Friday, 16 August 2019

Instant Death (2017) & Skin Traffik (2015)

Earlier this week I decided to double-dip into the film world of Ara Paiaya. A martial artist turned filmmaking multi-tasker (producer, director, actor, stuntman, editor, cinematographer etc etc) who has gone from making what were apparently glorified home movies starring himself, friends and family, to directing B-Level name stars. Paiaya has also been accused by some of leaving glowing, 5 star reviews of his own movies on (“Ara Paiaya goes down the classic Death Wish route and does so with the intension of unleashing the former Incredible Hulk himself”, “independent martial arts action comedy classic”, “the director pioneered the British martial arts film”)

Instant Death (2017) aspires to be a Poundland version of Death Wish and First Blood, but frequently has to settle for being a mean-spirited, post watershed episode of Eastenders. Lou Ferrigno stars as John, a troubled war veteran who travels to London to visit his estranged daughter and granddaughter. The moment the film pulls at the heartstrings when the granddaughter tells John “I didn’t think god was real, but now that I’ve seen you, I do”, you know we’re going down the Death Wish route. Sure enough, a bunch of cockney geezers soon show up, murder the granddaughter and rape the daughter, who also has to forfeit her eyeballs as well. Knowing what a loose cannon John is, the British military decide to place him in custody, but its not long before John is on the run and waging a vigilante war on the London underworld, who quickly discover that they wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (sorry, couldn’t resist working that in).

Instant Death boasts the Under the Skin-esque surreal sight of seeing a Hollywood star being parachuted into the most unglamorous British locations possible. See Lou Ferrigno loiter outside a Job Centre Plus, wander past a branch of Boots and travel on First Day buses. Considering that he is now old enough to travel on those First Day buses for free, Ferrigno is in tremendous physical shape here. While never likely to be accused of being an acting heavyweight, he does also give a heroically dedicated performance, you can really tell Ferrigno is taking the bull by the horns and giving the best acting turn he is capable of here. Making you wish other aspects of the film had shared that level of commitment, rather than letting Ferrigno do all the heavy lifting. As you might expect from a film directed by a martial arts expert Instant Death only really comes alive when it is in action movie mode, and is less impressive when it steps away from action strasse. If you can turn a blind eye to the cheapness of everything else though, Instant Death does deliver on that level as Big Lou breaks bones, stabs people through the head and shoots them in the balls.

Laughability of the unintentional variety is also on hand, mainly due to some peculiar casting decisions. A council estate hoodie is played by one of the most well educated sounding young thespians imaginable, rendering his only line of dialogue “that’s that blonde bitch Jane Bradley” hilarious. The elderly actor cast as John’s military mentor would also seem to be more suited to a touring production of Dad’s Army than playing Colonel Trautman to Ferrigno’s Rambo here. For better or ill, humour can also be found in the film’s grimmest moments too. As a friend of mine observed, when the daughter’s rape is taking place offscreen the sound effects used to suggest it actually makes it sound like the bad guys are engaged in an intense skipping rope competition rather than a sexual assault. An observation that unfortunately caused me to laugh like a drain during the entire scene, and then feel like a complete sicko afterwards, since when the rape is onscreen we are talking a graphic, Michael Winner level sexual assault scene here.

I’m not sure I could have it on my conscience to leave Instant Death a five star review on Amazon uk, but at the same time its hard to really hate on a sincere, micro-budgeted hero worshipping of the 1980s action genre. Especially one that leaves you spinning with the revelation that one of the most mocked stars of that era actually has acting chops after all.

Skin Traffik (2015) aka A Hitman in London, has enough Hollywood burnouts in its cast to panic you into thinking it is a Richard Driscoll movie. The plot errmm… has something to do with a hitman trying to find redemption by rescuing the sister of a slain galpal from human traffickers….but I was constantly distracted from it by how much star Gary Daniels resembles Don Henderson these days (its fucking uncanny) and how much Mickey Rourke now resembles a Spitting Image puppet of Rod Stewart that has been allowed to deteriorate in someone’s garage for the past thirty years. If you can tear yourself away from those two, we also get a sweary Alan Ford, an incomprehensible Dominique Swain, a ramblingly Michael Madsen, a bored looking Daryl Hannah and Eric Roberts talking on a mobile phone a lot. Paiaya himself shows up in this one as Roberts’ right hand man and gives himself the 2nd most spectacular death scene in the film…(spoiler)…first place going to Eric Roberts who checks out à la the little girl in Fulci’s The Beyond.

