Death Occurred Last Night/La morte risale a ieri sera (1970)

Death Occurred Last Night/La morte risale a ieri sera (1970)‘You smell fishy from a distance too.’

A young woman with learning difficulties goes missing. The police believe she has been kidnapped for sex trafficking purposes and focus their attention on the local brothels. When her burned body is found on a patch of waste ground, it becomes a murder enquiry. Then her father accidentally stumbles across a significant clue to her killer…

Character-driven police drama with a touch of Giallo from co-writer and director Duccio Tessari and based on a novel by Giorgio Scerbaneco. It’s a very serious piece spearheaded by two outstanding central performances and a script that escalates from an almost routine beginning to a climax of startling violence.

Pretty young twenty-something Donatella Bergzighi (Gillian Gray) has the mind of a child. Her father Amanzio (Raf Vallone) keeps her locked in their flat when he’s at work due to her nymphomaniac tendencies. When he returns one day to find her gone without a trace, he reports the matter to the police but the investigation stalls immediately. Frustrated and desperate when she’s been missing for a month, he makes a personal appeal to Captain of Police (Frank Wolff). The senior officer agrees to investigate, accompanied by his young partner Mascaranti (Gabriele Tinti). 

Death Occurred Last Night/La morte risale a ieri sera (1970)

‘What do you mean? This is the latest in facial recognition technology…’

Wolff is convinced that the girl has been sold into prostitution and targets reluctant local pimp Salvatore (Gigi Rizzi) for information. A tour of the local establishments follows, and Wolff gets a lead from working girl Herrero (Beryl Cunningham) after she initially refuses to help. Wolff takes the unusual step of taking her into protective custody in the home he shares with his wife (Eva Renzi). But events take a tragic turn when Gray’s lifeless body is discovered, and Vallone becomes involved in the hunt for the truth.

Tessari’s film begins as a standard police procedural with Wolff and Tinti’s investigations centring on legwork rather than inspiration. These early scenes are determinedly low-key and focus on routine and every day realism, with Wolff acting as mentor to his slightly brash, insensitive young partner. However, it’s in the domestic scenes where the film really scores, with Wolff and Renzi making for a completely convincing long-term couple. He’s a committed lawman who  ant help but get personally involved while still able to acknowledge the overall futility of his crusade. She’s the socially-conscious pragmatist who doesn’t bat an eye when he brings Cunningham home to stay for a while. Although these early scenes might not seem important, they lay an important groundwork which helps give later developments a more lasting impact.

Death Occurred Last Night/La morte risale a ieri sera (1970)

Starsky and Hutch: The Wilderness Years

Overall, the plot may not be anything too remarkable but the script by Tessari, Biagio Proietti and Artfur Brauner makes the most out of every scene and provides a fine platform for Wolff, Vallone and the rest of the cast. Even Tinti’s character, which may seem a little one-dimensional at first, takes on more depth as events unfold and he is forced to confront some unpleasant truths. No, it’s by no means a vital element of the film, but it’s this kind of attention to detail that gives the film a richer quality than most of a similar stamp. Perhaps the highlight is the gut-wrenching scene where Wolff watches Vallone as he packs up his dead little girl’s belongings and cuddly toys to throw out with the trash. It’s a master of understatement by both actors, absolutely heartbreaking and hard to watch. 

Sadly, there were to be no further adventures for the partnership of Wolff and Tinti. American-born actor Wolff began his career with small roles in Roger Corman films such as ‘The Wasp Woman’ (1959) and ‘Beast From Haunted Cave’ (1959) and had a few roles on Network TV before trying his luck in Italy. Success followed with his first role, co-starring with Salvo Randone in historical Mafia drama ‘Salvatore Giuliano’ (1962), but he found his greatest success with Spaghetti Westerns, including ‘Ringo, the Mark of Vengeance’ (1966), ‘Last of the Badmen’ (1967) and ‘God Forgives…I Don’t! (1967). There were also significant supporting roles in Sergio Corbicci’s ‘The Great silence’ (1968), ‘Villa Rides’ (1968) with Yul Brynner and Robert Mitchum and in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ (1969). However, the actor struggled with chronic depression and took his own life in Rome’s Hilton Hotel in December 1971.

Death Occurred Last Night/La morte risale a ieri sera (1970)

The extended spin-cycle still wasn’t enough to get all the blood out…

Vallone, on the other hand, had been a mainstay of Italian cinema since the early 1940s and within two decades had built his career to third-billing below an Oscar-winning Sophia Loren in Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Two Women’ (1960). He occupied the same place behind her and Charlton Heston in the epic ‘El Cid’ (1961), played with Stewart Granger and Mickey Rooney in ‘The Secret Invasion’ (1964), was the ‘Bond villain’ in ‘Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’ (1966) and had a significant role in caper classic ‘The Italian Job’ (1969). He continued working in Italian pictures and TV throughout the 1970s, with the occasional American project such as ‘The Greek Tycoon’ (1978). One of us last big screen appearances was as the Cardinal in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990).

Like Wolff, Tessari also found his first big success in Spaghetti Westerns, cutting his teeth on the script for Sergio Leone’s classic ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964). He had already been working as a writer in the local industry for over a decade and a half by then, contributing to such Peplum outings as ‘Colossus and the Amazon Queen’ (1960), ‘Hercules Conquers Atlantis’ (1961) and ‘Hercules and the Haunted World’ (1961) for director Mario Bava. He first picked up the megaphone for the similarly themed ‘Sons of Thunder’ (1962) but became best known for some of the entries in the ‘Ringo’ series of Westerns. By 1970, however, he had already diversified with caper films, comedies and crime dramas, such as ‘I Bastardi/The Bastard’ (1968) which starred Rita Hayworth and Klaus Kinski. He followed this film with full-blown Giallo ‘The Bloodstained Butterfly’ (1971) but his most significant other work was action-comedy ‘Zorro’ (1975) with Alain Delon and Stanley Baker.

A quiet but surprisingly effective hybrid of crime drama and Giallo that sneaks up on the viewer unawares and leaves a lasting impression. Well worth the trouble of seeking out. 

Hercules The Avenger (1965)

Hercules The Avenger (1965)‘His soul has not yet entered the nether regions.’

Hercules’ teenage son is seriously injured in a hunting accident. A jealous goddess takes the opportunity to punish the legendary hero by sending the boy’s soul down to Hades, and he has to travel to the underworld to retrieve it. Meanwhile, the goddess encourages her own son to take Hercules’ place on Earth…

It’s Hercules’ Greatest Hits! Yes, rather than create an entirely new film, director Maurice Bright (real name, Mauricio Lucidi), lifts almost 40 minutes of Reg Park’s two previous appearances in the title role and stitches them together with a wrap-around story instead. Although this sounds like a recipe for complete disaster, the adventures of Hercules were always somewhat episodic, so it’s not as woeful an exercise as you might expect.

When we join Hercules (Park), he has settled down to the quiet life with wife Deyanira (Adrianna Ambesi) and his eager young blade of a son, Xantos (Luigi Barbini). These early scenes would appear to have been filmed specifically for this project as neither Ambesi nor Barbini had appeared in either of Park’s other two appearances as Hercules and there’s no technical tomfoolery placing them all in these scenes together. In total, Park’s new footage amounts to just over 10 minutes and a lot of it is in these establishing scenes.

