The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The Wizard of Oz (1925)‘That’s a lot of applesauce!’

On her 18th birthday, farm girl Dorothy discovers that she is the lost princess of Oz, abandoned as a baby. Unfortunately, her kingdom is in the hands of an unscrupulous Prime Minister and his lackeys, who will stop at nothing to hang on to power.

If this silent version of L. Frank Baum’s classic fantasy were released today, it would no doubt be described as a ’reimagining’ of the tale, as, despite Baum’s co-writing credit, it has almost nothing to do with him and almost everything to do with Larry Semon. He was a movie comedian, whose clowning in a series of short films was so popular that, in the early 1920s, he was a serious rival to Charlie Chaplin. By 1925, the star was confident enough to branch out into features, and to take on the role of writer, director and star for his first attempt.

While it’s no surprise that Semon tailored the material to his own slapstick persona, it is remarkable that he throws out almost everything from the popular stories. To begin with Oz doesn’t appear to be a magical land at all, appearing more like a neighbouring foreign kingdom of some sort, just a short bi-plane ride from the Kansas farm where Dorothy (Dorothy Dwan) lives with her aunt and uncle. She’s being favoured with romantic attentions from both farmhand Oliver Hardy (yes, that Oliver Hardy!) and a wacky itinerant drifter played by Semon. Also home on the range is Spencer Bell, who is introduced sitting in a watermelon patch eating a slice of the fruit, because he’s a black man, right? Through various awkward plot machinations, the trio are obliged to disguise themselves as the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, and there’s no prizes for guessing who gets to play the king of beasts.

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

Duran Duran’s new album cover was a bold choice…

Apparently, this is little more than a compilation of Semon’s most popular gags from his short films. There’s no real effort at establishing characters and the humour is of the basic ‘banana skin’ variety that inexperienced audiences tend to associate with silent cinema. Even the Wizard is reduced to a peripheral character, who is exposed as a cheap confidence trickster anyway. Predictably fans of the books weren’t keen on Semon’s take, and even his fanbase wasn’t impressed. The film bombed and killed his career.

Just before the movie hit theatres, Semon married co-star Dwan (born Dorothy lllgenfritz), despite a 17-year age difference. Happiness did not follow. The flop left Semon almost penniless, and his life spiralled out of control, taking in a severe nervous breakdown before his death at the age of only 39 in 1928. However, the circumstances of his demise were somewhat mysterious, and some believed he faked his own death to escape his creditors.

Considering the failure of Baum’s own trio of film adaptations less than a decade before, it’s interesting to speculate what drew Semon to the material in the first place. True, he had some common ground with Baum, both of them were reckless spendthrifts who blew fortunes, but Baum always bounced back from his various bankruptcies while Semon was not so capable. It took until MGM’s Judy Garland version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) for someone to successfully adapt Baum’s work and get a return on their investment. Yes, despite what you may have heard to the contrary, it did not bellyflop on its initial release at all. On the contrary, it did decent, if unspectacular, box office and won 2 Oscars. Of course, it was subsequent re-runs on TV that elevated it to the classic status it enjoys today, but it was not originally the financial disaster that many commonly believe.

Baum’s own ‘Oz’ films may have been a little crude and unsuccessful but they exhibited a level of creativity and imagination that is sorely lacking from this adaptation. One for the curious only.

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Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)‘Cosmonauts and dreamers say that apple trees will be in flower on Mars.’

The first manned mission to Mars is just weeks away when strange signals are received from the planet Centuria, promising first contact with an alien civilisation. A space craft is detected entering the galaxy, but then crashes on Mars. The scheduled exploration flight becomes a rescue mission…

Serious Science Fiction speculation from the Eastern Bloc is always welcome, although this intergalactic effort from directors Mikhail Karzhukov and Otar Koberidze (who also appears as Cosmonaut Batallo) is rather more undistinguished than most. The film opens with our old friend VoiceOver Man, who gives us the usual song and dance about the immensity of the universe over the usual models of planets and stars. Then we switch abruptly to footage of chiselled young men water-skiing, diving and yachting. It’s a strange and sudden shift, but VoiceOver Man is quick to explain. These are the pioneers of the new frontier; cosmonauts in training, who inhabit the special scientific community behind the Mars expedition.

