The Hand of Power (1968)

Country: Germany
Original Title: Im Banne des Unheimlichen
AKA: The Zombie Walks
Director: Alfred Vohrer
Starring: Joachim Fuchsberger, Siw (Siv) Mattson, Wolfgang Kieling, Pinkas Braun, Claude Farell, Peter Mosbacher, Siegfried Rauch, Lillemor ‘Lill’ Lindfors
Music: Peter Thomas
“The Space of Today” Performed by Lillemor ‘Lill’ Lindfors
Based on the novel, ‘The Hand Of Power’ by Edgar Wallace

Im Banne des Unheimlichen (or The Hand Of Power, as I’ll call it because I don’t speak German), is another adaptation of an Edgar Wallace novel, and although I cannot find any reference to it, I’d guess that The Hand Of Power is a follow up to The College Girl Murders (1967), which was also directed by Alfred Vohrer, and starred Joachim Fuschsberger as Inspector Higgins of Scotland Yard.

When watching a lot of the Edgar Wallace Krimi’s the first thing you have to get over, is that although they are German movies, with a German cast, they are set in England. It can be rather off-putting watching characters scamper around London and the English countryside speaking German. It just seems a little out of place, but I suppose no more than watching a Spaghetti Western in it’s original Italian.

The film itself is a great deal of fun, and it really seems to be trying to be ‘out there’ in a swinging sixties way. The colours are pumped up to psychedelic levels, and even one of the characters is green? Don’t ask! There one bizarre scene in a Mexican restaurant, where there are pigeons flying around inside the establishment. One of them even lands and nests in one of the waitress’s hair, as she walks past. It has absolutely nothing to do with the story, but shows how ‘wild’ this production is.

The film opens in rural England, outside London, at a funeral service for Sir Oliver. Apparently he was a great benefactor to the area, often donating money to the hospital and the church. As the service begins to wind up, and the pallbearers begin to carry the coffin from the church, evil maniacal laughter emanates from the coffin. The bearers drop the coffin in shock. The laughing voice is Sir Oliver’s. A reporter from the London Star newspaper, Peggy Ward (Siw Mattson) was covering the funeral and writes up a story about a ‘laughing corpse’.

Sir Oliver’s Brother, Sir Cecil (Wolfgang Kieling) is now in charge of the Estate, but believes his brother has risen from the dead and is out to get him. His suspicions are confirmed when his lawyer turns up dead. The perpetrator was a man in a skeleton mask, with a black cloak. He kills the lawyer with a scorpion ring, the tail injecting a deadly poison.

Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. Inspector Higgins (Joachim Fuchsberger) is assigned the case. Unfortunately for Higgins as the clues and list of suspects grow, so do the pile of corpses at the hands of out skeletal murderer.

Fuchsberger is great at this kind of role, and seems to have a bit more fun with it than usual. In the few films I have seen him in, he always plays a distinguished authority figure but this time he gets to leer at young girls in mini-skirts and has plenty of by-play with Siw Mattson…on a few occasions, their characters have to revive each other with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

One of the highlights for me is when Sabrina (Lillemor ‘Lill’ Lindfors), a professional entertainer in a nightclub, performs the song, “The Space of today”. It is great sixties entertainment.

The thing about Krimis is that they have dated. When they were made, they were supposed to be a little bit scary, but these days, they are pretty tame. Sure there is violence and death but you’d probably see a lot worse on any one of the crime shows on TV these days. Nowdays, you’d call Krimi’s ‘Horror-Lite’, but that does not take away from the fun to be had watching them.

There’s also great whodunit aspect to this story, which I missed completely. I guess I should have seen it coming, but, well, maybe I was a little bit tired. The clues are there, as are the red herrings, but I think an astute viewer can guess the identity of the killer. I am pleased to say that this is not one of those films, where they unmask the killer, and it’s somebody we have never seen before.

All in all, The Hand Of Power is a pleasant ninety minute diversion, particularly if you love sixties cinema.

Here’s the trailer, uploaded to Youtube by RialtoFilms

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The Hand of Power (1968)

Operation Pink Squad II

Teleport City is celebrating Halloween by dedicating the month of October to Asian horror films, and my contribution is a review of the Hong Kong ghost, kung-fu, comedy farce, police story type movie Operation Pink Squad II. Why not slither on over and check it out??
Here’s a snippet:

Once Operation Pink Squad II enters your life, it is a film that you will watch again. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll be drawn to it. It is the siren song of crazy-ass cinema. There are some truly wonderful, frenetic, jaw-dropping sequences going on. And, as I am not one for presenting wholesale spoilers, I haven’t even mentioned the ending, where things get really bloody, by Cat II standards anyway, but no less weird than the proceeding seventy minutes. This film is absolute madness.

