Six Wonderful Eurohorrors

During the course of my horror-movie musings here on FanLit, this film buff has written many reviews of scary pictures that were the products of Britain and Italy. And indeed, what with Hammer Studios in the former and the dozens of giallo films issuing forth from the latter, there really is a seemingly endless number of mind-blowing horror films to be had from those two countries alone. But Italy and the U.K. were surely not the only countries “across the pond” to have produced wonderful horror fare, and in today’s Shocktober column, I would like to shine a light on some other European countries that have given the world some shocking cinematic experiences. Thus, below you will find six films from such countries as Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Belgium … and Italy and the U.K. that will surely demonstrate that the love of horror was and is a Continental thing. And each one of these six films, of course, would make for perfect fare at home one dark and stormy October night… 

MILL OF THE STONE WOMAN horror film reviewMILL OF THE STONE WOMAN (1960)

Most people who write about the 1960 French-Italian coproduction Mill of the Stone Women can’t seem to resist comparing it, and quite rightly, to House of Wax (1953) and Eyes Without a Face (1959); I guess I’ve just done so myself! But Mill… has a lot more to offer than just a mashup of those two great pictures. In it, handsome Pierre Brice plays Hans van Harnim, a writer in what appears to be late 19th century Holland, who goes to the windmill home of one Prof. Wahl to do a story on his unusual abode and the professor/sculptor’s carousel collection of grotesque female statues. What follows, for van Harnim, is quite the nightmarish experience, as he discovers the secrets of both this statuary and Wahl’s mysterious daughter, Elfy. While not nearly as classic or seminal as two other horror films that premiered that year – Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and Uncle Alfie’s Psycho (then again, how many pictures are?) – Mill… still manages to provide some shudders. The film begins quite eerily, and its unusual backdrop, that of the misty canal district in Holland’s countryside, is a unique one for a horror film. An hallucinatory freakout sequence that transpires roughly halfway in is truly disorienting, before the picture turns to more conventional, albeit still quite fun, mad-scientist fare. The film also gives us handsome sets, nicely muted colors, interesting direction by Giorgio Ferroni, and perhaps the most inspired use of a creepy windmill since Uncle Alfie’s Foreign Correspondent (1940). And almost stealing the show, in her role as Elfy, is Scilla Gabel, a gorgeous actress with Sophia Loren-type looks and the otherworldly air of the young Barbara Steele. In all, a very fine horror outing, nicely presented on the DVD that I recently watched from the good folks at Mondo Macabro, and with loads of fine extras, to boot.

horror film reviewVALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS Of all the many film reviews that I have written, this one, for Czech director Jaromil Jires’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), is proving one of the most difficult. For one thing, I don’t even know how to properly describe the film. It’s not exactly a horror movie, although there are some quite hideous-looking vampires on display, and it’s not a fairy tale. Perhaps it’s best described as a young girl’s post-pubescent fantasies and imagined fears as she enters womanhood, replete with overtones of incest, lesbianism, pedophilia, flagellation, reincarnation and magic. Or perhaps it’s all just a dream that young Valerie is experiencing after having eaten too much zeli na sladko. In any event, Valerie… is one deeply symbolic, surrealistic ride indeed, with characters whose relationships keep changing (a friend becomes a brother, a grandmother becomes a cousin) and with the line between fantasy and reality constantly blurred. The picture is gorgeous to look at, and Jires dishes out a never-ending phantasmagoria of fascinating images to both dazzle and puzzle the viewer, all set to some heavenly choir background music. I have never seen a film like it; indeed, I could not predict what would transpire from one second to the next. The film is even trippier than the following year’s stoner sensation El Topo. What a shame that Valerie… could not have been given a similar midnight-movie treatment back when; it is a must-see for the lysergically enhanced viewer. I have not yet mentioned 14-year-old Jaroslava Schallerova in the lead role, but she is tremendously appealing and a genuine beauty, here in her film debut. I have watched this film twice recently, and have come away with different sets of ideas after each viewing. That’s the kind of picture it is. As far as the Facets DVD that I recently watched is concerned, it looks OK at best, with subtitles that often seem a few beats behind the dialogue, which only adds to the confusion. Still, I would say that this picture is one not to be missed. A very special film indeed.

