Blood and Black Lace/6 donne per l’assassino (1964)

Blood and Black Lace (1964)Guaranteed! The 8 greatest shocks ever filmed!’

A young model is brutally slain by a masked killer in the grounds of a major fashion house on a stormy night. Without an obvious motive for the crime, the police investigation flounders, but then another girl is killed. Is the culprit a crazed psychopath or is there something more behind the murders? It seems that everyone involved has got something to hide …

Massively influential horror thriller from Italian director Mario Bava which has rightly earned the status of a cult classic. The avalanche of Giallo thrillers that dominated the Italian film industry until the mid-1970s may have been unleashed by Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1969), but his debt to this film is clear. Its fingerprints are also all over the American slasher craze of the early 1980s, even if those films are painfully simplistic by comparison.

There are dark secrets aplenty at the fashion house owned by Contessa Cristiana (Eva Bartok) and managed by her lover, Massimo (Cameron Mitchell). The killing of top model Isabella (Francesca Ungaro) ignites a whirlwind of murder, violence and death. Next to go is blonde bombshell Nicole (Arianna Gorini) who has the misfortune to discovers Ungaro’s diary and is killed at the antique shop of her drug-addicted lover, Franco (the excellent Dante DiPaolo).

Too many suspects is a major issue for poor police Inspector Silvestri (Thomas Reiner).  Possible motives and alibis make for a bewildering puzzle. Is designer Cesare (Luciano Pigozzi) the victim of a psychosexual obsession? What’s up with his pill-popping assistant Marco (Massimo Righi) and does the Marchese Morelli (Franco Ressel)’s relationship with dark haired model Greta (Lea Lander) play a part? Although the escalating violence of the crimes suggests a male perpetrator, suspicion also falls on models Peggy (Mary Arden) and Tao-Li (Claude Dantes) who have secrets of their own to protect.

The central mystery here may owe some debt to writers such as Agatha Christie, but it’s well-balanced and genuinely surprising, with twists and developments unsuspected right until the end. But what sets the film apart is the stylisation that Bava brings to the table, creating something little short of a visual masterpiece. Almost every shot is a perfect blend of technique, lighting and colour, evoking a unique atmosphere that drips with fear and menace, whilst still drawing the audience deeper into the mystery. The interiors are almost impossibly rich in detail, giving the impression that the director hand-selected every single prop on display, and positioned it on the set himself. Given that the film takes place in a world of haute couture, where appearance is everything, this approach is a perfect fit.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)
There are no main characters in the film either; it’s most definitely an ensemble piece. This provides further uncertainty as to how events will develop and heightens the tension. The fine cast is another plus; Mitchell is enigmatic, Bartok regal, and all the other players invest their roles with a distinct personality, Lander’s nervous beauty being the quiet standout. Mention must also be made that filming took place in English and it was actress Arden who tweaked the script’s dialogue to sound more natural. She was a top model herself, having appeared on the covers of Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and in other top fashion magazines.

Bava began his career as a cinematographer and graduated to the director’s chair with gothic classic ‘The Mask of Satan/Black Sunday’ (1960); a reward for being a multi-talented ‘fix-it man’ on more than a few projects abandoned by other directors. Although this film was not a big hit at the time (and he followed it with a western!), it’s influence has become legendary. As per usual, all was achieved on a shoestring budget, dolly shots realised by placing the camera in a child’s red wagon and riding it around the set. This is particularly notable in the fashion show scenes where multiple characters move in and out and across the moving frame in what must have been tightly choreographed sequences.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Given the graphic nature of the kills on display, and some are still pretty strong, it was inevitable that the film was mangled by censors worldwide. There’s not too much blood on show here but, before this, murder on-screen was generally a ridiculous swift occurrence with victims barely putting up a fight. The women here are struggling for their lives with a far greater determination. This increases both the realism and the uncomfortable nature of those scenes for the audience.

