Friday 27 February 2015

Cisco Pike [1972]

CISCO PIKE is an American drama that was written and directed by B. L. Norton and originally released by Columbia Pictures in January 1972.  It stars Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black, Gene Hackman and Harry Dean Stanton.  In what was his proper 'Introducing' film début Kristofferson plays the title character, a faded rock star whose success has dried up.  Reduced to selling drugs in and around Venice Beach he resolves to get out of the game and try again in the music business but is coerced by a crooked cop (Hackman) into selling a mountain of drugs over one weekend.

Watching a film such as this is enough to drive you to tears over the current state of US film-making. Before I go off on a long rant I'll say that I do recognise there are some fine independent people working in the US today and that they occasionally make some fine movies.  However, this is not the norm.  Today US film-making seems to be dominated by three things: revenge movies, superhero movies and cartoons.  Where are the slices of life?  Where are the small scale dramas?  Where are the character studies?  Where is the political and social commentary?  You'll go a long way to find a modern US film that is but one of those things; CISCO PIKE on the other hand is all four.

Hare Krishnas outside The Troubadour

For ten years or so from about 1967 the US made dozens of terrific intelligent films for adults, films that above all else questioned the way things were in the country at that time.  Of course it was a time of great social upheaval so the impetus to do so was obvious but is the US not now in a similar situation, if not worse?  Inequality, oppressive government, brutal policing, racial discrimination, hawkish foreign policy, corruption - these are all going on as we speak in the US.  These were issues that in the 60s prompted a new wave of US film-makers.  So where is the current equivalent?  Are we to conclude that these issues no longer concern film-makers?

Take this year's Oscar nominations.  There was a reverential biopic of Martin Luther King, a reverential biopic of Stephen Hawking, an offbeat backstage movie, a decent film about Alzheimer's, a by the numbers coming of age drama, a whimsical comedy, a slice of Americana and a film about a US soldier who killed a record number of foreigners from a long way away.  Okay, it's the Oscars and they're not about ground-breaking cinema, independent or otherwise, but there's nothing hard hitting there, nothing expressing doubt, nothing putting forward another way of doing things.

Which brings me to my conclusion that if one is looking for those things in cinema one either has to look to films made by non-American directors or one has to look to documentaries.  It lifted my spirits to see that CITIZENFOUR, about whistle-blower Edward Snowden' was awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.  Now I'm not suggesting every US film, documentary or not, has to be driven by desire to expose what that country gets up to; far from it, what I'd like to see - and what we all saw in that golden age I referred to earlier - are films which simply show the reality of US lives and, more to the point, in a non-judgemental manner.

Cisco inspecting the dope that Holland wants him to sell

That brings me back to CISCO PIKE.  The central character is a drug dealer, there's no getting away from that, but does that make him a bad man?  A supporting character is a corrupt cop bud does that make him a bad man?  The point is that blatant injustices in the system have positioned these characters where they are.  Now, they have made choices that have taken them there but the film makes clear that because the way things are they have had a reduced number of choices.  In fact, with society structured in the way it is character A finds himself with few options which leads him down the path to character B who has even fewer.  Sooner or later you end up with another character who has no options at all.  So do we blame the characters / people or the system / society?

Cisco's pad, inside...

CISCO PIKE is interestingly set at the fag end of the hippie era and just before Watergate, as the idealism was on its last legs and just about to be shattered completely.  Tastes are changing: the music business is becoming more mercenary - Pike is told that his style isn't hip any more and he should start playing electric; managers rather than performers are now calling the shots - and the drugs seem to be consumed not by potheads but by junkies.  In a way Cisco and Sue are a little island of idealism; their house, still done out in red and yellow paint and wall hangings, is not much more than a shack sandwiched between two commercial properties.

... and out.

