Archive for The Black Cat

That Chandu That You Do So Well

Posted in FILM, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2021 by dcairns


A small fire has evidently broken out in the Principle Pictures Corporation titling department but I’m sure everything’s under control…

Now read on…

Yes, but WHY is Frank Chandler known in the orient as Chandu? I get why they call him the magician. But if they can pronounce that, then “Chandler” shouldn’t be too much of a mouthful, surely?

The episode begins, thrillingly, with a stock footage long shot of some exotic clime, perhaps gathered by Tay Garnett on his round-the-world cruise, who knows? Then we get a long exposition/romance scene on garden furniture, in which the sibillance of the soundtrack combines with the Hungarian and Spanish accents of stars Bela Lugosi and Maria Alba to render comprehension null. But we can still appreciate the charm of Lugosi playing a nice guy, getting some romantic interest for once. I mean, he’s sympathetic in the same year’s THE BLACK CAT if you can overlook him flaying a man alive, and he has a wife he loves in that one, but she’s plastinated and suspended from the ceiling, so there’s a limited amount of true warmth in their scenes together.

Anyway. Frank Bela Chandler Lugosi Chandu the Magician goes into a trance while staring at, oddly enough, a photograph of Princess Nadji’s forehead (it’s supposed to be her actual head but for some reason a still image has been substituted). This allows him to get a mental image of the evil cultists and learn some semi-audible stuff about the lost continent of Lemuria.

Lemuria doesn’t get enough love, I feel. They’re just as submerged as Atlantic, but far less acclaimed.

Chandu’s astral vision has a certain grandeur, consisting as it does of a glass painting, a stock shot (double-exposed with the forehead photo — a temple atop a temple, as it were), the gate from KING KONG, a sleeping beauty and a stone cat presiding over a cult meeting. This collage of imagery serves as a siren call, luring Maria Montez to Hollywood.

This fresh, if somewhat muffled, information sends Chandu sailing away to settle the hash of these cultists and their jowly leader once and for all, a plan which allows Bela to don a fetching sailor suit. He seems to have more costume changes in this thing than Liz Taylor in CLEOPATRA. But wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he’s gone, a whammy of some form is put upon his love, compelling her to lead her friends into a DEADLY TRAP.

Getting psychic wind of this, Bela promptly turns his yacht around and rushes to the rescue.

The Princess’s whammy causes her to speak in a zombified monotone, but her friends don’t seem to notice, which does not reflect well on the rest of the leading lady’s line readings.

Chandu leads a gang of sailors into a frenzied fistfight with the Ubasti cult’s oiled and stripped-to-the-waist acolytes, and before you can say homoeroticism, the main cultist, cunningly disguised in a pith helmet, has re-re-re-abducted the Princess via the magic circle that gives this episode its name. Is it a portal to Lemuria, or merely, as the title implies, a ring of invisibility? Tune in next time, or don’t.

Death: Tonkinese Style

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 31, 2019 by dcairns

Always excited to see a Tonkinese cat in an Italian horror movie.

The Tonk is a cross between a Siamese and Burmese, but at some point it was decided that this could be considered a pedigree rather than a cat-mutt, so they needed a name for it and selected the fictitious location of SOUTH PACIFIC, Tonkin, as mythical country of origin for a mythical breed of feline. (FAKE NEWS! See comments section.)

Our cat, Momo, is solid Tonk, all the way through.

Joe D’Amato’s DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (a title trying a bit too hard, as is the film) actually climaxes with a man having his face eaten off by a Tonk, in one of the least convincing examples of cat-on-human violence ever presented (and there are A LOT of examples to choose from).

Actual frame from Tonkinese face-eating scene
Momo does it better

Even less convincing than the cat is Ewa Aulin (CANDY), whose eccentric performance refuses psychology altogether, in favour of a series of random smiles and glazed stares — yet you cannot argue that her choices are wrong for the film, which never makes a lick of sense from start to finish. I quite liked that about it.

Klaus Kinski has contributed a few days of his time, which I suppose kept him out of trouble, as a doctor called to treat carriage-toppling-accident victim Aulin. He finds a pendant on her neck with a strange symbol which he decodes, allowing him to raise the dead. Then he’s murdered by his mute manservant and the chap he’s raised.

Oh, but before that, he’s stuck a needle in Aulin’s eye, in a quite horribly convincing manner. I can in no way work out how this special effect was achieved. It looks completely real and it is a one-shot extreme closeup. Maybe Aulin has unusually soft, permeable, liquid eyes. They do LOOK like they might be. It seems to do her no harm. Did it really happen? We never find out. Possibly she’s invulnerable due to the fact that she, too, has been raised from the dead, by her incestuous brother the mad scientist. And now she’s out to get revenge, seemingly, on those who somehow killed her? Maybe?

The Tonk gets to re-enact edited highlights from Poe’s The Black Cat, when Aulin gets bricked up by her lesbian lover, then she returns from the grave to destroy the lover, her husband, and her father.

