Monthly Archives: January 2016

Deeply Double Dippy… PROFONDO ROSSO Reviewed

Deep Rehab

They tried to make her go to Rehab, she said No! No! No!

Region B Blu-ray / CD. Arrow. 18

Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso (“Deep Red”, 1975) is generally regarded as the greatest “giallo” ever made, the film that took the Italian Whodunnit genre to its toppermost peak of perfection. I’m sure there are giallo buffs out there who would dissent from this consensus and offer their own candidates for the crown: miscellaneous efforts from Bava (who, after all, founded the genre), Fulci and Martino all have their champions, and rightly so; Paolo Cavara’s Black Belly Of The Tarantula (1971), to cite just one title off the top of my head, is as compelling a thriller as you’ll see anywhere; and I recall that Mark Ashworth was always particularly taken with Giuliano Carnimeo’s Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer (1972.) You can’t legislate for personal taste… and why would you want to? Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Deep Red is indeed the greatest giallo ever made (because it probably is.)

What’s more interesting at this remove is the whole question of getting fans to dip into their pockets a second, third or umpteenth time for the same canonical title. If you’ve lived and been following the genre long enough, you’ve probably owned Deep Red successively on bootleg tapes, various progressively more complete official VHS releases and DVDs… I’ve still got the Japanese laser disc, though my LD Player went on eBay years ago. Arrow had a crack at Deep Red on Blu-ray in the early days of the format, though the results were discouraging. Since they turned things around with James White’s masterly rendering of Zombie Flesh Eaters, Arrow have been serious players in the BD arena. But what you’ll be wanting to know is, is it worth your while forking out for their 4K Deep Red? Don’t be so forking impatient, I’m getting there…

dario directs decapitationDeepRed1975_95.jpg

Their new limited edition box set (which I’m glad I pre-ordered at a reasonable price, given the rate at which it sold out) comprises two BD discs, one each for the 127 minute director’s cut and hour-and-three-quarterish export version (each a brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative) and a CD of The Goblins’ celebrated score, claimed here as “complete” though its 28 tracks come up short of the 34 contained on the Profondo Rosso disc of the recent Bella Casa Goblins box set, The Awakening. The longer version of the film comes with an optional short introduction from Goblin-in-chief Claudio Simonetti, plus a choice of  Italian 5.1 soundtrack with subtitles or English mono (a bit of a no-brainer if you’ve invested in a surround sound set up.) The disc of the director’s cut also comes with a raft of bonus material, most of which you might well have heard (Thomas Rostock’s commentary track from AWE’s DVD release) or seen before, including a quartet of tasty High Rising featurettes:  Rosso Recollections: Argento’s Deep Genius; Music To Murder For: Claudio Simonetti On Deep Red; Profondo Rosso: From Celluloid To Shop (Naomi Holwill directs as Lugi Cozzi gives us a tour of the shop in Rome); and The Lady In Red: Daria Nicolodi Remembers Deep Red.

D&D

There’s one brand new featurette, Profondo Giallo, a visual essay, no less in which Michael Mackenzie talks over a bunch of clips and illustrative material, expanding on the familiar themes of sexual politics (as played out between Nicolodi and David Hemmings, the decimation of which in the export version make for an inferior viewing experience,  despite the fondness with which I recall my  introduction to the film via its Techno Film / Fletcher Video release) and supposed style over substance. It’s not a bad little visual essay, as these things go and if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend half of it thinking “Yes, that’s a good point” and half of it shouting “No, you’re talking bollocks, mate!” at the screen. If you ARE me, you’ll also be brooding about the fact that I compared the violent set pieces in Argento’s films to the production numbers in Hollywood musicals long before any of the people he cites as doing so. Still, it’s not worth going on a hatchet rampage over academic priorities…

What else do you get? A reversible sleeve including original US artwork and a new, rather nifty montage from Gilles Vranckx (which also fronts the box very handsomely), six post card-sized lobby card and fotobusta reproductions, a double sided fold out reproduction of American and Italian posters and a booklet featuring Alan Jones stuff that you’ll already be familiar with and a new piece from Mikel J. Koven (author of the very readable La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema And The Italian Giallo Film) plus the expected illustrations and restoration notes.DR4K

A pretty enough package but, given the familiarity of much of its bonus material, the desirability of this set boils down to its visual and aural elements… and they are pretty stunning. Grain is contained without DNR assaulting the eye and rather than the intensely… er, deep reds you might have been expecting, this restoration finally reveals, in all its subtlety, DP Luigi Kuveiller’s suffusion of pinks, purples and mauves… check out the scenes in which Hemmings explores and excavates The House Of The Screaming Child. There’s nothing much going on (the pacing of these sequences remaining the only obvious blot on the escutcheon of this “perfect giallo”) but it’s going on in a beautiful phantasmagoria of Art Nouveau design, before Argento threw himself into the full-on Art Deco insanity of Suspiria… and in anticipation of that, outbreaks of glorious Goblin prog in 5.1 ensure that the aural treats consistently match the feast being laid out before your eyes.

If you acquired one of these before the prices started getting silly, nice work. If not you probably won’t have to wait too long for a single disc Arrow edition of the director’s cut with the High Rising and Michael Mackenzie extras.

I wonder what they’ll come up with in a few years to make me want to buy it all over again…

DR Behind Scenes

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Tube Trains Of The Gods… QUATERMASS AND THE PIT reviewed

Quadermass

Blu-ray Region B – DVD R2 combo. Optimum / Studio Canal. 12.

Seeking to redistribute some of its eggs from the bulging Gothic basket and with one eye on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, lumbering towards completion at Shepperton, in 1967 Hammer revived the Quatermass franchise with which they had made their initial incursions into the Cinema of the Fantastique. Ten years after Quatermass II, Roy Ward Baker (here credited by that name for the first time) had supplanted Val Guest as director and Andrew Keir now provided a far more subtle and nuanced Professor Bernard Quatermass than his predecessor Brian Donlevy could ever have managed. Nigel Kneale was still scripting and came up with a doozy here.

