The Loreley’s Grasp/Las Garras De Lorelei (1973)

The Loreley's Grasp (1973)‘These pieces are anatomical. I get them from the hospital to carry out my experiments.’

A small town by the Rhine in Germany becomes the scene of a series of horrific murders. Fearing for their charges, the headmistress of a local finishing school for girls hires a hunter to kill the wild beast that everyone believes is responsible. However, he’s happier spending time with the strange, green-eyed woman who he meets down by the lake…

Rather messy, unsatisfying Euro-Horror from Spanish director Amando De Ossorio, who enjoyed his greatest success as creator of the ‘Blind Dead’ series. Those stylish horrors featured the murderous exploits of a band of Knight Templars coming back from beyond the grave in glorious slow motion. Here, he takes a crack at the myth of the Lorelei (spellings vary), a female beast who tore the hearts out of sailors and bossed a crew of sirens on the banks of the Rhine. Sadly, despite popular belief, the tale isn’t really a myth at all, having its origins in a ballad composed by Clemens Brentano as recently as 1801 and popularised by a Heinrich Heine poem just over twenty years later. So the character actually has no origin in folklore at all but that didn’t stop De Ossorio trying to tie it in with the epic tale of Siegfried, the legendary dragon-slayer.

At first, things develop along fairly predictable lines. A young bride-to-be is slaughtered when a strange creature smashes its way into her bedroom the night before the wedding. The killing is pretty gory as the victim has her heart torn out, and De Ossorio doesn’t skimp on the claret. As a result, hunter Tony Kendall gets the gig of guarding the local girl’s school, an appointment that doesn’t meet with the approval of uptight teacher Sylvia Tortosa. Just for once it would be nice to see a film where the roguish charmer and the stunning ice-maiden don’t end up making goo-goo eyes at each other before the final credits roll but, predictably enough, this isn’t it.

The course of true love doesn’t run smooth, though, as Kendall starts a thing with the mysterious Helga Liné, who favours a skimpy dark-green bikini with tassels and hanging around in damp places. Although we suspect this relationship is not going to end in a church wedding and Sunday morning trips to the garden centre. De Ossorio’s script also throws in a scientist researching cellular mutation, a torch bearing mob who give up after a couple of minutes, a blind violinist who seems to know more than he’s telling (he doesn’t), and the Lorelei getting all gnarly and eating hearts during a cycle of seven full moons (is she a werewolf then?)

‘Wanna go for a swim, babe?’

In puzzling developments, Kendall is the reincarnation of Siegfried (I think!) and a trio of sirens wrestle for his affections. The mayor admits they should ‘probably start an investigation’ after his town suffers the fourth brutal murder in as many days. Where are the police? I have no idea. Still, we can leave it all to Kendall who rocks a white suit, rifle and motorbike combo, following up with a bare chest and blue & white striped flared trousers that he stole from a fairground.

The girls at the school show some skin at the swimming pool, fawn over Kendall, and form an orderly queue to be the next victim while poor Liné freezes her bits off attempting to exhibit grace and poise gallivanting about half naked and barefoot on a muddy lakeshore. Toward the climax, the Lorelei (Loreley?) talks about spending eternity with Kendall in Valhalla (perish the thought!) but, hang on, isn’t that Norse mythology anyway? Finally, everything comes to a rather soggy and abrupt conclusion, courtesy of everyone wanting to get back inside in a hurry where it’s nice and warm.

It’s fair to say that De Ossorio’s strengths were in his visual style, rather than his scripts, but even that seems to have deserted him here. There are a few good shot compositions (particularly the landscape down by the lake) but, most of the film betrays little of his talent in that regard. Together with the hopelessly muddled storyline, there’s more than a little flavour of a project hurried into production before everything was ready. The tale had been tackled on the big screen before (a 1927 German silent) and it has potential, but sadly this is little more than a mash-up of old horror tropes and half-formed ideas.

The Loreley's Grasp (1973)

‘You do remember my ‘safe word’ right?’

De Ossorio returned to his ‘Blind Dead’ series, the second of which ‘Return of the Evil Dead’ (1973) also starred Kendall in the lead. In fact, several of the cast appear in both films and, as locations in and around Madrid are another common factor, it’s quite possible that the two projects were shot back to back. If so, it’s pretty obvious where De Ossorio’s heart lay (and even the attentions of the Lorelei couldn’t change his mind!)

Arguably, Kendall and Liné both left their best days behind them in the previous decade; Kendall as James Bond wannabe ‘Kommissar X’ and Liné in other Eurospy projects and two films featuring supervillain ‘Kriminal’. Having said that, the German-born actress remained very active in Spanish film and television until 2006. Although less regularly employed, it’s pleasing to report that Tortosa is still working, and is currently attached to a forthcoming project starring Alexander Siddig; familiar to ‘Star Trek’ fans for his regular role on ‘Deep Space Nine.’ And who can forget that she took a ride on the stylish ‘Horror Express’ (1972) with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and a wildly overacting Telly Savalas?

