Monday, October 26, 2015

CODE RED'S LEGACY OF SATAN & BLOOD - BLU-RAY REVIEW


Originally released in 1974 by Bryanston Pictures, Code Red has decided to recreate this rarely-seen double bill with this Limited Edition Blu-ray, which was released through Screen Archives Entertainment earlier this year. 

Like so many ’70s horror pictures purporting to deal with Satanism or some sort of devil cult, Gerard Damiano’s LEGACY OF SATAN (1974) doesn’t have the usual nudity or even mild gore associated with a genre such as this, and despite many nice atmospheric touches and one of the most wacked-out, abrasive synth scores you’ll ever hear, it’s actually quite anemic, despite the inherent potential, but yet, in some strange way, it’s all quite compelling just the same. 


Beginning with the eponymous satanic ceremony, it is foretold that a “girl of pale complexion and tender years” will be chosen for a historical union in order to “strengthen the power of the master”.  Lots of mumbo-jumbo, blood-drinking and chanting (“Lord Rakeesh, come to us!”) keep the viewer entertained as big, garish credits unspool over the proceedings.  Maya (Lisa Cristian) and George (Paul Barry) play a New York couple, who, while hosting a dinner party at their house, discuss the philosophical complexities of good and evil (“you must also believe in the devil”) with their friend Arthur (James Proctor).  He is actually part of the aforementioned coven, and he is ordered by his leader Dr. Muldavo (John Francis) to invite Maya to a “costume party” at his out-of-the-way, castle-like mansion.  Further ceremonies and drugged-out hallucinations ensue, but when Muldavo’s assistant Aurelia becomes jealous of Maya, she helps George escape his shackles, and with the help of an EXCALIBUR-like sacrificial sword (it actually glows in the dark while a low-fi buzz is heard on the soundtrack to demonstrate its supposed power!), they try to defeat Muldavo.  


Produced a year before Damiano’s now legendary The DEVIL IN MISS JONES ([1973] a clever take on Sam Wood’s The DEVIL AND MISS JONES [1941], with Jean Arthur), LEGACY OF SATAN could be viewed as a minor precursor to what is arguably one of Damiano’s darkest and best films.  Running at a very brief 69 minutes, it’s rumored that LEGACY OF SATAN began as a hardcore film (sometime around 1972) and, at the insistence of its producer ‘Lou Parish’ (the infamous Louis “Butchie” Peraino, producer of Damiano’s DEEP THROAT [1972] and part of the Colombo crime family) decided to turn the film into a straight-up horror film.  Why the sudden change is anyone’s guess and it could just be a rumor, but the brief running time and simplistic set-up would certainly attest to this.  Anyway, what we’re left with, to quote the late Mighty Monarch of Exploitation, Mr. David F. Friedman, is “all sizzle and NO steak!” 


Although nudity and even gore is kept to a minimum, LEGACY OF SATAN seems almost childlike in its execution next to The DEVIL IN MISS JONES, but for those willing to give it a spin, it still has enough weirdness to keep it entertaining.  Early in the film, Maya is possessed from afar by Muldavo’s resident High Priestess (Deborah Holren), which results in a number of hallucinations (like crusty-faced killers and bleeding paintings) and a sudden, almost obsessive interest in blood.  At one point, she cuts her finger and gets her rather apprehensive husband to seductively lick it off in one of the many sexual tension-filled scenes.  Once at Muldavo’s mansion, Maya and George (wearing a diaphanous nightie and jester’s outfit, respectively) are drugged and begin hallucinating almost immediately as the film resorts to lots of distorted wide-angel photography and multi-coloured gel lighting as the already jarring synth score crescendos to a fever-pitch at almost ear-piercing levels.  Composed by Arlon Ober and Mel Zelniker, this is surely one of the more unique and, perhaps, ahead of its time scores; it may annoy the bejesus out of many, but it certainly adds plenty of weirdly effective atmosphere.  Unusual for such a no-budget production, the film also looks great (especially on this Blu-ray) thanks to João Fernandes’ slick and colourful photography.  Usually hiding behind under his nom-de-porn of ‘Harry Flecks’, Fernandes was a very prolific DP and a favourite of Damiano’s who used him on many of his best-known adult features, but he also lent his talents to many a low-budget feature such as William Witney’s DARKTOWN STRUTTERS (1975).  In the ’80s, he became Joseph Zito’s favourite cameraman, starting with BLOODRAGE (1981, a.k.a. NEVER PICK UP A STRANGER) right up until RED SCORPION (1988), but also found the time to work on Fritz Kiersch’s CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) and numerous Cannon films.


Previously available from BCI/Eclipse as part of their “Blood Bath 2” 4-pack, LEGACY OF SATAN comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Code Red presented in it’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9.  Mastered from a “surviving C.R.I. 35mm” print, and as promised on the back of the Blu-ray, “due to the high volume of internet complaints, we did not use DNR and kept the grain intact”, so the transfer is quite sharp and very film-like; this will NEVER look any better than it does here!  


