A: Assignment Terror (1970)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: aliens from a dying world plan to invade the Earth, and decide to start raising the dead to conquer our supposedly inferior race. Except this time the dead being raised are classic monsters, and the aliens are once again represented by Michael Rennie, in his last film role as “Doctor Warnoff”.

To aid him, Warnoff has two more of his alien pals inhabiting recently dead Earthers who have skills he requires: Maleva (Karin Dor), a biochemist, and Kerian (Angel del Pozzo), a soldier. It took me two viewings to figure out that particular part of the plot, thinking during the first runthrough that his two henchmen were simply raised from the dead. And, eventually that Warnoff himself is seemingly an alien in a Earth suit. I think.

This is not the least confusing part of the plot, either.

Warnoff starts off by pulling the wooden stake out of the skeleton of Count Janos (Manuel de Blas), a nod to the classic Universal monster mashes of the 40s, specifically House of Frankenstein. There will be enough of these nods to wear out your neck gimbal as the movie progresses. Warnoff’s plan is to infect humanity with vampire blood, which, like a lot of Warnoff’s plans, will not come to anything. Count Janos will occasionally wander around unsupervised and cause problems.

Next up, and the real reason we are all here, is the infamous lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), whom they revivify by surgically removing the silver bullets from his still-beating heart (real open heart surgery footage – the 70s, everybody!), while Warnoff explains that the idiots back in Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror did it wrong, and helpfully informing the aide who will eventually betray him the proper way to go about killing a werewolf.

Not-Drac’s feeling much better.

Oh yeah, that’s right: Warnoff is kidnapping local women and brainwashing them with his Super Annoying Sound MachineTM. This sort of thing brings the attention of the police in the person of Inspector Toberman (Craig Hill), who seems to be the sole person in the employ of the Commissioner… no, wait, there’s a guy who brings in a file folder. So Toberman is the other cop in whatever strange land this takes place. As is traditional in these flicks, the Police are a hapless lot.

A treasure trove of information!

While Toberman meanders through his investigation, Warnoff also racks up a living mummy (George Reyes) and the Monster of um, Farancksalan. Naturally, all these personages will gather at the local creepy castle owned by Warnoff, so there will be more unrealized plans and more importantly, inter-monster carnage, while the Commissioner shows up with the Army just in time to see the castle blow up.

This is actually Paul Naschy’s second outing as Daninsky (it was supposed to be his third, but a French co-production never happened). Assignment Terror exists mainly because his first, Las Noches del Hombre Loco, was an enormous hit. Promised a healthy budget, Naschy (under his given name of Jacinto Molina) wrote a script that drew heavily on his love of the Classic Universal monsters (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man being a particular favorite of his). Then the budget did not materialize, a whole lot of plot got dropped (including the Golem of Prague and some flying saucers), production stopped several times, and there were at least three directors involved over time.

Waldemar has looked better…

Naschy himself was not very kind to the flick, being especially disappointed in the makeup effects by Francisco Ferrer. Given that Assignment Terror bends over backwards to avoid any possible legal problems with Universal (Farancksalan? Really?), I was surprised to see that the makeup for the Farancksalan Monster is a direct quote of Universal’s, kind of like a comic book simplification. Though I also note that it looks like the Monster is blind, only directed by Warnoff’s psychic guidance, which continues a thread from Ghost of Frankenstein on through Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

I mean, you remember that, right? Ygor had his brain put in the Monster’s body, but the blood types didn’t match, so he went blind? And the Monster was still blind in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man? Naschy sure did. How the hell Naschy managed to become such a serious Monster Kid in Franco’s repressive Spain is probably a fascinating story.

This really is a confusing jumble of a movie (small wonder). The timeline is twisted, unknowable, and extremely elastic. Although we see the beginning of his plan, Warnoff will later take credit for actually creating the monsters over thousands of years. Which is a really long time to figure out that human emotions will eventually resurface in the aliens occupying Earthly bodies, causing Plan 10 from Outer Space to ultimately fail. Warnoff’s terrible management skills must also take some of the blame.

Assignment Terror is surprisingly restrained for a Naschy script – this could have easily been shown as part of a monster double or triple feature where all the movies were rated PG at most – I could really imagine it on a bill with The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant and Twilight People. There is little blood, no sex (Count Janos will paw Maleva’s boob, in a bit that could have been easily cut)… it’s all pretty mild stuff. And yet, because of the heavy nostalgia riffs, I found myself quite enjoying it. There are several instances of lovely, moody cinematography, particularly when a tomb is involved, which is at least three times.

