“I Made A Film With George Peppard, you know!” The Extremely Grumpy UMBERTO LENZI Interview

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It was 20 years ago (and then some), in May 1997 that the boy Freudstein interviewed Umberto Lenzi. I’d been avidly anticipating our encounter and surely all those warnings about what a hard-ass he was were, for the most part, hyperbole? Read on and weep…

Signor Lenzi, I was speaking to Sage Stallone and his partner Bob Murawski recently, about their definitive laser disc release of Cannibal Ferox… are you surprised that these films still have a large international cult following, so many years after their release?

In the case of Cannibal Ferox, yes, because for me that one is a very minor movie. I don’t like it so much… in my opinion, I made other movies that were much better. I like Paranoia very much, with Carroll Baker, and also some of the action movies that I made were better movies, like Violent Naples and Roma A Mano Armata… my war movies too, like Contro Quattro Badiere, Il Grande Attaco and La Legione Dei Dannati. For me the cannibal movies are not so important, so I am very surprised, yes, that they have enjoyed international success for all these years.

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Were you surprised to learn that somebody like Tarantino is very familiar with your films?

No, I’m not surprised because I know that before he started directing, he worked in a video store and was a big fan of European movies. So it’s no surprise… in fact, nothing surprises me any more, because the motion picture audience is strange, really strange… but you know the thriller movies I made, yes?

The gialli? Sure I do… I’m very interested in the way that European films, particularly Italian films, have had this unacknowledged influence on American films…

Yes… in the 70’s we had a thriving industry producing thrillers, westerns, cop films and so on, but now the Italian industry is completely dead. Twenty years ago we had good directors like Sergio Leone, Corbucci, many horror directors, and Italian genre pictures were very successful. These days… in my opinion, it’s the emphasis on special effects that has killed the fantasy and the talent of the directors. Three days ago I saw the famous American success The Rock, starring Sean Connery, and I thought it was a very bad movie, because the story was a very stupid, Rambo-like story, with many effects, explosions, crashes… I’d seen it all before. For me there have been only two great American films in recent years, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I don’t like all these stupid special effects as in Independence Day and Waterworld… these films are just stupid. You remember Make Them Die Slowly?

Cannibal Ferox?

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Cannibal Ferox, yes, it was made with hardly any money, about $100,000 because we shot this movie with a crew of about 10-12 people in the jungle without any resources but with a very important idea in there. The motion picture industry in America right now is effects, effects, effects, and that means money, money, money…

… and the Italian industry cannot compete on financial terms.

Of course, it’s impossible for us to compete.

Do you think that things could improve in the future?

The Italian industry is now finished for action and spectacular movies, because the Italian producers and the directors make only intimate, small stories. Argento can do it, but even for him it’s very difficult. The others have all disappeared…. me, Castellari, Valerii… and Fulci is now dead, of course. Corbucci, too…

I was going to ask you for your memories of Lucio Fulci…

We were friends because we both started off in the 50’s and I was assistant director on a movie with him. He was a good director, made something like a hundred pictures in every genre, but he died a poor man…. very poor.

Another of your former collaborators, Massaccesi, only keeps working by churning out pornos now…

Massaccesi is a very strange person… I’d rather not talk about him, OK?

OK… is it true that early on in your career you worked on an Esther Williams movie?

Yes, Wind In Eden…

That’s something you’ve got in common with Fidel Castro, then!

I started as assistant director to Mr Richard Wilson, he was a very close friend of Orson Welles. He produced Welles’ Macbeth and he was in the cast of Citizen Kane. I was very happy to begin my working life with him. He died last year. All of this happened 40 years ago, of course, when I was in my twenties. Two days ago I watched the film on video with my wife, because it is the first experience of my cinematic life. The film was shot in my home-town…

In Tuscany?

On the Tuscan coast, yes, and I scouted the locations for Mr Wilson.

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You must have had a knack for scouting talent too, because I believe you discovered Ornella Muti…

Yes, when she was only 16 she made her first or maybe her second film appearance in my film…

A Quiet Place To Kill?

Yes, Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere. It wasn’t a good movie. I made a mistake, because I wanted to make a movie like Easy Rider, a post-1968 movie…

… for the youth market…

… for the youth market, yes, but the producer was saying to me: “Umberto, your film with Carroll Baker, Paranoia, has been a big success in The States, so you must try to repeat the formula”. So by adding the thriller aspect, the movie ended up as a strange mix between Easy Rider and Paranoia, which did not really work.

The movies with Carroll Baker, and other gialli made by your colleagues in Italy have been very influential on the international thriller scene…

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Maybe…

You can see the influence in US blockbusters like Basic Instinct.

Yes, other journalists have claimed that my movies like Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse have influenced American movies… maybe, but these three movies starring Carroll Baker – and Spasmo, which I made later – are intelligent exploitations of human craziness, because we have the situation of a protagonist who is not good but is not all bad… the innocent and guilty people are the same, because for me in those movies the important thing was to demonstrate that the human mind is capable of both good and evil, you understand?

Sure. How would you compare and contrast your giallo films with those of say, Dario Argento or Sergio Martino?

Look, these three movies I made with Carroll are crazy, and just a little sexy, with stories about protagonists who are morally ambiguous. They are completely different from the movies of Dario Argento, because Argento is more concerned with serial killers and blood. My movie Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso… I don’t know the English title…

… Seven Bloodstained Orchids.

Yes, that one is nearer to the Argento way of filming, but the sexy thrillers starring Carroll Baker are completely different. Sergio Martino’s films are more similar to my movies, because he worked as production manager on some of mine, and took many ideas from them. After Argento changed the rules of the genre, many producers and directors made movies in his style, with the blood and the serial killers and the strange murders by the figure in black… I made one too, Sette Orchidee , but this is completely different from my earlier films Paranoia, A Quiet Place To Kill and So Sweet, So Perverse…

They are more like psychological thrillers…

Yes, concerning the crazy situation in the human mind.

There’s a power-tool killing in Brian De Palma’s Body Double that many viewers find suspiciously similar to Marisa Mell’s death scene in Sette Orchidee Machiate Di Rosso…

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Maybe, I can’t say because I’m a director rather than a critic. I will say that for me, Brian De Palma is one of the best movie directors in the world. I love his work very much, but in the history of motion pictures, every director has learned something from others, directly or indirectly. I love Hitchcock very much and many times, maybe unintentionally, I show that influence. In many people’s movies we see again the shower scene from Psycho. Maybe indirectly I have taken things from other directors, for example I love very much some directors from the 40’s, like Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak. When I made my final movie with Carroll Baker, Il Coltello Di Ghiaccio / The Dagger Of Ice, I was unconsciously influenced by Siodmak’s film…

The Spiral Staircase…

…The Spiral Staircase, yes, but not intentionally, because the situation is different. Instead of being the victim, Carroll is the murderer.

Another giallo you made was Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro…

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Yes, in America they called it Eyeball.

It’s quite a confused little film, and I heard that you never actually met the writer and producer, Felix Tussell…

Felix Tussell, yes, but that isn’t so unusual. It was an Italo-Spanish co-production, you know, and in these circumstances you don’t always meet all the people involved in making the picture. That’s another one which was more in the Argento style…

Argento co-wrote your 1969 film Legion Of The Damned, and I gather that he hung around the set and picked up quite a lot from you…

I think so… we worked together for two months, but after it came out I lost touch with him. 20 or 25 years later, I saw him in Rome at Lucio’s funeral. Dario is a big director, a very good director, but he doesn’t love me, I think, because he has never spoken of me in any of his interviews, and although he is a producer of other directors, he has never called me to direct a picture. I don’t know why, because when we met at the funeral he was saying: “Umberto, come here, how are you?” and all of this.

He’s reputedly a very difficult man to get close to.

Maybe… a strange man. But when we met in ‘69 we worked together for two months, he was very young and he loved me, but then we lost contact with each other.

You have this ongoing dispute with Ruggero Deodato over which of you is the originator of the Italian cannibal movie…

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(Animatedly) I don’t want to discuss this foolish dispute, because if you know my movies, it is perfectly clear that I started these films with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale, two years before he made his first cannibal film… and he only got to make that because I refused to do the sequel, Mondo Cannibale 2, so the producers hired Deodato instead. That’s the story… the first cannibal film in the Italian cinema was Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio aka Mondo Cannibale or The Man From Deep River.

Are you aware of the censorship problems with Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio (as Deep River Savages) and Cannibal Ferox in the UK, where they were dubbed “video nasties”?

All I can say is to repeat that for me, these films are not very important, so I have not followed their censorship problems in other countries. Some people have told me of some strange situations abroad, where the films cannot be distributed, but in Italy I have never had any problems with them.

I thought you might be amused to hear that here in the UK, there are crazy politicians and journalists who believe that people were really eaten in these films!

(Tut-tutting) No… no… look, for me, I think the interest shown in these movies is not about love of motion pictures, rather about cynicism and sadism. I made many good movies… like Il Grand Attaco with Henry Fonda and John Huston, why has nobody ever interviewed me about this movie? Or From Hell To Victory, a very good movie starring George Peppard… but people just keep asking me about Cannibal Ferox and Eaten Alive, two small movies without actors… without anything! It’s very strange…

You consider these minor movies, yet a film like Nel Paese Del Sesso Selvaggio has definitely exerted an influence, shall we say, over big-budgeted American productions like John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest…

Maybe… again I say that a lot of people see each other’s movies – Italian, American -and the influences go backwards and forwards. That’s only normal…

Early in your career you made many costume dramas like Catherine The Great and action / adventure movies like Il Trionfo Di Robin Hood and Zorro Vs Maciste…

Well I was very young, these were my first movies…

 … Sandokan…

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Sandokan is a good movie, it was made for MGM and it was the first Italian adventure movie shot completely in India.

Lamberto Bava recently shot some movies in India…

My movie Sandokan influenced Italian directors so much that thirty years later, they have shot another Sandokan movie in India using the same locations…

You’re talking about the Enzo Castellari picture…

I don’t know, I didn’t see it… why should I be interested when I already did it thirty years ago?

Similarly, La Montagna Di Luce with Richard Harrison…

Did you see this picture?

Yeah, recently on a German satellite channel. It’s like an “Indiana Jones” picture before its time…

Yes, many people have said that to me. For me that is one of my best movies, I love it very, very much. It’s more important than Cannibal Ferox, because we shot it in Indian locations in an ironic style, you understand, like they did twenty years later in Indiana Jones, but without any money for special effects. I remember that we had a crew of about 15 people and we were shooting with many, many difficulties. All the Indian actors were not really actors, but real-life people. It was not so easy in the 60’s to shoot such fantasy pictures in these kind of locations, so I’m very proud of films like La Montagna Di Luce and I Tre Sergenti Del Bengala, my last movie in India…

After that you specialised in spy films for a while, and adaptations of fumetti comic strips like Kriminal…

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Yes, for me Kriminal was an intelligent attempt to mix comic books with motion-pictures, in the same way that Montana Di Luce was action-adventure shot in an ironic context. I have made about 63 movies… I have no time to talk about all my movies… I am tired.