As with Instant Death, Skin Traffik is a case of Paiaya coming into his own when staging fight scenes, car chases and shootouts, and politely asking you to ignore the deflating nature of everything else. Skin Traffik isn’t quite as entertaining as Instant Death though, due mainly to its muddled storyline, a bloated near 100 minute running time and a rather dull excursion to Amsterdam that the film could have done without. Still on the basis of these two films alone, I have no reservations in proclaiming Ara Paiaya, Britain’s answer to Amir ‘Samurai Cop’ Shervan. Feel free to interpret that comparison as either an enticement or a warning.

Both Instant Death and Skin Traffik are currently up on youtube (seemingly legally) -channel name ‘Hollywood Flix’ - along with their trailers, should you want an idea of what you’re getting into here before following me down this rabbit-hole.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Snow White and the Seven Perverts (1973)

Happy and dopey and dirty in places* this X-rated ‘Sextoon’ caused a considerable rumpus during its original release, somehow surviving both a ban from the British censor and a destruction order from the police. Its not hard to see why. The brainchild of notorious pornographer David Hamilton Grant, a man whose war on decency and good taste would result in him being imprisoned in the 1980s for distributing a Video Nasty and faking his own death in early 1990s. Grant and his crew hid out here under comedy pseudonyms that perfectly encapsulates the level of humour in Snow White and the Seven Perverts ‘written by Rinkus O’Penis’, ‘Edited by Jack Von Ripper’.

Updated to the permissive 1970s, Grant’s take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs sees the big boobed Snow White escape the clutches of her wicked stepmother, throw some sex in the direction of the Huntsman and get urinated on by a rabbit. All before finding true happiness at the cottage of the seven perverts, who masturbate to blue movies and hang around soho stripclubs. That is, when they’re not taking glamour photographs of, and participating in gang bangs with the fairest of them all.

Merrily lewd, and a short that truly speaks the language of the dirty mackintosh brigade, Snow White and the Seven Perverts was one of a number of animated projects that Grant found himself involved in. His other animated adventures including this film’s equally controversial and banned companion piece ‘Sinderella’ (1972) and several collaborations with legendary animator Bob Godfrey. However, more ambitious plans for a blasphemous feature length animated film called ‘Big ‘G’’ failed to come to fruition. Big ‘G’ was to have depicted God as a David Grant type figure who ‘takes on a deal to build ‘Planet Earth’ in 7 days, but runs into a lot of problems’, and Jesus as a lovable hippie ‘Jessie smokes pot and does some incredible party tricks’. Meant to have been directed by Ron Inkpen of ‘Never Too Young To Rock’ fame, Inkpen’s premature death in 1977 appears to have been a factor in the Big ‘G’’s demise.

Snow White and the Seven Perverts has lost little of its ability to shock, what with its real and animated nudity, unconsensual sex and gang rape jokes. There is much here to cause the ‘It Was Alright in the 1970s’ mob to reach for their disapproving heads, but its also worth pointing out that this is one of the few adaptations of Snow White to not depict her housemates as dwarfs, and decades before Disney are to give the world a black Little Mermaid, Grant was here serving up a mixed-race Snow White. David Hamilton Grant- socially progressive? now theres something he hasn’t been accused of before.

*joke stolen from a Godley & Creme song

Sunday, 28 July 2019

The Contract (1974)

‘Is there such a thing as a British blaxploitation film?’ was a question I found myself pondering over last weekend. British horror cinema occasionally touched on race relations, albeit very infrequently and with black characters as secondary figures – in films like Curse of the Voodoo (1965) and Naked Evil (1966)- while actor turned one shot director Frankie Dymon, Jr made ‘Death may be your Santa Claus’ (1969) which tapped into integration and castration anxieties in late 60s London.

The two films that come closest to qualifying as British blaxploitation in my book though are The Contract (1974) and The Beast Must Die (1974). A staple of late night television and rarely out of circulation since its release, Amicus’ The Beast Must Die (1974) is well known enough to not require much of an introduction here. Released in some territories as ‘Black Werewolf’. Couple that with the fact that it features an imported blaxploitation star in Marlene Clark, a funky Douglas Gamley score, plus a black hero whose dress sense suggests he shops at the same places as John Shaft, and there is a convincing case to be made that Amicus were chasing the blaxploitation dollar with that one. This being the period where established British horror studios were looking outside of the box for a big hit, what with Hammer diversifying into sitcom spin-offs and muscling in on the Kung-Fu market with The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, whereas Amicus seemed to have looked to blaxploitation as their salvation here.


