Espionage In Tangiers (1965)

Mike Murphy is Agent S 077, which has absolutely nothing to do with Bond. But you know what’s great about this movie? It’s directed by Greg Tallas, who would someday make The Nightmare Never Ends, which was then edited into Night Train to Terror.

That fact is more interesting than this movie.

Jose Greci, who was the Virgin Mary in Ben-Hur, shows up here in one of her many Eurospy roles (she’s also in Operation Poker, Last Man to Kill and Special Code: Assignment Lost Formula). And hey! It’s Perla Cristal from The Corruption of Chris Miller, Naschy’s The Fury of the Wolfman and Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff!

In Europe, this was known as Marc Mato, agente S. 077 and it was a big success. Time has not been kind to this film, however. There’s a laser beam, as there usually is, but I’ve never seen a movie where the hero is saved from a bullet to the chest because that’s where he carries his Bible.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Gamera (1965)

I’ll come clean. As a kid, I liked Gamera more than Godzilla. Sure, Daiei Film Studios was just following the success of Toho’s kaiju superstar, but I always felt a kinship to a monster who could just withdraw into his shell. Gamera was, after all, a friend to all children. And man, I wanted to be his best pal.

Originally released on November 27, 1965 in Japan, a re-edited version with new footage was released the following year in the U.S. as Gammera the Invincible. It was the only movie in the series to get a theatrical release in this country.

Over the Arctic, a nuke blows up and awakens a prehistoric giant turtle that just so happens to have big tusks. That’s Gamera, but he’s no friend to anyone at this point.  He can also breathe fire, which he does to blow up an American jet real good.

These scientists that he battles are pretty much morons. They’re smart enough to come up with freeze bombs, but they think that if they get him on his back, he’ll die of starvation. So Gamera just pulls all his arms and legs inside his shell and starts spinning around like a UFO.

This movie will also teach you that turtles are not even. They’re just turtles.

Back to those scientists. A whole bunch of Russian, Japanese and American ones invent this thing called Z Plan. You know what it is? They put Gamera in the nose cone of a missile and send him to Mars, all excited about how their scientific ways have triumphed over idealogy.

It’s a crock of turtle shit.

You know what’s really awesome? This movie was originally going to be called Dai Gunju Nezura (The Great Rat Swarm), but all of the real rats that were going to run over the miniature city got fleas.

This is the only Gamera movie where he doesn’t fight another monster and also the singular black and white film in the series. He’s also a good guy in every movie after this.

You can watch this at the Internet Archive and imagine a young Sam losing his mind screaming, jumping all over the TV room, so happy to see a turtle fly.

Devils of Darkness (1965)

Director Lance Comfort lived on the fringes of British B-movies, with this effort being one of his last films. I found it on one of those old 20th Century Fox Midnite Movies double disks which are always so much fun.

Hubert Noel, who somehow shows up in both The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and Cathy’s Curse, plays a French nobleman who ends up not only being a vampire, but a Satanic vampire!

Paul Baxter (William Sylvester, Gorgo) is on vacation with three friends who are all killed by Count Sinistre on All Soul’s Night. So he then does what you or I would — he heads back to England, finds a talisman belonging to the Satanic sucker and gets a whole bunch more of his friends killed.

Look for Tracy Reed (the mistress of General Buck in Dr. Strangelove), Carole Gray (Curse of the Fly), Victor Brooks (Cover Girl Killer) and Marianne Stone (Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and the Carry On movies).

This is a rare modern vampire movie for the UK, so it has that going for it.

Fun In Ballonland (1965)

Joseph M. Sonneborn Jr. has exactly one credit as a director and producer. It’s this movie. One wonders if he had been kept from ever coming near a camera again after this, as this is the kind of movie that will test your resolve and perhaps, even make you question your existence.

It was written by Dorothy Brown Green, who unconfirmed sources claim is also the narrator of the most insidious Christmas movie of all time, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny.

While this movie is 52 minutes long, only 15 minutes of it take place in Balloonland, where we meet young Sonny. He’s ended up there after his mother read him a bedtime story and he fell asleep. Now, he’s inside a world filled with giant balloon people and animals.

