Delirium/Delirio caldo (1972)

‘My heart is blind and filled with death.’

A psychologist who works with the police picks up a young girl out drinking and savagely murders her in a remote spot. He’s identified by staff at the bar, but while he is in custody being questioned, another girl is killed…

Offbeat, semi-demented Giallo thriller from writer-director Renato Polselli. Hungarian-born actor and famous bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay tries to make sense of it all.

Working with Inspector Edwards (Raul Lovecchio) on murder cases is a regular gig for psychologist Herbert Lyutak (Hargitay), but the latest is slightly different. For one thing, he’s a suspect after being tagged as the man who picked up the young victim (Stefania Fassio) by barman Marcello Bonini Olas and car park attendant John Lacey (Tano Cimarosa). For another, he is the actual killer. Fortunately, while Lovecchio is questioning him, news comes in of another murder in the same locality. A young brunette has been slaughtered in a callbox after calling the police in a panic.

Hargitay might be off the hook for the crime, but he still has a heap of problems at home. His wife Marzia (Rita Calderoni) is still blindly devoted, but she’s pretty sure of his guilt. She’s prepared to overlook his impotence too, and their attempts at intercourse certainly seem to entertain their peeping maid, Laurel (Cristina Perrier). Meanwhile, Lovecchio has set a trap for the killer in the park using blonde Miss Heindrich (Katia Cardinali) as bait. It all goes wrong, and another woman is killed with a knife. Hargitay is on the scene by invitation, but Cimarosa is also discovered lurking in the woods.

Rarely has a film been more accurately titled than Polselli’s Giallo drama. It starts well enough with the opening scenes moving from unsettling to horrific as Hargitay charms the young Fassio into his car with the promise of a lift to a nearby nightclub and then begins to molest her on the way out of town. Chasing her into a shallow creek, he bludgeons her with a rock and then strangles her to death. It’s an effective way to begin, overturning the usual Giallo tradition of unmasking the killer in the final act. The reveal that he works with the police is another nice touch, which makes for an unusual dynamic with Lovecchio during his interrogation and subsequent release.

However, when Hargitay arrives home, the film goes off the rails pretty quickly. This is a very screwed-up household indeed, and the relationships between Hargitay, his wife Calderoni and servant Perrier and played in such an off-kilter way that they are never convincing. Polselli was probably aiming for the overall feel of a dream or, more accurately, a nightmare. However, it’s hard for the audience to stay invested when it’s unclear whether what is happening is real or not. Some scenes are clearly the twisted fantasies of the main characters, but other moments just as illogical, are presented in a far more realistic way, making for a head-scratching incoherence.

Perhaps it’s inevitable, given the oblique nature of the storytelling, the film is also short on many plot basics and details. Lovecchio mentions that Fassio was the seventh victim in this serial killer’s rampage. Who were the other six, and was Hargitay responsible for them? Is helping the police with the case? How has he evaded suspicion, given that his Modus Operandi with Fassio was to pick her up from a public bar in plain sight of a roomful of potential witnesses? There’s also a question mark over Cardanali, who takes part in the sting operation in the park. Is she supposed to be a police officer? She certainly knows Hargitay. When the Inspector sees her surreptitiously take a piece of evidence from the crime scene, he doesn’t call her out and somehow only remembers to question her about it later. On the way to her apartment, he and a colleague stop for a cup of coffee along the way for no significant reason, allowing the killer the time to get there first.

Calderoni’s visions of being chained up in a sex dungeon with Hargitay and her blonde niece Joaquine (Christa Barrymore) are certainly presented as fantasy. However, later, we discover that the room exists, and Barrymore is suddenly promoted (almost out of nowhere) from background scenery to a major player in the final act. Of course, there’s a suspicion that these sequences are only present to provide some significant nudity, and there’s more than a touch of unpleasant sleaze about a later scene involving the attempted murder of Perrier being witnessed by the voyeuristic Cimarosa.

The cast overact shamelessly at times, particularly in the overblown final scenes, which Polselli delivers with all the subtlety of Grand Opera. Gianfranco Reverberi’s progressive rock soundtrack, intrusive throughout, blasts away fearlessly through this wild finale as the doomed characters pull silly faces and throw themselves about with glorious abandon. It’s easy to laugh and blame the actors, but there really isn’t any other way to play such ridiculously over-the-top material.

In an apparent effort to make the film more coherent for overseas markets, Polselli shot some additional material, and the film was recut. Does it help? Well, a little. Now the film opens with Hargitay sustaining a severe combat injury in Vietnam, the effects of which could explain his strangely detached, robotic performance through much of the runtime. The scenes where he sweet-talks a young student into his car make more sense as they do have an actual payoff now, although it comes without apparent consequences.

Then there’s the character of Bonita, played by Carmen Young, who is rewarded with a special ‘introducing’ credit at the beginning of both cuts of the film. However, she doesn’t even appear in the original release and has only one very brief scene toward the end of the American version. The outcome of this additional event does provide motivation for Barrymore’s antics at the finish, but it all comes right out of left field as there is no prior mention of Bonita’s existence. Perhaps the sequence was also intended for inclusion in the original film but was dropped before release, leaving her acting credit intact. The American update still needs far more clarity, but the final twist does tie things up much more effectively, even if it’s seriously underwhelming.

Polselli was born in 1922 in the agricultural centre of Arce in the Central Italian region of Lazio. Little biographical information on him is available, but his first film project found him already established as a writer-director on the obscure drama ‘Delitto al luna park’ (1952). His first notable credit was ‘The Vampire and the Ballerina/L’amante del vampiro’ (1960), where a good level of early tension was squandered in favour of rather obvious horrors. Other chillers followed, such as ‘The Monster of the Opera/Il mostro dell’opera’ (1964), and ‘The Reincarnation of Isabel/Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel Trecento…’ (1973). The latter features so many of the principal cast that appears here that it may have been filmed at the same time. Outside of his own projects, he contributed to the scripts of other filmmakers, including actor Rossano Brazzi’s Giallo thriller ‘Psychout For Murder/Salvare la faccia’ (1969) and the odd ‘Questa libertà di avere… le ali bagnate (The Freedom To Have Wet Wings)’ (1971), which has sometimes been tagged with the same label.

Composer Reverberi conducted the Italian Eurovision Song Contest entry the same year Polselli’s film came out but enjoys a far greater claim to fame. In 1968, he and his brother Gian Piero contributed the song ‘Last Man Standing’ to the Spaghetti Western film ‘Django, Prepare A Coffin/Preparati la bara!’ (1968). Thirty-eight years later, parts of the melody and chord structure were crafted into the song ‘Crazy’ by US Soul duo Gnarls Barkley. The track was a global phenomenon, topping the charts in many countries and winning numerous awards. It’s appeared on the soundtrack of over 50 films and TV shows to date.

The film is certainly different, but its shortcomings make it a little hard to take seriously.

That Man in Istanbul/Estambul 65 (1965)

‘Bogo, show Miss Babyfat out.’

The CIA exchanges a kidnapped atomic scientist for a ransom of one million dollars, but there’s a bomb on the transport plane, and the scientist is killed almost immediately. One agent pursues the matter unofficially, her main lead being a deported gangster and well-known playboy who lives in Istanbul…

The identity of this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is up for discussion in this Italian-Franch-Spanish Eurospy production from director Antonio Isasi-Isasmendi. Our agent in the field might be the glamorous Sylva Koscina, but most of the action falls to suave leading man Horst Buchholz.

CIA Chief George Rigaud is not a happy man. Not only did atomic scientist Professor Pendergast (Umberto Raho) go up in flames after the ransom payoff, but diplomatic sensitives (and an order from the President no less!) preclude any further investigation into the matter. This does not sit well with special agent Kelly (Koscina), who decides to follow up in Instanbul on an unofficial basis, with Riguad happy to look the other way. Clandestine photographs snapped at the exchange put handsome young nightspot owner Tony Mecenas (Buchholz) at the scene, so she secures a job at his club. Buchholz is an old hand at dealing with law enforcement, though, and he immediately sees through the charade.

From that point on, the two exchange the usual romantic barbs as they begin falling for each other, and he becomes sucked further and further into her investigation. She’s suspected from the first that Raho isn’t really dead and that the sadistic Gunther (Agustín González) and his cronies are taking orders from a secret mastermind. The challenge is to unmask the villain and rescue Raho as Buchholz runs all over Istanbul, dodging bullets and bad guys.

