director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
A shade of giallo and Hitchcock’s Psycho tint La Residencia, so inaptly re-named in English The House That Screamed. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s elegant and sophisticated boarding school horror film could almost be a “Women In Prison” movie, “Young Girls In Reform School,” if you will.
Señora Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs her school for wayward girls with an iron fist, dishing out rigorous structure and necessary punishment with a flair of S&M.
“This is a boarding school, not a prison.”
“If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one!”
The repression and desire of the girls brought to mind Don Siegel’s The Beguiled , though the only roosters in this hen house is Señora Fourneau’s also repressed son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown), a gristly handyman, and the occasional visits by the hunky woodsman.
“None of these girls is any good. You need a girl like me.”
Mama Fourneau forces the Oedipal on Luis and let’s just say that the results are … “interesting.”
Another solid horror film from the director who also gave us Who Can Kill a Child?
director David A. Prior
Not like I didn’t live through this period of world history and pop culture, but God those outfits God those hairstyles!
For starters David A. Prior’s Killer Workout a.k.a. Aerobicide turns a tanning bed into a toaster oven, while the main course features a killer with big safety pin.
Watching Killer Workout back-to-back with Death Spa makes me wonder about a history of popular exercise regimens. Like, could this be made today with Zumba or CrossFit? Probably not the latter due to all their fanatical licensing.
Other stray observations: sexual harassment, a lot of sexy gyration, leering, who were the few random guys working out with all the chicks? Pretty stylin’ cars.
Aerobicide is clearly the better title.
director Michael Fischa
“I’m beta; you’re VHS.”
From the moment the Star Body Health Spa sign blinked out to just Death Spa, I knew I was in for a good time.
Death Spa exudes high cheese aesthetics of somewhere in the Eighties. Plasticine, neon, leg warmers and pastels accessorize the glorious tackiness of the set design.
This movie is serious bananas, in the best of ways. There’s a ghost in the machine that runs the highest tech health spa in Los Angeles. And that spells death in a huge variety of ways, getting wackier as the whole shebang marches on, as well as a goodly amount of nudity for the era.
I hadn’t thought of Merritt Butrick (RIP) in many years and never realized that he was born in my hometown of Gainesville, FL.
director Brad F. Grinter
From Brad F. Grinter, of Flesh Feast and Blood Freak, rumbles in Devil Rider!, biker flick-cum-warning to wayward girls.
Young Kathy Holiday (Sharon Mahon, daughter of Barry Mahon, who performed cinematography duties here) goes missing and her father sends a P.I. to track her down in South Florida’s sleazy streets (including some pretty nice shots of 1970 South Florida.)
Her older sister, Penny, had disappeared there some years before on her 18th birthday. Both girls run astray of lowlife bikers. Penny is gang raped and tricked out into prostitution. Lucky for Kathy (and the P.I.) that her ex-beau is a karate-chopping superstar or who knows how things would turn out?
“Penny. It takes hundred to make a dollar. But a hundred dollars can’t make Penny.”
Centered in the film is Penny’s interview with the detective, recalling her boozy life and her societal downfall. Penny, played by Janice Kerr, is awesome with some camped up dialogue delivered with almost Dreamlander emphasis.
“Down here the word is Hooker, spelled W-H-O-R-E”
The film’s core and greatest strength is Penny and her story. Camp, but compelling, the Penny sequence shifts the film from its more meager qualities.
director Robert Wise
A film noir adapted from a poem. That’s got to be unusual.
The Set-Up, directed by Robert Wise stars Robert Ryan and Audrey Trotter and a slew of top notch character actors.
“Everybody’s a sucker for something.”
Lean, mean and sharply crafted, it’s easy to see why The Set-Up makes so many lists of best films noir. Wise keens in on the fervent bloodlust of boxing’s bloodsport, the fatalistic nature of the genre and style. And the excellent boxing sequences and cinematography.
Also, I’m a Robert Ryan convert now.
director Bruno Mattei
A weird avant-grade theater sequence belies the otherwise straightforward sleaze of Women’s Prison Massacre. And quality sleaze it certainly is.
Laura Gemser stars in what is likely the first Laura Gemser flick I’ve ever seen in which she didn’t get naked even once. The rest of the cast makes up for that in an abundance of flesh.
Albina the faux albino (Ursula Flores) is Gemser’s primary foil in the first half of the film, which is a sort of by the numbers “women in prison” flick. The formula takes a major twist when a quartet of vile male criminals are set to be temporarily housed in this women’s prison. They break out, take over, and sex and violence rule the roost.