While The Beast Must Die gives the impression of a self-conscious attempt to ride on the blaxploitation bandwagon, The Contract seems to have accidentally stumbled upon the genre’s key themes of racial tension, drug dealing and inner-city crime. The Contract deals with rival black and white gangs of drug dealers in Hounslow, who attempt to decide who controls the territory by sending one of their number to an intense one to one meeting at a deserted warehouse. Its little more than a two hander between Deborah O’Brian (Kubi Chaza) the short haired black chick chosen to represent the African drug gang, who clashes with Jake (Ken Farrington) the white supremacist head of the rival gang of British bikers.

The Contract is dominated by a terrifying, convincingly crazed turn from Farrington (perhaps best known for his longtime stints in British soaps like Coronation Street and Emmerdale) as the blatantly unbalanced Jake, who snorts coke, hurls racial and sexual insults, and takes things up to Frank Booth levels of madness, what with his fondness for settling arguments with Russian roulette games. The Contract is also notable for featuring music by the German band Faust “recorded by Virgin Records LTD” whose Krautrock soundtrack helps convey Jake’s drug fried state of mind. Clad in leather that fails to conceal his hairy chest, sporting equally extravagant facial hair, and with his eyes concealed by motorcycle goggles, Jake leaps around the filthy, abandoned warehouse setting like a demented harlequin, verbally beating his opponent down with his mixture of bigotry and nihilism. “O’Brian! what kind of name is that for a spade”, “women don’t mean anything to me, all they’ve got that I want is between two legs”, “its polite to know the name of the person who is going to blow their brains out…just for the hell of it”. Jake’s hate filled dialogue becomes more and more distorted by the echoey warehouse setting and the occasional overhead airplane as the film progresses. A seemingly deliberate move by director Paul Bernard, adding to the atmosphere of a bad drug freak-out captured on film.

Running only 33 minutes, The Contract was obviously intended as a support feature, and in all likelihood was released in Britain as the co-feature to The Grasshopper (1970) the Jacqueline Bisset/Jim Brown vehicle that has similar racial themes (both The Grasshopper and The Contract were among the scant releases of obscure British distributor ‘Group 6’). Although submitted to the BBFC in 1974, the film is actually copyrighted and set in 1975 (pointed out in the dialogue) suggesting a degree of post-dating by the filmmakers.

Despite its brief running time The Contract managed to make it into the video era- Iver Film Services released it on tape in 1981- before disappearing off the face of the earth. Supposedly a copy was sent to the BFI several years ago for possible inclusion on one of their ‘Flipside’ releases, but nothing came of it. Existing in a never, neverland…somewhere between blaxploitation, a trashy 1970s paperback and angry, political theatre, The Contract is a grey, industrial frightmare of a movie.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

The Messenger (1987)

Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson films are so macho and testosterone filled that merely watching them will probably make your balls grow by two sizes. After blaxploitation fell out of fashion in the States, Williamson simply took his act on the road, with Italy being especially responsive to his talents. Perhaps because it got left behind in the VHS era and as far as I can tell never made it to DVD or Blu, The Messenger tends to get overlooked in favour of the Black Cobra series or his post-apocalyptic movies, when it comes to talking about Fred’s ‘eye-talian’ period.

Beginning as unsubtly as it means to go on –with the film’s title playing over a freeze frame of the back of someone’s head being blown off- The Messenger stars Williamson as Jake Sebastian Turner, a world famous jewel thief who has just been released from prison in Italy. A man of many talents, as well as a jewel thief, Turner is also a Vietnam veteran, a weapons expert, a green beret and a music prodigy. Given these skills its little wonder that Italian high society is soon fawning over Turner, with an Italian sexpot unable to control herself and having to flash her breasts at Turner, while a Eurotrash guy is similarity awestruck, referring to him as “THE LEGENDARY Jake Sebastian Turner”.

Starring, directed by, co-produced, and based on a story by Fred Williamson, The Messenger makes no bones about being a vanity vehicle with Williamson donning a tux, giving himself a sex scene, showing off a few dance moves and delivering an anti-drug sermon (“you can’t make babies with this stuff running through your system”) all within the first ten minutes of the film. Unfortunately Turner also rivals Charles Bronson’s character in the Death Wish series when it comes to being a living, breathing bad luck charm to others. Any woman who gets close to him predictably gets raped and/or murdered a few scenes later. No soon as Turner befriends young Italian beauty Nicole, then she is being sexually assaulted by two drug dealers, then gets sexually assaulted again this time by her sadistic uncle. Turner’s wife Sabrina fares little better. Having become a high class prostitute with an expensive cocaine habit while Turner was in jail, Sabrina gets machine gunned down by vengeful Mafiosi after ripping them off over a cocaine deal. Crude, below the belt dialogue includes a Mafioso speculating that Sabrina may have hid the missing coke “up her nose, up her cunt, how do I know”, while Turner delivers this touching eulogy to his recently deceased spouse “for once a month for three years she dragged her butt out to prison, now that means more to me than whose fly she unzipped, or whose dick she sucked”.

