El Libro de Piedra (1969)

Known as The Book of Stone up here in the U.S., this film was directed by Carlos Enrique Taboada, who also wrote the Nostradamus movies and directed Blacker than the Night and Poison for the Fairies.

Julia (Marga Lopez, Even the Wind Is Afraid) has been hired to be the governess for Silvia, a rich young girl who cannot connect with her father (Joaquin Cordero, Dr. Satan), who only cares about his new wife (Norma Lazarenko, Survive!) Silvia claims that she has only one friend, Hugo, who everyone else sees as a stone statue in the middle of the courtyard. But when Hugo starts doing her bidding, she may be more correct than anyone could believe.

While a Mexican film, this feels like a Gothic along the lines of The Turn of the Screw or The Innocents. This film is considered one of the classics of Mexican horror cinema and for good reason. It has a thick atmosphere fraught with tension that it delivers on. It was also remade in 2009, in case you feel like hunting that down.

You can watch this on YouTube.

La Senora Muerte (1969)

If you’re anything like me, you were probably wondering when John Carradine would show up in the Mexican horror movies we’ve been sharing over the last few days. It seems like in the late 60’s, if you were making a movie that anything to do with suspense or monsters, Carradine would magically appear on your set. For the price of a carton of untipped Player’s and several bottles of Chivas Regal, he would be in your film no questions asked.

Carradine goes one better in this film by providing the introduction. Seriously, you don’t know how many drinks I would have poured out for this man.

How did he get to Mexico, you may ask? Carradine and Basil Rathbone had gone to Mexico Autopsia De Un Fantasma in 1968 and for some reason, Carradine would stay behind to make four more movies for Luis Enrique Vergara. He’d appear opposite Mil Mascaras in Pacto Diabolico and Enigma Muerte while showing up as the skinniest of Draculas in Las Vampiras before making this movie.

Marlene (Regina Torne, who went on to appear in many a telenovela) is a fashionista dealing with the loss of her husband and, just as suddenly, the loss of half of her face to a strange disease. She turns to mad scientist Dr. Favel (who else other than Carradine?), who has a simple solution: let’s kill some young women and harvest their blood. He also claims that he can bring her husband back to life with some more work on her part.

Known as Madame Death up here and as The Death Woman in the UK, this is the kind of movie where models die left and right while hunchbacks attempt to assault people and need to be reminded of their place with the cut of the whip. Also, a guillotine in a wax museum is put to good use.

Inferno of Torture (1969)

I have often commented that I sometimes worry that someday I may hit the bottom of the well, that nothing strange will exist any longer in film to delight me. That said, thanks to movies like this, which I didn’t even know existed until Arrow Video was kind enough to send me a copy, prove to me that there will always be something odder, stranger and more screwed up to watch.

Teruo Ishii made movies like Yakuza Law and Horrors of Malformed Men, but this was the sixth in his series of abnormal love movies. It’s all about the high demand for tattooed geishas and the rivalry that builds between two highly skilled masters of tattoo.

Unable to repay a local lender, Yumi is serving as a kept woman for two years, but soon learns that this is a house of pain, not pleasure. From the moment this movie begins, there’s a shocking amount of violence displayed. But the main reason to stick around is that there is so much incredible tattoo art on display, as the women’s bodies become the space where war is declared bweeen the two artists. And when the madam learns that one of them, Horihide, has noble intentions, she plans on making everyone pay.

There’s a scene in this movie where a geisha has glow in the dark tattoos that come to neon life the drunker she gets on sake. For that alone, this is totally worth a watch.

Ishii made two other movies before this that are in the same genre, Shogun’s Joy of Torture and Orgies of Edo. From most accounts, he went way beyond the bounds making this one, depicting Japan’s Edo period in perhaps the most perverse — and one assumes, crowd pleasing — ways possible.

You can get this from Arrow Video, who have given this grimy movie all the attention that Criterion would bequeath to an Oscar winning classic from the 1940’s.

DISCLAIMER: This was sent to us by Arrow Video.

Death Knocks Twice (1969)

Also known as Blonde Bait for the Murderer and The Blonde Connection, I have to come clean and tell you that I only watched this movie because of Anita Ekberg. Here, she plays a rich man’s wife who falls for Francisco (Fabio Testi), who decides to strangle her while they make love because this is a giallo and these things occur.

Of course, as also happens in these movies, two criminals saw that happen and start blackmailing his wife (Nadja Tiller, The Dead Are Alive). As if that wasn’t enough, two cops are trying to prove that Francisco is the killer and use one of their daughters as bait.

Giallo is different before Argento gets involved, closer to noir, but this is still worth checking out. You can watch this on Amazon Prime or on the YouTube link below.

 

Interrabang (1969)

This post-Bava pre-Argento giallo is named for the punctuation that combines a question mark and an exclamation mark, which is the necklace worn by the character Valeria. It was directed by Giuliano Biagetti, whose career was mostly in comedy and erotic films.

