Stigma (Jose Ramon Larraz, 1980)

aka Estigma

Jose (Emilio Caba, once the young troubled hero of Xavier Seto’s black and white horror sleeper SWEET SOUND OF DEATH, 1965) wakes up to a call from the hospital informing him that his father has been killed in an accident. His mother (Helga Line, showing less skin than usual but she then had Larraz’s SEX ACADEMY and BLACK CANDLES ahead of her) does some appropriate mourning before bouncing back to her active social life, but his younger brother Sebastian (Christian Borromeo, TENEBRAE) is indifferent to his father’s death. His mother puts it down to Sebastian being at “that difficult age” but Jose is disturbed by Sebastian’s apparent precognition of the death. After Sebastian psychically induces the death of a girl who dumped him, Jose attempts to spend more time with him and takes him to dinner with his new girlfriend Anna (Alexandra Bastedo – whose website lists neither this film nor BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE among her credits).

Anna’s medium friend senses an evil aura emanating from Sebastian who she thinks she recognizes from another life and warns Anna to stay away from him. Anna, however, cannot help but feel sorry for the troubled youth much to the consternation of Jose. After Jose threatens to send Sebastian to boarding school if his grades do not improve, Sebastian orchestrates his death by car crash. Following Jose’s death (as with the girl’s death earlier), Sebastian’s lower lip bleeds (the stigma of the title). Anna does not want to believe in Sebastian’s abilities but he consents to hypnosis by her medium friend. The session summons up images of a past life nearly a century earlier. Sebastian, followed by Anna, tracks down the long abandoned house from his visions – where a young man once murdered his parents and sister – in order to discover his own fate.

The potentially interesting story is diluted by influences from CARRIE and other popular films (coincidentally, the film was made the same year as Frank LaLoggia’s FEAR NO EVIL which was also about misunderstood demonic youth). There seems to be a subtext about youth not possessing the language to express their turmoil to their more conservative elders. Unable to comprehend why Sebastian cannot get along with his classmates, Jose warns him to stay in line or else (the threat is echoed by the father [Massimo Serato] of Sebastian’s past incarnation Miguel, whose sister also says that she knows his thoughts are better than his words). Regardless of whether Jose thinks the cause of Sebastian’s problems are supernatural or social, he emphatically tells Anna that Sebastian “cannot be helped.” It doesn’t help that when Sebastian visits his priest (Craig Hill), he is told that evil thoughts are as bad as evil deeds. The medium too is insistent that Sebastian is evil though he is mostly portrayed as a victim (being an unsuspecting reincarnation of a damned youth and victimized in both lives by intolerant elders unwilling to try to understand him and impatient for him to get past that “difficult age”).

Manifestations of Sebastian’s supernatural powers are imaginatively done through montage and music in the usual Larraz style but lack of technical proficiency of the film’s models. The period flashbacks are more lavishly rendered than the modern settings and one imagines that Larraz could just as easily have made a feature length period piece with the same resources. Christian Borromeo looks convincing in period clothes and Larraz makes good use of him visually throughout, with his slightly perverse gaze offsetting his otherwise amiable appearance.

Given her impressive malevolent performance/presence in THE BLOOD SPATTERED BRIDE, it is unfortunate that Bastedo has little to do as the innocent heroine. Likewise, Line spends most of her screen-time on the periphery while Caba is thanklessly killed off halfway through without getting a chance to lend a scientific approach to the mystery (though the scripting of his character is inconsistent as he expresses disbelief in mediums but asks his mother if Sebastian might be psychic and believes in stigma). Some of Daniele Petruchi’s score (published by CAM) turned up as library music alongside Marcello Giombini library cues in Larraz’s BLACK CANDLES (more so in the NAKED DREAMS re-edit where one Petruchi cue was used throughout the recycled sex scenes to drown out the sound effects and dialogue). Cinematographer Giuseppe Berardini (THE OTHER HELL, FATAL FRAMES) makes very effective use of both ghostly blues and warm candlelight (in both the period and contemporary scenes). Unlike Larraz’s other films, there is very little nudity in this film and this may be to its detriment as more explicit sexual content might have better conveyed the atmosphere of sexual frustration and confusion (between Sebastian’s past incarnation and his sister, between Sebastian and his touchy-feely mother, and between Sebastian and Anna).

My source for review was the BCI disc that is part of the for-now delayed CRYPT OF NIGHTMARES boxed set that also supposedly includes both Larraz’s BLACK CANDLES (as previously seen paired with THE EVIL EYE in BCI’s WELCOME TO THE GRINDHOUSE volume) and its NAKED DREAMS re-edit (which shares a two-sided disc with the dire Tiny Tim slasher BLOOD HARVEST) along with some other horror films belonging to the Films Around the World catalogue. While screener copies were apparently not sent out, no copies have shown up in stores, and online retailers list it as delayed or not in stock, copies of some of the discs from the set made it to Netflix where I rented my copy.

The image is fullscreen and looks tape-sourced with the wear and haze of an old master but this seems to be the only way to see the film as I am not aware of any foreign-subtitled or English dubbed tape releases. Mono sound is fine but not particularly bold or detailed though that might be a limitation of the original mix. No extras, just “play feature” and “scene selections” though the one sided disc has artwork while the BLOOD HARVEST/NAKED DREAMS disc is the usual two-sided disc with the titles listed on the inner circle.

(Eric Cotenas)

The Frightened Woman

The Frightened Woman (Piero Schivazappa, 1969)

aka Femina ridens (The Laughing Woman)

Maria (Dagmar Lassander), a rather bookish and seemingly innocent young journalist is offered the chance to look at some files which will help with a report she is in the process of writing. Said files are in the apartment of one Dr. Sayer (Phillipe Leroy); a smart, well-groomed character who would appear to be the embodiment of respectability. Offered a hospitable glass of J&B, Maria accepts but moments after the liquid passes her lips she is on the floor unconscious. The “good doctor” takes advantage of Maria’s drugged state by whisking her away to his country retreat, where she awakes to the realization that her fate lies in the hands of a twisted lunatic; a man convinced that women will lead to the undoing of mankind and it soon becomes apparent that his plan is to lead her through numerous humiliating scenarios before killing her at the point orgasm.

