Monthly Archives: July 2016

It’s Hammer Time! The FRED WILLIAMSON Interview…

Funky Hammer

1997… Tony Blair’s rebranded Labour Party brought 18 years of Tory rule to an end (or so we thought at the time!)… Hong Kong was restored to The People’s Republic Of China… House Of Freudstein Hall-of-Famer David Warbeck sadly lost his battle with cancer… Princess Diana and Mother Theresa also passed away… Dolly The Sheep got cloned… and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson arrived in London to promote the video release of a raft of Blacksploitation epics. I learned, though, to be careful using the “B” word around him…

Mr Williamson… is it OK if I call you Fred?

Sure, or “Hammer”, or whatever…

Well, it’s a real pleasure to talk with you…

Thank you.

I don’t know if your people told you about me and what I do…

They gave me the whole scoop…

Well, as well as working for a few mainstream magazines over here, I also write a lot about Italian movies, and I wonder if you’d be willing to talk to me about some of the ones you’ve made over there…

Hell, yes!

Great…. before we get into that, though, I just wanted to say how much I recently enjoyed your performance in Dusk ‘Til Dawn, I bet you had a ball making it…

Yeah, I had a ball because I was working with Quentin Tarantino, who had already told me every movie I ever made, also quoted some lines to me from every movie so I knew that he was a real fan and not just a BS fan. So it was a pleasure to work with somebody who knew that much about me and gave me the capability to create that character which I played in Dusk ‘Til Dawn… there’s no way they could have written that character! It was my creation, and they gave me the freedom to do that.

I interviewed Tarantino a few years ago and he told me that he was a massive fan of yours, also that in his opinion, one of the best movies ever made was Enzo Castellari’s The Inglorious Bastards!

(Fred roars with incredulous laughter) He didn’t mention that to me, he told me Black Caesar was his favourite, but he knew ‘em all… the guy knew every damn movie!

I heard that you consider Larry Cohen to be your movie-making guru…

Well, Larry Cohen was timely, and he was a good listener, I said to him: “Let’s make a gangster movie”, so we did Black  Caesar, then we did the sequel Hell Up In Harlem… he was hot at that particular time and he seized the moment. When I talked to him, the guy had the ears and at the same time he had the power to take it to AIP and AIP liked him, he was one of their favourite directors so he was able to pull it off. But if he hadn’t, I would have had somebody else do it.

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Are you aware of how big this “Blackploitation” thing is getting here in the UK at the moment?

Not really, no…

People are writing about the genre, a lot of the old films are coming out on video, etc…

I think it’s just in tune with what’s happening with society, I mean everything that’s old is new again, from clothes to shoes, and then they say: “Oh yeah, by the way, when I was wearing these shoes and wearing these bell-bottom pants, this music was hot” and they say: “Oh yeah, this music was hot but this music was from Black Caesar, that Fred Williamson movie” and they go: “Oh wow, I never saw that movie”, consequently they want to go and see the picture, they rent the tape and they say: “Hey, that’s really not a bad picture… any more like that” So it’s an evolution of things that happen which created the interest.

Do you like that term? I mean, do you see “Blacksploitation” as a positive or a negative label?

It’s neither, because it’s meaningless… you know, what the hell does that mean? I wasn’t exploted, my cheques cleared, the people who worked for me, their cheques cleared, I did did what I wanted to do, the people who came to see the movie came because they enjoyed it and wanted to see it, so who the hell was exploited? The only way that I can understand it is if you call Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Burt Reynonds movies “whitesploitation”, then I can understand what the hell you’re talking about… gimme some comparison!

Going back to Tarantino… he really really talked my ear off about low budget Italian movies…

Well y’know, I prefer it that way, I prefer the low budget scene because everybody is equal. There are no superstars, you know… if a light needs moving and you’re the closest person to it, you just pick the light up and you move it. There’s no place for that prima donna attitude in a low budget film so everybody has a lot more fun than on big budget films, where you’ve got so many prima donnas, there are so many people walking around protecting the people who are on the set, you don’t even know who’s acting in the damn movie!

