Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Short Film: Kung Fu Cooking Girls (China, 2011)

"What a waste of food"

Written by Cloverxie and Jin Roh, the latter of whom also directed. When we first saw this cute little film, we assumed that it was a parody of the modern Asian sock-em-chop-em film, complete with terrible subtitles. Only recently did we learn that this slightly more than 8 minute long and under-known animated treasure — complete with a quick nipple shot — is indeed truly from China; Shanghai, to be exact, "the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper by population in the world" (Wikipedia). It is a product of the small and relatively unknown animation studio Wolf Smoke, which has since gone on to do the three-episode, stylistically similar micro-series, The Bat Man of Shanghai (2012 / full series). And yes, we are talking about the Batman.
Kung Fu Cooking Girls features a strong and appealing style, fast action and a simple story, and never fails to make us smile when we watch it. To simply quote the Wolf Smoke webpage, the "background of this short set in a Chinatown in a fictional time, and the town is very hustle and bustle every day. As the saying goes, the person of the same trade is enemy. In order to attract more customers, a young talented Chinese girl and an extraordinary western lady open a duel with each other. Since we put the elements like Kung Fu and cooking into this short, of course, there should be lots of delicious foods. A joy and yummy comedy [...]!" 
Their disingenuous plot description is, of course, a smokescreen to hide the true thematic of their subversive yet appealing film so as not to run into trouble with the powers that be. Kung Fu Cooking Girls is, in fact, much more than just a "yummy comedy". The narrative is actually a symbolic manifestation of the capitalistic conflict between the East and the West, personified by the Asian and Western female cook and their proffered wares, to capture the commercial trade of the less affluent underdeveloped countries, personified by the itinerant youth. As is often the case in real life, the simple needs of the object of possible capitalistic exploitation are overlooked and lost in the heat of the globalist battle, thus forcing the less affluent to look elsewhere.
As the final, mildly lesbian-tinged credit sequence of Kung Fu Cooking Girls indicates, life would be better if the capitalistic battle was replaced by love, sweet love....
Kung Fu Cooking Girls, our Short Film of the Month for November 2013 !

Friday, November 22, 2013

Maniac (USA, 1934)

"The rats eat the cats, the cats eat the rats, and I get the skin."
The cat-farming neighbor 'Goof', whose real identity is unknown today.

Aka Sex Maniac, under any title it remains another noteworthy what-the-fuck production from the great cinematic shyster Dwain Esper (7 Oct 1892 — 18 Oct 1982), one of the great non-talents of the early years of English-language exploitation cinema who for years carved a successful living as a fly-by-night, drive-by-night traveling filmmaker and roadshow film presenter.
Like the great Kroger Babb, Esper helped shape early American exploitation films, which in those early years tended to be independent productions tackling topics that Hollywood avoided (drugs, venereal disease, pregnancy, bestiality, etc.) by presenting them in the supposed form of documentary or educational films. But whereas the magnum opus of Esper's later compatriot in exploitation Kroger Babb, the 1945 "sex hygiene" flick Mom and Dad (1945), which once shocked millions with its inserted real-life footage of an actual birth, entered the hallowed halls of the US National Film Registry in 2005 as a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" film, Esper's equally exploitive if far more primitively made movies seem doomed to eternal disrespect, the public domain and — as in the case of his short How To Take A Bath (1937) or feature-length The Seventh Commandment (1932) — loss. But though his movies may be the dregs of filmdom, the Esper productions that still survive — Narcotic (1933 / full film), Sex Madness (1938 / trailer / full film) and Maniac being the most famous titles that he actually directed — also reveal themselves as extremely entertaining jaw-droppers. It's really no wonder that they all now enjoy varying levels of cult popularity.
But assuming that you know nothing of Dwain Esper and his career in exploitation, instead of clarifying the facts we would suggest you just watch the following entertaining and informative fan-made documentary...
J. W.  Criddle's Dwain Esper: The King of the Celluloid Gypsies:

Like most of Esper's movies, Maniac was written by the love-of-his-life, his wife Hildegarde Stadie (14 July 1895 — 21 July 1993), who, having been both raised and an active participant in the intenerate life of patent medicine peddling, seems to have shared her husband's cinematic bent for the prurient. For Maniac, which is ostensibly a filmic treatise explaining a variety of mental illnesses, she borrowed aspects from Shelley's Frankenstein and Poe's The Black Cat and The Murders of Rue Morgue to regurgitate a wildly over-the-top and ridiculous horror filmscript that her loving husband filmed with equal inanity and a similar total disregard for either good taste or verisimilitude.
A restored version of Maniac was released in 1999, and we would recommend watching that version, although we ourselves chose the Internet Archives and the attendant displeasure of watching the public domain version of Maniac, which is in deplorable condition. Thus, much of the almost Godardian dialogue found in Maniac was close to impossible to hear or only sank in slowly or after a quick rewind. That which we did understand, we must say, was often outstanding in its non-sequential humor and parodist excess. The Espers may have sold their movies as serious treatises, but the obvious irony in which they present the sleazy excesses found throughout the movie reveals a fascination with the forbidden and socially abnormal that has nothing to do with factual reportage but everything with an attraction to the sordid and socially unacceptable. Maniac may be old and technically creaky, but it is an exploitation film just like we like them: socially irredeemable and transgressive — and hilariously entertaining to boot. In all respects, it easily equals or outdoes many an exploitation film from the more recent past... and not just in its technical or thespian ineptitude.
The movie supposedly concerns the mental unraveling of a former vaudevillian impersonator named Don Maxwell (played by Bill Woods, in his only known acting job, who went on to become a makeup artist*), but in the end Maniac is a simply a super-cheap, straight horror film heavy on sleaze and filler.
* Though William "Bill" Woods mostly did make-up for TV series, occasionally he worked on films such as the unjustly unknown horror flick, Back from the Dead (1957):