Isasi-Isasmendi’s movie may be formulaic plot-wise, but it has a playful, tongue-in-cheek approach that helps with the entertainment level. Buchholz makes for an athletic hero, aided by some decent stunt work, including some impressive high-speed driving on mountain roads. There’s a running gag that beautiful women know him wherever he goes, and there are even a couple of occasions where he breaks the fourth wall to address a remark to the audience. There’s also a direct romantic rival for Koscina after Buchholz rescues rich girl Elisabeth Furst (Perrette Pradier), who the gang have snatched off her father’s yacht.

What does derail proceedings to some extent is the length. Without a great deal of plot development, a two-hour run time almost inevitably leads to a saggy middle act, and the film begins to drift and drag as Buchholz makes one last-minute escape after another. The script also keeps Koscina off screen for long periods when more of the romantic back and forth between the pair might have provided the necessary sparkle and encouraged more audience investment in the drama.

Still, there is a surprisingly lively supporting cast of characters. As well as the afore-mentioned González, the rogue’s gallery of villains also includes award-winning German actors Mario Adorf and Klaus Kinski as assassins. Although they don’t share any significant screen time and Kinski is dreadfully underused, his face-off with Buchholz is one of the film’s undoubted highlights. On the side of the angels are the dry-witted Brain (Gustavo Re) and magician Bogo (Álvaro de Luna). Isasi-Isasmendi also finds slots for French actor Gérard Tichy, and familiar Spaghetti Western face Luis Induni in minor roles.

In terms of action, there’s enough bang for your buck, although it sometimes verges on parody. Surrounded by four speeding cars closing in for the kill, Buchholz manages to shoot out all their headlights in super quick time and make them all crash into one another. He also jumps from a crashing sports car onto the back of a truck in what would have been a fantastic stunt if we actually got to see it! Jazzing up all this nonsense with blaring horns and strident strings is a faux-John Barry score from composer Georges Garvarentz, which helps instil some dynamism when the mayhem is a little lacking.

Of course, Buchholz is best remembered as the youngest member of John Sturges’ ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960) but enjoyed a film career of more than half a century. Through the 1950s, he worked his way up the ranks in the European film industry from short subjects and unbilled roles to leading parts in such prestigious productions as ‘Auferstehung’ (1958), a big-budget adaptation of the Tolstoy novel. Hollywood came calling with award-winning crime drama ‘Tiger Bay’ (1959), and his trip out west with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen followed hard on its heels. Joshua Logan’s romantic drama ‘Fanny’ (1961) and Billy Wilder’s excellent ‘One, Two, Three’ (1961) completed a formidable kick-off to his American career, but scheduling conflicts led to his being unable to take the lead in ‘West Side Story’ (1961) and another plum assignment on David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962). Instead, big budget flop ‘Nine Hours to Rama’ (1962) and poorly-received Bette Davis vehicle ‘The Empty Canvas’ (1964) hurt his prospects, and he returned to European films. Back in the US in the mid-1970s, he took roles in mediocre movies made for television, on network shows such as ‘Fantasy Island’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and appeared in the dreadful but hilarious mini-series ‘The Amazing Captain Nemo’ (1978). Back in Europe for most of the remainder of his career, he acted in such notable projects as Wim Wenders’ ‘Faraway, So Close!’ (1993) and Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning ‘Life is Beautiful’ (1997). He passed away in 2003.

A fun Eurospy, but tighter script control and a greater focus on the romantic elements might have made for something far more notable.

El pueblo fantasma (Ghost Town) (1965)

‘Where I put my eye…I put the bullet!’

A young cowboy is looking for information about his late father, hoping to discover evidence to contradict his reputation as a vicious bandit. Tracking one of his old gang down to a border town, he finds the residents in the grip of a much deadlier terror…

An offbeat amalgamation of Western and horror from Mexican director Alfredo B Crevenna. The film was apparently cut together from a three-episode television show, but, for once, the small scale and appropriate budget are a help, not a hindrance.

Manuel Saldívar Jr (Rodolfo de Anda) is a man on a mission. Sick of hearing stories all his life about his late father’s murderous deeds down on the border, he is determined to find evidence there to the contrary and set the record straight. Unfortunately, it’s an uphill battle; peasants sing corridas in the street detailing his old man’s crimes, and he has to travel as ‘El Texano’ rather than reveal his true identity.

Crossing the desert, he saves the life of ex-convict Néstor Ramírez (Carlos López Moctezuma), who is returning home to the border town where his family still live. When they arrive, the new friends find a community living in fear. Moctezuma is surprised to find that his old nemesis, the Rio Kid (Fernando Luján), is still in residence and that a steady stream of outlaws and bandits are still arriving to test his mettle. But what’s worse than that, the corpses of the defeated gunfighters vanish after death, and the locals believe that these dead men walk the streets at night.

Mixing the supernatural and the Old West on the big screen was hardly new by the mid-1960s. Real-life ‘ghost towns’ had provided atmospheric backdrops for many a Hollywood Western in the studio era, and some had even featured fantastical elements, although these were always explained away. However, Edward Dein’s surprisingly effective B-Film ‘Curse of the Undead’ (1959) delivered an actual gunslinging vampire, and the concept was familiar enough that in the next few years, John Carradine was cashing his paycheque from ‘Billy the Kid Versus Dracula’ (1966).

The action opens in the local saloon of Crevenna’s unnamed border town where fast gun El rapido (Jorge Russek) is chugging whiskey and out to make his reputation as the man who bested the famous Rio Kid (Luján). Unfortunately for him, Lujan has a hidden ally in the film’s editor, and one quick jump cut later, Russek has been outdrawn and is on a one-way trip to Boot Hill. The same fate also awaits the brutal Rivera Brothers, Hermano (José Chávez) and Atenógenes (Guillermo Hernández), but what has the townsfolk spooked is the regular disappearance of the corpses of Luján’s victims.

A couple of factors really assist the drama in Crevenna’s film. The first is the restraint that is evident throughout. Proceedings are low-key for the most part, perhaps dictated by the limited production resources available, but ensuring a somewhat grounded result. The word ‘vampire’ isn’t even mentioned until the final act, although the bloodsucker’s physical appearance is pretty laughable, with his prominent canines more accurately described as tusks rather than teeth! A little goofy it may be, but it’s still a welcome change from the usual dinner-suited, aristocratic Lugosi template almost exclusively favoured by Mexican horror cinema since the box-office breakout of Abel Salazar’s ‘El vampiro’ (1957).

The director also knows how to marshal his resources to their best effect. There are very few location shots, with most of the drama taking place on studio sets, but it’s all quite convincing except for a couple of out-of-town scenes in the desert. It helps that most of the action takes place after dark, of course, and Crevenna can wreathe the pueblo’s narrow streets in heavy, atmospheric shadows. It also helps that we have a quietly compelling performance by Luján, who exudes a sense of evil while being rather a small, physically unimposing man.

Some of the story elements are a little trite, though, with a completely pointless semi-romance between de Anda and Moctezuma’s pretty daughter, Marta (Elsa Cárdenas). Instead, the heroine’s duties are split with singer Carmen (Julissa), who travels with her father, blind guitarist Don Beto (Rubén Márquez). Their inclusion also allows for some musical numbers, including a couple of takes of the corrida about de Anda’s bandit father, which drives our somewhat uptight hero to distraction.

As is usually the case with Mexican horrors of the era, there is little to no production information available for the film beyond its apparent genesis as a TV show. The finished product partially bears out this assertion as probably being the case. The introduction of Julissa and Márquez is rather sudden, and the three musical numbers are all clustered together in the middle of the film, which throws off the pacing. There’s also a complete lack of information regarding the vampire’s origins and only a scant explanation of what happened to all those corpses. It’s possible that those issues were more fully addressed in the original show.

Intriguingly, the film also appears to be a sequel to a more straightforward Western called ‘El texano’ (1965), which featured much of the same cast. Although sources list Moctezuma, Russek, and Cárdenas in different roles, de Anda again played Manuel Saldívar Jr, and the prolific Alfredo Ruanova is credited as screenwriter on both projects. Given those credits, it’s likely the projects were filmed back-to-back. However, there’s no production information available to suggest the exact circumstances or if the former film also originally appeared on the small screen.

