Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

Poster for Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) by #JavierAguirre
w/#PaulNaschy #RosannaYanni #VíctorBarrera

A hunchback working in a morgue falls in love with a sick woman. He goes berserk when she dies and seeks help from a scientist to bring her back from the dead.

Beware The Hunchback! A freak of nature whose crimes go beyond your wildest terrors!

#Horror #SciFi
#NotQuiteClassicCinema
#FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

I remember renting Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) on VHS back in the late ’80s or early ’90s – mainly because I thought it looked insane. I don’t think I was disappointed. This was before I’d seen movies like Bloodsucking Freaks (1976), so my bar for insanity may have been somewhat lower (or should I say higher…?) I had never heard of Paul Naschy at that point – or maybe only in passing. I was really just beginning to explore the video fringes, looking for the weirdest, most wanton and wonderful cinema ever produced… So this was probably a seminal viewing experience for me.

Having grown up watching movies like Halloween (1978), Terror Train (1980) and The Amityville Horror (1979), I was somewhat amazed and possibly even freaked out by the grungier, grimier cinema that I started to discover. I may have mentioned this when I talked about another film I saw back then called Scream Bloody Murder (1972). Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) is by no means the grungiest horror film out there, but it seemed, at the time, to be a little bit grungier than usual to me.

I liked it, but it didn’t seem like a movie I would watch over and over again like Halloween. Although, I think I saw it one more time a few years later when a friend of mine brought it over and said “Have you ever seen this?”

I’m not sure…” I answered. In reality, I was pretty sure that I had, but he can be funny about that and refuse to watch movies with me if he thinks I’ve already seen them. “If I have,” I continued, “I don’t remember much about it.” This part was true. The movie was a bit of a blur to me, and I was curious to take another look at it. So we watched it, and I think we both enjoyed it, too.

VHS tape of Human Beasts (1980)As the years went by, I read about Paul Naschy in various books and started to watch other films that he starred in – or sometimes directed. I’ve even picked up a few and added them to my collection. I bought a VHS tape called Human Beasts (1980) – which didn’t have much information on it all. It turned out to be a Paul Naschy movie called El carnaval de las bestias or Cannibal Killers – Human Beast and it was a truly mind-blowing viewing experience –  but that’s another story…

For some reason, I had never picked up a copy of Hunchback of the Morgue – until quite recently when I found a reasonably priced copy of the The Paul Naschy Collection II on Blu-ray. The very first movie in the box is Hunchback of the Morgue, and I was excited to see it again for the first time in almost 20 years…

In some ways, it reminded me of a Jean Rollin film. I’m sure that hardcore Rollin experts would cry blasphemy and punch me in the nose, but to my fairly new-to-Roillin’s-oeuvre eyes, there were some definite similarities: the gothic European atmosphere, the tragic love story involving a monster, the hypnotic pacing, the almost art-house-movie-crossed-with-exploitation-movie feel – the list goes on and on.

I think that Rollin at his best is better than this – or at least more (more artsy, more exploitative, more hypnotic – MORE). But Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) is a pretty darn satisfying viewing experience for anyone with a taste for that kind of surrealistic horror cinema. I appreciated it more now than ever before, and I’m glad to finally have it in my collection.

For those who don’t know, Paul Naschy’s real name was Jacinto Molina Alvarez, and he’s been called the king of Spanish horror. He said that Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), which he saw when he was 11, was the movie that really inspired him and perhaps started him down the path toward playing those classic monsters in his own films. He was an athlete, and was at one time the lightweight champion weightlifter of Spain. This, I’m sure, helped him later on when playing monsters with superhuman strength. One look at Naschy and you could believe it.

I’m still a relative beginner when it comes to exploring Naschy’s oeuvre. He acted in over a hundred movies, wrote 52 and directed 23. That’s a lot of #NotQuiteClassicCinema to explore – and I’ve got a long way to go before I can say I’ve seen it all. If you’re also new to Naschy’s work, and you’re looking for a good place to start, why not consider adding Hunchback of the Morgue (1973) to your next #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Demoniacs (1974)

The consensus among my friends and acquaintances seems to be that The Demoniacs (1974), or Les Demoniaques (1974), is not Jean Rollin’s best film. I have to agree with that. I would much rather watch The Grapes of Death (1978), The Living Dead Girl (1982) or Requiem for a Vampire (1972), which I just saw for the first time a few months ago. Still, The Demoniacs is notable for a few things.

