Two Moreaus Never Know… EVE and MADEMOISELLE Reviewed.

EVE. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. Released 28/09/20.
MADEMOISELLE. BD / DVD. BFI. Region B. 15. Released 21/09/20.

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer: What do women want?” Sigmund Freud.

More pertinently for our present purpose, what did Jeanne Moreau want? The Queen of 1960s European Arthouse Cinema drew a flotilla of moths to her flame… Tony Richardson left his wife (a certain Vanessa Redgrave) for Moreau (whom he directed in Mademoiselle, 1966) and Joseph Losey might or might not have consummated his crush on her (his son Gavrik is undecided) though he got his wings badly singed during the postproduction of Eve (1962). What, exactly, did he expect, tackling the story of Man’s fall from grace at the hands of Woman?

In Losey’s film Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker) is your basic angry young boyo, a hard living Dylan Thomas type who’s graduated from the Pits of his homeland to La Dolce Vita in Italy, where his novel Stranger In Hell has been adapted into a film that’s taking the Venice Film Festival by storm. Tyvian and the film’s director Sergio Branco (Giorgio Albertazzi) pound the publicity treadmill together, barely concealing their loathing for each other. Branco’s in love with his personal assistant Francesca (Virna Lisi), but she’s besotted with Tyvian, who strings her along while pursuing his own fascination with the manipulative playgirl Eve Olivier (Moreau), a conniving fortune chaser who spends the rare moments she’s not gold digging listening to Billie Holiday and reading her autobiography Lady Sings The Blues (a consummate Artist, Holliday presents, perhaps, not the greatest role model in life… ask Amy Winehouse). “Do you know how much this weekend will cost me?” Tyvian asks Eve one point. “Do you know how much it will cost you?” comes the pointed response.

As well as believing the author to be a cad, Branco has his suspicions about Tyvian’s back story. Indeed, the latter confesses to Moreau that he’s not actually an ex miner, also that, for A Dylan Thomas wannabe, he doesn’t drink very much. It is, however, during a particularly epic session of soaking it up that he makes his really big confession to her: the reason he’s finding it difficult to come up with the follow up script Branco’s bugging him for is that he’s not actually much of a writer, either, having copped the manuscript of Stranger In Hell from his dead brother! Shades of Udo Kier’s character in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (1976). The resolution here is nothing like as lurid as that to Clarke’s “video nasty” but certainly makes for high octane dramatic stuff.

Losey, who was never shy about ‘fessing up to his misfires, believed his original 155 minute cut of Eve (which producers Robert and Raymond Hakim pulled, ironically enough, from the Venice Film Festival and which is now irretrievably lost) to be not just his best film, but one the greatest films ever made. We’ll never know, the longest of the four (!) versions curated here clocking in a good half an hour shorter than the director’s preferred cut. We can thrill to the committed performances of the principals, admire the beautiful black and white photography of Gianni Di Venanzo and (the uncredited) Henri Decaë, ditto Michel Legrand’s cool jazzy score (Losey had wanted Miles Davis) but Eve, as originally envisaged by its director, remains as tantalisingly elusive as Moreau’s character herself, to paraphrase the great Hoagy Carmichael: “the stardust of yesterday / the celluloid of years gone by”.

By one account the Hakims had been hoping for some kind of two-fisted Noir effort (Eve is an adaptation of a James Hadley Chase novel, after all) and their attempts to salvage something remotely approximating such a thing led to the film’s death by a thousand cuts. Alternatively, we hear that they were going for Arthouse from the get go and originally lined up Jean Luc Godard to direct Richard Burton in the Jones role, settling for Baker when that fell through and accepting the actor’s recommendation of his peripatetic mate Losey to direct. You pays your money and you takes your choice…

Liar, thief, braggart, big head, waster of life and love, Jonesy probably had it coming but what did the population of a small French village ever do to deserve the full force malignity of Moreau’s crackers character in Richardson’s film? It was adapted from a story by Jean Genet, so there’s a clue…

Mademoiselle (brilliantly shot, again in black and white, by the great David Watkin) opens with a Catholic rite which is at root no more than an attempt to propitiate the random violence of nature. Meanwhile the local schoolteacher / town secretary (Moreau) is opening the sluice gates that will flood the local farms. She’s already perpetrated several arson attacks and will continue to do so. She also does her best to stoke the fires of suspicion, already smouldering away, against itinerant Italian logger Manou (Ettore Manni) who doesn’t exactly do himself any PR favours by bedding most of the villager’s wives. Mademoiselle makes a point of singling out Manou’s son Bruno (Keith Skinner) for punishment and ridicule in the classroom, when she can bring herself to take time out from teaching the kids about Gilles de Rais. In her spare time she visits petty cruelty upon animals.

So what’s her problem? Flashbacks reveal that the frustrated spinster set her first haystack alight when stalking Manou. He looked so hunky helping to put the fire out that she’s had to restage the experience. Meanwhile her bitterness festers as she watches him bonking his way through half the female population. She ultimately enjoys her own (protracted) session in the fields with him, encouraging the viewer to believe that she might be capable of some kind of redemption… but nah, this is Genet, remember and the proceedings climax and close on a note of unalloyed nihilism, with chumps barely evolved from chimps revering their palpably evil “social superiors” and scapegoating “outsiders”. The comment on Vichy France is clear enough but it’s an observation that still rings depressingly true, as a cursory glance at todays News headlines will readily confirm.

Neither of these films is likely to increase your optimism about the prospects for the human race, in the unlikely event that you still entertained any after the events of the last few years.

Eve bonus features. Aside from the four (count ’em) cuts of the film on Indicator’s limited edition BD world premiere (including a new 2K scan of EYE Filmmuseum’s photochemical restoration of the longest variant), you also get archival interviews with Losey and Moreau and a new one in which Gavrick Losey speculates about his fathers’ mental orientation while making the picture. Neil Sinyard (rapidly emerging as a supplementaries superstar) details Eve’s troubled (nay, tormented) post production and attempts manfully to fill in some of the gaps. In a BEHP audio interview, Reginald Beck talks of the films he edited for Losey. The expected trailers and image galleries are present and correct and if you buy one of the first 3,000 units you’ll enjoy a 36-page collectors’ booklet including Losey on Eve, new essays, an assessment of James Hadley Chase’s source novel, full film credits and contemporary critical responses, plus an account of the EYE Filmmuseum restoration.

The BFI’s beautiful HD presentation of Mademoiselle is complimented by an optional commentary track from Adrian Martin… in a recent interview (so very recent that he refers to “the late Alan Parker”) former child actor Keith Skinner (he was also in Zeffirelli’s Romeo And Juliet, two years after Mademoiselle) recalls his experiences on the shoot and relates how he reinvented himself as a respected Ripperologist… among the bonus materials on this release we also find Jan Worth ultra-rare 1982 feature Doll’s Eye (1982), a film commissioned by the BFI but never released, which focusses on three different women trying to make their way in a world dominated by male attitudes. Two of the three are played by Bernice Stegers (from Xtro and Lamberto Bava’s masterly Macabro) and the late Sandy Ratcliff (from Eastenders). There’s the expected trailer and image gallery, while the first pressing will also include an illustrated collectors’ booklet with Jon Dear’s take on Mademoiselle, Neil Young on Richardson’s production company Woodfall, Jan Worth’s remembrance of Doll’s Eye, full credits for both that and the main feature, plus Scala legend Jane Giles on cinematic adaptations of Genet.