Operation Pink Squad II

Last Day in Limbo

Author: Peter O’Donnell
Publisher: Souvenir Press
Published: 1976

Over the years I haven’t blogged too much about Modesty Blaise, which I almost feel embarrassed about. A casual observer may think that I don’t like Modesty, which is actually far from the truth. So I thought it was time to rectify the dearth of Modesty material on P2K. What spurred me to action was prior to reading Last Day in Limbo, I read Charlie Charters’ Bolt Action, and the the heroine in that story, Tristie Merritt reminded me strongly of Modesty Blaise. Although they are very different characters, and with the passage of time, existing in very different universes, the characters share a lot of similarities, and seem to get themselves into some similar scrapes.

In my review for Bolt Action, I suggested that some of the action passages resembled those of one of my favourite Modesty Blaise books, The Silver Mistress, and just to labour the point, here’s a brief snippet from the climax of Bolt Action (Hodder & Stoughton 2010) – as Tristie Merrit tries to negeotiate the crawlspace area above the cabin of an airplane, just as it is about to be blasted from the sky. Page 350 – 351

She realises why she feels so short of breath. There’s no oxygen supply up there, other than what percolates up from the hole. It explains the tightness in her chest, and the sudden panting. “You’ve got to… get me… some oil. Cooking oil… Olive oil… anything… I saw some… in first class… the focaccia bread… Go.”

But he doesn’t move. He looks around the roof space, testing struts, pulling on brackets. When he speaks, his voice is apologetic. “Just wondering what you need the oil for?”

She gives a long sigh of exasperation. Her lungs feel curiously deadened. “Because there’s a slot… I need tp get through… over there,” and she points to her ten o’clock, “… little bigger than… the size… of a letterbox… and I need… to be… oiled up… to have a chance.”

She can almost hear his smile. “You’re kidding?” Tristie Merritt, naked oil wrestler. Woo, woo.

“No, Whiffler… and I’m going to need… your help… can’t reach… my back… and legs.”

He disappears like a mouse down a hole. No doubt the only person on the plane smiling.

And here’s a passage from the climax of The Silver Mistress (Archival Press 1981) – as Modesty Blaise, slicked in mud, takes on a professional killer named Sexton, while Sir Gerald Tarrant watches on. Page 227 – 230

Page: 227:

She stood with her feet apart, her head thrown slightly back. By some trick of the reflected light which shone down from the glittering mass of needles in the dome, her body was turned to silver. Her hair, drawn tightly back, gleamed like a black helm. But for the slow rise and fall of the breasts under her steady breathing, she might have been an heraldic figure; woman rampant, silver, crowned sable.

Page 228:

She had known that Sexton would want to do it with his bare hands, given the slightest chance. The man came on and halted six paces from Modesty.

“I hope you’re not expecting to seduce me,” he said. “Aren’t you rather cold like that?”

She stood like a statue, not answering. Sexton glided a step nearer, testing the footing carefully. Then suddenly, moving very lightly and with that deceptive fluency which concealed speed, he came after her.

Page 230:

There was blood on her side now, where a glancing kick had torn skin from her ribs, but she seemed unaffected by it. The grease had helped the deflection, and was serving her well. Twice Sexton caught her briefly, once by the forearm and once by the ankle as he evaded a kick. Tarrant’s scalp crawled with fear, but each time she twisted the greasy limb free as the awful fingers closed.

Okay, by selecting those two passages, you’re probably thinking I am some weird fetishist. But I have my reasons that I will explain later – and after all, I am sure you’d rather hear about this Modesty Blaise adventure, Last Day in Limbo, than any of my nocturnal activities. So without further ado, Last Day in Limbo is the eighth book in Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise series – an adventure that doesn’t feature too much spying (although there is a small amount of espionage relayed at the beginning of the story), but still has the rough and tumble kind of adventure that you’d expect from one of Peter O’Donnell’s books.

This story starts with Modesty on vacation, doing a spot of white-water canoeing with millionaire John Dall. Their trip is rudely interrupted by two armed rednecks, who could have stepped off the screen from Deliverance, who take Modesty and Dall prisoner and start marching them up the mountain to a waiting helicopter, which will spirit them away. Of course, Modesty intervenes, and even though the kidnappers are professionals, she quickly takes them down.

The kidnapping was arranged by a corrupt millionaire businessman named Paxero, and his right hand minion, Damion. Paxero kidnaps other millionaires on behalf of his old twisted Aunt Benita, who runs a slave plantation in the middle of the jungle, called Limbo. Aunt Benita’s scheme involves kidnapping the world’s most wealthy and pampered people – faking their deaths, so there’s no questions – and then having spend the rest of their days toiling away as a slave. So the kidnap attempt, was actually aimed at the millionaire John Dall – Modesty, just happens to be an innocent bystander.

