Don’t Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino) (1972)   1 comment

Don’t Torture a Duckling ticks a lot of boxes for me.


It’s an Italian giallo!


It’s a police procedural!


It’s an ‘evil lurks beneath a façade of goodness’ melodrama!


It’s a witch hunt!

Don’t fight, guys. It’s all that and a cautionary tale about kids hanging out with naked women and watching murders and junk. It’s also a cool mystery that has more red herrings than King Oscar.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is Lucio Fulci’s country giallo and it’s glorious. The film is set in the backward, yet picturesque mountain town of Accendura, Italy, accessible only by an impressive raised highway bridge used mostly by visiting prostitutes and tourists heading somewhere else.


Isn’t that cool?

In this quiet town where everyone knows everyone’s business and the people don’t worry about crime, a series of brutal child killings alters the chemistry of the town and force the residents’ baser instincts to bubble to the surface.


Bubbling

The film starts out a bit Leopold and Loeb-ish. After the first boy goes missing, his parents get a ransom demand. It turns out the boy is already dead and the plot takes a different turn.


“Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Fulci?”

A psychopath continues to kill little boys until one by one, pretty much every person in town is either killed or implicated in the murder. That includes the sexy sorceress, Florinda Bolkan and spoiled rich girl, Barbara Bouchet, who ends up helping a visiting journalist look for clues. This is the procedural part and it’s well done. The police aren’t backwoods brutes. They’re smart and they really want to catch the killer. We don’t see them worrying about appearances or trying to make an easy bust. They’re genuinely concerned for the safety of the townspeople. That’s a smart choice on Fulci’s part. It keeps the focus on the real murderer.


“Maybe I should send for more guys.”

I loved this film. The characters were real people with flaws and hang-ups and the kids weren’t obnoxious. They were even childlike. They weren’t acting like short adults. The entire situation was genuine right down to the pitchfork-y vigilantism of the locals when they think they know the killer.


“Do you know whodunnit?”

The setting, full of stucco houses carved into a mountain, contributes to the sense of isolation.

The remoteness of the village means all the action takes place without much outside influence. Even the big city reporter, Tomas Milian, doesn’t come off like a pushy urbanite who complains because he’s in the boondocks and there are only two channels. He thinks logically and treats the townspeople with respect. The more cosmopolitan policeman and the commissioner, played by Ugo D’Alessio and Virgilio Gazzolo, don’t abuse the local constable and he doesn’t roll his eyes at them because they’re not dumb. They’re intelligent, experienced, and motivated to solve the crime.


“This is a no smoking village.”

Don’t Torture a Duckling is sensational, and violent, but it’s also thoughtful and well made. Written by Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, and Gianfranco Clerici and shot by Sergio D’Offizi, the film grabs you right from the start and maintains that suspense throughout. It also keeps you in the dark and I like that sense of mystery. This is a thinking person’s giallo. Gore fiends, take heart. There’s a pack of mayhem and blood too. Worth seeing. I might have to buy this one.

 

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And Soon the Darkness (1970)   2 comments

When two friends on a biking tour of France are separated, one of them suspects the other is in trouble. Can she find her friend? How will she know who the good guys are when nobody wears a hat?


“Hey, is that Cary Grant up ahead?”

Two young British women, bicycling through the French countryside, have a row. Jane (Pamela Franklin) wants to stick to their schedule (pronounced shehjule), and Cathy (Michele Dotrice), fancies a bit of a lie down in the sun. Cathy falls asleep on the grass, but when she wakes up, she’s not alone. Meanwhile, Jane has cycled on to the next village to wait. When hours pass with no sign of her friend, Jane heads back to where Cathy was resting and finds no sign of her. She hitches back to town with the handsome, yet creepy, Paul (Sandor Elès), who claims to be an off-duty Sûreté officer.


“Have you ever seen a crawlspace?”

Paul vacations in this part of the country every year because he’s obsessed with an unsolved murder committed there a few years prior. Sure, buddy. Jane is understandably freaked out by Paul and his weird hobby, so she runs away from him to the home of the local gendarme, (John Nettleton) and his war-addled father, where she stays while the policeman searches for Cathy and Paul. Will the gendarme find Cathy safe? Will Paul get his motorbike started? Will Jane ever go to the bathroom? I mean, she’s been riding a bike all day and she’s had two orangeades without stopping. She’s like a camel.


