JEAN ROLLIN-UARY: Fascination (1979)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally posted on October 11, 2017.

Jean Rollin was a master of the fantastique, the way that the French refer to a mixture of science fiction, horror and fantasy. What’s the difference between fantastique and fantasy? The former is more concerned with the intrusion of supernatural phenomena into an otherwise realist narrative. In this genre, the supernatural may be met with doubt, disbelief and fear; yet it always exists.

After a decade marked by working under a pseudonym in the porn industry to make ends meet, Rollin saw Fascination as an attempt to return to his roots. It’s based on Jean Lorrain’s Un verre de sang (A Glass of Blood), a poem about rich people drinking the blood of bulls in order to cure anemia. It’s also a tribute to a French magazine that explored eroticism in art.

In 1905, a group of wealthy women waits for bulls to be slaughtered so that they can drink their supposedly curative blood.

A gang of thieves pursues Mark (Jean-Pierre Lemaire), who is trying to leave France for London with a bag of gold coins. He finds a secluded mansion in the mountains that is empty, save for two chambermaids, Elizabeth (Franca Maï) and Eva (Brigitte Lahaie, who started working with Rollin on adult films before memorably appearing in his last movie, The Grapes of Death), who await the arrival of their Marchioness and her servants.

The women, who are lovers, aren’t afraid of Mark. Instead, they seem attracted to him. Eva eventually sleeps with the thief, making Elizabeth jealous to the point that she puts a gun in her mouth.

A shot rings out, but it is not Elizabeth’s death. The thieves have found where Mark is hiding and have begun shooting at the house. Eva goes out to give the men Mark’s gold. While they count it, a female thief demands her dress.

Eva makes love to one of the thieves before stabbing him, then wiping out the rest with a scythe. Once the film tastes blood, it picks up in intensity and purpose. Eva returns to find the woman who stole her white dress, now clad in black and carrying the giant bladed weapon. Single frame close-ups of their eyes, lips and blades show the difference between the women. While the thief was once in control and confident, now she is facing death. Her outstretched knife is tentative and finally drops as Eva laughingly decimates her, the former virginal white dress awash with blood as the camera pulls back from the drawbridge to show the carnage.

Soon, the Marchioness later arrives, whom Mark refers to as the grand danger. She tells him that death often takes the form of seduction (and Elizabeth had said that death itself would be coming). If Mark stays — and she knows he will — he’ll be the only man there…except for Satan, of course.

Mark jokingly says, “Midnight! Satan! Death!” as he finds the situation very amusing. Mark tries to take her by force, as she intimates that he’d like to try, but she responds by biting his lip.

Four more women arrive, excited at the possibility of Mark being at their annual reunion. They go to meet him as Elizabeth and Eva light a room full of candles. Mark asks if it’s for the arrival of Death, but gets no answers.

As music plays, one of the women tells Mark that he is about to learn what seven women can do to one man. He takes the music from slow to fast, dancing with a near mania. Suddenly, he has the attention of every woman in the room, dancing with each of them one at a time. He is blindfolded and spun around until he has no idea where he is, laughing and seeking the touch of each woman as they begin to disrobe him. He staggers around the room, blind, seeking to touch each woman.

They’re playing a game, where if Mark can pick out the woman by touch, she can be his. Mark finds the Marchioness and tells her that he wants her to be his slave for fifteen minutes. She tells him to meet her in the study.

All of the women confront Elizabeth, who wants to save Mark as she feels something for him. The other women taunt her before handing out the costumes for midnight.

Mark meets the Marchioness, who undresses for him. He makes her get on her knees and teases her with a cigar. She rises and tells him that the fifteen minutes are over. He walks outside where he finds the body of the final thief, covered in blood. He presents it to the women, who are all wearing veils that barely cover their nudity. He demands to know their secrets and says that he belongs to the real world and their world.

The Marchioness tells Mark to go to the stables, where she has a horse waiting for him. Yet the stables are empty. Eva was waiting for Mark, but Elizabeth shoots her several times. Eva asks why, telling her that she loved her before dying. She crawls back to the house where the rest of the women converge on her and devour her.

