Goliath and the Masked Rider/Golia e il cavaliere mascheratio/Hercules and the Masked Rider (1963)

‘Could you prepare a love philtre for my fiancee? Make her change her stupid and arrogant behaviour.’

In 16th Century Spain, an evil Duke plans to take the lands of his wealthy neighbour by marriage or by force. A soldier in love with the prospective bride teams up with a gypsy bandit queen to thwart his evil scheme…

Pity poor Goliath! The strongman was only four movies into his screen career when he was relegated to a side character in this lacklustre swashbuckler. Director Piero Pierotti fails to inject any sense of dash or dynamism into this riff on the all-too-familiar exploits of one señor Zorro.

Don Juan (Mimmo Palmara) returns from the wars to find that things have taken a turn for the worse at the hacienda of his lady love, Dona Blanca (José Greci). Her father, Don Francisco (Renato Navarrini), has promised her hand to troublesome neighbour Don Ramiro (Arturo Dominici), who has threatened war. The young lovers can’t control their passion, and Palmara is banished while Dominici takes delight in torture and mayhem with his increasingly disillusioned right-hand man, Captain Belasco (Ettore Manni).

Palmara links up with red-haired bandit queen Estellla (Pilar Cansino) after fighting her henchman Goliath (Alan Steel) to a draw in hand to hand combat. She also has an axe to grind with Dominici, who was responsible for the death of her husband. Palmara dons a scarlet mask and cloak to become Zorro wannabee the Masked Rider, and events develop on entirely predictable lines. There’s even a scene where Palmara and the band intercept Dominici’s courier Don Ruiz (Tullio Altamura), when he’s bringing Greci gifts from the dastardly warlord. Unfortunately, Palmara is no Errol Flynn, and the woods north of Rome ain’t no Sherwood Forest. Yes, the film hits just about every story beat you expect in a way that lacks any significant interest.

So where does legendary muscleman Goliath fit into all this? Well, he is simply one of Cansino’s merry men. He takes part in the small scale battles with Dominici’s guards and has three or four short lines of unimportant dialogue. It’s pretty clear that the character’s been inserted for name value only, probably into a production conceived initially without him. What’s not surprising is that when the film was retitled for a stateside release, Goliath did his routine name change to Hercules.

Perhaps significantly, around the same time, Steel appeared as Maciste (the Italian version of Hercules) in Umberto Lenzi’s ‘Samson and the Slave Queen’ (1963), originally called ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ and was also set in 16th Century Spain! As the two films shared the same producer, Fortunato Misiano, and were shot around some of the same locations, it’s quite probable that Steel was asked to hang around after one film wrapped to appear in the other. Perhaps he was contracted for another couple of day’s work.

Steel, real name Sergio Ciani, had started his Peplum career with a couple of brief showings in films starring the original Hercules, Steve Reeves. His impressive physicality rewarded him with more prominent roles in ‘Samson’ (1960) and ‘Fury of Hercules’ (1962), supporting American actor Brad Harris before he took up the reins of Maciste. After that, he went onto play Samson for real in ‘Sansone contro il corsaro nero’ (1964), Hercules for real in ‘Hercules Against Rome/Ercole contro Roma’ (1964), Maciste again, Samson again, Hercules again, and finally completed the full set as Ursus in ‘The Three Avengers/Gli invincibili tre (1964).

Dominici, who gives the best value here as the sneering villain, is probably familiar to most as the undead Igor in Mario Bava’s ‘La maschera del demonio/Black Sunday’ (1960) but had roles in many Peplum outings, including the original ‘Hercules’ (1957). Perhaps what’s most surprising is to see that director Pierrotti was on script duty with a couple of the mainstays of the Giallo thriller, which was to take Italian cinema by storm in the early 1970s. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi penned many of the best examples of that sub-genre, and Luciano Martino became well-known through his work as a producer with his brother Sergio usually in the director’s chair.

Little more than a lost footnote in the Peplum genre and the exploits of its musclebound heroes. Not worth your time unless you are a die-hard fan.

Victory (1919)

‘Speaking of signs, a woman who powders her nose is not entirely without hope.’

The son of a famous writer has lived in self-imposed exile on a tiny island in the Dutch East Indies for two years. Making a final trip to the nearby island of Soerbaja to complete cutting his last ties to civilisation, he meets a girl playing in the orchestra at the local hotel…

Romantic drama based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Conrad that features Lon Chaney in another villainous supporting role. Despite his breakout performance in ‘The Miracle Man’ (1919), the soon-to-be horror icon was still working his way up the ladder to leading roles but, once again, steals the show from the more established names in the cast.

Axel Heyst (Jack Holt) has spent the last two years in isolation, his head filled with the writings of his later father. Heyst Sr maintained that a man could only find true happiness in complete solitude. Holt has taken this to heart, his only companion in all-time being a houseboy (because I guess all that housework might interfere with his lofty contemplations, and you need someone to throw the cat off the verandah from time to time.) To complete his final removal from the society of humankind, Holt travels to the main island nearby, where he is the subject of gossip fueled by belligerent hotel owner Schomberg (Wallace Beery).

Beery’s establishment boasts some unusual entertainment in the tropics; an all-girl orchestra under the direction of the creepy Zangiacomo (William Bailey) and his wife (Ruth Renick). Holt sees Renick mistreating first violin Alma (Seena Owen) and soon learns that both Beery and Bailey are trying to force their attentions on her. Simply wanting to help, he spirits her away to his island, leaving a frustrated Beery incensed and out for revenge. When a trio of obvious crooks take rooms at the hotel, Beery convinces them that Holt has a fortune hidden on his island, and they determine to obtain it by any means necessary.

This 1919 film was the first attempt to turn one of Joseph Conrad’s literary works into a motion picture, and it turned out to be the only example that the author lived to see. As the filmmakers took great liberties with the source material, his opinion would have been interesting, but it seems unrecorded. The plot is greatly simplified. In the novel, Heyst does not live in complete isolation; by the time he meets Alma, he has already gone into a coal company business with a down on his luck sailor named Captain Morrison, who eventually dies, along with their enterprise. This part of the story is entirely omitted by screenwriter Jules Furthman, here credited as Stephen Fox. However, given the film’s brief running time and the inevitable focus on the story’s more commercial aspects, it’s understandable. The other significant change revolves around the resolution of events, which is one of the more extreme examples of the ‘Hollywood ending’ that I can recall, being as far removed from the novel’s conclusion as could be imagined.

