Film Review: Count Dracula (1970)

Also known as: Dracula ’71 (alternative US title), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (complete title), Dracula (working title)
Release Date: April 3rd, 1970 (Germany)
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Written by: Augustino Finocchi, Peter Welbeck (English), Jesus Franco (Spanish), Carlo Fadda (Italian), Milo G. Cuccia (Italian), Dietmar Behnke (German)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Frederick Williams, Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda, Jack Taylor, Paul Muller, Jesus Puente

Filmar Compagnia Cinematografica, Fénix Cooperativa Cinematográfica, Corona Filmproduktion, 98 Minutes

Review:

“One of my race crossed the Danube and destroyed the Turkish host. Though sometimes beaten back, he came again and again then at the end he came again for he alone could triumph. This was a Dracula indeed.” – Count Dracula

Even though Christopher Lee had already played Dracula a half dozen times by 1970, I think it was hard for him to turn down this alternative take on the role, as Spanish director Jesus Franco wanted to make a film that was the closest version of Bram Stoker’s original literary work.

That being said, this is a pretty spot on adaptation of the novel but that also works against it, as a lot of this is boring, drawn out and more focused on drama, as opposed to horror.

The first act of the film is wonderful, well paced, decently acted and it seems to come off without a hitch. However, after that, the story moves at a snail’s pace and the only things in it that are worthwhile are the few scenes with Klaus Kinski as Renfield and the absolutely stunning beauty of Soledad Miranda, who unfortunately died way too young in real life and just barely scratched the surface of her potential.

Jesus Franco would go on to essentially make films that fit the porn category more than anything else but this one is very light on being sexually exploitative and maybe that’s due to Lee’s involvement.

The film is okay but mostly forgettable other than it existing as a Lee Dracula film that isn’t a part of the Hammer continuity.

It was shot and filmed in Spain and that kind of takes you out of the picture when it’s supposed to be set in Romania and England. Watching characters run through castles and streets full of desert sand is a bizarre thing to see in a Dracula film but I digress.

Ultimately, this was cool to see, as it allowed Lee to get more into the literary Dracula without the ham and cheese of the Hammer sequels. It felt closer to the original Hammer film than any of their sequels, as far as the Dracula character goes. However, it’s completely devoid of that Hammer charm, which made those films much more iconic and memorable.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Lee’s Dracula films from Hammer, as well as Jesus Franco’s other vampire movies.

Film Review: Operation Double 007 (1967)

Also known as: O.K. Connery (original title), Operation Kid Brother (US), Kid Brother (US informal title), Divided Evil (alternative title), Secret Agent 00 (Germany)
Release Date: April 20th, 1967 (Italy)
Directed by: Alberto De Martino
Written by: Paolo Levi, Frank Walker, Stanley Wright, Stefano Canzio
Music by: Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Agata Flori, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, Lois Maxwell, Yachuco Yama

Produzione D.S. (Dario Sabatello), 104 Minutes

Review:

“It’s going to blow up soon. Maybe even tomorrow. With you on board.” – Dr. Neil Connery, “You read too many novels by Fleming.” – Maya

As I’m getting close to finishing my quest of reviewing all the movies showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I saved one of the best pictures for last. That was partially by design, as I remembered seeing this years ago, was somewhat captivated by it and wanted to save something I liked (or was at least interested in) for the tail end of my long journey.

Since the Italians don’t give a crap about copyright law and make unofficial sequels to anything that made more than five lira at the box office, this film “borrows” pretty heavily from the James Bond franchise, which was super popular at the time.

While this film is parody and not a “sequel” it features some of the iconic actors from the early Bond films: Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Adolfo Celi (Emilio Largo, the main antagonist from Thunderball). Even nuttier than that, it features Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil, as the super spy hero.

It’s alluded to that he is the younger brother of the more famous spy but the similarities between the two men end there, as Neil doesn’t look the part nearly as well as Sean does and he kind of stumbles through the film without the confidence and panache of any of the actors that played legitimate James Bonds.

In fact, the younger Connery is completely overshadowed by the other actors on the screen, especially the ones that were in actual Bond movies. Celi steals the scenes he’s in and it’s cool seeing Lee and Maxwell here too but none of them can make this a salvageable picture.

The only real high point, apart from how bizarre this is, are the dozens of hot Italian women thrown onscreen simply because this is Italian schlock that is ripping off a franchise that puts a high emphasis on the tried and true ideology that sex sells. You should certainly be pleased with the amount of eye candy here and even if no one is really acting like they care, most of the women heavy scenes are playful, fun and lighthearted.

Comparing this to the typical films that were riffed on MST3K, this is actually one of the better ones even though it’s still a bit shit. It’s that good kind of shit though, especially for fans of the early years of the James Bond franchise.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s spy parody films.