And what filler it is! Aside from the mandatory and lengthy scene of cheap gals lounging around in their skimpies in their shared flat, which allows for a lot of skin and shaking cellulite, there is one entire scene with a man named Goof (played by an unknown actor) that was probably less fictional filler than fortuitous reality that the Epsteins simply worked into their movie: though he plays an instrumental part in the movie's climax, one can't help but feel that his movie career as a cat and rat skin harvester was probably his real-life career as well, and that the sheer distastefulness of his source of income got him his part in the movie — especially since it corresponded so well to plot aspects taken from Poe's The Black Cat.
But let's get to the plot of the movie: Maxwell, on the lamb from the police, has taken refuge with the respected scientist Dr. Meirschultz (the forgotten but once extremely busy and usually uncredited actor Horace B. Carpenter of the first known [and now lost] haunted house movie, The Ghost Breaker [1914], Condemned to Live [1935 / full movie], and hundreds of other films). Meirschultz is a regular Dr Frankenstein, obsessed with bringing back the dead, which he actually does at one point when he and Maxwell gain illegal entry to the local morgue and revive a suicide (actress unknown). But as brilliant as the Doc might be, he also ain't all there: in need of another corpse to experiment on, the Doc gives Maxwell a gun with which to shoot himself so that the Doc can experiment some more... but Maxwell aims the pistol elsewhere and then, thanks to his make-up and impersonation skills, takes the Doc's place.
The plot, of course, is pure hokum and, like 99% of the film's dialogue, often lacks any semblance of logic or conceivable continuity. But for that, Maniac plays out like a live action hypnagogic nightmare interlaced with dialogue that is often better suited for a television sitcom. Highpoints include a man (Ted Edwards of Polygamy [1936]) going total ham when given a needle full of the wrong stuff and turning into a ape-like sexual predator (he promptly carries away, strips, molests and kills the revived suicide [now played a different actress]), a wonderful catfight between two women brandishing hypodermic needles in which one woman gets her head smashed in with a big rock but gets up to walk away, and the infamous  cat-eye-eating scene, done in a single shot, which is almost as stomach-turning than Divine's famous shit-eating scene in Pink Flamingoes (1972 / trailer).
Needless to say, despite being a pretty funny film at times, Maniac, even after over eighty years since its initial release, still delivers some real shocks between all its laughable aspects.
Without doubt, Maniac is a one of a kind cinematic experience that should appeal to fans of trash, exploitation and film history.** We here at A Wasted Life give this early classic of exploitation a hearty and heart-felt recommendation!

Maniac — full movie:

** Fans of old film might recognize some of the footage superimposed whenever Esper wanted to show the devils of insanity taking over Maxwell's mind. We caught shots taken from Benjamin Christensen's silent classic Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922 / full film), but we didn't catch some of the other films supposedly also used, namely: Fritz Lang's Siegfried (1923), which we have seen in full already, and Maciste in Hell (1925 / full film), which we haven't seen (yet).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wishmaster (USA, 1997)