What about a movie you didn’t get to make… The Invisible Man?

I wrote the screenplay for that one but the producer refused to make it because it would have cost a lot. Round about this time another Italian director, Alberto De Martino, made a movie in London called Puma Man, which was a big box-office flop, so then the producer was afraid to finance my movie.

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When you made Black Demons in Brazil, you filmed an actual voodoo ceremony… did this lead to any brushes with the supernatural?

Well maybe, because from then till now only bad things have happened to me! I prefer not to speak about it. Like I say, I am tired… (Abruptly) I’m going now. Please send me a copy of your interview with Tarantino.

Er, OK. It was nice talking to you…

Ciao…

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And that was it. My audience was abruptly terminated and my questions about Lenzi’s Crime Slime epics, among many other aspects of his career, had been prepared in vain. The next time I ran into him, at Manchester’s Festival Of Fantastic Films in October 2013, we got along much better (as the above photo hopefully indicates). It probably helped that I wasn’t there to interview him, though in fact I very much doubt that he remembered our previous interaction. Anyway, he’d just dined with Barbara Bouchet so I suspect that he had rather more pleasant things on his mind.

P.S. As I was posting this interview I heard from friends that Umberto Lenzi, now aged 86, is currently in hospital. I’m sure that all readers and supporters of The House Of Freudstein will join me in wishing him a speedy return to full and feisty good health.

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A Thousand Dreams That Would Awake You… SEVERIN, THE EARLY YEARS.

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Daft, Gregory, Cregan and friends… another humdrum day at the Severin office.

A feature in the current issue (#185) of Dark Side magazine celebrates Severin’s first decade of digital debauchery by interviewing that label’s enterprising, taboo-busting, trash-obsessed honchos David Gregory and Carl Daft. The following archive interview (recently rediscovered wedged behind a toilet cistern during the demolition of a 42nd Street grindhouse cinema) catches them just a couple of years or so after the label’s launch. These interviews should be read in conjunction to get the whole picture… or (to paraphrase Mr Gregory) if you want to be tickled by the whole chicken…

To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Isaac Newton so sagely pointed out in his Third Law Of Motion (familiar to all of our readers, no doubt, from their GCSEs). Isaac’s axiom holds just as true in the realm of censorship as it does in the sphere of physics, so it was inevitable that the savage suppression of horror and exploitation video from the early ’80s onwards would provoke a commensurate outbreak of fan activity dedicated to keeping the flame alive until the dawning of less censorious times such as those that, give or take, we currently enjoy. Some of us hacks have managed to turn a modest living from our endless journalistic musings on the hysterical history of “video nasties” and similarly contentious titles but other, even more twisted individuals, have taken things several sinister steps further.

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Consider David Gregory and Carl Daft, two eminently agreeable, middle class boys growing up in the more respectable parts of Nottingham, whose quest for forbidden filmic fruit would, in time, blaze a legendary trail across the annals of DVD (and subsequently BD and download) distribution. “By the age of 10, Carl and I had seen many of the nasties before the police started snatching them up” avows Gregory, in a truly blood chilling confession. “But it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which I think made the biggest impression on me. Even at the early age I was able to tell there was something about the stench in the atmosphere of that film which made it quite special, despite the lack of gore. Anyway, after The Video Recordings Act devastated the industry we became avid collectors of pre-cert video tape, scouring the shops of Nottingham for hidden gems.”

“There was always that exciting possibility that you would find a video shop and he’d bring out this big box of nasties and be selling them for a few quid a piece” agrees Daft, smacking his lips like a true connoisseur of cinematic Evil. The boys’ delvings in the dark hinterland of video brought them into contact with a distributor for whom Gregory shot the local interest documentaries Nottingham At War and Nottingham At The Cinema… the latter is particularly nifty and both sold well in Robin Hood’s native city.

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Dave’s main focus, though, remained on cinematic sleaze (he had already made Scathed, as short starring Warhol “superstar” Holly Woodlawn in 1995) and, together with Carl, he put together the Exploited label to distribute their kind of movies on VHS. This soon had them butting heads with the BBFC. Deranged, Axe and the G.G. Allin doc Hated all got cut, Deadbeat At Dawn and Maniac were rejected outright… hassles that would become, as we shall see, a recurring motif in this narrative.

At the dawn of the digital age the boys collaborated on the seminal doc Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth and would raise the bar for DVD bonus features with their contributions to exploitation releases on various labels… their two-part Ban The Sadist Videos! retrospective on “nasty”-bashing hysteria, spread over Anchor Bay UK’s Box Of The Banned sets, was a particularly commendable effort and clearly came straight from their heart.

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Carl and Dave were also very active in the heroically failed (in 2002) legal attempt to overturn the BBFC’s ban on an uncut ABUK edition of Last House On The Left and their affiliations with Anchor Bay in The States ultimately spawned a close working relationship with Maniac director turned DVD distributor Bill Lustig, with whom they absconded to form the legendary Blue Underground label.

Their milestone US releases would include unexpurgated versions of Joe D’Amato’s notorious Emanuelle In America, Night Train Murders (which at the time was still a taboo title here in Blighty), Mark Of The Devil et al, alongside epic box sets dedicated to Amando De Ossorio’s Blind Dead series and the collected works of Mondo godfathers Jacopetti and Prosperi. During this period Dave and Carl also took on the completion of Jim Van Bebber’s Charlie’s Family, which turned into a hair raising experience for all concerned.

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Meet The Team.

In Summer 2006 Dave, Carl and partner John Cregan split to start releasing films under the Severin banner. Initially concentrating on sexploitation efforts, their release slate subsequently widened to take on every aspect of exploitation cinema. When we spoke, Daft and Gregory were bringing the sleaze home with the inauguration of Severin UK…

You must have been proud of what you achieved at Blue Underground… can you tell us something about your  reasons for splitting?

DG) I think BU had reached a stage where we could no longer carry on as we had for the previous few years. Not only were titles that Bill was interested in pursuing getting scarcer and more costly to produce, but also the market had steadily been getting smaller and more packed with competition. Having said that John, Carl and I wanted to broaden our horizons a bit, gain some independence and pursue production and saw potential for a variety of films that were not being exploited by the other boutique cult labels. Initially this was soft core erotic films from France, Italy, Germany, Australia, etc. We figured these films could still find an audience and they did. We committed to do some featurette work for Bill after we split, most notably on The Stendhal Syndrome and Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, but that definitively dried up some time ago.

Tell us about Severin’s UK launch. Why now? does the (yawn) “credit crunch” make this a particularly difficult time to undertake such a venture?

CD) We are launching in the UK with Polanski’s What? An amazing new transfer of The Master’s rarest film, complete with a slew of extras. It’ll be a terrific special edition. We’ll follow up with Felicity, Vanessa, Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter. Although erotica and horror will always be on our radar we are broadening our output and will be releasing everything from war epics like Enzo Castellari’s Eagles Over London to Ozploitation biker classic Stone.

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There is a school of thought that the  distribution business is recession-proof, that in tough times people would rather stay in and watch a DVD than go out to a restaurant or the pub. I think there’s some truth in that but it seems that cash is tight everywhere at the moment and consumers are being extremely cautious as, indeed, are the retailers, so it is bound to have a knock-on effect on sales. We have been toying with the idea of launching in the UK for a while but given our previous headaches with the BBFC and the Video Appeals Committee , had never quite mustered the enthusiasm to do so. When we found out that What? was available for UK distribution, we thought this was a strong enough title with which to launch in the UK and as the BBFC had lightened up considerably in the last couple of years we felt that we wouldn’t be spending half our time arguing with them like before so decided the time was right.

Do you think / fear, given your track record, that your stuff will be marked out for special scrutiny at the BBFC? And do you retain the same appetite as of yore for litigation in these matters?

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CD) The BBFC views every title on its own merit, surely? No, I don’t think we will be singled out for attention in that respect. Where our name will be noted, as this also answers the second part of your question, is that The Board will consider its position very carefully before issuing us a cuts list, as I have made it clear that I won’t tolerate any cuts whatsoever and I will tak any such decision to appeal. Just after the Last House appeal, , Robin Duval issued a cuts list for the Jim Van Bebber short My Sweet Satan. I wrote him back saying I didn’t agree with his decision and that unless he waived these unnecessary cuts there would be no option but to reconvene the Video Appeals Committee. Knowing that I was deadly serious and probably still scarred by the experience of Last House On The Left he backed down and passed the film uncut. As it happened I never even released the title, but I had made my point.

Presumably it will be a badge of honour for you to get former “nasties” like Bloody Moon and Devil Hunter released uncut in the UK…

CD) Most of those titles are now passing uncut due to the abolition of the 10 year rule after the Last House hearing. Bloody Moon is a nice one for us to do as it was one of our favourite “nasties” back when we were kids. It’s funny to think that here we are, 25 years later, mastering it in  Hi-Def and putting it out on DVD for the first time ever with the enthusiastic involvement of its legendary director Jess Franco.

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Any amusing anecdotes about your encounters with the legendary Jess?

DG) I can safely say that I am a big admirer of Jess Franco these days and that wasn’t always the case. Here’s a man who has always done things his way no matter what the criticism levelled at him. Not too many film makers can say that. The more you see of his work, the more you realise that this guy is an auteur. Of course some of his works are more palatable than others but that’s the joy of being a Jess fan, you have to see as much as possible to discover and admire the true gems… plus he’s funny as shit and great company, as long as you don’t mind passively inhaling about twenty cigarettes in the course of a few hours!

I believe you’re going to be releasing stuff over here in NTSC rather than Pal. Kindly talk us through some of the technical and commercial issues involved in this decision.

CD) Yes, unless we are contractually obliged to release in Pal we will be releasing everything in NTSC here in the UK in the exact same versions as we do in the U.S. Most of our titles are appearing on legitimate DVD for the first time in the world and it’s a very expensive process to go back to the original film and audio elements to create a new master, more so now that we are mastering in hi-def, so if we can split that cost across two territories instead of one then that makes sound commercial sense. Virtually all UK DVD players can play NTSC and as most of our releases are Region O then it shouldn’t create any problems for the consumer.

As Severin, has sexual material caused you more or less censorship hassles than horror / violence previously did in your principal markets?