horror film reviewMARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

MARK OF THE DEVIL I hadn’t seen the British/German coproduction Mark of the Devil since its initial release in 1970, and could only recall one image from this now infamously violent film: an accused blonde witch having her tongue slowly pulled out. For us kids back then, this was enough to guarantee the picture an enduring rep. Having just watched the film again, some 50 years later, I am now stunned that we kids were allowed to watch this movie in 1970 at all, featuring as it does not just that legendary tongue yank, but also whippings, burnings, a tar & feathering, thumbscrews, beatings, Chinese water torture, skewers, branding, a spiked chair, beheadings, an eyeball impalement, stretchings on the rack, and several rape sequences, all in fairly realistic detail, and all carried out in the name of the Church in the furtherance of exposing disciples of Satan. (No wonder free barf bags were famously given to all the film’s theatre patrons back when!) Today, these exploitative shock elements strike me as being somewhat of a distasteful necessity, as the filmmakers are purportedly endeavoring to expose the cruelties of the age. Taking place in an unnamed locale in what seems to be the early 18th century, Mark of the Devil has lots more going for the adult horror fan than just these scenes of gruesome torture. Herbert Lom is quite excellent as Lord Cumberland, the impotent chief witch-hunter (the viewer must gather that if Viagra had been available 300 years ago, many hundreds of women might have been spared!), baby-faced Udo Kier very fine as his apprentice, and Olivera Vuco extremely sensuous as Vanessa, an accused hotty. The picture has been beautifully shot and handsomely produced and, perhaps best of all, features a gorgeous score by Michael Holm that will likely be running through your head for days afterward. This lovely melody is all the more striking, given the ugliness so often shown on screen. A nasty piece of Eurohorror helmed by British director Michael Armstrong, it is most certainly not for the kiddies. The film is superbly presented on the great-looking DVD from Blue Underground that I recently watched, and is loaded with so many extras as to make your tongue hang out…

horror film reviewTHE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE (1971)

THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE From its opening, sepia-tinted prologue depicting a Nazi general committing infanticide in 1945 Berlin to its closing final scene of the Devil triumphant, Jean Brismee’s The Devil’s Nightmare is one fairly intense experience indeed. But the film tells a pretty simple story, really. A busload of tourists – a bickering couple, two very attractive lesbians, a crusty old man and a hunky seminarian – along with their gluttonous driver, are forced to spend the night at the von Rhoneberg castle, somewhere in Germany. Another guest soon arrives, an alluring redhead named Lisa, and she turns out to be a supersexy succubus who proceeds to slay the castle guests one by one, via any number of bizarre methods. Anyway, though usually termed “Eurotrash” by the critics, this film, a Belgian/Italian coproduction, appealed to me very much, mainly due to its remarkable atmosphere and memorable score. The picture has been imaginatively shot utilizing odd camera angles and unusual settings, and Alessandro Alessandroni’s background music is just fantastic. His “succubus theme” is at once creepy, haunting, lovely and beautiful, instantly engendering a mood of unease whenever it is played. I had greatly appreciated Alessandroni’s contribution to 1978’s The Killer Nun, but his outre score here really is some kind of great work. It practically makes the picture all by itself. Just get a load of that scene near the film’s end, with the creepy theme chant accompanying the Devil’s pursuit of the seminarian into a church; beautifully done stuff! But let’s not forget Erika Blanc in the lead role of Lisa. Although not what I would call overwhelmingly gorgeous, she certainly is supremely sexy, and not a little frightening when her succubus mug comes to the fore. Closing on a note of bleak irony, The Devil’s Nightmare may just haunt your dreams as well…

horror film reviewGIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY (1971)