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Boy Meets Girl In The Dreamtime… Nic Roeg’s WALKABOUT Reviewed

BD. Second Sight. Region B. 12.

A disturbed businessman (John Meillon) drives his schoolgirl daughter (Jenny Agutter) and her kid brother (Luc Roeg) deep into the Australian outback and attempts to shoot them before torching their car and blowing his brains out. The children set off on a desperate trek across the pitiless landscape in search of a way home. Just when it seems that they’ll be consumed by the environment, they encounter an Aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil) undergoing the walkabout rite of passage to manhood. Despite the initial communication problems, he shows them how to scrape a living from the land and an affectionate bond develops between the three of them but this short lived idyll takes a darker turn when the youth attempts to incorporate romantic courtship into his walkabout bucket list…

Frank Zappa notoriously likened “writing about music” to “dancing about architecture”. If that’s a valid comparison (and personally I regard it as the opening of a discussion rather than the definitive last word FZ probably intended it to be) then no doubt “film” could comfortably be slotted into his equation in place of “music”. It’s difficult to see how a hack scribbler such as myself could put food on the table (short of chasing kangeroos around with a boomerang) if I conceded the essential pointlessness of writing about films. Equally difficult, however, for words to do justice to the beauty, mystery and profundity that pulsates in every frame of Nic Roeg’s breathtaking Walkabout (1971). A sentence would be too much, a multi volume tome not nearly enough…

Luckily Nic Roeg never needed many words to make monumental statements, as evidenced by his DP credits, for Corman, Truffaut… even an enjoyably lightweight bit of froth like Dick Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966) looks… well, quite extraordinary as lensed by him. And then there was Performance, which he co-directed (with Donald Cammell) and shot in 1970 while still trying to get Walkabout off the ground.

The surprisingly good performances Roeg gets from 2/3 of his pricipal players here (a fine performance from Jenny Agutter should come as no surprise to anyone… with the sole exception of Danny Boyle, interviewed on this disc) casts doubt on any conjecture that he stuck to the visuals on Performance while leaving Cammell to handle the cast. Agutter (in her bonus interview) is keen to emphasise the lengths to which the director went to make her feel comfortable, though it remains interesting to speculate on what Roeg took from Cammell and vice versa (the paucity and compromised nature of the latter’s subsequent output certainly doesn’t help)… even on the extent to which Roeg’s elliptical edits evolved from Warner’s insistence that Mick Jagger be moved forward in the running time of Performance.

Topping off John Barry’s sumptuous score, the sound design of Walkabout is (like that of Performance and the later entries in Roeg’s golden period) just revelatory and the interpolations of material as diverse as e.g. Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley and A. E. Houseman’s Blue Remembered Hills are nothing short of inspired.

It’s the visuals, though, as evidenced all too well in this beautiful new 4K restoration, that constitute Walkabout’s trump card. In his introduction to the film, Roeg enthuses about the spareness of Edward Bond’s script (adapted from the novel by “James Vance Marshall” = Donald Payne) and clearly he’s more concerned with the epic canvas of the outback (Roeg was still serving as his own DP, Mario Bava like, on Walkabout) and Aboriginal perceptions of time, all the better to convey the theme that recurs again and again throughout his oeuvre – the pitiless magnificence of Nature and its sublime indifference regarding the continuation of our psychic identity / physical integrity.

A film as wonderful as this demands some pretty heroic extras and predictably, those Severin boys rise to the occasion, supplying absorbing interviews with producer Si Litvinoff, Agutter and Roeg Jr. The co-stars are reunited with the director at a Q&A from the BFI in 2011. Luc and David Thompson provide the optional commentary track and there’s also a Severin interview with Danny Boyle, the one in which he expresses his puzzling reservations about Agutter’s performance but also ventures the opinion that short of Powell and Pressburger, there is no British filmmaker of comparable stature to Nic Roeg. Well, Hitchcock springs readily to mind (or as readily as such a portly gentleman could spring anywhere) but apart from that notable omission, Boyle might well have a point.

If you get your skates on and buy one of the first 3,000 copies, you’ll also get three books: Payne’s source novel, a facsimile copy of the original 65 page First Draft Script (with preface by Daniel Bird) and a third featuring new essays by Bird, Sophie Monks Kaufman and Simon Abrams… none of them big Frank Zappa fans, I imagine.

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The Holy Mountebank? Alejandro Jodorowsky’s PSYCHOMAGIC, A HEALING ART Reviewed.

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“Tell me about your mother…”

As contained in Arrow’s limited edition BD Box Set The Alejandro Jodorowsky Collection. Region B. 18.

Whenever the manifold personal qualities of the extraordinary Alejandro Jodorowsky are discussed, modesty and humility are conspicuous by their absence. True to form, El Jodo opens this documentary presentation of Psychomagic (the therapeutic method he has evolved through his life and films) by comparing / contrasting himself to / with Sigmund Freud. Whereas Psychoanalysis is a talking cure that bans touching, he tell us, Psychomagic is an active cure to which physical contact is fundamental. No doubt Jodorowsky is a sufficiently cultured man to realise that he is here revisiting the schism that eventually sundered Freud from one of his longest serving, ablest and most fondly regarded lieutenants, Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933).

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“Cheer up, Sigi and gimme a cuddle…” Ferenczi and Freud in 1917.

Reasoning that at some level, all of his patients were (or perceived themselves to be) insufficiently loved, Ferenczi began to believe that their analyses could be more readily expedited with the judicious application of kisses, hugs and caresses. Horrified by the implications of this for Transference (the process by which the client reveals important clues about their relationships with significant others by visiting them upon the blank canvas of the emotionally remote analyst), not to mention the potential ethical pitfalls (nobody was worrying about Coronavirus in those days), Freud cried foul. No doubt his prosthetic jaw would have dropped and his ubiquitous cigar fallen to the floor if he had lived to see where Jodorowsky has taken Ferenczi’s heresy.

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The Holy Mountain, 1973

As well as one-on-one and group massage sessions (in such case studies as those entitled “Brothers Competing For Mother’s Love” and “A Man Abused By His Father, On The Verge Of Suicide”), AJ’s prescriptions include theatrical (and often public) ritual. The abused guy on the verge of suicide, for example, is buried alive (with provision made for him to breathe) while vultures pull apart carcasses laid on his grave. Dug up and “reborn”, he attaches a picture of the abusing parent to a balloon and lets it float away.