Then, we watch a Thanksgiving parade somewhere in Pennsylvania that seems to go on forever.

If you ever wanted to watch a befuddled child wander through the warehouse of what one only imagines is a parade float company. From trying to get a prince and princess balloon to kiss to meeting the king of the sea to getting to be the sheriff of Ballonland, that’s the extent of the storyline. Once Sonny fires his gun, we leave. Perhaps this is a statement on the way guns allowed the west to be tamed. It could be an indictment on the Second Amendment. Or probably just sloppy filmmaking.

Whoever is doing the talking — most think it’s Dorothy Brown Green — remains bored for most of the film, until certain balloons show up and she becomes so fervently intrigued by them that you may wonder what drugs were being passed around Ballonland.

Mike Nelson of Rifftrax has said that this is his favorite movie they’ve ever done. Take that and understand just how frighteningly inane, insane and intense this movie gets. These are the Christmas films that I truly love, movies that make you wonder if you are even on the same plane of consciousness that you started on. They are drugs on video.

You know, since it’s Christmas, why not just watch the whole movie right here? You can also watch the Rifftrax version for free on Tubi.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Bloody Pit of Horror (1965)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Constant says, “I was born and raised in Hollywood, CA.  Went to live in Spain when I was 23 and stayed 10 years, managing an art gallery.  Came back to LA in 1992 and worked at an animation studio as a PA for awhile then worked buying and selling vintage clothes.  In 1996 I landed a gig as an assistant costume designer for an indie film and fucking loved it!  My first day on set I felt right at home.  I went on to do costume design/styling on indie/low budget films until 2005.  I worked with Fred Olen Ray, Jim Wynorski, Roger Corman, Playboy Channel Mystique films.  In 2005 I became a makeup artist and worked on House, Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters, Brooklyn 99 and day-checked on a lot of shows.  I did display design for the Hollywood Casino chain for a few years and in 2016 I moved to Chicago and now work as a server in a restaurant…a whole new branch of show business!  It’s my retirement job and I like it.  But I am really interested in writing about film and would like to do more and improve my skills.  

This is a simple enough horror film, but it has several elements that make it stand out. It is charming and camp, with some strong horror at the end. It was made in 1965 by director Domenico Massimo Pupillo, credited as Max Hunter, and produced by Francesco Merli and Ralph Zucker, who also played Dermot the photographer. The director is well known for another gothic horror film, Terror Creatures from the Grave, which is mostly fun for Barbara Steele and Luciano Pigozzi, the creepy servant. Two of the actors in Bloody Pit of Horror are in Terror Creatures: Walter Bigari/Walter Brandi (Walter Brandt) who plays Rick and Alfredo Rizzo (Alfred Rice) who plays Daniel Parks. I warn you that all the names of the Italian cast and crew were anglicized which makes attribution difficult, but I love that kind of research. 

The exteriors of the film were shot at Balsorano Castle in Abruzzo, a beautiful place. The interiors were shot at the Palazzo Borghese in Artena. Even with the obvious low budget it is pretty spectacular looking. It was filmed in “Psychovision”. 

The film opens as a flashback to the days of The Crimson Executioner, a nobleman who was a violent sadist with sociopathic mania regarding superiority and moral and physical righteousness. We see him condemned to death by some unspecified tribunal and put into a sort of Iron Maiden, but male shaped so an Iron Madman. The door is slammed shut and we hear his screams. 

The modern-day film opens as a commedia sexy all’italiana. Producer Daniel Parks arrives at an old castle with his crew of models, cameraman and Rick, the writer. They are there to shoot “girly show” book cover art for pulp fiction novels. The doors are locked so they break in and wander around looking for locations inside. They are quickly apprehended by a muscled servant man with tight clothes and a forbidding demeanor. Producer Parks claims ignorance that anyone inhabited the castle and wheedles to be taken to the owner to do some business about renting the space for a day. This finally occurs and after a lot of chafing and arguing the owner, having seen the face of Parks’ secretary Edith, changes his mind and allows them to shoot but forbids access to certain parts of the house. 