Maria soon realizes that resisting Sayer’s twisted games is a futile task and accepts her fate, starting some games of her own and teasing the doctor’s reasoning with suggestions of sex without death, sex with tenderness and care instead of bondage and pain; filling his mind with thoughts of love and affection. Will this be enough to change the mind of a man who has killed so many women that he’s lost count?

Sporting bleached-blonde hair and buffed-up muscles, Phillipe Leroy’s Dr. Sayer commands a narcissistic onscreen presence, with his constant preening and exercising lending an air of superiority, and he flaunts his manliness for Maria at every turn. One particular scene has him taking a bath while Maria stands waiting with a towel. Rather than taking the towel from Maria or letting her dry him off, he leaps into the air and grabs a trapeze above the bath, practicing naked pull-ups. But it’s not long before both Maria and the audience deduce that beneath Sayer’s confident façade lies a mass of insecurities and a flaw that could lead to his possible downfall. Maria’s effect on her captor enables her to begin turning the tables on her him, with the line between who controls the balance of power blurring with each minute that passes…

Kicking off looking like it’s going to be little more than 90 minutes of misogynistic mind games peppered with the odd bout of S&M, ‘Femina Ridens’ thankfully turns out to be quite the antithesis of such an assumption. When Maria’s charms eventually allow Sayer to release his grip on her just enough for the couple to venture out into the countryside, the chance to see her take the upper hand is played out with some sequences that are surprisingly sexy and funny: most notably when the pair are out driving in Sayer’s boat-car (yes, you read that correctly) and pull up to a level crossing. While they wait for a train to pass, Maria puts her head down below the dashboard, with director Piero Schivazappa suggestively intercutting between a close-up of Sayer’s near-ecstatic face and a group of female band members blowing into their woodwind instruments onboard the open-topped carriage of the passing train!

Dagmar Lassander steals the film, transforming from a fragile waif to foxy temptress that isn’t afraid to dish out a blow job at the side of a railroad. It’s not just Sayer she’ll have enthralled, either; from the moment she starts her gauze-clad strip tease in Sayer’s lounge, any red-blooded heterosexual male will be left speechless and suffering love-struck palpitations.

Schivazappa’s directorial output consists mostly of TV productions, with only four other feature films to his name in a career dating back to 1962; a crying shame as ‘Femina Ridens’ is a cracking film on every possible level and one would’ve expected more from a man who set such a high benchmark with this one. Shot through with dazzling late 60’s chic, pretty much every scene is pure pop art heaven, filmed with style, framed to perfection and all topped off with an unforgettable Stelvio Cipriani score.

Picked up by Radley Metzger’s Audubon Film company for theatrical distribution in the USA, ‘Femina Ridens’ subsequently fared quite badly on home video, with a poorly-framed Audubon VHS coming out in the mid 90’s. A release from Redemption followed and although correctly framed, it suffered BBFC-imposed cuts. Shameless, in a brave move, decided to create the ultimate version of the film, incorporating footage from a variety of different sources, including that that was originally cut and amazingly, the film was passed with all previous cuts waived.

This definitive release has since been endorsed by a very happy Schivazappa and marks the first time that a complete version has been available on DVD anywhere in the world, but means a few additional elements had to be inserted into the print using footage of a lesser quality. Knowing this could potentially cause some annoyance with a small minority of die-hard aficionados, this was a bold decision on Shameless’ part and as far as I’m concerned, was the right thing to do. Though most of the inserts are noticeable, there were a couple that I didn’t spot at all and had to have someone point them out to me. Without a doubt, these additions will not spoil the enjoyment of the film and it would have been a massive shame to relegate them to a deleted scenes section of the disc, rather than putting them back into the film itself.  This is a gamble that’s paid off and has resulted in a DVD that stands as Shameless’ best release to date.

Inserted footage aside, the first thing that strikes you is the vibrancy of the colour when compared to the old R1 DVD release from First Run; a transfer that had a muddy brown tinge and suffered from excessive frame damage. This isn’t the case with Shameless’ disc I’m glad to say, as the transfer is great and 16:9 enhanced to boot. Sound is presented by way of a solid 2.0 mono soundtrack which delivers the English dubbed version of the film. As usual the extras consist of a trailer reel for upcoming and current Shameless titles plus the now standard reversible cover featuring all new art work on the front and an original poster repro on the reverse.

This new version of ‘Femina Ridens’ is cause for celebration; a new, fully-revitalised version of an obscure curiosity. The film is a real treat and is presented in a version that won’t be bettered.

(Jonny Redman)

My Dear Killer

My Dear Killer (Tonino Valerii, 1972)

aka Mio caro assassino

The Italian murder mystery (better known to Euro Cult aficionados as the giallo) is a well-worn genre. For every exemplary giallo, there are three or four that are mediocre at best, but almost all of them have one thing in common; an effortless sense of style, and Tonino Valerii’s MY DEAR KILLER is no exception. While it’s not an exceptional film it’s certainly above average  and true to the spirit of a pantheon of films that is synonymous with black leather glove-clad killers, obtuse camera angles and operatic music scores.

Valerii—like many of his brethren–was something of a journeyman throughout his career in the Italian film industry. Having established himself as a sometime writer and assistant director to Sergio Leone (no small feat when you consider the so-called ‘Father of the Italian Western’ had taken the same road and without doubt, must have been a hard man to please) the young filmmaker soon began to carve out a career as a director and, like his mentor, would make the spaghetti his staple. Valerii’s ascension to the director’s chair was fairly typical of the era, as many emerging filmmakers were given the chance to cut their teeth on Westerns simply because there were more projects than there were directors, but the films of Valerii (and, like the work of fellow Leone alumni Duccio Tessari, Massimo Dallamano and Sergio Corbucci) managed to rise above the deluge of functional or sub-par efforts that were becoming the staple; the crescendo of which was his 1969 effort, THE PRICE OF POWER (Il Prezzo del potere); a film that transposes the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination to the Old West.

