Massage Parlor Murders! (1973)

I think more movies should have exclamation marks in their titles. I also believe that more movies should have Brother Theodore in them, so hey — Message Parlor Murders! is two for two.

Detective Rizotti and O’Mara are hunting the killer of numerous massage parlor workers — one of them, Rosie, often gave Rizotti the rub down — and now O’Mara is getting close to Rosie’s roommate Gwen (Sandra Peabody, The Last House on the LeftLegacy of SatanTeenage Hitchhikers). Of course, she’s the kind of girl who only appears in movies, someone who doesn’t rub nor tug, but instead acts like an analyst for her clients. Maybe their co-pays didn’t cover therapy or we hadn’t yet worked out the mental health side of care in 1973, but going to a massage girl at the Lust Lounge for psychotherapy seems like not the best idea I’ve heard today.

Maybe the killer is a man they call Mr. Creepy. It could also be someone trying to work out the seven deadly sins 22 years before Kevin Spacey. That theory seems to work, but hey, the seventies were a downer time and perhaps not everyone makes it out of this alive.

Somehow, this was also released as Massage Parlor Hookers! with the horror parts cut out. How long was that movie, 22 minutes?

You can and should order this from Vinegar Syndrome.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally wrote about this Sergio Martino proto-slasher on September 8, 2017. It’s one of eight movies that will be playing at the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama Giallopalooza September 17 and 18. This article has been adjusted from the original as the writer has rewatched this movie several times since it was originally written.

Torso is such a simple title. I’d rather call this film by its Italian name: I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, or The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence. Either way, it was directed by Sergio Martino and features none of the cast that he had come to use in his past films like George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov or Edwige Fenech.

It does, however, star Brtish actress Suzy Kendall, who played the lead role of Julia in Dario Argento’s seminal The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. She’s so associated with giallo that she appeared as the main character’s mother in 2012’s ode to the genre, Berberian Sound Studio.

This is a film that wastes no time being strange. Or salacious. A photographer is shooting a soft focus lovemaking session between three women amongst creepy, eyeless baby dolls. By the time we register what is happening, we’re now in a classroom, where swooping pans and zooms refer us to the main cast of the film as we overhear a lecture and later a discussion about Pietro Perugino’s painting of Saint Sebastian. Did he believe in God? Or was he just trying to sell sentimentality? Could an atheist find himself able to translate religion to those with faith?

We cut to a couple making out in a car as a figure stalks them through the eye of the camera, making us complicit in the act of the killer. Quick cuts reveal the white-masked face of this maniac. The man runs after him while the girl doesn’t even care that they had a voyeur watching. As she waits for him to return to the car, but grows impatient. The headlights of the car cast her shadow large across the columns of a bridge. And their light is quickly extinguished by black-gloved hands. The camerawork here is really striking, keeping us watching for the killer, as we’re no longer behind his eyes. His attack is swift and ruthless, juxtaposed against the images of fingers penetrating the eyes of a doll.

The art professor (John Richardson, Black Sunday, The Church) and Jane (Kendall) meet by chance at a church where she challenges him to change his views on Perugino. As she returns from their somewhat romantic afternoon, Jane spies her friend Carol arguing in the car with a man who she believes is married.

Meanwhile, ladies of the evening walk the street, ending up with Stefano, a student who has been stalking Julie. He has trouble performing and the prostitute he’s with tells him that all the men with hang-ups always come her way. That said — even if he’s queer, he better pay the money. He flips out and attacks her, but she makes her escape.

We’re then taken to a hippy party that looks like it’s taking place inside Edward Lionheart’s Theater of Blood. There’s weed, there are acoustic guitars, there are bongos, there are dudes with neckerchiefs, there are motorcycles. Truly, there’s something for everyone. But after leading on two men, Carol just walks out into the mud. They try and chase her, but she makes her escape into the foggy night. We hear her footsteps through the swamp as she walks, exhausted and covered in mud. What better time for our white-masked killer to return? We see glimpses of him through the fog and then he is gone. Whereas in past films Martino ignored the murder scenes instead of story, here the violence is extended, placing the killer and his actions in full view. After killing the girl, he rubs mud all over her body before stabbing her eyes — again intercut with the baby doll imagery. Her blood leaks into the mud as the score dies down.

This scene really feels like what the first two Friday the 13th movies were trying to achieve, but of course several years before they were made.

