Category Archives: Foreign Films

Circle of Two (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man/young teen.

Ashley St. Clair (Richard Burton) is an aging painter of 60 who has lost his passion and hasn’t either sold, or attempted to do a painting in over 10 years. Sarah (Tatum O’Neal) is an unhappy 15-year-old who’s tired of dating guys her own age as she finds them to be immature and only interested in one thing…sex. She then meets Ashley, first after she sneaks into an adult theater to watch an X-rated movie and then later at a coffee shop. Despite the extreme differences in their ages they still connect through their mutual interest in art. Ashley even begins to paint again and the two share an enjoyable, but platonic friendship. However, once Sarah’s parents (Robin Gammell, Patricia Collins) find out about they put an immediate stop to it by locking her in her room and and in protest Sarah refuses to eat.

Based on the novel ‘A Lesson in Love’ by Marie-Terese Baird this film marks the final one to be directed by famed Greek director Jules Dassin and in many ways this may be the weakest one that he did. The whole way the relationship gets going is very rushed and forced. Bumping into the same person twice in one day, in the big city of Toronto, doesn’t seem likely and then having Sarah fall so head-over-heels for him to the point she starts spouting out the ‘L’ word quite quickly is dingy. A more plausible scenario would’ve had Ashley teaching an art class (he no longer paints, but still has to bring in an income somehow) of which Sarah attends and then through the course of several months a bond is slowly created.

The sex angle is a complete mess. Fortunately Ashley makes no moves on her, but Sarah does aggressively begin to come-on to him and at one point stands completely naked in front of him. In her autobiography ‘A Paper Life’ O’Neal expressed great discomfort in having to do this scene though I didn’t detect this, but maybe that’s just because she’s such a great actress, but either way the scene was completely unnecessary.  It’s also inconsistent with the character as she broke-up with her boyfriend Paul (Michael Wincott) because he was trying to pressure her into having sex and she was still a virgin, so if she didn’t want sex with a guy her own age why would she want it with one who was way older and is this era of pre-Viagra how could she even be sure he could do it? A better scenario would’ve had sex never coming into play and it was simply their other mutual interests that connected them and it was only outsiders, like Sarah’s parents, that presumed the worst when it really wasn’t occurring.

The one bright spot is the acting with both leads being superb. O’Neal proves that her strong and memorable performance in Paper Moon was no fluke and the only thing that keeps the film watchable. Burton is excellent as well. Although he usually has a strong presence here he wisely takes a step back playing someone who’s weak and tentative, which in many ways reflected his own career at the time where many felt he was washed-up and the years of alcohol abuse certainly did age him making him look even older than 60 when he really wasn’t, and thus a perfect fit for the part. The only issue here is that Tatum seems way too mature for 15 both physically and personality-wise and having her play someone who was 17 would’ve been more appropriate.

While the film remains marginally compelling the talky ending in which Burton goes on a long speech like a tenured professor lecturing to a college class practically ruins it. I was also frustrated that we never learn much about the old man, played by George Bourne Sr., an elderly gentleman who agrees to let Ashley paint his portrait for a fee, which in-turn revitalizes his career and I felt this character should’ve been in it more, or at least a few scenes showing what they talked about as his portrait was being done.

Tatum’s abstaining from all food plays-out poorly as well. For one thing she doesn’t change physically, so we’d never know she wasn’t eating if it weren’t mentioned. She then travels to New York and I was fully expecting her to pass-out in the middle of crowded Grand Central Station from a lack of nutrients, but apparently in-between time she had eaten something, but this should’ve been shown and the fact that it isn’t is a sign of shoddy film-making, which despite Dassin’s previous output, this whole movie ends up pretty much being.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jules Dassin

Studio: World Northal

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

The Disappearance (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is his wife?

