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Witches, Curses, & Revenge: The Ghost Child

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen #5)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild to Major Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

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Operazione Paura (Operation Fear/Kill Baby, Kill) (1966) ***** PG-13

Giacomo Rossi Stuart: Dr. Paul Eswai (as Giacomo Rossi-Stuart)

Erika Blanc: Monica Schuftan

Fabienne Dali: Ruth the Sorceress (as Fabienne Dali’)

Piero Lulli: Kommissar Kruger

Valerio Valeri: Melissa Graps

Luciano Catenacci: Burgomeister Karl (as Max Lawrence)

Mirella Pamphili: Irena Hollander (as Mirella Panfili)

Giovanna Galletti: Baroness Graps

Written by: Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, & Mario Bava

Directed by: Mario Bava

Synopsis: A doctor, a police inspector, and a witch each do their best to discover the truth about, and to protect a Carpathian village from the murderous wrath of, the spirit of a deceased little girl.

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In 1966 filmmaker Mario Bava returned to the classic Gothic Horror roots that made him famous with his most inspired film Operazione Paura. Set in early 20th century Central Europe, a trio of outsiders: a coroner, a police inspector, and a woman gone from her hometown for years try to figure out the source of a series of mysterious deaths in a small town. Soon it becomes apparent that the town is harboring a dark and unforgivable secret which they may or may not be justly suffering via a curse. Realizing innocents are suffering because of their ancestors past wrongdoings, the coroner and inspector look into every possible explanation and suspect in regards to saving the community.  Mixing superstitions from various countries, including his native Italy, and the trope of the ghostly apparition of a child bringing either the salvation of innocence regained or the horrors of revenge and death, Bava creates a masterwork that remains one of his most talked about films, and among the top 5 films in his filmography.

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Bava, still utilizing his expertise in making the best of a small budget, actually gets to work with some real cool locations. Shooting in a small village outside of Rome, Bava gets to work with and stylize a series of homes and streets that remained the same for several centuries, giving the film that nice eerie presence he was a master of creating. While he still had to make do with many sparse sets, Bava once again proved his craftsmanship with little money, and a lot creativity and ideas.

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Another interesting note to the film is that the ghostly little girl in the film is played by a little boy. Bava had auditioned quite a few aspiring child actresses for the part, but none of them could exude the menace and fear Bava wanted the character to have, so he decided to go with the son of his concierge, one Valerio Valeri. This was Valeri’s one and only foray into acting, the frustrating experience of having to wear the dress and blonde wig picked out for him to wear nixing any aspirations or inclinations of him making acting a career. In spite of the boy’s own reservations playing the part and Bava’s frequency of having to coax a performance out of him, Valeri’s final result performance in the film is quite riveting, often times inciting pure terror and unease whenever he’s shown on screen. Even more interesting, a girl did in fact dub Valeri’s voice for the eerie laughter and brief dialogue of the character.

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Giacomo Rossi Stuart, a half Italian, half Scottish actor, gives a very good performance as Dr. Paul Eswai. Stuart had a brief run of leading man roles in the 60’s and seventies, but was generally known to play supporting parts, and extended cameos. This ranks up as one of his finest roles in the leading man area. A man of science and logic initially, Dr. Eswai soon finds himself becoming a believer in the supernatural as he encounters visions and odd coincidences as he performs the autopsy of a bizarre suicide. Skeptical like most men of education in the Gothic Horror trope, Eswai doesn’t automatically dismiss something unusual in the works at the village, but also knows that certain old-world remedies and sorceries can be just as deadly as the fear and maladies themselves. Uncertain of what is real or his imagination anymore, Dr. Eswai becomes willing to give any explanation the benefit of the doubt as looks to save a woman he’s become fond of from the terror that grips the small community all too willing to keeps its shameful past in the cemeteries and crypts.

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Erika Blanc, a rare redheaded Italian actress, gives one of her earliest great performances in the role of Monica Schuftan. A prime example of the individual who leaves their small town for bigger and better things, but comes back now and then to pay her respects to loved ones, Monica is a woman aware of her town’s somewhat backwoods origins, but still feels a sense of loyalty and belonging to the small hamlet. The only technical native with an education, Monica quickly finds herself on the outs with the community for aiding the outsiders in the investigation of the most recent ghost child killing. When she starts having bizarre and frightening dreams involving the Graps villa and the ghost girl, Monica begins to fear she’s the next victim, or that something far worse is being planned for her. Blanc made the claim that this was only her second film appearance, though some film enthusiasts and the like have disputed her claim, she does give a fine performance of the frightened woman uncertain of what being a native born member of the town will mean for her in spite of having left not long into her childhood.

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Piero Lulli, a popular Italian character actor, normally known for playing villains and henchmen, gets one of his rare opportunities to play a good guy in the role of Inspector Kruger. While his appearance in the film is brief, Lulli plays Kruger as a good man simply wanting to know the truth and get justice for the deceased or wronged. He’s certain the death of Irena Hollander was no accident or suicide, and fights back when the locals try to prevent him from doing his job. The community leader is then forced to tell Kruger the whole story, and its relation to a decaying villa that everyone seems to fear. Kruger decides to investigate, leaving audiences uncertain if his investigation will lead to his own demise.

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Fabienne Dali, a French-Belgian actress who worked a lot in Italy, gives a surprisingly effective performance as Ruth, the small hamlet’s resident Sorceress and healer. Even from her first appearance in the film, it’s clear Ruth is fully aware of the events surrounding and going on in the town, but focuses on protecting the innocent whose only crime is being descended from the elders of the community. In spite of her knowledge of the truth, she keeps what she knows to herself even with knowing the doctor and the police inspector only want to help solve a crime and give piece of mind to the little town. When someone she’s close to in the town is fast on their way to becoming a victim of the ghost girl, she finally decides to do all she can to put an end to the terror and fear.

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A nice touch that Bava knowingly or inadvertently included within the film is what is known in religious history, or religion in general, as the Mark of Cain. It’s revealed right in the middle of the film that the little girl died twenty years back during a festival when a bunch of the men, while intoxicated, accidentally ran her over with their carriage and horses, and the town failed to get her aid out of fear of being accused of intentionally harming her. With an unforgivable sin now on their shoulders, the town literally shuns the church within it, and allows the building to slowly decay, believing they’ve lost the protection of the Higher Power. With this loss of faith and hope, Bava brings audiences back to what superstition and lack of education/knowledge can do to an entire culture or community.

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Haunting visuals, unique & psychedelic lighting, stunning & inventive camera angles/cinematography, and of course the overall atmosphere/mood of the film, makes this one Bava’s highest achievements in filmmaking, as well as a milestone in the classic style of Horror in both the States and Europe. It’s short, but sweet, and Bava dazzles thre viewers with creative imagery and camera technique, all while spinning an intriguing tale of mystery, intrigue, and vengeance from the beyond.

