PLOT: Juliet, a wealthy housewife, has reason to suspect her husband is cheating on her. She has always been attuned to the spirit world, and after a seance she begins seeing visions and hearing voices; one of the whispering entities tells her that her neighbor, the strange, sexually liberated Suzy, will be her teacher. As her marriage disintegrates, her visions become harder to distinguish from reality, until Juliet snaps and banishes the spirits.
Fellini’s first feature-length color film (although his short segment for the 1962 anthology film Boccaccio ’70 was in color.)
Fellini took LSD (in a clinical setting) for inspiration in making this film. He found it “a little disappointing.”
Some of the biographical details of onscreen Juliet’s stories come from Giulietta Massina’s own experiences in her marriage to Fellini. The house seen in the film is the couple’s real house.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Juliet of the Spirits parades a host of bizarrely costumed Felliniesque grotesques across the screen in its 130 minutes, but aside from the perpetually smiling eye-of-the-storm Masina, the one who makes the biggest impression is buxom, bodacious Suzy (Sandra Milo). In one of the movie’s unforgettable scenes, she disrobes (offscreen) in the blink of an eye to demonstrate one of the hedonistic accoutrements in her bordello-like haven: a slide winding directly from her bedroom to her personal post-coital swimming pool.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Hermaphrodite swami reception; faceless purple nuns
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like his previous 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits is a Fellini trip where dreams and fantasies—the more baroque and colorful, the better—intrude into reality as a way to explore the psychology of the film’s protagonist.
PLOT: To control violence and population, people are invited to participate in The Big Hunt, a sanctioned game of cat-and-mouse that ends in murder; complications ensue when two of the top assassins, Caroline and Marcello, fall in love, even as they are pitted against each other.
COMMENTS: The term “bread and circuses” goes back to the end of the 1st century, a reference by the poet Juvenal (“panem et circenses”) to the willingness of the citizenry of the Roman Empire to be appeased by trifles and cheap entertainment. Because of the violent nature of the contests held at the Colosseum to pacify the populace, the term eventually became a catch-all for spectacles where human life takes a backseat to fun and amusement. In the modern world, the concept has become downright ubiquitous. Kicking off with Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game” nearly one hundred years ago, writers and filmmakers have had a field day with the premise of a society that turns murder into a spectator sport. From the anti-intellectualism of Fahrenheit 451 to the crass commercialism of The Running Man, from the fear of age in Battle Royale to the fear of class in The Purge, mollifying the masses remains a pertinent subject over two millennia later. (And that’s not factoring in displays of masochism made for public consumption like “Fear Factor” or the National Football League.) Not for nothing is the bloodthirsty land of The Hunger Games called Panem.
All of which is to say that The 10th Victim wasn’t exactly breaking new ground when it adapted Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story for the big screen. (A previous adaptation for radio was more faithful to the original.) But if you’re looking for the singular factor that sets this movie apart from the rest, it’s this: it’s swingin’, baby, yeah! This speculative future turns out to be only a couple years ahead of its time, from a visual standpoint. We’re treated to sleek, brutalist architecture, pop art on the walls, and costumes (courtesy of designer Giulio Coltellacci) that are giddily mod and gloriously over-the-top, with every female outfit sporting a backless cut. Before Carnaby Street or the Haight, the styles that would come to define the 60’s were clearly to be found along the Via dei Fori Imperiali.
All the proof you need that this film crucially contributed to the DNA of the Swinging Sixties can be found in the movie that proudly carries the banner for the era: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The eagle-eyed will notice Ming Tea, Andress’ overeager sponsor, supplies the name of the groovy super-spy’s psychedelic rock band, while even the naked-mole-rat-eyed will recognize the brassiere-machine gun Andress uses to dispatch a pursuer.
All this groovy atmosphere is the foundation for a healthy dose of satire, which is ladled on like hearty Bolognese. Announcements blare out the glory of the Big Hunt like drop-off instructions at the airport. A flack for the contest proclaims that Hitler would have signed up for the Hunt and thereby obviated World War II. The uniformly ignorant public goes about their business as gunplay breaks out all around them. Mastroianni’s mistress shrieks in horror when a team of repo men reclaim her collection of comic books: “No, not the classics!”
