Even before the quirky montage of mechanical toys has accompanied the credits, we have already witnessed one child kidnapping. But, there had been others. Indeed, over time, a number of girls had been lured inside by Olaf, the charismatic, toy-obsessed, midget son of the landlady. With his manic stare, drooling, and menacing grin, he would appear upon the street, clockwork dog in tow, shuffling with the aid of his cane. "There are more toys...", he would suggest, before pausing for dramatic effect. He would then add a sinister sounding "...inside!". Then, slowly, but surely, a young, pigtailed, wide-eyed innocent, would be led from the streets. Peter was about to embark upon a career as a driver. It was his first day and he had been instructed, by his employer, to make his way, post-haste, to Paris. Peter, played by Tony Eades, was to collect a consignment of teddy bears for a local toymaker who was known as Santa. Such was the urgency, that he wouldn't even be able to go home and pack a few things. There was no time. He could call his wife. Then, he would have to be on his way. Of course, had Peter known that the operation was no more than a cover for the transportation of heroin, it is unlikely that he would have ever got involved. After all, he was no smuggler! Because, even though he and his wife Mary had fallen on hard times, he was, first and foremost, a writer. It is just that, with no one seemingly willing to take up his scripts, the couple had been forced to endure a life in Copenhagen's filthiest apartment. Thus, it came to pass that they were brought, accidentally, into the orbit of Jack Black's doppelgänger: the pervy, fun-sized, Olaf. Also his mother: the flamboyant Lila Lash. Lila, played by Clara Keller, was a book in herself. Now gin-soaked, this former vaudevillian would still regularly perform Marlene Dietrich type routines for her friend. These would even feature costume changes. Sadly, though, like the long lost grandeur of the former nightclub she called home, her paint was peeling and her beauty long faded. But, was the place really that bad? Because, figured Peter, while Lila was eccentric and her son a little creepy, it was a roof over their heads. Besides, the place gave him the chance to pursue his writing career. Mary, on he other hand, had misgivings from the outset. For her, there was something that didn't quite seem right. All night long she would hear the comings and goings. What were these strange noises? Another alcohol fuelled performance from Lila? If that was the case, though, why did these sounds appear to come from the attic? This was certainly most odd! However Anne Sparrow's Mary, while curious, didn't dwell on this too much. After all, it wasn't as though the place was a cover for a brothel, slavery ring and drug den, was it? Oh, wait.... You see, unbeknown to Mary there was a hidden room. It was buried deep within the attic. There, behind bars, two girls were kept prisoner. Living by candlelight, and sleeping upon filthy, sex-soaked mattresses, their raison d'etre was to service the Johns. "Press the bell...", Olaf would tell visitors. Then, pausing, grinning manically, he would add a dramatic "...when you have finished". Here Torben's performance is exceptional and he really manages to convince. Clearly enjoying himself, he spits and glowers. He is as spellbinding as he is rancid. The little fella deserved awards for this! Confined to Olaf's twisted shooting gallery, with a shit-stained toilet for company, the girls are beaten, abused and regularly banged up with heroin. Any dissent is met by Olaf's cane and gynecological punishments at the hands of the piano playing midget. Directed by Vidal Raski, The Sinful Dwarf is far from your ordinary horror tale. Because the film, in essence, is a very, very, dark fairy tale. It is like a suburban Brothers Grimm, brought into the twentieth century and sexed-up for the aware audience. Albeit with Women in Prison undertones. It is also, occasionally, a bleak experience. It also possesses a certain surreal and nightmarish quality. It is as the scoring switches from a mix of clockwork toy noises and weird boings, to a more poliziottesco style tempo, that the film reveals the blackness of its heart. For, the girls, when they go to work, seem to love it. Indeed, in a spirited defence of the treat-them-mean school, they go at it like nymphomaniac bonobo. This is Stockholm Syndrome, Copenhagen style! Sadly, there is something especially dispiriting about seeing the women, who had been beaten and enslaved, portrayed as so enthusiastically engaging in sex with the punters. Nevertheless, the film easily shifts its gears from crime film, to dwarfsploitation, to horror film and ultimately to porno. Though its hard to figure out who the hell is going to enjoy watching stoned, miserable, supposedly teenage girls, having sex in grotty apartments. Students maybe?
