lee Bane labours under some rarely convincing aged make-up as the titular character, but his performance is a good one. Far from creator of monsters, the Toymaker is a figure who earns our sympathy, mainly due to monstrous behaviour of those around him.

As is the case previously, moving killer dolls are as frightening or ridiculous as you want them to be, but there’s no denying that, under the bleak, stuttering lighting, there’s some pretty creepy stuff going on here.

Great fun, well upto the standard of Jones’ previous work, and surpassing much of the early stuff.

4. Sep, 2017

Personal Shopper (2016)

Scruffy, intense Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is personal shopper to high-profile celebrity Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). She wanders unconcernedly through magnificent Parisian and European streets, taking long journeys to spacious shops that sell ridiculously over-priced clothes. Occasionally she feels she is visited by the spirit of her dead twin brother Lewis, who died from a heart defect she also suffers from. This doesn’t dissuade her from smoking though!
She spends a lot of her time alone in Lewis’s former massive, shambling house which proves the perfect place for a haunting. Only two small problems – firstly, it begins to dawn on her that this un-benign spirit might not be her brother. Secondly, the CGI used to show us the apparition, although subtle, is a bit … CGI. Computer cartoon. This is surprising as other, much more subtle effects are expertly handled later on.
The acting is suitably detached. All hesitant and stuttering, awkward and halting, with characters talking over each other. This seems to be an artistic decision, Director Olivier Assayas apparently wanting the demonstrate Maureen’s sense of stylish isolation in this way: it does make some of the dialogue difficult to make out.
After a series of text messages from a stranger, who Maureen believes is her brother, she begins tentatively to break the rules of her employment and wear some of the garments she has procured for Kyra. Clonking around the spacious apartment in haute couture and high heels feels (and looks) alien to Maureen.

It’s difficult to know where this is all heading.

And suddenly, returning to Kyra’s flat after more personal shopping and finding her employer gruesomely murdered, things instantly become very frightening. The addition of strange violent banging sounds somewhere inside don’t help ease Maureen’s nerves, and shortly she is being interrogated by the police. What happens isn’t clear, but it seems to me that Lewis IS the mysterious texter: he appears to help her trap the real killer, Kyra’s former boyfriend Ingo (Lars Eidinger).

Now free, Maureen goes to visit boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwen) in the mountains. Once there, she is again confronted by the ghostly spirit who communicates with her.

‘Personal Shopper’ is a film designed to attract extreme views: you’ll either love it or hate it. I loved it, but I can sympathise with those who complain about drawn-out scenes watching Kirsten Stewart texting. There is a lot of that, but I had no problem with it. As much as anything, I enjoyed the vast, panoramic shots of various cities and locations; there was a definite comparison between Maureen’s self-contained world and the hugeness of everything outside it.

It’s a long ‘un: 105 minutes - and it moves very slowly. I have a love for this approach to horror films anyway, and so would strongly recommend it. You could get gloriously lost in Maureen’s strange world, but you have to give it a chance.

2. Sep, 2017

Vault of Horror (1973)

This is an anthology film of the type prolific during the 1970s, which became something of a speciality for Amicus Productions. Five fairly lightweight stories feature an exceptional cast including Terry-Thomas as the meticulously house-proud Arthur Critchit (“Can’t you do anything neatly?”), his wife Eleanor played by Glynis Johns; Daniel and Anna Massey as brother and sister Harold and Dona Rogers; Curd Jürgens as a magician on holiday in Amicus’ cut-price India doing dodgy business with a terrific Dawn Addams; Michael Craig in a grave-robbing tale alongside Robin Nedwell, Geoffrey Davies and Arthur Mullard, who were comedy actors popular at the time; finally, future Doctor Who Tom Baker as Moore, a cash-strapped painter who falls victim of voodoo magic in Haiti and gets revenge on scammer Denholm Elliot and Terence Alexander.

The framing device features Thomas, Jürgens, Baker, Daniel Massey and Craig who enter an elevator, a scene which opens the film. The loud bombastic music jars with this scene in my view. Five men, all methodically ignoring each other as people do in lifts as the soundtrack bangs and crashes around them – how much more effective it would have been if the music had been low and sinister. Anyhow, their joint destination, although none of them could foresee it, is an elaborate chamber bedecked with food, seemingly at the basement of the building. It is here they recount their stories and dreams to one another. All of them are revealed to be hugely flawed.