In The States you’ve done big budget movies and low budget movies, but in Italy, at least by American standards, they only have low budget movies…

Yeah they do… they’re notorious for making poor, low budget copies of big budget American movies and so they don’t have the studio system like America has, you know, where all the major film companies are on the stock market… I don’t believe any of the Italian companies are on their stock market. That’s where the finance comes from in The States… so a big budget to them is $2-3 million, if they can go that high then that’s big budget to them. Inglorious Bastards was pretty big budget for an Italian movie, it had me and Bo Svenson in it, also Ian Bannen, but it had a great deal of special effects, and we were riding on a real train, we weren’t on a Cinecitta lot pretending to be inside a train, we were actually on it, I was jumping on and off of a moving train, so it was pretty real stuff!

Castellari is really known as an action director over there…

Castellari was probably their favourite action director, because he brought the projects in on time, on budget – to them that was very important – so Castellari must have made fifty, sixty action movies, because he had the capability to make a film that was welcome in the international market. A lot of foreign directors are maybe good for the foreign market but they can’t direct films that American people would like, so you have to understand the mentality of the entire world or the entire market that you’re dealing with so that you can make a picture that can be sold in all markets, not just your particular market. Castellari was good at making a film that even Americans would like, and that’s very difficult because the mentality of foreigners, even British directors, are much much different from what American people would like and wanna see.

One of your classic scenes, as far as I’m concerned, is your death scene in Castellari’s Escape From New York rip off…

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1990: Bronx Warriors …

Exactly … the Manhattan Corporation have sent in goons with flame-throwers to torch your throne room (you’re The King 0f The Bronx, of course) … you get shot and before you buy the farm, you stagger back to your throne, sit down and just light up a big cigar from the flames!

That was just being true to my character. If they’re finally gonna kill me in a picture, then I’m going out like John Wayne or Gary Cooper would go… even further than that, I’m going out like Jimmy Cagney would go, or Edward G. Robinson, y’know… you shoot all the bad guys, then they shoot you, and you say: “Did I get him?” (laughs) So if I’m going out, I’m going out in character, I’m going out in style, I’m going out in a way that’s going to be remembered!

An Italian director who used you and a lot of other black American sports stars was Antonio Margheriti… most recently, Marvin Hagler acted in some 0f his pictures.

Yeah, Antonio Margheriti and I did three or four pictures together, but I know that Marvin now lives in Milan and he was doing a picture with Margheriti in Manila when I was there doing one of the Black Cobra pictures, directed by Margheriti’s son …

Edo!

Edo Margheriti, yeah.

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Do you think he’s got what it takes to follow in his father’s footsteps?

He’s got the capability, yeah, but the problem is the state of the Italian industry right now, because they weren’t very smart in the way that they chose to go about making their films, just making bad copies of good American films and if you’re gonna d0 that, fine, but you’ve gotta make it in America, you can’t take your two million dollar budget and go to Santa Domingo and Manila and Rio and try to make an American film and pretend you’re in America, you can’t d0 that, I mean they have to start coming to America and shooting low budget films.

The problem is that the Italians are fearful of giving Americans control over their money and their creativity, they want to maintain that control and that’s been the reason for their demise, wanting to maintain their control and not coming to America to shoot their low budget films… because if a film has not been made in America, it’s very difficult to sell it to the rest of the world, unless it’s a real big budget film, and they learned the hard way that you can’t make a low budget film in Santa Domingo and pretend you’re in New York or some place… they might have a little section that looks good, but you can only shoot so many movies in Manila or Santa Domingo and pretty soon they all look alike.

One 0f your  Italian movies that was a big American hit – the aforementioned Bronx Warriors – bears you out on this, because it was actually shot in New Y0rk, wasn’t it?

Yeah, because I talked to them about it and convinced them that you can’t shoot some ruins in Rome and make it look like New York, you must go to New York. They believed me and the only thing in that movie which wasn’t shot in New York was where they climb through the manhole and go under the city, that was shot in Roman ruins. But above ground, I said: “Guys – you’ve gotta be in New York!”

That’s a pretty wild movie, you’ve got this throne room that’s like a night-club in a sewer, you’ve got a house band, all these funky fittings, etc…

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Well, we were the good guys, y’know… the good gang. It’s like the gangs I was dealing with in Original Gangstas, I mean I was always in a gang when I was growing up but they were good gangs, gangs like the East Side kids, the Bowery Boys, y’know, we’d get together to party, everybody would bring a quarter, you’d have sandwiches and punch and you’d have a party. The gang was not to go out and fight or create havoc, the gang was more like a social club, so in Bronx Warriors that’s all we had, was a big social group to ensure our survival, to protect our existence in this decadent world at that time.

