ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Wrazen is a Technical Director and Sound Designer for live theatre, specializing in the genre of horror, and is the Technical Director the Festival de la Bête Noire – a horror theatre festival held every February in Montreal, Canada. You can see Eric as an occasional host and performer on Bête Noire’s Screaming Sunday Variety Hour on Facebook live. An avid movie and music fanatic since an early age, this is Eric’s first foray into movie reviewing.
(From Wikipedia) Blood Mania is a 1970 American horror film written by Peter Carpenter and Tony Crechales and directed by Robert Vincent O’Neil, and starring Carpenter, Maria De Aragon, Vicki Peters, Reagan Wilson, Jacqueline Dalya, and Alex Rocco. The film stars Carpenter as a doctor whose mistress, an heiress, murders her terminally ill father to help him pay off a debt.
If there is one thing that can be said about Blood Mania, it’s that it’s a movie.
You really have to hand to Mill Creek Entertainment. “Gore House Greats” is an amazing title for a movie collection. Likewise, Blood Mania is an amazing title for a movie. Unfortunately, in the case of Blood Mania, it is neither gory, nor that bloody. There’s a little bit of mania, so I guess they get points for that.
The opening sequence for Blood Mania is a freaky dream sequence depicting the stalking of a hippie babe in a peekaboo nightie over the sounds of a budget version of the Velvet Underground detuning and abusing their instruments. OK. So far so great!
Sadly, the rest of the movie doesn’t come anywhere near this level of freakiness and fun.
A more apt title for Blood Mania would have been “Worlds Dumbest Doctor” or possibly, “Victoria, The Crazy Bitch”. Either of these is a better indicator of the easy, sleazy melodrama you are about to witness.
Briefly (and without spoilers) Bloody Mania follows the sordid tale of Dr. Craig Cooper, one hunky hunk of burning physician as he beds babes of varying levels of wealth in order to bang his way out of a bad debt. Even this synopsis makes Bloody Mania sound more interesting than it actually is. In reality, this movie is closer to a soap opera with a little nudity thrown in to keep things sleazy.
I feel that this movie would have been better pitched as a Russ Meyer or Doris Wishman style sexploitation flick. There’s plenty of sex and it includes a plethora of sexploitation’s favorite tropes like nymphomania, blackmail, abortion, lesbians, and drugs. It also uses a bunch of classic sexploitation tricks used to fill out the running time when there isn’t enough plot to fill 90 minutes. A fair portion of Blood Mania consists of people driving around, frolicking on the beach, or visiting an amusement park. This is the kind of movie that “fast forward” was invented for.
Blood Mania isn’t a good movie, nor is it a “so bad it’s good” movie. But it is a movie. And I guess for Mill Creek Entertainment – that counts for something.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Van Ryn is the creator of Groovy Doom and publisher and editor of Drive-In Asylum. I’m always so happy when he gets the opportunity to write something for us.
So let’s say you’re a kid in the later 1970s, and you’re really into watching scary movies on late night TV. You can’t get away with that very easily at home, but when you visit your grandparents on the weekend, they go to bed early and don’t really care if you stay up and watch TV. When you’re there, you try and see anything marked “-THRILLER” in the TV Guide. On one dark night Saturday night, you stay up late to watch a movie called “Blood Mania”. With a title like that, it’s going to be really scary, you just know it. The opening credits are a weird montage containing slow-motion shots of a woman in a nightgown running from some unidentified horror. This is interrupted by an animated piece where the word “BLOOD” – in large, gruesome red letters – is attacked by a pair of cartoon hands, which claw at the letters until they say “BLOOD MANIA”. There is a terrifying scream that makes your hair stand on end. You don’t realize it yet, but this movie has just shown you everything that is possibly of interest to an 8-year-old monster kid, and it won’t be very long before the TV is turned off and you’re asleep.
This may have been the experience of anybody who happened to watch “Blood Mania” as a child, because it’s one of the talkiest things you could hope to see. The shocks in the film are mostly of the daytime drama variety, so kids would probably check out of this movie very early on. This is probably a good thing too, because during the course of the story we are confronted with situations such as cheating on one’s romantic partner, a hopelessly dysfunctional family of estranged people, a woman who is willing to murder her invalid father for a little bit of money, a ruthless blackmail scheme, the use of amyl nitrate for kicks in bed, and repressed trauma linked to incestuous abuse.
