So Sweet…So Perverse/Così Dolce…Così Perversa (1969)

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)‘Don’t get yourself so upset. You see corpses everywhere…’

A philandering playboy, caught in a loveless marriage, becomes intrigued by the mysterious blonde who has taken the apartment upstairs. Before long, they are having a passionate affair, but she is still seemingly in thrall to her abusive ex-boyfriend…

In many ways, this is the archetypical late 1960s Giallo thriller. This cocktail of death and sex is served up by journeyman Italian director Umberto Lenzi, who had just come off the similarly themed ‘Orgasmo’ (1969). Why is it so typical Well, there’s a small cast of principals whose loyalties and alliances are continually suspect. There’s a low body count, no blood to speak of, and the nudity is kept mostly under wraps. There’s also a twisting plot more reminiscent of a ‘mystery of the week’ than the kind of borderline horror picture that helped to inspire the American Slasher craze of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Our less than perfect protagonist is Jean-Louis Trintignant, already experienced in this kind of picture. Here, he’s a casual businessman approaching a mid-life crisis. Why is a little hard to understand. After all, he’s hitched to the beautiful and wealthy Erika Blanc, and they live in a wonderfully gothic old building in the centre of Paris. But Trintignant is a serial player with a roving eye and other wandering parts of his anatomy, and his various infidelities have left him at loggerheads with Blanc. Enter beautiful blonde Carroll Baker, who takes the apartment upstairs. Blanc had wanted to rent it for expansion purposes (or perhaps as a retreat from Trintignant), so the couple has a key. Trintignant finds a dropped earring in the elevator, which seems to belong to Baker, and well, you can guess the rest.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘This is the last time I let the boss drive me home from work..’

As usual, the game is to guess who’s in league with who and what they might be planning to do to someone else. The wild card is the last member of our featured quartet; violent bully Klaus (Horst Frank), who runs a photography studio. He still has some hold over Baker despite their relationship being over. Or is it?

Baker was getting quite experienced at playing out these kinds of scenarios, and she’s the stand out here. Her character turns on a dime so many times that it sends Trintignant into a complete spin, and constantly wrong-foots the audience. Is she victim, or perpetrator? Damsel in distress or cold-hearted femme fatale? Elsewhere, Blanc gets a bit of a thankless role as the cast-aside wife, but there is a nice piece of business where she walks around her flat staring up at the ceiling, following the sounds of Baker and Trintignant making love in the flat upstairs. There’s also some casual exploitation with stripper Beryl Cunningham in a ‘swinging’ party scene, and Helga Liné is completely wasted as a family friend. It may have been a nothing role, but at least it was another credit for the hardest working actress in 1960s Europe.

Probably the film’s greatest asset is that Lenzi resists a lot of the tricks and flourishes he’d employed on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), although there is one sequence where he throws the camera around and puts coloured filters on the lens. But it’s brief, and most of the time he chooses to shoot in a way that serves the story, rather than distracts from it. The twists are better executed too, happening more organically throughout the film. This helps to keep the audience interested, even if the final resolution isn’t particularly satisfying and the end product is ultimately a little bland.

So Sweet...So Perverse (1969)

‘Thank you, but I’m not interested in a new set of vacuum cleaner brushes.’

The film’s most remarkable feature is the presence of so many people on both sides of the camera who became closely associated with the Giallo film. Behind the scenes are co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Sergio Martino, both of whom leant their talents to many similar outings.

Baker had only just finished working on ‘Orgasmo’ (1969) with Lenzi and went on to star in half-dozen or so similar projects into the 1970s. Here, she is dubbed by another actress in the English language version; presumably, her voice-track not being available after the original Italian dub. It’s not as disconcerting as similar instances involving actors such as Christopher Lee, as her voice is not as distinctive, but it’s still a little distracting.

A solid thriller. Not a bad example of the genre, but a little unmemorable.

The Third Eye/ll Terzo Occhio (1966)

The Third Eye (1966)‘Life is no more than fleeting shadows. A wonderful fairy tale designed for idiots.’