Hercules The Avenger (1965)

‘I’m sorry but Christopher Lee wouldn’t come…’

Once Barbini has been injured after his chariot trips on a rabbit hole (or something), it’s up to Park to hightail it for Hades to get his soul back. He does this, thanks to the voyage from ‘Hercules Conquers Atlantis’ (1961) and the labours he completed in Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1962). Eventually, more footage is used from the former as this film incorporates its fiery climax.

Meanwhile, Queen Leda of Syracuse (Gia Sandri) has a problem. Recently widowed, she’s now besieged by princes from the surrounding kingdoms who want her hand in marriage. It’s nothing to do with love, of course, it’s just a matter of territory, and she wants none of it. It’s a situation strangely reminiscent of Penelope’s plight when waiting for Odysseus’ return after the fall of Troy but, if you have to steal from somewhere when making a Hercules picture, why not from Homer’s Odyssey? Anyway, on the advice of the local Oracle, Leda seeks out Hercules, instead of just hanging about. However, with the big man away from home, she has to settle for Anteus (Giovanni Cianfriglia) who is the second strongest man in the world. He also happens to be the son of the mischief-making goddess who is messing with our hero and a nasty piece of work.

Hercules The Avenger (1965)

‘Not in a million years, mate.’

Sandri makes the best of it, and the two join forces, telling everyone that Cianfriglia is Hercules himself. This is quite obviously a blatant lie because, right from the beginning, the man is such an utter bounder. He slays Sandri’s handmaidens to protect his identity and pretty much assumes control of the kingdom, levying ridiculous taxes to fill the palace coffers. Of course, this will not stand and, when Park returns from his little trip, it’s time for the real thing to bring the pain to Hercules 2.0

Expectations are bound to be low with such a ‘copy and paste’ kind of project, but it works surprisingly well. Principally, this is because Lucidi is using footage from undoubtedly the best two Italian ‘Hercules’ films of their time. Arguably, there still hasn’t been anyone better in the role than Park even after all these years. Also, Lucidi (who, not surprisingly, is also credited as the editor), utilises the footage wisely. The story makes sense, and the joins aren’t too noticeable.

Hercules The Avenger (1965)

‘I have the strangest feeling of deja vu.’

Cianfraglia’s impressive physique brought him roles in action movies and Peplum from the late 1950s onwards. To begin with, he was mostly uncredited, and this was certainly his first significant role. His breakthrough came as crime-fighter SuperArgo in two movies based on that character. Appearing under the name Ken Wood, he tackled supervillain Gérard Tichy in ‘SuperArgo Against Diabolicus’ (1966) and then went head to head with more physical opposition in ‘SuperArgo and the Faceless Giants’ (1968). He played several second leads in Spaghetti Westerns, but, by the 1970s, he was often playing uncredited heavies as well. Still, he remained busy and was still showing up regularly in genre cinema in the 1980s, with roles in ‘Road Warrior’ knock offs and action flicks like ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983).

Of course, this is nothing but a cheap cash-grab and was never going to be anything else but, considering its origins, it hangs together surprisingly well if you’re in a forgiving mood.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)‘Should we take bets on who dies first? The dead person wins.’

A weekend party on a private island turns deadly when the guests are murdered one by one. The motive would seem to revolve around the secret formula that several of the party want to buy, but it appears that someone will stop at nothing to obtain it, even murder…

Somewhat nonsensical but beautifully crafted Giallo from horror maestro Mario Bava. It was another last-minute call to save a troubled production for the director, who delivers on the assignment thanks to his technical expertise and filmmaking genius. Earlier involvement, however, would undoubtedly have made for an even better result.

Multi-millionaire industrialist George Stark (Teodoro Corrà) is determined to buy the secret formula for a new revolutionary manufacturing resin from scientist Professor Farrell (William Berger). The boffin has just lost his business partner in a lab accident, so some rest and relaxation on Stark’s private island seem to be in order. Berger brings along wife Trudy (Ira von Fürstenberg) but the weekend party isn’t just a foursome with Stark’s marriage partner, artist Jill (Edith Meloni). Also present are Nick and Marie Chaney (Maurice Poli and Edwige Fenech) and Jack and Peggy Davidson (Howard Ross and Helena Ronee). Poli and Ross are also business tycoons interested in Berger’s new process, and the three have arranged to join forces to buy it from him. The list of potential suspects and victims is rounded out by houseboy Jacques (Mauro Bosco) and game warden’s daughter, Isabel (Ely Galleani).

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

The business triumvirate delivers their pitch to Berger, but he proclaims that he has no interest in money and quietly burns his notes. Fenech is busy enjoying the services of the hired help, while Meloni and von Fürstenberg try to keep their hands off each other, with the latter also the target of the amorous Poli. In short, if you’re looking for a murder motive other than financial, it’s probably best to assume that all the eight principals are likely spending quality time with each other in whatever combinations they fancy. And murder is afoot when Bosco turns up dead on the motorboat where he’d arranged another tryst with Fenech and later on, after the vessel disappears, as food for the crabs on the beach. Cut off from the mainland; one killing follows another, and the walk-in freezer starts to fill up with dead bodies.

Ultimately, the film is a triumph of technique over content. Bava’s visual sensibilities combined with the eye-catching sets, location, soundtrack and performances elevate a relatively poor screenplay to a level of entertainment the material does not merit. The director conjures beautiful images in both the studio and on location, the lighting, colours and framing of shots inside the beach house being particularly effective. The sets of Giulia Mafia and the production design of Giuseppe Aldrovandi allow Bava the space to position his actors, props and furniture into beautiful and striking compositions. The look is very much of its era, but it’s tasteful and economical. Less accomplished filmmakers of the period tended to overload their sets with pop art, objet d’art and clashing colours in a self-conscious effort to appear modern and relevant, but Bava and his team knew that less is more.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Conversely, Pietro Ulimiani delivers a score that delights in confounding expectations. Rather than supply music to create suspense, the composer favours a bizarre stew of electronic melodies, jaunty tunes and occasional flourishes of rock music to counterpoint the action on the screen. It’s a very bold choice, but it makes sense. These are not characters the audience is supposed to invest in emotionally; they are shallow, greedy and selfish. So an element of gleeful comedy in their imminent departure from the action is entirely appropriate.

The location filming was done on the beach at Tor Calendar, south of Anzio and featured in many of Bava’s films. He uses it brilliantly here, the camera prowling around the rocky shore, shooting through plants to suggest potential victims under surveillance, and showcasing some beautiful shots of the beach house on the cliff and the pier running out into the sea. Neither house nor jetty existed, of course; Bava painted the structures on a sheet of glass, lined it up in front of the camera and shot through it, creating an almost perfect illusion.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

There are also some terrific set-pieces. Two men fight, knocking over a sculpture constructed from transparent, plastic spheres of different sizes. These balls bounce and tumble down a spiral staircase and across a tiled floor before falling into a bloodstained bubble bath containing a new victim. As the corpses pile up, they are hung up in polythene bags in the walk in-freezer beside sides of beef, apparently one of Bava’s ideas. There’s the almost wordless opening sequence where he introduces the entire cast of characters, not by telling us who they are, but by establishing something far more important: we’re not going to like any of them.