At one point, a maid starts experiencing a different character’s flashbacks, which is certainly interesting. Then she runs away and gets blasted in the face with a shotgun, but we never find out who did it or why. It’s just that kind of film.

My favourite favourite bit, apart from Aulin’s creepy random smiling, was a party scene where the dialogue assumed a terrifying-hilarious disjointedness. Characters would speak over one another, replying to questions that hadn’t yet been asked, then silences would break forth, long, supremely awkward conversational gaps which nobody onscreen seemed to recognise were happening. I eventually sussed that one of the dialogue tracks had been placed out of sync, and the dubbing mixer either hadn’t noticed or couldn’t be bothered fixing it. Or thought, quite correctly, that such a bizarre error would be right at home in this movie.

There’s a twist ending, too, where Aulin, an avenging revenant, also turns out to be the detective’s aged, disabled wife. Which is impossible to reconcile with anything we’ve just seen, and has no dramatic implications whatsoever. It’s an illusion, something that looks like a plot twist, but is only a trompe l’oeil painting of one.

I never had any interest in director Joe D’Amato because his stuff seemed just to be nasty porn, but — though it’s wall-to-walled-up tits and gore — this is pretty engaging. Maybe because the two writers never met, or couldn’t read each others’ handwriting, or speak the same language? Hard to say, but it achieves a demented discombobulation rare in cinema, and even in life.

This won’t hurt…

DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER stars Aguirre Fitzcarraldo Stroszek Nosferatu; Candy Christian; 3rd Sombrero Onlooker at Tuco’s 1st Hanging; Dr. Schwab; Dr. Paul Eswai; and Momo, as himself.

As for Momo, he comes back from the vet today after a very expensive scale and polish, minus one tooth, and with the news that his kidneys aren’t what they used to be. But he seems otherwise healthy as a horse — body of Oliver Reed, lungpower of Ethel Merman.

The Sunday Intertitle: Tales of Witless Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2015 by dcairns


Richard Oswald made UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN twice. The 1932 one is covered here, but for some reason it’s taken me ages to get around to the 1919 one, which stars Conrad Veidt (pre-CALIGARI), Reinhold Schunzel (better known, by me anyway, as a director of thirties comedies), and famed dancer Anita Berber. I knew it used a different sampling of spooky fiction to make up its “uncanny tales” — Poe’s Black Cat appears in both, as does a loose adaptation of Stevenson’s The Suicide Club, but the rest of the bits are different. But I didn’t know that the three actors from the framing structure –who play Death, the Devil and the Whore, coming to life from their portraits and running amok in a bookstore, before leafing through the various volumes in search of diverting yarns — also appear in all the separate storylines, in a variety of guises. It’s a nice idea to bind an anthology together.


It does cause a slight sense of the repetitive, since nearly all the stories become romantic triangles, and for some reason Schunzel is insane, or goes insane, in most of them. But this minor problem is nullified by the film’s extraordinary tone, which is a kind of Weimar cabaret of grotesque humour. In fact, the movie plays like a spoof of its own remake. The actors are obviously having great fun at the expense of the material. Schunzel proves to be a great creepy toad, prefiguring the qualities Peter Lorre would bring to his early roles in German film, and Veidt gets to do some fine clutching hand stuff. Berber alternates between sexy and horrible at will, and in her final installment, an out-and-out parody of the form, she has a manic schoolgirl naughtiness reminiscent of Miranda Richardson’s Elizabeth I in Blackadder II.

To my surprise, the first story turns out to be a variant on the story — an urban myth — that inspired both SO LONG AT THE FAIR and, less directly, THE LADY VANISHES. Schunzel plays a madman in it who turns out to be a complete red herring.


In the second episode Schunzel kills romantic rival Veidt and is haunted by his vengeful revenant. Some nice imagery here: Veidt rehearses his HANDS OF ORLAC schtick to campy but chilling effect, becomes a huge translucent Floating Head of Death, and manifests as a series of disembodied footprints, appearing one by one in a series of jump cuts, perhaps the first time that trick was tried. Carl Hoffman’s cinematography frequently surprises and delights with its spooky low-level lighting. All the more sad that Murnau’s film of Jekyll and Hyde, DER JANUSKOPF, with Conrad Veidt, is a lost film: Hoffman shot it.



I expect that cat’s quite old now.

Then, in The Black Cat, he kills Berber. It was her turn, I suppose. Unlike in the later version, there’s no spooky visuals of the entombed bride, but the cat is endearing, and Schunzel goes off his chump again.

In The Suicide Club, Schunzel finally gets to be hero, and in the last story he’s a cowardly knight humiliated by a fake Scooby Doo ghost show put on by Veidt to scare the interloper away from his flighty wife.


R. Schunzel, R. Schunzel, let down your hair!

Fun stuff for your next Halloween, I would suggest. The light-hearted approach is novel, and it’s slightly surprising to see a genre being gently ribbed before it’s finished being invented.