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“An Australian In Paris, Angry Against His Family” is seen smashing pumpkins (hey, that would be a good name for a band, right?) on the streets of France’s capital while screaming: “Why won’t you listen to me?”, then mails the pieces to his unsupportive family in Oz. “A Mexican Woman Whose Fiancé Committed Suicide On The Eve Of Their Wedding” (by jumping out of their window in her presence) goes through a funeral ceremony for her wedding dress then jumps out of a plane (El Jodo generously allows her the use of a parachute). “A 47 Year Old Man Who Wants To Stop Stuttering” feels like a child so AJ lets him loose in a Disney-style kids’ park wearing a sailor suit and silly hat (a concerned mother hustles her daughter away from him). Then Jod takes him to a church and squeezes his bollocks, telling him:  “In this Holy place I will pass Manly energy on to you… because I am The Father Archetype!”

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As if all this wasn’t enough,  the guy is then painted gold and sent to walk down the street in his skivvies… and yes, he finally stops stuttering. “An 88 Year Old Woman In Deep Depression” probably isn’t up to some of the energetic and bold stuff described above but does seem to benefit from pouring water on the roots of a massive tree every day. In “Coming Out Of The Closet” an actual closet is burned during a gay wedding ceremony and during “The Walk Of The Dead In Mexico City, 2011”, participants chant “Psychomagic against violence!” to protest casualties of the country’s drug wars. In the section “Birth Massage”, a young woman frightened of bearing children is given therapeutic massages by a pair of Psychomagic practitioners and is later shown proudly displaying a beautiful baby bump. “A Couple In Crisis” decide to separate, but on amicable rather than antagonistic terms.

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All of the episodes are illustrated with apposite clips from Jodorowsky’s films and intercut with his sage pronouncements, delivered in front of a corny “psychedelic” background. Their titles are presumably intended to evoke such classic Freud case studies as “The Wolf Man” and “The Rat Man”, though “Is Menstruation A Problem?” (in which El Jodo advises a cellist to daub her instrument with period blood) is more reminiscent, at least to this viewer, of the cod Krafft-Ebing in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask (1972).

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Jodorowsky claims that the shortcomings of classical psychoanalysis “obliged” him to create Psychomagic, a name that (given his cooky reputation) offers hostages to wise cracking fortune. He cites the Tarot, rather than any conventional therapeutic discipline, as the foundation of his method, which blends a frisson of Ferencszi, a jolt of Janov and perhaps a soupcon of snake oil. El Jodo is a charismatic individual and although we see apprenticed Psychomagic practitioners applying his ideas at various points in this film, one wonder how the discipline will fare when he’s gone. Innumerable studies have proven that those in therapy benefit from human company and attention, also (yes, Sandor) from tactile comfort. Jodorowsky has always been an expert manipulator of emotion (a manifestly cool and together lady who accompanied me to The Scala to watch Santa Sangre was reduced to tears during the scene of the elephant’s death) and some of the case studies here are genuinely moving, though I can’t entirely dismiss the suspicion that some of the patients just might be shills. Then I think I’m just being an insensitive heel…

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The thing that troubled me most about Psychomagic, A Healing Art, was the section in which AJ’s helping a cancer sufferer come to terms with her illness and prognosis… fair enough, but entitling this episode “Can Cancer Be Cured?”, in an age of rising quackery (tied in with conspiracy theories, the “post truth” media landscape, Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal candles, et al ) seems, to me anyway, to be a seriously questionable move.

Health warning. Embrace Psychomagic. With caution.

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Phantasmagorical Indonesia… SATAN’S SLAVE Reviewed

BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Not to be confused with Norman J. Warren’s identically titled 1976 effort or Joko Anwar’s 2017 remake Satan’s Slaves, this is the milestone Horror effort that Sisworo Gautama Putra directed in 1982, freaking out a whole generation of young Indonesian viewers and outraging the country’s conservative religious establishment. Two years earlier, of course, Sisworo had authored that astonishing pastiche of the Italian cannibal film tradition, Primitif aka Savage Terror (under which title it appeared on the “Section 3” appendix to the “video nasties” list).

Pendabdi Setan (to give this film its original Bahasan title) takes a more eclectic approach, grafting elements from the (then recent) likes of Phantasm, Salem’s Lot and (briefly) Zombie Flesh Eaters (all 1979 offerings) and any amount of Chinese vampire / ghost films onto its fokeloric and mythological story stock.

Fachrul Rozy plays young Tomi Munarto, the Michael Baldwin surrogate from Coscarelli’s film. When his Mom dies unexpectedly, he notices a mysterious woman (Ruth Pelupessi) smirking at her funeral. Islamic piety dictates a quiet period of dignified mourning to help guide Mom’s soul to its heavenly destination, but Tomi’s more interested in having fun on his motor scooter, sister Rita (Siska Widowati) attends louche disco parties with her cousin Herman (Simon Cader) and their Dad (W.D. Mochtar) is too focussed on the family business to correct their errant ways. Rita compounds her sins with her rude treatment of the family’s faithful, ailing retainer Karto (H.I.M. Damsyik), who dares to question the appropriateness of her lifestyle at this time. The Munartos aren’t exactly the world’s most diligent Muslims then and as we are reminded throughout the film, the faithless are particularly vulnerable to the attentions of The Devil.

In a blatant pinch from Salem’s Lot, Mom turns up at Tomi’s window and he communes with her bug eyed spirit in the garden, witnessed by his sister (“You’ve been acting weird, the last few days” she tells him.) He also dreams that he’s being ritually murdered in a cellar by what appears to be an Indonesian chapter of the Templars. A friend who recently lost his own Mon urges Tomi to visit a psychic (further shades of Phantasm), another vaguely sinister and enigmatic woman who warns him that his family are the focus of evil and he should protect himself with black magic. A local Imam advises him that it would be a better idea to improve his practice of Islam but of course Tomi gives more credence to that sinister fortune teller, developing his occult studies by meditating and reading magazines (including Issue 21 of Dez Skinn’s Halls of Horror!)

Satan does eventually turn up in the shape of Darmina, sent to keep house by a domestic agency but instantly recognisable to Tomi as the the smirking woman from Mom’s funeral. As spooky occurrences in the house accelerate, Dad relents and calls in a shaman to exorcise the evil presence but after the usual indoor gales and furniture upheavals, the shaman comes off second best in an encounter with a chandelier.

With the atmosphere around the Munarto household becoming ever heavier, Karto discovers a satanic shrine in Darmina’s quarters and shortly afterwards is found hanged… Herman gets wiped out in a traffic accident… and still the family won’t mend their irreligious ways! Ultimately Darmina leads a gaggle of goggle-eyed deadites (Mom, Karto, Herman) to attack the Munartos (things get a bit Scoody Doo-esque around here), only for a deputation of Imams to turn up outside the house, chanting Islamic prayers until the zombies crumble to dust, while Darmina herself  bursts into flames.