(This is another Bava film I would highly recommend, and is certainly worthy of any film fan, Horror or otherwise, to give it a look at. In terms of Gothic Style Horror, Bava hits the mark ten times over, and equals the effort he put into segments two and three of his Anthology masterpiece I Tre Volti della Paura, sometimes even going a little above it. The visuals alone is enough to see why the film influenced some of the great filmmakers like Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola, in how Bava made style just as important as storytelling. The Blu Ray from Arrow Video offers spectacular visual and audio transfers, everything looking and sounding nice and crisp. As always, Tim Lucas gives great commentary via his personal research on Bava and everyone involved in his productions.)

all images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060794/?ref_=nm_flmg_cin_14

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kill,_Baby,_Kill

https://www.arrowfilms.com/product-detail/kill-baby—-kill–dual-format/FCD1573

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kill-Baby-Blu-ray-Giacomo-Rossi-Stuart/dp/B072K3QGTL/ref=sr_1_11?crid=2CUIMTIT4QP8N&keywords=mario+bava+blu+ray&qid=1571697927&s=dvd&sprefix=mario+%2Caps%2C227&sr=1-11

https://www.kinolorber.com/product/kill-babykill-blu-ray

https://www.amazon.com/Kill-Blu-ray-Giacomo-Rossi-Stuart/dp/B074W4BJT8/ref=sr_1_7?crid=1X31LVD4EKC3Q&keywords=mario+bava+blu+ray&qid=1571698065&s=movies-tv&sprefix=mario+ba%2Caps%2C141&s

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Scientific Based Revenge, Franco Style

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen #4)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the French language version of the film)

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Miss Muerte (Le Diabolique Docteur Z/Miss Death/The Diabolical Doctor Z) (1966) **** PG-13

Estella Blain: Nadia, “Miss Death”

Mabel Karr: Dr. Irma Zimmer

Fernando Montes: Dr. Philippe Brighthouse

Howard Vernon: Dr. Vicas

Antonio Jiménez Escribano: Doctor Zimmer

Guy Mairesse: Hans Bergen

Lucia Prado: Barbara Albert

Jesus Franco: Inspector Tanner

Daniel White: Inspector Green

Marcelo Arriota-Jauregul: Dr. Moroni (as Marcelo Arriota)

Cris Huerta: Dr. Kallman

Written by: Jesus Franco (as David Kuhne) & Jean-Claude Carriere (loosely inspired by the novel The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich)

Directed by: Jesus Franco (as J. Franco)

Synopsis: Three doctors are marked for death after their insults and harsh criticism cause a brilliant but slightly insane scientist to die of a heart attack. His daughter vows revenge and fakes her death so as to not come under suspicion. With the aid of an escaped killer, she kidnaps an old boyfriend’s current girlfriend to help in killing her targets.

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Before he was known as a master of exploitation cinema, Jess Franco had done some pretty good standard linier style cinema efforts. His early interest was in Sci-Fi style Horror, usually involving a mad scientist looking for revenge for some past wrong. Taking cues from his mentor and friend Orson Welles, Franco mixes standard genre narrative with unique editing, cinematography, lighting, and locations. Miss Muerte was one of the earliest films in Franco’s resume to feature many of the tropes, themes, and style he would later become renowned for, used in what was one of his earliest well made films with a known and well financed studio.  This film’s plot would also be reused by Franco for a span of a fifteen years, maintaining the generic concept of a scientist looking to kill his enemies, but constantly changing the motivation of the character or characters, depending on what Franco was in the mood with.

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Shot between France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, Franco showed early on how he made locations work really well in his films, sometimes making where he shot more important than the story at hand. While the locations aren’t as prevalent as in his later work, the few scenes shot on location are used very well and even this early on get the mixture of traditional cinematography and Franco’s noted unique camera angles and movements, creating something visually impressive, unique and beautiful.

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Image result for miss muerte 1966

Also on display is Franco’s penchant for international casts. Included are French actress and actor Estella Blain & Howard Vernon, Argentinian actress and actor Mabel Karr & Cris Huerta, and Spanish actors Fernando Montes, Antonio Jiménez Escribano, & Marcelo Arriota. Jesus Franco himself even appears in an uncredited role as one of the detectives investigating the murders. Howard Vernon would later become one of Franco’s favorite and most utilized actors from the 60’s until the actor’s death in 2000. His performance as Vicas is well done, showing a mix of hostile integrity, but also a type of romantic compassion. Estella Blain was a noted model and leading lady type, whose fame increased when she married actor/comedian Gerard Blain. Sadly, her career went unfinished when she took her own life in 1982, most likely due to personal problems. Her performance as Nadia is also well done, audiences perfectly able to sympathize with her when she is captured and forced to play along in the evil acts of the title character. Mabel Karr dons the guise of one of Franco’s first fiercely independent women in Irma Zimmer. Average in personality, but extremely loyal and dedicated, she then becomes a fiery Angel of Vengeance, deciding to kill al those she deems responsible for her father’s ridicule in the medical community, and then his fatal heart attack. Killing a young woman without flinching to make it look like she died in an auto accident, Irma soon delves deeper into madness when she pays for her action after her face is burned in attempt to get her purse from the burning car. As she gets creative in dispatching her father’s “murderers” her humanity fades faster and faster.

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The Franco of the early to mid-60’s is a lot different to the Franco of the 70’s and onward whose style was erratic, sublime, and creative, but the 60’s Franco is still as interesting in what he did with more money and time. The 60’s films of Franco offer an interesting comparison to the later work his fans and admirers are more familiar with, and shows Franco’s multi style as a filmmaker in being able to create with either a lot of very little. While Franco did use the main basis of this story several times over in the years to come, Miss Muerte proves to be one of the more creative outings of the tale in acting, cinematography, and story. e in acting, cinematography, and story.

(For those uncertain if they should check out Jess Franco Films, this mid sixties’ effort is a good one to start with, and one I do recommend. Many of Franco’s signatures are on display here, showing an artist in his early stages before he became a name in cult films. Sometimes the film’s a little slow, but it’s never boring, and would’ve definitely been a lot better had Franco picked up the pace some. The Blu Ray from Redemption in conjunction with Kino offers an excellent visual and audio transfer, which looks and sounds great. The only extra on hand is an audio commentary from historian Tim Lucas, but is definitely worth listening to as Lucas was excited to finally give Franco the props he earned as a filmmaker.)

all images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060701/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diabolical_Dr._Z

Buying options

https://www.amazon.com/Diabolical-Dr-Z-Blu-ray/dp/B0787NN55K/ref=sr_1_1?crid=35CNEX4JC7HKL&keywords=the+diabolical+dr.+z&qid=1571362271&s=movies-tv&sprefix=The+Diaboli%2Caps%2C129&sr=1-1

https://www.amazon.fr/Diabolique-Docteur-Z-Blu-ray/dp/B0788XV9ZF/ref=sr_1_5?__mk_fr_FR=%C3%85M%C3%85%C5%BD%C3%95%C3%91&crid=9WL5TFFZC094&keywords=jess+franco+blu+ray&qid=1571362316&s=dvd&sprefix=Jess+%2Caps%2C217&sr=1-5

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Horrors of the Mummy’s Curse: Spanish Style

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches and Madmen Intermission 2)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the uncut Spanish language version)

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La Venganza de la Momia (Vengeance of the Mummy/The Mummy’s Revenge) (1975) **** R

Paul Naschy: Pharaoh Amenhotep/Assad Bey

Jack Taylor: Prof. Nathan Stark

Maria Silva: Abigail Stark

Helga Line: Zenoed

Luis Davila: Inspector Taylor

Rina Ottolina: Helen Carter/Amarna the Concubine

Eduardo Calvo: Prof. Sir Douglas Carter

Fernando Sanchez Polack: The High Priest (as Fernando S. Polack)

Written by Paul Naschy (as Jacinto Molina)

Directed by: Carlos Aured

Synopsis: After being overthrown and cursed by his High Priest, the evil Pharaoh Amenhotep vows to return one day to claim his throne. His look-alike descendant Assad Bey goes to London to ensure the Pharaoh’s return happens, and soon a string of murders and sacrifices begin occurring to appease both the Pharaoh and his evil cohorts.

