Monthly Archives: June 2016

All Hands On Bawd: TOP SENSATION Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

“The jet-set breaks loose in an orgy of violence and terror.” Don’t they just…

Tony (Ruggero Miti) is a troubled young man. Specifically, he’s a catatonic pyromaniac. Yep, he’s a fire starter… twisted fire starter. His problems began in boyhood apparently, when his Mom Mudy (Maud Belleroche) let him attend one of  her acid parties, where his synapses were duly blown. Mudy’s ideas haven’t got any less radical with the passage of time. Poo-poohing the advice of square psychiatrists, she decides that now her son’s a man, his recovery would be best effected by taking him on a sex cruise around the Greek islands with her decadent pals Aldo (Maurizio Bonuglia) and Paola (Rosalba Neri), plus the conniving Ulla (Edwige Fenech in one of her very earliest film roles), whom they’ve employed for the precise purpose of popping Tony’s catatonic cherry. “This boat is loaded with whores!” observes Mudy, diplomatically. When they’re not shagging anything that moves, her decadent hipsters friends are planning how they can defraud Mudy out of her oil inheritance. Oh, and Paola has a penchant for playing with lighted sticks of dynamite… what could possibly go wrong, huh?

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The boat bound bacchanal is proceeding full steam ahead as we join this sordid saga, with Neri prowling around the deck in her PVC bikini, lobbing live explosives into the sea to the aural accompaniment of Sante Maria Romitelli’s delightfully cheesy sexadelic score. “This is really turning me on!” she enthuses to Aldo and for a second there I was seriously wondering if Austin Powers was going to join the dramatis personae. Instead, buffoonish Greek shepherd Andro (Salvatore Puntillo) and his beautiful bumpkin of a wife, Beba (Ewa Thulin) are piped on board to ensure that the possible permutations of couplings and tripling become even more intricate and potentially explosive… all under the watchful gaze of Mudi who, anticipating Celebrity Big Brother, has thoughtfully installed CCTV in every cabin so that she doesn’t miss a trick or indeed a fuck. Nor indeed will you, dear reader, feel remotely short changed in the smut department as you relish the opportunity to oggle Fenech nekkid and appreciate Thulin’s skin, not to mention Neri’s furry bits.

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When our jaded swingers have exhausted the possibilities of human interaction, Aldo photographs Ulla suckling a goat… I said suckling, OK? (Reminds me of a joke Jim Morrison told in Miami, shortly before he got arrested.) It’s even suggested, albeit very tastefully, that the goat orally pleasures Ulla… hang on, can such shenanigans ever be reconciled with the concept of “tastefulness”? It’s difficult to say… with his, er, singular direction of this astonishing motion picture, Ottavio Alessi has ripped a vortex in the cinematic continuum, taking us to a strange new plateau where moralists, cineastes and cunning linguists fear to tread. Or something. BTW, that little goat grew up to be… Satan!

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After strangling Beba, Tony explicitly acknowledges his incestuous relationship with his mother (I reckon this guy would get on very well with Michael from Nights Of Terror / Burial Ground) before strangling her too. The boat is sailing on regardless as we reach the 90 minutes mark and events are arbitrarily wound up. There’s an alternative ending (included as an extra here) in which we get the benefit of Tony’s bonkers internal ruminations for a minute or so before the boat resumes sailing on regardless. What is Alessi trying to tell us? That free love has a downside? Well, paying for it also has a down side so what, exactly, is his point? Both endings feature a hypocritical quote from The Book Of Ecclesiastes to the effect that your sins will find you out. As if to prove his point, Alessi never directed again after this crackpot concoction of Gilligan’s Isle and Bouquet Of Barbed Wire, his sophomore effort. Shameless have appended their own final caption, reassuring us that “No goats were molested in the making of this film.” Phew, that’s a relief…

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In the main bonus item here, the featurette Of Boats And Goats, Neri remembers that Alessi was so unsure of himself on set, he relied upon her to the extent that she got her first and only credit as assistant director. It’s great to see Neri looking so well and reminiscing so happily about this film and her fellow cast members. Ditto Salvatore Puntillo, who reminds us of his distinguished stage career but leaves us in little doubt that his stint as the meat in a Fenech / Neri sandwich remains a personal and professional highlight.

Just when you thought they’d been a bit quiet recently, Shameless hit the ball out of the park with this extended exercise in nautical naughtiness. Sure it’s panned, scanned and to varying degrees scuzzy-looking (certain restored scenes of exposition and dialogue look a bit crap and Edwige’s goat-lovin’ moments especially so) but you know you’ve gotta have it! And Michele Soavi’s The Church and The Sect are on the way… yeeh and indeed, haw!

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An ultra-rare still from the entirely imaginary sequel Bottom Sensation.

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“Stupid Dolls Of Flesh And Blood”… Sergio Martino’s TORSO Reviewed

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DVD. Region Free. Shameless. 18.

Faced with the problem of replacing talismanic female lead Edwige Fenech (who was probably knocking out a sexy comedy or two at the time) for 1973’s I Corpi Presentano Tracce Di Violenza Carnale (“The Corpses Show Traces Of Carnal Violence”), Martino made a virtue of necessity by casting Derbyshire dolly bird Suzy Kendall, who had become something of a giallo icon herself since starring in Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970). Here Martino and stalwart scripture Ernesto Gastaldi cut back on the frenetic over-plotting and globe-trotting of their previous collaborations to render their most Argentoesque effort yet… stylishly shot yet boiled down to its brutal, basic ingredients, this is something like the quintessential giallo. Distributed, retitled (as “Torso”)  and marginally recut by Joseph Brenner for the American grindhouse circuit, the film’s pared down focus on psychosexual violence twitched the death nerves of American film goers who were about to embrace Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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Much has been made of the connection between gialli and the subsequent American slasher cycle… by reducing things to a simple-minded body count mechanism and concentrating on predominantly attractive, sexually active female victims, Torso probably deserves as much credit (if that’s the appropriate word) for this cultural exchange as Bava’s Bay Of Blood (1971), whose plot is more easily recognisable in the first couple of Friday The 13th movies.

After a kinky photo shoot involving doll mutilation (?) has played out under the titles, we are introduced to Kendall’s character Jane. She’s studying Renaissance Art at Perugia University, whose student body for the Academic Year 1973-4 seems to consist exclusively of refugees from America’s Next Top Model. Before they’ve learned to distinguish their Perugino from their pudenda, however, the girls start getting strangled and carved up by a balaclava clad assassin. Cristina / Conchita Airoldi (as Carol) is offed in even more memorable style than she was in Martino’s The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971).

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After a pot-fuelled heavy petting session with two hippies turns sour (as is so often the case), she wanders off into the foggy woods (like you invariably do on such occasions) and ends up strangled, stabbed and drowned in a muddy swamp. Sex and drugs, then killed in a forest? You couldn’t have a clearer template for the stalk’n’slash cycles “have sex and die!” rule. Brenner astutely recognised the significance of this death scene, bumping it up in the running order so it plays under the film’s titles, to the accompaniment of a howling fuzz guitar riff (imported from Bruno Nicolai’s score for the Leon Klimovsky flick, Night Of The Walking Dead.)

The only lead the police have is the killer’s preference for red and black scarves as strangulation aids. Martino manages a little in-joke by casting Ernesto Colli (one of the several assassins in Mrs Wardh) as the campus scarf vendor who attempts to blackmail the killer, only to be squashed under the latter’s car (after all, “death is the best keeper of secrets…”) Meanwhile sweet Danni (Tina Aumont), in best Bird With The Crystal Plumage style, is struggling to recall the half-glimpsed clue that’s tormenting her… did she see her obsessive wannabe boyfriend wearing a black on red patterned scarf or a red on black patterned scarf at the time of the first killing? Her uncle Nino is quite sure of one thing… that Danni and her sexy pals should try and take their minds off things by spending a weekend at his remote, cliff-side manner in the country. Uh-oh…

The lecherous villagers are suitably impressed when all this tantalising totty rolls up. Sample comment: ” “Cor… look at all those knockers!” (Yeah Einstein, two per girl… though admittedly that might change when – to paraphrase the marketing for Shameless’s DVD release – “the whores meet the saws!”) Katia (Angela Corvello) and Ursula (Carla Brait from Giulio Carnimeo’s Why These Strange Drops Of Blood On The Body Of Jennifer?, 1972) are having a hot and heavy lesbian fling so it’s no surprise when they go the way of all sinful flesh, where they’re soon joined by Danni.

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Because Jane arrived separately and retired to bed early with a sprained ankle, the maniac is initially oblivious to her as she eaves-drops, horrified, on the sawing up of her pals into handily disposable portions of sexy student. The killer boasts an impressive array of cutting tools, but it’s not clear whether his armoury includes a strange vice (yuk, yuk!) Our anguished heroine impotently watches the townspeople below and tries to alert them to her predicament by reflecting the sun off a mirror, but no dice. All she manages to do is reveal her presence to the killer, after which she spends about half an hour playing hide and seek around the house’s ornate fittings and among the butchered remnants of her pals… a fetishistic expansion of one brief, tense scene in Bird With The Crystal Plumage where the killer lays siege to Kendall’s apartment… yep, she’s in a locked room and only a psychotic maniac has the key! All the windows are (in)conveniently barred against burglars… cue the “through the keyhole” shots that Martino so obviously loved in BWTCP and with which he litters all of his gialli.

But who is the killer? No giallo epic would be complete without the expected massed ranks of suspects. Doctor Roberto (crime-slime mainstay Luc Meranda) spends a lot of time loitering menacingly for no apparent reason… art lecturer Professor Franz (John Richardson, who’s been gracing spaghetti exploitation flicks since Bava’s Black Sunday in 1960) seems unnecessarily obsessed with the correct way to depict the gory martyrdom of Saint Sebastian… brooding student Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) has been stalking Daniela and attempts to throttle a prostitute who laughs when he fails to rise to the occasion…

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… even kindly Uncle Nino (Carlo Alighiero) is an incestuously inclined voyeur… and maybe we should be worrying about the peeping tom milkman (“Ernie”, by any chance?) who seems to have emigrated from the set of one of Martino’s “sexy comedies”. Just about all of these guys seem to sport one of those racy little red / black neckerchiefs, too …

All is finally resolved with the mandatory ludicrous psychosexual revelation… “I killed them because they were dolls… just stupid dolls of flesh and blood!’ howls the culprit (calm down, calm down!), flashing back to the unfortunate (and hilariously rendered) childhood incident in which his kid brother went arse over tit off a cliff after a game of doctor’s and nurses went horribly wrong. Incidentally, the final confrontation between the characters who turn out to be killer and hero respectively is a full-on punch-up that wouldn’t be out of place at kicking-out time in a Glasgow hostelry and very much suggests the influence of the contemporary kung fu craze. When I interviewed Martino he declared his “absolute favourite moment” from all his films to be “the sequence at the end of Torso, in which Suzy Kendall is locked in the room, being stalked by the killer. I think that I was very successful in generating a lot of suspense there”… not half, matey! Edwige Fenech… who needs her?

The Shameless edition of Torso undoes Brenner’s revisions and restores footage that was never dubbed for English language releases. You can stand a few subtitles, can’t you? If not, I’ll be round with me hacksaw…

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Who you calling a stupid doll? You’ve got a fucking sock on your head!

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“Canterbury Rides Again”… PASOLINI & HIS “DECAMEROTIC” IMITATORS

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During the quarter Century that Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo (1975) was banned, raided and prosecuted in the UK, it became one of the most hotly traded items on the bootleg video underground, alongside those familiar Fulci, Lenzi and Deodato titles. No doubt many of those trading it were more interested in seeing people eating shit, raping, torturing and murdering each other than with weighing the political and philosophical arguments with which Pasolini underpinned his dark masterpiece. .. blissfully unaware of the ambivalent relationship between Italian “Art” Cinema and the “B” movies whose profits sustain it.

I’ve always been suspicious of false dichotomies such as the one between Art and exploitation… the long running Continental Film Review (redubbed Continental Film And Video Review a couple of years before it went out of business) remains one of my all-time favourite film magazines precisely because of the completely guileless way with which it juxtaposed the sacred texts of Robbe-Grillet and Godard with the latest crime thriller from Fernando Di Leo or new Joe D’Amato sexploiter, genuflecting as reverently before the iconic screen presence of Laura Gemser as that of Anita Ekberg and proving perfectly capable of following up an earnest discussion of the latest Ingmar Bergman effort with a splash of cheeky FOH stills and verbatim press office synopses for the likes of Danish Dentist On The Job. The hoary old Art vs exploitation distinction cut no dice in the editorial office of CFR, where the only thing that mattered was the exponentially increased likelihood in a European film (of whatever stripe), as opposed to any British or American production, of encountering some tit, a bit of bum or possibly even a stray wisp or two of pubic hair.

