Category Archives: Viva España!
The Icebox Murders 1982
Directed by: Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo
Starring: Jack Taylor, Mira Miller, Manuela Jiménez
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
A lot of people assume that the slasher boom of the early eighties was mainly populated by the American and Canadian movie industries. Although in terms of major investment and quality of output they’re right, some of the craziest examples of low budget fun were also found in the most unlikely of places. ‘The slasher plague’ was a global cinematic epidemic and if you search hard enough, then you get to uncover titles such as Fen Ku Lou that were really unique and interesting.
Spain’s contribution to the genre is often overlooked, even though we were equally responsible for our fair share of output. The first offering to grace the category from España was Jesus Franco’s Bloody Moon, which found notoriety after achieving the cult status in the United Kingdom of joining the infamous ‘video nasty’ list. Hot on the heels of Franco’s effort was the equally bloody Pieces and the decade closed with Jose Larraz’s fairly decent slasher/mystery, Edge of the Axe. However, there was a film from that ever so fruitful period that slipped by completely unnoticed by completists and critics alike, which was called, El Cepo or The Icebox Murders.
It originally secured a small release on the long defunct Mogul label, which also gave life to slashers Satan’s Blade and Lucifer aka Goodnight Godbless. It never found an audience outside its country of origin and like so many of its less fortunate cousins from around that time, it soon vanished from existence. Eventually it became one of those rare gems that sell for big bucks to die hard collectors on Internet video-search agencies and eBay, due to their impossible to locate status.
Admittedly, the fact that it had become so obscure only helped to evoke my curiosities about the picture and an impressive and intriguing title also led me to begin a mission to track down a copy. After months of hearing absolutely nothing, finally, I stumbled across a VHS on show in a charity shop window (!) and simply couldn’t believe my luck. I picked it up and immediately headed home. On the way, I gazed longingly at the cover and hoped to discover if my patience could be rewarded with the bonus that I’d found an all but forgotten slasher masterpiece.
They say that when a film disappears, it’s never without good reason and they’re usually right with that assumption. But this time I kept my opinions open, because every now and then I’ve uncovered a rarity that’s turned out to be a whole lot more than I ever expected. The audacious cover artwork and blurb that offered so much only heightened my spirits, so I slipped the cassette into my much-overused VCR and cracked open a chilled bottle of Smirnoff for the journey.
Despite the fact this was a Spanish production, the movie’s actually set in Paris, France. It kicks off with a girl running down a dimly lighted corridor. She’s fleeing a slow stalking camera shy maniac, who eventually catches her and puts his hands around her throat. She screams and then the shot ends. Cut to a news report, which helpfully informs us that she’s the sixth woman to be butchered by this unseen menace and it looks as if he has a taste for slashing beautiful young ladies and leaving their corpses in public places.
Next up we meet a prostitute called Chantelle who boasts that she’s found a goldmine in a man who buys her presents without wanting anything in return. If this generous gent (played by cult favourite Jack Taylor no less) isn’t an over-zealous advertisement for a could-be psychotic killer, then I don’t know what on earth is. He walks with a cane and his dress sense amounts to a pitch-black suit with dark glasses. This makes him look like a peculiar cross between a secret service agent and an especially morbid undertaker. The hooker pops round to his apartment and he informs her that he doesn’t like the way she dresses so provocatively. He tells her that she should give up that ‘ridiculous profession’ and he wants to whisk her away somewhere and ‘help regain her youth’ (Awesome chat-up line!). She agrees to the vacation as long as she can bring her friend Sylvia along. That night, Sylvia has a dream that ‘the undertaker’ has some murderous ambitions up his sleeve and the next day she remains wary of his true intentions. Soon we learn that he isn’t actually a grave-filler or secret agent by trade, but he’s actually a doctor – unfortunately.
