The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)‘These plans could revolutionise underwater breathing’

A beautiful woman is threatened with a knife on a lonely stretch of beach. However, instead of harming her, the stranger tells her that her husband is a murderer and leaves. Later on, she learns that one of her husband’s business associates has died under mysterious circumstances and the timing seems almost too convenient…

This Italian-Spanish Giallo was the directorial debut of Luciano Ercoli, who was better known in the industry as a producer. The project was born of necessity with a quickly delivered, commercial hit required to bail out the production comapny owned by Ercoli and his partner, Alberto Pugliese. The duo recruited screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who had the appropriate experience and, better still, a script already in development.

Highly-strung Minou (Dagmar Lassander) finds her world beginning to crumble after she’s approached on a nighttime beach by a mysterious motorcyclist (Simón Andreu). Despite being armed with a blade and using it to cut her dress open, he doesn’t force himself on her. Instead he accuses her husband Pierre (Pier Paolo Capponi) of murder and rides away. Later on, she discovers that one of her Capponi’s creditors has died at sea, in circumstances that could have been replicated in the new decompression chamber being developed at her husband’s company which makes diving equipment.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘No, I am not interested in unlimited free calls after six ‘o’ clock…’

Andreu contacts Lassander again, of course. By now, she’s struggling to bury her doubts about Capponi, especially when Andreu plays her an alleged recording of the murder over the phone. She’s seen the handsome young blackmailer in a pornographic photograph too, apparently bought in Copenhagen by her free-spirited friend, Dominique (the charismatic Nieves Navarro, appearing under her usual pseudonym of Susan Scott). Lassander agrees to visit Andreu’s art studio to pay him off but it turns out that his demands are sexual rather than financial. The rough sex is not nearly as unpleasant as she expects, but the experience pushes her further into a reliance on pills and liquor and, when it turns out that Andreu has photographed their encounter, the strain becomes almost unbearable.

This is a Gaillo where the emphasis is firmly placed on the ‘mystery’ element of the tale, rather than prsenting a procession of stytlised murders committed by an unknown killer. Instead, the audience is left to consider who is manipulating Lassander and what they hope to get out of it. Unusually for this type of film, she is not independently wealthy with Capponi reliant on her financial support, so the motive doesn’t seem to be money. Perhaps the conspiracy is the result of Lassander’s own neuroses; at one point she confesses to Navarro that Capponi has been her ‘husband, lover and father’ to her, a statement that raises a few red flags. And does she really need yet another drink?

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘These split ends definitely need a lot of work…’

It’s a credit to everyone involved in the film that, at no time, does it betray the cicrumstances of its hurried production. This is a smooth, efficient thriller with a decent level of intruigue and some cleverly ambiguous exchanges of dialogue. The resolution is a little underwhelming, however, and the audience may be left waiting for one last twist that never arrives. The performances are good, with a geat deal of the dramatic burden falling on Lassander’s shoulders. Victim roles can be a tightrope, characters can appear too passive and lose audience sympathy, but Lassander is never less than engaging as she struggles toward self-belief and positive action.

Terchnically, the most noteworthy scenes are the ones that take place in Andreu’s art studio. There are definite echoes of the work of horror maestro Mario Bava here, with lighting and gels used to create the splashes of bright colour often demonstrated in his films. This small set also features a selection of bizarre objet d’art, including statuettes, porcelain hands and wall masks, most memorably one fo the devil. These parts of the film are moody and atmosphere and the whole picture benefits from the classy cinematography of Alejandro Ulloa. His 30-year career included Eurospys like ‘Special Mission Lady Chaplin’ (1966), Spaghetti Westerns such as ‘Pistol for a Hundred Coffins’ (1968), Lucio Fulci’s classic Giallo ‘One on Top of the Other’ (1969) and Cushing-Lee’s elegant shocker ‘Horror Express’ (1972), as well as more than a hundred other credits.

The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion/Le foto proibite di una signora per bene (1970)

‘Paging Mr Bava….’

