Directors: Jose Ramon Larraz and Mario Siciliano
BCI Eclipse

To cash in on the release of the Tarantino-Rodriguez homage film GRINDHOUSE, it seems like everyone is trying to release something with the word “grindhouse” in the title. The fact that GRINDHOUSE was one of the year’s most disappointing box office bombs hasn’t stopped discs like BCI Eclipse’s “Welcome to the Grindhouse” series from flooding the market. In this first installment, two European imports, BLACK CANDLES and EVIL EYE, are paired that could have actually played a 42nd Street theater together (though I don’t know if EVIL EYE ever played theatrically in the U.S.). Unfortunately, the films themselves aren’t that hot, and the lackluster package is an easy one to skip over.

An animated main menu highlighting sounds of busy traffic and shots of theater marquees provides a “Start the Grindhouse Experience” option to view both films in a double-feature format. Select this option to view the popular “Coming Attractions” and “Feature Presentation” logos, which book-end previews for other BCI releases, PICK-UP, LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI, and DON’T ANSWER THE PHONE (these trailers can’t be accessed individually elsewhere on the disc, and are a nice touch). Then sit back and prepare yourself for the lurid cheapie BLACK CANDLES. Carol and her husband, Robert, a student of the black arts, trek to England to visit Carol’s family home, inhabited by her widowed sister-in-law, Fiona. Carol is surprised to see the house is filled with black candles and Satanic portraits, and begins to wonder if her brother Drew’s mysterious recent death is in fact connected to Fiona’s strange fascination with the occult. Strange sex dreams involving Drew and Fiona seem to further confirm her suspicions. Things take a turn for the worse when Robert begins sleeping with Fiona and is initiated into her cult, overseen by sinister Reverend Cooper, and a stolen necklace of Carol’s is used to cast a spell over her, causing her great illness and delirium. Can Carol escape before it’s too late?

Any talent that Jose Larraz may have shown with the erotic horror classic VAMPYRES is completely tossed out the window with BLACK CANDLES, a very poor mix of Satanic horror and softcore groping. The film has its fans, for sure, but there’s only so much interest to be found in watching rather unattractive people bump and grind while a dub track provides loud moaning. Larraz has practically disowned the film, and this is no surprise. Aside from some stylish cinematography, accenting the atmospheric England locations, and a unique musical score, this is pretty forgettable stuff. The storyline is all over the place, and the viewer is constantly left wondering what the hell the Satanists want from Carol in the first place? The highlights, if you can call it them that, would have to be the outrageous scenes of a young girl being mounted and humped by a goat in order to cast a spell and a defector of the cult being impaled up his rectum with a sword, but even those scenes sound more interesting than they really are. Spanish horror fans will love seeing Helga Line, the country’s foremost scream queen, still disrobing in her 40s, and Francofiles will recognize Asuncion Calero (INCONFESSABLE ORGIES OF EMANUELLE) and Mauro Ribera (SEXUAL STORY OF O). But ultimately BLACK CANDLES is a terrible disappointment from a director known for visually stimulating horror-sex hybrids.

After the feature, an Intermission logo features the SWV watermark (?!) before the popular Prevues of Coming Attractions announcement clears the way for trailers for PRIME EVIL, SISTER STREET FIGHTER (which looks to be taken from Gary Huggins’ TRAILER TRASH), and once again, the Feature Presentation announcement. In our second feature, EVIL EYE, dashing playboy Peter is a rich party animal who is also suffering from bizarre nightmares featuring Satanic rituals and screaming nude corpses! After meeting a mysterious French woman named Yvonne, he dreams that he strangles her during a loud thunderstorm…or was it reality? Yvonne’s body is discovered and Peter becomes prime suspect #1! Further bodies turn up, all of whom were murdered by Peter in his dreams, and he checks into a mental hospital.

EVIL EYE plays as a strange mix of the supernatural and giallo mystery, and is actually a decent, unpredictable attempt at something different, but never really makes much sense in the long run. Peter’s strange behavior runs the gamut from telekinetic abilities to move objects and seeing ghosts to transforming into a zombie-like strangler at the slightest provocation. A potentially interesting script focusing on Peter possibly working as an avenging angel for the spirit world is bogged down with no real sense of destination, a maudlin romance between Peter and his female psychiatrist, and a random subplot involving a superstitious police investigator who hears a buzzing when evil is near. The most interesting aspect of EVIL EYE, other than a typically very good soundtrack by Stelvio Cipriani, is the cast. Handsome muscleman Jorge Rivero (looking like Howard Ross) is an odd choice for the lead here, but does a good job acting as confused as the audience. Richard Conte (THE GODFATHER) looks like he’s slumming as Peter’s psychiatrist, Anthony Steffen (THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE) is good as the suspicious police investigator, and the ladies in the cast, including Daniela Giordano (GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES), Lone Fleming (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD), Pilar Velazquez (FURY) and Pia Gancaro (RED QUEEN KILLS 7 TIMES), are stunning. And it’s always a treat to see the Italian Peter Lorre, Luciano Pigozzi, appearing as a criminologist friend of Peter’s, and Eduardo Fajardo (LISA AND THE DEVIL) as Peter’s butler. Listen for some familiar dubbing, including one particular female voice who dubbed all of Laura Gemser’s BLACK EMANUELLE films! By the time the final credits begin to roll, EVIL EYE has featured some impressive moments that unfortunately aren’t held together by a competent script, and without an ending to tie up all the loose ends, feels half-assed and disappointing.

It’s only fitting that transfers for such bland features be less than ideal. Both are non-anamorphic hard-matted widescreen transfers, but they’re also culled from tape masters. BLACK CANDLES, while bright enough, suffers from plentiful video noise, discoloration, greenish skin tones, drained colors, and a particularly nasty tape roll at 22:05 (the image completely rolls over and the screen turns pink!). The mono audio for the film is also atrocious, with music and sound effects being quite loud and robust while voices are quiet and sound under-recorded. EVIL EYE looks and sounds better, but still looks very soft; the opening and end credits are in terrible shape, and there are several print jumps and much debris throughout the film. The mono audio fluctuates from being decent, delivering dialogue and music on good levels, to quiet, requiring the volume to be cranked to understand what the characters are saying, Additionally, the “Grindhouse Experience” is kind of disturbed by including the logos of the digital remastering and licensing companies before the features. (Casey Scott)