The second feature on this disc is one of Andy Milligan’s more elusive period efforts, the rather blandly titled BLOOD (1974), but despite that title, it’s anything but.  After moving from the fictitious European region of Mortavia, Dr. Lawrence Orlofski (Allan Berendt) returns to the U.S.A. with his wife Regina (Hope Stansbury), who “doesn’t like the daylight hours”.  Along with Orlofski’s servants Carrie (Patti Gaul), the legless Orlando (Michael Fischetti) and dim-witted Carlotta (Pichulina Hampi), this bunch of misfits promptly move in and immediately give Regina a life-saving injection as she deteriorates in the harsh New England sun.  It seems Lawrence Orlofski has some unfinished business with his father’s estate, which has been put in the hands of the unscrupulous Carl Root (John Wallowitch), who also threatens to reveal the family secret and Lawrence Orlofski’s real name: Talbot.


This throwback to the Universal horrors from the ’30s and ’40s is probably one of Milligan’s more accessible and polished efforts from his stable of horror films – the other being his British-lensed The MAN WITH TWO HEADS (1971).  His tongue is firmly planted in his cheek for most of the running time (the ending is a nice touch), but Milligan’s monsters are even more tortured than normal allowing him to pepper his script with his usual acerbic, and almost autobiographical, dialogue.  When Lawrence is questioned by Regina for his afternoon dalliance with Root’s assistant Prudence Towers (Pamela Adams), she quickly tells him to “Go to hell,” for which he replies, “I’m there already!”  Further bickering ensues between Carrie and Regina (“you are such a selfish woman”), which are all typical staples of most Milligan films.  When Carrie’s brother Johnny (David Bevans) arrives from overseas, he is first introduced as her possible boyfriend, but as they kiss, a much darker relationship reveals itself, which is soon cut short as Regina plants a giant meat cleaver in his skull.    


A general malaise permeates the entire film, and even though its no surprise Lawrence turns out to be a werewolf and Regina a vampire (the Daughter of Dracula, no less!), they are portrayed as frustrated and sickly.  In one of the film’s stranger subplots, the cultivation of carnivorous, highly poisonous plants provide Regina with a necessary serum to help keep her alive, but the plants themselves need constant doses of new blood.  These dubious experiments have also taken their toll on their devoted caretakers; Orlando has already lost both his legs to these monstrous plants, which are now growing beyond their control (“the climate seems to agree with them more”); Carrie’s leg is also badly infected with giant pustule-like sores; Regina, in complete desperation, resorts to eating live mice and even Lawrence suffers greatly after turning into a werewolf.  When a highly inquisitive real estate salesman arrives asking questions, he quickly becomes a meal for these mysterious plants as they slurp and munch away on his legs, but Lawrence is worried that these plants are quickly becoming “completely carnivorous”. 


Like GURU THE MAD MONK (1970), this film runs just over an hour in length (this Blu-ray contains the full 69-minute film as opposed to previous versions, which only ran 57 minutes) and moves rather briskly (at least for a Milligan film) right up to its entertaining conclusion.  Anyone even remotely interested in those early monster movies will certainly get a kick out of this very, very low-budget monster mash, even if the monsters themselves don’t have that much screen time.  Milligan’s usually erratic camerawork is a little more restrained this time around, with some decent compositions, which at times were even a little reminiscent of the colourful milieus of a low-rent Douglas Sirk.  Honestly!  Even some of Milligan’s meager costume design (once again hiding behind his usual pseudonym of Raffiné) is better than average, as opposed to some of the thrown-together stuff from his earlier and more widely-seen TORTURE DUNGEON (1970).  


Retaining the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9, BLOOD was mastered from a “longer 35mm print”, which contains occasional lines and scratches, but for the most part, it also looks pretty damn good despite the limitations of Milligan’s photography.  This “Bryanston Pictures Double Bill” was a pleasant and much welcome surprise from Code Red, so order your copy from Screen Archives here before it disappears.

Friday, October 23, 2015

EUROCINÉ’S THE HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS – DVD REVIEW


Virtually unseen in this digital age, Pierre Chevalier’s The HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS (1974) was produced by the budget-conscious specialists at Eurociné, a still-active French distribution and production company based out of Paris, who are probably best-known for producing Jean Rollin’s & Julián Esteban’s aquatic zombie snoozer ZOMBIE LAKE (1980) and a number of Jess Franco films, including The AWFUL DR. ORLOF (1962) and FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973, a.k.a. EROTIKILL). 

Barely released outside of Europe, The HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS is one of Eurociné’s notorious patchwork efforts starring Silvia Solar and Sandra Jullien (from Jean Rollin’s The SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES [1971] fame), which utilizes redubbed footage from Gianpaolo Callegari’s AGENT SIGMA 3: MISSION GOLDWATHER (1967), an Italian spy flick also starring Solar (which undoubtedly accounts for the reused footage) and Franco regular Jack Taylor as the titular agent.  Of course, this slapdash bit of cinematic manipulation is nothing new for Eurociné, whose alternate version of Jess Franco’s A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1971) contains numerous added reshoots (courtesy of Jean Rollin) of zombie mayhem not seen in Franco’s original edit.  Probably one of their most notorious fusions of sleaze is Alain Deruelle’s JAILHOUSE WARDRESS (1979), which utilizes newly-shot footage cobbled together around redubbed footage from Jess Franco’s BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1975) and Alain Payet’s HELLTRAIN (1977)! 

