JESS FRANCO MONTH: Women in Cellblock 9 (1977)

Also known as Escape from the Island of Death and Tropical Inferno, this Jess Franco directed and written film has — trigger warning — lots of nudity from its sixteen at the time lead actress Susan Hemingway (Two Female Spies with Flowered PantiesLove Letters of a Portuguese Nun).

She’s Maria, one of four girls in cellblock 9, along with Karine (Karine Gambier, who would graduate t warden by Caged Women), Aida (Aida Gouveia, Sinfonia Erotica) and Barbara (Esther Studer, who would endure Ilsa the Wicked Warden the same year this movie was made), all forced to go through the indignities of a women in prison film — nudity, interrogation, torture and being menaced by Dora Doll, Howard Vernon and I shit you not, a gerbil. If you’re going to be in any cinematic women’s prison, I mean, the most experienced jailer is going to be Franco, who also made Isla the Wicked WardenJustine, The Lovers of Devil’s IslandBarbed Wire DollsWomen Behind BarsLove CampSadomania and 99 Women.

They use their beauty to lure a guard into their embrace and kill him, fleeing into the jungle and leading an entire army of killer after them, as well as a stock footage alligator. This is an exceedingly mean-spirited film, perhaps mitigated by the fact that all of the women are rebels trying to escape the chains of opression and yet finding more of it at every turn. Maybe it’s an allegory. Maybe Franco was just making movies for people who liked to see young women get tortured. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle.

This one is bleak, like doom-laden scream at the ending bleakness with little to no hope other than a quick sunbathing scene. Much like probably Jess himself, I missed Lina Romay and I’m certain he couldn’t wait to be back in her arms. Or thighs. Both, I guess.

88 FILMS BLU RAY RELEASE: Blood And Diamonds (1977)

Directed by Fernando Di Leo, who wrote Live Like a Cop, Die Like a ManA Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars and Massacre Time, as well as the director of Naked ViolenceSlaughter Hotel and Caliber 9, Blood and Diamonds is a poliziotteschi about Guido Mauri (Claudio Cassinelli), a thief who has spent the last few years in prison and just wants to go legit.

That’s not going to happen, because days after a mob boss named Rizzo (Martin Balsam) and his right-hand man Tony (Pier Paolo Capponi) kill Guido’s girl Maria (Olga Karlatos) over some jewels that never got to Rizzo. Guido hatches a revenge plot but so does Maria’s orphaned son Enzo (Alberto Squillante) who was already upset that Guido was a criminal because he’s a rich snob of a child.

If that’s not enough, well, Guido’s other old flame Lisa is played by Barbara Bouchet and generally, that’s enough to get me on board. There’s also a good score by Luis Bacalov, so good that Bruno Mattei ripped it off for Hell of the Living Dead (thanks to Ian Jane from Rock! Shock! Pop! for that knowledge).

The 88 Films blu ray of Blood and Diamonds has a brand new remastered 4K transfer from the original camera negative, audio commentary with Troy Howarth, a documentary on Fernando Di Leo, Blood and Di Leo – A Portrait by Luc Merenda, the Italian opening, intermission and credits, the trailer and a slipcase with a poster and booklet. You can get it from MVD.

AMANDO DE OSSORIO WEEK: Las alimañas (1977)

When two bandits steal gems and other valuable pieces of fine art from a museum in the Dominican Republic, they don’t even get a moment to moment to celebrate their ill-gained treasures. Instead, their American partner Todd (Paul Benson) who is hiding at the home of his girlfriend Margaret (Rosa Valenti) and her girlfriend Jacqueline (Verónica Miriel). Oh yeah — they also have an alligator in the back so if he needs to disposes of any bodies to keep all those stolen museum relics, he has them.

Directed and written by Amando de Ossorio, this has little of his trademark slow motion or supernatural moments, but is really about the horror that man can visit on other men. Or women on men. Or alligators on humans. You know what I mean.

Shot in Madrid, the Dominican Republic and Miami, as well as a museum in Santo Domingo, this is a movie that ends with every single person paying the price for their crime. It’s a dark film, which is the one thing that ties it to the rest of de Ossorio’s work. It’s not easy to find, but hey — I am always, if anything, a completist.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: Blue Christmas (1977)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on January 28, 2022. It was suggested for today by Kris Erickson. 