A voice over urges fidelity to Islam and indeed, the closing shots depict the family as model Muslims, visiting the mosque regularly and now apparently happy. So the film makers get to have their cake and eat it, moralising while indulging all sorts of profane stuff. Indeed, in the final shot, saved as they are  supposed to be, the family clock another mysterious dark haired woman watching them, testifying to ongoing tensions in Indonesian society between religious orthodoxy, primeval paganism and the Modernising influence of soft / hard Western power, the continuing relevance of which is evidenced in the extras here…

In “Satan’s Box Office”, producer Gope T. Samtani staunchly maintains that Satan’s Slave is an entirely original production that didn’t borrow anything from anywhere. Sure thing… inIndonesian Atmosphere“, screenwriter Imam Tantowi is significantly more candid about the film’s obvious, er, influences. “Satan’s Slave Obsession” is an audio interview (because of Covid-19) with remake director Joko Anwar, who confesses that he saw the original when he was eight (!) and that “it scarred me for my lifetime”. In case you didn’t get his point, we’re also treated to his 2016 shorts Jenny and Don’t Blink, which he shot to convince (successfully) Rapi Films that he was the man to direct the Satan’s Slave remake for which he’d been intensively lobbying.

Severin have scanned this one from the original negative, doing full justice to the splendid cinematography of F.E.S. Tarigan. Special mention also to  Gusti Anom’s atmospheric score, which recalls Popol Vuh when it’s not reflecting Philip Glass.

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Firth Of Fifth… A Disconcerting Canter Through The Dyionisian Consciousness in Peter Shaffer & Sidney Lumet’s EQUUS.

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BD / DVD. Region B / 2. BFI. 15.

“The aim of (Psychoanalysis) is a modest one, to transform neurotic misery into common or garden unhappiness”. Sigmund Freud.

Growing up gay in Liverpool during the interwar years was no doubt a bumpy path to manhood for playwright Peter Shaffer but at least, as a Jew, he never suffered a Catholic education, where we budding straights were also also taught to mistrust and despise our sexual feelings. Apocryphal accounts place the origins of Shaffer’s 1973 play Equus in reports, now difficult to substantiate, of an obscure and unpleasant case in rural Suffolk where a 17 year old youth blinded several horses. Whatever details that were available at the time, Shaffer disregarded in the construction of a dramatic edifice that confronts several of his own ongoing philosophical preoccupations.

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Alan Strang, the maladjusted horse blinder, is spared prison by the eloquence of his defence counsel and committed to the care of psychiatrist Martin Dysart in a juvenile rehabilitation unit. Dysart struggles against both Strang’s initial uncooperativeness and his growing sense of the futility of his own work and life. Like the protagonist of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus In Furs, he sees the world he occupies as a pale shadow of Classical times but perceives himself as an ineffectual “plastic pagan”, a perception which his patient picks up on and uses against him. Through their verbal sparring and his interviews with the the boy’s parents (a similarly discontented dad / fanatically religious mother) and others, Dysart pieces together Alan’s narrative and arrives at the primal scene that preceded his atrocity, which the doctor increasingly sees as some kind of twisted sacrament, an heroic affirmation of spirituality in a materialist wasteland, one with which he finds himself in more than a little sympathy…

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“Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world”

… well, R.D. Laing was taken a lot more seriously, back in the day, than he is now. Pink Floyd’s management even booked an appointment with him for Syd Barrett, but the befuddled guitarist failed to show up. Syd never blinded any horses, though, as far as we can ascertain.

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Another Sidney, Mr Lumet (seen above, with some Italian actress or other) made films in most every genre, which were frequently among the best in those genres yet always carried his personal directorial stamp. Stage productions adapted to the screen always loomed large in Lumet’s resumé (Murder On The Orient Express, The Offence, The Hill, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, A View From The Bridge, The Iceman Cometh and 12 Angry Men, just off the top of my head). The director worked closely with Shaffer on this one, resulting in something much more naturalistic than any of the stylised theatrical performances up that point. I never saw any of those so can’t pronounce on how they measured up to the impact of Lumet’s film but it’s amazing to consider just how much challenging work was filling stages (and auditoriums) in those days, e.g. this… Peter Weiss’s Marat / Sade (and when are we going to see a decent release of Peter Brook’s 1967 film of that?)… Howard Brenton’s The Romans In Britain (the 1982 National Theatre production of which led to director Michael Bogdanov being privately prosecuted – thankfully unsuccessfully – by the despicable Mary Whitehouse) and so on. Before Covid 19 brought it to a useful pause, the contemporary theatre scene has, in contrast, been dominated by the likes of the unspeakable Andrew Lloyd Webber (an aristocratic who was flown across the Atlantic to vote for poor people being made poorer), juke box bio plays and fatuous celebrations of  rap “musicians”.
 

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With a more than capable director and powerful script in place, it didn’t exactly damage this endeavour to add the top notch cast assembled here. Declaiming Shaffer’s choicest lines like his afterlife depends on it, Richard Burton is a veritable force of nature as Dysart, his performance residing almost exclusively  on the right side of the dividing line between “OMG, feel the power!” and “OMG, somebody put a spoon in his mouth!” Peter Firth had played Strang on stage over a thousand times before the film started shooting yet perversely wasn’t the original casting choice and ironically it was through the insistence of Burton (who’d only briefly trodden the boards as the Doc, standing in for Tony Perkins) that he was recalled to recreate his role on celluloid. It’s no small part of the young actor’s achievement that he holds his own against Burton on this kind of form. Firth had certainly come a long way from Here Come The Double Deckers! (below), though ultimately it was en route to the likes of Tobe Hooper’s risible (albeit highly entertaining) Lifeforce (1985). Did poor career choices derail his momentum? Or was Equus always going to be impossible to top?

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Nor are the supporting roles exactly filled with second rate players: Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely, Harry Andrews, Eileen Atkins, Kate Reid, Jenny Agutter… it’s always struck me (and you can make of it what you will) that while Dysart makes a point of talking to Andrews’ stable owner (and discovers – no shit, Sherlock – that he’s none too happy about having his horses blinded), he never bothers (at least in the film) to seek out Agutter’s character Jill, who is such a key figure in the run-up to Alan’s crimes. He and by extension Shaffer and Lumet reject her as comprehensively as Alan did… what’s that all about? For Catholic school casualties of a certain age, the presence of Agutter is always most welcome and her performance here even occasioned a spike in my own fast flagging libido.

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“Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Mea culpa, peccavi. Domine miserere mei!”

This special edition, limited to 3,000 copies, comes with a drove of extras spread over its BD (on which the main feature, looking splendid, resides) and DVD discs, including Tony Palmer’s 1988 feature length, career-spanning doc on Burton… an audio interview with director Lumet, conducted by Derek Malcolm and recorded at the NFT…. another audio interview with Peter Firth… Richard Rodney Bennett’s score as an optional isolated track, should you require it… a PIF from (1951) on the importance of the horse to the British way of life and another, made at the beginning of WWII, on the central role played by Faith in that national life, incorporating a timely reflection on the assimilation of Jewish people into British society, in stark contrast to what was going on elsewhere at the time. There’s also an audio commentary from Julie Kirgo and her late husband Nick Redman, which suggests stuff about their interpersonal dynamics that might have made it an interesting listen for Doctor Dysart. Suffice to say, her comments about the Greek hero Ajax fly resolutely over his head. Richard Foster’s black and white short short The Watchers (produced by the BFI in 1969) completes the on-disc extras, earning its place here via its depiction of a mentally unstable schoolgirl achieving her own ecstatic transfiguration on the moors around Todmorden. A fully illustrated collectors’ booklet is limited to the first pressing of this edition.

