DISMEMBERCEMBER: Santa Visits the Magic Land of Mother Goose (1967)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on December 24, 2020.

Happy holidays, everyone. To help celebrate, this is the first of two very horrifying holiday options for you to watch. Despite Santa being in the title of this movie, he only briefly appears, but that isn’t why we watched this movie. No, we’re here because this is another film in the career of Herschell Gordon Lewis that we had to check off.

Yes, parents that dropped their kids off at the theater for an all-day matinee in 1967 probably had no idea that just a few years earlier, the man they are trusting with the psyches of their children made Blood Feast.

So how did this even happen? Well, producer J. Edwin Baker was also a spook-show performer known as Dr. Silkini — his act was The Asylum of Horrors — and he hired Lewis to make a movie for his friend magician Roy Huston.

Huston plays Merlin, making this the second baffling holiday movie* I’ve seen where Santa joins forces with King Arthur’s closest confidant. I have no idea why this is a thing, to be perfectly honest.

The film starts with Santa Claus chilling out on the day after Christmas by reading some Mother Goose, which puts him to sleep. This section is tacked on, of course, to the original film so that they could get more money out of it. It’s also so shoddily made that we can audibly hear Lewis yell cut.

As for the movie itself, Old King Cole calls Merlin, a rag doll who is legally never referred to as Raggedy Anne (or Annabelle, for that matter), Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty, Mother Goose and a ghost who they originally called Casper before an audio edit saved the production from a lawsuit onto the stage for singing, something resembling dancing and the kind of magic tricks that you could have bought from a mail order store to bore your friends with.

Do you remember — if you’re a jerk like me — how much you hated up with people school assemblies? This is just like being stuck at one of those, with Lewis just plopping his cameras down and shooting whatever happened on stage.

There’s so much hand work and goofy acting tics and a witch that gets set on fire and not Raggedy Ann is just horrifying and the real magic trick is that somehow the hour running time of this feels like a hundred years. But hey, it’s Christmas and I have pledged to watch everything the Godfather of Gore ever did, so if you’re going to hit the highs of She-Devils on Wheels and Two Thousand Maniacs! then you’re going to suffer the valleys on the journey.

*The other is, of course, the Mexican mind melter known as Santa Claus.

ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD FILM FESTIVAL 2022: The Curse (A Praga) (1967, 2022)

Coffin Joe may be dead and yet he lives. How else do we have a new film that he hosts? Yes, through the fire and the flames, he comes back to us, warning us about making a joke of the unknown world. Perhaps he would also do well to warn us that if you see a witch in the countryside, there’s really no reason to take her photo.

José Mojica Marins, the human repository for the evil being known as Coffin Joe, originally filmed The Curse for his Brazilian TV show in 1967, but it was lost when a fire burned down the station two years later. In 1980, he started a second version, but production was halted due to financial issues. The existing footage went missing until 2007 when producer Eugenio Puppo rediscovered it while preparing a retrospective of the work of Marins.

Years of intensive restoration later — including shooting new scenes and recovering the lost dialogue with the assistance of a lip-reader — The Curse is making its U.S. debut along with a making of documentary The Last Curse of Mojica.

Based on a story in the graphic novel series O Estranho Mundo de Zé do Caixão, this near-hour-long story has Juvenal (Felipe Von Rhine) and his girlfriend Mariana (Silvia Gless) meeting that witch we discussed above (Wanda Kosmo) and deciding that it’s not only a good idea to take that photo but also to be rude to her. He’s soon left with a gaping and festering wound in his side that demands raw meat at all times or it will destroy him. Of course, his lover would make the perfect meal to stop that insatiable hunger, right?

How magical is it that we can find this film as part of our lives? All hail Coffin Joe. You shall never die.

This movie was part of the Another Hole in the Head film festival, which provides a unique vehicle for independent cinema. This year’s festival takes place from December 1st – December 18th, 2022. Screenings and performances will take place at the historic Roxie Cinema, 4 Star Theatre and Stage Werks in San Francisco, CA. It will also take place On Demand on Eventive and live on Zoom for those who can not attend the live screenings. You can learn more about how to attend or watch the festival live on their Eventlive site. You can also keep up with all of my AHITH film watches with this Letterboxd list.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Night Fright (1967)

Shot in 1967 around Dallas, Texas, who could foresee a time when this monster movie would be re-released in England under a whole bunch of titles like E.T.N.: The Extraterrestrial Nastie, E.T.N.: The Extraterrestrial Nasty, The Extraterrestrial Nastie and The Extraterrestrial Nasty. How did people feel when they rented this and got a movie about an alligator that mutated in space?

