The Eurocult Film Thread

craner

Beast of Burden
Did you watch his hilarious, almost unbelievable, Caroline Munro-featuring Star Wars rip-off Star Crash?
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I finally got around to watching Baba Yaga the other night. I didn't like it at all, which surprised me. I don't know if part of the problem was the poor print: what should look like Modesty Blaise or The 10th Victim to work properly looks instead like Who Saw Her Die? or What Have They Done To Your Daughters? Murky, depressing, saturated in a queasy, moudly green haze. It was supposed to be a final, pristine cut, but looked like it had just been dragged out of a swamp. I was also put off by some of the French New Wave affectations, a tendency the Italians avoided admirably, but caused me to absolutely loathe (for example) Bertolucci's Before the Revolution.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I also watched Strip Nude for Your Killer, a film I'd seen ages ago and remembered as a fairly nasty but slick giallo. I must have been paraletic at the time, because it is one of the shoddiest pieces of sleaze I've seen since In the Folds of the Flesh. There's a scene where the camera follows a fat man stripped to his underpants and garters as he ambles amorously around his flat, and when he walks past a full length mirror you catch sight of the entire film crew in the glass - and they didn't even bother doing another take!

This is the kind of film in which the hero tells Femi Benussi he's going to get her on the cover of Vogue and then jumps on her in a sauna wearing nothing but brown swimming shorts - and she's fine with that. It's the kind of film that ends with a jolly anal rape joke.

Get thee hence, film!
 

droid

Beast of Burden
Did you watch his hilarious, almost unbelievable, Caroline Munro-featuring Star Wars rip-off Star Crash?
Ha. Yes. I watched it just the other day on youtube. Brilliant, but I think hercules 2 shades it. The fight scene at the end is outstanding.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Eurospy movies are my thing at the moment, particularly because some genius has dumped a load of them on a YouTube channel to my total delight.

I watched Special Mission Lady Chaplin (for the third time!) last night. I love this film. It hardly puts a foot wrong, skipping joyfully from one ludicrous, technicolour sequence to the next. Daniella Bianchi – the famous Bond girl who lit up From Russia with Love – is sensational in this, a criminal menace scything around in classic 60s haute couture attire. She had a short film career (retiring from the scene after marrying a shipping magnate, as these girls used to do) that almost entirely consisted of roles in Eurospy movies. Lady Chaplin has some fantastic set-pieces, party scenes and lines and boasts one of my favourite opening sequences in any film:

https://youtu.be/Ghwnn0OG2as

You can’t buy any Italian Eurospy films in any quality, official release, which I find puzzling when you consider some of the crud that does get the treatment (Spasmo? Zombi 3? 1990: The Bronx Warriors?). I mean, I’m not saying these films aren’t basically crap, because they are, they’re as crap as anything else from the period, but no crapper than anything else, either. You can see the genre directors cranking up for the Spaghetti Western cycle that was just jumpstarting into life – there’s raw DNA in the music and visual language being used in these films. Also, like the preceding Peplum films, they are visual feasts. These are cheap(-ish) productions, but much more colourful and inventive than the official Bond franchise.
 

droid

Beast of Burden
Yeah, thats great so far.

Baffled as to why no one has started up a netflix type service full of these kinds of obscurities. You could stream Hong Kong, 70's/80's horror, world cinema and all kinds of euro genre stuff for next to nothing.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Lightning Bolt!

My word, where to begin? This Eurospy abomination was made by Antonio Margheriti in 1966, the same year he made another Eurospy entry called The Killers are Challenged, as well as all three parts of his Sci-fi trilogy War of the Planets, War Between the Planets, and Wild, Wild Planet (I have seen all of these, as the Warner Archive usefully released them on DVD years ago). Five films in one year may give you a clue about the quality of these products. Actually, for outright hopeless, senseless schlock, they’re very watchable, mainly because of the fun set and model designs, the occasional psychedelic fashions and the phenomenal actresses. The evil, all-female killer kung-fu posse in Wild, Wild Planet are a particularly excellent group of girls.