Unfortunately, Mario di Nardo’s slapdash script and the hurried production undermine a lot of Bava’s excellent work. The director turned the project down initially as he hated the screenplay, mainly because it was a thinly-disguised rehash of Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians.’ Ironically, Christie was one of the authors published in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s in the wave of popular, cheap paperbacks that gave rise to the term ‘Giallo’ in the first place, so, in a way, she was an appropriate choice for adaptation. But Bava was not interested, and only agreed to consider the project if he was paid upfront. The producers went elsewhere, but their eventual choice pulled out at the eleventh hour, and they went back to Bava with a cheque. He accepted, even though the film was already cast and ready to begin shooting the following Monday morning; just two days away. As a result, Bava had no opportunity to rewrite the script or make any other significant changes.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

At least that’s the way that Bava told it. Whether his account is entirely accurate is open to debate. He was known to exaggerate somewhat in interviews and always claimed that this was his worst picture. It’s clear that the production did come together very quickly, but not so fast that he couldn’t get previous collaborators Aldrovandi and cameraman Antonio Rinaldi on board. He was also able to achieve some remarkable optical effects with his matte paintings. Perhaps he could have got all this in place over a weekend, or even during production; the man was undoubtedly a genius, so anything is possible. One change he was able to make was to the end of the picture. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details of di Nardo’s original conclusion, but Bava’s coda is unsatisfying at best.

So, what is wrong with the script? Simply put, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. For a start, there’s the setup. Industrialist Corrà invites Berger to the island getaway so he can get his hands on the secret formula. The businessman’s relationships with Poli and Ross are never clearly established, but the trio makes an initial combined offer of $1 million each. Poli attempts to double-cross his partners almost immediately by offering $6 million for the exclusive rights in secret, and Ross also wants the formula for himself. It’s clear that the three men know each other well, and, later on, Corrà is unsurprised by their treachery. Which begs a very obvious question: why invite them along in the first place?!

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

Sadly, that’s just the beginning of the script’s unsuccessful struggle with logic and clarity. Without delving too much into spoiler territory, we do seem to have more than one killer on our hands, but, if we do, then they seem to be acting independently of each other, which is amazingly convenient. Also, commentators reviewing the film have fingered different characters as the killer, or killers! It’s not because the film is deliberately ambiguous or clever, it just not well-written. The first killing is a complete mystery; whoever might be responsible. The only explanation provided is that everyone has to die to eliminate all potential witness, but it’s a pretty weak justification.

The most plausible explanation is that Bava was not interested in the plot’s mechanics but was more focused on the visual presentation. He had rewritten scripts during filming before, so it’s possible that he did the same here and the story just got away from him. But he can’t have disliked di Nardo’s work too much; he was the sole credited screenwriter on Bava’s next film; the comedy-western ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970). Of course, too much time has passed to allow definitive answers to these kinds of questions, but it’s fun to speculate. Another interesting point is that very few characters die on-screen, and then almost bloodlessly. The discovery of each corpse is memorable, though; be they crab food washed up on the shore, tied to a tree in their underwear or shot in the forehead mid-conversation on a balcony.

Five Dolls For An August Moon (1970)

What helps to keep the audience on board with the story and its contradictions is the cast’s performances. There are no real stand-outs but a solid ensemble, even if the characters are little more than roughly-sketched stereotypes. Von Fürstenberg was a real-life Italian princess who had married into Spanish royalty at just 15 years of age, divorced five years later and began her acting career in 1967. She starred in unusual Eurospy ‘Matchless’ (1967), caper movie ‘The Vatican Affair/A qualsiasi Prezzo’ (1968) with Walter Pigeon and Klaus Kinski, and was under-used in notable Giallo ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971). Galleani was also born to the purple; the daughter of an Italian Count, she acted under several different names, most notably in Lucio Fulci’s trippy Giallo ‘A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin’ (1971).

Sit back, relax and prepare to enjoy an example of a director displaying his creativity, invention and skill. Just don’t try and work out exactly what’s going on. You might hurt yourself.

Les Vampires (1915)

Les Vampires (1915)‘In five minutes, the house will jump, and they’ll find this note on your corpse.’

A journalist for one of the top newspapers in Paris focuses on writing an exposé of a gang of notorious criminals known as Les Vampires. However, his investigations start to inconvenience the crooks, and they determine to eliminate him at all cost. An epic struggle of wills begins…

French director Louis Feuillade had hit the jackpot with ‘Fantômas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine’ (1913), an adaptation of the wildly popular novels written by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. As well as pursuing other projects at the time, he had continued the series with another four films about the infamous master of disguise, eventually delivering a series of films with a length of over five hours. Not unreasonably, he decided to turn the trick again with this serial, only focusing more exclusively on the project, producing ten films of varying lengths with a combined running time of more than seven hours.

Investigative journalist Philippe Guérande (Édouard Mathé) is dismayed when he finds that all his notes on his latest story have been lifted from his desk at The Globe where he works. Suspicion immediately falls on colleague Oscar-Cloud Mazamette (Marcel Lévesque), who is acting oddly. The widower confesses almost at once, explaining that he needed money to keep his young son at boarding school. Mathé decides to take matters no further, and Lévesque swears to help him however he can, the two eventually linking up to take on the mysterious gang. An early clue takes them to dodgy cabaret ‘The Howling Cat’ where the headliner is femme fatale Irma Vep (Musidora). Sharp tack that he is, Mathé immediately realises that ‘Irma Vep’ is an anagram of ‘Vampire’ and battle is joined.

Les Vampires (1915)

‘I’ before ‘E’…except after ‘C’…

The early chapters of the serial focus heavily on Mathé and his investigation, mainly when the gang kill his fiancée, ballerina Marfa Koutiloff (Stacia Napierkowska), on the orders of The Grand Vampire (Jean Aymé). This villain is another ‘master of disguise’, much in the manner of Fantômas, but, just when this is threatening to become repetitive, Feuillade introduces a rival villain in the form of Juan-José Moréno (Fernand Herrmann). The action then switches to the battle for supremacy between these two criminal masterminds, and, surprisingly, it’s Herrmann who is victorious and assumes the mantle of Mathé’s primary opponent. The leadership of the gang then changes twice more before the end of the serial, which is highly unusual. This was probably caused by the unavailability of cast members, given France’s involvement in the First World War. Indeed, the only constant principals in front of the camera over the entire serial are Mathé, Lévesque and Musidora.

Feuillade scripted himself and, by all accounts, provided the cast with only rough outlines for each scene, encouraging them to improvise. He also favoured a stationary camera, apparently to promote a feeling of realism. Each scene begins with an establishing shot that rarely changes, all the developing action taking place within this initial framing. Although this can cause some scenes to drag a little, Feuillade compensates with pace. Apparent budgetary constraints did preclude a lot of action scenes, but there’s always plenty going on as Les Vampires pursue their agenda of robbery, kidnapping and murder. Feuillade was also careful to make each episode work as a ‘stand alone’ piece, so audience members unfamiliar with the overall story could still follow the tale and enjoy the experience.