Another thing the Italians do is take a guy who’s not necessarily an actor and put him in there… how do you remember your Bronx Warriors co-star, Mark Gregory?

Well, Mark Gregory was one of the first of those young, good-looking muscle guys with long hair that were coming out of Italy… he didn’t look like Hercules, y’know, he was muscular but not too muscular. In this particular era Stallone was hot as the Vietnam Vet who came home and got into trouble so this kid looked like Stallone to the Italians, muscular with long hair but not really a Hercules-type guy. He was just a really well-formed guy and they tried to copy the Stallone style. As a matter of fact, one of the movies that they made with him was really a copy of Stallone’s First Blood…

That was Thunder…

Yeah, right, that was a straight copy! (laughs)

I believe they used real Hell’s Angels as members of Mark Gregory’s biker gang in Bronx Warriors…

Yeah they did, they had real Hell’s Angels there because one of their leaders was a stunt man, he was hired to work on the film and he brought his buddies along… they were good guys, so long as you give ‘em some respect and don’t crowd ‘em, they were jewels to work with.

Another wild movie you made for Castellari was The New Barbarians, which is like “Mad Max in dune buggies”…

That’s why they made it, because the Mad Max movies were hot at that time and since I was hot in Italy and to be sold into the international market which encompasses all the European market and the American market, then they put me in this character, so I said: “OK, I’ll be this character but here are the things I want to be true to the character and be true to my image, I want the bow and arrow”… I had arrows that exploded! (laughs)… I had my cigar, and I did my thing, y’know? As long as you remain true to character, you never disappoint your fans.

There’s a great reaction shot from you in that movie after you’ve blown a bad guy’s head off and his body just carries on riding his bike, like a headless chicken running around…
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Well, that was a reference to my pro football days when I was “The Hammer”, which meant that I used to tackle guys head-high, hook them around the head, the image was like a guy running through somebody’s yard in the middle of the night and running into the washing line – the head stops but the body keeps on moving so I said: “Why don’t we just blow this guy’s head off and have a gag where the body keeps moving?”, because that’s how The Hammer works…

You’re really macho in that movie… the ultimate survivalist, yeah?

I’m kinda like that in all my movies… the man alone, the man against society, the man fighting a group of people or a society of people, and he plays by his own rules and he does it his way… that sums up all my characters, I mean, I’m a survivor – that’s the way that I play it.

You appeared in another “post-apocalypse” movie in Italy, Warrior Of The Lost World… the direction of that one was credited to “David Worth”, but I‘ve never been able to figure out if that was an American director or an Italian working under one of those pseudonyms…

No, David Worth is an American guy. On that particular film they got David at the last minute because he wasn’t really supposed to be directing it, but they got into some big argument half-way into the movie, and I ended up directing all the scenes I was in, so they had several people trying to direct the movie and I said: “Listen, I’m not doing this, what’s gonna happen is that I’m gonna direct all the scenes I’m in so that even if the movie ends up terrible, I’m gonna look good in it.”

You did that even when you were starting in movies… I mean, you ended up directing your own scenes in M.A.S.H., I believe…

Yeah well, Robert Altman allowed me that privilege because he was aware that he didn’t know that much about professional football, so he said: “Listen Hammer, I know you’re a football player, and I want you to be in my movie, so if you have any suggestions, just let me know”, so after the first day, I had so many suggestions that he just said: “Listen, why don’t you just do it?” and I said: ” Yeah, thank you very much”, and I directed all the pro ball stuff.

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Going back to Margheriti, when I interviewed him a couple of years ago he told me he had a great time working with you on Take A Hard Ride… was the feeling mutual?

Yeah, because there was nothing he told me that I had to question, physically… he didn’t have to double me, didn’t need any stuntman to jump over here or jump onto this horse or out of this building. He knew that I could do it, and he knew that I wanted to do it and liked to do it… plus, he left me the freedom to be the American actor, because he knew that he wanted to sell his product in the international market, not just limiting it to the Italian or the French market and so he trusted me, trusted my wisdom and experience in business, so we had a great time…

He told me though that he had the opposite experience on the same picture with Jim Brown, who gave him a real hard time. Is that how you remember it?

