Mario Bava’s stylish 1965 sci-fi thriller is widely acknowledged a clear inspiration for Alien; with the release of Prometheus, the connections are even more apparent. Barry Sullivan leads an Italian cast as Captain Mark Markary, who finds himself and his crew stranded on an alien planet whose occupants are able to use the crew’s bodies to take over the ship. Bava uses a strikingly organic production design that pre-dates HR Giger, and manages to milk the maximum suspense from a fairly dog-eared idea. Planet of the Vampires has become a cult item; NYC theatre company The Wooster Group even based a show on it, and it’s easy to see why Bava’s film has been so influential; it’s a cornerstone of sci-fi in cinema.
One of the less celebrated entries in Mario Bava’s canon, Blood and Black Lace is a sure-footed thriller that deserves to be compared to Hitchcock; the sequence involving a handbag containing a crucial clue to a murder, left unattended during a fashion show, is as tense and elegant as any of Hitchcock’s post-Psycho work. Contessa Cristina (Eva Bartok) and Max (Cameron Mitchell) are attempting to run a swanky fashion house when a serial killer strikes, and find themselves amongst the suspects. Light on violence but heavy with tension, Bava’s 1964 film is an ideal starting point for giallo fans; beautifully made, it’s an absorbing mystery with the director’s trademark flourishes all in evidence.
A pretty obscure film even within the cornucopia of Amazon Instant, Mario Bava’s 1972 sexploitation comedy is an ingenious sculpture in time. Four Times That Night is four accounts of one event, a date between Gianna and Tina (Brett Halsey and former Miss Italy Daniela Giodano). They meet in a park, and go back to her flat for some fun, but the next day he’s sporting a head-knock and her dress has been ripped. What happened is told from four perspectives, and each one sees the same characters acting in very different ways, notably Dick Randall’s sleazy concierge. Bava was a master of thrillers, but he brings the same gaudy showmanship to this ingenious, non-PC comedy, which ends with a psychiatrist explaining the story to the audience in unbelievable terms. A clever experimental film about strained relationships between men and women, Four Times That Night is a must for lovers of obscure movies.
Lucio Fulci took a break from ultra-violent zombie movies to make this non-supernatural but still ultra-violent thriller. Contraband stars Fabio Testi as Luca, a smuggler embroiled in turf wars with the Mafia, initially for cigarettes, but escalating when Luca refuses to get involved in drug-smuggling. Many forms of vengeance result, all of them graphically presented in terms of the damage done to the human form, but Contraband will be of interest to those who can take the violence since it pulls no punches about the ruthlessness of the criminals involved. Recommended with strong warnings for content; Contraband is a more than decent thriller, but be sure to understand the nature of the film before you watch.
Poland’s Walerian Borowcyck was originally hailed as an art-house auteur, but his 1970’s output had a commercial success that was more in keeping with the idea that he was a master of erotica. Somewhere between Goto, Island of Love and The Beast comes 1974’s Immoral Tales, a quartet of short stories from the pen of André Pieyre de Mandiargues. The openers, The Tide and Therese Philosophe, are the weakest, although the former has a poetic sense of time and a modern-day setting. The concluding two, Erzsebet Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia are both visually stunning, the first dealing with the classic story of the countess who bathed in the blood, and the final a tale of religious debauchery. If you can accept the degree of sexual detail involved, Erzsebet Bathothy’s sumptuous locations and music are worth seeing in their own right; the mood and historical content are enough to give soft-core cinema a good name.
Quentin Tarantino’s 2010 film took little more than the title from Enzo G Castellari’s classic ‘men on a mission’ WWII thriller, but the original is well worth considering in its own right. Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson and Bo Svenson are amongst the team assembled by General Buckner (Ian Bannen) after they escape from their fate as military prisoners. Convinced to go on a raid behind enemy lines. Bridges collapse, motorcycles fly, bodies pile up, and The Inglorious Bastards is a good example of how exploitation could cannibalise a studio genre (The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape) and come up with something that offers even more entertainment value. The model-work in the final train explosion is a little on the home-made Hornby-rail-track side, but it doesn’t detract from a vigorous, exhilarating war flick.
Coming late to the 70’s zombie party, and too early to be part of the comic-book fad, Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamorte is a highly unusual horror-romance, with Rupert Everett as Francesco, who keeps watch in an abandoned graveyard for the unwelcome intervention of the living dead. Francesco’s daily routine of dispatching the dead is interrupted when he falls in love with a mysterious woman, leading to complications that have the knockabout tone of, say Evil Dead II, but also have a spiritual and metaphorical means about the thin line between love and death. The rare thing, a thoughtful, lyrical horror film, the story was told again, less effectively and for just a small an audience, in 2008’s Dylan Dog, adapted from the same popular Italian comic strip.