DG) The censorship in the US is different from the bollocks that we had to put up with in the UK. It still exists though, even if not in the form of a state censorship board. Certain bigger stores and online retailers won’t touch certain products for fear of upsetting any puritan customers they might have and as a result some of our products can only be stocked in the more liberal outlets.

Tell us about the problems you had with the Immoral Women sleeve in some US outlets and the people who refused to subtitle Emanuelle Around The World…

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CD) One of the bigger retail stores ordered Immoral Women but it seems that the box copy on the back and its suggestion of bunny love were too much for one employee somewhere in the Mid-west and an official complaint was filed by this poor soul. It then became an HR issue for the company which, under American law, can become very onerous. To them it was far easier to send all copies of the film back rather than risk a law suit. With Emanuelle Around The World there is a uniquely D’Amato-esque scene in the XXX version which involves some dubious sexual activity. When the subtitle house got to this point in the movie they immediately had the tapes couriered back to our office for fear that the Republican decency police would have then sent to Death Row for the good of the community.

As veterans of all those scrapes with the BBFC, it must be a bittersweet experience for you to see Last House On The Left finally released uncut in the UK on another label… were you also as amazed as I was to see some of your Franco titles… I’m thinking particularly of The Sexual Story Of O… released unexpurgated over here?

CD) The BBFC has certainly lightened up compared to what it was even five years ago. There are still problems but if you compare it to how things were under Ferman’s reign, it’s nothing. It’s also annoying when you consider that we went to all that effort and expense to challenge the BBFC over Last House On The Left, only for the Video Appeals Committee to over-rule us and demand further cuts, then five years later the offending footage is no longer considered dangerous to the UK public… but another company gets to benefit! I mean, what could possibly have changed so much in British society that footage which was unacceptable five years ago is now OK?

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The sexualised violence in Sexual Story Of O would also have caused problems even under Duval but now we are seeing the likes of the hardcore version of Caligula being passed at ’18’ so that is definitely a good sign. Next stop has to be hard core at 18 that one might struggle to be “exceptionally justified by context” (the Board’s guideline) I’m thinking Malabimba and Beast In Space XXX at 18!

Well, if Caligula is now OK uncut at 18, what about some of the more out-there Black Emanuelle titles? I mean, what’s the difference?

CD) The two titles that would cause most controversy, Emanuelle In America and Emanuelle Around The world are both owned by Studio Canal / Optimum in the UK so unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to chance our arm with The Board even if we wanted to. I heard that Optimum submitted the full version of World without realising everything that it contained. The BBFC politely informed them that some of the contents were unacceptable in the UK and they promptly withdrew it. I would like to challenge the Board’s acceptance of hard core at 18 with some of our other titles though, under the test of “exceptionally justified by context.”I think the hard core elements of Beast In Space and Malabimba are most certainly exceptionally justified by their context. I am not sure that the BBFC would agree, maybe we’ll see what the Video Appeals Committee thinks.

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Joe D’Amato once told me that he much preferred soft core to hard core, personally… where do your own inclinations lie?

DG) John is our connoisseur of the world of soft core whereas Carl and I are more horror guys… John certainly agrees with maestro D’Amato. Polanski said to Peter Coyote when they were prepping Bitter Moon that the difference between erotica and pornography is that erotica is teasing with a feather whereas in pornography you use the whole chicken.  I think that’s a fair assessment.

After years of watching bootleg videos that turned out to be cut, where you as surprised as the rest of us were to see just how explicit some of the sex stuff was in Malabimba? And are you satisfied that the mythical “hard core out takes” from its remake / sequel Satan’s Baby Doll are indeed a myth?

DG) Actually, after we completed our Satan’s Baby Doll disc we discovered that the hard core version had been unearthed in Germany so it does exist, despite the director’s claims to the contrary. We procured a copy of the footage and it was it was in such bad condition we’re not sure that it’s even releasable. Malabimba, well that’s got to be the sleaziest film in our catalogue… until The Sinful Dwarf comes out next year, that is! I’d never seen it before we started Severin. Wow… we had to have this movie!

Is there any juicy stuff you could tell us about spaghetti sleaze Hall-Of-Famer Mariangela Giordano?

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DG) It would have to be off the record!

Kudos to you for the two Black Emanuelle boxes… was Laura Gemser approached to contribute to those?

CD) She certainly was but she’s retired from public life. She’s not embarrassed about it at all, in fact she requested copies of the box but she’d just rather not spend the rest f her days reminiscing about those years and she now lives happily just outside of Rome, where she breeds Llama apparently!

None of them named Pedro, hopefully… it’s clear that you boys conceived youthful affections for such actresses as Olivia Pascal (below), Glory Annen and the scandalously underused Joni Flynn, Is there any sign that these DVD releases are gaining any of them an unexpected cult afterlife on the convention circuit? No such option for Sirpa Lane, unfortunately…

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DG) I don’t think any of them are aware of it but it’s nice their work is being introduced to a whole new generation of admirers.

CD) Glory was happy to participate in the release of Felicity. We approached Olivia Pascal for Vanessa but she took the Laura Gemser route, preferring not to talk about the past (she’s a big name on German TV now). We tried to locate Joni Flynn but alas without success.

Are there any particularly underrated / directors stars whose work you’re planning to push?

DG) Looking forward to reintroducing some great Patrice Leconte movies into the US market. Not very Severin, you might think, but then we never wanted to limit ourselves to one genre. Leconte makes great films and we’re proud to represent them over here. We’ll also be doing more Castellari because there are still some masterpieces that remain unreleased on video… and there’s always more Franco.

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CD) Rino Di Silvestro!

What were the problems with the Lucio Fulci bonus interviews that were withdrawn?

CD) Antonella Fulci didn’t think they portrayed her father in the right light. Although she really had no legal basis to demand that we pulled the interviews, we decided that it just wouldn’t be right to have Fulci’s family upset with any of the releases of his films. We intend to do more Fulci titles in the future so we figured it would be best to keep her on side.

Well done for releasing Fulci’s Sette Note In Nero. Was it always the plan to extend your remit beyond sex films to the likes of that, The Inglorious Bastards, Stone et al or was it just that you couldn’t restrain yourselves when these great exploitation titles came up?

DG) I think if we’d continued with our main concentration as soft core that our output would become stale and diminishing returns would set in. When films like Inglorious Bastards and The Hairdresser’s Husband et al came along we saw it as the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons. There’ll be plenty of horror, action, in Severin’s future and plenty of sleaze too so we certainly won’t be abandoning our roots. More D’Amato, Borowczyk, etc… all great film makers in their own right and as a fan of Film I see no reason why they shouldn’t be represented alongside Leconte or Fulci. Ironically, our release of Sette Note In Nero (as The Psychic) was one of our biggest failures, commercially… very few people bought it.

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That’s scandalous! It’s a fabulous picture… from your various hob-nobbings with Quentin Tarantino, did you manage to glean whether his long mooted remake of Fulci’s film is still a goer?

CD) Much was discussed during the interview but no mention fo The Psychic. We flew Enzo Castellari out to meet with Castellari for our recent release of Inglorious Bastards. Quentin had organised “Enzo Castellari Night” at The Silent Movie Theatre where Joe Dante and Eli Roth were among the guests as two of Enzo’s films had rare theatrical screenings in LA. The following day we were treated to a three hour sit-down conversation between the two great directors covering everything from their respective cinematic influences to Quentin’s ideas for his remake of Bastards, which is now in production. The first part of this interview appeared on our release of the original IB and we will be splitting the remainder across future Castellari releases.

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Miles of smiles as Ingloriuos Bastards director Enzo Castellari and stars Fred Williamson, Bo Svenson hang out with the Severin boys.

You’ve revealed the true identity of Emmanuelle’s author, exposed what Hanna Barbera animators get up to in their spare time and demonstrated conclusively that unsolicited Borowczyk sequels and zero-budgeted Star Wars knock-offs are not comfortable bed-mates… are there any more scoops that you’re waiting to slap us around the face with?

DG)… that even a sleazy film like Christianne F can be made sleazier in the hands of an Italian exploitation master like Rino Di Silvestro (Hanna D is a jaw-droppingly tasteless exercise in “don’t do drugs, kids!” propaganda)… that you will at the very least need to take a shower after watching The Sinful Dwarf, but more likely need psychiatric help to banish some of the imagery from your mind… that Polanski was a bit loopy when he made What?

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Last time we spoke, Dave, you announced that you were “on the verge of grabbing a camera and running out to shot a feature.” Now you’ve done that, with Plague Town… what’s the lowdown?

DG) Plague Town was an exhilarating experience and I’m very happy with it. I set out to make a horror film initially following a generic formula but them pushing it into a stylistic direction that is not so formulaic. So essentially we start on a note of familiarity before moving into territory which is unexpected. For example I think the main victim, Rosemary, is genuinely unique. She came out exactly as I had imagined her, a beautifully elegant but exceedingly creepy and extremely violent young lady. And we tried hard to create some memorable death scenes, the kind of thing you really haven’t seen before and in this I think we succeeded. We’ve just had a couple of  private preview screenings and the response has been very positive. We’re working with Dark Sky Films (the producers) on a release schedule for the film in the U.S. It will be on DVD in the first half of 2009.

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50 Shades Of Blu… THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH on Shameless BD

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

Much  has been made of the “sex killer” angle in gialli… possibly too much. The culprit in what we might as well, for the sake of argument, concede to be the first giallo proper (Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963), though more than a little unhinged, turns out to be murdering on account of very cool calculations about an inheritance. Similar considerations motivate the assassin(s) in Bava’s Blood And Black Lace (1964), no matter how “sexily” its several slayings are rendered for our delectation… indeed, it frequently seems in that film as though Bava is inviting the audience to get off on the couture slaughter more than the film’s hard-nosed killer(s) is / are actually doing.

It would be perverse to argue that eroticism plays no part in these films and their popular appeal. Certainly during those bonkbusting Carroll Baker vehicles churned out in Bava’s wake by producer Luciano Martino, e.g. Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968) and Umberto Lenzi’s So Sweet… So Perverse from the following year, the jaded jet-setting characters, when they aren’t swindling each other out of large sums of money, are clearly having more and better sex than you ever have… probably took some time out to embezzle money from your company’s pension fund too, the bastards!

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Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, which changed the whole giallo ball-game when it crossed over from domestic to international success in 1970, was the first Italian thriller to prioritise (if not the first to feature) the exploits of a sexually sadistic killer. Even then, Argento’s focussed as much (if not more) on the trauma that had warped this character’s psyche out of shape rather than the lip-smacking relish with which they went about their stabby antics. Consider, furthermore, the motivations of the murderers in Argento’s subsequent films. You might well be surprised at how very few of them are actually out-and-out “sex killers”. But I’m getting ahead of myself… this argument will be developed in a future posting about The Stendhal Syndrome (if I ever get round to writing it!)