Jay Mallory (Donald Sutherland) is a professional assassin who works for a secret organization that contracts him out to do hits all over the world. After returning home from his latest assignment he finds that his wife Celandine (Francine Racette) is not there. Since they had a tumultuous relationship he initially presumes she left on her own accord, but then his friend and fellow hit man Burbank (David Warner) informs him that her disappearance may have something to do with his last hit. The organization that employs him now calls with another assignment, but this time they’re reluctant to give any details, which is unusual. Jay is afraid he’s being set-up as Burbank told him that the company is known to ‘retire’ those that are deemed no longer useful or trustworthy. He decides though to go through with the assignment as he’s curious how it will play-out and confident enough in his ability to get out of any jam, but soon finds himself faced with an entangling twist he never expected.

The film is a fascinating portrait of what can be done with creative direction. Stuart Cooper, who’s not exactly a household name and in fact this was his last theatrical film until 2010 when he did Magic Man, lends some interesting directorial touches that makes the story and characters more interesting than they might otherwise. What I especially liked was the non-linear narrative in which the movie cuts back and forth between the past to the present day. These types of storylines are typically frowned upon by Hollywood studios as they’re considered to be ‘too confusing’ for mainstream audiences to follow, but I had no such difficulty and felt it allowed in added nuance that would not have been present had the plot been approached in the conventional way. Nonetheless when the film tanked at the box office upon its initial release the studio insisted that the film be re-cut where the story would be presented in the standard linear format, but this version did even worse, so fortunately for the DVD/Blu-ray release it was brought back to its original way and labeled as being the ‘director’s cut’ though Cooper actually had no input on it, but eventually approved once he viewed it.

It’s also highly atmospheric particularly with the way it captures the cold, wintry climate of Montreal in the dead-of-winter. Having been born and raised in Minnesota I can tell a fake winter scene done on an indoor sound stage using artificial snow within seconds, but here the cold, including the mounds of snow drifts and nasty hollowing wind, is quite vivid and helps to symbolize the cold nature of the characters and the business they’re in.

I was a little more lukewarm with the acting. Sutherland can certainly be an outstanding leading man, but he seems too kind and sensitive for a person making a living killing others for money though I did like the scene where he plays memory games with his wife while at home, which brings out how crucial paying attention to detail is for his line of work. The supporting players are all familiar faces though I felt Warner was a bit wasted and underused. Virginia McKenna, best known for her starring role in the classic Born Free, is seen for only a brief bit though her interaction with Sutherland is quite pivotal while Christopher Plummer doesn’t appear at all until the final 15-minutes, but still manages to come-off with a memorable presence.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest downfall though is with the ending, which becomes one twist too many. Up until that point the twists had been a logical fit that made sense when you went back and thought about it. Then at the very end Sutherland gets shot and killed while walking home from the grocery store, but it’s never shown who did it, or why. Maybe it was the secret organization that wanted to ‘retire’ him, but this needed to be shown and explained. Just leaving the viewer hanging with a violent, but vague scenario isn’t satisfying and cheapens the rest of it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Cooper

Studio: Trofar

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray

Rapists at Dawn (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen boys assault women.

Rubiales (Manuel de Benito), Quinto (Daniel Medran), Rafi (Bernard Seray), Cana (Cesar Sanchez) and Cana’s pregnant sister Lagarta (Alicia Orozco) roam the streets of Barcelona, Spain looking for young women to assault. The boys live on the poor side of town and are from abusive home lives with little future except working boring, low paying jobs. Feeling that society has ‘discarded’ them they they take out their hostilities on the pretty women that they meet. They pick their victims at random usually as they spot them getting out of their cars and go walking into their schools many times while in front of the victim’s family member who’ve just dropped them off. They then take the women to an isolated area and proceed to gang rape them while Lagarta acts as the look-out. The police are aware of the crimes, but seem helpless to do much about it. When they catch the boys in the act and try to arrest them the boys manage to escape making them confident that they can’t be stopped.

While films like I Spit on Your Grave and Irreversible get all the attention as being the ‘last word’ in rape movies, this one, if it was better known and more attainable, would trump those. The rapes here are graphic, prolonged and quite violent. Some will complain that it’s exploitative while others will argue that if you’re going to show rape for the violent crime that it truly is then it must be captured in all of its unpleasantness and toning it down for the sake of good taste does a disservice. Personally I found the brutal nature to be effective as I came away feeling really sorry for the victims, as it’s captured in such a real way you can barely see the acting and instead start to consider it more like a graphic documentary.