Film Review: They Call Him Holy Ghost (1972)

Also known as: Uomo avvisato mezzo ammazzato… Parola di Spirito Santo (original Italian title), …Y le llamaban El Halcón (Spain), El halcón de Sierra Madre, Blazing Guns, Forewarned… Half-Killed… the Word of the Holy Ghost, His Name Was Holy Ghost
Release Date: March 30th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Written by: Tito Capri, Federico De Urrutia
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Gianni Garko, Pilar Velazquez

Astro C.C., Lea Film, 94 Minutes

Review:

They Call Him Holy Ghost is a film that sounded much cooler from its synopsis than what the final product actually was. IMDb describes the film as “Gianni Garko returns as the Holy Ghost, a supernatural gunfighter dressed in white and with a dove sitting on his shoulder.” Man, that sounds friggin’ badass.

Gianni Garko is a legendary spaghetti cowboy, a supernatural gunfighter sounds intriguing and a sidekick played by a white dove… well, why the hell not? Plus, one of the pictures I saw online had Garko’s Holy Ghost blasting off one of those giant machine guns that were synonymous with Django and other roles Franco Nero played.

Then the film started and the opening sequence was just purely f’n awesome! Evil men, people treated like garbage to the evil men’s amusement, then the just and righteous Holy Ghost shows up with his dove and a machine gun, drops some quirky dialogue and turns the bad guys into Swiss f’n cheese! Sadly, it all goes downhill from there, though.

For 94 minutes, the film is slower than it should be. I had hoped that this would be as energetic and nuts as the original 1966 Django but it was pretty talkie and actually quite goofy. Sure, it had some action but this picture evolved into more of a comedy as it progressed. In fact, the longer the film ran, the sillier it got to where the big finale was sort of like a spaghetti western reinterpreted by slapstick performers. This would have been a cool film to have seen in a realistic and gritty spaghetti style.

This movie was mostly enjoyable even if it went off the rails after it’s great opening. Gianni Garko is always fun to watch and he committed to this role very well but the schizophrenic tone pulled me out of the movie and turned potential into disappointment.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Any spaghetti western starring Gianni Garko.

Film Review: The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Also known as: La dama rossa uccide sette volte, lit. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italy), Feast of Flesh, Blood Feast, The Corpse Which Didn’t Want to Die (US alternate titles), Horror House (Germany)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Emilio Miraglia
Written by: Emilio Miraglia, Fabio Pittorru
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Sybil Danning

Phoenix Cinematografica, Romano Film, Traian Boeru, 98 Minutes

Review:

Italian giallo pictures were a sort of bridge between film-noir and slasher films. No, they really were. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a really good example of what I mean when I point that out.

This film is a murder mystery. These two wealthy sisters from a wealthy family have had a violent sibling rivalry their whole lives. There are parallels between them and the legend of the Black Queen and the Red Queen. The sister who is the modern version of the Black Queen believes that she is responsible for the death of her sister, who is believed to be the new incarnation of the Red Queen. Some time later, murders start to happen that are tied to the Red Queen persona. Did the sister somehow survive? Is the guilt-ridden sister in danger? The entire film is a well written mystery and not all that easy to figure out.

The Red Queen exists as a gimmicky, mysterious killer that wields sharp objects. She is a true slasher while the film itself is constructed like a film-noir.

While this giallo is not directed by Mario Bava or Dario Argento, it is still a giallo picture of the highest quality. This is a tremendously good murder mystery and it encompasses all the things that make a giallo spectacular: great cinematography, an emphasis on vivid colors and high contrast lighting, solid direction, insanely beautiful damsels and a cool unidentified killer.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a beautiful movie. Sure, it has blood and is full of unsavory acts but giallo movies could take the grotesque and turn it into a colorful and alluring cinema landscape. It is gritty, it is pretty and while it can feel fantastical, it doesn’t feel outside of the realm of possible reality.

More like noir and less like slashers, the film surrounds itself in opulence and beauty but that is typical of a giallo picture. Part of why this film works so well as a piece of art is because it is engulfed in lavishness and luxury.

It takes place in beautiful European locales and all the characters are models and involved in the fashion industry. It feels like a peek into high society but shows the underbelly and the hidden darkness that exists, even in the lives of those who are all smiles and diamonds, all the time. But the beauty is there to give contrast to the darkness and the grotesque and it’s how this all comes together that paints this moving canvas.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a fine giallo and one of the best I have seen that wasn’t directed by the maestros Bava and Argento. It also gives us a young Sybil Danning, who no straight man would turn away from.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

Release Date: November 3rd, 1966
Directed by: Rossano Brazzi
Written by: Paul Tripp
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Rossano Brazzi, Paul Tripp

Childhood Productions Inc., 93 Minutes, 89 Minutes (US)

Review:

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is a movie I could have gone my entire life not knowing about and I would have been just fine. So thanks for bringing it to my attention Mystery Science Theater 3000.