We focus on dreamer Andrei (Boris Borisenko) and his true love Tanya (Larisa Gordeichik), who is impatient for him to show her his new invention; a tiny ‘crystalphone’ which he uses to broadcast a song to the universe. Never mind that it’s a terrible dirge, it catches the ear of alien woman Etanyia (T. Pochepa) on Centuria and prompts her to come visit (maybe she’s a fan of heroic Soviet vocalising!?) But her jaunt ends in disaster and, back on Earth, there’s a difference of opinion in how to deal with the situation. Crusty old Dr Laungton (Nitolay Volkov) is suspicious of the alien’s motives, and advocates a ‘hands off’ approach, but the younger Cosmonauts shout him down and Gordeichik and Borisenko become part of a rescue team, along with Koberidze and the humourless Commander (Petter Kard).

So we’re Mars-bound on spacecraft the ‘Ocean’ for a mission of mercy. And here’s where we encounter one of the film’s major flaws. We are given no backstory on any of our main characters and no effort is made to get us invested in them. Even the love story between Gordeichik and Borisenko is placed so completely in the background as to be invisible, although it does surface again in the film’s final minutes. As a result, the film lacks any dramatic tension, and becomes admirable only for its technical achievements. These include some interesting, if dated, production design and spacecraft miniatures and SFX which are very good for the era when the film was made.

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)

The ‘Drive-In’ had made a triumphant comeback…

The film’s ending is also unfortunate. It uses footage we’ve seen earlier and could justifiably be described as rather a large cop-out. It’s a pity too, as Gordeichik begins to shine in the final act, providing some of the genuine human drama that has been lacking throughout. There’s also an awful lot of VoiceOver Man throughout the proceedings, and his role is part of the original release, rather than being added on with an English dub track by an interfering US distributor.

Given the expository commentary, the abrupt non-climax and a brief running time of 64 minutes, it’s tempting to classify this as an unfinished project, perhaps plagued by financial problems and stitched together as best as could be managed. If it were an American film, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that, but I have no idea how films were funded in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Although, even if the project were state supported, it’s unlikely that the filmmakers were given endless resources.

The SFX did make it to Western screens, being bought up by producer Roger Corman to feature heavily in ‘Queen of Blood’ (1966). This vampire/alien mash-up starred an elderly Basil Rathbone in one of his last roles, along with young guns John Saxon and Dennis Hopper! Karzhukov and Koberidze received a writing credit for the film, even though beyond the central concept of rescuing an alien woman from her disabled spaceship, the two stories have almost nothing in common. It wasn’t the first time that Corman had cannibalised Karzhukov’s work either, he’d put the SFX from ‘The Sky Calls’ (1958) front and centre in patchwork job ‘Battle Beyond The Sun’ (1960), an early directorial credit for Francis Ford Coppola.

A disappointing effort. It has decent SFX, but little else to engage an audience.

The Lost Tribe (1949)

The Lost Tribe (1949)‘The talking drums of your friends carry far, even to Dzamm.’

Jungle Jim rescues a mysterious princess from some hungry lions and two white men with guns. The hunters are part of a criminal group who are trying to pinpoint the location of the lost city where she lives. Having heard of Jim’s reputation, she has come to ask for his help… .

When MGM finally brought down the curtain on Johnny Weismuller’s almost 20 year run as the ‘King of the Jungle’, a step out of the Hollywood spotlight must have seemed likely. After all, an extraordinary athlete doesn’t necessarily make for an extraordinary actor. However, the big man had just divorced Wife no.3 and immediately married no.4, so, in all probability, there were bills to be paid. What was a poor boy to do? Simply nip behind a bush in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, swap the loincloth for a safari suit and — ta-da! —Tarzan became Jungle Jim.

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘Not diamonds again! Haven’t you got anything else?

It shouldn’t have been that easy, of course. Jungle Jim began life as a comic strip created by Don Moore and Alex Raymond (the illustrator behind ‘Flash Gordon’). Jim was a hunter based in Southeast Asia, rather than Africa, had a native sidekick named Kolu and often tangled with femme fatale Lille DeVrille. Not surprisingly all that was binned for the Columbia series. Instead, Jim was simply a middle-aged Tarzan, saddled with pet crow Caw-Caw and adorable pooch Skipper, whose continual survival in the jungle was a greater mystery than anything the movies had to offer.