Ercoli’s previous experience in differing roles within the industry were obviously helpful in his first stint behind the megaphone. He’d briefly worked as assistant director in a quarter of pictures in the 1950s and, as a producer, he’d been responsible for comedy Giallo ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Toto?’ (1964), comic book adventure ‘Fantômas’ (1964), a couple of episodes in the adventures of Spaghetti Western hero Ringo and Eurospy ‘OSS 117: Mission for a Killer’ (1965). Within a couple of years, he and actress Navarro had married and they went onto team up again with screenwriter Gastaldi on ‘Death Walks In High Heels’ (1971), ‘Cry Out In Terror’ (1972) and crime thriller ‘The Midnight Daredevil’ (1973). Ercoli retired from the business in the late 1970s after coming into a large inheritance but Navarro carried on, although career drifted more into the adult end of the exploitation market.

A brisk, efficient Giallo that is an engaging viewing experience, although it may not live too long in the memory.

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 Sweet Body of Deborah/Il Dolce Corpo Di Deborah (1968)

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)‘And now watch out, I like to eat little girls.’

A bridegroom takes his American wife to his old home town of Geneva on their honeymoon. When they arrive, he discovers that his ex-lover has committed suicide and it’s not long before the couple are being subjected to strange happenings and mysterious threats…

The ltalian ‘Giallo’ movie is now recognised as a precursor to the American slasher craze kicked off in earnest by John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978), but the term originally simply referred to a ‘murder mystery’ and this film falls squarely into that category. So there’s a notable absence of the familiar tropes we expect when viewing films from that sub-genre today, but nevertheless this was an important steeping stone in their development, although not so much for what actually appears on the screen.

Handsome Swiss hunk Jean Sorel is showing new wife Carroll Baker the sights of Europe when they stopover in his old stomping ground on the shores of Lake Geneva. A seemingly chance encounter with old friend Philip (Liugi Pistilli) turns nasty when Pistilli informs him of the suspected suicide of Sorel’s ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Evelyn Stewart) in a car accident.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

‘Shake it Baby!’

At Stewart’s abandoned old home, they hear spooky music and Baker gets a phone call threatening her life. Believing Pistilli was in love with Stewart and is seeking vengeance, the couple rent an isolated villa in the country, but it seems they can’t escape Sorel’s shady past. And what’s their dangerously handsome next door neighbour George Hilton got to do with it all?

The film starts rather slowly with Sorrel and Baker as loving newlyweds. The intention is to establish character and get the audience invested, which is a fine idea. Unfortunately, both Baker and Sorel seem disengaged with the material and there is little chemistry between them. After their visit to the spooky old house, suspicion raises its ugly head on both sides and the cracks in their relationship begin to show. Their quiet sense of distrust in each other is nicely played and these are probably the film’s best scenes.

So, after a somewhat rocky opening, toward the half way point things seem to be building up nicely. But then there’s no more story development until the last 15 minutes when all the threads come together. It’s this lengthy and very dull second act that really derails the film. To its’ credit, we still not exactly sure of what’s happening until pretty near the conclusion but when the pieces fall into place it’s not exactly a surprise and an attempt at an additional twist at the end is rather ambiguous and makes little sense.

The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968)

 In the 60s people really knew how to party… 

Director Romolo Guerrieri is keen to catch that 1960’s zeitgeist by dressing Baker in funky outfits and employing some ill-advised (if pretty) slo-mo in some of the romantic flashbacks. The musical soundtrack by Nora Orlandi is very much of its time and there’s a slightly odd sequence where Baker and Sorel play ‘Twister’ in their back garden to the sound of a marching band!

Considering all this is a fairly tepid experience, then why is it an important step in the development of the ‘Giallo’ as we know it today? Because of the people that were involved – on both sides of the camera. Writer Ernesto Gastaldi (who co-authored the screenplay) was already becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for these kind of convoluted thrillers and co-writer/producer Luciano Martino went onto fulfil the same roles on several notable examples, including ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969) and ‘The Strange Vice of Mrs Wrath’ (1971). That last film was directed by his brother Sergio who served as production manager on this film and actually starred Hilton who top-lined several other similar projects in subsequent years. And the same can be said of Pistilli and Sorel! Perhaps it just shows how tightly knit the Italian film industry was at the time.

Baker was a Hollywood actress who had fame almost as soon as she stepped in front of the camera with a featured role in the James Dean epic ‘Giant’ (1956) and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the title character of Elia Kazan’s ‘Baby Doll’ (1956). Partly due to the nature of that role and the national controversy which the film provoked, she found it hard to get decent roles afterwards and often argued with producers and studios to escape type-casting. When big budget biopic ‘Harlow’ (1965) was a box office disaster (and her performance in the title role panned by critics) her stateside career was effectively over and, after a short break, she relocated to the continent. Subsequent to this film, she made a string of ‘Giallo’ pictures: ‘So Sweet…So Perverse’ (1969), ‘Orgasmo’ (1969), ‘A Quiet Place To Kill’ (1970) and ‘The Fourth Victim’ (1971) among others.