The film’s director was Maurice Tourneur, who had once been an assistant to world-famous sculptor Auguste Rodin. He certainly displays a refined visual sensibility with his framing and shot selection, even if his camera sometimes lacks mobility. What he does bring to the story is a crisp, economical pace and his cast refrain from the usual histrionics that can mar silent productions when viewed today. Tourneur was a vocal opponent of screen acting techniques that used overblown theatrical gestures with the result that his pictures have aged far better than some of his contemporaries. He also makes good use of the locations.

However, it’s Chaney’s performance that takes centre stage, even though it’s ostensively a supporting role. Of course, it’s easy to single out a ‘star in waiting’ with the benefit of hindsight, but he commands the screen when he appears, his ruthless strongarm Ricardo easily dwarfing the impact of fellow stooge Pedro (Bull Montana) and their boss, Mr Jones (Ben Deely). Chaney’s occasional acting excesses are held firmly in check by Tourneur, and we get a sly, vicious thug who enjoys his work too much and stalks through the drama like some kind of ape or giant insect. Chaney suggests violence as much with his body language and slow, creeping smile as with his actions. Despite giving the orders and his memorable blonde hair and tiny sunglasses combo, it’s evident that Deely’s only in charge of the gang as long as Chaney finds it convenient. Given that this type of villain had become Chaney’s stock in trade at this point, it’s a testament to his acting skill and commitment that he is still looking for new wrinkles in such as character and, what’s more, finding them.

Tourneur enjoyed a long career in the film business, reaching the commercial pinnacle of his Hollywood career with ‘Aloma of the South Seas’ (1926), the top-grossing film of that year. By the time the industry had switched to sound production, though, he had returned to Europe, a move perhaps prompted by his association with disastrous MGM money pit ‘The Mysterious Island’ (1929). His son, Jacques, also found success in Tinseltown as a director. His big hits included ‘Cat People’ (1942), ‘Out of the Past’ (1947), ‘The Flame and the Arrow’ (1950) and ‘Night of the Demon’ (1957). He worked with stars like Gregory Peck, Hedy Lemarr, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Ray Milland and Dana Andrews.

It may not be very faithful to Conrad’s novel, but this is a brisk, pleasing drama with a standout performance by an actor on his way to stardom.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail/La coda dello scorpione (1971)

‘He must’ve been peeling a pear when his knife slipped.’

A faithless wife receives a million-dollar life insurance payout when her husband dies in a plane crash. Several people believe that she was somehow responsible and, when she goes to pick up the money in Athens, various mysterious characters start to close in…

After director Sergio Martino took his bow in the Giallo arena with ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh‘ (1971), it was less than eight months before he delivered his second entry. Also produced by brother Luciano, it again featured a writing team that included Eduardo Manzanos and genre leader Ernesto Gastaldi.

When a commercial airliner explodes mid-flight, the beautiful Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart) isn’t too bothered when she finds out that her husband, Kurt (Fulvio Mingozzi), was on the passenger list. After all, it wasn’t that much of a marriage; he was constantly on the move because of business, leaving her alone in London to amuse herself with a string of lovers. In fact, there’s a considerable upside. A few months earlier, he’d taken out a million-dollar life insurance policy with her as the sole beneficiary.

However, newfound wealth comes with its own problems. Before leaving England, Stewart is stalked by one of her ex-playmates, who has an incriminating letter in which she wished her husband dead. Going to pay him off, she instead finds him dying in a pool of blood. Fleeing to Athens to collect the cash, she’s pursued by both insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton) and Interpol agent John Stanley (Alberto de Mendoza). If all that’s not bad enough, Mingozzi’s ex-lover Lara Florakis (Janine Reynaud) and her strongarm friend Sharif (Luis Barboo) want their share of the booty.

What follows is the tangled web of murder, mystery and misdirection typical of the sub-genre. Was the explosion on the plane an accident or sabotage? Who killed the blackmailer in London? Was Reynaud really Mingozzi’s lover? Is the businessman actually still alive? Does de Mendoza have a hidden agenda? Do Stewart and Hilton have a previous relationship, and does journalist Cléo Dupont (Anita Strindberg) have an ulterior motive in getting close to him? Question after question for Inspector Stavros (Luigi Pistilli) as the money disappears and the corpses begin piling up.

This is a quality Giallo, but with an impact slightly compromised by some structural and pacing issues. These were most probably caused by a hurried production. The original cut of the film ran short, and reshoots with Stewart took place in London. These scenes never fully integrate into the story and make for a rather extended first act. This means that Strindberg appears surprisingly late in proceedings, considering that she is a pivotal character and, at times, the drama does seem a little unfocused.

Nevertheless, the film has some definite virtues. On the technical side, we have wonderfully crisp cinematography from Emilio Foriscot, and Bruno Nicolai’s score is excellent. The director also ups the horror content with more explicit kills, even if the makeup effects leave a little to be desired on occasion. One of the murders proves to be the film’s outstanding sequence; another tour de force of editing, camerawork and direction that stands up to comparison with equivalent scenes in ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971). It’s also pleasing to report that, despite some niggles with the story in hindsight, the writers conjure a logical and satisfying conclusion when the audience could be forgiven for thinking that such an outcome is looking unlikely.

Performances are solid, with a lot of the cast already experienced in this type of project, despite the Giallo not yet reaching its heyday. Hilton and de Mendoza return from ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh’ (1971), and the former appeared in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968) along with Stewart and Pistilli. Reynaud had starred in ‘Assassino senza volto/Killer Without A Face’ (1968) and ‘Run, Psycho, Run’ (1968), and Strindberg was a brief, but memorable, part of Lucio Fulci’s ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971). Almost the entire cast went on to further notable Gialli credits over the next few years.