But the jaunty vibe, accompanied by Piero Piccioni’s frothy, vocal-tinged score, means the film’s attitude is more droll bemusement than anger. The screenplay only occasionally hints at the bile that must have inspired it, such as when a hunter bitterly laments the rules that have limited his fun. “We can’t shoot anywhere anymore,” he complains, noting that even churches and nursery schools are now off-limits. Oh, to be in America: “Anyone can shoot where and when they want.”
The leads do a lot to sell it. Amidst all of the mayhem, Andress tries to go full mercenary, eagerly hoping to maximize her marketability as a global icon of murder. Meanwhile, Mastroianni is stricken with overwhelming ennui. He openly broadcasts his victim status, he laments the pointlessness of life and relationships, and cynically fakes tears for the cult of sunset-worshipers he leads. Even murdering a Nazi brings him no pleasure. So it’s genuinely charming to watch him discover pure joy in the effort Andress exerts to make his murder something special.
Despite the body count, The 10th Victim turns out to be a rather gentle dystopia. The violence is plentiful but cartoonish. The satirical targets are numerous: disregard for human life shares space with the absurdity of marriage, contempt for the elderly, and capitalism run amok. (The fact that Andress must delay her kill to appease her advertisers is one of the better solutions to the “why don’t they just kill them” dilemma.) The 10th Victim is not so irresponsible as to make you think for a moment that this is a better world than the one we live in. But it does seem a great deal more fun.
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AKA Mars Invades Puerto Rico, Duel of the Space Monsters, Frankenstein Meets the Space Men, Operation San Juan
DIRECTED BY: Robert Gaffney
FEATURING: Marilyn Hanold, James Karen, Lou Cutell, Nancy Marshall, Robert Reilly
PLOT: An invading alien force plans to kidnap Earth’s women to repopulate their species; to preserve the secrecy of their plan, they shoot down a series of American rockets, but the last is crewed by a cyborg who turns into a brainless killing machine upon crash landing in Puerto Rico.
COMMENTS: Sometimes a movie is just silly. There’s no other level, no hidden agenda, no subversive reading that allows you to view the movie from a completely different perspective. No, sometimes the movie is just goofy as hell, and everyone knows it, and no one tries to be ironic or campy; they just keep doing what they’re doing, and you get a movie that’s silly.
If the highly misleading title didn’t tip you off, we get a proper taste of the kind of movie Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is going to be early on. Opening with a car taking a group of military bigwigs to the Kennedy Space Center, the movie launches into an extended montage of the vehicle slowly motoring past every conceivable landmark on the Space Coast to the accompaniment of a hyperactive percussionist. After the car stops and one of the generals asks how far away lies their destination. “Another five minutes, sir,” he is told, and both car and drummer ramp it right back up for another driving sequence. It couldn’t be more obvious if the word “padding” was superimposed on the screen. It’s played as straight as an arrow, it’s undeniably hilarious, and with this moment in the books, the Good Ship Silliness has set sail.
It’s startling how much competence FMTSM has going for it. Director Gaffney was an acclaimed documentarian and friend of Stanley Kubrick. Perennial That-Guy James Karen gets a rare leading role. Lou Cutell will later earn notoriety for playing an appropriately named proctologist on Seinfeld. That’s Bond villain (and Crispin’s dad) Bruce Glover as an uncredited alien lackey. Martian princess Marilyn Hanold brings her experience as a Playboy Playmate to the role of the second-most-clothed woman in the film. And maybe they play those two pop songs produced by Hall of Fame music mastermind Bob Crewe way too many times, but darn it if they’re not catchy tunes.
On the other hand, the most skilled filmmaker would have struggled to assemble something logical our of the pieces here. Aliens with bald caps and hazmat suits. An android whose encounter with an extraterrestrial death ray turns him into killing machine whose face is half-lasagna. A plot to shanghai every bikini-clad (and white) young woman in Puerto Rico into a Martian repopulation program by placing them on a conveyor belt. It seems impossible to think that anybody thought the movie would be anything other than ridiculous, but there they are, sometimes hammy but always committed.
You have to admire the film’s scatterbrained approach to its own ridiculous plot. When our heroes, Adam and Karen, have to pursue the homicidal robot that was once their creation, they spring into action… by hopping on a Vespa and taking a leisurely drive through the streets of San Juan, as if they had just jumped into a Puerto Rican Roman Holiday. You may ask whether the movie is a schlocky exploitation film or a disguised travelogue; why not both?