Like most of these patchwork efforts, the minimal storyline is usually lost among a variety of differing footage and redubbed dialogue, which strives desperately to make some semblance of coherence; The HOUSE OF THE LOST DOLLS is no exception.  Opening with red-tinged credits against the supposed “House of the Lost Dolls” (the same house from Jean Rollin’s zombie reshoots, and the very same house from the opening of Jess Franco’s GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS [1986], no less!), nudity fills the screen from the opening shot as Yvette (Magda Mundari) accepts “a date” with Mr. Gaston (Raymond Schettino), but he actually wants to bust her out of this prison/brothel, even though it’s “très dangeroux”.  This way-out-in-the-woods, clandestine destination of sin can only be accessed via a very bumpy dirt road – which doesn’t allow our escapees to drive very quickly! – and then, in a mind-boggling bit of idiocy, our couple decide to celebrate their successful escape with a little hanky-panky in the woods.  They eventually make it to a lowly police station where, via flashbacks, Yvette proceeds to recount her story to a highly doubtful police inspector.  

Jack Taylor from Gianfranco Galligari's SIGMA 3 AGENT GOLDWATHER (1967).
    
It seems Mr. Raski (Olivier Mathot), along with his accomplice Sylvia (Solar), is running a white slavery syndicate where he conveniently gets to sample the goods (“Lache moi!”).  The women are then put in large wicker baskets and shipped to the titular location run by Madame Zozo (Gillian Gill), but once again, are repeatedly taken advantage of by Raski’s henchmen, led by Eurociné stock player Yul Sanders (=Claude Boisson).  Much of the film unfolds through a seemingly endless parade of women being groped in grungy garages and the ship’s cargo hold (hence the film’s German release title, which translates as “The Ship of Imprisoned Women”), which does nothing to enhance the film’s already flimsy plotline.  With the help of Yvette’s testimony, some mysterious government agency gets involved and recruits Special Agent Jack (Jack Taylor from SIGMA 3) to help infiltrate this seedy organization, which takes him from Tangiers to Barcelona.  Of course, much of this footage is taken from the aforementioned Callegari film, and is mostly relegated to car chases and cut-rate punch-outs, while the unscrupulous Sylvia kills a snooping woman with poisonous fingernails.  Then, much like Bela Lugosi was hilariously “doubled” by Tom Mason in Edward D. Wood, Jr.’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), Jack Taylor is also doubled by some anonymous guy in a few of the sleazy, nudity-filled ’70s scenes.
Montreal newspaper ad courtesy of Mike Ferguson & Steve Fenton.
After getting some solid intel from Barcelona about that mysterious cargo ship, the case is reassigned to Magda (Sandra Jullien), who ends up in Raski’s office with promises of a “three-week stay in a palace” and flying “premiere class”, but is instead drugged and seduced on Raski’s office floor.  Like the other girls, she too ends up being raped in the ship’s cargo hold in yet another protracted, nudity-filled scene.  Destined for “The House of the Lost Dolls”, Magda manages to escape after karate-chopping Sylvia, and then Jack shows up for a shoot-out on the docks as the film clumsily moves between SIGMA 3: MISSION GOLDWATHER and Chevalier’s newly-shot footage with Jullien.

Directing under his usual pseudonym of Peter Knight, Chevalier is probably best-known on these shores for his hokey, invisible woolly-monster movie The INVISIBLE DEAD (1970) and his cheap Sybil Danning action flick, PANTHER SQUAD (1984).  Scripted by “A.L. Mariaux”, some have speculated that the present film was written by Jess Franco, but it’s most likely the work of Eurociné head-honcho Marius Lesoeur; but in the end, who really knows?  Like most of Eurociné’s output in the ’70s, it’s incredibly cheap-looking, with harsh lighting and flat photography, this time courtesy of Gerard Brissaud, unlike Eurociné’s usual stock DP, Raymond Heil.  Incidentally, Heil went on to shoot John O’Hara (=José Jara)’s similar-sounding OASIS OF LOST WOMEN (1982, a.k.a. POLICE DESTINATION OASIS), which also used many of this film’s sleazy sequences! 


Originally released on Dutch videocassette (courtesy of EVC) in English with Dutch subtitles, this has yet to turn up on English-language DVD or an English-friendly European DVD.  So far, the only version currently available is from XT Video out of Austria under the title Das SCHIFF DER GEFANGENEN FRAUEN (“The Ship of Imprisoned Women”).  Released in 2006, this edition is enhanced for 16x9 and includes both German and French language options and sports the film’s alternate, and rather nonsensical, English language export title POLICE MAGNUM 84.  Marketed as written by Jess Franco (“Based on a story by Jess Franco – imprisoned and violated”), this Austrian DVD also contains an original trailer; alternate video credits and a small still gallery. Although technically OOP, the film does pop up for sale occasionally on eBay.