Circle of Fear episode 17 “Doorway to Death”

Directed by Daryl Duke and written by Richard Matheson and Jimmy Sangster, this episode is all about a family moving into a new apartment in San Francisco. When young Robert (Leif Garrett) starts to explore, he finds an empty apartment with a door into the woods inside. He also meets a man inside those woods who asks to meet his sisters Jane (Garrett’s sister Dawn Lyn, Walking Tall) and Peggy (Susan Dey). Yet when the girls visit the room themselves, they only find a closet.

And then she learns that the ghost — the man in the woods killed his wife with an axe and then was executed — wants her for his next wife.

“Doorway to Death” may not be the best episode of the show, but the scene where Peggy wakes up to find wet footprints around her bed, as if someone was walking her room and watching her all night? That’s the kind of weird I keep watching this show for.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Circle of Fear episode 16 “Earth, Air, Fire and Water”

When you have D.C. Fontana, Harlan Ellison and Richard Matheson working on a story, you know it’s going to be good. This episode of Circle of Fear has a community of six artists who discover six colorful glass containers within a storefront that has rent and location that’s too good to be true.

Ellen Parrish (Joan Blackman, Macon County LineShiversBlue HawaiiPets), Sam Richards (Frank Converse), Jake Freeman (Tim McIntire,  the voice of Blood in A Boy and His Dog), Tyne Daly (Cagney and Lacey), Brooke Bundy (Elaine in two Elm Street movies) and Paul Cepeda (Scott Marlowe) are the artists who soon find that the containers are starting to take their souls and destroy them.

Director Alexander Singer had a career that stretched from making an episode of Dr. Kildare in 1961 all the way to Star Trek: Voyager in 1998.

This is a strange episode that I’ve noticed that plenty of folks disliked. I have no idea what episode they watched, because I loved it. It’s perfect for 1973 and the end of the era of artist collectives and free love. Watch it and let me know what you think.

You can watch this on YouTube.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 21: Nihon Chinbotsu (1973)

The highest grossing film in Japan in 1973 and 1974, Submersion of Japan or Japan Sinks! was also a big deal in the U.S. Roger Corman bought the rights as part of New World Pictures and made a remix where he cut out lots of footage, added new sequences directed by Andrew Meyer (Night of the Cobra Woman) and added Lorne Greene as an ambassador at the United Nations as well as appearances by Rhonda Leigh Hopkins (Summer School Teachers), John Fujioka (Shinyuki from American Ninja), Marvin Miller (anarratorr in several movies), Susan Sennett (Candy from The Candy Snatchers), Ralph James (Sixpack Annie), Phil Roth, Cliff Pellow and Joe Dante.

Now called Tidal Wave, it came out in May of 1975, while New World also released an uncut subtitled version called Submersion of Japan in America.

If you remember when we discussed Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen, Japan was in disaster mania, predicting the end of the world at every turn. This movie was inspired by Nippon chinbotsu by Sakyô Komatsu, the same author of Virus: The EndBye Bye JupiterDisappearance of the Capital and Time of the Apes. Of all his work, Komatsu’s sinking story was so popular that it became a TV series in 1974 and was remade in 2006 as Doomsday: The Sinking of Japan, then remade again as the 2020 TV mini-series Japan Sinks 2020, which was so big that it played theaters and spun off another series, Japan Sinks: People of Hope.

There was even a 2006 parody, Nihon igai zenbu chinbotsu, which means The World Sinks Except Japan.

This was no cheap picture. Director Shirô Moritani has been second unit on Yojimbo while writer Shinobu Hashimoto was behind RashomonSeven SamuraiThe Hidden Fortress and Throne of Blood amongst many other movies, as well as the director of Lake of Illusions, Minami no kaze to nami and I Want to Be a Shellfish.

Two hundred million years ago, what we know as the Earth was a single continent which split up over the years. At one point, Japan was part of the continent of Asia. But now? If you read the title, spoiler, Japan is going to sink. The first people to find out are geophysicist Dr. Tadokoro (Keiju Kobayashi, whose roles in comedies defined what post-war Japan saw as the ideal salaryman) and Onodera Toshio (Hiroshi Fujioka, the original Kamen Rider) take their submarine Wadatsumi-1 to the Ogasawara Islands. How bad is it? Well, the land mass that makes up the islands of Japan itself are about to collapse into a trench.