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By the mid 1970’s, the Mummy based Horror films were pretty much at an end, only some small indie productions here and there. Paul Naschy, the Spanish equivalent to Horror icons like Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine, who had played vampires and wolfmen, decided to see if he could rejuvenate the Mummy back into the fray. Naschy, who wrote the screenplay under his birth name Jacinto Molina, decided to dispense with the traditional element of the Mummy being under the control of a mad religious zealot and, like with Hammer’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb four years earlier, have the Mummy itself be the primary antagonist. The dedicated followers’ motif is still used, this time the loyalists being the Mummy’s present look-alike descendant and his loyal girlfriend, keen to have the power the Pharaoh can offer them once he is fully risen. Also taken out of the equation is the curse for disturbing the tomb of a mummy and the deaths that will follow of the desecrators, and is replaced with a bizarre love story and a desire of the risen Pharaoh to rule the world once again. Naschy, a fan in his own right of classic Horror, does keep the traditional bandaged Mummy theme going in his film, and in fact has one of the better bandaged mummies since the Hammer’s original Mummy film in 1959. The final result is an interesting new take on the Mummy.

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Naschy and director Carlos Aured, normally known for their fondness for blood, violence and gore, actually tone it down quite a bit for this particular outing. While there are numerous killings, the scenes are relatively quick, and don’t linger on the carnage. The single gore effect in the film is two brief shots of smashed heads, the result of the Pharaoh’s displeasure at none of the selected virgins being an acceptable vessel for the spirit of his lover.

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Image result for La Venganza de la Momia 1975

Naschy gets his first chance to sink his teeth into a dual role as both the Pharaoh and his loyal descendent. The Pharaoh is a despot in every sense of the word, loving to inflict pain and suffering on not just his enemies, but his own people as well. Not satisfied with simply ruling the Upper & Lower Kingdoms, and the neighboring Nubians, he’s looking to rule the known world. When his and his loyal Concubine’s blood lust becomes too much, The High Priest to Ra drugs Amenhotep’s wine and orders the despot mummified alive and his Concubine executed. Before the process is finished, the Pharaoh vows his descendants will avenge him and bring him back to life. His sole blood descendant, Assad Bey, is as power hungry as his ancestor and plans to serve his Pharaoh unquestionably. Using the guise of a noted Egyptologist chronicling his country’s history through the various exhibits and museum displays throughout the world, Assad Bey makes sure to use the opportunity at hand. Both Amenhotep and Assad look for the most beautiful women to sacrifice, and soon have both the archelogists who discovered the tomb and the police looking into their actions.

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Image result for La Venganza de la Momia 1975

Image result for La Venganza de la Momia 1975

Spanish cinema genre actors Jack Taylor, Helga Line, Eduardo Calvo, Luis Davila, and Rina Ottolina all play their roles well, in spite of the characters being fairly one dimensional. Taylor, Line. And Calvo offer fairly unique distinctions within their parts and have their concerns, loves, and hates when it comes to the events surrounding them. Line is one of the more emotional players who quickly realizes she can’t go through Assad Bey’s plans to aid the Pharaoh in his mission for world domination.

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Now the film does take liberties when it comes to historical figures. There were four Pharaoh’s in ancient Egypt that bore the name Amenhotep, the last one most noted as being the father of Tutankhamen, famously known as Tut, and for having changed his name to Akhenaten mid reign. The film seems to go with the inaugural Pharaoh to hold the name, and while he engaged in many military campaigns, he was nowhere as bloodthirsty as the film claims, though it does accurately depict his having made the Nubian people a part of Egypt. His three namesakes all made monumental contributions to Egypt’s culture in the military, architecture, the arts, and early literature, though the one who self-proclaimed himself Akhenaten would become vilified when he attempted to introduce monotheism as the sole religion of the area.

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While he includes deviations in character motivations and story arc, Paul Naschy’s take on the Mummy franchise still retains many of the trademarks associated with the character, but does in fact put his style into the film. The mix of mystery and mayhem is done very well, and offers a new interpretation the classic story. The acting is very standard for the most of the cast, save for Naschy and Line, but with the wish to do a throwback to the old school style of Horror the use of one-dimensional characters seems appropriate. Surprisingly void of the gore the majority of Naschy’s films, this film’s lack of it works great and adds to the throwback feel, even harkening a little of the Hammer Films.

(I do recommend giving this one a look as it does make some interesting changes to the norm of the Mummy film genre that give it a boost. While it teeters between being low-budget and a “B” Film, Naschy’s script and the acting do add to the intrigue of the film and give it a nice amount of body that keeps the audience interested in the story and action. A good chunk of Naschy, as well as 70’s, Horror fans in general prefer gore in these types of films, this go around that element is absent, and for the better in my opinion. There’s certainly plenty of killing and one disgusting scene, but it’s all quick, and neither Naschy or director Aured go for the shock effect, keeping with the moody and suspenseful atmosphere mummy flicks are known for.  The Blu Ray from Scorpion Releasing offers a fine visual transfer of the film that looks amazing, like it was just made. One scene couldn’t be restored as well as the remainder of the film, but it doesn’t affect the viewing pleasure. The Spanish audio is very crisp, with only minuscule pops here and there. The only flaw is in the subtitle translation of the Spanish track. While the majority of it is fine, there are many errors and misspelling in the first 45 minutes or so, sometimes making it hard to follow. Given that this is Scorpion’s first Spanish language film, they didn’t do too bad, but some improvement wouldn’t be a bad thing.)

all images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070871/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_84

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amenhotep (this info is on the real life Pharaohs bearing the same name as Naschy’s character)

Buying option

The Mummy's Revenge

The standard retail version should be available soon

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Cold Grimm Fairy-Tale: Witchcraft in Lapland (Finland)

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen #3)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

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Valkoinen Peura (Den Vitan Renen/Noidan Rakkaus/The White Reindeer) (1952) ***** PG

Mirjami Kuosmanen: Pirita, the Daughter/Maarita, the Mother

Kalervo Nissila: Aslak, Pirita’s Husband, a Hunter

Ake Lindman: The Forest Ranger

Jouni Tapiola: A Reindeer Shepard

Arvo Lehesmaa: Tsalkku-Nilla, the Shaman

Written by: Mirjami Kuosmanen & Erik Blomberg (inspired by Finnish Folklore)

Photographed & Directed by: Erik Blomberg

Synopsis: A young newlywed from the Hill People of Finland goes to the local Shaman for help in keeping her hunter husband at home. Unbeknownst to her, her late mother was a powerful witch and the imbalance of white and dark magic make the Shaman’s spell turn her into a being that takes the form of a pure White Reindeer.

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Finnish cinematographer Erik Blomberg got his directorial debut with this dark fairytale inspired by the many folklore legends of the Lapland. Having knowledge, respect, and interest in the lives of Reindeer Farmers and Herders in the mountains and hills of his native land, Blomberg uses the harshness and beauty of the landscape to weave his tale of love, hate, and repression at a time when the world was changing, and the once unmovable ways of certain groups began to crumble Intermixing classic elements of Fantasy and Horror, as well as social issues such as male-female relationships, Blomberg and star Mirjami Kuosmanen crafted an entertaining, poignant, and sad film that blends both genre filmmaking art house cinema verité into a fine mixture.