The unwieldy structure holds the film back a little, but it’s still a highly enjoyable Giallo with memorable moments.

Des Monjes/Two Monks (1934)

‘May the Devil get out from the house of the Lord.’

The monks at a remote monastery carry out a ritual to banish evil after it seems that one of their order has become possessed by Satan. Eventually, the monk appears to recover, and the Prior sends in a travelling priest to comfort him. But when the monk recognises his visitor, he violently attacks him…

An unusual and stylish drama often identified as one of the first Mexican horror films. Director Juan Bustillo Oro certainly conjures up enough atmosphere and startling images to enhance this tale of thwarted romance, madness and revenge.

Brother Javier (Carlos Villatoro) is a troubled soul, ranting and raving in his cell until the fellow monks in his monastery believe him possessed by evil. As they walk the passageways chanting, ringing bells and splashing holy water, they are relieved to be told that his latest fit of madness has passed. The Prior (Beltrán de Heredia) decides that a visit from the just arrived Brother Servando (Víctor Urruchúa) is in order. After all, he has an unmatched reputation from eloquence and piety. But when rruchúa enters the cell, Villatoro chases him out, wounding him in the head with an icon of Christ on the cross.

After the altercation, a repentant Villatoro asks that de Heredia absolve him. He explains that Urruchúa is his old friend Juan, who wronged him years before, and tells the old man the story. It begins with Villatoro as a struggling composer, wracked by consumption, whose only joy in life is the presence of pretty neighbour Ana (Magda Haller), to whom he writes his songs. When she resists her parents’ plans for an arranged marriage, they throw her out in the street and, aware of his feelings for her, Villatoro’s mother, Gertrudis (Emma Roldán), takes her in. Not surprisingly, as time passes, the two youngsters grow fond of each other and plan to marry.

Enter Urruchúa as Villatoro’s best friend Juan, back from years of adventuring abroad. The three quickly become inseparable, but Roldán becomes suspicious that all is not as it seems. Urruchúa suddenly announces a departure for parts unknown but arranges that Villatoro is away from home for the evening. When he returns ahead of time, he finds Urruchúa and Haller in each other’s arms, and tragedy follows. The Prior refuses to grant absolution to Villatoro until he hears the other side of the story and goes to see Urruchúa, who relates the facts from his point of view.

The beguiling device of events told from different viewpoints was rightly lauded in Akira Kurosawa’s landmark ‘Rashamon’ (1950). Although it’s surprising to find it already in use a decade and a half earlier, it can be traced back as far as ‘The Woman Under Oath’ (1919). The difference in Oro’s screenplay (co-written with José Manuel Cordero) is that the two principals do not dispute the facts. The twist is that Villatoro does not have possession of the facts that prompted them. The only flaw in this conceit is that his ignorance of a prior relationship between his intended and his best friend is a little hard to swallow. Some justification for this would have been welcome.

The notion that this is a horror film can be attributed almost entirely to the style with which Oro delivers the tale. After all, there are no actual supernatural elements and only one brief instance of violence, although it is graphic for its time. Oro’s striking presentation is immediately apparent in the opening scenes in the monastery. Of course, the gothic architecture and the spartan interiors help with the atmosphere, but the director takes it to the next level. The set dressing and props are minimal but well-chosen, the massive pipe organ and towering statues that are prominent in the climax being particularly striking.

Oro continues this aesthetic in the flashback scenes. The rooms of Villatoro’s home are large and mostly empty, furnished with only his piano, heavy drapes and a few pieces of scattered furniture. The feeling imparted is that of a theatrical stage, an impression heightened by the director’s preference for long takes, minimal dialogue and stretches of silence. There’s also fine examples of visual storytelling; Villatoro’s relapse into sickness indicated by crumpled music pages on the floor and the fantastic final scenes where a chaotic procession of masks suggests a descent into delirium and madness. Many of the scenes in the monastery seem lit by little more than a flickering candle, giving the shadows a sense of endless depth as if there is nothing behind them but deeper darkness.

This approach to the material might have been expected from a veteran director of silent pictures, but Oro had directed only one, ‘Yo soy tu padre’ (1927). This was only his third picture, the second being ‘Godfather Mendoza’ (1934), which he wrote and directed with Fernando de Fuentes. The same year he worked in a writing capacity on de Fuentes’ superb ‘The Phantom of the Convent/El fantasma del convento’ (1934). As both films seem set in the same location and both feature Villatoro and the elderly de Heredia (in his only two screen appearances), it seems likely they were shot back to back. Augustin Jiménez was cinematographer here and shot stills for de Furntes’ film, and Max Urban gets the music credit for both.

Oro had a long career in domestic Mexican cinema with over 30 years of writing and directing credits. Sadly, it seems he received no international recognition during his lifetime. Only a handful of his films, such as ‘Lo que va de Ayer a hoy/The Witch Came From Yesterday To Today’ (1945) and ‘Del Brazo y por la calle/Arm In Arm Down The Street’ (1956), were released outside his homeland. As this particular example was restored by the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, it’s hoped that more of his work receives attention in the future.

An unsung triumph of world cinema that should be recognised and celebrated.

The Mighty Gorga (1969)

‘Oh, Mighty Gorga, I know your thirst for the blood of young maidens is great.’

The owner of a failing circus gambles his future on an expedition to the Congo to find a legendary giant gorilla. On arrival, he finds his contact has disappeared on safari, so he strikes out into the jungle with the man’s daughter to try and find him and fulfil his mission…

No budget ‘King Kong’ antics from writer, producer-director David L Hewitt. He reassembles most of his cast from biker film ‘Hell’s Chosen Few’ (1968) and sends them deep into the Californian jungle where they come face to face with SFX that could be only be described as ‘special’ in a somewhat different universe.

Mark Remington (Anthony Eisley) is well on the rocky road to bankruptcy. His travelling circus is losing money, and there’s little prospect of a reversal in fortunes now his top act has defected to the big leagues, represented by the slimy Arnold Shye (Gary Kent). Of course, a buyout is in the offing, and, of course, Eisley turns it down, preferring one last throw of the dice to save his business and the futures of performers like Mort the Clown (Bruce Kimball).