Lightning Bolt features Diana Lorys as Agent 2236, aka Captain Patricia Flanagan, whose entrance is certainly the most exquisite use of high heels ever committed to film. Lorys is a Poor Man’s Sophia Loren, but as usual that dreadful prefix actually means “better”. She easily outshines Anthony Eisley’s rather stupid Harry Sennet to the point where she has to be removed for the entire second half of the film to keep the thing in balance. Harry's best moment comes near the beginning when he confronts a bumbling, rotund intruder with the words, “I’ll kill you, fat man!” Not very charming. There's another good bit where he tries to stop a rocket taking off by driving a jeep into the launching pad. Gutsy!

About half way in Lightning Bolt transforms from Europsy to Sci-fi, and at one point starts morphing into a horror movie as well, as if Margheriti was making so many films in such quick succession he was losing grip on his genres. (The film is set at Cape Canaveral, while being shot in Spain, and relocates to an Underwater City controlled by an evil, ginger, whiskey-drinking Mastermind who is, by day, a German beer baron.) This is quite useful, because Margheriti gets to use lots of stock NASA film, sets and props from his other movies, and even some of the exact footage used in Wild, Wild Planet, thus keeping costs as low as possible, and saving money to buy sexy threads for his assorted Eurobabes.

Do I recommend watching this film? Of course I do.

https://youtu.be/SSqF0r6lSEA
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched Secret Agent Fireball, aka The Spies Kill in Beirut, an early, tawdry Italian Eurospy entry directed by Luciano Martino and written by giallo-meister Ernesto Gastaldi. This is a passable piece of 1965 rubbish distinguished by three things:

1) Richard Harrison’s Agent 077 (Robert Fleming), a truly repellent individual with lizard eyes and mean, thin lips; a cheap pick-pocket, lecherous slob, probable rapist; an uncultivated, nihilistic, White Trash thug whose one-liners make James Bond look like Noel Coward. He’s such a toxic character you keep hoping the comical Russian spies slip some polonium into his Scotch before he sexually violates poor Dominique Boschero.

2) The movie gets markedly more interesting when it relocates to Beirut as, by all evidence (for example, Fleming’s arrival at the real Beirut Airport) this was shot on location. In other words, you get a lot of fascinating footage of Lebanon in the 1960s, a more civilized time in the region when Beirut was still just about clinging onto its status as the Paris of the Middle East. The landscapes, incidental details and exotic cultural marginalia almost immediately start to overshadow the film going on all around.

3) Wandisa Guida’s turn as a deadpan, lethal Soviet blonde in black leather and/or various mink and cashmere combinations, is terrific. Guida is one of those Italian genre actresses who was cast in a bunch of Peplum films and costume epics and just about survived in into the Eurospy cycle without going any further. You cannot imagine her in the lurid, extreme world of the gialli at all.

https://youtu.be/jCQbMTfG-1g
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched 008 Operanzio Sterminio, Umberto Lenzi’s 1965 Eurospy caper. This is a fantastic film for one reason: Agent 008 herself, played by Ingrid Schoeller, who I had never heard of before watching this, primarily because she only made a handful of films, none of which I’d seen. I know who she is now.

This is set in Egypt, and we first meet 008 standing in front of the Sphinx and Pyramids, dressed in white and gold and wearing a bold pair of square sunglasses. The first time we see her in action she is sitting at a gambling table in Cairo, spectacular cleavage falling out of a plunging red dress with deadly blue eye shadow weighing down her big lids and platinum blonde hairdo set hard and glowing - strong look for a female secret agent in Egypt, even in 1965. Her cover is as a nightclub singer at a popular Cairo bar, where she appears to specialise in appalling Marlene Dietrich impersonations.

And yet, you should see her at full force, taking out enemy agents in a secret female gym and beauty salon down a Cairo backstreet with lipstick set to stun and shotgun in her garters. Or watch the way she runs rings around agent 006 (aka, uh, “Frank”) who, once more and as ever in these movies, is thick as fuck, a lantern-jawed lunk who stumbles around shooting at walls whenever he gets in trouble. At one point, after he has stated the obvious, she replies: “Pretty clever of you, I’d say. I can see you went to Oxford.” (He takes it quite well, to be fair, although there is a reason why.) The leaden tone of sarcasm in this exchange sums up plenty about the switch in roles between the US and Great Britain at this juncture in history.