The final twist in the story, and just where they are, is not massively surprising, but the success lies in the way in which their fate is revealed. Never a company for lavish theatrics, Amicus nevertheless had an occasional knack of delivering something truly spine-chilling (Moore’s protracted revenge is a case in point).

The cast are uniformly excellent, never betraying their worth for the occasional silliness of the stories in which they feature. One of Amicus’ trademarks was that their films were tinged with a sense of humour that assured its audience that the horror was not to be taken too seriously. Sometimes this approach worked, and sometimes to the detriment of the tales being told, yet with such a lot going on, the pace never falters. When the comedic elements were not successful, it seemed as if the horror itself was being ridiculed.

1. Sep, 2017

The Lodger (1944)

This very rare and superior Jack the Ripper tale is directed with great style by John Brahm. It begins in a very pleasingly gloomy way: London smog, cobbled streets awash with rain water (and other less healthy fluids), plenty of policemen with whistles blowing through the darkness. All this is laid on with the thickest trowel, as is much of the dialogue (“Like a shadow, ‘e was!”) but is never over-the-top – just full of atmosphere. Plenty of condescension for the lower classes too. “Boy! Paper!” Imagine saying that to a paper-deliverer now.

The melancholic Mr Slade (a tremendous performance from Laird Creger) comes to rent a room. If he was wearing a placard pronouncing ‘I am the Ripper everyone’s talking about’, he couldn’t be more blatant and suspicious. Cregar underwent a strict diet for this role, which contributed to his sad death shortly after at the age of 31.

‘Ghost of Frankenstein (1941)’ star Sir Cedric Hardwicke (who is much more convincing here than as the starchy Frankenstein) plays Robert Bonting, whose wife rents Slade the room, and the police Inspector in charge of the events is played by the terrific George Sanders. Billy Bevan, who features in a handful of Universal chillers (including ‘Dracula’s Daughter (1936)’ and 1943’s ‘Return of the Vampire’), plays the bartender. Some rich, fruity voices here.

Only the couple’s daughter Kitty (an excellent Merle Oberon) seems to believe in Slade as his increasingly strange and paranoid behaviour leads others to the conclusion – understandably – that he is the Ripper. Yet even her veneer begins to crack as his true colours may or may not be revealed in a genuinely thrilling finale. And yet nowhere is it implicitly stated that he is Jack. What a hidden gem this is.

1. Sep, 2017

Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro/Eyeball (1975)

By the mid-1970s, the appeal of the giallo genre had begun to wane. Whilst not as prolific as they had been, there were still such productions released with some success. ‘Eyeball’ features a tour bus, the host of which is the staple giallo ‘horrible male’; not so much a red herring, just a bit of a cocky twit (his stream of practical jokes only succeed in scaring the girls on the trip, which he alone finds raucously amusing).

Murders begin, directed at the female members of the cast. And amongst the gore involved is the removal of one eye. There’s a brief but particularly gruesome moment when a farm-girl who is busy feeding the pigs gets attacked. As she falls to the ground minus one eye, the animals move hungrily in …

Among the group of attractive nubiles is a lesbian couple, one of whom is hugely insecure and jealous of her partner. Their arguments seem only an excuse to film them making up afterwards.

The acting in this is invariably good. Andrés Mejuto is very commanding as Inspector Tudela, fearlessly pursuing the mystery despite his career nearing its end. The more he mentions his imminent retirement, the more I fear he might not live long enough to reach it! His subordinate Inspector Lara (José María Blanco) is clipped and eager to learn. John Richardson, relieved of the furs and excess hair that adorned him during Hammer’s ‘10 Million Years BC (1966)’ is authoritative as hero Mark, and thankfully devoid of the smugness that often afflicts leading giallo men.

Bruno Nicolai’s music is excellent as usual, but re-occuring, whilst the locations are as captivating as you might expect. After a gruesome unmasking, the villain is a genuine surprise. Her end-of-scheme gloating is as gloriously clichéd as these moments often are, and none the less effective for that.