This time around, Weismuller is recruited by pretty Elena Verdugo to protect Dzamm, yet another of the seemingly endless number of ‘lost cities’ hidden in the depths of the African jungle. As per usual, this forgotten civilisation is simply dripping with fabulous diamonds and some dodgy types who rarely shave are after the baubles. The gang is led by Calhoun (Joseph Vitale) who runs the local trading post and Captain Rawlins (Ralph Dunn) whose ship lies offshore. What doesn’t help is that the son of the city’s Head Man, Chot (Paul Marion), has been breaking tribal law to visit the post because he has a thing for Calhoun’s niece, hard-bitten femme fatale Norina (Myrna Dell). What follows are the usual shenanigans for this type of picture, including exotic beasts appearing courtesy of reams of grainy stock footage, and a cast who speak almost entirely in that awkward language called plot exposition.

This was only the second film in the series produced by the legendary Sam Katzman, and that perhaps accounts for the fact that it’s a little better than most of the later entries. For a start, there’s a fair amount of action. Weismuller takes to the water quite often; fighting both an unconvincing crocodile to save Skipper the indestructible dog and a shark that appears courtesy of a no doubt reasonably priced film library. He also wrestles with a less than energetic lion, who seems rather more enthusiastic when our hero is replaced by his stunt double. Actually, that was a risky job; reportedly one of Weismuller’s stand-ins died when performing a clifftop dive on ‘Tarzan and the Mermaids‘ (1948).

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘No thanks, love, I’m already on wife number four…’

The big man also gets to flex his acting muscles when he resists Dell’s womanly wiles, but it’s fair to say they do appear to be a little out of condition. Dell falls for him anyway, tries to help him escape and ends up on the wrong end of her uncle’s knife instead. All this is rushed through in about five minutes flat and, given that the under-used Dell is second-billed, it seems likely that some scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

We also meet Simba the Gorilla (inevitably played by Ray ‘Crash’ Corrigan in his own monkey suit), who brings some hairy buddies along for the surprisingly energetic, if rather ridiculous, climax. It was probably unconscious but these closing action scenes do provide a faint echo of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who introduced some very silly elements into his later ‘Tarzan’ books, and believe me, some of those were very silly indeed.

Verdugo was of Spanish extraction and spent most of her career playing dancers and various exotic types in b-pictures, mostly for Universal, the highlight being when she shot Lon Chaney Jr with a silver bullet in ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944). But the studio wouldn’t sign her to a permanent contact because of her refusal to diet, and she appeared almost exclusively in black wigs as she was a natural blonde. Stardom finally arrived for her a couple of decades later courtesy of the small screen, as nurse to Robert Young on long-running hit ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’ The role saw her nominated for two Emmys and a golden globe. The show also provided actor James Brolin with his first big break.

The Lost Tribe (1949)

‘The Lost City of Dzamm? Yeah, I’ve heard of it…’

Of course, this is little more than a cheap, formulaic b-picture, but for once the lost city actually looks a decent size (well, bigger than the usual couple of huts anyway) and there a decent number of folks in the marketplace too. Sure, a lot of the usual clichés are present, in particular the 5 minute opening narration over stock footage by actor Holmes Herbert, who explains what a jungle is for those who don’t know. ‘The mischievous monkey avoids the cunning crocodile’ he intones solemnly, probably trying hard to stifle a yawn.

The series carried on until 1958, with another 14 films. Or 11 if you want to be pedantic. Katzmann actually lost the rights to use the character’s name at the end, which was probably something to do with his notorious reluctance to open his wallet. As a consequence, in the last 3 films, Weismuller simply played a character called Johnny Weismuller instead. It’s unlikely that anyone really noticed.

Caw-Caw and Skipper were supplemented in later entries by chimpanzee Tamba (then Kimba) and eventually vanished from the films completely. Perhaps something finally ate Skipper! He was always living on borrowed time…

The Noah (1975)

The Noah (1975)‘I don’t tell you how to powder your nose, you don’t tell me how to build a field latrine.’

An American soldier near retirement is washed up on the shores of an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. He is the sole survivor of the nuclear war which has brought about the end of the world. As time passes, he builds up an elaborate fantasy world to cope with the severe loneliness…

Although ostensibly a science fiction film, writer-director Daniel Bourla has a broader agenda in mind here. The story opens with leading man Robert Strauss adrift on the ocean in a dinghy and rapidly making landfall on an island whose only inhabitants are an abandoned Chinese outpost and some scattered military equipment from both sides of the unseen conflict. There’s even a working radio, but it’s as worthless as the rusting jeeps and guns; there’s no-one left to call. In the beginning, Strauss keeps up a routine of flag-raising, patrolling the beach, taking inventory, personal grooming and early morning callisthenics, but it isn’t long before his routine starts to break down…