It was apparently Rollin’s first film with a larger budget. It was a France-Belgium co-production, and was shot on the Island of Chausey in Normandy. It has been called Rollin’s most “atypical film” and I can see why. Instead of the crumbling castles and graveyards of previous films like Requiem for a Vampire and The Iron Rose (1973), The Demoniacs spends a lot of time on the beach, and inside the remains of a wrecked ship. Rollin talked about his desire to make a movie that related to the swashbuckling adventure films of his youth, and with The Demoniacs he has created a story about pirates, or “wreckers”, who lure ships to their destruction on the rocks and then pillage them. The wreckers also gleefully murder any survivors, and in the case of the two sisters at the centre of The Demoniacs, they rape them and leave them for dead. Being a horror film, of sorts. the sisters survive and make a deal with the devil to get their revenge on the wreckers.

You could say that The Demoniacs is more of an unusual rape revenge film than a horror story. There are some weird, surrealistic and perhaps supernatural touches (it wouldn’t be a Jean Rollin film without them, would it?), but it isn’t about vampires or living dead girls – or is it? I must admit that I’m not 100% clear on all of the details. And as with a lot of Rollin films, it’s hard to decide exactly what kind of film it is. In a lot of ways, Jean Rollin is his own genre. Nobody makes movies quite like he does, and I believe that his films are not for everyone. I like to call his style art-house exploitation. Explicit and sleazy, but somehow classy and artistic at the same time. Rollin’s are not the only films to which I might apply this label, but I consider them to be perfect examples. They contain a lot of nudity and sex, and the word “porn” sometimes gets bandied about, but films like The Demoniacs are not porn. To be fair, Rollin did direct some actual hard core porn movies, but The Demoniacs is not one of them. A viewer who goes in expecting it to be porn will discover that it is decidedly soft core. There are a couple of deleted sex scenes on the Kino-Lorber Blu-ray, and if there had been any doubt, these scenes make it clear just how “soft” things really were…

Joëlle Coeur as Tina, one of the wreckers in The Demoniacs (1974)

I think most people would agree that the true highlight of The Demoniacs (1974) is the performance of Joëlle Coeur. She does not play one of two shipwrecked sisters, but rather one of the pirates, or wreckers, and she seems to take particular pleasure in molesting and murdering other characters. She also spends a lot of time naked. Coeur had an all too brief career as an actress, appearing in about twenty movies between 1972 and 1976, including I Am Frigid… Why? (1972), Schoolgirl Hitchhikers (1973) and Seven Women for Satan (1976). Exploitation film fans lost a potential superstar when Joëlle Coeur hung up her… um…  hat.

Poster art for I Am Frigid... Why? (1972)Poster art for Seven Women for Satan (1976)

Jean Rollin’s films are not for everyone, and The Demoniacs (1974) is a Jean Rollin film that isn’t for every Jean Rollin fan. I will probably never watch it as often as some of his other films, but I believe that it contains enough of his signature touch, as well as other #NotQuiteClassicCinema goodness, to make for a very pleasant #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

I’ve taken to doing crosswords lately. I never had much interest in them when I was younger, but a couple of years ago, during a regular visit with my favourite (now) 98 year old actress, she expressed frustration with a book of New York Times Sunday Crosswords she had been given as a gift. She likes doing crosswords in her regular newspaper, but those New York Times ones were much more difficult. So, my partner and I decided to try doing one with her.

She was right. It was difficult. It took us three visits to complete one crossword. And that was with three brains working on it (one of which was prone to cheating once in awhile, by looking things up with a smartphone).

I supposed I had never really understood the language of crosswords; the different techniques that seemed designed to make things more confusing. For example, some clues have a question mark at the end of them. This, we figured out, meant that the answer was going to be “clever” in some way. So it was impossible to figure it out in a normal, logical way. We had to wait until we had a few clues to point us in the right direction. In other words, we needed to figure out some of the other words that intersected with this “clever” one so that we could see some of the letters that were in it. Worst case scenario, we would have to find ALL of the letters in the “clever” word by solving the intersecting ones, because even with only one blank left, we still couldn’t figure out what they were after.

Thanks to this whole COVID thing, we haven’t been able to visit our friend Doreen (who just turned 98 a few days ago) for a few months. Both she and I have found that we miss working on these frustrating puzzles together. Perhaps because of this, I have started doing the crosswords that I find in the regular newspaper, the TV guide, and even in some flyer packages. Most of them are a lot easier than the New York Times puzzles in Doreen’s book. But there are a couple that seem, to me, to be just as frustrating – if not more so.