As a makeup and special effects man, director Robert Kurtzman has solid roots that were nurtured by dozens of genre films, including such fine stuff (to list only those that have been reviewed here at A Wasted Life and came out before Wishmaster) as Night of the Creeps (1986), Army of Darkness (1992) and Tremors (1990). Wishmaster was his second directorial job, a straight horror film after his more traditional genre B-film directorial debut, the Robo-Cop (1987 / trailer) with mamilla riff The Demolitionist (1995 / trailer), which was populated by a cast of breasts (Nicole Eggert [of Decoys (2004)]), forgottens (Bruce Abbott [of Re-Animator (1985)], Susan Tyrrell, Sarah Douglas [of The People That Time Forgot (1977 / trailer) and Strippers vs Werewolves (2012 / trailer)], Heather Langenkamp (of A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984 / trailer], Richard Grieco (of Webs [2003] and Raiders of the Damned [2005], Jack Nance [of Eraserhead (1977 / trailer) and The Blob (1988)] and unknowns (almost everyone else). The Demolitionist offers nothing new or innovative, but it is a fun and at times almost campy film that goes well with a six-pack, chips and a joint — which is more or less what you can also say about Wishmaster: as a horror film it offers little new or innovative, but it is a fun and at times almost campy film that goes well with, well, a six-pack, chips and a joint (which is actually what we consumed it with).
OK, to be honest, Wishmaster does offer one semi-new concept: the genie as an evil entity. As the tertiary character Wendy Derleth (Jenny O'Hara of The Sacred [2012 / trailer] and Devil [2010 / trailer]) says at one point, "Forget what our culture has made of the djinn. Forget Barbara Eden.* Forget Robin Williams. To the people of ancient Arabia, the djinn was neither cute not funny. It was something else entirely. It was the face of fear itself." And that is exactly what the screenwriter Peter Atkins did: he jettisoned the young and delectable Barbara Eden's navel to go back to (and alter as needed) the concept of the djinn as found in Islamic theology and the Koran, in which the djinn are one of the three "sapient" and free-willed creatures created by God (the other two being humans and angels). In the film, as in Islamic theology, the djinn inhabit another dimension other than ours, but unlike the theological version, in Wishmaster not only are all djinns evil, they also want to break through the dimensions and takeover our world. And how can this be done? By letting one of them grant you three wishes. At that point, the dimensions become permeable and the earth will become hell on earth...
And what this might look like is seen in the prologue sequence of Wishmaster where, in ancient Arabia, the Wishmaster (Andrew Divoff of Faust [2000 / trailer], Graveyard Shift [1990 / trailer] and Neon Maniacs [1986 / trailer]) twists the second wish of the Caliph (Richard Assad) and hell breaks loose in good ol' rubber-and-prosthetic excess... luckily for the Caliph, he also has a sorcerer (Ari Barak) on hand that manages to trap the Wishmaster in a jewel and thus save the world as they know it. Then the film jumps forward a couple of thousand years to contemporary La La Land and the real story of the movie...
Like The Demolitionist, Wishmaster is populated by a cast of unknowns and familiar faces, but in this case here the familiar faces are less "forgotten" than cult — in fact, one or two names are arguably better known as names than as faces, Kane Hodder being the best example. To tell the truth, the familiar faces are almost a detriment: whenever someone like Tony Todd (Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh [1995]) or Ted Raimi (The Midnight Meat Train [2008 / trailer] and Crimewave [1985 / trailer]) — and to a lesser extent, Reggie Bannister (Phantasm [1979 / trailer]) or George 'Buck' Flower (Satans Lust [1971 / full NSFW film], Suckula [1973 / whole NSFW movie in 8.5 minutes], Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS [1975 / trailer], Escape from New York [1981 / trailer] and dozens of other noteworthy flicks, as well as some less noteworthy ones such as Village of the Damned [1995]) — suddenly appear in a miniscule part that could really be played by anyone, the flow and imposed sense of reality of the movie is jarringly destroyed by facial recognition. But, hell, this is a horror flick, so the "imposed sense of reality" is relative in any event...
The familiar face with the biggest part is of course Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy's Revenge [1985] and Zombie Strippers [2008]), who plays the tertiary character Raymond Beaumont, the slightly sleazy art collector who is unintentionally responsible for bringing the djinn to the US: a collector of rare religious statues, he purchases a rare statue of Ahura Mazda which is accidently destroyed when a drunken crane operator drops it on top of Beaumont's assistant Ed Finney (Raimi). Another dockworker finds the magic gem hidden in the wreckage and promptly pockets it and through some logical contrivances it finds its way into the hands of the attractive appraiser Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren of Radioland Murders [1994 / trailer]), who unwittingly unleashes the djinn... who in turn initially reinvigorates himself by tricking people into making wishes and then, both in djinn and human form, goes after Alexandra as the person who freed him, to get her to make three wishes and thus destroy the wall between the dimensions.
If you haven't figured it out yet, making a wish is not a good thing in the company of the djinn: he twists whatever you say in such a way that the granting of the wish is your demise — and takes your soul in exchange for the wish. Sometimes his interpretations of a wish are mighty broad — in the case of doorman Johnny Valentine (Tony Todd), it is so broad as to be annoying — but they are always detrimental for the person who made them.
In all truth, Wishmaster has a variety of narrative flaws that almost sink the film, but it is saved by the for the most part great and/or gory special effects, the occasionally witty dialogue, the solid performances of the two main actors characters, Andrew Divoff (as the Wishmaster and his suavely evil human alter ego Nathaniel Demerest) and Tammy Lauren (as the innocent suddenly confronted with an all-powerful evil), and the director's relatively staid but never boring direction. The film succeeds in presenting the Wishmaster as an evil creature to be if not feared than definitely not underestimated, and even if the movie is perhaps not the scariest of films one might see, it does keep you interested until the end and manages to jolt you on many an occasion with some nasty visuals and good gore as well as an occasionally wickedly interpreted wish that is so drenched black humor that you have to laugh.
Final verdict: Nothing groundbreaking or new, Wishmaster does get minus points for not having any gratuitous nudity and one sloppy CGI scene, but aside from that it nevertheless delivers the goods and makes for a quick and entertaining evening's viewing.
Wishmaster went on to spawn three sequels, all of which were direct-to-video: Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999 / trailer), Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell (2001 / trailer) and  Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002 / trailer).
*Considering how botched her last couple of plastic surgeries were, she could now well play an evil genie without the use of makeup.

Friday, November 8, 2013

R.I.P.: José Ramón Larraz, Part II (1970 – 1978)

José Ramón Larraz
1929 (Barcelona, Spain) — 3 Sept 2013 (Málaga, Spain)

Go here for Part 1.

(1970, writ. & dir. by "J. R. Larrath")

Stelvio Cipriani's Haunting Score to Whirlpool:
AKA Vortice dei sensi & Perversione Flash (Italy), Perversion Flash (bootleg), L'enfer de l'érotisme & Déviations sexuelles (France). Hell Broke Luce, which says the movie is "a definite statement from a first-time filmmaker if there ever was one", explains the plot: "Tulia (Vivian Neves), a young, beautiful yet extremely naïve model agrees to spend some time at the cabin home of Sara (Pia Andersson), an acquaintance of her photographer boss, and Sara's shy nephew Theo (Karl Lanchbury), who also happens to be a photographer. Tulia and Theo quickly develop a bond, and not long after Tulia lets go of all her inhibitions and becomes a player in Sara and Theo's sexual games. The entire time however, Sara and Theo are constantly speaking of Rhonda (Johanna Hegger), their previous guest at the cabin, whom Sara was rather fond of. Tulia eventually becomes increasingly suspicious of what happened to this Rhonda, and when a stranger claiming to be Rhonda's lover shows up inquiring about her whereabouts, her curiosity becomes even greater, leading Tulia to try and seek out the truth about what really happened to Rhonda."
When the film was originally released, some dude named Roger Ebert was of the opinion that "Whirlpool is a genuinely sickening film. It has to do with various varieties of sex, yes, but its main appeal seems to be its violence. The ads tell us 'she died with her boots on — and not much else', and that's a sign of the times. Two years ago, this film would have been promoted for its sex and nudity. Today, the distributor emphasizes the violence. The violence is not, however, the cathartic sort to be found in The Wild Bunch (1969 / trailer) or the comic-strip spaghetti Westerns. It's a particularly grisly sort of violence, photographed for its own sake and deliberately relishing in its ugliness. It made me awfully uneasy. For the rest, Whirlpool is fairly ridiculous, especially in its dialog."
The NY Times would tend to agree, saying: "Whirlpool suffers from certain basic flaws — poor sound, poor color, poor performances, etc. But it is most impressively undistinguished in its dialogue, which achieves a Victorian prissiness that matches and sometimes overpowers its essentially Victorian theme. [...] Tulia is played by Vivian Neves. She is very pretty, and her clothes come off frequently. Aunt Sara also disrobes, but with less effect. Theo, who is not the man he ought to be, generally glowers and endlessly pouts." That's the two babes above on the cover of big film, proving once again that women don't need men to have a good time.
Over in Chyby, Poland, Humanoid of Flesh sees the trash factor of Whirlpool as a plus, saying: "The pace is slow and the narrative is thin, but there is enough sleaze and graphic violence to satisfy fans of Euro-exploitation. 8 whirlpools out of 10."