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During the samizdat flowering of a thousand fanzines that thrived in response to the introduction of draconian video censorship in early ’80s Britain, my own writing and editorial efforts were intended as a contribution towards extending and enriching this democratic and eclectic tendency. In the best of the zines, the new wave of pundits were as comfortable enthusing about the latest beguiling enigma from Borowczyk or Zulawski as they were in singing the praises of some rediscovered giallo or slice of crime-slime and the flip side of this was the rash of learned papers emanating from the groves of academe, whose scholars were apparently poring over the collected works of Russ Meyer, Dario Argento, et al. I’m sure that the ever-iconoclastic Pasolini would have welcomed this sacking of the academic ivory towers though in characteristically contrary fashion I’m not so sure the grumpy old bugger, mindful of the Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance”, would have appreciated the degree to which his own incendiary efforts had become “respectable”, clutched to the bosom of the bourgeois cultural mainstream. No doubt he took a few turns in his tomb after the BBFC’s decision to finally pass the much persecuted Salo on 16/11/00…

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You can only fully comprehend the disorienting howl of rage, recrimination and despair that is Salo if you are familiar with the fierce joy of the films that Pasolini made immediately prior to it, the “Trilogy Of Life” he initiated with The Decameron (“Il Decameron”, 1971), continued in Canterbury Tales (“I Racconti Di Canterbury”, 1972) and concluded in Arabian Nights (“Il Fiore Delle Mille E Una Notte”, 1974). Pasolini’s loving, albeit free ranging adaptations of these stately story cycles (self mockingly replaced by pernicious pornography employed to tickle the jaded palates of old fascists by the time of Salo) were expressions of his faith in the common people (or his picaresque vision of same) in all their lustful, acquisitive and roguish “authenticity” (a quality which Pasolini, on account of his homosexuality and genteel antecedents, felt that he lacked), the great unwashed whose ribaldry and very zest for life could recapture the pre-capitalist, essentially pagan idyll for which Pasolini pined. Well, whatever… readers are urged to check out the BFI’s spanky , extras-packed BD /DVD combi editions of the “Trilogy” Films, unalloyed gems of joyous European cinema which are guaranteed to significantly lift your spirits even if they don’t propel you to the nearest barricade, movies which happily occupy the middle ground between Art house and outhouse… in the Canterbury Tales alone you can gawp at the spectacle of Satan blowing sinful friars out of his crimson arse at the film’s astonishing conclusion… giggle uncontrollably at the sight of a badly dubbed Tom Baker’s knob…

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… most pertinently to the purposes of this piece, check out this disc’s 35 minute bonus featurette “Pasolini And The Italian Genre Film”, lovingly put together by the ubiquitous Severin crew to celebrate the brief but intense flood (some have estimated nearly fifty films!) of “decamerotic”  cheapo knock-offs, illuminating in the process the symbiotic relationship of Arty and more popular films in Italy which stands in stark and refreshing contrast to the snotty, hidebound attitudes of the British cinema establishment. In the words of the BFI’s genial James Blackford: “Genre fans will be pleased to know that the documentary features interviews with such Italian exploitation veterans as Luciano Martino and Gabriele Crisanti, who speak eloquently and candidly about their relationship to Pasolini’s work and the Italian commercial cinema at that time… for the British Film Institute to have commissioned an extra feature that includes the producer of Giallo A Venezia, Burial Ground and Patrick Still Lives (below) is certainly something of a landmark moment and should really capture the imagination of genre enthusiasts”. Too true, matey…

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The now moribund tradition of Italian popular cinema was, in its pre-’90s pomp, often subjected to the simple minded criticism that it did nothing more than regurgitate bargain basement copies of commercially successful American models. Kim Newman refuted this simplistic charge beautifully in a series of articles he wrote for the Monthly Film Bulletin, although I’ve mislaid the original quote and must here rely on my imperfect translation of an Italian translation (itself possibly imperfect) of a previous piece in which I quoted his indispensable aphorism… seems kind of appropriate, somehow. Anyway, in the wise words (approximately) of Mr Newman, “the best examples of Italian ‘imitations’ are actually an incredibly sophisticated mix of revision, pastiche, parody, deconstruction, reinterpretation and operatic conflation”. I couldn’t have put it better myself… in any language. Leaving aside any consideration that some of the American hits that inspired Italian cinematic trends sometimes owed their own debt to Italian originals (anybody who doubts that the cinema’s enduring genres were forged in the white heat of the nascent Italian film industry is advised to check out Tim Lucas’s miraculous Mario Bava biography All The Colors Of The Dark, published by Video Watchdog in 2007), the erotic medieval portmanteau movie provided an unarguably Italian form on which the spaghetti exploitation and imitation mills lost no time going to work. “The secret was being quick, not letting the audience’s interest die down after Pasolini had opened it” according to incorrigible scum producer Crisanti, who relates in the Severin doc how he braved a snooty dressing down from Pasolini himself, then a plagiarism lawsuit from the production company Pea and finally a threatened obscenity rap before establishing his right to bring Il Decameron No. 2 to the screen. “And that’s where it all started…” according to Signor Crisanti: “the circus of real and fake Decamerons”…

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… ah yes, “the circus of real  and fake Decamerons”: Roll up, roll up roll up, for Mino Guerrini’s Il Decameron No. 2 – Le Altre Novelle Di Boccaccio (“Boccaccio’s Other Stories”, this being the one that Crisanti weathered so many storms to bring to the screen and whose cast includes Camille “I Spit On Your Grave” Keaton, Buster’s niece) and Gli Altri Racconti Di Canterbury (“The Other Canterbury Tales”); Italo Alfaro’s Il Decameron No. 3 – Le Piu Belle Donne Del Boccaccio (“Boccaccio’s Most Beautiful Women”, optimistically and inaccurately retitled The Last Decameron for overseas release, with the enticing subtitle Adultery In 7 Easy Lessons) and Canterbury Proibito “”Forbidden Canterbury”, with Femi Benussi); Giuseppe Vari’s Beffe, Licenze Et Amori Del Decamerone Segreto (“Pranks. License And Love From The Secret Decameron”); Gian Paolo Callegari’s Le Calde Notti Del Decameron (“Hot Nights From The Decameron”); Renato Savino’s Decameron ‘300; Decameron Proibitissimo – Boccaccio Mio Statte Zitt from Marino Girolami (Enzo Castellari’s dad); Lucio Dandolo’s I Racconti Di Canterbury No. 2 (“Canterbury Tales 2”, released in Anglo territories as “The Lusty Wives Of Canterbury”); Brunello Rondi’s Racconti Proibiti… Di Niente Vestiti; Bruno Corbucci’s starkly titled Boccaccio; Pino Tosini’s Racconti Romani Di Una Ex Novizi; Vittorio De Sisti’s Fiorina La Vacca; Silvio Amadio’s … E Si Salvo L’Arentino Pietro Con Una Mano Avanti E L’Altra Dietro; Aldo Grimaldi’s Quando Le Donne Si Chiamavano Madonne; Pier Giorgio Ferretti’s Decameroticus; Manlio Scarpelli’s Le Notti Peccaminose Di Pietro L’Aretino; Enrico Bomba’s Le Mille E Una Notte… E Un Altra Ancora; Antonio Margheriti’s Novelle Galeotte D’Amore; Franco Rossetti’s Una Cavala Tutta Nuda; Paolo (Beast In Heat) Solvay’s Confessione Segreti Di Un Convento Di Clausura; Mariano Laurenti’s La Bella Antonia Prima Monica E Poi Dimonia and Adalberto Albertini’s Metti Lo Diavolo Tuo Ne Lo Mio Inferno.

Incredibly, all of those and more were cranked out in 1972 alone, as were a brace of pictures by the dynamic directing duo Carlo Infascelli and Antonio Racioppi, namely Decamerone Proibito – Le Altre Novelle Del Boccaccio (aka Forbidden Decameron) and Le Mille E Una Notte All’Italiana (“One Thousand And One Nights, Italian Style”), which was also known in the domestic market as Decameronissimo and released in France as Canterbury Interdit, illustrating the extent to which the different story cycles were getting confused with each other in the popular imagination (with the active encouragement of film makers as opportunistic as any medieval rogue) and also how the quick fire knock off merchants were actually anticipating the release of announced instalments in Pasolini’s trilogy… the inexhaustible Margheriti’s cheekily titled Finalmente… Le Mille E Una Notte (1972) seduced the gullible Italian punter into believing he was coughing up his lire to see Pasolini’s projected adaptation, a full two years before the latter actually hit the screens.

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Oblivious to such niceties of priority, Anglo distributors renamed Margheriti’s picture (which starred both Femi Benussi and the even more gorgeous Barbara Bouchet) as 1001 Nights of Pleasure or House / Bed Of A Thousand Pleasures. No prizes for guessing that it took Aristide Massaccesi aka Joe D’Amato to take the numbers game to its logical, smutty and quite possibly chronologically accurate conclusion with 1973’s Sollazzevoli Storie Di Mogli Gaudenti E Mariti Penitenti – Decameron No 69 (or plain old More Sexy Canterbury Tales over here). Ever busy and diligent in his studies of classic literature (if uncharacteristically slow off the blocks to exploit a cinematic trend), D’Amato knocked off Canterbury No. 2 – Nuove Storie D’Amore Del ‘300 (imaginatively aka Tales Of Canterbury) in the same year,  which he rounded off with Novelle Licenziose Di Vergini Vogliose (“Lusty Stories Of Willing Virgins”), whose working title (Le Mille E Una Notte Di Boccaccio A Canterbury) took the proverbial soggy biscuit for mythos mix-and-matching. If D’Amato was surprisingly slow in jumping this Medieval muck cart, the likes of Paolo Bianchini’s Decameron No. 4 – Le Belle Novelle Di Boccaccio (“The Most Beautiful Stories of Boccaccio”); Adalberto Albertini’s … E Continuavano A Mettere Lo Diavolo Ne Lo Inferno; Edoardo Re’s I Racconti Di Viterbury – Le Piu Allegre Storie Del-300; Amasi Damiani’s Quando I Califfi Avevano Le Corna and Roberto Bianchi Montero’s Donna E Magia Con Satanasso In Compagnia (all released in 1973) represents the tail end of all these titillating tales  (the wooden spoon though, must go to Lucio Dandolo’s 1975 effort, Quant’E’ Bella La Bernarda Tutta Nera, Tutta Calda) which were about to be supplanted from their brief period dominating terza visione screens by the altogether longer running vogue for Sexy Comedies All’Italiana. In that Severin documentary, Exploitation film scholar Antonio Tentori identifies the transitional film, probably correctly, as Mariano Laurenti’s Quel Gran Pezzo Dell’Ubalda Tutta Nuda E Tutta Calda (“Ubalda, All Naked And Warm”), produced in 1972 by Luciano Martino as a vehicle for the pneumatic charms of his main squeeze and soon-to-be undisputed queen of the Sexy Comedies (not to mention gialli) Edwige Fenech.

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Martino, Crisante and Bianchini are among those contributing their ten penn’orth to the Severin doc, as does producer Alfredo Bini who, having produced several of Pasolini’s earliest films, would later (i.e. in 1972) discharge the same function for a Decameron / 1001 Nights mish-mash directed by Piero Vivarelli (who also appears in this featurette), namely Il Decamerone Nero (“Black Decameron” aka Africa Erotica). Bini happily concedes that this move was partially designed to pay Pasolini out for jumping production ship on Il Decameron but, as if to underline the point that the high and low brow are not nearly as clearly demarcated in Italy as an Anglo-American observer might presuppose, Pasolini’s new producer Alberto Grimaldi (who continued to punctuate his collaborations with Pasolini, Fellini, Bertolucci, et al, with stints on spaghetti westerns, mondo movies and at least one Zorro adventure) also contributing to the rush of cash ins with Storie Scellerate (aka Bawdy Tales” / Roguish Stories), directed by Pasolini’s frequent collaborator Sergio Citti in 1973.

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When I interviewed Giuseppe “Pupi” Avati, who has himself successfully juggled alternate careers in Art-house and genre productions, just one of his uncredited gigs that we discussed was his contribution to the script of Salo and he insisted that “Pasolini had never even read De Sade… we wrote the film with Sergio Citti, who was going to direct it. Then the company that was supposed to produce the film went bankrupt. One evening I met with Pasolini and proposed to him that he should direct the picture himself. He accepted my suggestion, and that’s what happened” Serafino Murri, author of a critical study of PPP and a prime candidate for “Italy’s thinking woman’s crumpet critic”, argues in Severin’s documentary that Pasolini was furious to see his vision of a lost erotic paradise vulgarised into a popular franchise of disposable cheap thrills (though he was surely tempting fate by speeding up scenes for comic relief in The Decameron and casting Robin Askwith, he of the “Confessions Of..” series, in Canterbury Tales) and specifically that it was his outrage at the spectacle of the masses lapping up these low brow mutations of his poetic purpose that inspired the notorious shit banquet in Salo.

Alienated from the Left by The Historic Compromise (by which the Italian Communist Party entered into mainstream Parliamentary politics) and disgusted by his idealised youths’ acquiescence to their own enslavement in a consumerist cage, Pasolini disowned his Trilogy of Life as an over optimistic aberration… Boccaccio, Chaucer and the storytellers of the 1001 Nights were out, enter De Sade and his four killer libertines. Ironically, it was Pasolini’s continuing desire to get down with the kids in a very literal fashion that proved his undoing. On November 2, 1975, a month before the premiere of his grim magnum opus Salo, Pasolini’s ideological rejection of Italian youth was reciprocated in all too solid fashion, when one of the common people he wanted to sleep with took up a spiked club and beat his brilliant brain to a, er, pulp.

Do yourself a favour, skip the latest block headed remake of some American slasher movie that wasn’t that great in the first place and engage with Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, if only as  a prelude to immersing yourself once again, with a cleared palate and enhanced understanding, in the vituperative vileness of Salo.

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La Repulsion… SYMPTOMS Reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Region Free. BFI. 15.

Do you remember, dear reader, when ITV (in its various regional incarnations) was actually worth watching? Before it was completely overrun with talent contests, reality programs and shit films, ITV was synonymous  with World In Action, The World At War and… late night screenings of really cool, obscure films. I distinctly remember Lucio Fulci’s “lost” meisterwerk Beatrice Cenci (1969) turning up in the graveyard slot on Granada during the late ’80s, round about the time we were cooking up Samhain… ditto Symptoms (1974) by Jose Ramon Larraz. The latter broadcast became the source of innumerable VHS bootlegs which were the only way to see and appreciate Larraz’s film for about thirty years, as all negatives seemed to have disappeared. Now you can finally chuck your bootlegs away because, after featuring it for some time on their “75 Most Wanted” list, the BFI have finally tracked down the required elements for Symptoms and issued this all-singing and dancing Blu-ray edition, on their more exploitation-oriented “Flipside” imprint… this, mind you, for the film which managed to bump Ken Russell’s Mahler as the UK entrant for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1974.