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Like Hamlet, Dysart reasons that life is not worth living but his working out, so eloquently expressed, strongly suggests to us that it is… as neat a demonstration of Aristotelian catharsis as any pagan, plastic or otherwise, could wish for.

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“Mr Foot Knows All About Eating Human Flesh”… THE BEAST MUST DIE, Buffed Up Into A Spanky New Severin BD.

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BD. Severin. Region Free. Unrated.

Those Severin guys don’t muck about or go in for half measures. Having already released a pretty good looking BD of Paul Annett’s The Beast Must Die (1974) as part of their totally cool Amicus box set, as soon as they got wind of a better looking alternative they acquired the rites and have now released it in a stonking stand alone edition. Severin’s previous rendering was an amalgam of (censored for TV broadcast) HD telecine with inserted scans from an uncut 16mm print. This one is based on a 35mm pre-print element, recently discovered in France and newly scanned / restored to pristine condition by Studio Canal. Needless to say, Annett’s country mansion whodunnit / hi tech blacksploitation survivalist werewolf hunting epic now looks like the proverbial mutt’s nuts.

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(My money was on Paul Foot but WTF do I know?)

Concluding their legendary run of Horror pictures (only Hammer outdid them in UK terms), Amicus came up with a grab bag of exploitable elements and as if that wasn’t enough, topped them off with a ludicrous gimmick (the truly hysterical “Werewolf Break”) blatantly filched from William Castle’s Homicidal (1961). Improbably, the result is a pants-pissingly entertaining concoction that still stands up 46 years after the event.

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A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse…

Calvin Lockhart stars as thrusting industrialist Tom Newcliffe (equal parts Shaft, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Count Zaroff) who’s invited a few guests around to his impressive pile for an ostensibly civilised weekend in the country. Unfortunately the croquet and canapés are regularly interrupted by bouts of hunt the loup garou. Tom has always wanted to top off his collection of hunting trophies with one of those and as all of his guests have been, er, dogged by rumours of lycanthropy, ONE of them MUST be a werewolf, right? (Makes no sense whatsoever but let him have his fun).

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As he waits for the full moon to bring out the hairs on the guilty party’s knuckles, we are invited to ponder the lupine credentials of those assembled, prior to taking our punt, come that Werewolf Break, ushered in by the sepulchral tones of Valentine Dyall. There’s Supertramp refugee and one shot cannibal (“You have been doing your research!”) Paul Foot (Tom Chadbon)… boring Jan (Michael Gambon)… patrician Bennington (Charles Gray)… sexy posh bird Davina (Ciara Madden)… and even Tom’s own missus, Caroline (Marlene Clark). It’s a strong cast, keeping its collective face admirably straight amid all this unfolding piffle, which werewolf researcher Dr Christopher Lundgren (Peter Cushing) compounds with a few fascinating new wrinkles on lycanthropic lore (bet you never knew that silver will only kill one of these beasties when there’s Wolfbane pollen in the air, huh?)… not forgetting Anton Diffring as Newcliffe’s surveillance supremo.

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If you can’t extract a riotous evening of viewing pleasure from the contents of this disc, you’re probably reading the wrong Blog. Among the bonus features, some of which will be familar from that earlier Amicus box and other releases, you’ll find the late Paul Annett’s amusing audio commentary, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott; archival interview with Annett; audio essay by Troy Howarth concerning the history of cinematic variations on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None; audio reminiscences of The Beast Must Die from Amicus’s Milton Subotsky (interviewed by Phil Nutman) and Max J Rosenberg (in conversation with Jonathan Sothcott); and if you aren’t sufficiently excited by the Original Theatrical Trailer, you get the option to run it again with a (necessarily short) commentary from Kim Newman & David Flint.

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Stay on the moors, dear readers and beware the moon…

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Widow’s Weeds… THE WOMAN IN BLACK Reviewed

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BD. Region B. Network. 15 (available exclusively from Network’s website).

It’s misleadingly easy to think of Network as a label that just collects old ITC / Gerry Anderson / whatever TV series into (rather nifty) box sets but there’s more to it than that. Elsewhere on this blog I’ve raved about the restoration job these guys did on Sidney Hayers’ British giallo Assault (1971) and now they’ve worked similar wonders on the 1989 TV movie rendering of Susan Hill’s retrogothic novel The Woman In Black. Adapted to the small screen by the legendary Nigel Kneale and directed by Herbert (I Claudius) Wise, it’s long been overdue a decent disc release (let alone as beautiful looking an HD debut as this).

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TWIB comes as a bittersweet reminder of what regional ITV companies were capable of before they got rolled up into a nationwide monolith and submerged under a sea of Reality TV / talent show / soap operatic horse shit. Yes, as late as Christmas Eve, 1989, Central were aspiring to (and attaining) the same high standards as the BBC’s ongoing seasonal presentations of M R James, Sheridan Le Fanu, et al. How heartbreaking it is to see the Beeb now priding itself on delivering platform loads of Millennial-focused drivel that matches any LCD inanity that ITV can come up with…

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Up-and-coming London solicitor / loving family man Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) is dispatched by his employers to the coastal backwater of Crythin Gifford so he can sort out the estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow… at least he didn’t have to go to Transylvania (though, as it happens, he might as well have). He’s welcomed by the agricultural estate agent Sam Toovey (Bernard Hepton) but the other locals can’t conceal their Michael Ripper-grade uneasiness at any mention of the late Mrs Drablow. Unsettling details accumulate and congeal into a mounting sense of dread… why are so many of the tombstones in the local cemetery those of infants? And just who is the grey-skinned, black garbed woman (Pauline Moran) who Kidd keeps catching glimpses of at Mrs D’s funeral and thereafter? He comes closer to the truth than is comfortable after a night spent at the old woman’s house, on an island only reachable from the mainland when tides allow. But even when he flees back to London, Arthur has not seen the last of The Woman In Black…

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Throughout, TWIB is ravishingly shot (Michael Davis’s cinematography done full justice in this restoration), brilliantly cast, beautifuly played, cannily paced and insistently atmospheric. Period recreation is immaculate and the film’s sound design nothing short of heroic, setting up and underscoring (in concert with Rachel Portman’s marvellous score) a series of increasingly effective jump scares.

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Disregard the (what currently passes for) Hammer remake and unwanted sequel, pull on your brownest pair of trousers and make yourself uncomfortable. Grab yourself an egg nog and settle down to “enjoy” a festive ending so downbeat, you’ll be checking the contents of your stocking with extreme trepidation, come this Christmas.

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This beautifully packaged set (which comes with a collectors’ booklet put together by Andrew Pixley) offers you the options of widescreen or original broadcast dimensions and an audio track by Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss and Andy Nyman, who has a small role in the film (below, left). Each doughty commentators in their own right, their group session does rather verge, it has to be said, on the self-indulgent. And while we’re indulging ourselves…

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If you blinked, you might well have missed Alison King as “Gypsy Woman” so here’s an opportunity to take a more leisurely look at the future Coronation Street temptress. It’s possibly the distortions occasioned by that conspicuous rip in the space / time continuum here in the bowels of Oak Mansion that license us to devote a significant portion of this posting to somebody who only appears subliminally in the film under review. Or maybe ol’ Bob’s just an incorrigible letch. You must be the judge…

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Let Sleeping Corpses Lie… Antonioni’s STORY OF A LOVE AFFAIR Reviewed.

