In the 1957, MCA/Universal bought the rights to the pre-50s Paramount library, including a number of horror films. I don’t normally consider them part of the Universal Horror Cycle. However, occasionally a Paramount film will be shuffled into a collection with legit Universal Monster flicks. This film wound up in the Cult Horror Collection Turner Classic Movies put out a few years ago. Thus, it’s inclusion here.
The Pre-Code Paramount horror films, like the previously reviewed “Island of Lost Souls” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” are notorious for their controversial content. “Murders in the Zoo” is no exception. The film starts with Lionel Atwill sewing a man’s mouth close. While the actual act is obscured, we see the final results, the man’s face dripping with blood, the sutures still raw. The rest of the film continues in this grisly fashion. Atwill plays a big game hunter/zoo owner who uses the animals in his zoo to dispose of enemies. His unfaithful wife and her lovers give him reasons to kill, as do the zoo staff’s attempts to investigate the deaths.
There are plenty of sympathetic characters: A vet played by a young Randolph Scott, his love interest/lab assistant, and Atwill’s terrified wife, played by Kathleen Burke, formally Lota the Panther Woman. There’s even comic relief in the form of Charles Ruggles, the zoo’s press secretary, a recovering alcoholic terrified of the animals. He is fairly amusing, especially when locked in a cage with a black mamba. Either way, the default main character of the film seems to be Atwill’s villain. It is one of his most venomous performances. The opening credits cut from various animals to the cast’s face. Lionel is contrasted with a tiger. Indeed, Eric Gorman is a predator, his gaze steely, straight ahead, compassionless and precise, brutal. It’s a marvelous performance, seals the movie’s horror status, and flows correctly with the frequently brutal violence.
It’s not surprising that the movie is most remembered for its cruel violence. Alligator swarm onto a body. We see a deadly snakebite in close-up. A man is crushed to death by a boa constrictor. The lion-on-lion violence is genuine, making this an iffy choice for animal lovers. Still, the film has at least two note-worthy sequences. A scene of Burke sneaking around her husband’s office, Atwill knocking at the door, generates suspense nicely. Near the end, Jerry realizes quickly that Gorman’s intentions are malicious and deals with him accordingly. “Murders in the Zoo” is doubtlessly obscure but there’s definitely some gems in here. [7/10]
Requiem of the Vampire (1971)
“Rape,” “Shiver,” and “Requiem of the Vampire” all form a loose trilogy. (The titles are the only indication. All three cater to the same themes as everything else Rollin has done.) It’s not entirely impossible to connect this film to “Shiver.” It almost appears to be a prequel. This takes place in the same chateau. Both feature Dominique as a predatory female vampire. Marie-Pierre Castel, whose blond hair and big eyes make her hard to miss, appears in both. Honestly, I was kind of hoping this movie would explain how the servant girls in “Shiver” came to stay at the castle. Nope. Story-wise, the movies are unrelated.
The film opens with an odd-ball, wholly Rollin-esque image: A girl, dressed as a clown, shooting a gun through the shattered window of a getaway car, the police in hot pursuit. There’s another girl dressed as a clown in the front. The circumstances of the getaway are never explained and simply serve to strand the girls. They are, of course, lesbians. After an incident where one is almost buried alive, the two come to the vampire infested chateau. The three vampires who live there, an older man, an older woman, and a seductive lady vampire, quickly initiate the girls into the lifestyle. One of the girls is into the idea of immortality, the other not so much. As far as story goes, that’s it. There’s some stuff about the girls seducing men and one of those guys factors into the story later but, mostly, there’s not a lot of narrative.
|Released in America as "Caged Virgins"|
There’s a lot of talk about the vampire bloodline ending. The girls’ virginity is a plot-point but undermined by their lesbian frolicking and a scene of the brunette stripping and leading an oafish passing bicyclist on a wild goose chase. (It ends badly for him.) When the blond foils the brunette’s plan for immortality, we get a long sequence of her whipping the nude, prone girl, a decidedly eroticized torture. The ending is a letdown, as the closest thing to a villain we have lets the protagonists go without issues. Dominquez’s character doesn’t do much. So, we’ve got a film without much story and very jumbled themes.
And yet I can’t dislike this one. It’s oddly gentle, despite the rape and torture. Even the most explicit moments have a playfulness to them. Like many of the director’s films, the movie feels like a dream put to celluloid. Not because the images are particularly surreal but because the way the story progresses from one set-piece to another. I can’t list it among his best work but it’s still oddly likable. [6.5/10]
“Dead Night & the Dead Ruck”
After the last two blazingly stupid episodes, this one returns to the HOTD balance of stupidity with actual moments of zombie suspense. The girls are all dressed in their underwear from the last episode, the shots are as leering as you’d expect, with lots of bouncing and close-ups, two B&B poses, two apparently erotic dreams, two zombie panty shots (Christ.), and the nurse spending a large portion of the episode nude. Hero Guy does another silly motorcycle jump but, hilariously, his unnecessary wheelie-ing causes him to fall off the bike. Action scenes are underscored by rock music which is a good way to void all potential tension.