The first sign we get that Strauss is not coping is the appearance of ‘Friday’ (voiced by an offscreen Geoffrey Holder), an imaginary friend named after Robinson Crusoe’s native companion. Things are fine for a while, until ‘Friday’ complains of loneliness and Strauss creates ‘Friday-Anne’ (voiced by Sally Kirkland). Unfortunately, Strauss quickly becomes jealous of their relationship, and he throws them out of the hut which he has made their home. His next invention is a young boy and, when Strauss realises that the lad needs an education, he starts teaching a whole class of children. When they don’t do as he says, he lays down some rules, and this is where the audience gets its first strong indication of what filmmaker Bourla is going for here.

The Noah (1975)

The water hazard at the 12th was a bit of a problem…

The rules that Strauss delivers are written on two chalkboards, one held in either hand while he stands on top of a pile of junk with his loose robe and beard flapping in the wind. Yes, any resemblance to Charlton Heston in ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956) is entirely co-incidental.

At that point, it becomes fairly evident that ‘Friday’ and ‘Friday-Anne’ were Adam and Eve, who are expelled from the hut (Paradise) after they taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge (have sex). The religious analogy should have been obvious before really, what with the quotation from Genesis: 6 at the start of the film. The final act finds Strauss wandering about in a storm (which turns out to be acid rain) while the soundtrack attempts to encapsulate the entire political and military history of the 20th Century. We get recordings of famous speeches by real-life world leaders, offset by children’s voices and songs, including one by Joan Baez. Unfortunately, the sequence lasts over 20 minutes and could most charitably be described as interminable.

The Noah (1975)

The new Supply Teacher had strayed a little from the agreed curriculum…

And that’s the real problem here; Bourla chooses to deliver a cut of 105 minutes and, with only Strauss on screen the entire time, it’s tough for an audience to really stay invested and remain on board. The film was shot in 1968 in Puerto Rico but didn’t get a release until seven years later and then only briefly. It’s a shame for Strauss, who after a long career as a supporting actor, really delivers an excellent performance.

And that’s not surprising when you consider the actor’s pedigree. He’d appeared twice for Billy Wilder; in ‘Stalag 17’ (1953) (for which he was Oscar-nominated) and with Marilyn Monroe in ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955). He also appeared in Elvis vehicles ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ (1962) and ‘Frankie and Johnny’ (1966) and TV gigs included ‘The Monkees’,  ‘Get Smart’, ‘The Green Hornet’, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ He also had an occasional recurring role on popular sitcom ‘Bewitched.’ This film marked his final appearance, as he died of a stroke shortly after its release.

It’s surprising to learn that this could have been a far more prestigious production if Bourla had chosen to go in that direction. Both Lee Marvin and  Zero Mostel were suggested for the lead and one producer made a definite offer of Jack Lemmon! But not surprisingly, that deal stipulated a colour film, and Bourla was set on black and white. If that seems an odd choice in the late 1960s, it may have been because he feared that the beautiful location would distract the audience from the story. His principal reason for rejecting Lemmon was his star status.

After its very brief outing at cinemas, the film was almost forgotten until it turned up on an obscure US TV channel many years later. Actually, it’s interesting to note the strong similarities the film shares with Darren Aronofsky’s controversial ‘Mother!’ (2017) which sharply divided audiences, and gave me the most boring two hours of my entire cinema life. Thematically, they are almost identical, and lawsuits have been started for less…

Sporadically interesting and with a strong central performance, but a film that desperately needs to lose a good 20 to 25 minutes of its’ running time.

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead/Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)‘Shut up. Bring me the papers on unidentified objects.’

When out for a ride on his motorcycle, Zovek finds the bodies of two policeman which later disappear. Masked wrestler Blue Demon is visited by an airline pilot who reports an encounter with a UFO. An archaeologist and his beautiful daughter make a strange discovery in a remote location…

Given that this is a production of the Mexican film industry of the early 1970s, it’s no surprise to find the family name of Rene Cardona all over it. On this occasion, both father and son were involved with Senior in the director’s chair and Junior listed as a producer. It’s also no surprise that the results look cheap, tatty and are hopelessly inept. But, just this once, let’s cut the filmmakers some slack because there’s more going on her than at first appears, and the story behind the film’s creation is somewhat more interesting than the film itself.

