Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962)

Jess Franco, what is there to say about Franco and his incredibly long list of films? Well, I am about to go on a cinematic journey through some of Franco’s work, so I am sure I will not be at a loss for words.  I first discovered Franco many, many years ago while perusing the horror section of my local mom and pop video store. I believe my first Franco viewing was either Jack the Ripper (1976) or Count Dracula (1970). My memory is pretty sketchy on this matter but I do remember being intrigued by what I saw. Later in life I discovered more of his films such as Oasis of the Zombies (1982), Demoniac (1975) and A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971). I always walked away from his work feeling let down and just not sure where I stood on his films. Last year I borrowed the Mondo Macabro DVD release of Lorna the Exorcist (1974) and was completely blown away by its weirdness and eroticism. So finally I decided that I needed to rediscover Jess Franco’s work and I decided to start with what many consider one of his best films; The Awful Dr. Orloff.

"There's a sale at Penny's!"
The Awful Dr. Orloff is set in France during the early 1900s. Orloff  (Howard Vernon and Franco regular) is a brilliant surgeon whose mental faculties have taken a turn for the worse after his daughter’s face has been horribly scarred. Orloff’s plan is to lure handpicked beautiful young women to his castle where he can then use their skin to try and repair his daughters damaged face. Orloff is assisted by Morpho( Riccardo Valle), a blind brute who seems to enjoy biting his victims. 

One of the many great atmospheric moments
 As more girls disappear, detective Tanner ( Conrado San Martin) is assigned to the case. Tanner’s fiancĂ© , Wanda (Diana Lorys) is a dancer at the local theater, where Orloff has been kidnapping young women. Orloff becomes a suspect and Wanda decides to set a trap for him. Orloff is completely taken by Wanda because she is the exact visage of his daughter Melissa. She fakes being drugged in order to be taken to Orloff’s lair but not before she writes a note and has it delivered to Tanner. Can her fiancĂ© rescue her from the clutches of the demented Dr. Orloff? Watch it and find out because this is one top notch piece of Spanish horror!

Howard Vernon = Creepy
According to Franco, this film was written after seeing The Brides of Dracula (1960) at a local theater with Franco’s producers. No one wanted to make a horror film but once the producers saw the now Hammer classic, they gave a green light to Franco. The story was also set in France to distance itself from any negativity that it might bring to the country of Spain (something the Spanish government would have frowned upon).

Franco’s direction is solid in this film. There are no erratic zooms, something that Franco is notorious for in some of his films. There are plenty of atmospheric shots especially in the streets of France and in the abode of Dr. Orloff himself. And what would a Franco film be if there was no violence and nudity involved? For 1962 the amount in this film was really pushing cinematic limits. The violence isn’t gory it’s more sexual in nature. There are two scenes in which Franco mixes these elements. The scene where Dr. Orloff performs a surgical procedure on one of his victims is excellently filmed. 
"Do my eyes bother you my dear?"

A uninterrupted one take of Orloff fondling the breats of his subject, admiring her beautiful skin and then cutting into the skin with a scalpel while she is awake. Howard Vernon here excels in creepiness, as he always seems to do whenever on camera. The other scene is when Wanda is recaptured by Morpho. He savagely grabs her, pulling down the top of her dress to expose her breasts. As she struggles in his grasp he proceeds to grope her, almost losing control of the situation before containing himself and hauling Wanda back into the lab of Orloff. I’m not really sure if Diana Lorys used a body double in this scene or not but her face is out of frame during the nudity. When we see her again, her dress is righted which leaves me to believe she may not have done the topless scene. In addition the actress portraying the dancer whom we see operated on has her face obscured by surgical bandages. It is possible neither actress bared their flesh for Franco’s camera. Either way both scenes do push the limits of early 1960’s cinema.
My favorite creepy shot