A female version of Bond is obviously an enlightened idea at this time and place, but don’t forget that Umberto fucking Lenzi is directing this particular specimen, so it’s no feminist tract. And yet, and yet, Agent 008 is dead cool, very sexy, and in charge of most situations, so feminist critique is beside the point. (She is my second favourite Eurospy character so far, after Lady Arabella Chaplin.) The rule, as far as I can tell at the moment, is that the (male) Italian Bonds are either disgusting individuals or totally useless, and the women rule (and/or win) the day. Also, the “Bonds” all seem to be wearing ill-fitting Sunday suits with beige socks and boring funeral shoes, whereas the women eat up all the wardrobe budget and look totally sharp.

I’ll point out Frank’s one great scene: his fight to the death at the top of the Cairo Tower, Egypt’s primary piece of Modernist architecture at the time. This film occasionally looks like a terrific tourist reel for early-Nasser era Egypt, before it got really shit. Plenty of camels and souks and Pharaoh buildings and stuff.

Here we are, English dubbing starts about 7 minutes in for non-Italian speakers:

https://youtu.be/ynVUJ3Af8PI

(The longer this film goes on, by the way, the more Frank looks like an alcoholic Timothy Dalton. 008 is too good for this schmuck.)
 

luka

Well-known member
Staff member
i have no desire to watch any of these terrible films but i always enjoy reading your reviews. i refuse to believe there isnt an audience for your film writing. jonathan ross would love it. he would take you to the groucho and ply you with the the finest scotch money can buy.

however, i thought you were dedicated the rest of your days to familiarising yourself with the entirity of the western literary canon?????? you should be up to Chaucer now at least
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched Deadlier than the Male, a UK-financed and produced Eurospy jaunt starring Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina as female assassins on the loose in 1960s Europe (two Lady Chaplins for the price of one!). The UK backing definitely distinguishes this from the Italian fodder: the film is slicker, feels more professional, and is at ease in the languid English atmosphere of the British secret service. At first, I was griping about this, like, ugh, it’s less jaunty and joyous and colourful than the Italian crap, and I started to sense the smarmy bollocks that pollutes the hateful Bond films descending like smog. I quickly realised I was wrong. It was something else: Eurospy, not Bond.

Elke, later to become Mario Bava’s goofy Scream Queen in Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil, could hardly look or conduct herself any better as a glamorous, lethal killer laden with murderous gadgets; Sylva (who, strangely, also does a lovely turn in Lisa) is gorgeous, but comes across as a total psychopath, even though she doesn’t do as much actual assassinating as Elke. “Poor Mr. Wyndgarde,” see coos sarcastically, in an exceptionally chilling manner, right after Elke has shot a harpoon into his heart and he has expired in a bloody heap on the Amalfi sand. She keeps on doing this sort of crazy sadistic psychological shit right through the movie, clearly a clinical, slightly unhinged sex maniac. Then again, every time Elke shows up, always dressed in expensive white attire like an Angel of Death, a serious shiver goes down the spine, so perhaps Sylva was always in her shadow.

The Bond figure, Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond (played by Richard Johnson), does not conform to the misogynistic public schoolboy thug of Fleming’s imagination, sitting instead somewhere between John Stead and Harry Palmer: he keeps his elegant Kensington house in good order and romances women with style and grace (games of Chess and gleaming glasses of fine liquor in private Mayfair clubs with well-healed ladies is the order of seduction here). He actually comes across as being pretty savvy and smart, unlike the Italian Bonds who seem to have brains filled with cement.

Being a UK production you don’t just get an assortment of hack Peplum actors, either, but a decent spread of English stage talent. Most startling of all is the bit part played by Leonard Rossiter who (in a scene I never imagined watching in my wildest dreams) is seduced and then murdered by Elke Sommer; paralysed by a crystal ring loaded with poison, he is thrown to his doom from the balcony of his bachelor pad. How tempting to imagine what Rigsby might have done in Baron Blood in place of Joseph Cotten. Also, Nigel Green is a fantastic, sophisticated criminal, much more in the elegant, eccentric English Avengers Series 4 and 5 mould than the daft Bond Masterminds.