After the Italian Western began to fall from prominence in the early 70s, Valerii, like many of his peers, ended up drifting from genre to genre but unlike a lot of lesser filmmakers, seemed to make a success of whatever he turned his hand to. MY DEAR KILLER marked Valerii’s first and only foray into the giallo, which is a shame because he certainly exhibits a strong understanding of getting the most out of the format, effortlessly juxtaposing roving killer point-of-view shots with gratuitous nudity, gore and an atypically low-key Ennio Morricone score.

Inspector Luca Peretti (George Hilton) is called to the scene of what appears to be an accident: an insurance investigator’s body lies decapitated; the victim of an apparent mishap with a digger and all fingers point to the machine’s operator; a man who appears to have vanished. It’s not long before the digger driver’s body is found hanging from a ceiling. The driver had accidentally killed the insurance investigator, fled the scene and had killed himself when he realised he could no longer live with the guilt; an open and shut case? Not as far as Peretti is concerned and the dedicated cop is soon uncovering a labyrinthine plot that becomes intertwined with the kidnapping and murder of a young girl.

What sets MY DEAR KILLER apart from more formulaic gialli is that its greatest attribute is its strong narrative. Many gialli rely on the flimsiest of contrivances to propel their narratives but Valerii’s film (which he co-wrote with Roberto Leoni, Franco Bucceri and José Gutiérrez Maesso) has some genuinely surprising and more importantly, credible twists and turns.

The transfer on Shameless’ recently released region free disc is certainly a step up from Shriek Show DVD, with the picture looking a lot brighter than that of its American counterpart. Print damage and grain are both evident, though typical of a film of MY DEAR KILLER’S vintage. The sound is presented in English mono and is perfectly fine. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included, along with previews for six other Shameless releases.


MY DEAR KILLER is a good, solid giallo and should find a home in the collection of all self-respecting genre enthusiasts. While the US disc has been available for some time now, Shameless’ disc presents the film, in my humble opinion, in a better transfer and is definitely worth an upgrade if you’re not content with Shriek Show’s darker image.

(Paul Alaoui)

Macumba Sexual

Macumba Sexual (Jess Franco, 1981)


After years of strict censorship under General Franco’s regime, Spanish cinema went through a big change when censorship was finally lifted in 1977 – two years after Franco’s death. The dictator’s namesake, prolific Spanish director Jess Franco, had been spending most of the 1970s making movies in other European countries like France , Switzerland and Italy , but chose to return to his homeland in the early 1980s. Here, Franco would make use of the newfound filmic freedom in Spain to make a number of strong erotic films, among which MACUMBA SEXUAL is one of the most revered by Franco fans.

Once again, Franco casts his life partner and muse Lina Romay (credited here as ‘Candy Coster’) in the leading role. Romay plays Alice Brooks, an attractive real estate agent who is vacationing in the Canary Islands with her novelist husband (Franco favorite Antonio Mayans – credited under his usual ‘Robert Foster’ moniker). They relax, enjoy the sun and have lots of sex but at night, Alice is haunted by a recurring sexual nightmare. In this vivid dream, she encounters a striking black woman named Tara (Ajita Wilson), who keeps a crawling naked man and woman on leashes, as if they were dogs. Tara then lets her “pets” loose and laughs creepily as they attack and ravage the screaming Alice .

In the middle of her holiday, Alice receives a phone call from her boss, who tells her that a certain Princess Obango is interested in buying one of their properties in Atlantic City . Since the princess is living close to where Alice is vacationing, Alice ‘s boss wants her to secure the business deal, to which she agrees. But once she meets with Princess Obango, Alice is shocked to see that the princess is the sinister black woman from her nightmares. Poor Alice is powerless against the princess’s dark powers and quickly falls under her seductive spell. Little does she know about the frightening fate Obango has planned for her…

With a filmography as immense as Jess Franco’s, it goes without saying that different fans are going to like different films. Some may prefer his early Dr. Orlof films, while others may like his Swiss films better, and others yet may have a penchant for his films with Soledad Miranda etc. Personally, I tend to prefer the films Franco made in the late 1960s and early 1970s; particularly the ones he made for Harry Alan Towers . His work from the early 1980s and onwards, however, is quite erratic. Sure, Franco enjoyed more freedom to make the films he wanted during this period, but many of these projects are plagued by the fact that Franco was starting to get a bit too productive. He was churning out up to eight movies a year and not really taking the time to polish one film before starting to shoot the next. And whereas his earlier films had been made with decent means, many of these 80s productions were obviously made on poverty-row budgets – typically taking place in minimal surroundings and inhabited only by a few (mostly naked) actors. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just doesn’t – resulting in some rather carelessly made films. Fortunately, though, MACUMBA SEXUAL is one of Franco’s films from this period that really works. It manages to betray its low budget by shooting in the beautiful Canary Islands ; putting the picturesque locations to great use and cleverly throwing in all sorts of interesting stuff that happened to be there: beautiful buildings, exotic African statues and figurines etc. Franco’s trademark zoom lens is also present but it doesn’t matter as Juan Soler’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous; showing great detail for both composition and visual flair as he captures the atmospheric surroundings.

Plot-wise, MACUMBA SEXUAL is pretty much a remake of VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), one of the most popular films in Franco’s oeuvre. This is nothing new as Franco has always been fond of reworking many of his plots and themes in different films. However, not a whole lot actually happens in this film but it still works pretty well because of its eerie atmosphere and visual style. The opening third is especially impressive; setting the tone early on with Alice ‘s unsettling and bizarre sexual nightmares. The pace does slow down a bit in the middle act but there is still a lot to enjoy as the film is full of arresting images, such as Alice struggling as she runs through the giant sand dunes, her husband being locked up in a big bamboo cage, and an amazing sequence where Princess Obango descends into complete delirium by sucking on a phallic figurine while frenetic drum music plays. Eventually, dream and reality are successfully blended together; leaving the viewers confused about what is real and what isn’t.