The fact that the victims are beautiful women, mostly in some state of undress, has given rise to accusations of misogyny and objectifying women, but that’s a very superficial interpretation of the film. These female characters are objectified already, by the fashion industry in which they work, one that has caused many, many more real-life tragedies than a single motion picture could ever achieve. Bava portrays it as a world of artifice with a sleazy underbelly, brilliantly assisted by the moaning brass and jazzy touches of Carlo Rustichelli’s outstanding musical soundtrack. Additionally, Reiner’s ultimately fruitless investigation concludes that the killer is a ‘sex maniac’, but that’s not the case at all; each of the murders has a very specific motive woven into the complex narrative, and are driven by necessity rather than just bloodlust.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mitchell worked with Bava on several pictures, although only two where he occupied the canvas seat, Viking epics ‘Erik The Conqueror’ (1961) and ‘Knives of the Avenger’ (1965) and went onto appear in many Cult Cinema titles, of extraordinarily variable quality. This was Barktok’s penultimate big-screen role as she was retired by the close of the decade. She was married four times, although two were marriages of convenience, and gave birth to one child, a daughter, in 1957. Although still married at the time to actor Curd Jürgens, she later claimed that the father was Frank Sinatra, with whom she had an affair when working on ‘Ten Thousand Bedrooms’ (1956), her only American picture. In the early 1950s, she worked in the UK, starring in a couple of minor science-fiction entries; ‘The Gamma People’ (1956) and ‘Spaceways’ (1953), an early Hammer production. Most of the other female members of the cast have few additional credits. Arden appeared in Giallo ‘A For Assassin’ (1966), the underwhelming adaptation of the successful stage play by genre stalwart Ernesto Gastaldi, but enjoyed far greater success as a prominent globe-trotting businesswoman after she retired from the screen.

A masterful exercise in filmmaking with a breathtaking visual tapestry, this groundbreaking work proved to be a significant influence on the horror genre as well as crystalising the elements of what modern audiences consider to be an Italian Giallo film. It’s an outstanding motion picture and the work of a true cinematic genius.

(This is a revised and expanded version of a post originally published on 3rd January 2017)

The Whip and The Body/La Frusta e il Corpo (1963)

The Whip and The Body (1963)‘Someone will pay for this father, be it man or ghost! I promise you! ‘

A young nobleman is about to be married, but the wedding is under threat when his disgraced older brother returns home. The bride is one of his ex-lovers, and it’s not long before the two resume their relationship and murder is just around the corner…

Darkly Gothic thriller from Italian director Mario Bava, who mixes Sado-masochism and the supernatural with his customary stunning visuals and production design. A capable cast led by horror legend Christopher Lee prowl cobwebbed corridors, secret passages and a windswept beach to tell a twisted tale of family dysfunction, kinky sex and violent death.

Kurt Menliffe (Lee) returns to the family castle after many years away, persona non grata after violating the daughter of housekeeper Katia (Evelyn Stewart). The girl committed suicide after the act, and Stewart has retained the knife she used to do the deed; the first sign that this is perhaps not a particularly well-adjusted household. Patriarch Count Vladimir (Gustavo De Nardo) had originally selected the beautiful Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) as Lee’s wife, but, in his absence, has pushed her onto younger brother Christain (Tony Kendall). The young man has agreed to go on with the wedding, even though he is really in love with cousin Georgia (Harriet Medin).

The Whip and The Body (1963)

Most people preferred a book before bedtime…

Unsurprisingly, Lee’s surprise return puts the cat well and truly among the pigeons, especially when he encounters Lavi on a deserted beach. A few quick strokes of his whip later, she’s his, and their affair is on again. Striding around the castle in his black cloak and riding boots, Lee is arrogance personified, his character revelling in the uproar he is creating and the emotional distress of all around him.

So it’s no great shock when he turns up dead, slashed in the throat with the very same knife Stewart’s daughter used to kill herself. Curiously enough, there’s no investigation of the murder or intrusion by the authorities; Lee is just interred in the family vault, and that seems to be that. Only, of course, it’s not, because Lee refuses to stay dead; leaving muddy footprints all over the castle and visiting Lavi in her boudoir, where he resumes his somewhat dubious attentions. Does his vengeful spirit now haunt the castle’s bed chambers, or is he somehow still alive?

The Whip and The Body (1963)

Lee really needed to start taking his vitamins again…

This is a pleasingly twisted thriller, bursting with adult themes not often tackled by mainstream cinema of the period. These mostly concern Lavi’s character, whose eager acceptance and obvious enjoyment of the whip is front and centre. The actress really throws herself into the role, her character seemingly in a permanent state of arousal, her desperate need for love always overwhelmed by her violent sexual urges. It’s a powerhouse turn, and very daring for its time. Lee’s part is not a nuanced one, but he delivers steely arrogance like few others, and it’s a shame his screen time is somewhat brief. The pair overshadow the rest of the cast, although it’s always good to see cult cinema favourite Luciano Pigozzi, here in the role of a family servant.