This is not a bad thriller by any means, but a dull middle section betrays the lack of an interesting plot and there’s not enough suspense or surprise to satisfy mystery fans. And those familiar with the more extreme elements of later ‘Giallo’ pictures are likely to be severely disappointed.

The Murder Clinic/La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)‘Watch out, Robert! I’d be a difficult corpse.’

In the 1870s, a young nurse takes a new job at a private psychiatric clinic in the countryside. lt’s not long before she realises that the rambling old building holds a mysterious secret, and that the handsome doctor in charge may be involved with murder…

Much like Film Noir, it can be quite a challenge to provide an exact definition of the Italian Giallo sub-genre. Sure, there are some common touchstones; the hooded/masked killer whose identity is revealed at the climax, the beautiful women meeting graphic and bloody ends in the grip of his black gloved hands or at a slash from his wicked blade, and the psychological motivation behind his actions that often involve a flashback to a traumatic past or a perverse sexual hang-up. On the technical side, they usually mix sumptuous colour photography with striking interiors, props and set dressing. However, the plots don’t always stand up to close scrutiny and the casts were not usually required to portray a lot in the way of character development.

But the original definition of the phrase was somewhat broader. ‘Giallo’ is simply the Italian word for yellow and, in this instance, refers to a series of cheap paperbacks released nationally from 1929 by the Mondadori publishing company. They were such a hit with the public that many other houses joined in, mimicking the predominantly yellow cover designs. The Giallo was born. But if you’re getting excited about an obscure, radical and advanced branch of European literature, then l’m afraid you’re in for a big disappointment. These were not original works by forgotten authors, but simply re-prints of famous titles by American and British writers such as Raymond Chandler, Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie! So, originally, the term ‘Giallo’ simply meant a ‘murder-mystery’ and this early example of the type still has a foot in that camp, although it is leaning towards the later films that we associate with the sub-genre today.

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

She wasn’t going to bed until he’d killed that spider in the corner of the ceiling…

The story begins with pretty young blonde Mary (Barbara Wilson) taking a new job as a nurse at the remote psychiatric clinic run by Dr Vance (William Berger) and his wife (Mary Young). Although once seemingly destined for big things, a mysterious event in the past has condemned him to rural obscurity. Unsurprisingly, it’s a spooky old place and it’s not long before our young heroine is surrounded by strange events.

A hooded figure prowls the dark corridors, a mute patient checks out overnight (in more ways than one!) and there are heavy footsteps coming from the upper floors where only the doctor is allowed to go. Things get even more involved with the arrival of bad girl Giselle (Francoise Prévost), who tells an unlikely tale of getting lost in the woods after a coach accident. Matters quickly escalate into murder but just who is responsible and why?

Despite some solid and even mildly impressive aspects, this proves to be a somewhat half-baked concoction from director Elio Scardamaglia (hiding under the more American-friendly name of Michael Hamilton). On the positive side, we have the usual impressive interior locations, which were a distinct feature of European cinema at the time. Although underwhelming from the outside (a different location perhaps?), the clinic’s rambling maze of passages and chambers make a fine backdrop to the action. There’s also excellent cinematography from Marcello Masciocchi, whose muted colour palette may not possess the lush tones and shadings of a Mario Bava production but still helps to create a few memorable images.

The Murder Clinic:La Lama Nel Corpo (1966)

‘Don’t be a cad, Roger! Not until we’re married…’

Unfortunately, the film has problems, and these can mostly be laid at the door of the underdeveloped script by Ernesto Gastaldi. The story may just about hang together, but not all that much happens over the course of the 90 minutes, and the cast are often left simply creeping or running around the old house to little obvious purpose.