Elizabeth and Mark hide in the stables, where he confesses that he loves her. She does not return that love and kills him. Then, she and the Marchioness walk into the sunrise.

Is Fascination a vampire movie? Maybe. It’s more the tale of a ritual, repeated year after year. It’s about how love and sex and madness can be intertwined and how fickle it can all be. It’s about man’s sexual power being laughable when faced with a powerful woman. “The blood cult is strange and bizarre. The love of blood is stronger than the body in which it flows,” says Elizabeth as she shoots Mark. “I never loved you, but what I liked about you was…” she trails off, eyes mad.

After his hit The Grapes of Death, it looked like Fascination would be a change of fortunes for Jean Rollin, lifting him from the porn gutter. Sadly, all of the screenings were canceled at the last minute and the film went from something everyone was dying to see to a film that no one could find. Again, Rollin would lose nearly all of his money and return to adult films.

That’s a shame because this is a film that’s literally brimming with dread, doom and otherworldliness. It starts slow, but by the end it really gets going.

You can watch this on Kino Cult.

Bruce and the Iron Finger (1979)

Despite being billed so often as Bruce Li as he led the pack of Brucesploitation actors, Ho Chung Tao used his own name for this film. He plays a cop visiting Hong Kong who finds himself in the midst of a case, as a number of martial arts masters have been found dead with two puncture wounds in their necks. This isn’t the work of a vampire, but instead a masked martial arts madman played by Ku Feng that has used his secret skill to turn his entire skin into steel, an act which has robbed him of his ability to make love, so he’s gone even crazier. I mean, he will die if he has sex and screams that at one point.

Ho Chung Tao also fights — and then teams up — with fellow replacement Dragon Bruce Leung. Yet the real joy of this movie is that yes, it is somehow a kung fu giallo set on the grimy streets of 1979 Hong Kong and has a bravura performance by Lee Hoi Gei as Ku Feng’s woman LuLu. She’s obviously unsatisfied by her man, so she keeps cucking him by bringing so many fighters back to their bed, getting them all worked up and then having her man come on in and penetrate them — in the neck — with his iron fingers. Sure, LuLu is also involved in human trafficking and a horrible person, but I was charmed by the fact that she never wears anything in this movie that isn’t see-through and at one point rides a man like a pony around their small apartment and then puts a cigarette out in his mouth.

As if I couldn’t love a movie that unites fake Bruce Lee cinema with giallo, well, this also liberally steals from the soundtrack of Death Wish. Also: this was called Bruce Lee Dominator in Italy, which is incredible.

I guess director To Lo Po has as much right as anyone to make a Bruce Lee ripoff, as he was as assitant director om Enter the Dragon.

You can watch this on Tubi.

City On Fire (1979)

It took 45,000 gallons to set a few blocks of Montreal ablaze for this movie, which at least pushes it somewhat past being another version of The Towering Inferno. It was directed by Alvin Rakoff, who also made Death Ship, and written by Dave Lewis, Céline La Frenière and Jack Hill. That’s right — the man who made Spider BabySwitchblade SistersSorceress and Coffy to name just a few.

Mayor William Dudley (Leslie Nielsen, so associated with movie like this that Airplane! had to cast him, a role that changed his career) gets paid off an allows an oil refinery to be built right in the middle of his town. There’s no water source nearby, but nobody would ever get fired — like Herman Stover (Jonathan Welsh) — and flood the streets and sewers with flammable gasoline, right?

Meanwhile, amongst the shoddily built facilities and structures of this flaming metroppolis, we meet the players of this melodrama, liek Dr. Frank Whitman (Barry Newman) who is trying to treat the thousands of burned people, reporter Maggie Grayson (Ava Gardner) who is trying to sweat out the booze and get her name back with this story and Chief Albert Risley (Henry Fonda), the fireman trying to fix it all.

Surely, realizing disasters film casts, you must ask: “Is Shelley Winters in this?”

Of course. She’s a nurse in it.