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Where were we? Ah yes… early 1970 saw Luciano Martino planning The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh as another steamy chamber giallo vehicle for Carroll Baker, but entertaining doubts about the cost of rehiring the star and another director. He didn’t have to look far for a solution… kid brother Sergio was chomping at the bit to direct his sophomore feature and had established his qualifications with the likes of spagwest Arizona Colt Returns (1970), various mondo documentaries and by shooting additional material to bump up the running time on such films as Hans Schott-Schöbinger’s 1969 adaptation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

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It was on the latter that Sergio discovered a breath-taking young starlet named Edwige Fenech, who promptly became a fixture in Luciano’s pictures, not to mention (jammy sod!) his bed. Add indefatigable screen writer Ernesto Gastaldi and all the ingredients (give or take some hunky love interest / potential killer for Edwige) were in place for a run of classic gialli, kicking off with the revamped, sexed-up Strange Vice, on which Sergio proved beyond dispute that he’d been paying attention during his stint as second unit director on Bava’s 1963 epic of sadomasochism beyond the grave, The Whip and the Body (1963).

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Meanwhile Gastaldi pounced enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s smash but borrowed its fetishistically clad fruit-cake only for that character (newbies beware, things could be about to get a bit spoilerish) to end up playing second banana to an insurance fraud conspiracy (“I told you, the best time to kill anyone is when a homicidal maniac is on the loose!” one conspirator tells another). Audacious stuff…. I mean, is there any cinematic precedent for a serial killer who is simultaneously the film’s principal red herring?

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TSVOMW’s opening intercuts a fatal razor attack on a prostitute with the arrival of the plane that is bringing the Wardhs to Vienna, greeted by a quotation from one of that city’s most famous sons, Sigmund Freud, concerning the potential killer inside all of us. Fenech plays the eponymous Julie Wardh (the “h” at end of her surname allegedly intended to forestall any libel proceedings from aggrieved real life Mrs Wards!), the neglected, bored wife of a workaholic diplomat (Alberto De Mendoza). She is simultaneously stimulated and troubled by salacious memories of her full-on sado-masochistic entanglement with brooding Jean (old Tartar cheek-bones himself, Ivan Rassimov). Their idea of fun, as revealed in sensuous slow motion flashbacks to the accompaniment of a Nora Orlandi theme that can only be described as sacramental, included him beating her in a muddy field (shades of Bunuel’s Belle De Jour, 1967) and – don’t try this at home, kiddies! – bonking her on a bed of broken glass. No wonder Julie is troubled by her cab driver’s stated desire for “perverts” to “get what they deserve”.

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Nor does the life of a neglected ambassador’s wife seem anything like as dull as we are expected to believe, including as it does wild embassy parties where drunken floozies rip each other’s dresses off, prior to one of them being bloodily dispatched in a Hitchcockian shower sequence (“Another girl slashed to death?” remarks Julie’s cynical friend Carol: “We should be grateful that he’s eliminating all the competition!”) Julie is horrified to discover Jean popping up among the ferrero rocher at one such bash but not sufficiently horrified to resist a) succumbing to his erotic menace and b) striking up yet another affair, with smoothie antipodean inheritance chaser George (George Hilton). When somebody starts blackmailing Mrs W about her various extra-marital liaisons, the worldly Carol (Cristina Airoldi) becomes convinced that Jean is playing his old head games with her, and agrees to meet him in a park on Fenech’s behalf… only to get sliced up a treat (I wonder how grateful she was for that!) La Dolce Vita has definitely soured and in mortal fear that Jean has lost it completely, Julie abandons her hubby and absconds to Spain with George. No prizes for guessing that there are several more twists to come…

Aside from her obvious facility for nude scenes (no shit, Sherlock!), Fenech deserves credit for a performance that gets us on the side of a protagonist who is, when you get right down to it, pretty selfish, shallow and unlikable… in many ways a 20th Century rendering of the Balzac character she played for Schott-Schöbinger.

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Martino confesses readily to the influence that Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955, above) exerted over TSVOMW (and what about Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, 1951?) but has waxed ambivalent about The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, to the extent of half-heartedly claiming, when he and fellow ‘B’ movie directors were being feted (at the behest of Quentin Tarantino) during the Venice Film Festival ten years ago, that his picture actually preceded the Argento biggie. In sharp contrast to Argento’s signature use of steadicam, his characteristic deployment of hand-held camera does convey a sense of urgency, plunging the viewer into the thick of the carnage and his restrained use of zoom underscores dramatic moments without descending into Franco-esque overuse. But there’s no doubt where those “through the keyhole” POV shots, which Martino would repeat through just about all of his subsequent gialli, came from. To be fair, Argento himself seems to have been influenced by the scene of Airoldi’s death in the park, restaging it pretty faithfully for Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971.) Martino’s diplomatic comment on this is that both scenes owe a lot to Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966.)

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Argento inarguably pinched one of TSVOMW’s central plot devices, by which calculating, opportunistic killers take advantage of a genuinely deranged individual’s murder rampage to deflect suspicion from themselves for Tenebrae (1982) though if anything, Argento tones it down because at any one time in Martino’s flick, there are no less than four killers operating with dovetailing motivations, no less than three of whom are out to get Fenech! Looks like Freud wasn’t just blowing cigar smoke up our asses with that opening quote…

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Shameless continue their drive to upgrade notable titles on their slate to Blu-ray. Having started a bit late in the game, they’ve avoided some of the pitfalls that bedevilled various early-adopting competitors, some of whose remasterings were looking distinctly variable in quality for a while there. It could be argued that Shameless have had less opportunity to cock one of these up because they’ve so far only done so few, but now that this aspect of their operation is picking up it looks like they’ve learned well from the mis-steps of others. Those having been made, DNR is currently considered less desirable than an “authentic” level of upfront graininess and if you can live with that, opportunities are now opening up to grasp hitherto unguessed-at cinematographic subtleties in some of your favourite films. Arrow’s recent(ish) Deep Red was a particular delight in this regard and the efforts of Emilio Foriscot and Florian Trenker are done similar justice here. No sound problems for audiophiles to have hissy fits over, either.

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Bonus materials comprise the Martino interview and Fenech profile from the previous Shameless release, plus a mini-doc in which most of the significant participants in TSVOMW have their say, the latter lifted from Italian label No Shame’s early DVD edition. Justin Harries’ “fact track” also reappears from that original Shameless release and alternates entry-level giallo observations with some interesting speculation about how the various men in Mrs Wardh’s tangled love life correspond to Freud’s tripartite model of the human mind. I used to get a lot of flack for bringing this kind of thing into the discussion of exploitation movies but in case that’s too high-brow for you, Harries also describes Martino’s film as Sex In The City with added murder.

Another home run from Shameless!

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“Ooh, Betti!” EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Nucleus Films. 18. 

Kudos to Nucleus for finally affording a proper UK release to Mike Malloy’s documentary, which has  been knocking around for about five years now. It gets underway with an amusing sequence in which salient scenes from iconic American cop films are intercut with corresponding ones from their Italian imitators. Fair enough, it’s unlikely that anybody reading this blog will need the filone system of Italian film making explaining to them. Malloy also acknowledges that the influence has been anything but one way and allows Enzo Castellari (pictured above) to complain that Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974) pinches from his Street Law, released in the same year. Well, the Brain Garfield novel which Winner based his film on was published in 1972… whatever, the influence that Castellari has exerted over the likes of Quentin Tarantino cannot be disputed and never has been by Tarantino himself.

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One keeps expecting to see QT pop up at some point in Eurocrime! but no, Malloy sticks to the primary sources and his doc is all the better for it. Apart from Castellari, we get to hear from Mario Caiano, Franco Nero, John Saxon, Antonio Sabato, Luc Merenda, Fred Williamson, Richard Harrison, John Steiner, Christopher Mitchum, Leonard Mann, Joe Dallesandro, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, Michael Forest and Claudio Fragasso, among many others. It’s particularly great to see Henry Silva, the baddest ass in cinema bad ass history, still going strong. “Does Henry still look good?” Antonio Sabato asks his interviewer at one point and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, in fact here HK’s looking spookily like you imagine Darrell Buxton might well look in his ’70s (if Darrell was a psychopathic stone killer rather than the charming chap he actually is). For a while there I’d managed to convince myself that Silva had joined the Grim Reaper’s 2017 cull of so many of our favourite personalities but here he is… live, kicking, relating humorous anecdotes (e.g. a run-in with Sabato when the latter hadn’t bothered to learn his lines) and no doubt pondering popping a cap in my presumptuous ass.

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An impressive roll call of witnesses to the Crime slime phenomenon then, though no doubt you could niggle (and some have) about who’s here and who’s been left (or opted) out…No Sergio Martino? And why isn’t Umberto Lenzi called upon to answer his many detractors? But really, what’s the point? Malloy had to work with what (and whom) he had to work with and those who did sign up aren’t exactly short on interesting and entertaining things to say about their participation in the genre. There’s a significant section on Barbara Bouchet which seems to be leading up to an appearance by BB herself, though sadly she fails to materialise. Although he died in 1989, a meditation on Maurizio Merli’s career tangent (from “guy who was lucky enough to look like Franco Nero when Nero lost interest in the genre” to “difficult” star) makes for an interesting sidebar,  emblematic as it is of Crime Slime celebrity.

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Thanks to @cosiperversa for unearthing this one. More tea, vicar?

Aside from the aforementioned Hollywood influences, Malloy addresses the domestic factors that had these films “ruling the ’70s”, at least in Italy… discontent with the explosion in crime that was the underside of “the Italian economic miracle” and fear of the regular outrages attributed to the extreme Right and Left during “the Years of Lead”. We also hear about how minor hustling criminals “facilitated” street shoots and rumours of actual mafia involvement. Actors who were called upon to do their own stunts amid live ammo relate the perils they faced during guerilla shoots where directors’ spontaneity was matched only by their lack of interest in Health and Safety (“I think I peed my pants!” confesses Silva about one such set-up). Castellari talks about the celebrated scene in The Big Racket (1976) where Fabio Testi gets rolled down a hill in his car. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and others discuss the less hazardous but extremely discomforting business of shooting without direct sound and some of the veteran dubbing artists of the Italian movie scene finally get to show their faces while having their say. It would have been nice, though, to hear more about some of the amazing composers whose OSTs have graced this genre, the likes of Morricone, Micalizzi, Cipriani, Trovajoli, de Masi, and so on. I’ll give credit here for the bitchin’, authentic sounding OST score that Malloy has pulled together, from various contributors, for this documentary.