This movie also handles the aftermath in an interesting way by examining the debilitating effect the crime has on the victim psychologically and how they become like a different person. They’re outgoing and well-adjusted beforehand and then afterwards depressed, angry, and even ashamed. They turn sullen and anti-social to both their friends and family making it seem like they’ll never be the same again. The film also analyzes what happens when one of the women becomes pregnant, something that I don’t remember being touched upon in other rape films, and how the mother of the victim insist, due to religious reasons, that she keep the baby and not abort it, making her seem as cruel as the gang.

The thuggish boys are portrayed in an intriguing multi-dimensional way too. While they’re cocky when out and about they recoil and become like victims themselves when at home and dealing with their abusive fathers. I did like too that in their own twisted way they have ‘limits’ or  a ‘code of morality’ albeit a very weird one. A great example of this is when Lagarta becomes shocked when the boys continue to penetrate one of the victims even after she has clearly died. Normally Lagarta had no problem seeing them violently molest the women, but when one of them actually gets killed during the attack and the boys continue the assault it’s only then that she feels things have ‘gone too far’.

It’s hard to say what genre to put this one into. It’s not really a horror film as none of the women become Rambo-like by packing a big gun and going on a revenge tour against their assailants, which although emotionally satisfying isn’t realistic If anything it brings out how there are no easy answers, which makes it even more horrifying, but still thought provoking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ignacio Iquino

Studio: Ignacio Ferres Iquino

Available: DVD-R

The Sunday Woman (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murdered by phallic object.

Based on the novel of the same name by Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, the story centers on the investigation of the murder of Mr. Garrone (Claudio Gora). Garrone is found bludgeoned to death inside his apartment by a giant penis statue. Garrone was a well known architect and a lecherous ladies man who couldn’t help but make unseemly passes at every woman he came by. Commissioner Santamaria (Marcello Mastroianni) is put in charge of the case, which has many suspects. Two of the biggest ones are Anna Carla (Jacqueline Bisset) and her platonic male friend Massimo (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Anna had written a note, found by her hired help the next day, stating her desire to ‘eliminate’ Garrone. Anna, who’s quite wealthy, insists that it was all a innocent misunderstanding and Massimo backs her up, but Massimo, who has an alibi, is reluctant to divulge it because it would require him to admit that he’s gay and at Lello (Aldo Reggiani) his lovers’ house. Santamaria begins looking into other potential suspects as does Lello who wishes to get his boyfriend cleared, but the deeper Santamaria gets into the case the more he connects with Anna and despite their age difference they begin to have a romantic relationship all while she remains at the top of his suspect list.

The film, on the technical end, is well done. Director Luigi Comencini nicely captures the visual beauty of the Italian landscape and the posh older homes of Turin a city in northwest Italy where it was filmed. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone has a nice bounce that keeps the film moving along even while not a lot is happening. There’s an array of suspects and enough red herrings to keep it intriguing and impossible to guess who’s the true culprit.

The story has its share of offbeat moments though it’s disappointing that the funniest character, Garrone, ends up getting killed as he was amusingly sleazy enough to have kept things consistently comical. While the death by giant penis statue, if memory serves me correctly, had already been used in A Clockwork Orange, it’s still a novel idea and it’s funny how Santamaria visualizes each suspect he meets bashing Garrone over the head with it as he interviews them. Traveling to the shop where the statues are made and being surrounded with hundreds of them is certainly good for a chuckle, but outside of this there wasn’t all that much that stood out, or made this any better than any other murder mystery. The ingredients are good enough to keep sufficient interest, but nothing the makes it really memorable.