A handsome Count plans to marry but his choice does not meet with the approval of his elderly mother or their live-in maid, who has designs on the family fortune herself. When both his fiancée and the Countess die on the same day, the Count’s fragile psyche begins to unravel. Things get a lot worse when his late girlfriend’s twin sister makes the scene…

Dark thriller from Italian director Mino Guerrini that’s often considered an early Giallo film, or at least one that contributed to the development of the genre. Although credited as based on the exploits of a real life serial killer, the plot was actually the invention of producer Ermano Donati. Franco Nero takes the lead as our troubled nobleman in the same year that he found fame as legendary gunslinger ‘Django’ (1966). The other major players are Gioia Pascal as the scheming servant and a young (and blonde!) Erika Blanc as the twins. The supporting cast is minimal with only Olga Solbelli as the Countess receiving any significant screen time.

The film opens with Blanc on a visit to the family villa, which is the film’s principal location and considerably more impressive than your average rental for a weekend getaway. She’s obviously bored with her intended, which is no surprise when it turns out that Nero’s character has all the charisma of a wet fish. Mumsie really isn’t happy about the impending nuptials either, and confides to Pascal that she’d do anything to stop the wedding. Later on, we find out that mother and son sleep in the same bedroom, so it’s probably not the healthiest of family dynamics!

The Third Eye (1966)

Nero’s audition for the ‘Land of the Giants’ was a complete triumph…

Anyway, (un)faithful family retainer Pascal takes her employer at her word and nips out to the garage where her big knife meets the brake lines of Blanc’s little runabout. In the meantime, Nero is practicing some fairly aggressive taxidermy on a dead bird in his basement laboratory! Ok, that is a lot more sinister than it sounds; after all, every man needs a hobby, right? Still it is a bit of a worry I guess.

When he find out that Blanc has flounced out in a bit of a huff, he jumps in his own car to chase her down, only in time to see her take a header off a mountain road. At the same time, Pascal and Solbeli have a bit of a barney at the top of the stairs, which ends up with the latter taking a tumble into the next life, courtesy of some violent post-summersault attentions from Pascal. All fair enough, but what follows stretches credibility to an unreasonable extent.

Let’s examine the police investigation, or rather the lack of one. Officers do turn up when the Countess croaks, but seem perfectly happy to put it down to an accident. The audience can just about give that a pass but their procedures in Blanc’s case seem a little slipshod to say the least. When Nero scrambles down the slope after her crack up, he’s too late; she’s dead and draped over the wreck which is lying upside down in shallow water. Now, we can accept that Nero manages to snatch the body without being seen, but what exactly happens to the car? Later on, Blanc’s twin tells us that the police are diving in the sea to look for her body. So I guess they found the scene of the accident? If so, then why isn’t it a murder investigation? Didn’t they notice that the brake lines on the car had been cut? Or did the car get washed away on a convenient wave? But, if that was case, why are they searching for her in the sea? These are not insurmountable problems to be sure, but the film just ignores them.

There’s also a problem with the rest of the story. Granted, events are traumatic enough to send Nero off the deep end, but why do they turn him into a serial killer? He picks up a stripper performing at a local club and then strangles her in bed next to the corpse of his beloved. A prostitute follows the same way. Does anyone report these girls missing? Do the police link their disappearances with the mystery of what happened to Blanc? Didn’t at least a dozen witnesses see Nero pick up the stripper from the club anyway? And just how much time has passed? Is it a week after Blanc’s death? A month? A year? Has he used his taxidermy skills to preserve her body? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions because the movie never tells us.

The Third Eye (1966)

Putting in his eyedrops was always such a performance…

What we have here is a film of parts that don’t come together. The serial killer aspect seems unrelated to the early murders; almost as if it were included to pass the time before Blanc’s twin arrives to kick the film into the final act. There’s also a violent murder with a knife that doesn’t fit with the killer’s previous methods, although it is a signpost to future films in the Giallo arena.

Performances are a mixed bag, with Nero mostly either blank or pulling silly faces, although there are a couple of scenes where he seems believably disturbed. The inexperienced Blanc is better as the bitchy sister than the innocent heroine, although the script’s complete lack of character development can’t have been helpful. The standout is Pascal’s scheming maid; the role is as one note as all the others but she does deliver a fine portrait of delicious villainy. It makes it all the more puzzling that she only made one other film, and that in a supporting role. Both Blanc and Nero went onto long and successful film careers, of course, and are still working at the time of writing.

