Tarantino and Rodriguez' ode to trashy seventies exploitation movies may not have set the box office on fire but it did manage to convince a few home video companies to follow in their footsteps by releasing some interesting 'grindhouse' themed releases. BCI Eclipse is one of those companies, and this entry in their Welcome To The Grindhouse double-feature line pairs up the notorious Black Candles with the lesser known Evil Eye. Euro-cult fans will definitely be more familiar with these films than the average Joe-on-the-street but hopefully the 'bang for the buck' factor will encourage the curious to check these releases out, which in turn will allow for BCI to continue the line as they're truly a treat for genre buffs and you really can't beat the price.
This semi-notorious Spanish horror film tells the story of a woman named Carol who, after the unexpected and unusual death of her brother, heads to London for the funeral with her boyfriend Robert in tow. The couple are put up by Carol's now widowed sister-in-law who lets them stay at the huge family estate out in the middle of the countryside far away from the big city. What Carol and Robert don't notice right away is the odd assortment of devilish knick-knacks scattered around the creepy old home.
As Carol (Vanessa Hidalgo) explores the area she starts to pay more attention to some of these bizarre occult items and she also interacts with some of the local populace, none of whom are particularly nice to her. As she becomes rather uneasy with the situation, Robert is becoming more fascinated by the house and its contents. Eventually the pair decide to do some investigative work and try to ascertain just exactly how and why Carol's brother shuffled off this mortal coil, and what the two find is that a Satanic cult seems to be at the root of things...
Writer-Director Jose Ramon Larraz (best known for Vampyres and The Coming Of Sin has a knack for helming skin-tastic and atmospheric movies and Black Candles definitely fits into his niche quite nicely. For a film made in 1982 the picture definitely has a strong seventies vibe to it that is evident in the music and the fashions up on screen. Larraz doesn't pace the film particularly well in that it moves a little slow but at the same time it has a rich, dreamlike quality to it that makes the picture more than just a little surreal (whether or not this was intentional or not is probably up for debate). While the characters are fairly on dimensional and the English dubbing, which periodically goes out of synch, doesn't help the film any the visuals are at least interesting and the strange layers of psycho-sexual horror that get piled up towards the end of the film definitely give cult movie fans exactly what they're after - plenty of skin, some mild gore, and an evil goat!
That said, is Black Candles genuinely good? Not really, though it certainly entertains. It feels rushed and shallow in spots and it suffers from some sloppy writing and incredibly mediocre performances. It is reasonably well shot and some of the set pieces are imaginative and unusual in that they deal with some fairly taboo subject material like goats, incest and drug use. The film appears to be uncut save for a couple of minutes of music which play out over a blank screen after the end credits. Interestingly enough, while this is an English language presentation with English language credits which attribute directorial efforts to Joseph Braunstein (one of Larraz's alias'), the title card credits the copyright of the film to director Jose Larraz (as does the back of the packaging).
The second feature tells the tale of one Peter Crane (Jorge Rivero), a wealthy American who suffers from recurring nightmares wherein an evil cult drives him to murder. He's surprised to meet a woman named Yvonne at a fashion show who apparently suffers from similar nightmares, and even more surprised by his own actions when he takes her life. Unfortunately, Peter's nocturnal adventuring soon starts to have an effect on his real life and before you know it, a cop named Ranieri (Anthony Steffan) is putting his nose into Peter's business. Peter's only confidant is his psychiatrist, Dr. Stone (Richard Conte) and before you know it, he's having an affair with Stone's lovely assistant, Turino (Eva Vanicek). The two head off into the countryside together, leaving Peter's girlfriend, Taga (Daniela Giordana), behind but failing to realize that Ranieri is hot on Peter's trail. Ranieri, on the other hand, is starting to put the pieces of this strange puzzle together, as he notices that many of those close to Peter seem to be winding up dead as of late...
A stylish and rather strange film full of memorably odd set pieces, Evil Eye (also known as Eroticofollia, the title under which the film was released in Europe by Germany's X-Rated Kult label) proves to be a pretty interesting Giallo-ish thriller with some blatant supernatural touches. It is these same touches which rise the movie above the standard stalk and kill formula of the typical Giallo of the era and give it a different slant than you might expect. The scenes involving the cult are particularly well shot and quite psychedelic, and Stelvio Cipriani's disco driven score tends to accentuate the trippiness of these moments further upping the freak-out quotient of the film.
Performance wise, fans should be pleased to see a cast of notable Euro-cult regulars all in fine form here. Steffen and Conte need no introduction considering their sizeable filmographies. Rivero has shown up in everything from Lucio Fulci's Conquest to Soldier Blue while Daniela Giordana has shown up in a few notable polizia films like Violent Rome as well as a handful of Spaghetti Westerns. Director Mario Siciliano keeps the pacing and the atmosphere suitably bizarre from start to finish. He cut his teeth on some Spaghetti Westerns before branching into horror movies and then finishing up his career making Italian sex films. He passed away in 1987. Julio Buchs, who wrote the film, is notable for script work on Fulci's Perversion Story, and for co-writing and co-directing A Bullet For Sandoval.
Both films are presented in widescreen 1.85.1 presentations taken from film sources that have seen better days. While it's nice to see the movies in widescreen in what appear to be the proper aspect ratios for each film, neither have been enhanced for anamorphic sets which is a bit of a drag. Either way, at least they're widescreen and that counts for something. As far as image quality goes, colors are a bit flat in some scenes and there's mild print damage and moderate grain throughout. Both films are completely watchable and certainly there are far worse presentations of low budget horror movies out there than these two, but things definitely could have looked better. One could make the argument that these transfers make the movies look like they might have had they been old prints run through a projector in a flea-pit theater back in the day...
Both films are presented in their English language dubs with not alternate language options or subtitles available. Both films have some minor distortion and background hiss pretty much throughout but they're not so degraded that you can't understand the performers or follow the film. It would have been nice, as with the video quality, to see more effort put into the presentation but on the other hand this is very much in keeping with the 'grindhouse' marketing under which these titles are seeing release.
Extras are limited to trailers for a few other BCI titles - The Pick Up, Don't Answer The Phone, Legend Of The Eight Samurai, Sister Streetfighter, and Prime Evil as well as an intermission spot. The static menu allows you to watch each film individually or as the 'grindhouse experience' where they play with the trailers in front of them and as a double feature.
The audio and video quality is far from perfect but that doesn't make the movies any less fun. Those who dig on sleazy seventies European imports should definitely enjoy both films as there's plenty of skin, blood and craziness on hand. Anamorphic transfers would have been nice but even with that strike against it, Welcome To The Grindhouse - Black Candles/Evil Eye comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.