The first thing to say about Symptoms, the thing you really can’t avoid mentioning, is the obvious debt that it owes to Polanski’s Repulsion, 1965 (though that’s probably too simplistic a statement of the relationship between the two films… no less a pundit than David Pirie has argued that Larraz actually outdoes his avatar here.) In Repulsion Catherine Deneuve’s alienated young manicurist comes unglued amid the isolation of the big city, her repressed sexuality erupting into unconscionable violence before she retreats irrevocably into catatonia.

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Symptoms unfolds as though Larraz and his co-writers (Stanley Miller and Thomas Owen) have been pondering whether she might have achieved a more positive outcome by heading for the sticks and honouring the early ’70s tradition of  (in the vernacular of the time) getting her shit together in the country. The answer they arrive at seems to be… no! The shit hits the proverbial fan when this notional rural idyll turns out to be every bit as oppressively agoraphobic as any urban milieu. Perhaps this jaundiced take on our green and pleasant land is a particularly Spanish phenomenon… in the same year as Symptoms, Jorge Grau turned in his surreal and utterly alarming twist on English gothic, The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue.

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Helen (Angela Pleasance) invites her friend Anne (Lorna Heilbron) to her old lake-side house so that the latter can get over the trauma of a romantic bust-up. It will transpire that Helen is getting over an even more drastic sundering, but for the time being it’s as well to note that she’s a bit odd…. intense. Presumably a classic screen beauty like Deneuve would have been beyond Larraz’s budget anyway, but Symptoms benefits immensely from the casting of Pleasance, whose peculiarly puckish presence draws the viewer into an ongoing guessing game regarding just WTF her problem is.

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Whatever it is, it’s got something to do with the disappearance of her “friend” Cora (briefly glimpsed in the shape of Marie-Paule Mailleux during intermittent flash backs)… nor do the vaguely sinister attentions of lurking handyman Brady (Peter Vaughan) in any way alleviate the growing tension, which builds beautifully for about an hour before a final third which maintains the film’s supremely creepy atmosphere while punctuating it with an escalating series of grand guignol eruptions. In Symptoms, Larraz reiterates Polanski’s point about sexual self-loathing and the potential it has warp the self and damage others, a concept whose relevance to real life is all too readily apparent at the time I sit here typing these words….

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I reacquainted myself with Symptoms during a thunderstorm which complimented the on screen events quite beautifully… then again I remember how wonderfully evocative and engaging the film was, viewed late at night in my parents’ lounge, all those years ago. This perfectly orchestrated chamber piece will  probably weave its disturbing magic in whatever circumstances it is seen. Larraz is exceptionally well served here by sympathetic collaborators… his cast, his DP Trevor Wrenn, his art director Ken Bridgeman and composer John Scott… also by his own polymath grounding  in comic book art, fashion photography and art history. There are frames of Pleasence’s face that suggest a Vermeer portrait. Elsewhere, some of the house’s William Morris interiors are echoed in the fronds which embrace the corpse of a woman discovered in the lake, a scene which itself strongly suggests a pre-Raphaelite rendering of Ophelia.

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Symptoms failed to garner anything like a feverish reaction at Cannes Festival or indeed anywhere else, but its editor Brian Smedley-Aston was sufficiently impressed by Larraz to remortgage his house to fund the directors’s Vampyres the same year, an altogether more lurid take on the “rural lesbian violence” schtick that also comes highly recommended. The witty Smedley-Aston is interviewed for this set’s generous compliment of bonus features, as are Pleasence and Heilbron. As well as his work with Larraz, he discusses editing (and being obliged to re-edit) Performance with Donald Cammell and his experiences on the  Jeff Lieberman films Squirm and Blue Sunshine. To her Symptoms reminiscences, Heilbron (now working as a psychotherapist) adds her reflections on Freddie Francis’s The Creeping Flesh (1973) and rhapsodises about acting alongside Peter Cushing. Pleasance is interesting, insightful and funny (e.g. when she reveals that her “perfectly circular head” saved her life when a heavy light fell on it during the making of Symptoms.) For all of these new interviews we have to thank our old mate Pete Tombs and the From Barcelona… To Tunbridge Wells episode of his 1999 Channel 4 series Eurotika! is also revived here (remember, dear reader, when Channel 4 was actually worth watching?) Pride of place though, must go to Celia Novi’s award winning 2011 feature On Vampires And Other Symptoms, an impressive, impressionistic mash up of JRL’s two most celebrated pictures, his autobiographical comic strips and what turns out to be a trip to the 2009 Sitges Film Festival (four years before his death) where the Catalonian director received an honorary award and was treated to a surprise reunion with Vampyres stars Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska…. those scenes alone were worth the price of admission.

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… it’s better than bottling it up! Larraz’s El Periscopio, 1979.

 

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The Warbeck Weekender, Part 3… A Classic DAVID WARBECK INTERVIEW Revisited

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Easter Monday, 20.04.92… much of the world’s attention was focussed on Wembley Stadium, where the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was unfolding but I had other things on my mind, i.e. an interview with somebody who had starred in two of my all-time favourite movies (The Beyond and A Fistful Of Dynamite) as well as appearing in any number of highly entertaining ones. This handsome dog – who doubled as a male model and trebled as the best James Bond we never had – braved Lucio Fulci’s zombies, was  kidnapped by Sergio Leone and helped Antonio Margheriti through his real-life battle with a cannibal pancreas! But it was while tackling troglodytes with Joan Crawford that he learned the secret of turning shit into gold. Ladies and gentlemen… The David Warbeck Interview!

So, I’m a bit of a cult, am I? (laughs)

I think the fans appreciate the fact that you’re not sniffy about the exploitation movies they love… you don’t look as if you consider it all beneath you.

Oh God, no! I think they’re wonderful! It’s an incredible pleasure, really. I was brought up in New Zealand, and out there you did amateur theatre and all that sort of thing, just for the socialising and the fun of it, and it was all amateur and unpaid, so to come to Europe and have money thrown at you for having a good time… I could never quite believe my good luck! It’s been going on for almost thirty years now and I still love the hokum of it all … I think it’s an incredible privilege to be dashing off around the world at somebody else’s expense, staying in hotels, enjoying all the daily dramas of the film world… you know, the ship hasn’t turned up, or they lost ten extras or something…  it’s a great, great privilege. There are so many wannabes and would-bes and half-way house people and whatever, who bitch because The North Pole’s too cold or the Caribbean’s too sunny, or something, but all the great people I’ve worked with… I mean the real greats, the Anthony Quinn’s and the Joan Crawford’s and all that lot, we’ve all had this conversation and I’ve come to realise what they feel anyway … the whole business is such a great pleasure.

Tell as something about your start in the business.

Well, after acting in New Zealand for a while, I won an award to come to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and promptly got expelled from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, for reasons I’m not allowed to go into … reasons involving Geraldine McEwan, the principal’s wife. So I took off, and because the expulsion note from the principal was so weird, he was such an arse-hole, I got an awful lot of offers for TV work and bits and pieces. That’s when I did all the Hayley Mills stuff, and Amilia Quint with Beryl Reid … do you remember that one?

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Vaguely, but I was very young when they first broadcast it.

It must have been about 25 years ago, but it’s still one of my favourites, a television film with Norman Rossington, and we were making home porno movies… Beryl was a Roman slave and we’d be gladiators, or French sailors on the dock and she was just having a very eccentric time, until her British publishers decide to bring her back to relaunch her book and she has to get rid of this undesirable element … it was a very scatty thing. So we did all that and then the modelling came up. It just wasn’t done in those days, the attitude was that if you’re an actor you don’t model, and if you’re a model, you can’t act … all that snobbery, which still exists today, and which I find totally perverse. Anyway, I realised that there was a fortune to be made – very boring stuff – modelling, so we set about that methodically, and I must say did very well, internationally. Meanwhile the film work was kind of popping in and out, so we just carried on with the movies, though I still do commercials, advertising and stuff.

How did your introduction to the Italian scene come about?

That was during one of my very rare plays, in Birmingham Rep. I was doing The Barretts Of Wimpole Street, and my English agent said: “We’ve got this barmy Italian who wants to see you about something”. So we went down to the Dorchester, the door opened, and there was this huge guy giving me a bear-hug, saying: “You’re the one, you’re the one, come with us now, come to the airport” and I said: “What?!?” So then I rang my agent to ask who these people were and what it was all about, and he said: “Have they offered you a drink?” and I said: “Yeah, the lot” He said: “Get out of there, they’re trying to kidnap you!” I said: “You’re kidding!” That was Sergio Leone, and the film was …

A Fistful Of Dynamite!

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… Fistful Of Dynamite, yeah. So off we went, filming with James Coburn. I wasn’t sure so what the hell was going on … it wasn’t quite my first italian movie …

What was that, then?

Oh shit, I should have all these names for you … it was a very impressive movie. My associate agent in Rome rang London, I went out there to meet them, and they were setting up a film to be directed by Alberto Sordi, who’s like God out there … it was an Italian version of Day For Night, and the Italian title translated as The Problems Of Producers With Headaches, something like that. It starred Dagmar Lassander, whom I’ve worked with on many films, and we did an Italian version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover … guess who the lover was … and that was just so mad … totally barmy … it was just a hiccup film, later I went back and the Leone film happened. That was a mega success in Europe, ran for two years in Rome, France too. To this day … I was with my lady wife in Venice, about a year ago, walking around, and you know all these little bands they have, playing outdoors? Well, when I came into sight, this little band struck up my theme from Fistful Of Dynamite! You know how these guys are. I turned around and mouthed: “You’re kidding!”, caught the guy’s eye, and he just gave me a big wink. I always go around in slight stunned disbelief that people like your lovely self are still interested … it’s an unbelievable run I’ve had.

You’re effectively only in two scenes in Fistful Of Dynamite, but your presence haunts the whole movie, because of the ongoing, unfolding flash-backs …

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Well, the original film was over four hours long. Bogdanovich started directing it …

Wasn’t there a rebellion by James Coburn and Rod Steiger to convince Leone to direct it?

I never managed to get the complete, true story behind that… Bogdanovlch was the flavour of that year, having just made The Last Picture Show, and the Italians have always been trying get into the American distribution market, it’s the big thing for them… they’ve got another big push underway at the moment. Anyway, Sergio’s films, the “Dollar” films and so on, were massive hits in Europe, but the American buyers were snobbish about Italians doing “their” thing, i.e. Westerns and wanted Bogdanovich’s name on it to get distribution. That was what it was all about, pretty straightforward, so they got him on board and I think he directed for three, maybe four weeks – not much – and it was worked in such a way that it was impossible for him to go on, at which point Sergio took over. It was a political thing that Sergio worked, it’s no big secret, so that if the film was a failure, he could blame it on Bogdanovich (“How could I overcome such a crippling start?”) but if it succeeded, that was down to il maestro, Sergio Leone!

How much of Peter Bogdanovich’s footage remains in the version that we see today?

This I honestly don’t know for a fact. Anthony Dawson… that’s Antonio Marghereti, with whom I’ve made about eight films now, was directing second unit on Fistful. That was how I got into the main run of Italian movies, through Antonio … anyway, he told me part of the story, while reminiscing about “dear old Sergio”, and all that lot, but Sergio only died a few years ago, so one keeps ones politics a little bit polite. But I honestly don’t know … I suppose their must be snippets of Bogdanovich’s stuff in there, they wouldn’t re-shoot everything.

How do you remember Sergio Leone?

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He was mad about things, like cars and gadgets. This is why his films are full of guns, old cars, wonderful machines and so on. For example in the Irish sequences we did for A Fistful Of Dynamite, while looking through a museum for the cars and stuff, he found a wonderful 1930s bus and said: “We must work this into the film” while we were blowing up Mexico, and I said: “How the hell are we going to do that?” and he said: “I know! It is a country bus going through the country and … (excited) yes! Yes! It is full of virginal Irish schoolgirls going to school!” So the hotel we were staying in was absolutely packed with virginal, miffed-looking schoolgirls and Sergio spent a lot of time shooting this bus going up and down … of course this shot was never used, except I think that a very distant shot of it crops up at one point in the picture.

But the guns, whenever there was a gun scene he would say: “No no, like this! ” and take the gun from the actor and demonstrate … he would always act out the machismo of the draw, firing the gun, then he’d swagger off …

He was a very macho guy, wasn’t he?

Oh, Sergio was a peasant! An absolute … not quite a thug but he was a peasant, a real rough Roman. This was all very fine and macho with the films he was making, but then they got him on the Cannes Film board – he was on it for years – and when he was interviewed they always put shelves of books behind him, trying to portray him as an intellectual, which was something he definitely didn’t like and used to react against. Later on he was very ill with his heart, but I was always meeting him at festivals and he was always saying: “David, you must do Once Upon A Time In America, you must do this, you must do that” and I’d say: “Fine, you’ve got my number.”. Finally the call came through and my agent said: “David, David, Sergio Leone wants you in Paris now, get on the next plane – he’s got a very good deal, he’s got all the money and everything. he wants you to work for a few days – it’s a great offer”. So I whizzed off to Paris and we shot – wait for it – a furniture polish commercial for French TV! Imagine

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That was about 18 months before he died. While we were doing this we went for dinner in Paris with a very rich French lady, and for a whole evening he expounded, in great detail – we had a whole evening of it, he just took off – this epic film he was going to do in Russia, the siege of Leningrad thing and how it was all being sorted out with Gorbachev and so on. So that sounded massively exciting, with his visual scale it would have been colossal… out-Leaned David Lean! There was no question about the man’s ability and his visual flair … the machismo thing was always a bit heavy going but, y’know, we hardly ever spoke to each other much, it was always “yes-no”, “stop-go”, grinning-to-each-other sort of stuff … this is one of the strange things about acting. in terms of both theatre and film, a great deal of work is done telepathically. It’s something that I was forced to come to terms with years ago, because I did a lot of these Italian fotoromanzi … do you know what they are?

Yeah, like comic strips but with photos instead of drawings … they have them in teenage girls’ magazines over here … and in VIZ!

