Facing The Black Sea And All Therein That May Be Explored… Mariano Baino’s DARK WATERS Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

The collapse of the Italian film industry in the mid-late ’80s was followed by an ever more significant one in the early ’90s, that of the Soviet Union. Energetic Neapolitan Mariano Baino had already moved to London in search of opportunity and made the short Caruncula (1991), on which Andy Bark served as editor. When the latter made contact with some of the new breed of Russian entrepreneurs, keen to invest in a motion picture, Baino didn’t need much persuading. Soon he, Bark (who would co-write the new picture), a couple of actresses and a small crew were Crimea-bound. They were young, talented, optimistic and enthusiastic. They had striking coastal locations and everything in The Ukraine was going to cost doodly-squat… what could possibly go wrong?

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Plenty, as it happened (much of which I’ve detailed elsewhere). A wild, wild East interpretation of entrepreneurship that extended to, e.g. film stock being pilfered and sold off before Baino could load it into a camera, coupled with a not exactly stringent work ethic, makes it miraculous that he actually managed to shoot anything at all, let alone a feature debut as promising as Dark Waters (1993). The story concerns Elizabeth (Baino discovery Louise Salter, who would appear in Interview With The Vampire and bag a substantial role in Our Friends In The North shortly afterwards), a young woman who goes back to Odessa to learn the sinister secret buried in her past. At the conclusion of a harrowing personal odyssey exceeded in weirdness and suffering only by the collective one undertaken by the cast and crew of this film, she learns the hideous truth and must decide to collude in or strive against the unleashing of a Cthulhuesque horror upon the Earth…

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OK, so Dark Waters is a triumph of visual style (the opening inundation of a church is a remarkable set piece… and Igor Clark’s lush orchestral score doesn’t hurt) over narrative content but that’s exactly the criticism that has been levelled at the likes of such previous Pasta Paura maestros as Argento, Fulci and Soavi (all of whom, incidentally, had nice things to say about Dark Waters and its director). In truth, Argento and Fulci were spent forces by the early ’90s and Soavi, the heir presumptive, was coming up hard against the fact that there wasn’t much Italian film industry left to work in… certainly in horror terms. Baino has found it equally difficult to pursue his Lovecraftian obsessions of twisted religiosity and perverse fairy tales on the silver screen. My last viewing of Dark Waters was in a Soho screening room, where author Graham Masterton had turned up to check out the film and discuss with its director a possible film adaptation of his auto-cannibalistic outrage Ritual. Now that would have been something to behold… and perhaps one day will be. It’s difficult to believe that we’ve seen the last from Mariano Baino, whose myriad cinematic talents are exceeded only by his moxy. Notable post DW credits include Lady M 5.1 (2016), starring Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni from Argento productions Opera, Demons 2 and Mother Of Tears, though you’ll never see my favourite Baino-directed effort… me and Mrs Freudstein’s wedding video!

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Incidentally, the eejit in his underpants, chewing on raw calamari in a rowing boat, is not only a nod to Mario Bava’s seminal Bay Of Blood but a role that was originally written for Yours Truly. I opted to skip the trip to Odessa and there’s nothing among the tales of woe about pain in Ukraine that abound among the bonus materials included on this set which could possibly persuade me that I made the wrong decision. However, as Baino’s short films are also included as extras you do get the opportunity to check out my show stopping turn as “cinema undesirable” in Caruncula and yes, if I ever write my memoirs I will be giving them the title Cinema Undesirable… but no, I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of boring people to death with memoirs culled from my übertedious life.

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MB (looking considerably svelter than last time I saw him) expresses gratitude here that Dark Waters is being afforded a second chance of discovery by horror fans. This Severin release is effectively a third chance, as after the 1995 UK video release disappeared without a trace (Tartan sparing every effort to get behind it) there was a rather nice special DVD edition from Italian outfit No Shame. This nifty looking Severin BD reprises the supplementary material from that (director’s intro and commentary track, deleted scenes and blooper reel, plus the 50 minute featurette Deep Into Dark Waters) and adds new featurettes Let There Be Water and Controlling The Uncontrollable, alongside those aforementioned Baino shorts.

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Grab this opportunity to immerse yourself in Dark Waters with avid alacrity. Revel in it. Buy multiple copies for yourself… your work-mates… your nearest and dearest… random strangers. I’m particularly keen to see Dark Waters rack up massive belated profits, because I’ve got points in it…

… and what do points make?

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A Zed & Two Noughts… Franco Prosperi’s WILD BEASTS Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

“Their madness engulfs everything and affects innocent victims such as children or animals…” Francis Thrive (Who he? *)

“I believe that research is taking place and it will show that these films (‘video nasties’) not only affect young people but I believe they affect dogs as well… it goes far too far!”  The ironically named Graham Bright MP, father of the 1984 Video Recordings Act.

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Nelly & pals pack their trunks and wave goodbye to the circus…

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Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti (above)… sincere and fearless proponents of the documentarian’s Art or shameless showbiz charlatans, devoid of any moral scruple in their ruthless determination to get bums on seats for their tawdry shockumentaries? As Blue Underground employees, Carl Daft and David Gregory played their part in the debate, amassing most of the relevant evidence for that label’s monumental 2004 box set, The Mondo Cane Collection. Now running their own show at Severin, the boys have settled the argument definitively, in Prosperi’s case anyway (Jacopetti went to meet his maker and account for his cinematic misdeeds in 2011) with this release of his 1983 directorial swan song, Wild Beasts (Belve Feroci), brought to you by the mighty Shumba International Corporation.

As well as generating mucho dinari and intense controversy (it’s safe to say that none of J&P’s documentary collaborations would ever find themselves being endorsed by PETA and there were serious concerns that some of the executions of hapless soldiers in 1965s Africa Addio had been arranged for the benefit of their cameras), the Mondo movies also spawned the Italian cycle of Third World cannibal movies that ran through the ’70s and ’80s. The best of that cycle, Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) critiques the dubious ethics of such mondo efforts and while nobody (OK, hardly anybody) was daft enough to claim that people were actually killed in it, Holocaust and its inferior imitators were content to render human carnage via the special FXpertise of Gino De Rossi et al, while doubling down on genuine animal abuse. Prosperi underscored the connection between Mondo and these maverick man munching movies in 1980 by producing White Cannibal Queen, Jesus Franco’s piss awful Deodato / Lenzi / Martino / D’Amato rip off (below), though to the best of my recollection (I’m certainly not planning on watching it again, any time soon), no creatures – great or small – suffered anything particularly outrageous in that one.

