Cinematic Void January Giallo 2023: So Sweet…So Perverse (1969)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cinematic Void will be playing this movie on Tuesday, January 17 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, IL (tickets here). For more information, visit Cinematic Void. It’s also available in The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection set from Severin, which has plenty of other great films like OrgasmoA Quiet Place to Kill and Knife of Ice.

Umberto Lenzi’s early giallo — before the Argento-influenced Seven Blood Stained Orchids — feel more like film noir than the standard films of the genre. Speaking of that same movie, it would also use the J. Vincent Edward song “Why.” And while we’re discussing influences, this movie is definitely feeling all sorts of Les Diaboliques.

Jean (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour) is a rich socialite who has come to the aid of Nicole (Carroll Baker!), a gorgeous woman mixed up with Klaus (Horst Frank, The Dead Are Alive). Sure, Jean is married, but that doesn’t stop him from falling for her, even when he learns that she’s been paid to kill him. Of course, his wife Danielle (Erika Blanc!) is mixed up in this, but Nicole is smarter than she seems. Beryl Cunningham (The Salamanders) is also in this as a dancer and Helga Line (Nightmare Castle) is on hand as well.

This was produced by Sergio Martino and has a screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi, the writer of The Whip and the BodyThe PossessedThe Sweet Body of Deborah and All the Colors of the Dark. And check out that Riz Ortolani score!

This is a classic giallo with so many of the finest actresses of the form and perhaps its best writer scripting.

AMANDO DE OSSORIO WEEK: Pasto de fieras (1969)

Tino (Ángel Luis Nolías) is an orphan who lives with his uncle Quico (Xan Das Bolas) and works as a shepherd, but one night everything goes wrong. His dog gets killed by a car and his sheep are stolen by a circus who wants to use them for tiger food, so he decides to run away to America.

Based on a story by José Antonio de la Iglesia, this was directed and written by Amando de Ossorio and would be followed up the same year by his first entry into horror, Fangs of the Living Dead. He also worked in other genres than just slow motion Knights Templar whipping and killing women, including the westerns La tumba del pistolero and Hudson River Massacre, as well as the crime movie Las alimañas.

AMANDO DE OSSORIO WEEK: Fangs of the Living Dead (1969)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s to an entire week of the movies of Amando de Ossorio. This was on the site originally on May 17, 2022 but this post has expanded writing.

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 as always) 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!”

Also known as Malenka, the Vampire’s Niece, this also has Diana Lorys (Blue Eyes of the Broken DollSuperargo and the Faceless Giants) and Paul Muller (Lady FrankensteinShe Killed In Ecstasy) appearing in the cast. Ugarte was making his name as a vampire actor, as the year before he played Dr. Janos Mikhelov, the vampire opposite Paul Naschy in The Mark of the Wolfman, the aforementioned Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror.

NIGHT GALLERY: Pilot episode

There’s never been a better TV anthology — when it’s firing on all gears, that is — than Night Gallery. Sure, The Twilight Zone is a classic, but there are moments on this show that are still terrifying nearly fifty years later.

I remember as a kid I had a book called The TV Guide Book of Lists that I devoured. I kept coming back — and being afraid — of a list by Anton LaVey that inscribed the ten most Satanic TV shows of all time. Night Gallery was all over that list and for good reason. This show lives up to the quasi-religion he set forth on Walpurgisnacht, April 30, 1966.

“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way—not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspended in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”

With those words, host Rod Serling would walk out of a gallery filled with paintings by Thomas J. Wright and Jaroslav “Jerry” Gebr. He created the series along with Jack Laird and one of the reasons why this show isn’t seen in the same light as The Twilight Zone is because Laird loved goofy humor in his horror, so there are “blackout” sketches interspersed throughout the show. Serling hated those scenes with a passion, saying “I thought they distorted the thread of what we were trying to do on Night Gallery. I don’t think one can show Edgar Allan Poe and then come back with Flip Wilson for 34 seconds. I just don’t think they fit.”

The show was part of a rotating anthology series called Four in One. This 1970–1971 television series rotated four separate shows, including McCloud, SFX (San Francisco International Airport) and The Psychiatrist. Only McCloud and Night Gallery were renewed and became full series for the 1971-1972 season.

One of the other reasons why this show isn’t held in higher esteem is because so many people never saw it in its original form. In order to increase the number of episodes that were available for syndication, the 60-minute episodes were re-edited for a 30-minute time slot, with many segments severely cut and changed, along with extended new scenes using cut or stock footage. Then, in an even greater indignity, twenty-five episodes of the Gary Collins-starring series The Sixth Sense were added to the syndicated version with Serling filming newly filmed introductions. That show was also an hour originally, so that means that they were also edited into oblivion.

Premiering on NBC on November 8, 1969, Night Gallery began with three stories and aired as a TV movie. “Eyes” and “The Escape Route” are based upon novellas Rod Serling wrote for the book The Season to Be Wary in 1967.