“Just loading up for the desert crossing.”

Robert Fuest directed And Soon the Darkness as well as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Devil’s Rain, and some of The Avengers series, so we know he’s a cool guy. The story, written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation, is simple and Fuest keeps it taut and fast-moving. The tension comes from within the characters and it’s genuinely scary at times.


Quentin?

The music, by Laurie Johnson, who wrote the fab theme for The Avengers and a ton of other films and shows, contributes to the film’s urgent mood. The film looks great too. Cinematographer, Ian Wilson makes pretty pastoral shots and then moves in for a heart-pounding close-up. The final shot is chilling and beautiful.


“A little wax and she’ll be good as new.”

The oddball characters add to the atmosphere of confusion and fear, but Pamela Franklin carries the film. Her facial expressions convey what she’s feeling without exposition or a lot of dialogue. That works since one of the problems Franklin’s character, Jane faces is that she’s a British woman in a small rural town in France. She speaks very little French and the locals speak almost no English. It’s a subtle performance that could easily have descended to pantomime and shrillness, but doesn’t because Franklin keeps the character grounded. Sandor Elès as Paul is equal parts menacing and comforting in keeping with the whole ‘I’m not sure who to trust.’ theme.


“Get off my pelouse.”

And Soon the Darkness is a terrific little gem of a film. These smaller thrillers from the 1960s and 70s are my favorite things in the world and the British ones are the best. This was a great find.

 

Black Sabbath (1963)   Leave a comment

Boris Karloff introduces a trio of horror stories in Mario Bava’s anthology film, Black Sabbath. Borrowing from A.K. Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekov, Bram Stoker, and a gang of other suspense writers, Bava directs “The Telephone”, “The Wurdulak”, and “The Drop of Water”. Each is set in a different era and a different part of the world, but they’re all suspenseful and well done.


“I won a cruise?”

In “The Telephone”, Rosy (Michèle Mercier) returns to her stylish flat from a night on the town. As she takes off her evening clothes, the phone rings. Rosy picks it up, but no one answers. Rosy continues to undress and get ready for bed and the phone rings again. Again, no one is on the other end of the phone. After a few calls, a voice begins to taunt Rosy with threats of murder. The caller doesn’t stop and his relentless verbal attacks wear away at Rosy’s nerves. She starts to panic and…haha. I’m not telling. Claustrophobic and tense, “The Telephone” is a nice little heart racer.


“Got your nose!”

The next story, “The Wurdulak”, stars Mark Damon as Count Vladimir D’Urfe, who, seeking shelter in the middle of the night, wanders into a rural family’s cottage. They’re waiting for the family’s patriarch, Gorca (Boris Karloff) to return from his five-day mission to kill the infamous wurdulak, a vampire-like zombie, thirsty for the blood of his loved ones. Gorca promised he’d be back in exactly five days. When he arrives a little after his due date, the family, including the beautiful Sdenka (Susy Andersen) fears Gorca may have gone all wurdulakky. “The Wurdulak” is unpredictable. The story has the potential to go in a few directions which keeps it zipping along.


“I hope I get to strip a corpse tonight.”

“The Drop of Water” focuses on Helen (Jacqueline Pierreux), who gets a call in the middle of a dark and stormy night (Ha!) to go to the home of a dead woman to dress her for her funeral.


“She’s looked better.”

Helen’s a nurse so she’s used to unpleasant duties, but this lady wears a death mask that’d make Jason Voorhees cringe.


“Did I overdo the tanning?”

I imagine they tell nurses not to mess with the dead, but Helen must have forgotten that lesson because she steals a piece of jewelry from the deceased. The rest of the segment looks like what might happen if William Castle and Edgar Allen Poe had a baby. That’s a good thing, in case you were wondering. Of the three stories, this is my favorite.


“I thought I was your favorite!”

Black Sabbath was a nice surprise. It’s a solid horror film from an era full of them and it looks great on the big screen.


“You come on back now, ya hear?”