To sell the movie in the States, the vast majority of the crew hide behind anglicised pseudonyms. Bava became John M Old, screenwriters Ernesto Gastaldi, Ugo Guerra and Luciano Martino were credited as Julian Berry, Robert Hugo and Martin Hardy, and cinematographer Ubaldo Terzano transformed into David Hamilton. But anyone familiar with Lee was not likely to be fooled, his voice obviously dubbed by another actor in the English language release. This was common practice in the Italian film industry of the time as a cost-cutting exercise, but it irked Lee. Subsequently, he had it written into his contracts that producers would pay the necessary costs required to call him back for the necessary voice work.

The Whip and The Body (1963)

Bava’s remake of ‘From Here To Eternity’ took a decidedly different approach…

Being a Bava film, it’s visually stunning, of course, and it’s interesting to note that he foregoes his usual technicolour palette in favour of much darker tones, draping the long passages in deep shadows cast by flaming torches. The main weakness here is the story, which needed a few more layers of complexity to elevate this to classic status. There are ambiguities too; just who is Lavi’s character? She’s given no backstory or identity beyond her relation to the family. Some commentators have theorised that De Nardo is keen to marry her off to one of his sons because she’s his mistress and he needs to legitimise her presence within the castle. It’s an interesting thought, although there is little concrete evidence to support it.

The explicit nature of the relationship between Lee and Lavi was enough to get censors hot under the collar, and the whipping scenes were cut in many countries, including the UK where even the title was changed to the more neutral ‘Night Is The Phantom’. An action for obscenity was brought against the producers, which may serve to explain why the film flopped in its homeland. American-International Pictures which had distributed Bava’s last few films in the US refused to touch it, and it was released by a company with a far lower profile.

The Whip and The Body (1963)

‘That’s the last time I make an album with Marilyn Manson…’

Lavi retired for films in the early 1970s after notable roles in ‘Lord Jim’ (1965), Matt Helm spy spoof ‘The Silencers’ (1966), comedy ‘The Spy With The Cold Nose’ (1966) and the Western ‘Catlow’ (1971) with Yul Brynner. Subsequently, she enjoyed far greater success as a singer and recording artist, enjoying many hits in Germany before retiring in 1983. She was popular enough to mount a farewell tour shortly before her death in 2017.

A striking contrast between elegant romanticism and sexual violence distinguishes another technical masterclass by director Mario Bava. If the story doesn’t quite deliver on the same level, the result is still a classy, atmospheric portrait of murder and aristocratic moral decay.

Mister Superinvisible/L’inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile (1970)

Mister Superinvisible (1970)‘Each molecular combination can always be related to the intensity of the various components of its structure.’

Industrial spies target a research laboratory searching for the cure for the common cold, but the blame falls on a top biochemist when an experimental virus goes missing. He’s unable to refute the allegation until he accidentally consumes a potion sent to him by a colleague from Nepal and becomes invisible. With his newfound superpower, he sets out to track down the real culprits…

Is there a lamer science-fiction movie sub-genre than the ‘invisible man’ comedy? The darkly funny moments cooked up by Claude Rains and director James Whale for ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933) really should have been the beginning and the end of it. Unfortunately, many filmmakers have gone back to this (dry) well ever since. Here, our old friend Antonio Margheriti (as usual credited as Anthony M Dawson) tries his hand at the pump and comes up as empty as everyone else.

Work at the Geneva Research Institute is a hoot for Doctor Peter Denwell (Dean Jones). He’s brilliant but eccentric; driving an old 2CV and feeding his shaggy dog a plate of eggs and bacon at the breakfast table. Even wackier is colleague Ignazio Leone, who specialises in creating exploding eggs for some reason (obviously closely related to germ research). But, worse than all this wackiness, our hero is also socially awkward; completely tongue-tied when he tries to confess his feelings for beautiful colleague Irene (Ingeborg Schöner). She’s also in the sights of slimy corporate yes-man Harold (Gastone Moschin), so Jones needs to get a move on, or the rich oaf will beat him to the punch.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

‘You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you.’

Things get even worse for our clumsy but loveable hero when Virus D is found to have been stolen during a live television broadcast. This new strain is a combination of all the cold germs known to mankind, and there’s bound to be tears before bedtime if it ‘falls into the wrong hands.’ Jones is blamed for the lax security in his lab and is facing the old heave-ho when his helpful lab monkey adds a little pep to his afternoon coffee.

The concoction turns out to be an invisibility potion sent from a colleague in Nepal. Hilarious hi-jinks follow, including a scene where Jones sabotages a restaurant date between Schöner and Moschin. Later on, he tracks down the missing virus to the Museum of Magic run by Mamma Spot (Amalia de Isaura). She happens to be Moschin’s mother, and he was the thief all the time! Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!