Despite its shortcomings – and there are many – it’s just so darned eager to please. I can see Naschy cackling because Universal never got the Mummy into their monster mash movies, and he was going to rectify that matter! And he got to do his Farancksalan vs the Wolf Man fight. That’s not nothing.

P: Panic Beats (1983)

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No, no, no, I just TOLD you it wasn’t THAT Alaric de Marnac!

Well, here it is. The third of four Paul Naschy movies I managed to schedule this year. The last two, in case you’re joining us late, were Exorcismo and The Valdemar Legacy/La Herencia Valdemar. It was my intent to spread my nets wider for movies this year, and this was the unintended result, aided by the fact that I hadn’t watched many of his movies, I’m sure.

Anyway, let’s just get this out of the way: SPOILER ALERTS FOR A 35 YEAR-OLD MOVIE. I’ll try not to give everything away, but then, up to a point, Panic Beats is pretty predictable. (Also, if you’re a Mondo Macabro fan, their disc-opening promo has already shown you most of the money shots)

We start with that Paul Naschy standard, an opening scene with murder and a naked woman. She’s running bloody through some woods, pursued by a mounted man in a full suit of armor. This is the infamous Alaric de Marnac, last seen in Horror Rises From the Tomb, tracking down and killing his unfaithful wife. Okay, so it’s not really that Alaric de Marnac, but it’s still Paul Naschy.

Yep, that’s Paris, all right.

After credits, cut to present day Paris, where Paul Marnac (still Naschy) is told he has to take his rich wife Genevieve (Julia Saly) away from the hectic life of a Paris socialite, or her heart condition will kill her. Marnac will take her to his remote ancestral home to recuperate, along the way running into bandits (so we’re still having Horror Rises From the Tomb flashbacks), the fright of which nearly kills Genevieve on the spot.

At the house she meets Mabile (Lola Gaos), the housekeeper who has been there forever, and her young thug niece Julie (Frances Ondivela), whom Mabile is trying to reform. Mabile is the receptacle of all the folklore associated with the Marnac family, especially the guy who opened the movie and whose sardonic portrait graces the wall: Good old Alaric, who in this version was not beheaded, but did turn to Satanism and got burned down with his castle. This house was built on its ashes. Supposedly Alaric comes back every hundred years or so to clean house again. This tale gives Julie nightmares because we really needed something interesting to happen at this point.

Slight digression: I’m still not sure if it was wise or not for the movie to name-check Rebecca.

Genevieve slowly regains her strength over the next month. Julie rather sadistically tells her the story of Alaric, and then things go downhill again. Nightmares, snakes and figures in armor appearing mysteriously in the night. Dinner plates covered with blood and eyeballs. Stuff like that.

Now, it’s going to be obvious to anyone that it’s all a plot to literally scare Genevieve to death. The only question is who, and since there are only two possible suspects, the mystery is not all that engaging. Remember the fright shows with a similar intent in The Tingler? Those were studied models of speed and efficiency compared to the ones in Panic Beats. It is tempting to brand it Milk That Scene: The Movie. I did a lot of time-remaining checking.

Then Genevieve’s heart finally cashes in, the mystery, such as it is, is solved… and there’s still a half hour of movie?!?

At this point Panic Beats  actually managed to engage my interests, as plots and counter-plots emerge, more people have to be killed, and a mysterious figure from Julie’s past emerges, though we’re not allowed to see his face. It does get complicated to a point where we’re not really sure what is real and what is not, and that is generally a type of movie I enjoy.

I was once told that you had to endure the first hour and fifteen minutes of Evilspeak, the Clint Howard shower scenes and puppy killing, just to get to the cool ending. I guess the same criteria holds for Panic Beats, except that first hour wasn’t all that terrible. The best part is Lola Gaos as the housekeeper, really. She can really turn on the scary when she needs to.

Hm. I see Amazon has one DVD available for seventy bucks. Here… Happy Hubrisween!


E: Exorcismo (1975)

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So… a Paul Naschy Exorcist rip-off should be pretty sweet, huh?

Yeah… about that…

Leila (Mercedes Molina), your typical European heiress, is enjoying a typical evening of sex and drugs at a Satanic ritual with her dissolute boyfriend Richard (Roger Leveder). A near-fatal car crash later, things begin to go south for Leila’s state of mind. As things worsen, the family priest Father Adrian (Paul Naschy) is brought in to investigate, and four deaths later, he finally decides it’s time to throw down with the demon inhabiting Leila’s body.