There’s also Diana Brockhurst-Lautrec (Susan Clark, before she was the mean mother of Webster), who is dating the mayor, but also has an old fling kind of thing with Whitman and has been stalked for years by Stover. She’s seriously catnip to all these felines who dance around the fickle flames of their burning burg.

How do you escape all this? You make a water tunnel. I’m as astounded as you. Also, I’m pleased to see James Franciscus show up as Gardner’s assistant and later boy toy, because that’s how the 70s worked.

You can watch this on Tubi.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: Magnificent Ruffians (1979)

What good is being the master of a martial arts technique if you have no one left to fight? That’s the question that Yuan Ying Fei (Lu Feng), a master of the Golden Sword technique, must be asking himself. All anyone wants to do is carry a gun now and he can barely convince other martial artists to come to town for his hospitality any longer. That said, he murders them pretty quickly when they do visit, but the guy obivously has issues. He also wants the property of Guan Ah Yu (Lo Meng), who lives at home with his mother, but when he sends henchmen over to knock the guy around, the man many see as a mother’s boy destroys all of them.

Meanwhile, Feng Jia Ji (Sun Chien), He Fei (Chiang Sheng), Yang Zhui Feng (Phillip Chung-Fung) and Zeng Qiao (Wang Li) are other fighters who have fallenon such hard times that in order to eat, they allow the cooks and waiters at restaurants to beat them up.

Yuan Ying Fei gets the idea to hire all four of them to work at his estate and convince them that his rival is a villain. That way, he can marry Guan Ah Yu’s sister without her knowing that he’s the man who killed him. When these five first meet, they all come to realize that they’re kindred spirits — magnificent ruffians — who only care about practicing kung fu.

That’s when the villain sets up Yang Zhui Feng by replacing his weapon with one that explodes on contact. In practice, it kills Guan Ah Yu and he goes on the run, convinced that his friends will think he’s a traitor. Yang Zhui Feng then appears and only He Fei escapes with his life. Of course, the two surviving ruffians will come back together, there will be a final battle against the Golden Sword style and only one man will survive.

The Venom Mob and director Chang Cheh made so many films together, including two more that are in the same era as this, as hand to hand combat gives way to bullets. It’s a good film but probably not the best one of their output to watch first.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979)

Monkey style master Chen (Chia-Liang Liu AKA this film’s director Lau Kar-leung) has been tricked by gangster and brothel-owner Tuan (Lo Lieh), who uses his wife to act as if Chen has become so drunk that he’s assaulted her. The punishment for this heinous crime? Death. Death or Chen’s sister (Kara Wei) giving herself to Tuan and working in his house of ill repute for the rest of her life. As if that isnn’t bad enough, Tuan ruins Chen’s hands forever. He has destroyed his family, his spirit and his ability to perform kung fu.

Years later, Chen is sober and better known as a candy seller along with his monkey Ah Mao. A young thief named Monkey (Hsiao Ho) is watching him when some criminals attack him as he performs for some children. Monkey steals the money back and brings a meal to the old man to repay him for what he has gone through. Those same crooks return and kill Ah Mao, swinging the poor monkey by the tail and smashing his little body into a tree. Chen refuses to allow Monkey to get revenge, even physically stopping him from doing so and losing all of his money again.

Monkey soon begins to train with Chen and, much like many a Shaw Brothers story, he believes that he is strong enough way too quickly. Sure, he easily defeats the criminals, but when he faces Tuan, he barely escapes with his life. The only reason he lives is because Chen’s sister sacrifices her life so that he can run away.

At this point, the training begins again with both men needing revenge and learning that together, they are the equal of anyone.

This movie is great, packed with so many training scenes of how you learn monkey kung fu, as well as a deep sense of sadness, as Chen deals with so many slights and yet remains a moral man. The monkey death is absolutely terrible to watch and makes you want revenge perhaps more than any film in Shaw Brothers history.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: The Kid With the Golden Arm (1979)

Any time you see the words Chang Chen and Venom Mob together, well, you can ignore all the words I will write after this and just run and watch the movie. I’ve never been let down and this one is really something else.

