Saturday, 24 February 2018

What a carry on… Behind Locked Doors (1968)

The central premise of this film is the notion that scientific “research” could be conflated with the infantile sexual fantasies. The mad “scientist” at the heart of things wants to “experiment” on young women by having forced intercourse and, if they fail to meet his rather vague criteria, he has them frozen solid using some process that is actually less plausible than Kenneth Williams’ turning Joan Simms into a living showroom dummy in Carry on Screaming. The ending was also marginally less convincing than the British comedy and I did cry out “frying tonight” just for the heck of it…

Of course, Carry on… aimed to titillate through suggestion more than specifics and that’s where these films diverge. Like so many films of this period, the narrative feels like an excuse to set up some pervy happenings but at least, unlike some others, this film does contain some acting from actual actors.

 We begin at a disco party with the crease of corduroy and the static spark of woolly jumpers rubbing against nylon slacks in a remote countryside barn. There are lots of groovy guys and chicks with little inhibition raving the day away free from the censorious attentions of authority. But freedom comes at a price and one girl, a raven-haired beauty (natch) called Ann (Eve Reeves) is taken upstairs by a guy who proceeds to try and take things too far… He’s chased off by a middle-aged man who has been lurking… he is Dr Bradley (Daniel Garth) and the peak he sneaks at Ann as she gets dressed show he’s far from innocent, but he seems amiable enough

Back in the dance Ann and her pretty pal Terry (Joyce Danner) talk to the Doctor and, apart from looking like a younger version of Henry Kissinger – surely they notice that? – he leaves them with a good impression. When the two try to drive off in Ann’s car though it’s inexplicably non-functional and the Doc pops up to suggest that they could, er, stay at his place until the motor is fixed. The girls hike up to a very Scooby-Dooby mansion and accept tea with the Doc and his totally non-sinister sister Ida (Irene Lawrence).

Raven-haired Eve Reeves
They’re shown to their room, clearly unaware of the audience pleading for them to just run away but, by the time they find bars on the windows and their door locked… it’s far too late. A glimpse in the wardrobe reveals dozens of mod dresses… there’s a feeling that they’re not the first to stay at the house.

They are reassured by Ida… the door’s locked just because and well, all will be fine in the morning. This takes the pressure off enough for some good old-fashioned Sapphic sexual tension as Terry (ah, boy’s name…) casts meaningful glances at Eve’s pert body and holds her just that little bit tighter than a friend might. The two climb into bed and Terry takes her chances only to be gently rebuffed and, lie in back in frustration she shockingly, perhaps, has to console herself…

Terry holds on...
The girls try and escape but it’s all part of the game and whilst Terry is tied up in the experimentation room, the Doctor explains his cunning and rigorously-scientific discipline. He shows her compromising pictures of young women he has taken, all to be used to guarantee their silence after his procedures in which he attempts to find the perfect mate for his seriously-imperfect body and mind.

Then Evil Ida shows Ann a room in which tied-up Terry is forced to not only have sex with a man but an ‘orrible, creepy one… Seems the Doc’s procedure is just an excuse because, I can’t for the life of me see how this is science? After her ordeal, she and Ann explore escape routes only to find a cellar full of young women apparently frozen alive – trophies for the mad Doctor with their brutish handyman (Ivan Agar) worshiping one brunette. Terry makes a run for it and is chased down – Lurch is faster than he looks!

The doc gets agitated...
Then it’s Ann’s turn for the “treatment” and, bizarrely, this is played as a soft porn scene with the focus firmly on the actress of course… the Doc must be using some powerful hallucinogens.

Can the girl’s escape his evil clutches, will Lurch ever get to marry his beautiful brunette statue, what’s in all this for Ida, have the Doc and Henry Kissenger ever been seen in the same room and will Terry get to keep her splendid woollen jumper?!

Dusty Verdict: Behind Locked Doors is slightly frumpy sexploitation but has atmosphere and some genuine tension. This is helped by the performance of Joyce Danner in particular, she’s animated and eloquent with lines that would challenge many a Shakespearian and we share her revulsion with men on the evidence of this story. Eve Reeves is the less confidently-expressive although she also makes for a likeable heroine – innocent and less self-aware than her friend. You root for their escape when faced with Daniel Garth’s – literally – oily “Doctor” and his wonderfully wicked sister – well played by Irene Lawrence who lurks with marvellous malevolence!

The ending is predictably illogical and provides the poetic justice the story requires… it’s a bit of a bubble-gum psych fairytale and as Terry chats up a pretty girl at the next barn disco, Ann walks off to the fields with a darkly sexy dude… it’s been a coming of age experience for both. Nice enough if you can brush off the sexual assault, kidnap, torture, and the rest that is.