The film was remade as ‘Buio Omega’/’Beyond The Darkness’ (1979) by prolific director Aristide Massaccesi, who made almost 200 films under many different names and in many different genres. He used Joe D’Amato for this one and it has quite the reputation for sleaze, nastiness and gore.

A rather muddled and frustrating film that has a few decent moments but is a rather unsatisfying experience.

Spies Kill Silently/Le Spie Uccidono In Silenzio (1966)

Spies Kill Silently (1966)‘Then you become an automaton, bending all of your willpower and intelligence to my will alone.’

When a top professor’s daughter is murdered, it provides confirmation that a mysterious villain is targeting the scientific community. His assassins are individuals in positions of utmost trust, programmed to obey him via a new hypnotic drug. The authorities send their best agent to bring the madman to justice…

Although it was not obvious at the time, it now seems clear that the Italian and Spanish governments signed an international treaty in the mid-1960s. Their intention was to take over the world by flooding the marketplace with endless cheap Eurospy films, thus bankrupting Hollywood and the western Military-Industrial Complex. It’s the only thing that makes any reasonable sense.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is Canadian actor Lang Jeffries as Michael Drum, an agent so brilliant that he only thinks to check his hotel room for electronic bugs after he’s explained his plans to local police inspector Craig (Jose Bodalo). He’s also happy to accept a colleague’s prompt identification of a cyanide pill, which he makes just by looking at it. Yes, we’re back in the fairly predictable territory of low-budget spy shenanigans, with a complete absence of big set pieces, stunts, gadgets and even car chases. Most of the action here is confined to the usual fisticuffs and a couple of gun battles. After one of those, Jeffries strolls down the street and fixes a beautiful woman’s car. When she asks for the keys back, he keeps them. ‘I’ll drive’ he smirks, taking her right back to his hotel room. Why does she just smile and go along with it? Because it’s the sixties, baby! Oh, and because she’s an enemy agent, which no-one could possibly have guessed.

In its defence, at least director Mario Caiario keeps things going at a decent pace and, although Jeffries is not over-blessed with screen presence, he’s a capable enough leading man. He enjoyed a very brief career on US TV in the late-1950s before being cast opposite Rhonda Fleming in Italian muscleman picture ‘Revolt of the Slaves’ (1960). He rarely worked outside of Europe after that, playing mostly in costume pictures and more Eurospy films. He even tried his hand at science fiction; appearing as literary hero Perry Rhodan in the hopelessly tatty but rather fun, ‘Mission: Stardust’ (1967).

Spies Kill Silently (1966)

The Three Stooges were trying out some edgier new material…

Elsewhere in the cast we find the lovely Erika Blanc, who brought beauty to a number of notable cult pictures in the 1960s, including Mario Bava’s ‘Kill, Baby…Kill’ (1966), and several Eurospy films like ‘Espionage in Lisbon’ (1965). She also steamed up the screen in horror ‘The Devil’s Nightmare’ (1971). She’s still working as of 2017 at the age of 75.

What lets this film down in the final analysis is the fragmentary script, which is little more than a hodgepodge of half realised ideas that were already becoming a little too familiar by the mid-1960s. Character motivation is never a major concern; the most obvious example being that of our supervillain Andrea Bosic. Why is he killing off all the scientists who are working on projects to help the human race? Well…umm…we don’t really know. He never really explains himself, beyond some vague declarations about taking over the world. He even unveils a super weapon toward the end of the film that he’s had all along but never mentioned!

Cookie-cutter Eurospy which benefits from good pacing and professionalism all round, but the only thing likely to live in the memory is the shortcomings of the script.

Kill, Panther, Kill! / Kommissar X – Die Blaue Panther (1968)

Kill Panther Kill (1968)‘Confucius say: He who has cheese for brains doesn’t think.’