The movie does seem to play out much like a Hammer production in which it was somewhat modeled. This could be why I really enjoyed it. The only problem I had with this film was the editing at the end. It almost seemed like Franco got lazy for some reason and the last few minutes are rushed. Maybe there is some footage missing in the version I saw, which happened to be aired on Turner Classic Movies in French language and English subtitles. I’m not sure what Franco film to view next but I can only hope it is an entertaining as this one. The Awful Dr. Orloff is highly recommended to anyone who is a fan of the more gothic and Victorian horror settings.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Forbidden World (1982)

In space no one can hear you crap out an Alien rip off one year after crapping out your first one. It makes a pretty good tagline for this Roger Corman production if I may say so. This follow up to Corman’s successful 1981 film Galaxy of Terror is actually a decent watch but you can tell it’s a little more on the cheap side…..and that says a lot considering the low budgetness of Galaxy of Terror.

The horror of being the first to gooooooooo!
Forbidden World opens with Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) being awakened from cryogenic sleep by his robot companion while their space craft is being attacked by……I guess bad people? Hell I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was happening in the first 10 minutes of this film it was edited so haphazardly. After successfully blowing up the attackers Colby is called to help out a genetic research facility located on a distant planet. The research team has created a lifeform which was originally to be used in solving galaxy wide food shortage but has turned out to be an extremely fast mutating creature that has wiped out the lab animals and cocooned itself inside an examination booth. Colby decides the best thing to do is to terminate the lifeform but he meets resistance from the head of the research station Gordon Hauser (Linden Chiles). 
The sauna.....the place where you discuss monster problems.
The creature continues to grow and attack members of the station. The creature injects it prey with a flesh dissolving liquid which slowly turns its victims into big piles of protein in which it then eats. The creature finally makes itself a nest in a remote section of the facility. Lab assistants Barbara (June Chadwick) and Tracy (Dawn Dunlap) attempt to communicate with the creature before Colby can destroy it. The creature is able to communicate with them via the facility’s computer system which proves it is an advanced organism. Its appetite trumps its brain however and Barbara falls prey to the creature. 

"Get in mah bellah!"
The creature is finally destroyed by what is probably one of the most ludicrous plot devices I have seen in quite some time. Dr. Timbergen (Fox Harris) is the facility’s chief of bacteriology and is dying of cancer. He tries to sacrifice his body to the creature with notion that his cancer will actually bring a quick death to the monster. Colby saves him unaware of Timbergen’s reasoning. Timbergen then instructs Colby on how to remove his cancerous liver while still alive. Colby performs the gruesome operation and then feeds the tumor to the creature causing it to vomit up some pretty nasty looking ooze and die. Colby and Tracy survive and the galaxy is a better place.
Barbara's nice asset.

Forbidden World is pretty slapdash but in a charming way. The editing, especially at the beginning and the end, is pretty fast and furious. There is also a lot of “flashback” clips thrown in machine gun style which really makes no sense to me whatsoever. In the beginning of the film when Colby is being awakened we are assaulted with visuals of things yet to come and at the end assaulted with visuals of things we have already seen… really makes no sense but there is nudity involved in both so I will let that slide. Speaking of nudity, this feature has plenty of it! I was honestly surprised there was so much of it actually. Normally these low budget affairs have a few boob shots but Corman went whole hog with a good dose of full frontal. Kudos to you Mr. Corman!
Tracy's nice there a theme going here?

In space no one can hear you.....sauna?
The sets are pretty impressive, especially the control room of Colby’s spacecraft. It was actually used in Galaxy of Terror and before it got scrapped, Corman wanted to use it to film the opening sequence. He had the opening written and that was pretty much it. He filmed that sequenced and then wrote the rest of the film! And that, my friends, is why Corman is who he is; the thriftiest director in Hollywood.  The FX is excellently handled by John Carl Buechler. Although the monster itself might look a bit low budget (because it is), the gore is top notch. There is plenty of bloody piles of putrid goo and broken bodies to be had. I have to admit that I really like the monster in this one. It is very “Alienesque” which is to be expected but it is pulled off very well despite the budget. According to the extras on the DVD, the slug creature from Galaxy of Terror was stripped down to its frame and this new insect like creature built over it. Again, the thriftiness of Roger Corman strikes! I’m beginning to think he should run for president so he can balance the Federal budget and create a surplus!