Zovek was a TV star in Mexico, famed for his incredible physique, super strength and athletic abilities. On one live 8 hour broadcast, he did 17,800 sit-ups without stopping, the last 200 hoisting his secretary into the air over his head at the same time. He was also a highly accomplished swimmer, martial artist and escapologist, whose feats were said to rival those of Houdini. Not surprisingly, the local film industry soon came calling and signed him to a 9-picture deal, casting him as himself in his own starring vehicle, ‘El lncreible Profesor Zovek’ (1972). His exploits soon came to the attention of TV executives in Japan and he was booked to appear on one of their biggest prime-time shows about a week after wrapping this, his second film. lt could have been his first step on the road to international stardom, but sadly we will never know.

Archaeologist Raul Ramirez and daughter Christa Linder (‘The Incredible Invasion’ (1969) with Boris Karloff, two ‘Kommissar X’ films and ‘Night of A Thousand Cats’ (1972)!) are busy examining artefacts in the vicinity of a remote ranch when the owner mentions some strange cave paintings in a ravine only accessible by helicopter. When the duo investigate, the artwork looks more like some red paint randomly daubed on to a rock but apparently it’s all highly significant so they call in Zovek for a second opinion. You see, as well as all his other accomplishments, he’s a mystic with unrivalled expert knowledge on ancient civilisations, and he can practice a little bit of mind control when required which is always handy! Anyway, these scribbles are Tibetan in origin and feature the four elements, or they should but ‘air’ is an absentee and that’s very bad news for mankind (for some reason or other). Meanwhile, back at camp, the dead attack after rising from a local churchyard and Zovek and Linder spend the rest of the film on the run from these carnivorous ghouls…

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

Mexican Zombies wouid not conform to stereotyping…

This was obviously originally intended as a Mexican version of George A Romero’s landmark horror ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). Similarly, the undead insurgency is largely left unexplained (apart from that prophecy doo-dah!) and, instead of the usual, formulaic happy ending, things finish on a far more ambiguous note. Only something went badly wrong during filming, specifically the events of 10th March 1972.

Details are a little sketchy but what’s clear is that, when filming a sequence with the helicopter, Zovek plunged 200 feet to his death. There is a very brief and poorly executed scene late in the finished film where his character fights a zombie clinging onto the outside of the helicopter. It may have been this sequence that was being filmed at the time of the accident, as it looks highly likely that a double was used in the final version.

Left with a little over three-quarters of an hour’s worth of footage, Cardona Senior and Cardona Junior were in trouble. So they called on old friend and famous luchador Blue Demon. He was already a film veteran by then, with 17 pictures to his credit, three fighting alongside the legendary El Santo. New scenes were shot with the blue man and scattered throughout the film to bring it up to (barely) feature length at 78 minutes. And there was another new addition: aliens. Yes, taking inspiration from Edward D Wood Jr’s bad movie classic ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959), the dead have now been resurrected by extra-terrestrials, represented by a smoking globe thingy, conveniently sitting next to an electricity pylon. VoiceOver Man also lends his solemn tones to the proceedings; over a montage of space shots at the start of the film (the usual malarkey about millions of planets and the overwhelming likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the Solar System) and over sunsets at the end (the usual warning that Man must mend his ways or something vague but rather unpleasant may occur).

Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead:Blue Demon y Zovek En La Vasion De Las Meurtos (1973)

‘No jury in the world would convict me if I killed you right now.’

How do the new sequences fit with the old? They don’t. For a start, the lighting is completely different and Blue Demon only fights about half a dozen zombies, one of which looks more like a werewolf! At least Zovek tangles with a decent number of them, even if they have minimal makeup FX, and are just a couple of dozen extras wearing tatty clothes wandering about a bit with their arms outstretched. Mind you, a couple do drive cars and one of them briefly flies the helicopter, which is pretty impressive considering.

Of course, our two stars never appear together; their only interaction being Blue Demon failing to reach Zovek on the radio. And l am a bit confused about two other things. First off, what is Blue Demon’s job exactly? He has an office, some staff, and paperwork on UFO sightings. He also gets reports on disappearing corpses. I guess he was just working on ‘The X-Files’ long before Fox Mulder made the scene. But the far more important question is much harder to answer: why didn’t he put a choke hold on his idiotic ‘comedy’ sidekick? Or feed him to the zombies? I don’t think anyone would have minded. In fact, I think everyone would have been quite grateful.