Also known as Blood Type: Blue, this movie is somehow way ahead of its time, as UFO abductees return to Japan with blue blood, which upsets everyone else because, well, do racist people really need a reason? And this also has a deeper story inside it, a remembrance of at least 17 Japanese citizens that were taken by the North Korean government.

Maybe it’s the time I’m watching this in — then again, you could have felt the same way at the start of AIDS or in how Japan and Korea view one another — but this is hitting too close to home. Reporters struggling to reveal the truth, lovers on opposite sides of a conflict united only by their hearts, human lives reduced to blood and organs under the scalpel, prejudice and feelings presiding over facts.

Director Kihachi Okamoto was drafted during the last years of World War II, into the very worst fighting, and was alone among his friends in that he survived. Most of his films have a very cynical edge, even his gangster films and it’s wild that this movie is from Toho.

There’s also the professor who broke this story, why he disappeared and where all the blue blood people are going. As for the UFOs, unlike most other Toho science fiction, they’re never seen.

Sure, this is long at 133 minutes, but it’s so strange, nearly shot like a parody yet dark in its tone. The closest thing I can compare it to is either Eyes Behind the Stars or Footprints on the Moon, but neither is anything like this. To be honest, the end of this has stuck with me for some time and this feels like another strange film that I’ll have to go back and watch several times.

CULT EPICS BLU RAY RELEASE: Madame Claude (1977)

Inspired by the life of French brothel madam Madame Claude, this Just Jaeckin-directed film has a soundtrack by Serge Gainsbourg. I really don’t know how much sexier a movie can be to be perfectly frank, because I think if you put those two guys together, you might get pregnant just handling this blu ray even if you are a guy.

Madame Claude (Françoise Fabian) has a veritable army of high-class call girls always on call, ready to serve the needs of the elite businessmen of the world. She’s not above getting involved in politics or business or even blackmail, which may come back to hurt her when photographer David Evans (Murray Head, yes, the guy who sang “One Night In Bangkok”) starts taking photos of her ladies as they meet up with their clients.

You know who else is in this? Klaus Kinski, who hated being in the film despite seemingly living a wild life while making it. In his book Kinski Uncut, he claimed “It’s an insult that I have to do the movie Madame Claude, and here in Paris to boot. The salary is also wretched. But we need the money. The girls who play Madame Claude’s prostitutes in the movie **** like professionals. Especially the very young ones, but also the married ones, whom I can **** only if their husbands are briefly out of town. A very young extra has a tiny, almost naked **** like a mouth, very tiny *** cheeks, and very tiny ***. I always have to telephone her ***** mom before I can **** the daughter.”

He’s the first client of the woman who Madame Claude is transforming from innocent to wise to the ways of love, Elizabeth (Dayle Haddon, who was in SpermulaSex with a Smile and is also Pearl Prophet in Cyborg). He wants her to seduce his son and then he breaks his son’s heart by taking her as well.

Jaeckin makes dirty movies, but he also comes close to art. This also gets into conspiracy, U.S. Presidents being serviced by call girls, a chase through Kinski’s home as the photographer is finally caught by numerous agents and — as always — gorgeous women like Fabian, Haddon and Vibeke Knudsen-Bergeron (who was also in Jaeckin’s The Story of O).

The Cult Epics blu ray release of this movie has a 4K HD Transfer from the original 35mm negative supervised by cinematographer Robert Fraisse, as well as commentary by Jeremy Richey, author of the upcoming book Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol. There’s also an interview with Jaeckin, a French trailer, a promotional gallery and a CD of the soundtrack by Gainsbourg. You can get it from MVD.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: End of the World (1977)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on October 25, 2018.

Bill from Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum always jokes about movies where nothing happens as being his favorite movies. If that’s true, he must absolutely adore this movie.

Christopher Lee, the main selling point of this movie, said, “Some of the films I’ve been in I regret making. I got conned into making these pictures in almost every case by people who lied to me. Some years ago, I got a call from my producers saying that they were sending me a script and that five very distinguished American actors were also going to be in the film. Actors like José Ferrer, Dean Jagger, and John Carradine. So I thought “Well, that’s all right by me”. But it turned out it was a complete lie. Appropriately the film was called End Of The World.”