Leaving his brother Dan (future film director Greydon Clark) in charge, Eisley heads off to Africa to rendezvous with Tonga Jack Adams (Kent Taylor). The trapper has supplied animals to Eisley’s circus in the past, and he’s planning a trip into uncharted territory to look for a legendary giant gorilla and a fabulous lost treasure. When Eisley arrives, he’s too late; Taylor has already disappeared, leaving his daughter, April (Megan Timothy), to run things. She’s being squeezed financially by her father’s old partner and all-around rotten egg, Dan Morgan (Scott Brady), but a quick intervention from Eisley keeps the wolf from the door.

Eisley and Timothy decide to team up and follow in her father’s footsteps, along with headboy George (Lee Parrish) and a couple of bearers. None of the other natives is prepared to go because that part of the jungle is taboo, of course, which is convenient for the film’s budget as it means they don’t have to appear on screen at all. During the trip, iceberg Timothy begins to thaw in the face of the ruggedly handsome Eisley. In another staggering development, the two bearers who have been brave enough to come along quickly do a runner once the expedition comes across some plastic skulls (name one low-budget movie where the bearers don’t all desert in the end).

So, with the nasty Brady and his sidekick, Brandon (William Bonner), hot on their heels, our golden couple strike out on their own, leaving Parrish at base camp. It’s not long before a hazardous climb brings them onto a remote plateau where time seems to has stopped, leaving behind a world of prehistoric flora and fauna (but mostly flora). They soon run into the Mighty Gorga (David L Hewitt) but, after Timothy removes a splinter from his furry finger (off-screen), everyone is best buddies forever. The friendship comes in handy when local witch doctor (Bruce Kimball on double duty) starts to make trouble, and Brady and Bonner turn up for a showdown at the climax.

In a way, the film is weirdly reminiscent of Fred F Sears’ well-remembered ‘The Giant Claw’ (1957). Both films are stunningly mediocre in most ways but tumble headfirst into bad movie legend due to their respective SFX. Sears was stuck with a mutant alien turkey puppet, and Hewitt has a tatty party costume and a toy T Rex. Legend has it that the production only had access to the top half of the gorilla suit, and I can confirm that we never see the ape below the waist.

Further chortles come from a cave monster, appearing courtesy of Vittorio Cottafavi’s ‘La vendetta di Ercole/Goliath and the Dragon’ (1960). Also worth pointing out is that Kimball makes a far more convincing circus clown than he does an African Witchdoctor. It’s not just the unspeakable dialogue he has in the latter role; it’s a question of appropriate casting. Such a part is always going to be an uphill struggle for a blue-eyed white man.

Hewitt wasn’t the worst filmmaker despite being responsible for the SFX here and delivering some truly atrocious films in his short directorial career. His problem was money. Or a complete lack of it. When he had at least some level of resources available, he could deliver a film like the interesting, if narratively confused, ‘Journey to the Centre of Time’ (1967) and his biker films are at least competently made. Unfortunately, he often favoured fantastical subjects and, with no more than tiny budgets available, the results were often completely ridiculous or incredibly dull, or often, a mixture of both.

Taylor was a veteran whose film career began in the 1930s and, at its height, included supporting roles in Mitchell Leisen’s ‘Death Takes A Holiday’ (1934) and John Farrow’s ‘Five Came Back (1939). Leading roles in b-pictures such as ‘Sued For Libel’ (1939) and ‘Half Past Midnight’ (1948) took him into the 1950s when he successfully switched to television. He starred in successful Western ‘The Rough Riders’ and did three years as ‘Boston Blackie’. His film roles of the time were somewhat less impressive, though: dire monster flicks such as ‘The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues’ (1955), ‘The Day Mars Invaded Earth’ (1962) and ‘The Crawling Hand’ (1963).

Brady’s track record was less impressive, but persistent appearances in guest slots on popular network TV shows led to a late-career renaissance with supporting roles in a few notable films such as ‘The China Syndrome’ (1978) and ‘Gremlins’ (1984). Perhaps the most interesting member of the cast is Gary Graver, who also served as director of photography and editor. A year or so after this film, he turned up as a stranger on Orson Welles’ doorstep, offering his services. The two struck up a close personal and professional friendship, and Graver became Welles’ cinematographer on all his film projects until the end of the great man’s life.

A dull and plodding jungle adventure, hamstrung by an almost total lack of budget, destined always to be remembered for some of the worst SFX ever to waltz across a drive-in movie screen.

Goliath and the Rebel Slave/Goliath e la schiava ribelle/The Tyrant of Lydia Against the Son of Hercules/Arrow of the Avenger (1963)

‘I think you are the strongest and most unselfish man in the world.’

The opposing armies of Alexander the Great and his Persian enemies are camped on the frontiers of Lydia. The kingdom’s ruler plans to abscond with the contents of the royal treasury, so he sends emissaries to both camps as a distraction. The one chosen to visit Alexander is Lydian general and man of the people, the strongman Goliath…

More Peplum antics from Italy chasing the money wagon launched by Steve Reeves as ‘Hercules’ (1957). This film is the third in the short-lived ‘Goliath’ series, and here it’s former Tarzan Gordon Scott treading in the sandal prints of Reeves, who was in the first entry and Brad Harris, who’d appeared in the sequel.

The world is closing in on the city of Sardis. King Marcius (Massimo Serato) is already planning to jump ship while his generals and advisors have shouting matches in the throne room. Muscleman Goliath (Scott) is all for extending the olive branch to the noble Alexander (Gabriele Antonini), while his rival Artafernes (Mimmo Palmara) favours the Persians. It’s not a plot spoiler to reveal that Palmara, his Lady Macbeth, Zoé (Gloria Milland) and slimy politico Barbuk (Giuseppe Sortis) have already sold out everyone down the river to the Persians anyway.