Berger only has a tiny handful of patients and we get zero insight into any of their problems or the treatment he provides. They include a man who sleeps a lot, another who is prone to bouts of violence (could he be the killer?) and an old woman who cuddles a stuffed cat (probably not a viable suspect). Also, Prévost may not have wanted to go ‘to the coast’ with her mysterious coachman but it hardly seems sufficient reason to knock him unconscious and watch as he’s trampled to death by horses. Why does she do it? The movie never tells us or explains who she is, and the inevitable conclusion is that she there as another pretty face and to pad the running time. There’s also a rather ridiculous ‘love story’ sub-plot which comes almost completely out of left field and is never remotely convincing. The rather slapdash approach is a bit of a surprise, given that scriptwriter Gastaldi was fast becoming the ‘go-to guy’ for this sort of thing, and had provided both direction and screenplay for the far superior ‘Libido’ (1965).

Modern fans of the Giallo are also likely to be disappointed by the obvious absence of two of the sub-genre’s most obvious fundamentals. Despite being carried out with a straight razor, the kills are almost bloodless, and there really aren’t that many of them. Similarly, the fairer members of the cast get to keep their clothes on, which is quite a change in this type of endeavour. These choices probably reflect notions of morality and the censorship that was in place on the continent at the time, but it does make things seem rather tame by today’s standards.

A project with some merit but let down by a weak and uninspired script that gives the cast little to work with, and short changes its potential audience.

A…Come Assassino/A…For Assassin (1966)

A Come....Assassino (1966)‘Nonsense is the pillar of any investigation.’

The last will and testament of a murdered rich businessman stipulates that all his greedy relatives must live in his gloomy old mansion for one month. At the end of that time, three of them will get an equal share of his fortune but no-one will get anything if a greater number make a claim…

Italian murder-mystery from director Ray Morrison (real name Angelo Dorigo) that takes a concept as old as silent cinema and attempts to refresh it with a more contemporary spin. We’re all familiar with the setup, of course; the dark, gothic house, the reading of the will, the unknown killer, the cast disappearing one by one. It was most successfully presented on the movie screen for the first in various versions of stage play ‘The Cat and the Canary’ although the general format was further popularised by the various incarnations of Agatha Christie’s novel ‘And Then There Were None’.

Our cast of characters here could most accurately be summed up as ‘the usual suspects.’ There’s the promiscuous ex-stripper (Aliché Nana) and her weak-willed husband (lvano Staccioli), the beautiful niece (Mary Arden) and her suave boyfriend (lvano Davoli), and the old man’s embittered sister (Giovanna Galletti), who’s spent the best years of her life looking after him in the role of a housekeeper, and taking care of his only direct descendant; idiot son Julian (Charlie Charun). Finally, there’s the cool and handsome secretary (Sergio Ciani) who looks no more trustworthy than the rest of them. Unusually, the film makes no real effort to present any of them in a positive light, choosing to engage the audience in the puzzle of the plot rather than encourage emotional investment in any of the characters. So, there’s the requisite number of crosses, double crosses, and hidden loyalties exposed, as the plot twists and turns, and the players manoeuvre around each other, each seeking an edge in their struggle for the inheritance.

Unfortunately, the story developments aren’t that gripping or particularly inventive, with one big exception that the film surrenders far too early on. The will isn’t real. It’s been tweaked by inspector Gilberto Mazzi to flush out the old man’s killer. Now, leaving aside the question of whether anything gained from such a strategy would be admissible in court, I doubt that this can be approved police procedure. After all, he’s encouraging all his suspects to kill each other! It’s an intriguing premise on which to hang the story, but hardly a plausible one.

A Come....Assassino (1966)

‘I know a good wig man if you’re interested…’

There’s still a fair level of entertainment available, though. The cast give it that their best, even though their roles are fairly generic, and the stand out is American actress Arden. She’d played a major role in Mario Bava’s ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964) – both as actor and interpreter! – a movie often cited as the first in the Giallo genre.

This effort is also categorised in that way by some commentators but really the links are a little tenuous. Sure, it’s an ltalian movie from the mid-1960s with a series of murders, but the deaths are bloodless, bullets are used as much as a blade, and our mysterious killer is not masked. There’s also a distinct lack of a suspenseful lead-in to each of the kills. If you must label the film, it’s more of a murder-mystery. The story did originate with writer-director Ernesto Gastaldi, though, who was behind the far superior, but similarly themed, ‘Libido’ (1965) and did go on to direct a number of Giallo pictures.

