Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

I’ve touched on this before, but back in the early days of renting VHS and Beta tapes, you didn’t always get what you expected. Movies were retitled and given box cover art that was extremely misleading. One of the most common tricks was to make you think that a movie was brand new when it fact it was from ten or fifteen years earlier. This was not an entirely new trick. Movies were often distributed to drive-ins under new titles in the hopes that they would do better business than the first time they went out. Sometimes it wasn’t a question of the age of a movie, but rather the subject matter. A dull story with no violence or nudity could be retitled to sound like it was going to be the next Chained Heat (1983).

I used to tell people that Grace Jones was my favourite actress (if you’ve read my ode to her movie Vamp (1986), you will know what I’m talking about). So, when I found a VHS copy of something called Deadly Vengeance (1981) – starring Grace Jones – on the shelf of Star Time Foto Video – I told my friends we had to rent it. It was an oversized box mostly covered by a picture of Grace Jones’ face. “They Killed her lover. Now she wants revenge.” What could be better than that? We excitedly took it home and popped it into the VCR.

First of all, the movie appeared to be considerably older than the stated release date of 1981 (home drive-in crime #1). Secondly, Grace Jones was not playing the woman whose lover was killed – and more importantly, she was not playing the woman seeking “Deadly Vengeance” (home drive-in crime #2). Sadly, this was all too common in those early days of home video. If a famous actor (or not so famous actor, but maybe someone you might have heard of in passing once or twice) appeared in a movie for more than one second, sleazy distributors would paste his or her image and name all over the box cover. Sometimes the actor actually had a big part, but the film was made 20 years before they were famous and they looked completely different. No problem, the distributors would simply put a more recent and recognizable photo of the actor on the cover.

In the case of Deadly Vengeance, Grace Jones was very young, and did not have her iconic ’80s look. She was almost unrecognizable to us, and her part was very small. She played the girlfriend of the main bad guy. But as I recall it, we only saw her in one or two brief scenes. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But according to one internet source, Grace’s part was INCREASED for this 1981 release. Increased? How small could it have originally been? The same source claims that Deadly Vengeance is a re-edited combination of two much older films: Dirty Tricks (1972) and Sweet Vengeance [1970]. Those older films were apparently X-rated, whereas Deadly Vengeance was rated R. I do seem to recall extended (soft core) sex scenes in it, so it’s not hard to imagine that there could have been a more explicit version (or versions). Just for the record, Grace Jones is not listed as being in either of those earlier films, so I guess her part was INCREASED, as in ADDED to this version. Not sure what the real story is, but needless to say, the Grace Jones fan in me was not too thrilled by this movie rental experience (extreme sleaziness notwithstanding).

A while back, I wrote about how I originally discovered giallo movies – and it was basically a result of this kind of home video false advertising. The movies were packaged like 1980s slasher films, when it fact they were 1960s or ’70s giallos. As it turned out, I was very pleased to discover those films, and giallos have become one of very favourite things to screen at the home drive-in.

Last week I decided to watch a giallo that I had never seen before, The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975). It was directed by Sergio Martino, who made many excellent movies, including some top notch giallos like All the Colours of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and Torso (1973). I was quite surprised to discover that The Suspicious Death of a Minor, despite its very giallo-esque title and poster art, is not really a giallo. It does have some moments that are very giallo-like, and the opening sequence seems to fit that description, but the movie quickly turns into more of a poliziotteschi, or Italian crime film. More surprising than that, the movie takes on a tone that is quite comical – almost slapstick comedy at times. But perhaps the most amazing thing of all, is that it really works.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a very entertaining movie. Claudio Cassinelli gives an amazing performance as our hero, Paolo Germi. We don’t know this at first (and perhaps this is a mild SPOILER), but Germi is a police officer as unorthodox as Dirty Harry, only much more comical. There were several scenes that had me laughing at loud as I watched Germi’s way of dealing with obstacles and enemies. In spite of the humorous tone, the movie also manages to deliver some legitimately suspenseful and even scary moments. It may not be a horror film like Torso, but I did not feel cheated by the almost bait and switch style plot maneuverings that take us from giallo to poliziotteschi, to slapstick comedy. A lot of directors would have fallen on their face attempting such a mash-up, but Martino somehow pulled it off, and I am glad that he did. 