 The Shout Factory DVD, in which I viewed, presents Forbidden World in widescreen with a very nice minty fresh print. The release also includes a second disc with director Allan Holzman’s longer running directors cut, under the title Mutant, which contains footage that made the film more satirical. Corman frowned upon this cut and made some changes for the theatrical release. There is also a 30 minute documentary on the making of plus commentary. It’s a great disc to have and set it right beside your Galaxy of Terror DVD….also available from the fine folks at Shout! Factory

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Vampires’ Night Orgy (1974)

If there is one thing that I love about 1970’s horror films, it’s those from Europe, especially Italy and Spain. There is just an odd appeal to me with the way they are filmed and the sometimes over the top quality of story lines. The Vampires’ Night Orgy delivers these qualities very, very well.

Directed by Leon Klimovsky, whose name is synonymous with Eurohorror , and starring Jack Taylor and Helga Line, The Vampires’ Night Orgy is a great story of old world mythos meets modern world. Well, as modern as 1974 when it was filmed. A group of travelers are making their way through the European country en route to their new careers working for an aristocrat. On their way the driver of the bus has a heart attack and dies. They are forced to drive and stop at a small village for the night. Upon arrival they find the village deserted but strangely enough still seems to at least look like residents have been living there. The next day they meet the inhabitants and are greeted warmly by the mayor of the village. 

"Oh I get to show my breasts? Sounds great!"
The travelers also meet up with a stranger name Luis (Jack Taylor), he too has stopped overnight during his journey and befriends Alma (Dyanik Zurakowska), a beautiful young blonde. During the night one of the travelers, Ernesto (Gaspar Gonzalez) is attacked by a group of villagers. He quickly discovers the horrible secret of the village, it is inhabited by vampires! 

The Countess and black speedos....spooooky!"
The village is controlled by “The Countess” played Helga Line. She even eyes the youngest male of the group and seduces him. After a nice romp in the bed she bares more than her young lover was anticipating and reveals her fangs, then feeds him to the villagers. Tasty outsiders are not the only thing on the menu though. Apparently the weaker vampires are disposed of by being chopped up and turned into dinner for the weary travelers who by now are stuck in the village because their van has mysteriously broken down. Luis finds the same fate for his car but not before he is able to get a peephole glimpse of the beautiful Alma through a hole in the wall behind the wardrobe in his room at the inn. 

Yes....a good reason to watch the movie
As another night passes, more of the travelers fall victim to the vampires until only Luis and Alma are left and by this time they have figured out just what is going on. They even discover the grisly chef’s secret when Alma finds a severed finger in her dinner. Luis is able to fix his car enough to get it started and the two flee in terror, taking out several vampires along the way via vehicular manslaughter. The couple makes their way to the town they were trying to get to at the beginning and report what has happened to the local police. They dismiss the story as they have never heard of the village they were in; neither is it located on any map! The police take them to where the village is supposed to be located but nothing is there. As they dismiss what happened as a dream (really?) the camera slowly pans over to a deep embankment revealing a rusty and moss covered van, leaving us to believe that it might have been a dream or either the horrible experience took place in some alternate universe.

Helga Line and her marvelous breasts
The Vampires’ Night Orgy is a classic example of Spanish horror cinema of the 1970’s. The modern world meets old world mythos has been visited many times in horror film and director Leon Klimovsky does a more than capable job delivering the story.  While Klimovsky may not present the film with surreal cinematography one might expect from other Spanish directors such as Jess Franco or Amando De Ossorio, he does create a rather creepy atmosphere and houses it in some pretty solid filmmaking. Klimovsky takes advantage of the beautiful Helga Line and Dyanik Zurakowska and provides plenty of nudity for us to enjoy. Line is of course no stranger to the revealing of her body as displayed in other Spanish horror films such as Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973) and Black Candles (1982). Klimovsky also is able to take the character of Luis and present him as a creepy peeping tom and then turn him into the hero of the film. Quite a feat for any director and also a credit to the acting of the great Jack Taylor who has starred in many Spanish horror films including The Mummy’s Revenge (1973 aka La Venganza de la Momia), Horror of the Zombies (1974 aka El Buque Maldito) and another Klimovsky feature Dr. Jekyll vs the Werewolf (1972 aka Doctor Jekyll Y El Hombre Loco). 