Probably the most interesting cast member is the chiselled Ciani, who remains best known for several outings at the start of the decade as Maciste (‘Hercules’ to you and me). These included ‘Hercules Against The Moon Men’ (1955), ‘Hercules and the Black Pirates’ (1964) and ‘Samson and the Seven Challenges’ (1964).

A decent, if somewhat anonymous, thriller that will probably entertain mystery fans without lingering too long in the memory.

Libido (1965)

Libido (1965)‘Sure, Paul, and sometimes you also use my father’s pipe!’

Almost 20 years after he witnessed his father commit a sex murder, a young nobleman returns for the first time to the family home where it happened. It isn’t long before things start to go bump in the night, but is the house haunted or is his father actually still alive? Or is one of his house guests responsible?

Dark, twisted thriller from Italian wrtier-directors Ernesto Gastaldi and Vittorio Salerno. It’s often listed as an early example of a Giallo, that batch of disturbing, sometimes graphic, precursors to the American slasher movie that took Italian cinema by storm in the late 1960s. The definition of film genres is quite a tricky business and, whereas certain elements of this production definitely became staples of the Giallo, in other ways it’s quite different.

Handsome little rich kid Christian (Giancarlo Giannini) has grown up traumatised after seeing his father kill a blonde tied to a bed in a roomful of mirrors and then throw himself into the sea. Which would be enough to unsettle anyone. Now, it’s only three months until he comes of age and into the family fortune, so he’s persuaded to go home again by his father’s lawyer Luciano Pigozzi. Luckily for the audience, the guys bring along their partners; dark-eyed beauty Dominique Boschero, and dim blonde Mara Maryl. But events of the past have left their mark on Giannini, and it’s not long before he starts seeing signs of his father everywhere. After all, his body has never been found!

Obviously, this setup doesn’t seem very original these days, but it can be difficult to evaluate that quality when so many variations on the same theme have appeared in the years since. Actually, Giannini tumbles fairly quickly to the idea that someone is trying to send him mad to get at his money, even if it does seem to be working! He quickly unravels after hearing mysterious footsteps, finding his childhood windup toy and seeing a dark figure in the rain. It’s clear that he has problems anyway; preferring to play peeping tom when Pigozzi and Maryl fool around to getting hot and heavy with his wife Boschero. They even sleep in separate rooms! It’s probably the fact that our protagonist’s sexual hang-ups are central to the plot that has given rise to its association with the Giallo genre, along perhaps with a scene that features a killer in black gloves.

Libido (1965)

“Sure, you’re having an existential crisis but I need to check my Instagram feed…’

The real strength of this film lies in its script which constantly wrong foots the audience and keeps everyone guessing. Yes, it’s always more of a question of ‘who’ rather than ‘why’ but the mystery is never less than fully engaging. In fact, this is an object lesson in how to make an effective film in one location with a small cast. Sure, the final reveal owes a debt to an earlier film (no title because it’s a slight spoiler), but even then there’s still another fine twist to come.

Another highlight are the all-round excellent performances of a cast who exhibit lots of screen presence and acting chops. Although his name might not be immediately familiar, Giannini has enjoyed an incredibly long and successful film career, even being Oscar nominated as Best Actor in a Leading Role for Italian comedy ‘Seven Beauties’ (1975). He’s perhaps best known to modern audiences for playing Rene Mathis in Daniel Craig’s opening Bond film ‘Casino Royale’ (2006) and its sequel ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008). Pigozzi might not have ever reached those heights but he was active for over 40 years in the industry, appearing in everything from classic Mario Bava chillers like ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964) and ‘Hatchet For The Honeymoon’ (1970), to many Spaghetti Westerns, the atrocious ‘Devilman Story’ (1967) and ‘guilty pleasure’ favourite ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). lt would take too long to list everything that would interest a fan of cult cinema.

Our two women are also worth noting. Boschero was a riot in deliciously campy superhero romp ‘Incident In Paris/Argoman, The Fantastic Superman’ (1966), played in Peplum like ‘Ulysses Against Hercules’ (1952) and big budget comedy ‘Paris When lt Sizzles’ (1964) with Audrey Hepburn. She also did musicals, Eurospys and, inevitably, a couple of Giallo pictures in the early 1970s. Maryl had a much briefer career, appearing just seven films over 27 years. Five of these had Gastaldi in the canvas chair, probably because he was her husband. It’s a shame that she didn’t act more often as she’s a lively presence here and obviously a lot brighter than the character she plays as she is credited with this film’s original story. Gastaldi was mostly a writer himself, penning scripts for over 100 films in many different genres; biblical epics, sword and sandal dramas, Westerns, horror films (some of which starred Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele) and cult favourite ‘2019: After The Fall of New York’ (1983). He also worked several times with horror maestro Mario Bava and on several later projects for director Sergio Leone, including ‘Once Upon A Time ln America’ (1984).