Not a terrible film by any means, but one that squanders a potentially interesting idea and delivers instead an occasionally entertaining but rather generic experience.

Malenka/Fangs of the Living Dead (1969)

Malenka (1969)‘She subjected her husband to certain experiments in Necro-biology.’

A top Italian fashion model inherits a castle and a noble title from the mother she never knew. Arriving at her ancestral home, she finds the locals terrified of vampires and her uncle determined that she embrace a sinister legacy.

Deeply flawed Spanish Euro-horror from director Amando De Ossorio that seems unclear as to whether it’s a straight horror, a gothic mystery or a satire. At first, things seem simple enough; star Anita Ekberg gets news of her sudden windfall and trots off to the sort of generic peasant-land where there’s always a Castle Dracula up on the hill above the town. She leaves her partner Gianni Medici behind with sidekick César Benet. Of course, when Ekberg arrives at the local tavern and mentions where she’s going, all the villagers are appropriately terrified. Considering we never see the place nearly so full again, it seems that everyone just turned up that morning to pop their eyes for her benefit. The sequence brings up the first question about the film’s tone. It’s such a tired cliché as to be borderline ridiculous, so is it supposed to be funny? Well, there’s been no previous signs of comedy, so it’s hard to say.

Once at the Castle, we do seem to be in familiar horror territory; complete with an abundant selection of the usual clichés. There’s dogs howling in the moonlight, bat wings at the window, a flashback to a torch-bearing mob, the portrait of the lookalike ancestor, and the gorgeous Adriana Ambesi lounging about in a very fetching negligee and a set of pointy teeth. In fact, there’s so much church organ music on the soundtrack that I began to suspect Lon Chaney was hiding in the basement! In fact it’s all so clichéd that it all begs the ‘comedy’ question again. Certainly, Benet’s half-hearted clowning suggests that was the intention, but his lame attempts seem strangely at odds with everything else.

There’s also a confusing climax which – spoiler alert! – seems to confirm at one point that all these vampire shenanigans have been staged by suave uncle Julian Ugarte to cheat Ekberg out of her inheritance. Unlikely as that is in terms of what’s gone before, we can accept it. Until Ugarte gets staked and turns to dust. So he was a real vampire pretending to be a human pretending to be a vampire? And he was in cahoots with Diana Lorys who wasn’t a vampire after all? All this would be ok if it was a comedy, of course, but we’re not really sure about that, are we?

Malenka (1969)

‘Bottoms up!’

The ‘comedy’ angle would explain one thing: Ekberg’s performance. If she was playing it straight, then she’s absolutely dreadful, tongue in cheek then her exaggerated reactions become explicable. The film was described in some quarters as the ‘picture that hammered the final nail into the cinematic coffin of the bomb-shelter-era bombshell’ so it’s fair to say that her efforts here were not well received.

De Ossorio got it right next time, of course, delivering cult hit ‘Tombs of the Blind Dead’ (1972) and its‘ various sequels, even though they were of very variable quality. But all his films share the same strengths and weaknesses. As a visual stylist, he was truly talented; able to evoke mood and atmosphere with subtle uses of colour and landscape. His films are filled with some truly stunning compositions and memorable images. Unfortunately, he also wrote all his own projects, and his scripts betray none of the same creativity or imagination, being terribly derivative and predictable.

A confusing picture, with clashing tones, that has some memorable visuals but is likely to leave an audience deeply unsatisfied.

Night of the Seagulls/La Noche de las gaviotas (1975)

Night of the Seagulls (1975)‘There’s something horrible behind these stories…’

A young doctor and his wife arrive at a small, coastal village to take on the medical practice but find the locals unfriendly and the outgoing sawbones desperate to leave. They take in the local village idiot who has been beaten, and hear a bell ringing in the dead of night. Then they witness a strange ceremony on the beach…

The final chapter of Spanish director Amando De Ossorio’s ‘Blind Dead’ quartet, like the others, is only connected via the presence of the undead Knights Templar. Here they’re rising from their watery graves every seven years to claim seven young girls as sacrificial victims provided by the frightened villagers. There’s little mystery about these proceedings, with medico Victor Petit and blonde wife Maria Kosty (here billed as Maria Kosti) tumbling to what’s going on soon after offering sanctuary to proposed final victim Sandra Mozarosky. Anyone in the audience familiar with the series will soon feel a heavy sense of déjà vu, particularly with our heroes under siege in the third act, as De Ossorio references George A Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) just one more time.

However, there are considerable compensations to be had elsewhere. The locations are wonderful, an authentic peasant village with stone houses, huts and twisted streets perched on a hillside above a long, rocky beach. There’s even a castle in the distance! This allows De Ossorio a fine canvas and he uses it with the skill of a true artist. Old crones in black hustle another victim along the sand while a siren song and tolling bell play her funeral dirge, the templars ride their phantom horses through the surf in slow motion, seagulls wheel in the empty sky above. Some of the visuals are actually quite stunning, and a genuinelly unsettling atmosphere bleeds into the frame as we build toward the third act.