I was most disappointed that Bisset wasn’t in it more. She’s fabulous, as she is in most of her movies, and though I suspect that her voice, where she speaks fluent Italian, is dubbed, I still felt she gives a spectacular performance. Mastroianni on the other hand looks tired and worn-out and like his peak years of being a international sex symbol had passed. Yet when he’s together with Bisset it clicks and Jacqueline’s superior acting camouflages their extreme age difference making them seem more like a perfect couple than it should. The two should’ve investigated the case together and become a team, as every second Bisset is not seen it flatlines. Had the two shared the screen this might’ve been special, but ultimately it misses-the-mark and never fully gels.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Luigi Comencini

Studio: Fox-Lira

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com) (Italian w/English subtitles), Amazon Video (English subtitles)

The Exorcist: Italian Style (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mayor’s family becomes possessed.

Mimmo Baldi plays a 10-year-old boy named Luigi who comes upon a small amulet lost in a field while playing soccer with his friends. He puts it into his pocket and then begins to behave in unusual ways including assaulting a young woman he meets while walking home. His father is Pasquale (Lino Banfi) who’s the mayor of the town and running for reelection. He and the rest of the family notice the increasingly odd behavior of their son and decide to call-in a doctor (Gigi Bonos), but when he’s unable to do anything they get desperate and ask for the services of a local demon hunter known as L’Esorciccio (Ciccio Ingrassia) who’s reputed to have an ability to exorcise demons, but in reality is a fraud. When he tries to do a fake exorcism on the child nothing initially happens, but when the amulet falls out-of the child’s pocket and onto the ground the child is considered ‘cured’. However, his older sister Barbara (Barbara Nascimben) then retrieves it and soon begins acting in the same dangerous way. Their father wants to keep this issue as far away from the press as he can for fear it will hurt his reelection chances only for him to eventually come into procession of the amulet himself where his wild and shocking behavior gets put on full display for everyone.

While this film has been seen in a better light in recent years it was considered when it first came-out as ‘the worst movie of all-time’ by the Italian public and lambasted as such even decades later. Ciccio Ingrassia, who was a much beloved comedian, who had been starring in comedy films for the past two decades, became shaken by the response and harsh criticism and vowing he’d never direct another movie again and while he did continue to star in them through the 90’s he kept  to his promise and never directed any others.

It’s hard to say where the film, which is clever at times, went wrong for the moviegoers as the comedy is there if you’re patient. I’ll admit the special effects are scant and not too impressive. The film tries to emulate the classic one of which this is a parody by putting-in most of what that one was known for into this story though it does compromise on some of it. For instance during the exorcism the bed that the girl is on begins to levitate, but the projectile vomit is not done. They do have her spit something at them, but in parody it’s always good to go overboard and the film missed a prime opportunity to do something visually hilarious like drowning the exorcist and his assistant in a mound of green muck that flies out of her mouth, or something to that effect. The swivel head doesn’t get done either, at least not with the girl victim, but instead it’s saved for later when the father becomes possessed, but the effects here look cheap and not believable.

In some ways this is a smart movie as it doesn’t just depend on a barrage of gags to keep it going, but instead creates an actual character driven story where they react to the craziness going on with a befuddled amusement, which to me was the best element. Banfi is very funny as the conniving husband/father who’s convinced that these satanic events are just something that his political opponent (Tano Cimarosa) is behind, so that he’ll lose the election. Ingrassia has his moments too and there were some parts that had me laughing-out-loud though the sped-up running, where the son chases the father around their yard looks cartoonish and should’ve been avoided. The soundtrack is also a problem as it’s blaring and doesn’t give-off a creepy vibe. Even if it’s just parody when it involves a famous horror movie it’s good to at least play along and give a spooky facade to it, which with the music selected here doesn’t do that.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up where seemingly everyone in the town, while attending a public event, becomes possessed, at least for a few minutes, as they randomly pick-up the amulet that gets passed around from one person to another becomes dizzying and silly. Having the story center on the family characters was when it worked and that’s where it should’ve stayed. While certain segments could’ve been played-u more there’s enough here to be enjoyed as long as you accept it as a simple comedy done on a shoestring.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ciccio Ingrassia

Studio: Dear International

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

The Grapes of Death (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Zombies created by pesticide.