Renovations at Hobbs End tube station lead to the disinterment of several humanoid skeletons and a crashed Martian spacecraft, which stiff upper lip military man Julian Glover and his political backers insist is a Nazi black propaganda hoax left over from WWII, despite outbreaks of telekinesis and seriously altered states of consciousness among those working the site. While the Establishment blusters and stonewalls, Quatermass and fellow boffins Dr Ronay (James Donald) and Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley) research the history of Hobbs End, a shunned area since time immemorial on account of various spooky goings on. By dint of some ahead-of-its-time brain imaging gizmo, they manage to work out that insectoid Martians had been carrying out genetic experiments on proto-humans, in a failed attempt to colonise the Earth before their home planet became uninhabitable. Or did they fail? As work on the site continues, that spaceship puts on a psychedelic light show that mesmerises then melts bystanders, the laws of gravity are suspended, Martian race memories provoke a pogrom of locals whose genomes depart from those approved on The Red Planet and, as London crumbles, a huge alien insect head (or is it that of Old Nick himself?) materialises over its burning skyline. Yep, it’s going to be one of those days…

Q 7 THE PIT climaxQ 7 THE PIT Titles again

Q&TP plays Xtro to 2001’s E.T., harshing the mellow of the late ’60s trip with a suggestion that there’s a downside to transcendence and transformation and that those Chariots Of The Gods might just be taking us somewhere that we really don’t wanna go. Quatermass himself has evolved from his Donlevy incarnation, for whom every bit of hideous galactic blowback was to be answered with another reckless spasm of hubristic scientific probing. Keir’s Prof grasps the need for humanity to proceed through the cosmos with caution and humility but the fools who run the military-industrial complex will always rush in, regardless.

Baker manages to render the apocalypse as a curiously claustrophobic albeit undeniably effective chamber piece (rendering even more eerie and unsettling the one occasion that a character – the drill technician – escapes the tube station set, tripping his possessed brains out in a church graveyard.) Consider how much more money must have been spent on Lifeforce (1985) in an obvious but obviously failed attempt to emulate Q&TP. Indeed, in certain unkind quarters (principally The House Of Freudstein), Tobe Hooper’s Cannon fodder folly is customarily referred to as “Quatermass And The Shit”! Even Ridely Scott’s Prometheus (2012), which I actually love (yep, I’m the person who enjoyed Prometheus) cost astronomically more to generate a similar level of cosmic awe to what Kneale and Baker achieved here on minimal resources.

Quatermass and the Pit Book

As a teenage misfit growing up in a Liverpool very different from the welcoming, folksy idyll depicted in Gerry Marsden’s Ferry Across The Mersey, I always afforded a special place of prominence, among the genre films in which I sought solace, to Quatermass And The Pit. Its scenes of rough community justice being meted out to those who didn’t quite fit in seemed more like excerpts from a kitchen sink documentary about council estate life than depictions of exotic interplanetary conflict.

The Blu-ray mastering here is faultless, both in terms of visuals and the film’s stereo soundtrack. I’m sure the DVD disc will be similarly impressive when / if I eventually get round to checking it out. Pity about the random pack shot, which image I believe was originally deployed in conjunction with the film’s US release, under the similarly non-sequitur title Five Million Miles To Earth. Special Features include all-knew interviews with Judith Kerr, Julian Glover, Joe Dante, Kim Newman, Marcus Hearn and Mark Gatiss (whose portrayal of Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock seems to be not exactly uninfluenced by Glover’s performance herein.) Arguably all these bits of footage would have served the disc better if edited into some sort of documentary supporting featurette. Whatever, the participants are unanimous in their praise of Q&TP, if also in their identification of its achilles heel, the lamely rendered flashback to Martian insect genocide.

Quatermass Hive

Kneale and Baker pass over that scene silently in their audio commentary (which seems to date from some time in the mid-’90s) and indeed, there seems to be nearly as much dead air as commentary in this particular bonus, an object demonstration of a whole that is considerably less than the sum of its considerable parts, considering the wealth of schlock scientific profundity / millenarianist mysticism that the commentators once cooked up between them…

… for, make no mistake, Quatermass And The Pit deals in timeless human concerns and dilemmas. Witness the following classic and astonishingly prescient exchange between the Prof and his colleague:

Quatermass: “If we found that Earth was doomed… say by climate change… what would we do about it?”
Dr Ronay: “Nothing… just go on squabbling, as usual!”

Hmmmm…

%22Alien Apocalypse, you say? Armageddon outta here!%22 Barbara had a little bike...

“Alien Apocalypse? Armageddon outta here!” Barbara Shelley declines her invitation to join the insect nation…

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Frizzi 2, Fulci Nulla… FRIZZI 2 FULCI – LIVE AT UNION CHAPEL reviewed

Frizzi-Fulci

“No Dicky, I’ve never seen that skyscraper before, either…”

CD. Beat. CDX 1008.

Halloween night, 2013 and Islington’s atmospheric Union Chapel proved the perfect time and place for Fabio Frizzi to kick off the UK leg of his ongoing Frizzi 2 Fulci tour, in which the maestro conducted the F2F band and Alauda Quartet through his sublime sonic accompaniments to the dark cinematic world of Lucio Fulci. This stuff rules on record but can Frizzi kick ass with it in a concert hall context? You bet your kicked ass he can! The maestro eases his thousand seat sold-out audience in gently with a short suite of his contributions to a couple of Fulci’s Westerns, the sentimental Silver Saddle and significantly tougher Four Of The Apocalypse (Chaco’s theme, with Classical Gas chord sequence overlaid by whooping Emersonian moog.) Frizzi himself croons through these to pleasing effect… he’s no Jose Carreras but, at least in vocal terms, he’s no Burt Bacharach, either. It’s clear that his Western scores have been massively influenced by those of Ennio Morricone but that’s about as surprising as the fact that a lot of bands owe a debt The Beatles. The Morricone influence is also apparent in the next selection, Frizzi’s Manhattan Baby suite, the epic, cod orientalism of which really brings the proceedings to life. Here and in subsequent tracks, the established soundtrack versions are supplemented by Edda Dell’Orso-esque vocal lines, courtesy of Giulietta Zanardi, highlighting furthermore connections to Frizzi’s scoring of the climactic scene in The Beyond, in addition to the more familiar echoes of Zombie Flesh Eaters and City Of The Living Dead. The title theme from Sette Note In Nero (Fulci’s scandalously under acknowledged suspense masterpiece) showcases those emotive seven black notes in a range of settings, setting up another predictable highlight, the Zombie Flesh Eaters suite. From the steel drums ’n’ stylophone Caribbean opener through the “Day In The Life”-inspired eye-puncturing cue (there’s those Mop Tops again and, while we’re at it, it’s worth pointing out that this album was mastered at Abbey Road) to the quasi-Carpentery of the zombie v shark music (with Zanardi’s voice taking one of the synthesiser parts), this is certified crowd pleasing staff, as witnessed by the audience’s hyperenthusiastic response at its conclusion. To chill them out, Frizzi follows up with a collection of short cues, again mostly culled from Fulci’s Westerns (culminating in a Silver Saddle reprise) but most notable for a two minute snatch of With You, the gorgeous “love theme from Sette Note In Nero”, wherein La Zanardi demonstrates that she’s as at home with lush ballads as she is with the more operatic stuff. Wish that could have gone on longer.