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Three years later in Wild Beasts (with Mondo Cane 2 editor Mario Morra along for the ride), it was a very different story…

Lulling the viewer into a false sense of security, Prosperi takes an eternity establishing his earnest eco-conscious credentials with shots of pollution in “a north European city” (looks like Frankfurt though most of Wild Beasts was actually shot in Rome, after Prosperi’s Africa Addio notoriety got him and his crew kicked  out of Zimbabwe, then South Africa in quick succession). Nor are there any grounds for optimism in the boring “human interest” stuff that follows, in which “Rupert Berner”, played by wild animal wrangler turned one-shot “actor” Tony Di Leo (aka “John Aldrich” and his dodgy moustache certainly suggests a fair resemblance to his near namesake, the free-scoring ’80s LFC icon) attempts, in vain, to chat up ice queen Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle, who’s already had plentiful cinematic experience with such wild beasts as David Hess and John Morghen). Add all of this to Daniele Patucchi’s lame wallpaper jazz score and you could be forgiven for resigning yourself to another anodyne effort from the fag end of the Italian horror cycle … until somebody (who, why or how is never really established) slips a megahit of PCP into the city’s water supply and a bunch of elephants, big cats, polar bears, etc, all tripping off their furry faces, break out of the local zoo and embark on an evening of serious riot and rampage.

At this point you might reasonably raise the objection that PCP is supposed to tranquilise animals but before there’s any time to mull over such pharmacological niceties, we’re up to our asses in mondo carnage… a parked-up couple find their heavy petting session interrupted by ravenous  rats, who turn their carnivorous attentions to the emergency service personnel who attempt a rescue.  “Help… they’re attacking me!” points out one of their number, helpfully. Good job that in this “north European city” the emergency services are routinely equipped with flame throwers (for a minute there I thought I was watching a Bruno Mattei picture). Elsewhere a blind avant-garde composer, attempting to complete his symphony of animal noises, is dealt a devastating critical thumbs down when his guide dog goes all Dicky on him.

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While the lab team compete with each other to come up with the hippest street names for PCP (if you want a few more, season 4 episode 17 of Quincy – Dark Angel, directed by Ray Danton – comes highly recommended), a cheetah chases a dopey girl around in her vomit coloured car (serves her right for that eye watering paint job and for listening to a lame rap radio channel) until the inevitable pile-up ensues. Further RTA action is guaranteed as panicked livestock plus PCP-powered pachyderms promenade down main street and when the latter adjourn to the city airport, their presence on the runway causes a plane to crash into the city’s main power station (smart move to put that right next to a runway, right?) Among the general blackout mayhem, Laura’s subway train grinds to a halt and is soon attacked by tigers… what were the odds on that?

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When all that PCP has been successfully metabolised, the fugitive animals re-caged to contemplate their comedowns and the big clear up has commenced, it might appear that everything is done and, er, dusted but Prosperi still has one boffo twist up his sleeve. Laura goes to collect her bratty daughter from dance school, only to find that the tiny dancers who managed to survive a polar bear attack have, under the leadership of an insufferable little shit named Tommy, butchered their Terpsichorean tutor. Yep, fame costs and she paid in sweat and blood… never work with children or animals, eh? Then the most anticlimactic ending in living memory leaves us pondering further questions…

…. such as why, how and by whom was that PCP introduced into the drinking water? Why did it only effect the zoo inhabitants, those rats, that guide dog and those sawn-off Kids From Fame? Still, Prosperi has had way more troubling questions to respond to in his career, some of which he addresses on the bonus materials of this disc, stonewalling in the teeth (and bloody claws) of the evidence on view here that no animal was injured or killed during the making of his picture (!) and that all of them were handed back to the handlers when the cameras stopped rolling (some of them in considerably crispier condition than before they “starred” in Wild Beasts, he might have added).

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FP would prefer to talk about WB as a warning against pollution / drugs / terrorism / genetically modified crops… you name it… anything apart from an exercise in animal cruelty. He does admit, though, that “We’ve never been PC”. No foolin’…

Tony De Leo does admit to personal discomfort about the fate of some of his animal co-stars in Wild Beasts, when not flexing his muscles to prove “Ol’ Tony’s still here!” Form an orderly cue, ladies and casting agents… There’s also an interview with amiable circus hunk Carlo Tiberti, whose dad Roberto wrangled the unfortunate creatures in this film.

Mario Morra has a lot of interesting things to say about the personal chemistry and working relationship between Jacopetti and Prosperi (“those two scoundrels!”) and his own excursions into Mondo Africa. He retired from movie editing in 1994 (“… because of the arrival of the despicable computer!”) but is proud and happy to show off the moviola on which he cut Pontecorvo’s Battle Of Algiers (1966), among many other classic (and not-so-classic) pictures.

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Not to be bettered, Prosperi shows the men from Severin around his lavish country retreat in footage that was intended for a documentary that would unite him with his estranged collaborator Jacopetti, unfortunately scotched by the latter’s rapidly declining health. Chez Prosperi is predictably decked out with all kinds of non PC animal artifacts, pride of place among which must go to the genuine Triceratops egg. Just imagine the potential rampage should that one ever hatch… no doubt Franco still sits on it every night.

The way animals are treated in Wild Beasts is problematic, to state the bleeding obvious, but it’s difficult to claim the moral high ground if your shelves contain (as I suspect many of them do) copies of Cannibal Holocaust and / or Ferox… or even Argento’s Phenomena, given some of the revelations in the recent Arrow box set about how that poor chimp was “trained”.

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(*) As for the unanswered question which opened this posting… “Francis Thrive” sounds suspiciously like a clumsily literal translation of “Franco Prosperi”. Draw your own conclusions.

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The Other OTHER HELL Review… Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso’s Jaw-dropping Spaghetti Exorcist / Nunsploitation Hybrid Arrives On Severin BD.

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BD. Region B. Severin. Unrated.

I previously dug up and reviewed the Redemption VHS edition of The Other Hell (1980) elsewhere on this site, where I rashly described it as Bruno Mattei’s “wildest and best” movie (or something along those lines… go click the link if you can be arsed, because I certainly can’t). Since then, courtesy of a clutch of fine Severin / Intervision releases, I’ve been able to spend some quality time with the gob-slapping cannibal / zombie / WIP atrocities that Mattei perpetrated in the last few years of his career / life and am obliged to reconsider my assessment of this one as Mattei’s finest hour-and-a-half…. or perhaps that should be twenty minutes, as much of the supplementary material on Severin’s spanking new Blu-ray of The Other Hell lends weight to ongoing speculation that its nominal director “Stefan Oblowsky” comprises something like one part Mattei to every four parts Claudio Fragasso.