Crevenna was a workhouse of a director who delivered around 150 films in a career that lasted half a century. Along the way, he was involved in many interesting genre projects, inevitably some featuring legendary wrestler Santo, including ‘Santo vs. The Martian Invasion/Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs’ La invasión de los marcianos’ (1967) and ‘The Beasts of Terror/Las Bestias del Terror/Santo Y Blue Demon En Las Bestias del Terror’ (1973). He first embraced science-fiction with the highly professional ‘Invisible Man in Mexico/El hombre que logró ser invisible’ (1958) and went on to deliver ‘Adventure In the Centre of the Earth/Aventura al centro de la tierra’ (1965). Space operas ‘Planetary Giants/Gigantes Planetarios’ (1966), and sequel ‘Planet of the Female Invaders/El planeta de las mujeres invasoras’ (1966) followed shortly afterward. Other horror projects included ‘Bring Me the Vampire/Échenme al vampiro’ (1963), ‘La huella macabra’ (1963), another tale of vampires written by Ruanova, and ‘La dinastía de Dracula’ (1980). He passed away in 1996 at the age of 82.

Of the cast, it’s Julissa who is likely to be best known to a modern audience. She was a rock singer and performer originally signed to the Mexican arm of CBS records. She was also successful in producing, directing and starring in many stage musicals, such as ‘Grease’, ‘The Boyfriend’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. Most fans of genre films, though, will remember her for appearing in three of the infamous quartet of Mexican films Boris Karloff shot in 1969, which were completed after his death. Fortunately for her, she does not appear in ‘The Incredible Invasion’ (1971), which is undoubtedly the worst of the bunch.

Surprisingly effective, quiet little vampire movie, which is worth catching if you’re a fan of Mexican horror cinema.

So Sweet So Dead/Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile (1972)

‘He has this morbid passion…for corpses.’

A killer targets the wives of some of the leading men of a small provincial city. Evidence of their adulterous affairs is left behind at each crime scene, but the men’s faces in the photographs have been mutilated beyond recognition…

Run-of-the-mill Giallo thriller, courtesy of director Roberto Bianchi Montero, working from a script he co-authored with Luigi Angelo and Italo Fasan. Ex-Hollywood leading man Farley Granger stars, along with Sylvia Koscina and Silvano Tranquili.

The pressure’s on at police headquarters after a General’s wife, Floriana (Ulla Johannsen), is found naked on a bed with her throat cut. The killer has scattered a collection of compromising photographs around the corpse, with the face of her lover erased from each one. The case lands on the desk of Inspector Capuana (Granger), whose wife Barbara (Koscina) moved in the same social circles as the victim. Medical examiner Professor Casali (Chris Avram) theorises that the killer is a sex maniac, and it’s not so long before he strikes again, butchering Serena (Femi Benussi), shortly after a late-night tryst with her illicit lover, Gianni (Andrea Scotti).

Prominent criminal lawyer Paolo Santangeli (Silvano Tranquilli) becomes connected to the case by representing Scotti. However, he would much rather be in conference with mistress Lilly (Nieves Navarro), who lives next door to his family home with her disabled husband. Tranquilli’s wife Franca (Annabella Incontrera) knows all about his cheating and has started her own out-of-town affair, while their teenage daughter Bettina (Angela Corvello) is seeing ‘unsuitable’ scooter boy Piero (Fabrizio Moresco). Koscina’s friend Renata (Krista Nell) is also on the killer’s wish list due to her ongoing liaisons with young stud Mauro (Paul Oxon).

At first glance, it might seem that the large number of extra-marital affairs and infidelities tag the film as more daytime soap opera than Giallo. However, this apparently tangled web of romantic intrigues serves only one purpose: to provide victims for the killer. Director Montero focuses firmly on the mystery and the ongoing investigations of Inspector Granger and his efforts to unmask the mysterious slasher. Unfortunately, the results are routine at best, with a mechanical plot, shallow characters and little creativity. There are few surprises, with the victims clearly signposted one at a time before the killer strikes and a staggering lack of detail regarding the investigation. Granger is told to tread carefully because the victims were from high society, advice he seems to take to heart as he prefers to haul in various pimps and streetwalkers rather than talk to some of the husbands involved. We never even see him interview Corvello after she witnesses one of the slayings!

However, spending more time on Granger’s efforts at detection would probably have meant less footage of the female cast with their clothes off. Yes, there’s plenty of casual nudity for our unfaithful wives, although only Navarro gets an actual sex scene. This naked romp proved far too hot for some, and the scene was heavily trimmed for release in certain territories. Ironically, the film was later re-edited with new scenes featuring adult stars Harry Reems and Tina Russell and released in America as ‘Penetration’. Not best pleased that he had been re-cast as a porn-watching detective, Granger threatened legal action and the film was withdrawn, although apparently, the re-cut version still played in parts of Europe.

Giallo is often attacked for its gender politics and attitudes toward women, and this is one such film that merits discussion in that regard. The victims here are explicitly targeted because of their infidelity and often meet their ends in various states of undress and just after sex. On the other hand, the men escape scott-free with no consequence for their actions other than the fear of being unjustly accused of the crime. In slight mitigation to the filmmakers, none of the women concerned has multiple lovers, and at least some justification is provided for their actions. Incontrera’s husband is already sleeping around, Navarro’s is virtually bedridden and probably impotent, and the initial victim, Johannsen, was married to a General, which suggests a considerable age gap. Even Granger is so obsessed with his job that it’s unlikely Koscina is having a great time between the sheets. However, given the slapdash nature of the production, it’s probably pushing it a bit to assign the filmmakers with conscious intent on any of these matters.

The film boasts little in the way of memorable visuals, although Montero does deliver one excellent sequence as Benussi flees the dark silhouette of the killer along a beach at night. It’s the one extended use of slow motion in the film, and it works very well, although the killer’s look is almost a direct steal from Mario Bava’s far superior ‘6 Donne Por L’assassino/Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). There’s also an entertaining supporting role for Luciano Rossi as Avram’s rather too enthusiastic right-hand man Gastone. Not only does he help the Professor with his autopsies, but he also ‘beautifies’ the dead bodies afterwards and takes photos of them! I’m pretty sure that’s the role of funeral parlour staff rather than the Police Medical Examiner’s Assistant, but maybe they do things differently in Italy.

Granger was a veteran of Giallo by this point in his fading career, and he anchors the drama with a solid performance, effectively selling his character’s emotional conflict at the climax. Sadly, there’s very little for the female cast to do except disrobe, die and fire the odd, half-hearted bitchy comment each other’s way. Navarro makes the best of it with her effortless sensual charisma, but all the women are drawn in broad, identikit strokes. The script has all the hallmarks of a project thrown together hastily, with the writers ticking a series of boxes to guarantee an easy hop onto the Giallo bandwagon. Unknown killer with a blade? Check. Beautiful women with their clothes off? Check. Intricate mystery laced with subtle clues, fascinating characters and gripping drama? Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Koscina’s four-decade-long screen career began with a featured role in the Second World War comedy ‘Siamo uomini o caporali’ (1955), which starred famous Italian funnyman Totò. Her big break arrived only three years later when she starred as Iole, Daughter of Pelias, opposite Steve Reeves in the international smash ‘Hercules/Le fatiche di Ercole’ (1958) and the sequel ‘Hercules Unchained/Ercole e la regina di Lidia’ (1959). She confirmed her comedic credentials in many other projects at this time, including several with old friend Totò. When tax breaks and low production costs brought Hollywood to Italian shores in the early 1960s, she picked up supporting roles in American features and soon graduated to starring with Dirk Bogarde in knowing British spy flick ‘Hot Enough for June’ (1964). Abel Gance’s ‘Cyrano et d’Artagnan’ (1964) followed, and she appeared in a minor role in Federico Fellini’s ‘Juliet of the Spirits/Giulietta degli spiriti’ (1967). She also had time to romance Bulldog Drummond in ‘Deadlier Than The Male’ (1967) and led cult item ‘He and She/L’assoluto naturale’ (1969). Notable leading men included Paul Newman in ‘The Secret War of Harry Frigg’ (1968), Kirk Douglas in ‘A Lovely Way To Die’ (1968) and Rock Hudson in ‘Hornet’s Nest’ (1970). The 1970s brought Giallo ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat/Sette scialli di seta gialla’ (1972) and work for Mario Bava in ‘Lisa and the Devil/Lisa e il diavolo’ (1973). She struggled with tax problems in the following years but was still working up to her death from heart trouble in 1994.

So sweet, so dead…and so anonymous too.

The Avenging Conscience, or ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ (1914)

‘You’re after my boy like a common woman.’