The theme tune was sung by The Walker Brothers. All this professionalism and class left me feeling a bit dirty, a slight cheat; but I couldn’t help loving this thing. Here you go:

https://youtu.be/eRrnUD6MtWo
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
i have no desire to watch any of these terrible films but i always enjoy reading your reviews. i refuse to believe there isnt an audience for your film writing. jonathan ross would love it. he would take you to the groucho and ply you with the the finest scotch money can buy.
Seconded, I could read these all day. Although they do make me want to watch some of them, if only for the locations, costumes and female leads. Might make time for watching one or two this week/end. Cheers Craner!
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched Superargo vs. Diabolicus, Nick Nostro’s very imaginative and entertaining masked avenger yarn. The one thing I knew about this film before tonight is that it was the primary inspiration behind Mario Bava’s immortal Danger: Diabolik, and after finally watching it thanks to YouTube the point is made. From one frame to the next, this is the template upon which Bava and Morricone riffed so magnificently in 1968 (and no disrespect to Superargo, but watching him in action reinforces what a magician Bava was, especially when you consider that Diabolik was probably cheaper to make but looked and sounded ten times more expensive).

Superargo is a wrestler (“the unbeatable masked marvel!”) who wears a devilish black mask, cherry red body-suit and patent black pants. He retires after killing an opponent in the ring and is then hired by the secret service to become an undercover agent. One of the joys of this ridiculous (but charming) film is the presumption that the US secret service is so out-of-the-box that they would be willing to hire a mourning ex-wrestler who refuses to take off his extravagant outfit in retirement. They do some rigorous scientific testing to validate Superargo’s unique metabolism that endows him with superhuman physical skills, such as subjecting him to a subzero freeze from which he emerges covered in grated Parmesan cheese. He is duly employed with wrestling bodysuit and sinister mask intact, and nobody bats an eyelid. In fact, the spymasters task their resident tailor to create an exact bullet-proof replica. “My compliments to your tailor,” says Superargo, impressed, “it’s an exact fit.” They also give him a gadget-laden white E-type jaguar as well as a miniature Geiger counter and transmitter disguised as an olive (“hmm, where’s the Martini?” muses Superargo). This is the same secret service who had recently failed to blow up Fidel Castro with an explosive cigar, but never mind. If you’re asking questions of these films, you’re really in the wrong place. (One of the more dispiriting experiences in life is watching a fantastic, mad movie with somebody who says, “but that’s not very realistic!” or, not quite as bad but still bad, “that doesn’t make sense!” Yeah, ok, do you want me to chuck on La Terra Trema for three hours instead?)

It pretty much goes from there, with Diabolicus (self-proclaimed “Future Ruler of the Universe”) dressed in ornate super villain garb on a secret Caribbean island with an army of goons and a sexy, sadistic girlfriend who wields a hard face-striking cane put to use at any possible moment (played by Loredana Nusciak, Franco Nero's haunted squeeze in Django). The music is stripped down and spiky and brassy, the cinematography looks lush (even on the dodgy rip posted below) and the whole production has a sub-psychedelic hue and unhinged feel of chaos and creativity, a true Italian genre production if ever there was one.

Superargo takes out Diabolicus’s henchmen in colourful scenes of carnage that feature explosives, machine guns, a flamethrower and…a fire extinguisher. Excellent action in silly costumes. Visconti can’t touch this.

https://youtu.be/AKtxFVb6MPA
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, a giallo Emilio Miraglia made before the excellent Red Queen Kills Seven Times. These films are superficially linked by a doomed, red-caped apparition called Evelyn – for some reason lost to history Emilio had it in for women named Evelyn, but that’s only one of the interesting things about this movie.

This thing is filled with Bava-style lighting and colour schemes and ornate cob-webbed Gothic sets. It starts off strange, with Anthony Steffen’s perverted Lord Cunningham luring red-haired hookers into his castle dungeon filled with instruments of torture which he has every intention of using. Delightfully, things keeping getting weirder, with séances and rampant psychosexual mania, corpses fed to caged red foxes, kinky leather boots, extravagant trousers, haunted crypts, a sinister glass of milk, incongruous pink cushions, creepy Aleister Crowley hippies, a deadly asp, a swimming pool filled with sulphuric acid, suspicious eyes flashing out of doorways, and so on and on.

