Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In short: Der Turm Der Verbotenen Liebe (1968)

aka Tower of the Screaming Virgins

Paris, 1315. The city is in minor upheaval, for nearly daily the dead bodies of nobles are fished out of the Seine. The public makes the "Witch of Nesle" responsible, a mythical creature supposed to kill the men in her tower on the outskirts of the city. In truth, Queen Marguerite de Bourgogne (Teri Tordai) and some of her chamber maids, goaded on by her chancellor the Duke de Lorrain (Karlheinz Fiege), use the tower for a kinky hobby: luring random nobles to a night of masked debauchery and letting them get slaughtered by just as nicely masked henchmen afterwards. One has to while away the time the King is gone somehow, right?

It's a good time for Swashbuckling war hero Bouridan (Jean Piat) to return to the city to protect the woman he has decided to marry, Blanche Du Bois (Uschi Glas). Blanche needs all the help she can get, for de Lorrain has taken an interest in the end of her virginity, and he's quite the cad when it comes to this sort of thing. Adding to that, Bouridan has his own reasons to hate de Lorrain and the Queen, but since they have reason to fear and hate him too, and are in quite a position to make his life hard, things will get difficult even for the best fencer in France.

The German-led German/French/Italian co-production Der Turm der Verbotenen Liebe (which translates to "The Tower of Forbidden Love") mixes three genres, two of which are particularly seldom seen in German post-war cinema. Not surprisingly, there aren't really all that many German swashbuckling adventures, nor are there many Gothic horror films. I'll give our local cinema that it did have its own style of exploitation movies, with more "educational" films about schoolgirls than one wants to imagine. Fortunately the exploitation elements in the film at hand are somewhat more interesting than those in a Schulmädchen-Report. As always, the integration of breasts into a plot filled with entertaining events makes an exploitation film more interesting than the mock documentary "report" (it's the German version of mondo, really, just more provincial and less racist) style.

First and foremost, though, this is a candy-coloured swashbuckler (based on a book by Dumas senior) that director Franz Antel (a director who did a bit of exploitation of the type we know and love, but spent most of his career in the most horrible of German movie genres, the "Musikfilm" and the "Heimatfilm") dynamically enhances with the Gothic horror by way of the krimi moments concerning the tower, the breasts, and the mild kinkiness (whips, masks, and inadvertent incest are the main course of the day here). It's not deep stuff, and Jean Piat's hero isn't as charming as he seems to think he is, but Antel's direction has verve and uses slightly pop-arty colours, fine sets, well chosen locations in Hungary and improbable (a pop fantasy of the middle ages, really) but awesome costumes to concoct a real crowd-pleaser, at least when the crowd concerned is me.

I suspect the whole affair was an attempt by various elderly filmmakers to channel the spirit of '68 into their cash registers while still working with a base genre that let them avoid including hippies (therefore avoiding the classic pitfall of old men exploiting youth culture of having no actual clue what any given youth culture is actually about) and was compatible with the tastes of slightly older parts of their audience too. For what it's worth, Der Turm der Verbotenen Liebe is one of the better efforts at this particular thing, with nary a moment that isn't entertaining in one way or the other.

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