A wealthy old man forbids his spoilt nephew to see the young woman he loves, fearing that she has designs on the family fortune. As the thwarted Romeo broods on the injustice of it all, the idea of murder begins to occupy his thoughts…

Feature-length melodrama based around the works of Edgar Allan Poe from famous cinema pioneer D W Griffith. Members of the director’s stock company, Henry Walthall and Blanche Sweet, take the leading roles, but curiously, no one gets a character name.

After his mother’s death in childbirth, a young man (Walthall) is brought up by his rich, one-eyed Uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken). The old man has indulged the boy’s every whim and, with such a privileged upbringing, the youth has little use for work, preferring instead to the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He’s already lost his romantic heart to the shy smiles and dimples of Sweet, a girl of lowly birth, who signs her love notes ‘She who you have chosen to name Annabel’. This refers to Poe’s poem ‘Annabel Lee’, which Walthall reads constantly and excerpts of which appear at regular intervals on the screen as inter-titles.

Unfortunately for the lovebirds, Aitken is incensed when he learns of their association, believing Sweet to be a heartless gold digger. He lays down the law to Walthall, and the couple agrees to part. But Walthall’s anger and resentment towards his uncle grows, and he strangles his benefactor and hides the body. However, the deed was witnessed by a passing labourer, The Italian (George Siegmann), who demands to be paid for his silence after Walthall has inherited Aitken’s fortune. Worst still, the killer finds himself increasingly plagued by visions of the ghost of his victim.

According to Griffith’s regular cameraman Karl Brown, this project was mounted solely for commercial reasons, a way to keep money coming in while the director was preparing to shoot his forthcoming epic, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915). The film was Griifth’s longest feature to date at 78 minutes, but it wouldn’t be accurate to consider it a ‘dry run’ for the more extended form storytelling of the latter movie as that clocks in at over 3 hours. The earlier project is also a very small-scale drama, shot on a few small sets and a handful of outdoor locations with a principal cast of just over half a dozen.

Griffith had prior acquaintance with Poe and his works, having directed the 7-minute biopic ‘Edgar Allen Poe’ (1909), which came complete with misspelled title courtesy of the film’s producers. That short subject had briefly portrayed the author’s real-life literary struggle, but this time Griffith as the only credited screenwriter, riffs on the great author’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ instead. Some sources mention ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ as another item of source material, but the film’s resemblance to that story escapes me.

The film could be a little more subtle when citing its inspiration. Walthall’s wilful heir is reading ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ in the film’s opening scenes, and Griffith even puts the first page of the story on the screen to hammer the point home. The director also gives Aitken an eye patch, presumably as a nod to the pale blue ‘vulture’ eye that provokes the narrator to his act of murder in Poe’s story. The clearest lift from the original story is the climactic scene where Walthall sits in his front room with The Detective (Ralph Lewis). The lawman drums his pen on the desk, the grandfather clock ticks remorselessly on, and Walthall slowly goes to pieces, knowing that Aitken’s rotting corpse is just a few feet away behind that ‘peculiarly shaped fireplace.’ The sequence seems a little overdone now, but given the era, it’s allowed to play out at a surprising length and achieves a measure of suspense.

Perhaps inevitably, the film has dated very badly in several aspects, most notably those dictated by the societal climate of the era. American movies, in particular, were inclined to impart a moral lesson to their audience. Of course, wrong-doers had to be punished, but a path to redemption was often available, depending on the severity of the deed. Walthall sees Aitken’s ghost, courtesy of some standard ‘double exposure’ effects, and his mind begins to disintegrate under the crippling burden of his guilt. But Griffith can’t stop there. Walthall also sees Christ on the Cross and old man Moses with his ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ tablet, shown in a booming closeup. Again, it’s not exactly subtle.

Still, despite the slight nature of the proceedings, it’s pleasing to report that the film does retain an adequate level of interest. Griffith is credited with the invention of some of the basic building blocks of cinematic language, and the range of shots he employs here, including closeups, do help with the narrative flow. The only obvious limitation is when the action returns to a set or a location that’s already been featured, and the camera setup is identical to the one presented previously.

One of the film’s main talking points is the ending. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with film or television will have seen the ‘twist’ to this tale many times and will likely let out a weary sigh and roll their eyes. However, it does provide Griffith with an opportunity to deliver a genuinely baffling coda which defies obvious explanation. Earlier in the film, Griffith presents a couple of scenes contrasting different views of nature. Walthall is inspired to thoughts of murder by watching insects eat each other, and the innocent young Sweet rescues a puppy caught in a fence beneath a hedgerow. These may play into the film’s final moments in some way, which feature the Greek god Pan, playing on his flute. Young children in strange costumes dance around him. Yep, your guess is as good as mine.

Griffith’s reputation as one of the founding fathers of American cinema has taken quite a bash in recent years due to the racist sensibilities of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915). It’s hard to argue against such a view, given the film’s content, but it’s worth pointing out that the ‘racist’ label is a strange fit for Griffith. His previous works include ‘Rose o’Salem Town (1910), where the heroine is condemned to death by white Puritan settlers. She’s saved from being burnt alive by the intervention of heroic Native American tribesmen. There’s also the little-seen short ‘Rose of Kentucky’ (1911), in which vigilantes dressed like the Klan are portrayed negatively, and ‘Broken Blossoms’ (1919) with its’ inter-racial romance. Some modern film historians who have researched Griffith’s life consider him to have been ‘a man without politics’ who was easily influenced. How much leeway that gives him is a matter of personal opinion.

The film is not without some interest, but it’s hardly essential.

Target Goldseven/Tecnica do Una spia (1966)

‘A skin diver has just swum into the protected zone without giving the required signal.’

A secret criminal organisation attacks an English freighter and steals its cargo of uranium. Authorities assign a top secret agent to recover the precious mineral, and his investigations suggest it’s the work of ‘The Snake’, a notorious criminal mastermind and his arch-enemy…

Spanish-Italian Eurospy adventure from director Alberto Leonardi that ticks most of the genre’s usual boxes. This week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ is American actor Tony Russel who juggles the standard selection of ‘Guns, Girls and Gadgets’ in the name of freedom and democracy everywhere.

After a mid-ocean uranium heist gives the security forces a sleepless night, they dump the mess in the lap of special agent Alan Milner (Russel), who immediately suspects it’s the work of his arch-nemesis ‘The Snake’. His investigation begins in Lisbon with the usual ride to the airport, showcasing the city’s charms on behalf of the local tourist board. The trail is cold, but fortunately, he finds Erika Brown (the spectacular Erika Blanc) searching his underwear drawer. The couple shares a bottle of Don Perignon, but Russel seems unsure whether to kiss her or slap her around, so he does both. A couple of goons arrive, and she takes a powder while he deals with them.

Suspicion falls on shipping line owner Otis (Conrado San Martín), whose pet scientist (Giuseppe Fortis) is working on a cure for radiation at the tycoon’s secret island base. Using information provided by Mitzi (Dyanik Zurakowska), who is working undercover in the villain’s organisation, Russel infiltrates the installation. Unfortunately, he’s soon captured, and San Martin decides to use him as a lab rat in the experimental radiation process. The forces of law and order are preparing an attack on the island, but can they arrive in time, or might rescue come from a source much closer at hand?

Given the remorseless wave of spy adventures and Bond knockoffs that saturated mainland European cinema in the wake of ‘Goldfinger’ (1964), it’s inevitable that some projects got lost in the shuffle and have been almost completely forgotten. In the case of this dreary, unimaginative production, it’s perfectly understandable as Leonadi and his writers fail to create one real moment of interest in 82 minutes of relentless, low-budget mediocrity. The ‘Goldseven’ of the title is simply the name of San Martin’s shipping company and has no other significance whatsoever. That’s a good indication of the kind of laziness on display here.

The script comes courtesy of Preston Leonide and María del Carmen Martínez Román. Unfortunately, it appears they only had the back of an envelope handy to write it all down on, so the audience misses out on basic story details they might have felt they had a right to expect. Villain’ The Snake’ is teased throughout the film but doesn’t make an appearance, and Blanc’s identity and motivations are simply never explained. There is a curious, blink, and you’ll miss it, moment at the climax when we get a brief appearance by a character named Alex (Antonio Pica). He seems to have some kind of a relationship with Blanc that might explain things, but Russel kills him immediately, so we never find out who he was either. To give the writers and filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, perhaps some earlier scenes providing the necessary exposition were cut or maybe never even filmed if the production ran into financial issues.

