Beautiful Stranger

The Countess comes to Liverpool…

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We’ve been talking to Liverpool Pride about bringing queer horror to a scouse audience and they could not have been more excited. As a result, one of our favourite movies EVER is coming to Picturehouse at FACT for Halloween. Well, the day after to be precise. On Wednesday 1st November 2017 ‘Daughters of Darkness’ will be screened to an unsuspecting audience. This under-appreciated gem needs a new audience… and we’re hoping people crawl out of their crypts to enjoy it. But why?

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“I’m just an outmoded character, nothing more. You know, the beautiful stranger, slightly sad, slightly mysterious, who haunts one place after another. Two weeks ago in Nice and Monte Carlo, two days ago in Bruges….”

The gays love a tragic heroine. Throw in the glamour of this beautiful shadow of a woman languishing in the heat of the South of France, sipping cocktails and longing to be eternally youthful and you’ve got camp dynamite. Only we don’t pick up The Countess in Nice or Monaco, but in a rainy, out of season, desolate hotel in Ostend. However we do get languishing, we do get cocktails (of the troubling green variety), and we do get a tragic figure… if not a heroine, then a timely echo of the youth-obsessed culture we’re more immersed in than ever…

Countess Elizabeth Báthory doesn’t fill her face with Botox to maintain a youthful glow – but the blood of virgins. By any means necessary. She swans across Europe, her cape billowing in the wind, shimmering in an impossibly glam outfit that she got from Marlene Dietrich, with her companion du jour at her side. Right now it’s Ilona, the glum-faced young beauty styled after Louise Brooks. The Countess isn’t particularly interested with finding a hunky young man to carry her hat boxes and tuck her in at night (or should that be at dawn?), but with nubile young women just desperate to be plucked from a life of patriarchal servitude and treated to a life of luxury, trailing on her aristrocatic fur coat-tails from one penthouse to the next. Only Ilona doesn’t look too happy about it. At one point she even moans “You call this living?” The Countess, obsessed with the surface beauty of eternal youth and bourgeouis excess, fails to acknowledge that she’s not saving enslaved women and liberating them – she’s just taking them out of the frying pan and plonking them mid-sizzle into her cool blue fire. She doesn’t particularly care whether they like it or not, they just have to match her purple ostrich feather ensembles and look good on her arm at the ambassador’s party.

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If Ilona hates the ‘life’ she’s been blood-sucked into then her luck might just be in. Because when we check in with the vamps we meet newlyweds Stefan and Valerie, fresh off an overnight train having had a whirlwind marriage, en route back to England where Valerie is to meet Stefan’s formidable mother. But all is not what it seems. Stefan is a sadistic misogynist who believes women should do his bidding, and Valerie is far from happy. Stefan is also keeping a pretty big secret about his Mother – one I won’t spoil here but let’s just say the film’s queer credentials don’t end at Sapphic vampirism…

So begins a ridiculously camp and stylish tale of the seduction of Valerie by Countess Elizabeth. Made in 1970 (released in 71), the film is loaded down with problematic attitudes to both women and homosexuality. But never let that get in the way of a good horror film. Especially one as beautiful as this. Delphine Seyrig – the best damn Marlene Dietrich you’re gonna get post-Marlene Dietrich – imbues her immortal lesbian vampire with both a coquettish brass nerve and a sad, longing vulnerability. In a film with more than its share of humdinger lines and hammy performances she’s shockingly plausible as a seductress, and engaging to the very end. Whether she’s spreading her sparkly cape to warm the chilled shoulders of her shivering charge and resembling a Weimar-era giant bat in the process, or recounting graphic tales of torture whilst sipping her crème de menthe in the hotel bar, you just cannot get enough of her. She carries the film, with the other players curled at her feet. Eagle-eyed viewers of a certain age may notice that posh-boy-wifebeater Stefan is played by John Karlen, who smartened up his act ten years later, got a job on a building site and married Mary Beth in the role of Harv in Cagney and Lacey. Or you might just be too distracted by his ever-so-short tomato robe and slippers. Not to mention the fact that he treats poor Valerie like absolute dirt.