They arrive at a mansion that’s conveniently secluded miles from civilisation and we meet another suspicious character that shares the spacious abode. John the twitchy caretaker takes an interest in the young ladies’ appearance, but is warned off by the solemn doctor, who beats him with the aforementioned cane. The peaceful serenity gets a bit depressing for the spirited girls and they head out to the local discotheque, where we meet yet another possible suspect – a smooth talking local that tries to engage in flirtatious conversation with the moody Sylvia. When they return later that night, she sees two silhouettes carrying a suspicious shape into the icebox. Could it have been a dead body? Do fish swim in the sea? Not a lot happens from here on out, it’s mostly just a whole heap of talking, which is painfully dragged out and mind-numbingly boring.
Eventually things liven up a little, when poor old John gets gunned down by an unseen sniper and Sylvie spies ‘someone’ with a decapitated head in his tool shed. Of course no one believes what she saw, and on inspection, it mysteriously disappears. Some time later, Chantelle discovers a collection of human trophies in a cleverly concealed cupboard. This results in the killer having to reveal himself and the traditional fight for survival ensues…
Right that’s it. Finally I’ve learned my lesson. Never again will I be enticed by a movie that has (rightly) been banished from wise-minded collections, thinking that it was just an unfortunate twist of fate. The Icebox Murders is as rancid as a geriatric sewer rat – and just as stinky! Even the title and the tag-lines are outright lies to trick unsuspecting victims (such as myself) into believing this could be an impressive premise for a slasher flick. The cover says that a maniac murders women and stores their bodies in a freezer. Total BS!! There’s just two on-screen killings in the whole film and the only corpse that’s found in the said icebox belongs to an animal – no fair! This isn’t even really a slasher flick, seeing how the second murder is committed with a gun, so I urge all genre completists not to bother adding this one to your collection. There’s truly nothing here that would warrant even the most adamant fan to hunt it down, no matter how much you want to own every genre piece that was ever transferred to cheap videotape.
Let’s get this straight, now. This isn’t just a painfully long and irritating epic of nonsensical dribble with the oomph of a squished slug. Oh no, it’s flawed in just about every respect that a motion picture possibly can be. It looks to have been edited by someone using a seven year old’s ‘my first stationary’ kit, the theme-music plays randomly, with no apparent acknowledgement of the scene it’s accompanying and it boasts the directorial flair of gibbon holding an iPhone. By far the worst aspect of this monstrosity is the abysmal quality of the acting, which is best described as the dramatic equivalent of a Desperate Housewives blooper real. – Yes it is that bad. They could have packed the whole story in about twenty-five minutes of screen-time, which probably would have made a fairly watchable short. But instead it drags on – like a two-legged camel – for an hour and a half, as we watch a pair of marginally interesting females continually express their distaste at being cooped up in a mansion that they could have left whenever they felt the need to. Sadly, they were too dumb to work that out, so we have to look on as they (slowly) come to the conclusion that they’re heading for a slashing if they hang around the cane-clenching weirdo for much longer.
In fairness, it’s actually meant to be more of a character study or a slow paced Giallo and I guess it’s not really the fault of the film-makers that Mogul packaged it as a piece of slasher trash. It’s Spanish title is El Cepo or ‘The Trap’, so who knows where the ‘The Icebox Murders’ came from? It was, most likely, an ambitious marketing ploy from the distributor and an attempt to give the film more of an allure aimed towards the stalk and slash audience. In my review of The Ghostkeeper, I mentioned that the UK box art had absolutely *nothing* to do with the film inside and Mogul have done a similar thing here. They’ve taken everything that would appeal to the slasher genre and put it on the cover of a title that’s basically the equivalent of a boring and poorly produced TV movie. Even the music sucks. Another interesting thing is that I saw a VHS copy of this for sale on Amazon for $180 and a couple of days later it was gone. $180 for this is really quite an amazing price. If it’s become a collectors item, then maybe it makes sense, but if it was bought by someone hoping to find a forgotten splatter classic. Well, I would pay to see their reaction when the final credits rolled. It would have been a darn site more dramatic than anything that happened here.
