KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: The Oblong Box (1969)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on the site on July 8, 2021. The new Kino Lorber release has commentary by film historian Steve Haberman. Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee narrated by Vincent Price, radio ads and the trailer. You can get it from Kino Lorber.

Based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Oblong Box,” the script for this movie by Lawrence Huntington and Christopher Wicking also brings in plenty of other Poe themes like masked men, premature burial and, well, voodoo. Which has nothing to do with Poe, but hey — this is the first time Christopher Lee and Vincent Price were in a movie together, so let’s just ignore that.

While in Africa, Sir Edward Markham (Alister Williamson, who usually is in a supporting role) has his face ruined in a voodoo ceremony — shades of how The Great Kabuki (Japanese version) got his facepaint — and is kept locked up by his brother Julian (Vincent Price). The secret is that the crime that he was punished for — killing a child — was really the fault of his brother. Now, he wears the scars for the crime he did not commit.

He soon gets the family lawyer and a witchdoctor (Harry Baird, Cool It Carol) to help him fake his death, but his brother buries him — but first, a proxy as nobody wants to see what Sir Edward has become — before going off to marry his true love Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer, which means that Matthew Hopkins finally got to have his way with Sara).

Meanwhile, Sir Edward is dug up — still alive — and given to Dr. Newhartt (Lee) to use as an experimental autopsy. The facially deformed madman blackmails the doctor and starts murdering nearly everyone he meets. By the end of this movie, numerous people have been horribly killed and both brothers are sentenced for their crimes, if not by the law, then by karma.

Sadly, this movie was to reteam Witchfinder General director Michael Reeves with Price. That film led to a renaissance of Poe films from AIP. However, Reeves fell ill while working on the film. He was also going to make an adaption of H.G. Welles’ When the Sleeper Wakes with AIP. He’d die a few months later of an accidental drug overdose. Instead, this was directed by Gordon Hessler, who also made Pray for Death and Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

The pro-black scene of the slaves rising up against Sir Edward was enough to get this movie banned in Texas, which happened within several of our lifetimes. The world changes eventually, right?

Coming Apart (1969)

Alright, I take it back, some found footage is good.

Then again, not all found footage movies are this great.

New York psychiatrist Joe Glazer (Rip Torn) is going through a divorce and has taken on the name of Glassman and rented an apartment. There, he has a video camera behind a mirror that records his love life and his rambling speeches as he goes through an emotional collapse.

It also records his relationships with three women: his ex-mistress Monica (Vivica Lindfors, Creepshow), a former patient named Joann (Sally Kirkland) and Karen (Phoebe Dorin), the wife of one of his best friends.

Coming Apart was shot in a one-room, 15 × 17 foot apartment on a $60,000 budget. Director and writer Milton Moses Ginsberg filmed the entire movie with one static shot to look like a fake documentary. He would later tell Film Comment, “The film was about a psychiatrist encased in his own reflection, using a hidden camera to record his own disintegration. The film was also about the pleasures and price of promiscuity, and about the form and duration of cinema itself — or so I hoped. And to a degree that still embarrasses, it was about me. Appropriate, the title Coming Apart.”

He followed this up with — incredibly — The Werewolf of Washington.

Rip Torn is on camera for this entire movie and he owns every single moment. While the single shot may limit some viewer’s enjoyment, I found this riveting and a movie that I’d been yearning to watch. Luckily, Coming Apart has a new 2K restoration from Kino Lorber and is available to rent or own on all major Digital/VOD platforms including Kino Now.

Top Sensation (1969)

By the loosest of categorization, we can call this movie a giallo; it’s also an example of just how scummy an Italian exploitation movie can get.

Also known as The SeducersSensations and Swinging Young Seductresses, this movie has quite the plot: Mudy (French author Maud de Belleroche in her only movie) is the mother of a shy and mentally disturbed manchild named Tony (Ruggero Miti) who isn’t interested in women and really only cares about setting things on fire. Her plan? A sea cruise where she’s hired a prostitute named Ulla (Edwige Fenech!) to take her son’s virginity and if that doesn’t work, she also has her married lovers Paula (Rosalba Neri!) and her husband Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia, The Perfume of the Lady in Black) aboard.

