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.

L’isola delle svedesi (1969)

After another in a series of fights with her lover Maurizio (Nino Segurini, Beyond the DoorAmuck), Manuela (Eva Green in her only movie) leaves him for the island where her friend Eleonora (Catherine Diamant, Devil In the Flesh) lives alone. Seeing as how this is a giallo, their friendship soon flowers into a relationship much deeper.

Maurizio follows her with the hope of winning her back. And when she chooses him, things get violent.

Directed by Silvio Amadio (AmuckSmile Before Death), who wrote the script with Gino Mordini (The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine) and Roberto Natale (Bloody Pit of Horror), this film makes the most of its location, its small cast and cinematography by Joe D’Amato.

Also known as Island of the SwedesTwisted GirlsNo Man’s Island and Island of the Swedish Girls, it has a great body painting scene and an ending that takes from The Most Dangerous Game just as much as Franco did for Countess Perverse, but it comes as a natural outgrowth over the frustrated passions within the characters.

Very few of Amadio’s films are available in great quality, which is distressing, and I’d love to see a box ray set of this, AmuckSo Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… and Smile Before Death.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 28: Death of a Gunfighter (1969)

Death of a Gunfighter was originally directed by Robert Totten, who directed the original The Quick and the Dead, as well as plenty of TV like Gunsmoke and Mystery In Dracula’s Castle. Despite a year of work, he couldn’t get along with star Richard Widmark and lost that battle, getting replaced by Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body SnatchersDirty Harry and John Wayne’s last movie, The Shootist).

Siegel had been the original choice to direct, but was overworked, according to the Chicago Tribune. However, in Siegel’s memoirs, he wrote that Widmark pushed from day one to get Totten kicked off the film and replaced by the unwilling Siegel. Finally, three and a half weeks into making the movie, Widmark got Universal boss Lew Wasserman to personally get involved.

When Siegel looked at Totten’s footage, he thought it was great and even made sure his own footage matched. In fact, he didn’t reshoot a single scene, only finishing off the film’s opening and closing sequences, as well as some pick-up shots. In the end, he didn’t think he had done enough work to take directing credit.

However, Totten wanted nothing to do with the film. Siegel didn’t want his name on the film, which upset Widmark even more. Finally, an agreement was made with the Directors Guild of America for the pseudonym Alan Smithee to be used.

In fact, this was the first Alan Smithee-directed film.

Here’s where it gets weird: critics loved the film and the new director. The New York Times claimed that it had sharp direction and that Smithee “has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail.” Roger Ebert said that it was “an extraordinary western by director Allen Smithee, a name I’m not familiar with, allows his story to unfold naturally.” I wonder if Ebert was aware what was going on and was having fun with his review. I’d like to think so.

Based on Death of a Gunfighter by Lewis B. Patten, this movie feels like Hollywood realizing that some of the better Westerns were coming from other countries, mostly Italy, at this point. Marshall Frank Patch (Widmark) is an Old West-style lawman in Cottonwood Springs, Texas, a town determined to be modern and, as such, conveniently forget its numerous sins and just whitewash the past.

“What would happen,” the mayor says, “if an Eastern businessman came to town and saw old Patch there, wearing that shirt he probably hasn’t washed in a week?”

Patch shoots a drunk in self-defense, which the town leaders use as a way to get him out. Knowing that the town is about to murder him with their own gunfighters — he knows too much — the old lawman settles his affairs, including marrying brothel owner Claire Quintana (Lena Horne), an interracial relationship that is a fact of life, something bold for 1969.

This is a film rich with character actors that I love — Carroll O’Connor, Royal Dano, John Saxon — and a town unlike many other Westerns, one made up of all races, a place where a lone car causes worry, where the trains must get ever closer, where the past — and Patch — must die to move progress ever forward, no matter what.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 11: Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969)

While you can say that this is but an 11-minute movie, this Kenneth Anger directed, edited and photographed work of art — complete with Moog soundtrack by Mick Jagger — is one of the films that started midnight movies.

Assembled from what remains of the first version of Lucifer Rising, this movie strobes your mind with an assemblage of Anton LaVey presiding over a public funeral for a cat, the cast smoking out of a human skull, Anger on stage leading a ritual, nude men, Vietnam footage, the Stones playing their ill-fated Altamount show and is itself a ritual that follows Crowley’s Holy Law of Thelema in that one must master this universe before achieving the mindset needed to become your own god.

You could also say that it’s a lot of noise over a collage of imagery. Or perhaps Anger’s theory of film as magickal weapon is true. If you follow the logic that this isn’t for everyone, then you believe in Crowley’s thought process and how he claimed the esoteric would become “that which is understood by the people I wish to instruct.”

Evolution will only come by shocking our senses and overloading them with tones, with colors, with images.

