Spanish Shockers: CURSE OF THE DEVIL, JACK THE RIPPER and THE DRACULA SAGA at International House, Philadelphia, PA (3/16/2014)

Back to International House in Philly this week for 3 Spanish Shockers from the 70′s: Curse of the Devil (El Retorno De Walpurgis), Jack the Ripper and The Dracula Saga (La Saga De Los Dracula), all courtesy of Exhumed Films. The City Where The Brothers All Love Each Other is home to many film groups and Exhumed Films have been sponsoring showings for over 10 years. You can see them at the Monster-Mania conventions selling DVDs too. Their October 24-hour horror movie marathon sells out within minutes (I’ve tried twice to get tickets and failed). People travel from all over to attend these shows. I met one man who drove all the way from Albany. All films shown were in 35mm.

Having figure out the new parking kiosks which so confused me the last time I was at an International House showing, I was able to be in the lobby by 7 PM. Exhumed Films already had a few tables selling t-shirts and DVD’s. Since the theater is in a dormitory for international students, there was no popcorn to be found. The building does have a lounge area with some vending machines, so I at least got my soda. Price wasn’t too bad either.

Inside the theater was the usual crowd of middle-aged cinemaniacs (like myself) and urban hipsters. I don’t know what happened to the Goths, guess that movement has played out. It was a very respectful audience, something I’ve learned to appreciate as the years go bye. No MST3000-style running commentaries, thank Gawd. The general level of audience seriousness may have had something to do with the presenters warning about “phone lights and talking”. After a few brief announcements and some door prizes, the show began.

The first film, Curse of the Devil, began with two knights fighting in somewhat realistic armor on horseback. Unfortunately, it was a lackluster attempt at medieval combat recreation. Here’s a hint to future film directors who want to make it look good: don’t have one of the knights hold the mace handle in the middle. We quickly learn that an evil witch has been in league with the prince of darkness and is oppressing the land. But before she can carry out her latest fiendish plot, the Grand Inquisitor Irineus Daninsky (Spanish actor Paul Naschy AKA Jacinto Molina) shows up with his troops. He has the witch and her followers slaughtered, but not before she curses his lineage. Fast forward to the 19th century where his descendant, wealthy landowner Waldemar Daninsky, is pursuing a wolf. He kills it with a silver bullet, only to discover the body of a young gypsy boy. The leader of the gypsy tribe, an old witch, summons the forces of evil to carry the werewolf curse to Daninsky.

Paul Naschy was a popular horror movie star in Spain and the rest of the world in the 70′s. Not too bad for a man who started out as a weight-lifter and film extra. I’ve always thought of him as a better director than actor. He tended to give an understated performance, which works well in Dracula’s Great Love and People Who Own the Dark. But in this movie he walks around not doing much. Even the werewolf transformations are obviously taken from the Universal horror movies. The sets looked good and realistic. Dubbing was adequate for the time of the release. And the print they used for the showing was in decent shape with little signs of wear, splice, or fading.

I missed out on the opening scene of the next attraction, Jack the Ripper, as I’d stopped to talk to the owner of Viva Video. As I walked into the theater, I was treated to the sight of Klaus Kiniski hauling a body bag. I can think of few better ways to open a film. Ripper, a German movie directed by Spanish director Jesus Franco, features Kiniski playing the kind Dr. Dennis Orloff by day, but who hunts down prostitutes at night. It all takes place in Victorian London, although the streets resembled Ye Olde Deutschland. The police are stymied and have few witnesses, one of whom is a blind man. The girlfriend (played by Josephine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter) of the detective investigating the case takes it on her self to go undercover and find the killer.

The print shown of this film was pristine. I don’t know where they got hold of this one, but it was definitely stored in the right conditions. It was a treat watching Kiniski’s skull face fill the screen. How could anyone miss him as the killer? There was even a hilarious sequence where a police sketch artist draws a picture of the suspect as supplied by the witness’ testimony. Little by little, you see a perfect rendering of Kinski’s features. There was also plenty of gore in this feature, but of the orange blood 70′s variety.

The final feature, was a real treat: a Euro-vampire movie from the 70′s I had never seen: The Dracula Saga. 19th century in the mountains of Wallachia: a pregnant bride with her new husband is returning to her family’s ancestral estate, Castle Dracula. When they finally do arrive at the castle, the family retainer, Gabor, shows them the family tombs. Confused, they wait around until grandfather and the rest of the family show-up. After dark, naturally.

Produced in Spain with a Spanish cast, Dracula Saga was directed by Argentine filmmaker Leon Klimovsky. Although dubbed into English, the dialogue was quite good. Plenty of cues to the audience that something bad was about to happen to keep the attention. Although the crowd had dwindled by the time this feature was shown, everyone was entranced by the movie. I highly recommend this film. Unfortunately, the print used was sub-par. But sometimes you just have to take what you can get. I grew up on snowy 19″ TV screens trying to pull late-night signals in from cities 60 miles away.

About Z7

Timothy "Z7" Mayer has written 258 post in this blog.

I've been a mystery, SF and fantasy fan every since I can remember. I'm a published author, a business owner, and a self-appointed expert on strange books, pulp literature, and spy movies. Available for lectures. Donations appreciated.

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