Revisiting it as an adult, however, I appreciated it in a totally different way. Director Robert Vincent O’Neil (Angel, Wonder Women) finds an absolutely glacial pace for this movie, but it is such a visually compelling experience that you don’t seem to mind. Back in the days of turntables, sometimes you might have played one of your 45 rpm records on 33 1/3, just to hear what it would sound like slowed down, and “Blood Mania” is the visual equivalent of just that. I’m a sucker for any movie that emulates Bava’s colored lighting, but the set – a Los Angeles mansion that was once the home of Bela Lugosi – is just as wonderful.
Blood Mania was co-written by lead actor Peter Carpenter, one of two films (Point of Terror is the other) that were created by Carpenter with producer Chris Marconi. Carpenter had been selected by Russ Meyer for a small role in Vixen! after Carpenter’s girlfriend included a photo with him as part of her audition materials. A role alongside Dyanne Thorne in 1970’s softcore drama Love Me Like I Do followed, and this two-film package with Marconi undoubtedly represented a bid for establishing himself as a working actor – a commodity, even. A career never manifested, and Carpenter disappeared. Despite rumors that he vanished because he died, he actually simply left the movie business, although he did pass away at the too-young age of 56.
Carpenter plays a shady doctor named Cooper, who is being blackmailed for providing illegal abortions. The sex-starved daughter of one of his patients offers to help him with his ‘tax problems’, and after he beds down with her to consummate the deal, she kills her father, expecting to inherit his estate. When her younger sister appears for the reading of their father’s will, however, things don’t turn out quite the way Victoria had hoped, and all three of their lives quickly begin to unravel.
Although made in the United States, Blood Mania sure does have the feel of a European film, in part because of its sumptuous look, but also because of its dreamlike atmosphere. Its horror film approach to soap opera material felt like a cheat the first time I saw it, but that’s what actually appealed to me in the long run. Like the Sisters of Mercy doing a Dolly Parton cover version, the result is something a little unexpected and marvelous. Although it does appear on Mill Creek compilations, there is also an incredible 2017 blu ray restoration by Vinegar Syndrome out there that blew my mind when I saw it.
Man, Ray Lovelock can’t catch a break. Of the films I’ve seen him in, he never makes it to the final frame. Then again, he also gets nearly every girl that gets put in front of him, so while his final luck isn’t always great, he does fine along the way.
Queens of Evil AKA La Regine is a 70s occult-infused end of the hippy movement sun-drenched nightmare of a film that will find its way into my blu ray player multiple times this year. Lovelock is David, a motorcyclist who searching for answers until he meets a man in a Rolls Royce who has a flat. That old man pays back David’s selfless act by stabbing one of our protagonist’s tires. A chase ensues and the rich driver crashes his car and dies. David, fearing the inevitable legal issues, runs right into a dark forest.
He awakes to three gorgeous women named Liv (Haydée Politoff, Interrabang), Samantha (Silvia Monti, A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin) and Bibiana (Evelyn Stewart, The Whip and the Body) all watching him. They live in a huge house in the woods that is filled with impossible angles and gigantic full wall photos of their faces. They’re also given to serving huge meals and conducting rituals in the night.
This is the kind of movie where three women tell a guy that they have a ritual to attend in the middle of a lake to meet with the fish, then pulling hundreds of them and he’s like, “Nope. Nothing strange at all.”
Of course, he sleeps with every single of them before things descend into madness, filled with dream sequences, dragons painted onto nude flesh, a sinister party and finally a feminist-driven decimation, followed by time lapse flowers sprouting from a shallow grave. In a word — incredible.
Director Tonino Cervi somehow made a film in which three strange women seduced and are seduced by one man not sleaze at all, but instead strangely innocent and totally infused with the fantastic. He also produced one of the weirdest — imagine what that entails — Italian horror films, Il Nido del Ragno(The Spider Labyrinth).
The new Mondo Macabro release of this film is, as is par for the course for this company, wonderful. Beyond the brand new 4k transfer, there’s an archival interview with Lovelock (who also sang two songs in this), audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, alternative scenes and the option to watch this dubbed in English or in the original Italian with subtitles.
You can get it from Mondo Macabro (their site is currently being worked on, so head to Diabolik DVD).