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… as demonstrated by Marisa Mell and friend.

Italian fotoromanzi range from being just “he said / she said”, “girlfriend / boyfriend” things to … we shot “Mayerling”, which involved 200 extras running around a mountain, castles, kings and queens, a lighting crew, incredibly elaborate and nobody actually moved, you know, we were all frozen there with bubbles coming out of our mouths. It was big scale stuff, grand. I didn’t know a word of Italian in those days, though I had a three year contract with them.

So you were getting by on body language and stuff …

Yeah, and you had to understand everything they wanted on the spot, you had to get a lot of story-line packed into one page After a while it was a matter of a gesture with the hand, twiddling it to the left or the right to indicate which way your body should be leaning, and “smile just a little bit more” would be a finger-pinch up in the air or something, so after a while it would be easy to just turn and look at the person and know exactly what they wanted. I find that quite fascinating. Johnny Hough, who I did Robin Hood (below) with here, also Twins Of Evil, he was like that with us, he was great. That was one from the early days. He’d just say: “C’mon Dave, you know what I want”, and it’d be: “Right-o”, you know, no discussion necessary… Margheriti, of course, was the classic example of that.

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I adore and admire Margheriti more than any man I’ve ever met in the business, I put him on top of my list. This is partly because he has such visual flair … I’m always terribly stimulated turned on, energised, whatever, by visuals, so to meet somebody with a real visual mind… all Italians are very visual and Margheriti certainly is. I can see how he visualises things and that’s how he can make films work even when the resources aren’t really there. I go along with Leone on this – words are very sexy, and so on, but film is a visual medium, and there are some wonderful lines of dialogue in some wonderful films, but the kind of thing I like doing is stuff in which you’re not talking too much.

What about dubbing? Do you usually get to use your own voice?

I try to … It depends. If it is just a lot of action stuff, I suppose it doesn’t matter too much, but I remember one I did where the producer said: “We’re going to put a real American voice on this” so fine, I agreed to have it dubbed by somebody else and when the film opened, they’d put this great American faggot voice on it! So here was this great American jungle hero saying [adopts appropriate Julian Claryesque tones]: “OK men, I want you to follow me down the mountain”, and I thought: “Oh gawd, never again!” That was a Margheriti film…

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The visual side is brilliant with Margheriti, as I said, but the other thing that I admire about him is how he coped making Treasure Island In Outer Space, when he nearly died! It was a massive, massive contract, a huge project for TV Rai, but what happened was that during all the films he’d made in jungles in previous years, in the Phillipines and so on, he had been suffering with a gall-stone problem and was in constant pain. We were all saying to him: “Go on, Antonio, get yourself off to the hospital” and he, was saying: “Oh no, I’m OK”, being macho about it. Finally the whole thing blew up, so he went to have his stones done, and then he had to have another operation – this is something I never heard of… they had injured his pancreas, and what happens then is that the pancreas starts cannibalising itself, and when it’s through doing that… you’re dead! And the poor guy did almost die … I think it’s the best acting I’ve ever done in my life, because that affected me quite a lot.

I had flown out to Rome to met all the TV Rai crowd, because I was right up there with second billing under Anthony Quinn, originally, which was pretty good considering that Ernest Borgnine was in there too. Anyway, I went off to meet them, and most of them had never even met Margheriti, so they asked: “What’s he like?”, and I’d rave, tell them that I’d done so many films with him, that he’s a man I admire, technically brilliant… if he he has got a fault it’s his scripts, because he doesn’t have a very good ear for English, doesn’t speak it very well … anyway, I kept raving on about him and they said: “Oh well, he’s coming over this afternoon” and I said: “Wonderful, fantastic” because he wasn’t supposed to be coming for another week.

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We went out to the bar, because all the studios have coffee bars out there and they had driven him from the hospital to the studio with his son Edo, who’s now directing himself… he’s another sweetheart, I’ve done a lot of work with him… in the ambulance. So there I am sitting at the bar and somebody says: “Here comes Antonio” and I turned around and was just riveted with shock: He bore no physical resemblance to the guy I remembered… Margheriti had been a well-built – probably overbuilt – robust, absolutely charming guy with magnificent, penetrating blue-grey eyes, jet-black curly hair, like a very handsome version of Fellini… you know that sort of guy with that Italian look, oh, you could trust this and go a hundred miles with it, but here before me was this cripple; like a Belsen victim or something! His hair had gone white! He came to me and I was shocked, I had to put the face on pretty quickly, and he pottered up to me, with Edo supporting him, taking impossibly short steps… there were tubes hanging out of him, bandages all over him, there’s no way he should have been out of hospital – and the biggest shock was that he spoke in this thin little piping voice, when he had been such a macho guy. I just thought “No, No, No!”, my head was spinning from the shock of seeing him in this state. Imagine the shock of having to help this guy stand up when he’s embarking on this massive epic, and all the politics that came into it, his film crew versus the TV crew, and so on …

I imagine he leaned on his son a lot at this point… it’s a real Italian film tradition, isn’t it … as in the case of Mario and Lamberto Bava.

Oh, Lamberto Bava (laughs) … they’re called “the foetus and the fart” in Italy, for some reason… “Farto e Feto”, or whatever … yes he did, Edo helped a lot because he was directing second unit, setting up all the model stuff, which his father would come along and check, being the master. It took a long time … Antonio’s tubes kept coming out, and he bled a great deal. I was stunned by the behaviour of TV Rai, who didn’t offer any assistance at all … so I became his assistant, rushing around after him trying to help, always standing behind him like his shadow – you’ve gotta be careful, because it looks obnoxious to a lot of people, like you’re toadying or something. I was appalled that nobody was offering him any help … and he fought his way back. I watched this man fight his way out of the grave over a period of about two or three months …

… and now he’s back churning them out, e.g. these Indio movies with Marvin Hagler …

That’s right yeah, a mutual friend was telling me the other day about all these films he’s doing. It’s terrible how time seems to go by so fast: You think: “Oh my God, that was 4 years ago”, and in this business we all seem to be rushing off up mountains … but I remember the first day I knew he’d recovered, that was when he finally had a row in the studio… he was screaming, his voice was back, he was yelling at somebody about something or other, a real tirade against the whole studio … I just got behind the nearest pillar and cried my eyes out… it meant he was back! It was a wonderful moment for us, because as I keep saying, I love and admire the man, we’ve been through so much together.

Including that plane crash on Tiger Joe …

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Should I talk about this? I’m a bit reluctant, out of respect for the people who died …

(What follows is an expurgated version of what David told me about the incident in question, in keeping with his wishes to respect the memories of those who lost their lives-Bob Freudstein) 

It was such a bizarre accident; I was on location with Margheriti, shooting Tiger Joe in the Phillipine jungle … the film was finished, it was Friday the 13th, and we were filming over a jungle grave-yard, so we were all cracking macabre jokes about it … it was a small plane, brand new, no-one knows quite what went wrong … I remember seeing it going down right in front of my eyes … when you’re in films, doing fantasy stuff, things can get a bit mixed up in your mind, sort of: “Was that a take, or is that real?” So when it hit me, what had happened, something Fulci told me came to mind, his line when I asked him how he came up with all this horror, y’know, electric drills through people’s eyeballs and so on, such extremes, so horrendous – and he said: “David, life is so much more horrible than anything I could ever write”, and I realised that he was absolutely right. Margheriti lost his best friend (DP Riccardo Pallottini), it was all very heavy-going for a time, and it made me respect what Fulci had said, because he’s another one who’s suffered through his own private hell… his wife died, he went through a bad separation, bad health, and all of that, this is all common knowledge, so I can talk about it.

Fulci’s just one of the real characters you seem to have a habit of working with … there must be so much you could tell us about him …

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I adored Fulci, liked him immensely, though everyone regards him as completely, barking MAD. He was a raving madman on set, but always to the correct purpose, and he was always very good with me. Yeah, I did like Fulci … his health was a bit up-and-down after we worked together, and everyone regards him as totally barmy.

I know he likes to take cameo rale in his own movies, Is that something he takes very seriously or does he treat it as a bit of a lark?

Oh, seriously, definitely. Sergio used to do that too, and a lot of directors do it… producers too, Herman Cohen (who produced Trog) did it. They all like to have their little walk-on in a scene, have their pictures taken. There’s nothing perverse about that, it’s just part of the fun, I think. Hitchcock made it a kind of a signature, so I guess that’s the way they put their own stamp on it. I don’t think it’s anything to do with being a frustrated actor or anything.

Fulci’s cameo was actually cut from the final print of your first movie with him, The Black Cat. In that film, he does show a ‘totally barmy’, or at least very eccentric idea of, for instance, how British policemen operate. Did you ever point these kind of inaccuracies out to him? If so, what sort of response did you get?

(Laughing) You’d just get a baffled look, “What do you mean?” kind of thing. The reason I laughed was because you’ve reminded me of something very funny … there’s a scene in The Black Cat where a little motor-boat was going down the river to collect a dead body which the police had to retrieve. Well first of all, everything’s done on the day, more or less, and some of us went off to try and find a boat. We got one, quite a handsome boat, of sufficient size to fit everybody in, and then the production assistant came along and said: “No, no, no… too much money, we’ll get a better deal somewhere else!” So they got, and rigged up, boat #2, which was much smaller – it couldn’t quite take us all, so if you watch that shot, you’ll see that the boat is very low in the water because of having too many people in it. Lovely Dagmar Lassander and I are on the prow and the topper was that instead of hiring extras, they dressed all the Italian crew up as English policemen … of course they didn’t stand, walk or do anything like English policemen. Anyway, as we chugged up river a little, it became apparent that the owner of boat #1 had sabotaged boat #2 – It blew up! Smoke was billowing everywhere, Dagmar was screaming – she didn’t want to end up in the water – the boat drifted, out of control, and crashed into one of these incredibly manicured landing stages on the side of the Thames. I think we dented a board, or something, nothing dramatic, but the owner had been watching all this at the window, twitching. thinking: “How can we get money out of this lot? They’re making a film, they must be rich!” So as soon as we hit this bank, she runs out yelling: ‘Officer officer, they’ve damaged my property”, and the road was full, everywhere you looked, of scarpering Italians dressed up as English policemen, who didn’t have a clue what this woman was screaming at them… it was wonderful, a film in itself…  cracks me up, I just roll around every time I think about it.

Was Patrick Magee, your co-star in that movie, as “difficult” as he’s been painted?

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No, no … he was another really good guy… it’s not really fair to go on about this problem he had, you know? He was one of the megas! Trying to work opposite that guy, with those eyes and everything. you had to come up with a whole bag of tricks … and of course playing the hero in these things is very limiting anyway, you just have to stand there looking all jutty-jawed. No, Patrick had a problem but he was lovely … his daughter was there, trying to help him though his last days. His was such a very sad story, an extraordinary talent… brought down by the bottle.

What about Mimsy Farmer?

Mimsy … frankly, I thought she was a bit odd … but she was alright, I suppose … no dammit, she was an odd bitch, for God’s sake and you can print that. I remember we were doing one scene, our one scene of “potential intimacy”, sitting on a couch and I was delivering my lines for all of I was worth and when it came time to take a break she turned to me and said: “You call that acting?” I thought she was joking at first but she hadn’t shown much of a sense of humour up to this point, she never said very much at all and I realised that she meant it. So when I saw her later on this bed, bouncing up and down with the special effects and everything, I thought: “Do you call that acting?” (laughs) 

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Did Fulci really tell you not to bother acting, because the script wasn’t up to it?

I think that was Margheriti … though I guess they’ve all said that at some stage … oh yes, it was Fulci, on The Black Cat, saying: “The script’s not up to it” and I was arguing that we had to “turn shit to gold”, which is my expression for what I learned from working with Joan Crawford on Trog. She taught me, not directly but through watching her and being with her, that in this business you take it as it comes. I’ve never turned anything down … well, just about nothing. As a rule I think: “the sillier the better”, and that’s what I was trying to get across to Fulci: “If the script’s not up to scratch, you’ve gotta tum shit to gold”, but he just shrugged his shoulders, as though to say: “If it’s not up to scratch, forget it”, you know?

It sounds as though he really managed that transformation of shit to gold with The Beyond though, which reportedly had very little script when shooting started …

The thing with many of these directors… Fulci certainly, and Marghereti… is that they have their own concept, they’ve got their own story-boards in their heads and they can play around with how they want to shoot it. Fulci had a very determined script-writer throughout shooting The Beyond and we actually had quite a good script.

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Are you aware, more than ten years on, of the cult reputation that film still enjoys with horror buffs all around the world?

I really hadn’t realised that… the journalist Alan Jones, who I see about once a year, always tells me that I should go to The Scala to  introduce a screening of The Beyond to the audience and I’m baffled as to why anyone would be interested…

No really, they’d go nuts!

I’d be glad to help out but I’m always a little baffled by that reaction because I don’t take it all that seriously in terms of living, eating and breathing the business every day, getting very concerned about where your name is on the titles… I’m not remotely serious in that way, but I am serious in terms of feeling privileged to be living this life and in terms of really trying to make the best of what material we’ve got. When I’m approached by all these fans who can quote all the details at me, know more about the films than I do, I’m always quite amazed that they attend these kind of things… I guess I’m lucky to have done so many that I can forget a few.

What are your feelings about that movie’s other lasting legacy – continuing censorship problems due to its ultra-violent imagery?

Last night I went to see Scorsese’s Cape Fear and I was incensed by that film, I think it was one of the most gratuitous, appalling films… they way they used the violence, I was appalled by the gratuitousness of what they implied… have you seen it?

Yeah.

I just thought it was an appalling movie, overall… even technically, it was appalling.

