A look at what might be the crown jewel of “Greeksploitation”
For serious cinephiles, there is nothing more joyous than the act of discovery, to stumble upon something secret, or to be exposed to a previously unknown strain of filmmaking that life has long denied you.
And with the swell of high-quality home video over the past 20 years, its been a virtual renaissance for people like us. To unearth pictures wed only read about and, in many cases had no idea even existed. And then to see them is such lovely shape…
For this writer, so in love with the bizarre, stylish and exotic, discovering the existence of “Greeksploitation” was a virtual revelation. I have long been a huge fan of the less-loved British-Greek horror film starring Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence called Land of the Minotaur (aka The Devil’s Men). That film (an ambient doom-horror movie with a pulsing Brian Eno score) was directed by Kostas Karagiannis under the name Costa Carayiannis and, though a glance at his credits reveal dozens of pictures, almost all of them were made exclusively for the Greek market. The thought of taking time to track down some of these pictures never even crossed my skull. Life is brief, after all…
But, as it turns out, I was a rather ignorant sort. Because, as it turns out, Karagiannis was an exploitation movie machine; a veteran slinger of cinema who, under various nom de plumes cranked out well over one hundred films for his people and has been on occasion compared to his Spanish contemporary Jess Franco. Not a fair example as Francos works were, no matter the genre he was toiling in, almost always laced with elements of his own persona, his obsessions always struggling to push through and, as such, many of his pictures were difficult to enjoy on their own terms. But Karagiannis is interesting in that he very early on tapped on to homegrown commercial success, creating pure product to be mass consumed. Greek audiences were at odds with international cinema as they by and large were not interested in subtitles and rejected dubbed films outright. So Karagiannis started making endless features of every sort: comedies, musicals, thrillers and yes, horror films. And he made a mint doing so.
Which is not to suggest his movies “behaved”! Two of those films that, outside of MINOTAUR are probably his best known international pictures, crossed my desk last year from UK label Mondo Macabro, and my God are they spectacular works of cinematic delirium. Echoing US and European thrillers and piling on the sex and blood and unique Greek culture, this pair of Karagiannis capers are a kinetic blast of delirious weirdness that knocked this writers socks off and one of them, 1974’s Tango of Perversion, might just be one of my favorite trash films of all time.
Also known as Tango 2001, this breathless, kinky and thoroughly entertaining romp is indeed perverted, ripe as it is with murder, deviant sex, voyeurism, necrophilia and worse. And yet, its an oddly charming, cheerful picture , recalling early 1970s Spanish exploitation, gaudy fashions and eccentricities intact. In it, Karagiannis regular Larry Daniels plays a nickel and dime pimp/drug dealer whose girlfriend is having a hot and heavy lesbian affair with another stacked grafter who, like everyone in the picture, hangs out at the grotty Tango Club. In the middle of the melodrama, nibbling his nails and twitching, is social outcast Joachim (Vagelis Voulgaridis), a well-coiffed nebbish who is used by all and lets these miscreants regularly use his house for all manner of fucking. Unbeknownst to the fuckees, Joachim is a pervert who hides behind a two-way mirror and films their frolics. This footage comes in handy when Daniels finds his girl shagging her lady-friend in Joachims pad and promptly kills the lover. Joachim opts to dispose of the corpse but not before he has sex with it!
Soon, more murder, more corpse-shagging and ample blackmail spring up to stress out the characters and give the audience ample pleasures.
What a film! Tango of Perversion is an outrageous pig-out of upbeat sleaze and is even more fun in the badly English dubbed version. The music is fantastic, blending kitschy lounge rock laced with a traditional Greek folk music sound; the ties are huge and the ladies look great sans clothes. Best of all is Karagiannis direction; lively and leering, he always remembers to do the job he set out to do: entertain.
Daniels returned for another Karagiannis joint, 1976’s The Wife Killer , which has often been compared to a traditional Italian giallo but is still very much a product of its country and director. Daniels who, with his spray on beard looks like a more handsome Chuck Norris plays a broke playboy who pretends to love his comely and ultra-rich wife (Dorothy Moore, who was also in Tango of Perversion) while sleeping with his feral mistress (Leslie Bowman). Luckily, Daniels is good chums with a psychotic rapist/murderer who he struck a partnership with years ago, the result of blackmail and a need for a friend in his drug trafficking operation. He hires the killer to take out his wife and make it look like just another one of the psychos victims. But, of course, complications arise and crosses are doubled, sex is had, slaughter is plentiful and we, the viewers, clap our hands in infantile glee.
Not as joyously depraved as Tango of Perversion, The Wife Killer (which is also known as The Rape Killer!) is still a bang-up, grease-ball thriller, with lush Greek locations, ladies and matter-of-fact cruelty. A big, brightly lit noir that, like Tango, is so much fun, it just cannot really be offensive, no matter how hard it tries.
If you have yet to discover these movies and this skeezy sub-genre, I suggest you do so. I do declare Greeksploitation and the cinema of Kostas Karagiannis is a newly minted obsession of mine and I sure would like some company…