Shot in 1967 but unreleased until 1970, this was the first movie from Brad F. Grinter, the man who would later bless the world with Devil Rider!, Blood Freak and the way late in the game nudist films Never the Twain and Barely Proper *.
It’s also the last movie of Veronica Lake, whose peek-a-boo hairstyle made her Hollywood royalty before alcoholism took it all away.
So yeah — the star of I Wanted Wings and This Gun for Hire was living in a woman’s hotel in New York City by the 1960’s, getting arrested for public drunkenness and working as cocktail waitress under the name Connie de Toth. The New York Post outed her and fans were so upset they sent her money, which she returned to each of them. After writing Veronica: The Autobiography of VeronicaLake — in which she laughed off the idea that she was a sex symbol and said that she was more like a sex zombie — she took the money and invested in this shot-in-Florida Nazis back from the dead blast of weirdness. Sadly, she’d die in 1973 from all the liver damage that drinking brings on and most of her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands. I say most of, because in 2004, they found some of them at a New York City antique store.
Lake plays Dr. Elaine Frederick, a scientist who has developed flesh-eating maggots because, well, why not? She goes along with the reborn Third Reich just long enough to get revenge, because her mother was a political prisoner executed in Ravensbrück concentration camp Basically, she brings back Hitler just long enough to throw those skin chewing maggots right in Der Fuehrer’s face. And let’s face it, that’s the happy ending that we all want.
With a great name like Flesh Feast, this movie had one of those lives that we obsess over, playing double and triple bills as late as December 1983. Pretty good for a movie whose budget was so small that cooked rice doubled for the maggots.
*Seriously, Never the Twain came out in 1974 and Barely Proper was released in 1975. I really have to track down the first one, which is all about a real-life supernatural event where the spirit of Mark Twain possessed actor Ed Trostle at the 1974 Miss Nude World Pageant. It’s shot in the very same theater where there all happened.
Also known as ‘Nam Angels, this Jack Starrett-directed film (he also made Run, Angel, Run!; Race with the Devil and Hollywood Man, among others) has a great high concept: a biker gang called The Devil’s Advocates are sent to Cambodia to rescue an American diplomat because they’re the only ones who can get the job done.
They’re led by Vietnam vet — and the brother of the Army Major who has recruited them — Link Thomas, who is played by the always dependable William Smith. They’re under the orders of Captain Johnson (Bernie Hamilton, who was Captain Harold Dobey on Starsky and Hutch) and include fellow vets Duke (Adam Roarke from Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Frogs) and Dirty Denny, as well as Limpy (Paul Koslo, Vanishing Point) and Speed (Eugene Cornelius, who was Space in Run, Angel, Run!).
They head to Vietnam, but come on, we all know it’s the Philippines, because the mechanic who works on their bikes, Diem-Nuc, is played by Vic Diaz. It doesn’t matter, because by the time you start trying to figure out locations*, our heroes are doing wheelies and blowing things up with rocket launchers and machine guns while they do wheelies.
This movie does have some basis in reality. Sonny Barger, who was the Maximum Leader of the Hells Angels, sent LBJ a telegram offering the skills of his club in the Vietnam War. That inspired Alan Caillou, who originally wrote that The Losers would live. Starrett and Smith rewrote the script to the ending we know now.
If you watch Pulp Fiction, you can see a scene from this movie, being watched by Butch’s girlfriend the day after his fight. When he asks what she was watching, she says, “A motorcycle movie, I’m not sure the name.”
Whatever happened to the star of this movie, Arnold “Mr. Universe” Strong? Oh yeah. He grew up to be the greatest action star of all time, that’s what. But this movie is the very definition of starting small, as Arnold Schwarzenegger — 22 years old and laying brick with his lifting buddy Franco Columb — was told by his friend Reg Park (who took over for Steve Reeves in Hercules and the Captive Women) that he should shoot for his dream of being a movie star.
This wouldn’t do it.
It’s also the first film for director Arthur Allan Seidelman, who mainly did stage and TV work like the Nancy McKeon TV movie of the week Strange Voices.
If you ever wanted to see Hercules get sick of Mount Olympus and go to Earth, where he becomes a pro wrestler as well as best friends with a pretzel salesman named Pretzie (Arnold Stang, who between this movie, Ghost Dad, Dondi and Skidoo* has pretty much been in the very worst of the worst in film), well, then this movie fills out all of your boxes with a sharp number two pencil.