Les Vampires (1915)

The party hadn’t been an unqualified success…

Viewed overall, the circumstances of the production do necessarily give the serial a somewhat uneven feel. The passage of time is not well-established, but it is evident that the story is supposed to be taking place over a considerable period. This problem is highlighted by two developments that come entirely out of left-field. Firstly, after losing his job with The Globe and the initial team-up with Mathé, Lévesque emerges in the third chapter as a man ‘gone straight’, a fully-qualified undertaker with a bunch of authorised testimonials! Similarly, in the ninth chapter, we discover that Mathé is about to marry Jane Brémontier (Louise Lagrange) even though she has never appeared previously, and no-one has ever mentioned her existence.

Curiously enough, this haphazard story structure does make for one interesting development. Despite being the somewhat half-hearted comedy relief, the balding, moustache-wielding Lévesque gets the story’s only character arc. In the beginning, he’s a weak-willed tool of the criminal gang; then he teams up with Mathé, becomes a respectable working man, gives that up to be a more committed collaborator in the cause of law and order, gets filthy rich off the reward money after foiling one of the gang’s evil schemes, turns into a drunken playboy, is forced to assume responsibility for his young son when he is expelled from school and eventually finds true love with the widow of one of the gang’s victims!

Les Vampires (1915)

‘I don’t think he got my nose quite right…’

It is worth questioning Lévesque’s parenting skills, though. It doesn’t seem all that appropriate to use his precocious 8-year old in a criminal investigation, especially when it involves the lad taking a potshot at the Grand Vampire with a loaded pistol! Another interesting aspect of the character is how Lévesque periodically stares straight into the camera as if inviting the audience to laugh at some of the more absurd moments in the story. It’s not a frequent device by any means, but it happens often enough that it’s clearly not a mistake. Perhaps it was intended as ironic commentary. Still, it’s unusual to see the fourth wall broken in a dramatic presentation of this vintage.

The impressive stunts in the film are also noteworthy, particularly the work on high buildings. These are carried out in real-life locations and without the use of rope or a safety harness. More than once, someone will ascend several storeys from street level by clambering up the exterior skeleton of the building. It looks pretty dangerous, and something that would invite serious Health and Safety concerns if attempted on a film set today. There is also an extraordinary moment when Musidora escapes from the seventh storey of a gang hideout. She exits with a spinning descent via a rope that uncoils quickly from around her waist. It’s a move that would now probably be described as an aspect of ‘Aerial Dance’, although this example looks a fair bit more extreme. There is a cut at the end of the brief sequence when Musidora reaches the pavement, but this can easily be forgiven when you appreciate that the actress was a trained acrobat and did all her own stunts in the film.

Les Vampires (1915)

An interesting new member had joined the ranks of the Mouseketeers…

Despite receiving mixed notices at the time, the serial was popular with audiences and arguably influenced later filmmakers like Fritz Lang, whose exploits with Dr Mabuse would seem to owe a nod to Feuillade’s work. Les Vampires employ little in technological devices in their reign of terror, but certain elements foreshadow the more complex techniques of characters such as Lang’s mastermind. They employ coded messages, secret writing, hypnotic control and assassination by gas canister and portable cannon. The use of multiple chief villains may have also inspired the idea of Mabuse taking on different identities through the force of his diabolical will.

These serials, including the later ‘Judex’ (1916), remain Feuillade’s best known and celebrated works. Film director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to his influence with the well-received ‘Irma Vep’ (1996), a feature centred on a modern filmmaker trying to mount a remake of ‘Les Vampires’ (1915) and starring actress Maggie Cheung in the title role. The original serial helped to make a star of Musidora, who appeared for Feuillade again in ‘Judex’ (1916) and, after retirement, went onto a second career writing about film. Napierkowska, who appears only briefly here, went on to play Queen Antinea in Jacques Feyder’s ‘L’Atlantide’ (1921), the first adaptation of Pierre Benoit’s novel about members of the French Foreign Legion discovering the lost kingdom of Atlantis.

More interesting from a historical perspective than as entertainment, this is nevertheless an enjoyable enterprise, even though its conventions have become somewhat too familiar over subsequent years.

Government Agents vs Phantom Legion (1951)

Government Agents vs Phantom Legion (1951)‘This is the soap powder you’ve been looking for, boys.’

An unknown gang regularly hijacks government shipments of valuable materials. The secret service appoints the owner of one of the trucking companies concerned to investigate the crime wave, and he comes to suspect that one of the his fellow businessmen may be responsible…

Weary and formulaic movie serial from Republic Studios that contains none of the imagination or creativity of the best examples of the format. By the time of this production, the rise of access to public television stations and audience fatigue were combining to sound the death knell of the serials anyway, and this bland, forgettable concoction was likely only to accelerate their imminent demise.

It’s time to worry for the members of the board of the Interstate Trucker’s Association. Their loads keep getting hijacked by an unknown gang of crooks and, as the merchandise involved are primarily being hauled on government contracts, it’s time for Uncle Sam to step in. The freight line owners assemble at the Association officers to be briefed by government man, Patterson (John Philips). This quintet of businessmen includes Crandall (Arthur Space), Willard (George Meeker), Thompson (Mauritz Hugo), Armstrong (Pierce Lyden) and Hal Duncan (Walter Reed). To everyone’s surprise, Phillips offers the job of tackling the gang to Reed, swearing him in as a government agent. It’s all to do with his experience as an ‘investigator’ during the war, apparently. He gets to work out of the Association’s office (saving on the budget for set redressing!) and also the loyal assistance of the organisation’s secretary, Mary Ellen Kay.

Government Agents vs Phantom Legion (1951)

‘Remember, whatever happens, make sure your hat stays on.’

Reed’s first step is to ride with one of the truckers, Sam Brady (John Pickard) who is hauling grenades, a likely target for the miscreants. Sure enough, they are flagged down by two of the gang, Regan (Dick Curtis) and Cady (Fred Coby). The quartet exchanges energetic fisticuffs, of course, but the villains escape. Pickard becomes Reed’s official sidekick (I guess no law enforcement training is necessary!) and, together with Kay, the trio launches their offensive against the thieves. It’s not long before Reed becomes convinced that one of his colleagues on the board is the mysterious head of the gang and the audience is invited to play that guessing game over the rest of the weekly episodes.

This is a professional, well-paced serial but bereft of any real imagination or creative spark. The editing is pretty slick, bringing in footage from previous projects without noticeable flaws, but the script is laboured and the action repetitive. Fred C Brannon’s direction is flat and uninspired, something that really hurts the serial when the structure of each episode is almost identical. After Reed escapes last week’s cliffhanger, there’s a brief meeting of the Association. After the owners leave Reed explains the next step in his strategy to Kay. Curtis and Coby discuss their next move with their shadowy boss. Reed and Pickard go out on the road and run into Curtis and Coby. There’s a round of fisticuffs that eventually lead to Reed’s latest life or death moment. These cliffhangers almost inevitably involve Reed in some kind of motorised transport that’s about to explode, crash into something or nosedive off a cliff. Not to worry, though, we know he’ll jump clear at the last moment next week and be spick and span in time for the next meeting of the Association. Yes, these types of events are the building blocks of the serial format, but would it have hurt to mix things up just a little bit?