Directed by James A. Sullivan (who also directed Fairplay, a western family comedy, and The Pickle Goes In the Middle, a gangster comedy about taking over a fast food restaurant; he also edited Manos: The Hands of Fate and Brutal Fury) and written by Russ Marker (who himself directed The Yesterday Machine and The Demon from Devil’s Lake), this is the kind of movie where people allowed their own houses to be used for the production. No one got rich, but hey, we’re talking about this movie fifty years later.

NASA experiment Operation Noah’s Ark sends a whole bunch of animals to the moon and back just to see what will happen with them. What has happened with that kind of scientific method, the kind that says, “Just shoot a monkey into space, fuck it?” Gentlemen, tonight we’re going to blow up the moon.

Fantastic Four-style cosmic rays blast the ship, which falls back to Earth and crashes in Satan’s Hollow, Texas because Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina was, well, not near Texas where this was shot. Then some college students get the bright idea to throw a party at the crash site because, well, look kids have never been smart. The kids of the sixties who want to go back to a great America were dumb enough to party where a UFO crashed and thought ducking and covering would save them when the nukes rained down.

Sheriff Clint Crawford (John Agar) and Professor Alan Clayton (Roger Ready) know there’s only one way to kill a monster: blow it the fuck up. They do. We cheer. The end.

But anyways, Brenda Venus is in this. I am certain she is not a real person. Here’s why: she’s in movies like FMDeathsport and this, but at some point in her life, bought a book at an auction that had Henry Miller’s address in it. She wrote to him, he wrote back and became her mentor. They wrote about 1,500 letters to one another over four years.

She’s in Night Fight.

Sure, I guess.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: The Blood Beast Terror (1967)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on September 6, 2020. It returns thanks to a Kino Lorber blu ray reissue, featuring a 2012 2K restoration, new audio commentary by novelist/critic Kim Newman and writer/editor Stephen Jones and the trailer. You can get it from Kino Lorber.

When you mention 1960’s British horror films, most people are going to think of Hammer. Or Amicus. But there’s also Tigon, the very small studio who could, and by could, I mean make some astoundingly strange movies.

Witchfinder General, The Curse of the Crimson AltarThe Blood on Satan’s Claw…these are the movies that make me think that England in 1967 was an insane place to be.

Vernon Sewell directed this thriller about young and good looking men having their throats torn open and drained by a killer so frightening that whomever it is has driven the last eyewitness mad, claiming that a horrible winged creature with huge eyes is the killer.

Detective Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) responds by thinking that a giant eagle — no, not the Pittsburgh-based grocery store — has to be the murderer.

If this development has you happy, then good news. This is the kind of stiff upper lip British low budget fun you’re looking for. Yes, I struggled to include this in either the werewolf or vampire weeks we’re planning because it features a weremoth who lives on human blood. A weremoth! What will they think of next!?!

Cushing considered this the worst of his many films. Scanning his vast resume should tell you just how low this must be, but he was acting in as many films as he could to pay for the care of his wife Helene, who was suffering from emphysema. She would die four years later and by all accounts, he never recovered.

This played on double bills with the 1962 Italian film Slaughter of the Vampires.

CANNON MONTH 2: The Love Rebellion (1967)

The thing about so much of early erotic films — particularly the work of Joe Sarno, who directed and wrote this — is how so many of the stories end in sheer despair. Is that the square-up reel hanging like the Sword of Damocles hung by a thread over the lovemaking so that we feel morally superior by the end of our voyeurism?