While Onodera is falling for Abe Reiko (Ayumi Ishida), volcanos start to erupt and earthquakes break out with more frequency. A rich businessman named Mr. Watari (Shōgo Shimada) pays for a series of expeditions to discover if Japan can be saved. But just like our climate, it’s already too late. Unlike our crisis, Japan has three choices: form a new country, seek a home in other countries or accept the end of the country and die.

They only have ten months to decide and as many countries offer to help, I’m reminded that as much as I love Japan, it’s an incredibly racist country. Even in a fictional story, South Korea, China and Taiwan refuse to help them. By the end, as the country sinks into the sea, more than half the population remains to go down with the ship. And our hero and heroine? They’re seperated a world away from one another.

You know who is in this? Turkish born actor Andrew Hughes, a businessman based in Tokyo as an import-export businessman who shows up in so many Japanese films from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, usually in minor roles but even playing Hitler in The Crazy Adventure. The Japanese prime minister is played by Nobuo Nakamura, who was in Kurosawa’s films, but the really interesting actor is the man playing the driver of the Japanese leader. He’s played by Haruo Nakajima, who played Godzilla from 1954’s original film to 1972’s Godzilla vs. Gigan. After this role, he went to work in Toho’s bowling alley. I wish I was making that up.

This movie has some amazing alternate titles, such as Panic Over Tokyo (West Germany and I’m shocked that Frankenstein was not involved, as his name was on every Toho Godzilla movie releasd there), The Fall of Japan (Belgium), Death in the Rising Sun (Portugal knows how to name a movie), The Sun Does Not Rise Over the Island (Czechoslovakia), Planet Earth Year Zero (Italy), S.O.S. The Earth Is Sinking (Sweden) and The End of the World (Turkey).

Roger Ebert nominated this movie for The 50 Worst Films of All Time–and How They Got That Way by Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss. He said, “The movie never ends, but if you wait long enough it gets to a point where it’s over.”

As for the Japanese version of the film — which lends its special effects to the aforementioned Toho Nostradamus movie — I really liked that unlike so many disaster films, the actual socioeconomic problems that the world would face get explained and shown. There’s no shortage of waves crushing everything in their way, but at least we learn something.

You can watch the original Japanese version of this movie at the Internet Archive.

Circle of Fear episode 15: “Dark Vengeance”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first episode of Circle of Fear that I ever watched, as I was trying to find a movie with an evil horse for this year’s Scarecrow Challenge. I’m so glad that I found this as it led to me watching the entire series. This originally was posted on October 22, 2021.

This is an episode of the show Ghost Story, which changed its name to Circle of Fear midway through its one season. Executive produced by William Castle, the original idea for the show was to have Sebastian Cabot play Winston Essex, the owner of a mysterious hotel called Mansfield House, which was really San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado where Wicked Wicked was filmed.

By episode 14 of 22, the show was retitled and Cabot was out and the show still suffered poor ratings, despite featuring writers like Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, D.C. Fontana and Jimmy Sangster.

Episode 15 was Dark Vengeance, which was written by Peter Dixon (whose career was all over the place in TV, working on everything from the Superman 1950s TV series to the Masters of the Universe cartoon) and directed by Herschel Daugherty (The Victim).

While working at a construction site, Frank (an incredibly, near impossible young Martin Sheen) finds a box that can;t be opened. He becomes obsessed with it and finally is able to break into it, revealing only a broken mirror and a toy horse that upsets his wife Cindy (KIm Darby, queen of the TV movie supernatural heroines) to increasing mania.

Of course Cindy would have a past with the horse. But how do you get it back in the box or even destroy it when it can even survive being set ablaze?

There’s no way a goofy wooden horse should be so damned frightening, but everyone is beyond committed to making this happen. Man, after seeing this episode, now I have an entire series to devour. This show suffered comparisons to Night Gallery, but after all, shouldn’t every anthology show made ever after Serling’s masterwork suffer that fate?

You can watch this on YouTube.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 14: Black Magic Rites (1973)

I mean, if you made a movie just for me, this would be it.

This had to be sent to the Italian censorship board twice, as they said that the film “consists of a rambling series of sadistic sequences, meant to urge, through extreme cruelty mixed with degenerate eroticism, the lowest sexual instincts.”

Also called Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel Trecento…(Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century…) and The Reincarnation of Isabel, this was written and directed by Renato Polselli, who also made Delirio CaldoThe Vampire and the Ballerina and Revelations of a Psychiatrist on the World of Sexual Perversion.