How Quickly the Mood Can Change — A Short Scene in Spanish:

(1971, writ. & dir. by "J. R. Larrath")
Based on an idea suggested by Sture Sjöstedt, who went on to produce the Joseph W. Sarno directed euro-porn flicks Fäbodjäntan (1978 / closing scene), Butterfly (1975 / full NSFW movie, starring Harry Reems), Bibi (1974 / full NSFW movie), the Sarno horror movie Veil of Blood (1973 / trailer), and Paul Gerber's The Keyhole (1974 / misc. sex scene set to some really odd music); Sjöstedt even appeared as an extra in Troma's original and classic version of Mother's Day (1980 / trailer) and their less-than-classic comedy When Nature Calls (1985 / trailer / full movie).
Though filmed in London, like Whirlpool Deviation was a Swedish production. Oddly enough, the cover photo of the long out-of-print VHS release above doesn't come from the film itself, but is instead of the possessed character named D.J. (Jo-Ann Robinson) from the Fred Olen Ray movie Scalps (1983 / trailer).
The plot, as described at Cult Reviews: "One dark night, Olivia (Lisbet Lundquist of Quiet Days in Clichy [1970 / title track]) and Paul (Malcolm Terris of The Gathering [2003]) are driving home when a deviation sign leads them onto a road into the woods. When they have an accident, they are invited by Julian (Karl Lanchbury) and his sister Rebecca (Sibyla Grey) to spend the night in their mansion. Paul is convinced he hit someone on the road, while Olivia doesn't believe him. Julian is a taxidermist in his spare time and he, uhm, doesn't exactly stick to animals. Paul will soon learn he did run someone over, but won't live long enough to tell anybody about it. Meanwhile Olivia is kept drugged & dazed and because of her state willingly participates in psychedelic, nightly orgies organized by Rebecca and Julian. When things go from bad to worse and Olivia finds out they murdered and skinned her lover Paul, she manages to fight back [...]"
At The Mortuary, Fred Garvin says the movie "is bursting with evil hippies, a psychic crone with weird cats, a flaying, heroin, murder and orgies" and "actually builds a sense of dread and doesn't settle for dumping a bucket of smut on the viewer to substitute a story. It tells a story as it dumps a slightly smaller bucket on you." E Splatter is likewise impressed by the movie, stating: "Larraz overcame a shoe-string budget to deliver an even better film than his flawed but fun Vampyres. This one is quiet, atmospheric, intelligent, chilling and creepy, a thinking man's horror film if there ever was one." An attitude shared by the blogspot esotika, which says Deviation "is a quiet little film, with moody atmospherics followed by intense moments of perversity. [...] The whole film does a very good job of demonstrating Larraz's skill as a director; the oddball plot which, in lesser hands, could have ended up highly convoluted and obtuse, is played out very clearly, every plot twist being revealed slowly, instead of suddenly, so as to allow the implications of each event to sink in to the viewers skull. The film is also very beautiful, taking place primarily in the middle of the night as Julian and Rebecca take part in their drug orgies or in murder. Depictions of certain events in the film can certainly be read as having anti-drug implications, but Larraz never makes his approach heavy-handed. In fact, nothing in the film is heavy-handed, everything from the performances to the build-up of tension, to the murders themselves, are understated."
The non-embeddable opening credit sequence can be seen here at YouTube

La casa de las muertas vivientes
(1972, writ. & dir. Alfonso Balcázar, as "Al Bagran")
Aka Night of the Scorpion, An Open Tomb... An Empty Coffin (bootleg), and Una tomba aperta... una bara vuota. La casa de las muertas vivientes is the first straight Spanish movie that José Ramón Larraz was involved in: he is credited as having supplied the story to this Spanish giallo — are there giallos outside of Italy? — directed by fellow-Spaniard Alfonso Balcázar (2 Mar 1926 — 28 Dec 1993), a screenwriter, film director and producer who, over the course of his career, wrote 46 films and directed 30, including a number of Chorizo Westerns, such as The Return of Ringo (1965 / trailer), Doc, Hands of Steel (1965 / trailer) and Sartana Does Not Forgive (1968 / trailer).

Euro Fever, which says "La casa de las muertas vivientes is more rustic and old-fashioned in appearance than its stylized Italian counterparts" and that the "film draws more on Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940 / trailer) than it does on Argento", explains the movie: "The plot deals with Oliver Bromfield (José Antonio Amor), a handsome but alcoholized young aristocrat who is haunted by the tragic death of his wife Helen (Gioia Desideri of La bestia uccide a sangue freddo aka Asylum Erotica [1971 / trailer], Long Days of Hate [1968 / trailer] and the pathetic 'documentary' The Labyrinth of Sex [1969 / scene]). Unable to continue living in the large country mansion he had shared with Helen, Oliver leaves his home in an attempt to forget the past. But he hasn't been away very long before he finds a new love, the sweet and sexy Ruth (Daniela Giordano of Inquisition [1976 / fan trailer], Evil Eye [1975 / credits], Ombre roventi [1970 / title track] and Bloody Friday [1972 / trailer]), whom he promptly marries. Suddenly, Oliver decides it would be a good idea to move back to his old house and build a new life together with Ruth. Ruth is excited about moving into a new home but she’s a bit disappointed to discover that Oliver's huge mansion is far more secluded than she had pictured. Things aren't made any better by the fact that she is given a decidedly chilly welcome by Sarah (Nuria Torray of The Ancines Woods [1970 / trailer]), the widow of Oliver's father. [...] Also living in the house is Oliver's sister Jenny (Teresa Gimpera of The People Who Own the Dark [1976 / trailer]), a reclusive painter and sculptor, who — like Sarah — takes an instant dislike to Ruth. [...]"
The general consensus is that La casa de las muertas vivientes is a bit slow and the characters underdeveloped, with all the action saved until the third and final act. But some guy from New Jersey named Joseph Brando thinks the movie is an "awesome Spanish horror/giallo", saying that if "you are a fan of this period of Spanish/Italian horror films — you know who you are and you know what you want — this movie delivers in spades. It's got a creepy Gothic castle, very unusual spacey Spanish babes [...], strange sexual relationships, a supernatural element, and all the ingredients that make you love these things. [...] Great performances all around, and nice location, photography and direction make this a high note in the Spanish Giallo Horror subgenre."