Well Jim Brown was “the star that never was”, y’know, he thought that he should have been a bigger star and maybe he should have, except that his personal life created so much havoc that he never really attained the height that he should have.

Margheriti said he thought that Jim Brown’s downfall was getting involved with the Black Panthers…

No, it wasn’t so much the Panthers, it was just his personal life, what he got up to when he wasn’t working created a bad image for him socially, so people started to back away from him and he never understood why, never really got the message, so he was the star that never was, and he reacted to people accordingly.

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Fred with Jims Brown & Kelly in Three The Hard Way.

Going back to your point about the Italians needing to work in The States… you made Deadly Impact aka Mad Dog with Fabrizio De Angelis directing… that’s the one where you were in Vegas with Bo Svenson…

That’s the one where we spent a lot of time in a helicopter… more time than I ever wanted to, I’ll tell you (laughs). We were in Phoenix then we ended up in Las Vegas, but we had a big helicopter dog-fight chase around the tallest building in Phoenix, which was about five storeys…

There’s a brilliant moment in that chase sequence where a girl is looking out of the window in amazement at this chase you’ve got going on there, and you start arranging a date with her as you fly past!

(Laughs) Right, well that was true to my character, y’know I said: “Listen, if we’re gonna do that then I wanna do this otherwise I’m just sitting around riding in this helicopter looking like an idiot, so put a girl in there and as we fly past, let me try to make a date with her, we’ll flirt with each other, and it will give my character something to do.”

That movie was a bit like Lethal Weapon before its time…

Everything I’ve ever done in my life has been before its time, y’know? (Laughs) I can’t imagine anything that I’ve ever done that wasn’t way ahead of its time… when I was playing football I was the first guy ever to wear white shoes, I was the first guy to have a nickname that became very marketable – “The Hammer” – I was the most controversial quarter back, defensive back, the out-spoken, verbal footballer, that was way ahead of its time, I was doing that in the sixties and seventies, that was way ahead of its time. When I arrived in the movies it was like, how dare I want to be the hero? I had three rules that I wanted Hollywood to abide by, though they weren’t listening to black actors at that time: rule one – you can’t kill me; two – I’m gonna win all my fights; and three – I want the girl at the end of the movie. They weren’t doing that in the ’70’s and that’s what prompted me to start making my own movies, so I could set my own rules… are you writing all this down?

No, I’m taping it.

(Laughs) It’s a good job, because there’s no way you could take all this down…

You’re too fast for me, Fred… how do you remember another guy I interviewed recently, Fabrizio De Angelis? He’s got the reputation of being a bit of a shark, y’know, a guy you have to watch out for … is that how you remember him?

Well, maybe if you’re not that astute in business you’d have to be careful with him, but if you come from America then you know how to cross your t’s and dot your i’s (laughs), so these kind of people don’t bother you… he may be a knowledgeable businessman in the Italian world but you bring that knowledge to America and you’re just a beginner, because we’ve been doing that stuff and dealing with big numbers for a long time so when I worked with him, he and I understood each other… but an actor always has an edge, because if you don’t get paid, you don’t work, it’s real simple… if the cheque don’t clear, you don’t show up!

De Angelis producers, directs and everything… he’s a real hands-on sort of guy.

That’s because he’s such a cheap-skate! (laughs) It’s nothing to do with creativity, it’s because he doesn’t want to pay people to do something that he thinks he can do, but that doesn’t mean he can do it well. He just wants to do it all because he doesn’t like to spend money.

Lucio Fulci told me this joke about him one time, that De Angelis goes into this bar with his partner Couyoumdjian… you know that guy?

Gianfranco Couyoumdjian, yeah...

… they go into a bar and the barman says: “What will you have?” Couyoumdjian orders a bottle of beer, then the barman asks De Angelis” “And what will you have, sir?” and De Angelis says: “It’s OK, we’re sharing this one!”

(Laughs) De Angelis was the guy who discovered Mark, he was created by De Angelis…

Didn’t he find him working out in a gym or something?

Yeah that’s right, but De Angelis just doesn’t like to pay, that’s all, that’s why he started doing everything himself.

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I just mentioned Lucio Fulci, for whom you worked on  Fighter Centurions… I know from meeting him what a character he was

Lucio Fulci was an image within himself (laughs)… Lucio was a throwback to the 1920’s, who styled and dressed himself and smoked his pipe and stuck his little flower inside his lapel… he was an image within himself, so he spent a lot of time posturing more than actually directing, so somewhere along the way he lost it.