Hundreds of years ago, Isabella (Rita Calderoni, Nude for Satan) was tortured and burned for being a witch as her lover swore revenge. Then we meet Jack Nelson (Mickey Hargitay, making some wild movies as always) and his stepdaughter Laureen (also Calderoni) who are celebrating her engagement in a castle without knowing that the cellar is host to the black magic rites of the title. And if they get seven sets of eyes and the blood of virgins, they can bring back Isabella.

Any time this movie feels like it’s getting boring or starting to make sense, it cuts to either sex scenes or murder or Satanic rituals and you know, more movies could learn from what it was all about. I can only imagine the kind of parties that Polselli used to host.

There are also vampires, because this movie is also known as The Ghastly Orgies of Count Dracula.

You know, I never dated many girls who wore makeup before my wife. But there was one that was taking her time putting on makeup and she was putting on false eyelashes and I was trying to say that she didn’t need all that makeup and lashes and she said, “I’m doing it for me. And you. So let me get hot for you.” I wish I had seen this movie before I dated her, because man, the fake eyelashes in this are doing something to me.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Les ébranlées (1973)

Dolls for Sale is another Al Pereira (Howard Vernon) movie and this time, the detective is hired by a woman who simply wants him to break into a location and take an envelope. Of course, this leads to a murder and Al going deeper and deeper into a sleazy world that no one ever escapes.

That downward spiral takes Al so low that he stabs Lina Gordon (Glenda Allen), the woman who used him, who has just killed another woman (Anne Libert). But the reason why is that Al has learned that she was born a man and for some reason, his mental state just can’t deal with that, knowing that someone so seductive could be masculine under her feminine mask.

There’s a roughness that feels lived in, a sleaziness that feels authentic and a sexuality that feels brazen, thanks to Kali Hansa as Leona. I’m shocked that Al Pereira emerged from this story to appear in several more Franco films, but I often wonder if the Franco Cinematic Universe is a multiverse, where there are multiple Al Pereira, Red Lips, Dr. Orloff and Cathy/Lina aspects all living different lives, slightly off and all struggling to escape with their sanity intact and never their innocence.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Le journal intime d’une nymphomane (1973)

Linda Vargas (Montserrat Prous) works a showgirl number with Maria Toledano (Kali Hansa, The Night of the Sorcerers) before picking up Ortiz (Manuel Pereiro), seducing him, calling the cops and killing herself by slicing her own throat, which implicates him in her murder.

His wife, Rosa (Jacqueline Laurent) attempts to learn the truth and discovers from Countess Anna de Monterey (Anne Libert, The DemonsA Virgin Among the Living Dead) that her husband assaulted Linda when she was just a young girl, going from drugs to, well, the title is Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac, so you can guess the rest.

Made after the death of Soledad Miranda and before Franco would fall for Lina Romay, this comes from the more serious side of Jess Franco, feeling like it was inspired by the structure of Citizen Kane, which makes sense more than the absolutely formless movies he’d make later in his career.

The worst thing is that Jacqueline Laurent was fired from her position as a drama teacher at a private high school because of this film. Her students learned that she had appeared nude in this film — made 39 years before — and the school’s administration claimed that this and other erotic thrillers made in the sixties and seventies posed a distraction.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: La maldición de Frankenstein (1973)

After the death of Victor Frankenstein (Dennis Price) at the hands of perhaps immortal mystic wizard Cagliostro (Howard Vernon) and Melissa, his blood-thirsty blind bird woman (Anne Libert), the metallic monster of Frankenstein is torn between his master’s killer and the daughter who has inherited his mantle, Dr. Vera Frankenstein (Beatriz Savon).

Shot in the same time and place as Dracula, Prisoner Of Frankenstein — Franco reminds me of the friend that invites you to help him move, offers pizza and beer, and then also asks you to install all his new appliances and oh yeah, can you fix the hot water heater and help me paint while you’re here — this is the kind of movie where the villains power their plans with the whipped bodies of the young and beautiful because, well, they’re perfectly willing to admit that along with their evil aims that they have no shame in enjoying a little bit of violence — actually a lot — with their sex.

The plan is to find a mate for the monster and the perfect person may be village mystic Madame Orloff (Britt Nichols AKA Carmen Yazalde), but the chivalrous Dr. Seward hopes to save the day. This being a Franco movie, I don’t see that happening.