It’s quite obvious what the production was going for here: a family-friendly Disneyesque comedy. They even imported Dean Jones to star; as he’d done similar duty for the House of Mouse in ‘That Darn Cat!’ (1965), ‘The Ugly Dachshund’ (1966) and ‘Monkeys, Go Home!’ (1967). Most famously, he’d co-starred with Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle in ‘The Love Bug’ (1968). To drive the point home, they even partner him with scene-stealing shaggy dog sidekick Dylan. And, to be fair, Jones’ likability is the film’s main asset, although there’s no denying that Schöner makes for an appealing heroine. Veteran character player Luciano Pigozzi also delivers his best silly Peter Lorre impression as one of the villains, and that’s mildly amusing. Once or twice.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

The costume party was not a success…

The real problem here is the script: a lazy, lifeless tramp through all the usual ‘invisible man’ comedy beats. Margheriti tries hard to inject some energy into some of the later scenes, but it amounts to little more than the cast turning up the volume on their line delivery and running about frantically.

The restaurant scene has some possibilities at tickling the funny bone but goes on way too long, and the SFX when Jones is partly visible are atrocious. Of course, the implications of Jones’ work being utilised as a superweapon aren’t addressed in any serious way, and neither is the animal experimentation going on in the labs. Just where is Leone getting hundreds and hundreds of eggs? A battery farm? I think we need to know.

Margheriti didn’t have much experience with comedy (at least not intentionally!), being more at home with serious, if sometimes outlandish, material. 1960s science-fiction epics like batshit crazy ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966) and more conventional ‘War Between The Planets’ (1966) were followed by Giallo thrillers and ‘Killer Fish’ (1978) with Lee Majors, before he peaked with ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Pigozzi appeared in many of his films, and together the two carved out long careers in the twilit world of cult cinema.

All told, not a very entertaining experience. Jones and the cast do their best with what they have, but it’s precious little.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude… si muore (1968)

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)‘I have to look for some worms for my darlings.’

A young woman is strangled in her bathtub, and her body shipped to an exclusive girls’ school in a trunk. Shortly afterwards, one of the students is sceretly murdered and, while the search for her goes on, the killer is already lining up the next target…

Early Giallo thriller from Italian director Antonio Margheriti (credited as usual as ‘Anthony Dawson’) that leans far more heavily toward the murder-mystery aspect of the sub-genre. This approach differs from the later incarnation, which featured far more graphic violence and nudity and paved the way for the American slasher horrors of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yes, the setup is classic exploitation: a private girls finishing school with a ready-made roster of eye-candy and potential victims. However, the emphasis is on the story and guessing the killer’s identity, rather than the more sensational elements of the situation.

It’s vacation time at the St. Hilda’s School for Girls, but, unfortunately, not all the students have left for the holidays. You see, it’s tough being a daughter of privilege; parents are often too busy making millions to bother with you. So, spring break involves lounging around by the pool in the beautiful Italian countryside, playing a spot of tennis if you want and contemplating the contents of your large checking account. But there’s a summer romance in the air for pretty young redhead Lucille (Eleanora Brown), and it’s getting a little bit serious. Unfortunately, the object of her affection is handsome Richard Barrett (Mark Damon), and he happens to be the school’s riding instructor. Headmistress Miss Transfield (Vivian Stapleton) and new teacher Ms Clay (Ludmilla Lvova) are not likely to approve of this extra-curricular activity. After all, it’s not likely to stay under wraps for long with kookie gossip-monger Jill (Sally Smith) prowling the campus looking for excitement.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)

‘But I thought I was going to meet James Bond. Why else would I be in the shower?’

However, there’s far more serious intrigue afoot with the sudden disappearance of classmate Betty Ann (Caterina Trentini). This development brings the forces of law and order, represented here by veteran British character actor Michael Rennie and his assistant Franco de Rosa.

The investigation proceeds quickly, with suspicion falling first on resident gardener/handyman/peeping tom Luciano Pigozzi. After him, it’s the suddenly absent Damon, eccentric Professor André (Aldo De Carellis) and skin-diving instructor Di Brazzi (Giovanni Di Benedetto). It’s worth mentioning here that this school has a somewhat unique curriculum: skin-diving, tennis, horse riding and fencing. Maybe all finishing schools are like that; I wouldn’t know. Back at the plot, the clues and killings pile up and Margheriti does a good job of lining up all the suspects. When we get to the final reveal, it may not be all that original, but at least it makes sense. All the threads are securely tied, even if how the killer expected to get away with it is another mystery entirely! Once the murderous scheme is concluded, it wouldn’t be remotely difficult for any detective to put the pieces together.