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One interesting thing that cowriters Blomberg and Kuosmanen pull off with the script is the usage of witchcraft, curses, and animals as metaphors for gender relationships and repressed sexuality. Because so many countries in Europe, and even good parts of the United States, were viewed as very much patriarchal in how things were done, anyone, especially a woman, defy the conventions and normalcy of the times would’ve been chaotic and controversial, upsetting what was thought of as the status quo. The lead female character is very different from others in her society and because she begins to want her husband at home, and not be away all the time hunting, neglecting the vows they took, she seems to be going against what her people have done for centuries. That witchcraft symbolizes female empowerment and wiles is no surprise, and in the film used to show the protagonist trying to fix things with her husband. Her turning into a creature that drinks the blood of men, using the form of a reindeer to lure the victims to her, is the price and revenge for her being unique, and also for her wanting to flaunt her sexuality to make her husband jealous.

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Religion also plays a small role in these events. While it’s never stated specifically what year the film is set in, the majority of the reindeer herding community seem to practice a form of Christianity, while some like the Shaman still cling to the Pagan belief of a deer god. Even with the idea that Pirita turns her back on Christianity in favor of Old World spells and incantations existing as part of the film’s structure, that it makes up a good chunk of her suffering is going a little too far. The locals still believe in a good bit of the old legends, so the new religion hasn’t completely obliterated their old ways, or that even before the Christian faith came along witches were already seen as people to avoid and be wary of.

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Image result for the white reindeer 1952

Mirjami Kousmenen gives probably the most unique performance in the film, partially due to her co-authoring the screenplay. Pirita is by all accounts a typical Finnish woman of the period, who can ride, hunt, and do most things her male counterparts can do. When she finally gets to marry her childhood sweetheart, it looks like she finally has everything she could ask for. Soon, she realizes her husband cares more for the excitement of the life of a reindeer herder and hunter than being at home with her. Desperate for the affection she needs as a wife and partner, Pirita seeks out the local Shaman for help. The Shaman soon becomes terrified of her, realizing her family has witchcraft heritage. This regression of both her sexuality and place in society leads to horrible consequences for Pirita as she finds herself slowly turning into a bloodthirsty monster who lures to their deaths in the form of a white reindeer, and slowly causes her to lose her mind. Clearly not wanting, or even expecting the results the ultimately occur, Pirita can only hope for a miracle of deliverance from her hellish existence.

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Moody, charming, fantastical, and tragic, Valkoinen Peura is a well made throwback to the kind of tales written by the Brothers Grimm. The characters come off as real people, and even the fantastical events seem like they could happen. The parallels between real life issues and the fantasy it was always intended to be seen as are weaved well together, creating a homogenous mixture that works well. Basic and to the point, the film tells quite a bit in its short run time and packs a fine wallop and surprise.

(I highly, highly recommend this as essential viewing for both film buffs and Horror buffs. While many elements are allegorical for what was happening at the time it was made, Blomberg flawlessly melds them together with traditional narrative cinema that general film viewers and serious cinema lovers will both enjoy. I would also recommend reading up a little on the folklore and legends of Finland as there are some elements to the film that only those from Finland or those who study the culture would recognize. Little of the cinema of Finland is readily available in the States and in some other places of Europe, and this film shows a prime example of the many things Finland and its culture are famous for, and introduces them to new people. So far the film is only available on Blu ray from its native land and the very recent UK Blu Ray from Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema line. The UK Blu Ray offers an exquisite transfer both in the visuals and sound, and the subtitles are finely translated to the original Finnish audio. A must for any type of film fan.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners including Tumbler

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for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045283/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Reindeer

Buying options

The White Reindeer

https://www.ebay.com/i/153539289896?chn=ps&norover=1&mkevt=1&mkrid=711-117182-37290-0&mkcid=2&itemid=153539289896&targetid=596843737438&device=c&mktype=pla&googleloc=&poi=&campaignid=2086087905&mkgroupid=76935344123&rlsatarget=pla-596843737438&abcId=1141016&merchantid=6320124&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI74nnxK2c5QIVgZ-fCh0nog2zEAQYAyABEgK11PD_BwE

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reindeer-Masters-Cinema-Format-Blu-ray/dp/B07NBDQXDP/ref=sr_1_1?crid=RN35OT7UBE9E&keywords=the+white+reindeer&qid=1571076826&s=dvd&sprefix=The+White+%2Caps%2C229&sr=1-1

 

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT #4

Hello to my followers, those I’m following, and all curious visitors,

Only a few hours ago, Comcast Xfinity 1 made the station Turner Classic Movies a subscription station, no longer a free channel. I find this completely outrageous as Ted Turner never intended the station to be something people paid to get, and I’m completely outraged and angry at Comcast for pulling this stunt. I plan to write Xfinity a few choice words e-mail, and hope any and all classic film fans will write as well to convince Xfinity to let TCM be a free station again, or at most give them an earful that they can’t pull this stuff and not expect angry customers.

I try to refrain from ranting about anything on this Blog, but Xfinity has gone too far this time and this is something I think needs rectifying. TCM has been a station I’ve loved for years and I don’t think its fair for Xfinity to hold it hostage via subscription to get people to give them more money.

 

Tony Nash, MOVIE FAN MAN

Filed under: Annoucements

Frankenstein’s Monster as the Father of a Superhuman Race

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen #2)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the French language, Erotic version)

(Author’s Note: Due to the French language version being abundant with nudity, some of the stills will be of the alternate Spanish clothed version)

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La Maldicion de Frankenstein (Les Experiences Erotiques de Frankenstein/Le Malediction de Frankenstein/The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein/The Erotic Experiences of Frankenstein/The Rites of Frankenstein/The Curse of Frankenstein) **** (1973) R

Howard Vernon: Count Cagliostro

Alberto Dalbes: Dr. Jonathan Seward

Beatriz Savon: Dr. Vera Frankenstein

Anne Libert: Melisa, the Blind Bird Woman

Dennis Price: Dr. Rainer Frankenstein (as Denis Price)

Daniel White: Inspector Tanner

Fernando Bilbao: The Monster

Lina Romay: Esmerelda the Gypsy (in Spanish language version only)

Luis Barboo: Caronte

Carmen Yazalde: Madame Orloff/The Female Mate (as Britt Nichols)

Written & Directed by Jesus Franco (as Jess Franco) (loosely inspired by the work of Mary Shelley)

Synopsis: The evil Hypnotist Magician Cagliostro has Dr. Frankenstein and his henchman killed by his Bird Woman assassin and steals his newly risen Creature for his own nefarious purposes. The doctor’s estranged daughter Vera teams with Dr. Seward to stop Cagliostro from creating a second monster, a woman, so it and the Frankenstein Creature can create a new power race dedicated to a deity called Pantos.

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In a pseudo in name only sequel for Dracula Contra Frankenstein, Jess Franco presents the “Not-so-Good” doctor getting killed off by his immortal rival Cagliostro so the sorcerer can command a new race of superhumans spawned from the Monster and a Mate still to be created. Taking cues from both the old Gothic style of films made by Universal Films, and the recent trend of bizarre Pop Art (laced with Erotica and violence) comics called Fumetti that was popular throughout Continental Europe in the 60’s and 70’, Franco once again takes his audience on a delirious journey that will see living corpses, unconventional science, and black magic. Much like its predecessor, the film is a kind of throw back to the old school Horror movies, but with more emphasis on originality, including an ageless wizard looking to rule the world.

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Franco does a complete 180 degree turn here, and instead of using his traditional locations and atmosphere, instead goes for trippy camera angles and lighting, mimicking the style of the Fumetti. Now the Fumetti was a bizarre comic strip in Europe that focused either on intense sexual scenes or extreme violence, a few even choosing to combine both. Many of the drawings today are considered pieces of art as some well recognized artists got their start with that subgenre of comics.