Kill Baby, Kill (1966)   Leave a comment

You have to love a film that starts with a woman running out of a decrepit mansion, screaming and impaling herself on a pointy fence.

Dashing Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) arrives at a dreary village in the Carpathian Mountains to perform an autopsy.


“I’m dashing.”

Inspector Krueger (Piero Lulli) wants to find the cause of death of Irena (the impaler) and the villagers are stonewalling him. They can’t or won’t talk about the young woman’s death because they fear the curse, plaguing their village for years, will afflict them too. The doctor performs the autopsy with the help of Monika Shuftan (Erika Blanc), a beautiful science student who happens to be in town visiting her parents’ graves. They’re a cheery bunch.


“I’m not sure we should use this picture for the brochure.”

Meanwhile, the burgomeister (Luciano Catenacci) pretends to help Krueger while simultaneously not telling him anything and conspiring with his lover, sexy witch Ruth (the mesmerizing Fabienne Dali) to insert coins into the hearts of all the corpses. Yeah, I don’t know. Oh, all right. Ruth, places the coins in the victims’ hearts to ward off Baroness Graps’ supernatural powers. The baroness (Giovanna Galletti), who lives in a huge derelict castle that looks like it was decorated by Miss Havisham for her Halloween layout, blames the entire village for the death of her daughter twenty years before.


Ruth

Paul does some sleuthing himself, asking the locals about the curse and trying to convince them that a cold compress is better for a young girl’s fever than wrapping a weird barbed plant around her chest.

More villagers die violently and Paul runs around town getting locked into places and yelling “Monika!” a lot. Monika keeps seeing a little dead girl everywhere and wakes up after a nightmare to find a bald doll on her bed. She tries to hold it together, but the ghost kid keeps appearing and by now the corpses are really piling up.


“I wanted granite.”

I won’t delve too deeply into the plot because I recommend you see Kill Baby, Kill and I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s a cool, suspenseful film with a few nice scares and solid performances. Paul and Monika make a pretty pair. They’re both likable, intelligent, and not swept away by the hysteria of the townsfolk. Even when Monika is completely terrified, she listens to reason, and I love the way Paul scoffs at the barbaric medical practices of the locals. He’s too logical for this crap, but even he gets a little freaked out when doors start closing on their own.


Nice arm sconces

Kill Baby, Kill has a cool medieval look to it. The dilapidated stone castles give the film a worn-out gothic look that fits in with the idea of a remote town that’s given up. Director, Mario Bava, must have blown the budget on dry ice and cobwebs and he was right to do it. The whole atmosphere lends itself to spooky goings-on. Bava and his cinematographer, Antonio Rinaldi, who also shot Danger: Diabolik and Planet of the Vampires, used the set, including a gorgeous spiral staircase, beautifully.


See?

The scenes with the little ghost girl gazing through windows and bouncing a white ball are wonderful.


Wrong kid.

Kill Baby, Kill is a fun watch. The characters are worth caring about and the story, by Bava, Romano Migliorini, and Roberto Natale, has enough going on to keep you interested. It’s a fun Halloween-y film.

 

 

The Nice Guys or Not the Bees!   2 comments

When a film starts with a topless porn star crashing her car into a house to the tune of the Temptations song Papa Was a Rolling Stone, it sets a tone you hope the characters and plot can keep up with. Fortunately, The Nice Guys keeps up the irreverent mood and fast and unexpected pace.


“Look up! Is that Dave Chappelle?”

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) are both hired, separately, to look for and protect a young woman. Healy is a hired goon who beats people up for a living and March is a mercenary private detective who drinks so much he has his thirteen-year-old daughter drive him around. They start out as adversaries, but end up teaming up to solve the complicated case.


“It says here, Colonel Mustard, in the drawing room, with a candlestick.”

Set in 1970s Los Angeles, The Nice Guys deals with the porn industry, car makers, the Department of Justice, and even President Nixon. It even has a big bee. Despite the kitchen sink approach to plot, the film moves along and holds your interest thanks to its three leads.


Two out of the three leads and a big bee.

