The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Ghost Galleon (dir by Amando de Ossorio)


The Blind Dead are back and this time, they’re on a boat!

Yes, you read that correctly.  1974’s The Ghost Galleon is the third film in Spanish director Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead series.  The decaying and blind Knight Templar are back and they’re just as evil and blood thirsty as they were in both Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Evil Dead.  However, this time, they’re on a boat.  What are they doing on a boat?  Apparently, they’re guarding some sort of Satanic treasure chest and they’re killing and eating anyone who makes the mistake of boarding their boat.

That means that this is the first Blind Dead film to not feature any scenes of the Blind Dead riding their horses in slow motion.  That may not sounds like much but the absence of those horses is definitely felt.  The Blind Dead on horses are a metaphor for everything from political tyranny to religious oppression.  The Blind Dead on a boat are still scary but now they’re also vaguely silly.

And yet, the Blind Dead on a boat is not the silliest part of the film!  The Ghost Galleon starts out with two models lost at sea.  Apparently, they were hired by a businessman and aspiring politician named (in the version released in America, anyway) Howard Tucker (Jack Taylor).  Howard is a boat manufacturer and he felt it would be great publicity if the models took one of his boats out into the ocean and pretended to get stranded.  Apparently, Howard felt that this would convince the public that they could live for weeks in one of his speedboats if they needed to…

No, I’m not making that up.  That’s the plot of the damn film.

ANYWAY — the models get stranded for real but suddenly, here comes a big, dark, old timey galleon.  It’s just floating out in the middle of the ocean and it appears to be surrounded by a very thick fog.  Naturally, the models decide to leave their boat for the galleon because why stay somewhere vaguely safe when you can get on a big, scary, evil looking galleon?

Now the models are missing and Howard needs to get his boat back.  So, he and his evil henchman get yet another model to sail out to the middle of the ocean with them.  Also accompanying them is a historian/scientist guy, who is mostly there because the film will later need him to fill in the backstory of the Blind Dead…

Now, I know that it probably sounds like I’m being supercritical of the third Blind Dead film but actually, it kind of works.  The key is not to worry about logic, consistency, or anything you learned about at that screenwriting workshop.  Instead, simply accept The Ghost Galleon as being the equivalent of a filmed nightmare.  For everything that the film lacks in logic, it makes up for in atmosphere.  (Let’s just say that the fog machine gets quite a workout.)  And while it may not make much sense for them to be on a boat, the Blind Dead are just as scary, evil, and merciless as ever.

Add to that, the film has a great ending.  I won’t spoil it here but I will say that the film’s final shot makes up for a lot of what you have to sit through in order to reach it.

The Ghost Galleon should not be the first Blind Dead film that you see.  (Unfortunately, it can be found in several ultra cheap box sets, complete with a bad transfer and spotty soundtrack.)  But if you’ve seen Tombs of the Blind Dead and Return of the Evil Dead, you should also see The Ghost Galleon.  If nothing else, it proves the de Ossorio could get results with even the most ludicrous of premises.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #34: Nightmares Come At Night (dir by Jess Franco)

nightmarescome2big For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the process of reviewing 126 cinematic melodramas.  Embracing the Melodrama Part Two started in 1927 with a look at Sunrise and now, 33 reviews later, we’ve finally reached the 70s.  And what else can I say about that other than to exclaim, “Yay!”

Seriously, a lot of good films were released in the 1970s.

We begin the 70s by taking a look at a film from the iconic and (to some people) infamous Spanish director Jess Franco.  Over the course of 54 years, director Jesus Franco Manera was credited with directing 203 films.  In all probability, the workaholic Franco directed a lot more than he’s been credited with.  As I wrote about Franco in my previous review of Female Vampire: “Among critics, Franco is usually either dismissed as a total hack (and/or pervert) or embraced as the living embodiment of the auteur theory.  Though no one’s quite sure how many films Franco has directed, Franco himself has estimated that he’s directed more than 200 films and, for the most part, he has financed and distributed them all on his own.  Franco has worked in every genre from thriller to comedy to hardcore pornography, but he is probably best known for directing low-budget, occasionally atmospheric erotic horror films.”

Now, I have to admit that I feel a little guilty about using a paragraph from an old review in a new review.  (And, as you may have noticed, I reviewed Female Vampire before Franco passed away in 2013.)  But, then again, it feels somewhat appropriate because Franco was famous for and unapologetic about taking bits and pieces of old and unfinished films and inserting them into new films.  That’s certainly the case with his 1970 film Nightmares Come At Night.

Nightmares Come At Night opens with Anna (Diana Lorys) living in an atmospheric mansion with her lover, Cynthia (Colette Giacobine).  Anna is haunted by frequent nightmares where she sees herself killing strange men with a spear.  Cynthia arranges for Anna to talk to an enigmatic doctor (Paul Muller).  Anna tells the doctor about how she was once a famous erotic dancer until she met Cynthia.  At this point, we get several lengthy flashbacks of Anna dancing in an oddly desolate club, all of which adds to the film’s ennui-drenched atmosphere.

Talking to the doctor doesn’t do Anna much good and she continues to have her nightmares except now the nightmares also seem to feature men giving lengthy monologues.  It soon becomes obvious that the neurotic Anna is being held as a virtual prisoner in the house by the dominating Cynthia.

(It’s a bit like a Lifetime movie, except everyone’s naked for 85% of the film’s running time.)