Serling starts the series by stating “Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way—not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare. Our initial offering: a small gothic item in blacks and grays, a piece of the past known as the family crypt. This one we call, simply, “The Cemetery.” Offered to you now, six feet of earth and all that it contains. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Night Gallery…”

Directed by Boris Sagal (who died when he literally walked the wrong way into a helicopter blade while filming the TV miniseries World War III), “The Cemetery” was written by Serling. It stars Roddy McDowell as Jeremy Evans as a man who murders his uncle to inherit his money and also gains the services of that man’s loyal — and now enraged — butler Osmond Portifoy (Ossie Davis). The effective terror within this episode is achieved with a painting of the family grave that keeps changing, along with great cinematography, editing and sound design that tells us that something undead — maybe — is coming for Jeremy.  His last words, “What in God’s name is happening?”, are actually voiced by John Badham in an overdub.

“Eyes” starts with this narration: “Objet d’art number two: a portrait. Its subject, Miss Claudia Menlo, a blind queen who reigns in a carpeted penthouse on Fifth Avenue—an imperious, predatory dowager who will soon find a darkness blacker than blindness. This is her story…”

This was the directorial debut of 22-year-old Steven Spielberg, as well as one of the last acting performances by screen legend Joan Crawford. When she discovered that the young Spielberg would be directing her, Crawford called Sid Sheinberg, vice president of production for Universal Television, to demand that he be replaced but he talked her into taking a chance on him.

Despite her early reservations, the director and star got along well and stayed in touch until her death in 1977.  In fact, before filming, she gave a speech to the crew informing them that she had worked with Spielberg previously and asked them to treat him with the same respect they would garner for an older and more seasoned, director.

Crawford would later say that she loved Rod Serling and his writing, yet remembered that “…his dialogue was the hardest to memorize. There’s a rhythm to his words and if you change one of them, the rhythm is off and you can’t remember.”

She plays Claudia Menlo, a rich woman who has received the eyes of a gambler through loan sharks and has blackmailed Dr. Frank Heatherton (Barry Sullivan) into a surgery that will give her sight for just one day. Surrounded by all of her favorite possessions, she doesn’t realize that a blackout is about to come for New York City.

Finally, “The Escape Route,” directed by Barry Shear, begins with this speech: “And now, the final painting. The last of our exhibit has to do with one Joseph Strobe, a Nazi war criminal hiding in South America—a monster who wanted to be a fisherman. This is his story…”

Richard Kiley is Joseph Strobe, a former German soldier on the run after World War II. He makes his way to a museum much like the night gallery that Serling occupies for the series. He speaks to a concentration camp survivor named Bleum (Sam Jaffe) and soon realizes that he was once in charge of the life and death of Bleum’s friends and family. Strobe finds peace in the museum, pulling himself into a dream of fishing through one of the paintings. The next day, Bleum recognizes Strobe, who kills him and must run again from authorities, finally coming back to the gallery and seeking the fisherman painting only to find his horrible final judgment within a painting of a crucified man.

In case you haven’t picked it up yet, I love this show. Between its strange electronic theme — which is different in the original pilot — and the fact that there’s a painting for each story, this has a look and feel unlike any series. Well, except for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiousities, which is directly influenced by this show.

If you love Night Gallery, without reservation I recommend Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson.

Skelton and Benson also created The Art of Darkness, which collects and speaks on all of the paintings used for the show. Sadly, both books are now out of print and quite expensive.

You can get the best quality version of this series from Kino Lorber, who have blu ray sets available of season 1, season 2 and season 3. I still have the gigantic DVD sets that came out for the show and these are a marked improvement on this already awesome collections.

I’m looking forward to writing about each episode in season one. What’s your favorite episode?

2022 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 12: Eggshells (1969)

12. IT’S A REAL FREAK SCENE, JACK: A groovy 60’s grinder.

Tobe Hooper’s first movie, which he co-wrote with Kim Henkel, is a story about a weird house in Texas, which is definitely a theme Hooper would come back to, but this one has a strange presence in the basement that starts influencing the hippies who have decided to live there.

Until the 2009 South by Southwest Festival, this movie was thought lost. What people saw was aJean-Luc Godard-influenced film that those in Austin in 1969 said was, well, Austin in 1969. It’s also a shambling, shaggy narrative where time doesn’t matter, where you take a long tour of the city, where things go fast, go slow, go weird, go introspective. Two couples, one established, one new, have to navigate a tumultuous time.

People take baths. Have psychedelic love scenes. Drive cars into fields, attack them, blow them up. Balloons appear in the woods. A man swordfights himself. It’s just what you’d expect from a movie made in 1969 that doesn’t want to be a Hollywood tale of hippies but one made by and for.

It starts with a woman coming to Texas on the back of a truck, wishing for big dreams. His next film would end with a woman leaving Texas on the back of a truck, escaping from a nightmare.

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.