It was very disappointing by Scorsese’s standards, especially coming after Good Fellas…

Right. My wife was having a hell of an argument with me, saying: “You’ve done these Fulci movies, these horror movies, all this violence and stuff”, but this is my stance… to me there’s a massive difference between what I’ve just described and what I would call fantasy violence. Now, fantasy violence isn’t realistic … you could say that Fulci’s films are realistic, with power-drills going through people’s eyeballs and so on, but it’s done in the context of such barmy people and such barmy set-ups that nobody could take it seriously, in that sense … unlike Cape Fear, which to me was like a text-book for some loony to go out and copy. The stuff I’ve done is all about having fun.

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When I do films… please believe that this is not out of boredom, it’s just out of … sheer devilment, I guess… I always like to see if I can get a gag past the cameramen and the editing room and everybody else, and get it up there on the screen and one of the best gags I ever did was in The Last Hunter, with John Steiner. We were shooting in the depths of this jungle, and he’s an American colonel going mad, he’s saying: “Listen to those bombs, that’s my kind of music!”, and I’m doing my American: “Oh my God, the colonel’s going mad” look… all good stuff. Anyway, he was lighting up a cigarette and I said: “John, come here” and he said: “What is it, darling” and I said: “Don’t let Marghereti see, but break the butt off the cigarette, and shove it up your nose.” He asked me why, and I told him it was a gag I wanted to try … so what happened was, he’s there ranting about “the music, the music”, takes a drag on this fag and exhales smoke through one nostril… in cinemascope! It cracks me up, that we got it onto the screen.

In The Beyond there’s a sequence where Catriona MacColl and I are being chased down hospital corridors by zombies, I’m shooting their heads off, and we run out of bullets. She’s screaming that there’s another one coming and I’m looking around with this expression of angst and horror and all that, y’know – “What are we going to do?”, kind of thing. Realising the gun’s empty, I find extra bullets in my pockets, whip them out to show the audience I’ve got more… and go to reload by putting the bullets down the snout of the pistol! I had my hand low enough so it wasn’t centre-shot, and the very last frame, before they cut away – I’ve checked my copy of the video and it’s still in there – is Catriona looking at what I’m doing with total disbelief written on her face. It’s hilarious!

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Fulci used Catriona MacColl in most of his great movies from that period… what was she like to work with?

Dear old Catriona! She was a wonderful girl, a pleasure to work with… an English girl, and like myself, she was a bit mystified as to why we were being whisked off all over the world to do these films. Also like myself, quite delighted about it all. She was great, we were always sending each other up on set. It sounds a bit boring to keep saying this about everyone, how nice everybody was … though there are a couple I’d never work with again, and I’m happy to name names.

Please do!

Klaus Lowitsch … what a neurotic number he was … the guy in Treasure Island. Also Philippe Leroy… he had been quite successful in France and wound up sort of trucking around. We won’t go into the problems he had with (OK, s0 we won’t go into them! Bob) On Treasure Island we had to work together intensively for about a year and after a short time we weren’t talking at all, not even in rehearsal, and Margheriti was totally baffled by this – so we just shot through at rehearsals, but we got there in the end.

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Going back to the ladies, you’ve made a couple of movies with Janet Agren …

Janet Agren I adore, she was one of the magic ladies. I’ve worked with a few of them. Most of my leading ladies have been twits, but she’s brilliant, great fun to be with.

Nevertheless, most people would have considered one movie in which thy battled mutant rat-men with her to be quite enough… but you’ve actually made two!

Oh yes! (Laughs)

How did that come about? Was the first one a smash hit in Italy or something?

Well one of the films was was made in Dominica, which I’ve just come back from, and it featured an incredibly short person, the smallest human being in the world, in fact …

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Nelson de la Rosa…

Nelson, right! They thought: “How can we use him? We won’t have to go to all sorts of technical lengths, trick shots and so on, we’ve got the real thing!” (laughs) So they dressed him up as a rat and called it Ratman. Janet and I were running about, freaked out by Ratman, until I – as the hero – killed him.

Is it true that Nelson actually died for real during the shoot, or shortly afterwards?

N0, he’s still alive! I had an ear infection a few weeks ago in my hotel so a doctor turned up and we got talking about films and so on, it turned out that he doctors for Nelson … I should have got together with Nelson actually, I’m sorry I didn’t. He’s such a sweet man. He is alive… has to be carefully supervised, but as long as he does what the doctor says, he’s fine.

That film was officially directed by Giuliano Carmineo, but there seems to be a suspicion that its producer, Fabrizio De Angelis, was really the guilty man …

No, he was the producer, and he set everything going but the other guy … I thought he was OK, we didn’t fight or anything, he was just a bit of a lost cause, and this is where Fabrizio had to step in and whip the thing into shape. The other guy didn’t know what he was doing or maybe he didn’t really want to do it, I just couldn’t work him out. What can I say? The whole thing was complete madness, but yes, it did do very well.

The other “mutant ratman” film you did with Janet, which was directed by Tonino Ricci, actually came first. It was released on video in Britain as Panic, though I gather its original title was Bacterium…

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I knew that one as Panico… it was about a virus on the loose in the sewers of Madrid, right?

I seem to recall that they tried to tried to pass it off as a British town, certainly in the version released over here.

Yeah? The monster that was chasing us, and that we were chasing around these sewers, was Tonino’s son in a rubber suit … actually he’s the special FX man on an Umberto Lenzi movie I just appeared in …

Which is?

It was called Miguel And Roderiguez when we were making it, but don’t ask me what it’ll go out as. It’s kind of like Bonnie And Clyde or something. Lenzi’s wonderfully mad. We were taking a break in shooting and he said to me: “Wonderful, you were wonderful! I’ve got another six movies for you” and I said: “Fine, talk to my agent” and he said: ”’Don’t you realise, the last four movies you’ve done have been a series?” and I just looked baffled, so he said: “I wrote them all!” And this was the first time I’d ever met him. I really like him. He’s up there with the best of them … got a bit of a boozy past, but’s over that now, and he was a delight. They’re all fast, but he just rips through stuff, we did two day’s stuff in less than a day. It’s the same with Fabrizio De Angelis

What kind of an operator is De Angelis? Somebody you need to keep an eye on? He has a reputation as a bit of a shark …

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Well, they call him “snake eyes” … but I’ve never seen any evidence of that, and I’ve done a lot of films with Fabrizio, upward of eight. He’s a Rossano Brazzi kind of guy… God, what a handsome charmer he was… and dear old Fabrizio has the same sort of charm. I’ve seen him lose his temper hundreds of times, screaming and throwing things, but he’s one of these people – I was going to say one of the few, but there are actually a lot of them in Italy – who loves movies so passionately. You’ve really gotta meet these people and see them in action to realise that they genuinely love the business. I mean I’m thrilled, you know, I’m privileged to be doing what I do and I love it too, but I don’t quite go into it with the absolute, extraordinary passion that they have. The working hours , the sheer physical energy of it all is phenomenal. They don’t sleep for two months… don’t have time for it! It’s extraordinary and he’s one of those guys who, when he gets into it, is really fast. I love fast film making, can’t stand this hanging around for hours. He’s dead fast… always pushing this pram around with a camera in it… that’s his dolly. Or he’s dragging the camera around on a mat, because it’s quicker to set up the shot that way… can’t be bothered with all this technical stuff, it’s too time-consuming. So I like the speed of it all and off the set, if we get a moment, we can grab a bite to eat… it’s all relaxed, with all the Italian charm coming out… if anything goes wrong, he’s just standing there, cleaning his fingernails! I’ve never had any bad experiences with him. Working in Italy is just great… in Hollywood, you know, everything is so psychotic, everyone’s angst-ridden, everyone’s visiting a shrink, but in Italy it’s just like a circus full of monkeys… so much fun!

I gather that Lenzi and and Fulci eventually had quite a falling out…

Listen, you just have to take it for granted that all Italians fight to the death… it would be unthinkable for them not to and of course they have their rows – everyone does – but these are Italian rows, which means lots of screaming and carrying on. I’ve been working in Italy for about twenty years, and when I first went over there I couldn’t understand this, that they’d be slaughtering each other at lunchtime, then, in the evening, it would be “darling” this, and “lovey” that. So yes, they scream the place down, but you’ve got to bear all this in mind. There were amazing fights between Fulci and Fabrizio and one time, making The Beyond … I don’t think Fulci exactly pushed him, but I know Fabrizio fell into the cess-pool in the cellar, the one the warlock comes out of. I remember everyone being pretty gleeful, because Fabrizio is always very dapperly turned out.

You yourself had some problems with Alberto de Martino, for whom you made a couple of quickies…

Oh Gawd!

… Miami Golem (below) and 7 Hyden Park…

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What a drama! God, I could go on about those for hours…

I hear Martino was fighting the producers to get his name taken off them!

I can well believe it! (Laughs) Martino’s known as “the Mickey Rooney of the Italian film industry”, because he’s short with a turned-up nose … he and I had a lot of fights … aargh!

Is i1 true that he asked you to take off Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining for 7 Hyden Park?

That was my idea actually, with the shears and everything, I was basically trying to dress up an awful script with nothing going for it. It was a terrible experience. I did the film for something like £1,000 because it was a bad time in the industry and everybody was just doing whatever they could to put bread in their mouths. It was a hysterical film, with this awful English actress, Christine Nagy … well, to be fair, she was a nice girl, she’s done good stuff, but these people come over for their first film and they think they’ve “made the big time” … and she’s a “method actress“… I’m not terribly keen, shall we say, on method acting … there’s a famous story about Edith Evans on Broadway, with a bunch of method actors who are running around contorting themselves on stage before the curtain goes up, to get into character, and one of them says to her: “Don’t you prepare?” and she said: “No, I just pretend, my dear”.

There’s a very similar story about Dustin Hoffman Marathon Man, depriving himself of sleep so he’ll look really rough during the torture scenes, and Olivier supposedly told him that he wouldn’t have to go through all this if he just learned how to act!

(Laughs) I must talk to John Schlesinger about that, next time I see him. Hoffman isn’t one of his favourite people … then again, he isn’t many people’s favourite person!

Which brings me back to your troubled relationship with mister Martino. Miami Golem aka Cosmic Killer was another pretty bad movie …

Miami Golem was very funny, the familiar story of the leading lady being with some guy in Italy for two years, him telling her all the time that he was going to make her A Movie Star. This happens all the time, and when these girls finally get fed up with it and ask: “Where’s this movie, then?”, they’re told: “We’ll put you in a film with Warbeck (it’s him again!)” I’ve been in a lot of those sort of movies. So on she came, Laura Trotter. Now Laura’s speciality was walking around on her hands while not wearing any knickers …

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Bottoms up…

That’s quite a party piece!

Yeah. She came over to Rome with her tits hanging out … and she was nice actually, nice girl … her only problem was that she had a glottal stop, which meant she couldn’t speak so Martino was just transfixed with horror when this girl turns up on the set and he asks: How are you?” and she’s trying to say: “I’m fine, thank you”, but what’s coming out is: “I’m k-k-k”… so we’d shoot her from behind her back and when she’d open her mouth, we’d cut away. I remember one day Martino was attacking her, very unfairly, because of this problem, and Laura was pretty upset. We both had throat rnics on and we were walking across the street out of shot, about a hundred yards away, I was telling her: “Don’t get upset, it’s all part of the fun” and all that and: “I can’t agree with what he’s just said, it’s despicable to bully somebody like that, totally unfair” … at which point I heard this scream, turned around, and saw Martino taking the headphones off the sound-man and shouting: “I can hear everything you’re saying about me!” So I just picked up my mic and yelled: “Well it’s all true, you shithead!” The thing is that I’ve done too many films to take any real shit off anyone…

You’ve been a part of the Italian film scene for so long, you must have seen a lot of changes … is it true that the deregulation of TV there, with all it consequences for film production, has driven the industry into a bit of a low patch?

No, I’d really disagree with that, entirely. I’m not an authority on this, but my own impression is that the Italian film world is gearing up to become the film centre of Europe, the Common Market. The Italians have, for starters, the advantage of their national attitude towards film… they adore it! Everyone’s an actor in the street, everyone’s posing and wearing something … they’re a great bunch of posers … “La Belle Figura” is the common expression, “the beautiful figure” … they all do it, they all dress well .. they’re film-mad in that country, there isn’t the same thing in England at all. So the Italians are very keen and well placed to take the lead, all the studios are working to capacity … do you know Zingarelli?

ltalo Zingarelli? The guy who produced the Trinity movies?

Yeah … as a matter of fact, they’re thinking of doing the Trinity series all over again, in America this time, in Phoenix. It’s being talked about, I don’t know if it’s going to be a TV series or a series of films, we’re going to chat about that, but Zingarelli’s got some kind of contract with the Italian and American governments to come up with 2 or 3 Italo-American films a year. He’s another real character, weighs about 100 stones! He has his own film-making “family”, there are several of them over there and I’ve worked with three of them.

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My main agent in Rome is one of the most powerful in Europe – Count Giuseppe Perroni (above) Perroni’s had an incredible influence on Italian movies, much more than he’s ever been given credit for … he was, and still is, the agent for Rossano Brazzi, throughout his career, he substantially helped to set Sergio Leone up on his first Western, finding the money … Terence Hill was his client too, in fact it was he who suggested that Terence change his name from, er. ..

… Mario Girotti …

Right. Fulci’s been one of Perroni’s clients too, he has an incredible list of clients. He’s very erudite and charming, I mean apart from the fact that he’s one of my very best friends now, which is difficult … difficult mixing business with friendship, but I rate him extremely highly. It took us about two or three years to get to know each other, because I was wary of him ripping me off! (Laughs) The thing about him is that he has such an amazing web of contacts, he’s got me about 3/4 of my films. Anyway, he came to London a while ago with Berlusconi… you know who Berlusconi is?