Everybody wants the oil project that the wealthy Mudy can give out. And somehow, Tony can resist both Fenech and Neri — this movie is science fiction — and only shows affection for Beba (Eva Thulin, who the New York Times misread as Ewa Aulin), the wife of goat herder Andro (Salvatore Puntillo). Also, someone has been strangling women everywhere the boat docks, someone that looks a lot like Tony.

Directed by Ottavio Alessi (who wrote Emanuelle In Bangkok and Emanuelle In America, so yes, he’s a maniac), who co-wrote the script with Nelda Minucci from a story by Lorenzo Ricciardi (who made Savage Man, Savage Beast and the cockfighting comedy — oh man, an Italian film about fighting cocks can’t be friendly to animals — Venere creola), everybody is having sex with anybody and everybody — and yes, there’s a scene with Fenech and Neri you filthy-minded reader — is doing it except for Tony, who Mudy thinks will break out of his lack of development if he can just get on top of Beba, who is rushed out of a Fenech and Neri sandwich into the young boy’s room so he can show off his slot cars while everyone keeps Beba’s husband busy.

Also: Neri shooting everything she can with a rifle, Fenech making out with a goat and a choking after a post-incestual makeout session? Oh Italy, you do know how to make a movie.

Just listen to the music from Sante Maria Romitelli in this and wonder why life can’t always be this good.

Oh man — I found a Pittsburgh Press review of this movie from when it played the Warner and it referred to it as “something dreadful” and said, “The Warner has brought forward some real doozies in recent months, but certainly nothing low enough to touch this number.” The best line? “Garbage is the best way to describe Seducers, which was apparently meant to be a poor man’s version of La Dolce Vita.”

That’s a rave review, dude.

Also: the movie ends with a Bible verse like some kind of demented apology for all the sin we’ve just witnessed.

Eye of the Cat (1969)

Written by Joseph Stefano (co-creator of The Outer Limits) and directed by David Lowell Rich (The Horror at 37,000 Feet), this feels like a giallo but it was shot in San Francisco by an American director.

Danielle (Eleanor Parker) is a rich woman who is missing 75% of her lungs which seems like the kind of thing that would kill you, but here we are and she’s getting her hair done. When her hairdresser Kassia (Gayle Hunnicutt, The Legend of Hell House) notices just how bad she is breathing, she calls Danielle’s nephew Wylie (Michael Sarrazin) with a plan to shut off her oxygen and then collect the inheritance, but the catphobic Wylie screws that up and an orange cat pays the price by getting electrocuted.

Danielle is being taken care of by Wylie’s brother Luke, but they’re both in it for the money, which was going to the cats before Luke uses a bowl of meat in a car and drives them off. Well, those cats are coming back and they’re not pleased at the humans who are keeping them from their homes.

By the end of the movie, the Luke, Wylie and Kassia are in a love and murder triangle, all while the cats have grown mad with need after bowls of meat have been hidden throughout the house and that electrocuted orange tabby rises like some ghostly avenger.

I mean, my cat tried to kill me for a piece of fried chicken last week, so I get it.

The TV version of this movie is way less intense, as there’s less ghost cat and his army of deadly mousers and just one cat and paranoia. This remix was made with a few new scenes and some outtakes edited together. It’s fine, but the theatrical ending has more cats going more bonkers than nearly anything I’ve ever seen before to the point that I was in hysterics.

La muñeca perversa (1969)

The Montenegros have real problems. Their matriarch has just died and moments after the funeral, her daughter Leticia announces that she believes that someone in the family poisoned her. Meanwhile, one of her son’s wives has escaped a mental asylum — a place she landed in because she killed the gardener with pruning shears and was led into alcoholism by the dead woman never accepting her and her own daughter Rosi de Ella, who in turn paid for them via sexual favors. 

Seriously, if you like the psychobiddy genre, Perverse Doll has so many female family members that are constantly on the verge of absolute mania and have absolutely no issue with going completely berserk (Berserk!) any time and every time.

Amongst all of them, Rosi is the worst, because despite looking like an angel, she’s the one who killed the gardener and put the murder weapon right into her mother’s hand, just like she did the bottle. Who would you believe? The alcoholic screaming covered in blood or the perfect child upset that her mother has lost her mind?

