Fantomas/Fantômas (1964)

Fantomas (1964)Men Hunt Him Down…Women Look Him up!’

A tremendous jewel robbery is carried out by a thief disguised as a member of the English aristocracy. The press put the blame on a mysterious criminal named Fantômas gets a scoop by creating a fictional interview with the villain, but the real Fantômas is not impressed by his article…

The character of super villain and master of disguise, Fantômas was brought to life in a series of books by French authors Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain in 1911. Their work was such a runaway success that a series of five silent films followed, and there would probably have been more if not for the outbreak of the First World War. Amazingly, Gaumont Studios still held the rights to the character over half a century later and launched a new trilogy of films, bringing him firmly into the swinging 60s, via a technicolor world of secret agents, gadgets and beautiful girls.

Jean Marias is Fandor, an investigative journalist who senses a career opportunity when news of the jewel robbery breaks and Police Commissioner Juve (Louis de Funes) goes on TV to rubbish the notion of a master thief in their midst. With help from his photographer girlfriend Héléne (Mylene Demongeot), Marias creates some ‘fake news’ that gets the whole town talking and the real Fantômas (Marias, again) rather ticked off. It’s not long before the reporter finds himself in the villain’s hi-tech, underground lair with Demongeot trapped in a weird, trippy room next door that seems to be half real and half illusion.

At this point, it looks like we’re in for a real treat. Marias looks great as Fantômas in a bald, smooth-faced mask with devil ears, and his entry is accompanied by a little Lon Chaney on the pipe organ. The actor also creates a genuinely unsettling presence, hinting at his less than honourable intentions towards Demongeot with delicious glee. Unfortunately, the reporter manages to flag this up with jealous Lady Beltham (Marie-Hélene Arnaud), and she arranges for our heroic couple to escape. The character of Lady Beltham as the lover and partner in crime of Fantômas was integral to the novels but it’s peripheral here, and she never appears in the trilogy again. It may have been that there was an intention to develop a relationship between Fantômas and the Demongeot character, but, if so, it was never pursued.

But, more importantly, this is the moment where the film begins to slide seriously downhill. Within a short time, Fantômas is on the run and being pursued by Marias (as Fandor) and Demongeot, as well as de Funes and the forces of law and order. ln his flight, he utilises five different types of transport, which is a neat idea, but the chase is shot without any real dynamism or invention and soon begins to drag. As the film closes in on a finish, we realise that there is simply no story left and the audience is thrown back on the comic mugging of de Funes and some underwhelming action. Although it does have to be acknowledged that Marias obviously did his own stunts, including a leap from a moving train, which looks a fair way beyond the call of duty. The problem is that no real momentum is built, and the climax is almost non-existent.

It’s appropriate for the era when the film was made that director André Hunebelle ditches the serious approach of the character’s early days and aims for a more light-hearted, freewheeling approach, and it’s not the worst artistic decision ever made. However, it has done much to encourage the trilogy’s somewhat mixed reputation. This film does hit a fair balance between humour and action, but more of the latter would certainly have helped. Marias is excellent in both roles and it’s an interesting casting decision, perhaps prompted by the fact that the character’s true identity is never really established in the source material.

A decent slice of 1960s fun that runs out of steam around the end of the second act and never recovers. Marias is very good, but you just can’t help wishing he was in a much better film.

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Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)‘Keep your mind off monkey business, Tamba!’

Jungle Jim attends the coronation of a tribal chieftain and plans to go lion hunting afterwards. Meanwhile, an unscrupulous smuggler fans the flames of a native uprising to provide a diversion from his efforts to exploit a secret diamond mine…

The 13th, and last, of the ‘Jungle Jim’ series, featuring everyone’s favourite ex-Tarzan and Olympic swimming great Johnny Weismuller. But l thought there were 16 films, you cry in confusion and outrage! Well, yes, there kind of was. And, then again, there wasn’t. Legendary cash-conscious producer Sam Katzman lost the rights to use the character after this entry. But that didn’t stop him, of course! Rather than pay out any money, he just carried on for three more films, changing only one thing; the name of the main character. ‘Jungle Jim’ simply became ‘Johnny Weismuller.’ Yes, the King of the Jungle ended up playing himself!