There is one priceless sequence, however, when Russel and colleague Louis Kerez Fischer (Franco Cobianchi) interrogate one of San Martin’s captured lieutenants. He won’t talk, so the discussion turns to a general review of the investigation. Not only do they mention that they have an agent undercover in San Martin’s organisation, but they actually name her and decide to give her a call on the radio. All right in front of their prisoner. Be afraid for the fate of the free world if it’s in the hands of these clowns. Be very afraid.

Elsewhere, we get Rosa Klee blades flicking out the heels of shoes (not the toe, so it’s totally original) and machine gun fire on the soundtrack with no sign of the weapons involved (though we do see some later). The invading forces of law and justice dress in white coats that make them look like waiters or ice-cream salesmen. Gadgets are limited to the usual low-budget communication and surveillance devices, and Russel disguises himself as the captured lieutenant by going for a coffee while the original actor fills in. Russel removes his ‘disguise’ with a quick cut courtesy of the editor and by pulling off a comedy beard.

If this all sounds like it might be a recipe for some cheesy fun, then think again. There’s a disheartening weariness about the whole enterprise, which translates into a highly tedious viewing experience. Even the clock counting down Russell’s life at the end during the climax can’t be bothered to keep good time. Perhaps the only way the film could have passed muster was with some charismatic leading performances, but, sadly, neither Russel nor San Martin brings anything much to the table. The former is capable enough, but the script gives him nothing but a generic action hero with no identifiable characteristics. Blanc does far better as the conflicted femme fatale, but she’s offscreen for long periods, and her character remains ill-defined.

It’s no great surprise that director Leonardi and co-writer Leonide have no other industry credits. Co-author Roman did work in Italian film for about a decade, though. She provided the original story for Christopher Lee vehicle ‘Crypt of Horror/La cripta e l’incubo’ (1964) and did script duty on the rather shabby ‘Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun/Ercole contro i figli del sole (1964). Her other Eurospy projects included ‘Goldsnake ‘Anonima Killers’ (1966) and some uncredited work on ‘Operation Poker’ (1965). She enjoyed greater success with Spaghetti Westerns but quit the film business in 1971.

Russel entered the world as Antonio Pietro Russo but was American born to an Italian immigrant family. After a stint in the US Air Force, he began studying drama at the University of Michigan and scored several uncredited bits in major productions such as ‘The Silver Chalice’ (1954) and ‘King Creole’ (1958) with Elvis Presley. Tired of the Hollywood grind, he packed his bags for the old country and found almost immediate success leading ‘The Last Charge/La leggenda di Fra Diavolo’ (1962). Similar swashbucklers followed, but Russel also found gainful employment in many other genres. There was the international crime thriller of ‘Secret of the Sphinx’ (1964), the romantic comedy ‘Honeymoon, Italian Style/Viaggio di Nozze all’italiana’ (1966) and the science-fiction adventure ‘The War of the Planets/I diafanoidi vengono da Marte’ (1966). He returned to the United States in 1967 but mostly found work only in television, taking guest slots on popular network shows like ‘The High Chaparral’ and Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery.’ Today, he’s probably best remembered as one of the actors who turned down Clint Eastwood’s role in Sergio Leone’s ‘Fistful of Dollars’ (1964) and as the lead in Antonio Margheriti’s bonkers pop art space opera ‘The Wild Wild Planet/I Criminali Della Galassia(1966).

One for Eurospy completists only.

Miss Mend/The Adventures of the Three Reporters/Мисс Менд (1926)

‘A notary may die, but his wallet is immortal.’

A typist at a factory becomes involved with journalists investigating the mystery surrounding the death of her employer. The secret criminal group responsible are developing bacteriological and chemical weapons and is planning to test them on a foreign country…

Early Soviet silent serial with a science-fiction twist, released initially in three feature-length chapters. Their combined running time exceeds four hours, with the chapters titled ‘Dead Man’s Letter’, ‘Double Crime’ and ‘Death By Radio’.

Trouble is brewing at Rockefeller’s Cork Factory in Littletown, USA. When the workers strike, the police intervene with a heavy hand, which doesn’t sit well with feisty office typist Vivian Mend (Natalya Glan). She intervenes to try and broker peace, and her activities bring her to the attention of the Littletown Herald’s ace reporter, Barnet (Boris Barnet) and his photographer Fogel: Fogel (Vladimir Fogel). But when a riot breaks out, Glan is saved by a mysterious young man who pretends to be an engineer. In reality, he’s Arthur (Ivan Koval-Samborsky), the son of the factory’s owner, Gordon Stern (Mikhail Rozen-Sanin). This act of chivalry doesn’t please Glan’s co-worker and not-so-secret admirer, Tom Hopkins (Igor Ilyinsky).

Meanwhile, while returning from a trip abroad, Rozen-Sanin is murdered by ‘The Organisation’, a secret criminal conspiracy who have their eyes on his massive fortune. The tycoon was betrayed by his wife, Elizabeth (Natalya Rozenel), who has fallen in love with the cabal’s chairman, Chiche (Sergey Komarov). After writing a phoney will, the late magnate’s funds are in their hands. Glan plans to contest the will as she is looking after a five-year-old child, who is the result of her late sister’s affair with the departed tycoon. The journalists join forces with Ilyinsky to protect her interests and uncover the deadly machinations of Komarov and his gang.

This silent epic boasts a total running time of over four hours and was made at a time when cinema was exploding in popularity across the Soviet Union. The first movie theatre opened in Moscow in 1921, and just two years later, there were almost a hundred. The government quickly recognised the possibilities of the new medium, and all film production companies were collected under the auspices of the State Committee for Cinematography by 1924. Still, filmmakers do not seem to have been significantly hampered by state interference initially, not until Sergei Eisenstein was forced to cut sequences from ‘October/Oktyabr’ (1928) at the behest of the ‘movie-obsessed’ Josef Stalin.

In the years prior, presenting less ideologically focused films with an emphasis on crowd-pleasing entertainment was still acceptable. Co-directors Boris Barnet and Fyodor Otsep, who also scripted along with Vasili Sakhnovsky, chose to follow that path, delivering a product whose content would be easily recognisable to Western audiences of the period. There may be fewer daring escapes, chases and death-defying cliffhangers than their Hollywood counterparts, but then the plot does drift and meander into side stories on several occasions. Given its multiple protagonists and considerable length, this is perhaps inevitable, but it results in some elements almost entirely tangential to the main story. The most obvious example is the time we spend on Fogel living with street kids in Leningrad, which s a curious inclusion, given the implicit criticism of Russian society this suggests.

The prevailing political climate does make the entire enterprise seem a little odd. Here, we have American heroes, albeit played by Russian actors, travelling to the Soviet Union to save the day. Of course, the Russian authorities are never portrayed as less than capable of dealing with Komarov and his grand design, but arguably, the American characters take the lead. The most intriguing aspect of this unusual setup is that it allows the Russian filmmakers to depict their fictionalised version of America. There are only a few missteps in their vision, too, the most obvious being the Cork Factory apparently being owned by a misspelt Nelson Rockefeller and the local forces of law and order operating out of a ‘Police Office.’ There’s a scene of club patrons rocking out to the stomping sounds of the Pasadena Jazz Band, but if the intention was to show Western degenerates at play, to modern eyes, it looks like a pretty standard night out at your local. Of course, the underlying message is that capitalism is evil and the wealthy aren’t to be trusted, but it’s always secondary to the action and the entertainment factor.

Over such a long running time, events get repetitive and lack focus on occasion, but technically the film has some notable points. The laboratory set is particularly striking, with its bare, clinical white walls and steep, open staircases. The gas masks worn by the scientists also have a pleasing plague mask/steampunk vibe, and it all leads to one of the production’s most memorable scenes. Suddenly, Komarov decides to test the plague germs’ efficacy by infecting his scientific team, who prove they were good at their job by dropping dead. Why Supervillains think it’s good employment policy to slaughter their underlings arbitrarily is almost as puzzling as why they explain their secret plan to the helpless hero before trying to kill him in some ridiculous and over-elaborate way. Komarov then decamps for the Soviet Union to unleash the plague, which, considering the risks involved, was a job probably best left to the hired help (if he hadn’t killed some of them).