Yeah, he’s like Italy’s answer to Rupert Murdoch …

Well, my God – Perroni, Berlusconi.and Zingarelli, put that bunch together and they virtually run Italy! 18 months ago, Perroni and Berlusconi came to London with five films and two TV series, they were looking for about two hundred actors, top money down to bottom, Berlusconi pouring money out everywhere …

Because their English is good but not quite up to the finer points of these negotiations, Perroni arranged that I accompany them as a kind of secretary, and we went to all the top agencies – my own, William Morris, going around to see who we could get … nobody! Not one job! I was appalled, shocked, horrified, because when I went to Italy about twenty years ago there was this English attitude of condescension, and it’s still here today, the arrogance, the sniffiness … “We have to have final say on the script” and all this … they are so out of touch! Final say on script went out of the window, God knows how long ago … all these stupid things, this contempt for “Italian movies”, for God’s sake … everything is international these days! So I was absolutely furious. Some of the things that were said to Perroni in my presence … well, one woman – I’d like to name her, I’ve named just about everyone else in the business – what a cow! She looks after Kenneth Branagh, and Berlusconi and Zingarelli wanted to find out when Branagh would be free to star in a certain production – we were talking about a few years hence. She said: “Oh no, he’s busy for two years”, and we were saying that there might be a gap, he might change his mind, or whatever, to which she replied (adopting supercilious voice): “No, I don’t think so”. So Perroni explained the kind of people he was looking for, and she asked if he’d be interested in Geraldine McEwan. Perroni looked at me with this quick quizzical look, signifying: “Who’s Geraldine McEwan?”, because how are the Italians going to know? Then this snooty cow turns to me and says: “I suppose you don’t know who she is either?” I felt like saying “Yes, she was the reason I was expelled from the Royal Academy!”, but instead I said: “Yes, of course I know her, I rate her as one of our most gifted actresses and a superb comedienne” and I turned to Perroni and told him how good she would be.

It’s just that you asked about the state of the Italian film business, whether it was in a trough and all that … well, compared to what is going on over here, they are light years ahead, in terms of attitude and enthusiasm. Their biggest problem is trying to get that wedge into the American distribution scene. I mean, the British film industry hasn’t made pictures for years, these days it’s reduced to special effects and Derek Jarman … I helped him set up Sebastiane, actually (chuckles) … a friend of mine wrote it, wrote it in Latin, which I thought was a great gag … and all those gay boys splashing around in a fountain (laughs): Derek Jarman – good on him!

So the Italian industry’s thriving – presumably you’ve got a lot of things cooking?

Yeah I’ve got another Zingarelli film next month, another in the Umberto Lenzi series that I hadn’t realised what I was doing… last time out I was a Gulf war hero who got decorated by President Bush! (Laughs) They’re coming out as Karate Kid 4 and 5 … needless to say, they’ve got absolutely nothing to do with The Karate Kid … they were already shown on Italian TV last month, only they were called The Golden Boy… the titles change all the time. Tobacco Road was another one. We shot it in Georgia and I was a Southern cop … we referred to it as “In The Heat Of The Nightie” (Laughs). I can’t really take that one seriously at all, me as this Southern cop, with a paunch, drawling: “Good mornin’ Maaarm !” and all this, hoping none of my friends ever see the thing. Someone took a pot-shot at me while I was dressed as a policeman for that one … that was pretty impressive, there I was “patrolling the highway” and this car just hurtles past and somebody in it has a pop at me …

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What – with a gun?

Yeah!

Good grief!

Yeah, because there are guns all over the place in the States … I hate all that!

I know you like to – and frequently get to – take part in setting up the action sequences in your movies …

That’s the great joy of working with Antonio and Fulci … Lenzi too. I’ve made something like 52 films now. I always try to get hold of a copy if I can, and watching myself in some of them, I’m absolutely amazed at how good I am (laughs) … which is not as cheeky as it sounds, because when you’re doing it there are such good people around, in the Italian ones, you have such a good team and because we all know each other so well … Rome is a small town, and you keep finding the same faces coming up again and again, the technical crew and performer and so on, and we can all swap stuff about … it’s not like the American or English way, were everyone sticks to his department and you don’t cross lines – the light man will tell me how to act and I’ll tell him where to put his lights, that sort of thing. The bottom line is that with a very fast team, you can make a million dollars look like $lO million – you light it fast, and so on, whizz through it and we usually get it down in one take, very rarely does it go to much more than three …

You get plenty of opportunities to show off your resourcefulness as an actor, don’t you, with scripts that are often very loose?

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Yes, that really is the most enormous pleasure, because I don’t care how good a writer, director or anybody is, there has to come a point where some tinkering has to be done for the betterment … not necessarily of yourself, though of course you always have an eye towards that, because yours is the face that’s up there on the screen and you’re the obvious person to blame for things that go wrong … so you’ve gotta make sure that you come out of it OK, but also, y’know, experience does count and you can contribute, if you’ve got a good director who’s at ease with that … sometimes when it’s very stylised you stick with it and you just run through, but those are very rare. Domino, which I made a couple of years ago, with Brigitte Nielson, was like that … actually I haven’t seen that one yet …

Remind me who was responsible for that one?

Oh, Ivana … what was her name? It’s her only film … she had done a bit of video, then the producer boyfriend said: “OK, here’s the film you’ve been bugging me for years for your chance to make” (Laughs). It was backed by the Vatican Bank, which I find absolutely perverse – my first Pope movie! It was totally perverse because when I met this lady, Ivana – a glamorous, gorgeous creature – in Rome, she asked me to read the script and as I was reading it, tears started rolling down my face, and she said: “Oh my god, what’s wrong?” and I said “It’s OK, I’m just going through this difficult thing at the moment”, at which point she burst into tears and said: “It’s the story of my life”, so suddenly we were hugging each other and both crying our eyes out, and I got the part (laughs) and so you know, we loved each other.

A couple of months later we started shooting and I turned up at the studio, and I went to embrace her again and she almost spat at me! She was very distant. What had happened was that she’d flipped out for Brigitte and didn’t want anybody touching her protege. The next thing is she’s telling me: “You – your role has been changed!” Originally I was Brigitte’s ex-lover who’d been out hunting in Africa and had come back to get her problems with drugs and her mind straightened out, but now I’m told that, firstly, I’m Japanese, the other thing was that I was blind! So they stuck me up on these wooden shoes and covered me with kimonos and stuff – I caught Brigitte’s eye while all this was going on … she’s a very good girl, an absolute honey, I can’t give her enough rave marks – not at all like her reputation. Again, like Joan Crawford, when I worked with her in Trog, she had this terrible reputation, but you find that all the top people are so good, generous, charming and together … good fun!

… it’s the wannabes who are the bastards …

Right … but the reason the people at the top get this reputation is that they’re experienced, knowledgeable, blah, blah, and when they say: “I think we need black here” … make-up, dress or whatever … and everyone else says: “No, you mean white!” and the person knows it’s black, then you start getting a reputation for being stroppy and so on …

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What about Anthony Quinn, then … how was he to work with?

A joy – magical! He just couldn’t be better. As I said earlier, it’s just such a pleasure working with these people. Going into it, you’re terrified, because it’s like being up against King Kong: they know so very well how to use themselves on screen – but nearly all these people, these megas, are extraordinarily generous – he certainly is. So when they swing around on shot and they give it those eyes, turn on that power, you feel like flattening yourself against the wall, but in their generosity they give you things you can bounce off or give back or whatever, and he was very much that way. Very private, very quiet … we fenced around each other for a few weeks, because him being such a big star, it is appalling how the toadying goes on, people trying to ingratiate themselves. Eventually Quinn and I, his wife, Margheriti and Edo would go off to a little hotel together, sit and gossip … and bitch (laughs) … do all the good stuff … oh my goodness! Anthony Quinn was a marvellous man, magnificent, and we got pretty close … so much so that I wrote a King Lear for him.

Yeah?

Yeah, we had joked about it, you always talk about all sorts of different ideas and I said:“Have you ever done Lear?” and he said (adopts Quinnine dulcet tones): “David, that role is one of my life dreams.” He’d make a perfect Lear, as I see Lear and I’ve directed Shakespeare before at RADA, and all that lot. My Lear would be very Spielbergian, I guess you’d say … instead of being set in damp, wet old England, it would take place in the Byzantine desert. We’d shoot it in the Sahara and the Turkish desert. We’ve set the thing up, more or less, it just remains to be seen whether it’ll go.

With yourself directing?

Well, I’d dearly love to, but I really want Margheriti as the overall director, because he’s a master of special effects, and it would be full of effects, for instance … do you know the play?

Naturally.

Well, you know when he goes off in the storm – which in England is a rain-storm, of course – well, the mystery of the play, I’ve always thought, is: “What happens to his army?” You know, he’s just traipsing around from daughter to daughter, with all his retainers, and then suddenly they’re all gone! Well, how… how did they go? There’s no logical explanation in the text. So I thought-and here’s a piece of Warbeck invention for you – on his last confrontation with his daughters, when he curses them and then goes off in the storm in a furious maniacal rage, screaming at everyone as he disappears into the storm … well, we’ve set it out in the desert and ours is a giant Spielbergian sand storm. The army, of course, don’t want to go into this, because it’s certain death, but he’s out there lashing them with whips, and we’ve got camels and god knows what (all this has been storyboarded) and so he forces the soldiers to go out into this massive storm. They get a few miles then most of them try to get back, so we end up with a heap of bodies strangled outside the castle gate. All this not only gets rid of the army, it would also be a spectacular sequence and it seems to have wiped out Lear. .. that’s always the pinnacle of the play and, I suppose, the pinnacle of our movie, but from there he descends into full madness and we have some wonderful caves that we discovered while filming Ark Of The Sun God in the Turkish desert, where the whole landscape is lunar, tilted, twisted …. like a Salvador Dali painting, madman stuff. Anyway that’s the theory, and Quinn’s been fantastic, sending me Christmas cards saying: “Don’t let Lear die!”, and all that sort of thing …

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And you say it’s pretty well set up?

Well yeah,  Quinn reckons he can get ten million just on the strength of his name and he wants to go as an independent … I’m saying all this because it’s true, but at the same time I’m pessimistic that it’ll go because we’re all running about doing other things. We all got terribly excited about a year or so ago and just so many things happened in the in-between time …

(The ensuing discussion of projects that never quite  came off went quite deeply into the saga of how David very nearly landed the role of James Bond, but unfortunately he doesn’t feel at liberty to allow much of this material into print – Bob.) 

There is one which I very much regret not happening… Russ Meyer’s The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle… it was then known as “Bang Bang Bambi!” or something …

“Who Killed Bambi?”?

Something like that. Malcolm Maclaren, of course, was behind it, I had meetings with him. That would have been very funny. It appealed very much to my sense of humour, the circus of it, the whole thing.

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You had already worked for Meyer before, 0n Blacksnake aka Slaves … there’s another guy you must have plenty of colourful anecdotes about!

Oh God … I dunno what’s printable! (Laughs) But there’s a story I like to tell that really sums him up … apart from the time he nearly strangled me at The National Film Theatre!

Oh, that time…

Derek Malcolm was doing one of his Guardian Lectures, on Russ, so I wrote suggesting that he invites me, as one of the stars of the films and of course he promptly didn’t! (Laughs.) So I gatecrashed it anyway and was waiting in line to meet Russ, this big bear of a guy… my previous memory of him was bear-hugging me on the Bambi thing but when he turns round and sees me, there’s a moment of recognition, a sharp intake of breath,  his face tums purple and he starts screaming: “Motherfucker! Fucking cunt! I’ll kill you!” and I thought: “OK, these are interesting new forms of endearment.” My arms are still out to embrace him, and he’s shouting: “I’ll sue you, you shit” and the whole tiny box room up at the NFT froze. He was waving this magazine at them and apparently somebody had shown him an interview I’d done with Alan Jones – there was clearly a mistake that had occurred in the transcription – claiming that he tried to kill his wife, Edy Williams, by dynamiting the ignition on her car! Well, the whole room was frozen rigid by then, including me, with my jaw hanging down, saying: “Russ, what are you talking about?” He’d had this very difficult divorce from Edy and apparently she’d be able to get more alimony out of him because of all this, so anyway, I said I was sorry and brazened it out, you know: “Our friends in the press get it wrong from time to time, eh Russ?” But he wasn’t buying it.

Anyway, that wasn’t the story I started off telling – that was also at the NFT and a British journo asked him, in a very condescending tone: “What do you think of having your films shown here?” and his answer, this very rehearsed routine which remains one of my favourite quotes from him, was: “This is the fifth greatest experience of my life … ” (Then he started ticking off the greatest experiences of his life in numerical order) “The first greatest experience of my life was when I had my first whore in a brothel in France during the cleanup campaign … ” Now, the audience was a mixture of cineastes and … wankers, basically, and they didn’t quite know which way to go, and Meyer continues: ” … as I was a junior in the army in those days, I didn’t have first choice, my sargeant had the first choice, but luckily when it came to my turn l got the kind of woman I like – namely, with large cantilevers and her only other distinguishing feature was a beaver the size of a blacksmith’s apron.” By now the audience is absolutely stunned, like: “What is he saying?!?” and Russ carries on ” … when I hit it, two quails flew out!” and so on. That, to me, is Russ… so off the wall!

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You’ve patched it up now?

No! I’ve just done this Lenzi film Migual And Rodriguez, with Charles Napier … you know Charles Napier?

Sure.

He’s probably more famous as the red-neck in Rambo and he got himself chopped up in The Silence Of The Lambs, too, he’s a great mate of Demme, who directed that, but he’s done just about all of Russ’s films … Napier’s was such a great face to see… you get off the plane in the middle of nowhere – Dominica, for god’s sake – and you’re just confronted by this sea of familiar faces, film faces. What a pleasure he was, God, after a 24 hr flight and you arrive at 4 0’clock in the morning and they tell you you’re on set for three hours, with no real script… “Action!” (Laughs). Thankfully I’ve got this gift of speed-reading which I’m very proud of, and which has stood me in very good stead … anyway, I told him all my experiences with Russ, and believe me, he has some wonderful stories about the guy … so scurrilous that I really can’t tell you … wonderfully barmy … give it another ten years, if he’s dead by then, I’ll be able to tell all.

Is there anything else here, apart from the stuff you introduced by saying it was off the record, that you’d like me to take out?

Oh no, I’m really not bothered anymore … I’m getting too old to worry. I’m a big boy now!

I just wouldn’t want to hear that somebody had tried to strangle you on account of something I’d written.

I don’t care, to be quite honest … poor old Laura Trotter… that’s pretty much par for the course, though.

And you’re flying out to another exotic location tomorrow?

Yep. I’m doing another one with Fabrizio De Angelis, and I’m talking about doing one in New Guinea …

I was going to wish you a happy holiday, but it sounds like you never take ’em!

John – my whole life has been a holiday! 

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David’s extended holiday ended on 23.07.97 but what memories he left to those of us who were privileged enough to know him, or who just enjoyed his appearances in so many wild films. What a life… What a guy! Gone, but never forgotten…

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The Warbeck Weekender, Part 2… Russ Meyer’s BLACK SNAKE Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Arrow. 18.

In the first instalment of our DW Weekender we looked at Warbeck the warrior. Tonight our attention turns to Warbeck the fop… the lover… the advocate of universal love and human rights… the union organiser…. the book keeper… all of which roles he discharged enthusiastically in Russ Meyer’s characteristically crackpot Black Snake (1973.) Meyer was unhappy with DW as a leading man for various reasons that have been amply documented elsewhere and relations between them became pricklier still when our man encouraged his fellow cast members to agitate successfully for a tea break (mad dogs and Englishmen, eh?) The director’s principal grudge against his star, though, was that when his mandatory busty leading lady (history does not record her identity) dropped out at the last moment, David recommended his UFO co-star Anorak Hempel for the role of aryan uber-bitch Lady Susan Blackwood. Now to some of us Hempel is a pleasingly archetypal “dolly bird” of the ’60s / early ’70s and she looks just great on horseback, cracking a whip but as far as Meyer was concerned, she lacked the two main attributes which he demanded from any actress (“She had two backs!” was King Leer’s disgruntled assessment) and it falls upon dusky house maid Vikki Richards (“Cleone”) to provide a token bra-busting presence in Black Snake.

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If Meyer’s titanic personal vision scaled its most vertiginous peaks in the delirious cartoon trilogy that folllowed this one (Supervixens, 1975… Up!, 1976 … Beneath The Valley Of The Ultra-Vixens, 1979), I’ve always found his unique brand of guerrilla auteurism to be most effective when pitched mischievously at the margins of the mainstream. When I was an adolescent, for instance, sneaking into ‘X’- rated double bills with more intention of catching a glimpse of female nudity than experiencing Cinema in any kind of analytical mode, I saw Black Snake (rechristened Slaves and paired with the immortal Richard Lerner’s 18 Year Old Schoolgirls) round about the same time as I caught up with Meyer’s 1970 effort, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Too unschooled and stupefied with testosterone to even connect these films as the work of the same man, the question I kept asking myself during each of them was, approximately  (to paraphrase my daughter after I’d treated her to a screening of Birdemic: Shock And Terror): “Is this a real film”? Did Meyer mean it or was he putting us on? As seasoned cineastes, of course, the answer is all too painfully obvious to us in 2016.

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By the time I got to know him, David Warbeck had clearly got the joke and was happy to regale me with stories of Meyer madness, further claiming that there were anecdotes so scurrilous that he’d only be able to relate them after RM’s death. In the sad event, David predeceased his director by several years and one gathers that in his dotage, the formerly litigious Meyer would not have been up to pursuing any kind of legal case anyway. Rewinding to 1973 though, the young Warbeck on screen doesn’t seem to know quite what to make of the lunacy unfolding around him in Black Snake, looking every bit like an actor searching in vain for clues as to  where to pitch his performance… and his accent vacillates alarmingly along with the film’s ludicrous plot twists.

Ah yes, the plot of Black Snake (such as it is)… in early 19th Century England, at his stately pile, Maxwell House (!) Sir Charles Walker (DW) appraises family friend and benefactor Lord Clive (ubiquitous character actor Anthony Sharp) of his audacious plan to disguise himself as book keeper “Ronald Sopwith” and head for St Cristobal Island to discover what happened to his brother Jonathan, who has disappeared in the wake of his marriage to Blackmore Plantation owner Lady Susan (Hempel.) When he arrives in St Cristobal (looking suspiciously like Barbados) he discovers a harrowing scenario of exploited humanity, intercut with Carry On-style hi-jinks in her ladyship’s boudoir (intercut also with wobbling boobies that clearly aren’t Anouska’s.)

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His chief rival for her affections is the loathsome Irish overseer Joxer Tierney (played with lip smacking, whip cracking relish by Percy Herbert, in a role that might well have been written for Charles Napier) who spends his working day howling racial abuse at the unfortunate plantation workers and lashing out at them with the “black snake” of the film’s title (what did you think it meant?) He’s ably assisted in chastising them by a turncoat Praetorian guard of gay black cavalry mercenaries, fronted up by the seriously camp Captain Raymond Daladier (the visually impressive Bernard Boston, whose first film appearance was as himself in Godard’s Sympathy For The Devil, 1968… he also appeared in John Boorman’s Leo The Last, 1970 though Black Snake, surprisingly, seems to be his screen swan song.)

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Nor, of course, is Lady Susan any slouch when it comes to her whipping slaves, though she insists that “no what man gets whipped on Blackmoor… unless I’m doing it!” Firebrand Joshua (Milton McConnell) attempts to raise consciousness and foment rebellion among his fellow slaves, but his pacifist father Isiah (Thomas Baptiste) repeatedly persuades them to turn their other cheeks. When Isiah is crucified though, Dad drops his bible, dons a dashiki and leads a bloody uprising. “Your ol’ mate Joxer’s fallen over…” simpers their erstwhile tormentor is brought to ground “… I like you people… some of my best friends are n*ggers!” Needless to say, it doesn’t end well for Joxer.

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Caramelising white sugar in Russ Meyer’s riotous Black Snake…

Lady Susan fares even worse, hung upside down and burned alive amid the sugar cane. As the karmic carnage unfolds, DW runs around pleading with the revolting natives not to perpetrate a bloodbath, ironically oblivious to the fact that Cleone has already served up a literal one to her mistress. Oh yeah, the elusive brother Jonathan (in the hulking shape of Dave Prowse) turns up at the film’s climax as a duppy (i.e.zombie) before Meyer finally gets to whip out some truly garantuan knockers (Donna Young and Lawanda Moore are credited respectively as “first” and “second running girl”), flapping away in slow motion during a gob smacking “racial harmony” epilogue that will put any waverers wise as to whether Meyer was playing it straight or for laughs…

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… of course it was the latter, but he really does seem to take an eternity working up to his punch-line here. En route Russ tramples all over various liberal sensibilities, probably topping even 1968’s Vixen! (a veritable smorgasbord of phoney social consciousness) in terms of writing off right on causes as being just grist to his titty mill. The excellent performances by  Baptiste (who ended up in Brookside!) and McConnell belong in a much better film (and the tremendous titles sequence belongs in a Sergio Leone Western)… I wonder what the actors thought when they actually saw the finished film (McConnell never racked up another screen appearance, which possibly gives us a clue.) Where they as gob smacked as the earnest NFT patrons to whom David introduced Black Snake (with the aid of trannie conjuror Fay Presto) during a season of black consciousness raising cinema back in the ’90s? As I looked around me that evening, it was like those scenes of audience reaction to the opening musical salvo of Springtime For Hitler in The Producers. I was surprised when IMDB reminded me that Black Snake actually predates Richard Fleischer’s box office biggie Mandingo by two years but as DW told me, Meyer always prided himself on being a trail blazer, a pioneer rather than a follower. Black Snake was ahead of its time but now very much of its time… it’s difficult to imagine that somebody could possibly get away with making such a film today.

David Prowse, interviewed for Jimmy McDonough’s admirable Meyer biog Big Bosoms And Square Jaws, remembered asking the director about the relative paucity of massive mammaries in Black Snake, only to be told: “Sex is out, violence is in. This film will have every conceivable death you can think of – death by hanging, by double barrelled shotgun, by whipping, by machete, by crucifixion and by shark.” It does indeed manage to pack all of those into an unevenly entertaining hour and a half but then again, violence was never exactly conspicuous by its absence in Meyer’s other films… to quote the opening voice over in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!: ” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence, the word and the act…” Meyer was back on surer ground with the trilogy that closed his directorial career proper, in which the escaped Nazis and dynamite wielding psychos fought for screen space with stupefyingly stacked wonder women.

This Arrow release from way back is decidedly non-amorphic and looks like it might have been mastered from a laser disc. It was released (sans extras) after their decent looking Russ Meyer Collection with considerably less fanfare, suggesting that they thought it was worth putting out just to keep completists as happy as possible. You pays your money… or you doesn’t. Given the job they recently did on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls / The Seven Minutes, perhaps it’s time for a remastered reissue of all the Meyer titles Arrow can muster?

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Now that we’ve set the world to rights vis-a-vis race relations, you might all want to visit the House Of Freudstein lobby to stuff your faces with additives and e numbers and generally fortify yourself for the remainder of our Warbeck Weekender, which concludes tomorrow night with…

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… A Classic Interview Revisited! It cuts the mustard… you’ll relish it… yeah, yeah, I know that’s really lame but could you do any better? I don’t make any money out of this shit, you know! And another thing…

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See you tomorrow…

Categories: Blu-ray / DVD Reviews | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Warbeck Weekender, Part 1… THE LAST HUNTER Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Dark Sky. Unrated.

David Warbeck had already starred on several occasions in the land of the big boot (most notably in  Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker! aka A Fistful Of Dynamite, 1971) but his reign as transplanted king of Italian action trash commenced in earnest with this characteristically violent, action packed Vietnam War epic courtesy of indefatigable spaghetti exploiter Antonio Margheriti. Margheriti had spotted Warbeck while directing second unit on Leone’s elegiac epic and later recalled thinking: “What a fabulous face – I have to have it in my own films.” Almost a decade later, he got his wish.

Just as Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse, lensed the same year, is so much more than the Deodato-wannabe it was hyped as (comprising instead an allegorical examination of the alienated war veteran’s plight, matched only for aching poignancy by Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock, 1986), so this supposed Cimino / Coppola copycat, which was actually announced as “The Deer Hunter 2” (“starring Jack Nicholson”!) works on more levels that the one played up the by the poster artist. Indeed, this 1980 Margheriti brace could serve as a paradigm of Kim Newman’s indispensable aphorism that the better Italian bandwagon jumpers are “… surprisingly sophisticated mixes of imitation, pastiche, parody deconstruction, reinterpretation and operatic inflation.”

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So sure, Margheriti trots out the required elements from Apocalypse Now (Warbeck is on a mission to terminate, with extreme prejudice, those responsible for “Tokyo Rose” type broadcasts that are sapping GI morale; he encounters a crazy colonel – John Steiner – who sends his men on coconut runs down sniper’s alley, in lieu of any waves to catch… incidental nicks centre on soul brothers Tony King and Bobby Rhodes, who wile away the war with dope and Hendrix) and The Deer Hunter (Russian roulette and rat cages, disillusioned idealism and sexual betrayal, a protagonist who opts to stay in the inferno that is war because he has become so alienated by its rawness from the superficialities and uncertainties of the life he previously knew… shades of  All Quiet On The Western Front… etc…

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But these are essentially pegs for the publicity department to hang a campaign upon. In The Last Hunter, Margheriti goes native, essentially remixing themes from a peculiarly Italian genre… this, so much more than Cannibal Apocalypse, is Margheriti’s true, albeit disguised, contribution to Cinecitta’s man-eating cycle, unfolding in a booby trap laden jungle strewn with ravaged human remains… a setting indistinguishable from that of any Lenzi, D’Amato, Martino or Deodato gut crunching saga. Meanwhile Margheriti muses obsessively on the iconic screen presence of Warbeck (looking much better here in a greasy vest than Bruce Willis has ever managed) and scours the emotional labyrinth of a menage-a-trois that unfolds through the same flashback structure by dint of which Warbeck’s character comes to haunt Duck, You Sucker!!

“Tokyo Rose” turns out to be Margit Evelyn Newton, who was was Warbeck’s youthful collaborator in anti-war activism and the girlfriend he shared, in an ambiguous “open relationship” (again, the spectre of Duck, You Sucker!) with the doughboy whom we saw blowing his brains out in the film’s pre-titles sequence. Warbeck’s agonising about whether or not he’s sold out doesn’t stop him from giving Margit an all-American sock-on-the-jaw , but at least she’s spared the astonishing dismemberment she undergoes at the conclusion of Bruno Mattei’s Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981). His patriotic duty now done, we expect Warbeck to fly off into the sunset with Tisa Farrow’s pert, freckle-faced photo journalist (a sort of distaff Tim Flynn.) Instead he elects to stay in the vicious jungle that now mirrors his devastated mental terrain. The film’s closing helicopter zoom, with our hero receding into the distance amid encroaching napalm blooms, looked kinda cheesy when I first saw The Last Hunter, but would be given the kind of poignancy that Margheriti was aiming for (indeed, it’s now almost unbearably poignant) by the revelation that cinematographer Riccardo Pallotini died in a ‘copter crash while supervising precisely such a shot for Margheriti and Warbeck’s next collavboration , Tiger Joe (1982) and by the subsequent, scandalously premature loss of Warbeck (who never quite hit the heights in his film career, but was indisputably a top-drawer human being.

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During the initial “video nasty” witch hunt in the UK this film was released by Inter-light and later by Intervision in a very similar sleeve that omitted previously featured shots of Warbeck undergoing fiendish tortures at the hands of the Vietcong. Why bother? The Last Hunter still ended up on Section 3 of the DPP’s nasty list and anyway, as the star himself once told me (he was paraphrasing Lucio Fulci): “Real life is more horrible than anything anybody could ever dream up for a film”… an observation vindicated by the tragic events surrounding participants in Antonio Margheriti’s The Last Hunter.

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Dark Sky’s 2.35:1 anamorphic wide screen transfer looks pretty good though of course the grainy nature of some of the combat stock footage herin is accentuated in the digital format. Extras include a theatrical trailer and and a winning, 20-odd minutes featurette by David Gregory in which Margheriti’s son and assistant, the agreeable Eduardo, acts as our guid on a sentimental trip around Rome’s De Palis studios, where Margheriti (and many of his exploitation peers) shot most of the “jungle exteriors” for their films in the ’70s and ‘80s. He indicates the sound stage where the climactic sewer scenes of Cannibal Apocalypse were acted out, and relates how the ‘Nam flashbacks in that one clinched for his father the job of directing Last Hunter in the Philippines on sets left over from Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Edo expounds on the beauty of that country (to which he, his father and star Warbeck would return on several subsequent occasions) and also the difficulties of working in its oppressive heat. His thoughts returning to De Paolis, he indicates the clumps of trees that were often pressed into service to provide linking shots  from the Philippine jungle and the water tank in which Warbeck fought off various rats and snakes.

Edo reminisces about working with Warbeck and John Steiner, his own small role in The Last Hunter (as “Stinker Smith”) and the pleasure his father apparently took in devising grisly demises for him… also Margheriti’s love of the special FX work for which he was world renowned; the cheap and cheerful, make-and-match spirit under which these films were crafted (Edo remembers how Margheriti and Luigi Cozzi raided each other’s props when shooting Yor and Hercules respectively on adjacent sound stages); and their shameless opportunism (“We put a “2” behind the title of a lot of successful American films”)… a joyful memoir of the golden age of Italian exploitation (from somebody who actually lived it) in which David Warbeck participated so conspicuously.

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The Warbeck Weekender continues here at houseoffreudstein.wordpress.com tomorrow night with a look at David’s leading role in Russ Meyer’s er, idiosyncratic Black Snake aka Slaves (1973.) But first, some important messages from our sponsors…

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The Night Evelyn Came Back In A Pawn Film: Arrow’s KILLER DAMES Box Reviewed

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Blu-ray / DVD combi edition. Regions A&B / 1&2. Arrow. 18.

Arrow’s tasty “Killer Dames” limited edition box set collates a giallo brace from the  elusive Emilio P. Miraglia… 1971’s The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave and the following year’s The Red Queen Kills 7 Times. The mysterious Miraglia never returned to the Italian whodunnit genre thereafter… indeed, he managed only one more movie, the spagwest Joe Dakota (1972) before concluding a directorial career that had begun five scant years previously, after an apprenticeship that included assisting Carlo Lizzani, Steno and a certain Lucio Fulci. In both of the films under consideration here he cross fertilises familiar giallo tropes (high fashion, slick “modern” settings and the louche lifestyles of affluent swingers) with elements from the earlier Italian gothique cycle (cobwebbed castles and dank dungeons, inheritances and family curses, closeted mad characters, bats in the belfry and ghosts.) Incorporating any kind of supernatural element can be the kiss of death for a giallo… see, for instance (come to think of it, don’t bother) Mario Colucci’s Something Creeping In The Dark (1971) or Giuseppe Bennati’s The Killer Reserved 9 Seats (1974)… though Antonio Margheriti’s Seven Deaths In The Cat’s Eye, (1973) just about pulls it off. Thankfully Miraglia handles his ghoulies with similar aplomb and also packs Evelyn with lashings of the old ultra-violence and kinky sex a-g0-go… hardly surprising when you consider that writer Massimo Felisatti later penned Andrea Binachi’s deliciously grubby Edwige Fenech vehicle Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975.)

Django The Bastard and Crimes Of The Black Cat alumnus “Anthony Steffen” (Antonio De Teffe) was the son of a Brazilian diplomat, which (sort of) makes him ideal casting for the role of depraved English aristocrat Lord Alan Cunningham, who shares Hugo Stiglitz’s questionable sexual predilections from Night Of A Thousand Cats not to mention his lurid Austin Powers wardrobe and woodentop levels of thespian attainment.409b834edd73e414becf1d4d43904c1b.jpg

This guy haunts the swinging night spots of an England that has never existed outside the imagination of Emilio Miraglia, cruising for dolly birds. They’ve got to be red heads, mind you, and to check that they’re not cheating him with wigs, he makes a point of tugging sharply on their tresses. Any gold digging ginger bint not sufficiently discouraged by this suggestion of sadism (not to mention Steffen’s collection of cheese cravats) is taken to his country pile, encouraged to try on leather thigh boots, then soundly thrashed with a bull whip before His Lordship succumbs to convulsions and unconsciousness. Lord C’s politically incorrect attitude towards the fairer sex can apparently be traced back to the infidelity of his dead wife Evelyn (rendered by endless flash back shots of her running around bare-assed in slow motion, to the accompaniment of a Bruno Nicolai theme that vaguely recalls the famous one his mate Ennio Morricone furnished for Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker!) Round about this point it starts dawning on the astonished viewer that Lord Cunningham is actually being presented as a sympathetic character… yes, you’re expected to start rooting for this loopy libertine! Ah well, it was 1971… and of course his antics make it very easy for him to be framed for murder.

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Evelyn’s brother Albert (Roberto Maldera) who works as groundsman at the mansion, is blackmailing his employer about the apparent disappearance of all these girls. The noble nut case is on the verge of branding one such unfortunate pick up when a surprise appearance by Evelyn, notably decomposing, causes him to throw a particularly epic mong attack. His psychiatrist (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) urges him to quit the mansion and try to get over Evelyn before he goes totally off his rocker (hm, that particular stallion has already departed the paddock, methinks…)

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Slimy cousin George (“Rod Murdock” = Enzo Tarascio), a sexually ambiguous weekend hippy who’s next in line to inherit the family fortune (worth keeping an eye on, then) prescribes a recreational visit to London’s Krazy Kat club, a joint that panders to every psychedelic, swinging cliche in the book. Here Lord C. witnesses a hysterical strip routine by flame haired floozy Suzy (Erika Blanc), who exits arse-first from a coffin to shake her considerable booty in alarming fashion. Blanc complains in a bonus interview on this set that she was given no terpsichorean direction and had to make up her routine on the fly (should have received a credit for choreography… and probably an Oscar!) This scene is lent an extra level of surreality by the fact that its instrumental acid rock accompaniment clearly has no connection whatsoever with what is being played by the strip club house band, whose singer can be seen (but not heard) wailing away animatedly. His Lordship gets Suzy home and subjects her to the usual indignities. After her apparent disappearance, he causally drops Albert another wad of hush money.

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Never one to let a little brush with psychosis cramp his social style, Lord C throws a kicking garden party at the mansion, with another groovy beat combo entertaining the guests. Here he meets, is impressed by and instantly proposes to Gladys (Marina Malfatti.) Although slimy George will be permanently disinherited by this development, he seems to be all in favour of the match if it will sort out his cousin’s mental problems (perhaps he isn’t so slimy after all?) In fact, unwelcome reappearances by dead Evelyn, further fiendish twists, a series of double crosses and shocking revelations (not to mention a pile of corpses) ensue. Miraglia just about manages to restrain himself from throwing the kitchen sink into this overheated mix , but when all the surviving participants adjourn around His Lordship’s swimming pool for a climactic punch-up, the giallo gods have contrived to fill it with sulphuric acid(!)

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The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave did so well at the box office (as The Night She Rose From The Tomb, States-side…) that Miraglia was immediately required to knock out a follow up along similar lines and for all the haste with which it was put together, The Red Queen Kills 7 Times (The Lady In Red Kills Seven Times to U.S. punters, who were offered “blood corn” to nibble during both of these films) emerges as a more than adequate successor, another ghastly goulash of horror, supernatural and sleazy sex elements unfolding in an ersatz foreign location with liberal plot pinchings from Jayne Eyre, lashings of J&B product placement shots, another groovy Nicolai score and another elusive Evelyn. If TNECOOTG is a cheap and cheerful reimagining of Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, this one actually predates the Scream franchise! Another improbable but hugely entertaining saga, TRQK7T kicks off in “Castle Wildenbruch” (an impressive, for real Bavarian fortress) with two little  sisters asking their granddad (Rudolf Schündler) about a particularly lurid painting that hangs on one of its walls. He happily fills them in on the family curse… having been stabbed six times by her sister, the mythical “Red Queen” came back from the grave to return the favour, slaughtering six others into the bargain.

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This grisly event has apparently been repeated every hundred years, with the next repeat pencilled in for 1972. As “luck” would have it, by then one of the sisters (Kitty) has grown up in the most delightful way, in the shape of giallo stalwart and all-round luscious babe Barbara Bouchet. The other (Evelyn) has allegedly decamped to The United States, though a flashback reveals her dying after a teenage punch up with Kitty led to her falling into the castle moat. Kitty’s sister-in-law, Francesca (Malfatti again) was a witness to this apparent accidental homicide (helped Kitty hide Evelyn’s body in the castle crypt) and has been a conspirator in the cover up ever since. A slobbering greebo dope fiend has his suspicions though, and in another echo of TNECOOTG, he starts blackmailing Kitty .

The first 20th Century victim of the Wildenbruch curse is poor old granddad, who suffers some kind of thrombo after a red cloaked female appears in his bed room. No doubt the casual observer could mistakenly chalk that down to natural causes, but before long folks at the couture house where Kitty works as a photographer (cue much gratuitous female flesh) are being bumped off in a variety of grisly, er, fashions. This kind of establishment has always been a hotbed of depravity in giallo land, and TRQK7T doesn’t disappoint. The rarely clothed models who populate this one (including, among their number, a young Sybil Danning ) are a bitchy, manipulative bunch, intent on doing each other down and shagging their way to the top. In effect this means getting into the pants of fast-rising agency executive Martin Hoffmann (Ugo Pagliai, who would later wash up in Al Festa’s totally bonkers Fatal Frames, 1996), a guy whose wife currently resides in a booby hatch. He’s now an item with Kitty, but the girls don’t rate her as much of an obstacle: “Little Kitty’s so uptight, she isn’t exactly burning up the short and curls” observes Lulu (Danning), sensitively.

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It’s hardly surprising that she’s she’s uptight, given the escalating mortality rate at the agency. First to go is its chief executive Hans, stabbed to death by the Red Queen in a local park while out dogging with Lulu. There had been bad blood between him and Martin, who now inherits his job  and the mantel of chief suspect. Suspicions are hardly allayed when Elizabeth (Martin’s basket case wife) is sprung from the funny farm, only to be impaled on its security fence by The Red Queen. Another agency employee is stabbed in the back of a props van, the junkie blackmailer is dragged to his death by a car apparently driven by Her Majesty… and so it goes on.

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Bouchet looks fab throughout, wide-eyed and wide mouthed, divinely decked out and constantly under threat of becoming unlucky seven. She gets sexually assaulted when that junkie blackmailer adds rape to his repertoire and also gets sliced up a treat in a great psychedelic dream sequence, reminiscent of similar ones in  Luciano Ercoli’s Death Walks At Midnight and Fulci’s Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (not to mention Murder Rock.) Before the blackmailer’s death, Kitty learns that this campaign of persecution against her is being orchestrated by somebody else. Various other developments prompt her to go looking for corpses in the castle crypt, where she is soon menaced by rats and rising water levels, cue further emoting from the lovely BB. The film’s climax turns on revelations about Evelyn’s identity and exactly what happened on the day Kitty’s sister allegedly shuffled off her mortal coil in the cast moat… all of which is about as credible as the plot of TNECOOTG (i.e. not very)  but it remains a treat to see this rare giallo finally available in a beautiful UK edition.

One of the hobby horses with which I currently attempt to bore people to death is the issue of whether certain films of a certain vintage look any better, or (let be whispered) possibly worse on Blu-ray than on DVD. Sometimes with all those extra pixels all you gain is grain, with the option to smear equally unappealing DNR doodads all over it. Are the contents of this box set sufficiently better looking than NoShame’s impressive Italian DVD release from about ten years ago to justify their purchase? In a word… yes, in no small measure due to the lush cinematography of Gastone De Giovanni (Evelyn) and Alberto Spagnoli (Red Queen.) Kudos also to art / costume director Lorenzo Baraldi, who pulls off a low budget miracle in the staging of the second film’s watery finale.

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Baraldi’s reminiscences feature prominently on the bonus materials for this set, alongside interviews with Erika Blanc (growing  old disgracefully… she’s clearly pleasantly crackers), Sybil Danning (looking good and projecting an imposing presence) and Marino Mase, plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it micro-interview with Bouchet. Each of the films gets amusing and informative commentary tracks (the Jones / Newman team taking The Red Queen, while Evelyn is handled by Troy Howarth, who emerges as an unapologetic bum lover.) Stephen Thrower contributes sage observations on each of them. Of course you get the expected trailers, there’s an alternative “count down” title sequence for TRQK7T  and one of those reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx. Some of this stuff already appeared on the NoShame box. What you don’t get from that is the collectable Red Queen action figure but hey, nobody’s perfect and there’s ample compensation in the form of a limited edition 60-page booklet containing new writing on the film by James Blackford, Kat Ellinger, Leonard Jacobs and one of my favourite bloggers, Rachael Nisbet.

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Though claiming that his contribution to these films was essentially to distract viewers from their insubstantial contents, Baraldi speaks highly of Miraglia and confirms that the director’s disappearance from the scene (which Thrower wonders about in his corresponding piece) was the result of an unfortunately early demise… another manifestation of the Wildenbruch curse? Whatever, Miraglia’s extant gialli, while not quite hitting the genre heights scaled by Bava, Argento, Fulci and Martino, show immense promise and it’s deeply regrettable that his premature passing robbed us of the opportunity to see how this particular talent might have developed. As it is, Arrow’s Killer Dames box serves as an ample memorial to his cruelly truncated legacy.

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The night Barbara met Bob Freudstein…

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