Scott embarks on his quest while Serato busies himself rifling the royal coffers and placing the booty in a secret tunnel that leads out of the city. On the way to Alexander’s camp, Scott rescues blonde, blue-eyed Princess Corri (Ombretta Colli) by catching a team of runaway horses and stopping her stagecoach. OK, he actually fights off a gang of bandits that attack her caravan, but it’s the same difference—the two fall in love in the blink of a false eyelash and the twitch of a deltoid.

When he reaches the Macedonian tents, Scott finds that Antonini is indeed an honourable man and strikes a deal on behalf of his sovereign. However, he doesn’t know that Colli has reached Sardis in safety, and Serato likes what he sees, selling her on the idea of marriage to help protect the people. His wedding plans go south after a cup of poisoned wine, and Colli is accused of murder. It’s all a plot concocted by our villainous triumvirate, of course, and before you can shake a ceremonial spear, Palamara and Milland are firmly ensconced on neighbouring thrones, and Colli is on the execution list.

Director Mario Caiano’s film is a slightly unusual entry in the Peplum genre in that he chooses to emphasise character and plot over action in the first two acts of the film. This would be a welcome change of pace were it not for the fact that the audience is unlikely to care. All the story developments are signposted well in advance, and the characters are nothing more than the usual hero/villain archetypes. The love story between Scott and Corri is soppy and dull, and the entire cast struggles to make anything out of Gian Paolo Callegari and Albert Valentin’s lifeless script. Serato does seem to be having fun, but he’s gone too soon.

Scott usually infused his heroes with some humour and humanity, but here he just seems to be sleepwalking through his dialogue, although he perks up a bit for the action when it arrives. If you’re thinking that Scott had already tackled the role of Goliath twice before in ‘Goliath and the Vampires’ (1961) and ‘Goliath – King of the Slaves’ (1963), then that’s understandable but you’d be wrong. In the first film, he played legendary hero Maciste, and in the second, a character called Nippur, the original title of the film translating as ‘The Hero of Babylon’. In a similar free translation, the ‘Goliath’ in this film became a ‘Son of Hercules’ when the movie hit American shores.

Also appearing in the film are the Lost Kingdom Dancing Girls ticking off a gig at the Royal Court of Sardis in their never-ending tour and some long shots of big battles scenes, appearing courtesy of another movie. But perhaps this film’s finest moments occur after the escape of Corri and her handmaiden, played by Lea Lander. The two swap dresses to throw off the soldiers that pursue them, and the patrol duly picks up Lander and takes her back to the palace, leaving Corri free. This would be a plausible development if Corri were not a blonde in a white dress and Lander a jet-black brunette in blue, and the soldiers hadn’t had a clear view of them before they swapped outfits.

A sadly lacklustre Peplum adventure. Perhaps it’s not too much of a surprise that the next film in the series reduced Goliath to almost a bystander in his own movie.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh/Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh (1971)

‘And I was afraid I’d have to do without any bratwurst.’

A neglected diplomat’s wife returns to Vienna with her husband during a series of unsolved murders of young women. She takes a lover but gets a phone call threatening to expose the affair. She suspects the culprit maybe her old boyfriend with who she had a violent sexual relationship…

High-quality Italian-Spanish Giallo thriller that launched the career of director Sergio Martino and took leading lady Edwige Fenech to the next level. Previously Martino had delivered a little regarded Spaghetti Western and a trio of documentaries, and Fenech was best known for her beauty rather than her acting chops. She had primarily appeared in sexy comedies, although she’d made an undeniable impression in supporting roles in Giallo pictures ‘Top Sensation’ (1969) and Mario Bava’s ‘Five Dolls For An August Moon’ (1970).

Returning to Vienna, diplomat Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) is immediately rushed from the airport into a top-level meeting, leaving bored young wife Julie (Fenech) to go home in a taxi. On the way, she has a vivid flashback to her affair with the handsome but sadistic Jean (Ivan Rassimov). It’s a striking scene and the first sign that the audience is in for something special. It’s almost operatic in the way it combines slow motion, dissonant music and sexual violence as the two wrestle on the ground during a rainstorm.

‘Go away, my flashbacks are far more interesting than you…’

With hubby almost permanently absent at work, there’s little for Fenech to do now she’s back home but hang out with cynical, liberated BFF Carol (Conchita Airoldi). Apart from the usual round of shopping and afternoon tea, this involves attending a vaguely naughty party with the smart set where girls wear paper dresses and tear them off during a catfight. Here, she meets Airoldi’s cousin, the ruggedly handsome George Corro (George Hilton) who’s in town to claim an unexpected inheritance that he’s sharing with Airoldi. Fenech attempts to resist his charms, but Hilton is persistent, and self-restraint is not her forte. Unfortunately, Rassimov is still in town and sending her flowers, although his intentions could hardly be described as romantic. Meanwhile, young women are being brutally murdered with a razor by an unknown killer.

After her first night with Hilton, Fenech gets an anonymous phone call demanding money in exchange for silence about the affair. She suspects Rassimov is behind it and confesses all to her best friend. Airoldi goes in her place to deliver the blackmail payoff in a public park at sunset, but she is attacked with a razor and murdered. Fenech suspects Rassimov is the serial killer, of course, but the police find he has an unshakeable alibi. As events twist and turn, Fenech starts to believe she is marked for death.

‘A blackmail payoff? No problem, afterwards we can talk about men some more.’

An excellent mystery coupled with some beautiful visuals, an unflagging pace and good performances make for one of the finest examples of the Giallo sub-genre. Director Martino handles the material with flair and style, and the screenplay by old hand Ernesto Gastaldi is tight and well-disciplined. In terms of credibility, the complex plot takes one twist too many at the end, but it makes for a satisfying resolution. It’s also been such a highly enjoyable journey to get there that it hardly matters. The dubbing in the English language version is not great, and the viewing experience improved significantly by watching the subtitled original.