As the men of the house go out to attend the autopsy — where they learn that yes, grandmother was poisoned — Rosi goes on a rampage, pruning the family tree of every other woman. It wasn’t enough to push an aunt down the steps years ago and confine her to a wheelchair. Now, she must orchestrate a lamp and have it fall down on her. Milk is poisoned. Bathtubs become murder weapons. And only the youngest female, Luisita, escapes.

Of course, in every EC Comics story there has to come an ironic ending. It arrives here as the institutionalized mother returns home. Driven mad by abuse within the hospital, she arrives back at the family abode ready to burn it all down while everyone watches.

Perverse Doll is like a soap opera given license to just wipe out all of its characters. The closest Mexican movie that I can find to it — despite it having more supernatural touches — is Poison for the Fairies, another film that ends with an apocalyptic inferno.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Vivi o preferibilmente morti (1969)

Alive or Preferably Dead is also known as Sundance and the Kid and Sundance Cassidy and Butch the Kid, an attempt to win the audience of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was directed by Duccio Tessari, who wrote A Fistful of Dollars and would go on to direct A Pistol for Ringo. Its story comes from Ennio Flaiano, who wrote ten movies with Fellini, and has a screenplay by Tessari and Giorgio Salvioni (The Tenth Victim).

In the U.S. version, everyone gets an American name: Giuliano Gemma is John Wade; Nino Benvenuti becomes Robert Neuman; Sydne Rome is Karen Blake and director Tessari is called Arthur Pitt.

Country mouse Ted Mulligan (Nino Benvenuti, a former boxer) and city mouse Monty (Giuliano Gemma) inherit $300,000 if they can live together for six months.As soon as Ted arrives, he insults local tough “Bad Jim” Williams (Robert Huerta) who responds by burning down his brother’s house. Soon, the two of them are doing odd jobs, including robbing banks and kidnapping Rossella (Sydne Rome, What?Some Girls Do) who they both fall for.

It’s all rather goofy and really a predecessor of the sillier Italian westerns that were soon to come riding into town.

La collina degli stivali (1969)

Boot Hill (the Italian title means The Hill Made of Boots) is the last movie in a trilogy that began with God Forgives…I Don’t and was followed by Ace High. Taking advantage of star Terence Hill’s fame, it was re-released as Trinity Rides Again.

It was directed and written by Giuseppe Colizzi, who also made the other films in this trilogy, as well as All the Way Boys with Hill and Bud Spencer; Run, Joe, Run and Switch.

Hill plays Cat Stevens and Spencer is Hutch Bessy, who along with George Eastman as the mute Baby Doll are all somewhat friends and partners by the end. But to get there, Cat is shot and left for dead by a gang and nursed back to health by the circus of Thomas (Woody Strode), which includes can can dancers, dwarves and Mami (Lionel Stander), the dress-wearing manager of all of them, which ain’t easy, because when they met, it was murder.

Beyond the bad guy having the name Honey Fisher, he’s played by Victor Buono, which is quite a treat. There’s a strange dual look to this film, with the circus sections filled with color and near surrealism — they were shot by the movie’s original director Romolo Guerrieri (Johnny YumaThe Sweet Body of Deborah, L’ Ultimo Guerriero) while most of the film’s look is quite dark and moody.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Junesploitation 2022: Il prezzo del potere (1969)

June 2: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is Westerns! We’re excited to tackle a different genre every day, so check back and see what’s next.

The Price of Power (AKA A Bullet for the President) is an absolutely deranged idea for a movie. It uses the attempted assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881 to work out the feelings of the death of President John F. Kennedy just six years earlier.

Except that it’s a Western.

Made in Italy.

The idea came from commedia all’italiana director Luigi Comencini’s brother-in-law Massimo Patrizi, who wrote the script with director Tonino Valeri (Day of AngerMy Dear KillerMy Name Is Nobody) and Ernesto Gastaldi, whose writing credits include All the Colors of the DarkTorso and The Suspicious Death of a Minor.

Bill Willer (Giuliano Gemma, a true star of the Italian west thanks to turns as Ringo and Arizona Colt) is trying to get revenge for the death of his father while trying to save the life of Garfield from the Pinkerton agency.