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Howard Vernon, one of the most underrated character actors of the 40’s to the 80’s, gets the role of a lifetime with the character of Cagliostro. A true harkening back of the super evil genius of 1940’s serials, Cagliostro is an uber powerful wizard and hypnotist with ambitions to make the world his plaything. Vernon gets to deliver very eloquent and occasional philosophical dialogue, all while hamming it up when his adversaries go through his inventive methods of torture. Even when he is hamming it up, Vernon isn’t going to a level that would border on the laughable taking audiences out of the moments he’s on screen, and in fact evokes a true kind of menace and evil. Anne Libert, a French actress who went between serious films, genre films, and even softcore films, also delivers an exceptional, even if a little on the laughable hammy side, as Melisa the Blind Bird Woman. One of Cagliostro’s early efforts at a superhuman race by means of injecting human DNA into a bird’s egg, Melisa was the only result as he discovered she was blind upon coming to life. Like Vernon, Libert gets to deliver some pretty eloquent and philosophical dialogue, acting as a messenger and voice for the creator she’s absolutely devoted to, all while bobbing back and forth to feel the vibrations of the world around her. She also acts as an assassin of sorts, biting the necks of those who would attempt to go against her creator, and has an equal sexual appetite, enjoying both pain and pleasure.

(Author’s Note: In the original French version, Cagliostro created Melisa specifically as his servant to aid him, while the English dub presents her as his aborted attempt at a daughter who, because she was blind, became his servant. The French version makes more sense in this regard because Cagliostro has a certain affection and respect for Melisa, something he wouldn’t have if he disowned her as a daughter.)

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While Alberto Dalbes, Beatriz Savon, and Dennis Price, do offer some pretty interesting performances, they’re not as exceptional or unique as Howard Vernon and Anne Libert. Dalbes and Savon particularly look like they’re going through the motions just to complete the project, and offer little in the way of changing facial expressions, though Savon shows off some genuine fear as she and one of Cagliostro’s defrocked aids are chained together and whipped by the Monster.

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Looking more like a Tajuana Bible (a fancy term for Hispanic porn comics) come to life than a traditional Horror/Sci-Fi hybrid, this take on Frankenstein and other Horror tales still offers the chills and thrills one would expect from the genre. While low on budget, the acting and use of locations and cinematography make the film more enjoyable. Along with La Comtessa Noire, Maldicion de Frankenstein is one of Franco’s better efforts in the wake of the death of Muse Soledad Miranda, and showed he still could do a fine feature film when he was in the right frame of mind, and liked the subject matter at hand.

(Believe it or not, this one of Franco’s crazier works that I actually can recommend to people. While there is an abundance of nudity, it’s really just mainly women, and a single man, standing, laying, or reclining in the all-together, no sex whatsoever are present, save for two sequences in which Anne Libert’s Bird Woman is shown eating two victims in a fashion that borders on sex. Done on improvisation like many of his 70’s films, this one has the most coherent and continuity sound structure of any of what to be Franco’s more audience friendly fare. If anything Howard Vernon’s performance alone is worth checking it out. The Blu Rays of Redemption/Kino and Nucleus Films both offer sound restorations and audio quality of the film, the Nucleus Films edition being the slightly preferable one as it contains both the French original and the alternate Spanish version, offering viewers the chance to compare the versions.)

all images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068559/?ref_=tt_urv

https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b73f0d74c

Buying options

https://www.amazon.com/Erotic-Rites-Frankenstein-Blu-ray/dp/B00X99CBXI/ref=tmm_mfc_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1570817523&sr=1-1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Erotic-Rites-Frankenstein-Blu-ray-Region/dp/B074JQ8V77/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=Jess+Franco+Frankenstein&qid=1570817585&s=dvd&sr=1-2

https://www.kinolorber.com/film/theeroticritesoffrankenstein

https://www.nucleusfilms.com/erotic-rites-of-frankenstein-blu-ray-jess-franco.html

to post comments, go here

The 2019 Halloween Comment Section

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

A Modern Take On a Poe Classic

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen Intermission 1)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the original Italian language premiere version)

(Author’s Note: While I do like to keep these reviews pre-1990’s, I’m making one of my exceptions as I was curious from stills of Romero’s take on Poe)

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Due Occhi Diabolici: I Fatti nel Caso di Mister Valdemar (Two Evil Eyes: The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar) (1990) **** R

Adrienne Barbeau: Jessica Valdemar

Ramy Zada: Dr. Robert Hoffman

Bingo O’Malley: Ernest “Ernie” Valdemar

E.G. Marshall: Steven “Steve” Pike

Tom Atkins: Detective Grogan

Chuck Aber: Mr. Pratt

Johnathan Adams: Hammer

Christine Forrest: The Nurse (as Cristine Forrest)

Jeff Howell: The Policeman

Written & Directed by: George A. Romero (Direction credit as George Romero), loosely based on the short story The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe

Synopsis: An unhappy and scheming trophy wife and her doctor lover use hypnosis to get her dying husband to sign over all his assets to her. When the man unexpectedly dies, the lovers put him in a freezer until all the money is legally transferred. Soon, they realize he died while under hypnosis, and though his body is dead, his mind and spirit are still floating around, under the control of spectral beings called The Others.

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In the late 1980’s, Italian producers Achille Manzotti and Claudio Argento wanted to do a throwback to the Horror Anthology films of the 60’s and 70’s, and wanted to pick the top directors of the genre of the period to adapt the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Claudio enlisted his younger brother Dario for a segment, and the trio then sought out American directors George A. Romero and John Carpenter to possibly work them on the film. John Carpenter was interested, but other commitments forced him to decline the offer (he later would host and direct his own Anthology film Body Bags). Romero accepted as his last couple of projects didn’t do as well as he wanted, and a couple others ended up in “development hell”. The result was a fairly successful fare that showed Romero still had a lot of creativity in him and Argento was out of his deep depression from Opera. While produced and backed by Italians, the film was shot in English and shot primarily in Romero’s hometown of Pittsburgh PA.

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Romero chose to adapt Poe’s little done short story The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and transitions the story from 19th century Paris to 20th century Pittsburgh. Taking inspiration from Roger Corman’s version of the tale in his Anthology Film Tales of Terror, Romero has Valdemar as a terminally ill man who chooses to pass away while under hypnosis rather than suffer a painful and agonizing death, only to find himself stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Romero adds his own twists by having the wife and doctor be the villains, former lovers who conspire to take all of Valdemar’s money when he dies, and later revealing that Valdemar is possessed by evil ghostlike beings called The Others.

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Romero utilizes Poe’s themes of guilt, suffering, greed, and forces from the beyond really well. The character of Jessica is clearly conflicted about her plan to trick Ernest out of his money, but at the same time remembers how Ernest was regarding his money, and his at less than husbandly affection for her, though at times it’s shown both had some affection for one another. Little is shown of Valdemar and even less dialogue is given to him, but it’s shown he’s in consistent pain, and fearful of his own demise, hence his willingness to undergo hypnosis, but is completely oblivious and unaware of the dangers lurking beyond should he die while hypnotized, though he prefers death to pain. The doctor is a real piece of work and also a series of contradictions in that he wants revenge against Valdemar, but at the same time was willing to bide his time though it’s clear he yearned to screw over Valdemar like he did to years earlier. Even though the lovers are determined to be together, it’s clear each is looking to keep most of the money for herself or himself, possibly looking to cheat the other. The dark depths of horrifying depravity aren’t as on display here as Romero instead focuses on otherworldly apparitions being behind the scenes in what is happening, which while works in its own way, takes away a little from Poe’s style.