Charles Romine directs well with obviously limited resources and there is some solidly professional cinematography from Victor Petrashevic making the most of the locations and human resources…

It was produced by Stanley H. Brassloff   - who co-wrote with Charles Romine – who has some renown for this kind of work… it’s a guilty pleasure but if you suspend disbelief and moral judgement (everyone got paid?) if you like this sort of thing you’ll probably like Behind Locked Doors.

The film is available on DVD from all good online retailers but at "collectable" prices.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Lots of wood in the forest… Crypt of Dark Secrets (1974)

It’s not difficult to imagine how director Jack Weis came up with the foundation stone for this ill-fitting horror film. With no budget and some half-cooked mumbo jumbo ideas he had to work out a way of getting his female star, the astonishing Maureen Ridley, dancing naked for at least 5 full minutes. So, lithe body in place and nudity clause signed off in the contract he decided that she must be a swamp witch who needs to perform an ancient write in order to raise the dead.

From there he reverse engineered his entire story, just to arrive at that one moment of pure X-rated gold. Now this may or may not be the case, but I’m just putting it out there…

Of course, he may also have been looking for a way to shoot some quite glorious shots of the Louisiana swamps, as police launches glide their way through endless mysterious lagoons, snakes and alligators lurking beneath and mysterious mist enveloping the tangled trees on the shore. It’s a great location and the cats and crew deserve credit for working in it.

These things aside, the quality of story, dialogue and performance is not the best in this film but it adds to the period charm and this is a fun film to while away a rainy afternoon.

It concerns the legend of a swamp witch called Damballa who is rumoured to live in the deepest part of the bayou… a woman who is nearly immortal and who can turn herself into a snake at will.

The opening scene see the local policeman Lt. Harrigan (Wayne Mack, probably the film’s best actor) discussing the legend with a local investigator (not sure if I can call him an actor whoever he be… but he tries).

Then we meet Ted Watkins (Ronald Tanet, who is wooden enough to be a one-man log cabin) an army vet who has decided to retire to the most haunted island in the most eerie part of the swamp. No one has been able to live there without being driven out be mysterious goings on and so the Lieutenant and his Sergeant Buck (Herbert G. Jahncke, he too got wood...) go out to investigate.

Sgt Buck and Lt. Harrigan
Ted welcomes them and we find a house with a remarkable range of fixtures and fittings, electricity, fridge and hot water… not sure about TV reception. Ted is cool and isn’t bothered about no legends… nor is he bothered about keeping all of his army money in plastic bags under his bed or similar).

On the Lieutenant’s advice he goes to talk to the local bank only to be overheard by one of the local  criminal types – see: he was right about banks!!!

Max, Earl and Louise on the prowl
This criminal is Earl (Butch Benit – who also acts and has what sounds like an authentic drawl…) and he decides that his podgy pal Max (Harry Uher) and wife Louise (Barbara Hagerty) shall deprive Ted of his life savings and his life. Remarkably, in spite of their rubbish condition and lack of Navy Seal training they are indeed able to overpower the ex-military man and leave him to drown in the shallow waters as they make off with their ill-gotten gains.

But fear not gentle reader, the mysterious – and very shapely – figure of Damballa comes to the rescue and with the aid of a highly graphic naked dance sequence, wakes Ted from the dead not just because she likes him, but because he will serve a higher purpose.

The witches of old Orleans
Time for more remarkably attractive women, a few sundry old natives, a grave, a ghost and scotch mist… seems the ancient tribe, who exist in an alternate reality (I possibly lost the thread here…) have always kept one foot in our reality through Damballa but now it is foretold by a previous blonde-haired witch – who arises from her grave - that new brunette Damballa will be accompanied by a new male Damballa and all will be well. There’s some dancing and chanting and magic words are spoken by the, stunning, High Priestess (Susie Sirmen) and an, so-so-looking, High Priest (Vernel Bagneris, sorry Vernel…) whilst three Voodoo Dancers strut their stuff (Lois Tillman, Cindy Almario and Nattie Dear).

Blimey. You really wouldn’t want to be the guys to mess with all these supernatural forces would you… especially as the swamp witches are assisted by a human witch in spooking the baddies out as blood pours through their money and they begin to lose their nerves… and, there are voodoo dollies too!

Ted and Dembala entertain...
Dusty Verdict: Like Death in Paradise stripped of plot and performance quality there is still the same inevitability about the narrative. But there is a lively score and some wonderful shots of boats gliding through swamps and a mystical dance you would not want to watch with anyone else in the room.

The film is available on DVD from Amazon and is a curio and mid-seventies kitsch artefact for those who cherish such things plus those who just like to watch witches dance…