A further frisson of excitement kicks off CD 2 as the audience recognises the guitar picking intro to the City Of The Living Dead suite. After the macabre march which climaxes that, Frizzi throws in selections from his scores to two more recent spaghetti horror efforts Beylard and Rafighi’s Beware Of Darkness and Mark Steensland’s The Weeping Woman, neither of which left me particularly inclined to seek out the movies in question.  Things are back on track with Frizzi’s action blockbuster / disco styled contributions to Contraband (in which Roberto Fasciani steps out on slap bass) before the stylistically similarly title theme to A Cat In The Brain (it has to be said that the best music in that film was recycled from Fulci’s earlier zombie triumphs.) At this point Frizzi takes an eccentric detour into Nino Rota’s circus themed music for Fellini’s Amarcord. I’m not quite sure why… perhaps to cleanse the blood drenched palate for what is to come? Whatever, Frizzi hits a home run with his final offering, the inevitable suite of themes from The Beyond (noisily received by the Union Chapel punters before a note of it is played, due to the visual promptings of the giant screen behind the band)… well, he was never going to close the show with excerpts from Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, was he? From the establishing cue of Suono Aperto, through the sinuous / staccato funk of Oltre La Soglia and the creepy Verso L’Ignoto onto the infernal chorus of Voci Dal Nulla… it sounds like the Chapel roof is struggling to contain the crowd’s ovation as the album fades out. Wish I’d been there. And now I can pretend I was.

It’s a no brainer that mega budget epics like Star Wars: The Farce Awakens are going to pack cinemas with people with no brains… all the more remarkable that the flame is still burning brightly for a handful of modestly resourced Italian B Movies from the ’70s and ’80’s. God bless Fabio Frizzi for playing his part in this. The double CD set comes with a 16 page booklet containing Frizzi’s track-by-track liner notes. We’re still waiting for the promised DVD, but if you want a preview of how that might look, check out Youtube and all therein that may be explored.

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Anyone Who Had A Heart… TALES FROM THE CRYPT reviewed

“Ooh, Mister Grimsdyke!”

Blu-ray. Region B. Final Cut. 15.

Although Amicus got their series of portmanteau horror epics off to a barnstorming start with Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors (Freddie Francis, 1965), its immediate successors – Torture Garden (1967) and The House That Dripped Blood (1971) – were patchy affairs. Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg subsequently cemented their place in the Horror Hall Of Fame though with the holy trinity of Asylum, Tales From The Crypt (both 1972) and Vault Of Horror (1973.) TFTC is a perennial personal favourite here at The House Of Freudstein, so just imagine the scene of jubilation on Christmas morning when it transpired that, among the copious goodies Santa had deposited from his bulging sack, was the new Final Cut BD of this seminal effort (sorry, I just interviewed Julian Clary’s gag writer and I think something has, er, rubbed off.)

For this one the Amicus boys recalled Francis as director but, having exhausted the prolific pen of Robert Bloch in their previous efforts, turned to the blood drenched pages of EC’s notorious, suppressed comics for inspiration, adapted its five vignettes from stories by Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig that had featured in EC’s Tales From The Crypt and its sister publication The Vault Of Horror. The cod moralising of these comics was perfectly suited to the evolving ethos of Amicus…whereas Dr Terror had dished out terror, horror and ultimately death in indiscriminate style (Christopher Lee’s vindictive art critic deserved all he got, arguably Roy Castle’s voodoo profaning trumpeter too, but it’s difficult to see what Neil McCallum, Alan “Fluff” Freeman and Donald Sutherland had done to merit their respective fates, apart from simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time), there had been an accelerating trend in subsequent cycle entries towards poetic justice, allowing viewers to revel in the grisly demise of a screen character, with the comfort of clear consciences because the bastard had it coming!

Coffee Table revelation

Despite the warnings of tour guide (Amicus regular Geoffrey Bayldon) against “losing their way”, the usual motley crew of misfits wander off while checking out some underground catacombs, seemingly bored by his tales of religious intolerance and persecution. The stories they share, when confronted by a sinister robed figure (the casting of Sir Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper stands as a coup that would only be topped when Bob Guccione signed up his mate John Gielgud for Tinto Brass’s big budget wankfest biopic of Caligula, 1979) reveal them as rather more petty exemplars of man’s eternal inhumanity to man, though admittedly each gets paid out in boffo style. Joan Collins celebrates Christmas Eve by bashing out her boring husband’s brains with a poker (maybe he didn’t get her the horror Blu-ray she asked for), warning her daughter not to come downstairs because Santa’s on his way… and he obligingly arrives in the shape of an escaped homicidal maniac, whom the kid (Chloe Franks, Christopher Lee’s witchy daughter in The House That Dripped Blood) gleefully lets in at the patio door; Ian Hendry bails on his wife and kid to do a runner with sexy mistress Angie Grant, only to end up in one of those endlessly looping “phew, it was all a dream / oh shit, no it wasn’t” nightmares of RTAs and walking death; a pair of property value-obsessed proto-yuppies drive kindly old bin man Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) to suicide on Valentine’s day, which improves the tone of the neighbourhood but leads to a vengeful visit from his shambling corpse on February 14th the following year; Barbara Murray wishes for a financial upturn on a magic jade stature (“It’s just like that old story, The Monkey’s Paw” observes another character, helpfully) and inadvertently condemns her husband, ruthless industrialist Richard Greene, to an eternity of agony (cineastes might care to play “Spot the Cocteau quote” during this story); finally, in the longest episode, retired military man Nigel Patrick becomes the governor of an institution for blind men and systematically raids its budget so that he can lead the high life while they freeze and starve. Patrick Magee, riveting as ever, leads an improbable but satisfying insurrection involving a razor-lined rat run (difficult to imagine the old blind boys constructing this without inflicting some nasty injuries on themselves and each other), the Major’s Alsation, starved into a feral state and… lights out! The moral of this story? Never say: “Can’t you see I’m having my lunch?” to a blind dude… Predictably, The Crypt Keeper reveals that all of them have actually perpetrated the respective desperate deeds described above, before consigning them to a fiery abyss and admonishing us not to end up like them. Sure thing, Sir John.

