DISMEMBERCEMBER: Santa’s Christmas Circus (1966)

From 1953 to 1987, Frank Wiziarde played Whizzo the clown on TV stations in Kansas City and Topeka. He and his family had had their own traveling act, the Wiziarde Novelty Circus, so he had some level of big top know-how. None of this comes out in this film, which he directed and by that he set the camera up and just started talking. And talking.

Whizzo may be in the middle of a nervous breakdown during this because he keeps babbling about all of his problems and I know its Christmas but man, the dude just keeps talking about all the things he’s worrying about and then they bring in some kids and he asks where their circus outfits are and then he makes a kid dress like a lion and then he narrates some department store windows, all the while a child is literally dying from a horrific cough.

This is an hour long and even a trip to see Santa can’t save it. It’s mind-destroying in how braying Whizzo is and I wonder who was entertained by this.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, “Whizzo jumped out from behind a curtain, tripped over items scattered around his set and sang the song he composed, “Who’s always smiling, never sad? It’s Whizzo!” Whizzo’s set was always filled with props, most of which he made himself. His suitcase contained a number of amusing tricks. Among the animals on the show was “Hissy the Goose,” who would drop down on Whizzo, give him a bump and fly back up. Whizzo pretended not to know what hit him, only to be bumped repeatedly by “Hissy.” It was up to the kids in the studio audience to explain to Whizzo what had happened.”

This is Whizzo’s sad suitcase.

Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle once said “If kids could vote, Whizzo would be mayor of Kansas City.” I see no better argument for never adjusting the voting age.

You can watch this on Tubi.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: The Trouble with Angels (1966)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Jennifer Contino for suggesting this.

The Trouble with Angels was based on Jane Trahey’s book Life with Mother Superior, which is the story of her own high school years in a Catholic boarding school. Hayley Mills’ character of Mary Clancy was based on her friend Mary who became Sister John Eudes in real life. It was directed by Ida Lupino, who was mostly working in TV when she wasn’t acting herself.

She said, “… it’s such a nice change – no blood spilled at all, darling.”

Mills was escaping being typecast in Disney roles with this film, playing a rebellious girl while many of the actresses in this would go on to play nuns in other films:

Math teacher Sister Liguori is played by Marge Redmond who would be on The Flying Nun TV show as Sister Jacqueline.

Gym teacher Sister Clarissa is Mary Wickes, who also appears in the sequel Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows and also Sister Mary Lazarus in the Sister Act movies.

Art teacher Sister Elizabeth is Portia Nelson, who had just finished playing Sister Berthe in The Sound of Music.

Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell) is dealing with two rebellious students, Mary Clancy (Mills) and her friend Rachel Devery (June Harding). Yet by the end of the movie, Mary hears the call of being a nun and realizes that living a life of sacrifice is better than one of smoking in the basement.

This movie even finds a role for perhaps the most famous exotic dancer of all time., Gypsy Rose Lee. Russell played her mother in the movie of her life, Gypsy.

Stella Stevens would end up taking over Mills’ role in the sequel.

Producer William Frye had offered Greta Garbo a million dollars to play Mother Superior, but she remained in hiding.

ARROW BOX SET RELEASE: Gothic Fantastico: The Witch (1966)

Damiano Damiani is a name held in high regard if only for one film, the most Italian movie ever made by a major U.S. studio, Amityville II: The Possession. Based on the book Aura by Carlos Fuentes, Damiani wrote the script with Ugo Liberatore.

Sergio Logan (Richard Johnson) is a womanizing cad who notices an old woman (Sarah Ferranti) following him everywhere. When he finally confronts her, she offers him a job: catalogue her vast library of erotica. That seems like the right job, but it gets better when he meets her gorgeous daughter Aura (Rosanna Schiaffino). As you can imagine, the library is filled with occult and sex magic energy. They claim the books are the works of their long-dead master, but the truth is that women can use their wiles to destroy men, especially ones who think they’re the so-called stronger sex.

Sergio is not alone. He also has another librarian, Fabrizio (Gian Maria Volonte), as competition, as well as the remains of the master of the house behind a glass case. It’s funny that this has always been amongst horror films. Sure, it’s in the genre, but it’s also just as much art as it is fright.

Along with a new video introduction by Italian film devotee Mark Thompson Ashworth, a limited edition 80-page book featuring new writing by Roberto Curti, Rob Talbot, Jerome Reuter, Rod Barnett and Kimberly Lindbergs, a fold-out double-sided poster and limited edition packaging with reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch, The Witch has new commentary by author and producer Kat Ellinger, a new video essay by author and academic Miranda Corcoran and a new video interview with author and filmmaker Antonio Tentori.