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BD. Region Free. CultFilms. PG

Enrico Fontana (Ferdinando Sarmi) is a Milanese industrial magnate, doing very well for himself, but his wife Paola (Lucia Bosè), whom he married after a whirlwind romance in 1943, remains a beautiful, remote mystery to him. Intrigued by the discovery of photos she’s kept from her apparently carefree youth in Ferrara, he enlists private detective Carloni (Gino Rossi) to fill in some of the gaps from her biography.

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The problem is, there’s an obscure incident that occurred just before Paola met Enrico, which she would very much like to remain that way… as would her former lover Guido (Massimo Girotti). Obliged to reconnect in an attempt to thwart Carloni’s investigations, they rekindle their earlier passion. Somebody who previously came between them has already died in unexplained circumstances… will boring Enrico go the same way?

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Those “post car sex” blues will get you every time…

Neorealism served Italian Cinema and society very well in the immediate post War period (expiating guilt for both the excesses of Fascism and the ridiculous, Mussolini approved  “White Telephone” films) but the writing was on the tenement wall after the 1950 feature debuts of two diverse talents. Federico Fellini clocked in with Lights Of Variety (Luci Del Varietà) and Michelangelo Antonioni, after making documentaries, writing film criticism and teaching at Centro Cinematografia Sperimentale (where one of his “livelier” students was a certain Lucio Fulci) directed Chronicle Of A Love Affair (Cronaca Di Un Amore).

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As well as being an eminently watchable and artful thriller (proto giallo, anyone?), the latter is a crucially transitional film, as can be best understood by contrasting its approach with that of Visconti’s similarly Noirish 1943 effort Ossessione (above), both of course owing much to James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice and both starring Girotti. Yes, Antonioni honoured the NR tradition of casting non-actors… Bosè’s career trajectory (from soda jerk to beauty queen, Antonioni’s lover and – at Visconti’s insistence – the star of this film) was almost as unconventional as that of the character she plays (and plays very well, her apprehension of looming Nemesis almost palpable). Ditto coutourier and one shot thespian Ferdinando Sarmi, who also provides the film’s set decoration and sumptuous costume design, at a time when Milan was just starting to challenge Paris in the High Fashion stakes.

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While Visconti, though, got down with the dispossessed (in a way Antonioni would still be echoing  three years later in his short doc People Of The Po Valley), Story Of A Love Affair flips the Neorealist coin by portraying the lives of the well to do, but in a far less flattering light than that afforded them in any amount of Telefono Bianco drivel.

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Antonioni and his co-writers based Story Of A Love Affair on the notorious Countess Bellentani case (principals pictured above) of 1948, just as the similarly scandalous Fenaroli case, ten years later, influenced the plotting of several gialli out of the Martino stable and their imitators, from Romolo Guerrieri’s Sweet Body Of Deborah (1968), the films Umberto Lenzi subsequently made starring Carroll Baker and Sergio Martino’s Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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All of those were in a determinedly populist tradition (and nothing wrong with that, it was precisely such box office hits that underwrote production of the supposedly “worthier” stuff) but in beginning to shrug off the proletarian prescriptions of classic Neorealism, Antonioni was taking the first step in a personal cinematic journey of a thousand miles that would turn him into the Quintessential “Arthouse Director”, the Silver Screen’s most potent purveyor of existential alienation.

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Alienation’s a very old word… it’s been around since Richard III.

This release, an international Blu-Ray debut, is based on a 2k restoration from 15 years ago (Story Of A Love Affair was one of the first films to undergo such treatment, under the supervision of Giuseppe Rotunno, no less) and does full justice to the magisterial monochrome photograpy of Enzo Serafin and Aldo Scavara’s camera operation through some long, fluid takes. Special mention too for Giovanni Fusco’s disquieting score, with its strangulated woodwind.

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Extras include assorted scholarly appraisals of the film’s status, the reminiscences of co-writer / assistant director Francesco Maselli (the sheer chutzpah by which Marco Ferreri kickstarted and nursemaided the production emerging as a consistent theme) and a featurette on the restoration process. Most engaging of all is a visual record of the restoration’s Premiere screening with the director and Bosè, plus guest attendees including the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore, ’60s / ’70s sex symbol Zeudi Araya (now a producer, still looking mind bogglingly fine) and Dario Argento. Argento hails Antonioni as the guv’nor (“the greatest Italian director”) and while it isn’t too hard to spot the influence on his Deep Red (1975) of 1966’s Blow Up (another Antonioni picture in which a forensic investigation ultimately obfuscates more than it illuminates), first time viewers of SOALA might acquire a new perspective on the conclusion to Argento’s own masterpiece, in which the hero watches somebody die in a lift mechanism. Sins of omission, of course, are one small step away from acquiescence … from sins of collaboration… and as in much of the finest Cinema that Italy produced in the second half of the Twentieth Century (from Pasolini, overtly, to more oblique offerings such as Pupi Avati’s The House With Laughing Windows), Story Of A Love Affair touches on that touchiest of questions for a whole Italian generation: “What did you do in the War?”

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The most moving image on this set is that of Antonioni at the aforementioned Premiere, feted by his peers but immobile and unresponsive, locked in by the stroke which blighted the last quarter Century or so of his life, simultaneously sad and appropriate for (a good line, they say, is worth repeating) the Silver Screen’s most potent purveyor of existential alienation.

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“The Whole World Will Admire Us!” Kung Fu From The Closet In Paul Grau’s Amazing MAD FOXES.

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“Mad Foxes” aka Los Violadores (Spain / Switzerland, 1981). Directed by “Paul Gray” (Paul Grau).

“Shut up, you shitty skunk or I’ll tear your tongue out!”

The roll of dishonour which constituted the “Section 3 video nasties” (i.e. liable for confiscation but not prosecution) was every bit as randomly thrown together as the list that the DPP compiled of their fully fledged “nasty” cousins, a real grab bag of the cinematic good, bad and what the actual fuck?!? Prominent among the latter was Paul Gray / Grau’s Mad Foxes. Although VCL’s VHS edition was significantly cut (notably missing a Nazi biker choking on his own severed genitals and another enjoying a bowel movement until somebody throws a hand grenade down the pan), in the UK the early ’80 were the best of times, the worst of times to release a tape with the legend: ” Warning: This is an extremely violent film which could seriously disturb you” emblazoned across its pack.