Inside a New York apartment building lives divorced rich mother Fletcher (Melissa Ford, The Roommate) and her shy daughter Wendy (Gretchen Rudolph, My Body Hungers), who ends up at one of those swinging free love parties that I am certain only exist in Joe Sarno movies, one where Barbara introduces her to a sordid world of sin, all to somehow steal money from Pam’s mom, thanks to the schemes of Billy, who says that he’s an artist, but I think he’s some kind of asshole. Yet Billy falls for mom, while Hank, a sadist who Wendy keeps blowing off, starts to grow enraged.

Angelique Pettyjohn, The Mad Doctor of Blood Island) is also in this black and white film, a movie that seems where everyone wants something — love, sex, money — and everyone fails at finding it.

This is another example of films that Cannon would bring to America, get into art theaters and make a quick buck. More than a few years later, it would become the Cannon we know and love, but everyone starts somewhere.

CANNON MONTH 2: Take Her By Surprise (1967)

Also known as Violent Love, this is the first movie ever produced by Cannon.

Directed by Rudi Dorn and an uncredited John Gaisford, this movie finds drug dealer Walter Dorland (Paul Negri) fighting with his wife Margaret (Joan Armstrong) over her threatening to turn him itnto the police, so he visits a hypnotist named Korba (Peter Adamson), who hypnotizes Miklos (Noel Beckett) to assault and kill his wife while she stays at the couple’s cabin for the weekend.

I list this here for its historical importance, seeing as how this is an example of how Cannon took European exploitation, released it in the U.S. and made money. At this time in our history, a roughie like this was the absolute height of decadence. One imagines it could play on TV today.

VINEGAR SYNDROME BLU RAY RELEASE: Two Undercover Angels / Kiss Me Monster (1967, 1968)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Jess Franco Month, these movies were on the site on February 15 of this year. Now, Vinegar Syndrome is releasing them as only they can, newly scanned and restored in 4K from their 35mm original camera negatives. Beyond English and German langauge tracks, there;s also an alternate feature-length extended Spanish versions for both films (sourced from tape with newly translated English subtitles). Plus, Franco expert Stephen Thrower is interviewed about both movies, there are two archival Franco interviews and trailers and still galleries for both movies.

Also known as Sadist Erotica, The Case of the Two BeautiesTwo Avenging Angels and Red Lips Sadisterotica, this mindblast from Jess Franco is kinda sorta a Eurospy movie, but you get the feeling that Mr. Franco just wants to get to the choking and nudity and whipping and forget whatever minor plot there is.

Basically: two lesbian detectives are trying to find criminals, so they themselves pose as a supercriminal named Red Lips (this goes back to Franco’s 1960 movie, Red Lips, which was before Bondmania). The police have no idea and the tone of the films go from swinging fun and humor to outright brutality with no warning whatsoever.

I have no idea if I can explain what happens in this movie, which starts with an attractive brunette — Franco loved his brunettes, so get ready — being ripped to shreds by a werewolf man while a rich guy named Klaus Thiller watches and paints it all.

Then Red Lips steals a painting and we learn that the two lesbians, the blonde Regina (Rosanna Yanni, Count Dracula’s Great Love) and redhead Diana (Janine Reynaud, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) wear the mask and outfit when it suits them.

So yeah. The girls get hired to find someone that Thiller probably killed, they sleep with every man around them and yet still wind up with one another. Also: every few minutes, just when things threaten to get boring, there’s a go go dancing scene filled with nudity and blaring music.

This movie made no sense and I loved it for that reason.

Regina (Rosanna Yanni, Count Dracula’s Great Love) and Diana (Janine Reynaud, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) are back again for the third Red Lips movie from Jess Franco.

If the last film — Two Undercover Angels — made no sense, guess what? This one doubles down, almost a stream of consciousness film made up of murders, jazz clubs, stripteases, our girls play saxophones and near-escapes.

The sell copy for this claims, “Stiffs, Satanists and Sapphic sadists all after a secret formula for human clones!”

Maybe it’s the fact that I watched Jess Franco movies one after another and pounded what’s left of my brain into putty, but I loved every single minute of this movie.

Also known as Castle of the Doomed, it feels like Franco ran out of ideas here and just decided to have more things happen to the point that continuity and plot became the contrivances that lesser people try to bring up as necessary elements for a movie.

Nope. Not to Jess Franco.

Knife throwing clones? Evil lesbians? Good lesbians? Satanic murderers? Yeah. It’s got all that and an ending that doesn’t solve anything.

