16. The Perverse Countess (1974, Jess Franco)
Uncle Jess, you’ve done it again!
By law, I have to tell you that this The Perverse Countess is a variation on the classic The Most Dangerous Game story, but with added cannibalism.
It’s one of Jess Franco’s sunniest, most attractively shot films. I honestly can’t believe when people talk about how poor the cinematography in his movies is – he’s got an extraordinary eye for framing and composition, location and architecture, colour and movement.
This film, like so many, was shot in the tiny Spanish town of Calpe, where the wonderful Xanadu complex is situated, a series of buildings designed by Ricardo Bofill. I had the pleasure of visiting these a few years ago, and it’s no wonder Jess came back here time and time again.
There’s a lot going for this movie – even Franco detractors have to enjoy the 75 minute running time. There’s some gorgeous coastal photography – no one, not even Jean Rollin, shoots the seaside better than ol’ Jess.
It’s also a terrific cast. Howard Vernon really camps it up in a snarling, sneering role as the cannibalistic aristocrat, and he even gets a fairly graphic sex scene, which I probably never needed to see.
We also get two of Franco’s best leading ladies – the striking Alice Arno and everyone’s favourite exhibitionist, Lina Romay. Arno is unforgettable, striding around the beach naked and armed with a hunting bow, while Lina is Lina, perfect in whatever role Jess throws her way.
In typical Franco fashion, the big action climax is the dullest part of the film, and no amount of thrilling psychedelic rock can make up for the fact it’s 10 minutes of two women wandering around a forest looking confused, even if they are both nude.
It’s not a great starting point for those new to the Franco phenomenon, but existing fans will welcome it with open arms.
17. 10 to Midnight (1983, J Lee Thompson)
Standard Charles Bronson police procedural that strays into horror territory with its psycho killer who likes to strip nude and gut young women.
The middle hour is taken up with Bronson’s inept police work, which inadvertently leads to another string of murders, before Bronson disappears completely for the last act, which seems inspired by the Richard Speck nurse murders of the 1960s.
This finale should have been a classic exploitation scene, but the movie surprisingly bungles it, lacking in both showstopping gore and genuine suspense. If you want to see an action movie star face off against a slasher, try sticking with Chuck Norris’ Silent Rage or better yet, watch Arnie in Predator.
18. Torso (1973, Sergio Martino)
Sergio Martino is surely the most underrated horror director in history. His string of gialli in the 70s is unparalleled, yes even by Dario Argento. The Strange Vice of Mrs Ward, All the Colours of the Dark, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key are all beautifully shot, thrilling mysteries deserving of the sort of mainstream recognition afforded to Argento’s Deep Red.
Torso was Martino’s final straight giallo, though his Suspected Death of a Minor is part giallo, part cop thriller and part comedy. It’s also excellent, if not quite on a par with these five.
Quite honestly, Torso feels more like a proto-slasher than a giallo. The kills are frequent and pretty random, but always atmospheric and savagely violent, though the effects work is some of the poorest I’ve seen in a while.
So the first hour rolls by in a flurry of murders and lesbian sex, but so far it doesn’t feel quite on a par with Martino’s best work.
But then comes the third act, and fucking hell does Martino turn it on.
The final half hour is an extraordinary, almost dialogue-free game of cat and mouse between Suzy Kendall and the killer in a clifftop mansion. The scene was freely ripped off by High Tension years later, and why not? If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.
I promised that I was going to watch only films I had never seen before for this year’s Horrothon, but I had an urge to watch Torso and, like the killer in a giallo, I acted upon that urge.
Won’t you join me?