In an inspired choice of casting, Franco awards the role of Princess Tara Obango to Ajita Wilson, a prolific actress in numerous erotic European films (both soft and hard), who had already acted for Franco in his sleazy WIP flick SADOMANIA (1980). Much of Ajita’s popularity throughout Europe (she worked regularly in Italy , Spain and Greece ) was no doubt a result of both her uninhibited nature and her fascinating personal life as she was reputedly a post-op transsexual. Unfortunately, Ajita died in an automobile accident in 1987, and her personal life remains a fascinating enigma to this day. As Franco himself states in the interview on the DVD, Ajita was really more of a presence than an actress but what a mesmerizing presence! Her enigmatic real-life personality lends an aura of mystery to her character and she is nothing short of the perfect embodiment of the dark, frightening sexuality the film deals with.

I must admit I’ve never really understood why so many fans worship Lina Romay as an outstanding cinematic beauty. Frankly, she always struck me as rather mousy and plain-looking in several of her 1970s films. In my eyes, Lina only gradually grew more attractive towards the end of the 70s, and in this film she looks the most appetizing and sexy I’ve ever seen her – wearing a blonde wig that really becomes her. Like Ajita, Romay is perhaps a better presence than she is an actress, and manages to emote immensely through her expressive sexuality. Romay’s big, vivid eyes are very telling too, and she’s extremely effective as the victimized Alice – delivering a strong and sometimes unsettling sexual performance.

The sex scenes are very strong and explicit overall, and although this is a softcore flick, some of the sexual going-ons look as if they were non-simulated. Just keep your eyes peeled and you’ll catch some brief naughty bits in the scene where Alice is giving her husband a blowjob. Playing the role of the husband is Antonio Mayans, another frequent Franco collaborator since way back in the 1970s. Mayans is usually a welcome sight but here he plays an awfully boring character and is actually given very little to do. He gets to participate in several sex scenes, though, and has a pretty nice THE SHINING-inspired moment where he keeps typing the name ‘Tara’ over and over and over again on his typewriter. And as usual, Franco gives himself a supporting role; playing a sweaty and creepy hotel manager. It’s more or less the same character he played in VAMPYROS LESBOS but he’s somewhat more sympathetic this time around.

Previously available mostly through fuzzy-looking, unsubtitled bootlegs, Severin’s DVD release of MACUMBA SEXUAL is a true revelation. Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, it looks absolutely stunning, with striking colors and no print damage in sight. The Spanish mono audio sounds very clear and nice even though the actual dubbing could have been better (Romay’s moans during sex scenes are never all that convincing). Optional and easy to read English subtitles are also included.

There’s only one extra but it’s a good one: a 22 minute feature named “Voodoo Jess”, in which Franco (speaking in accented English with available subtitles) and Romay (who speaks in Spanish with English subtitles) recount their experience with working on the film. Franco talks about his returning to Spain and how he feels the two things necessary to make a good film are simply a camera and freedom. He also praises Ajita Wilson and even draws some comparisons between her and Christopher Lee. He is somewhat unsure about whether or not Ajita was a transsexual, but Romay (who got ample opportunity to inspect Ajita’s private parts during their lesbian scenes) confirms that she definitely was.

All in all, this is an extremely satisfying package. Severin have given us a fantastic DVD release of one of Franco’s best films of the early 1980s. Like most other Franco films, MACUMBA SEXUAL isn’t for everyone’s taste but for fans of Jess Franco and Ajita Wilson, this is an essential purchase.

(Johan Melle)


Killer’s Moon

Killer’s Moon (Alan Birkinshaw, 1978)

“Of course it’s a dream! And stuffed full of jailbait!”

High on a hillside road a coach rattles along carrying a small group of schoolgirls, all happily singing ‘Greensleeves’ and clutching their teddy bears. Turning a corner towards a small stone bridge, the coach lumbers to a halt, as black smoke pours from the radiator. There’s trouble ahead! The tubby driver (Chubby Oates, a big name comedian in the 70s, apparently) waddles around to the front of the conked out vehicle and takes off his hat and scratches his head. As luck would have it visiting camper Pete (Anthony Forrest) is out on a jog and is refreshing himself in the nearby stream, up he steps to lend a hand but apart from eyeing-up the girls, he can’t do much to help and so he jogs on, leaving the defenceless creatures to walk to a nearby hotel, in the dark. Cheers Pete!

Back at Pete’s tent, his chum Mike (Tom Marshall)— the world’s smuggest man– has just had a fondle with the hotel owners’ daughter, Julie (Jane Hayden, sister of Linda). Julie flashes her ample bosoms for all to see, whilst Mike reclines in the background, showing off his manly torso and asking whether his performance was up to scratch. Before being given the chance to answer, but chance enough to get her top on, a Rottweiler limps into the tent wearing what appears to be a bandana around its neck. Closer examination reveals that one of the dog’s legs is missing and blood is a-flowing. “That cut’s too clean for a trap!” mutters smug Mike, wondering where his axe has disappeared to…

Having arrived safely at the hotel, the girls are welcomed by the owner, Mrs May (Hilda Braid, Nana Moon from EASTENDERS) and it’s not long before the girls are in their ankle-long nighties and gathered around the hotel’s piano, singing harmoniously. But all is not well and the local gamekeeper senses that “things aren’t right!” and worriedly looks into the distance; you almost expect him to stare into the camera and proclaim “You’re all doomed! DOOMED, I tell you!” To be honest, the craggy faced merchant of doom is right, as four mental patients are on the loose out in the woods, dosed-up on LSD and assured by their Doctors that nothing is real, they’re experiences are just hallucinations and they are free to act out their fantasies. Not only that, but the supposedly secure facility these murderers were being experimented on was nothing more than a ‘cottage hospital’, whatever the hell that means; which leads us to believe that 1970s experimental psychiatry was carried out on dangerous mentalists in rural cottages that were run by LSD administering bumpkins. No wonder the NHS has been in such a state ever since.

Decked out in stolen doctors’ outfits and sweating like drug fuelled ravers at a warehouse all-nighter, the four loons approach the isolated hotel leaving a trail of bloodshed in their wake. With the gamekeeper, his wife and the coach driver all dead who will be the next participant in the dream world fantasies of these escaped nutbags?