TFTC FOH

At this point in the Amicus portmanteau cycle, things were getting distinctly gory, in fact the more visceral details of Greene’s never ending death throes (twitching intestines, severed hand wandering around his coffin…) were cut from versions broadcast on TV until very recently. It’s notable that the accelerating emphasis in these films on dishing out just desserts (the Cushing segment is even entitled “Poetic Justice”, fer Chrissakes) arrives, in this EC adaptation, at an increasing identification of the bad guys with rapacious capitalism, making you wonder if the banning of the original comics in the States during the mid-50s had more to do with this critique of The American Way than with any alleged tendency to inspire juvenile delinquency or whatever. Developing this theme further, the following year’s Vault Of Horror would trap its story tellers in the basement of a shi shi city office block, after its titles have played out over footage of the palace of Westminster. There’s no crypt keeper (or vault… bloke) in that one, but it’s even easier in 2016 than it was in the early ’70s to work out who the real bad guys are.

Final Cut have effected a top transfer of this mini classic, allowing the viewer (this one, certainly) to relish the curves of Barbara Murray’s magnificent bosom in all their HD glory… just don’t rely on her to come up with any good wishes next time you’re rubbing your monkey paw, OK? And while we’re pondering the Jason family’s little predicament, why exactly were Richard Greene’s veins full of enbalming fluid the instant before he died of a heart attack? Maybe M. Night Shyamalan’s threatened TFTC TV reboot will clear that one up? Or maybe not…

Bonus materials comprise a stills gallery and Tales From The Amicus Crypt, a watchable 36 minute appreciation from talking heads such as Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Chibnall and Kevin Lyons. I haven’t seen Kevin for years… nor, indeed my copy of Martin Barker’s Video Nasties book.

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BD SleeveScream Carl, Scream! copy

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Oblivion Express… VIDEODROME reviewed

Fleshcassette

DVD. R2. Arrow. 18.

Horror Hack: Are you aware of the story that David Cronenberg was inspired to make Videodrome after seeing your Emanuelle In America?

Joe D’Amato: Yeah? (Laughs) Maybe I should ask him for some money…

Horror Hack: I’m not sure Videodrome actually made any money!

———-

“Videodrome… has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous.”

Masha to Max Renn in Videodrome.

———-

Since my breakfast exchange with Uncle Joe in London, back in 1995, Videodrome has made its money back (and then some) in the video arena, in stark contrast to its theatrical failure in 1983, thereby vindicating some of the dark prophecies made in it by director David Cronenberg (don’t hold your breath waiting for a sequel, though.) But does Videodrome the movie, as opposed to Videodrome the malevolent broadcasting enterprise featured in the movie, have a philosophy? And if so, has Cronenberg (during the course of the movie or in any of the many interviews where he’s discussed it) ever explicated that philosophy coherently? Given that he was struggling to come up with an ending, late on the very last day of shooting (bonus material contained herein reveals just how fluid things remained until the final call of “cut”) I would answer “no”, “no” and “I’m still listening, David.

Videodrome is a polymesmeric meditation, by one of Horror’s outstanding intellects, on identity, technology, sexuality, social responsibility and more, not least the very nature of reality itself… a mind fuck of monumental proportions. It crowns the director’s earliest and most fruitful phase, the “body horror” / “venereal horror” cycle initiated with Shivers (1975) and continued through Rabid (1977), The Brood (1979) and Scanners (1981.) His post-Videodrome offerings were nothing like as challenging, though his 1986 remake of The Fly, which recapitulated some of the themes of his most vital, most viral period, was splendid in its own way. Now, I’m aware that some people who’ll be outraged at my low regard for, e.g. Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) but, y’now… when that one came out, Burroughs’ novel had been horrifying and tantalising me in equal parts for decades and if Cronenberg really thought the best way to encapsulate its moral and literary complexities was to have Roy Scheider rip off a Mission Impossible-style latex mask and announce himself as Dr Benway… well, ‘nuff said. As for eXistenZ (1999)… Videodrome lite!

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Since Cronenberg makes much of cod-Renaissance philosophy in Videodrome, he hopefully won’t mind me pointing out that his solipsistic approach to the question of personal identity here adds little to what the likes of Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753) and even Rene Descartes (1596-1650) had to say on the subject. He does dress it up compellingly though with lashings of Philip K Dick’s bad acid consciousness (a pity Cronenberg never got to direct Total Recall, as originally planned) and a jolt of Marshall McLuhan (whose wittiest cinematic deployment remains that in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, 1977) together with an acknowledgement of frightening technological developments that Rene, The Bishop and probably even McLuhan couldn’t have begun to imagine. Videodrome is a “reductio ad absurdum” demolition of the arguments behind the video nasties shit-storm-in-a-tea-cup before that “debate” even broke (and significantly delayed the release of Cronenberg’s magnum opus into the UK home video arena) and, as if that weren’t prescient enough, it anticipates the irresistible rise of untrammeled corporatism, the internet, secret state snooping on the latter, the apparent current consensus that nothing is real unless it exists on a TV / mobile phone screen, repressive tolerance, consumerist conformity, K-holes, black sites and innumerable other regrettable aspects of Modern Life. The best critical take on Videodrome probably remains that of Newsweek’s David Ansen who contends that if it fails, it fails on a level to which few of Cronenberg’s contemporaries could dare aspire. Cronenberg has described one of Videodrome’s key grand guignol set pieces, the instant cancer karma demise of Barry Convex as a metaphor for his own hyperactive thought processes threatening to bust out of his head. Videodrome won’t make you split open. Watching it won’t even give you a brain tumour. But unless you’re thick as two short planks, it will definitely make you do what so few horror films (films, period) can manage these days… it will make you THINK!

You’ll notice that I’ve staunchly avoided any discussion of synopsis here because if you’ve seen Videodrome then you’ll already know that a synopsis of its first half is unnecessary.. and of its second half, probably unrenderable. Whereas if you haven’t yet seen it, I wouldn’t want any spoilers to impair your enjoyment of it. Having said that, if you haven’t seen Videodrome, you should endeavour to put that right as soon as is humanly possible! Here’s your chance, now that Arrow have put out a very affordable DVD edition. I’m not reviewing their sold-out Limited Edition Blu-ray release because that struck me as an expensive way to reacquaint myself with the early experimental Cronenberg shorts which sent me to sleep when Ramsey Campbell presented them at Liverpool’d Bluecoat Galleries, way back in the day. And anyway, it’s sold out! I made the penny-pinching judgement that Arrow’s subsequent mainstream Blu-ray effort would mark only a marginal picture improvement over this DVD version (the hi-def digital transfer for both has been approved by Cronenberg and DP Mark Irwin), which faithfully reproduces all the extras from that… and what an embarrassment of cool extras they are!