1973’s The Exorcist still hadn’t opened in Spain, so what we have here is something like Luigi Cozzi trying to make a Star Wars rip-off without actually seeing it and coming up with Starcrash, a Barbarella rip-off. Director/screenwriter Juan Bosch probably had pictures, even the original novel to work with, and what he came up with is more giallo movie than anything, with Paul Naschy in the Tony Franciosa role. There’s a perverted chauffeur (Luis Induni) for a red herring, the usual ineffectual policeman who suspects Father Adrian, blah blah blah.

We have all the setpieces from the Friedkin movie: the freakout at the party, the levitating bed, the death by head-twisting – twice, just to one-up the original (the amateur occultist cop mentions this is a favorite murder method of Satan). But if you’re here for awesome exorcism action, be aware that it’s confined to the last five minutes of the movie, which may be a record for a title character not showing up (Spoiler: that record actually belongs to The Ice Cream Bunny) .

Maria Perschy is sadly wasted as the high-strung mother. I will admit that the possessed makeup on Leila is pretty good, especially the freakiest damn set of contact lenses I’ve ever seen. Too bad it’s limited to the last fifteen minutes or so. According to most of the synopses I’ve read, Leila is playing host to the spirit of her dead father, but I got no indication of that. To be honest. it may be there, I just didn’t care enough to notice. I generally hate giallo, and once I found out the movie’s true genre, I slipped into endurance mode.

Basically, if Paul Naschy had made this movie instead of just starring, there would have been 14 murders and a nude scene by the half-hour mark. And probably some zombies. Instead, what we have is an ill-informed cash-in that would have deservedly vanished were it not for the cult status of its star.

Buy Exorcismo on Amazon

H: Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

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horror-rises-from-the-tomb-1973.6177One of my rules for these challenge things and lists and the like is A) I should never have seen the movies before, or B) If I have, it was twenty years ago or more. This one is kind of a special case: it was thirty years ago, and it was also the first review I ever wrote, for a zine called High Tech Terror (which eventually became European Trash Cinema). So it’s kind of special, in that horrible way usually reserved for misshapen creatures in a Berni Wrightson story. I thought it was behind me, and then it crops up just in time for a horrifying twist ending.

I’ll begin with my usual digression to Bruce Lanier Wright’s Nightwalkers, (too long out of print, c’mon publishers) where he refers to “Italian horror cinema and its idiot brother, Spanish horror cinema”. Well, there’s good and there’s bad, and there’s a whole lot of in-between, and that’s where Horror Rises from the Tomb falls.

We begin in 16th century France, where warlock Alaric de Marnac (Paul Naschy) has a bunch of accusations about him read out by his brother or cousin, who knows, Armand (Paul Naschy), that he is a warlock, a vampire and a lycanthrope (Paul Naschy) and he and his mistress Mabille (not Paul Naschy, but Helga Line) are to executed for same. The execution takes some time, as Alaric and Mabille need that time to curse the descendants of their accusers, like Andre Roland (Victor Alazar). Alaric is beheaded, and Mabille is hung upside-down and whipped, as this is judged the best way to get a naked woman onscreen as soon as possible.

Horror Rises from the Tomb(1973)_003In the present day, Hugo de Marnac (Paul Naschy) poo-poos such things as seances where the head of Alaric puts in an appearance, and his friend Maurice (Victor Alcazar), who is receiving visitations from said disembodied head (because, as you recall, Maurice was cursed back in the beginning, when he was in period costume). Hugo decides to do the ultimate poo-pooing by taking Maurice and their girlfriends (Cristina Suriani and Betsabe Ruiz) to his ancestral chateau, where the body and head of Alaric are supposed to be buried separately.

As the de Marnac estate is believed by the locals to be something like a transplanted place of Transylvania, Hugo can only find a couple of local lowlifes to dig up the grounds, and they find a chest where Maurice suspiciously intuits it will be. That night, the thugs break into the shed where the chest was left until Hugo could find a blowtorch to take to the lock. They bring their own blowtorch, and find not treasure, but the head of Alaric, who immediately possesses one and compels him to kill the other, and the caretaker who discovers their burglary.

horror_rises_from_the_tombNow, fellow monster kids, you are going to realize that this is the Universal B-flick (and TV staple for years) The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958), right down to the necklace with an ancient symbol that is the warlock’s weakness. What Paul Naschy realized is that the setup needed more gore (Alaric and Mabille like to eat human hearts), more kills, and much more nudity. Mabille, for instance, once she is resurrected, likes to wear a sheer black nightie, and nothing else, much of the time. Oh, yes, Naschy also realized the plot needed zombies for no good reason, except for addition to the running time.

horror rises from the tombI should mention that Hugo takes the opportunity to rekindle his childhood romance with the caretaker’s daughter, Elvira (Emma Cohen), who is quite endearing and makes for a (spoiler spoiler spoiler) splendid Final Girl (end spoiler. Movie’s 40 years old, dude).