This entry finds our rugged hero clashing with a mysterious, and dastardly, smuggler (just who is he?) This unseen villain has recruited renegade native Zulu (Paul Thompson, born in Chicago) to burn down a native village near the secret mine. French diamond merchant Leroux (Gregory Gaye) provides the necessary exposition: two of the three explorers who originally discovered the mine have already been killed in London while staking their claim, but the third is on the loose somewhere in the jungle. Weismuller gets the gig from Commissioner Kingston (Lester Matthews), teaming up with policeman Richard Stapley and doctor Karin Booth. Along with Tamba, the Talented Chimp, of course.

lt’s a difficult mission, to be sure, although their main challenge seems to be wading through yards upon yards of stock footage. Strangely enough, despite Katzman’s notorious penny-pinching, previous films hadn’t been filled to the brim with scratchy old shots from the local film library, but this entry more than makes up for this terrible omission. To begin with, we get an awful lot of the tribal coronation ceremony, including a preamble featuring plenty of canoe action on the river. There’s also a lot of inserts of wild animals (some African species, some not!) and a lengthy sequence of a village on fire and the burning jungle. Apparently, a lot of this footage was lifted from ‘Sanders of The River’ (1935). Perhaps it was on sale that week!

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)

The poster promised ‘Jungle Jim Against The Cannibals’. Well, you do get Jungle Jim. Cannibals? Um…not so much.

The plot is remarkable only for its sheer predictability. Weismuller gets to fight a stuffed lion when it threatens Chieftain’s son Bernie Hamilton. Later he wrestles a rubber croc in the river (a strangely familiar sequence). Stapley and Booth get the usual ‘goo-goo eyes’ for each other (they even agree to get married before the end of the film!) leaving Weismuller firmly out in the cold as usual.

Even Tamba gets some action in this one as he hooks up with a hot female chimp as the credits roll. lt hardly seems fair after he accidentally knocks Weismuller out with a flying rock in the middle of a fight sequence. Still, he does partly redeem himself by channelling Lassie for a ‘Timmy’s fallen down the well’ moment a bit later on. He also gets to sit on Wyler’s lap when he flies a plane! Whichever way you look at it, it should have been Tamba with his name above the title!

Stapley is better known as Richard Wyler; the name he used when playing Eurospy ‘Dick Smart 2.007’ (1967) and appearing in Jess Franco’s dreadful ‘Sumuru’ picture ‘The Girl From Rio’ (1969). He was also a novelist, theatrical impresario, motorcycle racer and a descendant of the man who signed the death warrant of the English King Charles the First! Matthews and Gaye had both appeared in earlier entry ‘Savage Mutiny’ (1953); Gaye as a Commie agent (he was a real Russian!) and Matthews as an army major. Strangely enough, Matthews had already played Commissioner Kingston in ‘Jungle Jim in The Forbidden Land’ (1951), so why he was given in a different name in ‘Savage Mutiny’ (1953) is a bit of a mystery. lt’s exactly the same part.

Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)

It was dress down Friday at the precinct…

Booth played dozens of uncredited bits, including a hat-check girl in ‘Holiday Inn’ (1942) before her big break in ‘The Unfinished Dance’ (1947) with Cyd Charisse. Sadly, it was all downhill after that via films like ‘The Cariboo Trail’ (1950), ‘Charge of the Lancers’ (1954) and kids sci-fi favourite ‘Tobor The Great’ (1954). Hamilton, on the other hand, became a household name over two decades later as the volatile boss of TV cops ‘Starsky and Hutch’.

This was director Lee Sholem’s first gig on the series, but not in the jungle. When Weismuller was sacked from the ‘Tarzan’ series in 1948, it was Sholem who was behind the mega phone for reboot ‘Tarzan’s Magic Fountain’ (1949) with Lex Barker and subsequent entry ‘Tarzan and the Slave Girl’ (1950). His subsequent career included ‘Superman and the Mole-Men’ (1951), ‘The Pharaoh’s Curse’ (1956) and a lot of TV work, mostly Westerns. Apparently, when working on the ‘Tarzan’ series, he attempted to persuade producer Sol Lesser to cast a young blonde as the new Jane, having her read for him multiple times. Lesser was unimpressed and refused. The girl’s name? Marilyn Monroe.