I suppose the point is that what you do does not define who you are.  Cisco was no more a rock god genius any more than he is a lowlife drug dealer but others define him in these terms.  The music business people he meets wanted something from him when he was hot and want nothing from him now except the occasional drug deal.  The only person who wants him just as he is is, predictably, his girlfriend Sue played by Karen Black with her customary endearing kookiness.  So in the end the film is about identity and whether that is something imposed on us by others or something we generate ourselves.  And if we do generate it ourselves what happens when everyone else sees us differently.

Kris Kristofferson as Cisco Pike

I've have long admired Kris Kristofferson both as a man and as a performer.  I have to confess I'm not a big country and western fan but it has always seemed to me that he approached the genre from a more left of centre perspective.  Not that you'd have to try that hard, after all it's a pretty reactionary field, but he took the music and more importantly the lyrics in a more intelligent direction.  He's underrated as an actor in my opinion and appears in two of my all time favourite films, namely Sam Peckinpah's PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID [1973] and Michael Cimino's HEAVEN'S GATE [1980].  Those are stone cold classics, obviously, but his overall CV is better than you might think.

Karen Black as Sue

Karen Black who died recently was an iconic figure of the freewheelin' movie scene in the late 60s and early 70s.  She wasn't a typical movie actress at all - she was slightly cross-eyed and always seemed kind of one card shy of a full deck.  Maybe it's just that I'm figuring her in terms of the characters she very often played but I suspect she was just as unconventional in real life.  She was in a string of really terrific movies right up until the early 80s but just as the off-beat films stopped getting made she stopped getting the good parts and found herself relegated to low budget genre movies in which, it has to be said, she was very watchable.

Gene Hackman has now sadly retired from acting but one of the true giants of his craft.  I don't think I've ever seen him give a bad performance.  He's been in some bad movies but even in those you can see the intelligence at work.  Whether it's in trash like SUPERMAN IV [1987] or genuine film art like THE CONVERSATION [1974] or NIGHT MOVES [1975] he's always good, a phenomenal consistency over a 40-year career.

Harry Dean Stanton as Jesse Dupre

The supporting cast is a who's who of weirdos and character actors.  Harry Dean Stanton is of course the ne plus ultra of off beat, half-soaked chancers but he too is a fine actor.  Viva was one of Andy Warhol's crew and Joy Bang was a genuine free spirit who ditched the movie business before her career had really begun.  I wrote about her in my review of MESSIAH OF EVIL here.  There are plenty of other familiar names and faces: Roscoe Lee Browne, Severn Darden, Antonio 'Huggy Bear' Fargas, Howard Hesseman, Alan Arbus and even Doug Sahm of the Sir Douglas Quintet.

Doug Sahm as Rex.  It was difficult to get a still of Sahm because he never stood still

Viva (L) as Merna and Joy Bang (R) as Lynn

The writer-director B. L. Norton, also known variously as B. W. L. Norton, Bill Norton or Bill L. Norton made his debut with this film and it's really good.  So good in fact that his career was a slow decline afterwards.  He had a couple of stinkers in a row - MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI [1979] and BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND [1985] - and as per the adage of you're only as good as your last film that was that for his cinema career and the world of TV beckoned.  It's a shame that he never followed up on the promise of CISCO PIKE because it is a perfectly sound contribution to the last golden age of American film-making.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Hannah, Queen of the Vampires [1973]

HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES is a Spanish / American horror film that was directed by Julio Salvador and originally released in Spain in June 1973 under the title La tumba de la isla maldita. It is also known as Crypt of the Living Dead.  It stars Andrew Prine, Mark Damon and Patty Shepard. Prine is Chris Bolton an engineer who arrives on a remote Turkish island to bury his father, an archaeologist, who died while investigating a recently discovered tomb.  There he meets an old friend Peter (Damon) who is researching a novel and Peter's sister Mary (Shepard) who is teaching at the island's rudimentary school.  Through these, and the surly locals, he learns of the island's mythology and superstitions which eventually lead him to suspect that his father's death may somehow be linked.