Tim Lucas, in his capacity as a Cinefantastique contributor, was the only journo to visit the Videodrome shoot (this was way before the “serious” pundits started earnestly pondering Cronenberg) and his commentary track here comprises the expected mix of personal reminiscence, trainspotterly factoids and thought provoking observation. Bonus documentaries include Cinema Of The Extreme (DC, George Romero and Alex Cox chew the gristle re censorship) and Forging The New flesh (Michael Lennik on concocting the film’s many video and prosthetic effects), there are also various contemporary promotional featureless in which Cronenberg, Jimmy Woods, Deborah Harry, Rick Baker, Lennik and many others get to have their say, new interviews with Mark Irwin, producer Pierre David and Dennis Etchison (author of the Videodrome novelisation), the uncut Samurai Dreams, a bunch of trailers (including a couple of bizarre, self-consciously “new wave” efforts, presumably intended to appeal to the Debbie Harry demographic.) Videodrome obsessives will be wetting themselves most copiously though, I would imagine, over Pirated Signals: The Lost Broadcast, a collection of footage that was only ever seen during certain U.S.TV broadcasts of the film. My own favourite among the extras is Fear On Film, a fascinating 1982 round table discussion between Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis, moderated by Mick Garris. Teasers are shown for The Thing (imagine what Cronenberg might have made of that, given sufficient budget) and Cronenberg is described as “currently finishing” Videodrome… ah, took me back to a sweet spot in the ‘80s, just before that horrible decade turned REALLY, er, nasty. At one point in this, Cronenberg expresses surprise that his films are regarded as confrontational. Sure thing, Dave. And now for a picture of a woman about to stub a cigarette out on her boobs…

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Making The Cyclops Cry… CONTAMINATION reviewed

Blu-ray (A/B) – DVD (1/2) combo. Arrow. 15

Alien10

“Who you calling a toaster oven, Earthling?!?”

An abandoned boat drifts down the Hudson river, bearing a fresh consignment of pulsating  green pods from Mars. When they ripen, they burst open and and shower any Earthlings reckless enough to be in their vicinity with acid. As if that weren’t nasty enough, this is nasty Martian acid which reduces the investigating coast guards to exploding showers of offal, lovingly filmed in super-slow motion by director Luigi Cozzi. The human race responds swiftly and before you can say “chest burster” every Italian in New York is on the case. Dr Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) takes control: “I’m a colonel, directly responsible to the President, Special Division Five”, she barks: “… put Emergency Plan Seven into effect.” Stella enlists the services of Police Lieutenant Arris (Marino Mase), the sole survivor of that Marie Celeste massacre, and also Hubbard (Ian McCulloch), an astronaut who was laughed out of NASA when he returned from the first manned Mars probe claiming that his colleague Hamilton was killed by pulsating Martian pods. Holmes finds this guy residing in alcoholic squalor, but galvanises him into action with some catty reflections on his virility, to wit: “In this state, you couldn’t even get it up with a crane!” (What a ball-breaker!)

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Hubbard repeats his story and this time gets a more sympathetic hearing. The accompanying flashback sequence – depicting his ordeal in a cave at the Martian pole – is gripping stuff, comparing very favourably to the corresponding scene in Alien when you consider the films’ respective budgets. One of Goblin’s most atmospheric, throbbing scores does no harm either. Holmes, Hubbard and Arris trace the pods to a waterfront warehouse, where a cop who knocks on the door is unceremoniously shot through the head. SWAT dudes storm the place, but the warehousemen duck any awkward questions by the simple expedient of exploding in slow motion. Stella theorises, straight off the top of her head, that the pods are to be placed in the Big Apple’s sewer system, where they will incubate and blow up a large section of the city. “National security is at stake” she warns: “… and possibly even more than that!”

Our intrepid threesome fly off to Columbia, to be greeted by the expected outbreak of stock footage. Villainous locals smuggle pods into Stella’s bathroom while she’s taking a shower, but the boys rescue her, setting the scene for the climactic confrontation on a coffee plantation that has been turned over to the cultivation of pods (check out the pod incubation unit and ponder whether you’ve seen that room before… maybe at the climax of Argento’s Inferno? Perhaps also as the setting of the most notorious moment in Andrea Bianchi’s Nights Of Terror?) The operation is run by Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch), the supposedly dead astronaut, his will directed by the dreaded Alien Cyclops (“… it’s slimy, slithering appearance more than made up for by the fact that it has all the mobility of a toaster oven”, to invoke the memorable contemporary description in Fangoria magazine.)

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The Cyclops mesmerises Arris with its throbbing yellow eye then sucks him into its gaping maw. Stella’s next on the menu but Old Mother Hubbard, despite undergoing another Mars flashback (makes a nice change from all those ’Nam flashbacks) shoots the cyclops in the eye, which for some reason causes Hamilton to burst into flames. The army turns up on cue to round up the Martian minions and close down the plantation but unfortunately that’s not the end of the story – back in NYC (right outside The Twin Towers, uncomfortably enough) pods are ripening in sidewalk garbage piles. One of them bursts as the credits roll.

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Although gore wasn’t exactly unknown in Italian horror cinema before the late ’70s, the succession of ever more graphically violent American box office smashes in that period prompted a veritable tsunami of spaghetti splatter… happy days! Contamination is a textbook demonstration of the sheer vitality, seat-of-their-pants inventiveness and shameless dollar chasing exhibited by Italian movie mavens during what was destined to become the final throw of exploitation all’Italiana. As that non-sequitur title suggests, the film was originally conceived as a cash-in on The China Syndrome (1979) but when Alien (1979) burst its way through John Hurt’s chest and into the hearts of movie goers around the world, producers Claudio Mancini and Ugo Valenti enthusiastically jumped the biomorphic bandwagon, their rapidly rehashed property being touted, variously, as Alien Contamination, Alien 2 and Alien Arrives On Earth (good job they weren’t crass enough to pit Alien against Predator, huh?) until Fox’s lawyers had their say. Neither unfazed by this nor discouraged by such recent examples of Italian sci-fi as Lugi Cozzi’s 1978 howler Starcrash, they enlisted Cozzi to throw together an energetically eclectic conflation of Alien, Quatermass, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Invaders From Mars and, striking a patriotic note, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979.)  Having starred in that and Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (1980), Ian McCulloch was along for the ride modelling a proto-Trump hairdon’t and doing his best bargain basement Bond bit (Mancini, perhaps fancying himself as a stem of Broccoli, being determined to cram a sub-006-and-a- 1/2 element into this cut price concoction.)