Of course, this is a bad film. lt would be a surprise, given its origin and the talent involved, if it were anything else. But, just this once, we have to give it a pass. The fates were against it. Sure, no doubt it would have still been quite poor if it had been completed as intended and, yes, it would have been more respectful simply to abandon the project entirely. But this is the world of low-budget filmmaking, folks, and if Ed Wood could make a movie out of a couple of minutes of silent footage of Bela Lugosi, then Cardona and Son can’t be regarded too harshly for stitching together this effort.

Even though you can see the joins from several miles away.

Luana/Luana, The Female Tarzan/Luana Le Figlia Foresta Vergine (1968)

Luana (1968)‘George, don’t come any closer! I lost my clothes!’

Over twenty years after the disappearance of a scientist in an uncharted jungle region, his daughter mounts an expedition to investigate. The safari immediately runs into a series of strange misfortunes and its steps are dogged by a mysterious figure…

It’s a little surprising to find that the jungle movie was still thriving in Europe in the late 1960s. Even though the genre had its heyday in the 1930s, and its roots go back to the silent days, there was apparently still a market for this Italian-West Germany co-production. Perhaps the small screen success of Ron Ely’s ‘Tarzan’ show had something to do with it. Anyway, this example provided proof, if it were needed, that nothing had really changed since the days when Johnny Weismuller was swinging through the trees on an MGM sound stage and mucking about in the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, 301 N. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, California, USA.

So are all the time-worn clichés present and correct? Pretty much. Kicking off the story is beautiful Evi Marandi, who has come to the dark continent to investigate the mysterious plane crash that apparently killed her father twenty years before. By all accounts, he’d been on the verge of some great scientific discovery or other. Accompanying her is the egghead’s old partner, who isn’t in favour of her harebrained scheme at all (nothing suspicious about him then!) Marandi entrusts her expedition to local guide Glenn Saxson who is still ruggedly handsome but has seen better days due to a close association with the bottle (no idea what’s going to happen when he and Marandi spend time together…not a clue…)

Luana (1968)

‘So, Cheetah, are you going to give me Ron Ely’s phone number or not…?’

So…lost expedition…sinister plane crash…the actors staring offscreen at various pieces of mismatched wild animal library footage…the local bearers desert as they always do (why even bother to hire them in the first place?)…a raging storm only blows some trees about and not others…and Saxson fights to the death with one of the villains by having an arm-wrestling contest with attendant scorpions.

Perhaps the oddest thing here is the role of our title character. To call Mei Chen Chalais a female Tarzan is pushing it more than a little bit. She’s so slight and petite that it looks like a stiff breeze could blow her away, and the idea that her mere appearance causes the local natives to run for the hills is pretty ridiculous. How has she survived on her own in the jungle for over 20 years? Search me.
To the film’s credit, at least it doesn’t look like she spends all her time at the local beauty parlour with all the other jungle girls of cinema, but she’s still pretty well turned out with a touch of eye makeup and lipstick, and her hair always hangs down in just the right way to cover her naked breasts. But the strangest thing is how little she does. Most of the time she just hides in the trees and watches the expedition, although she does intervene to pluck a big hairy spider off a sleeping Marandi just before it walks onto her naked back (for which the actress was undoubtedly grateful, if not the oblivious character).

Saxson once filled Franco Nero’s shoes as the iconic gunslinger in ‘Django Shoots First’ (1966) and also appeared as the suave super crook ‘Kriminal’ (1966) and in sequel ‘The Mark of Kriminal’ (1967). Marandi took a trip to the ‘Planet of the Vampires’ (1965) for director Mario Bava, starred in Eurpospy ‘From the Orient With Fury’ (1965) and went up against bargain basement superhero ‘Goldface, the Fantastic Superman’ (1967). Chalais only did half a dozen pictures, including fractured spy thriller ‘The Blonde from Peking’ (1967) with Hollywood legend Edward G. Robinson.

When the film received a belated U.S. release in 1972, writer Alan Dean Foster was hired to pen a novelisation for Ballantine Books. Unfortunately, the script was in Italian and Foster didn’t know the language. A screening of the film didn’t help either; there was no English dub at that point and no subtitles. So, Foster just made up a new story based on the U.S. poster. Whatever he came up with, it was probably more interesting than what was happening on the screen!

I don’t know if there are ‘Jungle Movie Completists’ out there, but, if so, then this one’s for you. No-one else need apply.