The film opens with a shot of immigrants spraying grapes with a pesticide in a vineyard owned and run by Michel (Michel Herval). One of the men (Francois Pasal) complains of a pain on the side of his neck, but Michel insists he keep working and quit complaining. The film then cuts to two women riding inside a train car, one of them is Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) who’s the fiancee to Michel and coming to visit him. Once the train stops the man from the vineyards complaining of the pain walks onboard and proceeds to kill Brigitte (Evelyne Thomas) who was inside the train bathroom. He then takes a seat in the train car that Elisabeth is in, but once she notices the growing tumor on the side of his neck and then the dead body of her friend she runs screaming off the train. She then finds herself all alone in deserted town where everyone has the same type of tumors growing on their faces and all seem intent on trying to kill her.

This was the first mainstream horror film directed by Jean Rollin and credited as being the first gore film ever to be made in France. Rollin had made several experimental vampire flicks in the early part of the decade, but they had failed to catch-on and lost him a lot of money, which forced him into directing porn movies under the pseudonym of Michel Gentil. By the late 70’s he had made enough money with those that he was ready to jump back into doing another feature film, which for a zombie story is unique as the zombie’s here are fully conscious and well aware of what’s happening to them and kill out of a sense of rage. The film is also, for a horror movie, very quiet lacking the traditional pounding music score and instead has extended moments of near silence especially during the town scenes, which helps accentuate the creepiness.

Rollin hired an Italian production company to do the special effects, which are quite impressive. Normally I’m on here complaining how fake the effects look in most other low budget horrors, but here I was amazed with how realistic they were. The scene where a woman gets stabbed with a pitchfork while lying on a table and then continues to breath with it still in her really looks like the blades went right through her body. Another scene dealing with the decapitation of a nude woman (Mirella Rancelot) and then having one of the zombies carry the head around is one of the most graphic of its type. I did have some issues with the tumor make-up. On the train car where Elisabeth watches it grow on the side of the man’s head was cool, but on the people in the town it starts to look like smeared pizza and I wanted to see a shot of someone that had it all over their face instead just on a little part of it.

While Rollin stated that he admired the acting of his leading lady I felt she was the weakest link. Her fearful expressions and screams are great, but her performance otherwise is one-note. Part of what made Night of the Living Dead so great was the contrasting personalities of the main characters and I felt there needed to be that here. Having the two men (Felix Marten, Serge Marquand) enter near the end of the second act to help Elisabeth fight of the zombies is a great addition, but I had wished they came in sooner. I also didn’t like the way Elisabeth conveniently finds a gun inside the car she has just stolen, which she is able to use in the nick-of-time to shoot the zombies, but what are the odds? The gun should’ve been introduced earlier, perhaps as something she brought along with her at the beginning for her trip, and not just thrown-in haphazardly.

The twist at the end is not satisfying leaving the viewer feeling down and depressed when it’s over when a robust showdown was needed. I felt too that the reason for why the people were turning into zombies, which was the pesticide, should’ve been kept a mystery until the very end. Instead of opening it with the men spraying we should’ve seen the townsfolk going about their day in a normal fashion, which would’ve made a striking contrast to when Elisabeth gets there and they’re all crazy. Maybe a shot of a man spraying in the background behind the people talking could’ve been done as a little hint, or clue, but as it gets done here it’s too obvious when a subtle approach was needed.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jean Rollin

Studio: Rush Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Deadly Games (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid versus Santa Claus.

Thomas (Alain Lalanne) is a 10-year-old who’s a wiz with computers and technology. Not only has he set various booby traps throughout the large mansion that he lives in with his mother (Brigitte Fossey), but he can fix cars and even drive them. Despite being super smart he still believes in Santa Claus while his friend Pilou (Stephane Legros) tries to convince him that he isn’t real. Thomas goes on the computer in an attempt to communicate with Santa, but instead gets a vagrant (Patrick Floersheim) on the other end pretending to be the jolly red fellow. He gets Thomas to give out his address and also reveal that his mother is a rich corporate CEO. The vagrant goes to his mother’s company and gets a job as a Santa, but is soon fired by her when he slaps a child. In revenge the vagrant, still in his Santa costume, goes to Thomas’ house where he plans to kill him, but Thomas uses his technical ingenuity to set a trap.

