Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

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 Images and their respective owners

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Buying options

Two Evil Eyes – The Italian Collection 43

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

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


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.


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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 Images and their respective owners

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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.)

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

Artistic Horror Mixed with Erotica

by Tony Nash

(Euro Witches & Madmen Opening Act)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Mild Spoilers)

(This review is of the long Erotic French version)

(Author’s Note: This is probably the most sexually explicit film, even more than The Nurse starring Ursula Andress and Lucio Fulci’s The Devil’s Honey, that I’ve watched and reviewed. Only those 18 or older should check this out.  While I haven’t discussed anything in the writing below in detail or a frank manner, I’m fully aware there are many people who don’t care for this sort of film, and that’s fine. So if any of my readers are uncomfortable with the subject matter or simply don’t care for films that teeter too thinly on being porn, feel free to skip this, I shan’t be offended or hurt.)

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La Comtesse Noire (The Night Countess/Countess of the Dark/The Countess of the Night/The Dark Countess/Female Vampire) (1973) ****1/2 NC-17

Lina Romay: Countess Irina Karlstein

Jack Taylor: Baron Von Rathony

Jesus Franco: Dr. Roberts (as Jess Franck)

Jean-Pierre Bouyxou: Dr. Orloff

Luis Barboo: Irina’s Servant

Anna Watican: Anna, the Journalist

Monica Swinn: The Princess de Rochefort (as Monica Swin)

Alice Arno: The Princess’s Assistant

Pierre Querut: The Police Inspector

Raymond Hardy: The Masseur

Written by: Jesus Franco (as J.P. Johnson) and Gerard Brisseau (uncredited French translation), with dialogue by Josyane Gibert (as P. Belair)

Directed by: Jesus Franco (as J.P. Johnson)

Synopsis: The small community of Madeira in Portugal is in the grip of a series of bizarre deaths. The local Coroner and a respected expert in the Occult believe it to be the work of a sexual energy vampire. The culprit is Countess Karlstein, a tragic woman determined to be the last of her family’s dark dynasty.

Lina Romay in La comtesse noire (1973)

Euro Cult/Exploitation filmmaker Jess Franco took the Horror genre to a whole new level with his most artistic film of the 70’s. At a time when his work was going into the realm of sleaze, Franco shot Comtesse Noire three times: first as a straight Horror film, second as an Erotic Fantasy with intellectual undertones, and finally as an unabashed Hardcore Porno film. The Erotic Fantasy version is perhaps the best of the bunch, not only in Franco’s classic use of visuals, locations, and atmosphere, but his unexpected use of metaphor and subtext in his handling of the subject of vampirism. Franco’s vampire in this film is not the typical blood drinker who only exists from dusk till dawn, but a woman who lives by both day and night, her sustenance to live being that of the energy brought to the surface by sexual passion. While the idea of a vampire feeding off of people’s energy, energy in all forms including sexual, is a concept that has only come into public consciousness within the last 25 years or so, it’s a theory that has been around for ages amongst those who study the supernatural and the Occult. This brings a whole new and interesting dynamic to the film as Franco begs the question of the viewer if it’s truly a crime and a waste to die at the height of passion in the embrace of a beautiful woman.

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Like with many of Franco’s better films, visuals and location are a key factor in drawing his audiences in. Taking his viewers to the beautiful countries of Belgium and Portugal, Franco puts the mountains, castles, landscapes, and streets on full display, photographing them in ways that enhance their beauty, and also make them foreboding when the Countess walks across them. Adding mood lighting and music gives off a whole other feeling to the places he leads the audiences to.

Image result for Jess Franco's La Comtesse Noire

Lina Romay, A Spanish actress who became Franco’s new Muse after the untimely death of Soledad Miranda, is a surprisingly effective success as Countess Irina Karlstein. Known mostly for being a shameless exhibitionist and something of a Porn Star, the role of Countess Karlstein proved she had a talent that needed to be flushed out. Franco’s making the character mute allowed Romay to utilize the movements of her body and her facial expressions to express her actions and thoughts, though occasionally a disembodied narration from the Countess comes into play on occasion. Romay is able to make the character tragically sympathetic in that from her face and her disembodied voice she reveals she doesn’t want to be who she is and longs for a day to be free from seeking out people to drain. To play up Romay’s open sexuality, the Countess goes after both men and women, seducing them while slowly feeding off of their energy as she brings them to the height of ecstasy, and, as with all vampires, having to kill them. Each time however, the Countess shows deep remorse, wishing she didn’t have to seduce and kill, but because people seek her out, is forced to fulfill the horrible destiny built up by her ancestors. The only time the Countess seems content to have taken a life is when she visits a known dominatrix who has a habit of killing those who wish to fulfill their S&M fantasies by her, even going so far as to hypnotize the woman’s sadist assistant so she can feed properly. The final straw that forces the Countess to choose between herself and freeing humanity of her family’s evil influence is when she meets a kindred spirit in the Austrian Baron von Rathony.