Precisely such relentless trend chasing is the subject of bonus featurette The Sincerest Form Of Flattery: A Critical Analysis Of Tne Italian Cash-in, in which Maitland McDonagh and Chris “Temple Of Schlock” Poggiali expound upon the filoni theory of Italian making, whereby generic streams are drained until they run dry… an entertaining examination of its subject, though it mysteriously peters out itself while Poggiali is in mid flight. Other extras include a rabidly enthusiastic commentary track from current Fango editor Chris Alexander, who’s fiercely keen to defend Contamination from its detractors while simultaneously acknowledging the schlocky nature of the whole proceedings (*). There’s the expected trailer. The director’s career is profiled in Luigi Cozzi Vs Lewis Coates and Sound Of The Cyclops showcases Goblin member Maurizio Guarini with emphasis on his score for this film. Both Notes On Science Fiction Cinema (an archive Cozzi interview combined with some valuable behind-the-scenes footage) and a nifty graphic novel appeared in a previous Blue Underground DVD release.

Best of all is the 15.11.14 Q&A session from the Abertoir Horror Festival, Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Moderated by Ewan Cant in front of a receptive audience, Cozzi and McCulloch are on good form and the whole thing is a hoot. Particularly memorable are McCulloch’s electrified reaction to the director’s assertions about how much money Contamination took (might one infer that it was a different story when his royalty cheques were being discussed?) and then the star starts wondering aloud about why, precisely, some of Contamination’s scenes had to be shot in Columbia, of all places. When Cozzi doesn’t exactly go out of his way to dissuade McCulloch from this line of speculation, the latter’s astonishment is palpable… Priceless stuff!

After some early misfires Arrow, have got this Blu-ray mastering malarky well and truly licked… you could quibble that some of the film’s early outdoor shots look a tad grainy but they’ve resisted the temptation to sink the picture in DNR fudging and Contamination will probably never look better than this. And it’s impossible to sign off here without commenting on the fact that this former “video nasty” is now deemed fit for consumption by 15 year olds. “National security at stake”? Pah…

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“Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!”

(*) Alexander beats himself up about his inability to put a name to the cameoing face of Carlo De Mejo, son of Alida Valli and a familiar face from any amount of pasta paura epics… as these things often do, this prompted me to google what De Mejo had been up to recently. Sadly, prominent among this list was dying. He took to his grave the secret of what the f*ck the climax to Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead (1980) actually meant.

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Socket To Me, Baby… Looking Back On THE BLIND DEAD

“The Templars in De Ossorio’s films are the perfect embodiment of fascism, because they are both soldiers and priests.”

– Lucio Fulci in conversation with the author.

Allo Darlin'...

“Allo, darlin’…”

The Order Of The Poor Knights Of Christ And The Temple Of Solomon (The Templars to thee and me) was founded by one Hugues de Payens in 1118, with the mission statement of protecting pilgrims in The First Crusade, and they quickly evolved into a kind of medieval SAS (“‘the Militia of Christ”). Although each Templar Knight took a Benedictine vow of personal poverty, the organisation itself grew massively rich on donations from various religiously inclined groups and individuals. Meanwhile in The Holy Land, the Knights were being exposed to various strands of Jewish, Muslim and Gnostic mysticism… reputedly they even had links with the legendary Hashishim or Order Of Assassins. Whatever, they were said to have absorbed all manner of esoteric knowledge and, on a more secular level, used their increasing riches to become involved in what was essentially  the birth of international banking. Due to their connections with the Cathar heretics of Languedoc, it was even suspected that these knights were intent on setting up their own theocratic state in that region of France. Certainly, King Philip IV thought they were getting too big for their military boots, a decision presumably influenced by the fact that he owed them a fistful of francs. In 1307 Philip arrested, tortured and executed all the Templars he could lay his hands on and put pressure on The Pope to disown the Order, which was official disbanded by Clement V in 1312. History is written by the victors and the devil worshipping atrocities claimed by Philip to justify his actions are best taken with a pinch of salt. The Templars have remained active, if nowhere else, in the annals of conspiracy theory, which detects their dark hand at work everywhere, shaping the course of human destiny on behalf of a secretive, sinister elite. A lively literary and now cinematic sub-genre flourishes, enriching (if not The Order) the likes of Dan Brown and Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code, 2006).

Of more interest to Freudstein followers is the cycle of Spanish movies detailing the darker side of the Templar story, spearheaded by a quartet of classic horror flicks from Amando De Ossorio (and collected in a spanky Blue Underground DVD box set which you might still be able to pick up if you hunt around a bit.) De Ossorio was born in Galicia anytime between 1918 and 1925 (accounts vary… strangely, he was also reported as deceased several times before actually breathing his last in Madrid on 13.01.01) and earned his living from shorts, documentaries and industrial films before making his feature debut with the paella western Tomb Of The Pistolero in 1964. Jack Taylor once told me that horror films, with their attendant hordes of damsels in distress, were one of the few ways of expressing anything vaguely sexual in the buttoned-down, uptight milieu of Franco’s Spain. De Ossorio’s first credit in this genre was the sexy (Anita Ekberg starring) vampire effort Malenka in 1969. Night Of The Sorcerers (1974) is a ludicrously schlocky leopard cult / zombie epic whose purported African setting (actually a park in Madrid) provided the perfect pretext for plentiful sub-National Geographic female nudity and The Loreley’s Grasp (1974, a particularly busy year for our man) was based on an old Germanic myth about a beautiful siren luring sailors to their deaths on The Rhine. Most profitably though, De Ossorio returned to certain Galician local legends that had haunted his childhood, those of the terrifying Templars. Whether he personally added the element of blindness to these scary stories is a moot point.

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Ossorio’s La Noche Del Terror Ciego / Tombs of the Blind Dead  (1971) reveals that instead of Templars rescuing maidens, the maidens need rescuing from them when, having been initiated into sinister occult practices during their stint crusading around The Holy Land, they return to 13th Century Spain with a drastically revised take on knightly chivalry. The Templars ride into town, select the juiciest local nubiles, throw them over their saddles and ride back to their clubhouse, where the girls are crucified and slashed by the swords of jousting knights, whose colleagues stand around looking on sternly, with their arms folded, looking for all the world as though they about to break into a rendition of “Templar rap”. Instead, they dive in on the unfortunate victims’ punctured boobs, gulp down their blood and hack out their hearts before messily gobbling them down. These shenanigans are supposed to secure eternal life for the Templars, but party-pooping villagers break up their revels to string the naughty knights up so that crows can peck out their eyes. A know-it-all historian in “the present day” (i.e. early ‘70s Spain) tells  protagonists Roger (César Burner) and Betty (Lone Fleming) all about it and predicts the vengeful return of the Templars. To nobody’s great surprise – and the delight of gore-hounds everywhere – this is precisely what happens.