Jack Taylor flees to another Klimovsky feature.
The atmosphere throughout the film is well created. The village is always represented in over cast which is what drives the storyline as to why the villagers are able to walk around during the day. There is never any sunlight present in the film until the very end. I’m not sure if Klimovsky achieved this with filters or just the old fashioned way of filming on overcast days, a feat that could be easily achieved in that hemisphere of the world. Of course I am no world traveler so take all that with a grain of….no make it a shaker of salt. Either way you cut it The Vampires’ Night Orgy is an easy watch. Not too talky but not overly paced with tons of action. There is enough creepiness, fun dubbed dialog, violence and nakedness to make the 84 minute run time pass quickly!

"Get ze DVD now or ve bit ju!"
 I would like to point out that I viewed the movie from the newly released Code Red DVD which also features the Jack Taylor, Paul Naschy, Leon Klimovsky werewolf feature, Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf. The Vampires’ Night Orgy is presented in its UNCUT, NUDE version and in a nice 2.35 Widescreen (16X9) print! This is the nicest version out there and while the print still retains some scratching, the colors are still very nice and the blacks are good and black. Get it while you can since I can assure you this will go out of print pretty fast!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Why it takes me forever and a day to buy a DVD of a great horror film I will never know. But when I came across this one new for $3 my wallet gave a hearty hell yeah! This is the Full Moon edition too with all the bells and whistles etc. 

In 1981 I was a 10 year old monster kid. I was full of imagination and had a love for all things monsters and Star Wars. I remember seeing snippets of American Werewolf on an episode of Robert Eberts and Gene Siskels “At The Movies”. I was floored by what they showed of the transformation scene! I had never seen anything like it before and I wanted to see more. So as the movie ran in the theaters I had the pleasure of sneaking another peek! I was with my parents at the old Churchland theater, which was one of the first “multiplexes” in the area at the time, and was waiting for the theater to start seating for the movie I was going to see with my parents. I cannot tell you what movie it was but I don’t think it was a kids movie. We were waiting near the door to the theater that was showing American Werewolf so I stood on my tiptoes and peeked through the porthole window of the door to that theater. I could hear screams so I knew something was up. I was able to see about half the screen as I witness the entire transformation scene. It was the scariest thing I had seen since my Dad had taken me to see The Amityville Horror (which is another story I should one day get to).

The Slaughtered Lamb....a family hang out.
Everyone reading this blog more than likely has seen An American Werewolf in London so I’m not really going to bore you with the story too much.We all know it but let's recap shall we? Two Americans, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are hiking across England on Holiday. They encounter some odd inhabitants of the local pub and are then sent on their way into the dark during a full moon. They are both attacked by a creature that resembles a large dog. Jack is killed but David survives. Eventually David learns he was attacked by a werewolf and slowly begins to spiral into madness as he transforms and goes hunting for human prey. His new found love, nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) tries to help David and save him before he is *SPOILER ALERT* gunned down by England police. Well I guess that wasn’t so boring but to the point. Now let’s get to why this movie works on every level and is such a classic piece of horror….with a little black comedy thrown in for good measure.