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster doesn’t have the advantages of sustained oddness that usually catapult the worst movies ever made into the weird pantheon. It lacks the earnestness of a Plan 9 From Outer Space, the flat-out jaw-dropping surprise of a Godmonster of Indian Flats, the sheer ineptitude of Manos: The Hands of Fate. This movie has to vie for the title purely on its own merits. Ultimately, it’s not the most entertaining bad movie out there, but it sure does make a solid go of it.
PLOT: Meg awakens beside her young husband, who leaves her alone in their apartment to go to a business meeting. Stepping outside her door to empty the trash, she is assaulted by the building’s janitor, and kills him while he’s trying to rape her. Fearing that no one will believe her story of self-defense, Meg gets on a bus to New York City, where she shacks up with a series of roommates.
Background information about Doris Wishman can be found in the Indecent Desires Canonical entry.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s either the snarling face of a rapist or a woman in her underwear. (Or, I suppose, I random shot of a shoe.) We selected the moment when Gigi Darlene demonstrates her junior-high tumbling skills for her drooling lesbian roommate by crab walking across the apartment floor (in her underwear, of course).
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Drunken belt-whipping; random plants, ashtrays, and feet
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Bad Girls Go to Hell has the visual sensibilities of a drunk and apathetic Jean-Luc Godard, the narrative talents of an Ed Wood, and the moral sensibilities of a 42nd Street raincoater; yet, somehow it creates a sense of alienation and dislocation reminiscent of Carnival of Souls.
Original trailer for Bad Girls Go to Hell (mildly NSWF)
PLOT: Detective Lemmy Caution sneaks into a soulless, computer-controlled metropolis in search of a fellow agent, and eventually sets about destroying the entire enterprise.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:Alphaville is Godard’s angry screed against the inhumanity of the modern world. Appropriately, he adopts a low-tech approach to depict a future world governed by mathematics and free of human passion, and lets the awkward collision of noir and science fiction create a naturally unsettling, thought-provoking landscape.
COMMENTS: There’s a story of how Alphaville came to be that is not strictly necessary to understanding the film, but which does offer an intriguing insight into the mind of its fiercely independent director. FBI agent Lemmy Caution was the creation of a British novelist, and was portrayed in seven French-language films by expatriate actor Eddie Constantine. Audiences came to know Caution as an archetype of the grizzled tough guy who is as apt to use his fists as his wits to solve problems. Godard evidently decided that this character would be the perfect antidote to a universe where a computer has extinguished human emotion, so he created a plot that brought the detective into the future. But knowing the havoc his plan would wreak, Godard enlisted his assistant director to draft a false treatment based on one of the original books, which was presented to the moneymen who eventually bankrolled the picture. Cash in hand, Godard set about making a movie of his own design with the cheeky subtitle une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution), essentially obliterating the character and derailing Constantine’s career.
It’s a clever bit of legerdemain as well as a fascinating example of cultural appropriation. But I tell this story because it offers a useful insight into some of Godard’s unusual choices in Alphaville. Soulless, dystopian futures were hardly without precedent, but as far as Godard is concerned, Paris in 1965 already is just such a dystopia. He carefully avoids the most familiar sights of the City of Lights, using newer buildings and designs to reflect the changing soul of the city. But even without futuristic flourishes or scenic adornment, Alphaville the city is unmistakably Paris, with modern architecture and new devices—Caution’s Instamatic camera and Ford Galaxie were startling new innovations for the time—standing in for the future-as-now. For this reason, Godard isn’t just stealing Lemmy Caution to be his bad boy. He needs the constant of Lemmy Caution to hold on to, because he’s out to show that the modern world has become completely detached from humanity; the detective is essential as a familiar icon of a blood-and-guts world to stand up to the soul-sucking new. And even if you aren’t familiar with the character specifically, Constantine’s recognizable hard-as-nails portrayal marks him as the thing that doesn’t belong in Alphaville. Like Mike Hammer showing up in Brave New World, Lemmy Caution is here to stand out, representing humanity in all its passion and even ugliness. He is discordant just by being.