In this Christmas picture, the story is at least fairly unique. Santa Claus is about to be evicted from the North Pole because he can’t pay his rent. Somehow he just doesn’t have a good agent, I guess. Anyway, the Scrooge McDuck landlord tells him that he can stay, rent free. The catch is that he can no longer give toys to children. And that is basically the whole movie. What will Santa do? Spoiler alert: he isn’t real.

This is an Italian production so I guess it’s a spaghetti Christmas picture. The dubbing isn’t awful but it has a grainy and dirty spaghetti western look to it while being set in a snowy European town. The cinematography isn’t pretty but it is passable, as this is an Italian thing made on what one would assume is a pretty tight budget.

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t isn’t a Christmas classic by any means. You shouldn’t add it to your holiday film lineup. Even when it comes to bad and cheesy flicks about the Holidays, there are still so many better options. Although this does have to be lightyears ahead of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas and Santa’s Slay with 90s wrestler and former WCW world champion Bill Goldberg.

Rating: 2/10

Film Review: Run, Man, Run (1968)

Also known as: Corri uomo corri (Italy), Big Gundown 2
Release Date: August 29th, 1968 (Spain)
Directed by: Sergio Sollima
Written by: Sergio Sollima, Pompeo De Angelis
Music by: Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Tomas Milian, Donal O’Brien, Linda Veras, John Ireland, Chelo Alonso

Mancori-Chretien, Ital-Noleggio Cinematografico, 120 Minutes

run_man_runReview:

When I wrote my review for The Big Gundown, I mentioned that it would be cool to see the buddy formula continue between Tomas Milian and Lee Van Cleef. Well, there was officially a sequel and this is it.

The downside is that Lee Van Cleef is not in this movie. But at least we still get to see the continued adventures of Milian’s Cuchillo. Also, it does have a buddy adventure element to it with the addition of Donal O’Brien’s character but it still isn’t Van Cleef.

This film is the third and final spaghetti western from director Sergio Sollima. It is also his worst of the three. It is still a pretty fun and entertaining movie but it is mostly a rehash of the far superior The Big Gundown and a lot less thought provoking and impressive than Face to Face.

Tomas Milian is always great on-screen and he always killed it in spaghetti westerns. His performance here is no different but unlike most of his other films where he is surrounded by other great legends of the genre, he truly has to carry this film on his own. While he is perfectly capable of that, it just feels like something is missing when you’re used to seeing him have someone as equally as talented to bounce lines off of.

The movie also features a nice score from Ennio Morricone. He isn’t credited with the music due to some legal issues.

Run, Man, Run is fun and certainly worth a watch, especially for fans of The Big Gundown but don’t expect anything exceptional like Sollima’s previous western work. However, at the end of the day, this picture still sits well above the combined average of quality for the genre.

Plus, Cuchillo is a really fun character.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The ‘Sabata’ Trilogy (1969-1971)

The Sabata films were made during the height of the classic spaghetti western era.

All three films were directed by Gianfranco Parolini. He started the series just after he birthed the Sartana film franchise with his film If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death. That movie became a big hit but he was not brought on to direct the sequel (or any of the others after that).

The character of Sabata was then created and became a sort of spiritual successor to Parolini’s Sartana.

Sabata (1969):

Also known as: Ehi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!, roughly translated as Hey buddy … that’s Sabata, you’re finished! (Italy)
Release Date: September 16th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Marcello Giombini
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Pedro Sanchez, Aldo Canti, Linda Veras, Franco Ressel, Antonio Gradoli, Robert Hundar, Gianni Rizzo

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 102 Minutes

sabataReview:

The iconic Lee Van Cleef took on the role of Sabata and made it something spectacular. While his roles in the Sergio Leone films The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More are more widely known, I’ve always seen Sabata as his best role, overall. He was great in the Leone films and proved that he was a stellar actor but the character of Sabata showed Van Cleef having the most fun and thus, the character felt closer to the real man than the other roles.

Sabata is a bit gimmicky but that is what makes it unique. It is gimmicky done well.

The character of Sabata is a master trick shooter and he has all types of trick guns and wacky tools at his disposal. If you think he’s out of bullets, think again because there is a secret barrel in the gun handle or a tiny gun hidden away in an unorthodox place.

The first film is the best, by far. The plot was the strongest in the series and the cast of characters, many of whom return in different roles throughout the other films, just gelled so well in this installment.

The character of Banjo, played by William Berger, is an annoying yet awesome banjo-strumming minstrel who could be a villain or a hero. You never really know. And as for his banjo, it packs a surprise.