The Pinkertons may be heroes elsewhere, but in Pittsburgh, you can drive past the two adjoining cemeteries of St. Mary’s and Homestead where remains of six of the seven Carnegie Steel Company workers killed are buried, the bloody aftermath of the Battle of Homestead on July 6, 1892, when Henry Frick tried to use the agency to break strikers with violence.

Van Johnson plays the idealistic Garfield, who is coming to Texas to speak to people who have no interest in hearing what he has to say, yet he believes in the goodness in everyone. Of course, he’s killed and the Lee Harvey Oswald figure is Jack Donovan (Ray Saunders), a black man, which adds even more of a connection to the way the world of 1969 was looking, what with Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King being killed and the start of the Years of Lead in Italy. And I’m not certain that the scars in America’s psyche had yet healed, so I doubt anyone was ready for a movie they surely saw as escapism having María Cuadra play Jackie Kennedy and follow her exact movements in Dallas. She’s even given red roses, just like the President’s widow was.

The joy of the Italian west is in finding movies that explore not only the way that film depicts a time and place we can never go to — indeed, many of the filmmakers had not even been to America — and even find that an alternate version of history can tell us so many things about the world we live in today.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Fangs of the Living Dead (1969)

When this played a triple bill with Curse of the Living Dead (Kill, Baby, Kill!) and Revenge of the Living Dead (The Murder Clinic), anyone upset by these three films was offered free psychiatric care. Amando de Ossorio did more than just create the Blind Dead and direct The Loreley’s Grasp. He cared about your mental health.

Sylvia (Anita Ekberg, perfect) learns that she’s now a countess and has inherited a castle, even if the locals are horrified by the very mention of its name. Yet things get strange when she arrives, as both her uncle Count Walbrooke (Julián Ugarte) and the maid Blinka (Adriana Ambesi) claim to be vampires. There’s also some non-consensual whipping.

The entire family is cursed and Sylvia must remain at the castle — she’s the reincarnation of the witch Malenka — and she must stay unmarried or the curse will get worse. Her fiancee still comes to save her and stabs the count in the heart. If you saw it in Spain, it’s all a hoax but the bad guy dies anyway. In other countries, there’s an ending where he really was a vampire. I can hear Americans saying, “If I’m gonna come see Fangs of the Vampire, there better be vampires. Them Spaniards already fooled me with Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, a movie that had no Frankensteins in it!”

Una ragazza piuttosto complicata (1969)

A Rather Complicated Girl was directed by Damiano Damiani, the director who came to the U.S. to make the most Italian movie — sheer exploitation and a streak of pure meanness — ever made in America, Amityville II: The Possession.

Alberto (Jean Sorel) has heard two sapphic lovers speak on the telephone and his head is filled with fantasies. He decides that he has to meet one of them in person, so he tracks down Claudia (Catherine Spaak, The Cat o’ Nine Tails) and they soon find themselves making love non-stop in between acting as fake talent scouts so they can get involved with the innocent Viola (Gabriella Boccardo, A Quiet Place In the Country) and discussing the strange relationship between Claudia and the woman on the other line, her stepmother Greta (Florinda Bolkan, always the finest actor in any giallo).

I love that this movie tests what a giallo is a year before Argento would send everyone down the animal-named and switchblade holding path. Alberto is a rich man without a care, even making fun of the wife (María Cuadra) of his dying brother, asking her when she’ll find her next lover. As for Claudia, she already has one abusive and possessive boyfriend — Pietro (Gigi Proietti) — and the film goes near hyperbolic in showing she has no morals with an interlude where she tries to seduce a priest.

The two plays games with one another and if you’ve seen enough giallo, you understand that Alberto can’t outthink Claudia or her mental games, especially when she shows him the gun in her purse and wonders if he’d do anything for her. Perhaps they’ve found an equal match in one another, for a time, as the idea that they could make love in a room where someone hung themselves excites them both, as if they are above human concerns.

Interestingly, the interviewing of the young girl and Alberto’s constant questions about Claudia’s life and relationships makes this a proto-Sex, Lies and Videotape, as when he’s not probing mentally, he can’t probe physically. What’s the fun in being a rich and gorgeous playboy if you’re impotent? Maybe he really does need that gun.