The film was a watershed moment for Fenech as an actress and a tricky assignment. After all, our weak-willed heroine takes almost no positive action throughout, even on her own behalf; perfectly happy to abdicate responsibility for her actions and let Airoldi deliver the blackmail payoff, even though it’s likely to be a dangerous task with a mad killer on the loose. She also needs constant validation from her relationships with men, and usually in a physical sense. There’s little attempt to address her character’s psychology or analyse her sexual needs, particularly concerning her violent relationship with Rassimov. This is showcased in another memorable flashback where the couple has sex in a blood-soaked bed filled with glass fragments from a broken wine bottle.

‘And they told me there was a wardrobe budget this time…’

It’s a challenging task to keep an audience onside with such a passive, flawed character, and it’s a testament to Fenech’s increasing skill as an actress that she remains sympathetic throughout. The poise and personality she displays is a marked improvement on her showing in previous roles. It proved a stepping stone to a remarkable cult film career that included starring roles in several notable Giallo films. She worked with Martino again on ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key’ (1972). Other examples were ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972) and ‘Strip Nude for Your Killer’ (1975). She also continued to appear in many sex comedies throughout the 1970s and early 1980s and eventually began a second career as a highly successful producer for Italian television.

The male members of the cast also deliver strong turns here, with all three principals displaying an economy of performance and quiet charisma that serves their characters and the story. Airoldi also makes something out of the ‘best friend’ who keeps her undies in the fridge; world-weary and carefree on the one hand, but also practical and loyal at heart. The scene where she is stalked at the payoff rendezvous is one of the film’s highlights; a tense and unsettling sequence where Martino’s camera deftly captures the isolation and vulnerability of the victim as she walks through the public grounds of Vienna’s famous Schönbrunn Palace.

‘Just because he forgot our anniversary last week….’

After the Giallo craze subsided, Martino carved out a long career in Italian cinema. He teamed with Fenech again for some of her sexy comedies, as well as delivering such cult titles as the controversial ‘Slave of the Cannibal God’ (1978), Dr Moreau knock-off ‘Island of the Fishmen’ (1979) and that glorious slab of sci-fi cheese ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983). Like Fenech, Hilton became primarily associated with the Giallo, appearing with her again in ‘All The Colours of the Dark (1972) and ‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ (1972). He also appeared in Martino’s ‘The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971), Tonino Valerii ‘My Dear Killer’ (1972), and Luigi Cozzi’s ‘The Killer Must Kill Again’ (1975).

As a side-note, if the spelling of the title character’s name seems a little odd, then it was allegedly because a woman approached producer Luciano Martino and asked that it be changed to spare her embarrassment! If this seems a little far-fetched, it isn’t easy to come up with an alternative explanation.

A highly accomplished, entertaining Giallo delivered by a fine cast and a talented director who displays a fine visual sensibility and storytelling prowess. Highly recommended.

The Kingdom of Fairies/Le Royaume des fées/The Kingdom of the Fairies/Fairyland; or, the Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)

When the king of a royal house announces the betrothal of his daughter to a handsome prince, an evil wizard appears and carries her off. The Prince sets off in pursuit, but his journey will lead him into danger and many strange lands…

Seventeen-minute fantasy epic from filmmaking pioneer Georges Méliès showcasing his artistic flair and groundbreaking work in the field of early visual effects. A combination of elaborate set design, trick photography and flamboyant flourishes combine to provide one of the key works in early fantasy cinema.

Prince Bel-Azor (Méliès) couldn’t be happier on the day of his engagement to Princess Azurine (Marguerite Thévenard), but his joy is short-lived. No sooner has her father proclaimed the engagement than a wizard appears at court, spitting curses. Méliès chases him off, but after Thévenard retires with her ladies-in-waiting, the miscreant reappears and summons a horde of demons to her bedchamber. They abduct her in a flying carriage, and the Prince and his followers organise a pursuit.

However, before our hero can sail away, the good fairy (Bleuette Bernon) appears, offering a blessing along with a helmet, sword, and shield. Unfortunately, the Prince’s ship is caught in a great storm and sinks with all hands. But all is not lost as the residents of Neptune’s undersea kingdom prove surprisingly helpful, sending our heroes on their way to their final confrontation with the wizard via a passing whale!

Georges Méliès was a successful illusionist and stage magician who was immediately captivated by the possibilities of film after attending a private demonstration by cinema pioneers the Lumière Brothers in December 1895. He formed his own company, Star Films and began production. For the most part, early efforts were recreations of the sorts of illusions he had performed on stage. However, on film, they featured multiple uses of jump-cuts. According to Méliès, he discovered this technique one day when filming in the street. He was shooting a carriage passing by when his camera jammed. By the time he got it working again, a hearse was moving through the shot. Watching the film back, it appeared that one had replaced the other.

Méliès found great success with his short ‘trick’ films, and he quickly began to indulge his artistic ambitions with more elaborate sets and costumes. He also turned to narrative filmmaking and reached the peak of his success with the iconic science-fiction adventure ‘A Trip To The Moon’ (1902). This film ran a whopping 14 minutes and was released in both black and white and a colour version where frames were hand-painted. These techniques and innovations remained in place for his journey into fairyland, and it’s pleasing to report that the results here are just as striking.

Although nowhere near as celebrated as his lunar expedition, this is Méliès at the top of his game. The story’s vents take place in multiple locations, and these sets exhibit incredible attention to detail and reflect the eccentric and unfettered imagination of their creator. The wizard’s castle and the bleak, rocky coastlines around it are probably the best examples. Yes, they are all clearly backdrops painted like theatrical scenery, but it’s their very artificiality that gives the film a sense of its own twisted reality and bucket loads of charm. Many filmmakers of the time tried to imitate the Frenchman’s signature style, but none came close.

Many stories arose in later years that Méliès died in poverty, a forgotten man, but the truth is not that simple. Star Films did go bankrupt around 1912 due to a combination of poor financial decisions by Méliès’ brother Gaston and a decline in the popularity of the studio’s films. Ironically, Méliès, the innovator, was unwilling to change his winning formula, and he found himself left behind by a quickly developing industry and changing public tastes. The death of his first wife in 1913 and the outbreak of the Great War in Europe the following year were devastating blows from which the filmmaker never recovered.

