POPCORN OF THE DAMNED: Review of “Euro-Fantastico Double-Feature” DVD
by Craig Shaw Gardner
Tired of endless Hollywood remakes of films that were far better the first time around? Seen one too many shuffling zombie horde? Looking for a movie that isn’t about a dozen ways of torturing people that no one could possibly care about (either the people or the torture)? The good stuff is out there, hidden behind the Raisenets and the Jujubees, even if you have to dig to the bottom of the box.
This is Popcorn of the Damned!
Now for the first kernel:
Recently, VCI entertainment released a disc called the “Euro-Fantastico Double Feature”– a pair of early 60s German thrillers, both dubbed in English and filmed in glorious black and white. At this time, Germany was one the film capitols of Europe, producing never-ending thrillers blending mystery and the fantastic, including the later Dr. Mabuse thrillers and a seemingly never-ending series of films derived from the books of Edgar Wallace (called “krimis”) which featured all sorts of great pulpy goodness — secret societies, hidden torture chambers, bad guys wearing hoods, etc.
One of the Euro-Fantastico films on this double disc is firmly in this tradition. THE BLACK COBRA (1965) incorporates a hideously deformed monster, hidden rooms, the illegal drug trade (including Klaus Kinski as an addict!), somebody’s private zoo, copious comedy relief, all capped by a wrestling scene! And even with all that, the movie’s not particularly good. It throws so much crap at you during its 95 minute running time it never has a chance to get boring, but it’s directed (by one Rudolf Zehetgruber) with a particular lack of style. It ends up as a diverting enough way to kill time, but I don’t think it’s worth a second viewing.
(If you want to see a couple of solid krimis, btw, full of atmosphere, crackerjack plots and the requisite hidden rooms, I would direct you to either THE COLLEGE GIRL MURDERS (1967) or DEAD EYES OF LONDON (1939 with Bela Lugosi and remade in German in 1961), both readily available on Amazon.)
The co-feature on this disc is another matter entirely. This 1964 flick is a paranoid, cold war, science fiction thriller with echoes of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, called NO SURVIVORS PLEASE.
The film (co-directed by Hans Albin and Peter Berneis) seems fairly lightweight at first, with a swinging sixties plot taking place around futuristic European architecture. And then very bad things start to happen. Back in the fifties and sixties, movies would often advertise they were “ripped from today’s headlines!” — and that’s particularly true in the case of SURVIVORS. The first signs of stock footage in the film reminded me of low budget films everywhere (BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY (1949), anyone?) But then the documentary footage, through clever editing, is integrated into the lives of our characters with chilling results.
This is the kind of movie where I see a possible plot direction and say “they’ll never go there.” And then they do. Without giving away any of the plot, SURVIVORS turns out to be a great, horrific cautionary tale, easily worth the price of the disc. And another piece of popcorn of the damned!
EURO-FANTASTICO DOUBLE FEATURE. VCI 8573. 187 MINUTES, FULL FRAME. NTSC, ALL REGION.
© Copyright 2010 by Craig Shaw Gardner