GIRL SLAVES OF MORGANA LE FAY Film buffs who sit down to watch the 1971 French film Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay hoping for some gross-out Eurohorror or just some good old-fashioned Eurosleaze may be a tad disappointed with how this picture unreels. Although there ARE some horror elements to be had here, they are very few in number, and though there are copious amounts of bare flesh to be seen, it is all oh-so tastefully done. An “erotic fantasy” may be the most accurate descriptor for this experience. In the film, two beautiful college grads, Francoise (Mireille Saunin) and Anna (Michele Perello), while on holiday, run out of gas in a desolate rural area and wind up at the lakeside castle of Morgana (Dominique Delpierre), a woman with seemingly magical abilities and the gift of conferring eternal life and beauty on those women (her household is filled almost entirely with women) she finds desirable (although whether she is actually the Morgana of Arthurian legend is never actually discussed). Anna and Francoise are given the choice, thus, of giving up their souls and remaining with Morgana eternally, or joining the aging crones in the dungeon who have declined her generous offer… Anyway, I must say right here that this is surely one of the most beautiful-looking films that I’ve seen in a long time. Every single woman in Morgana’s harem is simply stunning; the scenery (the Auvergne region of France) is beautiful; Morgana’s castle (the 15th century Château de Val, in Bort-les-Orgues) is beautiful, both inside and out; the sets and costumes are beautiful; and the acoustic score by Cisco Elrubio is … well, beautiful. So yes, the film is surely a treat for the eyes and ears, and is wonderfully captured on yet another packed-with-extras disc from Mondo Macabro. Still, the film has its problems. For one thing, its languorous pace will surely be offputting for many, and the fact that nothing much really transpires during the girls’ castle stay cannot be denied. Several sequences drag on for too long, especially that feast near the film’s end, interspersed as it is with interminable shots of dancing girls and various lesbian couplings. And those lesbian scenes, by the way, are more erotic in nature than “hot,” and will probably appeal more to the ladies in the audience than the men. Still, director Bruno Gantillon maintains his dreamlike atmosphere from beginning to end, and a surprise conclusion of sorts does much to mitigate some of the strangeness that had come before. Never released in the U.S. or the U.K. during its initial run, the film is certainly an interesting and beautifully crafted curio that is ripe for discovery by discerning viewers…

horror film reviewBABA YAGA (1973)

BABA YAGA I am wholly unfamiliar with Guido Crepax’ Valentina comic strip, so really cannot say how closely the Italian/French coproduction Baba Yaga hews to its source material. Director Corrado Farina states, however, in one of the Blue Underground DVD’s many extras that I recently watched, that he failed in his intention to produce a film that replicates the feel of a comic strip. Be that as it may, the objective viewer should easily discern that this film has much to offer in its own right. In it, we meet Valentina (Isabella de Funes), a pretty fashion photographer living in Milan, who, one evening, encounters a very strange woman. She is Baba Yaga, a sensual, echoey-voiced, blond enchantress of sorts who gives Valentina a leather-clad living doll, puts a hex on her camera, and shows her her creepy old house (replete with a bottomless pit in the living room!). Carroll Baker, older but still very beautiful, is quite good as this “witchy woman” – I just love the way she wraps her mouth around the word “Valentina” – although, Farina reveals, she was far from the director’s first choice for the role. The film has been directed and edited for maximum weirdness, and a dreamy piano theme by Piero Umiliani greatly adds to the strange aura that permeates throughout. Ultimately, however, the film is unsatisfying, in that nothing at all is explained, and the sudden denouement leaves one wishing for a lot more. Still, the picture is consistently interesting, engaging and atmospheric, and the staccato editing, dream sequences and groovy jazz should please viewers who are into “head movies.” A mixed bag, to be sure, but good for those who are game for something different…

So there you go … a half dozen Eurohorrors, each of which will make for perfect viewing as we get deeper into this Shocktober season. As they would say in today’s Czech Republic, Doufam, ze si je vsechny brzy uzijete!


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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2 comments

  1. Prodigious output this month, Sandy! This seems like way more work than one film a day.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Yes, by my rough count, this year’s Shocktober columns discussed 102 films, so one would’ve needed to do better than triple features at home every day this month to keep up. For me, a labor of love….

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