Watch Out Gringo! Sabata Will Return
(1972 writ. & dir. Alfonso Balcázar, as "Al Bagran")

Piero Piccioni's Una Volta — Music to the Movie:
For the second time that year, José Ramón Larraz is credited as supplying the story to an "Al Bagran" movie, this time a Chorizo Western which, despite its name, is not part of the "official" and original Sabata trilogy (Sabata [1969 / trailer], Adios Sabata [1970 / trailer] and Return of Sabata [1971 / trailer]), but just another of many films that appropriated the name for its supposed box office power. In all truth, José Ramón Larraz less "supplied" a storyline for this obscure and seldom seen movie than he did rip it off...
Over at the Spaghetti Western Forum, Nzoog Wahrlfhehen, the only person has seemingly ever seen this move, says Watch Out Gringo! Sabata Will Return is "Another western from the Balcázar production line, this time inspired by The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966 / trailer). The Bad here is Luke Morgan (the late Daniel Martín, of Mystery on Monster Island [1981 / trailer]); the Ugly is obviously Fernando Sancho (of Voodoo Black Exorcist [1974 / full movie], Dr. Orloff's Invisible Monster [1970 / French trailer], and Return of the Evil Dead [1973 / Spanish trailer]), once again playing a Mexican character named Carrancho and the role of the Good is split between a gunslinger (George Martín) and an anonymous bounty hunter (Vittorio Richelmy) identified by some sources as 'Sabata'. They're all, of course, in search of a cargo of gold and forever playing tricks on one another in a story I sometimes could not understand. Early in the story, Luke Morgan shoots Carrancho in the middle of the desert and leaves him behind, although the Mexican is subsequently rescued by the bounty hunter. Later, when Luke Morgan discovers that Carrancho was the bearer of valuable information, he proceeds to mobilize his men to find him. How did he know he had survived? For the rest, this is routinely watchable stuff featuring a pleasingly lightweight score by Piero Piccioni, which bypasses the genre's predominant style, and making better use of Catalan locations than is common in these films. [...]"
Rosalba Neri of Lady Frankenstein (1971) is on hand to play the love interest...

La muerte incierta
(1973, writ. & dir. José Ramón Larraz)
5 Minutes of the Film:
Aka La morte incerta (Italy). Co-scripted with Giovanni Simonelli, who as a screenwriter worked on such fine Euro-trash as Seven Dead in the Cat's Eye (1973) and Nightmare Concert (A Cat in the Brain) (1990 / trailer).
La muerte incierta doesn't seem to ever have had a notable English release, and it has no generally accepted English-language title. Nevertheless, one or two websites refer to it as "Uncertain Death", a direct translation of its Italian & Spanish titles. The movie is also often referred to as a lost film, but that is a matter of how one looks at it. It is not "lost" in the same way as, say, London After Midnight (1927), in that no known copy of the movie is still existent; it is lost in that no known 35-mm copy is known to exist, though the film still floats around as 16-mm bootleg. As such, this rarely seen and rarely screened Italo-Spanish psychological thriller is actually easily available at various online sources. 
Over at Cinema Drome, Robert Monell explains the basic situation of the movie's narrative: "INDIA 1930: Wealthy, alcoholic, neurotic plantation owner Clive Dawson (Antonio Molino Rojo of Hell of the Living Dead [1980 / trailer] and Killing of the Dolls [1975 / music]) arrives back at his jungle mansion with his new wife (Mary Maude of Terror [1978 / trailer], Crucible of Terror [1971 / trailer] and The House That Screamed [1969 / trailer]). Immediately we are made aware that this is something other than a happy occasion or the joyous beginning of a new life for the recently marrieds. Dawson and his house are under a curse lain by his rejected lover (Rosalbi Neri), a local woman who may have been a powerful sorceress, who makes sure that he knows she has blighted him and all who reside and will reside in his estate. She later commits suicide, her body burned in public when Dawson withdraws to England. But soon after he arrives back to the plantation the presence of the dead woman slowly permeates the house, the surrounding jungle and the twisted byways of Dawson's guilty mind."
Monell was very taken by the movie, going on to say: "Atmospherically lensed by Riccardo Pallotini in Rome, the Balcazar studios, Barelona locations, with locations in the teeming cities and jungles of India, this is a humid, oppressive, highly effective psychological thriller without a false step in sight. Credit must be given to the usually reliable secondary player Antonio Molino Rojo for not softening the despicable Dawson. He gets exactly what he deserves and there is no pity given to him. It's pretty much a chamber piece between him and the infrequently glimpsed Neri, who manages to burn her brief presence into the viewer's consciousness in just a few minutes of screen time."