Meanwhile, Willie Garvin is helping out Sir Gerald Tarrant, the head of the Secret Service. Garvin is running a refresher course at the training centre where Tarrant’s operatives are taught a wide range of combat skills. Garbin’s student is Maude Tiller – one of Tarrant’s operative’s who has returned from a rather trying mission. She hasn’t quite been herself since she returned. Her last mission, quite coincidentally, was an investigation into the activities of Paxero, and she posed as a good time girl, who Paxero and Damion hired and used at their house in Switzerland. It seems Paxero and Damion are two peas in the same pod when it comes to creepy and aberrant sexual behaviour.  It seems that Maude has not quite recovered from the sexual practices she was forced to perform.

Garvin takes it upon himself to teach Paxero a lesson, and jets off to Switzerland. Of course Modesty joins Garvin on his little adventure. The first thing they do is reconoitre Paxero’s house, and it’s there where Modesty begins to suspect there is more to Paxero than meets the eye. While searching the house, she finds a pocket watch, which she gave to a friend, Danny Chavasse, many, many years ago. She knew that Dany would never give away or sell the watch, so the only conclusion is that it must have been taken or stolen. Which then brings up the question, where is Danny Chevasse? Modesty has a sneaking suspicion that he is not dead.

Of course, Chavasse is one of the many people trapped in Limbo, although at this stage, Modesty does not know what or where Limbo is. But she soon finds out with the help of some of her friends (characters who have been in previous Modesty Blaise novels). The first, is Lucifer, who has powerful pre-cognitive skills. He tells Modesty, that Chavasse is still alive. Next are Steve and Dinah Collier. Dinah has extremely perceptive devination skills, and with a plumbob over a map, is able to ascertain where Chavasse is.

But Modesty has to get to Limbo, and she believes that the best way to do that, is to allow herself to be kidnapped, which she does while scuba diving. She knows she can work better from the inside. Meanwhile, Willie Garvin and Maude Tiller set off from British Honduras (Belize) and virtually cut their way through the rain forest to rendezvous with her at the camp – just in time for the inevitable showdown.

Out of all the Modesty Blaise books I have read (and I haven’t read them all), this is possibly the most sleazy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not smut, but it certainly implies quite a few sexually repugnant actions carried out by the villains. Above, I quoted passages from Bolt Action and The Silver Mistress that are similar, in the fact that they are slightly titillating; both featuring naked female characters, who both happen to be greased up – I know, I know, I am sounding like a weird fetishist again, but bear with me. The thing is, in both books, this titillation happens in tense and exciting action sequences, and as events play out are actually helping the female protagonist to prevail. So while, it’s sexy, it is also consistent with the plot. The greasing up, actually gives them an edge. Last Day in Limbo is driven by sex. Sex is not used as a titillating element in the story, but a ‘dirty’ backdrop. Modesty and Willie are only drawn into the story because of the villain’s penchant for kinky and deviant sex. As such, this book doesn’t share the same joyful tone, as many other stories of its ilk – even those by Peter O’Donnell.

My comments may make Last Day in Limbo sound like a bad book. It’s not. It’s not smut – as I alluded to earlier, the deviant sex is only implied, never paraded in front of the reader. The book is a good Modesty Blaise adventure. But I would suggest Peter O’Donnell, tried to take the story into slightly new territory eschewing, if only slightly, some of the light swashbuckling charm of the early novels, and attempted to bring the story kicking and screaming into the mid 1970s. And that’s not a bad thing.

While Last Day in Limbo is a solid piece of entertainment, there are one or two coincedences in the story, that start to push the the envelope of believability. There is an awful lot of ‘just going on a hunch’ type of action. Modesty friends and their ‘special powers’ also weaken the story. They are interesting characters, but there is very little investigation in this story. The pieces of the puzzle come to her just a tad too easily, and although her physical prowess comes to the fore at the end of the novel, her brain is never really tested.

Last Day in Limbo

Wild Colonial Psychos

Calling themselves ‘The Kings of cut-throat comedy’, Mark ‘Jacko’ Jackson and Mark ‘Chopper’ Read are two of Australia’s biggest and most shameless self promoters.

Chopper, apart from being a notorious crim has tried his hand at a few other enterprises. Firstly there were the books – at least ten of them. I must admit I have only read the second one – subtitled ‘Hits and Memories’. I remember a vivid passage where Chopper gets into a barfight. Somehow, he manages to pry the eyeball from the socket of his opponent, and then plonks the orb into his glass of beer. Then to everyone’s (or at least this reader’s) astonishment, he then chugs the whole glass down.

Next Chopper tried his hand at the music industry. The album, Chopper and the Blue Flames, wasn’t received well. In fact it caused some minor controversy as Chopper’s vocal was recorded ‘secretly’ while he was still in prison. This upset some members of the community because he was supposed to be paying his debt to society, not launching a media empire.