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975) was not at all what I expected, but it managed to deliver a wildly entertaining #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It is a unique example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that doesn’t quite fit into any of the usual categories, but somehow feels completely right. You can rest assured that I will be screening it again in the not too distant future.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973)

Back in May of 2020, I wrote about my first cinematic encounters with Klaus Kinski. I may or may not have said it then, but whenever I see Klaus Kinski’a name in the credits of a movie, it is always an added incentive for me to watch it. I don’t think I have ever made mention of Ewa Aulin. In fact, I don’t recall ever having heard or seen the name Ewa Aulin prior to watching Death Smiles on a Murderer (1973) last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. This may not quite be true, as I have seen at least one of her other performances. She only has eighteen listed on the IMDb, but one of the titles sticks out like no other: Candy (1968).

I have not seen Candy, but I am very familiar with it. This is mainly because I read the book by Terry Southern (and Mason Hoffenberg). Don’t ask me why, as I had never heard of it or Terry Southern at the time. I think I picked up five paperbacks for dollar in some used bookstore and Candy was one of them. It was amusing, but I can’t say that I particularly loved it.

Then a few years later I saw VHS Collector’s Editions of the movie version of Candy and I was surprised that it even existed. I was tempted to buy it, as I have always been a sucker for nice looking Collector’s Editions of movies – even ones that I had never heard of…

I didn’t buy it, because I recalled not loving the book, and most often when people see movie adaptations of books they say “The book was better.” So if the book was better than this movie, I didn’t think I needed to see it.

A few years later, I met a nice old lady in New York who told me that a relative of hers had once produced a terrible movie that had embarrassed his whole family – and it was called Candy. I told her that I knew about Candy and she was amazed.

“I haven’t seen it,” I told her.

“Don’t” she said.

But this is really another story. My point is that I probably saw the name Ewa Aulin on the nice VHS box of Candy, but if I did, I don’t remember.

Incidentally, Terry Southern was a successful writer who, among other things, co-wrote Easy Rider (1969) with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda (which is a favourite of mine) and The Cincinnati Kid (1965) which is a very good movie. So, he was clearly a good writer. And I don’t mean to suggest that Candy was a bad book. It was very popular and I’m sure some people loved it. Somehow it just didn’t speak to me.

Oddly enough, many years later I was writing a play for a major Canadian theatre, and they put me together with a dramaturge who they thought could help me “shape my play into something that would work in their theatre”. The dramaturge read my latest draft and said:

“This seems to be a picaresque story.”

“A what?” I said.

He went on to explain, in his own words, what that was. I can’t recall exactly what he said, but Dictionary.com defines it as “an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.”

This did describe my play quite well, actually.

The dramaturge went on to mention that the French novel Candide by Voltaire, was an example. As he talked about the book, it slowly dawned on me that Candy was a version of Candide.

I’ll be damned, I thought. Maybe there was more to that book than I had realized. Maybe I needed to read it again…

I never have. But I do want to see the movie – especially now that I’ve seen Ewa Aulin in Death Smiles on a Murderer

Death Smiles on a Murderer was directed by Joe D’Amato, who had primarily been a director of photography early in his career. He started directing movies under assumed names, because he didn’t want to jeopardize his reputation as a cinematographer. He started with spaghetti westerns, then did some comedies – always under other names. The first horror film he made was Death Smiles on a Murderer – and he used his real name, Aristide Massaccesi! For some reason he continued to make horror films but under the name Joe D’Amato. D’Amato became known for gore films like Beyond the Darkness (1979) and Antropophagus (1980), as well as erotic films like Emanuelle in America (1977) and  Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980), which obviously crossed over with horror.

In fact, D’Amato made over a hundred hard core erotic films as well. He has a total of 196 directing credits on the IMDb. Quite remarkable. I’ve seen a number of his films, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface of his total output. I was excited to finally get a chance to see his first horror film, Death Smiles on a Murderer last week, and it didn’t disappoint me.

I had been expecting it to be a giallo, and it does have some very giallo-like moments, but it is more of a gothic horror story at heart. It’s also got a very unpredictable plot, with a few unusual twists and turns. It’s hard to say exactly what it is, and yet somehow it works.

The atmosphere and the cinematography are top notch, and the film features several nods to Edgar Allan Poe, which are always welcome.

I don’t want to say too much more about it, because I believe it’s better to go in not knowing what to expect. If you’re a fan of Joe D’Amato, Klaus Kinski, horror films, giallos, Ewa Aulin, or movies that are hard to categorize, give this one a shot. It’s a certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Double Face (1969)

I’m not sure when I first saw Klaus Kinski in a movie. It could well have been Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970). I saw several versions of Dracula on TV when I was young, and I’m sure that it would have been one of them. But my memories of that are, to say the least, hazy. I remember seeing the movie box of Jack the Ripper (1976), also by Jess Franco, every time I went to my local video store. It intrigued me, but somehow I didn’t rent it until I was an adult. I did take notice of the name Klaus Kinski, and the images of him on the box. I think I had already heard of him, through reviews of movies like Fitzcarraldo (1982) on Siskel & Ebert’s TV show. I also remember seeing the box for Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), which I think I had likewise seen reviewed by Siskel & Ebert. But much like Jack the Ripper, I did not see the movie itself until years later. 