This film may not be a lost classic, but it’s still an efficient, well-acted, well-written murder mystery with an edge, keeping the audience fully engaged until its pleasingly dark resolution. Worth seeking out.

Perseus Against The Monsters/Perseo L’lnvincibile/The Medusa Against The Sons of Hercules (1963)

Perseus Against The Monsters (1964)‘This claptrap has made you lose your head.’

Prince Alcaeus of Seriphus attempts to open trade routes closed by the hostile forces of Argos. Unfortunately, his party are decimated by a sea monster and the survivors are turned to stone by the legendary Medusa. His father attempts to forge an alliance between the warring kingdoms by offering his beautiful daughter Andromeda in marriage but the girl has other ideas, and just who is that handsome, square-jawed stranger on the beach?

More Greek Mythological tomfoolery, courtesy of the Italian/Spanish film industry, who roll out yet another ‘peplum’ in the wake of muscleman Steve Reeves’ star turn as ‘Hercules’ (1958). Yes, it’s the usual mixture of swords, sandals and togas, courtesy of director Alberto de Martino, who cheerfully throws in a couple of rubber monsters to keep things moving right along. The story is based on the same legends that gave rise to FX maestro Ray Harryhausen’s swan song ‘Clash of the Titans’ (1980), and the recent inferior remake, although this time out there’s no Kraken, which is a shame, or a ‘cute’ mechanical owl, which isn’t.

We join heroic Perseus (American actor Richard Harrison) just hanging at the beach, spearing fish, waxing his board and shooting the curl. Ok, maybe not; but it doesn’t look like teaching archery to a beautiful, but mysterious, woman is gainful employment either, especially as she’s probably a goddess (we never find out). But our beach bums’ days in the sun are numbered when evil Prince Galenore (Leo Anchéraz) turns up and spears his pet deer. It all kicks off, but the beautiful Andromeda (Anna Ranalli) plays peacemaker, proposing a contest between the two with herself as the prize. As it happens (and completely unexpectedly), Perseus turns out to be the long lost true king of Argos, although no one knows it (apart from the audience).

After the obligatory archery match, wrestling match and posing contest, Harrison is declared the winner, but he declines Ranalli’s hand due to the political situation. Instead he accepts a job as chief guard at the palace (for some reason). A quick snip of an over-enthusiastic editor’s scissors later and he and Ranalli are desperately in lurve (of course) and the dastardly Anchéraz is stroking his beard and hatching a kidnap plot. From there, it doesn’t take a genius to see exactly what’s going to happen next, what will happen after that, and then after that.

Perseus Against The Monsters (1964)

From the Prop Store It Came…

One thing you have to give the film is pace. There’s precious little time spent on our mooning lovebirds (hooray!) and a lot more on the action, although not much of it actually involves the monsters. Probably the best part of the film is the Medusa’s valley, populated the men she has turned to stone, but De Martino fails to make much of its creepy possibilities.

The Medusa herself looks like the long-lost cousin of Tabanga, the walking tree that starred in ‘From Hell lt Came’ (1957) and Harrison’s final tussle with it is seriously lame. The sea dragon is a much better example of practical FX, but it’s simply not very mobile and its’ high kill count pushes credibility beyond breaking point. Especially when it looks like it needs half a dozen prop guys to move it to its next target. So what we’re left with is an awful lot of sword fights. These are enthusiastically performed, but they’re not particularly well executed and some are even speeded up a little at the climax.

This was Ranalli’s only lead in a career of just half a dozen films, but Harrison soldiered on for years, relocating to Hong Kong in the 1980s to play Master Gordon in a seemingly endless series of low-budget action fkicks with titles like ‘Ninja Force’ (1988) and ‘Ninja Operation 6: Champion On Fire’ (1986). De Martino gave the world the iconic ‘Puma Man’ (1980), which is simply one of the best worst films ever made. He was also responsible for James Bond rip-off ‘Ok Connery’ (1967) which featured Sean’s brother Neil, Exorcist rip off ‘L’Antichristo’ (1974) and Omen rip-off ‘Holocaust 2000’ (1977) which starred Kirk Douglas!  Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi had a long career in Italian cinema, both as writer and director, and delivered some interesting examples of the Giallo film as well as working with legendary director Sergio Leone and collaborating (uncredited) on cult science fiction satire ‘The Tenth Victim’ (1965).