Do you know that he died last year?

Yeah, I heard that. A very bizarre guy…

Very, very bizarre… … but very likeable…

… very likeable… but he was the image of a director, he played the part of a director, acted the director… Temperamental? He acted the part of a director, like he thought maybe a director should act, he was that kind of guy.

Did you see that Schwarzenegger film, The Running Man?

Yeah, I saw Running Man…

That film seems to be based more on the Fulci movie you were in than on the Stephen King story it took its name from…

Well, that picture was all about “see Arnold run”…I think they were more concerned with highlighting the physicalness of Arnold than being true to the story.

The protagonist of the story is an emaciated wimp… so they cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie!

It was just “see Arnold run”… a movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There’s this great sequence in the Fulci film where you’re under strobe lights, going through all your kung fu moves…

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I’m a third-degree karate blackbelt, I studied in Hong Kong, I was doing That Man Bolt at the same time that Bruce Lee was doing Enter The Dragon in Hong Kong, so after I finished my film I stayed in Hong Kong for nine months, working out with Bruce and living in HK and studying martial arts..

Wow! How do you remember Bruce Lee? What a guy!

What a dedicated guy… he was dedicated to his art form, and he was dedicated to the fact that he was going to come into the business his way, I mean forget the fact that he didn’t speak much English, he had it in his mind that he was going to be a major star to do whatever talent that he had… his talents were the martial arts and he was right, because what he had was highly marketable and it sold.

We’re running out of time here and, looking at my list of questions, I see that I should have asked this one right at the start… how did you get into the Italian scene in the first place?

Well, there was an agent over there, Rossano Pelicia, whose brief was to reach out specifically to American actors and try and get them to come to Italy to work and at the time I was popular so they suggested me for a couple of roles and I said OK and once I got over there and they found that I was eager to work and I fitted in very well, which is important to them… and after that they found out that the films could also be sold and were marketable, I became one of their favourite sons.

When you started in Italy, you worked for Duccio Tessari and Carlo Lizzani… any memories of those guys?

Yeah, with Duccio Tessari I made a film…

Three Tough Guys?

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… Three Tough Guys, yeah, with Lino Ventura and Isaac Hayes… that was a fairly big budget film that my agent Rossana Pelicia had a personal involvement in…

What about Lizzani? He’s seen as being “a political director”…

Oh yeah, he was definitely the suit and tie guy, had to have a fresh flower in his button-hole every day, and sometimes he’d come to work with is ascot, I mean he was another one of these image directors, he had to look like this guy who could… he had a little wand sometimes that he would wave, I mean he was really a character…

Did he create magic on the set with his wand?

(Laughs) Yeah…

So, on balance working in Italy was a positive experience for you…

Well, I don’t need to work, but to live there… it’s such a fabulous place, I love living there and I’d love to go back… in fact I’d go back there in a half-minute, if the business picked up I’d be back working there tomorrow, making the same kind of movies.

Let’s hope it happens… Fred, I’ve enjoyed your appearances in a lot of movies over the years…

It’s been a lot of fun!

… so it’s been a real pleasure talking to you.

Great!

Are they treating you OK here in London?

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Fantastic!

I’m here for a week, promoting all the films this new video company invested in because I go everywhere were people are distributing my films. I work the films, I don’t just make the movie and walk away from it, I want it to be a success not only for me but for the people who’ve invested the money, becasue then they’ll take the next one. I might be making a new production deal while I’m here, I’m talking to Polygram and maybe together we can come up with a small amount of money to make a film here in London, maybe bring over Jim Brown or Roundtree or somebody to make a movie here. It’s looking good.

What’s the working philosophy at Po’ Boy Productions that’s enabled you to keep on going all these years, through good and bad times?

I created Po’ Boy because of the image I wanted to perpetuate, which Hollywood wasn’t allowing the black leading man to do… win the fights and get the girl… and in order to do that I had to form my own company and produce and direct my own films, not because I wanted to be a guru in the business, but because I wanted to do the things that I thought I’d have the most fun in, which is having big fights and being the black John Wayne or the black Cary Grant or the black whatever, but at least being the hero, and heroes were needed and non-existent at that time. Yeah, even Stallone had a hard time making the studios see it his way in the beginning, fighting to direct his script for Rocky and everything… well, I don’t really relate to Stallone. Being white, the only real obstacle he had was his inexperience, whereas the obstacle I had was, y’know: “You’ve gotta make a black film, and nobody wants to buy a black film, it can’t be sold around the world” and so on, so they’d throw ten obstacles at me for every one they’d throw at him.