Yang Hu Yun (Sun Chien) has been assigned to safely take a cargo of gold to a poor area of the country dealing with famine, which is all the Chi Sha gang — Iron Robe (Wang Lung Wei), Brass Head (Yang Hsiung), Silver Spear (Lu Feng) and Golden Arm (Lo Meng) — need to hear. They’re taking that gold and there’s nothing that Yang and his crew — Li Chin Ming (Wei Pai), Ming’s girlfriend Leng Feng (Helen Poon), Long Axe Yang Jiu (Shu Pei Sun), Short Axe Fang Shih (Chiang Sheng) and Hai Tao (Kuo Chui) can do about it.

This movie is filled with twists, turns, poison darts, axe martial artists fighting over who can kill more enemies, Golden Arm unarmed combat so powerful he can bend weapons and shatter swords with his body, a rivlrey beween Hai Tao and Li Chin Ming, a mystery fighter called Iron Feet, flirting between Hai Tao and Leng Feng, roasting someone alive to get the poison out of their system, the gang carving their name into someone’s back, blood spraying all over the place, a spear impalement, a bad guy reconsidering his ways and a shock ending. Seriously, this is a movie filled with death, heel turns and yes, so much fighting.

It’s just as awesome as it sounds. I’ve seen some say the story is pretty thin but when there’s this much going on, I doubt you’ll notice.

MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Star Odyssey (1979)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally was on the site on December 20, 2019. It has been updated since that first post.

This is Alfonso Brescia trying to make a Star Wars movie following his movies War of the PlanetsBattle of the Stars and War of the Robots. He also made Naked Girl Killed in the Park and Iron Warrior, so maybe we can cut him a little break. Oh yeah — he also made Beast In Space.

Reusing so many of the costumes and props from War of the Robots — and spraypainting cardboard swords to look like lightsabres.

This is the fourth and final film in Alfonso Brescia’s sci-fi series — War of the Planets AKA Year Zero War in Space, Battle of the Stars AKA Battle in Interstellar Space and War of the Robots AKA ReactorStar Odyssey has plenty of alternate titles, like Seven Gold Men in Space, Space Odyssey, Metallica and Captive Planet.

In the year 2312, Earth is sold to Kress, an evil ruler who wants to turn humans into slaves. Professor Maury and his band of, dare we call them rebels, set out to win the planet back from Kress and his cyborgs.

Those good guys include a space hero called Hollywood, a swindler named Dirk Laramie who wears a Spider-Man t-shirt who is played by Gianni Garko, Norman the gymnast who does cartwheels all day long and robots named Tilk and Tilly who blew themselves up at one point and constantly have to put themselves back together.

There’s also a wrestling match in the middle of this movie for seemingly no reason. Also — while it claims that the actors are listed in alphabetical order, they are not. Star Odyssey lies. It just lies to you.

Hou wang da zhan tian bing tian jiang (1979)

Monkey King With 72 Magic is another take on Journey to the West and as you may have learned this week, that means monsters against our hero Monkey King (Ting Wa-Chung). This one takes place before that, so you’ll learn how he was born from a large stone on the mythical Flower Fruit Mountain and tells how he led an army of other ape children.

The title refers to the 72 forms that Monkey King can transform into and you’ll see all of them — and one more because Yang Chien (Lung Siu Fei) knows 73 different arts — in a wild battle scene. There’s also a scene where the Monkey King transforms into the wackiest looking octopus ever. Thanks to Die Danger Die Die Kill, I now know that these effects come from Gozo Matsui who also made the gigantic reptilian menace in King of Snake.

Monkey goes to Heaven, steals some magical peaches and gets pursued by all manner of celestial avengers, including the wheels-on-magical feet adversary Na Cha (a male character played by female actress Liu Chuan Hua). Yes, this is a movie where a monkey goes absolutely wild and makes a mess out of Heaven and needs to be admonished by Buddha.

Taiwan, never change. I mean, you probably have changed a great deal since 1979, but I just saw a Wuxia puppet movie from there, Demigod: The Legend Begins and the art of making movie drugs martial arts fantasy movies with animal heroes and villains is still strong.

