Friday, July 29, 2011

Franco Friday #27: Night of the Skull

Franco Friday #27

Hey kids. I am finally past the halfway mark on my Franco Friday project. Honestly, I didn't think I would make it this far. I still don't think that I am what you call a 'Jess Franco kind of guy'. But come on, this is number 27! I don't think I have a choice in the matter. Maybe 25 weeks from now, I'll cut the self-denial bit and just accept my place among the Franco freaks.

Night of the Skull
AKA La Noche de los Asesinos
Directed by Jess Franco
1976 (filmed in 1973)
Alberto Dalbes, Evelyne Scott, William Berger, Maribel Hidalgo, Lina Romay, Vicente Roca, Yelena Samarina, Antonio Mayans, Angel Menendez, Luis Barboo
83 minutes

After Lord Archibald Marian (played by Angel Menendez), the patriarch of a large and affluent family, is murdered by a mysterious killer in a skull-like mask, his family gathers on the family estate for the reading of his will. Inspector Bore (Vicente Roca) and Major Oliver Brooks (Alberto Dalbes) are called in to investigate the murder and get more than they bargained for as the bodies of Lord Archibald’s descendants keep popping up. Things get even more nuts when a second will is discovered and it turns out that someone isn’t who they claim to be.

In Night of the Skull, Franco mixes an Edgar Allen Poe (actually Edgar Wallace) story with elements from the krimi and giallo genres with fairly successful results. On a clunky scale of 1-10, 1 being not very clunky and 10 being very clunky, Night of the Skull rates around 11. The killer’s mask is a dime store rubber cheapie and many of the scenes feel like rushed first takes. Surprisingly, instead of patching over the holes with weirdness and sex*, Franco charges forward, delivering a very different film from his usual fare. It is almost as if this wacked out director decided to just cool it and do a normal movie for a change.

The film’s score by Carlo Savina (Fangs of the Living Dead) is superb and really gives the film a special vibe. The camerawork by Javier Perez Zofio is decent enough. There are some out of focus bits (standard Franco) and it’s a little dark at times (which may just be the substandard Image DVD) but he does make the most of the old architecture and decent sets. Now don’t get me wrong, this movie looks cheap as shit most of the time and hastily thrown together for the rest but I’m not complaining.

What this movie needs is more characters! It seems like every time a scene where a character is being introduced ends, another one begins. I don’t mind so much since I dig this cast and everyone is pretty distinct in their respective roles. Alberto Dalbes is especially spirited in this film and gleefully jumps into his role of the energetic and slightly naughty Major Brooks. In one scene, he talks to a woman on the phone while spying on her through a keyhole, even commenting on how good she looks in her nightgown. And this guy is supposed to solve a crime? It’s also nice to see Yelena Samarina (Werewolf Shadow) as intense as ever. She plays Deborah, the stern and very suspicious maid, and she’s just awesome.

Lina Romay is the only one who gets screwed on this one (zing!). Her character Rita, the illegitimate daughter of Lord Archibald, is cold, somber, and damaged almost beyond repair and she does a great job. But then in a couple of scenes, she suddenly starts sobbing and it’s really awkward and terrible. This is the first time I’ve been disappointed with a performance from Romay. Hell, she even stays mostly clothed in this one! I can’t help but think that some better direction would have helped her. But honestly, Lina could have stepped up to the plate in those moments and not been quite so bad.

While it does take some (read as: a lot of) patience and a good attitude (I happen to have a great attitude!), I really like Night of the Skull a whole, whole lot. The murders aren’t bloody but they are quite sadistic. Even with all of the characters, I enjoyed the twisty story and there’s even a very odd séance sequence which always improves a film in my estimation. The atmosphere is that of an old-fashioned gothic chiller and you know, it’s gonna get dicey when there’s an inheritance involved. Some will call this a slapdash mess but Franco won me over once again.

*I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that this is the Spanish clothed version of Night of the Skull. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if a naughtier version of this film exists somewhere. I really don’t care because all the sex would just fuck up this film’s perfect running time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

400th Post Spectacular

(Someone please, pat me on the back with a butcher knife.)