As far as I can make out this is for some reason a pretty obscure film.  Despite being a big fan of Cinema Delirium favourite Andrew Prine I had never heard of it until I wrote about Patty Shepard in La noche de Walpurgis here.  I tracked it down and watched it a couple of days ago and can't see any obvious reason for its obscurity.  In fact it's rather good, sustaining an atmosphere of fear and mystery while creating a credible and consistent background legend.

The opening recalls the peerless THE WICKER MAN [1973] with Chris getting a very frosty reception as he arrives on the unnamed island.  Indeed it's some considerable way into the film before any of the locals even acknowledge him much less speak to him.  Chris represents the voice of reason amid the superstitious locals and is therefore shocked to learn that his father, a man of science, had started to believe some of the tales shortly before his death.  These are familiar themes of course - the fish out of water and the sceptic surrounded by true believers - and generally speaking, as in the case of THE WICKER MAN, it's not until the climax that the central character comes to recognise the power of superstition.

Chris Bolton arrives

In this film though the locals' superstition is underpinned by a specifically Christian faith.  The vampires can be held at bay by the trusty crucifix but that proves to be of limited use.  It's interesting that vampire movies are generally framed as good versus evil, the holy versus the unholy, and yet Dracula and his cohorts still run amok no matter how many crosses are brandished at them.

Yes it's true that in most cases good triumphs over evil but the body count is usually in Dracula's favour. Why then is faith, Christian faith, regarded as such an effective weapon and indeed defence? Is it better or worse than any other religion?  Does Dracula in fact represent not evil but non-Christian faith?  It would be interesting to know how this conflict is depicted in films from predominantly non-Christian countries.

Back, hellspawn!

Anyway, I digress.  I understand that while Salvador directed the lion's share of the film some additional footage, amounting to about 10 minutes, was shot by Ray Danton to beef up the English-language version. Inserting new footage to an existing film doesn't usually work; off the top of my head I instantly think of John Russo's execrable additions to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for his "30th anniversary addition".  Obviously one would have to see both before and after versions to judge which was the more effective but it's fair to say that Danton did a pretty good job because I certainly couldn't tell where the new stuff was added.

Ray Danton in Si muore solo una Volta [1967]

Ray Danton had a decent if unspectacular 25-year career as an actor - notably, in the Cinema Delirium sense, as the title character in Jess Franco's decent spy caper LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE [1967].  Once the leading parts dried up he had a desultory 10 years in US television which I imagine prompted him to effect a transition into directing.  His first feature was the horror flick DEATHMASTER [1972] starring Count Yorga himself Robert Quarry.  It's not bad actually although it didn't lead to much more film work: he helmed PSYCHIC KILLER [1975] a film which I recall from the horror movie books I had as a kid and which I've not yet got round to seeing. But that was that his film career and he spent the last 15 years of his professional life directing episodes of various TV shows.

Andrew Prine as Chris Bolton

Andrew Prine, as I say, is a favourite of mine and he has a very long career mainly in genre films. Patty Shepard was to Spanish horror as Barbara Steele was to Italian but for some reason is not as well known.  Perhaps it's because the perception is that Italian horror is better than Spanish.  I'd probably have to agree with that: in the main they look a lot better and managed to attract a better class of English-speaking star to their productions.  Some of that can perhaps be put down to the oppressive nature of the right-wing dictatorship Spain laboured under until the mid-1970s.

Patty Shepard as Mary

Mark Damon, like Ray Danton, is an interesting guy who switched careers, in his case from acting to producing.  As near as dammit he stopped acting around the time this film came out and after a slow start really got his foot in the door and ended up producing a lot of high profile films.  He's still working is Damon and if imdb is to be believed currently has a couple of films in production.  Good on him, he's 82 this year.

Mark Damon as Peter

One note about the crew: the special effects are the work of Antonio Molina who also worked in the same capacity on the previously reviewed THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN aka La noche de Walpurgis, which probably explains why the vampire women in both films look so similar.