Part of what makes everything so uncomfortable is how normal it all looks, with just one thing put off-kilter to turn the prism. Caution checks into a nice hotel room and is escorted by a helpful but disengaged employee who immediately takes off her dress in anticipation of being used for sex. Every room has a helpful dictionary, which is regularly replaced with a new volume to reflect the words that have been stricken from the vocabulary at the computer’s direction. Familiar cities still exist in the outside, but their names are slightly off. Leading citizens watch passively as rebels—in full-throated protest against the computerized dictatorship—are executed in a swimming pool, after which bathing beauties haul away the bodies. Perhaps the most distressing disconnect is heroine Natasha, a dark-eyed beauty whose status as the daughter of Alphaville’s creator is curiously irrelevant. When she makes a bold proclamation at the film’s conclusion—“Je t’aime”—it signals a connection with her humanity, but the words are chillingly unpracticed, as she tries them on like a pair of shoes that have yet to be broken in.
The most science fictional element is α60, the computer that runs Alphaville and saps the population of its humanity. Godard could never have envisioned the computer as the placid and murderous HAL 9000 or the charmingly imperious Ultron. Instead, α60 is malevolent, a mob boss with a voice that mangles speech as easily as its master plan mangles souls. The computer speaks bluntly of mankind’s doom, and only Caution seems capable of (or interested in) saying no.
Godard isn’t subtle. The scientist who runs the central computer is named von Braun, a blatant call-out to the German scientist who masterminded America’s moon rocket program. As if that weren’t sufficiently on-the-nose, we learn that von Braun previously went by the name Nosferatu. And when Caution destroys α60 with a few carefully chosen words from Jorge Luis Borges, the effect is so catastrophic that human beings are suddenly unable to walk. Faced with going big or going home, he lays it all on the table.
Because Godard has no time for subtlety. He sees the cataclysm happening in real time. He is demanding that the world rise up against those who would place formulas above poems. Humanity is dying, he says, and Alphaville is his howl at the dying of the light.
“Thunderbird International Pictures Presents The Death Curse of Tartu, a legend black with evil and red with the blood of innocent youth!!! Photographed in the forbidding depths of the Florida Everglades, this is the incredible story of an archeological excursion, planned as an educational attraction and ending as a blood-spattered nightmare!!! Cold and slimy creatures without mercy hunt and kill, controlled by the soul of a rotting corpse. They danced over the grave of Tartu who was restless in his coffin and made passionate love on his burial ground until … they faced the terrible reality of The Death Curse of Tartu! Was it really a killer shark in the swamp waters? Or was it… Tartu, who had sworn vengeance on all who disturbed his grave? See the bloody massacre of terrified youngsters as Tartu, the witch doctor, returns to wreak vengeance. See The Death Curse of Tartu, coming soon to this theater.”
“Famous characters of the fairy tale world together for the first time. It’s all new when K. Gordon Murray presents Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters. See the Wicked Witch and all her bad guys. Bad guys? Mr. Hurricane! The Robot! Carrot Head and the Siamese Twins: two-in one. Frankensteen. A giant spectacle in color with a story that children and grownups will never forget. Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters!
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Nightmare Castle (directed by Mario Caiano) rarely makes best-of Barbara Steele films lists, with even the star herself seemingly holding it in low esteem. Although a pastiche of Steele’s earlier work, Nightmare Castle is entertainingly tailored to the actress’ idiosyncratic screen persona and remains one of the better-filmed opuses in her oeuvre. As in Mario Bava‘s Black Sunday (1960), Steele is cast in dual roles, one of which is a revenge-seeking disfigured ghost (hence its alternative title, The Faceless Monster).
Its virtues are hardly found in the narrative about a sadistic husband (Paul Muller) who tortures and kills his unfaithful wife (Steele) along with her lover (Rik Battaglia), then marries her mentally unstable sister to get the inheritance. Exquisite cinematography (Enzo Borboni), a top-rate dissonant score (Ennio Morricone), Steele at her her most beguiling, and Caiano’s attention to detail renders the plot secondary. Almost surrealistic in parts (one scene clearly was a major influence on 1998’s Ringu), Nightmare Castle is shockingly sadistic and misogynistic (Battaglia loses an eye in an unsettling torture scene, and Steele gets acid to the face, followed by an S &M electrocution). It’s also visually and musically memorable, and yet another director with a Steele fetish allows the star to sear. Unfortunately, the dubbing is poor, but the valuable Blu-ray from Severin Films is a considerable improvement over previous releases. Among its extra features are complete versions of the Steele-starring films Castle of Blood (1964) and Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965).
Good evening. It’s intermission time.