Perhaps the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) is a gigantic crossword that takes up an entire newspaper page. The one I am currently working on has 371 ACROSS words, and 357 DOWN words. Most of the others average about 60 words for both ACROSS and DOWN. This is not the only reason that the gigantic crossword is difficult, however. It also makes use of all the most confusing and deliberately tricky clues that make simply knowing an answer a rare occurrence. Often I just don’t know what they are getting at. And sometimes when the answer is finally revealed (by carefully piecing it together), I STILL don’t know what they were getting at. “Why did they phrase the question that way?” I ask the silent newspaper. But it never answers me, and I’ve had to accept the fact that some of these riddles don’t have a logical solution and – if I don’t want to go out of mind – I simply have to enjoy the experience of letting them slowly reveal themselves to me.

In some ways, that’s not unlike watching a Jean Rollin movie. I don’t consider myself an expert, by any means. I’ve barely scratched the surface of his impressive oeuvre. I talked about my first impressions of his work in a previous post highlighting The Living Dead Girl (1982). One of my points was that I knew Rollin was famous for his vampire films, but I had come to know him mainly through his non-vampire films. Clearly, I’ve been long overdue for a exploration of what seems to be his main obsession.

I did some reading, and determined that a good place to start was Requiem for a Vampire (1971) – even though this was not his first vampire film. This worked out very nicely for me, because I happened to have a brand new copy of that film waiting to be watched (and I don’t own the previous ones – yet).

Anyone who knows me understands that I like to go into a movie not knowing anything about it (or at least not much of the plot). I like to experience the story without any preconceived notion of what it might be about. As such, I don’t like to spend a lot of time summarizing the plots of the films that I discuss in this blog. For one thing, there’s probably a million other blogs and sites where a person can read a plot synopsis if they really want to do that. More to the point, I don’t want to spoil anybody’s first experience of a film by telling them exactly what’s going to happen in it. However…

Trying to summarize the plot of Requiem for a Vampire (or most of the Jean Rollin films that I have seen) would be, in my opinion, a rather pointless exercise. It would be akin to trying to summarize the plot of a poem. Requiem for a Vampire is as much about tone and atmosphere and visual images as it is about plot or story. But just for the sake of argument, I’ll try to describe the first part of the film.

The story opens with two young women dressed in clown costumes, for reasons we don’t know, driving at high speed on a country road. They are being pursued by a second vehicle, for reasons we don’t know. One of the women is firing a gun at their pursuers, who are also shooting back at her, for reasons we don’t know. The other woman is desperately trying to steer the car from the passenger seat – for a reason we DO know; the male driver, who is NOT in clown make-up, has been hit by a bullet and is bleeding bad. There is almost no dialogue during this action, or after it’s resolved, or for the next twenty or thirty minutes. Needless to say, we do not hear any explanations for any of what we have witnessed thus far (such as why the two women are in clown make-up, or why they were in a high speed gunfight on a country road). We do eventually hear a brief comment about it, but by that point we are so deep into the movie that it really doesn’t matter. And in fact, I almost would have preferred to have never heard an explanation for any of it, because it’s very inexplicability is a big part of the charm of this movie (at least for me).

And let me be clear about this: I loved this movie! And I loved the first sequence that I have partially described. But like some of the crossword clues that I mentioned earlier, there was no logical way to understand what was going on from moment to moment. There was no way to predict what was going to happen. And a person could ask themselves, “Why did they do that?” or “How did that opening scene lead to this scene?” But I did not find myself asking any of those questions. Instead, I found myself completely mesmerized and happy to simply relax and let the events of the movie unfold before me. I could use words like hypnotic and mind-bending (is that a word?) to try to describe the effect that it had on me. It’s kind of like listening to certain pieces of music. You can’t explain why they’re so darn effective but they are.

And speaking of music, I loved the soundtrack by Pierre Raph. I’m sure it added to the overall experience that I am trying to describe.

Suffice it to say, that my first foray into the vampire side of Jean Roliin’s work has been a rollicking success. Requiem for a Vampire (1971) is a rare form of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that would be equally at home in the finest art-house cinemas, or the sleaziest grindhouse porno palaces of the past. It made for a transcendent #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn and I will gladly revisit it there anytime. I also look forward to exploring more vampire, and non-vampire, works by Jean Rollin in the future!