Government Agents vs Phantom Legion (1951)

‘Now, may have a seconder for proposal 44b…?’

It’s not obvious which of our suspects is the villain but as none of them gets more than the odd line of dialogue every week, and we find out absolutely nothing about them any of them, it’s hard to take a healthy interest in the question. One of them is slightly elderly and doesn’t have a moustache. That’s about the only way you can tell them apart. There’s a similar issue with the anonymity of the cast. Audiences don’t expect Oscar-worthy performances, but some of the charisma, personality and acting chops of chapter play veterans such as Kane Richmond, Linda Stirling or Ralph Byrd would have gone a long way to making this a more enjoyable experience.

Kay leaves the office just twice in the course of the 12 chapters, and one of those occasions is for the short wrap-up scene in the final chapter when the action is over. Apart from that, she operates the radio, takes minutes at the Association meetings and asks Reed questions so he can explain his next move each week. Her only significant participation in events comes when she is kidnapped, taken to a barn, bound and gagged and sat down on a crate. She does get to fire a gun a couple of times during Reed’s rescue attempt but manages to miss the fleeing thugs from point-blank range. And that’s all she gets to do. Not bad for someone second-billed in the cast!

Government Agents vs Phantom Legion (1951)

‘Is that my agent?’

Precisely who is this ‘Phantom Legion’ anyway? No-one uses the name to refer to these run of the mill crooks at any point in the serial and calling them a ‘Legion’ is pushing it a bit! They seem to have just three regular members, including the shadowy boss, plus a few unnamed minions who pop up occasionally from time to time. One of these is the janitor (Fred Altern) who cleans the Association building. He appears in just one episode, listening at the office door when Reed explains the situation to D.A. Norval Mitchell, moaning that he can’t understand how his plans keep leaking out. Don’t give up the day job, Walter! In a similar act of brilliant investigative work, when the gang’s office is found, he advises the uniformed policeman to stay and wait for detectives so they can check for fingerprints. That would be fine, of course, if we hadn’t just seen him opening desk drawers and leaving his dabs all over the room. Ok, so you don’t expect filmmakers from this era to respect crime scenes in the way they would now, but, my god, they must have known how fingerprints work!

Reed didn’t make many serials, but it’s his role as the hero tangling with the ‘Flying Disc Man From Mars’ (1950) that is probably his best-known credit. Elsewhere he appeared as a guest on a lot of Network TV shows and took occasional supporting roles, sometimes uncredited, in features such as ‘How To Make A Monster’ (1958) and ‘Rock, Pretty Baby!’ (1956). Scriptwriter Ronald Davidson had been the serial unit’s story editor since 1943 and had worked with the writing teams on many of their biggest hits, including ‘Zorro Rides Again’ (1937), ‘The Lone Ranger’ (1938), ‘Drums of Fu Manchu’ (1940), ‘Mysterious Dr Satan’ (1940), ‘Adventures of Captain Marvel’ (1941), ‘Spy Smasher’ (1942) and ‘Captain America’ (1944). By the time ‘Flying Disc Man From Mars’ (1950) rolled around, he was getting sole writing credits. He also acted as a producer on some serials he did not write, notably popular favourite ‘The Crimson Ghost’ (1946).

A professional production, granted, but with a tired and predictable story, this is one that’s really only for die-hard fans of the serial format.

Four Times That Night/Quante volte… quella notte (1971)

‘I’m a wild man with turbo hormones!’Four Times That Night/Quante volte… quella notte (1971)

A handsome young man about town picks up a beautiful girl in the park. Together, they go out on a first date, but she comes home afterwards with her dress torn. She relates her version of the night’s events to her mother, while the man tells a very different story to his friends. His apartment building’s doorman also has his own take on what happened…

Dated Italian romantic comedy which serves as a time capsule of an era, and perhaps a nation, by showcasing some very different attitudes towards women, sexual politics and relationships to those that we hold today. It also proved a rather odd, and unprofitable, diversion in the career of horror director and visual stylist Mario Bava.

Good looking playboy Gianni (Brett Halsey) is out for some action, cruising the daytime streets and trying to pick up women. After several rebuffs, he targets the beautiful, dark-haired Tina (Daniela Giordano) who is walking a dog. She flees into the park, but he chases after her, and they eventually meet when he trips over her pet. She returns home in the early hours after their first date with a torn dress and relates her version of events to her straight-laced mother. After getting her back to his place on a pretext, he tried to rape her. When she resisted, he hit her a few times before she escaped. Yes, my friends, it’s just your typical romantic comedy.

Four Times That Night/Quante volte… quella notte (1971)

Meanwhile, Halsey is in a bar with friends, explaining how he got scratched on the forehead. In his story, he’s a shy, awkward man pursued by women, particularly the voracious Giordano. She’s an aggressive, sexual predator who almost forced him into sex after their date, wounding him in her violent passion. A third version of the evening’s event is provided by doorman Beppe (Dick Randall), who enlivens the long hours looking after the building where Halsey lives by moonlighting as a part-time peeping tom. According to him, as soon as the couple get back, Halsey invites neighbours Giorgio (Robert H Oliver) and Esmeralda (Pascale Petit) to join them. Halsey and Oliver disappear behind closed doors because they’re gay, while Petit attempts to seduce Giordano by drugging her drink, so she passes out. Yes, my friends, it’s still just your typical romantic comedy.

The fourth version of events comes from lab-coated scientist Calisto Calisti, who explains the flexibility of the truth by citing the differing viewpoints of some of the animals on Noah’s Ark! His version of the evening’s events with Halsey and Giordano is far more grounded and less dramatic. She tears her dress by accident, and Halsey is injured at the same time. When she wonders how she will explain the damage to her mother, it’s Halsey who suggests a story of attempted rape. They both laugh because it’s so hilarious. Obviously. Don’t forget; it’s a romantic comedy!
Four Times That Night/Quante volte… quella notte (1971)

This last segment has led some commentators to theorise that Bava was using this scenario to examine notions of objectivity and the impossibility of arriving at absolute truth, much in the manner of Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ (1950). The figure of the scientist does appear to be providing an accurate record of events. However, he’s revealed at the climax as just another unreliable narrator; just a metaphor for the art of storytelling itself. That’s as may be. It could have also have been that Bava was simply trying to have a little fun with the lightweight material.

Fans of the maestro will spot a few of his signature touches here. There’s a 360-degree camera pan around Halsey and Giordano as they share a shower, and some foregrounding of objects in the nightclub scene to create the illusion of size and depth. There’s also a brief sequence where Giordano gazes at Halsey through a vase of red glass, but it’s slim pickings for fans of his more visually stylish work.
Four Times That Night/Quante volte… quella notte (1971)

The film is more interesting today for some of the attitudes laid out on casual display. Violence towards women is no big deal, rape is a source for humour, and our leading man is introduced kerb-crawling and trying to pick up women as if they were prostitutes. Giordano also gets some very unfortunate dialogue about homosexuality. Times have sure changed. Of course, it’s probable that this was also a reflection of the famous Italian ‘machismo’ as much as anything else. It’s interesting to note that Halsey is easily the most effective as the swaggering playboy and looks rather uncomfortable in the segment where he plays a homosexual. On the other hand, Giordano sails through the picture, convincing in all the various iterations of her character.

