The Lovely Bones

Often relegated to the ranks of sexploitation filmmakers, French director Jean Rollin has enjoyed a critical reassessment in recent years that he never experienced during his prolific filmmaking years in France, where he was mostly dismissed by the country’s leading critics. Many of his films utilized horror film conventions (graveyards, vampires, zombies) as well as exploitation tactics (gore and nudity) but combined them in a way that were uniquely his own. The Iron Rose (1973, aka La rose de fer), however, was a complete departure from Rollin’s previous efforts and was unlike anything he would ever attempt again. Closer in form to an experimental film than something that would fit comfortably into the horror genre, the movie is a macabre mood piece with poetic touches that recalls the films of Jean Cocteau and Georges Franju.   Continue reading

In the Land of Mah-Na Mah-Na

Between 1967 and 1974 Sweden emerged as the most progressive and liberal nation in the world due to a government that supported a wide variety of social and political interests such as women’s rights, anti-war advocacy and the environmental movement along with a relaxed attitude about sex. Films like Mac Ahlberg’s I, a Woman (1965), Vilgot Sjoman’s I Am Curious (Yellow) from 1967, and Joseph Sarno’s Inga (1968) also helped confirm Sweden’s image as an epicenter of sexual freedom so it was inevitable that such a situation would inspire a moralistic backlash. What no one expected was that it would come from Italy in the form of a Mondo Cane-like documentary directed by Luigi Scattini entitled Sweden: Heaven and Hell (1968).  Continue reading

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….

This one sentence synopsis should sound familiar. A group of travelers are stranded during a severe storm at a creepy mansion where the hosts are the most unsettling part of the experience. It’s an audience-pleasing premise has served countless mystery thrillers and horror-comedies from James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) to Stuart Gordon’s Dolls (1987). But The Unnaturals (1969), directed by Antonio Margheriti, is one of the few dark and stormy night movies that stands out from the pack by virtue of its genre resistant narrative which begins as a decadent character study, slowly morphs into a supernatural thriller and signs off as an apocalyptic morality tale. Continue reading

Ernesto Gastaldi’s Seminal Giallo

With a tumultuous background of waves crashing against a rocky coast, a descriptive statement from Sigmund Freud on the meaning of libido scrolls down the screen. Part of the Austrian psychoanalyst’s quotation defines libido as “the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude… of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word ‘love.’” But the film that follows is not about love but rather the perversion of it starting with an opening sequence in which a child witnesses the aftermath of his father’s violent S&M session with a female companion, an incident that scars him for life.     Continue reading

Ilya Muromets vs. the Dragon

The Sword and the DragonThere is no doubt that my love of all things bizarre, unusual, and other-worldly was influenced to some degree by viewing at an early age Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, The Wolf Man, I Married a Witch, The Wizard of Oz and Walt Disney animated films such as Pinocchio and Fantasia. But Hollywood films weren’t the only ones to fire my imagination and, thanks to some adventurous distributors in the fifties and sixties, I was exposed to a number of offbeat international features that were circulated in English-dubbed versions for kiddie matinees. Some were completely re-edited for American audiences but still cast a strange spell, regardless of their quality.    Continue reading