But rest assured he gets his comeuppance. This being a 70s Eurotrash lesbian vampire movie, it’s not long before Valerie falls under the spell of the Countess. Ilona, for all her whingeing, isn’t going to be happy about that – and neither is Stefan. The blood flows in some of the most awkward and inexplicable death scenes you’ll ever witness. For softcore horror fans – don’t be put off by this. The blood is minimal. However there’s plenty of nudity, with an impromptu naked moon dance from Ilona that has to be seen to be believed.

You’ll come out scratching your head – what was the film saying? Was it demonizing misogyny, the aristocracy, or was it aligning homosexuality with deviance and decadence? Or was it subverting the genre with the marabou slipper suddenly on the other foot as the Countess toys with Stefan’s masculinity and casts him aside to swoop in on his new bride? Maybe you’ll still be under the spell of the Countess and you won’t care. Whatever happens, sit back and let this languid, beautiful movie wash over you.

Fans of Screaming Queenz will remember our podcast on the movie. But if you haven’t heard it then click away below. There are spoilers so beware…

Get your tickets for this screening here. We’ll be there, possibly in our purple ostrich feathers. Come and get your teeth into it and we’ll have a good old laugh in the bar after!

http://www.fact.co.uk/whats-on/current/halloween-at-fact-with-liverpool-pride-flis-mitchell.aspx

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Bottoms up…

JL

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Previously, on Screaming Queenz…

We’ll be back after our little Summer break next week. Meanwhile have you caught up on all our podcast episodes so far? Here’s a selection for your delectation. A mix of vampires, witches, Italian slashers and good old-fashioned monster movies. All of them come with an unhealthy dose of camp humour, poor taste and disgusting language!

From Peter Cushing to porno, the references for Fright Night come thick and fast…

So who the fuck died and made the Babadook a gay icon? With a little help from The Village People we decipher just why this demonic children’s fable cashed in on the pink pound…

Who knew the eternally young Lost Boys would ever hit 30? Well they just did, so reminisce with big hair, 80s power rock, and the dark underbelly of Hollywood paedophiles…

Which witch are you? A badass 90s high-schooler or a psychadelic 70s lesbian with a penchant for S&M? Check out our two-parter on witches in horror, both parts here:

Do you like giallo? We love giallo. What the fuck is giallo? Find out here:

There’s like 37 more episodes for you to get your teeth into over on SoundCloud but you can also hear them via Podbean and Itunes, links below. So listen, laugh, loathe if you must. Get in touch and let us know your thoughts, get me on twitter @jonnylarkin or email us at Screamingqueenz@gmail.com!

JL

http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/screaming-queenz/id1070845275?mt=2

Pathos/Obsession – A Taste for Fear (1988)

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A late 80s hidden gem, Pathos, or its American title Obsession – A Taste For Fear comes off like a soft porn take on The Eyes of Laura Mars, doped up on Quaaludes and Campari…

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A late entry in the cannon of Italian sleaze with more than a stab at giallo, Piccio Raffainini’s only credited filmic outing stars Virginia Hey, who will be familiar to fans of Mad Max 2, Farscape and, believe it or not, Prisoner Cell Block H. She plays Diane, an upmarket fashion photographer working in Rome. Bisexual, oozing an icy coolness to match her sharp cheekbones and wicked tongue, she’s shacked up with her lesbian lover Valerie (Gioia Scola) who shows more than a hint of jealousy when Diane’s eye wanders…

Her shoot is suddenly plagued by grisly fetishistic murders, gialloesque insofar as the killer brandishes a blade in black gloves and takes great delight in the torture of scantily clad ladies.  Diane finds herself plunged into a murder mystery that takes her deep underground into the nightlife of Rome, whilst dealing with a jealous lesbian lover and a burgeoning romance with the investigating officer…

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Bizarrely the film is also set in the future, with hints of this coming from Hey’s choice of car – some bizarre hovering hybrid that zooms through the streets of Rome at night – not to mention guns that shoot some sort of laser zapper… Without those clues you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the coked-up brainchild of an 80s New York clubkid in the making. Shoulder-pads, afros and makeup that would make a drag queen gag abound in this uber-stylish little curiosity.