Nothing can stop you!

Well, I just finished a film last week that I’m editing right now called Night Vision, starring me and Cynthia Rothrock… I put Cynthia in the film becasue I know she has a very strong following in the foreign market and we play two cops… plus right now I’m writing the sequel to Original Gangstas…

Well, good luck with everything Fred and thank you very much for your time…

OK… ciao, baby!

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“Build Me A Woman”… THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED Reviewed

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“Schooldays… the happiest days of your life”?

DVD. Region Free. Shoarma Digital. Unrated.

If Enrique López Eguiluz’ La Marca del Hombre Lobo (the inaugural outing for Paul Naschy’s ongoing “tragic wolfman character, Count Waldemar Daninsky) represents the first significant flowering of an Iberian horror sensibility in 1968, the first truly great Spanish horror opus has to be Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s La Residencia (aka The House That Screamed / House Of Evil / The Finishing School / The Boarding School, 1970.) Whereas Eguiluz (and subsequently Naschy and other directors) gleefully mined the Universal and Hammer Horror cycles, maniacally mix-and-matching their conventions  in an orgy of schlock surrealism, Nacho dips into the Hammer legacy with taste and restraint (an impression ably enhanced by the lush orchestral score of Waldo De Los Rios) to come up with a  well constructed, riveting and suspensful narrative en route to a genuinely surprising twist ending, mounting in the process an allegorical critique (i.e. the only kind he could get away with) of the ossification and morbidity of Spanish society under General Franco.

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The film opens with Theresa (Cristina Galbo from Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, What Have you Done To Solange, et al) arriving at a fin-de-siecle French finishing school for, er, challenging pupils. Madam Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs this Dothegirls Hall along the lines of harsh discipline and stifling routine in an attempt to turn her charges into compliant prospective wives. Ballet lessons are designed to distract them from “morbid” (as in “sexual”) thoughts and Fourneau tries to divert her voyeuristically inclined son Luis (John Moulder Brown) from similarly impure musings by banging on about the unworthiness of her pupils, to wit: “None of these girls are any good… in time you’ll find the right girl… you need a woman like me!” (If you ask me, these Oedipal relationships can get a bit incestuous…)

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Needless to say, it’s not too difficult to detect desire seething away not far beneath this hypocritical veneer of propriety. Helping Madam enforce order are an inner circle of collaborators led by the scary Irene (Mary Maude), who takes all-too-obvious sexual pleasure in dishing out the beatings and humiliation. She even controls the rota for conjugal visits to Henry the randy wood chopper, cue hysterical scenes in sewing class as the girls bite their lips and frantically thread their needles in the most overt display of Freudian symbolism since Tom Jones. “Most of the girls here are on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, Theresa is told and no wonder so many of them are running away… or are they? Serrador skillfully steers our attention away from the real story that’s going on and our sympathies in altogether the wrong direction. Just before (and I’m doing my best here to minimise the “spoiler” effect, here) unexpected early death of a sympathetic character (shades of that ultimate Oedipal horror, Hitchcock’s Psycho) the director abruptly freeze frames the action, giving you an opportunity to shout your objection at the screen, suffer the disappointment of being ignored as the grisly action resumes and register just how far you’ve been drawn into this dark fairy tale.

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Lucio Fulci, who seems to have been a bit of a Spanish Horror buff, was generally very guarded (to the point of testiness) about admitting his influences, but amazed me when I interviewed him by volunteering the information that he had pinched the idea for The House By The Cemetery from La Residencia. Perhaps Argento was similarly influenced by its female environment, oppressive school atmosphere and brutal ballet lessons for Suspiria?

The edition under review here, courtesy of the Australian Shoarma label (which released a bunch of interesting stuff on the early crest of the DVD wave and promptly disappeared), seems to be somewhat expurgated. There are references to surreptitious trysts between Theresa and Luis that we don’t get to see and while it’s possible that such scenes were never included in the film, there’s a blatant jump cut that was obviously made to obfuscate the lesbian  overtones of Fourneau tending to the wounds of a girl she’s just had beaten. There are no extras and the the feautre is presented in a none too sharp, distinctly none-anamorphic  transfer wherein vertical lines visibly warp at either side of the screen, all of which lends credence to rumours that Shoarma’s releases were “grey market” at best… strewth, Bruce!