The Messenger suggests Williamson may have gotten a heads up over the (then) upcoming Death Wish IV: The Crackdown and thought that if that film’s storyline was good enough for Bronson, it was good enough for him too. In an echo of the Death Wish IV plot, Turner is befriended by a rich man who has lost a family member to drugs, and offers to finance Turner’s one man war on the drugs trade. After a shaky start during the film’s Italian set opening, The Messenger improves considerably once the action relocates to America, with Turner going on a nationwide tour of vigilantism. One that takes him from the impoverished backstreets of Chicago, to the tacky glitz of Las Vegas, and with a few stop overs in Hollywood too. As with Death Wish IV, the plot is little more than an excuse for a series of anti-drug set pieces, with Turner initially gunning for street level dealers before moving up the chain and pitting rival drug cartels against each other.

As if The Messenger wasn’t already stepping on Cannon’s shoes enough, thanks to the Death Wish IV similarities, the UK Video distributor added insult to injury by releasing the film as Messenger of Death, which just so happened to be the title of another upcoming Cannon/Bronson film as well. Since both The Messenger and Death Wish IV were shot at roughly the same time, it is difficult to say who ripped off who, or whether the similarities between the two (both films feature the same ‘twist’ about their hero’s rich enabler) were just one of life’s strange coincidences.

What slim storyline there is between action set pieces in The Messenger seems to have doubled as an excuse for Williamson to put other hard working, B-movie veterans on the payroll. Christopher Connelly plays a tough FBI agent whose sneaking admiration of Turner brings him into conflict with a ball busting police captain, played by an especially sweary Cameron Mitchell, who as per usual seems in constant danger of drowning in his own cigar smoke. Best of all is Joe Spinell who is his reliably super-sleazy self as Mafia bigwig Rico, squeezed into a variety of Tom Jones castoff Las Vegas shirts and at one point seen partying with a pair of butt naked hookers. Watching Connelly, Mitchell and Spinell share a scene –and trade insults- is an exploitation movie dream come true, with the added poignancy of knowing that neither Connelly or Spinell were long for this world. Spinell actually looks fairly healthy here (well as healthy as Joe Spinell could look) and seems to be having a ball in the role, yet ironically it was Mitchell –who appears in worse shape of all three- who had a few more years of chain smoking his way through B-Movies left in him.

The Messenger never lets you forget though that it’s all about Fred…Fred looking cool smoking cigars…Fred looking cool blowing away the bad guys…Fred looking cool walking away from burning vehicles. The Messenger gives you the spectacle of a blaxploitation icon basking in all his badass glory, while the soundtrack piles on the praise “you know he’s coming for you…come on babe…listen to the messenger”. Williamson’s ego might be bigger than any wall his pal Trump will ever build, but give him a stage and a suitcase full of Lira and the guy sure can entertain, as the VHS box sez ‘he always delivers’.

Note how ‘of death’ is awkwardly added on, every time the film’s name is mentioned in the trailer.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Secret Rites (1971)

The success of ‘Legend of the Witches’ (1969), which ran for over 32 weeks in the West End meant another sexploitation flavoured documentary about the occult was inevitable. This time knocking on the coven door was Derek ‘The Wife Swappers’ Ford, a man whose obsession with sex in the suburbs and those who pushed the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior, explains his own personal attraction to this subject.

The resultant documentary, Secret Rites opens with a scene that allows Ford to take pot shots at the Hammer horror films of the time, as the dashing Captain Kronos like hero John Goodfellow breaks up an occult gathering, rescues his true love from a Satanic orgy and wards off the evil doers with his trusted crucifix. It’s a wildly over the top sequence, with the film’s narrator Lee Peters gleefully hamming it up on the soundtrack “a frenzied orgy…blasphemous rituals…it is the Devil’s night”.

For serious practitioners however this is exactly the kind of fictional malarkey that gives the occult a bad name. “That is a lot of rubbish” explains occult bigwig Alex Sanders “when people meet me in the street they’re so terrified of me, after seeing a scene like that, they think I’m going to put a curse on them.”

