Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Metempsyco (1963)

... aka: Die Bestie von Schloß Monte Christo (The Beast of Monte Cristo Castle)
... aka: Le manoir maudit (The Cursed Mansion)
... aka: Metempsycose
... aka: Tomb of Torture

Directed by:
"Anthony Kristye" (Antonio Boccaci)

Due to the international success of Hammer's takes on Dracula and Frankenstein as well as BLACK SUNDAY a few years later, there was a mini-Gothic horror revival in Italy in the 60s. This is one of the least-viewed of dozens of those... a fate pretty much deserved. Things begin when schoolgirls Esther (Emy Eco) and Cathy (“Terry Thompson”) decide to sneak into a crumbling old castle where the beautiful Countess Irene disappeared 20 years earlier. No one has seen her since. She was set to marry her fiance Rahman beforehand; a unfulfilled union rumored to have driven Rahman mad over the years. The girls run into the castle's stern, bitchy caretaker, Countess Elizabeth (“Elizabeth Queen” / Flora Carosello), who promptly tells them to get the hell out. Before that can happen they run into a bearded, deformed hunchback with a nervous laugh who makes short work of them in his torture chamber. Their nude bodies are later discovered discarded in a field.

Dr. Darnell (“Thony Maky” / Adriano Micantoni) arrives in town with his troubled daughter Anna (Annie Alberti), who happens to look exactly like the missing Countess Irene. Because she's been plagued by nightmares of the death of Irene, her father hopes actually staying in the castle will cure her. I'm not sure how that's supposed to work but seeing how the doctor later tells a concerned policeman to get “a good enema” he likely doesn't put much thought into such matters. Their first day there, Anna sees a ghost in the mirror and passes out. That leads to a nightmare involving a talking skeleton, a werewolf-like creature, a zombie and a walking suit of armor that chops a guy up with its sword and shoots her in the stomach with an arrow. The director (as “William Gray”) wears dark face paint, a turban and a continuously expressionless look playing the Indian Rahman, who's been obsessed with finding Irene's remains since her disappearance and warns the doctor to get out while the getting is good.

Reporter George Dickson (“Mark Marian” / Marco Mariani) is headed to the village to do a story on the two murdered girls when his car overheats. When he goes down to the lake for some water for his radiator he's just in time to get an eye full of Anna skinny dipping. Despite that awkward first meeting, the two are soon flirting and, in just their second scene together, are already discussing marriage! Elizabeth, the current owner of the old castle who loves it so much she lives elsewhere, shows up speaking of a hidden treasure in jewels somewhere on the grounds and tries to scare Anna (“They're going to kill you! They're going to KILL YOU!”) It's also revealed that Rahman was romantically involved with Elizabeth two decades earlier but cast her aside once Irene entered the picture. And Elizabeth is still bitter about it.

Meanwhile, Hugo the droopy-eyed hunchback is lurking in a hidden torture dungeon only accessible through one of two hidden passageways that even Rahmad hasn't discovered in twenty years time. Someone wearing a suit of armor and speaking in a deep female voice (gee, wonder who that could be?) encourages him to kill the intruders. Eventually, Anna is entranced, lured to the dungeon and is tied up while George and Rahman attempt to come to her rescue. It must have been a real blow to their egos that they then get schooled in how to defeat bad guys by the two guinea pigs who've been posing as rats throughout the film.

This has all the expected trappings of a good old Gothic horror film. There's a picturesque shooting location, a great castle, good art direction, passable period detail (it's set in 1910), decent black-and-white photography, atmospheric lighting, a dusty dungeon, secret passageways, effective makeups on a variety of ghouls and more. What really drags this down is its boring slog of a midsection where nothing of interest occurs, unless you count annoyingly neurotic characters spewing abominably bad dubbed dialogue as interesting. I actually thought I was going to rate this even lower but the last 20 minutes finally provide some much-needed tension and suspense.

Aside from the actress playing Elizabeth and the unknown playing the hunchback, the cast is dull and really make one look at what charismatic actors like Barbara Steele, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price brought to similar films with a new appreciation.