This is a decent thriller, delivered with consummate professionalism in all departments. Fans of better known Giallo pictures are likely to be disappointed by the (very) discreet nudity and the almost bloodless kills, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. Horror maestro Mario Bava was involved with the genesis of the project, originally titled ‘Cry Nightmare’, and it’s interesting to speculate how his visual genius might have shot these locations. Still, director Margheriti was a capable, if not always inspired, hand on the tiller.

Margheriti has a long and extraordinarily variable filmography, including science-fiction: ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1960)‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966) (a personal favourite of mine), toga pictures like ‘The Fall of Rome’ (1963), horrors such as the under-rated ‘The Long Hair of Death’ (1965), Eurospy flicks ‘Lightning Bolt’ (1966) and ‘Killers Are Challenged’ (1966), and a couple of Hercules pictures, including ‘Ursus, il terrore dei kirghisi’ (1964). He also tackled Vietnam-based action films, crime dramas, Westerns, a rom-com, a driving movie with Joey Travolta, some Indiana Jones rip-offs, a knock-off of ‘The Abyss’ (1989) without a budget, and finished off his career making films starring ex-undisputed World Middleweight Boxing Champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He also co-directed Andy Warhol’s notorious ‘Flesh For Frankenstein’ (1973) and was solo in the canvas seat for the epic ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983), which still awaits recognition as one of the greatest films of all time.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)

‘They only released us in black & white in Germany? In 1968?!’

Margheriti might have been a directorial ‘gun for hire’, following whatever trend was out there, but, if you want a crash course in the history of cult cinema, you could do worse than check out his filmography; he pretty much did it all. The same can also be said for veteran character actor Pigozzi, who plays the tree-hugging janitor here. He often worked for Margheriti and has many other interesting, and sometimes bizarre, credits to his name, such as ‘Devilman Story’ (1967).

The strongest element of this project, though, turns out to be a nice surprise, both in the writing and performance. It’s the character of Jill, played by Sally Smith. At first, she seems like the irritating comedy-relief; bitching about the other girls, playing inane pranks and generaly getting on the nerves of everyone involved, including the audience. But when Rennie arrives, she develops a crush on him (despite the significant age difference). This could have been allowed to become creepy, but instead both actors pull it off with quiet wit and natural charm. Smith begins her own investigation to help out, and, by the end of the film has emerged as the heroine, showing smarts and bravery in equal measure. It’s an excellent, well-judged turn by Smith that makes you wish the movie had been centred on her character, rather than spending so much time with Brown and Damon. They aren’t weak in the acting department, but their roles are not as well-developed and interesting.

Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)Naked You Die/School Girl Killer/The Young, the Evil and the Savage/Nude... si muore (1968)

‘You mean, I’m the best thing in this movie?’

Smith didn’t have an extensive screen career, mostly playing on British TV before this, including an episode of ‘The Avengers’. She appeared in only one more film before taking a break of over 20 years, but this new phase included only a few scattered credits at the end of the 1980s and the start of the 90s.

Brown had a major supporting role in director Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Two Women’ (1960), which starred Jean-Paul Belmondo and an Oscar-winning Sophia Loren. This film seemed to be her final role as she retired from the business at the age of 30. However, a couple of producer’s credits in the last couple of years have been followed by a part in ‘Un Amore Così Grande’ (2018); a film released half a century after this one. Now that is one hell of a career break! Interesting that both leading women pretty much quite the business after this film. Perhaps filming was not a happy experience.

American Damon began his career on TV but soon graduated to leads in small movies, including the surprise smash hit ‘House of Usher’ (1960) with Vincent Price. After his career stateside failed to take off, he tried his luck in Europe, appearing mostly in Spaghetti Westerns, but also landing the lead in the Eurospy picture ‘Agente segreto 777 – Operazione Mistero’ (1965). Moving into the producer’s chair later in the following decade, he quickly racked up a diverse list of credits including big hits ‘The NeverEnding Story’ (1984)‘Clan of The Cave Bear’ (1986)‘9½ Weeks’ (1986)‘Short Circuit’ (1986) and cult favourite ‘The Lost Boys’ (1987). Subsequent decades found him involved in less notable projects such as ‘Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time’ (1991)‘The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo’ (1997) and the execrable ‘Feardotcom’ (2002). But he bounced back with ‘Monster’ (2003) which featured an Oscar-winning Charlize Theron and has half a dozen future projects lined up at the time of writing.