For some reason, I distinctly remember seeing (part of?) a movie called Buddy Buddy (1981) on TV when it was first aired. My mom has always been a fan of Jack Lemmon (and Walter Matthau, I suppose), so she was watching the movie. I think I just wandered into the room at some point and got pulled into it. It was the story of a suicidal man (Jack Lemmon) who stumbles into a awkward friendship with a professional killer (Walter Matthau). Lemmon’s wife is leaving him for a crazy, cult-leader-like doctor named Zuckerbrot – played by Klaus Kinski. I really enjoyed this offbeat movie, and Klaus Kinski made an impression on me as the crazy doctor. 

Later, I rented movies like Schizoid (1980), in which Kinski plays a psychiatrist who may or may not be murdering his patients, and Crawlspace (1986), which presents Kinski as the demented son of a Nazi surgeon, who may be killing people in his apartment building. I was starting to recognize a possible pattern in Klaus Kinski’s performances…

I should also note that I saw him in movies like The Soldier (1982) and Creature (1985), which I rented in my junior high school days. I also saw him in Marquis de Sade’s Justine (1969) on late night TV. It is yet another film directed by Jess Franco, and Kinski plays the titular Marquis (a role that seems to fit nicely with the mad doctor type characters I had come to expect from him). 

David Schmoeller, the director of Crawlspace, made a short (9 minute) film about the making of that movie called Please Kill Mr. Kinski (1999). It’s quite an amazing personal account of what it was like to work with Klaus Kinski – and somehow also fits perfectly with the kind of characters Kinski would create on screen. If you have not seen it, seek it out and give it a shot.

Double Face (1969) is a movie that I had never even heard of, prior to finding the (relatively) brand new Blu-ray from Arrow Video. I have always enjoyed Klaus Kinski’s performances – plus this movie had the look of a giallo, which is always a good sign to me – so I decided to take a chance on it. 

It’s not a hard core giallo, as it lacks many of the typical tropes of that genre. It’s almost more like a classic film noir, or crime story. I’m not terribly familiar with the krimi genre, but as Double Face is a German co-production (with Italy) it may well be an example of that. It should perhaps be noted that Lucio Fulci is one of the credited writers on this film, and he made a couple of my favourite giallos: Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971). Perhaps if he had directed Double Face, it would have been more giallo-like. 

In any case, I enjoyed Double Face quite a bit. I’m just as big a fan of old fashioned film noir as I am of giallos, so it’s no problem if this film falls a little more on the noir-ish side of the spectrum. Klaus Kinski is great in this film, but he is not playing a crazy mad doctor. In fact, he is much more the leading man hero type (although slightly on edge due to circumstances). He is perfect as the (relatively) normal man caught up in extraordinary and mysterious circumstances. His sanity will be called into question before the movie is done, and you may find yourself wondering (as is so often the case in a Klaus Kinski film) if he is in fact a murderer.

The music, the production design, the atmosphere of swinging London in 1969 are all reasons to enjoy this movie – at least they were for me. I am very pleased to add it to my #NotQuiteClassicCinema library. And I find myself wondering what other obscure films starring Klaus Kinski I shall one day discover on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday night at the home drive-in: The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)

While working on this blog post, I kept being warned that I was running an old version of PHP (?) and that I needed to update it. When I looked into how to do this, I was advised that I should make sure that everything (my themes, my plugins, etc.) were all updated so they were less likely to break down when I upgrade the PHP. So, I went ahead and updated all of the things that claimed to need an update.

The administrative dashboard of my blog disappeared. As one person put it, I was left staring at a “white screen of death.” Something had clearly gone wrong, but I couldn’t do anything about it because I couldn’t access my dashboard.

To make a long story short, I had to remove all of my plugins (from the safe distance of the root folders on my hosting site) to get my dashboard back. I was able to restore most of the plugins, but some of them had to be trashed as they would no longer play nicely with my blog. You may notice that my share buttons look a little different now.

