Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Edwige Fenech

Born on Christmas Eve in 1948, European actress Edwige Fenech started her career on a beauty contest circuit but soon found employment as a model. In 1967, she made her film debut, and she cut a striking (and often naked) figure in dozens of horror films and sex comedies through the 1970s and early 1980s.

As the 1980s wore on, Fenech transitioned to parts that called more upon her talent for acting rather than disrobing, but by the mid-1990s, her career had evolved to the point where she was famous for mostly being famous and she was a regular on Italian talk shows.

Fenech retired from acting and moved behind the camera at the head of her her own production company. She has produced numerous films and mini-series for Italian television, including a very well-received adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice."

Fenech made a brief return to acting in 2007 with a bit-part in the torture-porn cannibal extravaganza "Hostel II," mostly just showing up to show up as an inside joke for fans of 1970s European horror films.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Not exactly arresting, but still worth seeing

Women's Prison (1955)
Starring: Ida Lupino, Jan Sterling, Audrey Totter, Phyllis Thaxter, Howard Duff, Barry Kelley, Warren Stevens, Mae Clarke, Gertrude Michael, and Cleo Moore
Director: Lewis Seiler
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Amelia Van Zandt (Lupino) is the warden of a women's prison who runs her institution with an iron fist, dominating the lives of both prisoners and prison matrons. Her fiercely controlled world starts coming unraveled when her abuses of a delicate housewife incarcerated for involuntary manslaughter (Thaxter) and a prisoner who becomes pregnant (Totter) when her husband (Stevens)--who is incarcerated in the male side of the prison--breaks into the women's prison to an illicit rendezvous provokes both the anger of the prison doctor (Duff) and the prisoners.

Compared to the "women in prison" movies that followed in the 1970s, this is very, very tame stuff, even if the publicity campaign at the time if its release tried to position the film as if it wasn't. The still I chose to illustrate the film implies atmosphere and situations that are nowhere to be found in the film (while demonstrating that Cleo Moore was literally the poster-girl for Columbia Picture's marketing department when it came to "sexing things up"--her part in the film is very small, yet she is the subject of a publicity still). The prisoners here seem more like members of a professional association on a retreat than hardened criminals worthy of being locked away, the guards are all professional and appropriately concerned with the well-being of prisoners, the prison is neat and clean and well-lit. If not for the hell-beast of a warden, the prison in this film and the people in it are nicer than some places I've been on vacation at.

In fact, the prisoners are so nice that the over-the-top hysterics of the poor housewife who is sent up for killing a child with her car become very irritating after a while. While she doesn't deserve to be straight-jacketed or thrown in solitary for being frightened, it's a mystery where her over-reaction to normal prison procedures came from, since every prisoner she meets is nice and chatty and no different than the girls at the hair salon or in the grocery store checkout line. Hell, one prisoner could even find work as a tour guide, I'm certain, given how quickly she steps up to show the "new kid" ropes.

Although the strangely gentile nature of the inmates seemed a bit odd to me, I did appreciate the fact that the film didn't try to paint them as victims of the justice system like some other prison movies I've watched. Most of the inmates are exactly where they belong, and they make no bones about it. I also liked the fact that the matrons and guards were shown as decent human beings who were just doing their jobs.

I also liked the fact that the decency and professionalism of the prison's staff was contrasted with the indifference of the men's prison warden (Barry Kelley)--who may have worked his way up through the system, but who somewhere along the way forgot that the inmates and those working under him are human beings--and the calculated cruelty of women's prison warden, the aforementioned Ida Lupino. In fact, Lupino does such a great job at portraying a sociopathic cast-iron bitch that I almost wished her end had been a little less predictable and pathetic... I wanted her to get a "top o' the world, ma!" sort-of memorable exit, even if the way the film does dispatch her is adequate and dramatically fitting.

Well-acted, well-scripted, and effectively paced, "Women's Prison" is worth a look if you're a fan of Ida Lupino and have a high tolerance for melodrama. But this is not the place to look if you have a hankering for a Roger Corman or Jess Franco "birds in cages"-type sleaze.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Rachel Nichols

Rachel Nichols is another model-turned-actress, and in the roughly ten years since since she turned to acting, she has had major roles in three different TV series (including the serial-killer-centric "Criminal Minds") and numerous cinematic big budget extravaganzas, such as "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra", "Star Trek", and "Conan the Barbarian", which opens in theaters Friday, August 19, 2011.

While horror fans might find something to enjoy in the new Conan films, assuming its done in a manner faithful to the original Robert E. Howard stories, the are probably already familiar with Nichols from her starring turn in the chilling "P2" and the retro-horror flick "The Woods".

In 2012, Nichols will further expand her horror/thriller resume with a lead role in the latest screen adaptation of a James Patterson novel, "I, Alex Cross".

Friday, August 12, 2011

Space Girl Adventures, Part Two

By Dave Stevens

by Travis Charest
Part Two

To Be Continued...

By Neal Adams