There are some pleasing set pieces and stunts, including Barnet apparently launching himself out of a second-floor window into a snowbank and a car getting pulverised by the front of a speeding locomotive. A woman is also thrown bodily into the harbour from a high quayside. It was probably a double for Glan rather than the actress herself, but clearly, it’s a real person, and it was quite a long way down. There’s also a curious follow-up to this stunt where Barnet blackens himself with soot and walks down a city street wearing just a collar and tie (no shirt), a straw boater and a towel around his waist. Yes, he’s just given his regular clothing to Glan after she’s almost drowned, but his choice of attire is still quite baffling. Is he supposed to be an Eastern mystic now? Is this supposed to be some comedy relief?

Barnet was only 24 when he co-wrote, co-directed and starred in this feature, and his previous industry experience was limited to a handful of acting roles. However, this serial was a big hit domestically and launched him as a director. The following year he enjoyed another hit with ‘The Girl with a Hatbox/Moscow That Laughs and Weeps/Девушка с коробкой’ (1927) in which he starred Anna Sten, who’d had a small role in this film as one of Glan’s office colleagues. Although Barnet went on to acclaim as a filmmaker in his native land, the name of Sten is far better known in the West, particularly to devotees of classic era Hollywood.

Sten married Barnet’s co-director Ozep, and the couple settled in Germany. She enjoyed significant success there in films such as E A Dupont’s ‘Salto Mortale’ (1931) and ‘The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov’ (1931), co-directed by her husband. Convinced she could be the ‘new Garbo’, mogul Sam Goldwyn brought her to America, had her taught English and starred her in a trio of films, beginning with ‘Nana’ (1934). All were box office failures, and his failed attempts to make her a star were so notorious that Cole Porter even immortalised her in his classic song ‘Anything Goes’. Although she never enjoyed notable mainstream success, Sten kept plugging away for the next quarter of a century, appearing in lower-budgeted films and on television in the 1950s and early 1960s, even becoming a member of New York’s famous Actor’s Studio.

A significant achievement in Soviet silent cinema. It has its moments, but it’s a very long haul at over four hours.

Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man/Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (1972)

‘Renato the hippie is sweating profusely.’

An elderly professor receives an anonymous death threat and asks advice from his niece’s boyfriend, the famous wrestler Santo. The academic believes the letter is linked to his family history and an ancient curse. When he suddenly vanishes, Santo calls in his old friend Blue Demon to help him investigate…

More South of the Border mayhem featuring the world’s favourite luchador tag-team, this time combining to face off against two icons of horror. Director Miguel M. Delgado referees from a script by Alfredo Salazar.

After a life spent hitting the books, Professor Luis Cristaldi (Jorge Mondragón) may have experienced the occasional difference of opinion on academic matters, but he’s certainly not used to getting threats in the mail. Unfortunately, he has reasons to take the warning seriously and is mainly concerned for his family; daughter Laura (María Eugenia San Martín), niece Lina (Nubia Martí) and granddaughter Rosita (Lissy Fields). The good news is that Martí’s current beau is none other than crimebusting, monster hunting, time-machine inventing Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata, and he’s happy to help. At a family crisis meeting, Mondragón reveals the source of his concern; 100 years ago, one of his ancestors defeated Dracula and the Wolf Man using the legendary Dagger of Boidros, which he is now gathering dust as an ornament on his bookcase.

That same night, Mondragón is kidnapped by hunchback Eric (Alfredo Wally Barrón) and taken to a subterranean cave where the disciple’s ancestors hid the coffins of Conde Drácula (Aldo Monti, reprising his role from earlier in the series) and Rufus Rex, El Hombre Lobo (Agustín Martínez Solares). Mondragón is duly hung upside down above each casket in turn, and his blood brings the monsters back to life. The deadly duo set about creating an army of vampires and lycanthropes to aid in their plot to revenge themselves against the remaining members of the Cristaldi family. Meanwhile, Santo has called in wrestling partner Blue Demon to help investigate the Professor’s disappearance, but little sleuthing is necessary. The monsters waste no time in putting their plans into action.

There’s little production information readily available about Santo’s film projects. More than 20 are credited as hitting the big screen between 1968 and 1973, but specific release dates are incomplete, even contradictory, making it nearly impossible to establish a clear order of production. It does seem, however, that there was an effort made at some stage during this period to market the great man as a star of serious horror films, beginning with ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1969), which was even released in a version with nudity. ‘The World of the Dead/Land of the Dead/El mundo del los muertos’ (1970) and ‘The Vengeance of the Vampire Women/La venganza de las mujeres vampiro’ (1970) were in a similar vein, but subsequent projects took on a softer approach. One of the problems with trying to present Santo’s adventures in horror as dark and edgy was rooted in Mexican cinema’s obsession with the classic Universal Monster cycle of the 1930s and 1940s. Vampires in capes and dinner jackets work in a fairytale Eastern Europe of gothic castles wreathed in creeping shadows, but not so much in the sunny streets and pueblos of modern-day Mexico.

The film opens, unsurprisingly, with Santo grappling in the square ring with a white-masked fighter called Ángel Blanco, supervised by international referee Roberto ‘Güero’ Rangel (playing himself!) The commentator (Enrique Llanes) cheerfully informs us that the bout is taking place in a ‘great arena in the capital city of Mexico’, which is ‘filled up to maximum capacity’. Unfortunately, all we get is a fixed shot of the entire ring from one side with a plain blue backdrop, and the vast crowd appear on the soundtrack only. International referee Rangel can’t prevent Ángel Blanco from fighting dirty, but Santo beats him down anyway. At one stage, we cut to Barrón in a shirt and tie, carrying on in his underground cave where two stone heads belch flames at regular intervals. These fireworks are always accompanied by heavy bursts of a church organ, which often emphasise the comedy of the situation. Sorry, I mean the horror. Obviously.

Santos girlfriend Martí has an uncle who received a written death threat from a group calling themselves ‘The Avengers’ (perhaps they’re going to bore him to death with endless CGI fight scenes?) This connects (somehow?!) with the usual generational curse because, of course, one of the Professor’s ancestors tangled with Dracula and the Wolf Man and defeated them, and his descendants will bear the brunt of the king vampire’s revenge. Santo takes the news in his stride, of course, because something like this comes up in his life every second Tuesday in the month, even more often when there’s a full moon. The dagger of Boidros will deal with the monsters, so Mondragón puts it on his 8-year-old granddaughters’ bedside table for safekeeping. Nothing could possibly go wrong there. The dagger works a little like a crucifix in a standard vampire film, although the script never fully commits to this idea.

Barrón hangs Mondragón upside down above Dracula’s coffin and uses his blood to revive the vampire in a ‘homage’ to Hammer’s ‘Dracula, Prince of Darkness’ (1966). The same procedure restores his werewolf lackey, Rufus Rex. The gore is all offscreen, but Mondragón’s blood-spattered corpse is still hanging there later on, which is the only time the film approaches Santo’s more serious excursions into horror. The evil duo begin recruiting an army of vampires and lycanthropes, Barrón lining them up for the operation in the caves of their underground lair. None of the recruits looks particularly happy about it, but then no one likes to queue, do they? Surprisingly, their grand plan to target the Cristaldi family doesn’t involve a full frontal assault but stealth and strategy. Post resurrection, werewolf Solares has reverted to his handsome human form, complete with a silk shirt, and the undead Monti assigns him to romance San Martín while he goes after Fields. One would like to think that’s because the 8-year-old is obviously a much more significant threat, rather than anything else, but the implications are far creepier than the filmmakers intended.

Most of the time, Monti’s Dracula turns out to be curiously passive, with Solares doing all the heavy lifting. The wolfman makes San Martín’s acquaintance by seeing off some supposed muggers in the street in a staged fight. Why not just kidnap her then and there? Well, because that ‘would be too easy’, of course! His oily charms soon won her over, though, and she’s not even phased by the fact that his name is Rufus Rex (yes, he doesn’t bother changing it!) Unfortunately for her, Solares is no Larry Talbot, instead being fully committed to the hairy lifestyle. Soon, San Martín is sacrificed offscreen beneath a fixed shot of the most unconvincing full moon ever committed to film, accompanied by some screams on the soundtrack. Although Santo’s cinematic adventures aren’t noted for their high production values, this effort does look better financed than most. However, this brief sequence and the bargain basement wrestling bouts feel very cheap and distinctly out of place. Also, given that blood-soaked shot of Mondragón’s hanging corpse, it is possible that the film initially also leaned toward serious horror, but these elements were removed in post-production.