James Karen (Poltergeist, Return of the Living Dead) and Richard Herd (the Supreme Commander from V) show up, as does four-time Mr. Universe, one-time owner of the biggest escort service in California and later evangelist Dennis Tinerino.
Also, just to be a total anal retentive nerd, I want to mention that while Zeus, Nemesis, Eros, Pluto and Atlas are Greek gods, Hercules, Venus, Juno, Mercury and Neptune are the Roman versions, while Samson — who is kind of, sort of Hercules’ brother in this — comes from The Bible.
Barry Mahon was shot down over Germany and escaped — and was recaptured — at Stalag Luft III before being freed by Patton’s 3rd Army. Once he got back to the U.S., he became the personal pilot and later the manager for Errol Flynn. Then, he learned how to use computers to predict the future box office for films, which does not explain how he made movies like Cuban Rebel Girls, Fanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico, The Wonderful Land of Oz and Santa’s Christmas Elf (Named Calvin).
Have you ever gone to an amusement park and they put on plays for the kids that are too worn out or too young for the rides? Yeah, this is like watching one of those for over an hour, with special effects that live up to neither of those two words. This is what I do with my free time. I sit and watch these movies and laugh like a maniac, then tell an uncaring and oh so cold world why they should be as passionate about total junk as I am.
Depending on how lucky — or unlucky — you were, you would have seen either Thumbelina or this movie within perhaps the most maniacal film ever made, 1972’s Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny. Why? What does Jack or Thumbelina have to do with the holidays? More to the point, what does a bunny? Perhaps even more pressing is this question: What is an ice cream bunny?
This was a movie for kids, which leads to so many more questions. Why does it have hip 1970’s slang? Why is it set in the present instead of the past, like every other version of this story? Why is Jack’s family more like Cinderella’s? Why does the giant sing the same song at least three — or a billion, it seems — times?
They used to let kids go to all day matinees of movies exactly like this, which some parents must have thought was some kind of reward. Imagine working hard all week at school and being gifted the magical wonder of this movie, which probably made no sense fifty years ago and even less today.
That said, I’ve thought about this movie way more than I will any film that will be released in 2020. Barry Mahon is kind of that way, equally fraught with wonder and madness, pain and pleasure. I’m brave enough to attempt to watch everything he ever made, so if you’re stupid as well, I hope you’ll join me.
Rita Hayworth spent the last few years of her life not knowing who she was anymore, painting when she did, and mostly staring out her window at Central Park. She died with many people thinking that alcoholism had robbed her of her career when the truth was Alzheimer’s had impacted her final years and back then, the world didn’t understand that disease at all.
Before she slipped away, she made a movie with William Gréfe, which blows my mind, and that movie is 1970’s The Naked Zoo, which was originally called The Grove, named for Coconut Grove, a former artist’s colony in Miami.
So how did Gréfe — the maker of movies like Sting of Death and Whiskey Mountain — get a big star like Hayworth into a movie made for just $250,000? Well, her agent originally wanted all of that cash, but they were able to make a deal for $50,000 for two weeks of shooting. Her parts were shot in a deserted house near the Pirate’s World theme park (of my dreams, as well as movies like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunnyand Musical Mutiny).
Once known as “The Great American Love Goddess,” Hayworth’s life was filled with men who wanted her to be the seductive woman she was in films only to learn that she was a real person. Or, perhaps even worse, men who only sought to control her, like first husband Edward Charles Judson, a twice her age businessman who remade her into a sex symbol that he could buy and sell to Hollywood. Her marriages to Orson Welles, Prince Aly Khan, Dick Haymes and James Hill were also marked with mental and physical abuse, with only Welles not outright beating and humiliating her in public*.
By 1972 — two years after this film — her health and mental state was so bad that she had to read her lines one at a time while making The Wrath of God. She was to be in Tales That Witness Madness, but left the set before she appearing in one scene.
Back to Willian Gréfe. He had hoped to make a movie closer to The Graduate, but you know, as seen through the Florida drive-in movie haze of sex, drugs and crime. And still, this was edited by its distributor, with cuts made to add a masturbation scene and the band Canned Heat playing at a party. Those scenes were filmed by Barry Mahon, pretty much making this movie a team-up of Florida’s two top exploitation experts.