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… are you sure you won’t have another cup of tea, vicar?

Such recurring themes as unconscionable violence, misogyny and car chases are given due consideration and we are treated to a digression into the little studied wilderness (and sheer wildness) of Italo-Turkish co-productions. Needless to say, the all-important subject of J&B product placement rears its malty little head.

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Minor quibbles: Although the narrative does occasionally venture outside of Italy, a more Italian focussed title would have more accurately reflected its contents. Malloy does labour certain points and his much discussed flashy editing style, initially impressive, does wear out its welcome well before the end of Eurocrime!’s 127 minute running time. In pursuit of flashy cutting and graphics, Malloy does seem to have lost sight of the primary purposes of editing, e.g. tidiness and concision. Personally, I could have done without some of the animated sequences and as it stands, Eurocrime is too long and baggy to be the primer that will turn the general picture-watching public on to the poliziotteschi phenomenon. It might well recruit new converts from those already kindly disposed to such genres as giallo or spaghetti westerns. For established Crime Slime devotees, Malloy’s epic labour of love will come as joyous, indispensable stuff.

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The main feature would have been even longer if not for the fact that generous interview out takes have been bumped into the bonuses section. You also get Eric Zaldivar’s 2012 interview with Tomas Milian (an anarchic free spirit to the end) and -alongside a nifty trailer for Eurocrime! itself – 31 (count ’em!) ass-kicking coming attractions for some of the genre’s most celebrated efforts.

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Well worth your time and money, especially as Nucleus, true to form, aren’t taking the piss with their price point. Nothing, er, extortionate!

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Heads They Win, Tails We Lose… THE BIG RACKET Reviewed.

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Pretty much squeezed out of the giallo thrillers that proliferated in the ’70s, Italian cops decamped into a cinematic genre of their own. Reflecting contemporary public angst over pandemic political and criminal violence in the 1970s (“the Years of Lead”), this particularly torrid cinematic stream can be sourced to La Polizia Ringrazia (aka Execution Squad / The Enforcers), a 1971 film by erstwhile comedy specialist Stefano Vanzina (aka Steno) that starred Enrico Maria Salerno in the authoritarian cop role and owed a fairly obvious debt to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, released earlier in the same year. It took Enzo Castellari’s La Polizia Incrimina, La Legge Assolve (aka High Crime, 1973) however, to really ignite the box offices. Castellari, already a veteran director of action packed, acrobatic spag-wests and war films, here hooked up for the first of many times with Franco Nero, playing Vice-Commissioner Belli, a maverick cop who’s out to close down the supply of heroin from France into Italy. If all of this sounds vaguely reminiscent of “a certain William Friedkin picture” (indeed, this picture has also been released under the alias “The Marseilles Connection”), Castellari goes so far as to as to bring back Fernando Rey as Belli’s adversary and stages a mighty familiar looking car chase, while upping the ante in terms of sheer sadism (the drug gang think nothing of cutting the nads off of those that cross them!) Later in 1973, Sergio Martino knocked out another saga of rulebook trashing cops The Violent Professionals (Milano Trema – La Polizia Vuole Giustizia) and followed it in 1974 with the similarly themed Silent Action (La Polizia Accusa: Il Servizio Segreto Uccide). The same year, Castellari and Franco Nero were back with Il Cittadina Si Ribella (“The Citizen Rebels”) aka Street Law, in which Nero’s revolting citizen strikes back against a system so tardy about protecting the citizenry that it’s virtually complicit in criminality. In The Big Racket (1976) Castellari develops his argument a step further by effectively identifying The State itself as a criminal conspiracy.

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Enzo’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take anymore…

While some of its genre predecessors strive for gritty social relevance with plot points that paradoxically leave credibility teetering on the edge of a precipice, The Big Racket gleefully dons hobnail boots to kick the fucker right over the brink. Its in-your-face opening depicts a business premises being trashed by a rent-a-goon gang of OTT ne’er do wells. Their colourful apparel and larger than life anti-social antics clearly foreshadow the cartoon characterisations of Castellari’s apocalyptic trilogy Bronx Warriors (1982), Bronx Warriors 2 and The New Barbarians (both 1983) and The Big Racket depicts civil society as one step removed from that kind of total breakdown, with wrecking gangs roaming the city despoiling honest citizens at will. On this kind of form, Castellari makes Michael Winner look like a tree hugging Lefty!

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It’s big…

The aforementioned goons are enforcing a protection racket run by foppish Englishman (?!?) Rudy (John Loffredo). God help anyone who refuses to cough up. When one of their marks, restaurateur Luigi Gestore (Renzo Palmer) does stand up to them, they abduct and rape his schoolgirl daughter (Castellari’s own daughter, Stefania Girolami, later an assistant director on such Hollywood productions as Super Mario Bros, Dawson’s Creek, American Gothic and Empire Records, now back working for her dad). She subsequently kills herself out of shame.

Needless to say there’s a hard-assed cop keen on closing down the operation. In the absence of Franco Nero we get equally hunky Fabio Testi as Inspector Nico Palmieri. When he is rumbled investigating the racket, its perpetrators have no qualms at all about rolling a police car and its occupant into a quarry, a quite amazing sequence whose realisation Castellari discusses on this disc’s audio commentary track.

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When Palmieri gets out of hospital, you can bet your ass he’s even keener than before to kick some racketeering ass. It doesn’t hurt that his partner Sal (Salvatore Calimero) is a kung fu whirlwind who can beat up several assailants simultaneously and thinks nothing of kicking a lady racketeer in her private parts to convey the message that crime doesn’t pay!

What does cramp their investigative style is the oily civil rights lawyer Giovanni Giuni (Antonio Marsina) who continually gets the protectioneering hoodlums out of jail and protests that they are being overly harshly treated for their high spirits and roguish shenanigans: “These kids are just blowing off some steam” (?!?) is his weasel-worded rationalisation of their crimes. When Palmieri’s attempts to cut through all this bullshit get him taken off the case, he figures that he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Hiring the services of gentlemanly con man Pepe (a great comic relief turn from Death Wish alumnus Vincent Gardenia) he sets out to infiltrate The Big Racket. Two major set pieces ensue. The first is an astonishingly choreographed and sharply edited shoot out at a railway station, a vintage Castellari action sequence featuring all his familiar trademarks of slow-mo, multiple angles and madly gurning, machine-gun totin’ extras somersaulting through the air.

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It is here that by-standing skeet shooter Giovanni (Orso Maria Guerrini) conveniently throws in his lot with the cops as an act of civic duty… not so convenient for his family though, as the mob respond by urinating on and raping his wife, before setting fire to her (pity that wasn’t the other way around!)

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Palmieri recruits him, Pepe, Gestore and Doringo (Romano Puppo), a lifer seeking to cut a deal and get himself  out of jail, for the climactic confrontation with the gang at their annual general meeting, held in another of Castellari’s beloved disused factories. During the ensuing mayhem the supreme boss of the ever-expanding protection racket is revealed… a real non-surprise this one, it’s that smoothy civil rights lawyer Giuni. Castellari really couldn’t spell it out any clearer than this – liberals aren’t just well-intentioned but misguided wimps, they’re keen and active participants in the destruction of Society!

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Marsina, overacting frantically, spells out the Big Racket’s ambitious corporate plan in alarming terms: “Factories, restaurants, shops, hotels… if they want to stay open, they’ll pay us. In fact eventually every living individual will have to pay us. If they refuse, their gas main might blow up and take half the house with it. People will soon learn that they have no defence against the terror that we will create. Just one phone call, one threat will make them pay. Do you have kids? You don’t want to lose them? Then pay! You don’t have the money? You have a house so sell it and pay. No house? Then half your salary each month. If you want your kids to live then pay, pay! Naturally some will hesitate… so we kill a couple of children… a few examples and people will pay without question. But we’ll need to cover ourselves… we can buy anybody, politicians, policemen, magistrates… anybody at all!”

This chilling vision of the future is cut short by a hail of bullets from Palmieri and co. From their vantage points they mow down most of the mobsters, though inevitably they are themselves cut down in their turn. Palmieri confronts Mr Big Smoothy Lawyer in a toilet, appropriately enough, and answers his ironic, impassioned demands for legal protection with a skinful of lead.

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Outside the factory, Rudy and a handful of surviving racketeers attempt to drive away but Palmieri’s bullets have for some reason acquired the ability to make anything they hit go up in a mini mushroom cloud… possibly a symbolic representation of the welled up power of his righteous wrath, more probably a realisation by Castellari that he had 90 minutes worth in the can and needed to wind things up, smartish.

Testi is a considerable actor but can’t do much here with a character who is little more than a cypher. We don’t learn anything much about Palmieri, other than the fact that criminals drive him into a murderous rage. He certainly does nothing effective to protect any of the people whom he eggs on to defy the baddies, all of them coming to a sticky end. Perhaps this is why Castellari’s freeze frame final shot depicts Palmieri howling in anguish, smashing his rifle to bits.

It’s no small undertaking to tackle The Big Racket!

Extras wise, as well as the inevitable trailer you get a lively, informative commentary courtesy of Poppa Castellari and his son Andrea Girolami. Nice.

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Running On Empty… BLAZING MAGNUM Reviewed

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“Ooh, I could crush a grape!”

DVD. Region 1. Scorpion Releasing / Kino Lorber. Unrated (as “Shadows In An Empty Room”).

Alberto Martino (aka “Martin Herbert”, 1929-2015) has a decent claim on being the most underrated of all those journeyman Italian directors who jobbed their way promiscuously through every conceivable genre during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Serving his apprenticeship as writer and AD on romantic dramas, adventure yarns and peplums during the 50’s, he clocked up his own initial directorial efforts in the latter genre and spaghetti westerns during the early ’60s. His epic of international espionage, Operation Kid Brother (aka OK Connery, 1967) attained lasting notoriety due to the casting of a certain Scottish milkman as its protagonist, whose sole qualification for the role was being the current James Bond’s younger brother. “Neil Connery is too much!” claimed the posters, but the general consensus was that, in thespian terms, he wasn’t quite enough and wee Neil soon went back to totin’ crates of gold tops. Thereafter Martino authored solid entries in the giallo (The Man With Icy Eyes, 1971 and The Killer Is On The Phone, 1972) and poliziotteschi (Crime Boss, 1972 and Counsellor At Crime, 1973) fields. There are plenty of films in which those two genres shade off into each other and that is indeed the case for the one under scrutiny here, but Blazing Magnum (aka Shadows In An Empty Room, Strange Shadows In An Empty Room and A Special Magnum For Tony Saitta, 1976) is particularly notable for the way that it lifts both of these filoni out of their accustomed urban Italian environment and lands them slap-bang in the middle of downtown Montreal, scoring in the process a kick-ass action triumph that graced Granada TV’s late night programming on multiple occasions during the ’80s and whose reappearance on DVD certainly hasn’t disappointed me.