A police detective is in front of the art class, showing images not of art, but of the crime scene. A piece of cloth has been found under the fingernails of one of the murdered students, Flo. And that same scarf was found on Carol’s body. It’s their duty to report seeing anyone who wore this scarf to the police, who want to cooperate with the students who normally riot and throw rocks at them.

Two of the men in the class — Peter and George — were the last two people to be seen with Carol, the ones who she turned down at the party. Meanwhile, Stefano continues to stalk Jane. The music in this film is so forward-leaning — tones play when the killer shows or during moments of tension.

A man calls Daniela and tells her that if she ever tells where she saw the red and black scarf, she’s dead. Fearing for her life, she tells her uncle, who lends his country home to her and her friends so that they can get away from the city while the killer is at large.

Oh yeah — I forgot the pervy scarf salesman, who the police are leaning on. Right after talking to the police inspector, he calls someone and asks for money to buy his silence. Whoever it is, they bought the scarf from him and wouldn’t want anyone else to know. They’ll also get out of town and head to the country. Coincidence? I think not!

Stefano is all over Dani, telling her that he needs her. She wants nothing to do with him. When she stares at him, she remembers seeing him wear the red scarf. She escapes — slamming the door in his face. She tells Jane that she remembers seeing him wear the scarf — and never again — the day Flo died. The whole time, the creepy uncle is watching the two girls. Jane offers to speak to Stefano, then meet the girls at the vacation home.

The street vendor is flush with cash, creeping along in the dark. A car starts to follow him. We see the black-gloved hands again as the car hits its victim again and again, bright red gore pouring all over the screen.

Jane goes to speak to Stefano, finding only strange baby dolls and letters to Dani asking her to love him and remember the promise that she made as a little girl. Jane is surprised by Stefano’s grandmother, who tells her that he left town.

The other girls are asleep on the train as someone watches them. A strange man enters their train car and sits down.

The camerawork in this movie feels as predatory as the perverts and killers that exist within it. Speaking of pervs, when the girls arrive in the countryside, the local men pretty much lose their minds, particularly over Ursula (Carla Brait, the man wrestling dancer from The Case of the Bloody Iris). She and Katia make out as a peeping tom watches, only for the killer to show up and off the leering man. There’s an amazing scene of the killer dumping the pervert into a well, shot underwater and staring upward as the body falls toward the lens.

Man, every man in this movie is scum. They’re either frightened boys or perverts wanting one chance to knock up a woman or scarred from past sexual encounters. None of them are positive, as even the uncle who gives Dani the villa seems way too interested in her. Every man is a predator at worst and a leering pervert at best.

Jane hurts her ankle when she gets overly excited about breakfast. A doctor arrives — the mysterious man from the train — and he gives her a pill, which knocks her out.

The girls go sunbathing while Jane recovers. Dani thinks she sees Stefano — complete with the red scarf — watching them. They return home and drink champagne, which Jane uses to wash down her sleeping pills.

A few minutes later, the door rings. It’s Stefano — the girls all scream — but he’s dead — the girls scream again — and the killer is behind him, holding the red scarf — now scream even louder! Instead of showing us the murders, Martino switches form, cutting to a ringing bell and Stefano being buried.

Jane wakes up, asking where her breakfast is. She’s obviously slept late as a result of the pills. She walks around the apartment, looking for Dani, Ursula and Katia, only to find a mess. Tossed chairs, bottles of beer and every single one of her friends murdered. Suzy Kendall is amazing in this scene, caught between fear and nausea. Unlike so many wooden giallo performances, she’s actually believable.

She hides as the killer comes back, forced to stay quiet and watch as he saws her friends into pieces. Even the ordinary world routine of the milkman arriving cannot stop the butchering of her friends, with her trapped just feet away.

This final act is completely unexpected, as up until now, the film had played by the rules of the giallo, the large number of victims versus a large number of red herrings.

In fact, this film is so packed with red herrings, even the cast had no idea who the killer was. Martino wouldn’t tell them who it was, so each of the actresses had her own theory as to who the killer was. And in the original script, the killer survived.

Now, instead of that traditional giallo structure as I mentioned above, it is the last survivor — a near prototype for the final girl — against a killer. Throw in that Julie can’t move well due to her leg and Martino has set up quite the suspenseful coda.

Trapped in the house, Julie tries to signal with a mirror, using Morse code. But it totally misses the heroic doctor’s sight. He places a call, but it doesn’t seem like it’s to Julie. She looks out the window and sees the killer coming back.