Elsewhere, director Delgado displays a surprisingly acute visual sensibility. He creates some decent visual compositions rather than just pointing the camera at the action and letting it run. Unfortunately, there are still some goofy moments with rubber bats and a sequence where an old, scrawny vampire turns chatty family maid Josefina (Lourdes Batista). Presumably, this balding bloodsucker is one of the Count’s minions, but this is the first time we’ve seen him, and he doesn’t appear again. Logically, it should have been Monti carrying out the attack, and it’s interesting to speculate if the sequence was originally shot that way and later replaced. After all, he really has very little to do in the finished film.

By contrast, Martí is probably Santo’s most proactive girlfriend in the entire franchise. When the great man and Blue Demon are trapped in a warehouse and badly outnumbered, she rides in to save the day on a forklift! Mexican cinema was often ahead of the curve in portraying women in action roles, but the heroines in this series were usually little more than kidnap fodder and subjects for rescue. Also, shock horror, Santo actually gets to kiss her at one point, although, more often than not, the lovers prefer to bump noses (damn that mask!)

It’s pleasing to report that the film also has enough familiar elements to please hardcore fans of the legendary luchador’s cinematic antics. Monti and Solares show a blatant disregard for Health and Safety by having a giant pit of spikes in their cave headquarters because that seems like a good idea (clue: it isn’t!), and their army of the dead only numbers about a dozen. Mondragón and San Martín are part of this infernal task force because they are now zombies, which makes perfect sense. Barrón’s hunch and terrible facial scar both come and go and the latter moves around his face on command. Santo hilariously fails to convince us that he’s drinking a cup of coffee (damn that mask!), and events conclude with a tag team match where Santo and Blue take on El Blanco Angel and Renato the hippie, supervised by international referee Rangel. Renato fought Blue earlier in the film (against a red backdrop) and looks about as counterculture as a Sunday morning trip to your local garden centre. Both sides blatantly cheat, but the bad guys started it, and they cheat worse, so that’s ok.

Santo remains a legend in his native Mexico almost 40 years after his death, revered as a folk hero and champion of the common man. His wrestling career stretched from 1934 to his retirement in 1982, during which time he appeared in more than 50 films, battling monsters, spies, and international crimelords. Despite allegedly being the better wrestler, Compatriot Blue Demon never quite attained the level of Santo’s popularity. As well as backing up the great man on the big screen, he appeared in his own series of feature films from 1965 to 1979, often assisted by other famous luchadors of the day such as Mil Máscaras, Superzan and La Sombra Vengadora. In later life, he concentrated on passing his grappling skills on to younger fighters. Sadly, Rangel was forever typecast as an international referee and never acted again.

Truly a box of delights for the dedicated Santo fan. Everyone else? Well…just get with the programme, ok!?

The Dead Are Alive!/L’etrusco uccide ancora/The Etruscan Kills Again (1972)

‘If music affects archaeologists like this, I wonder what archaeology does to some musicians.’

A small archaeological team uncover the tomb of a supposed Demon God while digging near some Etruscan ruins. Shortly afterwards, a young couple is murdered at an adjacent site and laid out in one of the burial chambers as if for ancient sacrifice…

Multi-national Giallo thriller from co-writer and director Armando Crispino built on a more traditional horror premise. American, British and German actors take the leading roles with production financing courtesy of sources in Italy, West Germany and Yugoslavia.

It’s been a rough couple of years for hotshot young Professor Jason Porter (Alex Cord). A worsening addiction to alcohol has prompted changes in his behaviour, including a tendency to violence, accompanied by blackouts and memory loss. Reduced to running a small archaeological dig in the Etruscan ruins in Spoleto, he uncovers the secret tomb of what he believes is an ancient Demon God. A few hours later, in the ruins nearby, a teenage couple is brutally beaten to death, and their bodies are laid out on sacrificial stones. The young woman is dressed in a pair of red ballet shoes.

The unusual footwear leads Inspector Giuranna (Enzo Tarascio) to focus on the local theatre, which is mounting a production under the leadership of eccentric maestro Nikos Samarakis (John Marley). Cord gets into Tarascio’s crosshairs when he discovers the next set of victims, Marley’s son Igor (Carlo De Mejo) and his girlfriend Giselle (Wendy D’Olive). Despite being seriously injured, De Mejo survives but can’t identify the killer who took D’Olive’s life.

The Professor is also being threatened by Otello (Vladan Holec), a local grifter who wants to supplement his income as a tour guide to the ruins with some proceeds from blackmail. He’s obtained an incriminating letter Cord wrote to Marley’s new wife Myra (Samantha Eggar), with whom he was once romantically involved. The ballet’s dance director Stephen (Horst Frank) is also spying on him, and who is the stylish but mysterious Leni (Nadja Tiller) who visited De Mejo in the hospital?

Despite the setup’s obvious potential for a straight-ahead monster horror film, it’s pretty clear from the opening act that this is a Giallo murder mystery. There’s never any serious suggestion that the perpetrator of the mayhem is an Etruscan demon back from the grave. However, it was a conceit embraced by the marketing team and distributors, who most likely came up with the somewhat misleading release titles. Gorehounds will probably be happy enough, though, as a couple of the kills are very bloody indeed, and Crispino’s camera lingers on the action for a good deal longer than many contemporary productions.

Instead, the focus is on running down a more earthly killer, and Crispino’s script, co-written with Lucio Battistrada and Lutz Eisholz, provides the audience with a multitude of suspects. Unfortunately, when supplying so many possibilities, it’s necessary to give each equal weight, and, at times, Crispino struggles to find the right balance. The lack of detail regarding the basic setup doesn’t help either, leaving nagging questions dangling throughout the film. Why is a disgraced Professor with a well-documented history of substance abuse and violent behaviour supervising an important dig happening adjacent to an established archaeological site and tourist attraction? Who exactly are his young team members, and why do most of them seem to be associated with the theatre in town? Why is the paranoid, violently jealous Marley letting Cord stay at his palatial home when he is aware of the man’s prior intimate relationship with his much younger new wife? The answers to these, and other similar questions, aren’t essential in understanding the plot. However, addressing them in at least some fashion would have helped to bring the disparate story elements together in a more coherent and plausible manner. Everything does come together logically enough at the climax; it’s just not particularly satisfying.

There are some significant things to admire, though. Crispino and cinematographer Erico Menczer make the most of the scenes in the ruins and deliver an impressive car chase through a narrow labyrinth of ancient streets. It’s an excellent decision to have the details of Cord and Eggar’s back story emerge as a slow reveal, and the two leads effectively provide the drama with a much-needed emotional core, even if their characters aren’t particularly sympathetic. There’s also notable support from Frank. The blonde German was usually cast as sinister businessmen, assassins or thugs, but here he rocks tight t-shirts and short, curly red hair as the theatre’s effeminate choreographer. He’s playing against type and pulls it off very well, giving the character more depth than the one-dimensional stereotype it could easily have been.

Cord is best remembered to the generation that grew up in the 1980s as the white-suited, eye-patched Archangel, assigning missions to Jan Michael-Vincent and Ernest Borgnine on hit TV show ‘Airwolf’. His career began on the stage before his skills as a horseman landed him guest slots on network shows such as ‘Laramie’ and ‘Frontier Circus’. His big break seemed to arrive when he was cast as the Ringo Kid in the big-budget remake of John Ford’s classic Western ‘Stagecoach’ (1939). The part had made a star of John Wayne, but the film flopped hard, despite a cast that included Ann-Margret and Bing Crosby. Cord headed to Europe, where he starred in Spaghetti Western ‘A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die/Un minuto per pregare, un istante per morire’ (1967), which also featured Hollywood legend, Robert Ryan. A handful of other film roles on the continent followed before he returned to the United States to play Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry’s unsuccessful TV pilot ‘Genesis II’ (1973). A long career guesting on small-screen shows followed, with appearances on ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Murder, She Wrote’, ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues’ and many, many others. He passed away in 2021.

Born in 1939 in London, Eggar was attending stage school as a teenager when she was cast in the romantic drama ‘The Wild and the Willing’ (1962). She then appeared as Ethel Le Neve opposite Donald Pleasance in the true-crime drama ‘Dr. Crippen’ (1963) before hitting it big as kidnap victim Miranda Grey in William Wyler’s ‘The Collector’ (1965). Her performance brought her multiple awards and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Subsequently, she appeared opposite Cary Grant in his last film ‘Walk Don’t Run’ (1966), and Rex Harrison in the big-budget musical ‘Doctor Doolittle’ (1967). Unfortunately, the latter disappointed at the box office on release and allegedly almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox. Eggar returned in ‘The Molly Maguires’ (1970) with Sean Connery and Richard Harris and starred opposite Yul Brynner on the small screen as he reprised his role from hit musical ‘The King and I’ (1956). Although concentrating more on television through the 1970s, she was still in demand for movies, starring in ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ (1976) opposite Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes, the interesting science-fiction drama ‘Welcome To Blood City’ (1977) and most memorably, in David Cronenberg’s early body horror ‘The Brood’ (1979). She’s worked steadily ever since, appearing on countless, high profile TV shows, including ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ where she played Jean-Luc Picard’s sister-in-law.