Fashion photographer Fabrizio (Umberto Orsini, The Damned) has set sail with his business partner wife Anna (Beba Loncar, Some Girls Do), her sister Valeria (Haydee Politoff, Count Dracula’s Great Love) and a model named Margarit. They soon learn that a murderer is on the lamb after killing a cop just in time for their boat to run out of fuel. Meanwhile, the women explore the island and meet the mysterious poet Marco (Corrado Pani, Watch Me When I Kill). Then they find the body of that dead cop.

Of course, Marco is about to seduce all three of the women. You know how giallo goes. And you know that no one is getting out of this unscarred.

Interrabang isn’t an easy movie to find, only coming out on DVD in Italy as of 2012. That said, you can watch it on YouTube.

So Sweet…So Perverse (1969)

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 coming out in the huge 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. I know that I’ll be buying it!

Kiss Me Monster (1969)

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 conscious 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 FrancoKnife

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. 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.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

REPOST: The Girl From Rio (1969)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Oh, Jess Franco. I sometimes absolutely love everything you do and other times, you drive me crazy. This time, you are somewhere in between. And this is a perfect time to bring this movie back, as we explore an entire month of James Bond and Eurospy movies. This originally ran on December 5, 2019.

Jess Franco, come on down. Welcome back to B&S About Movies! I see that you’re here today with The Girl From Rio, a sequel to The Million Eyes of Sumuru and based on Sax Rohmer’s Sumuru character. You did have help on this one — it was written and produced by Harry Alan Towers, who collaborated with you on films like 99 Women, Venus in Furs, Marquis de Sade: Justine, Eugenie… The Story of Her Journey into Perversion, The Bloody Judge and Count Dracula. He also produced the White Fang film that Fulci directed and 1983’s Fanny Hill, a movie that was my girlfriend for many years in the 1980’s.

Let’s take a break from you and discuss Towers, whose career started as the son of a theatrical agent who became a child actor. He began syndicating radio shows before producing films, including five Fu Manchu movies. In between all that, he ran a vice ring that implicated the United Nations, JFK, Peter Lawford and Stephen Ward, one of the central figures in the Profumo scandal.

But back to you, Mr. Franco. This movie, you did it all. You had women. You had violence. And you had pans in to the sun that lasted for over a minute in the place of any narrative. God bless you.

A co-production between West Germany, Spain and the United States, this movie is also known as The Seven Secrets of Sumuru, City Without Men, Sumuru Queen of Femina, Rio 70 and Future Women.

Secret agent Jeff Sutton shows up in Rio with millions of bucks and walks right into a war between British gangster Sir Masius (George Sanders, an actor so well known that The Kinks mentioned him in song) and Sumuru (Shirley Eaton, a sex symbol who was Jill Masterson in Goldfinger). This lady boss runs the secret world of Femina, gathering women ready to conquer the world. And when things get bad, she chooses death — don’t worry, she makes it out alive — rather than giving up her power.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime with and without the crew from Rifftrax.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

After five films, the unthinkable happened. Sean Connery was no longer James Bond. In fact, during the filming of You Only Live Twice, he wasn’t even on speaking terms with producer Albert Broccoli.

Who would be James Bond? In a field of contenders that included John Richardson, Hans De Vries, Adam West, Robert Campbell and Anthony Rogers, an unknown Australian named George Lazenby got the part after the producers saw him in a Fry’s Chocolate Cream advertisement.

For his audition, Lazenby pretty much showed up as Bond, wearing a Rolex Submariner wristwatch and a Savile Row suit that had been ordered for, but not picked up by Connery. He even went to Connery’s barber at the Dorchester Hotel. What sealed the deal was a fight test where Lazenby broke the nose of stuntman Yuri Borienko (who was once British pro wrestler Red Staranoff).

There’s also the perhaps urban legend George Lazenby talked his way into meeting director Peter R. Hunt and producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. After lying about his acting roles, he got a screen test. Lazenby then confessed to Hunt that he had made it all up and that he wasn’t really an actor. Hunt laughed and told him, “You just strolled in here and managed to fool two of the most ruthless bastards in the business. You’re an actor.”

Lazenby was offered a contract for seven films. A combination of him wanting to be part of the swinging 60’s and an agent that convinced him that secret agents would be out of favor soon. I hope he fired that guy.

Believe it or not, this is probably my favorite Bond movie. It’s one of the few where Bond’s character makes forward emotional progress. And it’s full of amazing set pieces and Telly Savalas.

Bond saves a woman on the beach from committing suicide by drowning. She disappears afterward, but he runs into her later at a casino and learns that she is Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, who was also on The Avengers).

Before she can thank him, Bond is attacked. The next morning, he’s kidnapped and taken to Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti, The Night Porter). Draco — the head of a crime syndicate — informs him that Tracy is his daughter and offers Bond a million pounds to marry his daughter. 007 refuses, but agrees to keep dating her if Draco reveals where Blofeld is.

Bond threatens to resign from MI6 before heading back to romance Terry anew and that leads him to an allergy clinic high in the Swiss Alps, run by Blofeld and his twelve Angels of Death, female patients who he has cured of all allergies.

It all leads to Blofeld putting the entire world at hostage, MI6 forbidding Bond to stop him and our hero enlisting the European crime families to battle Blofeld (who has somehow become the much more attractive Savalas).