Teresa Gimpera as Hannah, Queen of the Vampires

Wednesday 25 February 2015

The Astro-Zombies [1968]

THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES is an American horror / sci-fi film that was directed and co-written by Ted V. Mikels and originally released in May 1968.  It stars John Carradine, Tom Pace, Joe Hoover, Joan Patrick, Tura Satana and Wendell Corey.  An embittered former US government scientist attempts to create zombies in order to futher his work on thought transference while US agents and a gang of international criminals try to track him down.

Ted V. Mikels is the kind of film-maker that I admire.  He works on the margins of the film business on small budgets, with actors you've never heard on films most people will never see.  Yet he makes films on subjects that he's interested in and does so cheerfully and with pride.  I don't think he sets out on his projects expecting that no-one will watch them; he's not an art-house director who makes films on outré subjects and has no interest in whether people watch them or not.  He's a populist without public.

Hunchback assistant Franchot (no really) considers how best to proceed

It's difficult to pin down exactly what makes Mikels an outsider in the film business.  It's not that he's untalented, makes films on boring themes or that he operates on a cottage industry level: after all, there are plenty of untalented director working on dull, expensive pictures and there are plenty of well known low-budget film-makers. I've pondered over this question for a long time, not just with regard to Mikels but also Herschell Gordon Lewis, Al Adamson and to a certain extent Russ Meyer, and the best answer I can come up with is that what holds them back is outlandish bad taste.  Bad taste, that is, as far as movie executives and the general public is concerned.  I don't mean bad taste in the John Waters sense, I mean bad taste in the sense of crudeness, a lack of sophistication, finesse and ambition.

Astro-Zombie attack!

Obviously films made on this scale will often be rough around the edges but that shouldn't mitigate against them being stylish or complex.  For instance, compare THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES with David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, made less than 10 years later.  Mikels had a budget of $37,000 whereas Lynch created one of the most singular films of the century on an estimated budget of $20,000.  The way your film turns out isn't always to do with money; it's what the late Frank Zappa used to call "cheepnis" which was his byword for low rent monster movies where the seams always show and everyone always does the predictable thing.

L-R: Tom Pace, Wendell Corey, Victor Izay, Joe Hoover

What Zappa also said however was that he loved movies like this, as I do.  If you've ever seen a picture of Ted V. Mikels you'll recognise him instantly as an impresario, a word you don't hear much these days, particularly since the death of Lew Grade and Dino De Laurentiis.  Mikels looks like a showman, full of self-promotion, self-confidence and enthusiasm, almost as big an event as his films. As with a lot of these directors I knew their names long before I saw any of their movies and I think that's because for all intents and purposes they are their films.  What I mean by that is that without them the films simply would not exist, and by that I mean at all not merely in a different form. Without Mikels, THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES wouldn't exist; without Ridley Scott ALIEN [1979] would still exist albeit in a different form, maybe better, maybe worse.  Without someone like Ridley's brother Tony, or Adrian Lyne, their films would probably still be exactly the same.

Franchot (no really) brings in a fresh corpse for his master's experiments in thought transference

So what of the film itself.  Well, some would have you believe it's one of the worst films of all time. It's not.  It's fun, colourful, groovy in the way that only late 60s Californian films can be, has plenty of action and one or two larger than life performances.  And of course it has acres of bad taste, something that yer mainstream film critic would hate to endorse.  More than anything it reminded me of Alex Cox's REPO MAN [1983], a film I am very fond of.  It has that film's sense of adventure, it's determination to show the dingier side of Los Angeles, and it's adolescent desire to stick two fingers up at anything which might be considered tasteful.  Mikels, I would imagine, is from the opposite end of the political spectrum to Cox who considers himself a Marxist but I think their aesthetic sensibilities are not so far apart.