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The film opens with sexy student Louise Saitta (Carole Laure) having an on-campus tiff with her professor / lover Dr George Tracer (recently deceased Hall of Famer, Martin Landau). Spurned and upset, she calls her big brother, cop captain Tony (Stuart Whitman) in Ottawa. Yep, Tony Saitta’s an Ottowan and at this point I’m going to challenge you to read the rest of  this review without “D.I.S.C.O.” playing in your head. Anyway, Louise intends to blow the whistle on her illicit relationship with the Prof but Tony’s otherwise engaged, breaking up a bank heist… Harry Callahan style, with the aid of his fetishised magnum. By the time he’s killed everyone, wrapped up the paperwork and tried to call her back, Louise is dead. Having  embarrassed Tracer with an elaborate practical joke during a swish faculty party, she downed a drink that turned out to laced with poison.

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Tony flies in with a heart full of guilt, a relentless determination to smoke out (with the assistance of cop-on-the-spot John Saxon) the lowlife who snuffed his innocent little sister… and that magnum, with which to dispense a little rough’n’ready justice. Our latter day John Wayne is predictably disgusted by the louche sexual mores of Montreal’s academic set, not only lecherous prof Tracer but Margie Cohen (Gayle Hunnicutt… strong cast, ain’t it?) and her creepy brother who eventually turns up (in full drag) dismembered in a piece of industrial machinery. How was the blue necklace he wore connected to the recent murder of an apparently respectable woman in Toronto?

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It’s while following up this latter angle that Saitta’s complacent self-image as a morally upright macho man sustains its first serious damage. Visiting a gay clubhouse on the top floor of a skyscraper, confident in his ability to shake some clues out of what he believes will be a bunch of fairies, he promptly gets the shit kicked out of him by a posse of transvestite kung fu furies… yay, even unto being put through a plate-glass window in slow motion from several different angles. While his scars heal and he reassesses his stereotypes, Margie chides Saitta for his blinkered, clichéd view of the word and indeed, the further he delves into the case, the more it becomes apparent (via a series of Sergio Leonesque unfolding flashbacks) that his kid sister wasn’t quite the little innocent abroad that he had always imagined her to be… 

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For all it moral subtleties, BM will be best remembered among Crime Slime fanatics for that LGBT kung fu show down and even more so for the truly gob-slapping car chase that takes up eight ecstatic minutes of its running time. Master stunt co-ordinator Rémy Julienne subsequently plied his trade in Bond films but this is his masterpiece, right here… topped off with a nice little gag, at that: when Saitta pulls his quarry from the wreckage of his car and demands some information, the latter coughs it up without any fuss, making one question the whole point of the delirious vehicular vandalism we’ve just witnessed, over and above keeping the enthralled viewer on the edge of his / her seat… “Pure Cinema”, anyone?

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Meanwhile giallo fans will be enjoying the whole whodunnit format (the Mannino / Clerici writing team also scripted Fulci’s New York Ripper and Murder-Rock, among others) and such suspenseful scenes as the one in which Louise’s blind friend Julie (Tisa Farrow from Zombie Flesh Eaters, Anthropophagous, et al) is set up for a fall out of a high window. Great stuff all round. Speaking of Anthropophagous, Blazing Magnum’s one-shot DP “Anthony Ford” turns out to be yet another AKA for jolly “Joe D’Amato” / Aristide Massaccesi.

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Released (uncharacteristically late) in a flood of Dirty Harry / French Connection cash-ins, Blazing Magnum is more than just some macho exercise in vigilante bullshit… Whitman’s character goes on a real learning curve, at the end of which he emerges as a more self-aware, tolerant, all-round caring and sharing kind of dude… who’s still able to bring down a helicopter over a densely populated urban area by plugging away at it with his turbo magnum! A win-win result, in anybody’s book…

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Although not that brilliantly remastered (despite claims to this effect on the packaging), Blazing Magnum looks significantly better here than in its former incarnation as a Medusa VHS release and unlike that, it isn’t going to look any worse with subsequent rewatchings… of which it’s going to get plenty here at The House Of Freudstein.

Jeez, I can’t believe that when I first posted this review I neglected to big up Armando Trovajoli’s pulse-pounding OST… mi scusi, maestro, mea culpa!

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All That Zarjaz… FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000 AD Reviewed

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… wielding their gleaming tweezers, no doubt.

BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated or BD. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

The IPC comic Action (created by Pat Mills and published 14/02/76-11/11/77) specialised in, er, “adapting” the storylines of violent contemporary movies (Jaws, Rollerball, any amount of vigilante cop sagas) for a readership who were avidly discussing them in the playground but too young to sneak into cinemas and actually see the bloody things. In the process it garnered much hostile tabloid comment, anguished TV debate and the undying enmity of Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers And Listeners’ Association. WHS and Menzies started getting cold feet and so did IPC, pulping the print run of issue 37 (an ultra-rare copy of which recently went for two-and-a-half grand on eBay!) and the comic lingered on for another year or so of declining sales in woefully bowdlerised shape. As a precursor to the “video nasties” witch hunt of five years later and indeed, as a social panic in its own right, the Action story deserves documentary treatment…

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In the absence of that, here’s Paul Goodwin’s 2014 documentary on Action’s spiritual successor, the rather more successful (forty years as “the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic” and still counting) 2000 AD. Mills’ new creation was seen as some kind of retreat on its inception. “Because it’s a Sci-fi comic, people thought that it would be nice and middle class…” he remembers: “Boy, were they in for a shock!” They sure were, with a continuing stress on “action” (which in Mills’ formula always equalled “violence”) and a new pantheon of iconic, anti-heroic characters such as Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Halo Jones, The ABC Warriors and Nemesis The Warlock (2000 AD even revamped The Eagle’s venerable Dan Dare for a spell) running amok in hard-hitting strips that were Dystopianly satirical, sardonic and Sadean.

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Goodwin’s very welcome doc, adeptly handled for the most part, unfortunately kicks off with a couple of my least favourite lazy pop social history clichés, concerning the cultural climate from which 2000 AD emerged. The late ’70s was, by this account, a period of “social conflict” in the UK and the evidence wheeled out to support this trusty old chestnut is familiar stock footage of Arthur Scargill, aggro on the picket lines and bin bags piling up in the streets. OK, so working people at this time were achieving a measure of success in the struggle to advance their economic conditions by flexing their industrial muscle (nobody was going to hand them anything on a plate, where they?) and that apparently amounts to “social conflict.” By implication the current situation, in which the boot is very much on the other foot and being enthusiastically ground into the faces of the working poor, the disabled, the demented, immigrants and benefit claimants (when it isn’t pressing down on the accelerator of wealth transference to the 1% from the rest of us) must be seen as a period of relative “social harmony”. Tell it to the nurses queueing at food banks and the tenants of high-rise tinder boxes! So much for pop social history…

My other least favourite lazy cliché follows hot on the heels of the first and has it, in this instance, that 2000 AD drew its “grit”, “authenticity”, “street credibility” and any amount of other bullshit from the punk “movement” and the antidote it allegedly provided for the drippy hippy legacy of the ’60s. Well, the idea of punk as a street level / grass-roots tendency has always been laughable, considering that it was cooked up between a record industry hell-bent on cutting production costs and an elite circle of entrepreneurs who had been to Art School and thought (correctly) that they could use a dodgy strain of French academic theory (Situationism) to flog a bunch of stupid clothes to “the kids”. In point of fact, 2000 AD’s initial impact and impetus came from its adherence to the dark, taboo busting ethos of “drippy hippy” Felix Dennis’ Cozmic Comix, from which milieu the new title recruited such luminaries as Bryan Talbot, Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons.

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The pre-titles sequence’s clumsiest moment, though, comes when the voice over is referencing a “clash of cultures” and we simultaneously cut to The Clash on stage, performing some cod “political” diatribe in their customary hysterical manner. Speaking of Da Clash, during (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, Joe Strummer (aka diplomat’s son John Graham Mellor) warned us: “They got Burton suits, haha, they think it’s funny, turning rebellion into money”. The main thrust of Goodwin’s doc (which, it’s fair to say, improves dramatically after its glib introduction) is how the founders of 2000 AD overthrew the complacent likes of Eagle (which, if we are to pursue the putative punk parallels, might be cast in the infra-dig Emerson, Lake and Palmer role) and such anachronistic oddities as Whizzer And Chips, only to fall into old fartitude themselves as successive waves of young Turks arrived at King’s Reach Tower to redefine the cutting edge of comic cool, before giving way in their turn to further turks / future farts… while in the background the guys in suits continued to turn all of their respective rebellions into money.

Distinguished alumni interviewed here include Kevin O’Neill, Dave Gibbons, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Bryan Talbot, Carlos Ezquerra, Grant Morrison and David Bishop, plus the “comic activist” (whatever that is) and historian Paul Gravett, Alex Garland (who wrote the second, superior Dredd movie) and Karl Urban (who played the title  character in that) and fan boys including Scott Ian (the guy out of Anthrax with the silly beard) and some bloke from Portishead.

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Throughout this feature the rival factions diss each other (the only subject on which there seems to be unanimity is on how much everybody despises the character of Tharg, the comic’s notional alien editor) and big up their own credentials as true custodians of the soul and spirit of 2000 AD, with frequent interjections from founder and on / off contributor Mills, the Gordon Ramsey of the comic world… this is a man whose default emotional state appears to be “seething”. Of course he has a lot to feel angry about and one of Future Shock’s ongoing refrains is how disgracefully the creative talents have been treated by IPC and subsequent publishers. Shocking enough that writers and artists were expected to surrender all copyright in their work in perpetuity for a measly flat fee (as the late artist formally known as Prince once observed: “If you don’t own your masters, your masters own you”) but when Kevin O’Neill discovered that a) his story Shok! had been plagiarised for the Richard Stanley film Hardware and b) that he was being threatened with legal action by the film company’s layers unless he disowned any rights to the story… well!!!