Fragasso contributes an amusing, highly self-deprecating commentary track (sample quote: “Zombie nuns… that’s cool… because it’s blasphemous!”) He confesses that shots of a burning priest were bought in from the producers of The Legacy, drops the fascinating aside that at one point he was going to write a sequel to Bay Of Blood for Mario Bava and wonders: “Why is Umberto Lenzo always so angry?” Most memorably, one of the many faults he finds with The Other Hell is that it should have been a lot “crazier”… a mind-boggling judgement considering that the film’s pre-titles sequence – wherein a deranged nun, apparently having just carried out a gory abortion in an alchemist’s lab, rants about the genitals being “the door to evil” before stabbing one of her sisters-in-Christ to death, apparently at the psychic behest of a statue with red, throbbing eyes – is one of the more studied, subdued and subtle moments in this film, which subsequently relates the vain attempts of trendy cleric Father Valerio (Carlo De Mejo) to put these unfortunate goings-on down to psychiatric rather than Satanic malaise, while all around him bats attack crucifixes, nuns vomit blood after taking communion, stigmata rend every available inch of flesh, severed heads turn up in tabernacles, exorcists catch fire, devil babies are dunked in boiling water and psycho-kinetic sculptures force nuns to strangle themselves!

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Sinister gardener Boris (perennial Mattei standby Franco Garofolo) delivers an unsolicited soliloquy about how he prefers animals to people, then leeringly decapitates an unfortunate chicken (you guessed, its headless body proceeds to take a jerky tour of the barnyard). The wheel of karma turns full circle when Boris, after killing a witch’s cat, falls victim to his own guard-dog in a scene crudely cribbed from a certain Dario Argento picture. The film’s title is clearly intended to reference another Argento picture, although naming this farrago “L’Altro Inferno” makes about as much sense as calling Alan Briggs’ Suffer Little Children, another upcoming and suitably wholesome Severin (Intervision) release,  “The Other Suspiria”!

Nobody’s ever going to confuse The Other Hell with an entry in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy (hang on, I was forgetting Mother Of Tears!) but its sheer go-for-broke audacity, its all-out  sense of accelerating, no-holds-barred delirium puts it ahead of even Joe D’Amato’s Blue Holocaust (from which it swipe its Goblin score, its fluffed “shock” ending and its female lead Franca Stoppi) in the see-it-to-believe-it sick puppy stakes.

Stoppi is probably The Other Hell’s trump card, chewing the scenery magnificently as Mother Vincenza. She comes across very well in the short interview on this disc, reminiscing about days spent shuttling back and forth between the sets of The Other Hell and Mattei’s True Story Of The Nun Of Monza topped off by evenings on stage! Sadly, stage fright ended her career prematurely but she reinvented herself as an animal rights activist (and no, she wasn’t at all happy about that chicken decapitation, though Fragasso describes it as “inevitable… chickens always end up like this!”) before sadly passing away in 2011. The featurette To Hell And Back comprises archive interviews with Mattei and Carlo De Mejo. Elsewhere Fragasso offers some interesting observations as to why the careers of both De Mejo and Garofolo fell short of what those actors might otherwise have achieved.

Inevitably when a film of this vintage and provenance is re-rendered in Blu-ray there’s going to be a certain amount of grain in evidence, but Severin have managed to keep this element within acceptable levels on a disc that cannot be denied a place on your shelf… Satan himself demands it!

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Incidentally, towards the end of Fragasso’s commentary track, he and his interlocutor are scratching their heads over the identity of the actor playing the priest in the film’s lame “twist” ending. Is it not (I could be wrong) “Mark Shannon” (Manlio Cersosimo), who starred in any amount of goofy horror / porno crossovers for Joe D’Amato? If so, he manages the unprecedented feat here of keeping his dick in his trousers when confronted by a movie camera. Thank heaven for small mercies, eh?

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ALL THE COLOURS Of Blu… Sergio Martino’s Classic Occult Giallo On Shameless BD

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

When Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage parlayed Mario Bava’s giallo formula into the stuff of international crossover hits in 1970, every spaghetti exploitation director worth their salt (and several who weren’t) scrambled to get a piece of the slasher action by setting killers in broad-brimmed hats and dark macs onto scantily clad ingenues. Sergio Martino surfed this filone particularly adeptly, aided and abetted by the most scantily clad and beautiful ingenue of them all, his producer brother Luciano’s room mate Edwige Fenech. The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh aka Blade Of The Ripper / The Next Victim / Next! (1971) pounces enthusiastically on psychosexual hints made in Argento’s box-office smash and established a template in which Fenech’s neurotic character would jet set around the world in her attempts to live down the sexy skeletons in her closet and escape the homicidal nut job on her tail, only to discover that just because she’s paranoid, it doesn’t mean that several of the men in her busy love life aren’t conspiring in various permutations and with miscellaneous motivations to do her in. Fenech wasn’t available (probably knocking out a few period sex farces) for Martino’s second giallo of 1971, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail, which ran along disappointingly formulaic lines and proved conclusively that Anita Strindberg and Evelyn Stewart together couldn’t make up for the absence of one Edwige Fenech.

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Thankfully she was back for the following year’s All The Colours Of The Dark aka Day Of The Maniac / They’re Coming To Get You / Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh Part 2, et al, in which Martino would extend the giallo’s frontiers exponentially. Fenech’s Jayne Harrison in this one is even more screwed up than the spoiled Mrs Wardh and with considerably more justification. Cooped up in Kenilworth Court, Putney, she’s suffering post traumatic stress disorder following the car crash in which she lost her baby (and it’s only later that we learn that she witnessed the fatal stabbing of her mother when she was seven) but gets precious little emotional support from her cold fish, workaholic pharmaceutical salesman boyfriend Richard (George Hilton). He obstructs her sister Barbara (“Susan Scott” / Nieves Navarro)’s efforts to set Jayne up with a psychoanalyst, insisting that she just pull herself together and keep taking the tablets (… but are they, as claimed, just vitamins?) Jayne is plagued by nightmares in which her various traumas are juxtaposed with all manner of Satanic psychedelia (good news for us because she tends to get over them by taking a shower in her nightshift… woah, baby!) and things go from bad to worse when a guy who resembles the assassin from her dreams (Ivan Rassimov, looking even more striking than usual in a pair of shocking blue contact lenses) starts stalking her. Her chic new neighbour, Mary (Marina Malfatti), waxes blasé about this (“Strange men have been following women since the stone age, Jayne!”) but does propose a novel solution to our heroine’s malaise, i.e. that she attend a black mass (?!?) Although much has made up to this point of Jayne’s indecisive character, by a flick of scripter Ernesto Gastaldi’s pen she decides there and then that she wants to participate in precisely such a shindig RIGHT NOW!