L-R: Tura Satana, Vincent Barbi and Rafael Campos

It's also a much better made piece of work than anything I've yet seen by Edward D. Wood Jr, Al Adamson or Andy Milligan.  For instance, in THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES a CIA chief's office looks vaguely like a CIA chief's office and a rogue scientist's lab look vaguely like a rogue scientist's lab. This is not so with the other guys: in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE the cockpit of an airliner famously looks like two guys with a curtain behind them and in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER a police chief's office has a shelf of books and a couple of antiques.  The photography and lighting are generally pretty good and there's a barnstorming finale.  It also the awesome Tura Satana as the ruthless leader of the gang trying to get their hands on John Carradine's research and flog it to, presumably, the Commies.  She's quite a sight.

The office of CIA bigwig Holman

I can't deny that there are things wrong with the film.  In fact there are quite a few things wrong with it.  The special effects are terrible; the actual Astro-Zombie and, as far as I can tell the budget only stretched to one, is a guy in a suede jacket and slacks and a rubber mask, and there is a contender for worst decapitated head of all time.  The plot which is basically very simple is hopelessly complicated by an extraordinary amount of time spent on what is presumably complete mumbo jumbo.  There are sci-fi / monster movies in which the pseudo-science sounds reasonably convincing; this is not one of them.

A decapitated head (no really)

There's an awful lot of padding too: the pre-credits sequence of the Astro-Zombie's first victim features almost two minutes of totally unnecessary footage of her driving home.  The credits themselves gone on for over two minutes.  Similarly there's a sequence in Carradine's lab where he's doing some dastardly scientific thing which features almost three minutes of him repeatedly screwing and unscrewing a metal panel.  So that's seven minutes out of a 91 minute movie which are devoid of any entertainment value.  There's also a Jess Franco-approved nightclub sequence where our heroes watch a go-go dancer do her whole routine.  I'm not saying this bit lacks entertainment value but three minutes is a too much.  It's also leeringly crude.

In the end though I enjoyed it despite these faults.  Yes it's very silly but that's partly why I liked it. The least that can be said of it is that isn't po-faced.  Put it this way, I'd rather watch this twice than see Christopher Nolan's recent INTERSTELLAR [2014] which tells the story of a pompous, humourless man disappearing up his own black hole.

At this point I would normally give you a potted history of Ted V. Mikels' life and career but instead I shall just relate three bits of information about him from his imdb page:

Handlebar moustache
Always wears a boar's tooth on a necklace

Lived in a castle-styled mansion in Los Angeles, replete with live-in strippers.

Tura Satana as Satana

Tura Satana is of course one of the great B-movie icons as a result of her performance as Varla in Russ Meyer's FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! a film which will be a scarcely believable 50 years old this year.  Considering that she only made 10 movies, and four of those were for Mikels, her reputation beyond fandom is impressive.  She died aged 73 in 2011, having lived what can only be described as a full life.

John Carradine as Dr DeMarco

I've written about John Carradine before and while recognising that he too is an iconic figure I've never thought a great deal of his abilities, such as they are.  In the majority of films of his I've seen he brings nothing to the party in terms of performance; instead the film-makers are using his name and his visage to lure in unsuspecting punters.  It's as though he's making a public appearance at a fan convention.  Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and, especially, Christopher Lee all made their fair share of trashy films but they were almost always the best thing in it and could be relied upon for a charismatic turn.  I'll say one thing for Carradine though: no-one looks more like an insane scientist than he does.  I'm sure there are Carradine completists out there but I'm not one: apart from anything else imdb credits him with 348 appearances.  Let's say his films last 90 minutes on average - if you watched them all back to back it would take you three weeks!