Most movies in this genre that got released stateside gained a ‘Sons of Hercules’ tag, and this one was no exception, becoming ‘The Medusa Against The Sons of Hercules’ (1963). Of course, the result was the usual testament to really awful dubbing but did boast the excellent ‘Sons of Hercules’ theme song, which is worth a couple of dollars of anyone’s money!

Flat and rather perfunctory nonsense, enlivened every now and then by its silly monsters.

Flashman (1967)

Flashman (1967)‘I’m afraid you’re wasting your bullets. They only tickle.’

Thieves murder a professor for his invisibility formula and use it to help them rob a bank. Unfortunately, a lot of their ill-gotten gains had already been replaced with counterfeit notes by a gang of beautiful women and, worse still, the chief teller is actually crime fighter Flashman in disguise.

Painfully uninspired cross between a caper movie and a superhero flick, which struggles throughout to find a focus for its rambling storyline. ls it Paolo Gozlino’s ‘Flashman’, a hero with a silly costume and not much else? ls it Claudie Lange’s girl gang, who cosy up to bank staff at work and swap out real currency with funny money right under their noses? Or is it lvano Staccioli’s cigarette floating in mid-air and chair cushions sinking under his invisible arse? Well, it’s all of these things, and none at all, really.

We open with a swinging montage of bright, primary colours and the camera zooming crazily in and out on tinted stills from the film. Girlie singers sing the name of the movie. Yeah, it’s the Sixties, baby! This Italian movie tries desperately to mine that ‘anything goes’ vibe but fails miserably to capture the spirit of the age with a pedestrian, laboured script which is little more than a scribble on a table napkin.

Our main man is Lord Burman, working undercover in his own bank to foil the counterfeiting ring, and then getting the blame for the more direct methods of the invisible bank robber and his pals. A quick exit is necessary through a convenient window, which leaves the guards flummoxed as he simply disappears! l guess it’s because he has a silly costume back in his closet at home. Also along for the ride is sister sidekick Ann Marie Williams, who contributes a series of silly outfits, outlandish makeup and little else. Flashman’s main squeeze is Micaela Pignatelli (from ‘Goldface, The Fantastic Superman’ (1967)!!), who ends up tied to the train tracks to the accompaniment of tiresome ‘comedy’ music (note the inverted commas).

Flashman (1967)

‘Something for the weekend, sir?’

No, the film doesn’t take itself very seriously, which is a bonus, so there is a fair bit of knock about humour, usually at the expense of ‘the man’, in the form of Police Inspector Baxter (Jack Ary). Sadly, it lacks, wit, style and any kind of madcap sensibility that might have provided some entertainment value. Instead, we have a succession of lifeless developments that really go nowhere, and painfully obvious pratfalls. ln the end, the film simply disintegrates into an extended climactic, chase sequence, which sorely tries the patience.

The only notable creative touch comes from director Ernesto Gastaldi, who sometimes favours close-ups so huge that we can only see part of the actor’s faces. But I guess we have to be kind and assume that it’s some kind of aspect ratio issue, rather than a testament to the amount of strange substances consumed on set.

Enough material for an unfunny comedy sketch does not make for a good film.

Fury In Marrakesh (1966)

Fury In Marrakesh (1966)‘The man you killed was in her dressing room – and he wasn’t there for fun!’

An international cartel of villains plan to flood the world with counterfeit banknotes hidden by the Nazis. One of their employees steals some of the loot, and her spending activities alert the US security agencies. The CIA send an untested agent to investigate…

Fairly typical Eurospy product with this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ being Canadian actor Stephen Forsyth as CIA man Bob Dixon. He’s mostly joined by an Italian cast, but this is an Italian-French co- production so we also get the lovely Dominique Boschero, who was so good as the evil ‘Queen of the World’ in ‘The Fantastic Argoman/The Incredible Paris Incident (1967). Actually, there’s more than the usual ration of eye candy for the discerning gentleman viewer with ruthless blondes Antonella Margia and Cristina Gaioni and Chinese agent Mitsouka, who actually had an unbilled role opposite Sean Connery in ‘Thunderball’ (1965).