The film is an unusual hybrid between playful children’s comedy, a holiday film, and a slasher horror, which only could’ve been made in France where filmmakers aren’t under a repressive studio system that forces all scripts to conform to a cookie-cutter formula and here allows them to deviate between genres. Many have labeled this the original Home Alone and in-fact writer/director Rene Manzor threatened to sue John Hughes, who had directed the other one, insisting that he had essentially remade his film without permission. There are though quite a few differences between the movies to the extent that I didn’t think it was an unauthorized remake at all. If anything it reminded me more of another French classic Le Joutabout a rich kid living in a big place with a wide assortment of toys. This is also the best of the killer Santa movies as You Better Watch Out and Silent Night, Deadly Night took themselves too seriously while this one has a playful edge that manages to be both amusing and tense.

The kid certainly has an engaging quality and his love for his elderly grandfather (Louis Ducreux) is quite endearing, but he’s also just a bit too smart. I was okay with him being keen on the gadgetry, but having him get underneath a car and able to not only fix it, but also drive it was going too far. I wasn’t sure that a 10-year-old could reach the pedals with his feet and still be able to see over the dashboard. Part of what makes horror movies intense is having a victim appear vulnerable, but right away with the kid being so incredibly ingenious it makes the odds stacked against the killer and thus their cat-and-mouse game not as intriguing. I also really couldn’t stand the kid’s mullet haircut.

The home is over-the-top as well. It gets referred to as a mansion, but really seems more like a castle that’s bigger than anything I’ve seen anyone else, even the billionaires and celebrities, reside in. It doesn’t even seem like a real place, but instead, in certain shots, a miniature model and at other points a painting. All the secret rooms gets a bit dizzying including the hidden one that can be entered via an old refrigerator (are they really expecting us to believe that a 10-year-old kid, no matter how smart he is, could build that?). Another moment has Thomas getting trapped inside a life sized maze, but who the hell would take the time and effort to build a maze in their very own home, which again ends up getting too creative for its own good and negates the tension instead of enhancing it.

The Santa character is a boring. Usually horror movies make an effort to give the psycho, whether it’s through flashback or dialogue, some sort-of backstory, but here this guy pops-up without any idea of who he is, where he’s from, or why he’s so crazy. There’s also a few segments where he gets caught in a trap, like when he falls through a trap door and stuck in a net, but no shot showing how he got out of the predicament. Seeing how he gets himself out should’ve been shown each time (it’s shown in a few scenarios, but not all) in order to make the plot seem more reality based and less cartoonish.

Overall, despite the over-direction, it’s still a fun, wild ride that could be enjoyed by the whole family. It does get a bit intense at times, but the quick-thinking kid always seems to be pretty much in-control. Outside of the pet dog getting stabbed none of the other killings are seen and only the feet of the dead bodies are captured on camera to represent their demise, which should make it palatable for most kids to sit through without having nightmares afterwards.

Alternate Titles: 36.15 code Pere Noel, Game Over

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Rene Manzor

Studio: Deal

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Bloodlust (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deaf mute craves blood.

A deaf mute, who goes by the nickname Mosquito, (Werner Pochath) works as an accountant during the day, but at night he goes back to his lonely apartment, which is painted all black, and plays with his collection of dolls. He secretly longs for an attractive neighbor girl (Birgit Zamulo), but due to his physical limitations is unable to have a relationship with her. Living with these frustrations as well as the traumatic memories of his father beating him, which directly lead to his loss of hearing and speech, compels him to break into mortuaries at night and drink the blood from the corpses in their coffins. This creates a panic around town about a so-called vampire on-the-loose. When the neighbor girls ends up dying in a tragic accident it drives Mosquito to even darker depths as he then begins killing people and sucking their blood.