Aiming to right this wrong, Secret Rites purports to offer up a more realistic portrayal of a young woman’s initiation into witchcraft, as Penny embarks on the left hand path via a hair salon and the London underground (aptly passing a poster for Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness on the tube). “Far from the image of the cranky spinster one might associate with witches” Penny began writing to Alex Sanders after reading the 1969 biography of him ‘King of the Witches’ a book that helped catapult Sanders and his blonde, and significantly younger wife Maxine into the public eye. Rarely out of the tabloids in those days, Sanders freely lent himself to all manner of documentaries, including the aforementioned Legend of the Witches, and regularly appeared on TV and radio to defend his lifestyle against such guardians of public decency as Dennis Wheatley, and Jimmy Savile- quelle ironie. Such was their notoriety that Alex and Maxine even got a gig as technical advisers on the big budget MGM thriller ‘Eye of the Devil’. By the time Ford sought them out in 1971, Sanders and his wife were effectively the John and Yoko of the occult world.

“I feel very's like taking my exams all over again, it's like going on a blind date” sez Penny. Acting as go-between for Penny and Alex Sanders is Wendy Tomlinson, a female witch with a pleasant boho vibe to her, who sketches Penny in her studio whilst Penny asks her questions about Sanders and her upcoming initiation. Tomlinson had been featured in another occult documentary ‘The Power of the Witch- Real or Imaginary?’ made by the BBC, and her authenticity is never in question. Somewhat more suspect is new girl Penny…nee Penny Beeching, who in fact held an equity card, was on the books of the Askew modeling agency and had a few TV credits (Up Pompeii, The Morecambe and Wise Show) under her belt. Rather dishonestly Secret Rites portrays Penny as an everyday secretary, and the non disclosure of her acting and modeling credentials does pose questions over Secret Rites credibility. Penny never completely convinces as a wannabe student of the occult, what with her trolley dolly persona, and her vacant reaction shots to Sanders’ questions are a master class in unintentional comedy. Penny’s heavily dolled up looks and perfect, glamour model body earmark her as a plant among the more humdrum bodies of Sanders’ followers. She seems as much of an awkward shoe-in to this world as professional glamour models like Pamela Green and Margaret Nolan were in 1960s nudist camp movies.

Commenting on the King of the Witches book, Sanders tells Penny “in the book it shows us dancing around the fire naked” but reminds her “there is a lot more to it than that, and there’s a lot of hard work, lectures, reading, and writing the book of shadows out”. Not surprisingly though, it is the dancing around naked bit that takes precedence over the more scholarly aspects of the occult lifestyle in Secret Rites. Penny’s subsequent initiation involves much disrobing, with full frontal nudity from her and fellow initiate Brian, since “nakedness is considered by witches to be an essential symbol of freedom and equality”. For all of Secret Rites’ initial ridiculing of mainstream cinema’s depiction of the occult, its own 44 minute parade of full frontal nudity, men dressed as the horned one, and people dancing naked around the sacred circle, actually fits in perfectly with the era’s horror-pics like Curse of the Crimson Altar and Virgin Witch.

For such a media savvy, limelight loving fellow Sanders makes for a surprisingly stilted documentary subject, he is nervous and ill at ease in front of Ford’s camera. The most extraordinary thing about Alex Sanders was just how ordinary he was. It’s tempting to speculate whether Ford saw parts of himself in Sanders, both were balding, middle aged men who you could easily pass on the street without thinking there was anything remarkable about them. However in reality both men dedicated their entire lives, and poured all their energy into activities that would have been considered beyond the pale by conventional society. Sanders with the occult, Ford with exploitation filmmaking and swinging.

A witchcraft discussion group allows Sanders to reiterate the film’s criticism of the mainstream’s depiction of the occult. “People like Dennis Wheatley write about Satanism, and it gives an entirely wrong concept of what witches are” complains Sanders “we’ve been accredited with kissing the devil’s arse”. Sanders was his own best weapon against the media’s portrayal of the occult, what with his working class demeanor and flat, droning Northern accent, the result of both his Birkenhead birthplace and a Mancunian upbringing. If you’ve been raised to believe that powerful occultists were well-educated, aristocratic villains like Charles Gray in The Devil Rides Out, it is an expectation shattering experience to discover that the real life counterpart has an accent right out of Coronation Street.

Once he steps out of Ford’s obviously scripted Q&A sessions with Penny and the discussion group, is when Sanders emerges as a far more charismatic figure. Sanders the showman is especially unleashed during Ford’s filming of a witches’ ‘handfasting’ ceremony. Acting as priest, Sanders’ incredible get-up here -cape, codpiece, metal helmet with feathers bursting from it- impatiently anticipates the theatrical excesses of prog rock.