Wow. This is insane. Four hundred wastes of time! Huzzah! I'd like to take the time to thank everyone who reads, has read, or doesn't read Cinema Somnabulist. Extra special thanks goes out to my friends who have guest-blogged over the last couple years and helped me reach this milestone. And now... Self indulgence! Here are some things I like:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Slashers in the Night

Last Memorial Day weekend, I staged a nice little moviethon. In 3 days, I watched 21 slasher movies that I had never seen before. The results were... well... I don't know. This is how it went down.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Franco Friday #26: Virgin Report

Franco Friday #26: Virgin Report

Hey folks, it is officially the halfway mark of the Franco Friday series so here’s a little something special. My good friend Nafa volunteered to review a Franco film and I gladly and gratefully allowed him to take over this week. See you next Franco Friday, y'all.

Howdy, Nafa here - I'm stepping in this week to take over Franco Friday. Just think of me as Simon of Cyrene to Richard’s messianic figure, stepping in briefly to help alleviate the burden of this wall-eyed cross he has chosen to bear for your sins/entertainment.

Virgin Report
AKA Jungfrauen-Report
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Hans Hass Jr., Eva Garden, Ingeborg Steinbach
71 minutes
Review by Nafa

First off, let me start with the end credit. This whole thing was based on an idea by someone named Art Bernd. When the revolution comes you now know who to drag into the street first and throw up against the wall.

What are you trying to tell us, Mr. Franco?

To the best of my recollection, this is my first Jess Franco film in its entirety. I’ve heard the rumors about his legacy but scoffed and waved any warnings off. I told Richard to just hand me any old film, sight unseen, and I’ll do it. What I got was Virgin Report, a docu-mocku-sexu-mentary with no coherent storyline and a plot which can be summed up in one word, and it’s a favorite word of Mr. Franco: DEFLORATION.

The film was made in a time when things like sociology, history, and humanities were pure conjecture from utter bullshit. It takes you on a voyage through time and culture to the practices of indigenous peoples and their dealings with virginity. Several times throughout, the film reminds you that it was shot on ‘five continents’, and apart from stock footage I figure those five continents are Europe, Northern Europe, Central-Northern Europe, Berlin, and Europe.

This is what African ecstasy looks like.

What semblance of a story there is begins with Adam and Eve, travels through to the Stone Age, and lands firmly in a German discotheque accosting patrons about their virginity. It’s not so much a film as it is an excuse. It’s motto is, ‘Sex macht frei’ (which is a direct quote from the German-language audio). There is a sudden storyline about an unsatisfied Deutsche fräulein who is unsatisfied with her lover and falls into bed with her older, more experienced neighbor. Kind of like ‘Friends’, only funny. But, just as the story gets steamy, it jumps back to the history lesson, where in one scene we are treated to actual African men... and a Caucasian woman in blackface.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that this film doesn’t teach you something about culture. The indisputable facts I’ve learned from this film are:

- Indians sit nude in anthills for weeks to quash any carnal desires.
- Sicilians to this day use kidnapping and rape to signify intent of marriage.
- Greeks invented the silver dildo.
- Native Americans have sex with trees.
- Indian islanders (WTF?) have sex on hammocks in front of stock footage.
- Amazonian women circumcise men with their sharp blades on their teeth—and it doesn’t hurt.
- Central American women use a serrated knife on themselves to eliminate their virginity.

By far the best (and most cohesive) contribution to this film is the soundtrack, which is up to 1970s finest. It’s pure bliss. Thank you for the slight sedation, Rolf Bauer and Daniel White. And look for the tuba-flatulent priest and the non-German speaking Italian, also brief highlights.

... and SCENE.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said in obscene gesticulations and strong language. What I will say is, here, take your goddamned cross back, Rick.