Now we have the cheesecake and I like it a lot. Very cute mid-century Italian flirtiness. The four models, billed as the Cover Girls get ready for the shoot. Femi Benussi plays Annie and it was her first film role. She went on to become a big star of the Commedia Sexy sub-genre and also played Lucia in Strip Nude for Your Killer. Moa-Tahi plays Kinojo. A beautiful and exotic actress, her death scene in this film is a great piece of low budget artifice, as she is caught in a huge and very nicely constructed spider web and the spider which bites her is a great piece of practical effects. I love to see what can be done with no money. The other two girls are cute and sassy. They go through several scenes of the photo shoot, all charming and very campy. But Suzy, one of the models, and Raul, another male of the party, go into the forbidden areas and start making out. They are caught by the owner of the castle and all hell begins to break loose. 

I am not going to detail the film any more because I want people to see it. I will say that the owner of the castle clearly has come to identify with the Crimson Executioner and has the same psycho feelings of great moral and physical godlike qualities. He is played by none other than Mickey Hargitay, in his first film role. He is an exceptional physical actor. He is all too often thought of as a “musclehead” as I read from one reviewer, but bodybuilding was a sport he came to after he had already been part of a famous acrobatic team as a young boy, a championship speed skater and a football player. In the final scenes in the torture chamber, as he cavorts around finishing off the hapless members of the poor photo shoot, he is so graceful and has a fierce presence. It made me think of rock star videos such as Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself,” except much more powerful. Some critics have called the film homoerotic, due no doubt to the Crimson Executioner’s obsession with physical perfection. But at several points in the film he exhibits disgust for mere mortal love and lust. I think this film is a study in narcissism and its relation to extreme sociopathy. 

PURE TERROR MONTH: Evil Brain from Outer Space (1965)

About the Author: Paul Andolina is one of my favorite people to talk movies with. If you like his stuff, check out his site Wrestling with Film

Evil Brain from Outer Space is a science fiction film from 1965. It happens to be a couple of the Japanese Super Giant films that have been hacked up and spliced together to make one English dubbed film. It’s an odd movie about a group of aliens who send one of their own to earth to stop the brain of the evil mutant Balazar from destroying humanity. 

Special effects films and television shows are big in Japan and they have been since Godzilla roared onto screens. The Super Giant series from the late 50’s is a bunch of stand-alone films that are about the deeds of a man named Giant of Steel or as he is known in EBfOS Star Man. Star Man is a superhero basically and he wears some pretty nifty lycra outfits, he looks like a luchador that forgot his mask at home.

Evil Brain sees Star Man coming to earth to stop a few evil doctor/scientists who are in league with the evil extraterrestrial brain of Balazar. There is a hawk that hangs out with one of these doctors and a one-legged man who serves the other. There are some pretty awesome mutants who fight Star Man in this film as well. One looks like a chupacabra from the black lagoon and has strange tendril-like fingers and makes some weird noises, if I had seen this a child I would have been scared of him immediately. I actually said out loud, “WTF is that?” while watching the movie. He is by far my favorite part of the film. The other mutant is a long-haired demon lady who doesn’t quite know how to put on her lipstick. She jumps around and scratches the air while making demonic cat noises. There are also some generic henchmen mutants as well.

I would love to see the Super Giant serials in Japanese with English subtitles but I’m not sure they can live up to the insanity that is this film. It seems longer than it is because there is too much jibber-jabber. Honestly would love to see Star Man just mess up some mutants and forgo the plot altogether. If you like psychotronic films this is definitely the one for you. I have no idea what they were thinking when they pieced this bad boy together. I’d like to believe there was some acid involved and a whole lotta pot. It is in black and white but it still is a lot of fun. 

If you have any interest in the Tokasatsu trend in Japan and want to see an earlier effort you can’t get much better than Evil Brain from Outer Space.

PURE TERROR MONTH: The Embalmer (1965)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An American living in London, Jennifer Upton is a freelance writer for International publishers Story Terrace and others. In addition, she has a blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi called Womanycom.