Fans of trashy cinema have long since cherished this obscure and quite rare slice of British exploitation, much to the surprise of the film’s Director, who expresses his amazement at being accosted by fans with requests for signatures on prized pieces of KILLER’S MOON memorabilia—such as quad posters and VHS boxes–in an onscreen interview that is featured on Redemption’s new DVD release. Finally, after years of old VHS transfers, it hits DVD with a stellar presentation and afforded extras that include onscreen interviews with director Alan Birkinshaw and star Joanne Good, two theatrical trailers and best of all, a feature length audio commentary from both Birkinshaw and Good.

Refreshingly, both share an enthusiasm for the film and look back on the making of it with pleasure, giving us the impression that they really do enjoy the fact that this 30-year-old movie has garnered a great cult following. Both remain animated for the duration of the track, sharing many insightful snippets of trivia. Birkinshaw fills us in on the details of budgetary restrictions and the logistics of feeding and housing a cast and crew on location in the Lake District for an entire week. Joanne talks about the trials and tribulations of shooting her first feature film; the novelty of dressing as a schoolgirl–even though she and the rest of the girls were all in their mid-twenties–and almost with a little regret mentions how she was one of the only girls not to go topless; giving the impression that she feels a bit left out!

Redemption’s long anticipated DVD comes with an excellent, 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer, presenting the film in a condition that is the best it has looked since its premiere in 1978. The original mono audio mix is the only track provided and is nice and clear, and free of any noise or distortion. With the only criticism being that some of the points covered in the commentary track are repeated again in the interviews, this DVD comes highly recommended and stands as an essential purchase for fans of trash cinema and British horror.

(Jonny Redman)


The Skull

The Skull (Freddie Francis, 1965)


Amicus Productions–the infamous Hammer rival and nicknamed the “studio that dripped blood”–churned out a raft of above-average horror films during the sixties and seventies, hitting their stride with DOCTOR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS. An enormously entertaining portmanteau film, DOCTOR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS would serve as a blueprint to what would become a successful formula for Amicus, with many other anthology films following in the decade to come.


Though synonymous with the portmanteau film, Amicus were also responsible for making many a conventional horror film and it must be said, most are lacking the punch of their anthology counterparts, and this is certainly the case with Freddie Francis’ 1965 effort, THE SKULL, which has just been released on Region 1 DVD by Legend Films.

THE SKULL—based on the novel by PSYCHO author Robert Bloch—concerns one Christopher Maitland, collector of all things sinister and macabre who, through an unscrupulous dealer, is offered the skull of the Marquis de Sade. Though declining a potential purchase, Maitland becomes obsessed with infamous Frenchman’s former brain vessel and it’s not long before he is becoming consumed by it, despite being warned by its previous owner, Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee). Phillips had been overcome by the skull’s otherworldly power but managed to escape its hold after realising evil spirits were harnessing its energy on the first two nights of each new moon. But is it too late for Maitland? Will he manage to resist the heinous artefact once and for all, or will he—like many others before him—succumb to it completely?

So begins THE SKULL, which starts promisingly enough but is soon diluted into a whole that is ultimately unsatisfying. Watching the film, one cannot help but think the film would have worked so much better as a component of one of Amicus’ anthology films, rather than a full length feature. Even though it clocks in at a brisk 83 minutes, the film feels very protracted and padded, with the writers merely going through the motions to sustain a feature running time.

If you can overcome any initial disappointment—and let’s face it, some of Amicus’ other forays into horror are a high benchmark for comparison—there’s still plenty to enjoy and admire. Cushing is wonderful and Christopher Lee adds plenty of prestige to a role that is little more than a cameo. Though Francis’ direction is a little more languid than it is at best—and again this adds yet more weight to my argument—he certainly gets the most out of his cinematographer, John Wilcox, who manages to achieve some truly remarkable and visually arresting compositions. The interior of Maitland’s home, particularly his mauve hallway, and a set-piece involving a death and some stained glass serves as a glimpse to the future world of Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA, a film that would be made some eleven years later.

Legend Films has done a stellar job of creating a pleasing transfer for THE SKULL’s worldwide premiere outing on DVD. The film is framed in anamorphic widescreen, preserving the original 2.35:1 Techniscope ratio. The image is very solid, though there is some grain evident in darker scenes. The films mono soundtrack is also solid and the package comes complete with the film’s original theatrical trailer.


Gripes aside, THE SKULL is a pleasing enough addition to the British horror canon but should be judged on its own merits, rather being compared to the genre’s best. This is the first of the discs from a catalogue of titles Legend Films has licenced from Paramount Pictures and it must be said that its presentation bodes well for the rest of them.

(Paul Alaoui)


Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals

Papaya, Love Goddess of the Cannibals (Joe D’Amato, 1978)

aka Papaya dei Caraibi / Caribbean Papaya

Industrialist Vincent (Maurice Poli, RABID DOGS), in the Caribbean to erect a power plant, runs into reporter Sarah (Sirpa Lane, THE BEAST) at a cockfight. Their hotel tryst is interrupted by the discovery of the charred body of one of Vincent’s associates left for them to find in his hotel room. Vincent and Sarah decide to get away for a couple days and explore the area where the plant is supposed to be built. They pick up sultry Papaya (Melissa Chimenti, REVELATIONS OF A PSYCHIATRIST) who, unbeknownst to them, was the lover of the dead man (we, of course, are privy to this thanks to the opening Stelvio Cipriani-scored bump-and-grind session capped off by the sort of mutilation one comes across often in cannibal-themed films) who asks them to take her to her village where the “Feast of the Round Stone” is supposed to take place.

They spy her again in the midst of a parade and surmise that she wishes them to follow her to the secret location of the ceremony (which they do despite revealing to us that the village they are in is populated by those who had to leave the site of the future power plant). Vincent and Sarah are given a hallucinogenic drink (director/cinematographer D’Amato catches their reflections in the red liquid as they raise it to their mouths) and participate in the ceremony which includes the gutting of two already (thankfully) dead pigs, followed by the subsequent gutting of a white male.