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Adrienne Barbeau, an actress and Scream Queen of the 70’s and 80, gives a good dramatic performance as Jessica Valdemar. Whether she signed on to the project when her ex-husband John Carpenter was still involved in pre-production (they still got along well even after their divorce) no one can really say, but what is certain Romero decided to cast her against type of the standard heroine/Scream Queen and instead has her playing a calculating shrewish wife looking to get even. Barbeau plays the part to the hilt and does it very well, mixing self-assuredness with pure and utter fear, leaving some essence of the Scream Queen persona as the character soon realizes she’s in danger and has gone too far.  The other actors do very well too, particularly character actor stalwarts E.G. Marshall in the non-horror related scenes as the Valdemar lawyer and Tom Atkins as the perplexed Detective who investigates the Valdemar’s and their doctor. Ramy Zada and Bingo O’Malley, two smaller actors, also give fine performances as the doctor and title character respectively, particularly Zada, who offers a mix of loathsome charm and guilt.

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Romero also trades in his usual trope of gore and violence for a more atmospheric and mood based look and feel to the film, which definitely makes this feel like audiences are seeing a modern variant of Poe’s style. Only three scenes towards the climax of the film contain gore, and even then, it’s very brief and not overwhelming in any way.

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Romero, with Mr. Valdemar, showed he was able to do other things besides violence, gore, and zombies with his films, though some would argue that Bingo O’Malley’s reanimated Valdemar is a solid hint to Romero’s classic zombie, and gives audiences a good suspenseful, foreboding, and genuinely eerie film that harkens back to the days of the films made by Val Lewton, Roger Corman, and the people at Universal and Hammer. Romero does give audiences brief glimpses of the violence and gore that made him famous, but keeps it at a pure minimum and doesn’t make those scenes the focus of the film, and instead focuses on the atmosphere and tension.

(Out of the two 1 hour shorts on Due Occhi Diabolici, I would definitely recommend George A. Romero’s adaptation of M. Valdemar highly over Argento’s Black Cat adaptation any day. Romero is actually very faithful to the mood and atmosphere Poe liked his Horror tales to emit to readers, and translates it to the screen very well. He certainly takes a small aspect of Corman’s 1960’s version of the tale, but completely makes the tale his own in a way that fits the material Poe liked using in his Horror fiction. The entire cast, especially Adrienne Barbeau, does an excellent job and again fit the kind of characters Poe wrote about. Argento, from I’ve seen of stills of his short, totally went for gore and shock effects, and looks to have little, if anything to do with Poe, save for the supernatural revenge that comes at the climax. 88 Films from the UK does a really fine job with the transfer of the film, and gives viewers both the English soundtrack, and the original Italian premiere audio with translated subtitles. The extras include the original Italian opening credits and title cards, and an interview with filmmaker and Argento assistant Luigi Cozzi. Blue Underground offers the ultimate edition of the film, but sadly lacks the Italian audio option, but makes up for it with exclusive new extras. I prefer the 88 Films edition myself because it’s cheaper, and offers both audio tracks.)

all images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100827/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Evil_Eyes

https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Due_occhi_diabolici

Buying options

Two Evil Eyes – The Italian Collection 43

https://www.amazon.com/Evil-Eyes-Blu-ray-Harvey-Keitel/dp/B07VGTYMKB/ref=sr_1_1?crid=31MB824VWLNFH&keywords=two+evil+eyes+blu+ray&qid=1570643165&s=movies-tv&sprefix=Two+Evil%2Caps%2C140&sr=1-1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Evil-Eyes-Blu-ray-Adrienne-Barbeau/dp/B07CPF52WL/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2ZHIUQWISK2I9&keywords=two+evil+eyes+blu+ray&qid=1570643206&s=dvd&sprefix=two+e%2Caps%2C221&sr=1-1

The 88 Films 1st pressing with slipcover and booklet can be found on ebay

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The 2019 Halloween Comment Section

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

AN UNSCHEDULED POST

Hello to my followers, those I’m following, all curious visitors,

I’m briefly interrupting my Euro Witches and Madmen write-ups to offer a farewell to someone on WordPress who I only briefly knew and followed: Gary Loggins aka Cracked Rearviewer. I just saw Lisa Marie Bowman’s obituary tribute to the man and while I did leave her a comment, I wanted to leave a little write up myself. I’m still quite young at 32, but because my interest in films and TV goes back to the 1920s and such, it can be difficult to find people who share a similar interest and passion. So when I met people like Gary Loggins, Mike’sTakeontheMovies, and Cinema Europa on here, I felt I found a place were like minded individuals could share their interests and passions with one another. I found Gary to be very knowledgeable and kind as Lisa said, and would try to leave him as many likes and comments as I could, despite being late to following him, as I wanted to support him and make sure writers like him stuck around on places like WordPress to introduce whole new audiences to the world of Classic and Cult cinema.

Gary, along with Make Mine Criterion, Cinema Europa and Mike’sTakeontheMovies were my earliest supporters and would press like on my writings as much as they could. I’m still a little nervous with comments, but I’m trying to leave them open as of now. Even if I wasn’t sure of a film he wrote being something I would watch, I would leave comments about an actor in it or whoever directed it, as I like giving back to people taking the time for my writing, and he would always respond with something equally cool and nice. Having Asperger’s Syndrome makes it a little hard to connect with people and using physical and social skills, but Gary (and a few others here) felt like the kinda guy I could talk with and not feel funny or self conscious, and all that came from commenting and reading his material. Seeing his comments and looking at his work helped me a little in my writing too, and encouraged me to be a lot more active here in the WordPress Film Community.

Addio Gary, we’ll all miss you.

Tony Nash, MOVIE FAN MAN

Filed under: Annoucements

Psychedelic/Pop Art Dreams & Nightmares, and The Supernatural

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen #1)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Italian language version and the Director’s Cut)

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Baba Yaga (The Devil Witch) (1973) **** R

Carroll Baker: Baba Yaga

Isabelle De Funes: Valentina Rosselli

George Eastman: Arno Trevese

Ely Galleani: Annette, the Dominatrix Doll

Angela Covello: Toni, Erotic Cowboy Model

Daniela Balzaretti: Romina, Underwear/Free Love Model

Mario Mattia Giorgetti: Carlo the Hippie (as Mario Giorgetti)

Sergio Masieri: Sandro, Comic Artist

Written by: Corrado Farina, with assistance from Giulio Berruti (Additional Footage) & François de Lannurien (Additional Dialogue), based upon the Comic Book Series Valentina by Guido Crepax

Directed by: Corrado Farina

Synopsis: Activist Photographer Artist Valentina is offered a free ride home by eccentric older woman Baba Yaga after nearly hitting her with her car. She tells her destiny has brought them together. When accidents begin plaguing Valentina and her models, she realizes Baba Yaga is a powerful witch, and has ideas of making Valentina her lover.

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Guido Crepax, an aspiring writer and artist, caused quite a sensation in the late 60’s when he abandoned his popular superhero comic character Neutron for a more erotic and adult series of stories centered on Neutron’s photographer wife Valentina. Even more surprising, the comic actually garnered a cult following among the teen generation who were protesting Vietnam and other issues, and remained in publication for thirty years, ending sometime in the late 90’s. Aspiring filmmaker Corrado Farina was a fan of Crepax’s work, and had even done two short documentaries on the man and the impact his work had on Italy at the time. When he was given the opportunity to do a feature length film of his choosing, Farina contacted Crepax about doing something based on the Valentina series. What he came up with was a psychedelic, hallucinogenic, and eerie tale of the beautiful photographer’s encounter with an equally beautiful and deadly lesbian witch, intent on luring the woman into her bed and world of dark magic. Farina was also a liberal radical of the times, and inserted many jabs at commercialism, consumerism, and artistic identity among the many characters. Farina also mixes unique filming techniques with Crepax’s dizzying and scattered imagery, made up mostly of photographer sample prints, telling a very unusual cat and mouse game story between two equally independent and fierce women.

