Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974)

4.0 out of 10
It is unlikely that Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks would win that many awards. After all, it really isn't that good a movie. It is flat, occasionally verbose, poorly made and unevenly plotted. Indeed, in an Italian cinematic milieu that would produce the likes of Lado, Martino, Bava, Argento and Fulci, Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks could never be more than a footnote. Nothing more than a curio for the completist. Nevertheless, as generic as this sub-Naschy nonsense turned out to be, it was still, for a whole host of reasons, bound to be of some interest to the hardy explorers of the cinematic fringes. Firstly, because among the clichéd mix of candelabras, cobwebs and eyes behind paintings, we find Luciano Pigozzi.

Fans of Italian cult cinema would no doubt know this Italian Peter Lorre. He is a perennial Eurocult favourite. Appearing as Alan Collins, character actor Luciano certainly had a filmography of some note.

Yet, more important still, is the presence of a certain Boris Lugosi.

Sound familiar? Do you think that he could he possibly be a relation to the famous.... Well, no! Of course he couldn't. Yet cult film fans would, no doubt, recognise him. And certainly not as the brother of the Plan 9 star!

Because this Lugosi is, in fact, Salvatore Baccaro! Now does he sound familiar? No? Okay, what if I was to say Sal Boris then?

Aha! I thought you'd recognise that name!

That's right, the legend that is Sal Fucking Boris! Yes, that Sal Boris. Anyhow, just for any younger readers who may be new to this sort of stuff, let's bring you up-to-date on Mr. Boris...

You see, back in the eighties, the British Conservative government got all worked up about a thing that we used to call VHS tapes. They were a sort of thing that we used to put movies on. They used to snow-out during sex scenes and you could get them from something called a video shop. Keeping up so far? Good! Anyhow, we used to play these on a thing called video recorder. Unfortunately, all this new-fangled electric stuff would prove scary to those moralistic nineteenth century minds that occupied positions of power in Britain at this time. And, since they couldn't get their heads around it, they would seek to ban things.

So, cheered-on by a hypocritical media, a bunch of perverted, ruddy-faced reactionaries and blue-rinsed busybodies would wage a crusade against films.

One title to fall foul of this needless, pathetic, attempt at stifling free expression, would be the outrageously wacky Beast in Heat. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, among the goofs, The Beast in Heat would feature black, painted, guinea pigs. Here playing the role of rats. Also there would be some comically incompetent attempts at gore. But, if there is one thing that could save The Beast in Heat, then it would be the beast himself. For, he would turn out to be a hairy, podgy, fuckmonster in a Tiswas cage. To the horror of our joyless censors, he would be depicted in the act of flaccidly dry-humping the air above some women. That fuckmonster was Sal Boris!

In Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks, the Luis Guzmán-esque Sal, or Boris, or whatever, plays a Neanderthal man called Ook. Reanimated by Count Frankenstein, he has been befriended by an evil, vengeful dwarf. Ook has a rival. That rival comes in the shape of a mono-browed Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters reject named Goliath. He and Boris, both products of Frankenstein's experiments, fight over Simone Blondell. She is, incidentally, no relation to Joan. It isn't even her real name. Anyhow, to break up an extended sequence of narrative cul-de-sacs and verbals about nothing in particular, Blondell goes topless. She even takes to some volcanic springs where she rubs mud into a naked Christiane Rücker. Anyhow, this leaves one question: who the hell could possibly come up with this sort of stuff?

Well, the story begins two hundred years ago... in Switzerland.

During an unremarkable wet summer, Mary Wollstonecraft , but nineteen years old, and her husband Percy Shelley, would stay with their friend, Lord Byron. There, they would exchange ghost stories. Upon the suggestion of Byron, the three would attempt, for shits and giggles, to pen a tale of the supernatural. However, unaccustomed to the crafting of prose, the poets could offer little. Mary, on the other hand, was now exercised with the notion of re-animating the dead. So, she would come up with the idea for Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks. So, it is her fault! Blame Mary!

Of course, to be fair, this still leaves plenty of blame to go around. For, as tempting as it may be, this cannot all be laid at the door of Mary. Because, while Mary Wollstonecraft came up with the original idea, it took director Dick Randall to make her vision a reality. After all, it was by adding a caveman and a sex-crazed midget that her magnum opus was brought to fruition.