As I’ve already said, this is not much of a slasher movie, which begs the question, why did I post a review of it? Well due to the aforementioned misguided marketing, chances are most collectors have already come across it or will do soon. I wanted to stop you from making the mistake that I and am sure many others did. Little remains to be said, except steer well clear of this misinterpreted, misguided and mis-advertised waste of a production budget. There’s really only very little to be salvaged from this sabotaged slasher, unless you enjoy watching how terrible Spanish fashion sense was in the early eighties. I was born and lived there back then, so I could smirk, but I doubt that any of you will. Especially not for $180…
I cannot warn you harshly enough about the dangers of mis-judging what lurks within the cover of The Icebox Murders. It’s as unforgiving as an ex-partner that you ruthlessly dumped – and you’ll want to avoid it just the same! Be afraid… Be very afraid…
Final Girl: √
Los Ojos De Julia 2010
Directed by: Guillem Morales
Starring: Belén Rueda, Pablo Derqui, Lluis Homar
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I had been long anticipating the release of this one, as on paper it looked like exactly my kind of flick. Shot in my home country, by a director that had received rave reviews for his thriller, The Uninvited Guest and with links to Guillermo Del Toro, it sounded like a combination of the highest quality. Spain has enjoyed glorious recognition recently for our cinematic conquests under the likes of Almodovar, but I have always felt that we have been authentic with our style of drama, even when it was confined within Spanish borders. Although I’d be wrong to say never, I must admit that there’s rarely a middle-ground with our unique methodology. It’s either Oscar worthy or very, very bad.
Of late, I don’t read reviews before seeing a film myself, because I like to have a mind completely free of pre-judgement. Whilst waiting for my DVD to arrive however I had a quick browse at a write-up that started with, ‘Spanish filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (he’s Mexican), returns to the horror genre with his next script (he didn’t write it). Oh the joys of researching your subject! After that, I read no more. Del Toro is at the stage now that he is so successful that anything related to him builds excitement. His work is deserving of such accolades, but it could be either a good or bad thing for an up and coming director like Guillem Morales. He would have to pull out all the stops to deal with the gargantuan expectations set by that reference and he may struggle to get the recognition that he could deserve in the aftermath.
After Julia’s twin-sister Sara commits suicide in her basement, her sibling suspects that she was actually murdered. They shared a degenerative problem in their eyes, which means that at any moment, they can lose sight if put under extreme stress. The Police believe that Sara had lost the will to live when an operation failed and therefore she had to come to terms with the fact that she could never see again. Julia decides to explore her sister’s private life, because she can’t shake the belief that a more sinister force is at work. She soon begins being stalked by an unseen menace and decides to prove alone that she is right before she completely loses her vision.
Ok so let’s clear up a few home truths. This is not a slasher movie per-say; it’s a thriller that utilises elements from the genre. Morales is gleefully aware of the trappings and proves it by including obvious references, such as a heavy-breath POV shot and some typical use of shadow play. Like most Spanish films, the plot here is brought alive through strong realistic performances and the ability to place the viewer in the shoes of the protagonist. Belén Rueda is superb as the ‘final girl’ and her portrayal is honest, heartfelt, colourful and note-perfect. The film touches on a juxtaposition of emotions from cheesy romance to teeth-clenching suspense and the simple transition is all down to the pedigree of the actors.
What makes up an adept Giallo? Well for me, it’s a compelling mystery, a dose of suspense and most importantly some panache in the photography. Los Ojos de Julia ticks all those boxes and excels in its capability to generate momentum. There are some great set pieces here, including a chase sequence through a corridor that makes good use of its lighting and there’s a terrifically creepy moment in a room filled with blind people that is startling in its delivery. Morales shows the flair of a young Argento and the technical knowhow to pull it off. Seasoned veterans may work out the mystery (I did), but there’s enough red-herrings to keep you transfixed.
At 105 minutes, this is no quickie, but it makes up for its possessiveness with runtime, by keeping you on the edge of your seat. I found it easy to keep track of the characters and I enjoyed the multiple moments of tenderness that break-up the suspense. Where Ojos does struggle is with its overuse of cliché in the final third. After such a great opening, the script seems to run up blind alleys quite a bit and an intelligent heroine is reduced to the usual run upstairs instead of out of the door antics. It has the cheesiest ending that I remember for some time, but for an old romantic like me, it was totally acceptable. The lack of a humongous body count (six killings) may be a deterrent for my regular readers, but this does include enough slasher moments in its wallet so that you won’t be that disappointed. There’s a couple of macabre killings and an unwatchable scene involving a syringe and an eyeball.
