Psychotronic Ketchup: An International Trio of "B" B-Movies

There is a swimming pool in the British non-chiller Beware, My Brethren [aka The Fiend] that gets befouled with a creepy sex murder (or it's simply creepy because of the sickly thin, underwear-clad murderer who commits the crime) in much the same way that the film befouled my brain with inanity, horrible music and poor craftsmanship. As the more-than-stubborn cult leader whose relentless brainwashing has given rise to the reign of terror of this pasty-skinned fiend, Patrick Magee (the aged writer with the too-hot-for-Alex-to-deal-with-it wife from A Clockwork Orange) lends his mugging, manic presence to this film, and the best that can be said of his casting is “Well, there’s that guy.” Because, despite the feeling that this film could actually get good or even interesting at about thirty points in its length, the most one can hope for is familiar sites to make the trip a little less numbing. There are also a handful of disrobings, but the early 70's London birds are a mixed lot, and for every one that catches the eye, there is another that makes you hope the fiend will kill the casting director instead. All of this is topped off by the horrendous cacophony emanating from the church's choir. It's simply amazing how many instruments a church organ can sound like when employed to its full potential by a truly talented musician. Quite literally, an entire band kicks in underneath the vocals after a while, and I can't help but wonder if, at some point in the film's development, that they were considering doing a full-fledged musical, perhaps a sicko gore version of Godspell. Overall, I just wanted to see this film done instead by the Italians, who would at least have executed the murder sequences and ultimate chase scene with a bit more zip. And hotter women... (By the way, the image on the DVD cover at right is bogus; it is a modern image done by the DVD company. Note the en vogue "gothy" makeup.)

Is it fault of The Blancheville Monster that it just isn’t quite Black Sunday? If so, shouldn’t it also be the fault of all horror films post-1960, and not just Italian ones? Not every film can be so lucky as to have a master like Mario Bava
behind the wheel, and frankly, even many of the films that did have him weren’t all that swell outside of their design and camera aspects anyway. So, when an Italian horror film seems to wish to capture the same audience that was thrilled just three years earlier by the Barbara Steele masterpiece, should we fault it for not quite being up to the task? Rest assured, the elements of a B-movie classic are all there in Blancheville (also known simply as Horror – weirdly, the credits actually boast both titles) for a classic frightfest: a dark and mysterious castle; a deliciously somber surrounding forest; a blonde, bosomy ingénue; a wealth of supporting characters who may or may not be responsible for driving said ingénue slowly insane; and a hot brunette serving the nurse’s role while provocatively remaining dressed slightly like an amateur dominatrix. There is also quite possibly a monster loose in the castle, and it could possibly turn out to be the reanimated corpse of the heroine’s father. Even more, there might be a shadowy cult behind the proceedings. There are some very well-staged shots given the general low-budget of the production, and the acting is suitable to the material, sometimes even better. But the film itself is only sporadically engaging, and gets caught up a little too much in droning dialogue, when perhaps simply pressing to the next shock might be better. It’s a tough act in horror – one usually wishes for more character development, but here, the film gets doused a little too deeply in what should be that desired element. Overall, though, I enjoyed its miserable and damning atmosphere – gee, I must be a Poe fan – even if the finished product is less than it aspires to be.

Back in the States, future cult director Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop) took an early crack in his 1959 directorial debut at his own monster epic, The Beast From Haunted Cave, jamming it somewhat sloppily together
with a tough-guy heist drama (somewhat like From Dusk Till Dawn, only without the jarring genre-jump in the middle). But we are in low-budget Corman-Land, so even minute amounts of ambition and innovation are deeply appreciated when they arise (which, as it turns out, they often do in Corman productions, despite the reputation). This one never quite rises past the stiff acting of about half its cast, and if you are going to have a gun moll as the heroine, get one that doesn't look like she was hit by a truck full of Clairol just before filming. What? Is the hero ski instructor that much into syphilis and hacker's cough? He's surrounded by hottie bimbos at the ski resort, but he decides to go for Miss Barfly of 1943? There's no telling with these get-away-from-civilization types... Speaking of that type, the poor vampiric creature with the spidery webs and limbs that haunts the titular cave is absolutely right in setting its wrath on the gang of robbers that disturb its nest. We can look now at the cheap special effects and laugh knowingly, but I imagine that at the time of its release, the monster sequences were actually rather shocking. I have a primal reaction to some of them, and have encountered others who have spoken of the nightmares this film instilled in their youth. I saw it years ago, but barely remember it; even so, when the attack scenes occurred in this new viewing, my memories jolted forth and I instantly realized that I had been affected by them as a wee lad. Perhaps I chose to shut them out, or they melded with all of the other things that scared me at that age. Often this will lead me to wax nostalgic even further, and maybe give the film more credit than its due. Here, though, there is enough of a sensation that the monster scenes seem to be jury-rigged into the film to make it not a fully engrossing experience. This makes it only an OK effort: subpar as the crime drama that takes up 75% of the screen time, but engaging in its handful of eerie monster bits. It's more than the cave that is haunted; this film is haunted by a much better film lurking mostly unseen behind its faulty structure.

Beware, My Brethren [The Fiend]
Dir: Robert Hartford-Davis // English, 1972 [DVD]

Cinema 4 Rating: 3


The Blancheville Monster [Horror]
Dir: Alberto de Martino // Italian, 1963 [DVD]

Cinema 4 Rating: 6


The Beast from Haunted Cave
Dir: Monte Hellman // 1959 [DVD]

Cinema 4 Rating: 5

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