The film opens with a shaken Lee as a Catholic priest trying to get to a phone call. All hell breaks loose and a diner is destroyed, with the owner blinded by coffee before being killed and the pay phone being blown up. Turns out that Father Pergado is due to be replaced by the alien Zindar. Good start. And it was the trailer, filled with science fiction machines and evil nuns that got me interested in this picture!

Professor Andrew Boran discovers radio signals that predict natural disasters.   He and his wife investigate, discovering that they come from a convent where aliens have taken over. The aliens want him to join them, as the Earth is too diseased to exist.

The leads are wooden and only seem to want to have sex with one another, yet there are no love scenes. They’re utter failures at being heroic and simply move the plot along to its conclusion, where we learn that the Earth is filled with glitter. It blows up real good!

There are some ridiculous moments, such as Lee’s true form and seeing nuns operate supercomputers. Seriously, if I just read the description of this movie, it’d sound like everything I love. But seeing the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Good Against Evil (1977)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on December 5, 2018.

Originally airing on May 22, 1977, this attempt at a weekly series comes from director Paul Wendkos (The Mephisto WaltzSecretsHaunts of the Very Rich) and Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster (The LegacyScream, Pretty PeggyHorror of DraculaThe Revenge of Frankenstein).

I was really excited about the potential of this one, which promises from its Amazon listing that writer Andy Stuart (Dack Rambo) teams up with an exorcist named Father Kemschler (Dan O’Herlihy!) to battle Satan and a group of devil worshipers led by Mr. Rimmin (Richard Lynch!).

Seems like Rimmin has been after a girl named Jessica from the moment she was born, as her mother was drugged and attended to by nuns who took her baby away the moment it was born. Her mom was then killed by a black cat and Jessica is raised by his people, with her origins kept a secret.

When Andy and Jessica hook up and decide to get married, she’s unable to even get near the altar. That’s because she’s been promised to the demon Astaroth and must be kept a virgin until the beast comes back and puts a devil baby in her womb. Now, the cult that has been behind every moment of her life must keep her a virgin by cockblocking Andy at every turn.

I was totally prepared for pure 1970’s Satanic bliss, only to find myself in the midst of a relationship drama for much of the films first half. Sure, there was a flashback where a woman imagined a nearly nude and totally burned up Lynch — he came by those scars the hard way — attacking her. I was thinking — is this the TV movie version of Enter the Devil — only for cruel reality to make me learn differently.

That said, there are some good moments here, like a woman being killed by her own housecats under Rimmin’s command. And Elyssa Davalos as Jessica has plenty of great qualities that make her a wonderful horror heroine in distress. And while she’s top billed when you look this film up, Kim Cattrall makes a short appearance.

I wanted to love this. It has all the elements that you would think would lead to magic. Yet it can’t put them all together. Sometimes when you deal with the devil, you don’t get what you wanted.

Punk Rock (1977)

Somehow, some way, Carter Stevens’ Punk Rock is on Tubi, pornography without pornography, yet still appearing with sleaze and heart and story intact. Also known as Teenage Runaways, Stevens saw the success of Saturday Night Fever, knew punk was hot and went out and shot new scenes that replaced the penetration to get an R-rated version — the one I watched — in theaters.

With a soundtrack by Elda & The Stillettos, The Fast, The Spicy Bits and The Squirrels, this proves a lie to the VCA 90s era of porn that seemed hopelessly years behind the times. At this point, adult wasn’t reflecting the world, it was somehow a few moments ahead of the rest of the country.

Jimmy Dillinger (Wade Nichols) just saved a girl named Jenny (Susaye London) from a cult that turns their girls into prostitutes. He gets set up for a murder he didn’t commit, the crooks come back and get his girl. The cops — like inspector Joe Giovanni, played by a pre-jungle bound Robert Kerman — aren’t on his side either. But hey — he’s going to come out on top. And probably come on top, too.

Beyond the joy of finding this on a Fox-owned streaming site, Punk Rock gives you plenty of footage of Max’s Kansas City, lots of great pinball machines — really, the movie is filled with them — and footage of St. Mark’s when punk really was a real thing. There’s also a great soundtrack by The Squirrels, The Fast, The Spicy Bits and Elda & The Stillettos, who actually have a major role to play in the story.