It was also a very troubled production. Money ran out early on, and the picture had to be re-financed. Additionally, despite being filmed in 1969, it wasn’t released in Italy until three years later, despite hitting cinemas in Canada in 1971. The delay was caused by director Riccardo Freda, who was working as head of the Italian censorship board at the time. He blocked the film’s release; in later years, claiming that he did it as a favour to his old friend Bava, because of the low quality of the finished work.
Four Times That Night/Quante volte… quella notte (1971)

Halsey was an American actor whose career began with small, unfeatured roles in big studio films before he transitioned to more notable work on US Network television, including appearances in ‘Gunsmoke’, ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘Highway Patrol.’ His big break in films came in the title role of monster sequel ‘Return of the Fly’ (1959) and, eventually, to co-lead in ‘Follow the Sun’, a production from 20th Century Fox Television that followed the adventures of two dashing young journalists based in Hawaii. Offers of leading film roles followed from Europe, and he spent the rest of the 1960s starring in a variety of projects, including Spaghetti Westerns, crime dramas and spy flicks such as ‘Bang You’re Dead’ (1965) and ‘Espionage in Lisbon’ (1965). His continental tour ended with another Bava project ‘Roy Colt and Winchester Jack’ (1970) before he returned to the US and guest slots on countless Network TV shows throughout the 1970s and 1980s, like ‘Columbo’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Airwolf.’

Viewed half a century later, it’s necessary to make some allowances for the prejudices and attitudes on display. However, the film is simply not very funny and, as that’s the primary function of a comedy, that’s the standard by which it should be assessed.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)‘Shooting pigeons helps free us from our subconscious feelings of aggression.’

A racing car driver cracks up during a practice lap, and barely escapes death in the flaming wreckage of her car. She takes up a surprise offer to stay with her ex-husband after recovery, only to find that the invitation came from his new wife. Not long after she arrives at their villa, the conversation turns to murder…

Intricate Giallo thriller from director Umberto Lenzi and star Carroll Baker, who had previously teamed up a year earlier for similar mysteries ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) and ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), the first of which, like this film, also bore the alternate title of ‘Paranoia’. All three featured the shifting dynamics of a small cast of main characters and their murderous interplay with each other.

Helen is a lady in trouble. Badly in debt after her racing circuit smash-up, she receives a telegram apparently sent me her ex-husband. On impulse, she decides to accept his offer of a place to take a breather, only to find when she arrives that the invite came from his wife, Constance (Anna Proclemer). Ex-hubby Maurice (Jean Sorel) hasn’t changed in the years since his divorce from Baker and Proclemer is expecting him to start straying soon, realising that he only married her for her money.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

‘You’re supposed to stab him in the back.’

Together, the two women hatch a plot to get rid of him for good, Proclemer buying Baker’s help with a hefty cheque. However, their principal motivation is that Sorel is like a drug to both of them, and it’s the only way they can kick the habit and move on with their lives. If this reason for murder does need a little work with the suspension of disbelief, then we have already had to accept Baker as a hot-shot racing car driver, so it’s not that hard.

The plan is to off Sorel with a spear gun on a yachting trip, but Baker freezes at the moment of crisis, having already tumbled into bed with him earlier. Proclemer tries to grab the weapon, the trio struggled, and Sorel stabs his wife to death. Moments later, they realise that the yacht of local judge and family friend, Albert (Luis Dávila) is heading their way, so they weigh down the body and fake an accident, pitching her overboard during a sudden sailing manoeuvre. Dávila is convinced, and the authorities can’t find the body, so everything looks like it’s working out fine. Then Sorel’s step-daughter, Susan (Marina Coffa) arrives unexpectedly from school, an and begins poking around, disbelieving their version of events from the first.

A Quiet Place To Kill/Paranoia (1970)

‘Is that drink for me or your new friend?’

This is a good, solid crime thriller and probably the best of the loose trio of films Baker and Lenzi made in quick succession that began with ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Yes, there is a sense of familiarity, and Baker and Sorel are certainly not required to do anything very challenging or depart from their screen personas of the time. Baker being the usual on edge, self-medicating nervous wreck who loses her clothes from time to time, and Sorel the smarmy, handsome playboy with a nasty edge. It’s little more than a slight variation of the roles they played together for director Romolo Guerrieri in ‘The Sweet Body of Deborah’ (1968), and both had repeated in other projects afterwards. Still, they are convincing and ably supported by Proclemer and Coffa.

The film scores most heavily with the screenplay, which was credited to four writers: Marcello Coscia, Bruno Di Geronimo, Rafael Romero Marchent and Marie Claire Solleville. Perhaps the number of authors goes some way to explain the multiple twists and turns the story contains before the fadeout. There is uncertainty about where events are heading throughout, and Lenzi’s fast pace ensures that the drama remains interesting. Of course, if you take the time to think about the plot afterwards, it’s highly implausible, to say the least.

It was time for some more subtle product placement.

Lenzi was a journeyman of Italian cinema, following trends even more slavishly than most directors of his era. He began his career with historical dramas and swashbucklers in the late 1950s before graduating to Peplum when that became popular with pictures such as ‘Zorro contro Maciste’ (1963) and ‘Messalina vs the Son of Hercules/L’ultimo gladiatore (1964). The inevitable Eurospys followed, such as ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965) and ‘Last Man To Kill’ (1966). His excursion into the Giallo included a fourth film with Baker (‘Knife of Ice’ (1972)) and was preceded by Spaghetti Western ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins/Una pistola per cento bare’ (1968). By the mid-point in the decade, he was making the inevitable ‘Godfather’ knock-offs and, in the 1980s, he followed splatter king Lucio Fulci into zombie horror with ‘Nightmare City’ (1980). Perhaps he is best remembered though for delivering the controversial ‘Cannibal ferox’ (1982) which the poster art would later proclaim was ‘banned in 31 countries.’

An enjoyable thriller; nothing special, but the performances are good, and the plot should keep you engaged until the final twist.

The White Reindeer/Valkoinen peura (1952)

The White Reindeer (1952)‘Some graveyard soil…the balls of ten bull moose…’

A free-spirited young woman marries a reindeer herder in their small, Lapland village. Frustrated and lonely due to his long absences from home, she goes to the local wise man, hoping that he can concoct a love potion that will make her irresistible to all men. However, the ceremony also awakens her own supernatural powers…

Unique and striking horror fable from Finland that combines elements of shape-shifting, vampirism and witchcraft into a highly unusual brew. Shot on location in Lapland, it was the first Finnish film to be shown at the Cannes film festival, winning a Special Jury Prize and belatedly picked up a Golden Globe award in 1956 for Best Foreign Film.

Wilful young orphan Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen) marries reindeer herder Aslak (Kalervo Nissilä) after a short courtship and settles down to married life in their remote Lapland village. Unfortunately, his work with the animals means long episodes of separation, and it’s pretty clear she’s not satisfied with him anyway, exchanging flirtatious glances with another man while he’s still at home. When he leaves on another expedition, she’s straight off to the local wise man Tsalkku-Nilla (Arvo Lehesmaa), asking for a love potion that will attract other men like bees to a honey pot. Lehman is happy to oblige but, during the spell-casting, he realises that Kuosmanen is a witch herself.