I get a big kick out of this film. Healy and March are cool characters that don’t fit into the standard private detective mold. Healy knows he’s a thug-for-hire, but you can tell he has a cool backstory and Crowe gives him some charm and even a little depth. March and his daughter, Holly, played by the talented and appealing Angourie Rice, have a sweet relationship. In some ways, she’s more mature than her dad, but the film never goes full Paper Moon and Gosling has some nice moments. I wish we got to know them all better, but the film places its emphasis on its overly intricate plot. Don’t get me wrong. The Nice Guys is entertaining, but I would have preferred a little more character development.


“There’s no sequel?”

The dialogue and performances in The Nice Guys are what make it work. Keith David’s henchman has a natural world-weariness and Lois Smith is always a pleasure to see. Matt Bomer must have enjoyed making this film too. He has a fun part with a few terrific lines. Gosling makes a potentially goofy character seem human and real. Crowe is the one we really want to learn more about. He’s a tough guy who lives above a comedy club and has a word-a-day calendar. I’m curious about how he got there.


“Lugubrious.”

Ryan Gosling has some winner lines too. In describing how bad Lois Smith’s eyesight is, he says, “She has actual Coke bottles for glasses. You paint a mustache on a Volkswagen and she says, boy, that Omar Sharif sure runs fast.” Good stuff.


“It’s 9am somewhere.”

Shane Black directed The Nice Guys based on a script he wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi. The plot and characters have a Get Shorty meets The Long Goodbye vibe with a little Pulp Fiction philosophizing thrown in. That’s not a bad thing.


“Royale with cheese.”

The best thing aside from the performances of Gosling and Crowe is the teaming of Gosling and Crowe. Seriously, I could watch a lot more of this duo—and these two characters. The Nice Guys is a fun movie.


“Say what again!”

I Drink Your Blood (1970)   Leave a comment

“Satan was an acid head!”
-Horace Bones

A nasty bunch of Satanist hippies led by Horace Bones (Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury) show up in a small, nearly abandoned town and move into a house left empty to prepare for a soon to be built dam which will flood the area. During one of their naked, devil-worshipping rituals, they attack Sylvia (Iris Brooks), a local teenager. When her grandfather, veterinarian, Doc Banner (Richard Bowler) confronts them, the gang overpower him and dose him with LSD. If you think they’re only hostile to outsiders, think again. They also strap down one of their own, slice his feet with a machete and swing him from a hook until they’re splattered with his blood. Sweet.


“Do you like Jackson Pollock?”

That’s all Sylvia’s little brother, Pete (Riley Mills) can take. He decides to avenge the gang’s assaults on his family so he takes blood from a rabid dog he put down and injects it into meat pies meant for the cult.


Yum!

In a few hours, Horace and his followers, including the charismatic, Rollo (George Patterson) start foaming at the mouth and craving fresh blood. I’m pretty sure it’s not what Pete the doofus had in mind. The hydrophobic hippies run amok, killing and infecting everyone they meet, including the construction workers in town to build the dam, who, in turn kill everyone they see. It’s a real party.


“Did you say decaf?”

Will Doc Banner, Sylvia, and Pete escape with their lives? Will they ever get the rabid construction workers close enough to water to build the dam? Will bakery owner, Mildred Nash (Elizabeth Marner-Brooks) patent her rabies pies?


“I’ll have seconds!”

I Drink Your Blood is a gore-filled indie with good acting and an original story. In an interview with writer/director David E. Durston in the excellent book, Nightmare USA, by Stephen Thrower, the title of the film was originally Phobia, but producers changed it to I Drink Your Blood and paired it with the less promising film, I Eat Your Skin for the drive-in double-feature circuit. Durston was less than overjoyed about the title change, saying, “Ridiculous—there are no vampires in the film, not even a Bloody Mary! They might as well have called it ‘I Shit in Your Saddlebag’!” Apparently, Durston was a bright, funny character. I Drink Your Blood was the first film to get an X rating from the MPAA for violence. The controversy fueled excitement for the film and sales were brisk, even with the less than stellar I Eat Your Skin attached to it.

I Drink Your Blood entertains a lot more than the title leads you to believe. An original story combined with decent performances (except for Pete) and a dramatic score by Clay Pitts make it worth a watch.


This’ll come in handy.