The lovely Jenny "Logan's Run" Agutter.
American Werewolf works on many different levels. John Landis creates characters that are believable and either liked or at least made to be sympathetic towards. The townsfolk that David and Jack encounter at the Slaughtered Lamb are good examples. They are wary of strangers and for good reasons, especially since there is a werewolf in their midst and they don’t want anyone to know. When Jack becomes inquisitive over the pentangle that is drawn on the pub wall he gets an incredibly cold response. They decide to leave and the townsfolk do show some worry in their faces, telling the two that should stay off the moors and stick to the road. Good advice that they don’t seem to heed. The townsfolk do have a change of heart and come to the rescue, killing the attacking werewolf. Jack of course is killed but David survives but has been bitten. So even though they basically turned them out into the danger, Landis is able make us feel for them as well in their own personal plight.

David is another sympathetic character. He’s been bitten and infected/cursed. In one scene he brings up the storyline to the original Universal film The Wolfman (1941). David Naughton even seems to conjure up that old Lon Chaney Jr magic within his own character and turns the sympathy up a notch. Landis is able to create a main character who we can identify with just based on a likeable person which opens the door to the sympathy of knowing it’s not David’s fault when he turns into a werewolf and goes on a killing spree. We feel even more sympathy when he realizes what he is and tries to convince an English police officer to arrest him. In David’s final moments in the film, in werewolf form, the sympathy is again conveyed through the creature design of Rick Baker as we see the creature’s recognition of his love Alex but still succumbs to the beastly nature of his curse.

"Cat Scratch Feeeveeeer!"
Another working level is the humor that Landis injects into the film. American Werewolf IS a horror film but it also has shades of black humor too, especially in the very jovial treatment of the dead incarnation of David’s best friend Jack. Jack visits David three times in the film and each time he is in a different state of decay. His first visit is in the hospital where David is recuperating. We see Jack in all his post attack gory glory. But Jack isn’t vengeful or angry with David, he has come to warn him and let him know that is going to happen to David now that he has been attacked by a werewolf. One can’t help but giggle as Jack nonchalantly takes a piece of David’s breakfast toast and dips it into an egg and eats. In the last visit, set in a porno theater in Piccadilly, David meets with Jack (who is now very decayed) and also meets the persons he has murdered. David apologizes to them but in British fashion they tell him it’s okay and understand that he didn’t mean to harm them. Here Landis embraces that dry British wit infamous with humor from across the big pond.  

Ding Doooong......."DIE!"
My favorite scenes from the film involve the incredibly strange and violent dreams that David begins to experience. They start off rather benign and with each dream become more troubling and ultimately violent. The dream in which David’s family is slaughtered by Nazi werewolf like creatures is on the top of the shelf for bizarre and intensity! The slain bodies of his kid siblings are a very disturbing shot that thankfully is only shown for a few seconds. Even though the scene is bizarre and over the top, it still conveys intense terror.  Another dream where David is running through the woods and comes across himself in the hospital bed is one of surrealism. As nurse Alex attends to him he suddenly opens his eyes and glares at her with yellow cat like animal orbs and emits a beastly growl. John Landis for sure is hitting all the marks in this film.

"My God! I need a manicuuuuuurrrreee!
"Can I get a jumbo popcorn with this?"
Rick Bakers make up effects are of course the crowning jewel of An American Werewolf in London. The transformation scene in which, for the first time on camera, we see skin bubbling, hair growing, appendages stretching, bones snapping from metamorphisms and a full body stretch that continues to amaze me to this day and I know how they did it! That scene completely suspends the disbelief with no problem whatsoever. The only other werewolf effects to rival Rick Bakers were that of Rob Bottins in Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981) that came out the same year. The reason they rivaled is because Baker was originally working on the effects for The Howling when Landis contacted him for American Werewolf. Baker left the project and left his ideas in the hands of Bottin who used much of the same transformation designs.  Some say American Werewolf is the superior film but I think that The Howling is just as good and even better in some ways. When it was all said and done however, Rick Baker won an Oscar for his work in An American Werewolf in London making the film to be the first to ever win an Oscar for makeup.

An American Werewolf in London was a game changer in both horror film and special effects. It opened the door to big budget horror films and propelled the careers of both Rick Baker and John Landis. A film that needs to be in every horror fans collection even if it takes you a stupid amount of time to add it….like me.