For Your Height Only (1981)

6.0 out of 10
The best laid plans and all that.... Take, for example, the 1981 Manila International Film Festival. It was, apparently, conceived by Imelda Marcos, the shoe collecting wife of the president. It had been intended as a showcase for all that was great about Filipino culture. But it all went a bit Pete Tong. Because, the international distribution companies had different ideas altogether. It is likely that, with the eyes of the film industry upon Manila, the festival organisers would have preferred some interest in Kisapmata. After all, this critically acclaimed story of incest had won shedloads of awards. It was a box office smash too. But no! Instead, the world wanted Weng Weng. The world wanted For Your Height Only!

Then again, in truth, this is perfectly understandable. After all, it is one of the, erm, more distinct homages to James Bond. Honestly, there is simply nothing else quite like it. For, while it is true that, over the years, there have been countless films that have paid homage to Ian Flemming's most famous creation, let us just say that For Your Height Only is a little different.

Okay, yes! It is true that, throughout the sixties, production of continental European James Bond clones had reached such a fever pitch that they would be assigned their own subgenre. Eurospy, as they would be collectively known, would throw up some real gems. And some real stinkers too! Dr Goldfoot anyone? But, in the oddballness stakes, these European films were nothing but amateurs when placed alongside the craziness of Weng Weng. So, forget about Kommissar X, OSS 117 and Agent 077. Nevermind Umberto Lenzi who would would bring us a 008 or Lucio Fulci who would, with his 002 series, give Franco and Ciccio yet another comedy vehicle. The French? The Italians? The Germans?

None of their spy films hold a candle to For Your Height Only! None would come close. For Your Height Only is simply too far off the charts. It is crackers!

So, what is it that one should expect from For Your Height Only? Well apart from a little man with a gun, it has lots of really cool spy stuff. This should be obvious, though, given that it has a title that spoofs James Bond. Hell! It even has the blade-edged throwing hat! Albeit one that appears to owe more to the 1928 Dadist classic Ghosts Before Breakfast than to Goldfinger. There is more: X-ray specs? Check! Smoke bombs? Check! Gadgets? Check! Indeed, there are oodles of them! It has pretty much everything except the Martini and cool car. But, most of all, it has its star. It has Ernesto De La Cruz, aka Weng Weng.

Standing at a little under three feet tall, a foot shorter than fellow Filipino spy star Hervé Villechaize, Weng managed to take the whole suave spy role to new level. Indeed, he managed to eclipse the likes of one-shot George Lazenby, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, or David Niven and nephew Woody Allen in Casino Royale. After all, none of these were granted a sequel. Little Agent 00 was!

Sadly though, insofar as For Your Height Only is a comedy, it is one that relies on a single joke. Thankfully, and surprisingly, that joke doesn't really wear that thin! Can you guess what it is? Hmmmm, let's see... What? Correctamundo! It is! It is the is the height of the protagonist! The joke is that the film stars a little man. Albeit a little man with a fascinating Clint Boon haircut, an enigmatic expressionlessness and an eerie giggle.

For Your Height Only is also an action film. So, here we get to see our hero engage in slapstick karate, an umbrella parachute jump, some disco dancing, a samurai sword fight, and so on... Even so, the action itself does become a little repetitive. Scene after scene becomes an unrelenting stream of similar gun and fist fights. All with interchangeable henchmen. For as fun and as and original as the film is, there may be simply one or two too many testicle-high roundhouse kicks and John Woo style floor-slide gun exchanges.

Once is fine, twice, maybe a little less so. But third time? Fourth? Thankfully, though, just before For Your Height Only appears as though it would finally run out of steam, we are treated to what is possibly one of the nuttiest boss-character take-downs in cinematic history. However, let's just say that the final battle between Agent 00 and Mr. Giant is no Bruce Lee vs Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Far from it!

Yet, for all that, For Your Height Only may represent one of the great missed opportunities in the history of cinema. This is due to director Eddie Nicart. Because, here, the director of The Impossible Kid and D'Wild Wild Weng, eschews serious character study! He denies us the unique chance to empathise with a small man trying his best to make his way in the ordinarily tall world of the intelligence service. Pity!