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“Chill-O-Rama”, huh?

In a gothic folly that will be only too familiar to fans of Toyah Wilcox’s The Blue Meaning album, Jayne gets down with the Satan worshipping junky set (I think this is what we’re supposed to infer from the calamine lotion daubed liberally over their faces) and during a Rosemary’s Baby-inspired scene, is taken (to the accompaniment of Bruno Nicolai’s ravished acid rock theme) by cult honcho J.P. McBrian (Julian Ugarte from Paul Naschy’s breakthrough picture Mark Of The Wolfman, 1968). Now “J.P McBrian” might strike you as a disappointingly pedestrian moniker for a Satanic cult leader, but he’s knobbing Edwige Fenech so the dude’s doing alright for himself, OK?

Far from her being mitigated by these occult dabblings, Jayne’s problems are exacerbated when, at a subsequent ritual orgy, she is implicated in the killing of Mary, who had apparently grown terminally jaded about life and delivered Jayne to the sect as her replacement. I love the way the Satanic acolytes shuffle round each other in a little dance routine while all this is going on. Now Jayne’s stalker (Rassimov) reveals himself as “Mark Cogan”, the murderer and former lover of her mother, who had been an enthusiastic participant in all these occult shenanigans (foreshadowing a plot point in Argento’s Opera)… “Now you’re one of us, Jayne…” he glowers: “It’s impossible to renounce us!”

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The plot descends into pure paranoia at this point, with the news that McBrain is a Big Cheese at Scotland Yard, though this is immediately revealed as a figment of Jayne’s increasingly traumatised, drug-addled and brain-washed imagination (check out the totally surreal “breakfast with dead people” vignette… did it really happen?) Turns out that significant characters have been motivated by all-too materialistic considerations (i.e. an inheritance) but, at the very death, Martino can’t bring himself to impose a purely logical wrap-up on the narrative. Once the mandatory shop window mannequin has been chucked off a roof, Fenech’s final (and almost certainly post-synched) lines, delivered with her face turned away from the camera, indicate that genuine psychic forces are awakening within her, an awakening which is going to either empower or destroy her… or is this is just one more level of delusion? ATCOTD’s ambiguous and haunting conclusion ensures that the viewer will keep turning the film over in his / her own mind after watching it, like a nightmare from which (s)he is struggling to wake. An inveterate mix’n’matcher of genres, Martino set the ball rolling here for a synthesis of straight giallo and the supernatural that would be handled to more influential effect by Dario Argento just a few years later…

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If you think you’ve read something very like the above review on this site before, congratulations on a) your excellent taste in blogs and b) being such an attentive, retentive reader. The first time we ran Sergio Martino’s occult giallo past the viewing panel here at HOF it was on the German Marketing-Film DVD, which occasioned a certain amount of moaning about its not-exactly anamorphic presentation and the fact that its 5.1 option was only available on the German language sound track… foreskin durch technik, indeed. The Shameless BD fits our TV screen much more agreeably, albeit with no Surround option whatsoever (though Nicolai’s black music theme still lit up our left and right frontal speakers, not to mention our Woofer, to diverting effect.) The digital upscale significantly enhances the beauty and subtlety of Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography, while noticeably boosting the graininess of certain passages… ah well, to quote an irate French chef from a P.G Wodehouse story, I can take a few roughs with a smooth and if you’ve had the Marketing-Film edition on your shelf for a few years now, you’ll certainly be wanting to upgrade to this.

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Extras include a bunch of trailers for Fenech / Martino oriented Shameless releases and Doors, a spooky (and apparently prize-winning) short by Michele De Angelis. Hi, Michele! There’s a new interview with the ever-affable Martino, in which he sings the praises of his regular repertory players (“If you’ve got a winning team, why change it?”) and recalls the memorable occasion of his first meeting with Edwige Fenech, apparently resplendent in leather trousers (and looking far more fetching in those, one imagines, than Theresa “Mock Turtle” May ever managed to.) Once again, Sergio assures us that he felt no disappointment when the divine Fenech took up with his brother Luciano (yeah, whatever) and acknowledges the passionate devotion of giallo fans. He describes how the process ATCOTD was shot in led to framing problems and recalls that ten minutes were cut out of the film’s tricky climax when it played in Roman cinemas. Most amusingly, he opines that when snooty critics condescendingly refer to him as a craftsman, it makes him “feel like a carpenter.” Undeniably though, such moments in ATCOTD as the Lewtonesque “bus shot” (actually a “black cab shot”) are, er, very well crafted…

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It’s always a pleasure to hear the thoughts of Diabolique magazine mainstays Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, who contribute a characteristically enthusiastic and knowledgable commentary track here. Their excitement about contributing to a Blu-ray edition of what is clearly one of their favourite films (and why wouldn’t it be?) registers almost palpably. While ATCOTD, for all its manifest merits, is thematically skinnier than e.g. Borowczyk’s The Story Of Sin (for which the Diaboliquel duo contributed an exemplary voice over to Arrow’s release), this disc is all the better for their efforts and yes, Kat does get to vent her ongoing obsession with Mathew Lewis’s The Monk. Hey, why not pick up a copy of that Gothic classic, stick some Bruno Nicolai on your stereo as you leaf through it and knock back a glass or two of absinthe while you’re doing so? Go on, you’ve earned it!

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Samuel Beckett’s Story Of O… FILM / NOTFILM Reviewed

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

As readers of this blog will no doubt be aware, Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929) contains what is probably still the most audacious sight gag ever played on a cinema audience, in which a woman’s (actually a dead cow’s) eyeball is sliced open beneath an occluded moon. Anything promoting such a visceral reaction as that was always going to be anathema to the Emperor of Existentialist Ennui, playwright Samuel Beckett. Film, the 1965 short which he scripted for theatre director Alan Schneider, finds a gentler (as in “quietly desperate”) way to make a similarly potent gag, namely by casting silent screen icon Buster Keaton and “depriving him of his trump card… his face!” Equally perversely, film neophytes Beckett and Schneider resolutely ignored every suggestion offered by their star, a walking repository of cinematic savvy.