Without the goofier aspects that give some of the other entries in the series a certain entertainment value, this is a tired and listless venture, seemingly just assembled around the stock footage that was available at the time.

Man On The Spying Trapeze/Anonima De Asesinos (1966)

Man On The Spying Trapeze (1966)‘Would you like to show me around the local monuments?’

Foreign agents will stop at nothing to obtain a microfilm that contains secrets from a rocket laboratory. An American spy is sent to Rome to retrieve it after one of his colleagues is murdered, but he soon discovers that a super-villain is at work and there may be a traitor back at Headquarters…

Painfully boring Italian-German-Spanish Eurospy production with U.S. actor Wayde Preston taking his turn as week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ on the trail of an all-important microfilm that ‘must not fall into the wrong hands.’ Unfortunately for the audience, his mission mostly involves wandering about the streets of Rome and Beirut, getting waylaid every now and then by one gang of faceless henchmen after another. The inevitable fisticuffs follow. Who are all these goons? Well, I kind of lost track if l’m honest. And it wasn’t really because of a labyrinthine plot rammed full of surprising twists and turns, either. It was more to do with the problem I was having staying awake.

At the start of the film, we join Preston already on the job in predictable super-spy fashion; lounging around in bed with a luscious brunette called Lolita. There’s a knock on the door. It’s the police. ‘How old are you?’ he asks the girl in a sudden panic. Oh dear. It’s not exactly the most auspicious introduction to our handsome hero, but it is awfully 1960s, ain’t it?! The early morning call actually turns out to be a summons from his boss (Reinhard Kolldehoff) to take the case. There’s been a botched robbery at the rocket lab down the road, and one of the enemy agents was found with a microfilm camera hidden in his false teeth. Enjoy this while you can, because it’s pretty much the only gadget the film has to offer!

Man On The Spying Trapeze (1966)

Blink-182: The Wilderness Years

Preston enjoys better luck on the female front, with his first contact in Rome being exotic dancer Yasmine (Pamela Tudor). Then he chats up sexy blonde Lyda (Lisa Halvorsen) on his flight to Beirut, although she does have a photograph of him in her handbag, which is a little suspicious considering they’ve only just met.

Back in Rome, there’s nosey hotel maid Fawzia (Kai Fischer) as well as the forgetful Solange (Helga Sommerfield), who really needs a lesson in how to behave in one of these films. You’re not supposed to leave your handbag in the hero’s hotel room, you’re supposed to be waiting in the shower for him, having ‘accidentally’ walked into the wrong room! All of them (unsurprisingly) turn out to be heavily involved in the intrigue on one side or the other. There’s also a man with a moustache hiding behind a magazine in the hotel lobby; his mission seemingly to leave no cliché unturned.

One of the few discussion points to arise from this dreary sequence of events is to reflect on Preston’s performance as an agent. Ok, so he’s good in a fist fight but why doesn’t he ever interrogate any of his defeated opponents afterwards? Why does he just leave them where they fall, presumably to take up their evil mission again? Why do most of the women he meets end up getting shot or pushed out of a window? Why does his boss have to screen a film to show him that he’s been followed on the street? Shouldn’t he have noticed that himself? It wasn’t exactly subtle! And why does he fail to finish off the main villain when he incapacitates him at the climax? He has plenty of opportunity to do so, but just doesn’t bother, and gets a bullet in the shoulder because of it! ln short, he’s so incompetent that it’s almost as if the film was originally written as a spoof!

Man On The Spying Trapeze (1966)

Recruitment to the X-Force had taken a turn for the worse…

If there were comedic intentions here, they were lost along the way, although the film certainly doesn’t take itself all that seriously. Strangely enough, the plot (such as it is) often resembles more of a straight cold war thriller than a ‘Bond’ knock-off, with the protagonists playing games of bluff and double bluff solely for the reason of hiding their true objectives.