Obviously, Bobby Beausoleil is Lucifer and the connections between the occult and the loathsome Manson Family will always be cited.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 1: The April Fools (1969)

I think my new obsession is watching movies where Jack Lemmon is flummoxed by modern love. Here, he’s Howard Brubaker, a man married to Phyllis (Sally Kellerman), who cares more about money, real estate and status than love. The person he falls for is Catherine (Catherine Deneuve) whose uncaring and philandering mate is Howard’s boss, Ted Gunther (Peter Lawford). When they meet Grace and Andre Greenlaw (Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer), they start to believe that maybe they could be happily married, just like the Greenlaws, if they can only run away and start again.

Deneuve’s part was originally intended for Shirley MacLaine, which would have reunited the stars of The Apartment. Knowing that makes me realize that that casting would have truly improved this, as with as stunning as Deneuve is, it makes it seem as if the affair is simply over attraction and not the idea that the two could be life partners, not just attracted to each other — no insult to MacLaine, who is also quite fetching. I hope you understand my point.

Maybe after The Apartment I just see Lemmon and MacLaine as the perfect couple.

Director Stuart Rosenberg also made Cool Hand Luke and The Amityville Horror, while writer Hal Dresener wrote SssssssThe Eiger Sanction and Zorro: The Gay Blade. Dionne Warwick sang the title song, while one of her biggest hits, “I Say a Little Prayer,” is sung at a party in the film by Susan Barrett. The b-side of that single? “Theme from Valley of the Dolls.”

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Succubus (1969)

The German title for this movie, Necronomicon – Geträumte Sünden (Necronomicon – Dreamt Sins) is metal as fuck and when you get right down to it, isn’t Jess Franco the same way? I feel like him like I do about Venom. Most Venom songs sound the same, but man, they all sound pretty good and while they aren’t the best musicians, they lucked on to some really great riffs and really, isn’t that what we’re looking for?

Franco’s first movie outside of Spain, this was his hope that he’d escape all the rules and censorship by working in Germany. The script was three pages long, which feels like two and a half pages too long for a Jess Franco movie, and the funding didn’t come through, but producer Pier A. Caminnecci paid for the rest and had an affair with lead actress Janine Reynaud despite her husband Michel Lemoine being in the cast. And that’s how a Jess Franco movie gets made.

American-International Pictures released this movie in the United States under the title Succubus and when Roger Ebert reviewed it, he called it “a flat-out bomb. It left you stunned and reeling. There was literally nothing of worth in it. Even the girl was ugly.”

Reynaud, who was also in Franco’s Kiss Me Monster and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, plays Lorna Green works in an S&M club where members watch fake deaths from the whip, the cross and yes, sex. And as Lorna continues to dance, she takes on the role of the femme fatale not just on stage, but in reality. But what is reality, after all, in a Jess Franco movie, particularly in 1969 when he had something of a budget, was shooting on film and some youth?

That said, if he had one of his muses in this, like Soledad Miranda or Lina Romay, I fear it would have been even wilder.

At once a mannequin movie and a film about a woman that may have killed someone and can’t remember and it’s driving her insane — oh man, two of my favorite themes — and it gets wild, like you’re drunk at a party and end up at another party and talking in the kitchen to someone and then someone hands you some pills and you wind up standing in the cold in the middle of a major city and the snow and rain and wind are in your face and you close your eyes and open them to heat and the most gorgeous and demonic creature you’ve ever seen is dancing mere feet away from you and you’re just a mere mortal and you want to touch their garment and jazz is blaring and you’re sure you’re in your bed but you’re so fucking far from home.

All hail Jess Franco.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Venus In Furs (1969)

Someone asked me, “So I’ve never seen a Jess Franco movie. What’s a good one to start with?”

I’m loath to recommend movies to people that haven’t yet built a tolerance for movie drugs. I mean, most Franco is high test black tar heroin movie drugs, films that achieve near murderdrone levels of nothingness balanced with zooms into anatomy that challenge your sanity and synth that seems to drift in the ether like a Spanish fog. Or jazz, maybe?

Also known as Paroxismus, Schwarzer Engel (Black Angel) and Paroxismus – Può una morta rivivere per amore? (Paroxismus – Can a Dead Woman Live Again for Love?), this movie has pretty much nothing to do with the novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch other than character names.

Imagine if Vertigo was made by a Hitchcock that wanted to see nudity. Lost Highway by a Lynch that liked trumpet blaring bleats and slow motion. And then, you’re somewhat close, but still have to contend with the fact that at times, it seems like Franco hasn’t even seen another movie before, much less made one, except this time that works and this is as close to perfect as he gets, as if a thousand mustached Lina Romay obsessed glasses wearing madmen were all typing in the same room for one thousand years.

You know how some movies have a fight between style and substance? Well, this movie finds substance being submissive and loving when style edges it and treats it bad and calls it names.