A career criminal escapes custody so he can meet with his brother and reclaim the proceeds of a big jewellery heist. Police Captain Tom Rowland is on the case, but his old friend, and sometime rival, Joe Walker has been employed by an insurance company to recover the gems…

The fifth in the seven-film ‘Kommissar X’ series finds main man Tony Kendall doing the usual: running around the glamorous capital cities of Europe as ‘Bond on a Budget’ juggling the usual guns, gadgets and girls. Only it doesn’t. The last of the secret agent trappings departed with previous entry ‘Death Trip’ (1967) and, from this film onwards, it was strictly criminals targeting a profit motive, rather than world domination. Yes, spies were ‘out’ and international crime thrillers were ‘in.’ And, instead of Paris, Rome and London, the action is centred on Calgary and Montreal.

Unfortunately, without those Eurospy quirks or outlandish touches, the script is the definition of safe and predictable, and the finished item is more than a little mundane. All round bad egg Franco Fantasia stages a breakout that leaves his guards dead, and joins up with the other two members of his old gang, the smooth but nasty Siegfried Rauch, and the slightly wacky Gianfranco Parolini (who also directed under his usual alias of Frank Kramer). The swag was left with Fantasia’s twin brother (Fantasia, again) and a quick identity swap becomes necessary after the straight arrow refuses to co-operate. Rowland (Brad Harris) already has the hots for the twin’s wife (Erika Blanc), while Kendall is busy getting flirty with the man’s secretary (Corny Collins).

And so the stage is set for the usual round of double crosses, a bit of gunplay and some underwhelming fisticuffs. As per usual with this series, the storytelling is a little sloppy in places, but things hang together in a neater fashion than in some of the other entries. Kendall and Harris conveniently run across the members of a martial arts school, which provides an opportunity for Harris to show some of his moves and pepper the soundtrack with some of the most over-the-top punching sounds ever heard outside of a Kung Fu film. Oh, and the Panther of the title is actually a little blue statue, so there’s little chance of it actually hurting anyone unless someone drops it on their foot.

Rauch began his career in his native Germany and had already appeared in the third film in the series, ‘Death Be Nimble, Death Be Quick’ (1966). He went onto major supporting turns in big Hollywood productions such as ‘Patton’ (1969), ‘Le Mans’ (1971) with Steve McQueen, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ (1976) and ‘Escape to Athena’ (1979). As of 2017, he’s still working regularly on Germany television at the age of 85. Blanc took the lead in Mario Bava’s ‘Kill, Baby, Kill’ (1966), the title of which may have inspired the rather inaccurate name this project received on its U.S. release.

Kill Panther Kill (1968)

Brad Harris (1933-2017)

Unfortunately, whilst researching this post, l discovered that Harris passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 84. His daughter, Sabrina Calley, carries on the family tradition in the costume and wardrobe department, working on big hits like ‘Maleficent’ (2014)‘Salt’ (2010), and as set costumer on ‘The Greatest Showman’ (2017) with Hugh Jackman.

This film marks the point where the series moved from the Eurospy arena to the international crime thriller. The results are stubbornly unremarkable, but the series carried on for two more films anyway.

Not the worst of the ‘Kommissar X’ films, but probably the dullest.

Devil’s Nightmare/La Plus Longue Nuit Du Diable (1971)

The_Devils_Nightmare (1971)‘Exorcism! The one last hope for the possessed…but this time the devil wins!’

A bus filled with tourists loses its way in a remote part of Bavaria. It seems a stroke of good fortune when they find a place to stop for the night, but the old castle concerned isn’t on anyone’s list of recommended holiday destinations…

Passable Euro-Horror that opens in Berlin at the end of World War ll with the ritualistic killing of a baby, before moving forward to contemporary times, and our stranded holidaymakers. They’re a fairly typical bunch pf movie stereotypes; the sleazy tourist guide, the doubting priest, a couple of young hotties, a bitter old man, and a middle-aged couple with marriage problems. Indeed all the tensions and emotional conflicts within the group are painfully predictable, which doesn’t help with audience engagement in the drama.

lt’s plain that none of this motley crew have seen many horror films either, as they don’t run for the hills when sinister butler Hans (Maurice De Groote) plays a creepy harmonium during dinner, and regales them with a succession of cheerfully gruesome tales as he shows them to their rooms. There are also the inevitable dark mutterings about an ancient family curse. It all turns out to be involve a deal with the devil and a very naughty succubus (Erika Blanc) who tries to get her wicked way with everyone, men and women alike.