Given that the couple who are being married exchange their vows whilst naked, it could be argued that this is a rare example of a marriage ceremony where the priest has put more time and effort into his outfit than the bride and groom. Secret Rites’ major coup though is the filming of ‘the Egyptian rite of Ra’ a sex magick ritual featuring Sanders’ coven in full Egyptian regalia, and introduced with much exploitation film ballyhoo “it is the most secret and sacred of all rituals, and has rarely been witnessed, never before photographed”.

By rights, this film should be an abnormality in the Ford canon, given that it is his only attempt at fly on the wall documentary filmmaking (as opposed to the ‘dramatized reconstruction’ approach of The Wife Swappers) and despite his extensive work in the horror genre, his only occult themed movie as well. This doesn’t prove to be the case though, and with its focus on a secretive, sexually driven society, and the strong, curtain twitching, desire to peek in on it, Secret Rites fits in snuggly with Ford’s fictional films, especially his ‘group sex trilogy’ of The Wife Swappers, Suburban Wives and Commuter Husbands.


ads courtesy of Adrian Smith 

Secret Rites is your typical Fordian mass of contradictions. Ford’s attitude is that is a respectful, if voyeuristic, outsider. There are no negative consequences to Penny’s involvement with the occult –an example of ‘Satanic panic’ this is not- on the contrary this is depicted as a life enhancing exercise for Penny. She gets to meet new and exciting people, go shopping for black candles, pay homage to Egyptian icons and participate in sex magick rituals, it must have made a change from appearing on Morecambe and Wise. On the other hand Secret Rites is true to the mondo movie ethos of giving thrill seekers a window into something strange, bizarre and offbeat. Any paid up member of the dirty mac brigade could buy a ticket to Secret Rites and see all those lurid tabloid stories about naked witchcraft orgies in the suburbs being played out onscreen. For a fly on the wall documentary, Secret Rites thoroughly manages to deliver the sexploitation goods. Then there is that horror movie opening sequence, intended as a condemnation of crass and sensationalistic moviemaking, yet its shot with such gusto, and is such a checklist of things within Ford’s wheelhouse –orgies, violent sex, blood rubbed on naked bodies, knives run over naked bodies- that it is difficult to believe Ford didn’t get a thrill from filming it.

I’m in no way, shape or form qualified to say whether Secret Rites has much credibility with regards to its depiction of Wicca. The involvement of a famous expert and practitioner like Sanders should technically guarantee the production some street cred. Then again Sanders was also involved in Legend of the Witches as well, a film that by all accounts doesn’t hold up well to close Wiccan scrutiny. On a purely visual level however, Secret Rites is stunning, with the film achieving the look of a Mayfair magazine photo shoot under the supervision of Kenneth Anger.

Secret Rites does put you on the path of wondering if Ford may have ever encountered Anger’s films during his pursuit of all things taboo and forbidden. There is more than a dash of Scorpio Rising about the motorcycle fantasy sequence in Ford’s Commuter Husbands (1973), albeit filtered through a heterosexual perspective, and played out among the back roads of Maldon, Essex.

Ultimately you’re left with the impression that both parties involved emerged with a good deal from Secret Rites. The left hand path received some positive publicity and a mouthpiece to bark back at their critics, while the British sex film industry were once again laughing all the way to the bank, remembering to pick up an extra swag of Eady money along the way. Secret Rites ends with a ‘don’t try this at home’ warning, with the narrator stressing “Alex Sanders has asked us to emphasize that no untrained or unprepared person should attempt to call down powers by means of these rituals, it would be foolish, it could be dangerous”.

As Peter Jackson’s character in Bad Taste says "I'm a Derek, Dereks don't run". Derek Ford never ran, especially from anything sexual. Chalk up Secret Rites as another of Derek Ford's trips into the sexual underbelly of 1970s Britain, no stone was ever left unturned by Ford and his missus…they were made for it.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Universal Soldier (1972)

..definitely one from the 'fascinating but I can see why it's forgotten these days' school of early 1970s Brit flicks, I suppose you could consider Universal Soldier the British equivalent of one of Tom Laughlin's 'Billy Jack' movies, what with its indulgent interludes of left-wing theater and political debate, its art movie aspirations and stubborn refusal to be the action movie that its audience wanted. Considering that it is from the director of Zulu and stars a former Bond, its story about an arms dealer (George Lazenby) ridden with guilt over profiteering from violence and war, invites a degree of autobiographical interpretation. Seemingly born out of a pacifistic reawakening, Universal Soldier is a simultaneously bold and aimless movie about a man trying to find direction and purpose in life, yet never really getting it together. Still you gotta love the amusing dishonesty of Universal Soldier's pre-cert VHS release, which hypes it as an action-fest ('James Bond's George Lazenby is the Universal Soldier...this man's business is WEAPONS') concealing 90 or so minutes of somber, soul searching around rain drenched pop concerts, the sleazy streets of soho and a drab London still very much hung over from the 1960s. As I say its forgotten status these days isn't difficult to understand, but when it comes to people you never expected to see onscreen together George Lazenby & Germaine Greer has to be up there with Billy Connolly & Richard Burton, Steven Seagal & Imelda Staunton, and Old Mother Riley & Bela Lugosi.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Giselle (1980)