“Flavos: the delicious, oriental treat that’s out of this world for taste-tempting goodness. Light and delicious, full of tender, juicy fresh shrimp meat. America’s favorite shrimp roll. You’ll say they’re shrimply delicious.”
“Free for our patrons… Men, women, boys, girls…through the cooperation of Leading Business Places …You may now have free admission to this theater. Ask for DividenTickets when you shop at Nelson’s Liquor Mart. Hywy 51 North of Bridge. Tomahawk’s Largest & Finest.”
“See you in CHURCH Sunday! When you attend church, it’s not an ordinary act. It is something worthwhile. When you attend church, you come to GOD’S house to adore, worship and praise. See you in CHURCH Sunday!”
1966 may very well be among the most shocking years in the entirety of cinema. It’s the year that Jess Franco actually made a relatively good film with The Diabolical Dr. Z (so maybe there’s hope for Zack Snyder yet). Perhaps Alejandro Ulloa’s lensing inspired Franco to move beyond his typical laziness. The titlur mad doctor (Antonio Jimenez) actually gets bumped off early in the film, leaving his daughter (Mabel Karr) to take up a doctoral course in revenge. She gets a bit of help from Miss Death (Estella Blain) at the local jazz club, which naturally means a typical Franco jazz score (by Daniel White, who makes a cameo, along with Franco himself). There is one theory that Franco merely made films to show off his love of jazz, and in many cases that may be factual, but here it’s icing on a cake with macabre set pieces (including an arachnid stage show), kinky mannequins, a doomed sexpot hitchhiker, a hillside strangler, and an off-the-charts fisticuffs finale in a decadent castle. What more could you ask of the prolific hack? He deserves a break today with The Diabolical Dr. Z.
“Please remember to replace the speaker and heater when you leave the theater.”
This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the (currently out-of-print) double-feature DVD from Sinister Cinema.
PLOT: During a battle in Saragossa during the Napoleonic Wars, a soldier wanders into a house and discovers a large book which enthralls him (and his captor). In it, he reads the story of the Walloon captain Alfons Van Worden, who meets, and is seduced by, two princesses while sleeping at a haunted inn, only to wake up under a gallows between two hanged men. Van Worden’s further adventures include meeting a hermit, a cabalist, a gypsy leader, and other colorful characters, each of whom have tales to tell—often leading to stories inside of stories.
The Saragossa Manuscript is a mostly faithful, if necessarily abridged, adaptation of Jan Potocki’s massive 19th-century novel “The Manuscript Found in Saragossa” (occasionally translated as “The Saragossa Manuscript: A Collection of Weird Tales”). Potcoki was a fascinating character, worthy of his own novel. A Count, adventurer (he was the first Pole to fly in a hot air balloon) and polymath, he published The Manuscript Found in Saragossa in fragments during his life. Legends revolve around his spectacular 1815 suicide: he shot himself with a silver bullet he made himself, and which he had blessed by his castle chaplain beforehand.
Noted fans of the film include Luis Buñuel and David Lynch.
The restoration, which included the addition of about an hour’s worth of material cut from previous prints, was initially financed by The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, who died before it was completed in 2001. Filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese (who included it in his series “Masterpieces of Polish Cinema”) took up the cause after Garcia’s demise.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Near the film’s climax, Van Worden stares out through an gap in a castle wall and sees a vision of himself receding into the distance with the two princesses, headed towards a poster bed standing alone in the middle of a desert. The only other features in the landscape are a cow’s skull and a dead crow half buried in the sand. There’s a wonderful trick to the shot, indicative of the film’s obsession with misdirection and game playing.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Between hanged men; incestuous Islamic princesses; five levels of flashbacks
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Saragossa Manuscript winds through a Gothic journey replete with gallows, ghostly seductresses, duels, occult symbols, Inquisitors in bondage gear, and more, an epic tale told in the ever-receding stories-inside-of-stories style that Guy Maddin would later adopt (in a more fetishistic fashion) for The Forbidden Room. Wojciech Has’ 3-hour adaptation of Jan Potocki’s grandiose novel is storytelling in its purest form; it’s a world cinema classic that has been unfairly neglected, out-of-print in the USA for far too long. The film’s design unfolds slowly, wandering through a disorienting labyrinth of stories that eventually resolve, only to dissolve again in a mystical finale in the Spanish desert.