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Living Dead Girl aka La Morte Vivante (1982)

I first read about the films of Jean Rollin in books about unusual horror films from around the world. I don’t think I had ever seen a review of any of his films in a regular review book. And I certainly had never seen copies of his movies on VHS or Beta at my local Video Zone back in the 1980s. My impression from these books was that Jean Rollin made artistic, perhaps erotic, movies about vampires. He also made hard core adult films, presumably to pay the bills. On occasion he made other types of films, but vampires seemed to be his main obsession.

While at university, I became a regular customer of Movie Village, a video store with an amazing selection of unusual films for rent (and purchase). This is where I first put my hands on a movie directed by Jean Rollin. Oddly enough, it was not a vampire film. And according to at least one book I had read, this particular movie was one of his lesser ones. It was called Night Of The Hunted (1980), and its description was something like this:

“Stylish, futuristically surreal and a departure from director Jean Rollin’s familiar vampire territory, The Night of the Hunted features a mass of people suffering with insanity and collective amnesia. Bizarre, even by Rollin’s standards, it still displays fairy tale qualities mixed with extremes of sadism, sex and violence.”

I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t one of his vampire films, but I wanted to see a Jean Rollin film, and my annual holiday movie marathon was in a few days, so I rented it.

The annual holiday movie marathon is a tradition that I established with my friend Brian many years ago. His job requires him to get up ridiculously early in the morning, so by 8:00 PM he’s having trouble staying awake. But every year he takes a couple of weeks off in December and that’s when we make a point of getting together to watch movies. And we are always on the lookout for unusual and interesting horror films.

I brought Night Of The Hunted to his place, along with about a dozen other movies, and explained to Brian that it was probably not going to be Jean Rollin’s best work, but it was all I could put my hands on, so we should give it a try. He agreed.

Well. We both really liked the movie. A lot. “I would buy a copy of that,” Brian said as the credits were rolling, which is amazing because I was thinking the exact same thing. “This is one his lesser films?”

Since that time, I have picked up Jean Rollin’s movies on DVD or Blu-ray whenever I could put my hands on them (for a reasonable price). I’ve only seen a couple of the vampire films, but the strange thing is that (so far) my favourites have been non-vampire films: Night Of The Hunted (of course), The Grapes Of Death (1978), and now, perhaps, The Living Dead Girl (1982).

The Living Dead Girl is almost like a vampire movie in some ways. It’s about an undead woman who seems to need to drink blood. Before I watched it, I was expecting more of a zombie story of sorts. I suppose she is a zombie, technically. But she has a lot more in common with vampires than the average reanimated rotting corpse. For one thing, she looks good. For another, she is an intelligent, thinking being who eventually talks and expresses regret over the things she has done. I’m not really comfortable calling her a zombie or a vampire. I think she is her own, unique creation of Jean Rollin.

The most basic description of the plot of The Living Dead Girl goes something like this:

Two bumbling fools dump toxic waste in a crypt and accidentally revive a beautiful, dead heiress who kills them and goes on a rampage. 

This sounds like the plot of a Troma Team camp-fest (and more than a little like a play I once wrote called The Inner CIty Dead – minus the dead heiress), but it’s a much more serious affair than that. The heart of the film is the relationship between Catherine Valmont, the heiress, and her childhood friend Hélène. We see flashbacks of them as children, pledging eternal friendship. When Hélène discovers that Catherine is somehow still alive, she comes to the château to be with her. Hélène tries to keep Catherine alive, no matter what the cost. But Catherine begins to see herself as evil, and wants Hélène to help her die.

The surprising thing about The Living Dead Girl is how truly moving it is. You might come for the gore and the nudity, but you’ll stay for the emotional punch in the solar-plexus. And that’s a rare thing in exploitation filmmaking. I’m starting to suspect that’s it’s not such a rare thing for Jean Rollin, who seems to imbue his monsters with a sense of tragedy, and sadness. His movies aren’t for everyone, as they can be slow paced and challenging in many ways. But for those who are attuned to his particular style of storytelling, they can be very rewarding and cathartic experiences.

The Living Dead Girl (1982) makes for a more thoughtful, melancholy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn than Angels’ Brigade or American Ninja 2, but that’s the nature of the beast. There are many different kinds of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, and I like to experience them all. I’m looking forward to my next Friday night with Jean Rolllin, but it won’t be right away. I need time to let The Living Dead Girl properly sink in. And at this moment, it’s hard to imagine how he will ever top it.