The end of this movie shocked me as a child and still impacts me today. After Bond marries Tracy in Portugal, they pull over to remove flowers from their car. Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Bunt drive by and murder Bond’s wife. And that’s how the film ends.

Virginia North — who made such an impression in just five films (Deadlier Than the Male, The Long Duel, Some Girls Do, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and this movie) — plays Olympe, Draco’s girlfriend.

Blofeld’s Angels of Death, who have been hypnotized to spread his Virus Omega, are played by Angela Scoular (Buttercup from Casino Royale), Catherine Schell (Madame Sin), Julie Ege (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires), Jenny Hanley (Scars of Dracula), Anouska Hempel (Tiffany Jones), Mona Chong (The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole World), Sylvana Henriques (who was the fan dancer in the title sequence for You Only Live Twice), Dani Sheridan, Ingrid Back, Zaheera and Helena Ronee (Five Dolls for an August Moon).

Saltzman had planned to adapt The Man with the Golden Gun in Cambodia and use Roger Moore as the next Bond, but that region was politically unstable. Moore then signed up for another season of The Saint.

Peter Hunt, who had edited the first five Bond movies, finally convinced Broccoli and Saltzman that he deserved a chance to direct. He said, “I wanted it to be different than any other Bond film would be. It was my film, not anyone else’s.” It would be the last Bond film that he worked on.

This is a film full of plenty of references to the past films, starting with Bond saying, “This never happened to the other fellow.” The credits reference the past five movies and Bond’s office has souvenirs from Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Thunderball.

Lazenby had difficulty learning how to act and dealing with the star power of his co-stars. I feel bad for him, but I love the story of how the crew was paid in cash for the entire films per diems. Seeing Lazenby with a suitcase full of cash, Telly Savalas invited him to a late-night poker game and the famous Player’s Club member cleaned him out. Producer Harry Saltzman was so upset, he joined the game and won back the money for Lazenby.

I share the belief that if Connery had been Bond in this movie, it would be everyone’s favorite. It would have been the perfect ending for him in the series, but instead, he would return for the next film, Diamonds Are Forever.

As for Lazenby, his career has taken him from giallo like Who Saw Her Die? and Bond-like appearances, like him playing “J.B.” in the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, where he helped Napoleon Solo and Illya Nickovitch Kuryakin, showing up with his tuxedo, Walther PPK and Aston Martin. He’s also Drew Stargrove, the Bond-style character in Never Too Young To Die. There’s also the documentary Becoming Bond, where he discusses how he got the role and what happened next.

As I said before, this is my favorite Bond movie because of how it moves the character forward. Other than Skyfall, it’s the only movie where he cries. It’s also the only film in the series in which the main villain (Blofeld), and his sidekick (Irma Bunt), survive, and are not arrested or killed. Bunt was to return for Diamonds Are Forever, but sadly Ilse Steppat, the actress playing her, died from a heart attack a week after this movie premiered.

Some Girls Do (1969)

You wouldn’t know it from the title, but Bulldog Drummond is back again after Deadlier than the Male. Richard Johnson, Terence Young’s original choice of 007, returned as well. Of never playing Bond, Johnson said to Cinema Retro magazine, “Eventually they offered it to Sean Connery, who was completely wrong for the part. But in getting the wrong man they got the right man, because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny. And that’s what propelled it to success.”

He’d go on to play Dr. Menard in Zombie, as well as roles in The ComebackBeyond the Door and the Sergio Martino movies Screamers and The Great Alligator.

The world’s first supersonic commercial plane is having problems, what with killer women like Maria Aitken, Yutte Stensgaard (who replaced Ingrid Pitt in Lust for a Vampire) and Joanna Lumley in an early role (she and Virginia North were both filming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at the same time — and the very same Pinewood Studios — as this film!) murdering and sabotaging everyone and everything to stop its creation.

It’s a good thing that Bulldog — and his assistant Flicky (Sydne Rome, The Pumaman) — are on the case. The culprit? Carl Petersen (James Villiers, who is in For Your Eyes Only), a rich criminal who stands to get $8 million pounds if his plane isn’t ready by a certain date.

Beyond having two henchwomen named Helga (Daliah Lavi, who was also in The SilencerNobody Runs ForeverThe Spy With the Cold Nose and Casino Royale) and Pandora (Beba Lončar, who also appears in Jess Franco’s spy film Lucky, the Inscrutable), Petersen has created an army of female robots who can use ultrasonic frequencies to maim and murder.

Of course, Drummond and Helga hook up, but she fails several times to kill him off. Hell, she sleeps with him again after capturing him for Petersen. Everything gets blown up real good though, Flicky ends up being a Russian double agent and Bulldog hooks up with the only fembot who is really human, number 7, who is played by Vanessa Howard (she’s in the Dan Curtis version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray).

Robot number 9 is, of course, the aforementioned Virginia North, forever Vulnavia from The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Another one is Shakira Baksh, who would soon become the wife of Michael Caine.

This is on the good side of Eurospy film. Nothing is all that serious and everything moves quickly. I’d definitely pick this one — and Deadlier than the Male — if you’re looking for a non-Bond spy movie.