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Jack Taylor, an American actor who settled between Mexico and Spain for his career, is also a surprising hit in the role of Baron von Rathony. Like Irina, Von Rathony  just seems to be drifting through life, though his is a type of Existential crisis rather than horrible destiny. Most of the character’s time on screen is spent in omnipresent soliloquy, reciting from a book he seems very interested in. It’s shown the Countess is already aware of his presence in the small community, and occasionally he is seen receiving cryptic messages and noises from her. Little is known of why the Baron has come to the small hamlet, other than that he appears to on some sort of emotional/spiritual quest that he is finding more and more difficult to get an answer to. When he finally meets the Countess face to face, all his previous feelings seem to fade away, as if he has finally found the answer he’s long searched for. He later spends all of his time with her, and as they go about together, they begin to fall in love. The Baron is fully aware of who the Countess is, and believes his destiny is to be with her forever, little knowing what her destiny is. Soon the question becomes if the Baron’s destiny is to kill himself, or if he will become one of the many victims of the Countess’s insatiable lust.

Image result for jean-pierre bouyxou in female vampire

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Jess Franco himself has an acting role in this film, a fairly important one in fact, in the role of Dr. Roberts. A man of science, but also a believer in things beyond the realm of what people know, Dr. Roberts is certain the recent deaths he’s been asked to autopsy for the police have died as a result of something otherworldly. While the police are content to believe the deaths are the result of a demented sex maniac, Dr. Roberts is certain the culprit is a sexual energy vampire. He seeks the advice of Dr. Orloff, a blind Occult expert. Roberts was friends with Orloff’s father who had the ability of second sight, and is certain he has inherited his father’s talents. When Orloff tells him his assumptions are correct, but asks if the one whom he seeks is truly the evil force he believes, Roberts is forced to confront his own views beliefs. Jean-Pierre Bouyxou is also interesting in the role of Dr. Orloff. The most philosophical character out of the whole cast, Orloff’s lack of sight from birth allows him to experience things the normal person is oblivious to, and has also afforded him to see things as they are, not in black and white like many think, but a grey area that begs the results of one’s individual conscience in thinking.

Image result for Jess Franco's La Comtesse Noire

Bizarre, surreal, and compelling, Comtesse Noire offers a beautifully poignant take on the vampire legend. While at first glance it’s the typical Exploitation sleaze of the 70’s, when really watched, proves to be much more than first thought. The sex scenes are not present in the film for the pure shock value, but serve a purpose to show how Countess Irina lures her victims and then drain them entirely. The scenes are certainly explicit in nature and have far too many close-ups that could border on Hardcore Pornography, but are in fact completely simulated (Franco himself stated this in an interview, the Wikipedia page for where he’s quoted will be included in the more info section below). Similar ideas can be summed up for Lina Romay spending the majority of the film nude, wearing only a cape and a belt, and sometimes even just a belt, again showing the Countess to be a purely sexual creature who is unable to quench her need no matter what she does. In the end result is a very strange fantasy that leaves the viewer bewildered, but somehow satisfied with how things turn out, even if they feel it goes against the grain of what’s normally expected.

(This going to be one of the few times I will say that I can’t recommend a film, not because it’s bad or because it’s done so poorly or cheaply audiences wouldn’t be able to appreciate its positive merits behind all the bad stuff, but because its a film that truly only appeals to a very specific and special type of viewer. Now I’m not saying I’m one of the persons this film was made for, but because I went into it thinking it was going to be a pure piece of garbage and a sleaze fest, I was actually blown away by how well it was actually made. It’s probably Jess Franco’s most competent erotic work, and does offer those who decide to seek it out some very interesting questions about certain concepts. This film honestly fits the category of personal choice in whether viewers should seek it out to watch and I would say if anyone does check it out you won’t be disappointed as long as you go in with no expectations. Now it will be difficult to see past the sex scenes that could border on being true pornographic fair initially, but I feel that once a viewer gets past that, it shows a truly tragic figure that is worthy of audience sympathy, and while we can understand that she’s aware of what she’s doing, and does it regardless of her wish not to, we also realize her destiny has been set in stone by years of her ancestors regaling in wickedness. The Blu Ray of Redemption in conjunction with Kino is really fantastic, offering up both the preferred Erotic version and the shorter straight Horror version, with decent enough image, and fine audio.)

all images courtesy of Images and their respective owners including the IMDb and some independent bloggers

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The 2019 Halloween Comment Section


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

The 2019 Halloween Comment Section

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

Starting Wednesday Oct. 2, I’ll be starting my new Horror Film-a-thon. This year I thought I’d try something different and designate this area as where you all can leave comments about the films to be discussed, my thoughts on them, and of there was anything I missed on them. Type the film title first before starting your comment so I can keep track.

As always, be fair and civil when leaving comments, remember we all have different tastes and views, and we’re here to have fun and share our passion with other film lovers.

If this works the way I hope it will, I’ll do this for the other series I do and new ones I’ll be starting in the new year.




Filed under: Film: Special Topics