More Nafa here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hello! This is the Doomed Show - Episode 3: The Vibe

Instead of just covering one film, for our third episode, Brad and I attack many, many films and "The Vibe". What is the "The Vibe", you ask? Well, it's that practically indescribable sensation you get when watching really great Euro-horror movies. I have talked about it on the blog before here. So yes, this is our epic show. We hope you like. You can download the new episode right here at Mediafire yo.

This episode has been archived and is not currently available at our page at Podomatic. But the Mediafire link above is still active.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Franco Friday #25: The Girl from Rio

Franco Friday #25

Hey, sorry about last week. I kind of flipped out. Lorna the Exorcist almost made me quit this entire Franco Friday thing. I decided to make a list of the Franco films I wanted to watch, not the ones I felt I had to, and before I knew I it, I had 10 more movies I wanted to see. So dig this, in order to lift my spirits out of the gutter, the next 5 Franco Fridays will be films that I am actually looking forward to. Then I'll be ready to get back into the softcore bullcrap again. Here we go.

The Girl from Rio
AKA Rio 70
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Shirley Eaton, Richard Wyler, George Sanders, Maria Rohm, Herbert Fleischmann, Marta Reves, Elisa Montes
94 minutes

After stealing 10 million dollars in stolen money, Jeff Sutton (played by Richard Wyler) finds himself on the run in Rio de Janeiro. First he is pursued by Sir Masius (George Sanders), a gangster with as much style and class as he does henchman and trust me, he has a lot of henchmen. Next, Jeff runs afoul of the mysterious Sumuru (Shriley Eaton), a mysterious woman who has managed to acquire enough wealth and female followers to form Femina, a country of deadly women with very strict laws and extremely skimpy outfits. But don't you worry, men of the world, the insatiable and irresistible Jeff has a few tricks up his sleeve.

And so it begins: a woman in a mesh dress writhing around in the mist of a smoke machine. Could this be the one? No, there are two problems with The Girl from Rio: 1. the leading man is wretchedly awful and 2. there is a major lull in action in the middle of the film. I'll get to both of those things in a moment. Obviously, this film is not meant to be taken seriously. It's kooky, silly, campy, and cheap in all the right places but I wouldn't go so far as to call it likable. I'm afraid The Girl from Rio is just too off to be classic Franco. Not even the excellent score by Daniel White can save the day. The music is a combination of sultry pop (the theme song is to die for), jazz, and lush orchestral goodness. That and the excellent cinematography are the best parts of this darn movie.

Almost everyone in this movie is pretty amazing. Almost. Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger) attacks her insane role with lots of gusto. George Sanders of All About Eve (!) is slumming it but seems to be having a great time, reading Popeye comics and clowning around. Maria Rohm, Elisa Montes, and Marta Reves are all vivacious and just wonderful to watch on screen. So what the fuck is up with Richard Wyler? He's going for a James Bond/Lee Marvin kind of a thing but fails at both. If this guy had stopped trying to be tough or too cool for school and actually squeezed some charm into his performance, he might have actually worked out. But no, his character is a smarmy dick and he literally has one good moment in the entire film.

Like I was saying before, The Girl from Rio has a major boring bit in the middle. Even the musical score just kind of stops for a while. This occurs while Jeff is being held prisoner in Femina. When the film should have been more hallucinogenic, comedic, or just over-the-top, it just slows down to a crawl. All the crazy costumes and naked lady flesh on display don't make up for how I bored I was during this part. This part segues into some Carnival footage taken in Rio that would show up again in Venus in Furs. Yeah, it's not interesting here either.

All complaints aside, I still enjoyed the beginning, the end, and the afterglow of The Girl from Rio. This film is very uneven but the enjoyable bits are very, very rewarding. And if you happen to dig on Richard Wyler's douchebagel performance then you might even like this even more than I did. Any time that Elisa Montes is on camera, I am happy. She is the bright shining star of this movie and steals every scene she's in. So yeah, Franco made a cheesy comedy S&M crime/spy caper but managed to make it boring. Go figure.

"What kind of a space age sorceress are you?"