A solid, professional Giallo that never threatens to rise above the pack.

Tropic of Cancer/Al tropics del can to (1972)

In Haiti you have to be careful not to step on the feet of wizards and witches.’

A doctor studying in Haiti creates a powerful new hallucinogen during his experimental work. Various visitors and residents of the island try to make a deal with him for the formula, but he refuses to negotiate a sale. One by one, the interested parties start turning up dead…

Unusually sun-drenched Giallo from directors Giampaolo Lomi and Eduardo Mulargia, who are also credited with the script in collaboration with lead actor Anthony Steffen. Voodoo rituals mix with mystery and murder to create a potentially intriguing cocktail in this Italian horror-thriller.

In an attempt to save his marriage, Fred Wright (Gabriele Tinti) takes his wife Grace (Anita Strindberg) on a romantic break to Port-au-Prince. The couple check into the Hotel Rancho, a high-class establishment run by suave Philip (Umberto Raho) and his pretty secretary Robin (Kathryn Witt), who also works overtime in his bedroom. While out sightseeing, the tourists run into Tinti’s old friend Doctor Williams (Steffen) and are drawn into a web of deceit. One of the medical researcher’s assistants has turned up dead, but not before leaking the information that his boss has discovered a brand new recreational substance with a potential value running into millions.

Steffen’s discovery has piqued the interest of the local underworld, led by the fastidious Mr Peacock (Gordon Felio) and his strong right arm, Garner (Stelio Candelli). Steffen refuses to negotiate with anyone, and his formula has gone AWOL anyway with other lab buddy, Crotz (Richard Osborne). Both the body count and the temperature start to rise as the married couple attend authentic voodoo rituals, Strindberg experiences erotic fantasies about the natives after being drugged, and a black-gloved killer goes to work.

The unique location and intriguing story elements supply almost unlimited opportunities for creative and inventive filmmaking, but directors Lomi and Mulargio drop the ball immediately. Worse still, they never make much of an effort to pick it up afterwards and keep it in play. The story remains simplistic at best, with the drug formula merely a plot device on which to hang a few murders, some casual nudity and a burst of occasional, half-baked action. The extended coverage of public voodoo ceremonies would be a better fit for a documentary or a mondo movie. They don’t connect with the story in any meaningful fashion.

Cinematographer Marcello Masciocchi does capture the gorgeous locations faultlessly, however, and the crowded streets and markets provide an authentic and colourful backdrop. It’s just unfortunate that what’s going on in the foreground feels so underdeveloped and fragmentary. There’s no detail about Steffen’s work (it’s just ‘research’), and he also seems to function as both the island’s resident expert on spider bites and the local meat inspector! It’s a varied job description, to be sure. The issues in Tinti and Strindberg’s marriage are never directly addressed, although, given the glances she gives some of the local men, they probably start in the bedroom. However, that element does not integrate with anything else beyond giving them an excuse to be in Haiti in the first place and annoy everyone with their constant bickering.

When the kills arrive, they are undeniably well-staged, if not particularly memorable. However, they feel ‘added on’, almost like they are happening in another story. In the film’s opening minutes, there’s a POV shot of the killer roaming through the dark corridors and rooms of a spooky building. Fair enough, and it’s well-shot. However, it’s sandwiched between sunny exteriors of the city, with no transitions on either side. The contrast is a good idea, but it’s executed so clumsily that, again, it feels like suddenly jumping into another film and back out again.

The film does have some talking points, though, Strindberg’s drug-induced hallucination being one of them. After smelling a flower delivered to the couple’s hotel room, she collapses and imagines herself in a red corridor, dressed only in not very much at all. Naked black men line the walls trying to grope her, and she ends up in the arms of the voodoo priest she’d seen earlier in the marketplace. It’s well shot and quite striking, but, to modern eyes, verges on parody, perhaps because of its unfortunate resemblance to a pretentious perfume ad. It is tastefully done but is still open to accusations of exploitation because the incident is never clearly explained. Who drugged her, and why bother doing it? It’s just some vague part of the bad guys’ plan. If they have one.

The other significant issue is highly likely to be a dealbreaker for some. An opening caption informs us that the voodoo rituals seen in the film are authentic, which is fine. However, different religions have different beliefs and practices, not all of which are easy to stomach. Yes, the public voodoo ceremony features real animal sacrifice. Not only is a bull killed, but its’ carcass is butchered. Later, a human corpse is discovered hanging in an abattoir, along with some of the more expected residents. It’s all undoubtedly real. The presence of this footage, and it’s surprisingly quite lengthy, does serve one purpose, though. It provides some signposts to the creative decisions involved in the filmmaking process, which contribute to why the film doesn’t work.

Co-director Lomi has a limited filmography, being involved in just three full-length productions. The first of his credits was as production manager and second-unit director on the controversial ‘Goodbye Uncle Tom’ (1971), which allegedly caused a riot when it was screened in Times Square. The film contains no ongoing story as such, featuring instead recreations of slave practices and conditions, all rendered in graphic and lengthy detail. Director Gualtierio Jacopetti had been behind several exploitative mondo movies and shot the film in Haiti, then still struggling under the murderous regime of Francois’ Papa Doc’ Duvalier. The dictator died in 1971 and was succeeded by his son, and although human rights abuses continued, the so-called ‘Baby Doc’ was keen to promote tourism and court international favour. The timeline is unclear, but it may have been this regime change that facilitated the opportunity to mount this production. What is certain, of course, is that Lomi had the local contacts to get it done.

Although Lomi was keen to take full credit for directing in later years, producers likely insisted on bringing on Mulargia to shoot with the actors, leaving Lomi to film the rituals and background colour. Both men share credit with their leading man for the screenplay as well. However, given that Mulargia and Steffen were sole collaborators on the script for Spaghetti Western ‘Shango, la pistol inferniale’ (1970), the dramatic aspects were likely their work. What emerges from all this, however, is a rather unbalanced and unfocused result.

In common with the rest of the production, performances are a little on the lacklustre side. Steffen may have been going for stoic, but his Doctor Williams seems quite disinterested in proceedings. He doesn’t even liven up at the prospect of inspecting some meat (a job which is in no way a clumsy plot device to justify his finding the dead man in the abattoir). Strindberg is criminally wasted with a completely underwritten role, although she makes what she can of it and manages to outshine the other principals. Quite often, it feels like the film is waiting for her to reappear when she’s offscreen, even if, when she finally does, it gives her very little to do. Perhaps the most memorable performance comes from the white-suited Felio, who channels Sydney Greenstreet in appearance, if not screen presence. However, some may find his stereotypical homosexual kingpin far too ‘on the nose’, if not potentially offensive.

Born in 1930 as Antonio Luiz de Teffé von Hoonholtz in 1930, Steffen was the son of Formula 1 racing driver and diplomat, Manoel Antônio de Teffé. Gaining his entry into the film business as a messenger working for director Vittorio de Sica, he made his debut in front of the cameras in 1953. Over the following decade, he worked his way up to featured supporting roles, mainly in Peplum and historical dramas. His big break came when he appeared as the lead in Spaghetti Westerns ‘Why Go On Killing?/Perché uccidi ancora?’ (1965) and ‘A Coffin for the Sheriff/Una bara per lo sceriffo/Lone and Angry Man’ (1965). Taking advantage of their explosion in popularity in the wake of Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ series, he starred in little else during the rest of the decade, eventually appearing in close to 30 such features and indelibly associating himself with the genre in the minds of European audiences. He made the jump to the Giallo in the 1970s, top-lining ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba’ (1971) before his Haitian experience was followed by ‘The Crimes of the Black Cat/Sette scialli di seta gialla’ (1972). Later roles of note included appearing with Lee Majors and Karen Black in ‘Killer Fish’ (1979) and reteaming with Mulargia for the women’s prison flick ‘Escape from Hell/Femmine infernali’ (1980).

Not a complete washout, but it’s the beautiful locations and the voodoo ceremonies that are likely to stay in the memory.