Cunningham goes on a trip to London in search of more red-haired flesh to seduce and comes across Erica Blanc in a nightclub, luxurious Henna locks galore, emerging from a coffin for her striptease routine, backed by a rock group seemingly inspired by Coven. Later, Cunningham marries Marina Malfatti (famous for inducting Edwige Fenech into a Satanic sex cult in Sergio Martino’s delirious All the Colours of the Dark) who sports a neat, helmet-shaped blonde perm, immediately inspiring our Lord to hire a fleet of maids with exactly the same hair style – just, I guess, to reinforce his lurid madness, and because it looks cool and is a bit kinky (priorities!). Everything is helped along by another zippy, breezy Bruno Nicolai score.

About an hour in everyone is getting whacked left, right and centre, and there’s still 40 minutes to go. The conclusion, which eventually emerges out of the corkscrew plotting, is preposterous but also totally satisfying, a rarity in these films. The version below is a gorgeous, pristine print (possibly the now rare and expensive No Shame restoration from 2006) and the dubbing track is quite enjoyable – fittingly, for a film set in early-70s South East England, everybody sounds like an extra from Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased).

Goofy, dreamy and sleazy all at once, this is high grade Eurocult material:

https://youtu.be/Aq8GQia3Psg
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched Hercules Unchained, Pietro Francisci’s 1959 sequel to Hercules, the film credited with really kicking off the ‘60s Peplum craze and (therefore) starting off all of this terrific genre stuff in Italy. Present at the creation is, of course, Mario Bava, delivering lavish sets and colour schemes for this hokey, trashy, but somehow impressive and massively entertaining film.

Hercules is played by Steve Reeves, an American body builder who became a massive star in Italy because of these films. Sylva Koscina, a constant delight, is Princess Iole, Squeeze of Hercules, who is soon warbling a lovely Enzo Masetti easy listening song with her new golden lyre. And the magic has only just begun!

The stand out performance in this film belongs to Sylvia Lopez, the doomed starlet who died of leukaemia within a year of completing this film. Prowling in her magical lair like a magical amalgam of Sophia Loren and Barbara Steele, she is the poisonous and beguiling Queen Omphale, decked in gossamer bathing suits and diaphanous gowns, draped in jewels and pearls, with eyes like steel daggers, lips like erupting volcanos, henna hair like a forest fire, legs like stalactites, an astounding creation contrived to steal the film from everybody and everything else. Bava’s rich, exotic, erotic scenery and lighting is the prefect frame for her; her scenes feel truly decadent and almost dangerous in the midst of the surrounding cheesecake action. Bava even orchestrates a splendid, cut-price Tales of Hoffman style candy-coloured, nymph-led pop-ballet sequence to lure Hercules into a state of sexual slumber. And, to be fair to Hercules, even with Sylva Koscina strumming her golden lyre on the other side of Hades, who wouldn’t want to be the Queen of Lydia’s love slave?

I am such a fan of this film.

https://youtu.be/YEScdl55c0w
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched Mario Bava’s 1961 Peplum Hercules in the Haunted World and it was phenomenal. I’m not just saying this because I flip over any old tat with the names Mario and Bava attached; I’m saying this because the film is phenomenal.

Until a few weeks ago my aversion to the Pepla remained so strong that I couldn’t even be bothered to watch those created by my favourite film director – not even for the sake of completion. What an idiot! I considered this film, in particular, to be a sort of dry-run for the proper stuff: marginalia, maybe even juvenilia, and of historical interest only. What a fucking moron! It hadn’t actually occurred to me that this was Bava’s second feature film and that it was released one year after the immortal and ground-breaking Black Sunday. In fact, Hercules was as ground-breaking, for similar but separate reasons.