Méliès married again in 1925 to long-time mistress Jehanne D’Alcy who had appeared as his ‘Cleopatra’ (1899). He was working at her candy and toy stand at a Paris train station, and the family was in financial difficulty. However, contemporary filmmakers were beginning to rediscover his works, and he was gaining considerable recognition in that community. However, it was still a relief when financial security was guaranteed by permanent residence at the industry’s retirement home, La Maison de Retraite du Cinéma. In 1936, he became the first custodian of the Cinémathèque Française, which is now one of the world’s most extensive film and film memorabilia archives. Méliès died after a short illness in 1938. He told friends and colleagues just before the end: ‘Laugh, my friends. Laugh with me, laugh for me, because I dream your dreams.’

A captivating look at a unique talent who blazed an unforgettable trail through the early days of cinema.

Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)

‘We want live bodies for the Prince of Darkness, not shredded corpses.’

Four cheerleaders and their coach are on their way to a big high school game when their van breaks down. They accept a ride from the school janitor, but little do they know that he is a practising Satanist and responsible for their predicament in the first place…

Mismatched mash-up of high school comedy hi-jinks and devil worship from co-writer and director Greydon Clark. Some veteran Hollywood names stop by to help out and pick up a paycheque, while some fresh-faced young hopefuls take their first – and in most cases, last – steps towards stardom.

Sweet-tempered, naive cheerleading coach Ms Johnson (Jacqulin Cole) has her hands full with her squad of pom-pom pushers. They may only be a quartet, but Patti (Kelly Sherman), Chris (Hilary Horan), Debbie (Alisa Powell) and Sharon (Sherry Marks) like nothing better than to hang out with the local jocks and play pranks on a rival high school gang.

Hilarity ensues when the guys swap the signs on the playing field locker rooms and a touring dean and his wife walk in on our heroines in the shower! More tiresome PG shenanigans follow, including a fight with water balloons and the field covered in toilet rolls, all accompanied by a constant barrage of lightweight, funky workout music.

But, never fear; all is not what it seems. Bad-tempered, peeping tom janitor Billy (Jack Kruschen) is actually a card-carrying Satanist and member of a local cult. What’s more, he might be a bumbling figure of fun on campus, but he seems to have supernatural powers. Enough to make the girls’ van break down on the way to the big game, at least. Just happening by, of course, Kruschen gives them a lift, but their final destination turns out to be a Satanic altar in the middle of the woods, rather than the neighbouring town’s sporting facilities. Kruschen intends to have his way with the blonde Sherman before sacrificing her to his dark master, but things go south when he collapses amidst an onslaught of cheap camera FX.

Not sure exactly what happened, the women take off in Kruschen’s van and find old John Carradine picking up trash by the side of the highway. He sends them off to take refuge with local sheriff John Ireland and his wife, Yvonne de Carlo. Unsurprisingly, they turn out to be the leaders of the local devil cult, which includes everyone living roundabout, even a monk, played by Sydney’ son of Charlie’ Chaplin. Lucky then that Sharman turns out to be more powerful than the lot of them put together, although it’s never clear if she is a witch or possessed by the evil one himself. Whichever it is, we get a brilliantly ridiculous closing scene where Sharman delivers the best line in the picture with impeccable comic timing.

The real issue with the finished film is its wildly inconsistent tone. At times, it seems to be simply a lightweight comedy vehicle. It certainly starts that way; our pretty high school heroines thrown into a series of vaguely risque situations on campus, accompanied by well-signposted gags. There’s the inevitable mild nudity and sex thrown in for the trailer, and it’s all highly formulaic and predictable.

Then we get the Satanism. Clark’s script, co-written with Alvin L Fast, does poke similar fun at Ireland and his vaguely incompetent crew. This could have worked if the humour had been a little darker, but it’s about as far from black comedy as you can get. The other problem is that all this Satanism stuff is very real, and those sequences play entirely straight. There’s even a scene where Sherriff Ireland rapes coach Cole. We don’t see anything, of course, and, strangely enough, it is important to the plot, but it sits very uneasily with the movie’s earlier scenes.

On the other hand, it is surprisingly well made; the climactic horror scenes mainly well shot, making the audience wish that Clark had decided to cut the comedy and make a serious horror film. There’s also the pleasure of seeing some old Hollywood stalwarts on the screen again, particularly Carradine, who has a definite twinkle in his eye throughout his brief appearance. However, the no-name youngsters are not so successful, and only Sharman went onto a significant acting career. She played guest slots on hit network TV shows such as ‘Hawaii Five’O’, ‘Barnaby Jones’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ before grabbing a supporting role in hit cop comedy ’48 Hrs.’ (1982). Later on, she was a regular on the soap opera ‘Santa Barbara’ for three years.

Clark began his career as a screen actor in David L Hewitt’s infamous ‘The Mighty Gorga’ (1969), and he also appeared in films for exploitation filmmaker Al Adamson. He was quick to move behind the camera, though, directing ‘Mothers, Fathers and Lovers’ (1971), a film in which he acted alongside Cole, to whom he was married for many years. Hopping onto the science-fiction bandwagon in the late 1970s, he delivered probably his best film; ‘Without Warning’ (1980), which starred Martin Landau, Jack Palance, Cameron Mitchell and a pre-stardom David Caruso in a small role. The story of an alien on Earth for a hunting trip bears more than a slight resemblance to ‘Predator’ (1987), and giant actor Kevin Peter Hall plays the extraterrestrial in both films. Clark followed that with shabby ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977) rip-off ‘The Return’ (1980) with Landau, Cybill Shepherd and Raymond Burr, and he managed to continue to attract minor Hollywood’ names’ to subsequent projects. However, these films are poorly regarded.

If you can stick through the dreary first act, this horror-comedy has some fun moments, but the clash of tones is likely to promote general dissatisfaction.

A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin/Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (1971)

‘Carol, there were no red-haired hippies in the park today.’

