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DVD SAVANT

Euro Fiends from Beyond the Grave
The Faceless Monster, Satanik,
The Red Headed Corpse


Euro Fiends from Beyond the Grave

The Faceless Monster, The Red Headed Corpse, Satanik

Retromedia
1965-71 / Color / Street Date March 6, 2007 / 19.95

Starring Barbara Steele, Paul Müller, Magda Konopka, Farley Granger, Erika Blanc

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Retromedia has bundled three European horror films onto one amusingly titled bargain disc. The Faceless Monster stars cult icon Barbara Steele and will need no further recommendation for genre aficionados. The other two features will appeal only for curiosity's sake. Both Satanik and The Red Headed Corpse offer diabolical females but are poorly directed.

Made in 1965 under the evocative title Amanti d'oltretomba (Lovers from Beyond the Tomb), The Faceless Monster received a brief release in America in a severely edited version, Nightmare Castle. Inquisitive readers of the French film magazine Midi-minuit fantastique were mesmerized by sexy photos of Barbara Steele, in various states of undress, chained to a number of torture devices. If corresponding film scenes indeed exist, they're not in this 100-minute version of the film, which plays without obvious signs of censorship.

Alas, The Faceless Monster simply repeats the themes of earlier Steele vehicles. A madman kills his unfaithful first wife and then subjects her successor to a domestic nightmare, as in Riccardo Freda's The Horrible Dr. Hichcock. The two wives are look-alike sisters played by Barbara Steele in a dual role, reminding us of Mario Bava's Black Sunday. A spooky house replays crimes from the past, echoing Antonio Margheriti's Castle of Blood. Steele would make her last classic-era Italian horror film only a year later. Judging by this picture the genre may have lapsed for lack of fresh ideas.

The director is Mario Caiano, credited on the film as Allan Grünewald. Caianao's treats Barbara Steele to many close-ups but none of the visuals approach the haunting artistry in her earlier work. The story drags until the finale when Steele appears in a gruesome makeup, laughing like a demon. Although it has its moments, The Faceless Monster is definitely lesser Steele.

Retromedia first released The Faceless Monster in 2003, and this re-issue improves on the encoding. The image is still gray and dull but it no longer breaks up into fine digital patterns. The track is an English dubbing job. Steele is said to have used her own voice. In Euro-horror films she's almost always dubbed by someone else.

Satanik is a dreary 1968 comic book adaptation and one of several sound-alike imitators of Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik. Under terrible, obvious old age makeup the beautiful Magda Konopka (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) plays Dr. Bannister, a haggard scientist. Murdering her research partner, Bannister imbibes a youth serum that transforms her into a sexy 20 year-old. It also gives her a new hairstyle and makeup job!

Looking remarkably like Marisa Mell in Diabolik, the evil Dr. Bannister works her way through a succession of men, murdering those who discover her secret. Pursued by both English and Spanish police, she hooks up with gangsters at a strip club in Geneva. Then both her luck and the secret serum run out.

Satanik is a carelessly directed, lazily photographed rejuvenation story along the lines of The Leech Woman. Most of the settings and costumes are ugly and the storyline is padded with footage that belongs in a travelogue. Anyone expecting comic-book thrills will be disappointed, for the glamorous Ms. Konopka wears the signature Feuillade-style costume only once -- as part of a poorly directed strip act. Since name 'Satanik' is never even spoken, it may be that the filmmakers changed titles at the last minute. The main title on-screen for this dubbed and possibly censored English-language version is misspelled as Satanic.

The transfer source appears to be a slightly faded flat 16mm print of what may have been a widescreen film -- the cropping is awfully tight on the sides. Retromedia previously released Satanik as a stand-alone disc in 2003.

1971's The Red Headed Corpse, originally La rossa dalla pelle che scotta, begins with a promising idea. A mad painter is haunted by the ghost of a beautiful but unfaithful model. American actor Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train, They Live by Night) makes an honest attempt to evoke the artist's mental turmoil. He's defeated by a clumsy production more interested in exploitable nude scenes with Euro-horror star Erika Blanc.

In Istanbul, a bitter, penniless painter (Granger) meets a red headed prostitute who reminds him of a forgotten lover. He then becomes interested in a mannequin discarded by some hippies. The mannequin triggers a memory -- or a hallucination -- of an irresistibly attractive, mute woman (Erika Blanc). When she finally speaks, the woman talks Granger into using her as a model. Granger's new nudes become hot sellers. While he's away in the city, the mysterious redhead enters into casual affairs with a passing hunter and Granger's chief patron. When Granger objects, she threatens to leave. An uneasy truce is worked out with the miserable Granger watching from afar as his model meets the hunter in the forest, or seduces a young college boy on the beach.

Although Farley Granger's acting is quite good, The Red Headed Corpse generates little interest with its erotic take on Portrait of Jennie. Often lolling naked around Granger's shack, Erika Blanc evokes soft-core porn, not ghostly chills. Renzo Russo's direction is too slack to maintain much interest. The idea that the redhead could be Granger's private hallucination is scotched by the fact that in the 'real' part of the narrative, the hunter character remembers her quite well.

The Red Headed Corpse is the worst-looking feature on the disc. The faded colors often make Ms. Blanc appear quite unappetizing, whether clothed or not. The film is intact but heavily scratched.

Retromedia's three Euro Fiends from Beyond the Grave movies are encoded on a flipper disc, without extras. Offered at a bargain price, the set is recommended mainly to Barbara Steele fans interested in seeing all of her films.

Longer original reviews for two of the titles have previously appeared on DVD Savant: The Faceless Monster and Satanik.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Euro Fiends from Beyond the Grave rates:
Titles: The Faceless Monster / Satanik / The Red Headed Corpse
Movies: Good - / Poor / Fair
Video: Good --- / Fair + / Fair
Sound: Good / Good - / Good -
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 5, 2007

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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