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Carroll Baker, an American actress who enjoyed a second career over in Italy, gives a very fine, sultry, and at times menacing performance as the title character Baba Yaga. A seemingly eccentric and mysterious middle-aged woman with unusual interests, Baba Yaga is in fact a centuries old and powerful witch, who uses a form of magic similar to voodoo to entice and terrify the objects of her desire and experiments. How she first notices Valentina is never revealed, but their first face to face is when she nearly “hits” her with her car. Baba Yaga is immediately smitten with the dark-haired beauty, and decides to place spells on Valentina’s subconscious and her favorite camera to force the woman to come to her. From the seclusion of an old mansion, Baba Yaga weaves her web with objects associated to voodoo and witchcraft, plays mind games with Valentina, and brings to life a doll (and at times is hinted is also a lover) to aid her in bringing Valentina closer to the breaking point to see her.

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Isabelle De Funes, a French model and actress, is interesting and alluring in the role of Valentina. Determined to change the world through controversial, mind-bending, and bizarre still photographs, Valentina is a brilliant and independent woman who just wants to make things better in an always crazy world. When she’s nearly arrested for taking part in a bizarre Hippie protest against capitalism, she encounters Baba Yaga, a mysterious older woman who takes a peculiar interest in her. After being told by the woman she’ll eventually seek her out, Valentina begins experience extreme nightmares and visions. After several of her model friends experience unusual accidents and fainting spells, Valentina suspects her favorite camera has been hexed. Deciding to see of visiting Baba Yaga will put an end to the incidents, Valentina goes to the older woman’s dilapidated mansion. Baba Yaga, to thank Valentina for humoring her, gives her a doll dressed like a dominatrix, saying it will protect her. Not long after, Valentina’s close friend Valentina is attacked by the doll when it takes human form, and dies not long after, convincing Valentina to finally have it out with the witch woman, in spite of fearing Baba Yaga wants not only her soul, but her body as well.

(Side Note: This film convinced Isabelle De Funes to return to her childhood passion of photography, and is still active in that profession to this day. Also, for fans of Louis De Funes, Isabelle is the comedian’s niece on his sister’s side.)

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Luigi Montefiori, better known by his Americanized stage name George Eastman, gives a surprisingly believable good guy performance in the role of Arno. Known primarily for heavy, psychopath, villainous, and human monster roles, Montefiori gets the rare opportunity to play a heroic style role, and does it very well. A filmmaker who travels between both the intellectual scene and the commercial, Arno flaunts his blunt honesty that he’s a sellout in that he plays both ends while everyone else hides a behind a façade to keep their false identities. Valentina’s independence and fierce spirit to keep her body and mind her own impresses Arno and only makes him love her even more. Initially convinced Valentina’s been working too hard, he tries to be supportive and get her to take it easy, but after personally witnessing some of the happenings himself, he starts to wonder if there’s any truth to the supernatural. Realizing the danger Valentina is in, he puts aside thoughts of his own safety to save the woman he loves.

(Ironically, Montefiori’s primary reason for being cast was that he physically fit the part)

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Director Farina was initially unhappy with his female leads Baker and De Funes. He had in fact wanted British character actress Anne Heywood for Baba Yaga and Italian starlet Elsa Martinelli as Valentina. Heywood had originally signed on for the film, but unknown and unexplained reasons led to her having to leave the project, while Martinelli expressed interest, but couldn’t take part due to various other commitments. Farina did state he loved Carroll Baker’s performance and like many others, feels it was one of her best later roles, but he couldn’t help feeling Baker hadn’t been the right age for the character. Valentina ended up being cast last minute, and was between Italian actress Stefania Casini, and French TV actress Isabelle De Funes. Farina didn’t think either woman was suitable, but De Funes proved to be the only actress who matched the physical and facial appearance of Crepax’s heroine protagonist, and landed the part.

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Mixing chills and thrills with the psychedelic craze the Hippie generation brought to the world of Television and films, Baba Yaga is an underseen and underrated gem of a Thriller with Horror overtones. A throwback to the old school Horror of the 40’s mixed in with Hammer atmosphere and Italian sensuality, the film is a mishmash that works very well, and offers up something completely different to the Horror genre. A little more artsy than one would expect for a mainstream feature, this addition adds to the film quite a bit and gives it a body it probably would’ve lacked otherwise. The intellectual barbs involving some of the cast proves to be a little much at times, but because the comic and film are contemporary, and set during the current period, made sense to include it.

(I do recommend giving this film a spin as its uniquely different and smartly done. Some of the sequences are indeed bizarre and look like something out of an Andy Warhol or other Post-Modernist type art painting, but it’s not done in excessiveness and just enough to let the audience know that something very unusual is happening and being done to Valentina. While the film does have a US Blu Ray release that looks very good, the purchase to go with is the Shameless Entertainment Special Edition DVD from the UK. Farina’s initial cut of the film had been butchered when the producers literally took scissors to the original negative and cut them out, leading many to believe Farina’s original cut was lost. Luckily Farina got the aid of Shameless Films and was able to track down most of the footage and reinserted back into the film. The scenes are worn in some spots compared to the restored elements, but not hindering at all. It’s not totally uncut as some small pieces are still to be found, but Farina himself believes it to fit his vision very well. The DVD also includes both of Farina’s short documentaries on Crepax and the Fumetti craze as extras and well as an interview with Farina himself. Both the Italian soundtrack with English subtitles is included as well as the English dub track.

(All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069753/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_Yaga_(film)

Buying options:

UK DVD

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baba-Yaga-DVD-George-Eastman/dp/B001CMV1P8/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2ZCRFT5LWJD56&keywords=baba+yaga&qid=1570473051&s=dvd&sprefix=Baba+Yaga%2Caps%2C326&sr=1-1

US Blu Ray

https://www.amazon.com/BABA-YAGA-Blu-ray-Carroll-Baker/dp/B006DVB5CW/ref=sr_1_3?crid=8L01LHUJU8HS&keywords=baba+yaga&qid=1570473126&s=movies-tv&sprefix=Baba+%2Caps%2C153&sr=1-3

German Blu Ray

https://www.amazon.de/Baba-Yaga-Kiss-uncut-Blu-ray/dp/B07KZHVH96/ref=sr_1_1?__mk_de_DE=%C3%85M%C3%85%C5%BD%C3%95%C3%91&keywords=Baba+Yaga&qid=1570473180&s=dvd&sr=1-1

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The 2019 Halloween Comment Section

 

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

Universal Monsters Mixed With Spanish Horror Mixed With German Expressionism

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen Preview)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the Spanish language version)

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Dracula Contra Frankenstein (Dracula Contro Frankenstein/Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein) (1972) *** PG-13

Dennis Price: Doctor Rainer Frankenstein

Howard Vernon: Count Dracula

Alberto Dalbes: Doctor Jonathan Seward

Genevieve Robert: Amira, the Gypsy Sorceress (as Genevieve Deloir)

Paca Gabaldon: Maria (as Mary Francis)

Carmen Yazalde: The Vampire Woman (as Britt Nichols)

Luis Barboo: Morpho (as Luis Bar Boo)

Josyane Gibert: Estela, the Cabaret Singer (as Josiane Gibert)

Fernando Bilbao: The Monster

Brandy: The Wolfman

Written by: Paul D’Ales & Jesus Franco (forward credited as David H. Klunne) (Loosely Based on the Creations of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker)

Directed by: Jesus Franco

Synopsis: When Dracula attacks far too many young women, Dr. Seward drives a stake through his heart. Not long after, the mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein takes up residence in Dracula’s Castle where he revives the Count, and orders him to become the forbearer to a new race of undead superhumans. Now Dr. Seward, with the aid of a Gypsy Sorceress and a renegade woman vampire, must stop both the Count and the Doctor.