ARROW BOX SET RELEASE: Gothic Fantastico: The Third Eye (1966)

Mino (Franco Nero) is a wealthy nobleman and oddly enough taxidermist living under the domineering rule of his mother (Olga Solbelli) who decides to escape by marrying his fiancée Laura (Erika Blanc, pretty much the queen of Italian gothic horror). This also upsets his maid Marta (Gioia Pascal), who cuts the brakes on Mino’s car. She dies in a crash yet Mino saves her body, stuffing her and placing her body in his bed. While he’s preoccupied with that, Marta — why is the name Marta or Martha always filled with dread in Italian movies? — shoves his mom down the steps.

In his grief, Mino starts having sex with ladies of the evening in the same bed as his stuffed wife. When these girls find out that they’re part of a necrophilic threeway, he strangles them and Marta puts them in an acid bath. He agrees to marry her and make her a countess, but then Laura’s twin Daniela shows up and ruins her plan. When she tries to kill his love come back from the dead, Mino flips and repeatedly stabs his maid turned wife, then kidnaps Daniela and leads the police on a manhunt.

Italian censors were bewildered by this movie, saying “In addition many scenes of almost full female nudity and excessively graphic intercourses, the film features episodes of necrophilia, close-ups of horrific scenes with blood and brutal violence, presented with real sadism and a protracted insistence which conveys a sense of complacency by part of the makers.”

Imagine how they felt when Joe D’Amato remade it thirteen years later as Buio Omega, a movie that outdoes the depravity of this film on nearly every level.

Directed by Mino Guerrini from a script by Piero Regnoli based on a story by Gilles De Reys, this is one dark movie and you know, I love it. It’s wild to see Nero play such the villain.

Along with a new video introduction by Italian film devotee Mark Thompson Ashworth, a limited edition 80-page book featuring new writing by Roberto Curti, Rob Talbot, Jerome Reuter, Rod Barnett and Kimberly Lindbergs, a fold-out double-sided poster and limited edition packaging with reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch, The Third Eye also has new commentary by author and critic Rachael Nisbet, a new video essay by author and filmmaker Lindsay Hallam and a newly edited video interview with actress Erika Blanc.

You can get this set from MVD.

CANNON MONTH 2: Knives of the Avenger (1966)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first on the site on December 5, 2020Knives of the Avenger was obviously not produced by Cannon, but they did release it in Germany on the Cannon/VMP label in 1985. 

You can’t really judge Mario Bava’s work on this film, as he entered a troubled production and rewrote and reshot it in just six days.

After the apparent death of her husband King Arald (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Crimes of the Black Cat, here called Frank Stewart), Karin (Elissa Pichelli, using the Americanized name Lisa Wagner) has run from the murderous Hagen (Fausto Tozzi, billed as Frank Ross). Now, Rurik, a knife-throwing stranger (Cameron Mitchell, using the name…well…Cameron Mitchell) has rode into town like a Roman Shane and is defending her and her son Moki. Of course, Moki may also have been his son and he could very well have aassaultedKarin in the past, but I guess him learning how to throw knives — and aiming them at the right people — is some kind of redemption?

This is much closer to a western than a peblum, but when you think that Bava pretty much fixed this movie — or at least got it done — in less than a week, you have to admire his talent. That said, this is not one of his best.

This played on double bills with Gamera the Invincible, which seems like a pairing I’d never put together.

Arizona Colt (1966)

Known in Italy as Il pistolero di Arizona (The Arizona Gunslinger) and L’uomo venuto dal nulla (The Man from Nowhere), this film has quite a setup in the soundtrack: “He came out of nowhere, with no one beside him. He rode out of the sunrise all alone. A man out of nowhere, with no one to love him. His one faithful companion was his gun. No one could say, just where he came from. No one could say, where he was going. Was he a man without a heart, a man with a heart made of stone…”

Torrez Gordon Watch (Fernando Sancho) is breaking prisoners out of jail and telling them to join his Sidewinder Gang or die. Somehow, Arizona Colt (Giuliano Gemma) gets out alive. He gets involved with the gang again when a member named Clay Clay (Giovanni Pazzafini) murders a girl named Dolores (Rosalba Neri) who recognizes him. After the gang robs another bank, her father — the banker — realizes that the criminal that stole all the money in town is also the man who killed his daughter. He hires Arizona to stop the gang and get revenge for the low price of $500 and his other daughter’s vow of marriage.