A thoroughly professional, efficient thriller that’s not likely to be a favourite of those who enjoy the more extreme examples of the Giallo experience.

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.

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You’re Dead (1965)

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)‘Someone’s Crazy! This is the third body in a month with the eyeball removed!’

After the death of a top research scientist, his daughter becomes the target of international spies after a secret formula. An American agent is sent to break her out of captivity on the other side of the Berlin Wall, but his boss has had a secret TV camera implanted behind his eye during what he believed was an operation to cure his sight.

Lacklustre Italian Eurospy doings that are most notable for a featured performance by ex-Hollywood leading man Dana Andrews. He’s the section chief responsible for this week’s ‘Bond on a Budget’ Brett Halsey, a handsome American actor who never really hit the big time back home. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t get to run around glamorous European capital cities, or wrestle much arm candy, although he does get to spend a little time in a hay barn with heroine Pier Angeli. In terms of gadgets, we do get a murderous waxwork of Napoleon, and a colleague who carries out a Quasimodo-like masquerade just so he can sometimes attack enemy agents with an unconvincing knife that comes out of his hump. The main villain’s lair also doubles as a doctor’s operating room, via an impressive mechanical set.

However, despite these implausible trappings, this is a much more grounded spy adventure than you would expect. It is more Sean Connery Bond, than the outlandish Roger Moore era. Unfortunately, it’s these gimmicks which are the only thing of interest in the film, and they are fairly peripheral to say the least. What we get instead is a hopelessly dreary 90 minutes of kidnappings, assassinations, cross and double cross, a few scenes with a helicopter and lots of men in suits talking in rooms.

Andrews gets a reliably authoritative performance, but he’s the best thing here by a long way, as none of the rest of the cast are able to invest their characters with any real personality. Similarly, director Vittorio Sala fails to bring a level of tension to the proceedings, and there is a complete absence of style or dynamism in his work. Andrews’ top line credentials were established with big studio hits like ‘Laura’ (1944), ‘The Best Years Of Our Lives’ (1946), ‘Boomerang’ (1947) and, later on, the genuinely creepy ‘Night of the Demon’ (1957). Unfortunately, problems with the bottle accelerated a career decline which found him with an icebox full of Nazis in ‘The Frozen Dead’ (1966). But he cleaned up, went into real estate, made a fortune, and lived to the age of 83.

Blonde hero Halsey got his start in supporting roles at Universal in the late 1950s, even graduating to the lead in horror sequel ‘Return of the Fly’ (1959). But, by the 1960s, he’d decided to try his luck in Europe and spent the next decade in ltaly, appearing in projects like this and the similarly themed ‘Espionage In Lisbon’ (1965). He returned to the States in the 1970s and rounded out his career with many guest appearances on Network TV shows and the occasional character role in features, such as ‘The Godfather Part III’ (1990).

Spy In Your Eye/Bang You're Dead (1965)

‘Be careful! You’ll have someone’s eye out with that!’

Angeli was an Italian whose big break came opposite Paul Newman in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ (1956), and was an early girlfriend of both James Dean and Kirk Douglas. Unfortunately, she could never capitalise on her initial success and ended her career, and her life (via barbiturate overdose), on the set of no budget monster snooze-athon ‘Octaman’ (1971).

Sala’s most noteworthy credit is probably ‘Colossus and the Amazons’ (1960) simply as it was the next film released starring Rod Taylor after his career making turn as H.G.Wells’ hero in ‘The Time Machine’ (1960). In the supporting cast, it’s always a pleasure to see Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, here appearing in a thankless role as a spy who plays both ends against the middle. If you’re interested in cult European cinema through the 1960s to the 1980s, you could do worse than check out Pigozzi’s filmography. He appeared in everything from ‘werewolf in a girl’s dormitory’ shocker ‘Lycanthropus’ (1961), to disasters like the idiotic ‘Devilman Story’ (1967), several appearances for horror maestro Mario Bava, including ‘Blood and Black Lace’ (1964), to classic guilty pleasure ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983).

If I’ve talked a great deal more about the careers of the major players here than the film itself, that should tell you all that you need to know. Dull, anonymous spy shenanigans with a few bizarre touches that turn out to be just window dressing and nothing more.