Sexually confused Virginia (María Elena Arpón / “Helen Harp”) jumps off a train after her girlfriend Betty (Fleming) starts flirting with hunky Roger  and camps down in a derelict Templar monastery, where her crop top and hot pants are enough to raise the dead (did the trick for me too, actually!) Centuries of decomposition have reduced the Templars to skeletons, but they’re still pretty sprightly  and – despite the tufty little beards growing out of their jawbones  and their dusty duffel-coats, which make them look like trad jazz-loving CND activists – they’re certainly not pacifists! Scrambling out of those tombs in the banks of fog that always roll down during this sort of thing, they ride around on their skeletal horses in slow motion (to the accompaniment of Anton Garcia Abril’s spell-binding score, which mixes mumbling monks, tolling bells and the echoing of horses’ hoof beats and would become one of of the most memorable features of the ongoing Templar series), using their supersensitive hearing to locate fresh victims. After snuffing a couple of cuties who were reckless enough to wander into their cemetery territory, the Templars hijack a train and put its passengers to the sword – cue the oft-censored shot of a babe in arms being soaked in its mother’s blood.

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That’s about it as far as plot is concerned and there are some passages that do drag a bit, but these are mitigated by the chuckles to be had at the the early ‘70s fashions on display and, a propos of nothing in particular, De Ossorio tosses in a soft focus flashback to sixth-form sapphic shenanigans. There’s an equally gratuitous rape scene, though the perpetrator immediately meets a well deserved messy fate at the boney hands of the censorious Templars. The suspicion lingers that De Ossorio didn’t get all the footage he wanted, on account of budgetary or scheduling problems, or whatever… certain plot threads remain undeveloped, for instance the suggestion that Templar victims can return from the dead to transmit their contagion to others. This Romeroesque touch is never embroidered in the film nor indeed anywhere else in the subsequent Templar series. It also has to be said that the film’s final shots are oddly chosen and anti-climactic…

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… though they did leave the door open for  the Templars’ sophomore outing, El Ataque De Los Muertos Sin Ojos / Return of the Evil Dead (1973). The revisionist opening of this one displays a cavalier attitude towards the Templars rulebook, as vengeful villagers with flaming torches, rather than ravenous ravens, put out the eyeballs of Spain’s coolest ghouls. “Do you think you will find your way back without eyes?” they are taunted. No problem, actually and their mummified remains are soon gatecrashing an ill-advised “modern day” festive re-enactment of their dastardly deeds, with predictably drastic results. After the Templars have taken time out to punish an adulterous coupling (the girl’s escape attempt climaxes in the shocking revelation of a zombie horse to a disbelieving switchboard operator) and massacre the festival revellers, not to mention some incongruous “comic” sequences involving the lazy governor and his improper relationship with his housemaid, the balance of the picture unfolds with the rescued girl from the initial attack cooped up among a squabbling bunch of characters (including Lone Fleming from Tombs) besieged in a church (making De Ossorio’s constant denials that he was influenced by George Romero sound a bit feeble). In a direct lift from Night Of The Living Dead, one guy makes a run for his car and ends up as the centre-piece of Templar barbecue. Corrupt mayor Fernando Sancho trues to ensure his own escape by decoying the Blind Dead with a defenceless tiny tot (boo! hiss!) and there’s a well-sustained, suspenseful sequence in which Murdo (the mandatory gibbering village loon) loses his head over a girl, quite literally, leading her through an underground series of passage-ways, only to be greeted by sword-wielding undead Knights at the other end. Finally the Templars petrify and crumble in the morning sunlight, hunky Tony Kendall leading what’s left of the human characters between their desiccated husks to freedom, in a tense “resolution” reminiscent of that to Hitchcock’s The Birds.

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Our favourite visually challenged, deceased dudes notched up their hat-trick of screen appearances in El Buque Maldito (also 1974, aka Ghost Galleon / Horror Of The Zombies). Unfortunately this is the weakest entry in the series by a long  chalk or, shall we say, several fathoms, despite an enthusiastic endorsement from late Cramps front man and trash movie connoisseur Lux Interior. Ossorio is on the record as attributing the Templars’ slow motion movements to “a displacement in the space / time continuum”. Perhaps this would explain why they turn up in Ghost Galleon, sleeping in their coffins on board… well, on board a ghost galleon, which has apparently been sailing the seven seas since the 16th Century, stuffed with their ill-gotten loot and accompanied by a perpetual pea-soup fog. You can bet your ass that when the ghost galleon’s course is crossed by a smaller boat packed with drug-crazed, bikini-clad, lesbian glamour models (De Ossorio also throws in the now mandatory recreational rape scene) the puritanical Knights are soon out of their coffins, waving their swords and slaughtering swingers left, right and centre. From their point of view this is made easier by the fact that although they’re moving as slowly as ever, their potential victims have pretty much nowhere to run except elsewhere on the galleon. The downside though, from the viewers’ perspective, comprises a completely static “plot” and the conspicuous absence of those slow-motion skeletal horse-rides that worked so well in the previous two instalments. Jack Taylor and the last surviving bimbo model have the brain wave of driving the Templars back into their coffins with fire then slinging them overboard. At this point the eyes of the horned skull which the Templars worship start glowing red and their vessel (laughably rendered by a model that will have all Spinal Tap fans thinking “Stonehenge!”) bursts into flame. The two survivors  struggle to the shore and collapse on the beach, only to find themselves surrounded by the clutching deadsters. The freeze frame closing shot suggests that there’s no stopping the Templars though, in truth, this substandard effort suggested they were washed up in every sense of the term.

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After their living death on an ocean wave, the Templars took to the sea so well that they spend 1975’s La Noche De Las Gaviotas / Night Of The Seagulls bumming around the beach, brandishing buckets and spades, holding bloody beach barbecues in honour of a Lovecraftian fish-god (OK, so I was kidding about the buckets and spades). Only briefly do we get atmospheric shots of them riding their horses through the surf, and far too sparing use is made of Anton Garcia Abril’s Templar theme, one of the series’ trump cards (here largely supplanted by irritating tinkly incidental muzak). Otherwise, thankfully, it’s back to Templar basics. In the pre-titles sequence Medieval honeymooners are sacrificed to the Deadites’ grotesque amphibian gargoyle god. In “modern times”, Dr Henry Stein and his wife Jean (Victor Petit and Maria Kosti) arrive to take over their new practice, whose regulars are rural retards from central casting. Everybody fears the coming of darkness, especially Teddy, De Ossorio’s gooniest village loon yet (“Teddy’s afraid … they always beat teddy!”), though relatively sympathetically treated. The doc and his wife eavesdrop on an eerie torch lit beach procession, unaware that it’s intended to placate the Templars with the sacrifice of a virgin, who’s been taken away from her wailing family by black-shawled old biddies.