The daughter of an eminent politician dreams of having a lesbian affair with her promiscuous next-door neighbour, eventually stabbing her to death in a final nightmare. Then the police find the woman killed in just such a way after a drug-fuelled orgy in her apartment…

High-quality Giallo from director Lucio Fulci, who was one of the first to exploit the opportunity created by the international success of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969). It was probably inevitable as he’d already delivered the excellent Giallo ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969) before Argento’s breakthrough hit. This project would prove to be another winner.

Carol Hammond (Florinda Bolkan) is a troubled woman and feels abandoned by the men in her life. Father Leo Genn is a prominent barrister whose time is taken up with his move into politics, and husband Frank (Jean Sorel) is also focused on his career. To make matters worse, she’s tormented by dreams of neighbour Julia (Anita Strindberg), a tall, statuesque blonde whose wild parties and uninhibited lifestyle have earned the disapproval of all the other residents of Belgravia Square.

Bolkan’s fantasies of lesbian sex with Strindberg progress into a vision of murder, but analyst Dr Kerr (George Rigaud) takes this as a sign that she has overcome her repressed desires. Unfortunately, police inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) is called to Strindberg’s apartment after she’s stabbed to death in precisely the same way. Bolkan’s fingerprints are on the weapon, but suspicion falls on other family members as Baker tries to solve the puzzle and apprehend the killer.

Fulci teamed with four other writers to thrash out the film’s complex screenplay, including Roberto Gianviti and José Luis Martínez Mollá, veterans of ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969). Nearly everyone becomes a viable murder suspect, including Sorel, who is playing away with Bolkan’s best friend Deborah (Silvia Monti) and his teenage daughter Joan (Ely Galleani), who may have read the notes Bolkan made about her dreams.

Matters are further complicated by two hippies; red-haired Hubert (Mike Kennedy) and knife-wielding artist Jenny (the excellent Penny Brown). They appeared as silent witnesses in Bolkan’s murder dream and seem to know more than they are telling about the night in question. After Bolkan is bailed and Baker comes to doubt her guilt, the investigation begins to focus on them, particularly after Kennedy pursues a frightened Bolkan into an empty church. This sequence is one of the film’s high points as our heroine takes refuge behind the pipe organ, gets attacked by bats and flees across the roof with Kennedy in hot pursuit. Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller assists with some wonderfully contrasting lighting here, with Bolkan as much in danger in the bright sunlight as when she’s hidden in deep shadow. The excellent use of the London locations is enhanced by another masterful score from composer Ennio Morricone.

There are some other memorable set-pieces too, and even the more commonplace scenes are delivered with genuine panache. The work of Fulci’s technical team is excellent throughout, but it’s the combination of Bolkan and Fulci that truly delivers. The combination of the director’s restless camera and off-kilter visuals married to Bolkan’s commitment to the role allow the audience a doorway into the living nightmare of a neurotic woman on the edge of collapse. Screen veterans Baker and Genn provide the necessary grounding, and there’s a nice contrast between Baker’s virile charisma and Genn’s sly wit. Sadly, Sorel can’t do much with the philandering Frank, and Monti is somewhat wasted, although, like Strindberg, her finest hour in the Giallo was yet to come.

The film is also notable for its escalation within the Giallo of both nudity and gore. Argento’s debut had bloodless for the most part, and genre pioneer Mario Bava had generally employed heavy restraint in such matters. Here, the stabbing in Bolkan’s dream is pretty explicit, and there’s a notorious scene involving some disembowelled dogs at the clinic where Bolkan is sent to rest. Animal lovers are likely to find this scene genuinely upsetting, and its presence in the narrative makes no sense at all. The effects were so flawlessly executed that SFX technician Carlo Rambaldi had to produce the canine props to defend Fulci over accusations of animal cruelty.

Fulci directed two more examples of the Giallo: ‘Don’t Torture A Duckling’ (1972) and ‘The Psychic’ (1978). The former starred Bolkan, and both were written in collaboration with Gianviti. However, his lasting fame rests on the series of horrors he delivered during the early days of the video home rental boom. In the United Kingdom, titles such as ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), ‘City of the Living Dead (1980), ‘The Beyond’ (1981) and ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) were targeted for heavy cuts and censorship during the ridiculous, media-created ‘Video Nasty’ circus. Kuveiller teamed with Fulci again on ‘The New York Ripper’ (1982) and was the cinematographer on Billy Wilder’s ‘Avanti!’ (1972) but it’s probably best celebrated for his work on Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red’ (1975).

Bolkan was a Brazilian actor who was playing leading roles soon after debuting in all-star hippie romp ‘Candy’ (1968) with Richard Burton and Marlon Brando. She acted opposite Peter Falk and Britt Ekland in ‘Machine Gun McCain’ (1969), with Franco Nero in ‘Detective Belli’ (1969) and in Luchino Visconti’s acclaimed production of ‘The Damned’ (1969). That same year she won an Italian Golden Globe for her role in ‘Metti, una sera a cena/Love Circle’ (1969) and starred in Elio Petri’s Oscar-winning ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970). More acclaim followed throughout the decade, but her career slowed in the 1980s. However, she remained active in the local industry, writing, directing and starring in the feature film ‘I Didn’t Know Tururu’ (2000). She has also spoken of an alleged affair with US President John F Kennedy.

Although he fails to make much of an impression here, Sorel was almost a permanent fixture in Giallo. His credits include ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), ‘A Rather Complicated Girl (1969), ‘One On Top of the Other/Perversion Story’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘Short Night of The Glass Dolls’ (1971), as well as finding time for a supporting role in Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-nominated ‘The Day of The Jackal’ (1973).

Baker had been a mainstay of British cinema since the 1950s after his breakthrough role in ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower RN’ (1951). His intense personality found the perfect showcase in ‘Zulu’ (1964), a film he also co-produced. He died far too young in 1976. Genn brought poise and dignity to many authority figures on the screen from the 1930s onwards and was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actor for ‘Quo Vadis’ (1952). He typically played Brigadiers, Generals, barristers and cabinet ministers over the years, but occasionally tackled something different, such as Starbuck in John Huston’s problematical ‘Moby Dick’ (1956).

An outstanding Giallo that brings together a complex, satisfying story with excellent filmmaking technique and a superb leading performance.