Meanwhile, we occasionally get shots of two people staring out of an unrelated window.  Eventually, we realize that they’re supposed to be Cynthia’s neighbors.  One of them is played by Franco’s frequent muse, Soledad Miranda.  (Miranda would tragically die in an automobile accident in 1970.)  Anyone who is familiar with Franco’s work will immediately notice that Miranda’s look in Nightmares was later duplicated by Lina Romay in Female Vampire.  The neighbors are obsessed with Anna.  As the film progresses, we discover that, when not looking out the window, they spend most of their time lying on a filthy mattress.  At one point, the camera zooms in for a close-up of the graffiti that’s been written on the wall over the mattress.

LIFE IS ALL SHIT, it reads.

To a certain extent, it’s pointless to say that Nightmares Come At Night is a disjointed film because almost all of Franco’s films were disjointed.  That’s actually what gave even the weakest of his films an odd and memorably dreamlike feel.  But Nightmares Come At Night is even more disjointed than usual.  That’s because Nightmares Come At Night was made out of a mix of footage shot for other films.  The scenes with Soledad Miranda were for an earlier, unfinished film.  Those scenes were combined with the footage of Anna, Cynthia, and the doctor.  The end result is a film that doesn’t necessarily much sense but you still have to admire Franco’s refusal to let any footage go to waste.

Ultimately, as with so many Franco films, Nightmares Come At Night is less about plot and all about atmosphere.  This is a film that is full of ennui and existential decadence.  It’s not one of Franco’s best films but, much like last year’s underrated California Scheming, it’s a bit of a minor existential classic when taken on its own terms.

(Please note: the trailer below is mildly NSFW.  Watch at your own risk.)

The Daily Grindhouse (Horror Edition): Female Vampire (dir. by Jess Franco)

My wonderful and loyal readers, I fear that I have failed you.  How is it, with my love of both grindhouse and Eurosleaze cinema, that I have yet to review a Jess Franco film on the site?  Halloween seems to be the perfect time to correct that oversight by taking a look at Franco’s infamous 1973 horror film, Female Vampire.

To truly “appreciate” a film like Female Vampire, it helps to know a little something about Jess Franco.  Working under a variety of pseudonyms, Spanish-born Jesus Franco Manera has been making films for over 60 years.   Among critics, Franco is usually either dismissed as a total hack (and/or pervert) or embraced as the living embodiment of the auteur theory.  Though no one’s quite sure how many films Franco has directed, Franco himself has estimated that he’s directed more than 200 films and, for the most part, he has financed and distributed them all on his own.  Franco has worked in every genre from thriller to comedy to hardcore pornography, but he is probably best known for directing low-budget, occasionally atmospheric erotic horror films like Female Vampire.

The opening of Female Vampire pretty much epitomizes everything that people love and hate about Jess Franco as a director.  The film begins with a series of ominous shots of a misty forrest.  The forest feels both beautiful and desolate at the same time and Franco’s camera lingers over the fog, building up an atmosphere of both mystery and melancholy.  Suddenly, we see one lone figure walking through the forest.  Irina (played by frequent Franco star Lina Romay) emerges from the fog, naked except for a cape and a belt.  The camera follows Irina as she walks through the mist.  When Irina stops and faces the audience, the camera zooms in to a close-up of her face and her body.  While Franco’s aim here is obviously to cater t0 the sexual fantasies of his predominately male audience, it’s still a remarkably strong scene because Romay faces the camera with such confidence that her nudity feels less like exploitation and more like empowerment.  (Romay was, like me, a self-described exhibitionist.)  Once Franco’s camera zooms away from Irina, she then starts to confidently approach the camera (and the audience as well).  She gets closer and closer to the camera until finally … she accidentally bumps her head on the lens.

That, for lack of a better example, totally sums the aesthetic of Jess Franco.  When you watch a Franco film, you’re left with the impression that Franco simply turned on the camera and recorded whatever happened to happen in front of it.  Occasionally, he managed to capture something unique and dramatic and just as often, he filmed someone bumping into the equipment or staring straight at the camera.  Whether he liked the spontaneity that came from an unexpected mistake or he just didn’t have enough money in his budget to do a second take, Franco would more often than not include these mistakes in his final film.

As for the rest of Female Vampire, it’s eventually established that. along with being a vampire, Irina is a countess and also a mute.  (At one point, we do hear her inner thoughts, a monologue in which she tells us, “I earnestly wish an end would come to this bloody race I am forced to run.”)  Several different cuts of Female Vampire have been released over the years and depending on which version you see, Irina either has to either regularly drink blood or drink semen in order to survive.  (“It was as if his potency was sucked out of him,” as the coroner puts it.)

While Irina spends all of her time wandering around a depressing resort town and seducing various victims, a poet (Jack Taylor) searches for her.  This poet — who spends a lot of time staring off into the distance and delivering inner monologues about walking down this road we call life — is determined that he and Irina are meant to be together.

There are many different version of Female Vampire currently in circulation.  For instance, a heavily-edited version was released in the U.S. as The Bare-Breasted Countess.   While Franco’s director’s cut lasts close to two hours, there are other versions that barely clock in at 70 minutes.  There’s a hard-core version, a soft-core version, and even a version that features close to no sex at all.  The version I saw was the DVD released by Image Entertainment.  That version is reportedly close to Franco’s original.

As is typical for a Franco film, not much happens in Female Vampire and what does happen doesn’t make much sense.  But, oddly enough, that actually worked in the film’s favor.  By ignoring things like plot and logic and by focusing on the film’s visuals, Franco made a film that literally feels like a dream.  Every scene is filled with an atmosphere of pure ennui and, when coupled with charisma of Lina Romay and Jack Taylor,  the end result is a film that’s strangely compelling.