Friday, July 8, 2011

Franco Friday #24: Lorna the Exorcist

Franco Friday #24

Okay, what the shit, man? I really don’t want to do this anymore. I am at the stage where I just dread every Franco film I have lined up to watch. I am so sick of this fucking guy and his stupid bullshit. I’m not talking about the out of focus camera, the slack-jawed idiocy of the dubbing, or the constant recycling of plots. It’s the sex; the endless softcore (bordering on hardcore) sex. I hate it, I’m sick of it. I hate what it’s doing to my blog. I feel like a sleazy porno freak. This whole 52 Franco Fridays deal was a terrible idea. Remember when I used to talk about horror movies? Gialli? Yeah, me neither.

Lorna the Exorcist
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Pamela Stanford, Guy Delorme, Lina Romay, Jacqueline Laurent, Howard Vernon
100 minutes

19 years ago, Patrick Mariel sold his unborn daughter to Lorna (Pamela Stanford) for wealth and unimaginable sexual pleasure. It’s like that old saying: A man who sells his daughter to a witch is a son of a bitch. What? You don’t know that one? It’s pretty famous. Well, his daughter Linda (Lina Romay) is all grown up and Lorna is coming to collect. She gives Linda all of her mystical sex powers or something. Crabs crawling out of vaginas!

The score for Lina the Exorcist is incredible. The slinky, sexy, fuzzed out, and sad guitar makes me feel more than a little anxious. The dubbing is awful (so of course, I love it) and this movie is too long. There are some long-winded gambling scenes and dull disco dancing scenes but what I’m really tired of is all the endless softcore porn on display. Sorry folks, it’s just boring. The plot is darkly ironic and breathtakingly cruel and the damned characters are fascinating. But these things don’t stand a chance when the movie just keeps going back to the sex over and over and over again.

Pamela Stanford again! Yay! I just saw and loved her in Blue Rita but now I never want to see her again. In this film her eye shadow looks like it was applied with Homer Simpson’s makeup shotgun. She looks like a Ziggy Stardust disco demon. She looks like something Abba threw up. And her character’s full name is Lorna Green. Seriously? Is this a veiled reference to Lorne Greene of TV’s Bonanza? Man, I am freaking out! My favorite character other than Lorna is Marianne (played by Jacqueline Laurent), Patrick’s poor schmuck of a wife who gets a really bum deal in this deal with the devil.

Atmosphere? It’s got it. Weirdness? It’s got it. Slow motion bizarreness? Yeah, it’s got that too. But who cares? I don’t. I have to warn you: don’t listen to me and don’t trust this review. I am not myself right now but that’s my fault. This director and I are going through a rough patch. Lorna the Exorcist is nothing but endless shots of vaginas and bush. Oh and there’s a bloody dildo. This might be a good and challenging movie but I can’t help but wish this was the clothed version. So now I like censorship? That’s Jess Franco’s (and Lina Romay's vagina's) fault. This is one extreme and depressing piece of cinematic insanity. And although the ending is awesome, I can’t recommend this to anyone but the most dedicated Franco fans. I know because I’m not a Franco fan and watching this film made me want to kick someone’s face in.

Here's a much better review.

“Good evening, Patrick. I want your daughter.”

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Macross Weekend

For no reason whatsoever other than extreme nerdiness and nostalgia (and because I need a break from Jess Franco), I'm watching The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, which became the first season of my beloved childhood favorite: Robotech, all weekend long. That's 36 episodes and the theatrical film. In its Japanese form, the show is just as watchable and a lot less confusing. Elements of the plot that Harmony Gold, the production company that brought Robotech to North America, either wouldn't or couldn't show/explain are suddenly clear as a bell. Like, just what the fuck is "protoculture" anyway?

When season 3 of Robotech aired, some controversy in the Schmidt household came along and ruined everything. The one time my mom watched the show with me just happened to be the one time where a character died on screen. Well, she freaked out right then and there and forbid me from ever watching Robotech again. While I won't be watching the second seasons and third seasons of Robotech (which were actually two different anime series with similar mecha designs), I did find the exact scene that led to the embargo on Japanese robots in my house. Here it is:

(Make sure your kids aren't in the room!)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Franco Friday #23: Blue Rita

Franco Friday #23

It's like I told my friend Brad the other night: "It is time once again for me to get Franco'd in the Jesshole." And what better way to do that than by watching a film that I was both dreading and looking forward to. So please, read my review. What would you be doing if you weren't reading it, huh? Shooting paintballs at stop signs? Is that your new thing? Man, you've changed.