So many questions, like why Frankenstein is painted silver; why Cagliostro has the polymath power sheet of being near-eternal, a mentalist, a maker of human-animal hybrids, a lover of BDSM and orgies, and hypnotism, making him the kind of supervillain that Alex Jones might believe is a real person; and if this is the movie Franco saw in his head when he watched Universal and Hammer movies, because now I can’t unsee it when I watch those movies.

You can watch this on KinoCult.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: The Demons (1973)

“Let The Exorcist beware, The Demons are here!”

One can only imagine that Jess Franco sat in a theater as Ken Russell’s The Devils ended and thought to himself, “But where’s the sex? I want more of it. I demand more of it!

After watching a witch burn, we meet two nuns in a convent, the virginal Margaret (Britt Nichols AKA Carmen Yazalde, who appears in The Erotic Rights of FrankensteinA Virgin Among the Living Dead and is sacrificed in Tombs of the Blind Dead) and her more sex-obsessed sister Kathleen (Anne Libert, House of 1000 Pleasures and Sins of the Flesh).

A rich woman named Lady De Winter (Karin Field, Target Frankie and Return of Shanghai Joe) believes that Kathleen is possessed by Satan and that the two are the daughters of that blackened witch, so she puts her top man, Thomas Renfield (Alberto Dalbés, A Quiet Place to Kill and Espionage In Tangiers) after her. Of course, he falls in love and lets her escape. And even when Inquisitor Lord Justice Jeffreys (Cihangir Gaffari, Dick Turpin and Bloodsport) gives him another chance, Renfield runs back to her and the two are soon tortured into near oblivion.

Meanwhile, Satan himself appears in the convent and assaults Margaret, replacing her innocence with an overwhelming desire to punish anyone who harmed her mother or sister, starting with Lady De Winter, often by kissing them into skeletons. You know, no one loves female revenge more than Jess Franco and he’s going all out here, with Margaret seducing her Mother Superior right into suicide and then leaving no man or woman safe from her vengeance.

This is one of the more gorgeous films Franco would make — it was shot by Raul Artigot (The Ghost GalleonThe Cannibal ManThe Pyjama Girl Case) — and he makes great use of his budget. And he lives up to those dreams of a movie that somehow answers, “What if Witchfinder General was more about lesbians?”

You can watch this on KinoCult.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Tendre et perverse Emanuelle (1973)

There have been so many Emanuelle movies by so many of my favorite disreputable filmmakers, from Just Jaeckin’s original in 1974 to Joe D’Amato’s always entertaining Black Emanuelle films with Laura Gemser to science fiction takes such as Emmanuelle in Space and Emmanuelle Through Time, as  well as two by Franco, this one and Emmanuelle Exposed.

The original film was so popular — even in the U.S. where the tagline said “X was never like this” and it was sold as a highbrow movie — that a theater on the Champs-Elysees in Paris played it for 13 years.

So how wild that this Franco movie uses Emanuelle in the title a year before Jaeckin made his adaption of the 1959 of the Emmanuelle Arsan book (born Marayat Bibidh, there’s a theory that her husband Louis-Jacques Rollet-Andriane wrote the book; nevertheless she was an adventurous woman given to affairs much like the story she may have written and she and Louis-Jacques eventually settled down to a retirement home named Chantelouve d’Emmanuelle in a triad relationship with his former secretary Nitya Phenkun for nearly twenty years).

Of course, the name was changed to cash in on the success of Jaeckin’s film and this is just as much a murder mystery or even a giallo compared to a softcore movie, but it’s most importantly a Jess Franco film, which means that it’s packed with the strange affectations that are so distracting at first and become so welcome the more of his movies you unspool.

Shot at the same time and in some of the same locations as A Virgin Among the Living Dead, it tells the story of Emanuelle (or Barbara), played by Norma Kastel from The Fish With the Eyes of Gold, She’s found at the bottom of a cliff and the film follows the investigation into her death, which is mourned by a series of lovers of both sexes.

That mourning includes lots (and lots) of sex between the cast members, who include Alice Arno (who would be the actress conducting the insert graveyard orgy that Franco didn’t direct in A Virgin Among the Living Dead) and, in her second Franco film, his lifelong obsession Lina Romay, who is so cool that she has a sapphic scene so volcanic that she forgets to take her glasses off, which speaks to me in a way that I don’t have words.