Art dealer Percival Kapp (Dennis Price, living in the tax haven of Sark, making movies like Twins of Evil and five movies with Franco), photographer Olga (Margaret Lee,  who was in 12 movies with Klaus Kinski and if anyone is getting a better next life or into heaven, it’s probably her for dealing with that) and depraved and devious playboy Admed (the maniac’s maniac, the just mentioned Kinski) have whipped, assaulted and drank the blood of Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm, Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion) and leave her for dead on a beach where trumpet player Jimmy Logan (James Darren, a former teen idol singer whose song “Addio Mondo Crudele” was a huge hit in Europe; he’s best known as Moondoggie in the Gidget films) can only watch.

So when Wanda washed up on the beach, somehow alive, can we blame Jimmy when he falls for her? Not even Rita (Barbara McNair from They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! and the singer of “Till There Was You” and how did she end up in a Jess Franco movie?; then again, her third husband was killed in a mob hit and she got busted for heroin once at a Playboy Club, no judgment) can take his mind off of her, but when you see a nude woman gliding through reality and murdering people while her own theme song — Manfred Mann! — accompanies her deadly doings.

There are two other Venus In Furs movies — by Joseph Marzano and Massimo Dallamano — but I really think there’s no way they can compare to this. I mean, does a multiple mirror version of an angel of death kill a perverted old man in those films? Empty beaches, rich colors, dead women rising from the sand to kill, baby, kill?

To answer that question at the beginning of all this, this is probably the best Franco movie — well, I can also make an argument for Vampyros Lesbos — there is. At the end of it, I got really emotional and just spent and was like one of those cartoony critics clapping in a basement room all by myself shouting “Cinema!” while tears streamed down my face.

Man, I have problems.

You can watch this on Tubi.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Kiss Me Monster (1969)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The third Red Lips movie was originally on our site on April 27, 2020. Stay tuned — we’re going to try to get to all of them this month. 

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.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: The Girl from Rio (1969)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth time this movie has been on our site. Twice —December 5, 2019 and April 27, 2020 from me — and on November 25, 2020 from Phil Bailey. Here’s Phil’s take.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil Bailey is a long time photographer and film writer, who doesn’t actually hate everything, but has no fear of being a contrarian.  Follow at Twitter at @stroke_midnight or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/philbaileyphoto

Sumuru, the femme villain bent on world domination, originally created for a BBC radio serial by Fu Manchu creator and author Sax Rohmer. If there is a Sax Rohmer story, then producer Harry Alan Towers must be lurking somewhere nearby. Towers produced a series of Fu Manchu films with Christopher Lee starring as the Chinese scientist bent on world domination and decided to take on Rohmer’s lesser known creation with James Bond girl Shirley Eaton in the lead with The Million Eyes of Sumuru in 1967 and followed it up two years later with The Girl from Rio.

The Girl from Rio was directed by Eurocult legend Jess Franco, sandwiched between his two Fu Manchu films The Blood of Fu Manchu and The Castle of Fu Manchu. This is nowhere as gonzo as his most famous/notorious films, it still boasts some great style and a bevy of beautiful women is all manner of undressed and barely dressed. Shirley Eaton, the blonde who was killed by being painted gold in Goldfinger is Sumuru who doesn’t really do much other than lounge around and look beautiful so Eaton is perfectly cast, but the real stars of the movie are Jess Franco regulars Maria Rohm and Beni Cardoso who just fit better with Franco’s vision (that vision being long legs and bare midriffs) and you can just feel Franco’s energy perk up when they are on screen, especially the impossibly leggy Cardoso as Sumuru’s head torturer/dominatrix Yana Yuma who basically steals the movie.

If you’re waiting fora recap of the plot, forget it, because that’s basically what the director did. Rio suffers from the common ailment of Eurocult films of having simultaneously too much and too little plot, It has so many plot threads that are so underdeveloped you can’t really keep it straight, despite all of the on-screen expository telephone calls. It has something to do with a mobster and a British Lord both vying to plunder Sumuru’s island fortress: Femina. Sumuru’s island fortress comes complete with a torture chamber and an all girl army decked out in pleather halter tops, capes, and go-go boots. There’s a lot of talking, a lot of scantily clad women, just enough nudity to keep the plot moving forward. The whole affair plays out like a super sexy, R rated The Man from U.N.C.L.E episode, which makes sense as the title is an obvious play on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. tv series.

The Girl from Rio is a trashy if slight Eurocult delight that has loads of stylish eye candy. The trippy Italian comic feel to the scenes on Femina almost make up for how odd and disjointed the rest of the movie is. Structurally the movie is a bit of a mess, obviously stitched together from multiple chunks of footage that never quite convinces you that all of these people are in the same story. All faults aside, the campy, fetishistic delights that Jess Franco indulges in during the Femina sequences are well worth the 90 minutes and make the whole affair worthwhile, if just barely.