Keaton didn’t have a clue what they were up to but at this point the faded screen legend, depleted by divorce, drink and some bad business decisions, was accepting any paying gig. He hadn’t even been the first choice to play protagonist “O” but the part devolved to him after Chaplin, followed by established Beckett interpreters Jack MacGowran and Zero Mostel, passed on it in their turn. Fourth time turned out to be the charm, indeed it’s difficult to imagine anybody more qualified for what is essentially a chase movie (albeit a forbiddingly cerebral one… could have been scripted by Bishop Berkeley of Cloyne) than Keaton. Hotly pursued by “E” (the eye of the camera / viewer), he staggers rather than races through a drab, entropic landscape to the security of his cell like bolt-hole, where we see him forsaking human and animal contact, abandoning God and the claims of family / the past, resolutely refusing, throughout, to reveal his features… until he has dropped off and wakes to be confronted by his mirror image. Keaton’s deadpan dread, his Caliban cringe at the climatic moment of self discovery suggest the degree to which Beckett must have felt out of kilter with The Age Of Aquarius and everything else that unfolded over the rest of The Swinging ’60s.

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Film lasts about 22 minutes but, ably abetted by Boris Kaufman’s stark monochrome cinematography, it emerges as something more evocative of the Surrealist muse than David Lynch could ever manage even if he made a hundred series of Twin Peaks.  How though, did The BFI parlay a three disc BD / DVD set out of it? Well, much of the package is taken up by Ross Lipman’s 2016 “kino essay” Notfilm, which clocks in at something over two hours. Although one can’t completely shrug off the impression of talent taking a protracted ride on the coat tails of genius, Lipman manages a few thought-provoking insights along the way and his interviews with such Beckett associates as Billie Whitelaw, Haskell Wexler, producer Barney Rosset (his Alzheimer’s both poignant and strangely appropriate to the proceedings), Jean Schneider, Jeanette Seaver and James Karen are inevitably engaging stuff. Overspilling off cuts from these interviews take up much of the balance of the bonus features and in a separate one Karen, interviewed in front of a live audience, proves himself a very droll fellow indeed. After his interlocutor has reeled off a list of his allegedly most prestigious credits, the prolific actor laughingly chides him for not mentioning Return Of The Living Dead.

Other extras include a reconstruction of the abandoned opening section,  out takes from the scene in which Keaton attempts to evict a cat and a dog from his hovel (proving the wisdom of that old adage about children and animals) and David Rayner Clark’s inferior, Max Wall-starring 1979 remake. Somewhere among this embarrassment of bonus riches there’s mention of a stage play about the making of Film, though nobody captured a performance of it for inclusion here. Just as well, perhaps… by the time you’ve worked your way through the stuff already on this set, you might feel more than a little Filmed out. Minimalism blown up to cover three discs. Best consumed in discrete chunks.

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Dolly Birds Of Ill Omen… Edwige Fenech in Andrea Bianchi’s STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, Reviewed

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“Elementary, my dear Edwige!”

DVD. Region 0. Shameless. 18.

Having graced the gialli of such luminaries as Mario Bava, Sergio Martino and, er, Giuliano Carnimeo, the lustrous Edwige Fenech concentrated increasingly on her persona as the Queen of “Sexy Comedies” as the ’70s wore on. In 1975 she deigned to appear in one last theatrical giallo (she did collaborate with Martino on several slick TV thrillers from the ’90s onwards) though she was hardly tempted back by a prestige production. Strip Nude For Your Killer, directed by sleaze specialist Andrea Bianchi in 1975, is not the scuzziest Italian slasher ever lensed (that accolade must surely go to Giallo In Venice, directed by Bianchi associate Mario Landi in 1979), nor even the most floridly titled Italian thriller (step forward Roberto Montero’s The Slasher Is A Sex Maniac, 1972)… it’s not even its director’s wildest screen offering (gotta be Burial Ground / Nights Of Terror, the cheesy 1981 zombie movie with added incest subplot) but nobody could deny Bianchi’s willingness to go that extra mile in living up to its lowest common denominator handle, marrying schlock horror with sleazy sex to hypnotically delirious effect in a down market, glamour-modelling milieu that could never be confused with the genre haute couture slaughter of Bava’s seminal Blood And Black Lace (1964.)

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Magda (Fenech) is a top photographer at Milan’s Albatross modelling agency, but would like to take up modelling herself. Studio manager Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo, which translates roughly as “Kid Newcastle”!) turns her down on the grounds that she’ll “have a more secure career behind the camera” or some such nonsense. Credibility flies out of the window at the suggestion that any self-respecting model agency would turn down Edwige Fenech… I mean, in what universe?!? Sure, she’s had most of her luscious raven locks lopped off for this one, but the unflattering crop some stylist has imposed upon her can’t detract from the rest of her legendary charms, which are amply showcased throughout in a series of costume changes that are highly contrived even by the gratuitous standards previously set by Fenech’s bootylicious body of work. Political correctness soon follows credibility out of that window as Magda attempts to change Carlo’s mind with a quick blow job (“You said a mouthful” leers Carlo, while she pleasures him.)

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No Ernesto Gastaldi here, but scripter Massimo Felisatti (who allegedly insisted on Bianchi taking a fictitious co-writing credit so that he could share the blame!) keeps the mechanical plot on track as a series of murders decimates the staff of the appropriately named Agency. Who is the athletic, biker-garbed (though car-travelling) assassin that’s bumping off the agency folks and hacking off their body parts? Well, it sure ain’t Eddie Kidd!

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To find out the truth the viewer must run a grungy gauntlet comprising gory murder and mutilation, incest, casual sauna sex, lesbianism, anal rape played for laughs and a fat, sweaty guy getting it on with his blow up doll… thankfully he leaves his nappy-like pants on for his killer, and there’s abundant and more pleasing exposure from such genre stalwarts as Femi Benussi and Erna Schurer. Plenty there to “get your corpsuckles going”, to paraphrase another of Carlo’s insufferable would-be witticisms.

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The killer’s identity and motivation are wrapped up with a botched abortion (as in Massimo Dallamano’s 1971 effort, What Have You Done To Solange?) but award yourself a couple of bonus points if you anticipated the kinky twist by which the killer has been avenging the surgical death of her sister… who just happened to be her lover, too! (Jaded as I am, even I didn’t see that one coming…)

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Strip Nude is undoubtedly, as promised in the liner notes of an earlier, Blue Underground release: “sleazy, nudity-filled gore a go-go giallo fun… that delivers wave after wave of guilty exploitation pleasure”! Berto Pisano’s cheesy score serves as the perfect accompaniment to what is undoubtedly a great trash treat, if not a great giallo. Just imagine, for example, what Dario Argento could have done with the scene in which Magda is menaced in the darkened photo studio… having said that, Argento did pinch the Strip Nude plot point by which the killer can only do their murderous stuff to the accompaniment of the sound of running water, for his misfiring 1993 stab at the American mainstream, Trauma. SNFYK’s dress code departure, kitting out the culprit in biker leathers, has also exerted a clear influence on Ken Hughes’ crypto giallo and official “video nasty”, Terror Eyes. Admirably encapsulated by another quote from the sleeve of that BU edition, Strip Nude is undoubtedly “ultra trashy fun!”… with knobs on! Indeed, I could have done without the near subliminal (but not quite subliminal enough) glimpses of Castelnuovo’s junk. Was Fenech suffering cash flow problems when she signed on for this one? The indignity of the film’s freeze frame ending (reflecting on the perils of unwanted pregnancy, so graphically spelled out in the preceding 90 minutes, Carlo announces that “it’s better not to take any risks” and, as Fenech struggles, attempts a forceful back door entry!) seems to have made her mind up and hereafter she would appear in no more cinematic gialli (unless you really stretch a point and include Ruggero Deodato’s 1988 “old age creeping up on you” horror effort, Off Balance / Phantom Of Death… but we won’t).