The ceremony then segues into what has been described elsewhere as the “disco blood orgy” and, having seen it, there really is no other way to describe it; Cipriani’s score is disco as are the not-particularly-tribal gyrations (the only thing missing is a mirrorball). Vincent and Sarah wake up to the bedside manner of Papaya who even bathes them. While Papaya makes love to Vincent, Sarah is abducted by the other islanders (whose numbers include the police) who are much more strategically organised than Vincent and Sarah (and the audience) had realised. Sarah escapes but is unable to convince Vincent that Papaya has similar plans for him as she did for her previous lover.

With PAPAYA, D’Amato provides an interesting twist on not only the voodoo/cannibal genre in general but also his own Caribbean films. Although both opposing sides in the film make the tradition versus progress argument, the white characters are slaves to their primal desires and the natives are well organised like an action committee that one wonders how much of the Feast of the Round Stone is tradition and how much of it is for the benefit of their exotica-seeking targets. As such, it plays more like a thriller than D’Amato’s other voodoo-flavoured erotica. While there is copious nudity, the sex scenes linger only long enough to spice up the scenario and the cannibal element is even more peripheral (seeming like a concession to make it saleable as both erotica and as an Italian cannibal film). D’Amato’s style as cinematographer in conjunction with editor Vincenzo Tomassi–who was just as much a D’Amato regular as he was a collaborator with Fulci–provide us with the type of dynamically-edited sex scenes regular viewers of D’Amato’s films are familiar with from his BLACK EMANUELLE films.

Severin’s DVD seems to be the first time the English language version of PAPAYA (bearing the title CARIBBEAN PAPAYA) has been available (legitimate or grey market); even the scarce English dub of D’Amato’s PORNO ESOTIC LOVE scored a Greek tape release. The usual suspects of English dubbing are here: Lane is dubbed by Carolyn de Fonseca and Poli by Ted Rusoff (who was still dubbing lead roles as recently as Bruno Mattei’s DV movies). The previous DVD from X-Rated Kult Video presented the film in with German audio only and lacked the title sequence (Video Search of Miami’s tape/DVD-R release added English subtitles to the German version). The English titles seem to have been overlayed a few minutes too late. After two minutes of Chimenti sunning herself on the sand to Cipriani’s score, as soon as the title card appears the score fades and the rest of the credits appear over the first scene. Since the titles sequence itself runs 2 minutes, I’m led to believe that the titles were meant to be overlayed at the start of the film.

The anamorphic 1.78:1 image probably looks as good as it can as the quality seems to vary depending on the likely amount of control D’Amato as cinematographer had on the lighting (i.e., the Italian soundstage interiors and sunny Caribbean exteriors look sharp and colourful but grain pops up as soon as the camera pans into the shadows cast by the palm trees). The back cover has a Dolby Surround logo and a diagram suggesting 2.1 audio but the audio reads as 2.0 audio. Other reviews refer to it as mono audio but the reviewers might have missed those details on the cover (I didn’t really notice much directional effects but the audio is full-bodied). The only extra is a theatrical trailer.

(Eric Cotenas)


The Deadly Bees

The Deadly Bees (Freddie Francis, 1967)

After collapsing with exhaustion during a music promo shoot, comely pop star Vicki Robbins (the gorgeous Suzanna Leigh) is advised by her doctor to take time out to relax, recommending she spend some recovery time on the secluded Seagull Island, with his friend, Ralph Hargrove (Guy Doleman), a local beekeeper. Arriving on the island, Vicki soon settles in and it isn’t long before she strikes up a friendship with another beekeeper, H.W. Manfred (Frank Finlay) whose calm demeanour is the antithesis of that of the uptight and edgy Hargrove, who spends much of his time verbally sparring with his overbearing Wife, Mary (Catherine Finn). However, the serenity of Vicki’s break is suddenly superseded by anarchy when a swarm of genetically-enhanced bees begin to claim victims; the first of which is Mary’s beloved pet dog; a nosey pooch with “he’ll be the first” written all over him, and it’s not long before the insane insects are stalking human prey…

Directed by Genre veteran Freddie Francis, written by Robert Bloch and hailing from Britain’s “studio that dripped blood”, Amicus Productions (the three of which had previously collaborated on THE SKULL and the excellent portmanteau flick TORTURE GARDEN), THE DEADLY BEES certainly has a pedigree of what would be considered by most genre fans to be sterling credentials, and the former cinematographer certainly orchestrates some nice visuals, fully utilising the secluded island for all its cinematic worth. However, the film suffers from poor writing and characterisation, and it really doesn’t take the brain of Britain to deduce where its surprises are coming from. That said, most genre fans don’t watch horror films for heartfelt performances and Dylan Thomasesque prose; at the end of the day it’s all about the set-pieces, and it is here that the film falls down further. Considering the premise plants the film firmly into the “creature feature” subgenre, one would expect an emphasis on the fear and dread that said creatures create. What we witness is something more akin to comedy than that of horror, with poorly superimposed bees hovering over the surface of the print. The bees were clearly added in post production, and Francis and co made no effort to marry the footage of the actors with the fake foes.

For all its bad points, THE DEADLY BEES remains eminently watchable, probably because it ventures straight into the middle of “so bad it’s actually rather good” territory. Once you come to terms with the fact that the film cannot be read as a serious attempt at fright filmmaking, there’s a lot of fun to be had from its woefully misconceived elements, not least from the hilarity that the bees inspire. With all said and done, most genre fans will want to revisit Francis’ film as it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece, even if it isn’t for the reasons that its makers intended.

The DVD itself is excellent and represents another in a line of releases issued by Legend Films in a licencing deal with Paramount Pictures (which also includes THE SKULL). The film is presented in its original ratio: 1.85:1 and is enhanced for widescreen televisions. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting great things from this disc, as it was the first of Legend’s releases that I viewed upscaled to 1080p on my 46″ TV, but I can categorically state that the image is excellent throughout. Though lacking the depth of field found on HD releases, this standard definition disc does an amazing job, with detail consistently sharp throughout. The close-ups on actors’ faces are marvellous, revealing a level of detail that is exemplary. The colour palette is a little muted, though this is to be expected of a film shot in the sixties and is not a fault of the DVD transfer. The original mono soundtrack is served well by the disc, with dialogue, sound effects and music score clear throughout.