It’s quality from a sleaze point of view if not from others.
Most amusing tidbit: “The sole bit of unintentional humor comes from the proliferation of expensive hosiery worn by the female cast, which was courtesy of the film’s main producer, a French undergarments company.” – Paul Gaita, AllMovie.
director William A. Wellman
“She’s the only white woman on the island.”
Gilda (Dorothy Mackaill), a prostitute in New Orleans, accidentally kills an old lover who played her dirty. And now she needs to get out quick!’ Enter her seafaring beau, back from long months all over the globe.
“I’ve made my living the only way I could.”
Initially taken aback by this, Gilda’s fiancee still loves her and secrets her away to a small island nation in the Caribbean with no extradition policies. She’ll have to hide out, “Safe in Hell” while he ships out again.
William A. Wellman’s Safe in Hell bears it’s origins as a play, but it’s also primo pre-code storytelling and characterization: those on the outsides of “polite society” who would not find their lives depicted after the Hays Code kicked in, plus frankness about sex, and in some cases, a very humanitarian outlook.
I’d just watched Wellman’s Frisco Jenny of the following year, which held some very similar aspects. The lead Gilda is a strong woman, acting in self-reliance, doing what she has to in order to live. True, both Jenny and Gilda end up taking noble stances that ultimately lead them to the gallows, though this tragic ending further empowers their noble motivations rather than acting as pure punishment.
Another great bit of repartee:
“May I ask you senior what are your intentions for the chicken? Honorable I hope?”
Safe in Hell also has a pretty nice jazzy score, and a all too brief singing performance by Nina Mae McKinney (“The Black Garbo”).
director Jesús Franco
I think I may be forgiven for mistaking A Virgin Among the Living Dead as one of Jesús Franco’s lesser works. In reality, it’s one of his best.
The late 1960s through early 1970s, when gratuitous nudity was de rigueur, Jess Franco found himself as director. Franco burned brightly during this time and in this period made his finest films. True, along with some much less fine films, but when you’re releasing upwards to a dozen films a year, they’re not all going to be wonderful.
Here, Jess appears as a babbling idiot, a gofer for a family of arch weirdness, kooky sexuality, and supernatural possibility. Christina (Christina von Blanc) comes to visit, having never met any of her family before, and discovers her heritage isn’t what you’d call “run of the mill”.
For me, this is one of Franco’s most aesthetically pleasing films. The dreamy nightmare is beautiful and the plot isn’t challenged by unnecessary logic.
It’s been a decade since I saw Vampyros Lesbos and Venus in Furs, two other high point Francos. A Virgin Among the Living Dead may be in the running for my favorite.
director Bill Karn
Johnny Cash stars as a bad boy in Five Minutes to Live (a.k.a. Door-to-Door Maniac). And even sings the title tune.
This low-budget home invasion noir also features Vic Tayback with a head of hair, and little Ronnie Howard.
Most interesting to me in reading up on the film is to realize that the script was written by Cay Forester, the vicitmized wife and mother at the core of the story. It’s Forester’s only screenwriting credit in a career in obscure noirs and television.
Of course, the real appeal of Five Minutes to Live is Johnny Cash, who carries a certain level of menace in his role and a ton of just being Johnny Cash to his credit.
director William A. Wellman
Frisco Jenny Sandoval (Ruth Chatterton) was raised in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, among the remnants of the Barbary Coast. She’s a young girl in love (and “in the family way”) when the 1906 earthquake hits and devastates the city and more specifically, Jenny herself. Poverty and begging alongside the slum preachers isn’t feeding her baby, so Jenny turns to the oldest profession and her own self-reliance.
William A. Wellman’s Frisco Jenny is pre-code Hollywood telling stories that would soon be deemed to salacious or racy to be frankly depicted in the years to follow. Jenny creates an empire, initially through managing other prostitutes, but then other madams as well. Her sly and not altogether on the level attorney Steve Dutton gets her out of many a jam, but also sets her up to lose her child into a wealthy foster family, setting the stage for later tragedy.
The character of Jenny is self-reliant and self-made, despite the limitations available to her and her reality of her times. The film’s empathy lies with her. And it’s interesting to see how empty the promises of the preacher, and later the grandstanding and self-righteous district attorney, typical emblems of societal correctness, echo hollowly.