The Autumn Wind is a pirate, blustering in from sea… Yes, the weather is turning, the wind is crisper and colder, trees are abscising their leaves, gourds are being mutilated for decorative purposes, and of course, the pumpkin spice must flow. These and other nominally ghastly signifiers of the season can mean only one thing: it’s Halloween season! To celebrate, we embark upon a six week long horror movie marathon. That’s, like, a whole two weeks longer than most Halloween movie marathons, because we’re just that awesome.
To kick things off, I’m going to do a couple weeks of what I was going to call “Obscure Scream Queens”. Now, that phrase is generally reserved for actresses associated with horror movies and I’ve always found it to be a term of affection and respect in the horror community, but as it turns out, there are some reservations to be had with the label. Particularly since the term is often misused or devalued, especially by folks outside the genre community.
Screaming damsels in distress have always been a thing in horror movies, dating back to the silent era, but you’ll often see names like Fay Wray in King Kong (1933) bandied about as the true start (as she was one of the first and seemingly most memorable examples in the “talkies”). The phrase Scream Queen, though, didn’t really enter the popular parlance until Jamie Lee Curtis took on Michael Myers in Halloween and then followed that up with a surprising string of additional horror titles (i.e. Terror Train, Prom Night, The Fog, Road Games, not to mention Halloween II). As we plowed through the golden age of slashers and 80s horror, the term’s usage intensified and this is also probably where the devaluing usages also came into play. To be sure, like any label, it’s reductive and doesn’t truly capture a holistic sense of what makes these actresses great, but as mentioned above, I’ve always seen it as a term of respect and admiration.
Erika Blanc is probably not a name commonly associated with the label, but she certainly fits the bill. She came to my attention during last year’s marathon with her performance in The Night Evilyn Came Out of the Grave (she also turned up in a Mario Bava themed week a few years ago). While probably most famous for her role as the first Emmanuelle in the infamous series of erotic films, she also racked up quite a long string of impressive performances in horror films, three of which we’ll examine today. A fiery redhead with piercing blue eyes and a penchant for playing roles that mix sexy seduction with death and mayhem (i.e. typical Italian cinema here, but still), Blanc is hard to beat. Nothing like a bunch of obscure Italian horror movies no one’s ever heard of to get people riled up, amiright? Perhaps not the best way to start the 6WH, but it worked well enough!
- Lotion in the Basket (Robot Chicken)
- The Silence of the Lambs (trailer)
- The Snowman (trailer)
- A Dragonfly for Each Corpse – A police inspector gets assigned to a case of serial killings in Milan where the killer leaves an ornamental Dragonfly, soaked in the victims’ blood, as a calling card. This is paint-by-numbers Giallo trash, but such things can work well enough, as it does here. We’re treated to some necrophilia, Nazis (I hate those guys), crossdressing, a gunfight on a roller coaster (literally), and some ridiculous falling dummies… Despite being second-billed, Erika Blanc doesn’t get a ton to do for most of the movie (she’s the inspector’s wife), but she does get to do some research in the nude. This isn’t a role that really leverages her strengths, but she elevates the film anyway.
The mustachioed inspector is played by Paul Naschy, doing his best tough guy impersonation and mostly succeeding. The mystery at the heart of the story is par for the Giallo course, not always making a ton of sense but it’s about as kitsch as you can get, which has its own pleasures. The pacing falters a bit in the middle, but there’s plenty of setpieces, even if they don’t all entirely work. It’s always amusing to see early action sequences like this, but while not always great this acquits itself relatively well for the era. I was watching a pretty crappy pan-and-scan transfer with terrible sound, so it’s hard to comment on the craft of the film, but it didn’t seem particularly accomplished in that respect. The music, often a strong point even in corny Italian cinema, was lackluster at best. In the end, it’s Giallo comfort food, but little else (and certainly not Blanc’s best in the sub-genre). **
- Grindhouse: Don’t (Fake Trailer)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (trailer)
- What Have You Done To Solange (trailer)
- Love and death in the garden of the gods – A German academic rents an old villa, finds a series of recordings that tell the tragic tale of the villa’s previous inhabitants, and inadvertently gets caught up in the tragedy himself. Most of this story is told in oddly structured flashbacks within flashbacks; a needlessly convoluted exercise that was nonetheless pretty common in Giallos. At first, though, this doesn’t seem at all like a Giallo, but rather a straightforward drama about a woman, her brother, and her new husband. After a suicide attempt, the woman (played by Blanc) relates her story to a psychologist (who is the one recording the tapes that will later be discovered). Things get continuously more complicated and byzantine as the story unfolds, and then the narrative goes full taboo, with incest, cruel manipulation, and yes, murder. As per usual, it doesn’t particularly make sense, but that’s how these things work. Blanc is a perfect choice for the role, seductive and manipulative at the same time, I doubt this would work with anyone else.
It certainly takes a while to get going and at times I wondered if I had erred in including this as a “horror” title, but once the revelations start coming, things pick up in the end. I guess its still not horror, but it definitely hits thriller territory, and I have to admit, of the three movies I watched this weekend, this one seems to be sticking with me the most. This could also partly be due to an effective visual style and great music. Even when the story was bogging down, it was always gorgeous to look at (and I’m not just talking about Blanc). Despite it’s odd framing device and languid pacing, this one managed to win me over in the end. **1/2 (As an aside, this movie contained my favorite line of dialog of the weekend. When the groundskeeper is showing the German academic around the villa and the German makes a crack about knowing local wildlife, the groundskeeper retorts: “You’re the big professor, but I have a master’s degree in fried chicken!” Brilliant.)
- Seven (trailer)
- The House of the Devil (trailer)
- The Incubus (trailer)
- The Devil’s Nightmare – Seven strangers on a tour bus take shelter in a mysterious Baron’s creepy castle. Naturally, a succubus also attends the party. This movie begins during WWII as the Germans are being bombed and a woman has just given birth to a baby. Upon learning the baby is a girl, the father, a Nazi officer, pulls out a ceremonial dagger and stabs the baby. Cut to the present day (i.e. the early 70s), and then we join our seven tourists being stalked by a succubus played by Erika Blanc. It seems like the victims are supposed to represent each of the seven deadly sins, though I had trouble placing a couple of them (and frankly, “Lust” could apply to a bunch of them, eh?)
In any case, this was the role Blanc was born to play. A seductive, deadly succubus that wears a most ludicrous outfit whilst meting out appropriate punishments to each of the guests, in accordance with their evil deeds. Some of those set pieces are quite effective, and of course Blanc can pull off even the most absurd looks (I mean, that dress). Of course, the plot, which involves a family cursed by the succubus, makes absolutely no sense. I gather that the infanticide that opens the picture was meant to break the curse or something, but that doesn’t seem to take since the rest of the film, you know, happens. Then there’s the ending in which a seminarian makes a deal with the devil (played by the great Daniel Emilfork, who is channeling Max Schreck). Kinda. I think. I don’t really understand it. But I don’t think this is the sort of movie you try to understand. It’s the sort of movie where Erika Blanc plays a a sex-demon who throws one dude off the roof of a castle into a bunch of spikes that just happen to be on the grounds, then tries to seduce a priest. A lurid tale of Eurotrash satanism with gothic undertones, this one is certainly a garish sight to behold. **1/2
Alright, so I may have jumped the gun a bit on the whole Six Weeks of Halloween thing (this will technically be around 7 weeks), but I apologize for nothing. Stay tuned, next week we cover another obscure Scream Queen, Isabelle Adjani (whose titles are decidedly less lurid or trashy than Blanc’s)… and who knows, maybe some horror TV will show up at some point too…