"My husband is not homosexual", protested Martine de Bressac. However, she wasn't really getting it. For things were different now. In fact, there had been loads of changes around the place. For example, who was that strange bloke that she had noticed to be wandering about the house? Was he a helper? Because, it may have simply been that her husband needed a hand around the place. After all, it was a large house. You see, Martine, here played by Lina Romay, had been away. She had been committed by her husband. So, for the past few years, she had attended a clinic. There she had received treatment for what was, allegedly, syphilis inspired lunacy. However, now cured, she was convinced that things could get back to normal. Sadly though, life is seldom so straightforward. For, at home, something seemed amiss. For example, where on earth did she think her husband was going at night? Surely all that late night sneaking about really should have set alarm bells ringing? Because, as she was tucked up in bed with her glass of milk, her husband, the Marqués Armando de Bressac, was further along the corridor. He was with his new friend. Even when she discovers Amando at one of his late night rendezvous, he continues as though this was reasonable enough. He simply invites Martine to watch. Apparently he believes that she can learn something from watching his boyfriend, Flor, as the pair go at it like a couple of Hooray-Henry vacuum cleaners. Besides, played by Armando Borges, he is one of those foppish, new-fangled, libertine fellows. It's what they do! They love it! So, Amando urges her to join in. After all, it is the nineteenth century! What we begin to notice though, is that Amando has a wicked streak. He can be incredibly mean. You see, he believes that others only exist for his pleasures. So, what we experience is a mixture of cruelty and erotica. But what do you expect? We are talking about a Jess Franco sexploitation film here! It should come as no surprise to discover traces of De Sade. After all, this is a frequent theme throughout the work of the Spanish auteur: Eugenie de Sade, Justine, Venus in Furs, Philosophy in the Boudoir and so on. Besides, with a title like Sinfonía erótica, it was hardy going to be a family movie. One should always come to Franco's films with the expectation that things will turn extremely weird. For, they often do. Quickly! Here again, in Sinfonía erótica, this is precisely what happens. Indeed, things really start to go awry when a nun is tossed into the mix. You see, while the debauched dandies are out for a stroll, they discover a nun lying in the undergrowth. She is unconscious, bruised and bloody. So, upon finding a comatose nun, what are a they to do? Well, precisely what any amoral, Sadean, aristocrats to do in this situation: they take Norma the Nun home! However, even after they have safely tucked her up in bed, they can't help themselves! In order to wake her, the pair attempt what could best be described as a form of alternative, massage-based, therapy. However, to the uninitiated, this would probaby resemble a quick fumble under her habit! It is effective though. By the time Norma the Nun is fully awake, the lads are rubbing away like a pair of Aladdins at a lamp auction. The sweaty, panting trio then merge into a single, slobbering mass of humping, trembling flesh. They are all lost in the moment. And the nun? She likes it! Loves it, in fact! Of course, all this should begin to feel a little familiar to the formally virginal, sexual neophyte novice. Because, as it happens, she is played by Susan Hemingway and this was not her first awakening under the Franco wimple. She'd been here before! Because Jess would cast her as the the wide-eyed, innocent, Maria Rosalea, in the colourful nunsploitation flick, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun. Now, however, she was older, wiser, and going through it all again! Anyhow, following Norma's sexual initiation, Martine decides to pay her a visit. She appears to be all concerned and stuff. So, with trust established, Norma explains that it hurts. Martine helpfully replies that it doesn't have to be this way. Certainly not when it is being done with another woman! This, then, becomes the cue for yet more sexual shenanigans. Martine, too, gets to indulge in a little tongue topiary around the good sister's ornamental garden. Again, the nun loves it! One starts to get the feeling that all this could have been the beginning of a wonderful love rectangle! Alas, it wasn't meant to be. For, three decide that four's a crowd. The nun can stay. Martine has to go! Plots are hatched. What is interesting to note is how the film attempts to illustrate Martine's mental state throughout. For example, dialogue is often conducted off camera, while the attention is often drawn to the seemingly inconsequential. So as things begin to unravel we see leaves fall and oceans glisten. We focus on seabirds, distant castles and statues. All in a lovely, Joe D'amato-esque, soft focus. Voices are echoes, and the languid, serene plotting is in tune with Franz Listz, Piano Concerto No.2. Yet, when Norma begins to place drugs in poor Martine's milk, the film crackles to life. At this point we are moving into vintage Franco territory. We get to experience the wild, erratic, trademark zooms, the close-ups and the obtuse camera angles that the director would typically use to create his askew cinematic world. As Martine starts talking to herself, she begins touching herself into a frenzy. She rubs vigorously, threatening to remove every trace of fur from her undercarriage. Mania grips the movie. Surely, death must follow! The familiar is rendered strange and staircases are shot with Dutch tilts. We accompany the descent of Martine as the movie begins to party like it's 1969.