Unfortunately, the film also highlights De Ossorio’s weaknesses, as much as his strengths. He always filmed his own scripts, and, as a writer, he was sorely lacking in creative ideas or a fresh perspective. Audiences who have already viewed the previous three films in the series could be forgiven for feeling this is just more of the same, with little story development, underwritten characters and no sense of surprise or real invention. Face-offs with the Templars are also disappointingly static, with little sense of threat or danger, despite their horrific appearance. This mirrors the other entries in the series, and was probably simply down to the technical limitations of the time.

Night of the Seagulls (1975)

‘Good evening. We’re from the TV Licensing Authority…’

Stripping the cast to less than half a dozen principals is a good decision, though, and special mention must be given to Kosty, who manages to create a three-dimensional character out of the generic role of the doctor’s wife. And the sound design is quite superb, another great score by regular collaborator Antón García Abril used sparingly with natural sounds, long silences, and the hollow echo of the hoofbeats of the approaching horses.

By the mid-1970s the Spanish Horror boom was over, and despite the imminent VHS revolution, this was pretty much the end of the road for De Ossorio. There are barely a handful of subsequent films on his CV, culminating in pet project ‘The Sea Serpent’ (1984), a movie that featured US stars including Ray Milland in his final theatrical release. Sadly, by all accounts, the SFX are appalling and the film effectively finished the director’s career.

A better appreciation of this film is possible by simply ignoring the others in the quartet, especially dire third instalment ‘El Buque Maldito/Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead’ (1974). If an audience can manage that, and forgive the undercooked storyline, then it’s a satisfying slow burn of a horror experience, particularly notable for its creepy atmosphere, echoes of H P Lovecraft, and those impressive visuals.

Return of the Blind Dead/Return of the Evil Dead/El ataque de los muertos sin ojos (1973)

Return of the Blind Dead (1973)‘You wretched bastards! You will die, you evil warlocks!’

In the middle ages, a cult of murderous Knight Templars imposed a reign of terror on a rural district of Portugal, before being blinded and burned to death. Every year, the descendants of the villagers responsible celebrate their delivery from evil with a drunken festival. Unfortunately, the custodian of the local churchyard plans to resurrect the Templars and have them crash this year’s party…

Spanish director Armando De Ossorio had enjoyed considerable success with his first movie featuring the undead Templars, ‘Tombs of the Blind Dead’ (1972), so a sequel was fairly inevitable. However, rather than continue the narrative of the first film, he opted instead for starting from scratch and developing a plot along the lines of George A Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968).

Our main man is Tony Kendall, late of the ’Kommissar X’ Eurospy/Crime series, who swaps his trademark smirk for a sheepskin jacket, moody stubble and a permanent cigarette. He’s the pyrotechnic expert brought in to give the celebrations a bit of a punch, but instead winds up on the wrong end of some fisticuffs, courtesy of Town Mayor Fernando Sancho and his pet goon squad. The problem? Kendall has previous with Laurette Tovar, who happens to be the Mayor’s intended, and the two rekindle their romance with a wrestling match in the abbey ruins. But all this backstory is quite perfunctory really, as De Ossorio knows exactly why everyone is here, and we get to it pretty quickly.

The undead Templars are as impressive as in the first movie, their slow-motion gallop across the screen providing genuine chills, although, I couldn’t help but wonder where they get their phantom horses? After they scythe their way through the town square and the local population, a small group of survivors barricade themselves inside the local church, and we are firmly in Romero territory. There isn’t a lot of story development after that, which is the film’s main weakness. From the start, there’s been a sense of characters being introduced simply to be killed off, and even the leads are so sketchily presented that it’s hard to have much emotional investment in what happens to them.

Return of the Blind Dead (1973)

Some people had been waiting a long time in the queue for the new iPhone 7

The Templars are a scary proposition but, aside from them and the excellent music by Anton Garcia Gabril, there’s not a lot else to get excited about. The action is no more than competently staged, and there are one too many shots of dummies that would have been better consigned to the cutting room floor.

There’s also a disappointing lack of fireworks. After all, that’s why Kendall’s in town in the first place, so it would seem reasonable to expect some interaction between the undead and the pyrotechnics at some point. But it never happens. Furthermore, the resolution of our remaining heroes into a makeshift family unit is so predictable that you see it coming from the moment the Templars surround the church.

De Ossorio certainly had a fine visual sense and there are some truly memorable moments here involving the Templars. They look very impressive and may have inspired SFX man Rob Bottin’s work on John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ (1980). However, De Ossorio’s screenwriting ability couldn’t match his directorial flair, and having created the undead horseman, there’s a suspicion that he didn’t really know what to do with them. His script is a procession of very obvious beats; not the worst you will ever see by any means, but bereft of any true invention or personality.

A good, solid Euro-Horror of the period, but with a few more ideas, it could have been so much more.