It turns out that the killer was the professor, who saw a childhood friend die trying to reach for a doll. He compares the other kills to dolls, with only Julie as a flesh and blood person. Everyone else was a bitch or played games with him or blackmailed him. He hacked Ursula and Katia to pieces like dolls as a result. Dani saw him. Carol may have seen him. And he killed Stefano when he saw him in the village. Death, he says, is the best keeper of secrets and then he sees Julie as a doll and tries to hang her. She’s saved at the last second by the doctor.

They battle into a farmhouse, across the yard and to a similar rock where we saw the younger professor watch his friend die. We hear a screen and have no idea who has been killed — but luckily for Jane, the doctor survives.  He discusses that whether fate or providence had kept him in town, where he could save her. Perhaps it was written in the stars. Julie replies that Franz, the professor, would have been a realist and called it a necessity. Franz is dead and the dreamers live on.

The more times that I’ve watched this film, the more that I appreciate it and how it flips the genre conventions on their head and moves toward more of a slasher, with many of the giallo elements feeling tacked on somewhat to stay within the expected pieces of the form. A real clue that it’s really a slasher? The killings are more important than who the killer is.

Drive-In Super Monster-Rama is presenting “Giallopalooza”, two big nights of classic, fully restored giallo thrillers from such maestros as Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Sergio Martino!

On Friday, September 17, the line-up will be What Have You Done to Solange?, Torso, A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin and The Cat O’Nine Tails. Saturday, September 18 they will present Deep Red, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Blood and Black Lace and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key.

Admission is $10 per person each night (children 12 and under FREE with adult guardian). Camping on the premises is available each night for an additional $10 a person, and that includes breakfast.

Advance tickets are available online at the Riverside Drive In’s webpage.

Death Carries a Cane (1973)

If death carries a cane, isn’t it weak? With that thinking, aren’t the alternate titles — Dance Steps on the Edge of a RazorManiac At Large, The Night of the Rolling Heads and Devil Blade — so much cooler?

Well, that’s because whoever the killer is, he or she has a limp. That’s what Kitty (Nieves Navarro, billed here under her boring Americanized nom de plume Susan Scott) sees when she watches a murder through a coin-operated telescope. That’s just the first of many killings and it just might be her boyfriend Alberto, who has the misfortune of having a limp and a cane when that’s what’s being profiled. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, defund the giallo police.

Navarro also made two other similarly titled movies, Death Walks at Midnight and Death Walks On High Heels, so if you’re confused, well…this one isn’t as good as those ones.

Director Maurizio Pradeaux also made another Grim Reaper referencing giallo, Death Steps in the Dark, which isn’t all that notable other than the scene where the protagonist has to wear drag to escape the police. Also, it has no Nieves Navarro, so you can skip it.

The Killer with a Thousand Eyes (1973)

Hey, this has a giallo title, features a giallo actor in Andrew Steffen* (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the GravePlay Motel), fifteen murders and Juan Bosch, the director of the giallo with the most non-descript giallo title, The Killer Wore Gloves, and somehow, it’s not a full-on giallo.

I mean, it has a black gloved killer and the mystery that you expect of the form, but it’s just as much a poliziotteschi with some hints of Eurospy. As you may know, I do adore cocktails, so let’s drink this one up.

After Interpol agent Alistair McAndrew is killed by a man in a kabuki mask, Michael Laurence (Steffen) is assigned to identify and retrieve his friend’s body. Instead, as a stranger in a strange land, he starts his own investigation, which ends up with all manner of people getting killed by the killer with black gloves and a Japanese mask.

This movie also has a cockfight scene where a woman gets so excited that you’d swear she was having sex. Oh Italy and your obsession with strange desire and animal murder.

*He’s probably better known for his Westerns like the incredible Django the Bastard, but let’s go with this line of thinking for the purposes of this article. Steffen also wrote the script for this movie with Bosch and Alberto De Stefanis, who was one of the production managers on Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: Theater of Blood (1973)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on our site on October 31, 2019. This is one of our favorite movies and now it’s been made even better thanks to the Kino Lorber blu ray re-reissue! It has by a new audio commentary by screenwriter/producer Alan Spencer, as well as commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Nick Redman, the Alan Spencer Trailers from Hell episode about this movie, two TV ads, four radio ads, the trailer and a limited edition slipcase with reversible art. You can order it directly from Kino Lorber.

Douglas Hickox, who also directed this film, was the director of one of my favorite TV movies, Blackout. This is yet another — that’s not a bad thing — Vincent Price film where he’s done wrong and must avenge himself through increasingly odder crimes.