If you enjoyed Giuliano Gemma as Ringo, you’ll really like this. He’s totally sarcastic, plays jokes on the gang and then gets deadly serious when it’s time to kill them off. He even orders a glass of milk at the bar, just like Ringo! Of course, he’s told they only have beer, so he grabs a mug. There’s also a lot of similarity to Django, as Colt’s hands and leg are injured and he must relearn how to be a gunfighter.

Director Michele Lupo also made The Weekend Murders. This was written by the master of all Italian film writers, Ernesto Gastaldi, along with Luciano Martino, who produced so many films with his brother Sergio, helped write Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key amongst many other films and romanced Wandisa Guida, Edwige Fenech and Olga Bisera.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Quién sabe? (1966)

With a title that translates as Who Knows?, this was renamed A Bullet for the General when it was released in the U.S. It’s the first Italian western to seriously deal with the Mexican revolution, which is credited to screenwriter Franco Solinas, a confirmed Marxist, who shared screenplay duties with Salvatore Laurani. It was directed by Damiano Damiani, who was no stranger to movies with political commentary, except for the movie he’s best known for in the U.S., Amityville II: The Possession.

Gian Maria Volonté plays El Chuncho Muños, who is considered the hero — I guess — of this film, who attacks a train and adds American Bill “Niño” Tate (played by Lou Castel with William Berger providing his voice). The foreigner manipulates Chuncho throughout and is present for the deaths of nearly all of his men as well as the death of his brother El Santo (Klaus Kinski, not the masked luchador, but man, Klaus Kinski and Santo in a movie is something I want to see).

It has Martine Beswick in the cast, an actress whose career ranges from Thunderball and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde to The Happy Hooker Goes HollywoodTrancers II and so much more.

There’s also an urban legend that Damiani got so fed up with the hijinks of Gian Maria Volontè and Kinski that he beat them and whipped them on the set until they finally behaved.

The first Zapata western — one that deals with the Mexican revolution — this movie ends with money being thrown and the poor being told to buy dynamite instead of bread. The idealism of revolution is forever co-opted by greed and this movie shoves your face in it and laughs, because even a movie made nearly sixty years ago understands the same issues we’re dealing with today, ones that will never go away. Friendship means nothing, ideals mean nothing, only gold. Anyone, everyone will be sold out and left for dead.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Texas Adios (1966)

Franco Nero may play Texas sheriff Burt Sullivan in this movie, but that didn’t stop it from being called Django 2 in some countries. Then again, there are so many Django movies that don’t have Nero in them and have absolutely nothing to do with that movie.

Shot in the Spanish province of Almería at exactly the same time Sergio Leone was making The Good, The Bad and The UglyTexas Adios finds Nero’s sheriff heading across the border with his younger brother Jim (Alberto Dell’Acqua) to get revenge against the man who killed their father, Cisco (José Suárez). The twist is that Cisco ends up being Jim’s real father.

Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, who would go on to make much better movies like Comin’ at Ya!Treasure of the Four CrownsGet Mean and two Mark Gregory movies, Just a Damn Solder and Tan Zan Ultimate Mission. In fact, he also made a Django movie, Django, Prepare a Coffin, which originally was going to star Nero and ended up having Terence Hill play the lead.

Baldi wrote the story for this with the script written by Django writer Franco Rossetti.

It’s not the best western. It’s not even the best Franco Nero western. But at least there’s a great bar room brawl.

You can watch this on Tubi

La lama nel corpo (1966)

The Murder Clinic predates the Argento era of giallo while coming around the same time as the Bava instigation with The Girl Who Knew Too Much and the krimini films. Known in its native Italy as La lama nel corpo (The Knife in the Body), it was written by Luciano Martino (brother of Sergio and writer of Delirium and The Whip and the Body) and Ernesto Gastaldi (The Sweet Body of Deborah, All the Colors of the DarkThe Case of the Bloody Iris and so many more) with direction coming from Elio Scardamaglia (this is the only film he’d direct as he usually produced movies) and Lionello De Felice. It’s based on the book The Knife In The Body by Robert Williams, a former Tuskegee Airman who became an actor. He also wrote Turkey Shoot, which really means that his work was produced all over the world.

The story takes place in 1870s England, so this movie can also be considered a gothic horror film. Dr. Vance, the director of a mental hospital (Wiliam Berger) is restoring his sister’s face using patients as raw material, all while a masked killer uses the giallo weapon of choice, a strait razor, to kill other people within the hospital.

This is a story that would replay itself across many films — Slaughter HotelFacelessMansion of the Doomed (well, that owes a debt to Eyes Without a Face) — while the first scene, with a young woman being chased by a killer in the woods at night as well as a scene where the killer stalks his prey in a room full of hanging sheets feel like they inspired Suspiria.