The_Devils_Nightmare (1971)

‘And just passing by on your right is an ancient castle where Satan is waiting to claim your souls…’

This was a Belgian-Italian co-production, which never really catches fire, but does have some points of interest. Our roll of murder victims are undone by their own desires; Blanc’s revenge spree based thematically on the seven deadly sins. Director Jean Brismée is partially successful in his attempts to create some atmospheric chills, but the slow pace of proceedings and the lack of any real story and character development are tough obstacles to overcome. It was his only feature film.

Star Erika Blanc was certainly a striking looking woman and displays both personality and other feminine attributes in some revealing costumes. She’d already appeared in Mario Bava’s unsettling ‘Kill Baby Kill (Operazione Paura) (1966) and is still acting today after a long career in European cinema. In terms of performances, she’s head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, who are workmanlike at best. Even Jean Servais, who had tasted international stardom thanks to heist classic ‘Rififi’ (1954), fails to make much of an impression here, although Daniel Emilfork has a couple of good moments as Satan. The film sat on the shelf for a little while before being released in the US in 1974, along with a tagline included to reference ‘The Exorcist’ (1973).

The twists and turns of the plot may have been uncommon when the film was made, even if they weren’t exactly original, but they’ve been done to death a million times since and that really doesn’t help the level of enjoyment for a modern day audience. A very middling continental horror.

Agente S 03: Operation Atlantis (1965)

Agente_003_Operación_Atlántida_(1965)‘I would say that the women of today are almost totally responsible for the illnesses of their men.’

Secret agent George Steele accepts a mission from the R.I.U., an international organisation interested in radium. Large deposits have been discovered in North Africa, but seem to have fallen into the hands of local criminals. Steele investigates but finds matters complicated by the fact that the radium seems to be located near the remains of Atlantis and the lost city is occupied by the descendants of the original population.

Idiotic, Euro-spy tedium fronted by german-born John Ericson in the role of this week’s wannabe James Bond. He isn’t much of a secret agent as it happens; mostly he just wanders around looking confused, although this is forgivable given the total incoherence of the film. What is much harder to excuse is the fact that he initiates little of the ‘action’, merely reacting to circumstances and doing what he’s told. He is a hit with the ladies, though, his smarmy charm and lame pick up lines proving so irresistible that many of the Euro-babes on show, including Erika Blanc, not only fall for him but promptly swap sides as well! This happens with such incredible regularity that you’re never sure who’s working for who from one minute to the next.

The whole Atlantis angle is a bit of a red herring as well, although understandable when you discover that director Paul Fleming (real name Domenico Paoella) helmed quite a few ‘Hercules’ pictures in his day and so was comfortable with actors in robes and togas. The lost city sets are also cheap and cheerful; just some underground caves filled with junk (sorry, sophisticated scientific machinery). SFX are limited to the forcefield that surrounds the place, but even this can easily be penetrated if you’re wearing a space suit.

Agente_003_Operación_Atlántida_(1965)

‘I don’t know which side I’m on, I only just got here and I’m about to die anyway.’

This Italian-Spanish co-production runs 90 minutes but it bears all the hallmarks of being cut down from a much longer source (possibly a TV Show?) New characters arrive and depart regularly with no regard to logic or the plot, many scenes are suddenly chopped short leaving wild gaps in logic and some principals change sides for seemingly no reason at all (not even a kiss or a wisecrack from the painfully smug Mr Steele).

There is also some lame comedy involving smuggling people in baggage trunks on airliners (did they ride in the hold then?!), some misogynist stuff that plants it firmly in the mid-1960s and a terribly weak climax. There were sequels of a kind (titles containing variations on the name ‘Agente S 03′) but none of them seem to have been directly related to this. Star Ericson wasn’t interested anyway; he’d already decamped to the U.S. where he was starring as Anne Francis’ sidekick on the ‘Honey West’ TV show. It was probably the pinnacle of his career, but many guest slots followed over the next quarter century on popular network shows such as ‘The Streets of San Francisco’, ‘Knight Rider’ and ‘The A Team’.

Not a whole lot of fun really; overall a wearing and rather pointless experience. Expectations aren’t high when viewing Euro-spy efforts inspired by Bond, but this is one of the worst examples that I’ve seen.