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Neil Gaiman admits to shedding tears over the fact that Alan Moore (the most notable absentee from the interviewees here) abandoned The Ballad Of Halo Jones because of the shabby way he was being treated. When Brian Bolland defected to DC (specifically to its Vertigo imprint) he turned out to be the first of many. The second half of this doc details the subsequent decline in 2000 AD’s mojo and flirtations with closure. After the nadir represented by its ill-advised ’90s dalliance with the “lads’ mags” demographic, the only way was up and Future Shock! closes with the comic thriving under the safe custodianship of Rebellion Developments, still sending thrill-meters into meltdown across our and other galaxies. Meanwhile popular culture (have you checked out one of those Marvel movies recently?) and the world we inhabit have finally caught up with 2000 AD … kudos to Mills and co but perhaps, on reflection, this is not something we should be celebrating!

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Goodwin deploys flashy editing, groovy graphics and metal music in a style that suits his subject perfectly. It’s a subject he loves and the reverence he clearly feels for its protagonists means that interviews are occasionally allowed to go on a bit too long. At 110 minutes, Future Shock! would benefit from a bit of a trim, with more material allowed to spill into the off-cuts which form much of the generous bonus materials. Another nice featurette has Pat Mills revisiting King’s Reach Tower – well, standing outside it – and reminiscing in its shadow.

In terms of these supplementaries and their presentation of the main feature, there’s really very little to distinguish between the similarly impressive Arrow and Severin editions that recently arrived at the House Of Freudstein. You spends your Earth money and you takes your choice…

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Borag Thungg, Earthlets!

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Assassin Screed… THE KILLING OF AMERICA Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

“Oh, the history books tell it, They tell it so well
The cavalries charged, The Indians fell
The cavalries charged. The Indians died
Oh, the country was young, With God on its side…” With God On Our Side, Bob Dylan.

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”. Second amendment to the Constitution of The United States.

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“Drop the gun!” a cop urges Sam Brown, the superfly San Diego sidewalk sniper in 1979. The unresponsive Brown (possibly musing over the important message he claims to have brought from aboard the Starship Enterprise) is shot down, point-blank. The first words we hear in The Killing Of America are effectively its message. But as we shall learn, things are seldom as simple as they seem…

TKOA’s status as the Mondo Movie that transcends Mondo, redeeming the genre from the questionable shockumentary practices of its founders Jacopetti and Prosperi by virtue of its ongoing relevance and unflinching verisimilitude (well, keep reading…) is even more remarkable when you consider that this 1981 effort was commissioned by producer Mataichirô Yamamoto in a blatant attempt to emulate the success of that most gonzo of Mondos, Faces Of Death (1978), which had outperformed Star Wars for 13 straight weeks at Japanese box offices. “His problem was that he hired a film archivist and a guy who did Art Films” says director Sheldon Renan, describing himself and writer / producer Leonard Schrader respectively.

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Not that it’s likely FODophiles will consider themselves remotely short-changed by TKOA… Thomas Noguchi, LA “Coroner to the Stars” and inspiration for TV’s Quincy ME appears in both and establishing shots here of mortuary workers matter-of-factly going about their daily business are pretty much interchangeable with those in “Conan Le Cilaire”s memorably revolting “video nasty”. Thereafter it’s the expected mix of newsreel footage, CCTV and some original material, all (and here, in the words of the doc’s opening caption, is the kicker) “… real. Nothing has been staged.” Hm…

The other thing that sets TKOA apart from the Mondo competition as worthy of serious attention is the serious Calvinist intent of writer Leonard Schrader (The Yakuza, Blue Collar, Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Mishima) and the attention to structure imposed upon it by renowned film archivist Renan. Starting with shots of America’s geographical scope and splendour (though unfortunately most of this stuff was cut from the American release) he pursues a historical tack (which identifies ground zero for an epidemic of American violence as the JFK assassination) and progressively narrows his focus through a succession of snipers, messianic assassins and serial killers until we find ourselves face to face with Ed Kemper in his cell at the California Medical facility, hear what he has to say for himself and get the chance to reflect on what we might possibly have in common with him.

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The structure and thrust of TKOA command respect, even where one might find oneself disagreeing with Schrader’s argument. For example he fetishises the slaying of JFK (difficult not to, I guess) but it’s unlikely that Sitting Bull and Geronimo, were they available to offer their opinions, would agree that American cultural violence was conceived in the room of a book repository or on a grassy knoll in Dallas, TX on 22.11.63. The Zapruder footage, duly trotted out, never loses its impact (though it’s interesting to hear Renan’s observations on the shocking condition that the original film had been “conserved” in), likewise the casual brutality with which South Vietnamese police chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executes  Việt Cộng member Nguyễn Văn Lém in the street. There’s further familiar footage of Bobby Kennedy’s death (and a mind-boggling interview with his killer Sirhan Sirhan, who offers: “I wish that son of a gun were alive… I’m not mentally ill, Sir, but I’m not perfect either”), the shooting of Ronald Reagan and crippling of George Wallace, protestors gunned down at Kent State, dramatic trial footage (the Manson family, Ted Bundy) and helicopter shots of Guyana littered with dead followers of the Reverend Jim Jones (scenes of Jones gurning idiotically as he does a wacky snake handling dance are particularly creepy, given what was to come)… and on and on…

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A Central Park vigil for the murdered peace activist (when it suited him) John Lennon suggests the potential for positive social change, until the dulcet tones of narrator Chuck Riley close the proceedings with the claim that two people were killed at the vigil and that “while you watched this movie, five more of us were murdered. One was the random killing of a stranger.” Sweet dreams, everyone.

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You might already be aware of this forbidding documentary from the Severin gang’s earlier DVD edition, when they were trading under the name of Exploited. They’ve hit the ball out of the park once again with this super spanky Blu, which not only serves up the main feature looking and sounding better than ever before, but incorporates as extras (aside from the expected trailer) Renan’s audio commentary plus interviews with him, editor Lee Percy and Mondo historian Nick Pinkerton (who’s been working about as hard as the Sevs on making sure that TKOA is finally seen where it’s most needed, i.e. the USA!) Along with the outstanding documentary they worked on, Renan and Percy’s contributions to this release represent something of a primer for any aspiring documentarian on how to set about making one, but be warned… both admit the adverse effects that making TKOA had on their own mental well-being.

As if all that weren’t enough, this edition includes an alternative Japanese cut of the doc, lasting 20 minutes (!) longer than the US version. Much of the additional material comprises a paean to the American way of life and some of its critics have speculated that Yamamoto felt obliged to somehow “soften” the film’s message out of some misguided sense of politeness. One could just as well argue that these glimpses of the American dream serve to throw the atrocities that litter the rest of TKOA into sharper relief… a legitimate approach, though not one which consistently comes off. There’s an endless sequence of clean-limbed young Americans relentlessly tossing frisbies, roller skating and generally pursuing wholesome leisure activities that almost has you wishing you were back in the morgue among all those cadavers. We also participate in a training exercise during which rookie cops must make split second decisions about whether to shoot or not. The Manson section in this version is prefaced by material about Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford in 1975. We also witness Muhammad Ali talking down a would-be suicide, suggesting that celebrity doesn’t always have to be a malign end in itself, in stark contrast to one Robert Smith, who blew away innocents “to get known… I just wanted to make a name for himself”.

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Though far superior to the Mondo movies with which it is traditionally bracketed, even the original cut of TKOA is (like Sirhan Sirhan) not perfect.  There’s a sequence about the lives of social marginals on Hollywood boulevard that doesn’t really go anywhere and I’ve always felt that the addition of comic piano music to some of the footage detailing Richard Hall’s three-day ordeal at the hands of aggrieved bank customer Tony Kiritsis  (above) struck a jarringly bum note. I was further disheartened to learn from Renan’s contributions to this set that he dubbed dialogue over the shooting of the strutting Sam Brown that would tend to support the police’s (contested) version of how that lethal incident went down. Once a film maker has admitted to one such falsification … who knows?

Still, TKOA stands as disturbing yet compelling piece of work whose power hasn’t been diminished by one jot over the passing of the years. On the contrary… Pinkerton says he’s tired of hearing that TKOA is “more relevant today than it’s ever been” but come on Nick, if something looks, sounds and feels more relevant than it’s ever been, then it’s probably because it’s more relevant than it’s ever been. Some things really are as simple as they seem.

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Core Baby, That’s Really Free… THE ORCHARD END MURDER Reviewed

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The Perils Of Pauline…

BD/DVD Combi. Regions B/2. BFI. 18.

The latest release from BFI’s Flipside imprint (“which rescues weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presents them in new high quality editions on DVD and Blu-ray”), Christian Marnham’s The Orchard End Murder (1980) garnered shedloads of Eady Levy money during the early ’80s on account of its outings as a program filler for the likes of Dead And Buried (originally) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (which is where I dimly remember catching it, or the last reel or so of it, first time out).

This 50 minute thriller, set in 1966 and allegedly based on a true case, follows the fatal misadventure of one Pauline Cox (Tracy Hyde) who gets bored watching her new boyfriend (Mark Hardy) playing cricket on an idyllic village green and wanders off into the lush Kent countryside in search of distraction, only to meet her end in that eponymous orchard. A real pippin in her summer dress, Una Stubbs hairdo and Mary Quant eye lashes, Pauline is quite scrumptious as she moves among the bowers, indeed she proves irresistibly a-peel-ing to the local sex killer (OK, enough of the apple gags already). We’re led to believe that’s this is going to be the creepy, hunchbacked local station master (prolific character actor Bill Wallis), who improbably lures her into his garden of unearthly gnomic delights for a cup of tea…

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… but it turns out to be his hulking, dim-witted side-kick Ewen (future Casualty stalwart Clive Mantle), with whom he’s got an “Of Mice and Men” kind of thing going on. Ewen doesn’t just tell Pauline about the rabbits, he bashes one to death on the table where she’s taking tea and promptly skins it. Initially repelled, Pauline – whom we’re clearly intended to view as “a bit of a goer” – rapidly warms to his muscular presence. Perhaps his rabbit casserole is off the menu but this girl might just be able to find room for his tongue in cider. She acquiesces to his initial advances only to pull away abruptly, announcing that she’s off to reunite with her boyfriend. Hell hath no fury like a dim-wit spurned and Pauline’s resistance crumbles when Ewen strangles her with one of her stockings before secreting the corpse under a pile of rejected apples (knowing how they feel, I guess)…

OK she dies (not far into the picture) but this revelation really isn’t much of a spoiler, given the film’s title. The balance of it concerns the exact nature of the relationship between Ewen and the station-master, also their farcical attempts to dispose of Paula’s body (interrupted by Ewen’s periodic retrievals of it so he can play house with his dead dream girl). Director Christian Marnham describes TOEM as a black comedy and I guess, if anything, I’d liken parts of it to some of the more eye-watering moments from Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972).