The Steins make friends with one pretty village girl called Lucy, whose own number soon comes up in the lottery for virginal sacrifices. Henry frees her, prompting a Templar siege of his home. With Lucy out of the picture, Henry matter-of-factly tells his wife: “It’s obvious that they need another victim for their ceremonial rites … and it looks like they’ve chosen you!” That’s some bedside manner you’ve got there, doc… After the expected atmospheric horse-back chase, the Steins upturn and smash the Blind Dead’s idol at which point The Templars return, visibly crumbling, to their coffins, for a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion, though Seagulls is undoubtedly a better note for them to bow out on than Ghost Galleon.

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The aforementioned Blue Underground box set, comprising these four films (and plentiful bonus material), is touted as the  complete Blind Dead saga, but a truly complete account of The Templars’ horror film exploits would also have to include John Gilling’s directorial swan song, The Devil’s Cross (1975), in which they populate the troubled protagonist’s dreams. Readers might recall my interview with Paul Naschy, in which he complained bitterly that Gilling had hijacked this picture from him.

Unfortunately we must also account for one of Jesus Franco’s sloppier offerings, in which he tried to jump the Templar bandwagon approximately a decade after it had stopped rolling. The Internet Movie Data Base identifies Franco’s Mansion Of The Living Dead as a 1985 production, though I’m more inclined to trust the bad film boffins from Severin, who put it out on DVD in 2006 and claim it as a 1983 effort. Admittedly Franco’s fractured filmography (in which films are typically re-edited and ransacked to be combined with footage from other, completely unconnected efforts, even unto porno editions) lends itself to precisely such confusion. It could also be reasonably suggested that, sorry Jess, with films of this calibre… nobody really gives a toss! MOTLD “boasts” similar production values (OK, the cinematography is actually quite nice in this one, even if that zoom lens is as overworked as ever) and plot mechanics (down to the “comic relief” peeping Tom character) to Franco’s insufferable “video nasty” (one of three) Bloody Moon, which was shot in 1982.

Allegedly based on a novel by one D. Khunne (one of Franco’s many pseudonyms) the story, such as it is, kicks off with four topless waitresses of varying attractiveness (including Franco’s muse Lina Romay / “Candy Coster) arriving from Munich at a luxury holiday resort in the Canary Isles, with the primary intention of getting shagged by as many men as possible ( “The Sadean Woman” according to Jesus Franco!) Unfortunately there are no other guests, male or otherwise, and equally mysteriously, the hotel seems to be staffed by just one guy, the mean and moody Carlos Savonarola (“Robert Foster” / Antonio Mayans). Undaunted, our hot pants wearing “lovelies” quickly pair up for some hot’n’heavy (though never, at least in the Severin release, quite crossing over into hard core territory) girl-on-girl lovin’. “This vacation is gonna be unbelievable” predicts Candy as her lover laps away at her… truer than she knows! Needless to say, Carlos is soon grabbing himself a piece of the sweaty action, though he hastily breaks off from another spot of cunnilingus with the observation “My God – it’s 4 o’clock…. I’ve got to go and feed a sick woman” (change your douche, darling!) Turns out he’s actually got to go and torment his rather butch-looking wife Mabel (Mabel Escano) with some food which she can’t reach from the corner of the room in which he’s chained her up.

Just in case the girls haven’t twigged yet that something rather rum is going on, their next sunbathing session is rudely interrupted by a near miss with a flying meat cleaver. “Who would want to murder four hotties like us?” asks one of them, indignantly. Who indeed? A fan of good acting? Their efforts to crack this mystery involve wandering around the hotel corridors endlessly in various states of undress. Is that a shadow, a tuft of hair or something more sinister protruding from between Candy’s ample cheeks at one point? (“Emergency delivery of toilet paper, please, to the mansion of the living dead!”)  When the girls finally tire of those corridors, they stroll off separately to the island’s nearest dilapidated church, which turns out to be Templar HQ… and yes, the mouldy monks are well up for chastising some promiscuous females.

Jess's Mansion

Now, Amando De Ossorio really made an effort to get his Blind Dead dudes looking like mummified corpses, but Franco’s budget obviously only extended to a few white sheets, a couple of joke shop skull masks and, because there weren’t enough of those to go around, a bottle of calamine lotion to splash on the faces of the other ghouls. Though not looking too impressive, these guys wax eloquent about their unholy intentions… “Our brother Savonarola has brought another sinner to the court of the Cathars, the saintly men with white robes and black hearts” (Ooh-er) …“I propose that she is put to death while she enjoys carnal sin, so that her desirable body many join the ranks of Satan’s servers… she will receive the mark of the accursed semen”. Sounds like a plan.  The unfortunate victim is stripped of her sparkly hot pants and enthusiastically raped and stabbed by the Templars, whose legs don’t seem to have suffered any discernible decomposition over the Centuries (their todgers still up to the job, too!) “Bless you and damn you…” intones the top Templar: “Enjoy the mortal sin… may your sins never be forgiven!” I bet he says that to all the girls…

Candy discovers Mabel, still chained to the table, and learns of the sadistic way in which Carlo has been treating her. “We work in a topless bar… we’re waitresses showing off our boobs!” is her helpful opening conversational gambit, and she further advises the hapless captive that this career option is very  “in” at the moment. It’s probably at this point that Mabel decides to eat the rat poison which her husband has thoughtfully left for her. None of this seems to dampen Candy’s ardour for Carlo, who announces that he’s one of the Templars and has recognised her as a reincarnation of the Princess Irina (an ongoing character in Franco’s tangled mythos) who had cursed the Cathars while they were burning her at the stake, condemning them to an eternity of living death. You crisp the chick, you gotta pay the price…

I won’t give away the ending, because a) I don’t want to spoil it for you and b) it made absolutely no sense whatever to me. Severin present Mansion Of The Living Dead in a lush 2.35:1 transfer, enhanced for wide screen, which is probably better than it deserves. English subtitles compliment the Spanish language soundtrack and as bonus material you get a featurette, The House That Jess Built, in which Franco and faithful cohort Candy / Lina are interviewed and the director attempts to explain the theological underpinning of his work. Luis Bunuel he ain’t… I’d usually give a film like this the dreaded “for completists only” but the aforementioned Internet Movie Data Base suggests that even completists give it a miss! A nod’s as good as a wink to…

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