Debbie Harry was originally in the Stilettos and Stevens wanted her for the film. Stevens told Cinedelphia Film Festival’s Andy Elijah how the movie was made, “I was living at the time with Honey Stevens, a hardcore punk who dragged me to every punk event in New York. I found the bands simply by sitting in Max’s. I picked three of the most different bands I could pick. I wanted a different look from each band. The Squirrels in their platform sneakers and school jackets, and then the Spicy Bits, a hardcore rock band, and then The Fast, the most well-known of the three.”

There’s also an awesome marquee for Coma and man, that made me happy.

Yes. You can really watch this on Tubi.

FANTASTIC FEST 2022: Tintorera…Tiger Shark (1977)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was first on the site on December 22, 2018 but since it played Fantastic Fest live, I can’t miss the opportunity to talk about this movie that is more about male love than sharks.

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I was sitting in a B. Dalton’s reading — parents routinely dropped kids off places to read without any fear of kidnapping back then — and discovered a copy of Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex on a shelf. I had no idea what it was at the time, but the drawings (by Chris Foss, who would go on to work on AlienFlash Gordon and Jodorowsky’s Dune) were upsetting to me. Hairy soft focused seventies post-hippies getting it on didn’t jibe well with my single digit mind.

I forgot what that feeling was like. And then I watched Tintorera…Tiger Shark.

This movie is based on the novel of the same name by oceanographer Ramón Bravo, an undersea explorer who studied the 19-foot-long species of shark known as “tintorera” and also discovered the sleeping sharks of Isla Mujeres. You may know him better for his role as the underwater zombie in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Here’s the thing — this is a shark movie, but it’s also pretty much a softcore adult movie about the three-way relationship between the heroes. As such, this is the only shark movie I’ve watched all week with full frontal male nudity, which is something of an accomplishment.

Hugo Stiglitz from Nightmare City plays Steven, born in the US but a Mexican businessman here in Cancun for vacation. He falls for Patricia (Fiona Lewis, Dr. Phibes Rises Again) but breaks up with her when he can’t decide whether or not he’s in love with her. Ah, the 1970’s.

Jealousy ensues when she starts hooking up with Miguel (Andrés García, a real-life former diving instructor who is also in Bermuda: Cave of the Sharks), the swimming instructor at the resort. After those two dance the devil’s dance and Steven gets all misty-eyed, she goes skinny dipping and ends up being eaten by a tiger shark that seems to have breathing problems, judging by the soundtrack.

The two fight over what happened to Patricia, but neither ever learn that she was devoured by a shark. That night, the two hook up with Kelly and Cynthia Madison, two American college students looking for fun, and swim to Steven’s yacht as the heavy breathing shark follows them. They swap beds all night long before heading back to the resort and the shark decides to leave them alone. Kelly is played by Jennifer Ashley, who was also in Phantom of the Paradise, Chained Heat and Guyana: Cult of the Damned, while Cynthia is Laura Lyons, which is her real name and not a stage name inspired by the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles. She was the Playboy Playmate of the Month for February 1976 and actually led a strike amongst the club bunnies that led to better wages and rights for them. Other than an appearance on TV’s Love, American Style, this is the only other acting role in her career.

Steven and Miguel decide to partner up both in a shark hunting business and in being womanizers. They start shooting all manner of sharks, but Miguel warns Steven that if they ever meet a tiger shark that they must immediately get out of the water.

The guys meet Gabriella (Susan George, Die Screaming, Marianne) and take her shark hunting. She hates it, but falls for both men. They decide to form a triad relationship where they can’t be with any other woman or fall in love with her. Remember those The Joy of Sex drawings I mentioned earlier? Get ready to watch the play out as the three make love, make omelets and sightsee the Mayan ruins.

Sadly, the next time they go shark hunting, the tiger shark reappears — surprise! — and bites Miguel in half. Gabriella is so upset that she leaves, never to return. Steven vows revenge on the shark and beats up every shark he can find, upsetting even the most hardened fishermen. Surely, they tell him, he has killed the tiger shark by now.

Nope. It’s still out there, killing fishermen and lying in wait for Steven. At a beach party with Kelly, Cynthia and two new American girls (one of them is Priscilla Barnes from TV’s Three’s Company and The Devil’s Rejects), everyone skinny dips. As Steven and Cynthia make out nude in the water, the tiger shark comes back and tears the woman literally out of his embrace. Everyone is injured by the shark’s attack and Steven makes a promise to kill the shark himself.