There are also plenty of gadgets for Forsyth to utilise but sadly most of them only appear in a sequence where he goes to get fitted out for his mission, a scene not entirely unfamiliar to anyone with a passing knowledge of ‘Q’ Division. He does get to use a flame thrower disguised as a cigarette lighter, an infra-red viewer and a balloon parachute, although we don’t see this actually deployed.

Fury In Marrakesh (1966)

He was not impressed with the latest 3-D experience.

Most of the action takes place in New York and Morocco so we get a few typical ‘tourist board’ shots, and a tour of the cabarets of Marrakesh, but the climax comes together in the Alps. This features some good stunt work with a light plane and a helicopter, although we do get a story ‘twist’ that’s so obvious that it barely deserves the description.

Writer Ernesto Gastaldi later got involved with the screenplays of a couple of comedy Spaghetti Westerns developed from ideas by great director Sergio Leone: ‘My Name is Nobody’ (1973) and ‘A Genius, Two Friends and An Idiot’ (1975).  Directors Mino Loy and Luciano Martino were better known as producers, although Martino scripted almost 100 films, one of which was Sergio Leone’s full directorial debut ‘The Colossus of Rhodes’ (1961). Forsyth worked up a few more credits, but quit acting in the early 1970’s to become a composer.

A fairly formulaic entry in the Eurospy cycle, with decent enough production values to ensure that it’s a cut above the worst of the genre, but without the creativity or invention to make it stand out from the crowd.

Crypt of The Vampire (La Cripta e L’incubo) (1964)

Crypt of The Vampire (1964)‘A hundred years, two hundred, three hundred…what are they? A blink of eternity’s eyelid.’

200 years ago, a member of the aristocratic Karnstein family was executed for practising witchcraft, cursing the family as she died. Now, relatives are being murdered and Count Karnstein is afraid that his daughter has been possessed by the witch. However, it look more like the work of a vampire…

An impressive skill with European languages led Hammer star Christopher Lee to numerous horror projects on the continent in the 1960s. Here, he plays the worried Count, calling in drippy historian Friedrich Klauss to research the family curse and find the witch’s portrait. The picture will prove once and for all whether his high-strung daughter (Adriana Ambesi) has blood on her hands or not.

Unfortunately, instead of keeping his mind on the job, Klauss becomes romantically interested in Ambesi. It’s not just a bad move because she might be a killer, but because she’s obviously far more interested in stranger Pier Anna Quaglia, who is suddenly dumped on their doorstep by her mother after a coach accident. There’s also naughty goings on in the master bedchamber as Lee is fooling around with his young blonde housekeeper, and, if that’s not enough to be going along with, there’s a sinister beggar, and a servant practising strange rites in the cellar.

Crypt of The Vampire (1964)

‘He complained about the lack of free wi-fi…’

Potentially, this is an interesting mix, especially as  the story owes a lot to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s literary classic ‘Carmilla’ (1872). That tale reached the screen rather more famously a few years later as ‘The Vampire Lovers’ (1970); one of Hammer studio’s best films. This production isn’t in the same league, however. The main issue is a draggy middle section, and the lack of any sense of style imbued by director Camillo Mastrocinque.

It’s good that Lee is not as peripheral to the drama as in some of his films around the time, but he’s still off-screen too long. He does get to loop his own dialogue though, something that didn’t always happen on similar projects of the period, leading to some disappointing voice work by other actors.

Another plus point is the impressive castle interiors and surrounding landscapes, a common asset of European horror in general. The mystery isn’t without interest as well, and the lingering glances between our pretty young heroines suggests there is rather more going on behind Ambesi’s bedroom door than just a pillow fight and a chat about boys. Klauss just doesn’t get it though, persisting in his lame attempts at asking her out for a curry and a night at the pictures. The hints of lesbian activity are actually quite overt for the time, and perfectly justifiable as one of the pieces of the puzzle that the film presents to the audience. When the resolution arrives courtesy of screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, it’s not the best you’ll ever see but it neatly sidesteps the most predictable outcomes.

Certainly not the best vampire mystery of the time, but a creditable enough effort.