This go around, he plays Shakespearean actor Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart, who is treated poorly by the members of the Theatre Critics Guild, so he kills himself by jumping off a bridge into the Thames. Of course, he survives thanks to a group of vagrants who soon become his…Theatre of Blood.

The critics are killed according to the scripts of some of Shakespeare’s best-known plays. There’s a murder by a mob ala Julius Caesar, a horse dragging from Troilus & Cressida, a decapitation from Cymbeline, a heart being sliced out just like The Merchant of Venice, a drowning from Richard III, a murder right out of Othello, a scene like Henry VI: Part One and a critic fed her dogs just like a memorable death in Titus Andronicus.

The last critic nearly dies in a Romeo & Juliet fencing battle before he’s due to be blinded with burning knives, just like Gloucester in King Lear. However, his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), who has been helping him, is killed, so he takes her body to the roof where they both disappear in the flames.

This film was one of Price’s favorites, as he had always wanted the chance to act in Shakespeare. Before or after each death, he gets to recite speeches from each play. Diana Rigg felt much the same way about her work.

Ironically, she also introduced Price to his future wife Coral Browne, without knowing that Price was married. She would go on to be his third wife.

While no Dr. Phibes film, Theatre of Blood is quite enjoyable. Price is having the time of his life and his joy is infectious.

Superzan y el Niño del Espacio (1973)

Superzan has always been closer to a superhero than a luchador and sadly, this film doesn’t make me like the character any more than I already had — which was not much.

The Space Child of the title is Silio, a gold-skinned boy from the planet Aramina in the Andromeda galaxy. His goal is to solve our energy crisis because if we keep using fossil fuels, we’re going to knock our planet and then our galaxy out of place and then ruin everything. To make it happen, he works with a scientist to create a supercomputer before that dastardly nerd kidnaps him and decides to take over the world.

The golden boy sends a plea to his home planet for Superzan to rescue him, but the evil scientist has a luchador that does his dirty work named Evil Genius, which adds up to lots and lots of wrestling between the two of them.

Of course, the alien child came here in peace and we weren’t ready for it, so he goes back home. Way to go, humanity. Obviously, we have learned nothing since 1973, even if we attempted to listen to an orange-faced manchild for some obscene length of time.

Santo contra el Doctor Muerte (1973)

Don’t you think Santo would stop and look at his cases and say, “You know, I fought Satan himself. Like, I have first-hand evidence of Lucifer, the First of the Fallen, the Lord of the Flies. I’ve battled aliens, vampires — male and female, werewolves — also both genders, gone back in time and tangled with witches. Now it’s art theft?”

Yes, art restoration expert Dr. Mann has quite the plan. His men deface a canvas — like “Los Borrachos” by Velázquez — and then he gets paid to restore it using tumors that he has introduced into the bodies of the women that he has chained up. He gets paid to fix the painting and keeps the original while giving the museum back a copy.

I mean, what’s Santo going to do, put an art forger into La de a Caballo?

This installment was directed by Rafael Romero Marchent, a Spanish director better known for Spanish-made Italian western fare like the Gianni Garko-starring Sartana Kills Them All and Dead Are Countless which had Anthony Steffen in it. He also made Disco Rojo with Paul Naschy.

Santo’s female co-stars include Helga Liné (My Dear KillerThe Blancheville MonsterMission Bloody MaryNightmare Castle) and Mirta Miller (Get MeanDr. Jekyll vs. The WerewolfCount Dracula’s Great Love).

Santo contra la Magia Negra (1973)

Santo goes on vacation and shoots a movie, then forgets that he needs a wrestling scene and Alfredo B. Crevenna tells him they can fix it in editing, so he just splices in the scenes from La Venganza de las Mujeres Vampiros and says, “No te preocupes, Santo bebé. Van a comenzar en Sasha Montenegro y todo ese metraje del diario de viaje de todos modos.”

Santo is battling voodoo because Live and Let Die came out the same year. That means slow-moving zombies, dudes putting snakes on his chest while he’s sleeping, voodoo ceremonies in which a goat says, “Is that Ruggero Deodato?” before he’s violently killed for real and scientist fathers brought back from the dead.

Bellamira the evil voodoo queen is not beneath using old school tricks like stabbing a Santo doll with pins. I mean, it’s an old fashioned attack but if it works, it works.

The end of this movie is astounding, as Santo goes all Wood Beast in Arboria and challenges the black magic woman to a contest of putting their hands into a basket filled with snakes and seeing who gets bit. Santo must have some experience with Charismatic snake churches because he just walks away like nothing happened while our antagonist dies an agonizing death.