The Embalmer (1965), aka Il Mostro di Venezia is a slow burner that fits somewhere in between the horror sub-genres of early Italian Giallo and the Italian gothic films of the 1960s. It is part murder mystery and part an exercise in atmosphere. 

Several young women have disappeared into the canals of Venice. A visual signifier freeze-frame appears for each victim at the moment the killer chooses them. He then stalks them from the nighttime canals in a scuba suit and pounces once they are alone. He drowns them and takes them through a series of tunnels underneath the city to his abandoned Monastery laboratory lair. Once inside, he skulks around in a monastic Skeletor costume. 

Although his origins are never explained, he’s a mad scientist who has invented a new form of embalming fluid to preserve the dead women’s beauty for all eternity. After the procedure, he stands them up into glass display cases like dolls and talks to them. 

Meanwhile, above ground, handsome newspaper reporter Andrea (Luigi Martocci– billed hilariously as “Gin Mart”) coordinates with the police to uncover information. When a group of visiting schoolgirls arrives and one of them falls victim to the maniac, Andrea becomes deeply involved in trying to solve the mystery. 

In a typical Giallo, the identity and the motives of the killer would become clear at the film’s conclusion. The Embalmer’s thin script falls short. When Andrea finally pulls the killer’s skeleton mask off by in the final chase sequence, it’s just a guy. It’s not someone we’ve even seen before anywhere else in the film and we never find out who he is or why he did what he did before being shot by the police. 

One characteristic of films from this period of Italian cinema is that they often looked and sounded a decade older than they were. This film is no exception. The black and white photography, jazzy soundtrack, long dance sequences and lack of gore place it in stark contrast with the exciting horror films coming from Hammer studios and Herschell Gordon Lewis during the same period. There’s even a ‘50s-style Italian Elvis. Not at all reflective of the beatnik La Dolce Vita culture prevalent in Italy in 1965. 

The acting is average – made worse by a poor English-language dub with some questionable translation. In one scene, there’s a woman dancing at a nightclub who claims to be 42 years old. She’s a minimum of 70. Her dance moves are groovy regardless. 

These shortcomings aside, the film contains some interesting set-pieces. In the best one, the killer, dressed in his robe and skeleton mask, hides out among the preserved corpses of the deceased monks in his underwater monastery. He enjoys a distinct advantage over Andrea when he comes snooping around with only a flashlight as a single source of light. The gag is so good, it’s used twice. 

Setting the film in Venice adds an immeasurable amount of production value for a film with such an obviously small budget. The night streets are deserted, the throngs of tourists having returned to their cruise-ships parked offshore. It’s a city easy to get lost in with its web of narrow shadowed alleys. During the day, the film goes to great lengths to show the beauty of the Venice and nearby Murano with its artisan glass merchants. Without this bonus, the film would be just okay. As it stands it’s basically par and recommended only for those die-hard fans of ‘60s Italian Giallo cinema. 

PURE TERROR MONTH: Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965)

Massimo Pupillo is mainly known for three horror films: Terror-Creatures from the Grave, Bloody Pit of Horror and La vendetta di Lady Morgan. Afterward, he claimed to be done with horror forever before making Django Kills Softly and the mondo Love: The Great Unknown. He claimed to be disgusted by his films and went into television. He may or may not be dead, as some claim that happened in 1999. There’s no evidence, though. There was some confusion when the producer of this movie, Ralph Zucker, died. Pupillo had given up the directing credit for this film and let Zucker take credit. His Americanized credits list him as Max Hunter on other movies.

Luciano Pigozzi plays one of the servants. I am duty-bound to report that he would go on to play Pag in Yor Hunter from the Future.

The main reason to watch this is Barbara Steele. The producers were aware of this, as she’s on every poster. This is yet another role where she’s an unfaithful wife, but I think if you were married to her, you’d probably let her do anything she wished.

In this one, an attorney arrives at a castle to settle the estate of its recently deceased owner, whose spirit is still roaming the cobwebbed halls of the castle and summoning the spirits of plague sufferers. And then, as usually happens, people start to die.