Ay, Caramba. From the land of Coffin Joe, Sergio Mendes and Pelé, comes this Brazilian sex odyssey, charting the steamy adventures of its titular heroine. Having spent most of her childhood in Europe, Giselle (Alba Valeria) returns to her well to do family in Brazil for her summer vacation. As Gis has a seemingly endless supply of sexual energy, she wastes no time in seducing Angelo (Carlo Mossy) her father’s ranch hand, as well as her own stepmother Haydee (Maria Lucia Dahl). Gis then decides to form a tag team with her stepmum and the two women take on Angelo at the same time. The arrival of Giselle’s effeminate stepbrother Serginho (Ricardo Faria) proves no obstacle to the amour, as Giselle discovers when she catches Serginho making out with Angelo. Far from being appalled or offended, Giselle just shrugs, laughs, takes off her clothes then joins in a bi-sexual threesome with her stepbrother and the hardworkin’ Angelo.

Not everyone is so friendly towards poor Serginho though. When Angelo takes him to a local bar they are immediately set upon by three thugs who taunt and sexually come on to Serginho, forcing Angelo to defend him in a fight scene rendered in ridiculously slow motion. Sadly we haven’t seen the last of these three troublemakers, who return later on in the film to ambush the protagonists at gunpoint. The three thugs then decide to rape Giselle and Haydee, as well as going all Deliverance by raping Serginho as well. Quickly becoming disillusioned by her privileged surroundings, Giselle falls in love with Ana (Monique Lafond) a lesbian Communist, and leaves the family home having set her heart on helping Brazil’s poor and spreading the socialist message. Actions that have a particularly devastating effect on Haydee, who sees Ana as a love rival and politically undesirable. “It’s upsetting to see you looking at that little Communist” complains Haydee, emphasizing the word ‘Communist’ as if it were an extreme expletive. Senseless violence however puts an end to Giselle’s political awakening and sends her back to the drama of her sex crazed family.

Few sexploitation films will leave you quite as speechless as Giselle, a film with a truly uninhibited attitude towards all forms of sex. Literally anything goes here, and while it is not uncommon for sexploitation movies, especially those of a European variety, to tackle themes of incest, rape and lesbianism, Giselle fearlessly ventures into the more traditionally off limits taboo of homosexuality. Displaying no reservations about erotizing its male stars as much as its female ones. It’s as if director Victor Di Mello was laying down the gauntlet to his audience over just how open minded and sexually liberal they really were. Di Mello seems equally interested in testing his audience’s tolerance towards the Scott McKenzie song ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’. Victor Di Mello must have really, really loved that song. An easy listening cover version of which is repeated over and over and over on the film’s soundtrack. Rightly or wrongly Giselle’s soundtrack choices (when it isn’t using ‘San Francisco’ its drawing on similar, easy listening versions of The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Let It Be’) paint its director as being something of an ageing hippie, still preaching about free love and the gentle people with flowers in their hair. “The world is full of beauty if we can only see it” gushes Giselle’s stepmum.

In America the film was re-titled ‘Her Summer Vacation’ and apparently marketed as a Porky’s/Lemmon Popsicle type romp, and c’mon…admit it you’d just love to be a fly on the wall when the insanity of Giselle unfolded for an audience expecting frat humour and harmless T&A. What did they make of the Angelo/Serginho action, the socialist tub-thumping or the explicit footage of horses being mated, which opens the film à la Borowczyk’s The Beast….I’m amazed heads didn’t explode. Giselle also contains a dubbing faux-pas that never fails to crack me up, when Serginho introduces his black lover Bobo (Vinicius Salvatori) as being “a male nurse in the merchant marine”. Now, I’m sure that line was meant to be “in the merchant marines”, but given the bi-sexual free for all that ensues, its probably safe to assume that Bobo was no stranger to being in a merchant marine anyway.

Giselle is the kind of movie that makes you glad physical copies, as well as posters and stills from the film are still out there, because no one would buy into the existence of this film based on oral evidence alone. Its storyline, and character’s behavior, are so outlandish that you’d be forgiven for dismissing it as a dirty minded tall tale…but trust me amigo, Giselle is very much real.