The Devil’s Man/Devilman Story (1967)

The Devil's Man/Devilman Story (1967)‘You are only as beautiful as I am ugly. Señorita, you want some chestnuts?’

A brilliant brain surgeon is kidnapped shortly after he arrives in Rome with his daughter. An American journalist agrees to work with her to track him down, but their investigations lead them into danger in the uncharted African desert.

It’s always a little tricky evaluating films made on foreign shores (Italy, in this case) that have been ‘adapted’ for release in US and UK markets. This one was quite probably pretty bad in the first place, but the attentions of an ‘overenthusiastic’ editor certainly don’t do it any favours, and leave us drowning in a sea of incoherence. The picture opens with a very brief pre-credit sequence of a man escaping from some kind of secret base guarded by desert tribesman. He isn’t properly introduced, and never appears again, although we do find out who he was supposed to be. But that’s an ongoing problem here; character identities are never probably established, and several of them don’t even get names, despite featuring quite prominently.

There is also some confusion as to the featured cast. According to the imdb, our brain surgeon is played by Giovanni Cianfriglia who, as Ken Wood, appeared as masked crimefighter Superargo in a couple of films around the same time. Cianfriglia filled out that superhero suit quite impressively with his athletic physique and muscular development. He was most definitely not a small, grey haired man approaching his sixties! Simiarly, imdb credits Euro-babe Diana Lorys as ‘Yasmin’ but, unless our friend with the ready scissors excised her role completely, she doesn’t appear either. So what gives? Well, it appears that the problem’s arisen because this film shares a lot of the same players as ‘Superargo and the Faceless Giants’ (1968). Both movies star Guy Madison (more familiar from US Westerns!), heroine Luisa Baratto and suppprting actor Valentino Macchi. Also both were directed by Paolo Bianchini (Paul Maxwell for US audiences). So, Cianfraglia and Lorys, who appeared in the ‘Superargo’ film, have ended up credited here as well.

Back at the story, once the opening credits have rolled, we join Professor Whatsisname (played by someone or other) and daughter Baratto (Liz Barrett for US audiences) as they disembark at Rome’s main airport. It’s a strange sequence. The Professor checks in with a passport that looks like a comic book, people wander aimlessly about the terminal for five minutes, a lounge lizard croons on the soundtrack and the camera tilts at some truly alarming ‘dutch’ angles. I guess it was supposed to be ‘style’ but it looks more like the camera operator had a few too many at lunchtime. There’s no other sequence quite like it in the film.

Once they’ve arrived at the hotel, the Prof is off for some scientific meeting, leaving Baratto to wander aimlessly about the streets of Rome for five minutes, being offered chestnuts by some ugly bloke and such like total irrelevancies. Eventually, she goes to see her father and finds him gone and his colleague murdered. Up pops reporter Guy Madison who stops her calling the police (they never get called) and persuades her to investigate her father’s disappearance with him as he’s found clues in the lab referring to ‘Dorothy’ and the initials ‘K.B.’ She goes along with this, despite never having met him before or knowing who he is. They catch a taxi outside, which he stops suddenly a few minutes later so he can go and meet ‘Dorothy’ on a bridge. She’s just there. Somehow. She doesn’t know ‘K.B.’ but the initials are on her key ring! Cut to Madison talking with some bloke. We gather this is supposed to be ‘K.B.’ He never appears in the film again. Neither does Dorothy. Who were they exactly again? Now, all this total incoherence begs an obvious question. If you have to edit a film down to 82 minutes from a longer cut, why would you reatin the lengthy scenes at the airport and Barrato being offered chestnuts and instead bin vital exposition scenes that might actually have helped the plot make some kind of sense? It’s a mystery that will probably never been solved.

The Devil's Man/Devilman Story (1967)

‘Didn’t you think I was good as Superargo?’

Anyway, the trail leads to the African desert, where they have absolutely no trouble in getting a line on this ‘secret base’ and the ‘Devil Man’ who rules the local region. On the way they are suddenly attacked by a huge tribe of desert nomads who look like they’ve arrived from another movie entirely and, given that less than a half a dozen share the frame with our heroic couple, they probably have.

Then it’s off to the base where our ‘Phantom of the Opera’ villain has recruited the Prof to help transfer an electronic brain into his head (or something like that). On his staff is veteran Italian character actor Luciano Pigozzi, who is always good value, and is fondly remembered from other such ‘guilty pleasures’ as ‘Lycanthropus (Werewolf In A Girls’ Dormitory’) (1961) and ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Anyway, Madison throws punches at guards, fires a gun, the desert tribesmen attack (at least I think it’s them, it’s all a bit dark!), and everything blows up. In fact, it all blows up so violently that either the SFX team had some dynamite they had to use up or explosion footage from other films was on sale that week (probably the latter).