The effeminate villain Stengel, is the best baddie of the series. And his scheme is the most impressive out of all the criminals Sabata comes to face in the series.

This is Lee Van Cleef at his best and he looks like he is having a damned good time, as does everyone else. I just kind of wish the characters of Banjo, Carrincha and Alley Cat would have also gone on to be in the sequels. Their lack of presence in the later films, are one of the reasons why this is the superior movie of the three.

Rating: 8/10

Adiós, Sabata (1970):

Also known as: Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, roughly translated as Indio Black, you know what I’m going to tell you … You’re a big son of a …. (Italy)
Release Date: September 30th, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Yul Brynner, Dean Reed, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Joseph P. Persaud, Susan Scott

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 104 Minutes

adios_sabataReview:

The second film doesn’t star Lee Van Cleef. It stars Yul Brynner as the title character. While I like Brynner, Van Cleef’s portrayal of this character was so good in the first movie, that it just doesn’t work as well with a very different looking Brynner as the lovable Sabata.

The odd thing, is that Van Cleef turned the movie down as it conflicted with the filming of The Magnificent Seven Ride, where he was playing the character made famous by Yul Brynner. They could’ve just swamped films and both franchises wouldn’t have had character consistency issues.

Adiós, Sabata is still an enjoyable film. Despite Brynner not feeling like Sabata, looking at it as it’s own thing, it was well done and a good vehicle for Brynner.

The characters are less dynamic than the first film and the story just feels like a cookie cutter western plot that’s been seen a dozen times over but the spirit of the series is still alive.

And even though it is a better than decent movie, it is still quite forgettable other than it is wedged between the two Van Cleef films.

Rating: 6/10

Return of Sabata (1971):

Also known as: È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta, roughly translated as Sabata is back … to end another time (Italy)
Release Date: September 3rd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer)
Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Marcello Giombini
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Reiner Schone, Giampiero Albertini, Annabella Incontrera, Jacqueline Alexandre, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Aldo Canti, Vassili Karis

Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 100 Minutes

return_of_sabataReview:

Return of Sabata, in my opinion, has one of the most bad ass trailers of all-time. That’s why I am including it below instead of the trailer for the original movie.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to the amazingness of the trailer. It is several steps behind the original film and it isn’t as good as the Brynner one either, even though Lee Van Cleef is back to play Sabata.

The plot is very thin, the film is mostly boring. There are a few good action sequences but not a lot happens in this movie other than the cool stuff you can see in the trailer.

It was great seeing Van Cleef back and the character doesn’t let you down. The problem, is that the plot surrounding the character just isn’t there. It is nice to see more of the original Sabata, as it is usually great to revisit familiar characters. However, he didn’t have much to do and we’ve already seen him do all of his cool tricks. The gimmick has run its course.

The movie is worth a watch if you want to complete the series but you really aren’t missing much if you pass on it.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Mercenary (1968)

Also known as: Il mercenario (Italy)
Release Date: August 29th, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Spina, Adriano Bolzoni, Segio Corbucci, Franco Solinas, Giorgio Arlorio
Music by: Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Franco Nero, Tony Musante, Jack Palance, Giovanna Ralli

Produzioni Europee Associati (P.E.A.), Produzioni Associate Delphos S.p.A., Profilms 21, United Artists, 107 Minutes

themercenaryReview:

Sergio Corbucci’s The Mercenary is a very refined and well-executed spaghetti western affair. Then again, I have yet to see a Corbucci film that didn’t cut the mustard.

Corbucci once again uses his go-to guy, Franco Nero. Nero plays Sergei “Polack” Kowalski, a finely dressed mercenary who fights in the Mexican Revolution alongside Paco Ramon (played by Tony Musante).

Both of them make an enemy out of the villainous Curly – played by Jack Palance, who once played a more famous character also named “Curly”. It’s probably worth noting that Palance wears one of the greatest wigs I have ever seen in a film. Plus, Palance is perfectly evil and dastardly in this movie.

Giovanna Ralli plays the female lead in this film and she is otherworldly gorgeous.

The Mercenary is high energy through and through. It is a pretty straight forward Zapata western in style and tone. It isn’t as dark as Corbucci’s The Great Silence and it is more fleshed out than Django.

It is well-balanced between the action and the story. The action sequences also get really insane. The big shootout with the big guns towards the end is spectacular. The battle against the Mexican Army and the biplane is also great. There are a lot of stellar action sequences to behold in this picture.

The Mercenary has a lot of layers, which shows a maturing filmmaker in Corbucci. It also widened his already proud stance in the western genre. The Mercenary is anything but basic or generic. It has heart, spirit and a lot of testosterone.

Rating: 8/10