The distribution rights for this were acquired by Richard Gordon. He had it English dubbed and then released theatrically in the U.S. in 1966, where it often (but not always) played on a double bill with the West German / Yugoslavian film Cave of the Living Dead (1964). Image acquired both titles for DVD release in 2000.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Atacan las brujas (1968)

... aka: Attack of the Witches
... aka: Santo Attacks the Witches
... aka: Santo in the Witches Attack
... aka: Witches Attack

Directed by:
José Díaz Morales

The overlong pre-credits sequence involves a hysterical woman going on a voice-over rant and then Santo attempting to sneak into a castle. He then engages in combat with two black-clad men in scenes often too dark and poorly shot to even see. I finally could make out that the bad guys got the upper hand on our hero, wrapped a rope around him, knocked him out and then drug him into a castle. When he awakens he's tied down to a table in a dungeon next to rant girl, blonde pointy-bra'd “maiden” Ofelia (María Eugenia San Martín), and they're just in time to take part in a Satanic ritual. Some scantily-clad women file into the room. One of them, Priestess Medusa (Edaena Ruiz), scatters ashes about, chants and then resurrects Mayra, Queen of the Vampires (Lorena Velázquez) in a cloud of smoke. Mayra, who'd been sacrificed 300 years earlier, wastes no time immediately calling forth the “Lord of the Shadows” (a caped guy wearing a devil mask) and asks for his protection as they attempt to take over the world. Just as they're about to plunge the knife into Ofelia, Santo breaks his chains and then...

Ofelia awakens in bed. Only a nightmare. Apparently being in a gloomy old mansion for the upcoming reading of her parent's will is getting to her. Or perhaps her nightmare about evil forces being out to get her and a silver masked hero saving the day is going to turn out to be prophetic. One odd thing about her recurring dream is that Mayra is a dead ringer for Elisa Cardenas (Velázquez again), her parents' former secretary. Elisa makes sure to let Ofelia know that a stipulation of the will states she must live in her parent's mansion for an entire year before she can claim her inheritance. Then again, the lawyer (Crox Alvarado) who oversaw the will reading also looks suspiciously like one of the warlocks from her dream...

Ofelia's fiance Arturo (Ramón Bugarini) has been looking into matters on her behalf. He discovers the parents' secretary supposedly died 15 years earlier of pneumonia, which may make the current Elisa, who looks far too young and beautiful to be 50-years-old, an impostor. The problem is, she also looks identical to the younger Elisa. Arturo goes to Santo and lets him know all of the strange things that's been going on, so he decides to help take a closer look. His first trip to the dungeon finds him getting ambushed by three henchmen, but he escapes after fighting them off and making a cross shape out of his body.

Naturally, Ofelia isn't crazy and Elisa really is a witch with designs on sacrificing both her and Santo to the Lord of Shadows. In an attempt to snare Santo, she sends out the voluptuous Medusa to try to seduce him. Medusa lures him into a home and strips down to a bikini but he's so upstanding and virtuous he's able to kick open the door and leave without falling prey to her charms. When she gets pissed, a crow, a lizard, spiders and a chicken (!) suddenly appear. Eventually the witches use their powers to force Arturo into a car accident, kidnap him and hypnotize him. And as if the director has no clue where else to go from there, Santo and Ofelia keep getting kidnapped, tied up and almost sacrificed before escaping over and over again.

The fight scenes are ineptly shot and unfortunately there are over half a dozen of them. They clearly used two different cameras to film all of this action. The problem is that the one used for long shots is properly lit but too far away while the other used for closer shots is so dark you can't even see what's going on. The film then inserts a random five minute Santo wrestling match before a live audience into the film, which is shot, lit and edited so much more competently than the other action scenes one has to assume it was stolen from another source. His opponent in the match is Fernando Osés, who also plays one of the warlocks / henchmen working for Mayra, which further supports the theory this scene wasn't shot for this particular movie.

As poorly done as some aspects of these early Mexican horror films are they almost can't even help themselves in regards to atmosphere. There's something nicely primitive to the crude black-and-white photography that recalls early silent cinema even in a movie made at the tail end of the 60s. This also has another big plus in the statuesque and lovely Velázquez, who makes for a great villainess. What ruins the entire experience is the minimal plot being stretched out with dull padding and just how repetitive the whole thing gets after awhile. Interestingly, at the 23 minute mark there's a title card that reads La Bruja Maldita (“The Damned Witch”) and announcing the second episode is about to begin, which hints this started life as a serial. It must have been a really short serial seeing how there clearly wasn't enough material originally shot to make a feature.

Wrestler Guillermo Hernández aka 'Lobo Negro' is also in the cast. This was first released in the U.S. on home video by Something Weird (their tape was Spanish language only) but there's now an English subbed print.

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