Preston was briefly a U.S. TV star in the late 1950s. taking the title role of Christopher Colt in three seasons of the Western show ‘Colt .45’, a spinoff from his guest appearances on the more successful ‘Tenderfoot’. Sommerfield turned up opposite Margaret Lee in the similar ‘Spy Pit’ (1967) and Fischer tackled the ‘Maneater of Hydra’ (1967) along with a hilariously OTT Cameron Mitchell.

These are lifeless spy cuffuffles that never burst into any semblance of life. Some small entertainment value comes from the convoluted dialogue of the English dub track, but that’s not really a sufficient reason to waste 90 minutes of your life.

Wizards (1977)

Wizards (1977)‘This has been the biggest bummer of a trip.’

Millions of years after the nuclear holocaust, the world has been reclaimed by the fairies and the other true ancestors of man. Science and technology have been outlawed in favour of magic, but a warlord aims to unleash ancient weapons of war in a mad bid for conquest…

Ground breaking animator Ralph Bakshi came to public notice with his controversial feature ‘Fritz the Cat’ (1973), which was based on the work of notorious satirist Robert Crumb. Its mixture of sex, drug use and revolutionary politics was a far cry from the family friendly ‘Disney-esque’ cartoons which had dominated the medium for more than 50 years. Bakshi’s film became a huge hit and is still the most successful independently produced animated feature of all time. Further releases, such as ‘Heavy Traffic’ (1973) also did well at the box-office before the maverick animator turned to his attention to the world of fantasy and science-fiction.

Taking obvious inspiration from the works of J R R Tolkien, what we have here at its core is the familiar notion of a quest. Our good guys are led by wizard Avatar, who pits himself against his evil brother, Blackwolf. This villain has recruited an army of mutants from the Dark Land of Scorch and whipped them into a frenzied fighting force using his ‘dream machine.’ This technological remnant of the old world turns out to be nothing more than a film projector that shows footage of Hitler and the Nuremburg rallies. These seem sufficient to ensure victory in battle, so Avatar sets out to destroy the machine, along with Elinor, the Queen of the Fairies, fighting elf Weehawk and reformed assassin Necron 99.

Wizards (1977)

🎵Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style…Gangham style🎶

Viewed today, this is a rather flawed project, with some of its oddities almost certainly caused by budgetary issues. The narrative rambles and jumps and the pacing is odd to say the least. Some incidents are told at a length that suggests they are taking place in a film a good deal longer than its 80 minutes, while others are rushed through by VoiceOver Woman and are accompanied by still frames of the action.

Additionally, the battle scenes are rendered by taking clips from live-action features, such as Eisenstein’s ‘Alexander Nevsky’ (1938) and animating the footage using the rotoscoping process. Some of this is both technically and visually impressive, but it does create a patchwork feel that, at times, makes the film seem half-finished and more than a little jumbled.

There are also a surprising amount of ‘adult’ themes on show, considering this was supposed to be targeted towards a family audience. For a start, the Nazi-symbolism is front and centre; Blackwolf sits on a throne in the middle of a large swastika, one of his minions tears pieces from an animal’s corpse marked with the Star of David, and the Hitler films play at some length. There’s also a trio of animated mutant prostitutes, Queen Elinor is semi-naked throughout, and there’s some religious satire with two monks smacking themselves in naked places with planks of wood. Subsequently, Bakshi stated that the film did have a political agenda as he was concerned about the rise of fascism, which is all very laudable, of course. But it’s not exactly the Little Mermaid, is it?

George Lucas was a big fan of Bakshi’s work and provided some technical resources to help get the film finished when 20th Century Fox refused to increase the budget. He also gave Mark Hamill the day off from ‘Star Wars’ (1977) for a brief appearance, ironically providing the actor with a start in voice work, a medium that became a major source of employment for him later in his career. There was another crossover too; money restrictions that meant Bakshi could only afford to animate the creatures his heroes ride with two legs instead of four. Apparently, this gave Lucas the inspiration to create the Tauntaun that Hamill rides on the ice world Hoth in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980).