While THE DEADLY BEES falls massively short of ‘horror classic’ status, it’s camp enough to sustain multiple viewings and probably best seen with a bunch of like-minded folk and plenty of beer. The disc itself is another fine example of Legend Film’s commitment providing the highest quality transfers for their catalogue releases. If you’re a fan of the film or goofy sixties’ kitsch, buying this disc is a definite no-brainer.               (Paul Alaoui)

THE DEADLY BEES is sold exclusively through Best Buy’s website and is unattainable to those outside the US. It is recommended that those looking to purchase the disc should keep an eye on eBay and Amazon Marketplace.

Bloodbath at the House of Death

Bloodbath at the House of Death (Ray Cameron, 1984)

Eight years after a night of multiple murders, in which all 18 occupants of an isolated business man’s retreat – and girls summer camp – are brutally dispatched in a variety of inventive ways, Dr. Lukas Mandeville (Kenny Everett) and his comely assistant Dr. Barbara Coyle (Pamela Stephenson) assemble a group of paranormal investigators at the ‘House of Death’ in the hope of finding the truth behind the mysterious goings on that have become the stuff of local legend.

Ably assisted by a motley crew of well known faces from British TV, including Gareth Hunt (‘The New Avengers’) and Don Warrington (‘Rising Damp’) camping it up and sending out all manner of homoerotic signals to each other, Dr Mandeville’s team set up base in the house and plan their approach to the investigation over a night time dinner in the cobweb strewn kitchen, feasting on the sole piece of food they could find in the house – a giant meat pie that glows in the dark…

Scripted by TV comedy writer extraordinaire Barry Cryer, who also wrote for Kenny Everett’s TV shows and video specials, the perceived aim of the game was to take a leaf out of the Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker book of filmic comedy, with the jokes and sight gags flying fast and furious throughout the films 90 minute running time. But as is usually the norm with these kinds of films, there’s a lot of humour that falls flat on its face eliciting groans and cringes rather than guffaws of laughter. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy and it’s an especially entertaining treat to see Vincent Price having a whale of a time as The Sinster Man. In fact, the best laughs of the entire film are to be had when Vincent’s onscreen, superb stuff and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Though the script’s a bit of a let down and a lot of the gags don’t work, the film is really well made on the whole, and at times has the look and feel of an Amicus or Hammer film. Slow tracking shots through the cobwebbed house look really atmospheric and all credit must go to the cinematographers Brian West and Dusty Miller whose previous work was on the immensely successful TV shows ‘The Professionals’ and ‘The Sweeney’.

Nucleus Films has pulled out all the stops in terms of finding the best elements for their DVD release and has utilised the vault negatives to create an absolutely pristine 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) transfer. The original mono soundtrack is included plus an all-new 5.1 digital surround mix. A bumper selection of extra features comes with the package too, with a couple of trailers – English and US versions – an image gallery, featuring behind the scenes stills, a pdf of the full shooting script and a very informative 20 minute featurette entitled ‘Running The Bloodbath’

Consisting mainly of recent interview footage of executive producers Stuart Donaldson and Laurence Myers, peppered with vintage footage of Kenny Everett on a promotional junket for the film’s Australian release, this short but welcome feature covers all the bases as regards the behind the scenes goings on and the limitations of shooting on such a small budget. Everett is pretty forthcoming when asked about the disastrous British theatrical run, openly admitting it was but taking it all in his stride whilst doing so, not letting the chance to send the whole situation up slip by. All in all you come away with a deeper sense of appreciation for the film after hearing about the effort that went into producing it on such a shoestring and it’s also great to see that none of the guys interviewed seem to really regret making a film that bombed so hard at the box office on it’s initial release, they’re just so pleased to have made a movie, especially one that has Vincent Price in it!

The Nucleus release is sure to become a big seller since the films army of adoring fans have been screaming for a DVD release for years, but the film’s camp and kitsch sensibility will also endear it to the majority of cult fans. All in all, Nucleus has pulled out all the stops to create a stellar package for this minor cult favourite.

(Jonny Redman)


La Polizia ha le mani legate

La Polizia ha le mani legate (Luciano Ercoli, 1975)

aka Killer Cop

Massimo Dallamano’s superlative cop thriller WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (1974) was the film that first made a star out of Claudio Cassinelli, one of the most recognizable and dependable Italian genre stars of the 1970s and 80s. Cassinelli’s next crime thriller was KILLER COP, which is regrettably a much less appreciated film. Cassinelli stars as Commissioner Matteo Rolandi, a narcotics cop who is tailing an Algerian drug runner as part of a routine surveillance job. Rolandi follows the man to a hotel, where a big international conference is currently being held. To his horror, Rolandi witnesses the hotel being bombed. Several of the important international diplomats who were present at the hotel are killed as a result of the bombing, which leads to some strong political pressure being applied to the case and finding the guilty party an urgent priority. The job of investigating judge is assigned to Armando Di Federico (Arthur Kennedy), a procurator who is widely known for his great honesty and sense of justice.