If you’re looking to experience what it’s like to chance upon something that is way, way off the usual cinematic path, then Giselle is just the ticket. The exotic Brazilian locations, blatant cover versions of well known hits, outbursts of violence and bi-sexual agenda all lend the movie the allure of danger and lawlessness. No matter when and where you encounter Giselle, it will always feel like you’re watching it in some smoke filled backroom, with the film being shown via a noisy projector and an audience made up of sweaty, tequila drinking men, all of whom look like Danny Trejo.

Inherently sleazy as Giselle is, it is also a film with an infectious joie de vivre about it. A celebration of life, love, friendship, and sexuality that is hopelessly enamored with its main characters, especially Angelo. The impression you’re left with is that Di Mello really wanted the film to be centered around Angelo, but that chasing the ‘Emmanuelle’ craze forced his hand into following Giselle around instead. Everyone in this film loves Angelo… Giselle, Serginho, Haydee. The film is flat out infatuated by him…Angelo, the fighter…Angelo, the lover…Angelo, the friend…Angelo, the loyal employee. Even Giselle’s father Luccini (Nildo Parente) has the hots for Angelo, on account of the fact that when they were teenagers Luccini and Angelo’s father were lovers, and Angelo reminds Luccini of all the good times he had with Angelo Sr. An admission that is actually one of the more wholesome aspects to Luccini, whose sexual tastes form the basis of the film’s big revelation. How can we put this?....Luccini has ‘weaknesses’ not dissimilar to the guy who directs all those Jeepers Creepers movies. While Giselle doesn’t exactly celebrate this side to Luccini (nor thankfully depict it), the film’s blasé, often jokey attitude towards it is a shocker. ‘Problematic’ has become something of an overused word when it comes to describing movies from the 1970s and 1980s, but in Giselle’s case it feels just about right.

Victor Di Mello was a prolific director of Brazilian erotica, but Giselle seems to have been the only film of his to gain much exposure outside of Brazil. I must embarrassingly confess that my own encounters with Brazilian sexploitation cinema begin and end with Giselle. Although the recent Brazilian TV drama ‘Magnifica 70’ (currently available to stream on All 4) which is set in the country’s sex film industry of the 1970s, did provide a crash course, not only in the ‘pornochanada’ film genre, but in the era of military rule, police brutality and politically motivated film censorship that Giselle emerged from. Seemingly well versed on its subject matter…Victor Di Mello gets a name check at one point, there is a Coffin Joe reference in the first episode and Angelo himself…actor Carlo Mossy has a supporting role, Magnifica 70 frequently touches upon how the government controlled censorship board would frequently force their will upon the makers of pornochanada. Threatening them with bans or persecution, if their films didn’t extol the virtues of the military, patriotism and the Church. Evidence of which can be found in Giselle, the Brazilian release version of which opens with footage of an atomic bomb blast and text lamenting the decline in morals and warning of ‘Sodoma ‘e Gomorra’. Not dissimilar to the ‘this film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes ’disclaimer that opens our very own House of Whipcord, and equally disingenuous. It all comes across as a heavy handed, but clearly necessary, attempt to appease the Brazilian censor.

In Britain the film was cut down for both its theatrical and pre-cert video release, which removed part of Serginho’s seduction of Angelo, scenes of male and female rape, a drug fuelled flagellation scene and Haydee goading Angelo into beating her. Missing also from the British version is a lengthily scene of Angelo picking up Serginho at a train station, presumably for pacing reasons. The cover versions of The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Yesterday’ were also removed from the soundtrack and replaced with generic disco music, presumably for copyright reasons. No less of a hot potato in the 1990s, when Giselle was released on UK video in the post cert days its distributor Harmony video chose to remove 13 minutes and 36 seconds of footage from the film before submitting it to the BBFC, who cut it by a further 1 minute and 31 seconds. Today, finding the film in English and uncut doesn’t appear to be an easy task, even its nearly uncut Greek video release, which has all the Beatles tracks intact, trimmed out a scene where Angelo uses amyl nitrate and ends up whipping Giselle, Serginho and Bobo, much to their enthusiastic enjoyment.

Considering the turbulent times and place Giselle was born out of, its remarkable the amount of mischief Di Mello got away with here. For all of the fire and brimstone warning that opens it, the film doesn’t have a single conservative bone in its body. Giselle is 39 years old now, and it’s aged disgracefully, a shameless old hussy of a film that doesn’t care less what anyone thinks of it.