Beyond watching this on the Pure Terror set, you can also discover the best possible release on Severin’s Nightmare Castle set, which also features this movie and Castle of Blood.

The 10th Victim (1965)

In light of B&S Movies Post-Apoc Week coinciding with the recent controversy surrounding the Hillary Swank-fronted post-apoc flick The Hunt (Wikipedia link), it’s time to take another look at Elio Petri’s influential sci-fi/pop-art “human death sport” romp. (The film was previous reviewed by Sam as part of B&S Movies “Deadly Game Shows week*).

While the first wheat grains of the ’80s spaghetti apocalypse were planted with 1979’s Mad Max out of Australia, those stalks blossomed in 1981 with the cinematic one-two-punch of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and George Miller’s Mad Max sequel, The Road Warrior.

10th-victim-tenthla-decima-vittimala-10e-victime-vintage-movie-poster-original-french-1-panel-47x63-6443

However, the inspiration for several Italian-Euro apocalyptic films began with a film based on a 1924 short-story by Richard Connell: 1932’s The Most Dangerous Gamea story that inspired novelist Robert Sheckley to compose his sci-fi variations of “human death sports” that, in turn, begat the American-made Rollerball (1975), Death Race 2000 (1975), Deathsport (1978), and the later (excellent!) pasta variants of Endgame (1983) and Rome 2072 (1984). Even Ground Rules (1997), the kinda sorta post-apocalyptic romp with a bit of fake sport and some generous helpings of Richard Lynch thrown in, applies. Another variant of Connell’s novel is 1994’s Surviving the Game, a present-day variant starring Ice-T as a kidnapped homeless man hunted on preserve by Gary Busey and the late Rutger Hauer. One can also consider Eli Roth’s 2005’s Hostel as a “death vacation” horror variant of the material.

Sheckley’s grandfather of sci-fi “death sport” films came courtesy of the Italian-made The 10th Victim (1965) based on his 1953 short story, The Seventh Victim. Sheckley’s literary inspirations about humanity’s future psych-condition continued with the 1958 short story, The Prize of Peril, first adapted as the German television film, Das Millionenspeil (The Millions Game; 1970), then as the French film, Le Prix du Danger (The Price of Danger; 1983). Both films’ predictions of today’s reality television programs so influenced Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man (1987) that it resulted in a (well justified) copyright infringement lawsuit.

So the next time you pop in a copy of Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku’s Battle Royal (2000; 2010 in the U.S when Anchor Bay issued it direct-to-video; the film is based on the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami), Suzanne Collins’s teen-dystopia Hunger Games series (that ripped off Battle Royal), and the dark satire twist on the Reality TV genre with Series 7: The Contenders (2001), and (maybe?) the eventual DVD/VOD release of the controversial “political satire” variant, The Huntjust remember that it all comes courtesy of the mind of Robert Sheckley.

The eventual 1965 film born from Sheckley’s 1953 short story was directed by Italian politician-psychologist-film maker Elio Petri. The film stars Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2) as Marcello Polletti and Ursula Andress (Honey Rider in Dr. No) as Caroline Meredithboth are the top assassins-contestants who have scored the most kills in a government-sanctioned reality television series. As with William Harrison’s 1973 short story, Roller Ball Murder, and its eventual 1975 film adaptation, in Sheckley and Petri’s future, wars are avoided and tendencies for aggression are channeled through a violent sport—The Big Hunt. As with Rollerball, it’s the most popular form of entertainment in the world (just like 1987’s The Running Man; born from Stephen King’s 1982 Richard Bachman pseudonym-novel of the same name).

Unlike in Universal’s controversial The Hunt (rumored—and denied—as originally being titled Red State vs. Blue State), where the “red state deplorable” contestants are kidnapped, or in The Running Man, where desirable “contestants” that are “good for ratings” are framed into playing the game, the contestants in The Big Huntas in Rollerballare willing participants who desire fame and fortune by surviving the game.