Los Ojos De Julia is a stylish modern return to the Giallo with a couple of decent murders and some neat suspense. It utilises some of the best parts of Spanish drama to keep the plot rolling and chucks in some nice sequences, camera tricks and even a few scares. It’s not perfect by any means, but as good as any of the Hollywood thrillers that have been chucked out recently. If anything, take a gander for the brilliant performance from the gorgeous Belén Rueda.
Kick the slasher genre as much as you want, but this proves that there’s still life in the old dog yet.
Final Girl: √√√√√
aka The Secret Killer, Gatti Rossi in un Labirinto di Vetro, El Ojo en la Oscuridad
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Starring: John Richardson, José María Blanco, Andrés Mejuto
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Umberto Lenzi is a hard craftsman to define. His most available work outside Italy is the likes of Nightmare Beach (cheesy as hell), Cannibal Ferox (pure exploitation), Nightmare City (Bizarre) and Ghosthouse (Just plain bad). With that said though if you search harder, he has some extremely tense Gialli under his belt including the ‘Paranoias’ (two movies with the same title released within the space of 20 months, confusing I know), Knife of Ice (Stylish with subtle social comment) and Seven Bloodstained Orchids (riveting). It’s almost as if he had a lobotomy in the late seventies and could thereafter only helm trashy imitations of superior flicks. (But let’s not forget that not all of his prior stuff was ‘immense’, remember Superseven Chiama Cairo from 1965? – Ooof!) I was indeed intrigued to see which of the two Lenzis would turn up for this mid-seventies murder mystery, the talented filmmaker or the gratuitous hack… (Also forgive my overuse of brackets!)
Eyeball is Giallo through and through, but has some ingredients that allow it to be considered something of a proto-slasher. It’s also located in Barcelona in my home country and is a Spanish/Italian/American production, which means it had various cultural influences.
A group of American tourists head to Barcelona for a summer holiday. Almost as soon as they arrive the fun comes to an end as one of their number is ruthlessly murdered by a hooded killer in a red rain mac. The maniac is something of a sadist and mutilates the left eye of each victim. Could it be the mentally ill wife of one of the tourists or has someone else got a grudge against the troupe?
I am a big fan of history and there’s a story that I read about a year ago that has stuck with me. The Mary Rose was a warship in the impressive Tudor fleet of Henry VII. It served for just over thirty-three years in numerous wars, but was sunk, somewhat unexpectedly in 1545 during the Battle of Solent. For years historians believed that it was due to the evasive turns being too sharp for its unsteady structure, but Forensic examiners have recently discovered that the skeletons of crew members that were recovered hailed from southern Europe, most probably España. They were either mercenaries hired by the King, or more likely members of 600 shipwrecked sailors who had run in to a storm weeks earlier and with no food or water, had been forced in to service for England. Manning such a huge carrack-type ship in wartime would need a clear chain of command, but when Admiral George Carew was barking orders at his foreign crew, the most likely collective response was something along the lines of ‘¿Qué?’Therefore it was language barriers that sunk the great Mary Rose and that theory adds weight to Carew’s final words stating that his crew were, ‘knaves I cannot rule’.
The reason I tell you this is because it feels like a similar lack of communication was behind the production of this forgotten Giallo. Italian is definitely a more similar language to Spanish than English, but still it must be the reason why so many members of the (Spanish) crew here seemed to have no idea what they were doing. I can’t explain why else an experienced cinematographer like Antonio Millán would shoot everything so flatly? He was in one of the most beautiful cities in Spain for gawd’s sake, so why such diluted focus on the gorgeous backdrops? The majority of non-natives who visit the shores of Spain in hordes throughout the year always pick up on the incredibly laid back lifestyle. Well it must’ve been something that Umberto Lenzi rather liked, because his direction here can best be described as ‘lazy’. There are only a couple of semi-decent set-pieces and he keeps the awesome disguise for his killer off-screen for the most part.