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After the passing of his Muse Soledad Miranda, maverick exploitation filmmaker Jess Franco decided to bounce back from his depression with a fan homage to the classic Universal Horror Monster films of 1930’s and 40’s. The final result was an unusual mishmash of not only the Universal Monsters, but also German Expressionism, Silent Cinema, and Spanish Surrealism. Franco wanted to bring the old school form of Horror back into vogue and popularity, feeling that while Hammer’s take on the classic was memorable in its own right, the studio has taken the genre far into the gaudy and high class. With his own film, Franco intended to take the genre back to its origins in the works of authors like Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, and while his efforts mimicked Hammer’s in that he told the story in his own way, he did take it back to Universal’s style in the costumes and locations. Two of the heavyweights of the Universal Monsters, Dr. Frankenstein and Dracula, lead the charge here, and the rare distinction here is that Dracula is actually under the control of the Doctor, after being revived by him, a heavy nod to Universal’s House of Frankenstein.

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Since Franco was deemed by the Spanish Government of the time as too radical for what they wanted foreign audiences to see Spain as, the majority of his backers were German, French, and Italian producers, and often times his location scenes were shot in either Portugal or Lichtenstein. These countries provided beautiful scenery and old architecture, and were good substitutes for when the budget couldn’t allow Franco and his cinematographer access to places in France, Italy, even Spain when the project wasn’t co-produced there.

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Bruno Nicolai, most noted as the protégé & conductor and friend of Ennio Morricone, worked on several of Franco’s films including this one. Much of Nicolai’s score from Franco’s previous film Marquis de Sade: Justine was utilized for the film, along with some new spots by Daniel White and Nicolai himself. Since Franco never had specific scoring in mind, he tended to utilize the same scores on multiple films with the permission of the composers of course, sometimes the recycled usage working better than in the original film, this case being a good example.

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Dennis Price, a classically trained British character actor whose career spiraled downward due to various addictions, does quite well in spite of the limited budget at hand in the role of Dr. Frankenstein. The character gets taken back to his megalomania roots with Price, and this time is focused on using the undead as his means of absolute power. By bringing Count Dracula back to life, he ensures the Prince of Darkness is fully under his control, and will do his bidding. His dialogue mostly a form of thoughts and journal entries, the Doctor lays out his plans in detail, certain this experiment can’t fail. Like his Hammer counterpart of the period, for Frankenstein the ends justify the means, and is willing to do anything and everything to ensure he succeeds, including draining the blood of an innocent young woman so he can make Dracula his slave. Price might not speak much on camera, but does evoke Frankenstein’s desires and goals very well through movements and facial expressions.

(Author’s Note: I read Tim Lucas’ review of this Blu Ray on his blog [I seriously encourage Googling Tim Lucas film blog and check him out] and while I normally think he’s spot with the majority of what he writes, I do have to disagree with him that Price looked like he didn’t want to make the film. Franco himself stated he never had serious issues with the actors he worked with, including Price, and likely his health limited what Price was physically capable of)

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Howard Vernon, a Swiss, French, German actor whose brilliance was lost on many high-profile filmmakers, and led to his doing many B-films and many more low-quality films, evokes a bizarre evocativeness as Count Dracula. Like Christopher Lee in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, Vernon plays the Count completely silent, not speaking at any point in the film, save for the occasional snarl. Taking more of a cue to German Expressionism, Vernon is placed in heavy make-up, and uses facial expressions similar to the German actors of Silent Cinema, creating an effective, if at times over the top, performance worthy of the Universal era. The Count is very one-dimensional here, seemingly content with feeding on a nightly basis and causing terror among the ignorant Gypsies of the land. When he finally goes too far, his enemy Dr. Seward finally stakes him to Hell, and his pestilence is at an end. In an ironic twist, the Count then finds himself at the mercy of Doctor Frankenstein, and is now himself a slave, forced against his will to do the madman’s bidding, although at times he’s shown to enjoy killing people at random again.

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Alberto Dalbes, one of the many Argentinian actors who came to Spain for success, does all fight with what little he was given in the role of Dr. Jonathan Seward. Used by Franco as a replacement for Van Helsing as Universal had copyrights on certain make-ups and characters, Dr. Seward spends most of the film going about the countryside, making sure none of Dracula’s victims rise from the grave as vampires. He’s very dedicated, and always arrives quickly when the locales fear for the souls of Dracula’s victims. He is, however, unaware of Frankenstein’s arrival and his plans for using the Count to raise an army of vampires. After a run-in with Frankenstein’s Creature (who acts as muscle and not the main menace of the film), Seward is close to death, but is luckily rescued by the local Gypsies. Their leader, a noted Sorceress who herself is a victim of a mysterious woman vampire, knows immediately who Seward is, and informs he is the key to her people’s freedom from the menace of both Dracula and Frankenstein.

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A point many fans make about this film is the wooden acting, and vast majority of the characters are one dimensional. Now while to extent many of the actors, especially Dennis Price and Alberto Dalbes, speak very little, many of their scenes didn’t require them to speak much, or at all. There’s just enough dialogue from secondary and minor characters, and Price & Dalbes to keep the story going at a fair pace. Franco kept the production and story very simple and generic, but his use of scenery, mood, and atmosphere is really what helps sell the film and keeps audiences interested.

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While not one of Franco’s better efforts, Dracula Contra Frankenstein is certainly not one of Franco’s worst either. The scenery and visuals are always a treat in a Franco film, and here is no exception. Even with little dialogue being exchanged between the characters, the actors pay great homage to the Silent Cinema style of filmmaking, their body language, body movements, and faces telling as much as any amount of dialogue. At times very banal, but always unique visually, the film is an enigma that does its job in making people curious as to what it’s all about.

(Now this is a Franco film I can recommend, and while it’s clunky on many levels, and the acting can sometimes leave little to be desired, it’s fairly well made and shows what Franco was capable of when he was doing a project he really felt like he could do a lot with. Dennis Price, Howard Vernon, and Alberto Dalbes were either in the twilight or nearing the twilight of their careers, and weren’t exactly up for leading men roles anymore, and while Price and Vernon were more adept at character parts, they, Vernon especially, sometimes weren’t given the types of parts they were capable of, and often did the best they could with the filmmakers willing to work with them. The Blu Ray from Al!ve AG Films, in conjunction with Colosseo Films in Germany, offers a very good transfer of the film with the elements available, the picture and audio quality varying at times, but not ever bad.)

All images courtesy of Google.com/Google Images and their respective owners

for more information

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065660/

Buying option

https://www.amazon.de/Die-Nacht-offenen-S%C3%A4rge-Blu-ray/dp/B071RL93WH/ref=sr_1_1?__mk_de_DE=%C3%85M%C3%85%C5%BD%C3%95%C3%91&keywords=Die+Nacht+der+offenen+S%C3%A4rge&qid=1570211860&s=dvd&sr=1-1

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics