Monthly Archives: March 2016

“Do we love her… Me Me Lai? Deep River Woman, Rising High”… ME ME LAI BITES BACK: RESURRECTION OF THE CANNIBAL QUEEN reviewed

Me Me

Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection Of The Cannibal Queen

Edited, produced and directed by Naomi Holwill. Produced by Calum Waddell. Certificate TBC.

Once upon a time… sometime in the mid 1980’s… back  in the darkest days of “video nasty” witch hunting… somewhere in Essex… police were raiding a suspected “nasty” dealer. We can only speculate as to the levels of apprehension and disgust felt by the officers as they bagged up tapes with such lurid titles as… shudder… Deep River Savages. Did they believe the shrill tabloid claims, amplified by publicity hungry politicians and misguided members of the judiciary, that people were “actually eaten” during the making of Italian cannibal films? One of the cops, at least, had good reason to doubt the veracity of such alarmist claims… starring, as she had, in Deep River Savages.

Spinning off of their acclaimed Eaten Alive: The Rise And Fall Of The Italian Cannibal Film, the High Rising team have hit another home run with this riveting effort, which succeeds on levels of human interest and social history, over and above its obvious appeal to anally retentive horror nerds such as myself. While making EA:TRAFOTICF, Calum Waddell’s internet researches turned up photos of Me Me Lai that had been posted by her daughter, via whom a contact was effected, after initial reluctance on the part of the retired actress. Gradually winning her confidence, Waddell began to unravel a story of life after cannibal movie infamy and introduced Ms. Lai to a demi monde which she could probably never have imagined, a fan scene and convention / festival circuit where her film career could be openly celebrated rather than hushed up. It’s good to see her striking up a friendship with Catriona MacColl, an actress for whom that particular penny dropped a little earlier.

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On becoming a mother (one of the many fascinating insights we gain from this doc is the fact that she was pregnant during the Last Cannibal World shoot) Me Me decided that her screen earnings were too precarious to support a family and briefly changed career to competitive body building (!) before becoming, yes, a policewoman in Essex, completely forgetting about her film career until that fortuitous contact was made with Calum. We see her on stage, reliving former glories with Ruggero Deodato and discussing the films she made with Umberto Lenzi. Me Me remembers Lenzi as being a bit of a screamer on Deep River savages, Deodato as a more laid back director (though plenty of others have attested to his own screaming fits) when they collaborated on Last Cannibal World. Apparently Lenzi had mellowed out by the time the made Eaten Alive, though this remains her least favourite of the films in which she’s appeared. She subscribes to the general view that Ivan Rassimov was a sweetheart. In turn, fan boy Eli Roth pays handsome tribute to our heroine, as do Waddell, academic Shelagh Rowan-Legg and Sitges Festival programmer Mike Hostench. The documentary does not shy away from their thoughts on the proverbially thorny issues of how women, ethnic minorities and (thorniest of all) animals were treated in the films Lenzi, Deodato, Martino and D’Amato (among others) contributed to this genre, without coming to any glib conclusions. Those issues remain thorny.

This is a curiously moving film about the vicissitudes of life, changing social mores, personal self-discovery and the way that the internet has facilitated a micro universe of alternative fandom. Any quibbles I have would concern the lack of further information about aspects of Ms Lai’s career which are tantalisingly referenced, e.g. the body building and the films she made outside the Italian cannibal milieu, for the likes of Val Guest, Lindsay Shonteff, Blake Edwards and Lars Von Trier. But these are issues concerning the remit that the film makers set themselves (and as such cannot be second guessed) rather than of competence. Me Me Lay isn’t the only unsung heroine to emerge from MMLBB…  Naomi Holwill, formerly something of a grey eminence at High Rising, makes her feature directing debut in confident and accomplished style (and I was particularly pleased to see her animation expertise making a welcome return in the film’s title sequence.) This documentary will gain its first general exposure as a bonus feature on the imminent 88 Films BD release of Man From Deep River (aka  Deep River Savages.) Whatever the merits (or not) of that transfer, Me Me Lai Bites Back justifies the price of a copy on its own.

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Reunited with Massimo Foschi and Ruggero Deodato…

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Me Me ModelMeMe copyAu Pair Girls - Jap Poster

Me Me in the news

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Categories: Film Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goblin Up The Years… CLAUDIO SIMONETTI interviewed in 2006

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For those of us fixated on the twin ’70s worlds of Prog Rock and Italian Horror cinema there are two points on the graph at which our obsessions meet and snuggle up. Firstly, there’s the recently deceased and sadly missed Keith Emerson, of The Nice and ELP notoriety, who also scored movies for Dario Argento (Inferno, The Church) and Lucio Fulci (Murder Rock). Alongside Emmo’s flirtation with Pasta Paura, there’s been an ongoing contribution from one band. That band is, of course, The Goblins… or just plain old Goblin, depending on which record cover or film credit you believe. To mark what now seems to be a never-ending world tour by this legendary combo (which currently constitutes keyboard whizz Claudio Simonetti plus whoever else he’s managed to round up in time to rehearse), we’re reviving a Simonetti interview from the fabled Freudstein vaults. Since it was taped, the Goblin saga has mutated into something approaching the Julio-Claudian family tree in terms of complexity, with more personnel changes than Spinal Tap and more competing rival line-ups than Bucks Fizz. Simonetti has also toured the Goblin repertoire with a more Goth / Death Metal-orientated band, Daemonia. Over to you, Pete Frame…

Half Brazilian (like future collaborator Dario Argento), Claudio Simonetti was born (19/02/52) in Sao Paolo, the scion of an eminent musical family, his father Enrico being a noted pianist and conductor. By the time the Simonettis had relocated back to Italy, Claudio was an accomplished keyboard player. During his national service he befriended guitarist Massimo Morante, who shared Simonetti’s passion for such heavyweight British Proggers as ELP, The Nice, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Gentle Giant. “Yes, I started playing in bands covering the material of those guys”, remembers Simonetti: “I think everybody in the world was influenced by that music. It was obviously the big influence on the band I formed with Massimo, though subsequently we found our own voice.”

Demobbed in the early 70’s, Simonetti and Morante began recording demos with a mob of collaborators from which Fabio Pignatelli (bass) and Walter Martino (drums) emerged as fully paid-up band members. Martino had given way to Carlo Bordini and American vocalist Clive Haynes was recruited before the band (initially named Picture Of Dorian Gray, later The Oliver) travelled to London in 1974 in a misfiring attempt to hook up with Yes producer Eddie Offord.”Eddie had expressed an interest in working with us and we brought over some demos to play to him, but he was very busy at this time, he was on a world tour with The Yes, so we never get together with him” sighs Simonetti: “We stayed in London for about two months, played a few gigs and recorded some more demos, then it was back to Italy and we resumed recording in Rome.”Returning, deflated, to home soil, these Olivers – like their Dickensian namesake – were hungry for more.

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Their fortunes took an upward swing when the Cinevox label signed them to record an album, on condition that they change their name to Cherry Five, possibly to avoid confusion with the execrable soundtrack outpourings of Oliver Onions, i.e. the De Angelis brothers. Cherry Five’s 1975 self-titled debut album (on which Tony Tartarini had replaced Haynes as front man and Martino returned to replace Bordini on skins) has now been issued as a Cinevox CD and emerges as a surprisingly confident outing, albeit instantly recognisable as the work of a bunch of Yes obsessives (the harmonies, the tricky time signatures, Pignatelli’s pastiche of Chris Squire’s trebly bass sound … )

Cinevox, of course, were a label chiefly concerned with releasing soundtracks, and it was through this connection that the boys encountered Dario Argento, who was having problems scoring his giallo masterpiece Profondo Rosso / Deep Red (1975). Claudio remembers it like this … “Giorgio Gaslini had written the music but Dario wanted it played by a rock band and was searching for one which would be up to the job. He signed us after hearing the Cherry 5 album. After ten days of recording it was decided that we should come up with more of the music ourselves. Dario and Gaslini had been having disagreements about the music, also Gaslini had a very heavy schedule of concert work … he was a very famous jazz player… so Dario said: ‘OK guys, you’re on your own’. That was our big break, we did the main title music and other themes in the picture. The A-
side of the soundtrack album is the music that we composed, the B-side is Gaslini stuff arranged and played by Goblin” (as the band, minus Tartarini and concentrating on instrumental material, would now be known).

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“We were glad to have been granted this great opportunity, we were very young and very full of ourselves …. ” So, to Gaslini’s famous lullaby theme The Goblins added (among other bits of business) the equally celebrated, much re-released and remixed title piece, a stunning interplay between acoustic guitar-picking and church organ grandiloquence which makes me suspect that, while in London, The Goblins must have been tuning into classic Granada TV documentary series World In Action. During the Deep Red sessions drummer Martino left yet again to be replaced by Agostino Marangolo, whose brother Antonio also contributed additional keyboard parts. On the soundtrack to Mauro Macario’s 1976 picture Perche Si Uccidono, attributed to II Reale Impero Britannico, four of the eleven tracks are The Goblins’ interpretation of music written by Fabio Frizzi, no less… the guy who went on to score most of Lucio Fulci’s zombie epics. Antonio Marangolo gave way to Maurizio Guarini for the band’s other 1976 effort Roller, whose title track continues the big organ (ooh-er, missus!) sound of Profondo Rosso, though here in tandem with Morante’s soaring electric lead. Elsewhere those Prog influences are very much in evidence. Dr Frankestein (sic) emulates ELP and the eponymous Goblin runs the gamut from Genesis to jazz-rock, while Snip Snap hints at the funky shape of things to come. Roller remains one of only two non-soundtrack albums that were ever put out under the Goblin banner, though cuts from it were subsequently pillaged for the soundtracks of other films, notably Wampir (the 1979 Italian release of George Romero’s Martin), Luigi Cozzi’s colourised re-issue of the original Godzilla and Argento’s tenor tour-deforce Suspiria (1977 … Aquaman and Dr Frankestein appear on the original soundtrack album though not in the film itself). Goblin did however deliver plenty of original material for Suspiria, their dissonant cacophony of whispers, screams, strangulated synthesiser and found percussion providing the perfect accompaniment to Argento’s all-out visual, visceral assault. Just as the witches’ murderous daggers are wielded in close up by the director’s own skinny hands, so it is Simonetti’s voice that can be heard throughout the picture, muttering lines from the folk poem “Three Witches Sitting In A Tree.” It has gone down in fear-film folklore that Goblin completed the scoring of Suspiria before a frame of film was shot, and that the actors rehearsed and played their parts while listening to it. The truth is that this provisional score was completely revamped in postproduction. Another persistent rumour has it that the band Libra, whose relentless, percussion-driven score accompanies Dario Nicolodi’s accelerating mental disintegration in Mario Bava’s final feature Shock (1977), are actually The Goblins, working incognito for contractual reasons. In fact the connection was a very tenuous one, Libra comprising original Goblin drummer Walter Martino and transient members / fringe figures Maurizio Guarini, Alessandro Centofanti, Carlo Pennisi and Dino Cappa.

DOTD Jap Sleeve

In the same year the genuine Goblins scored Enzo Castellari’s cop saga La Via Della Droga.There was no doubt about who scored George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead aka Zombie, coproduced by Argento in 1978. With Antonio Marangolo contributing sax parts, Goblin turned in what is undoubtedly their strongest soundtrack album. The others invariably boast a strong title theme but also a certain amount of straight filler and tend to peter out into lots of “creeping around corridors” stuff that doesn’t necessarily do much for the listener without its accompanying visuals. The band came up with several compelling themes for Dawn, and their characteristic staccato unison riffing, a la King Crimson / Mahavishnu Orchestra, has never been this tight and telling. Argento wisely beefed up the band’s soundtrack presence on his punchier cut of the movie, released in Italy.

Like any self-respecting Prog band, Goblin were obliged to release the dreaded “concept album,” which also appeared in 1978 with the Kafka-esque title II Fantastico Viaggio Del Bagarozzo Mark (“The Fantastic Voyage Of Mark The Bug”). This was full-on Prog with a distinctly Italian flavour, the vocals (courtesy of Morante ) delivered at times in the hectoring tone of a Roman market trader. “It’s a story about this beetle called Mark and his travels through the insect world, but it’s like … how to say? It’s a human story, but told in the insect world … an allegory!” An autobiographical allegory of certain members’ drug problems, it was later confessed! Perhaps those problems contributed to the band’s split later in 1978, apparently at the height of their powers. It’s also possible that there was friction with Argento, who has had well-recorded spats with Ennio Morricone, Giorgio Gaslini and Keith Emerson. Simonetti, however, offers a more prosaic explanation …” I think at that point, after all those years of collaborations, that we had nothing more to say. A lot of other bands from that era were also calling it a day round about this time … Prog Rock was finished, the new era of dance music was arriving.” Indeed, when sundry Goblins reconvened four years later to record the soundtrack of Argento’s Tenebrae, the results were distinctly disco-flavoured, with vocoder heavily to the fore on the main theme’s infernal toccata-and-frug, and drum machine throughout, complimenting the musicianly efforts of Pignatelli-Simonetti-Morante. Thus they were billed, as by now Cinevox owned all rights to the name Goblin, under which Zappa looky-likey Pignatelli was simultaneously recording Volo, an album of TV themes, utilising a rotating crew of collaborators, either with or without Simonetti and / or Morante. Pignatelli had taken on scoring duties for a succession of Italian genre pictures which generally lack the zip and zing of golden age Goblinry, their sequenced keyboard progressions coming across as leaden and predictable. Among the better ones are those for Joe D’ Amato’s 1979 outrage Blue Holocaust, with its pulsating main theme, and Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980), whose genuinely epic title piece contains some of the niftiest mellotron work ever executed outside The Court Of The Crimson King. The rest of the album features several cuts filched from D’ Amato’s picture. The weirdest is undoubtedly that for Bruno Corbucci’s Squadra Antigangster (1979), a comedic crime-slime vehicle for Tomas Milian’s ever popular “Monnezza” character. This one boasts Chinese disco, the S/M droolings of demented dominatrix Asha Puthly on a track entitled The Whip and, bizarrest of all, the funk fiasco Welcome To The Boogie, in which guest vocalist “Charlie Cannon” not only welcomes us to said boogie but also invites the bemused listener to “wiggle his woogie” before delivering further astonishing non sequitur lines about, among other things, “funky” (or are they “spunky”?) donkeys!

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Meanwhile Simonetti’s solo scores were often the most entertaining features of exploitation pictures such as Enzo Castellari’s The New Barbarians (1982), Lucio Fu1ci’s Conquest (1983) and several Ruggero Deodato efforts. In collaboration with ethereal vocalist Pina Magri, he also contributed the pulse-pounding title piece for Argento’s much-panned Phenomena (1984, also collaborating on some tracks with Pignatelli) and the rather more lyrical main theme for Opera (1987), book-ending his Herbie Hancockesque electro contributions to Argento and Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) and gothy dabblings on its inevitable sequel, Demons 2 (1986). Simonetti’s contributions to all of these nestled cheek-by-jowl with a grab bag of contemporary rock tracks, Argento’s magpie “now that’s what I call hit-and-miss” scoring system an ill-advised attempt to drum up extra soundtrack album sales. When it came to Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989), producer Argento was ready for something more refined, dividing scoring duties between Keith Emerson and the axis of Pignatelli, Simonetti and Morante, who performed the looping cadences of Philip Glass’s compositions for the film. Argento’s directorial career marked time during the ’90s as the Spag Horror legend turned in a succession of misconceived mediocrities. 2001’s Non Ho Sonno aka Sleepless was a return to the giallo genre and a partial return to former glories. To stoke up expectations that he was back on track, Argento asked Simonetti to reform the classic Profondo Rosso / Suspiria line-up of Goblin for its soundtrack. “I met him in Barcelona at a festival in the late ’90s … ” remembers the keyboard wizard ” … and he said why not reform the band for my next film. So I contacted my friends and they agreed.” Although Goblin / Argento enthusiasts raved over the results (the predictably lush title piece has more than a suggestion of Profondo Rosso about it), ” .. .it was very hard to work together again,” confesses Simonetti, ” … because we hadn’t played for 22 years and we are now so different from each other. Every one of us likes different types of music. I think we were not ready to play together again.” Indeed, Non Ho Sonno could well prove to be the final hurrah. “That will probably be the last collaboration of that classic line-up of Goblin …. ” sighs Simonetti: ” .. .its not easy to play together and stay together.”

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“A marriage is easier to keep together than a band” drummer Marangolo muses during an MPEG that appears on certain video-enhanced Cinevox editions of the band’s CDs. The company has diligently kept all of the band’s work available since the early 80s, and released an ongoing series of “greatest hits” and “rarities” packages including such oddities as Chi? (the band’s 1976 performance of a popular TV programme’s theme tune), Yell (Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers’ 1978 theme for another TV series, which was resurrected for The Goblins’ re-scoring of Richard Franklin’s Patrick) and Pignatelli, Marangolo and Pennisi’s contributions to the score of Armenia Balducci’s 1979 effort, Amo Non Amo. The proliferation of Cinevox “Best Of” compilations and bonus “tracks / alternate” takes on their new editions of original albums made for a certain degree of duplication, but in 2000 the company excelled themselves with The Fantastic Journey Of Goblin, Volume 1 (no sign of Volume 2 at the time of writing). This collection serves up the expected Argento collaborations, but with a bonus disc comprising material that had recently been discovered in the Cinevox vaults, a concert recording of the band (Simonetti, Morante, Pignatelli and the Marangolo brothers) delivering live renditions of tracks from Roller and Bagarozzo Mark, together with the inevitable Profondo Rosso theme. “I can’t imagine where they discovered that material” confesses Simonetti: “”We were a really good live band, it’s a great shame there are not a lot of concert recordings and absolutely no video” (in fact a bootleg DVD exists, documenting Goblin’s appearance at the San Remo Festival in 1978. I might even get round to reviewing that one in a future posting – Bob Freudstein.) Cinevox have also released Volume 1 of a remixes collection and Simonetti himself has continued to tinker… on his Simonetti Horror Project video there’s a dance version of the Profondo Rosso theme, with a black DJ rapping over the top to startling effect. The Goblin legacy continues to thrive, much to the delight of Simonetti: “Prog Rock was very popular in the’ 70s. Now it is completely out of fashion, yet there is still such strong support for the music of Goblin over so many years. We couldn’t have imagined that this would happen. It makes us very surprised … and very, very happy!”

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Children Of The Revolution… DAVID HESS & GUNNAR HANSEN interviewed in 2000.

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Keep telling yourself, “it’s only a photo-opportunity… only a photo-opportunity… only a photo-opportunity…” In fact somebody tell Gunnar Hansen, because the big lug is threatening to throttle me to fucking death! That’s right folks, the currently glowing crimson countenance of your intrepid reporter isn’t attributal to the warm glow of bonomie occasioned by yocking it up with two of the big screen’s baddest bogey-men, nor to any intake of intoxicating liquor. The only nip I’m feeling the effect of is the one Hansen’s exerting on my carotid artery and vagus nerve. Marilyn Burns’s reminiscences of his heavy hand with that Texas Chainsaw, which I’d previously dismissed as a bit of memoir embroidery, start ringing in my ears… or is that just my pounding blood? Careful with that hack, Eugene. Who will survive and what, indeed, will be left of me…

It’s the 25th of June in this Year Of Our Lord 2000 and we’re at Leicester’s splendid Phoenix Art Centre for Last Chainsaw On The Left, a groundbreaking extravaganza organised by Phoenix honcho and ace anti-censorship crusader Alan Alderson Smith, Exploited mainman David Gregory and laddish academic Xavier Mendip. The event comprises the UK’S first ever public screening of Last House On The Left (apparently in defiance of furious rearguard action by our pals at the BBFC) supported by Texas Chainsaw Massacre (and Gregory’s Shocking Truth documentary about the making of the latter), personal appearances by David Hess and the aforementioned Scandinavian strangler, while Harvey Fenton is here to launch a raft of excellent FAB Press publications. I’m also here to shoot some footage with David Flint (who’d like you to know that he prefers the billing “Britain’s most eminent sex film historian” to being described as “filthy”) and Louisa Achille. Really guys, you shouldn’t have missed this one…

The following conversation with messrs Hess and Hansen was taped in between on-stage appearances and signing seesions, as they familiarised themselves with the delights of Yorkshire pudding and Theakstone’s ale. “Old and peculiar”, mused the now silver-haired Last House psycho: “… just like me!”

Bob Freudstein: Well, you’re looking pretty well on it.

Hess: Really ? I’m alive anyway, and very much kicking, 40 films and numerous films scores later… well, six scores but I am a musician, essentially.

Bob Freudstein: You wrote stuff for Elvis, yeah?

Hess: Right, started working when I was 14. I sometimes look back… you look at yourself and you ask what you did in your life, right? And I think, do I remember as little as everybody else remembers or is it just me that doesn’t remember a lot? I  don’t remember a whole lot of my life is what I’m saying, what do you think? I remember bits and pieces but here I am. I’m going on 58… I look back and I say where do all those years go? Where have they fucking gone?

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Bob Freudstein: They say if you can remember the 60’s you weren’t there… but what was that led to all of these tough movies coming out in the early 70’s? People say Vietnam, people say Manson…

Hess: All of the above, you know… in the 60’s we were the love generation and they took our love and just crushed it with all these assassinations and everything. That was really the first generation in the US that was idealistic and socialistic and they just crushed this whole innocence out of us. So when that happens people get a little harder and they become, you know, a little pessimistic about things. I think that is reflected in the kind of film that comes out… not just film, but art in general. I mean, look at Andy Warhol’s art… look at it! What is it, it’s total pessimism… it’s not even two dimensional, it’s one dimensional. I think that a lot of it had to do with us growing up in our 20s and 30s and having this counter culture… kids always have that, you know, have to push against authority, but they do it in a way that’s optimistic. We had our optimism taken away from us and it reflects in the way that we, as artists, reflect society. That’s the best answer I can give you. Did I answer your question?

Bob Freudstein: Spot on… do you know if the makers of Texas Chainsaw Massacre were influenced by Last House?

Hess: Well, no doubt Gunnar will shed his light on this when you talk to him, but I feel that Tobe must have been influenced by it. But TCM is such an original piece… Gunnar and I were discussing this last night, I’d been in to see a bit of the film and I hadn’t seen it in such a long time. Last House is really an urban horror film… even though a lot of it takes place in the country and a lot of it takes place in the house of the victims, it has an urban feel.

Bob Freudstein: They adjourn to the country to do what they do, but what created these people was an urban environment…

Hess: Exactly, whereas TCM, on the other hand, is very much a rural film. I think Tobe was probably a country boy and Wes was a city boy. That’s the essential difference between the two, but the films make very similar statements. Your cutting edge usually does come from the city and makes its way out into the country so it doesn’t surprise me that TCM followed on the heels of Last House… (enter Gunnar Hansen) Hey Gunnar, we don’t need you any more, I’m answering this guys questions for you!

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Bob Freudstein: Hi Gunnar, it’s great to meet you at last. How are they treating you here today?

Bob Freudstein: Terrible! No, great. The audiences are really up for it, it’s amazing for me to see how many people know Chainsaw, despite it being banned over here for so long and also Last House, at every screening it was apparent that most of the people there had seen the movies. David says they must have been to the pirates.

Bob Freudstein: I  was just speculating with David as to whether Last House had exerted an influence over the makers of TCM…

Hansen: Well I dunno, I’d never seen Last House when we were making Chainsaw, but it’s certainly feasible – and I think probable – that Tobe had hit upon using the chainsaw from seeing the end of Last House. There is it’s first use in a movie, I would expect. Makes sense.

Bob Freudstein: We were also talking about the factors that contributed to this eruption of really tough films in the early 70’s.

Hansen: I think it’s hard to say, and certainly we had no ideas about this when we were actually making the film. There’s a scene in the van where the kids are discussing a period when horrible things are going to happen because of the influence of the stars, so you can certainly see that as a statement about the times in general. Another way to look at it is to say everyone knew that horror movies were really moribund, they were going nowhere… we’d had Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, “The Three Stooges Meet The Space Monster”, whatever… so quite apart from what was happening in any sociological context, in the medium it was obviously time for the horror film and the business to break free. After Psycho in about 1960, whatever the politics or the zeitgeist of the thing, it was time to move on. Texas Chainsaw didn’t actually change the horror film industry, Last House didn’t either, but certainly they and some other things were part of this big change.

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Hess: Last House busts a lot of balls and breaks a lot of taboos… it’s the end of an era, of that big ’60s love-in, and the first of the neo-horrors… that realistic strand of horror film-making. We ended up with this intense docu-drama style, I don’t think consciously, but actually because we had less time and material to work with… and probably less money.

Bob Freudstein: Wes Craven has admitted that he didn’t really know anything about shooting a film, he didn’t even know to do cover shots, and so on…

Hess: What we did have, though, was this family atmosphere on the shoot. I mean, it was a love-in. It was like we all grew up on the ’60s and went through all that loving counter-cultural revolution so it was the natural thing, to be friends, and out of this friendship evolved a repertory, ensemble kind of film, and that ensemble thing is what you’re feeling.

Bob Freudstein: Both movies are so raw and in your face, but they came out of very different circumstances: Last House from this very “comfortable” production, as David has described it, Chainsaw from a notoriously gruelling shoot…

Hess: The exact opposites, totally. Gunnar and I have been talking about this throughout the tour and we’ve talked about it before, but it’s really coming through.

Hansen: I’m not convinced that Texas Chainsaw could have been the movie it was if everybody had been happy on the set.

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To Avoid Fainting

Bob Freudstein: Is it true that everybody hated Paul Partain?

Hansen: Oh yeah, everybody hated Paul because he was so into his character, and he talks about this in David Gregory’s documentary, that he was so afraid of losing the character that he stayed in it. So everybody was glad to see him go. I don’t know about anybody else but I didn’t like John Dugan much, the guy who played grampa, because he was so difficult… his refusal to wear the make-up more than once is the reason that we had that shoot which went on for 28 hours non-stop, or whatever it was. Ed (Neal), Jim (Siedow) and I got on just fine, but I don’t think that the film would have turned out anything like as good under other conditions, without that total state of sweaty exhaustion.

(As if drained by the memory, Gunnar wanders off to sort out some food)

Bob Freudstein: David, the similarity of your dialogue in different films for different directors suggests to me that you improvise a lot of it…

Hess: Absolutely! I’m a very organic kind of guy in general and my training is Actor’s Studio, so improvisation is my strength. I mean, I can do a script, but if I’m allowed to improvise, then something might pop up which is very original. Wes was wonderful that way, he let me loose and he let me improvise… Ruggero (Deodato) didn’t speak a word of English so I had to improvise. With Franco (Nero) and Pasquale (Festa Campanile), Franco spoke a certain amount of English but I was the only native English speaker on the set, so a lot of what you see in both Hitch Hike and House On The Edge Of The Park are my ideas.

Bob Freudstein: So, were you directing set ups?

Hess: It’s not directing… I know set ups and I’ve directed before, but it’s similar to doing a play, giving reasons, establishing motivation and all of the things that go towards making up a scene. They asked me to do that and I felt very honoured to do it.

Bob Freudstein: You did Sartre’s No Exit on stage, which has a similarly claustrophobic feeling to your most noteed film roles…

Hess: I did No Exit just before Last House and I was off Broadway doing Dark Of The Moon, you know, the Thurber piece…

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Bob Freudstein: Did you study any real-life serial killers as preparation for your roles as Krug, Alex or Adam?

Hess: You don’t study, per se. I’ve had a lot of disparate experiences in my life, not the least of which was that when I was at college at Columbia I worked at the Ellison Clinic for Schizophrenic Children over the summer… I was able to take some notes and really integrate myself with those kids. A lot of what psychosis is, is not being understood. You may well be understood, but it’s your personal interpretation of what being understood is.

Bob Freudstein: How you’re coming across…

Hess: Exactly, that creates a psychosis. So I used that and I dug into my own past and found situations where I was really put up against the wall, so to speak, physically or emotionally and tried to use that. How did I react? What did I do? I’ve always been a very physical kind of person, and at the time I was playing rugby. When we were filming Last House I was actually captain of my rugby team…

Bob Freudstein: I didn’t realise that rugby was such a big game in the States…

Hess: I was the captain of the US team for a couple of years. I was a pretty good player and reached a good level. If you know anything about rugby, and I’m sure you do…

Bob Freudstein: Sure, they made us play it at school.

Hess: … you become an animal, The only way to can survive on a rugby field is to become an animal. I was a number eight and I never took or gave any quarter. I shook hands before and after the game, but in those 90 minutes in-between… if you got in my way I tried to kill you! That was a very good metaphor for Krug Stillo, and as I was playing rugby at the time, I just transferred a lot of that energy and that animalism into the role. Most people don’t know that, but it’s an awful large part of Krug’s character.

HOTEOTP 2

Bob Freudstein: What about the ridiculous plot twist that closes House On The Edge… was that in the script when you signed to play it?

Hess: Yeah, that’s the way he wrote it.

Bob Freudstein: It’s just so far fetched…

Hess: Well, he’s crazy anyway. Ruggero and I always had a love / hate relationship. When he’s OK and I’m OK, we’re bosom buddies, but he’s very schizophrenic, has a very sort of Hitlerian attitude towards the world… and having been brought up as a nice Jewish boy, and been through all that for years, I wasn’t about to buy all that fucking shit.

Bob Freudstein: Never again, right?

Hess: Exactly. So we butted heads a lot. I have nothing but good things to say about him. He is an idealist, he has wonderful, wonderful ideas… it’s hard for him sometimes to bring them to fruition because it’s kind of hard for him to explain what they are. The idea of a social counter culture is what House On The Edge is all about, going amok when you have such social and class division and such obscene and arcane concepts with the class structure. I think it’s wonderful, I love that and I loved it when I read it, which is why I agreed to do the film. It’s very ironic that the upper class, with all their ennui, has to descend to the same level as the underclass, that’s what the film is all about.

Hess On The Edge

Bob Freudstein: Were you aware of Ruggero’s contoversial filmography up to that point… Cannibal Holocaust, and so on?

Hess: That’s his whole thing, the clash of cultures.

Bob Freudstein: When I interviewed him…

Hess: What did he say about me?

Bob Freudstein: “Big crazy American guy… big presence”… he didn’t say anything bad about you…

Hess: I wouldn’t say anything bad about him and I feel badly that we don’t speak. Maybe that’s a question of proximity more than anything. We didn’t get on during the last thing that we did, the TV series with Bud Spencer and Paul Michael Thomas… We Are Angels… I finally got a chance to do that, you know, to do some comedy. We were probably under the gun and it was very pressured. I got on very well with the producer and I’m gonna meet with him when I’m in Italy, which is where I’m en route to right now.

Bob Freudstein: Is there much film making going on over there these days?

Hess: There’s fucking nothing going on anywhere, because the studios have finally got what they wanted. They’ve taken over the whole goddamned business, they’re making multi-billion dollar films and they can stick it up their asses as far as I’m concerned, because they’re destroying the film industry in my opinion.

Bob Freudstein: You went to the former Soviet Union with Castellari… what was that like?

Hess: Incredible experience, the film notwithstanding… I think Jonathan Of The Bears is a really good film…

Bob Freudstein: And nobody’s seen it!

Hess: And nobody’s seen it… we filmed 24/7, like a guerilla production, and Franco (Nero) had put his own money into this film so he wanted to make very sure that it got done. We would drive on Saturday and Sunday to the set, and this was about 15 kilometres outside of Moscow, in a place called Alibino, and they had the major tank force for the Soviet Army. We would drive in the mornings and actually see dead bodies littering the highway between Moscow and Alibino. I was just totally shocked because these were people who got drunk in the night and they just couldn’t cross the street and they’d get hit by a car and the car would just leave them there. I’m not talking about one, I’m talking about dozens.

Bob Freudstein: This is what you were saying, about society breaking down

Hess: Unbelievable, I’ve never seen so much drinking in my life. The Russian women are not to be believed, they’re the most gorgeous, giving, loving, sexual, sensual creatures that walk the face of the earth. They are unbelievable. The men are wrecks, total wrecks.

Bob Freudstein: My friend Mariano Baino made a horror film – Dark Waters – in the Ukraine, and he was up against corruption, people in the crew stealing the film stock and selling it, you name it…

Hess: We had that problem. The story about the money changed every day, every day they would turn up and there would be some new problem. But I think a lot of that had to do with the fear in that country, I mean you have no idea how terrified those people are. They have no money and they have no idea of where the next meal is coming from. They’re sitting in their apartment which is owned by the government, or the government just sold it to some landlord, and they have nothing, they have no security whatsoever. Consequently, the energy level is very high and I think it would be the best place in the world to make a horror film because everybody is a leaping, screaming paranoiac!

Gunnar TCM

(Gunnar Hansen reappears)

Bob Freudstein: Do you guys have any thoughts on the dialectical process by which the likes of Last House and Texas Chainsaw start off as pariah movies and end up being embraced by the Art-house set?

Hess: Movies have a long shelf life, they are timeless so they don’t follow the generational time frame we all have to follow, and generations change their opinions…

Hansen: The very same thing that cuased the controversy, which is the movie’s power, is what keeps people wanting to see it thirty years later…

Bob Freudstein: … and other people from trying to stop them seeing it.

Hansen:  I was here several years ago on a promotional trip and people were bringing me all these Texas Chainsaw sleeves to sign and I remarked that they were all photo-copies, at which point somebody told me that the movie couldn’t be released over here. I was amazed. I mean, what is the mind-set of the people who decide these things? Do they think that British people who see the movie will all become serial killers? How can they defend such a preposterous position? All of these people were finding ways to see it anyway, and they seemed OK to me. So what’s the point?

Hess: I’m not surprised that censorship exists, anywhere, but it’s silly. Your censorship committee have been particularly silly  to ban Last House because it’s just a film, you know… to coin aphrase,  “It’s only a movie!” You don’t have to watch it, you can walk out… leave the theatre. If you want to see what happens though,  you’ve got to stay to the end. There’s a chance that you might see something which will shake you up. But that has to happen if a film is going to be an educational experience, be worthwhile.

Bob Freudstein: So are people in The States shocked when they learn about the state censorship that goes on over here?

Hess: I don’t think they give a fiddler’s fuck, to be honest with you. But I’m not worried about censorship… it’s a passing thing, so I don’t really pay too much attention to that shit… and there’s always this loophole, be it pirate copies or whatever. The authorities are always going to be fighting a rearguard action on this. In the US at the moment there is a kind of ultra-Republican backlash, but it’s clear that at the grass roots level the people will not accept this kind of fundamentalism. The revolution is still going on…”

TCM Climax

Stillo crazy, after all these years…

Categories: Interviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

FULCI MENTAL JUNKET… “My Lunch With Lucio”

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It was twenty years ago, today (yep, this very day)… that Lucio Fulci passed away. I had intended to mark the occasion by finally publishing here the complete text of my interview with him, which has only previously appeared in excerpts (e.g. in Dark Side when the news of his death came through.) It now appears though that the interview will make its unexpurgated world debut in another and very exciting context, which I will announce on this blog if / when confirmed. In lieu of that, I’ve taken the opportunity to wallow in nostalgia with the following updated account of the weekend (09-11th December, 1994) that I spent with Il Maestro in London during his triumphant appearance at EuroFest 2 in Hampstead. Like Mark Twain, rumours of Fulci’s death had been greatly exaggerated, and although he joked that in ten years or so he would be experiencing The Beyond personally (sadly, it didn’t take anything like that long) the legions of fans who travelled from all over Britain, and indeed Europe, had come to praise Fulci, not to bury him …

Friday evening

Having completed the filming of interviews with the BBC (I’ve enquired with the Corporation as to what happened to this footage but nobody knows or seems to give a toss) and a London cable channel, the grand old man of Italian horror is holding court to a couple of Dutch fanzine proprietors / festival organisers amid the opulence of Beyond star David Warbeck’s palatial Hampstead spread as I am ushered into his presence, at the end of a torturous car-crawl through London’s grid-locked traffic. Resplendent in the red and black hunting hat he sported while top-lining his own A Cat In The Brain, Fulci firmly grasps my hand and fixes me with an Old Testament glower as he growls “Maaartin… I ‘ate journalists!” (uh-oh!) Looks like my long and fervently held ambition to meet and interview him is going tits up already. “But…” he continues with a chuckle “… to me you are not so much a journalist as a friend of Lucio Fulci”. As you can imagine, dear reader, this comes as quite a considerable relief.

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Fulci smooches up to Mario Bava back in the ’50s…

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… and with our very own Bob Freudstein in 1994

I’m also introduced to Fulci’s charming daughter Antonella, a very sweet and helpful lady who, as well as assisting her father, follows an independent career of her own as a rock and film journalist (she’s currently preparing a piece on Amando de Ossorio.) Due to the interpretative skills of Antonella and the inestimable Loris Curci, the first interview session goes splendidly, with some fascinating insights and hilariously scabrous anecdotes (“Mama mia!” Fulci tends to exclaim when the names of certain people are mentioned: “He has the intelligence of an idiot!”)

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Later, at the dinner table, the assembled company enjoys David Warbeck’s fabled hospitality in full force and effect, while Fulci rhapsodises over A.C. Roma’s recent 4-0 stuffing of Lazio before launching into an unprintable roll-call of your favourite Italian exploitation stars and their scandalous sexual liaisons, which keeps us all in stitches. Other anecdotes, which I can recount here, revolve around Al Cliver / Pier Luigi Conti’s allegedly meagre I.Q., Auretta Gay’s feat of shitting through the string of her tanga (“After that we called her ‘Ca-ca-ca’ Gay’!”), and Tisa Farrow’s similarly cavalier attitude towards defecation, plus how her stint as an inept New York taxi driver ended in her losing an eye (what better qualification for a Fulci heroine?) Fulci’s having a ball, playing the role of Pasta Paura’s elder statesman to the hilt (why not, he’s certainly earned that laurel) and thankfully at no point does he appear to be hallucinating scenes of cannibalism while tucking into his meal, a la A Cat In The Brain …

Fulci's dinner

Saturday

Having spent the night kipping on a sofa at Mariano Baino’s flat (where the hospitality is perhaps less lavish than at David Warbeck’s place, but every bit as graciously bestowed and gratefully received) I arrive at the Hampstead Everyman just too late to catch my cameo in Mariano’s Caruncula, obviously one of the Festival’s stand-out moments. News filters through on the grape-vine that the Manchester Film Fair has just been raided by Trading Standards Officers. Bad timing, officers – all the gore-pups are in Hampstead today, and right now they’re checking out the new multi-director anthology movie De Generazione, which starts in promising style with two Peter Jackson-flavoured episodes (Piergiorgio Bellocchio’s Our guys Are Coming , then Marco and Antonio Manetti’s Home Delivery) before, er, degenerating into under-achieving artiness. Alberto Taraglio’s creepy Is TV Bad For Children? marks him down as one to watch, but Asia Argento’s pretentious Outlook is more typical of the collection’s general tone (although I’m able to forgive Dario’s daughter on account of her feisty performance as a hippy hit-girl in Alessandro Valori’s Squeak!, which at least closes the proceedings in agreeably manic style.) Apparently we’ve been “treated” to a couple of episodes that were cut from the Italian release print, but most of the punters seem to feel that they’ve seen more than enough …

Attack, Dicky...

“Degeneration”, of course, could also serve as a convenient summary of what’s been happening to Italian horror and indeed, a much better reception is afforded to a film which predates De Generazione by virtually 15 years, i.e. Fulci’s classic The Beyond, soon to be the subject of a major Fangoria retrospective by Mr Curci and introduced here by its star David Warbeck. As usual, David and his entourage laugh like drains every time he appears on the screen, and there are reverential murmurs of approval for Fulci’s customary cameo. We cheer on the pipe-cleaner spiders, chuckle at the spectacle of David reloading his revolver through its snout, encourage Cinzia Monreale’s dog to “attack, Dicky… attack!” … and that frigid vision of Hell still raises the hairs on the back of your neck. In fact, seeing a slice of classic Fulci on the big screen again after all these years reminds you of the impact these films originally had on you, the sense that you were watching something quite unlike anything else you’d ever seen before, an impression perhaps diluted by subsequent years of video over-familiarity. Indeed, the heartfelt howls of audience anguish that accompany this ‘X’ print’s several censorship cuts brings it home to me that a lot of people here today have only ever seen this movie on uncut bootleg video: David Alton’s worst nightmare, an upcoming generation of video nasty brats … ample testimony to the continuing pulling power of Lucio Fulci.

Speaking of pulling power … what a ladies’ man! To rapturous applause, Fulci takes the stage (with Warbeck and Loris) to compliment the female fans on their pulchritude and announce that he’s looking for his next wife (the lady producer of The Doors To Silence pursued him but was apparently rejected on the grounds of halitosis.) Fulci also announces his mission to marry Antonella off to card-carrying Fulci fan Quentin Tarantino… “Then, at last, I will be rich!” Fulci acclaims Tarantino as “a genius”, but those who’ve incurred Fulci’s wrath are not spared his waspish wit: “Wes Craven is a very successful guy” he opines: “ … so why does he have to rip off A Cat In The Brain and call it his New Nightmare?” The audience are equally amused by Fulci’s description of John Savage as “a once-handsome actor, now weighed down by drink and his social problems”, by way of introduction to the British premiere of The Doors To Silence.

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From The Land of the Big Boot…

Most importantly though, Fulci announces the news over which I’ve been sworn to silence for these last couple of months: his next film is to be a remake of the classic Mystery In The Wax Museum, produced and presented by… Dario Argento. I think you could safely say that audience response is enthusiastic! The punters are still getting their heads around this bombshell as The Doors To Silence commences. I’m delighted to finally catch up with this picture, complete with its original jazzy score (subsequently changed by producer Joe D’Amato, whose infectious penchant for pseudonyms resulted in the picture being credited to “H. Simon Kittay”, much to Fulci’s chagrin.) For an hour or so Fulci skilfully keeps this virtual one-man show on the road, but by the end of Door’s feature-length running time the slimness of its premise (essentially a low-fi reworking of Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge) and the paucity of resources afforded by producer D’Amato have taken their toll. I discover that while watching it I’ve been sitting next to Cathal Tohil and Pete Tombs, authors of Immoral Tales, a wide-ranging, lavishly-illustrated door-stop of a guide to European erotic and horror cinema. It’s a wee (not so wee, actually) cracker, so scour your local quality bookshop (or indeed, t’interweb) for a copy now.

As Messrs Tohil, Tombs and I soak up the atmosphere (and alcohol) in one corner of the bar, Signor Fulci is being besieged by fans on the other. Although he’s just told the audience that “like a father with many children, I love all my films … even the illegitimate ones”, this obviously doesn’t extend to Zombi 3 (finished and ruined by Bruno Mattei), across stills from which he scrawls “I do not like this film!” If Fulci is entertaining any doubts at all as to his cult status, the frantically haggling German nut-case who’s just got to buy that hat off him will surely dispel them … meanwhile I’m handing out flyers for the latest Giallo Pages (am I setting a new record for most plugs in one piece or what?) and meeting many readers. I even get to sign a few copies of Seduction Of The Gullible. Thanks to everybody who came up to say hello. Skipping Zombie Flesh Eaters and Dark Waters, Mariano, Loris, Mark Ashworth and I adjourn for a pizza.

Sunday

Best Apple

The apple never falls far from the tree…

Granted a morning audience in il maestro’ s hotel room to conclude my interview, I am urged to inform the fans that Fulci didn’t receive a penny for signing memorabilia. Speaking of which, our hero lets himself in for a terminal bout of writers cramp by agreeing to autograph mountains of stuff for me (he’s particularly taken with the Japanese Zombie Flesh Eaters cinema programme and its pop-up zombie!) as he grills me on my impression of Quentin Tarantino and his eligibility; Antonella proudly shows me the runic symbol from The Beyond tattooed on her arm and I quiz her father about the upcoming Argento collaboration: “It’s going to be a ferocious film, I hope some courageous British distributor will bring it over here for a theatrical run. It has a good script, which I just finished … Dario made some suggestions, which I took on board”. Is he daunted by the prospect of working with such a powerful personality as Argento in the producer’s chair, bearing in mind the stories we hear of Argento “taking over” Michele Soavi’s films? “No, no , no …” protests Fulci: “You have to remember that I’m an older man than Soavi, and indeed Argento, so he will show me the proper respect. He’s a very intelligent, cultured man. Don’t forget also …”, he chuckles: “Lucio Fulci is a strong personality, too!” Right – so couldn’t there be a clash? “Argento will be in America in March, anyway, shooting Stendhal Syndrome while I’m shooting Mystery In The Wax Museum in Turin …” responds Fulci: “ … then he’ll return to work on the post-production. Who knows what will happen in the future, but so far we’ve had no problems at all”.

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The collaboration of these two titans of Tiber Terror is a tantalising prospect for Spaghetti horror buffs, a consummation devoutly to be wished, but for Fulci it amounts to even more than that – the Italian horror film’s last stand, no less! “If Argento and I together aren’t enough to turn things around, then who is there that can do it?” (Who indeed?) Fulci’s apocalyptical pronouncements, still pounding in my head, combine with the intoxicating effect of hanging out with one of my heroes, not to mention the impenetrable architecture of this bloody hotel, and I find myself circling its infernal corridors for half an hour, seeking a way out to the street and keeping a wary eye out for pipe-cleaner spiders.

Back in Hampstead, Sunday dinner is a slice of garlic and mozzarella ciabatta from the deli over the road, then it’s once more into the fray, dear fiends. Today’s audience are a rather listless bunch compared to yesterday’s, possibly on account of the fact that it contains a much higher proportion of journos, complimentary ticket holders and general liggers (I even manage a rare meeting with Mr Bryce)… and who’s this black-garbed figure, with the face of a debauched cherub, making his way over to say hello? Why, it’s none other than Eyeball editor Stephen Thrower, a man about whom I’ve had the odd printed spat, back in the day when I felt the need to defend Samhain against every slighting comment made about it by the London horror mafia. As is almost invariably the case in these instances, we get along (reasonably) famously and I’m delighted to learn that he’s penning a tome on Fulci for Nigel Wingrove’s new Redemption Books imprint (interesting bit of trivia there for those of you reading this in 2016.) I also run into the ever-genial Norman J. Warren, who is apparently about to clinch the financing for that Fiend Without A Face remake / sequel he seems to have been banging on about for years. Always nice to see Norman.

Fulci arrives, scales the stage and puts on another barn-storming performance. “Censorship is a hypocritical exercise of power …”, insists this frequent victim of it: “Instead of censoring my films, they should censor the news!” He reprises most of his best lines from yesterday (e.g. “It’s the censors who should be shot in the brain… but it’s a very small target?”) and adds a few new ones, most of which are wasted on this comatose crowd. Even in this subdued atmosphere though, he brings the house down by answering a fan’s enquiry about the advantages of Cinemascope by informing us that it’s the best format in which to watch Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs!

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Also wandering around the bar we find Doug Bradley, fretting over how Liverpool F.C. are getting on against Crystal Palace (a lack-lustre O-O draw, it transpires) and also about how to make a link between the Hellraiser series (which he takes the stage to answer questions on, teasing is with the prospect of – would you believe it? – “Pinhead In Space”?) and Zombie Flesh Eaters, which he’ll be introducing. I assure him that the film is a big favourite of Clive Barker’s. Problem solved, I settle down to watch an un-cut Italian print (“Zombi 2”, doncha know …) with semiotician / lad-about-town / future Giallo Pages contributor Xavier Mendik, who runs this country’s only academic course on Italian horror cinema at Southampton University … carve his name with pride! It’s difficult to view Tisa Farrow, Al Cliver and Auretta Gay in the same light, given some of the stories I’ve heard about them this weekend (and it never was easy to take Ian McCulloch’s hair-do in this film seriously), but for me and many others in the audience our first exposure to the uncut squashing of Olga Karlatos’s eyeball in its full Cinemascopic majesty is an experience we’ll always cherish (… whaddya mean, “sad bastards”?) I hook up with Darrell Buxton and Chris “I kissed Chow Yun Fat and I liked it” Barfield (rest in peace, dude) for the return to Saint Pancras, stopping for a moment of meaningful reflection outside the barred doors of what used to be The Scala. On the red eye special back to the The Great East Midlands we run into none other than Phil Hedgehog of Nottingham’s Forbidden Planet notoriety, who’s keen to hear our tales of les folies de Fulci… Phil, you shoulda been there!

Thanks to Lucio Fulci, of course, to Antonella, David Warbeck, Lois and Dave, to Mariano and Marilyn, to translator Loris Curci, Paul Brown and anybody else I’ve forgotten to mention.

Fulci shoots from the hip

Categories: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Devil Wears Primani… ITALIAN EXORCIST KNOCK-OFFS

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“The Devil truly exists, and we are all in his power” 

Pope Paul VI, November 15th, 1972. 

The above quote kicks off Michael Walter’s energetic, entertainingly schlocky German effort Magdalena – Possessed By The Devil (aka The Devil’s Woman) released in 1974, the year when that Pontiff’s point was conclusively proven for him… at least in cinematic terms. For in the wake of the runaway international box office success enjoyed by William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Old Nick found plenty of work for film-makers with idle imaginations to do. No sooner had the pea-soup hit the priest, Linda Blair’s piss splashed on the floor and that crucifix caressed her crotch than horror hacks the world over began invoking Beelzebub, brushing up on their blasphemy and setting more wobbly furniture in motion than at an MFI clearance sale. In 1974 alone, America offered William Girdler’s Abby (starring Blacula himself, William Marshall, as a black bishop casting demons out of his possessed daughter-in-law, Carol Speed; Brazil begat Black Exoricsm (from nutty ol’ Coffin Joe, aka Jose Mojica Marins); and Spain spawned a tripe-whammy of succubus sagas with Juan Bosch’s Exorcism (starring and co-written by Paul Naschy) and Amando De Ossorio’s Demon Witch Child (those two released within a week of each other), not to mention (no really, please don’t mention it!) Jesus Franco’s The Devil’s Possessed.

Yep, Exorcist imitations were being churned out thick and fast, but nowhere thicker and faster than in J. P. VI’s homeland. Barely had the pea-soup dried on Max Von Sydow’s face than a posse of pesto-spewing poppets and maniacal moppets seemed to be taking over every film studio in Italy, where there was understandably a big market for this kind of stuff. In fact the first Italian Exorcist clone off the block, 1974’s Chi Sei? (“Who’s There?”) proved to be a hit not just with domestic audiences, but also (inexplicably) did significant business (as “Behind / Beyond The Door”) in the U.S., which only encouraged the flow of further Italian imitators. Released on the Videospace label in Britain as The Devil Inside Her (not to be confused with Peter Sasdy’s 1975 effort, also known as I Don’t Want To Be Born) this one had earlier played theatrically with the gimmick of sensurround (a la Earthquake), and opens with an irritating voice-over monologue supposedly delivered by ol’ Scratch himself, backing up His Holiness and assuring us that he (The Devil) does indeed exist: “That stranger sitting in the seat next to you could be me”. Alternatively, the person in the next seat could very well have been be dozing off or scratching their head trying to work out what the Hell was going on. This picture’s total incoherence (catatonic pacing, impenetrable narrative, mannered directorial tricks such as the eccentric, erratic use of freeze fame) could possibly be partially attributed to its dual direction, by Ovidio G. Assonitis (under his never-more-apt “Oliver Hellman” pseud) and his favoured cinematographer, Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli (masquerading as “R. Barrett”)… maybe one of them got on with the Exorcist imitating while the other handled the Rosemary’s Baby stuff?

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Respected Shakespearean thesp and Zombie Flesh Eaters alumnus Richard Johnson is typecast as oldest-swinger-in-town Dimitri, a Satanist apparently brought back from the verge of death to claim for Satan the baby Jessica (Juliet Mills) is expecting. However badly the new sprog turns out, it can’t be any worse than the two she’s already spawned with record producer husband Gabriele Lavia. Assonitis and / or Piazzoli handle the obligatory “rebellious children” sub-text clumsily, and although the kids’ foul-mouthed, jive-talking antics are obviously intended to be cute and endearing, these are arguably the two most nauseating brats in cinema history. When some malefic influence or other causes the boy to convulse in his bed, suffering night terrors, his sister babbles. “Ken, you gotta stop that – it’s gonna blow my mind! If you don’t stop, you’re gonna have a real bad trip – y’hear?” Elsewhere Ken refers to Lavia as an “asshole”, prompting daddy dearest to ask mom if he “needs to see a shrink” (probably not, but a good slap would undoubtedly work wonders.)

Mills soon develops the mandatory leprous complexion and lapses into the expected cussing, bile-honking, head-twisting,  levitating and talking in tongues. “Jessica – what’s gotten into you?” asks her doctor, ironically. As punishment for this corny line, the incubus demands of him: “Come on you filthy pig – lick this vile whore’s vomit!” When he shows understandable reticence to comply, she scoffs a handful of it herself and chucks the rest at him. After much writhing around, she eventually gives birth to a baby with no mouth. While the viewer’s still trying to get his head around this enigmatic development, the film slips into a ludicrous epilogue featuring the kid Ken (David Collin Jr) in that freeze-frame standby of “how the fuck do we finish this one?” cinema , his eyes glowing red via a cheese optical effect.

House Of Ex

“I love what you’ve done with that wall…”

“That picture made $15 million in America and $25M in the rest of the world… it was then the most successful European film ever in America” remembers Assonitis: “It was so successful, Warner Bros tried to sue us!” Chi Sei’s international success also led to Mario Bava’s masterly 1977 psychological thriller Shock being released States-side as Beyond The Door 2 (though admittedly, Bava had probably made a rod for his own back by casting David Colin Jr as a brat with telekinetic powers and an invisible playmate who just might be real, exactly as in Chi Sei?) This wasn’t even the greatest indignity inflicted on poor old Mario due to exorcism mania: producer Alfredo Leone, who had been keeping Bava’s totally baffling Lisa And The Devil unreleased in a vault since 1972, detected an opportunity to salvage some kind of commercial return on his investment by cutting back on the original footage, splicing in inept restagings of key moments from The Exorcist (“Here’s your fucking daily bread, priest!”, snarls Elke Sommer while slinging vomit at Fr Robert Alda, elsewhere answering his questions about the identity of the demon inhabiting her with a few enquiries of her own, e.g. “Have you any idea how a virgin yearns for a man’s cock?”) and releasing the resultant mess as House Of Exorcism, attributed to one “Mickey Lion”. With a certain devilish irony, exactly the same mutilation was meted out to William Peter Blatty’s over-rated second official sequel, The Exorcist 3 in 1990. Another 1972 picture, Lucio Fulci’s giallo masterpiece Don’t Torture A Duckling, was re-released as Long Night Of Exorcism, and in one of the last blasts of exorcism mania, even Fulci’s 1970 satirical sexy comedy AllL’Onorevole Piacciono Le Donne was put out on the VPD video label as “The Eroticist” during the 1980s.

Getting back to that annus mirabilis of spaghetti exorcism, 1974, veteran journeyman director Alberto De Martino (who would in 1977 clone Richard Donner’s The Omen with Holocaust 2000) clocked in with The Tempter aka The Antichrist (on which a certain Joe D’Amato, no less, served as cinematographer.) Continuing Chi Sei’s trick of picking up on Friedkin’s Freudian sub-text and then battering the viewer over the head with it, The Tempter stars Carla Gravina as Hippolyta, hysterically paralysed as a result of living in a dysfunctional family. While still a child she witnessed her mother dying as a result of her Father(Mel Ferrer)’s reckless driving. Now she resents icy Anita Strindberg’s affair with her dad, whom she’s perhaps a little too close to for comfort (it’s also hinted that she’s having it off with her brother.)

Cz6hgQiUAAAP0jX copy.jpgThe Antichrist

Meanwhile Bishop Arthur Kennedy is celebrating mass when he discovers a severed toad’s head in his tabernacle. This he puts down to a decline in moral values, but it turns out that the Satanic shenanigans surrounding Hippolyta are rooted rather farther back than in those sinful swinging ‘60s: our heroine is hypnotically regressed to the burning of an ancestor (Gravina with a rather less severe hair-do) for witchcraft. “It was scientifically proven that previous psychic facts could be transferred from generation to generation”, opines a psychiatrist, who obviously uses a different text-book from the one favoured by most following his profession: “These phenomena happen very often, and once the trauma suffered by her ancestor has been cleaned up, I’m sure we can cure her.” Guess again, Frood dude…

Hippolyta hallucinates herself floating on her bed through the clouds to attend a witch’s Sabbath in a steamy glade. The Devil himself turns up to shag her, Rosemary’s Baby-style (a moment further recreated in Michele Soavi’s The Church, 1989). While being knobbed by Old Nick, she’s also obliged to chew on another of those toad’s heads and lick a goat’s rectum (do these guys know how to party, or what?) One quick poke by the Prince of Darkness later, her legs appear to be working again, so she nips out to the local catacombs to seduce a young lad and leave him lying with his head twisted round, back to front. At a celebratory banquet thrown by her family, she gorges food and starts spitting it out, along with curses aimed at Anita Strindberg, together with the usual non-sequitur obscenities (“Bishops… holy men of the Inquisition… I’ve fucked them all!”) Lights flicker, furniture flies through the air… you’ve seen it all before. Nurse Alida Valli calls in a cowboy freelance exorcist, but after his miserable failure (Hippolyta forces him to scarf down the now obligatory fistful of vomit) the Bishop himself is called in, resists Hippolyta’s dubious sexual charms  and – after all the usual manifestations – blithely announces that ”The Anti-Christ will not be born”.

Up to this point The Tempter had been a lot  more coherent than Chi Sei, Martino effectively building a sense of menace with wide-angled compositions. But it’s conclusion is every bit as confusing edited as the “climax’ of Hammer’s To The Devil A Daughter. The Godlike Ennio Morricone contributed the score of this picture, but it’s not one of his finest moments by a long chalk, proving conclusively that The Devil really doesn’t have all the best tunes.

Sexorcist

The condemnation of “swinging” lifestyles in Mario Gariazzo’s L’Ossessa (also 1974, and “a true story” to boot… sure thing, you guys) is the baldest statement of this sub-genre’s reactionary rationale. This kinky twist on the Pygmalion story, released on video in the UK  on a series of increasingly cheesy labels (and in varying degrees of completeness ) as The Exorcist, The Obsessed, Devil Obsession, Enter The Devil and The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (phew… talk about “my name is legion, for we are many”!) stars Stella Carnacina as Danilla, a sensitive student of art history who’s suffering emotional turmoil on account of her parents’ hell-hole of a marriage. She eavesdrops on her mutton-dressed-as-lamb mother Lucrezia Love being whipped with a rosebush by gigolo Gabriele Tinti. When her cuckolded husband witnesses the wheals on her flesh, he chides: “You bitch, you’ve acted in the most vile and disgusting way possible… subjecting your body to whips and belts and other masochistic tomfoolery.” Should Danilla stay in this heart-wrenching environment or strike out as an independent young woman and go live with her boyfriend? (You get the idea that many of these possession cases could be just as effectively cleared up by sharing a nice cup of tea with some counsellors from Relate as by the usual cross-and-holy-water routine).

Naturally, Danilla’s dilemma causes the evil spirit of a crucified carving (Ivan Rassimov, in what is literally one of his most wooden roles ever) to step down from the cross then rape, crucify and torture her (most of this stuff is naturally cut from the film’s various British video releases.) Predictably, Danilla responds by projectile vomiting, wrecking the furniture, hallucinating a black mass apparently presided over by Dr and The Medics, and masturbating enthusiastically in front of her folks. ”There’s no such thing as incest, daddy – it’s only an invention of priests!” she taunts him, receiving a wack around the head for her trouble. Enough’s enough, so mom and dad patch up their troubles, mom renounces masochistic tomfoolery for good, and they dispatch Danilla to a convent in the country where she’s softened up by nuns singing hymns before master exorcist Father Zeno (Luigi Pistilli) turns up, looking more like a gunslinger than a demon-wrangler. Morricone-esque musical flourishes enhance the impression, together with Leone-esque camera-shots (unfortunately including ultra close-ups of Pistilli’s black teeth.) After an unsuccessful run-in with Danilla’s demon, Zeno triumphs in round 2, at the cost of his life.

Responding to Danilla’s sexual temptation after round 1 (“Penetrate me… take me any way you like!”), Zeno spits:“Abomination!”, and heads off to his monastic cell to stiffen his resolve with a spot of self-flagellation. A more ambitious director would have pursued the parallels between this form of spiritual discipline and Danilla’s momma’s sexual predilections, but Gariazzo is happy to just throw all these balls up in the air and let them fall wherever they may. The end product is, predictably… a load of balls!

Nicoletti Night Child

Naked For Satan (also 1974) was directed by the ever reliable (i.e. you can rely on him to serve up a tawdry slice of drivel every time out) Luigi Batzella (alias Ivan Katansky, Paolo Solvay, et al), and resolves itself as one of those deceitful “so, it was all a dream!” efforts. The following year’s The Cursed (aka Bloody) Medallion / Night Child / Perche?! (directed by capable journeyman Massimo Dallamano) features Richard Johnson, again (as Art historian and documentary maker Professor Williams) and perpetual ‘70s Italian splatter-brat Nicoletta Elmi (above) falling under the evil influence of the titular trinket.

Needless to say, when Johnson’s Professor Williams decamps with his family to Spoleto to study a spooky old canvas depicting witch hunting, a shedload of domestic problems go with him. His delinquent daughter Emily (Elmi) is traumatised by having seen her mother falling, in flames, from a high window to her death (it’s ultimately revealed that Emily started the fire herself in a fit of pique!) “Evelyne Stewart” (Ida Galli) essays the uncharacteristically frumpy role of Emily’s nanny and suffers the pangs of unrequited love for Williams, before Emily puts her out of her misery by pushing her off a cliff. The kid’s homicidal jealousy is intensified with the arrival of Joanna Morgan (the super luscious Joanna Cassidy) to assist in the making of his latest documentary.

Once again, one begins to suspect that a therapist would be more use to this family than an exorcist before the plot line concerning that cursed medallion and Emily’s visions of herself being lynched by medieval peasants is firmly(ish) resolved on the occult side of the equation. The film’s narrative is, quite frankly, a mess ( “Perche?!” is about right) but I’ll happily watch anything with Joanna Cassidy in it (the Blade Runner scene in which she beats the crap out of Harrison Ford never fails to bring me out in palpitations) and the florid cinematography of Dallamano’s regular collaborator Franco Delli Colli is most impressive. Calum Waddell has made persuasive claims for Night Child, likening it to Mario Bava’s pet project Lisa And The Devil (1974) and arguing that “it is not too much of a stretch to say that these early templates aptly anticipate such widescreen wonders of later years as Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) and Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) – both of which showcase nightmarish scenarios with an ominously baroque beauty.” Suffice to say that Fulci’s Manhattan Baby (aka Possessed / Eye Of The Evil Dead, 1982) certainly flatters Night Child in the sincerest way it can.

%22Eye Of The Evil Dead%22

Although spaghetti exorcism continued to recur in spasms throughout subsequent years (right up to the likes of Marco Bellocchio’s Visions of Sabba, 1987), the sub-genre had really shot its vomitous wad barely a year after the release of William Friedkin’s original. Even so, there were still some pasta puke-a-thons in the pipeline. For instance, former Hollywood heavy Richard Conte, fallen on hard times, found himself rubbing shoulders with Bruno Mattei’s favoured leading man – charisma bypass victim Franco Garofalo – in “Frank C. Lucas” (Elio Pannaccio)’s Naked Exorcism. Made in 1976, this one was released the following year (to cash in on John Boorman’s frankly ludicrous official sequel Exorcist II – The Heretic) as The Exorcist III – Cries And Shadows, which is the guise under which it appeared for its British video release on the obscure HBL label. After repeated perusal of this picture, I’m still unable to make head or tale of it, so let’s see what the liner notes have to say: “Peter, an archaeological research participant shivers finding out a strange medallion in a mysterious cave. It forms into a beautiful girl but an Evil Haggia. He gets hold of Sherry’s body and in a wild and animalistic way starts lovegame with her in a rough manner. Sherry realises it was wonderful as he had never made love to her like that. He starts killing, resulting with the involvement of the police. The Bishop’s help was sought after to perform the right of Exorcism. Haggia, naked on self-shaking bed, laughing horribly, shouting insults and curses, tries to kill the Monk who at last manages to tie up the damned soul. He takes the crucifix, presses and pours into the mouth of the being resulting in the vomiting of a filthy and horrible liquid.” Well there you go – I couldn’t have put it better myself…

Nobody has yet managed to concoct even that good an account of what’s going on in Pier Carpi’s Rings Of Darkness (1978), which stars the recently deceased Frank Finlay and Ian Bannen alongside such spaghetti exploitation stalwarts as Anne Heywood, Marisa Mell, Irene Papas, John Phillip Law and Paola Tedesco. This one focuses on the apparently Satanic exploits of the appallingly smug Lara Wendel, who’s given to repeating “What good is a doll… if it can be bought?”, in enigmatic fashion. She may well have a point there, though frankly I felt that the axe attack this “actress” suffered in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, five years later, was no more than she deserved.

L'Esorciccio

Ciccio Ingrassia had a solo stab at doing what he had made a career of with erstwhile partner Franco Franchi – i.e. lampooning successful genres – in L’Esorciccio (1975), where poor Old Nick is expected to carry the can for the usual “Carry On”-type sexual buffoonery. Believe me, the title of this one is easily its strongest point, though it’s still preferable to 1990’s Leslie Nielsen piss-take Repossessed (in which Linda Blair perpetrated the biggest blasphemy of them all, sending up the only worthwhile role in her less-than-sparkling career.)

Andrea Bianchi’s Malabimba (1979) stars the unpleasantly androgynous Katell Laennec as Bimba, a troubled young lady who’s possessed by a permanently randy revenant and drives her fellow guests in a Medieval castle to furious sexual indulgence, though most of them seem to need little encouragement on this score. Highlights include Bimba pleasuring herself with a smurf and fellating an old cripple to death before long-suffering Mariangela Giordano – here  playing heroic nun Sister Sofia – invites the demon into herself and then – in the time-honoured Father Karras manoeuvre – hurls herself to her death from the battlements. Hard-core inserts were added to later versions of Malabimba, which made it ironic that when its producer, Gabriele Crisanti, decided to remake the picture as a hard-core effort entitled Satan’s Baby Doll (1980), the wretched thing (directed by “Alan W. Cools” alias Mario Bianchi) was only released in 1982 after all the porno footage had been take out.

Satan's Baby Doll

Damiano Damiani, one of the originators of the political spaghetti western, dumbed himself down for the opportunity of making an American crossover with Amityville 2: The Possession (1982). Old Exorcist-imitating ways dying hard, he threw out the lame-ass “haunted house” formula of the first Amityville Horror and laid on a feast of state-of-the-art bladder-induced shape-shifting effects (below) to compliment his kinky tale of patricide and incest, to highly entertaining if totally brainless effect…

… which was effectively the last gasp of Italo-exorcism as we know it. In no time at all, the influence of Old Nick – though occasionally felt in the likes of  Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989) and The Sect (1991) – would be virtually banished from Italian screens, not by the ministrations of any priest, but by the influx of zombies and cannibals advancing to claim the devil’s monstrous mantel for themselves… shortly before the complete and seemingly irreversible collapse of the entire Italian film industry. R.I.P. …

Amityville II

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Round The Devil’s U-Bend… RICHARD STANLEY interviewed in 1990 (or possibly 1991)

RStanley

I grabbed this short interview with Richard Stanley at the late, lamented Scala Cinema Club in King’s Cross. The occasion was Splatterfest in 1990… or, possibly, the launch event for Maitland McDonagh’s Argento tome Broken Mirrors / Broken Minds, the following year. Buggered if I can remember! Sorry…

Part of my problem is that I’m fascinated by weird shit … 

Such as?

… anything from witchcraft and tribal magic, right across the board to artificial intelligence and genetic engineering … really weird shit, and the problem with really weird shit is that if you start dealing with it in a screenplay, people can’t take it unless it’s scary. So that’s the only way of putting across something really weird, through the horror genre ... Santa Sangre: Id like to see a lot more stuff like that. 

Wouldn’t we all … but unfortunately we won’t!

Right! (Laughs) Simon Boswell, who scored Santa Sangre, also wrote most of the music for Hardware and Dust Devil. 

You’re a great admirer of Boswell’s work, then?

I wasn’t a great admirer, but I did like the Santa Sangre soundtrack ... hes pretty good, and was within our price range. We were pretty limited, by financial constraints, in what we could go for. Boswell’s been a bit overlooked, because of the kind of movies he’s been scoring…Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava, that sort of thing. The main Hardware theme was his, then there was a covert input from a whole bunch of other weird people … lggy Pop, Carl McCoy, etc.

Hardware 

My original conception for Hardware was to take something as hard-edged as an Italian horror movie and stick it into a really contemporary setting with a lot of the stuff that was going around, basically. Thats why its like a gothic horror movie set in the year 2000, with the crawling hand, the shower scene, all that stuff that’s instantly recognisable … and we kinda computerised it, dressed it up as science-fiction ..

My films will probably just get a lot weirder therell be less sudden sharp shocks, its going to be more about real physical unpleasantness. What I like about the Italians, and whats important to me, is doing stuff that will hurt people. Argento really knows how to hurt people … when that guys teeth get banged on the corner of the table in Deep Red, that really hurt me. I wrote a big sex scene in Hardware that nobody will ever see because it was nixed by both Palace and Miramax – where the girl’s screwing the guy and loses interest because she’s watching a documentary on the holocaust on TV, which really combined sex and …  had some of the worst documentary footage of all time. So that’s sex, horror, and a dash of social comment, which is what I thought exploi tation cinema was all about. Obviously I was wrong, because they made me cut it. 

I was very surprised to see a clip from Dust Devil broadcast on the BBC’s Halloween special, considering the way that the clip in question mixed sex and violence…

I know! That’s why we gave it to them, because we figured that’s the moment that’s going to give us the most problems with the censor, so the scam was to get it on the BBC, then when it’s submitted for certification, we could just tell them that it’s already played on the Beeb, so what’s the problem! I was very surprised myself … TV’s getting a bit slack recently, I mean I was surprised that they screened Lisa And The Devil with the whole necrophilia scene intact. 

4 Flies

Something else from Argento that had a big impact on me was Four Flies On Grey Velvet – the car accident scene! (Laughs) Great car accident scene … world class … never seen a better one! Argento was in London one time and I was supposed to have supper with him, but his daughter got hurt in a car accident … I also like Bud Spencer as “Godin Four Flies … never quite got over that … completely shattered me

So It’s safe-to Argento’s been a major Influence …

The guy is obviously some kind of poet / genius in that hes pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible to extraordinary limits, but at the same time he has the genuine eye and soul of a poet. Even though it’s sometimes hard to work out exactly whats going on, it’s OK because the sheer visionary power of it is quite dazzling. I also feel that hes totally misunderstood because hes never had the kind of exposure he would have had if he’d been working with what people on the outside would consider “serious” material. But it’s clear now that his work actually supports serious analysis – the more you look into it, the more you find some fascinating shit going on … so yeah, I’m fascinated 

How is that fascination reflected In something like Hardware, for instance?

There are many things I filched from him, e.g. his style of editing… cutting in on a shot rather than doing a track… the expressionistic use of colour and the fact that he has the guts to do things with lighting and his camera that don’t make any kind of sense in ordinary reality – creating a kind of magic reality… which I think is a good incentive, sets a very high standard indeed. 

Weren’t you going to direct a Poe film for him at one stage?

The idea was that there were going to be many more 45-minute Poe adaptations sold to TV … myself, Michele Soavi and Tom Savini, in fact, were approached to do them and the scripts went around, but then Two Evil Eyes went nowhere at the box office so it was cancelled, which was a shame because I was all ready to plunge into it. I’d love to work with those guys, to get hold of a really good Italian filmmaker and give him a good script and an English dialogue coach ... if they made sense, or had some kind of understandable story, these films could maybe breakthrough to a larger audience. Theres a whole bunch of movies out there, like The Church, that nobody ever watches.

CHURCH Poster

I saw that in Italian and it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but it was really well done, brilliantly shot … technically just brilliant. I don’t think it would make very much sense in English either, actually, I kept noticing that people were being killed and then reappearing in later scenes, which was a bit confusing. The director is a really good guy… Michele Soavi… I wrote a script for him, called The Catacomb Club … a real exploitation thing, about rat people who come out of the London underground! 

Sounds Iike some Of the imagery Soavi used in The Sect …

A lot of Michele and Darios work seems to be drawing on the old East European conspiracy theories, and its all drawn together with that copy of Fulcanelli’s Mysteries Of The Cathedral that you see on the coffee table in The Church, which helps to pin down where its all coming from. Micheles films have this consistent theme of demonic pIumbing…. that seems to be the thing hes most interested in… the well, the clock-work structure of The Church, and so on, its certainly very close to his heart … so the ideas we have been batting around are mostly “demon plumbingmovies!

DevilPlumbing

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East Meets Worst… HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU reviewed

Herc Against KF

HERCULES AGAINST KUNG FU aka MR HERCULES AGAINST KARATE (“MING, RAGAZZI!”, 1973) 

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson” (Antonio Margheriti). Produced by Carlo Ponti. Story by Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergi0 Donati. Screenplay by Antonio Margheriti & Gianni Simonelli. Cinematography by Ettore Papaleo. Edited by Mario Morra. Music by Carlo Savina. Starring: Tom Scott” (Roberto Terracina), “Fred Harris” (Fernando A rri en), Jolina  Mitcbell, Chai Lee, George Wang.

Despite its title, this flick is not a late entry in the peplum stakes, rather a transparent and tragically inept attempt to take off the successful Terence Hill / Bud Spencer comedy team, with Arrien as the hulking Bambino figure Percival and Terracina’s Danny standing in for the wily Trinity. The former is the accident-prone giant of the title, whose ignorance of his own strength comes in handy during those Enzo Barboni-patented slapstick punch-ups as our, er, heroes search for a missing kid, spirited away by a gang of kung fu kidnappers. There’s even a whitesuited baddy in the early part of the picture who recalls Donald Pleasence’s character in Watch Out, We’re Mad.

Unfortunately these guys’ wannabe act is sabotaged by fact that whereas Hill (aka Mari0 Girotti) is handsome and appealing, Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) huge and charismatic, these guys are merely oafish and insufferable. Nor are they even slightly funny, which always tends to be a drawback in comedies, I find. The script does them no favours at all in this department, its feeble attempts at humour as broad as the checks on its protagonists’ loud sports jackets. The gag in which a hotel basement fight leads to repeated changes in the building’s thermostat setting neatly guages the film’s tepid level of wit, and there’s an abundance of regrettable “Chinese takeaway on a saturday night type” racist cracks (somebody please take ’em away!), witness the characters named Big Pong, Sonov Gun, Har Lot … there’s even a Fuk Yoo (only “Hoo Flung Dung” is, mercifully, conspicuous by his absence). Calling the villain-in-chief Hung Lo only reminds us how much better this kind of skit was done (if it has to be done at all) in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). The tackiest gag of them all comes right at the oh so-welcome end, where “Hercules” is seen straining to pass pearls that he’s inadvertantly swallowed, but as Margheriti proves with this fiasco, it’s sometimes impossible even for a director of his legendary resourcefulness to salvage anything valuable from a pile of shit!

On the plus side, pictures like this and the director’s Stranger And The Gunfighter, from the following year, serve as a reminder of the pioneering part he played in bringing currently cultish oriental cinema to the attention of us white devils, and the extraordinary scenes (for an alleged comedy actioner) in which Hung Lo punishes incompetent henchmen by plucking out their teeth and eyeballs, to mount them on trophy boards, foreshadows Margheriti’s part in the subsequent Italian explosion of graphically gory horror, directing Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) and (just maybe) Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula (both 1973… a busy year even by Margheriti’s routinely prolific standards.)

Mr Dung

“Ah, Mr Dung… we’ve been expecting you!”

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ARRIVEDERCI, ROMA… Italians After The Bomb

A Fighter Centurion

A Fighter Centurion in Rome, pictured tomorrow.

“Films such as The Bronx Warriors were the last gasp of our industry trying to survive.”

(Venerable Italian exploitation scribe Dardano Sacchetti… quoted above in a recent interview with Calum Waddell).

Bertrand Russell once made the ominous observation that “if the Third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the Fourth will be fought with bows and arrows”. If he’d lived long enough to witness the early ‘80s cycle of Italian post-apocalypse movies, he would no doubt have extended his estimate of WWIV’s armoury to include dune buggies with drill attachments (as in The New Barbarians), talking motorbikes (Warrior Of The Lost World), and pterodactyl hang-gliders (Yor). Yep, those ever-resourceful spaghetti exploitation mavens figured that once they’d adopted the patently nonsensical basic premise of anyone actually surviving global thermo-nuclear war (admittedly, their movies would be somewhat lacking in “human interest” if nobody had!), they might as well be nuked for sheep as lambs and throw logic completely out of the window. Thus their post-apocalyptic landscapes are peopled by roving bands of gay, book-burning nihilists (The New Barbarians)… Hari-Krishna survivalists battling hordes of rampaging rodents (Rats – Night Of Terror)… self-propagating Popeye clones (She)… and any amount of other, equally wacky nonsense that not even Nostradamus could have predicted!

Prior to the 80’s, Hollywood had produced plenty of atom-angst movies: firstly, scores of cash-in SF monster-mash quickies such as Them! (1954), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and in the same year, at the other end of the mutation scale, Jack Arnold’s superior The Incredible Shrinking Man; later, more sophisticated dramas like On The Beach (1959), Fail Safe (1964) and of course Kubrick’s scorchingly satirical Dr Strangelove (also 1964). Unusually for an Italian film-cycle though, the Italian post-nukes series was not rooted directly in any American cinematic antecedents, rather in real geopolitical events that were taking place on the ground in Europe. Viewed from the perspective of today’s post-Cold War “New World Order” it all seems like a bad dream now, but back then NATO’s doctrine of “flexible response” against the supposed Warsaw Pact threat allowed for the fighting of “a limited nuclear war” in our continent and when the cruise missiles were installed at Greenham Common and elsewhere, many Europeans genuinely feared that Armageddon was just around the corner.

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Under such pressures, a recently launched Italian sub-genre of societal breakdown mutated into the post-apocalypse genre proper. That fledgling subgenre, best represented by Enzo G. Castellari (aka Enzo Girolami)’s Bronx Warriors (1982), did have definite, easily discernible roots in Hollywood antecedents. Written by Castellari with prolific husband and wife scripting duo Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Livia Briganti, Bronx Warriors is an inventive, hyperactive fusion of elements from John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) and Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), with a dash of Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange (1971) and a touch of Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975) thrown in for good measure. Castellari’s film also adopts Carpenter’s penchant for daftly-named characters, with Trash (“Mark Gregory” / Marco De Gregorio), The Ogre (Fred Williamson), Golem (“George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori) and Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly) and their respective gangs battling for turf in a Bronx that has previously been abandoned by civil society, whose representatives (in the person of Vic Morrow’s “Hammer”) have now chosen to claim it back via a programme of gentrificational genocide.

BW2

Bronx Warriors was such a hit in the U.S. market that a sequel (Escape From The Bronx aka Bronx Bronx Warriors 2: The Battle For Manhattan, 1983)  was duly made, running on similar lines but with Henry Silva understandably substituting for Vic Morrow (decapitated in the Twilight Zone debacle) as Trash’s megalomaniacal opponent. The intruiging cast for this one featured, as well as Castellari’s omnipresent brother Enio Girolami (“Thomas Moore”) and one of Castellari’s own cameos, an appearance by Italian hard-core queen Moana Pozzi, who died of cancer shortly afterwards.

If his Bronx Warriors films primed the detonator, then it was Castellari’s The New Barbarians (also 1982) which ignited the mushroom cloud and shaped the fall-out of subsequent “post-nukes” efforts. Ironically so, because as Castellari himself readily admits: “It’s a joke…  those silly futuristic cars… it’s a bad movie, very bad… a really poor effort!” His verdict is vindicated as early as the title sequence, where the impact of a nuclear explosion (once memorably – not to mention pants-shittingly – described as being like “a huge furnace door slamming shut in the bowels of Hell”) is rendered by what looks suspiciously like a child’s sparkler being waved over a leggo model of New York City. The balance of the picture comprises a succession of luke-warm retreads of moments from George Miller’s 1981 milestone Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior (whose influence over subsequent films has continued, e.g. in Kevin Costner’s bloated Waterworld, 1995) and an increasingly spaghetti western-esque ambience. “Timothy Brent” (Giancarlo Prete, a stalwart of Castellari’s own spagwests) is the hero with no name (or probably wishes he was, his character having been dubbed “Scorpio”), sore-assed and out to settle a score with Luigi Montefiori’s Templars, an avowedly and aggressively homosexual cult who like to, er, widen the circle of their friends (and indeed enemies) when they’re not torturing holocaust survivors and burning books (on the grounds that: “It was damn books that caused the Apocalypse!”) Unless you’re in the right frame of mind to watch total crap (I must confess, I frequently am), the sole saving grace of this movie is Claudio Simonetti’s driving, percussive score.

Having successfully ripped off Escape From New York, Mad Max 2 and so on, Castellari proceeded to churn out countless other characteristically energetic, imitative (and generally lucrative) cash-ins on Hollywood hits, leaving the post-nukes wasteland open to his pasta exploitation peers. Sure enough, the likes of Lucio Fulci, Ruggero Deodato, Sergio Martino and Antonio Margheriti would all now throw their hats into the radioactive ring.

yor

Margheriti’s entry, Yor (a 1984, Italo-Turkish co-production boiled down from a TV series) is an ultra-trashy reworking of the central premise to Roger Corman’s 1958 effort Teenage Caveman (in which adolescent Australopithecus Robert Vaughan ultimately discovers that the Flintstone-like world he inhabits is the result of an earlier generation’s nuclear war), as is rather given away by the sub-title sometimes appended to it: Hunter From The Future. But how did nukes revive the pterodactyl which muscle-brained Reb Brown (to the accompaniment of his truly brain-frying hard-rock theme song) uses as a hang-glider… Margheriti must have recently screened a Rodan movie! It’s little short of astonishing that this jumbled Jurassic lark is just about the most commercially successful item on Margheriti’s lengthy, variable but oft-prestigious CV, and I remember him having a hearty belly-laugh on this score when I raised the subject with him during the mid-90s.

Underlining the continuity between Italian apocalypsoes and the Peplum genre, Yor’s cast features an alumnus of the sword and sandal school, ever-scowling Gordon Mitchell, who’s also in Tonino Ricci’s Rush, Joe D’Amato’s Endgame and Avi Nesher’s She. The latter (begun in 1983 as a [relatively] straight H. Rider-Haggard adaptation, stalled and only appearing in 1985, having been rejigged to include radioactive mutants in the interim) is every bit as bizarre but nowhere near as entertaining as the Margheriti flick. The above-mentioned regenerating Popeye clones are the only thing that stick in my memory from this fiasco (whose soundtrack contributors include Rick Wakeman, Justin Hayward, Motorhead, and a band rejoicing in the name of “Bastard”!), but if you think I’m in any hurry to watch it again, you’ve got another think coming, buster!