The failure of this movie would bring an end to the girls’ adventures until 1999’s Red Silk, although you can perhaps consider Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties a spiritual side quest.

But I think you should only watch a few Jess Franco movies in a row if you want to survive. And my head is already throbbing.

Also note: Two Undercover Angels had a monster in it. Kiss Me Monster has no monster.

Somewhere in there is a koan that will change your life.

Black Tigress (1967)

AKA Lola ColtLola Baby and Mean and Black, this Italian western — directed by Siro Marcellini, who also wrote the script with Luigi Angelo (The Pumaman) and Lamberto Antonelli (who directed the mondo Vietnam, guerra e pace) — has Lola Falana as Lola, a saloon dancer who came to Santa Ana to dance and ends up saving it from the outlaw El Diablo.

In addition to being one of the few — actually only — movies in which a black woman is a hero in the west, Lola gets to sing “Why Did You Go?,” “You’re the One I Love” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in musical numbers that seem to be from 1967 and the time when the movie is supposed to be taking place. It also has a white medical student named Rod (Peter Martell, The French Sex Murders) fall in love with Lola and not a single mention is made of her blackness. In 1967. Yes, I’m as surprised as you.

It’s more a curiosity than a movie you need to seek out, but yes. Lola Falana in an Italian western.

 

L’uomo, l’orgoglio, la vendetta (1967)

An Italian western based on an actual work of classic literature, CarmenMan, Pride and Vengeance (which was sold as Mit Django kam der Tod (With Django Came Death) in Germany due to Franco Nero being the star) is actually set in Europe instead of the American west.

Don José (Nero) is bewitched by Carmen (Tina Aumont, Arcana), even allowing her to escape an arrest which finds him demoted. He soon learns that she’s also slept with Lt. Pepe (Franco Ressel, Blood and Black Lace) which makes him insane, so he kills the man and runs from the city. He’s injured and barely makes it before being rescued by Carmen’s family, which surprisingly has her husband Garcia (Klaus Kinski!) amongst them.

He wants to run to America with her. She says they need gold, gold that can only come from robbing a stagecoach with Garcia’s gang. Of course, everyone — including the woman that got him to this ebb — is out to destroy Don José. But if you know Carmen, you already knew that.

One should expect such a strange western to come from a creative force like Luigi Bazzoni, who also made two of the best giallo — The Possessed and The Fifth Cord — as well as one of the strangest, Footprints on the Moon

You can watch this on Tubi.

Da uomo a uomo (1967)

The Italian title of this movie may mean As Man to Man, but in the U.S. it got the great title of Death Rides a Horse. The original title of the film was Duel in the Wind, but star Lee Van Cleef came up with the Italian title while he was discussing the movie with John Phillip Law, as he saw the movie as having a “man to man” story. Van Cleef remarked, “Why don’t they call it From Man to Man?” The Italian producers liked how it sounded in Italian and used it.

Directed by Giulio Petroni, who made Tepepa, an Italian western with Orson Welles and written by Luciano Vincenzoni (For a Few Dollars More, OrcaRaw Deal), it’s the story of Bill (John Phillip Law), a man who once watched his entire family defiled and murdered before his eyes and their home set on fire.

Now, 15 years later, he’s finally gunning for vengeance. He remembers one thing about each of the five men: a tattoo of four aces, a scar, an earring, a skull necklace and only one face. As he tracks them down, he runs into Ryan (Van Cleef), a man out of jail and hunting the same men after they framed him for armed robbery. While Bill manages to kill the first, played by Anthony Dawson, Ryan wants the rest all to himself.

Bill tries, but it doesn’t go well. He’s captured by the outlaws and buried alive with just his head emerging into the hot sun. He’s rescued by Ryan, who ends up being the man with the skull necklace. While he was present during the murders, but he claims that he arrived late and did not participate. He’s also the one who rescued Bill from the fire.

Ryan gives a pledge to the younger man. Once the gang has been dealt with, he will face whatever justice Bill wants to dish out.

An excellent film with a great Morricone soundtrack, this film saw writer Vincenzoni break away from Sergio Leone just as the director was starting The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

You can watch this on Tubi.