You may be wondering: how will Steven go about killing this shark? If you guessed “he’s going to blow it up” then congratulations. You’ve been watching just as many shark movies as I have. Are explosives the shark’s natural predator?

Anyhow — Steven uses a devilfish to lure the shark close and then he hears its breathing, because that’s how sharks work. He succeeds in turning that shark into a million pieces, but loses his arm in the process. He wakes up in a hospital bed, minus an arm but filled with happy memories of the sexy times he shared with Miguel and Gabriella.

Keep in mind when you seek out this film that there are two versions. One is 85 minutes long and is more of a shark film. Then there’s the 126 minutes long cut that’s chock full of swinging Mexican resort sex. Also, a warning for those of you sensitive to these matters: many of the scenes of fish being caught and killed underwater are unsimulated. That should be no surprise to anyone who has seen a René Cardona Jr. directed film, as he threw live birds through windows in Beaks: The Movie and a cat over a wall in Night of a Thousand Cats. He’s also responsible for the borderline insane film Bermuda Triangle, as well as the scum-ridden cash-in Guyana: Crime of the Century.

Tintorera…Tiger Shark is one of the stranger films I’ve watched, not only in my shark obsessed week of trying to watch every single pre-Sharknado film of this genre, but really in all the films I’ve watched. I have no idea who it is truly for, yet appreciate its willingness to indulge in spectacle and scum, whether that be people hooking up or being eaten in front of your very eyes.

Inheritor of Kung Fu (1977)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

 Inheritor of Kung Fu has almost as many titles as release dates. Possible alternate titles include: Avenging Dragon, Hero at the Border Region, Two Graves to Kung Fu, and Soul Collector. The film was produced in Taiwan and very little information is available.  It is listed in several sources as having been released in 1977, ’78, 1983 and ’84. It almost certainly was not produced in the 1980s as by then, the Wuxia genre has all but died out replaced by high octane police stories and bullet ballets. 

The version I saw from Martial Arts Theater was of poor quality. Even if it was restored and complete, Inheritor of Kung Fu probably wouldn’t make much sense, anyway. At least not in its present form. Rumors abound that the film was originally set to be two films shot simultaneously to take advantage of Ti Lung’s star power, but I haven’t been able to corroborate this with a primary source in Asia. 

Ti Lung is the handsome hero who befriends a Princess (Chang Ling a.k.a Pearl Cheung) and her servant while on the road. Ti tries to help them battle off some masked bandits but ends up being rescued by the Princess who possesses Kung Fu skills superior to his own. Fans of Kung Fu cinema will easily predict things won’t stay that way for long. 

Ti perfects his fighting skills while somehow getting in the middle of a few clans who are all at odds over a special Kung Fu manuscript. From there the movie takes a somewhat mythical turn. Supporting characters come and go doing strange things that have nothing to do with the plot while the lead villain disappears for 60 minutes of the running time leaving viewers to wonder if a more complete cut exists. The Wu Tang Collection’s YouTube channel is a slightly better print (link below.) 

The fight choreography is good but a lot of the wirework is poorly hidden. The sets are bad and there are some serious continuity and technical issues. I won’t even mention the white guy who comes flying out of the lake during the last act with no prior mention of a reason such a thing should happen. You know it’s springtime when the white guys come shooting up out of the water.

Everyone involved with it should disown Inheritor of Kung Fu except for Ti Lung. What a trooper. Ti saves the film. He kicks serious ass and plays second banana to no one as was common in his Shaw Brothers films with David Chiang. He really has time to showcase his Kung Fu and rises to the occasion as a charming leading man. [Full disclosure: I’d watch Ti read from the 1977 phone book, so I’m biased.]

The Martial Arts Theater DVD release has a running commentary track with HK movie expert and author Rick Meyers and African American HK stuntman Bobby Samuels. The two don’t seem to pick apart the film’s plot either and Meyers failed to identify Pearl Cheung even though there are resources available that showcase her. They also refer to the main bad guy as “The Mad Korean” but upon checking another print of the film, there are no Korean names listed in the credits. Despite these inconsistencies, Meyers and Samuels offer some interesting information on Ti Lung, Hong Kong and Taiwan Kung Fu cinema and are overall very pleasant to listen to. If anyone out there has more info on this title or its production, I’d love to read it!