Once out of prison again, Chopper then ventured into the world of fine art. He painted a series of intense canvasses and naturally, held an exhibition. I am sure it was a psychiatrist’s delight!

A spiel for ‘Chopper Heavy’ – uploaded by Choppermanagement.

Then there was a line of Chopper Beer, available from all good bottle shops. After that came his spoken word / comedy tour. His partner in crime was Mark Jackson. Jacko made a name for himself as a flamboyant Australian Rules Footballer. Undeniably talented, but his on field antics attracted more attention than his skills. Coupled with propensity for showmanship was quite a hostile temper. Regularly he’d be suspended, and have to spend time on the sidelines after striking his opponents. Eventually he was forced to retire from the game – he was too controversial. A lesser man would have just faded into obscurity – but not Jacko.

Next he launched a singing career – despite the fact that he couldn’t hold a tune even if it had handles on it. His single ‘I’m an Individual’ – which had a sing-a-long chorus featuring the phrase “I’m a Inda ‘bloody’ vidual – you can’t fool me!” – was a surprise hit.

And for your viewing pleasure (you wont thank me), here it is – uploaded to Youtube by nzoz1985

Jacko then went to ply his shameless brand of self-promotion in the United States, where he appeared on the television series “Highwayman”, which starred Sam J. “Flash Gordon” Jones. As far as I am aware, the show was never shown of Australian TV (if it was, it was at some god-awful hour – like 3 am in the morning).

So what we have in Wild Colonial Psychos is two of Australia’s greatest self promoters telling various anecdotes from their wild careers. As this is basically just a stand up comedy or spoken word show, there’s not too much point reviewing the show. The camera work is nailed down, the lighting is poor, and the set is less than inspiring. The sound levels fluctuate, and on occasions it is even hard to hear some of the dialogue because some people near the mic and laughing too loud. So this is a bare-bones production – but you don’t watch a show like this for the production values, you watch it for the Chopper and Jacko – well, at least if you’re interested in them.

The show starts with Mark Jackson doing his thing, and it’s amusing enough. You’ve got to remember that Jacko and Chopper are not comedians – and some of their tales are not meant to make you laugh. Jackon’s best moment comes when he tells the tale of his big break in the USA and bumping into Frank Sinatra. It’s an old story, and I doubt it really happened, but it’s good to hear it given a local spin.

When Chopper comes to the stage he looks pretty awkward. He does not look at home speaking in public, and at times grips the microphone with two hands – but his stories are engrossing – if slightly unsettling. There’s nothing politically correct here. His first story concerns a prison assault on a muscle bound Croatian homosexual. It’s not a pretty story.

Wild Colonial Psychos is driven by its two storytellers and their rough diamond personalities. If you aren’t interested in them or curious about the lives they have led then I’d suggest this production isn’t for you.

Apparently a follow on to this show has been released on DVD, which has the addition of Roger ‘The Dodger’ Rogerson, the disgraced New South Wales police detective, telling his tales of crims, crime and corruption. To find out more about ‘The Dodger’, check out the Aussie crime drama Blue Murder (which has an outstanding performance by Richard Roxburgh),.

Just to end, I thought I’d relay one of my favourite Chopper anecdotes. It’s not related to this DVD review in any way. It relates to some television appearances he made (and was set to make many years ago). The first appearance was on a night time talk / variety show hosted by a woman named Elle McFeast (Libby Gore). In the waiting room Chopper was plied with a large amount of alcohol and when he came on he was visibly drunk and his behaviour couldn’t be described as elegant. This, of course, caused national outrage!

Later that week, Chopper was scheduled to appear on the Midday Show hosted by Kerry Anne Kennerly, but after the furor over Chopper’s last TV appearance, the powers that be at the TV studio decided to cancel Chopper’s interview. In Chopper’s place, one of Sydney’s more prominent and outspoken radio personalities appeared on the show. As the interview proceeded, a voice off camera interrupted Kerry Anne and said that Chopper was on the phone. Kerry Anne declined to take the call, but asked Mr. Radio if he would like to talk to Chopper. Mr. Radio puffed out his chest manfully, and said, ‘Yes. I’ll tell Mark ‘Chopper’ Read just what I think of him!’ Mr Radio started to list reasons why Chopper was a disgrace to the nation. Of course, Chopper responded – but before I tell you what he said, first a little background information on Mr. Radio. A few years prior to this interview, Mr. Radio had been arrested in a public toilet in London. Allegedly he was caught masturbating. Back to the interview. After Mr. Radio’s tirade, Chopper simply interjected, ‘I wasn’t the one caught having a wank…’ the line went dead. Chopper didn’t hang up, the TV station pulled the plug on the interview. If there is a moral to this story, ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!’

Wild Colonial Psychos