While this film has gained a small cult following it really doesn’t seem like all that much to get excited about. It was written and directed by Marijan Vajda, who’s better known as a documentary filmmaker, which is exactly what this comes-off like as the story flounders and the camera more interested in following Mosquito around and seeing what he’ll do versus propelling the plot. The characters are cardboard caricatures with Mosquito’s office co-workers behaving more like cruel adolescents and the neighbor girl seeming like she’s 4 instead of 19. Her accident, where she slips off a roof of a building, should’ve only caused an injury, since it was only 2-stories up instead of an instant death. A far better demise, which would’ve fit-in with its blood theme, would’ve had her perish in a car accident and Mosquito come to seemingly save her, but then when he arrives he instead sucks at the blood from her injuries.

The inside of Mosquito’s apartment doesn’t have enough dolls in it and to make it creepier the room should’ve been lined with shelves of dolls stretching from the ceiling to the floor. The abuse sequence gets equally underplayed as the actor playing the father is clearly softening his kicks at the victim and if anything looks like two guys playfully roughhousing. When Mosquito stabs one of the corpses in the mortuary the body deflates like a tire being slashed and not that a body made of bones. Sucking blood from dead bodies is suspect as well because if they’re put inside a coffin that usually means they’ve been embalmed and the blood drained-out.

Spoiler Alert!

I kept expecting some sort of shocking, horrifying climax to make sitting through the rest of it worth it, but nothing much happens. He does kill two people, a couple sitting in their car making-out, but they die too quickly and not enough blood to look realistic. He also retrieves the dead body of the neighbor girl out of her grave, but then proceeds to basically just kiss and fondle her a bit and that’s it. Even the arrest scene isn’t interesting as the police merely walk-in into Mosquito’s office and put the hand-cuffs on him while he sits at his desk instead of having a big, long chase that could’ve at least given it some excitement.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Marijan Vajda

Studio: Monarex

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video 

Torso (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Strangler stalks college students.

Jane (Suzy Kendall) is a British student attending college in Italy where a rash of grisly murders amongst the female coeds is keeping everybody on edge. The killer’s modus operandi is a red and black scarf that he uses to strangle his victims. Jane’s friend Dani (Tina Aumont) fears that the maniac may be Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) a young man who’s been harassing her for a date and won’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer. To get away from the terror Jane and her girlfriends decide to go to a villa in the countryside, but find that the killer strikes again, in their home, and with Jane hobbled with a sprained ankle, she’s unable to get away and must use her creative wits to escape.

Horror director Eli Roth has hailed this as being his favorite giallo and a major influence to his Hostel movies, but in retrospect it doesn’t have all that much to distinguish it. Despite its lurid title the emphasis is more on the mystery featuring a cast of lonely men who seem to lack quality social skills to go out with women and instead long for them from afar while also harboring dark violent sexual fantasies of what they’d like to do to them if they could, making this more than anything a forerunner to what’s become known as incels (involuntary celibate) today.

Director Sergio Martino captures Perugia, Italy and its many old and scary looking buildings nicely. The build-up to the murders where the victims find themselves alone in a dark,desolate area of the city, or in one instance an isolated forest, are some of the film’s best moments and could’ve been played-up more.

The deaths themselves though are uninteresting. The average time for a person to die from strangulation is 3 minutes and up to 7 to 14 seconds before they’ll pass-out, but the victim here falls over dead after the flimsy scarf is put around her neck for only 3-seconds, which all looks quite fake. The female victims never, ever fight back and just stand, or lie still and scream loudly, but do nothing else. Police will usually look for scratches on suspects as a sign that the victim fought for their life and there will be defensive wounds on the victim’s arms and hands too, so for the victims here not to attempt any physical defense looks rather pathetic. Some may say that back in this era it was considered more ‘tasteful’ to have the killing get over with quickly and watching someone try to fight-off the attacker would be prolonging it too much, but I wondered if this was also an attempt to feed-in to the male fantasy where once a man decides to make his move the females are virtually ‘helpless’ and must just passively accept their fate.

