Is it Eurohorror, Euro Horror or Euro-horror? Sources vary, so I’ll stick with the hyphenated version for the moment (though I reserve the right to change my mind later). What is Euro-horror? Exactly what’d you think, horror films from Europe, particularly non-English fare.
Of course, if you take English out of the equation, you know that few of these films are going to hit it big in the U.S., where for most viewers, dubbing is considered bad and subtitles to be avoided at all costs (“if I wanted to read, I wouldn’t have gone to the movies!”). Too bad, because among all the Euro-horror schlock (not helped by low (by U.S. standards) budgets), there are some gems.
Not that I got any of the gems recently. I guess I shouldn’t have expected much when the director of two of these three movies was Jesus (aka Jess) Franco, the prolific and consistently mediocre director from Spain. I’ve seen other Franco movies: the Orloff boxed set consisted of four movies, each weaker than the last. His Fu Manchu movies are little better, though like his Count Dracula, he is blessed with Christopher Lee to make at least a rayon purse out of a sow’s ear.
What to expect when watching a Franco movie? Minimal special effects and so-so writing. The biggest strength seems to be his location shooting. A big advantage that Euro-horror has is that it’s shot in a region with a long history, therefore plenty of creepy old buildings. First of my recent Franco viewings was The Rites of Frankenstein. Like many Euro-horror flicks, this one has multiple titles, but this was the one on my DVD.
The movie starts with one of the Frankenstein family energizing the familiar monster. He is hardly able to relish his triumph when he is attacked by a half-woman, half-bird who is also a vampire. She works for the wizard Cagliostro who has his own plan to take over the world with the help of his zombie army. He is using Frankenstein’s machinery to create the perfect woman, who will mate with the monster to create a new race to replace humans. Frankenstein’s daughter and a local doctor try and stop him. Meanwhile, a gypsy girl hears Cagliostro calling to her, but she does little in the movie other than walk around and bemoan her fate. Plotwise, this movie is almost okay, but Franco is adept at making the movie muddled and rather boring.
Rites of Frankenstein is what I think of as a Kitchen Sink movie, in the sense that Franco throws in everything but the kitchen sink and hopes it will somehow turn into a good movie. He fails. My version, admittedly, was clearly edited, as the gratuitous nudity that Franco typically throws in appeared to be missing; the DVD extra did show alternate, poorly preserved takes that showed that Franco did indeed have the nudity in a different version. Quality 3/10, Fun 3/10
The other Franco film, Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein is so muddled that it makes Rites seem clear and intelligent in comparison. From what I can gather, Frankenstein enslaves Dracula, the easier to create other vampires. Another vampire – a blond woman – also wanders around drinking blood but not really contributing to the story. The Frankenstein monster is around causing trouble, and in the last reel, a mangy wolfman appears for some inexplicable reason to fight for the good guys. Quality 2/10, Fun 3/10.
Finally, there was The Vampires Night Orgy, a movie that certainly didn’t live up to its title. Another apparently Spanish film, this has a busload of people getting stuck in a small out-of-the-way town which happens to be filled with vampires. It is very reminiscent of 2000 Maniacs, even to the final scene. There is little blood and certainly no orgy, but the movie does have a couple decent moments. Refreshingly, the little girl, who in most movies would get herself into trouble and endanger everyone else when she needs to be rescued, doesn’t play to the cliché. Instead, when she gets into danger, no one rescues her. Quality 3/10, Fun 4/10.
In short, Euro-horror is neither better or worse than American horror, merely different. For all the knocking I do of these three movies, there are some real gems of Euro-horror. In particular, the works of Mario Bava are typically brilliant. I especially recommend Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, Blood and Black Lace and Twitch of the Death Nerve. Dario Argento has his successes too, most notably Suspiria.