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Queer viewers can revel in the neon-lit fashions, the icy cool bitchiness of most its female cast, the labyrinthine gay club ‘Agony and Ecstasy’ and the surprise appearance of the fabulous Grace Jones track ‘Private Life’. Man candy comes in the form of Dario Parisini, giving us 80s George Michael facial stubble with more than a whiff of ‘assume the position’ porno cop realness.

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High on lesbianism that puts the tit in titillation, low on any semblance of plot with more time spent on the fashions, the interiors and the naked ladies, this VHS treasure can be found in its entirety on YouTube here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3K3OJW2ecM

Revel in the blurry pan and scan quality and pretend you’re watching a dodgy third generation copy late at night after one too many Babychams. Surprisingly this piece of Eurotrash looks so good in bad quality I’d actually pay for a HD upgrade should that ever come about. Stranger things have happened. 88 Films I’m looking at you!

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Cheers to the fabulous Rachael Nisbet for alerting me to this neon wonder. Her amazing indepth review can be found here:

http://hypnoticcrescendos.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/obsession-taste-for-fear-1988.html

JL

VIOLATION OF THE BITCH (1978)

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Euro trash exploitation turns out to be a languid dreamscape oozing queer sensibilities!

Spoilers ahead…

Don’t roll your eyes at me. I know. That title! But in my defense… well there is no defense. A couple of years ago my husband who’s a very talented artist, made my portrait from a collage of VHS covers ranging from The Exorcist to Salon Kitty to… well, Violation of the Bitch. Neither of us had seen it, but a title that lurid and offensive just had to be included in the collage as a token of his love for me. Isn’t that sweet?

So since then I’ve been trying to track it down, and strangely enough since I watched it last night I’ve discovered you can watch it on an array of porn sites across the sticky dirty internet. Thankfully I’d got hold of a copy before I had to watch it covered in pop-ups of Polish housewives flicking themselves off on their kitchen tables. Being the fevered shock-seeking bag of filth I am I sat down waiting to be appalled by a film that carried such a title, only to be pleasantly surprised.

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First up, its original title is ‘The Coming of Sin’ and whatever image that invokes for you is probably closer to the film you get than the filth ‘Violation…’ conjures up. The plot is simple. Rich white artist Lorna (Patricia Granada) takes in a simple (yet seductive) gypsy girl called Triana (Lidia Zuazo) whilst her employers are off on a business trip in the UK. Triana is plagued by frightening yet erotic nightmares in which a naked man rides around on a stallion splashing through water. To this viewer that would obviously be more of a wet dream than a nightmare but for some reason Triana is horrified and wakes in terror each time. Almost inexplicably Triana starts to make romantic overtures towards Lorna and thus begins a psycho-sexual drama, complicated further when the naked dream man turns up in the real world, named Chico, and things start to get messy…

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Director José Ramon Larraz, Barcelona-born auteur of high trash, was also a doctor of philosophy and fine artist. Not merely an old pervert churning out flesh flicks for the grubby 42nd Street crowd, he managed to score the official British Palme d’Or entry at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival with ‘Symptoms’. The same year his film Vampyres, a lurid tale of lesbian vampirism, was put out to the exploitation market and has since become revered as a cult classic.

‘The Coming of Sin’ was Larraz’s answer to the hugely successful Emmanuelle. Dreamy, languid and running over with arthouse erotic imagery, the film he made was not the film I expected. At one point Triana dreams she is trapped naked and bent double inside a Trojan Horse, with Chico coming up behind her on his stallion, ready to mount. Freud would have a field day, but most softcore porno fans would be left scratching their heads.