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Rewinding 50 years, does anybody (apart from Darrell Buxton, obviously) remember the Laurel & Hardy shorts Them Thar Hills and (its sequel) Tit For Tat? Those are the ones in which Stan & Olly take turns with Charlie Hall to perpetrate ever more surreal and outrageous acts of violence upon each other. Nobody tries to de-escalate the situation or even evade their turn on the receiving end, content that they’ll soon be able to retaliate with a real doozy. It’s like watching public information films explaining the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. I consider it not entirely impossible (though admittedly unlikely) that Gray / Grau regarded Mad Foxes as an unofficial entry in the same series. If he did, no doubt he directed it under the working title Shit For Tat.

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The action kicks off with Hal Walters (“Robert O’Neal” = José Gras) out cruising in his Corvette Stingray with his best girl Babsy (“Sally Sullivan” = Andrea Albani) by his side, until they get into a little traffic light altercation with the lamest motorcycle gang since Homer Simpson formed a chapter of Hell’s Satans. Seriously, these guys ride around on trials bikes (the budget obviously wouldn’t stretch to Harleys) and one of them actually sits in his mate’s sidecar! Nor can they seemingly conclude a run without at least one of them falling off their vehicles. Plastered as they with swastikas, these guys’ political leanings are no big secret and their sexual orientation is scarcely less easy to discern… lots of lumbering around naked, with taut buttocks clenching and soft knobs dangling. If it’s any consolation for this flaccid disappointment, Hans R. Walthard (who produced Mad Foxes with Eurotrash legend Erwin C. Dietrich) is anglicised into “Woodhard” on that video sleeve. I guess there could be a hard core edit of Mad Foxes somewhere but if it exists, I really don’t want to see it.

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Word up, gay Nazi dude!

Hal runs one of these bully boys off the road, with fatal consequences. Obviously not wanting to let this disagreeable interlude ruin the romantic evening they had in prospect, Hal and Babsy adjourn to a swinging hot spot, where a jitterbugging competition is in full, anachronistic flow. Do these guys know how to party or what? Unfortunately, as they leave, the waiting bikers beat up on Hal and rape Babsy.

Hal rings his mate Linus at a martial arts club, the ambience of which seem scarcely more heterosexual than that prevailing in the motorcycle gang, its bare chested members (including the mandatory Bruce Lee lookalike) going through their sweaty paces in a broom cupboard sized gym. Good job this joint was closed (under the alarming circumstances described below) before social distancing became de rigeur. “Babsy was raped the other day and I went you to do me a little favour”, Hal tells Linus. “We’ve gotta give those pigs a good whipping…” agrees the latter: “You know our methods!”

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The bikers are cremating their pal Jimmy, with attendant manly drinking games, at a local amphitheatre (where else?) when Linus and co turn up. “Let’s teach these skunks a good lesson” he implores his students, but what ensues is one of the limpest dust ups in action cinema history. Nobody’s winning any Oscars for the fight choreography here. “Stunts” are attributed to one Ronnie Lee, though Mad Foxes seems to be his first and final film credit. Things climax  in memorable style though, with the Nazi biker honcho’s aforementioned castration and enforced genital auto-ingestion, a move straight out of the sho’nuff Shaolin handbook.

With Babsy avenged and apparently recovering in hospital, Hal is soon off shagging somebody else and the matter seems successfully concluded… but violence begats violence and the remaining bikers (announced by the disco music that heralds their every appearance) visit the kung fu clubhouse to establish conclusively that martial arts, of whatever sexual persuasion, are no match for machine guns and hand grenades.

Having gotten the gay kung fu dudes into another fine mess, Hal decides he’d better take a cooler and heads off to his parents’ country pile in the Stingray. En route he picks up promiscuous hitch hiker Lily and invites her to stay with him and the folks for the weekend, advising her that mom “fell from a horse and now she’s paralytic”. Dad’s a bit of a stock market whizz and “they never lock their doors”, which is convenient for the bikers when they, inevitably, arrive. Needless to say, before they do, Hal fits in another bonking session. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this moment” he tells Lily, a weird thing to say to a hitch hiker he only met a few hours ago, but we’ll let it pass. Plenty stranger things than that happen in this film…

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… and continue to do so as the bikers kill the gardener with his own shears, unconvincingly disembowel the hilariously badly dubbed (in broad cockney) maid and shoot everybody else up. “We’re the kings of the universe… the whole world will admire us!” is their verdict on their bloody handiwork. Well, perhaps not, though the scene in which Hal’s crippled mother gets blown out of her wheelchair is undeniably, unforgivably funny. Returning to discover this scene of carnage, Hal is understandably keen to find where the bikers are hiding out. Luckily he gets into a casual conversation with a bloke from the local garage, who can tell him precisely that. But is he sure they’re talking about the same guys? “Yeah, they have helmets and dirty hair”. Hal’s revenge includes hand grenade enemas and a session with a Nazi dominatrix before that dickless wonder from the amphitheatre atrocity pops up again for a truly explosive finale.

It took four people (Grau, Walthard, Melvin Quiñones and Jaime Jesús Balcázar) to write this thing, which is surprising enough. What’s really surprising, though, is that not one of them appear to have compared notes with the other three  on what, exactly, they were writing. Mad Foxes is so relentlessly random, it’s kind of the trash film equivalent to Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, the lyrics of which comprise elusive allusions to songs that The Zim envisaged he would never live to complete in the wake of the Cuba missile crisis. What was Paul Grau envisaging when he directed Mad Foxes? If it was a long and illustrious directing career, he will have been disappointed. He did manage one more directing credit two years later, with a more typical outing from the Erwin Dietrich stable, a film whose title translates (loosely) as Six Sexy Swedish Girls Up A Mountain and which sounds as self-consciously straight as Mad Foxes is coyly gay. Those sexy Swedish girls might well have been up a mountain, but the film under review here will always remain Paul Grau’s career pinnacle (and no, I’ve got no idea whether he was related to the late Manchester Morgue mainman Jorge Grau or not).

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Desperate DANIELA! The Indestructible Ms DORIA Remembers Her Time As Fulci’s Favourite Victim…

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The first time she set foot in the House Of Freudstein (during the prelude to that gothic meisterwerk The House By The Cemetery, 1981) Daniela Doria had a knife rammed through the back of her skull by the demented zombie doctor residing in the cellar… way to spoil a furtive bit of hanky panky there, Doc! If you’re reading this blog, you probably won’t need me to enumerate the unspeakably grisly demises that this beautiful and charming actress has suffered at the hideous hands of lucio fulci. To mark her birthday, we’re posting these selected highlights from an interview conducted in 2018. Thanks for the murderous memories, Daniela!

Daniela, when did you realise the extent of the ongoing cult following for these films that you made all those years ago? Did it come as a surprise to you?

Yes, it was a great and wonderful surprise for me to find out how many admirers and followers they have, especially Fulci’s films. When I was appearing in them I knew I was working with a great teacher and a great professional but I didn’t realise that this genre had so many fans. I’m really happy that his films have been seen by so many people, people all over the world.

How did your working relationship with Fulci begin?

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My first film for Lucio Fulci was City Of The Living Dead (1980). When I attended the audition I was very tense and nervous because I’d been told that although Fulci was a top director, he did not have a good character. The moment I met him he put my mind at ease and after a few days he let me know that he had chosen me. After our first collaboration, he would call me for every film he was starting and ask: “Are you ready to die again? I’ve got a new way of killing you that you’ll like…” He was a very witty and intelligent person with a great sense of irony.