Wizards (1977)

Avatar’s cuckoo clock had a serious case of halitosis…

Technically, the film holds up well all these years later. The sound design is good and the backgrounds show real imagination and flair, even if the main characters are not rendered with the levels of detail that current audiences have come to expect. The story does feel seriously underdeveloped, though, with the second act particularly weak. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Bakshi had far more of his world to show us, and more of this tale to tell. The animator tackled Tolkien for real with his next project; an ambitious feature adaptation of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ (1978).

Although not wholly successful as an example of storytelling, the film was a financial success and has developed a cult following in subsequent years. lt’s also an important milestone in the history of the medium, sharing some of the same DNA as the ‘Japanimation’ movement which eventually led to anime. Bakshi was still talking about a sequel as recently as 2015.

Worth catching, but probably only if you’re a fan of animation.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1950)

The Fall of The House of Usher (1950)‘Prepare yourself for a great shock, as the sight you are about to see is unutterably evil…’

The last two members of the Usher family are dying of a strange, wasting disease. One of them reaches out to an old friend, but his arrival only triggers further horrors…

The existence of an independent, British horror made between the end of the Second World War and the sudden arrival of Hammer Studios in all their Eastmancolor glory in 1956, is rather unusual. Especially given that the genre itself was mostly represented on the big screen at the time by the twin threat of US comedians Abbott and Costello. And that’s not the only odd thing about this shoestring production mounted by the G.I.B. Studios of Hastings, East Sussex, England.

To be fair, it’s easy to see why Poe’s classic tale would appeal to filmmakers with limited resources at their disposal. After all, the story does not call for any great technical challenges beyond the destructive climax, and there are (usually) just three principal roles; Roderick Usher, his sister Madeline and the nameless narrator who doubles as the notional hero. However, there is one major problem. Poe’s work is long on atmosphere, but short on actual events. There are ways to overcome this, of course, but they’re unlikely to be at the fingertips of most movie producers. On the one hand, you can cast a magnetic leading man at the top of his game, like Vincent Price in Roger Corman’s 1960 version, or you could employ a visionary director who combines a triumphant visual style with amazing production design to create a silent masterpiece like Jean Epstein’s breath-taking version from 1928. But, unsurprisingly, that quality of talent wasn’t available in East Sussex in post-war Britain.

The Fall of The House of Usher (1950)

The temple in the woods had always been hard to find…

The other solution is to expand the story, of course; bring in new plot elements and characters to create more conflict and substance. That’s what screenwriters Dorothy Catt and Kenneth Thompson do here, but what they came up with was a long way removed from Poe. We open with a five-minute framing sequence set in a gentleman’s club. Being 1950, we’re talking about a group of old duffers sitting around in comfortable armchairs rather than exotic dancers and vodka shots.

The talk turns to horror stories and old one fogey confesses himself a big fan of Poe because ‘you’re never quite sure what happens in the end’ which seems to be a bit of an odd thing to say. He further shows himself rather unfamiliar with the title story when he says it concerns ‘the strange wanderings of the Lady Madeline in the woods at night’ but he reads it to the assembled company anyway. This framing device may have been a way to pad the scant 70-minute running time, of course, and it could also be here to provide the audience with a sense of separation from the horrors they are about to witness. After all, now they know that it’s only a story.

Roderick Usher (Kaye Tendeter) has become super-sensitive to sensory stimuli as his health declines, along with that of his sister Madeline (Gwen Watford). In desperation, he summons boyhood friend Jonathan (Irving Steen) by letter but finds himself blindsided by revelations delivered by family physician Dr Caldwell (Vernon Charles). It turns out that their mysterious illness is the result of a curse laid by a man murdered by their father many years before. This deed took place in a secret temple out in the woods to the south of the house. It’s only about a five-minute walk from the house, but no-one, apart from the Doctor, seems to know anything about it. As well as it’s apparent ‘cloaking’ ability, it also comes complete with its’ own torture chamber! Why I couldn’t tell you. Without entering any further into spoiler territory, subsequent revelations are extremely silly, and more likely to provoke laughter rather than chills. Apparently, the Doctor’s known about all this for years and years, and never mentioned it to Roderick before, despite the fact that he and his sister are about to turn 30, which means they will die from the curse. Not much of a family friend, if you ask me.

