Wednesday, November 28, 2007

31st August 2007: Bloody Dungeons of Horror double!

31st August 2007: a EURO-DUNGEON double!

The Torture Chamber Of Dr Sadism

Greetings and welcome to a special Euro-Gothic edition of Schlock Treatment. Tonight we have a double dose of frightened girls, bloodless ghouls,

First is a strange West German reworking of the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale The Pit And The Pendulum. Already filmed by Roger Corman in 1961 with Vincent Price in the lead role, the Germans - with their infinitely subtle touch - throw almost every possible horror cliché into the mix. The result is a virtual smorgasbord of unearthly delights, presided over by veteran horror actor Christopher Lee who, by playing the bloodless Count, seems to be having a leisurely walk through the Black Forest, having spent almost as much of the Sixties in Continental potboilers as he did in their British counterparts.

Looking even more pale and cadaverous than his Dracula appearances, Lee plays Count Regula, a creature of pure evil sentenced to be drawn and quartered whilst wearing a spiked mask (trust Teutonic sadism to add a generous amount of Bava's Black Sunday). Before he expires, he curses the Judge (American B-actor Lex Barker) and his entire Von Marienberg family; thirty five years later his estranged son Roger (also played by) is summoned to Regula's now ruined castle, along with Lillian, the daughter of the woman who framed him (striking German actress Karin Dor, also a Bond villainess in You Only Live Twice the same year).

Their carriage passes through some genuine old German towns (complete with authentically craggy townsfolk) and into a hostile and increasingly surreal landscape - bodies hang from trees with severed arms for branches - towards a castle crawling with vultures and every other possible harbinger of doom, not to mention a resurrected Regula and the bodies of the twelve bodies of the virgins he sacrificed to perfect the elixir of eternal life. Lillian, it seems, is the thirteenth and final virgin (..?), while Roger is destined to be the end of the family line, strapped under a ghastly pendulum in a torture chamber covered in what looks a Brughel mural of A Clockwork Orange.

Roger: So these are the 12 murdered girls?
Servant: Yes. But that's no reason why you shouldn't make yourselves at home. Lee is superb as

always, even sleepwalking through these zombie Count roles, and the art direction in the cobweb-covered catacombs brings a dry tickle to the throat. It's not classic Poe by any stretch, but then every Corman adaptation with Vincent Price had the unmistakable aroma of ham, and the Germans really know what to do with their pork products. So.let's go down the basement to see what the Swinging Sixties has to offer - possibly a bloody big pendulum blade, that is, swinging on the end of a chain. Sweet dreams sinners, as we enter The Torture Chamber Of Dr Sadism.

Bloody Pit Of Horror

Our next film from Italian director Massimo Pupillo hiding behind his "Max Hunter" pseudonyms, claims to be based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. Bloody Pit Of Horror opens with "My vengeance needs blood!" - a quote which sounds more like Fu Manchu than de Sade, so please keep your literary pretensions in check. This is not art, but pure exploitation from a period when the tide of on-screen sex and horror was about to wash over the world's cinema screens. Bloody Pit Of Horror holds back - but only just - and its relative restraint contrasting with its manic mise-en-scene makes this a bizarro micro-masterpiece.

The film opens in 1648 with the execution of the Crimson Executioner, charged with enjoying himself too much during the Inquisition. The hooded monster is placed in an Iron Maiden with a see-thru lid and sealed, damned in perpetuity, but not before hissing "I will return and be avenged!"

Cut to the present, and a wandering band of models, shooting photo covers for the horror novels of author Rick (Walter "Brandt"/Brandi), break into a seemingly abandoned castle. They discover the reclusive Travis Anderson, a former muscleman actor in Hercules films now holed up with a small army of beefcake goons in striped pirate t-shirts, who is starting to believe he is the logical heir to the Crimson Executioner's legacy. Travis is played by Hungarian-born Mickey Hargitay, husband of Jayne Mansfield who starred in an Italian film with his wife called The Loves Of Hercules, so he's convincing in the role. Or, shall we say, Hargitay has one expression, but he does it well.

Reluctantly, Travis agrees to let the models, an aggressive phalanx of dolly birds and show ponies, to strike up some cutsie poses in the Crimson Executioner's former dungeon, pretending to be murdered on flagstones, and strangled by suits of armour - that old schtick. Until, of course, someone is impaled with a four hundred year old torture device, and Rick's love interest Edith ("Louise Barret"/Luisa Baratto) starts to suspect their host - who just happens to be her former boyfriend.

By this point Travis has gone completely over the edge. He appears in a Robin mask and scarlet tights, looking like a cross between The Phantom and Mexican wrestler, greasing himself in front of his ex-fiancee while ranting about hating women and how perfect his body is. This, we presume, is a steroid monkey's idea of foreplay. He then straps one model to a giant wire spider web surrounded by poison arrows and a huge mechanical spider; the others, he has more conventional means of torture devised for them, all the while screaming about moral purity. It makes you suspect they submitted to his whims just to shut him up.
Bloody Pit Of Horror is a delirious combo of high kink and high camp, as stylish as it is demented, and with a serious case of Bondage Chic in the costumes and set design. If you have a major Sixties fetish like me, this will feel like striking Crimson Gold. Others will be scratching their heads, and may never get to see a topless Mickey Hargitay screaming "My perfect body!" I hope you do, as we present the 1965 Bloody Pit Of Horror.

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