Fulci arouses strong reactions in people. It’s said that he would get very mean and angry on set. He is often accused of misogyny. What was your experience of working with him over four films?

If a person made a bad impression on him, that was it, he would always be unpleasant with them. He never hid his dislike of people. If he did have a misogynistic streak, it would have been because of love affairs that had ended badly, but he never showed this side to me. I admired him very much, we got on very well and I looked forward to breaks in the shooting when we would talk and he’d relate many anecdotes to me. With me he was always very sweet and gentle, but he was a perfectionist and when things were going wrong on the set, he would get angry and start screaming.

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Were you aware of the tension on The Black Cat between Fulci and Patrick Magee?

There was no good relationship between Patrick Magee and Fulci. Right from the start, Magee wanted to do his own thing and struggled to follow Fulci’s instructions. So Lucio treated him very badly, especially since all the hours we spent in make up meant that we could not afford too many retakes.

You’ve spent a lot of time being made up by Fulci’s FX men, notably the De Rossis…

Giannetto De Rossi was an artist and a fantastic person! He was a reassuring presence during the strongest scenes and when I had anxieties about the effects. Wearing all that plaster on your face to make a mask is not the most comfortable experience.

As with his make-up men, Fulci kept calling on such key, behind-the-camera collaborators as Sergio Salvati, Massimo Antonello Geleng and Massimo Lentini…

Fulci had an incredible love and esteem for all of these people. Between them there was a very strong harmony and mutual trust. They would communicate things to each other with a glance and Fulci was always very satisfied with their contributions. I don’t recall him criticising anything they did, they were present in all of his films and like a second family for him…. collaborators and great friends. I remember the cinematographer Sergio Salvati with great affection, he was very sweet and kind to me, during breaks in shooting he would always give me advice on how to look my best for the camera.

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Let’s discuss some of these famous death scenes… in City Of The Living Dead you’ve got this fake blood getting in your eyes and notoriously, you had to stuff your mouth with animal offal and spit it out…

The special effects in Fulci’s films were great and became their strongest selling point. For the blood that comes out of my eyes in City Of The Living Dead, I had two little tubes at the corners of my eyes, connected to a pump. Somebody on the back seat of the jeep operated a pump to blow the blood out. Those pipes were merely irritating but having all that raw offal in my mouth was absolutely disgusting. If I think too hard about it, I feel like vomiting!

Just before that you were making out with Michele Soavi, who also came to a sticky end. Where you surprised when he went on to become a respected director in his own right?

It was a very pleasant surprise to find out that this shy blond boy had become a famous director. I must say that, apart from our passionate kiss, I did not share much with Michele because on Fulci’s set you were not allowed to chat… absolute silence reigned.

Did you become friends with or register any lasting impression of any of your co-stars in the Fulci films?

The one who struck me most was Giovanni Lombardo Radice… for his acting, for the strong scenes he had to make, for his strong personality… I’ve always remembered this and held him in high esteem. Unfortunately, when I returned to Milan I lost contact with everybody, I did not maintain any friendships in the film world.

Giovanni was your male equivalent in these films, always suffering some horrible death. In The Black Cat you suffocate and are eaten by rats. It looks as though a lot of effects were applied to your “corpse”… or was that a mannequin?

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No, there was no dummy to replace me. After my “death” I was subjected to hours and hours of make up to get that result. It was the same when we were turned into zombies for City Of The Living Dead… hours and hours to create face moulds, in plaster, which we had to wear.

It’s obvious from watching The Black Cat that you actually went on location to the UK rather than shooting everything on some Roman sound stage…

We did go to England and we were there for a long time. On a day when there was a break in my shooting schedule, I went to a breeding farm in London to buy an Airedale Terrier puppy. When Lucio saw it he fell in love with him and sent me out to buy one for him too, so I took my puppy’s sister. I called mine Trevor and Fulci called his Violetta. I kept the two of them together in my room, in breach of the hotel’s rules. They were pests and within a very short time, had destroyed the room. Then I returned to Italy with them and when Fulci had finished filming, he came to my house to take Violetta. It was very painful for me, difficult to give her up because I had grown so fond of her.

Your scenes in the other Fulci films were a mixture of location and sound stage work…

Yes, we shot some scenes in Roman studios but there were also location visits to get the exteriors. When we went to Savannah, Georgia to do City Of The Living Dead we shot for several days in a cemetery. At first it was quite unsettling to be there in the middle of all these graves but after a few days we hardly noticed and would sit among them during the break, eating our lunches.

You’re disposed of quite quickly at the beginning of The House By The Cemetery… any memories of that one?

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The house where we shot that scene was really eerie and I remember being nervous in there, also that it was very difficult to set up that knife going into the back of my head.

Fulci reserved your most horrible, drawn out death for The New York Ripper… obviously the mutilation is all done via prosthetics but again it looks like you’re getting stage blood in your eye…

My death in that one was very strong and had a big impact. When my mother went to the cinema to see the film, she kept her eyes closed throughout that bit. For me there was just the discomfort of laying still while all these effects were applied to me.

I know that Jack Hedley subsequently disowned the picture… how did you get on with him?

It was a little embarrassing to find myself in bed, half naked with a stranger. I didn’t speak English so it was impossible to make much of a connection with Jack.

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Were you aware of the censorship problems that Fulci’s films suffered, especially in the UK?

Fulci was one of the most controversial and most censored filmmakers, but he didn’t worry about things like that… on the contrary, he was always trying to come up with new and more gruesome things.

How do you feel now about violent movies? I don’t know if you have kids but if you do, would you let them watch such films?

If I had children and they liked watching horror films, I would let them do it, absolutely. I have two beautiful sisters whom I love dearly and they will only watch horror and the more bloody and shocking it is, the happier they are. Such films have too much of an effect on me, though. I close my eyes through the bits I don’t like so it seems pointless to be watching the film at all…

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Have your sisters watched your performances in this genre? What did they think?

They adore Fulci. They don’t like to see my characters beings badly tortured, but they are very proud that I worked for such an extraordinary master. When Fulci started making Manhattan Baby he called me, as always, but on that occasion I had to say no, unfortunately. I had finished with the film world for personal reasons. It was a short adventure but a great one!

Daniela, please tell us something about how you are living now and what you get up to these days…

I’ve been working in a dental practice for a few years now, I enjoy it and get on well with my colleagues. The office is located in the most fashionable street of Milan so I’m always looking in the gorgeous windows of the top designers and I often run into actors and people from the entertainment world.

Do people ever stop you in the street and ask: “Hey, aren’t you the girl from…?”

Sometimes they ask me if I’m an actress because they saw me in some movies, but they can never remember which ones! These days I am known as Daniela Cormio. My husband and I share a passion for motorcycles which we indulge as often as we can. Every year we travel around Europe for the whole month of August it’s fantastic! I love reading, especially thrillers and I love watching TV series, for example Gomorrah on Netflix but sorry, like I said before, I cannot watch horror films!

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