The Murder Clinic itself feels indebted to Bava, really taking to heart the color strategies of Blood and Black Lace.

This is a movie with an interesting release history. After Berger spent some time in an Italian prison — he had been wrongly accused of the possession of hashish and cocaine — it was re-released with a line on the poster that said “William Berger, guilty or innocent?”

In the U.S., it was renamed Revenge of the Living Dead to cash in on Romero’s zombie film. It played triple features with Curse of the Living Dead (Kill, Baby, Kill!) and Fangs of the Living Dead (Malenka) in the 70s as the Orgy of the Living Dead.

With a great location — the Villa Parisi, home of Blood for Dracula and Patrick Still Lives — and appearances by Françoise Prévost (The Return of the Exorcist), Mary Young (who only was in this movie and Secret Agent 777) and Barbara Wilson (her only film and she really should have done more), The Murder Clinic is an early giallo worthy of being enshrined in your collection.

Spy Smasher Returns (1942, 1966)

Created by Bill Parker and C. C. Beck, Spy Smasher was introduced in Whiz Comics #2 and was the second most popular Fawcett Comics hero behind Captain Marvel. Alan Armstrong was a millonaire inventor who decided to use his intelligence to protect America during the war. By the 50s, there was no need for that, so he became Crime Smasher for one issue before disappearing until he made appearances in Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Power of Shazam after DC bought the characters of their former rival.

In the serial, both Alan and Jack Armstrong (both brothers are played by Kane Richmond) are on the wrong side of The Mask (Hans Schumm), including — spoiler warning — a chapter ending that does not end happily, as unlike every serial, one of them is killed.

While the twin idea was invented for the series, The Mask, Admiral Corby (Sam Flint) and his daughter Eve (Marguerite Chapman) are all directly from the comics.

In their book The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut claimed that this was ” the foremost cliffhanger example of a whole school of Hollywood film-making in the 40s that gloried in matchless pure entertainment.”

At the end of Kill Bill volume 1, there are RIP notices for Charles Bronson, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Leone, Shaw Brothers regulars Cheng Cheh and Lo Lieh, Django director Sergio Corbucci, Lee Van Cleef and the director of this serial, Willian Witney, who Quentin Tarantino has said is a lost master. Witney popularized shooting fight scenes in small bursts, allowing stuntmen to keep high energy throughout the scene. Some of his best regarded movies are The Crimson GhostAdventures of Captain MarvelMaster of the World and the very late in his career Darktown Strutters.

Spy Smasher was one of 26 Republic serials re-edited and re-released as a Century 66 film on television in 1966, in the midst of Bat-mania, and titled Spy Smasher Returns. Other films in this series include — thanks to ugglewuggle on the Movie Serial Message Boards — the following (the in parentesis title is the re-edited Century 66 title):

Darkest Africa (Batmen of Africa)
Undersea Kingdom (Sharad of Atlantis)
Robinson Crusoe of (Robinson Crusoe of)
Clipper Island (Mystery Island)
The Fighting Devil Dogs (Torpedo of Doom)
Hawk of the Wilderness (Lost Island of Kioga)
Mysterious Doctor Satan (Doctor Satan’s Robot)
Spy Smasher (Spy Smasher Returns)
Perils of Nyoka (Nyoka and the Lost Secrets of Hippocrates)
G-Men Vs. the Black Dragon (Black Dragon of Manzanar)
Secret Service in Darkest Africa (The Baron’s African War)
The Masked Marvel (Sakima and The Masked Marvel)
Tiger Woman (Jungle Gold)
Manhunt of Mystery Island (Captain Mephisto and the Transformation Machine)
Federal Operator 99 (FBI-99)
The Purple Monster Strikes (D-Day on Mars)
The Crimson Ghost (Cyclotrode “X”)
The Black Widow (Sombra, The Spider Woman)
G-Men Never Forget (Code 645)
Dangers of the Canadian Mounties (R.C.M.P. & the Treasure of Genghis Khan)
Federal Agents Vs. Underworld, Inc. (Golden Hands of Kurigal)
The Invisible Monster (Slaves of the Invisible Monster)
Radar Men from the Moon (Retik the Moon Menace)
Jungle Drums of Africa (U-238 and the Witch Doctor)
Canadian Mounties Vs. (Missile Base at Taniak)
Atomic Invaders (Atomic Invaders)
Trader Tom of the China Seas (Target: Sea of China)
Panther Girl of the Kongo (The Claw Monsters)

You can watch this on Tubi.