Blue Rita
AKA Das Frauenhaus
Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Martine Flety, Sarah Strasberg, Dagmar Burger, Pamela Stanford, Eric Falk
75 minutes

Blue Rita (played by Martine Flety) is more than just a stripper, she's also a madam (you know, the boss of hooker kind) and an extortionist of money and secrets. With the help of her assistants, Gina (Pamela Stanford) and Franchesca (Sarah Strasberg), she lures men into her nightclub/brothel, captures, and tortures them for profit. The torture is the sexy kind because Franchesca has whipped up a green goo that makes men super horny. When duders are hard up, they talk; they always talk. There is a new girl among her evil team. Her name is Sam (Dagmar Burger) and she is hot stuff. She is instantly assigned only two tasks: seduce dudes and be Blue Rita's lover.

Pretty soon, Sam is given the task of catching the eye of boxing champ, Janusch Lassard (Eric Falk), and adding him to Blue Rita's collection. She does this easily but she can't seem to stay cold and calculating like she's supposed to. There's just something about this guy that Sam can't resist. But that's not all that's going wrong; things are spinning out of control in Blue Rita's organization. It seems that there is a traitor among her most trusted accomplices and Interpol is closing in.

What I love about Blue Rita is that the plot feels like it was written by a pervert (what, no way!) but one with the brain of an 11 year old (oh, I see). Though the budget is very small, it is obvious that the producers of this movie were very nurturing to Franco's needs as a director and (presumably) gave him complete freedom. It kind of reminds me of Jean Rollin's Bacchanales Sexuelles only way more stoned. Even if you have no interest in seeing Blue Rita, the LSD-addled opening credit sequence alone is worth watching. The lighting and the camerawork compete with one another to see who can outdo each other in the garishly tacky department.

The cast of this film is frickin' excellent. Everyone has a bizarre or goofily written part and they all go for the gold or at least the cheese. Martine Flety is great as the diabolical, often undulating, and sadistic Blue Rita. Her backstory is that she was tortured with a red hot poker in a very private place so she takes great pleasure in torturing men. Don't worry though, Franchesca is whipping up a pink potion to slowly rehabilitate Blue Rita's vajayjay. I really dig Sarah Strasberg too. She looks really familiar and her wide-eyed surprise takes are friggin' genius.

My two favorite ladies in Blue Rita are Pamela Stanford and Dagmar Burger. Burger is very charming as Sam (her name in the German version is Sun, btw). I wasn't that sure about her at first. She seemed distant, not that into it, and she has this mannish body that just makes me feel strange inside. But of course, she totally rocks in her role and I love her to pieces! Stanford is outrageous as Gina, the -I don't know- vampish muscle behind the operation. She runs over a hooker with a car, wears a very revealing silver jumpsuit and gigantic sunglasses, and just exudes sexiness in every shot. Her character gets a raw deal in this movie. That's gratitude for ya.

I guarantee you will not believe your eyes when you see Blue Rita. This is Franco combining the experimental with both fun and intentional hilarity. Eric Falk gets a fight sequence that had me falling out of my chair with laughter. If you like drug inspired flights of fancy wrapped in an sickly sweet candy shell or you just have an inflatable furniture fetish, check this out immediately. Let me give you an idea how fucking ridiculous this is: with only 10 minutes left, I found myself saying "Wait, this is a Cold War spy caper?" My only criticism of this film are some of the softcore sex scenes and stripping sequences are too long but no where near as bad or as interminable as the ones in some of this director's other works (Macumba Sexual, in particular). Blue Rita is very close to essential Franco.

"I'll take you to my friend Andre. He has lovely little piranhas in his pool."