Dementia 13 (1963) Revisited on Blu-ray   3 comments

I wrote a review of Dementia 13 a while back, but that was based on seeing a fairly grainy version on YouTube. Last fall, the lovely people at Film Detective sent me a Blu-ray of the fun horror gem. I had some dumb technical issues so I’m just watching it now. Sorry, Film Detective. I didn’t forget you.


“People get so dramatic when they’re not invited to the wedding.”

Dementia 13 was made in 1963, in black and white, for $40,000. Francis Ford Coppola filmed it, with Roger Corman’s blessing, around the set of The Young Racers, also starring William Campbell and Luana Anders. It’s just 75 minutes long and it’s a terrific little thriller. It’s not a perfect film, but it moves along and the acting is good, especially from Patrick Magee, who plays—surprise—a sinister doctor.


“Oh hi.”

Since I first watched and wrote about this film, I’ve seen it a few times, but it’s never looked this good. The Blu-ray version is crisp and clear and I managed to see more details of Dementia 13 in this viewing than I ever have. It’s a real treat to see a film you like in the best possible way. Director of photography, Charles Hanawalt, uses a lot of natural and dim lighting. That makes sense considering the modern Gothic setting. It also means that in the past, I’ve had to strain to catch details. Not this time.

I enjoyed actually seeing Dementia 13 after all this time. If you’re a fan, the Blu-ray is a must.

Psst…below is my review of Dementia 13, with a few additions.

borg

Fishy fishy in the brook
Daddy’s caught you on a hook
-Nursery rhyme

As John Haloran rows across the lake on his family’s Irish estate, he teases his wife Louise (Luana Anders). If he drops dead, Louise will inherit none of the Haloran wealth. Pro tip: Never annoy your wife in a rowboat…if you have a bad heart. The always resourceful Louise dumps John overboard, packs his suitcase, and tells the family he went to New York on business. She’ll stay at the Haloran castle and get to know them while John’s away. Psst…it’ll be a while. It doesn’t take long for Louise to see just how nutty the Halorans are. Richard (William Campbell) solders bad art and scowls. Billy (Bart Patton) walks around in a fog telling people about his dreams. Lady Haloran, fixated on death and grief, holds funerals to commemorate a funeral. Creepy Doctor Caleb (Patrick Magee) tells everyone they’re doing it wrong in a ‘Get into my van. I have candy.’ kind of way.

creepy
“…and then I crushed its head.”

They’re a fun bunch.

funeral
Weeeeee!

Louise, ever the multitasker, figures she’ll push the already dotty Lady Haloran over the edge using a few props from the nursery while insinuating herself into the family and the will. Her simple plan runs into a snag, however and then the fun really starts.

monkey
If you see this you have gone too far.

Francis Ford Coppola (yes that one), wrote and directed Dementia 13 with some tweaks by Jack Hill (The Bees, Coffy). Coppola gives the film a creepy quality by using odd camera angles and off-kilter close-ups and filming so much of it at night. The look reminded me of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Even the dim day shots look dismal and give the black and white film an eerie atmosphere.

spy
Eavesdropping on the funeral.

What’s missing is dialogue and character development. What dialogue there is works, but the characters need more to say to help us get to know them. More realistic conversations might also decrease the tendency toward exposition. Also, for a film set in Ireland, I found the lack of Irish accents from almost all the lead characters somewhat baffling. According to articles on the making of Dementia 13, producer Roger Corman assigned Coppola to make a gory version of Psycho on the cheap so he dashed off a script and went into production. In spite of this and the fact that this marked Coppola’s non-porn directorial debut, it’s a good gothic horror film with a creative plot and some genuinely scary moments. The nifty chamber music by Ronald Stein enhanced the mood as well. I understand why this has become such a cult favorite and I’m glad I finally saw it.

Thanks again to the folks at Film Detective.

Fun fact: Early on in the film, Louise discusses Richard’s girlfriend saying, “You can tell she’s an American girl, raised on promises.” Sound familiar? It’s pretty close to the first lines of the Tom Petty tune, “American Girl”, released in 1976. I can’t find definitive information to link the song lyrics to the film, but it’s a neat tidbit.

quality
A sure sign of quality

shame

Check out cinemashame.wordpress.com for more horrific reviews and @cinemashame on twitter.

I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

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