Wayne Rogers (L) with Alan Alda (R) in M*A*S*H

On the technical side a lot of the crew spent their entire careers - some long, some short - in b-movies and genre movies.  One name, however, stands out: that of co-screenwriter and executive producer Wayne Rogers.  Now that name might not mean much today but in the early 70s he was a household name, particularly in the US, for his role as 'Trapper' John McIntyre in the TV series M*A*S*H.  His double act with Alan Alda was absolutely brilliant and made that show one of the most beloved TV sitcoms of all time.  To my mind the series was less essential and less anarchic once he left, apparently because he felt his character was becoming secondary to Alda's.  Quite how he came to be working with Ted V. Mikels is anyone's guess; I suppose he was just trying to find his niche in show-business.  I do love it though when big stars have these crazy items on their CV and love it even more when they are proud of them.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman [1970]

THE WEREWOLF VS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN is a Spanish / German horror film that was directed by Leon Klimovsky and originally released in May 1971 under its original title La noche de Walpurgis.  It stars Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell and Patty Shepard.  Two female students in rural France researching their thesis on Satanism find themselves stranded in the back of beyond.  They are offered shelter by the mysterious Waldemar Daninsky who lives an isolated existence with his mentally-disturbed sister and seems to know an awful lot about local tales of witchcraft and black magic.

Either the third or fourth film in Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky series, depending on whether you count the unreleased and apparently lost Las noches del Hombre Lobo, this is a far superior effort than the catchpenny English title might have you believe.  For the uninitiated, and that, until recently, included me, Daninsky is a Polish nobleman who contracted lycanthropy while hunting a werewolf (in the first film La marca del Hombre Lobo / Frankenstein's Bloody Terror [1968]).  Since then he has been doomed to turn into a wolf-man every full moon and, unable to control his violent urges, tearing people's throats out.

El Hombre Lobo

So he's a reluctant werewolf, a would-be hero who usually ends up righting whatever wrong he is confronted with but not without eviscerating sundry extras who happen to get in his way. The mythology of the series dictates that werewolves can only be killed by silver - bullet, knife or crucifix - delivered by one who loves him.  Thus after saving the day Daninsky is always put out of his misery by whichever woman he has fallen in love with during the course of the movie. And, just as Dracula is in Hammer productions, in subsequent films Daninsky is repeatedly revived to continue his lonely existence on the fringes of mankind.

In the second picture, Los monstruos del terror / Assignment Terror / Dracula vs Frankenstein [1970], Daninsky is revived by aliens who are attempting to colonise the Earth by wiping out mankind via regenerated icon monsters who, presumably, are intended to frighten everyone to death. Typically, Daninsky initially wreaks havoc but is then redeemed by the love of a good woman before foiling the aliens' plans after not one but two good punch ups with the Mummy and then Frankenstein's monster. The film then ends in the time honoured fashion, with a silver injection.

Count Waldemar Daninsky ready to be revived

Which brings me to La noche de Walpurgis in which our hero is revived when a pathologist removes the silver bullets from his body unaware that it is a full moon.  Unlike a lot of Spanish horror films I have seen it reminded me most of a Hammer horror movie.  The lonely travellers, succour offered by mysterious nobleman at isolated mansion / castle, vampires, a dream-like atmosphere, romance and resolution. It's really good actually and I would recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with Spanish horror or anyone who thinks Spanish horror exclusively involves portly men with moustaches and polyester leisurewear.  Not only is it atmospheric and beautifully shot, it has a melancholy strain running through it as Daninsky broods over his curse.

Countess Wandesa seduces Genevieve

Another movie it reminded me of is the British sex-n-fangs film VAMPYRES [1974] which has a similarly oneiric, fatalistic atmosphere and, coincidentally, was directed by an ex-pat Spaniard called Jose Ramon Larraz.   most of his work there and for sake of argument I think can be regarded as a Spanish director.  That Spanish link is interesting: I remember reading a quote from someone whose name escapes who said that horror movies went down a storm in Spain because, as a devoutly religious country, they really responded to good triumphing over evil, usually at the hands of a man of cloth.  The quote went on to say that when the priest turn the vampire to dust by whipping out his crucifix the audiences used to stand up and cheer.

