Monday, November 22, 2010

Wendigo Meets FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD (Malenka, 1969)

In 1969 fading Swedish sexpot Anita Ekberg took the title role in Amando de Ossorio's gothic horror film Malenka. She also starred as the title character's descendant, Sylvia Morel, "the most beautiful model in Rome," who's summoned to the old ancestral castle to claim her inheritance as the Countess Wolduck. She meets her uncle, the old Count (Euro-baddie extraordinaire Julian Ugarte), and a mysterious woman named Glinka whom the Count keeps prisoner and flogs.

(l-r) Diana Lorys, Rosanna Yanni and Anita Ekberg in a tavern scene that may include a clue explaining the quality of Ekberg's performance in Malenka.

Like nearly every woman in this characteristic Euro horror, Glinka (Adriana Ambesi) is well endowed, and in her case not only up front but in her mouth, with a lovely pair of fangs. Some vampire, though, to be so easily in the Count's power. But what of the Count? He never shows any fangs, but he claims to be a vampire, too, one of the "nondead" cursed by long-ago Malenka's experiments in "necrobiology." It's a twist on the Black Sunday formula with a twist that turns the customary witch into a mad scientist and her curse into the consequences of pseudoscience. The outcome is the same as ever; Malenka is captured and burned by a mob, but she doesn't have to make threats. The curse was already in place when the mob got her. Or was it?

Above, Adriana Ambesi as Glinka the good vampire. Below, Diana Lorys as Berthe, the less good.

It later appears that the Count was simply trying to drive Sylvia insane with stories of vampires, presumably so he can keep the castle for himself. He went the extra mile with his scheme, faking the death of a barmaid and arranging for her to appear to rise from her grave. He's willing to go a mile further and cinch Sylvia's insanity by having her kill her intrepid boyfriend (Gianni Medici/"John Hamilton"), who with his comedy-relief sidekick has come to Sylvia's rescue. Even Glinka claims that everything's a big fakeout, though why she should collaborate by sporting fangs when she opposes the Count's intentions is still a mystery to Wendigo and me. Fine. Everything's a big fakeout. So why does the old Count start decomposing rapidly, and why does his skull ignite, when he gets a stake stuck through his heart?...

"No, Mr. Medici, I expect you to die!"

I kept it from my friend Wendigo until we were already into the movie that it was made by the maker of Tombs of the Blind Dead, a film of which he retains hostile memories. But Malenka's pedigree was the least of its problems. We saw it in its edited-down American edition, titled Fangs of the Living Dead as part of the infamous "Orgy of the Living Dead" triple-bill that included Mario Bava's Kill, Baby, Kill (as Curse of the Living Dead) and Elio Scardamaglia's Murder Clinic (as Revenge of the Living Dead). Even that version had probably gone through some cuts by the time Mill Creek got hold of it for inclusion in their new Pure Terror box set. Malenka reportedly runs 98 minutes in its original form. Fangs of the Living Dead on my disc runs 73 minutes.

Given these circumstances, it's almost unfair to ask Wendigo what he thinks of the film. It may have been unfair to have him watch it in the first place. Perhaps understandably, he regards Fangs as "a sad, sorry little thing," a confused mess that seems uncertain of whether it's a horror film or a farce comedy. The actors themselves appear to be in disagreement, while Anita Ekberg attempts to split the difference by giving a ludicrously overstated performance, running an emotional range from bitchy-crabby to pure rest. She isn't flattered by the gothic get-ups imposed on her once she arrives at the castle, nor by proximity to such younger Euro-hotties as Ambesi and Rosanna Yanni (as a barmaid). Julian Ugarte always looks right for films like these, but Wendigo had the impression that he, or at least his English dubber, was bored by the part. Meanwhile, Medici/Hamilton tries to be an action hero, while Cesar Benet as his sidekick keeps trying, singlehandedly sometimes, to turn the show into an old-school comedy, ogling dames and bugging out at the sight of fangs or profoundly bad bat effects.

A film like this has got to have a painting in it, and so shall this review.

Even in its present ravaged form, enough remains to convince Wendigo that Malenka would at least have looked good. It has the usual Euro advantages of great locations and rich, colorful cinematography. Whether the story would make more sense at full length is another matter. The big mistake is in the original title. The Black Sunday formula usually involves the original condemned villain actively seeking revenge across the generations, but Malenka the progressive biochemist of centuries past has no role in the present day story. That might make sense if the story really isn't supposed to have a point, if the Count is trying to fake out Sylvia and drive her crazy. But what's fake and what isn't? Can the Count be a real vampire (or "nondead") and still want to have Sylvia put away? It's hard for us to say because the shambles that is Fangs doesn't make anyone's ultimate motivations clear.

Our complaints beg the question: if an opportunity arises to watch Malenka in optimum format, in its original length and properly letterboxed, would Wendigo take advantage? He says he was curious immediately after watching Fangs, but the more he thinks about it the more he realizes that Ekberg would stink no matter how much time he gave her. There's also no guarantee, this being a Euro horror, that the full-length Malenka would clarify matters to any great extent. The most Wendigo will say is that whether he returns to this subject or not will depend on his mood. If that's not exactly a vote of confidence, so be it.

Here's a little bit of a trailer for Fangs, as uploaded to YouTube by OcpCommunications.

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

Ekberg is kind of fun in Killer Nun. But Fangs of the Living Dead is indeed dire.

I've only seen the first of the Blind Dead films, which I thought was OK, but not in the top rank of eurohorror.