You’ve got to love a film where two civilians are running through the city shooting at each other . . . and a police officer stops “The Hunter” to check his “credentials” before he allows him continue his pursuit. The rules are simple: Five Hunters and Five Victims play ten rounds. As you kill (as in Death Race 2000), you win “points” in the form of financial gains. The sole survivor of the ten rounds wins and retires to a life of wealth and luxury. Of course, there is something more deadly afoot than bullets: love.

Mastroianni’s Poletti enters the game to get himself out of debt: he’s on the hook with a mistress and ex-wife who’s already spent the winnings from his six kills. Then he falls in love with Andress’s Meredith who’s just killed her ninth victim and she intends to make Poletti her tenth victimand his “perfect kill” in front of the camera will maximize her royalties via her sponsorship by the Ming Tea Company. Meanwhile, Poletti gets wise to Meredith’s scheme and arranges for her spectacular death with a competing television network: death by crocodile. The cat and mouse game between the two lover-assassins (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s 2005 film Mr. & Mrs. Smith, anyone?) is onwith one double-crossing the other.

While Petri incorporated Italian satire and Totalitarianism and fascism symbolism into his film version with the two assassins escaping the game and getting married, Sheckley’s original short story was much darker: the Meredith character’s “love” was nothing more than a ploy: she kills Poletti and wins the game. (I’ve been there and done that . . . without the death part . . . more than a few times!)

10th

While The 10th Victim is gaining renewed interest in the wake of the controversy surrounding The Hunt, many have not heard of the film or seen it. But you have seen it, indirectly, via the patronage of Mike Myers. He paid homage to the film (such as Ursula Andress’s bullet-spraying bra and his faux-band Ming Tea) with his Austin Powers series of films. You can watch the full Italian, subtitled version of The 10th Victim on You Tube and TubiTv.

You can catch up on the wide array of post-apocalyptic adventures with B&S Movies’ “Atomic Dust Bins” Part 1 and Part 2 featuring 20 mini-reviews of movies you never heard of, along with a “hit list” featuring all of the apoc-flicks we watched for September 2019’s Apoc Month.

* Here’s the full list of films from our September 2018 “Deadly Game Shows” week.

Battle Royal (2000)
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Death Row Gameshow (1987)
The Final Executioner (1984) (part of our Apoc Month of reviews)
Gamer (2000)
The Gong Show Movie (1980)
Turkey Shoot (1982)

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Mudhoney (1965)

Mudhoney is based on Raymond Friday Locke’s novel Streets Paved With Gold and it’s probably the most serious of any Russ Meyer film I’ve ever seen. The auteur said, “That’s when I thought I was Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck and George Stevens all in one.”

The film was a financial failure, Meyer later saying, “I made a gamble with Mudhoney and I failed. The only reason I made Mudhoney was I was in love with a girl named Rena (Rena Horten, who plays Eula) I should have not made the film.”

Collaborator Roger Ebert disagreed, calling it Meyer’s neglected masterpiece and “his most interesting, most ambitious, most complex and longest independent production.”

It’s the Great Depression, Calef McKinney’s (John Furlong, the voice of Meyer if you ever see him in a movie) journey from Michigan to California brings him to small-town Spooner, Missouri. There, Lute Wade (Stuart Lancaster) hires him for odd jobs and he gets involved with Wade’s married niece, Hannah Brenshaw (Antoinette Christiani).

She’s married to the wife-beating Sidney, who plots against McKinney and Wade, along with a preacher named Brother Hanson. McKinney has a past that’s about to catch up to him and a burning love for Hannah. Speaking of burning, before it’s all over, Sidney burns down his farm, frames our hero and even assaults Brother Hanson’s wife before a lynch mob strings him up.

Imagine if the sideshow brought the sights, sounds and, yes, women of exactly what you expect the backwoods to look and feel like. Cross-eyed men, toothless old women, deaf and mute children, ranting preachers and pulchritude of the blonde variety on all sides. It’s pretty amazing that Meyer never tried pure drama again after this, but no one really cared. They just wanted to see if he could fit all those gigantically endowed women into frame, which is a shame really.