So, I was finally able to get back to the business at hand, which was to continue writing this week’s Friday night at the home drive-on post. But when I opened it up, things looked very different. I had started the post a few days ago, but now I couldn’t see the embedded tweet at the top of the screen. All it was showing me was the link to the tweet. I tried looking in Preview mode but it still only showed me the link.

I should also mention that when I first opened the editor I was welcomed to “blocks”. It seemed like a whole new way of constructing a blog post. Every paragraph is inside it’s own “block”. The link to my tweet is also inside a block. Maybe this is the problem? Or maybe there’s something else going on. Hopefully I will be able to resolve it. But just in case things looks wind up looking a little wonky, now you’ll know why.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971) is an entertaining giallo that I have never seen before. But as I said in a previous post, I’ve made it a mission to seek out and watch giallos ever since first discovering them in the haunted castle of an old video store of my youth. This one was made by Sergio Martino, the prolific Italian director of such cinematic delights as  All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), & Torso (1972) – boy that was a good year for Sergio, wasn’t it? Later, he made the revered spaghetti western A Man Called Blade (1977) and the sleazy jungle adventure Slave of the Cannibal God (1978). Let’s face it, the man has an oeuvre to admire.

Is The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail his best movie? Probably not. But it’s a good, solid giallo that keeps you guessing and has a fair amount of sleazy eye candy on display. Interestingly, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is an earlier film (1971) than the other ones I mentioned. Perhaps Martino was merely ramping up to do his some of his best work the very next year. Or perhaps he’d already done it with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971). Maybe the next time I watch The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, I will declare it to be my personal favourite, and the best of the bunch. You never know with #NotQuiteClassicCinema – some of it creeps up on you like a giant carpet monster from outer space. You don’t realize how great it is until it’s rolled right over you – several times. 

P.S. — I had to use a screenshot of my tweet at the top of this post. Still can’t get the embedding to work. I guess that’s progress…

Friday night at the home drive-in: Watch Me When I Kill (1977)

I have always been a fan of horror films, and slasher films in particular. I saw movies like Halloween (1978) and Terror Train (1980) when they first appeared on TV, and they made a strong impression. But it wasn’t every day that respectable TV stations would show movies like that. And I was too young to get in to see most of them in the theatre. Home video was a life-changer for a kid like me. Not only did stores like Jumbo Video have a Horror Castle (which was a room filled with hundreds of horror films on VHS and Beta), the clerks who worked in those stores never stopped me or my friends from renting R-rated movies when we were 12 or 13.

We quickly discovered that even though movies had shiny new boxes, with custom made artwork, the films inside were sometimes a lot older than they were made to look. Occasionally we would rent what appeared to be a brand new slasher film, only to discover that it was in fact an old (1960s or early 1970s) Italian movie about a series of murders. Stylistically, these movies were very different from slasher films, and we often felt disappointed when we inadvertently wound up watching one on a Friday night.

Years later I discovered that these movies were called giallos (if you are unfamiliar with that term, go here for a detailed explanation). To my untrained eye, at that time, giallos were basically violent murder mysteries.

As I got older, I started to appreciate these giallos a lot more. Instead of being disappointed when I bought an old VHS tape and discovered a giallo inside, I would get excited. I actually started to look for them, reading the small print on the back of  boxes looking for clues. If the program content was dated 1960s or 70s, that was good sign. If there were a lot of Italian names in the credits, that was a very good sign. This is how I came to purchase VHS tapes with titles like Virgin Terror – which turned out to be an Italian movie called Enigma rosso or Red Rings of Fear (1978). 

 

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Watch Me When I Kill (1977) was another movie that fit into this category. I remember the VHS tape kicking around, but I had never rented it. This was largely due to negative reviews I had read in books I trusted. But the authors had panned the movie for the same reason that my friends and I had been disappointed by some of our rentals;  it was not what it pretended to be (a slasher film). When I was 12 or 13, I would have agreed whole-heartedly. How dare this old, dubbed, murder mystery pretend to be like Prom Night or My Bloody Valentine? But by the time I was an adult, my attitude had changed. Still, I somehow managed to never see Watch Me When I Kill (1977). Never, that is, until I picked up a nice DVD edition on my travels last week. I figured a viewing was long overdue, and I was willing to take a chance that it was a movie I would be happy to have in my collection. I was not disappointed. 

Giallos are a bit like slasher films in that even the “bad” ones are still entertaining (at least to me). And although I never saw one on Not Quite Classic Theatre, I did literally discover giallos at the Home Drive-in (my local video store) back in the glory days of home video. And as such, they will aways be a welcome addition to my #NotQuiteClassicCinema library.