Apparently, beside gussying up another movie’s plot and injecting frequent nudity, Naschy also shot the entire movie in and around his country house, which makes makes this movie the sort of thrifty enterprise Roger Corman would give a standing ovation. It’s a pleasurable enough way to spend 90 minutes, and can serve as a decent intro to Spanish horror cinema.

You can try to buy Horror Rises From the Tomb at Amazon. Good luck.

P: The People Who Own the Dark (1976/80)


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Incidentally, Sean S. Cunningham claims he knows nothing about this movie,

Incidentally, Sean S. Cunningham claims he knows nothing about this movie,

Whenever I bring up the subject of The People Who Own the Dark (which is an uncommon occurrence, I grant you), I am generally greeted by blank looks. Admittedly, this shouldn’t surprise me, though I am narcissistic enough to believe that my movie experience is everyone else’s. But my knowledge of this movie is due only to a couple of 15 second movie spots on local TV, and a later admonition to “not bother.” The lack of it in any home entertainment format seemed to bear that out, but as we know, often to my detriment, I have to find out for myself.

Code Red DVD is one of those boutique labels that champions some of the most obscure titles, and God bless them for it. They’ve allowed me to see some absolute garbage, but they’ve also allowed me to see some real gems. And their disc of People Who Own the Dark (with typical dark humor, proclaimed on the box to be a “Brand new telecine from an abused, scratched and beat-up 35mm print that went vinegar!”) manages to edge it’s way into the latter category. (The transfer, incidentally, is all those things, but it is also frequently gorgeous; the disc also has a full-frame 1-inch video transfer, if you need to know what’s missing from that 35mm print)

In an indeterminate area of Europe (oh, okay, it’s Spain) a group of high level statesmen, businessmen and rich doctors gather at a remote villa for what proves to be a weekend of debauchery with some lovely women who are, ahem, in it for the money. There is an opening ceremony name-checking the Marquis de Sade, held in an underground wine cellar, and just when we think we’re going to be treated to a low-budget Salo (hopefully lighter on the coprophagy), there is an earthquake that interrupts the salaciousness.

people-dark-32Returning to the mansion upstairs, our group finds out that every living thing above ground is now totally blind. The guy who is going to turn out to be our protagonist, Fulton (Alberto de Mendoza) figures out that there has been a nuclear war, and they have just days before the radiation comes. This is bad science at its baddest, but let’s just roll with it.

The men head into town to steal get supplies for their wine cellar/fall out shelter and the boytoy host of the debaucheries (Tomas Pico) first stabs the blind shopkeeper they’re ripping off, then freaks out and shoots some of the now-blind villagers before he is himself killed by one of the outraged doctors. The others return to the villa, and prepare to hunker down until the fallout passes. Their efforts are interrupted by a mob of vengeful blind people.

tumblr_ltsiu1js241qaun7do1_500What this is, obviously, is another version of Night of the Living Dead, except with blind people instead of zombies. The advantage to that is we are able to skip right over the “they’re learning to use tools!” phase right into cars being used as battering rams to get into the villa. The major disadvantage is the rather problematic conversion of blind people into bloodthirsty monsters.

But as a zombie siege picture, it works; all the necessary notes are hit, and hit well. Though what can be considered another flaw is the adherence to the Night of the Living Dead model, right up to the downbeat ending.

the-people-who-own-the-dark-1975The double year credit in the title of this post is due to the fact that (Surprise! Surprise!) this is actually a Spanish movie, Ultimo deseo. That would likely come as no surprise if I had told you the designated asshole (who is so mean that when he shoots skeet, he uses real pigeons) is Paul Naschy, and the mistress of the villa is the lovely Maria Perschy. Also, the director is Leon Klimovsky, who you’ll recognize from a ton of Naschy werewolf movies.

The original cut is 12 minutes longer than the English version; I suspect I’ll never know what’s in those 12 minutes, and given what I’ve seen, it probably doesn’t much matter. There are some character stories that aren’t fully exploited in this version, but there’s not a whole lot here to make me want to seek those moments out. It’s not a terrible movie by any means, but neither is it a great movie. It’s entertaining enough during its runtime, but alas! Does not cry out for a second viewing.

The People Who Own the Dark on Amazon