Slaughter Hotel/La Bestia Uccide A Sangue Freddo (1971)

Slaughter Hotel (1971)‘It’s just that your desire to make love is obsessive compulsive. Go and take a shower.’

A masked figure stalks the halls of a private hospital for wealthy young women with emotional problems. Making use of medieval weapons, he begins a killing spree by decapitating a nurse out in the grounds…

Softcore giallo from writer-director Fernando Di Leo, who was obviously far more interested in the former elements of his tale than the latter. The story takes place in an isolated, old manor house which is now home to Professor Osterman (John Karlsen), assistant Doctor Clay (Klaus Kinski), and their small team of orderlies and nurses. The clinic caters to patients with psychological problems, on condition that they are rich young women who look great with their clothes off.

But what a strange institution it is! Far be it from me to criticise the practices of a seasoned medical professional like Karlsen, but, for a start, he seems to have a slightly cavalier attitude towards health and safety. Rather unusually, one corridor boasts an actual real life iron maiden, this torture device being secured by a chain that looks inadequate to protect a tricycle. What’s it doing there? I have no idea. It is a creepy old house, I suppose. But I have to flag him for another minor code infraction because close by is an open display cabinet filled with medieval weapons! There’s a big sword, a dagger, a crossbow, a mace and a noose. The last item is a slight concern as the patients are allowed to roam freely and we’re told at least a couple of them have attempted suicide in the past.

Slaughter Hotel (1971)

The auditions for ‘Men In Black 4’ were not progressing as planned…

And then there’s the good Professor’s clinical practices. He doesn’t seem to have any. The only medical advice he offers throughout the entire film is to tell nymphomaniac Rosalba Neri to go take a shower! Predictably her issues are the only ones we find out anything about; all the other women have cheerfully vague problems, such as Margaret Lee’s overwrought nerves, and Gloria Desideri’s occasional homicidal urges.

Di Leo admitted than he did zero research into mental health issues or institutions before he penned his script, and it really shows. Because that’s not what we’re here for, is it? We’re here for naked babes in deadly peril! Both Lee and Neri are drop dead gorgeous and we see a lot of both of them; everything in Neri’s case, although a double may have been used for some shots. I’m certainly not complaining, but they get to do very little else, and it is frustrating to see two such talented actresses being exploited like this, although hopefully they understood the nature of the project when they signed on and were decently paid. We also get perky redhead Monica Strebel as a naughty nurse with a very ‘hands on’ approach to black patient Jane Garret (in her only film). They’re about to indulge in some distinctly unprofessional activity when they stop to dance to the radio in Garret’s room. For about five minutes. At this point, there’s not a lot of the movie left. Shouldn’t we be building up to some kind of a climax (pun intended)?

There are a few killings along the way in all this, of course, but there’s no creativity to the staging or execution and no real effort is made to bring the audience into the mystery. Two policeman turn up in the last quarter of an hour and, instead of waiting for the reinforcements that are on the way so the clinic can be thoroughly searched, they set Lee up as bait for the killer! She’s happy to agree to this ludicrous plan, probably because it finally gives her something to do and, considering she’s second billed in the cast, it’s about time. But even this is a seriously damp squib with the killer initially revealed to have a serious, legitimate motive, as in most giallos, but then just going on a demented rampage with the mace! Lucky, one of our lawmen has that gun with an inexhaustible supply of bullets, which is always handy in such situations.

Slaughter Hotel (1971)

The croquet match was about to get interesting…

Di Leo began his film career in westerns as an uncredited contributor to the script of Sergio Leone’s classic ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964). He was involved with several of the spaghetti westerns that followed, including ‘Django’ (1966), and he wrote ‘Navajo Joe’ (1966), an early vehicle for Burt Reynolds. His career as a director was somewhat less distinguished and, if this example of his work is anything to go by, that’s no surprise.

The plotting is lazy, the musical soundtrack distracting, and the cast get nothing to work with at all. Kinski just hangs around looking vaguely odd and suspicious (pretty much his default setting!) and a lot of the supporting cast seem flat and disinterested. Even the usually excellent Lee seems unable to drum up much enthusiasm for once (and no wonder!) Only Neri seems to be really giving it her best, but her role is barely two-dimensional, and she can’t have been under any illusions as to the reasons that she’d been cast.

It’s quite an achievement to waste such a beautiful and talented cast so completely, but Di Leo takes up that challenge and succeeds effortlessly. For fans of the leading ladies only.