The film itself concerns Hayworth playing Mrs. Golden, a rich woman who lives with her cockolder, wheelchair-bound husband Harry (Ford Rainey, Dr. Mixter from Halloween II!). She sleeps with an author named Terry Shaw (Steve Oliver from Peyton Place) and when her husband finds out — and tries to gun them down — Terry stops him, but despite the death of the old man being in self-defense, Mrs. Golden starts blackmailing him.
That’s really the whole story, although there’s also plenty of party scenes and romance between Terry and Nadine (Fleurette Carter, who was also in The Hookers) and Pauline (Fay Spain, Dragstrip Girl).
You can get this as part of the He Came from the Swamp box set that Arrow Video has just released. Diabolik DVD has it for sale now.
*Welles would say, a day before her death, that she was “one of the dearest and sweetest women that ever lived.
Day 18: Resurrectionist: Watch something that came out on a reissues label
Courtesy of AIP Studios’ Witchfinder General (1968), everyone knows of the exploits of British witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins (as portrayed by Vincent Price) and his fictionalized counterparts in Count Christian von Meruh and Lord Cumberland (as portrayed by Udo Keir and Herbert Lom) in Mark of the Devil (1970) and Mark of the Devil II (1973). And now you’ll learn of the even bloodier exploits of Witchfinder Inquisitor Boblig von Edelstat.
Witchcraft was born during Europe’s transition from the Dark to the Middle Ages. For over five hundred years, fueled by ignorance and religious paranoia, governments decreed their countries be cleansed of evil and immorality. Thus, through armies funded by churches, soldiers hunted down the witches who carried the pestilence. Entire villages were laid waste, in acts analogous to the social cleansings committed by the third world countries of modern society. In fact, the acts committed by Witch Hunters in the name of the Lord surpassed the body count of modern day serial killers. Thus, the witch hunts led by General Cromwell and Matthew Hopkins begat McCarthy’s Red Scare in the nineteen-fifties. And the witch hunts begat the gathering of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the Nazi regime shipping Jews, Pols, and Slavs on trains to their deaths. And the burning of witches at the stake begat African-Americans tormented with religious symbols wrapped in gas soak rags. The brutal truth of the world’s current sociopolitical system: these same hunts and killings, based in ignorance, continue. In today’s world of light and knowledge, men continue to invest in fear, ignorance, and greed. Will man ever be capable of conquering the delusions, the urges, and the ugliness? When will witchcraft disappear from our society?
Born in Austria-Hungary, Czech Republic filmmaker Otakar Vavra ranks alongside Denmark’s Carl Theodor Dreyer (1928’s The Passion of Joan of Arc and 1932’s Vampyr) as a first-rate director with a career that is, sadly, outside of their respective homelands (and the most discriminating, international film aficionadi), fading from our celluloid memories. Vavra’s IMDb page, while cataloging his oeuvre in full, the individual pages for those films are barren; not only are no plots or synopses offered, there’s no user or critic reviews.
Vavra is the cinematic equivalent of Polish futurologist and sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem (Solaris, The Astronauts, The Magellan Nebula*): for as many of Lem’s books that have seen English adaptation, many never will—and many of us will never experience all—if any at all—of Vavra’s films. Across his 53 directing and 56 writing credits from the early ’30s up until his 2011 death, less than twenty of his films have expanded outside of Europe into the English-domestic marketplace. Some made the transition to the VHS format and later DVD format, but most have not been honored with digital preservation.
After three shorts, Vavra made his feature film debut as a director with the comedy Camel Through the Eye of the Needle (1937) and followed with the drama Virginity (1937). He closed out the 1930s with his two best-known and revered films: the historical dramas The Merry Wives (1938; hailed by the U.S. film trade Variety) and the working class-morality tale The Magic House (1939). Prior to those directing efforts, he wrote seven screenplays: the most notable of those is the comedy Three Men in the Snow (1936); the film’s homeland success initiated his directing career. His career culminated with a teaching position at Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts, a position he held since the 1950s. He was awarded the Czech Lion in 2001 and a presidential Metal of Merit in 2004 for his contributions to Czech cinema.