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Tremble With Fear! In The Frightening Interrogation Room #1… Kinji Fukasaku’s COPS VS THUGS Reviewed

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

Cops Vs Thugs, huh? Wonder what this one’s about (it’s about 100 minutes, as it happens… boom boom!) The fish markets and hostess bars of down town Kurashima are a bit off our usual beat here at The House Of Freudstein but, as Oscar Wilde once remarked, you should try everything at least once (admittedly he made exceptions for incest and morris dancing.)

Director Kinji Fukasaku came to Western attention with the astonishing dystopian fable Battle Royale (2000), three years and two further features before his death, but Arrow have been keeping the Fukasaku flame alive with sterling releases of his movies in the Battles Without Honour And Humanity series and are now turning their attention to one of the similarly themed films he made in between those, 1975’s Kenkei Tai Soshiki Boryokuin (Cops Vs Thugs.) Like many of the “jitsuroko” pictures released by Toei Studio at this time, the film is loosely based on notorious real life criminal cases.

Set, for some reason, in 1963, it starts promisingly enough with tough, trench coated Detective Kuno (Bunta Sugawara, a kind of Japanese Henry Silva type) slapping around a bunch of Yakuza foot soldiers on their way to some felony or other. He tells them that they’re not worth the trouble of arresting, because they’re only going to get themselves shot soon, anyway… but he does insist that they pay their sushi bill. The fact that these guys don’t dare turn their guns on Kuno speaks volumes about Yakuza etiquette in those days or, at least, how it got depicted in the movies. Of course this cop has other reasons to feel secure throwing his weight around, notably the fact that he is well connected with the Ohara faction and its acting boss Kenji Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata), whom he helps in his struggle with a rival gang led by Katsui Kawade (Mikio Narita) over a crooked land deal being set up by a corrupt politician. Don’t worry if you can’t follow the unfolding details of that, it’s merely a MacGuffin to keep things chugging along as Fukasaku and his favoured screen writer Kazuo Kasahara concentrate on the moral complexities and compromises that keep the lid on the Kurashima pressure cooker.

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If Kuno is a bad apple (and indeed, he’s more Bad Lieutenant than Serpico), clearly he’s not the only one. The brown stuff really hits the fan when Lt Kaida (Tatsuo Umemiya), a by-the-book straight-edger (and judo ace to boot!) arrives and upsets the whole rotten apple cart, together with the network of shady alliances that has been keeping the peace… rival hoodlums are soon decapitating each other on the town’s subway steps.

These Yakuza films have exercised a clear influence over John Woo’s work, but while Woo’s gangsters are able to bond with the heroic cops because of some kind of nobility attaching to the code by which they live, here the cops are just as bad as the gangsters. Fukasaku is quite unapologetic about this situation, which he attributes to the post WWII social and economic chaos in Japan, when desperate people from very similar social backgrounds were choosing careers as either cops or gangsters in order to ensure that their families had enough to eat. It’s also suggested at various points that the establishment tolerates the Yakuza as a bulwark against communism. Fukasaku seems equally sanguine about the way all this male camaraderie is often sealed by the brutal sexual mistreatment of some unfortunate women or other. So, surprisingly does the BBFC. Toshiaki Tsushima’s two fisted score, heavy on blacksploitation-style wicky-wacky guitar music, compliments the frenetic action en route to a cynical Get Carteresque conclusion which proves conclusively that if you sit on the fence, one day you’ll get shot by both sides.

I’m not in a position to tell you anything about the reversible sleeve or illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring the thoughts of one Patrick Macias, but my preview disc contains a bonus trailer, one of those “visual essays” by Tom Mes and a featurette in which Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane talks engagingly about the director’s work. Did you know that the guy who plays Matsui in this film insisted that Bunta Sugawara beat the crap out of him for real? And still he doesn’t get name checked on IMDB. So much for Method Acting…Cops-vs-thugs.jpg

 

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What Goes Up Must Come Down… THE CLIMBER Reviewed

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BD / DVD Combi. Regions B/2. Arrow. 15.

Like our old pal Giulio Sacchi, as played by Tomas Milian in the recently reviewed Almost Human Aldo (Joe Dallesandro) is a small time crook with big dreams, given impetus by the contemptuous treatment dished out to him by his mob superiors. After cutting a few corners in the cigarette smuggling racket, he is beaten up by The Camorra and dumped outside the city limits. Making his way to Rome, in a stroke of luck that equals Giulio’s in hooking up with Anita Strindberg’s character, he’s taken in and supported by the lovely Luciana (Stefania Casini) while he begins taking similar liberties in the capital’s drug trade and gradually ascending the perilous underworld ladder. Confirmed in his cynical amorality, Aldo returns to Naples to dethrone Don Erico (Raymond Pellegrin), ably supported by a squadron of stunt bikers and the mandatory bad French criminal (“He doesn’t shoot people for the pay… he just hates everybody!”) who’s always in these things to make their bad boy Italian protagonists seem more sympathetic. What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? What, similarly, shall if profit Aldo if he’s shaking down every Neapolitan hot spot but has so alienated Luciana that she tops herself? The law of gravity, furthermore, dictates that his meteoric and violent rise will be followed by a comparably precipitous and bullet ridden descent…

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Naples native Pasquale Squitieri directed several crime slime efforts (e.g. Gang War In Naples, 1972… Corleone, 1978… and The Squealer, 1985) but remains significantly less well-known over here than his missus Claudia Cardinale (nice work if you can get it!) On the evidence of The Climber, he deserves at least as much attention as more celebrated auteurs in this genre such as Fernandi Di Leo. His off-kilter compositions, unexpected camera angles and deployment of such devices as slow-mo convey Aldo’s increasingly parlous state of mind without detracting one jot from the adrenalised action, sonically seasoned by a selection of hysterical plastic soul and a recurring freakbeat reboot of Hocus Pocus.