You can watch this on YouTube.

CANNON MONTH 2: Terror (1979)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally appeared on February 16, 2021Cannon didn’t produce this movie but did release it in Germany as Killing House on the Scotia/Cannon label. You can also read Jennifer Upton’s take on this film here.

Norman J. Warren is the kind of director that knows exactly what you want. You aren’t coming to one of his movies to learn some kind of life lesson or to go out to a salon and debate afterward. No, you’re here for all the reasons that you watch horror and exploitation movies. You want to be shocked, scared and stimulated.

What makes this one even better is that the script comes from David McGillivray, who also wrote Satan’s Slave for Warren and Frightmare, House of Whipcord, House of Mortal Sin and Schizo for Pete Walker. He is, to quote British writer Matthew Sweet, “the Truffaut of Smut.”

Also, if you’re watching this and are thinking, “Hey, Warren must have just seen Suspiria when he made this,” then yes, that’s exactly what happened.

The movie starts three hundred years ago, as we watch a witch named Mad Dolly about to be burned at the stake under the orders of Lord Garrick. She then calls on Satan to free her, setting an executioner on fire, a disembodied arm to kill Garrick and for her to rush through the Garrick house with a sword, which she uses to chop the head off his wife before cursing their descendants.

Like I said, Warren knows exactly what you want. That beginning pretty much has everything I watch movies for.

What we’ve just seen is a movie made by director James Garrick — yes, a descendent who lives in the very same house that we’ve seen and for some reason has decided to own the sword of Mad Dolly — and he’s previewing it for his friends and his cousin, Ann. Of course, he also has a mesmerist put her under a spell and she nearly kills him.

This being a Warren movie, of course Ann works at a strip club. And certainly she’s going to be stalked by all manner of ruffians, including Peter Mayhem outside of his Chewbacca costume.

This unleashes a wave of artful violence, including panes of glass chopping off heads, stabbings in the woods, perverts dropped onto spikes, lamps crushing directors and so much more. And the end, well, it’s absolutely bonkers, with levitating cars, more impalings and Mad Dolly’s sword getting used to its fullest power.

As for the Argento inspiration, Warren has claimed that he saw that movie as something freeing, telling Sense of Cinema, “It was just liberating in that you could suddenly get away with doing whatever you liked.”

Since making Bloody New Year, Warren had been promising a sequel to this movie that would be about music and dancers. Sadly, with his death, we won’t see it.

CANNON MONTH 2: The Bitch (1979)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cannon didn’t produce this movie, but released it on video in Germany on the Cannon Screen Entertainment label.

Jackie Collins gave her sister Joan the film rights to both The Stud and The Bitch for free so that they could become movies. Both were co-produced by the sisters’ husbands at the time (Oscar Lerman was married to Jackie and Ron Kass was married to Joan). Both were huge successes and brought Collins’ acting career back; when Aaron Spelling saw these movies, he knew she’d be perfect in the role of Alexis Carrington in Dynasty.

Directed and written by Gerry O’Hara (Fanny HillThe Mummy Lives) takes place after The Stud — which Collins watches on an airplane in a meta moment — and finds Fontaine Khaled (Collins) divorced but still living that disco diva life. Yet her club Hobo is now struggling. But all that she can think about is Nico Cantafora (Michael Coby), a gambler who owes the mob big money and is using her, first to smuggle a stolen diamond. When she finds out, she’s upset, but soon lets him back in her bed.

This entire film is about her trying to save Nico from his debts and save her club, but at the end, it turns out that crime lord Thrush Feathers (Ian Hendry) now owns Hobo. This was to set up a third book and film that never came.

You know what I liked? John Ratzenberger showing up as a disco swinger.

The soundtrack, put out on Warwick Records, is pretty great. There’s the title track by Olympic Runners is solid, plus there’s Blondie’s “Denis,” The Gibson Brothers  song “Cuba,” Quantum Jump’s “The Lone Ranger” and Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”

You can watch this on Tubi.