I jest of course. Because... could that really be better than a midget in a jetpack?

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988)

7.5 out of 10
Despite loads of fun toad facts, reconstructions and an abundance of toad's eye footage, what really makes the 1988 documentary, Cane Toads: An Unnatural History an absolute joy, are the people chosen to make the case for and against the things. Luckily, we have such an eclectic selection of oddballs arrayed, here, on both sides of the debate.

So, on one end of the spectrum we have the paragons of sanity, such as lady who leaves out the bowls of pet food or the old dude who sees toads as visiting friends. At the other extreme we meet the guy who indulges in the recreational and consciousness expanding use of mindbending toad toxins. Indeed, it is he who proves to be the real star of the show! Mumbling in the darkness, alongside a garden gnome, he explains how those who partake of cactus juice eventually begin to think like the cactus! Yeah, right! Far out man! But, there is more. Because, he also uses this "logic" to explain that he is now, on this basis, thinking like a toad. This is, of course, bullshit!

Because, having seen this iconic documentary, it is we, the viewers, who are now the real herpetologists. It is we who are truly at one with the toad. We know better! It is us, and not this would-be William S. Burroughs and his pet lawn ornament, that are truly in possession of a Tao of toad. Indeed, as a result of newly acquired knowledge, we know that our old friend toady is attracted, like Icarus, to the light. They love water. We also know that toads like froggy knee-tremblers. So, anyhow, if our stoner hero really thought like a toad, as we do, he'd be filmed while humping in the bath with the curtains open! Like we do.

And what a documentary that'd make! Yet, Mark Lewis, director of The Wonderful World of Dogs and The Natural History of the Chicken, totally overlooks this possibility.

Instead, we meet a scientist who does an impersonation of the cane toad mating call. This, we later learn, may or may not have proved to be successful. After all, we do get to witness a horny toad humping his shoe. But, as the documentary informs us, those darn toads will hump shoes with or without a mating call. Indeed, they will hump, pretty much, anything! Alive or dead.

This, incidentally, includes dead toads. So, as part of the entertainment, we are treated to the image of a dead toad going "at it" like a Nekromantik Baron Greenback with roadkill. Anyhow, speaking of dead toads, we also get a segment about a goldfish owner who seems to have taken a quest for revenge to the level of a mania. He has pics of his toad killing field in the aftermath of this gallant hero's attempt at battering several hundred poor creatures to death with a steel pipe. Awful! Yet, is this any worse than the dude that seems to make his life mission one of using his 4x4 to create squished toads? Probably not!

But, it's not all bufonophobia here. For, some people love the toad. For example, we meet a family who treat the toads as pets. They have a little girl who carries her toad, Princess Dairy, around like a purse puppy. She clearly loves it. So, while she does play a little rough with the poor amphibian, it seems well fed. Although, apparently, it does gets dressed up like a doll and this is compensated for with the occasional belly tickling session. Which, we are informed, the toad appears to enjoy.

Besides, if it didn't, Princess Dairy would probably poison the girl. After all, that is what they do. Cane toads poison things. They poisons would-be predators. They poisons pets. They'd poison the kid!

Then there is the politician! He fought to get a toad statue. He envisaged this as a tourist attraction. And why not? After all, the toad plays an important part in his town's history. They are iconic. Indeed they came to Queensland during the thirties. They were introduced when the Australian sugar industry faced a crisis caused by grey-backed cane beetle! The toads set to work eating everything that moved. Except cane beetles! They didn't like those. Unfortunately!

But, they would eat ping pong balls. We know this because this is a point that is illustrated with some educational footage of a surprisingly unmolested ping pong ball tip-tapping its way past a bulbous toad. Anyhow, they were Imported from Hawaii, in 1935. What began as a hundred or so toads, ballooned to a population of hundreds of millions. It was an invasion!

Still, there is nothing, in theory, whatsoever, wrong with having a toad on a plinth. Nevertheless, this was always going to be a suggestion that would be likely to divide opinion. Besides, it was hardly going to be a rival for the Sydney Opera House. Or even the neighbouring town with its, already established, dog on a plinth! Or the town with a giant banana...