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Marnham benefits from a solid cast and some tremendous camera work (witness the impressive opening crane shot) from Pete Walker’s favoured cinematographer, Peter Jessop, beautifully rendered in the BFI’s characteristically spanky BD transfer. Praise is also due for Sam Sklair’s vaguely jazzy, occasionally Goblinesque OST.

By mining myth, fairytale and folklore (allusions range from the Garden of Eden to Little Red Riding Hood) Marnham parlays, from his humdrum albeit beautiful setting, a passion play of some considerable emotional power, unearthing the pagan processes that lurk beneath the pastoral platitudes of vicars consuming cucumber sandwiches on neatly manicured cricket greens. The film’s tacit condemnation of Cox’s free loving ways (consistent with the contemporary “have sex and die” ethos that then had people queueing around the block to see slasher movies) and the way she does seem to lead Ewen up the garden path before he cracks and kills her, plus the film’s apparent concern to elicit some sympathy from us for sex killers and necrophiles, all make for dodgy sexual politics more troubling than anything in Dead And Buried. In the event, the BBFC extracted a mere 2/3 of a second (!) from TOEM (Marnham remembers it being picketed by feminists, though) while Gary Sherman’s film went on to become, ludicrously, an offical “video nasty”. Go figure…

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Needless to say, this disc comes complete with an impressive set of extras. While TOEM was the first film appearance for both Mantle and (uncredited as a policeman) Rik Mayall, it was the last (whatever it says on IMDB) for David Wilkinson (as Mark Hardy’s piss-taking cricketing buddy). Now working in distribution, Wilkinson looks back on the vagaries of thespian fortunes during a 13 minute interview and admits “I fancied Tracy… we all did… but she wasn’t having any of it”. The still very desirable Ms Hyde gets a similar amount of time to ponder the ups and downs of the actor’s life (she was prematurely touted for stardom after taking the juvenile lead in Warris Hussein’s Melody aka S.W.A.L.K. in 1971). Hyde has nothing but good things to say about her experience on The Orchard End Murder, which she cites as a cautionary tale for young women.

Chris Marnham, who cuts (shall we say) quite a theatrical figure, talks interestingly for half an hour or so about The Orchard End Murder and although it failed to lift him out of the commercials milieu, he announces that he now has two feature projects ready to go. He also gives a brief introduction to his 1970 short (included as another of this disc’s extras), The Showman.

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Ah yes, The Showman… just when I’d convinced myself that the eager BFI beavers who turn up wacky bonus material for these Flipside releases could never top the rocking vicar and his chapter of Christian bikers in their release of Don Sharp’s Psychomania here comes The Showman, a profile of the astonishing Wally Shufflebottom and  his travelling Wild West Strip Tease Show… if that doesn’t sound like a rattling good night out to you, you’re probably reading the wrong blog here. Scantily clad go-go dancers shake their money makers enthusiastically to the tinny strains of Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll while Wally (literally) drums up trade from the passing ’70s clad thrill-seeking reprobates. Mrs Shufflebottom (once a trapeze artiste but now clearly built for ticket booth duties rather than flying through the air) takes their money and we enter with them to witness further non-PC delights as Wally unleashes volleys of knives (some flaming, some not), axes and tomahawks around the dancing dolly birds’ semi-naked forms… that’s entertainment!

Commenting on the logistical difficulties of making this documentary milestone, Marnham reveals: “We blew just about every electrical supplier in the village of Billericay”… wow, talk about going above and beyond the call of duty!

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“He Forced Me To Drink Ribena!”… RETURN OF KUNG FU TRAILERS OF FURY Reviewed

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Ooh, that’s gotta hurt!

BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

No sooner have you stuffed your face with chop socky than you start fancying another helping… lucky you, because Severin have followed up their riotous Kung Fu Trailers Of Fury anthology with the imaginatively titled Return Of Kung Fu Trailers Of Fury. In conjunction once again with Bristol’s The Cube cinema collective, the Sevs have left no Coming Attraction unturned to bring you another golden harvest of 35mm trailers from the heyday of Hong Kong martial arts mayhem… that’s 35 trailers, which will take up approximately 134 minutes of your couch potato existence. Happy days!

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I was particularly pleased to re-acquaint myself with the spaz attack stylings of Ka-Yan Leung in the see-it-and-still-don’t-believe it cannibal kung fu comedy Thundering Mantis. Under a considerably more uptight regime than currently prevails at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema, the esteemed Steve “Nelly” Nelson and I were almost chucked out for laughing our asses of during a screening of this one. I’m open to suggestions, on the strength of this trailer, about what other reaction could possibly have been more appropriate.

Big Leap Forward appears to be a satire about HK TV ethics (“It’s new! It’s real! It’s funny!”) with pilfered Morricone music serving as its “original” sound track. It’s got Jimmy Wang-Yu but zero kung fu. The Story Of Chinese Gods (“China’s first full length colour animation feature… 3 years in the making”) is a cosmogonical cartoon caper. Aside from those, most of the films featured herein concern different ways of duffing people up a treat, be it in period costume or “modern” (the trailers date from 1973 to 1984) street wear.

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When they’re not trying out game changing new stances on each other, the protagonists of these things sometimes find time for more amatory physical pursuits. We are advised that Yellow Faced Killer features “another sterling performance from Sylvia Chang… is she good girl or is she very bad?” Well, she has a scene in bed with the ineptly dubbed and perpetually überhairy Chuck Norris, so there’s your clue. Elsewhere, Bruce Li gets some racy love scenes in Bruce And The Iron Finger (hang on, are you sure that’s his finger?) The Owl, an oriental Robin Hood type, also manages to get it on with a comely Maid Marianne equivalent. The Bomb-Shell is graced “with a special appearance by soccer star Hugh McCrory!”, who enjoys a close encounter with a sexy bird in a see-thru nightie. “He forced me to drink Ribena!” complains another lovely. What a cad… what an out-and-out bounder!

The Invincible Super Guy claims to be “China’s first film in Sensurround” and that might well be true, but personally I found myself more far intrigued by the antics of a crack team of kung fu eunuchs (“their victims will die for sure within 48 hours!”) and the exploits of the even deadlier six cymbal fighters (“the clashing of their cymbals confuses them. Their limbs get numb and they’re terrified to death!”)

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The concept of disability discrimination doesn’t seem to have really caught on in ’70s Hong Kong. After breaking the fan formation in Along Come The Tiger, Chow Wang Dao dishes out a kung fu whuppin’ to The Invincible Hunchback and in Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat (above) we are promised “John Cheung vs The Midget… Funny!” “Sharon Yeung Pan Pan vs Three Killers! Charming!” continues the blurb for this one… “Each kick, each hit, is filled with laughter!” Presumably when Ms Pan Pan kicks some hapless dude and he falls face first into a pile of dog shit we are supposed to find it “Funny!” and “Charming!”

Now we’ve touched on the non-PC nature of these films, it’s worth pointing out that the “humorous” stereotyping of gay characters in Shaolin Invincible Sticks is exactly the kind of thing that gets people writing angry letters to Dark Side magazine. This one also serves up some memorable dialogue exchanges (“Your hands are not nimble… you are not entitled to be our descendent!” “It is unreasonable of you to expel me out!”)

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“Aargh – dude, you could at least have washed it this morning!”

Two In Black Belt (above) is a kung fu versus karate duel (“Girl in danger… Severe!”) In Bloody Mission: “They kill viciously for fame! And they can’t control themselves!” White Haired Devil Lady was shot in some pretty amazing mountain locations (“Fates not yet made… the moon is sad!”) Revenge Of The Shaolin Kid aka Masters Of Death showcases “Chi-Kuan Chun and his Dragon-choking legs! Chan Sing and his petal-shattering palms! It’s good! It’s charming!” The Super Kung-Fu Fighter (“The nine labyrinth traps! The caterpillar claws formation!”) is “directed with confidence by Sun Yung”. In Snuff Bottle Connection (below) we are introduced to “The spear that can puncture your throat! The kung fu virgin child that stuns the Westerners!”

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Almost as common as people kicking each other around the head in these things is the frequency with which soundtrack music gets pilfered. The Young Avenger pinches Morricone’s idiosyncratic score from Duck, You Sucker! to baffling effect … all totally authorised, I’m sure. Jean Michele Jarre’s atmospheric back catalogue is ransacked for The Guy With Secret Kung Fu (“Watch Mang Fei with his deadly monkey pole! They fight the real life Invincible Hunk!”) and The Bomb-Shell  (“The creepy art of spiritual fighting! Did he get his dementia from watching too much TV?”)

Black Guide comes with a barrage of punchy shout lines (“They are cruel and senseless! But Kim Jin Pal will not falter! It’s a showdown between kung fu and violence! Fast paced! Fast action! Few dialogue! All action! Villains from different countries, with their different brands of kung fu!”) and the strident sounds of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Parts 1 & 2. Is King Crimson’s Robert Fripp (who successfully sued the producers of Emmanuelle for their misappropriation of Part 2) aware of this?

One Way Only offers “Hong Kong style romance? Nice! Natural comedy? Tasty! A new style of comedy? Unique!” and here’s its protagonist’s recipe for romance, Hong-Kong style: “The longest nose and the largest chest. That’s my stamp of approval on a woman!”

The Old Master, apparently, has “still got it at 76”.. cue unfortunate geriatric disco dancing sequences. Silent Romance is a live action manga that claims to be “more James Bond than James Bond” and then there’s Gambling For Head (make sure you don’t blow all your money!)

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Crazy Horse And Intelligent Monkey (above) boasts: “A fight among four tigers to right the wrongs! Chi Kuan-Chun with his deadly horse fists! Candy man charms her with looks and her kung fu”. The Instant Kung Fu Man (“Northern kung fu coming out of nowhere to impress”) features the insensitive observation: “Your armpit stinks… I can’t stand it!”

… and on and on it goes…

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Once you’ve enjoyed these you have the option to watch them all over again with an audio commentary from kung fu clever dicks Ric Meyers, Frank Djeng, Greg Schiller and Rick Stelow… if, that is, you can hear their sage comments above the uproarious laughter of your drunken mates.

“Family entertainment for the year of the lamb!” boast the coming attraction for Itchy Fingers and ROKFTOF is indeed jolly fun for all the family – my nearest and dearest are still hopping around The House Of Freudstein, in stitches as they attempt the Iron Finger Toad Stance from The Guy With Secret Kung Fu.

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Severin’s ROKFTOF is a more than worthy follow-up to their original kung fu trailer anthology which will also serve to whet your appetite rather nicely for their upcoming Bruceploitation documentary. Bring it on, gweilos!

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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