Paul Naschy as Count Waldemar Daninsky - el Hombre Lobo

Paul Naschy, the doyen of Spanish horror, was an interesting chap, the kind you rarely seem to come across in the film business these days, stuffed to the gills as it is with beautiful but vapid leading men and ladies.  At various times, before becoming a film star, Naschy was a novelist, an artist, a designer, an architect and a weight-lifter.  Beat that, Zac Efron.  Indeed, so obsessed with youth and beauty is the modern film industry that someone like Naschy wouldn't even get his foot in the door.  A short, barrel-chested man his athlete's physique is obvious but his face is a bizarre amalgam of Douglas Booth and John Prescott with a bit of Bruce Campbell chucked into the mix. That face isn't particularly expressive and any power he might have had in his delivery is dissipated by the post-production dubbing.  Somehow though it works: it's Naschy's acting rather than Daninsky's cursed existence which conveys the sadness in the character.  Perhaps it's his bearing, perhaps it's his permanently downbeat countenance; whichever, in it's own way it's rather moving.

Genevieve in the land of dreams and nightmares

Taken as a stand alone film, La noche de Walpurgis has much to commend it.  The vampire sequences are done particularly well, slowed down in the manner of Amando De Ossorio's BLIND DEAD series of films, and using a blue filter, later favoured by mediocre Hollywood directors. Vampires have of course long been associated with lust and eroticism - Jean Rollin made an entire career out of such films - but it doesn't always come off.  Hammer's vampire films were at their best when this element was not made explicit: to my mind, the weakest of them are the lesbian vampire films of the 1970s.  Indeed, this became such a cliche that it has proved to be a rich vein for spoofing. In this film however the emphasis is not on a prurient or smutty interest in sex but on seduction.  The 'Vampire Woman' of the American title - referred to in the film as Countess Wandesa - is a beautiful, silent seductress, fatally alluring.

Patty Shepard as Countess Wandesa

I've written before about what a pleasure it is these days to be able to see good quality prints of these films in their correct aspect ratio and subtitled rather than dubbed into American English.  This film is no exception: the photography by Leopoldo Villasenor is terrific.  He may have spent the majority of his career working at the cheaper end of the film industry but he knew his business alright.

Some great framing by Klimovksy and Villasenor

Leon Klimovsky (and indeed Naschy) I have written about before here so I shan't repeat myself.  The trio of women central to this film are Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell and Patty Shepard.  Fuchs is probably the weakest of the three but in her defence has the most passive, albeit biggest, role.  Fuchs only made a dozen or so films but two (thus far) have been reviewed on these pages (the other being Michael Armstrong's MARK OF THE DEVIL [1970]) so she must have been doing something right. Barbara Capell essentially plays the 'Lucy Westenra' part and pretty good she is too; together with Patty Shepard as Countess Wandesa they terrorise and beguile in equal measure.

Gaby Fuchs (L) and Barbara Capell (R)

Like Fuchs, Capell didn't have much of a film career but Patty Shepard, an American ex-pat in Spain, most certainly did. She worked with most of the Spanish genre directors - Eloy de la Iglesia, Juan Piquer Simon, the aforementioned Jose Ramon Larraz, George Martin, Leon Klimovsky and fellow adopted Spaniard Tulio Demicheli. It was for Demicheli that she appeared in Los monstruos del terror, the second (or third) Daninsky movie.  Shepard died a couple of years ago aged 67.

A couple of the technical credits are worth mentioning.  The script was co-written by Naschy and someone called Hans Munkel, a man with only two writing credits and as slight an internet footprint as it's possible to have.  The score, which is unusually good for the genre, is by Anton Garcia Abril. Finally, the second unit director was Carlos Aured who went on to become a director in his own right, helming the sixth (or seventh) film in the Daninsky series El retorno de Walpurgis [1973] and numerous other Naschy pictures.