The early eighties were a glorious time to be a horror fan. For, as Cliff Richard had us Wired for Sound and Stars On 45 filled the airwaves, video clubs were popping up like poolside Gremlins at the We Are The Champions Mogwai Special. Indeed, for a time, not only did it seem as though every village store would have a Frogger, Moon Cresta or Defender machine, but they would also, invariably, have some video cassettes to rent. Even that nice, old Gertie Davies, the greengrocer, would have a couple. They were a pound a night, after paying the five quid membership fee. Daily, she would knit away the hours as she tended to her meagre offering. Meanwhile, Cannibal Holocaust would agonise away to itself, half ignored, upon a small, portable, TV set in the corner. Because, where once there were shelves full of Angel Delight, Players Number 6, Vesta Chow Mein, Super Action Transfers, balls of coloured wool, Uncle Remus Play Kits and jars of Glacier Mints, now there were movie posters and boxes for The Champ, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Electric Blue #1, featuring Snow White and the Seven Perves, The Beast in Heat, SS Experiment Camp and Anthropophagus. Though, among the usual eclectic mix, there would be at least one, almost obligatory, big box. It would capture the imagination more than any other. That tape was Nightmare in a Damaged Brain. Oh, what images this title would conjure! What, in the clunking, whirring name of Ferguson Videostar, could this nightmare possibly look like? Could young minds, high on Sodastream, even conceive such a thing? Could anyone? Well K Gordon Murray could! Indeed, he seemed to make it his life work to ensure that we understood too. Because, with his cultural antennae finely tuned into the world of the bezerk, this shitfinder general, the King of the Kiddie Matinee, would scour the earth. He would seek out some of the strangest, creepiest and downright unsettling family films ever to have been inflicted upon humanity. Then, with his candy coloured world of madness assembled, it was dubbed into English. Like the product of some strange, Oompa Loompa led, technicolor waltz, these films would be used to emotionally scar audiences of unsuspecting, wide-eyed, innocents. Permanently! However, this time Murray, who's Bible reading seemed to begin and end with the phrase Suffer Little Children, managed to exceed expectations. Because, Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters managed to make East Germany's Singing Ringing Tree appear as serene and unthreatening as On Golden Pond! Indeed, this was a movie that would go so far over the horizon towards Crazyville, that it would manage to completely circle the earth and kick the viewer in the arse! Yet, as we would expect from K Gordon, Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters was supposed to be a family oriented fantasy film. As the third, and final, installment of a Mexican series, Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters follows in the wake of La caperucita roja and Little Red Riding Hood and Her Three Friends. Directed by Roberto Rodriguez, all three titles would star wooden, Shirley Temple-esque, María Gracia. She plays Red Riding Hood. Beyond that, the story is largely superfluous. Especially given the randomness of the whole exercise. But, for those who are interested, it features the return of a Wickerman-esque wolf. Formerly big and bad, but now good, he is called El Lobo. Also, there is an Ogre. Both have been captured by, among others, a vampire, a robot, Frankenstein, some Siamese twins, a child catcher and an evil queen that has been cribbed from Disney's Snow White. She, and her not-so-bad witch sister, have even turned townspeople into monkeys and mice. That aside, there is also some action for a pantomime dragon, a weird pin-headed Boogy Man and, like the bastard spawn of Belial and Nightbreed, some other creatures of ill definition. The trouble is, though, when you get so many hyperactive characters in one space, voices get raised. So, the result is a cacophony. It's an almighty din! Characters shout their dialogue. Constantly! They scream, they bray, they grunt and laugh heartily. Nobody whispers. At all! Everyone is soooo loud! Indeed, the only time the film shows any restraint, whatsoever, is during one of the delightful, and numerous, musical interludes. But, despite the film being allegedly suitable for children, much of the hijinx tends towards the don't-try-this-at-home variety. A lot of it is downright irresponsible! So, among a smorgasbord of slapstick sadism, we experience the questionable joy of witnessing a family-friendly, Texas Chainsaw Massacre style, lump-hammer beating! Though, if watching monsters stove each other isn't quite enough, then there is also a little hot poker branding, a threat to rip a little girl's eyes out and an Absurd-esque attempt at cleaving a head with a circular-saw. There are even occasional lapses into Catholic terror. Replete with inquisition references. Worse still, Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters frequently promises to treat viewers to scenes of infanticide. Thankfully, though, these creatures from the darkness are not allowed to have things all their own way! Because, ranged against them, are the forces of good. But, in order to save the day, they must get hold of a magic filter. Presumably this is the one that sits on the end of a magic cigarette. The one that, erm, you know, sort of helps makes sense of all this nonsense! Anyhow, this formidable army of the righteous consist of Caperucita Roja, her dog, Tom Thumb and a sparkler wielding Good Fairy who is plagiarised from The Wizard of Oz. Oh, and a squeaky, talking skunk. In reality it is a kid, or possibly a midget, in a costume. There is also a disinterested, chattering army of rugrats. Armed with rocks and clubs, they come straight out of The Children of the Corn school of family entertainment.These little angels string up their victim like a human piñata. So, if you've seen Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's Who Can Kill a Child, then you'd have some idea of where that leads!