The Fall of The House of Usher (1950)

The Lady Madeline always fancied a nightcap…

There are significant problems with pacing and structure too. Despite being at the house for several days, Steen disappears for long stretches of the narrative, never meets Watford before her apparent death, and never interacts meaningfully with Charles. Understandable if Watford was tucked up in bed because of illness (as in the original story) but she seems fighting fit rather than anything else. There’s also a heavy emphasis on her night-time drink, which suggests she is being slowly poisoned, but this is never followed up in any way.

The ending is also hopelessly muddled; is Watford’s resurrection supernatural, or was she buried alive? ls it the result of the family curse, or Tendeter’s guilty conscience at work? ls he mad, or just a terrible shot with a pistol? The film never tells us, instead cutting back to the gentleman’s club for the wrap-up, where its occupants speculate about the climax. And that’s when suspicion begins to dawn…especially given the earlier assertion that with Poe ‘you’re never quite sure what happens in the end’. ls this actually an unfinished film with the framing device added at a later date, both to bring it up to feature length and to try and tie together the mismatched pieces of the story? It’s definitely a possibility.

lvan Barnett did double duty as director and photographer here, and his shot-choice is sometimes quite good. He also fashions a fine, if brief, sequence where we see the movement of a clock pendulum cut together with shots of a nail being hammered into a coffin lid. He only ever made one more film; the highly obscure ‘Robbery With Violence’ (1958). Of the cast, the 23-year-old Watford (billed as ’Gwendoline’) went onto great success on the stage and on British television, particularly for the BBC. In complete contrast, none of the other players have any other acting credits at all! Either in film or television. Unfortunately, this is quite understandable, with principals Tendeter and Charles often being particularly wooden with their line delivery. Also, everyone’s accent is terribly, terribly British, which only heightens the phoney, rather amateurish nature of the proceedings.

And there’s one more problem. In Poe’s original story, the house itself is a character; a malevolent, creeping influence which provokes an ‘insufferable gloom’ with its ‘bleak walls’ and ‘vacant eye-like windows.’ The interior décor includes ‘the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode…’ Not surprisingly, G.l.B. Films of Hastings, East Sussex had nothing like that available, and the Usher residence shown here is little more than a commonplace English manor house, complete with narrow corridors, low ceilings and (mostly) small rooms. Obviously, this was unavoidable, but it certainly doesn’t help.

A weak adaptation then; of more interest for its existence in the first place, than for anything that the filmmakers were able to realise. On the other hand, Poe completists should certainly check it out.

Unheim Liche Geschichten/Eerie Tales/Uncanny Tales (1919)

Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)‘His mount is well beyond repair/We will rest him in this chair.’

An antiquarian bookseller is terrorised by ghostly incarnations of the devil, death and a prostitute after his store closes. The three spirits browse through his book collection and entertain each other with gruesome stories from the dusty old volumes…

Things go bump in the night in this compendium of five supernatural tales from German silent movie director Richard Oswald. The framing device finds us in the company of an old bookseller, who does a runner after the three paintings in his store come to life. It’s a sound decision, both for the character and the audience. Obviously, styles of acting have changed considerably in the last century, but this unidentified player delivers a truly demented turn, hopping around the set and gesticulating wildly like a giant frog having some kind of medical episode. But maybe it’s understandable when you consider that the invading spirits include Satan (Conrad Veidt) and the Grim Reaper (Reinhold Schunzel), although their presence on his walls does make you wonder about his choice of interior decorator in the first place.

Curiously the third member of this infernal trio is Anita Berber, a ‘woman of the night’ who is decked out in almost as much heavy eye-makeup as her two male colleagues. The fact that a sex worker apparently occupies the same moral ground as Death and the Devil is an interesting notion. ln fact, there’s a surprisingly unpleasant, misogynistic undertone to the proceedings here, which suggests that director Oswald may have had a few personal issues to work through.