The dialogue too is quirky and off-beat and in the next breath hilarious. Martínez, the eccentric tour guide brings up Christopher Columbus’ heritage as they drive past the ‘Monumento a Colón’ on La Rambla. He states (falsely) that Columbus was Spanish, to which one woman replies, “Spanish or Italian, it makes no difference to me. He made a terrible mistake. You don’t think America’s worth all that trouble do you?” This leads to an awesome response from the guy sitting in front of her who quips, “Oh my God! You’re not a communist, are you?” Much later after a few killings, the inspector rounds up the survivors for interrogation and asks one lady who may be a witness, “Did you recognise him?” She says, “I didn’t see.” “It was dark in those bushes, don’t forget I’m not a night fighter you know” (What?!!!)
I may be sounding like Eyeball is totally rubbish, but it’s actually somewhat ahead of its time. It’s a cheesy slasher before cheesy slashers were invented and it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s nicely paced, with a fairly large body count and the mystery is intriguing even if the motive, once revealed, is astoundingly silly. The killer in a crimson rain coat and the final girl make this feel more like an American slasher than an archetypal Giallo and it doesn’t seem too dated at all. There’s a tad of nudity and two lesbians to check list the exploitation and I remember even at least one scene that builds decent suspense. What is most memorable about this is the pounding score from Bruno Nicolai, which will stay in your head for hours after the credits have rolled. You also get a bit of gore even if it is rather anaemic compared to the same director’s later stuff.
This is by no means classy Lenzi, but it’s still an entertaining mix of comedic dialogue, bloody killings and a campy motive. I don’t know if it was truly one that can be credited as inspiration for Halloween and the like, but for a great cheesy treat it’s thoroughly recommended
Final Girl: √
Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche 1982
Director Juan Piquer Simón
Starring, Christopher George, Ian Sera, Lynda Day George, FrankBraña
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
I must admit, it’s been cool being Spanish lately. What with the immensely popular and equally as successful Rafael Nadal tearing up tennis and La Furia Roja wining the European and then World Cup whilst playing the best football imaginable, it has to be said that from a patriotic standpoint, all is going well for my country.
The thing is, when we look at slasher movies, our output leaves me pretty much lost for words when it comes to banter. It makes it harder when I notice that despite a few stabs, this is the most recognised (but not the best) effort of my country’s involvement in the cycle. Just a quick browse through the reviews here online and as of yet, I haven’t seen one that mentions any credibility.
So I took it upon myself to start preparing my defensive arguments. A legend of Spain from Simón’s era is singer/poet Joan Manuel Serrat. His most renowned LP was Mediterraneo, which got him expelled from fascist Spain for its intelligent subtle lyrics and views on the struggle of Spaniards under El Generalissimo, Francisco Franco. A fine example is the track, Barquito de Papel (small boat of paper). On first look it seems quite harmless and even my brother still likes to look at it as a song about a young boy, at a time when money in villages was invisible, floating the aforementioned boat down a local stream (something he used to do.). But lines like, “Without a boss, without a direction it travels wear it wants to” were a shrewd dig at the struggles of our people under fascism and the truth was in the subliminal messages.
What if Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche was made under a similar pretence? What if Simón’s slasher was really a social comment on our obsession with image? Maybe he was hinting that you can’t build the perfect person and that we should all accept that everyone has pluses and minuses and we could get lost in the search forever? Or maybe the chainsaw wielding maniac was our lust for credit and the message was that we are starting to dismember our economy (just look at how we stand at the moment)? Ok so I’m reaching…
In the end I decided to try a different trick. I returned home and told my flatmate, a film (but not slasher) fan, who generally trusts my judgment that Simón’s effort had a 7.5 rating on IMDB and was an intelligent psycho thriller. I wanted to see if the film’s reputation had led it down a path of poor reviews because people had read so much rubbish about it that they went in looking exactly for that. Media opinion can have a big sway on our considered expectations.