His other widely-distributed, directorial works include:
The Masked Lover (1940) — a romantic comedy concerning a Czech General
Enchanted (1942) — a romantic comedy
I’ll Be Right Over (1942) — a slapstick comedy
Happy Journey (1943) — a romantic comedy
Rozina, the Love Child (1945) — a historical drama
Against All (1957) — a historical war drama; part of the “Hussite Trilogy,” which are three of the most expensive Czech films ever made, with Against All as the most expensive at 25 million Czech Koruna (1.2 million U.S.)
August Sunday (1961) — a comedy
Night Guest (1961) — a drama
Golden Queen (1965) — a psychological drama
Romance for Bugle (1967) — a drama that won the Special Silver Prize at the 5th Moscow International Film Festival
Days of Betrayal (1973) — a historical war drama that won a honorary diploma at the 8th Moscow International Film Festival
Sokolovo (1974) — A Soviet co-production about the ’43 Battle of Sokolovo
The Liberation of Prague (1977) — a historical war drama; the third of a trilogy that began with Days of Betrayal and preceded by Sokolovo
Dark Sun (1980) — a crime drama that serves as Vavra’s rare foray into sci-fi that serves as a remake of his own 1948 film Krakatit
The Wanderings of Jan Amos (1983) — a biographical drama about 17th century Christian crusader Jan Amos Comenius
And that brings us to Vavra’s lone foray into the horror genre, a historical-drama concerned with the brutal inquisition of witches during the medieval era—a film that is heralded as Vara’s chef-d’œuvre and won several awards at Argentina’s Mar del Plata International Film Festival in 1970. One of those wins was for cinematographer Josef Illik who, after watching Witchhammer, you’ll wonder why Illik’s name is not as revered in international film circles as Hungarian-American cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind).
Based on the best-selling Czech history novel Kladivo na čarodějnice (1963) by Vaclav Kaplicky, the 17th century tale chronicles the real-life, human rights atrocities of the North Moravia Witch Trails of the 1670s by Witchfinder Inquisitor Boblig von Edelstat in which 100 people were murdered. The book’s main protagonist, Priest Josef Lautner (Kryštof Lautner in the film), is a cleric who tries to help his people, but soon falls victim to the trails for opposing “God’s Law.” The book is heralded as an important to literary lesson of man’s ills in political-based paranoia and political prosecution on-level with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953) (required high school reading; at least it was for me).
The resulting film adapted by Vavra was banned, ironically, not for its graphic nature, but for Vavra adapting the film as an acidic allegory to the Communist show trails that rocked Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. While the film was banned from showing by the Czechoslovakian government, it was accepted by the international marketplace as a cinematic masterpiece.
The atrocities began with an altar boy observing and reporting a destitute old woman hiding the bread given out during Holy Communion—a theft that she admits to, with the intend to feed it to her barren cow to re-enable its milk production. The indiscretion of hoarding holy bread, according to Witchfinder Inquistor Edelstadt, smacks of “witchcraft,” as based on his interpretation of the Catholic treatise The Malleus Maleficarum, aka Hammer of Witches (thus, the film’s title). The thumbscrews and other torture devices are dispatched in quick succession—and a young priest who opposes the trails soon finds himself among the wrongly executed.
Even if you’ve watched the admittedly more sensationalistic, West German-produced Mark of the Devil, aka Witches Tortured til They Bleed (1970), its sequel Mark of the Devil II, aka Witches Are Violated and Tortured to Death (1973), and the more reserved, Gothic-slanted AIP film that inspired its production: Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General, aka The Conqueror Worm (1968), you’re not going to be prepared for this horrifying lesson in the absolute corruption of power. We won’t sugarcoat: Witchhammer, as was Pier Pasolini’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, isn’t pleasant (Pasolini’s film even more so), but it is an exquisite example of perfection in cinema.
You can watch Witchhammer on You Tube, but there’s a far superior, superb DVD rip available on the European F Share TV free-with-ads VOD platform. There’s an account sign-in viewable trailer on You Tube (due to graphic content). DVDs are readily available in the online marketplace at a wide variety of eRetailers or you can buy direct from Arrow Video.
Other classic witchcraft films to supplement your viewing of Witchhamer are the Sweden-Denmark co-production Haxen (1922) and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s own forgotten classic, Day of Wrath (1943). We also examine the life of another Middle Ages’ serial killer of the von Edelstat variety, Gilles de Rais, and his inspiration behind two films by Spain’s Paul Naschy: Panic Beats and Horror Rises from the Tomb.