The special effects are threadbare as well. The close-ups of the knife cutting into the victim’s body has a lighter tone of skin color than the full-shots of the victim making it quite obvious that the close-ups are that of a mannequin. The scene where a car’s bumper crushes a man’s skull against a wall looks realistic enough, but then a few seconds later it cuts back to a shot of the victim and his skull is perfectly intact with only some blood running out of his nose even though the previous shot made it look like his head had been busted in half.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act in which Suzy Kendall sleeps through the murders of her friends downstairs and then awakens to find herself alone in the house with the killer still present is the only time it actually gets intense. Having her quietly observe him cutting-up her friend’s limbs is genuinely horrifying and watching her try to come-up with creative ways to escape is intriguing, but then having a male doctor swoop-in and fight-off the killer for her was disappointing as this was her story and she needed to be the one to find a way to take down the killer herself.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Interfilm

Available: DVD, Fandor, Tubi

Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog grows really big.

Billy (Richard Beaumont) is a young boy who buys an Old English Sheepdog from a local dog home manager ( Victor Maddern). However, when he brings the dog home his grandfather (Edward Underdown) doesn’t want it in the house, so his mother (Angela Douglas) tells him to give the pet to someone else. He then leaves him at the home of Jeff (Jim Dale), a researcher who works at a defense lab that is experimenting in growth formulas. Jeff is smitten with Billy’s mother, but too shy to ask her out. He ultimately agrees to take the dog as an excuse to be around the mother more. Things though turn chaotic when Jeff decides to borrow some of the growth formula at his lab, in order to feed it to his tomato plants, but instead it gets accidentally given to the dog, who then grows to gigantic proportions.

This is the type of movie that’s clearly meant for kids, but kids today, with the advanced computerized special effects seen in modern films, will quickly be turned-off by the cheesy effects here. The attempt to make the dog seem bigger by placing him in a miniaturized kitchen doesn’t exactly work. Other segments where he’s seen outdoors and at a circus don’t work either because it’s obvious that the animal was simply put in front of a green screen. The segment that has Jeff sneaking the dog outside while having him wear an outfit meant for a horse is stupid too because a horse’s head is shaped differently than a dog’s, so there would be no way it would fit over the dog like it does.

The only inspired effect is when Billy crawls into the dog’s giant mouth in order to feed it a formula that will supposedly get the animal to shrink back to normal size. The recreation of the dog’s mouth to a large size is impressive though a dog’s tongue is thinner and longer than a person’s and yet the tongue in this mouth is styled much more like a human’s. Having the kid command the dog not to swallow, as if he did it would’ve sucked the boy down the throat, is dumb because swallowing is a natural reflex when liquid is poured in, so I’m not sure it could’ve been prevented, or that the dog would’ve understood what the command ‘don’t swallow’ would’ve even meant.

The story is based on the novel by Ted Key, who besides creating the comic strip ‘Hazel’ also wrote the screenplays for Gusabout a mule who kicks field goals, The Million Dollar Duckabout a duck who lays golden eggs, and The Cat from Outer SpaceThose movies fared a bit better as they were more imaginative and had better character development. Outside of a circus scene, which features an elderly and near-sighted knife thrower played by Bob Todd, there is nothing that is funny, or even slightly amusing.

A good story should have a protagonist that the audience can root for and and a clear antagonist that the audience hates, or at least fears. This film though doesn’t have that.  Jim Dale is a likable enough, but a scientist nerd who’s awkward around women is a tired stereotype that isn’t interesting. The kid had more appeal and could’ve easily been the hero without the Jeff character even being present. The supporting cast is essentially the same person; deluded, wacky folks who are lost in their own little worlds and clueless about what is really going-on. It’s okay to have one dumb character, but when everybody is goofy it gets tiring fast. There’s no bad guy either just a bunch of buffoons running around saying buffonish things and getting into cartoonish predicaments. If that’s your idea of entertainment then have-at-it, but most will find this to be a dated and silly though those that remember watching as a kid may for nostalgic purposes like it a bit more.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 6, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Region 2)