Coming at this film from a queer perspective its certainly rich with subversive storytelling. Chico – played by the stunning Rafael Machado – spends just as much, if not more, screen time naked than the female cast members. Astride a stallion splashing through water, green eyes shimmering in the sun, he’s a feast for the queer eye. Aside from that, the exploration of gender roles in this film proved intriguing. Lorna, when not swanning about the place in a fabulous tassled shawl, dons a pants suit and takes Triana out into the real world for an education. After a sashay around the local art gallery, she takes Triana to a flamenco club. Triana, dressed very much like the ‘lady’ of the two, flanks the masculine, suit-wearing Lorna as they watch the flamenco dance. And who should be up there onstage, one in the traditional male garb and the other in a more glamorous flamenco dress? Two ladies.

The men in this movie, for the first half at least, are sidelined, with the male and female roles being played out largely by women. But the threat is always there on the horizon. Chico is looming, balls out, atop his steed, ready to man up their world. Blurring the lines of dream and reality, Chico strides out into the real world and just as you’re thinking that this film might not actually live up to the gaudy ‘Violation’ title it was branded with… he tries to rape Triana.

He then turns up at Lorna’s front door, unfortunately – clothed -and rather than be turned away, shamed, chastised for his rapey ways, he’s invited in! Lorna treats him like her new dark-skinned savage toy, demoting Triana to the role of servant girl. “So what if he tried to rape you, go and make him a coffee!” Not actual dialogue, but not far from it. In fact she scolds Triana for not being so welcoming to her would-be rapist with the classic line, “The least you could do is thank him for returning your necklace!” Lost in translation on the dub? Sadly I doubt it.

After a quick talk on Salomé and John the Baptist – Lorna is determined to educate these lowly gyspsy types – a random three way ensues with Lorna tied to the bed and feasted upon by Chico and Triana at the same time.

But the nightmares continue for Triana – just what is she so scared of? Men? Sex? The film constantly keeps you questioning both the characters’ motives, and those of the director. It’s Spain, in the 70s, you’re not going to get the most forward-thinking, balanced view of sexuality by any means. But surprisingly, lesbianism in the first act isn’t seen as particularly subversive or perverse. Nobody questions it.

In fact Triana was left in the care of Lorna by her previous employers because she bewitched the wife and the husband got jealous. Before and after Chico comes on the scene Lorna is fully in control of her sexuality. She likes women. She likes men. Even when Chico gets aggressive, flips her over in bed and takes her from behind you’re left questioning whether she orchestrated that too. Nothing is simple or straight forward. For a softcore slow paced exploiter it does get your brain ticking over.

Thrown into the melting pot of sin and soft focus we get a hint at the supernatural. Triana’s fear of Chico is explained when she visits a local witch, who re-affirms what Triana has been told before. It’s in her palm, in her destiny, that if she has sexual relations with a man, then someone will die.

Inevitably it happens, with the sexually liberated Lorna falling at the barrels of Triana’s shotgun, blasted to death by the jealous gypsy girl, who then helps Chico bury the body before they ride off on horseback together having helped themselves to her fabulous jewellery collection.

“She was taking advantage of the two of us,” Chico reasons. “They’re all pigs!”

So in the end Lorna must be punished. But for what? For her sexual freedom, or for being the rich white woman who sees the local gypsies as subjects, play-things to dress, educate and manipulate?

Whichever way you look at it, ‘The Coming of Sin’ delivers on its promises. You want nudity? Check. You want dreamy, arty imagery? Check. It’s an exploitation movie from 70s Spain so I’m assuming you want dodgy dubbing? Check check check. In fact Triana appears to have been dubbed by a drunk cockney sparrow.

Type either of its titles into a search engine and you’ll find it. The version I watched, 84 minutes long, comes with cuts unfortunately, one of them being a slightly more explicit rape scene. You’ll fork out about £90 for a dodgy cut DVD on Amazon so I do recommend you seek it out online.

As always you can give me your feedback on twitter @jonnylarkin What did you think of the movie? Do you agree with my take on it? We’ll be sticking with the Spanish theme in a future podcast, looking at the video nasty ‘The Cannibal Man’, so be sure to listen out for that. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for naked swarthy men on horseback, sauntering through the tall grass…

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JL