The Warner Archive is the gift that keeps on giving, because before it started making burn on demand DVDs, this movie has such a limited release that few people had seen it. I know I’d been hunting for it for years, as it perfectly hits on so many of the things that I adore. It has elements of the Eurospy genre, an overwhelming amount of cameos and as it was a lost film for some time, the feel of being a cult film.
The Phynx are a manufactured band — kind of like The Monkees — made up of A. “Michael” Miller, Ray Chipperway, Dennis Larden and Lonny Stevens. They’re trained in all manner of espionage and rock ‘n roll, including meeting Dick Clark, record industry emissary James Brown and being taught how to have soul by Richard Pryor.
At once an indictment of the system and the product of the very hand that it is biting, The Phynx occupies the same weird space as Skidoo, i.e. big budget Hollywood films trying desperately to reach out to the long-haired hippy audience, yet fairly to understand them on a near monumental level. Much like that film — or the beach films of just a half-decade hence, which seems like several lifetimes ago — this stars plenty of Old Hollywood former A-listers. Why this would reach “the kids” is beyond me, but this film has more of them than any movie this side of Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.
All of those celebs of the past have been kidnapped by the Albanian government to make some kind of message to capitalist swine. Amongst their number, you’ll discover Patty of the Andrews Sisters (one wonders where Laverne and Maxene were), Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller and his Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), Cheyenne star Clint Walker (who we love for Killdozer!, Scream of the Wolf and Snowbeast), Rudy Vallee, gossip queen Rona Barett, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Busby Berkeley, Xavier Cugat (with chihuahua), Cass Daley, Roy Rogers’ sidekick Andy, Devine Fritz Feld (whose claim to fame was the popping sound he could make with his mouth; he also shows up in the aforementioned Michael Winner canine opus), Leo Gorcey, John Hart (who replaced Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger, here in character) and Jay Silverheels (also in Tonto character), Huntz Hall, Louis Hayward, George Jessel, Ruby Keeler, Patsy Kelly (one of Hollywood’s first out lesbians), Dorothy Lamour, Guy Lombardo, Trini “If I Had a Hammer” Lopez, boxer Joe Louis, Marilyn Maxwell (who “dated” Rock Hudson), Butterfly McQueen (Prissy from Gone with the Wind), Pat O’Brien and Colonel Sanders (!).
Harold “Oddjob” Sakata is also on hand, as well as Lou Antonio (Cool Hand Luke), Mike Kellin (Mel from Sleepaway Camp), Michael Ansara (It’s Alive), George Tobias (Abner from Bewitched), Joan Blondell, Martha Raye, Pat McCormick (Big Enos from Smokey and the Bandit), Warhol superstar Ultra Violet, Susan Bernard (December 1966 Playboy Playmate of the Month and one of the stars of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!; she’s also the mother of Near Dark‘s Joshua John Miller), Sally Struthers as the band’s number one fan and Rich Little as the voice of Richard Nixon.
Lee H. Katzin (who mostly worked in TV, including the made for TV film What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?) directed this, working with Robert McKimson for the animated portions. It was written by Bob Booker (who produced and wrote The Paul Lynde Halloween Special) and George Foster with a screenplay by Stan Cornyn. It’s the only script he’d ever write, as he was better known as the head of the Creative Services department of Warner Brothers Records, where he wrote Grammy-winning liner notes (for two Sinatra albums, “Strangers In the Night” and “Sinatra at the Sands”; he also wrote the song “The Meaning of Christmas” and was an innovator when it comes to what would one day be known as the DVD format).
This is the only film where Johnny Weismiller says, “Me Tarzan; You Jane.” So there’s some more trivia for you, which is — sadly — more interesting than this film. Yet it’s worth a watch to see the transition between the La-La Land of old and the new movement of art that would last just a few years before the blockbuster made itself known. I know someone that brought up to me how fortunate we were that Star Wars kicked all these old Catskills and vaudeville-era people out of films and into TV, because what they made was so hacky. The gall of this person upset me to a degree where it has since colored every interaction that I have had with them. I have a warm place in my heart for these bloated failures as the Man tried to reach the youth culture. They may be a mess, but they’re my mess.