(1974, dir. José Ramón Larraz as "Joseph Larraz")
Temple of Schlock, which oddly and inappropriately calls the movie "a minor programmer to round out drive-in triple bills", poses and then answers a rhetorical question: "Ever notice that that most actresses who pose nude have no business doing so? Luckily stars Marianne Morris and Anulka flash their bare bods at us more than once and prove an exception to the unflattering rule."
Years ago, we too were impressed by this when we saw the movie — and, having never yet been to Britain at that time, we were likewise truly shocked at, going by those in the movie, how universally ugly all British men must be. (Having gone to England a few times now, we are no longer shocked... and if nothing else, on their plus side they are at least generally thinner and better hung than Americans.)
Vampyres is the film for which everyone knows the director. Though featuring all the typical stylistic trapping of a Larraz script, this time around the writing chores are credited to Diana Daubeney and Thomas Owen, but supposedly Larraz's wife Diana Daubeney was credited for Larraz's script simply because she was a UK citizen and they needed to meet a UK production quota. Producer Brian Smedley-Ashton, working with Larraz on the first of four feature films, went on to direct Paul Raymond's Erotica (1982 / whole movie in 7 minutes), which some claim features the first erection in a non-porn British film (an "honor" that actually belongs to the Derek Jarman art film Sebastiane [1976 / a trailer of sorts]).
The man responsible for the dreamy cinematography of Vampyres was Harry Waxman (3 April 1912 — 24 Dec 1984), who once won an award from the British Society of Cinematographers for Sapphire (1959). If the castle-like mansion inhabited by the two vampires looks familiar, that's cause it was used for the exteriors of a variety of Hammer films as well as for The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975 / trailer). Of the film's two attractive vampires, the decidedly more-average blonde with the exotic name of "Anulka" was Playboy's Playmate of the Month of May 1973, while the dark-haired Marianne Morris, whose exotic looks would better justify an exotic name, graced the October 1976 issue of Britain's less prestigious (and less likely to airbrush) imitation publication Mayfair. Neither of the two went on to a spectacular film career, though Anulka did move to LA, where she still lives, to become a Buddhist florist and author (you can still get her 2006 book Zen Flowers: Designs to Soothe the Senses and Nourish the Soul at Amazon).

Dr Gore, always one for the uncomplicated masculine view of things, says "Vampyres must be the greatest lesbian vampire movie ever made. I say this with authority since I have seen more than my share of lesbian vampire flicks. Some might even say that I've seen too many of them. It has everything you could want. Hot vampire women, lots of blood, hot vampire women showering together, some more blood, and hot vampire women giving each other bloody kisses as their victim screams in pain. Did I mention they were hot?"
But while it is tempting to simply dismiss the movie's popularity to male hormones, Larraz's classic lesbian vampire flick even enjoys female appreciation. Final Girl, for example, says "Vampyres is typical and formulaic, and the plot, as it were, is bare-bones... but who the hell cares?"
A fairly on-the-mark description of the basic narrative of Vampyres is found at Eccentric Cinema: "Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska (of Lisztomania [1975 / cock scene] and The Likely Lads [1976 / trailer]) play [Fran and Miriam] the titular undead, actually more akin to blood-drinking ghosts than the traditional vampire we usually see in films. (Fangs are never bared, nor do they sleep in coffins.) They haunt a creepy English manor house [...] from which they periodically venture to flag down unsuspecting male motorists on a nearby country lane. Lured with the promise of sex, the men willingly enter the spider's web to be brutally killed. The women use daggers to slay their victims, lapping up the blood with the frenzied abandon of wild animals. With their lust for blood satiated the gals then tumble into bed (or the shower — running water's no problem for these naughty nosferatu) for some steamy lesbian sex. Morris and Dziubinska are very sexy, and the violence — in which the blood flows in copious amounts — is shocking in its savagery and suddenness. [...] If you're looking for a horror film with some genuinely erotic imagery, or a sex film with a liberal dash of horror, Vampyres should fit the bill. It's arguably the best lesbian vampire movie ever made, and even almost 30 years on, still capable of raising an eyebrow or two... amongst other things."
Among the other characters of importance in the movie are Ted (Murray Brown of Bram Stoker's Dracula [1974 / trailer]), the one who gets away, and the camping couple John (Brian Deacon, who was married to Rula Lenska from 1977 to 1987 and stars in A Zed & Two Noughts [1986 / title sequence]) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner of The Body Stealers [1969] and Alien Prey [1978]) who, unexpectedly, don't.
Rula Lenska, 1975, for VO5 — Despite Her Voice, Not Transgender:

Emma, puertas oscuras
(1974, dir. José Ramón Larraz)
José Ramón Larraz's follow-up project to Vampyres was this obscure Spanish project, filmed in Spain with exteriors shot in England, which doesn't seem to be currently available in the English language. Few English-speaking people that have seen it have bothered to write about on-line, but the general consensus is that it has all the common tropes of a Larraz film but nevertheless fails to engage, and that the movie suffers a symptom of many slashers: the fodder isn't around long enough to engage the viewer. One dissenter of this opinion is Humanoid of Flesh, one of the 145 inhabitants of the Polish village of Chyby, who in 2010 on imdb called the movie an "interesting and well-directed psycho-slasher" that has "some calculated and gory giallo-like stabbings, nudity and [a] grim atmosphere". 
Full Movie in Spanish: 
Cinemadrome is one of the few websites to have seen and written about the film, and they were less impressed by what they saw: "Technically proficient and occasionally stylish, Larraz has rarely been able to overcome the basic dramatic vapidity of his own scripts, usually badly structured and with inconclusive or perfunctory endings. In Emma, puertas oscuras, [...] the vapidity becomes downright ineptitude, given an inability to resolve embryonic themes and indeed basic plotlines."
Cinemadrome also takes the movie's big twist to task: "The idea of bumping off what appears to be a leading character in mid-film is obviously indebted to Psycho [...] and Larraz, indeed, drives this home by having Cristal pull down a shower curtain before expiring. But Hitchcock, working with a carefully thought-out structure, was able to tell the same story throughout. In this case, instead, the script arbitrarily changes gear and launches into a different movie, as it were, with a new cast of characters, except for the badly incorporated supporting role of a clairvoyant who is one of Emma's few friends."
The plot? Well, the first half involves the psychiatrist Sylvia (Perla Cristal of The Awful Dr. Orlof [1962 / trailer]) who accidently hits familyless Emma (Susanna East of Carry on Emmannuelle [1978 / trailer], The Fiend [1972 / trailer] and Permissive [1970 / trailer]) with her car and sends her to the hospital. Once released, she moves in with Sylvia and her husband (Ángel Menéndez of When the Screaming Stops (1976 / trailer] and The Legend of Blood Castle [1973 / trailer]) and eventually kills them (among other people). Hooking up with a hip young couple (Marina Ferri [of La diosa salvaje (1975 / trailer)] and Andrew Grant [of The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970 / a trailer) and Girl from Starship Venus (1975 / theme song)]), they all end up at a dark and deserted hotel...