There are five spooky tales in all, each clocking in at around 20 minutes, and with the principal roles in each taken by our star trio. The opening story is Anselma Heine’s ‘The Apparition’, which has Veidt and Berber meeting for the first time in a park as she flees abusive ex-husband Schunzel. This is followed by screenwriter Robert Liebmann’s ‘The Hand’, which features another romance that ends in murder. These are odd choices to open the film, being the two segments that most emphasise the project’s general shortcomings and deficiencies. Citing the period when the film was made is a reasonable argument to explain the static camera and stagey set-ups, of course, but other German films of the time demonstrated a far better grasp of cinematic grammar than Oswald is able to achieve here. As a result, the first half of the picture is frustrating, particularly given the potential of Veidt’s magnetic presence. lt’s also worth mentioning that audiences of the time may have found ‘The Apparition’ a little confusing.

Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)

‘…and you should put the Chinese Crystal Tree of Life right here…

Thankfully, things do improve. Next up is Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat.’ This time, Schunzel is the drunken husband who kills wife Berber in a rage after Veidt’s family friend makes advances in her direction. Beyond those minor details, it’s a faithful adaptation, although Schunzel’s take on the killer seems a little muddled. Is he genuinely sorry after the murder, or just afraid of getting caught? His subsequent boasting in the cellar when he thinks he’s got away with it also seems like a sudden switch.

The best story is next; a rather loose adaptation of ‘Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, more commonly known as ‘The Suicide Club’; the title of the story cycle in which it belongs. This provides an opportunity both for production designer Julius Hahlo and for Veidt, who gives a restrained, suave performance as the Club President, much in the manner of Stevenson’s original creation. Otherwise, the story deviates wildly from the original source, crowbarring in a role for Berber and having Club members die by some odd, electronic contraption rather than kill each other at the turn of a card.

The final tale is an original of Oswald’s own invention; a lightweight concoction called ‘The Spectre’ in which Viedt teaches Schunzel a lesson after he gets fresh with his wife, played by Berber. This is a period piece and is most notable for the fact that the dialogue (and intertitles) are delivered in rhyming couplets! Thematically, it’s completely at odds with what’s gone before, but was probably intended to give the audience some relief and send them out of the theatre with a smile on their faces. Unfortunately, it was likely too little too late.

Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)

Peter, Paul & Mary’s new look was the talk of all the coffeehouses…

This is a very uneven collection of tales that would have benefitted greatly from either the kind of technical innovations being pioneered by other German filmmakers of the time, such as cameraman Karl Freund, or the more vigorous, energetic style of a director like Fritz Lang. Yes, there are some close-ups of the principals shot against black backgrounds, but this one effective stylistic touch cannot hope to carry the whole film.

There are also problems with the script, principally the restrictions imposed by featuring all three leading players prominently in each story. With the exception of ‘The Suicide Club’, this results in a heavy focus on ‘love triangles’ with either Veidt or Schunzel trying to steal Berber from the other. And here’s where our leading lady gets no favours from Oswald, who presumably scripted. In ‘The Apparition’ she’s the cause of Veidt’s mental and physical collapse. In ‘The Hand’ she strings both men along until one murders the other, and in ‘The Spectre’ she gets her head easily turned by blow-hard Schunzel which leads her to neglect her wifely duties. Even in ‘The Black Cat’ when it’s Veidt who aggressively pursues her, she’s the one who ends up murdered and bricked up in the basement! Serves her right for being an attractive young woman, I suppose! Oswald never paints her as an actively evil character, but it’s always her presence and faithless nature that is the catalyst for the men’s descent into sin and damnation. lt’s Adam and Eve in the garden all over again.

Oswald actually remade the film in 1932, making the sensible decision to cut the weaker stories, retaining only ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Suicide Club’. To those he added another Poe tale ‘The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether and had ‘Golem’ star Paul Wegener replace Veidt as the lead.