The only notable clue in the case is the amateurish, short-sighted bomber (Bruno Zanin) who managed to lose his glasses while struggling to escape after planting the bomb. Rolandi’s partner, Balsamo (Franco Fabrizi), happens across the nervous, myopic man but manages to let him escape. This makes Balsamo an important witness since he is the only one who knows what the bomber looks like. Unfortunately, he is murdered by a ruthless assassin (Giovanni Cianfriglia) shortly afterwards– as is everyone else with any kind of connection to the case. With a strong personal involvement, Rolandi starts doing some unauthorized investigating of his own and gradually closes in on a conspiracy that extends to the highest levels of politics. With everyone else dropping like flies, Rolandi’s only hope is to track down the increasingly paranoid bomber, but he must work quickly if he is to find him before the assassin does…

Throughout his rather short career, director Luciano Ercoli only made eight films, of which the best known are his three gialli FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION (1970), DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (1971) and DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (1972), all starring his sexy, Spanish actress wife, Susan Scott (aka Nieves Navarro). Ercoli’s next film, THE MAGNIFICENT DARE DEVIL (1973), marked his first brush with the then increasingly popular crime thriller genre (though Ercoli combined both giallo and crime movie elements) but, unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable film. KILLER COP was Ercoli’s second crime thriller, and a vast improvement on the director’s previous entry into the genre. Unfortunately, the KILLER COP title is highly inappropriate, alluding to a type of film that this is most certainly not. This is not a brutal Italo-cop thriller in the DIRTY HARRY vein, as it the action scenes are virtually non-existent; we only get the assassinations, an explosion and a climatic face-off with the assassin. Instead, this is a more character-driven political thriller; pitting a lowly cop against corrupt government forces à la Steno’s EXECUTION SQUAD (1972). The Italian title, LA POLIZA HA LE MANI LEGATE (which translates to ‘The police have their hands tied’), is far better at conveying the film’s themes.

If KILLER COP is more political and lower on action than your average Maurizio Merli flick, it still makes for a solid thriller and this is thanks largely to the two lead characters, both of whom are interesting, well-written and fleshed out. For example, Commissioner Rolandi is impressively developed, not only as a smart, dedicated cop but also as a human being. We get a relatively good look into his private life; including his peculiar wake-up routine, his friendship with his partner, not to mention his reading habits, which includes an almost obsessive fascination with ‘Moby Dick’. Clearly relishing the opportunity to play such a well-written character, Claudio Cassinelli gives everything here – delivering a terrific portrayal of the determined cop, thus making him an extremely likeable lead.

We are also treated to an excellent performance from Arthur Kennedy as the honest, mint-chewing procurator. A former A-list Hollywood actor with no less than five Oscar nominations behind him, Kennedy was just one of many faded Hollywood stars who went to Italy to find a steady flow of work in film. While some of these former stars would ham it up because they seemed to think Italian B movies were beneath them, Kennedy actually turned in some quality performances in his Italian films, and his enjoyable performance as the likable, quirky judge ranks among his finest European work – alongside his outstanding part as the diabolical police inspector in Jorge Grau’s excellent zombie film THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974).

Furthermore, Cassinelli and Kennedy also interact very well with each other, and it is intriguing to see that even the characters they play are good men trying to solve the case, circumstances have them working against each other instead of together. With well-developed characters that project an emotive quality to which the audience can relate, KILLER COP quickly becomes an engaging and very exciting little thriller with a compelling storyline and several good plot twists. That said, the plot–like many Italian political thrillers of the time—is more convoluted and complicated than it needs to be, and somewhat hampering the film in doing so.

Technical credits are top-notch, however, with excellent production values, good locations and stylish cinematography by Marcello Gatti. Another great asset is the musical score by Stelvio Cipriani, even though he is, for all intents and purposes, recycling cues from WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? with some slight alterations here and there. But there are more musical treats than just the main theme. Most notably, Commissioner Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya, has her own theme – an upbeat, jazzy tune simply called ‘Papaya’, which is an excellent, catchy piece. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming this tune to yourself for days afterwards.

Much credit for the film’s success must also be attributed to the first-rate supporting cast which is made up of numerous dependable Italian actors. Franco Fabrizi (a regular face in 1970s cop thrillers) is both likeable and charming as Cassinelli’s partner; a man more fond of using his brain than his gun; ubiquitous stuntman/actor Giovanni Cianfriglia is chillingly effective as the brutal, stone-faced assassin; and Bruno Zanin really holds his own as the rather pathetic, short-sighted bomber. Mention must also go to lovable supporting players such as the bespectacled, nerdy-looking Francesco D’Adda, here enjoying a bigger role than usual as Kennedy’s assistant; Franco Moraldi as the chief of police; and Elio Jotta–best remembered for his sinister turn as Barbara Steele’s husband in Riccardo Freda’s THE GHOST (1963)–as a shady minister.

The only substantial female role is that of Rolandi’s girlfriend, Papaya; played by the attractive Sara Sperati. Sperati started her career in 1973 as the July playmate in Italian men’s magazine Playmen, before graduating to film roles, following KILLER COP with MARK THE NARC (1975) and roles in some Nazisploitation flicks. She ought to have gone on to a long, fruitful career in Italian genre cinema but, unfortunately, Sperati completely dropped out of sight in 1976 after only seven film appearances, which is a great shame considering what an appealing and characteristic screen presence she had. In this film, Sperati is particularly charming and sexy – her short hair giving her a look that is different from that of her subsequent films.

The English fandub uses the Italian Cecchi Gori DVD (which was without English options) as the image source; combining it with an English audio track from a Swedish VHS release. The final result is highly satisfying; with the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer from the Italian disc looking splendid. Picture is sharp and clear with solid colours. Some very mild grain and a couple of scratches and dirt show up on occasion but on the whole the transfer looks very good. The English audio has been synced up perfectly with the image and sounds very clear and nice and is without any hiss or background noise. The English dub track also has the advantage of featuring Arthur Kennedy’s own voice, which is a great plus, and the dubbing of the Italian actors is quite more than adequate. My only gripe with the fandub stems from the fact that the print is taken from an Italian source and there are no translations given for the native text that appears during the film. This includes some newspaper headlines, a message the bomber scribes to the police, some notes exchanged between two characters in a bugged room, and the coda at the end of the film, all highly annoying as these examples are important to the plot.

While not in the Top Ten Euro crime films, KILLER COP is an excellent and engaging thriller that benefits tremendously from its excellent cast and well-developed characters. It’s too bad that Luciano Ercoli never made another cop thriller because this is one of the finest films he made in a career that was all too short. The wonderful English fandub is a joy to behold and without doubt the best way to appreciate this underrated gem. Very highly recommended.

(Johan Melle)