One of the most distinguishing features of Black Sunday, which defined Bava’s visual style in unadulterated form for the first time, was the use of lighting – that is, the use of light and shade or even, in this particular case, the use of colour when the only two colours are black and white. In his Gothic Chiller, Bava created an extreme and unique visual language far beyond the grasp of Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti in their's. With Hercules he did the same, but with (or for) full, eye-dazzling technicolor. In the sleeve notes to the superb Fantona restoration, Tim Lucas describes Hercules as the first psychedelic film and this is not the lazy critical prop that it seems: there are times when the colour and the imagery is so overwhelming it feels like your Third Eye is opening up.

The overall structure and environment of this film is typical Peplum Cheesecake (one of the advantages of the DVD is that you can switch to the Italian track and so avoid entertaining but mood-ruining lines like “I didn’t think Hades would be like this!” delivered with broad American twang) but goes into stranger directions very quickly – horror and science fiction both blend into this spooky brew, permeated by a Surrealist atmosphere and design. Christopher Lee (wearing an alarming Pete Townshend mop on his head) plays the villainous King Lico as if he was Count Dracula. The World of the Dead sequence is astonishing, laying the groundwork for the visual assaults of the early 80s Italian Zombie cycle. Bava’s Living Dead rising from their crumbling crypts look exactly like Fulci’s own underground uprising at the end of City of the Living Dead, except that Fulci’s effects look more dated than Bava’s.

Hercules in the Haunted World is not just a fantastic, visionary film, but an essential part of the Bava Canon, and I feel like a complete goon for only just realising. Watch the gorgeous Fantona DVD version in Italian if you can; otherwise, here you go:

https://youtu.be/yJx9BwLq3SY
 

craner

Beast of Burden
I watched Esther and the King, Rauol Walsh's Italo-American peplum starring our very own Joan Collins as Esther. For me, there were two big reasons for watching this film, neither of them Joan Collins: Mario Bava's cinematography (and part-direction, this is basically an early Bava flick) and the presence of Rosalba Neri (my favorite actress) in an early scene-stealing role. It's not a particularly good film, but I enjoyed it very much. I paid for the 20th Century Fox Archive DVD which is worth the money because the dazzling colours show off the extravagant sets and set-pieces in all their intended glory. It's not really worth watching any other way, unless you fancy watching a presentation of Jewish history that makes Exodus look subtle. I couldn't improve on this review which really details some of the film's intoxicating idiosyncrasies:

http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/64744/esther-and-the-king-fox-cinema-archive/
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Some good films I've seen recently:

The Giant of Marathon (Jacques Tournuer and Mario Bava, 1959) - lots of exciting Bava effects and featuring Mylène Demongeot, a special effect in herself.

War of the Trojans (Giorgio Venturini, 1962)

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon (Michele Lupo, 1962) - slightly marred by the comedy dwarf

Cemetery without Crosses (Robert Hossein, 1969) - a very stark and severe Leoni rip-off starring the incomparable Michele Mercier

The Return of Ringo (Duccio Tessari, 1965) - a belting revenger, fueled by Morricone's magnificent theme song

So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (Silvio Amadio, 1975) - lackluster lesbian melodrama which is nowhere near as vicious as it thinks it is, but is kind of touching and Dagmar Lassander has never looked better

Hercules and the Captive Women (Vittorio Cottafavi, 1961) - slightly delirious, effects-laden extravaganza featuring Fay Spain as the Queen of Atlantis, comedy dwarf not overly irritating here

Son of Samson (Carlo Campogalliani, 1960) - I LOVED this film, mainly because of Chelo Alonso ("the Cuban H-bomb") whose evil Queen Smedes is now one of my favorite characters in any Italian genre film, when she launched into her exotic dance routine I almost lost my mind...

Son of Cleopatra (Ferdinando Baldi, 1964)

Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950) - Ingrid Bergman not very thrilled by the prospect of spending the rest of her life on a volcanic island with a handful of thick and superstitious Sicilian peasants, the tuna fishing trip is a direct precursor to Cannibal Holocaust

Run, Man, Run (Sergio Sollima, 1968) - sequel to the phenomenal Faccia a Faccia, Tomas Milian returns only to be hounded by Chelo Alonso, in her second appearance on the list...
 
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