(1974, writ. & dir. José Ramón Larraz as Joseph Larraz)
José Ramón Larraz does the mandatory unhinged lesbian flick. Oddly enough, and to the loathing of English critics, Symptoms was, alongside Ken Russell's Mahler, selected as an official British entry at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie was even nominated for a Palme d'Or — it didn't get it. Instead, Symptoms returned to England for a short and ignoble release and then slipped into obscurity, where it was forgotten. Last broadcast in the UK in 1983, no original print of the film is known to be in circulation; the versions available are all made from bootlegs or similar sources. According to that master of irony, Bleeding Skull, "Symptoms is a deviation from Larraz's filmography — it's less Jesus Franco and more Ingmar Bergman."
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review describes the plot as follows: "Ann West (Lorna Heilbron) goes to stay with her friend Helen Ramsey (Angela Pleasence of From Beyond the Grave [1974 / trailer] and The Godsend [1980 / French trailer]) at Helen's large, remote country mansion. As Helen descends into madness, Ann becomes scared by the strange happenings about the house, the eerie voices, and the sinister groundsman (Peter Vaughan of Haunted Honeymoon [1986], Die! Die! My Darling! [1965 / trailer] and Brazil [1985 / trailer]) who hints that disturbing things may have happened to Helen's other friends." They were less than impressed by the movie, complaining that "Symptoms [...] becomes overstrained and the film eventually becomes a vacuous, pseudo-arty offering. Frequently it appears to have been constructed around lengthy, meaningful pauses. What the twist ending means could be is anybody's guess."
Movie Morlocks, on the other hands, thinks that "Symptoms is a subtle, deliberately paced and haunting mood piece that plays mind games with the viewer and generates a sense of unease and growing menace by charting the slow mental disintegration of an obviously disturbed young woman named Helen. She appears to be going quietly mad and the movie follows suit."

While It Lasts — The Full Movie:

The House That Vanished
(1974, dir. José Ramón Larraz as Joseph Larraz)
TV Spot:

Aka Psycho Sex Fiend, Scream... and Die! A rare English-language project in that Larraz did not write the script; instead, it was penned by the mostly forgotten sleazemonger Derek Ford who, two years earlier, made his directorial debut with the Stanley A. Long produced jiggler I Am A Groupie (1970 / opening credits) and, before dying of a heart attack in relatively impoverished circumstances, co-wrote with Alan Selwyn (as "Sewlyn Ford") the great "true" Hollywood scandals book, The Casting Couch.
If the movie's English language tag line — "To Avoid Fainting, Keep Repeating It’s Only a Movie!" — sounds familiar, it should: it was lifted directly from the marketing campaign of the original Last House on the Left (1972 / trailer / full movie), which most people who have seen both films claim to be the better of the two (though such a comparison is perhaps unfair, as they are two different kinds of horror movies). That said, The House That Vanished does have a lot more sex and skin... and, like so many of Larraz's films, inter-familial trysts.
The Terror Trap, which finds the movie "a routine, if well-intentioned British horror", explains the plot: "Lovely fashion model Valerie (Andrea Allan of the TV series UFO [1970-71 / trailer] and Old Drac [1974 / TV spot]) accompanies her boyfriend Terry (Alex Leppard) to a remote English country house for a little nighttime thievery [and shagging]. But there, poor Val witnesses a brutal murder and barely escapes with her own life. Now the psycho has followed the hapless beauty home and it's up to Valerie to discover his identity before she loses her own. Could the madman be her oddball downstairs neighbour (Peter Forbes-Robertson of Island of Terror [1966 / trailer])? Her new (but strange) mask-making beau Paul (Karl Lanchbury)?"
Over at Jack's Movie Page, Jack says that this "British-made effort from the Spanish exploitation specialist is also worth a look. With its plot of a mysterious black-gloved killer stalking a glamorous young fashion model, Scream... And Die! plays almost like a British giallo. While the film is marred somewhat by the painfully obvious nature of the killer's identity, a combination of subtle, paranoid suspense and liberal doses of continental style sex and violence ensure Scream... And Die! should satisfy fans of trashy European horror and exploitation."
The Video Vacuum, on the other hand, was less impressed but nevertheless entertained, saying: "Despite the fact that the flick is dreary and sluggishly paced, Larraz pours on plenty of gothic atmosphere during the murder sequences (the scene in the junkyard is creepy), which should help to keep your attention when things are getting particularly tough going. If it doesn't though, you can count on the ample amount of female breasts to do the trick. The movie also features an inexplicable scene in which a hot naked chick unexplainably wakes up next to a monkey! I've seen some weird shit in my time (after all, Troll 2 [1990 / trailer] is one of my favorite movies) but this one took the fucking cake. Scream… and Die! ain't all that great, but if you want to see a nude broad make out with a monkey, then this flick is for you!"

While it Lasts, the Full Movie:

Luto riguroso
(1977, writ. & dir. dir. José Ramón Larraz)
Who knows whether it's a comedy, sex film or drama, this Spanish movie got an Italian release but never an English one. The only online description we could find says "The groom's sister forgets mourning and discovers physical love."

El mirón
(1977, writ. & dir. dir. José Ramón Larraz)
Another Spanish film that never got an English-language release. A computer translation of some Spanish synopsis offers the following: "A middle-aged man (Héctor Alterio of Scarab [1983 / trailer]) has a dissatisfying marriage with Elaine (Alexandra Bastedo of The Blood Spattered Bride [1972 / trailer]), who sleeps with other men on the condition is that he has to be present and, in some cases, participate in the ménage à trois." Seems to be a real snoozer...