Hopefully Arrow will be unearthing further titles to bolster the rep of this, er, criminally underexposed director though there would be a certain bittersweet irony if this does prove to be the case, their impressive 4K restoration of The Climber coming three scant months after Squitieri’s death in Rome, aged 78.

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The career of Joe Dallesandro (above) has been subject to the same gravitational forces affecting the character he plays in Squitieri’s film. The “pretty face” of Warhol’s Factory, as it appears in Little Joe’s Adventures In Europe, now resembles that of Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant after a particularly heavy night on the tiles (there’s no way of gleaning from this bonus featurette if his crotch is as impressive as it appeared on the legendary cover of The Stones’ Sticky Fingers album), every line and wrinkle part payment for the Getting of Knowledge. It’s a long time since I watched Dallesandro in any of Warhol’s underground efforts (and I’m in no hurry to repeat the experience any time soon) so after his dubbed appearances in various European pictures, it comes as something of a jolt to hear him reminiscing in his Brooklyn accent about Squitieri (whom he remembers as a “strange”, gun-toting character), his real life relationship with Casini (“She left Bernardo Bertolucci to start dating me and I thought ‘Well, I must be somebody!’ “),  the reluctant-to-strip Sylvia Kristel (with whom he co-starred in Borowczyk’s The Streetwalker, 1976) and his (apparently successful) struggle with alcoholism. He reflects philosophically on the times (notably on Bitto Albertini’s Safari Rally, 1978) when he was stiffed. Contrary to the Lou Reed song that clinched his public image, Little Joe, it seems, often gave it away…

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Street copies of The Climber (in its first pressing, anyway) will apparently come with a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, author of the Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-80 on which I’m currently not in a position to comment.

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No Orchids For Marilù… the Shameless Blu-Ray of Umberto Lenzi’s ALMOST HUMAN Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Shameless. 18.

As well as fascists, ultra-leftists, fascists posing as ultra-leftists and ultra-leftists posing as fascists, Italy’s “years of lead” (the violent ’70s, give-or-take) were stoked by disgruntled southern peasants who’s been drawn to the northern cities by the promise of the Italian “economic miracle”, only to turn to crime after finding the streets paved with shit rather than gold. In one of this disc’s bonus interviews, Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare (original Italian title) director Umberto Lenzi posits another explanation for this chaotic decade, namely that it was French criminals who brought kidnapping, drug dealing, bank robbing, et al, to Italy… an improbable claim but one that also surfaces in Enzo Castellari’s seminal Poliziotteschi effort High Crime aka The Marseilles Connection (1973) and Contraband, Luci Fulci’s late (1980) entry in the cycle, the latter of which panders to a romantic conception of the mafia’s origins as a patriotic opposition to the Napoleonic occupation of Italy. Almost Human (1974) is not a mafia movie (though Lenzi made plenty of those) and its protagonist is not mobbed up, nor is he any kind of a heroic patriot… Giulio Sacchi (Tomas Milian in top, scenery-chewing form) is part of the aforementioned economic flotsam and jetsam… he’s a snivelling psychopath with a chip on each soldier and a burning desire to strike back at everybody who’s responsible for his personal and social inadequacy, i.e. everybody but himself!

The action starts with Giulio fouling up a bank heist by shooting a cop who merely wanted to write him a parking ticket (his trigger-happiness will be a recurring motif throughout this film.) Beaten up and called “a shit head” by local Mister Big Ugo Majone (Luciano Catenacci) and his boys, Giulio resolves to prove them wrong and join the criminal super league. As explained to impressionable stooges Vittorio (Gino Santercole) and Carmine (a nicely nuanced Ray Lovelock), his master plan includes the kidnapping of Marilù (Laura Belli), the daughter of rich industrialist Porrini (Guido Alberti.) After they’ve pocketed the ransom they’ll kill her anyway to cover their tracks. “Listen, there’s only one thing that matters…”, Giulio insists: “… either you’ve got a load of money and you’re somebody cool, or you haven’t got a place to pee!”

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The kidnap is eventually effected with the connivance of Giulio’s long-suffering girlfriend Iona (Anita Strindberg)… boy is he punching above his weight here, but Iona’s hung up on this bit of rough and that’s all there is to it. After her boyfriend has been gunned down, Marilù tries to seek refuge in the home of a bourgeois family who are sexually assaulted, strung from the light fittings and machine-gunned for their trouble. Carmine, who had initially experienced cold feet, participates enthusiastically in all this carnage after Giulo has plied him with pills.

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Giulio ties up an irksome loose end by sending Iona’s car to the bottom of Lake Cuomo, with her in it. investigating this rum series of events, Commissario Walter Grandi (Henry Silva) notices that one guy keeps cropping up again and again and finally it clicks that Giulio was the guy taunting him at the scene of a cop stabbing. “I’m interested in this man..” he tells his superior, in a telling turn of phrase that suggests Grandi’s personal affinities with his quarry: “… he’s a psychopath!” Takes one to know one, I guess, but the law requires something more solid than the strong circumstantial case he is building. In the words of the title… “Milan Hates: The Police Aren’t Allowed To Shoot” But we are talking about Henry Silva here…

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Grandi is literally hobbled as the climax to the kidnapping drama plays out. Having shot the ill-fated Marilù and both of his accomplices, Giulio unloads a clip into the Commissario’s leg before disappearing with the ransom money. Later he’s sitting at a sidewalk café in his expensive new threads, sipping “French champagne” and trying to recruit a new crew of dead beats when Grandi, walking with the aid of a stick, turns up and shoots his way through the legalistic Gordian knot. “Call the chief and tell him that ex-detective Grandi just killed a murderer”, Dirty Henry tells a gob smacked copper. Giulio expires, appropriately enough, atop a pile of garbage.

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Producer Luciano Martino’s in-house writer Ernesto Gastaldi (better known as a giallo specialist) penned this hard-hearted effort in accordance with Lenzi’s obvious love for the likes of Mervyn Leroy’s Little Caesar, William Wellman’s Public Enemy (both 1931) and Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932.) Its story owes another obvious debt to No Orchids For Miss Blandish, the 1939 James Hadley Chase novel  filmed under that title by St. John L. Clowes in 1948 and as The Grissom Gang by Robert Aldrich, just three years before Lenzi lensed Milano Odia: La Polizia Non Puo’ Sparare… he lensed most of it, anyway. The edge-of-your-seat car chases sequence, orchestrated by the legendary Rémy Julienne, has been cut in by the cost conscious Martino from the previous year’s The Violent Proefessionals, directed by his kid brother Sergio. This would be the first of many times that Julienne’s footage got recycled in various crime slime epics… hope he was remunerated every time rather than accepting a flat payment (though I rather doubt it!) All of this kick-ass action is nicely complimented by a downbeat Morricone score with a memorably staccato main theme.