Warrior Of The Lost World, an 1983 Italian-American co-production written and directed by David Worth (=?) is a similarly gimmicky vehicle, which tosses a talking motor-bike into its derivative mix of plot-points. No David Hasselhoff, thank fuck, but the film’s surprisingly starry cast of exploitation mainstays does include Donald Pleasance, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Robert Ginty and Persis Khambatta.

2019

Sergio Martino (as “Martin Dolman) filled his 2019: After The Fall Of New York with knowing Wagnerian references (e.g. the mandatory silly character names include “Parsifal”) for those members of his audience who were culturally astute enough to pick them up. Those who weren’t could content themselves with enjoying the schlocky action, as hunky Michael Sopkiw searches for the world’s last fertile woman, whom the good guys want to whisk off to another, unspoiled planet, which they plan to populate with a new human race. Although Martino is inarguably an intelligent director, such arch touches can’t really disguise the basic formulaic nature of the proceedings here, though there is one amusing final gag (similar to the conclusion of Bob Fuest’s The Final Programme), as it’s revealed that Sleeping Beauty has been impregnated by “The Big Ape” a love-struck simian mutant played by “George Eastman” / Luigi Montefiori (just think of the make-up costs they saved by casting him in this role!)

Atlantis Interceptors

The new team of Top Gear presenters were considerably better behaved than Jeremy Cuntson.

Another veteran spaghetti exploiter, Ruggero Deodato (posing as “Roger Franklin”) made a tangential entry into the post-Apocalypse stakes with Atlantis Interceptors (1983), in which various unspecified eco-unfriendly activities by the human race predictably lead to the lost continent of Atlantis popping up on the Florida coast-line, and its rampaging inhabitants (led by Ivan Rassimov) driving around the state in a souped-up battle-truck, terrorising terrans. Christopher Connelly, spagwest veteran George Hilton, superspade Tony King, gorgeous Gioia Maria Scola (whose subsequent off screen antics proved most colourful) and one “Michael Soavi” become urban guerrillas to dispatch the invaders’ asses back to Davey Jones’s locker in this amusing effort.

Lucio Fulci’s Rome 2033: Fighter Centurions (1983, aka Ben Hur Vs Spartacus in The States, as if to emphasise once again those Peplum connections) is another marginal effort, a portrayal of a dystopian future with no actual mention of there having been a nuclear holocaust. In this one the corrupt ruling classes keep the masses happy with bread and circuses, the latter comprising gladiatorial motorbike competitions in which Jared Martin (a poor man’s David Warbeck, who later starred in Dallas) excels. The film is an investigation of the ethics of presenting violence as mass entertainment, a theme Fulci would expand on, to quite astonishing effect, in his later Nightmare Concert / A Cat In The Brain (1990). Admittedly Fighter Centurions owes a certain amount to Rollerball, but it was itself extensively ripped off by Paul Michael Glaser’s nominal Stephen King adaptation, The Running Man (1987), as was Joe D’Amato’s Endgame (1983).

EndgameJOED

It wouldn’t be a D’Amato film without a few tits somewhere…

Incredible as it may seem, given his track-record (and D’Amato had during the previous year turned in a mediocre “post-nukes” outing, 2020: Freedom Fighters aka  2020: Texas Gladiators, after his protégé Luigi Montefiori abdicated the reins on what was supposed to be his directorial debut), D’Amato’s Endgame is one of the best pictures to emerge from this cycle, adding surprisingly subtle touches (such as Laura Gemser – giving one of the best performances in her career – as one of a mutant race of telepaths who must refrain from violence because they would participate psychically in the pain of their victims) to the bare bones of its “Luigi Monefiori vs Al Cliver (aka Pier Luigi Conti) in televised grudge match” storyline.

Less impressive efforts include Exterminators Of The Year 3000 (1983), an Italo-Spanish production directed by “Jules Harrison” (Giuliano Carnimeo) and a brace by  “Anthony Richmond” (Tonino Ricci), Rush The Assassin (1983) and its semi-sequel Rage (1984, aka Rush 2). The first picture stars “Conrad Nichols” (Luigi Mezzabotte) as Rush, resistance leader of a bunch of post-nuke proles forced to labour in sterile plastic greenhouses because all the vegetation outside has supposedly been destroyed by radiation. Less astute critics complained that “the entire last third of the film takes place in an Italian forest”, but they’ve missed the whole goddamn point (one pinched from Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth), namely that the whole dying eco-system story was a scam, perpetrated to keep the toiling masses – quite literally – in their place. Rage contains one of Allan Bryce’s all-time favourite lines of dialogue, i.e. “It won’t be easy, building up a new world… but there’s no harm in trying!”

Nice to close on an unintentionally hilarious one-liner, but if you want the end of your world served up with some giggles instead of a bang, you’ll find the motherlode in Bruno Mattei’s totally ludicrous Rats – Night Of Terror (1984). Mattei, who would give the world a pedantically eco-conscious undead D.J. in Zombi 3 (1988), and had already turned his Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981) into a doomsday scenario featuring the first (and hopefully last) zombie rat in screen history, here depicts mankind’s last stand against hordes of radioactively mutated (and totally unscary) rodents. Although you can see it coming a country mile away, this picture’s hilarious “twist” ending is (like the rest of the film) so ineptly rendered as to be worth its weight in fool’s gold.

alesFromTheRB

The 2016 Reboot of Tales From The Riverbank was a conspicuous failure…

The genre Enzo Castellari had inaugurated with The New Barbarians petered out in the likes of Urban Warriors (1987, directed by “Joseph Warren” / Giuseppe Vari and scripted by superannuated spaghetti hack Pietro Regnoli) and The Final Executioner (1984) and Bronx Executioners (1989), a brace directed (appropriately enough) by Enzo’s uncle Romolo Girolami, under the guises “Romolo Guerrieri” and “Bob Collins” respectively. The former is actually rather good, and certainly the clearest statement yet of the affinities between this sub-genre and the spaghetti western: William Mang restores order to a town where survivalist yuppies have been preying on the dregs of radiation-scarred humanity, with spagwest icon Woody Strode along for the ride. Strode also stars in Bronx Executioners (alongside Zombie Creeping Flesh victim Margit Evelyn Newton).

These efforts were nothing more than stragglers, a belated coda to a genre whose commercial half-life had long expired in the trend-conscious Italian industry. Indeed, internationally post-apocalypse offerings tailed off dramatically in the run up to the fall of Communism, Steve De Jarnatt’s splendid Miracle Mile (1988) effectively burying the sub-genre. You can’t keep a good bomb down though, and a slew of subsequent offerings such as True Lies (1994),  the Under Siege movies (1992-95) and The Sum Of All Fears (2002) have had audiences reaching for their brown trousers again as they contemplate the dreadful prospect of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue regimes, terrorists or millennial religious loonies… which wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world, but could still mean several hundred thousand people suffering a real crimp in their day!

That's your lot...

“They think it’s all over… it is now!”

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Hitch Crock… BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR reviewed

Coathangers

Blu-ray. Region B. Severin. 15.

My first exposure to “visionary writer / director” James Nguyen’s Birdemic: Shock And Terror was when its world promotional tour brought it to Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema in 2010. The film’s co-distributor, Dave Gregory, had bravely and generously paired it with his own Plague Town. “Bravely and generously” because, although Plague Town is a nifty little horror flick in its own right, there was only ever going to be one film that the crowd were talking about that night as they filed out of the venue, clutching their souvenir coat hangers with their white knuckles. Shit, if it had been up against Vertigo, Citizen Kane and 2001, Nguyen’s 2010 remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds (with an added eco angle, though any evidence of film-making competence has been comprehensively subtracted) would have still have monopolised the chatter of its astonished audience.

How then, does this noted turkey translate from playing publicly to partisan, participatory (but most pissed) punters into the home viewing milieu? In an attempt to answer that crucial question, I recently screened B:S&T here at The House for the assembled Freudsteins. Yep, just “hanging out with with family… havin’ ourselves a party”, to quote the lyrics of Just Hangin’ Out, as delivered by the immortal Damien Carter in the film’s big set piece musical number (below.) So how did the early 21st Century’s answer to Plan 9 From Outer Space go down with the gang?

HanginOut

Well, to invoke a footballing cliche, it was very much a game of two halves. For the first 45 minutes we get interminable shots of people walking around (awkwardly) and driving cars up and down the freeway as computer software telesalesman  Rod (Alan Bagh) attempts to woo cheesecake for hire turned Victora’s Secret model Nathalie (Whitney Moore)… when he manages to take time out from buying solar panels, that is. No wonder Nathalie holds out on him for so long when his idea of a hot date is taking her to see An Inconvenient Truth (though the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin and Arts Festival seems like a pretty racy affair.) When she does finally put out, it just happens to coincide with the news that Rod has become the beneficiary of a million dollar stock option. Up to this point, the Broadway audience had been vocal in their appreciation of Nguyen’s visual and aural (surely no film has ever suffered worse sound mixing than this one) shortcomings. But over at The House Of Freudstein, Mrs F was falling asleep and the fruit of my loins felt moved to ask: “Dad… is this a real film?” (well… define “real”!)

Birdemic

All was forgiven, though, for the second half. Rod and Nathalie awake from their conjugal bliss (still wearing most of their clothes and with Tippi Hedren on the telly… which earns her third billing in this film!) to find their cheap motel under attack from (atrociously) computer generated birds. Indeed, the scenic town of Half Moon bay is in (atrociously) computer generated flames. Hooking up with another couple of star cross’d lovers, they fight their way out of the motel with coat hangers, which are swiftly ditched in favour of semi-automatic weaponry that they just happen to find lying around (this is America, after all.) The balance of the picture concerns their odyssey across the bird devastated Bay area, interrupted by larcenous cowboy dudes, non-sequitur John and Yoko tributes and pop-up tree huggers who helpfully explain that the birds’ anti-social turn can be chalked down to “that damn global warming!”

BirdemicBus

Everybody has their own favourite moment in B:S&T, but mine is probably the bit where our heroes find the passengers of a London bus (your guess is as good as mine) under avian assault and unload their Uzis at it, blissfully oblivious to the safety implications for those overacting inside it (including public access TV film critic Bonnie Steiger). Then they insist on evacuating the passengers, only for the latter to be sprayed with the poop of dive-bombing birds, which apparently burns and kills them, but not before the big girl’s blouse in the rap T-shirt has succumbed to one of the most OTT fits of hysterical overacting in screen history. I totally respect the view of others who particularly cherish the scene in which Becky (Catherine Batcha) “goes for a shit” (this is the second time I’ve watched B:S&T and I still had to rewind to check I’d heard that correctly)… does she meet with a sticky end? Do bears shit in the woods? Well, they probably won’t after watching B:S&T… and of course whereas Hitchcock’s The Birds ended on a note of suspenseful ambiguity, B:S&T just peters out incompetently. But by now, you really wouldn’t have it any other way.

As if all that were’t enough, Severin’s release is crammed with bonus goodies… metaphorical sausages stuffed up the arse of this juicy turkey. There’s an EPK in which we witness Nguyen signing on the dotted line for the justifiably proud looking Severin triumvirate of Gregory, Daft and Cregan. There are two deleted scenes (if you can call the spectacle of child actors self-consciously swearing a scene.) The aforementioned Bonnie Steiger interviews the visionary director and screens clips from his earlier, er, works on her aforementioned public access TV show (Movie Close-Up). You get various full theatrical and teaser trailers, including for the Birdemic Experience Tour, and a marvellous featurette cutting together the transcontinental comedy highlights from that (a thoughtlessly wielded coat hanger obscures my manly features in the Nottingham audience… sorry, fans.) Bagh and Moore come across much more attractively and personably here than they do in the actual film, ironically considering that Nguyen regards himself primarily as a director of romantic thrillers (go figure…) Their amusing audio commentary displays no mutual misapprehension that B:S&T will serve as a springboard to the Hollywood heights. Nguyen’s own commentary betrays no such reticence about his prospects, which will be further amplified in the upcoming documentary Moviehead: The James Nguyen Story. Can’t wait for that, nor the UK release of the inevitable Birdemic 2: The Resurrection. These are the films that the Sharknado franchise dreams it could be…

Wiggy Dude

“Gotta go home now… I think I just heard a mountain lion!”

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

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