La corta notte delle bambole di vetro (1971)

Directed by Aldo Lado [Other horror films: Chi l’ha vista morire? (1972), L’ultimo treno della notte (1975)]

This Italian giallo, widely known as Short Night of Glass Dolls, was a decent film for much if the run-time, but toward the end, it sort of went into a somewhat incoherent mess.

The mystery here is pretty good, and enjoyable to watch unfold. A young woman disappears without a trace in Prague, and her lover, an American journalist, attempts to find her. It’s typical for a giallo, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. It’s made better by the setting, and more so, the time period, as this took place when then-Czechoslovakia was a Communist state behind the Iron Curtain.

Because of that, there is a bit of anti-USSR material strewn throughout the film, and even toward the conclusion, though I don’t think it’s terribly over-troubling. It does lead to a more oppressive feel, and much of the going-ons have a very conspiratorial feeling to them. Problematically, the conclusion doesn’t explain what’s going on nearly as well as I’d have liked, and honestly, I’m at a loss right now as to what actually happened, and why. It’s just not made clear, as far as I could tell.

Worth noting, most of the main story is told via flashback, and the present-day material, luckily, is decently engaging. Still, I don’t care much for the conclusion they had there, either, though it certainly possessed a somewhat bleaker feel than some audiences might be used to.

I’m not trying to harp too much on the movie, because much of it is really engrossing. It’s not until the final ten minutes or so that the movie, in my opinion, falls apart. It’s just rather noticeable because my enjoyment level went down so much as the ending unfolded, and I felt that given how good the film was before, it was rather unfortunate.

I liked much of the principal cast of this film. Jean Sorel took a little bit, but he grew on me as the film went on. Playing a friend of his, I thought that Mario Adorf did well with his more care-free, fun-loving character. Lastly, playing the woman who goes missing, Barbara Bach did well as a beautiful, semi-mysterious woman.

For a giallo, La corta notte delle bambole di vetro is extraordinarily tame. There’s little to no gore, and many of the staples you might expect from the subgenre, such as first-person view from the killer, or black gloves, are absent. The mystery is certainly here, and like I said, it’s done well, but this movie feels really toned down, and if you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill giallo, then you’ll likely to be disappointed.

I will admit to being disappointed by this one, if only because the conclusion (to both the flashback and present-day stories) were so unsatisfactory. I can live with little gore, because the story was otherwise engaging, but what draws me to giallos is how everything’s pieced together nicely at the end, and I definitely didn’t get that feeling here. For what this movie is, it’s okay, but I’d definitely temper your expectations before jumping in.

6/10

Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch (1985)

Howling II

Directed by Philippe Mora [Other horror films: The Beast Within (1982), Howling III (1987), Communion (1989)]

The first sequel to the 1981 film, commonly known as Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (which, believe it or not, is actually more ridiculous than Stirba – Werewolf Bitch), has little value, but still provides silly entertainment. It’s not a movie that I’d want to see again any time soon, but it does possess a bit of charm.

I don’t want to give off the false impression, though, that the movie’s good. Were it not for Christopher Lee’s presence, I sort of doubt this movie would be worth mentioning at all. It’s interesting that Lee plays his character so straight in a movie that’s this wacky. That said, the movie’s not necessarily overtly comedic – I’m not entirely sure the funniest scene (the hotel check-in) was even meant to be a joke.

Which says quite a lot about this. The tone is far more hammy than the first movie (which, to remind you, I wasn’t a fan of either), and the spectacularly bad special effects during some of the scenes really make this one of those bad 80’s movies a group of friends might watch for the sole purpose of making fun of.

There were some special effects worth noting, though, mostly when it came to the gore – there were occasionally some good stabbings and the like, and a memorable scene in which a character’s eyes, under the evil influences of a wolf goddess, pop out. I’ll admit, I sort of thought that was cool.

The tone and occasionally-goofy effects aside, though, what hurts the movie most is the story. The idea of hunting down an evil leader of a werewolf group seems, to me, a close-to-impossible story to actually do well. Much of the movie was filmed in Czechoslovakia, which give a more authentic feel to the film, but ultimately couldn’t improve the plot any.

As stated, Christopher Lee is about the only performance here of worth. I sort of liked Annie McEnroe, but her character made far too many idiotic mistakes. Still, she’s probably the second-best performance here. As for Reb Brown, Marsha Hunt, and Sybil Danning, they provide nothing but generally unnecessary nudity.

A few final notes – those cuts, those very comic book, silly cuts, seemed pretty pointless, as they added nothing to the movie but an additional negative quirk for people to smile in a befuddled manner at. And that song, seemingly one of the only songs they had (“In the pale, pale light/pale, pale, light of the moonglow”) started out being rather annoying, but honestly, after it was played for the third time, starting to grow on me.

The second Howling film is definitely worse than the first, which is a shame, as the first itself is below average. If you’re into ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ cinema, this movie may well appeal to you. I first saw this many years back (five, if not more), and I thought it was goofy then. I feel much the same now, and honestly, despite occasional hokey charm, I don’t know if this movie is worth it.

5/10