This was probably not a good film in any version, but the US cut is quite the trainwreck. Highly recommended.

Yor, The Hunter From The Future/Il Mondo Di Yor (1983)

Yor,_The_Hunter_From_The_Future_(1983)‘Yor’s World! He’s The Man! Yor’s World! He’s The Man!’

Yor wanders the prehistoric wastes alone, flexing his pecs, until he saves a young woman and her protector from a predatory dinosaur. He knows nothing of his origins; the only clue he has being the strange metal medallion that he wears around his neck. His quest for meaning leads him into unbelievable adventures.

Wild and wacky Science Fiction low-budget epic from Italian director Antonio Margheriti, here hiding under his usual Anglicised pseudonym of Anthony M. Dawson. Margheriti had plenty of previous form in the fantastic arena, from more ‘realistic’ output such as ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1961) to pop culture blow outs like ‘Willd, Wld Planet’ (1965). Here, he gives us an old-fashioned quest with a new fashioned twist; elements of prehistoric tribal drama combined with laser battles and robots.

Yor is Reb Brown, an actor who had been TV’s Captain America, and would go on to fight lycanthropes in ‘Howling II: Stirba Werewolf Bitch’ (aka ‘Your Sister Is A Werewolf’) (1985) and top-line the hilariously awful ‘Space Mutiny’ (1988). Here, he rocks a silly blonde wig, loincloth, furry boots, and a goofy expression as he struts around a desert landscape to the hair metal soundtrack song ‘Yor’s World!’ Before long he’s iced a rampaging Triceratops that threatens dark-haired Corinne Cléry and her faithful old retainer Luciano Pigozzi. Obviously, no-one knew that, despite its fearsome appearance, those particular dinosaurs only ate plants. Cléry has a question: ‘Why are all men not like Yor?’

Yor befriends the black-haired tribe, but muses on his mysterious origins: ‘It’s like a question burning inside of me, a question without an answer. Am I the son of fire?’ Cléry attempts some kind of erotic tribal dance (probably) and, although it looks a bit half-hearted, it certainly gets Yor interested. But, before he can act on his intentions, his new hairy friends are attacked by some even hairier men. Yor helps to defend the settlement by pushing over all the buildings and setting fire to everything. Nice one, Yor! But he does redeem himself by rescuing Cléry from their evil clutches by flying into a cave hanging from the corpse of a giant bat. Cléry has more observations of her own: “Yor, you’re so different from all the other men I’ve known.”

Your takes on men wrapped in bandages to save a blonde priestess, Yor kills a dimetrodon after it chews up his axe (don’t worry, Yor, it’s back in one piece in the next scene), Yor goes boating, Yor snogs the priestess. In between all the carnage, Yor offers many philosophical insights and observations. On modern technology: ‘Damn talking box!’ On tyrants: ‘You believe you’re a god, but you think like a murderer.’ On local cuisine: ‘The blood of your enemy makes you stronger.’ Of course, it all ends in a massive laser battle against the mechanical hordes of a cloaked John Steiner, who might be an illusion but, like, has to ‘physically push the button’. Well spotted, Yor!

Yor, The Hunter From The Future (1983)

Yor! He’s The Man!!

The model work and SFX are incredibly variable, with everything from the ridiculous giant bat to a cave flood that is surprisingly well realised. The dinosaur battles feature practical models, and those are stiff and unconvincing, with tongues being the only obvious moving parts. The fight scenes and choreography aren’t exactly a triumph, either, with villains regularly attacking our hero one at a time, but, then again, I’ve seen a lot worse.

Cléry came to fame, or perhaps notoriety, in the title role of the erotic movie ‘The Story of O’ (1975) and had been a ‘Bond Girl’ in ‘Moonraker’ (1979). Pigozzi was a veteran of Italian cinema, whose long career included appearances in Westerns, Thrillers, Police Procedurals, Eurospy movies, and horror pictures for cult director Mario Bava. Steiner also appeared for Bava in the underrated ‘Beyond the Door II/Shock’ (1978), which was the master’s final film.

It’s hard to dislike a movie that cheerfully crams in dinosaurs, androids, cavemen and spaceships, and it would be dangerous to incur the wrath of Yor by doing so. After all, he is The Man.

Just remember: this is Yor’s World. We just live in it.