This is a minor footnote in German supernatural cinema of the silent era, which betrays no evidence of the creativity of the expressionist movement, but does exhibit some rather worrying attitudes towards women.

Full Moon of the Virgins/The Devil’s Wedding Night/ll Pleniluno Delle Vergini (1973)

Full Moon of the Virgins (1973)‘Do your architectural investigations always begin with an inspection of ancient crypts, Mr Schiller?’

An amateur archaeologist tracks down the location of a supernatural ring to Dracula’s castle, but his irresponsible twin brother sets out to reach it first. When he arrives, he finds the estate owned by a beautiful Countess, but it turns out that she remains immortal by bathing in the blood of seven virgins every 30 years…

Somewhat underpowered Euro-Horror from director Luigi Batzella (credited as Paolo Solvay) which looks pretty good but lacks both a compelling plot and interesting characters. The story focuses on twins Karl and Franz Schiller (Mark Damon), one a serious academic, the other a suave ‘man about town’ who already looks a bit like a vampire with his black cloak and pale complexion. Karl has been hitting the (dusty) books and has tracked down the legendary ring that was the subject of Wagner’s famous music cycle. Apparently, it originally arrived on Earth as part of a meteorite and has been in the possession of every famous warlord in history; Atilla the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, among others. And now it’s fetched up at Castle Dracula. How he knows all this is a bit of a mystery, but, you know…books!

Anyway, Franz fancies a bit of this as the ring endows the owner with unearthly and superhuman powers, so he hotfoots it for the Carpathians with the hapless Karl in eventual pursuit. Franz gets the usual cold shoulder when he mentions ‘Castle Dracula’ at the local inn, but things seem to be looking up when he finds the Castle in the possession of the Countess De Vries (the luminous Rosalba Neri) who asks him to stay for a dinner that may include her for desert. Vampires! A supernatural ring! Rosalba Neri! It’s enough to make any cult movie fan start having palpitations!

Unfortunately, what the film delivers is a rather lacklustre remake of the opening chapters of Bram Stoker’s original novel followed by an underwhelming climax. Franz is just a stand in for solicitor Jonathan Harker; finding himself locked in his room at the castle, climbing out the window, creeping down cobwebbed passages, finding coffins in the crypt and stumbling across a vampire bride. Eventually, he’s attacked by some psychedelic visuals (as well as Neri, which was probably a lot more fun) and it’s up to ‘good twin’ Karl to try and save the day. This is all fine as far as it goes but the pace is very slow and the final action isn’t helped by some truly dreadful SFX, which would have been best left on the cutting room floor.

Full Moon of the Virgins (1973)

‘Excuse me, but do you know the way to Castle Dracula?’

As per most Euro-horrors of the period, the castle is appropriately gothic and there’s rich colour cinematography from Aristide Massaccesi (later to direct dozens of exploitation pictures under many aliases, the best known being Joe D’Amato). Neri looks as amazing as ever and her performance is perfectly adequate but it lacks the spark of her best work. Perhaps she was getting a little tired of the generic roles coming her way at the time.

But the main problem here is the script, which is credited to three separate authors. After the first act, the story never really develops, becoming simply a series of predictable events padded out with occasional trippy visuals and a smattering of nudity and gore, including Neri writhing about naked in a bath of blood (which is nice). Even at less than 90 minutes, proceedings seem remorselessly padded.

Damon retired from acting in 1997 but was far better known as producer by then anyway. Beginning in the 1970s, he began hitting his stride with family science fiction pictures in the following decade, including ‘The NeverEnding Story’ (1984), ‘Short Circuit’ (1986) and ‘Flight of The Navigator’ (1986). Since then his name has been attached to a variety of projects; everything from the tame erotica of ‘Wild Orchid’ (1989) to hopeless horror ‘Feardotcom’ (2002) to real-life drama ‘Monster’ (2003), which snagged an Oscar for Charlize Theron.

So, is the film just an excuse to see some tried and trusted horror tropes spiced up with a little bit of blood and some beautiful women with no clothes on? Yes, of course, it is. But it’s not really anything more.