With all the dance numbers, you would not be wrong to believe that Santo wrote this movie off as his 1973 vacation. I don’t see you fighting Dracula, Satan and blobs, so please give the man in the silver mask his PTO.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Santo contra los Asesinos de Otros Mundos (1973)

Four people have been killed and three of them were very important people. Of all the detectives that Mexico can call, Santo seems like the best pick. The bad guys want $10 million in 24 hours, but with the man in the silver mask looking for them, perhaps the cops are right to not negotiate with maniacs.

It turns out that the killer is a blob, which means that Santo has faced nearly every great movie monster of the past and has now moved into the modern era. But now he has to content with a bad guy who forces him to battle numerous men in gladiator matches before revealing that he has moon rocks that he is growing into creatures willing to do his bidding. Let’s give it up for Santo in this one because he goes all Indiana Jones and instead of a long fight, he just grabs a machine gun and blows away a bunch of henchmen.

Let me go back and break down that scene again. Santo is forced to battle bad guy after bad guy in a room that looks like it has fake stars and one of them has a flamethrower. I don’t know why anyone makes movies any longer when we have movies like this that give you that scene and then remember that the film is really about a blob. That blob not only attacks innocents, it also eats one of the major bad guys and a villain’s girlfriend.

Don’t get too excited about that blob. It really looks like several people under a sheet, which makes me so much happier than any special effect could. I also enjoy a bad guy who makes all of his men wear neckbands that gas them if they screw up.

Director Rubén Galindo also made Santo vs. the She-Wolves which flirts with gothic horror inside the world of the man with the silver mask. It’s great.

El Santo y La Tigresa (1973)

Also known as Santo y el águila real and The Royal Eagle, this movie puts Santo into a strange situation. He gets a call for help from Irma “La Tigresa” Morales (Irma Serrano*, known as La Tigresa de la Canción Ranchera (The Tigress of Ranchera Music) and the star of another movie made in 1973, La Tigresa, in which was directed by one member of this movie’s directing team, Alfredo B. Crevenna**). Her father and brother have already been killed for their land and she fears that she’s next on the list of the evil Manuel Villafuerte.

Santo is able to work his way into any genre and this time, he’s in a combination western and an exploration of the simple village people of Mexico. And these non-city folk seemingly love nothing more than the senseless slaughter of animals, as this movie features a flashback in which we see Irma’s brother go off a cliff on a horse that is completely real, as well as an honest-to-goodness cockfight. She also shoots a rabbit for real to show Santo her marksmanship abilities and then, after Santo’s wine gets drugged, he tests the poison out of a kitten. Later, La Tigresa’s protective eagle La Serrana is placed in a bag and smashed numerous times into a wall, yet somehow survives.

Who was under that silver mask, Ruggero Deodato?

Somehow, this movie also has numerous musical numbers, dancing scenes and a dungeon full of humanity malformed by incest, including an evil hunchback, who all beat the heck out of Santo before he starts giving back body drops to dudes into the hard dirt.

All Santo movies are wild on some level, but this one is one of the oddest ones. Santo is barely even the star of his own movie, standing back so La Tigresa can be tecnico Tura Satana and win over all of our hearts.

*Irma is amazing in this, fighting dudes with her fists and a bullwhip, boasting through song and owning her own cock — for fighting, you little raincoater. In real life, she bought her own theater where she put on highly erotic shows like her take on Emile Zola’s Nanå. In 1977, she collaborated with Jodorowsky to perform the stage play Lucrecia Borgia. They fought throughout and both ended up putting on their own version of the show.

She also put on plays like A Lady Without Camelias, Oh … Calcutta, Yocasta Reina, The Cross-legged War and A calzón amarrado, which was based on her controversial biography as well a series of adults-only midnight plays Emanuele LIVEJail for GirlsVampira! (Emanuele de ultratumba) and Carmen.

La Tigresa is a controversial figure, as she was jailed by Guadalupe Borja, the First Lady of Mexico, for traveling to Los Pinos, the presidential residence, and singing to President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. It would be more than thirty years before Irma owned up to the affair, defending his honor and saying that she was not the person who ordered him to attack the students in the 1968 massacre of Tlatelolco.

She won a senate race in her home state of Chiapas and a few years later, went to jail for brandishing a gun and threatening to kill an ex-tenant. She’s still alive at 87 and one assumes has lived an insane life.

**René Cardona Jr. is the other half of the directing duo.