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Of the significant bonus material on this disc, the featurettes Like A Beast… Almost (interviews with Lenzi, Lovelock, Gastaldi and Santercole) and Milian Unleashed (an audience with the film’s charismatic star) will be familiar to anyone who invested in the No Shame DVD release back in the noughties and the latter has already appeared on Shameless’s own DVD release of Almost Human. Pride of place goes to a new Umberto Lenzi interview, in which the grumpy old man of Italian genre cinema is on vintage form. He talks animatedly about how that cinema drew its inspiration from successful American models and – while remaining infra dig with the intelligentsia –  effectively bank rolled the Arthouse efforts of Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, et al. He moans about Kathryn Bigelow pinching his President-masked bank robbers and Sergio Martino stealing his favourite editor (Eugenio Alabiso.) Amusing (sort of) anecdotes include how film noir icon Richard Conte missed the first day of shooting because he died, obliging Lenzi to recruit Silva at short notice in what turned out (with apologies to Conte’s nearest and dearest) to be a masterpiece of serendipitous casting.

Lenzi ‘fesses up re his reputation of being a hard ass with actors but contends that if you don’t impose your will upon them, the shoot is going to hell in hand cart. His memories of working with Milian (on several pictures… he compares the relationship to that between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski) are particularly compelling. Apparently the actor used to drive him mad by improvising while the camera was rolling, though Lenzi is big enough to admit that these unsolicited contributions were sometimes inspired. More alarmingly,  he reveals that Milian’s method acting approach prompted him to hit the pharmaceuticals pretty hard in his attempts to clinch the character of Giulio’s Little Casar. We at The House Of Freudstein are reminded of Laurence Olivier’s advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man (1976)…

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presented in HD, Almost Human looks almost totally marvellous,  though pronounced grain in certain shots (a few obvious second unit cutaways) are the price we have to pay for such technical advances. It’s an imperfect world, made even more so by the recent passing of Tomas Milian. This Shameless release serves as a timely tribute to an enormous talent, showcased in a role that is, even by his less than sedate standards, truly demented.

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Stay tuned to this frequency for further bulletins from our roving Crime Slime reporter…

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Serving God With Biochemistry Since 1981… ABSURD Arrives On Blu-Ray

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BD. Region B. 88 Films. 18.

What can I possibly tell you about “Peter Newton” / Joe D’Amato’s Absurd that you don’t already know or can’t easily glean from Seduction Of The Gullible: The Curious History Of The UK’s “Video Nasty” Panic? OK, if you haven’t got a copy of that to hand (and if not, why not?!?) I’ll try to get you up to speed. On account of its Medusa VHS release, Absurd became alphabetically the first of the “nasties” and was also one of the last, in the sense that along with 38 other titles, it stayed on the DPP’s proscribed list until that throwback to The Spanish Inquisition was discontinued. Plotwise, it unfolds as equal parts Halloween remake and half-assed sort of sequel / sort of not, to D’Amato’s other “nasty” Anthropophagous Beast (1980), though it manages the improbable feat of being an even worse film than that. Luigi Montefiori’s monstrous dude boasts a much better complexion here than in Anthropophagous and doesn’t actually eat anybody (he even resists the urge to consume his own intestines when they spill out, yet again, at the start of this one) though he does hang Michele Soavi’s juvenile delinquent upside down from a tree, bake Annie Bell’s bonce in an oven and penetrate the heads of various other dudes with axes, black’n’deckers and bandsaws. All of this is on account of a genetic mutation (a scientifically induced one, it is darkly hinted) that has also, as (bad) luck would have it, rendered him virtually indestructible, as Father Edmund Purdom explains to the sceptical cops, their scepticism scarcely mitigated by the priest’s announcement that he serves God “with biochemistry rather than ritual.” Katya Berger, who spends most of the film screwed to some fiendish orthopedic device, ultimately rises from it (begging certain obvious questions that D’Amato clearly can’t be arsed answering) to prove that when it comes to challenging the alleged indestructibility of hulking home invaders, eye pokings and decapitation trump biochemistry every time!

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88’s Absurd Blu-ray represents the first legitimate UK release of this title – and its first appearance on disc in this country – since the “nasties” witch hunt receded. It’s uncut and looks better than it probably deserves, the graininess that plagues many such 2K upgrades of films from its era contained within acceptable parameters. You get a commentary track from The Hysteria Continues (Teenage Wasteland author and Richard Osman soundalike Justin Kerswell with his pals) which makes for reasonably diverting stuff, if not quite as amusing as their Pieces commentary (these guys are fast becoming the “go to” crew for Edmund Purdom movies!) Their audio track is slightly out of synch with the visuals, too, which gets a bit jarring when they’re talking about specific shots.

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In addition, you get the expected reversible sleeve options and a nifty little insert which contains amusing capsule reviews of the DPP’s least favourite 39 titles by Calum Waddell. Best of all are two interview feauturettes, each about a quarter of an hour long, with Montefiori (aka George Eastman) and Soavi, both looking significantly greyer than you probably remember them. Montefiori, who still presents an imposing physical presence, generates plenty of tantalising trivia for pasta paura buffs, including how he took on the Anthropophagous role because he was keen to visit Greece… only for all of his scenes to be shot in Rome… and how he was originally slated to direct Stagefright (1987) until he was distracted by problems with a restaurant he had just opened (!) and the project devolved to Soavi. Big George, who is endearingly modest and self-deprecating throughout, concedes that Soavi did a much better job than he could have hoped to. He also makes some fascinating and frank observations on the character and career (“He preferred staying in the lower league where he could have more control over everything”) of Joe D’Amato, whom he clearly loved dearly. He reiterates the story that D’Amato’s fatal heart attack was brought on by the disappearance of several cans of footage, a sad but also apposite ending to a life consumed by film. Soavi obviously worships the memory of D’Amato too, recalling his first impression of him as “a little man with a smirk and a cigarette… it was love at first sight!” Elsewhere in the interview, he celebrates D’Amato’s role as an incubator of young talent such as his and contends that “everything said about him is probably all true and all false… a very complex and incomprehensible person… for me, a genius… one of the greatest cinema masters of all time!” Perversely enough, after enduring another screening of Absurd, I’m inclined to agree!

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