Long scene in Spanish:

El fin de la inocencia
(1977, writ. & dir. dir. José Ramón Larraz)
Sort of a nice poster, though... Another Spanish film, probably very serious, that no one who speaks (or writes) English seems to have seen or finds worthy of writing about. A computer-generated translation of some online Spanish synopsis offers the following film description: "A student expelled from a boarding school for his fractious behavior moves to his uncle, a lustful mature man, married to dissatisfied wife, in a house with sadistic tendencies." (We'll leave it to the reader here to decide who or what has the sadistic tendencies.) The lead female, Paca Gabaldón, often credited as "Mary Francis" as in this film here, had four years earlier taken part in the obscure movie The Cannibal Man (1973), a "sensitive look at platonic relationships between serial killers and homosexuals". It was not directed by Larraz.
Trailer to The Cannibal Man (1973):

Cartas de amor de una monja
(1978, dir. Jorge Grau)
José Ramón Larraz does a rare acting appearance in this movie as, according to the credit list at imdb, a "Familiar de la Inquisición". A Wasted Life took a look at this movie way back on Friday, February 24, 2012, in Part I of our R.I.P. career review of Lina Romay, where we wrote the following: "Nunsploitation from the director of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974 / trailer) and Ceremonia sangrienta (1973 / trailer), more familiar under its AKA title, Love Letters of a Nun, which has led it to often be mistaken with Franco's own nunsploitation flick from 1977, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (scene). In a review found on numerous websites, Jason Buchanan states '[T]his controversial religious drama [is] about a seventeenth-century nun swept up in a diabolical torrent of passion and lust. Spain, 1640: reverent superior nun Mariana (Analía Gadé) is attending the funeral of her younger sister Isabel's husband when Isabel (Teresa Gimpera of Hannah, Queen of the Vampires [1973 / trailer]) begins fondling the cadaver as if it were her sleeping lover. Aroused by the sight yet repulsed by her response to such a morbid sight, Mother Mariana fears that she won't have the courage to confess in the morning and begins drafting a confession letter to Father Augustin (Alfredo Alcón). Later that same evening, novice nun Maria (Lina Romay) bursts into Mother Mariana's room distressed after being taunted by a local pilgrim. When Mother Mariana attempts to comfort Sister Maria, the novice mistakes her superior's maternal affection for romantic interest and attempts to seduce her. Following a moment of hesitation, Mother Mariana rejects the advances, prompting Sister Maria to masturbate with a large crucifix. Convinced that this is a sign of demonic possession, Mother Mariana prepares to report the incident to the Holy office."
First 7.5 minutes of the movie in Spanish:

La ocasión
(1978, writ. & dir. dir. José Ramón Larraz)
We found only two reviews of this film online, and both end with the phrase "For Larraz completists". Unhinged Films says: "This is a very rare film by cult director José Ramon Larraz. An erotic and claustrophobic thriller with the beautiful Teresa Gimpera (of Night of the Devils [1972 / scary scene]). Contains the right amount of nudity and violence. For Larraz completists."
Over at imdb, krys plume of United States is of the opinion "we've seen this before": "So we have some hippies, we have an uptight couple. Hippies are nude, carefree, American. Couple is rich; he's got a stick up you-know-where; she wants anyone else's stick up the you-know-where. Miscommunication ensues resulting in tragedy. This is not Larraz's best film, nor his worst — it just kind of exists. Some nudity, sex is limited to a few scenes at the end. Actors are serviceable; Angel Alcazar (of Adam and Eve Versus the Cannibals [1983 / full movie]), I believe is the main hippie guy, brings an intense sex appeal that reminded me of Joe D'Alessandro with a little bit more range. Film also has none of the atmosphere of Larraz's earlier work, or even Los Ritos... For Larraz completists only." 
Full Film, while It Lasts:

La visita del vicio
(1978, writ. & dir. dir. José Ramón Larraz)
Aka The Coming of Sin, Sodomia and The Violation of the Bitch. Larraz enters Walerian Borowczyk territory with love-it-or-hate-it movie. For every person that says something like the movie is a "plodding, boring, missed opportunity" (which is what the Void calls it at imdb), someone else, like the blogspot Girls, Guns and Ghouls, says something like "The Coming of Sin is an extremely compelling piece of erotic cinema made by a director who clearly knows what he's doing, with a complex vision. I'd urge anyone who's into erotic art-cinema to get hold of it and take a look. It's an underrated little classic."
Over at always-entertaining Shock Cinema, Steven Puchalski, who hits the nail on the head when he says says "José Larraz has never been a consistent director. He could be good [...], but his pics could also reek", finds the movie interesting despite it being "little more than EuroPorn Chic" and "trash of the highest order": "This Spanish, three-way psycho-drama proved that with only a bare-bone budget and a minimum of (occasionally terrible) actors, the guy could still come up with a gorgeously realized, intensely erotic delight. Triana (Lidia Zuazo) is a sultry young gypsy girl who's staying at the country estate of artist Lorna (Patricia Granada), while her usual employees are out of town. 18-years-old and plagued by sexual nightmares, Triana's fragmented dreams involve being chased by a naked young man on a horse, as well as various heartwarming close-ups of two horses screwing. So it comes as no surprise that Triana freaks out when this nature boy (Rafael Machado) begins riding about the grounds. Meanwhile, there's no shortage of lesbian subtext here, with the sexually-charged Lorna and Triana finally ending up in bed together for a steamy episode. And later, after Triana is raped in a field by this perpetually naked stranger, Chico finally puts on some damned clothes and introduces himself to Lorna. Before long, it evolves into a threesome, since Lorna enjoys them both. But Triana's fate has already been foretold — she'll have sex with a man and someone will die — so you know the shit is gonna hit behind the end credits."
The movie, which Mondo Digital calls "a strangely compelling alternative to the usual plotless European sex films of the period" is available in various versions, including one with hardcore inserts entitled Sex Maniac.

Use Your Imagination:

Go here for Part III.
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