A masked maniac is stalking a college campus and murdering co-eds, leaving them with missing body parts. Armed with a chainsaw, the police are baffled as to his identity and bring in extra help to solve the case.
One thing that critics never acknowledge is that this is in fact a tribute (dare I say rip-off) of Narciso Serrador’s La Residencia. It probably had a big effect on Simón when he was younger and the influences are undeniable. The film was shot in both Boston and Madrid with producers from Italy, Spain, England and America. As far as I am aware cast members like Frank Braña, Gérard Tichy and Silvia Gambino could not speak English, so you can imagine some of the on-set confusion.
Admittedly there are some great unintentionally humorous moments that I can’t provide an excuse for. The best of these is when a Bruce Lee lookalike violently attacks an undercover Police officer and then the pair laugh it off as it’s all down to ‘…Some bad chop suey’. This was actually intentional as the actor was from a Kung Fu movie that Dick Randall was working on at the time and Simón wrote the scene on the spot to include him in a cameo. Oh and I can’t forget to mention when the Lieutenant tells his colleague to, ‘take some uppers’ to stay awake and help with the case. Also, what about when one goofy big-breasted floozy spouts, “The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time” – Or the Footloose-esque boogie scene, which sees a bunch of leotard clad eighties bunnies twisting and dancing and seems to have been choreographed by Stevie Wonder but offers absolutely *nothing* to the story? I could go on, but I’ll save some moments for you to uncover for yourself.
Now inept Police forces in slasher movies are as essential as a twisted killer, but Christopher George and Frank Braña manage to take things to a whole new level. I may not be a master detective, but I would say that anyone who has been found in the vicinity of a gruesome chainsaw killing more than once and has no solid reasoning as to him being that close would probably be considered at least a ‘considerable suspect’. Well these bozos let college student Kendall (Ian Sera) work alongside them throughout the runtime and he even finds the clue that cracks the case! I also loved the funky score, which sounds like something from a seventies porno.
Credit has to be given to Basilio Cortijo for his brilliant gore effects, which are very well done. The film is one of the goriest of the period and for that alone it is well worth a look. It also never gets boring and has become a classic Grindhouse/drive-in favourite with a strong and loyal following. You definitely can’t knock the director for his effort and if you watch it with an open mind some of the murder scenes are effective if not creepy. Also, many critics pick up on this perhaps unfairly, but the girl smashing through a mirror in the beginning DOES have something to do with the plot. It is meant to signify the return of the murderer’s psychosis (it was launched by a smashed mirror in the opening). It’s not handled in the best way, but that was the aim. I just actually got an update from one of the cast and apparently a lot of scenes were shot that didn’t make the final print. Reportedly, one of those was the aftermath of the aforementioned mirror scene where the girl says that she’s ok and the maniac is shown lurking nearby. In fact it is that same bunny that gets her head lopped off immediately after. All this got me thinking, maybe Simon’s film would have made more sense with everything included. Who knows what else was left on the cutting room floor? There was definitely a few gore scenes that were not featured, so maybe just maybe?
Ok so I have tried to give a different perspective and can openly admit that there is a lot to laugh at with the production of this feature, but then there were with most slashers of the early eighties that were not European produced (Graduation Day, Fatal Games et al). My flatmate actually really enjoyed it (partly because she thought she was cool by working out the killer’s identity – by his shoes!) and she gave it the thumbs up (admitting however that it’s not scary).
Mil Gritos does deserve a place in the annuals of slasher history and kudos to Simón who said he never cared what the critics said; he just really enjoyed making these movies. It may not have got the reviews that he initially intended, but I loved watching it all the same. You need to see it for the breathtaking scene when Lynda Day George summons every bit of her minimal acting ability to scream, ‘Barstard, Baaarstaaard….BAAARRRSTAAARD! It’s up their with the napalm scene from Apocalypse Now and the opening of The Godfather. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Just as the advert said, it’s exactly what you think it is…
Killer Guise: √√
Final Girl √√