The White Reindeer (1952)

Undaunted by this revelation, Kuosmanen sets out to follow the wise man’s instructions; which involves killing the first living thing that she meets on the way home. This turns out to be the white fawn that Nissilä gave her as a present when they were newlyweds. But, no matter, she takes it with her to the ‘stone god’, a pillar of black rock crowned with a reindeer’s skull and makes the sacrifice. The spell is successful, but it turns her into a supernatural creature. Seemingly unchanged, she returns to the village to resume her everyday life but now she can shape-shift at will into a white reindeer. The fabulous animal lures men from their campsites into the snowy wastes, where she changes form again, this time into a vampire to finish off her prey.

This is probably the only film based around the beliefs of the Sámi people, often referred to as Laplanders in the English-speaking world, although some find this term offensive. They live in the Northern regions of the Scandinavian countries and the Kola Penisula, which is a part of Russia. The film opens with a prologue; a young mother (played by Kuosmanen, again) being found in the snow with a young baby. One old belief is that a vampire is a soul that reincarnates in a newborn when the original body dies young or violently. Spiritual significance is also given to unusual land formations, known as sieidis, which are often used as places of sacrifice. This finds realisation in the film as the ‘stone god’ which is surrounded by antlers, sticking out of the snow like small, broken trees.

The White Reindeer (1952)




Director Blomberg and star Kuosmanen were married at the time and wrote the film together. Aarne Tarkas was initially slated to direct, but cinematographer Blomberg replaced him. Whatever the reason for that, it proved to be a wise decision. Blomberg was primarily a documentary filmmaker and his approach to the everyday scenes of life in the village ground the film’s more fantastical elements in concrete reality. It’s even possible that some shots were taken from his previous short ‘With The Reindeer’ (1947). His matter of fact approach also scores with the settings, allowing the camera to linger on long takes of the bleak, snowy wastes, beautiful yet barren, almost like timeless postcards from another world.

Much of the film is dialogue-free, and there was probably no facility to record synchronised sound in certain locations as some of the action is accompanied only by the haunting score of Einar Englund. Rather than be a drawback, however, this emphasises a dream-like quality, which sits in stark contrast to the more realistic scenes of village life. Blomberg also tips his hat to FW Murnau with a shot of Kuosmanen’s shadow moving across her cabin floor. Framed by window bars in the shape of a cross, it brings back memories of Max Schreck’s dark form ascending the stairs in the final scenes of ‘Nosferatu’ (1922).

The White Reindeer (1952)


The film does have a few flaws, though, some probably caused by practical difficulties. The most notable is that Kuosmanen’s reindeer lures her victims repeatedly to the same location. Also, some moments of action are delivered via a quick cut to their consequences, so we don’t see what happened, just the aftermath. Kuosmanen’s transformations to the reindeer are also rendered similarly, although the absence of SFX is probably a good thing. Blomberg’s film is going for the subtle, rather than the explicit. Run time is only 68 minutes, which makes for a refreshingly lean presentation but a little effort to create significant supporting characters would have been nice.

But the success of an enterprise like this falls mainly on the shoulders of the leading actor. After all, she is rarely off-screen. This is Pirita’s story, from first to last. Thankfully, Kuosmanen is terrific, delivering a powerhouse performance as she deteriorates from a joyful, exuberant woman into a haunted, almost fragile, wraith, but one still driven by her overwhelming physical appetites. The correlation of sex and vampirism is an old as Bram Stoker’s original novel, and it had lost none of its potency in the half-century in between, Kuosmanen expertly suggesting the frustrations and needs that drive her character and decision making.

A very unusual setting, combined with some stunning visuals and an excellent central performance make this one well worth seeking out.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)‘How easily one is deceived by appearances.’

A handsome young man who runs a bridal fashion house is secretly a serial killer, targeting young girls about to be married. Each killing brings him closer to unlocking a hidden memory from his childhood past, but the forces of law and order are closing in…

Somewhat hard to classify Giallo drama from legendary horror maestro Mario Bava that came out hard on the heels of Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969) in the early months of 1970. Argento’s film redefined the Giallo and established many of the conventions followed by the sub-genre, and provoked the craze which saw dozens of such pictures produced in the first half of the next decade. Bava’s picture helped reinforce some of these specific elements.

Good looking young man about town John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) has all the trappings of an ideal life. He’s head of a successful fashion business lives in a palatial house and drives an expensive car. However, behind the scenes, things are not so perfect. His marriage to the rich Mildred (Laura Betti) is in trouble, and she refuses to give him a divorce, reminding him that, although he may have inherited the fashion house from his mother, she’s the one paying all the bills. Being surrounded by beautiful models may provide plenty of opportunity for a bit of extra-curricular activity, but, instead, his taste runs to carving up prospective young brides with a cleaver. As he explains rather smugly in his voiceover, he’s completely mad.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

Unsurprisingly, he’s a person of interest to Inspector Russell (Jesús Puente), especially after one of his models, Alice Norton (Femi Benussi) goes missing. She’s ended up in his greenhouse incinerator after a quick spin with him around the dancefloor of his private backroom. This is populated by mannequins in bridal gowns, which we quickly learn is the trigger that provokes Forsyth’s homicidal rages. Each murder provokes more memories of an event from his past, an event that he is desperate to recall, believing that this knowledge will free him of his madness.

This is a rather unusual entry in the ranks of Giallo, with some commentators considering that its inclusion in the sub-genre isn’t a valid one. After all, the only mystery in the film concerns the killer’s motivation, not his identity, and the climactic revelations when Forsyth regains his memories are hardly a surprise to experienced viewers. However, the notion of repressed childhood trauma as motivation for a killer did become a Giallo staple. Argento’s movie had touched on the idea, as had the Frederick Brown novel that was its initial inspiration, but it was Bava’s film that brought it front and centre. Of course, roots of this idea go back even further, to film noir such as Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’ (1945) and psychodramas like ‘The Spiral Staircase’ (1946).

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

The oddest inclusion in the film is the element of the supernatural. Not surprisingly, nagging wife Betti ends up on the wrong end of Forsyth’s macabre hobby, but it’s not the last he sees of her. Instead, she pops up frequently, at first seen only by other people, then only visible to him. This was apparently an addition to the script made by Bava after close friend Betti expressed an interest in appearing in the picture. Yes, her ghostly presence can be interpreted as a sign of Forsyth’s unravelling psyche as he nears total recall, but it sits uneasily in the narrative, especially at first viewing. It helps that Betti is terrific, and her scenes with Forsyth are some of the best in the picture, but it still takes some getting used to.

As a Spanish-Italian co-production, for once Bava was persuaded to work outside his beloved homeland, and the primary location used for Forsyth’s home was a mansion once owned by General Franco. Of course, Bava took full advantage of these high-ceilinged, rich interiors, and displays his superb technique with camera movement and shot framing. Despite the affluence on prominent display, it’s an unsettling, haunted place filled with threatening shadows.

Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

If it had taken Argento’s debut film to popularise the Giallo, it was Bava who had birthed it, with earlier films ‘The Girl Who Knew Too Much’ (1963) and ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964). The latter film was also set in a fashion house and, as perhaps as an in-joke, actor Luciano Pigazzi turns up for a brief appearance in this film, playing much the same role as he did in the earlier one. The selection of such a business also plays into the director’s undoubted obsession with the unreliability of appearances. Here, he’s ably assisted by Forsyth’s performance, flipping from handsome and bland in everyday life to manic and violent after the sun goes down. Apart from Betti, none of the rest of the cast gets much of a look-in, unfortunately. However, the scene where she is bleeding out on the stairs above the heads of the oblivious Puente and his sergeant is superbly played by all.

As per usual, it’s Bava’s startling technique that engages, whether it’s the startling transition from a murder to a seance or the misdirection of following the initial murder on a train to Forsyth playing with a model locomotive, it’s a constant delight. Better still, these flourishes are included not for the sake of mere cleverness, but, because they inform the story and its characters. Forsyth’s perfectly preserved childhood room where his movements throw a shadowplay of light and darkness across the faces of his old toys is a perfect metaphor for his character’s inability to move on from the hidden trauma rooted deep in his childhood. Similarly, the scene where he caresses the mannequins in their wedding clothes is more than enough to inform us that, despite his playboy appearance and seeming lifestyle, there’s probably more than a little lacking in his bedroom activities.
Hatchet For The Honeymoon/Il rosso segno della follia/Blood Brides (1970)

This was Forsyth’s final film in a short film career based almost entirely in Italian and Spanish productions, including the lead in ‘Fury in Marrakesh’ (1966). He also worked as a photo-journalist during this period and found later success as a composer and choreographer. Some of his photographic work has a permanent place in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Harvard Film Archives as well as several other prestigious institutions.

Leading lady Dagmar Lassander is given far too little do in the film, but went onto to lead Gialli such as ‘The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970), ‘The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire’ (1971) and ‘Reflections in Black/Il vizio ha le calze nere’ (1975). She had leading roles in many pictures during the following decade, including comedies and crime thrillers, as well as somewhat notorious horror ‘Werewolf Woman’ (1976). Later work included featured supporting roles in Lucio Fulci’s controversial horrors ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) and ‘The Black Cat’ (1981).

Not one of Bava’s best, but still an absorbing psychodrama, touched by his usual genius.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)‘Has anyone dared feed your monster a little steel?’

While travelling home to Thebes, Hercules and his crew encounter a ship filled with pirates and put them to the sword. Their cargo of slaves are refugees from Troy, fleeing the city because every month a virgin must be sacrificed to a sea monster to appease the Gods…

At the end of the Italian muscleman cycle, director Albert Band decided to take the Hercules character onto the small screen with the assistance of producer Joseph E Levine, who had brought Steve Reeves to America with the original ‘Hercules’ (1957) and kicked off the whole craze in the first place. Together, they created this 50-minute pilot starring ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott in the title role. Unfortunately, the show didn’t sell, and the result went to cinema screens instead. Although that doesn’t sound promising, the film provides a surprisingly decent level of entertainment.

Sailing home to Thebes after various adventures, Scott and his companions encounter a pirate sharp, captained by Gordon Mitchell. A fairly well-choreographed fight scene follows, ending with Scott dumping Mitchell into a basket and flinging him overboard. Scott’s brothers In arms are led by ‘philosopher, scientist and sceptic Diogenes (Paul Stevens) and Ulysses, the son of the King of Thebes, played by Mart Hulswit. The easy banter between the three is one of the drama’s significant strengths and would have provided a solid base for a series if one had subsequently followed.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘Pah! Why does Scott get all the close-ups?’

When they take the refugees back home, the gang are disappointed to find their charges imprisoned when they reach the city. As King Petra (Steve Garrett) explains, they broke the law by leaving. Every month, the young maidens of Troy have to make themselves available for possible selection as monster fodder. Even Garrett’s niece, Diana (Diana Hyland) has to take part until she takes the throne in a couple of months. Of course, Scott vows to challenge the beast and end the curse, but intrigues at court threaten the attempt. The main problem is that Garrett is planning to hold onto the throne by ensuring Hyland is chosen at the next ceremony. Her lover, Leander (George Ardisson) is also jealous of the big man.

There’s enough plot here for a full-length feature and, at times, it does feel like this has been cut down from something much longer. This impression is heightened by actor Everett Sloane, who is fulfilling the role of VoiceOver Man here. This wouldn’t usually be a problem, but the device is overused, and his commentary is often unnecessary. Still, there is a fair quantity of well-mounted action, and it’s evident that Band had a decent budget at his disposal. The monster FX are variable; in the water, the creature looks pretty ragged, but it fares far better on land. It may not stir from the one spot on the beach, but it’s an impressive size and has a good range of body movement otherwise. Scott’s interactions with it make for a decent climax, although you can’t help wondering why everyone else just stands by and watches the fight, rather than give the big man a helping hand.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘Keep your tentacles to yourself.’

The performances also help proceedings significantly, with Scott making for a fine Hercules. Physically, he looks the part, and he has a charm and screen presence that elevates him above most of the actors who have taken on the role. Stevens is the brains of the heroic trio and delivers his lines with a dry, cynical humour that provides a nice contrast to the youthful enthusiasm of the good-natured Hulswit. We also get Roger Browne as heroic soldier, Ortag, who unsuccessfully takes on the monster at the start of the story, and later helps to rescue Scott from the bottom of a metal pit. Ardisson also displays a lively presence in his underdeveloped role, although he can’t compete with pirate captain Mitchell who only gets about a minute of screen time.

Scott had first made his mark through military service before pursuing various careers after his honourable discharge: cowboy, fireman and salesman. He was spotted by Hollywood talent scouts while working as a lifeguard, and producer Sol Lesser cast him in the title role of ‘Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle’ (1955). Five films in the series followed before he moved to Italy where he was cast in Peplum films, taking on the roles of many of its’ significant strongmen including Maciste, Samson and Goliath, as well as Hercules. But, by the mid-1960s, the popularity of such characters was being eclipsed at the box office by more modern adventures, typically featuring guns, girls and gadgets. Scott briefly made the switch to the spy game, but, after a couple of outings as a ‘Bond On A Budget’, he retired in 1967.

Hercules and the Princess of Troy (1965)

‘A little help, please…’

Ardisson and Browne shared a very similar initial career trajectory, both getting their starts in Peplum before transferring to the Eurospy arena. But, while Scott retired, both Ardisson and Browne went onto long careers throughout the 1970s and beyond. Ardisson is probably best remembered for his work with director Mario Bava, appearing as sidekick Theseus in ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961) and the title role of ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961). Browne took the lead in cult favourite ‘Argoman The Fantastic Superman/The Fantastic Argoman’ (1967) and toplined half a dozen Eurospy pictures, most of which were better examples of the type, such as ‘SuperSeven Calling Cairo’ (1965) and ‘Operation Poker’ (1965).

A surprisingly good little episode in the chronicles of its muscle-bound hero. A series never resulted, of course, and, although that’s not a tragedy, on this evidence, it certainly had the potential to be an entertaining show.