Stop Press: Scream Factory have just announced an upcoming kosher BD release of this one… something to scream about!

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I Want My Mummy… BIZARRE aka SECRETS OF SEX Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Synapse. Not rated.

The advent of DVD and the inexorable rise of enterprising, independent disc distributors has led to the unearthing of countless oddities that one could previously only salivate over in old copies of Continental Film Review. Case in point, Bizarre (aka Tales Of The Bizarre / Secrets of Sex), a 1969 collaboration between veteran exploitation producer Richard Gordon and director Antony Balch, a precocious wide boy film importer / programmer with an unhealthy fixation on Bela Lugosi and intellectual pretensions, who had already made a couple of avant garde shorts with William Burroughs and his circle. The experience of those, plus Gordon’s track record in portmanteau movies and the commercially successful example of Amicus, convinced them that an anthology was the appropriate format for their maiden effort…

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In the pre-titles sequence a medieval Middle Eastern potentate buries a trunk (in which his wife’s lover is hiding) in the desert. The (mysteriously mummified) victim thereafter provides a running commentary (in the appropriately sepuchral tones of  the ubiquitous Valentine Dyall) on the age-old battle of the sexes, with eye witness accounts from the front line. In the process we learn precisely nothing about those secrets of sex but the various vignettes are unquestionably bizarre: a male model posing for an arty coffee table book depicting torture through the ages is actually done to death by a female photographer so that she can get the perfect cover shot (shades of Pupi Avati’s House With Laughing Windows)… a woman deliberately conceives and gives birth to a horribly mutated baby, seemingly to spite her disagreeable husband… a female burglar ends up banging the bollocks off the guy she came to rob… a wacko reptile fetishist tries to arrange a threesome with a prostitute and a lizard… you get the picture. There’s even an episode devoted to the adventures of Lindy Leigh, whom readers of a certain age will remember as a comic strip (in every sense of the term) heroine from the pages of Mayfair magazine.

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Definitely of its time, Bizarre stirs Surrealism, deadpan humour, narrative non sequiturs, intellectual and literary conceits (subliminal glimpses of William Burroughs’ novel Nova Express, throwaway mentions of Scientology), tit’n’ass and schlock horror into a truly unique, if not entirely satisfactory, viewing experience.  The young director regarded SOS as a learning exercise, and his style had matured by the time of his second collaboration with Gordon, Horror Hospital (1973), wherein Balch’s sense of the surreal was more seamlessly integrated into a formally conventional horror narrative. Who knows what he could have gone on to achieve, had he not died so prematurely? He might conceivably have become some kind of British answer to Russ Meyer… on the evidence of Bizarre, he was certainly an admirer of Meyer’s editing style.

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Secrets Of Sex / Bizarre has in the past been re-edited by sundry distributors to produce alternative, shorter features emphasising either its horrific or sexy elements, and of course the picture has had its brushes with censorship (though the legend “the film they tried to stop!”, emblazoned across the pack, is surely hyperbole.) This is the director’s cut, in a surprisingly good-looking 1:66:1 transfer and comes handsomely appointed with extras. Aside from the inevitable trailer, there’s an interview with co-writer Elliot Stein (the guy underneath all those mummy bandages, who also appears as the lizard-fixated pervert) plus a commentary track by Richard Gordon which, while informative and entertaining, never really touches upon anything that’s happening in the picture, adding a further layer of surreality to the proceedings.

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Most interestingly, Synapse have unearthed the two early ‘60s monochrome shorts that Balch made with Bill Burroughs and like-minded boho beatniks. In Towers Open Fire, Messrs Balch and Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Alexander Trocchi, sex film distributor Bachoo Sen, et al, wander round enigmatically in a succession of jump cuts, interspersed with all manner of abstract footage and random noise, both visual and sonic. After an eternity of this stuff, a rudimentary narrative of sorts seems to emerge, concerning Burroughs’ broadcast of words so incendiary that anyone who hears them immediately disintegrates. The editors of more erudite and earnest journals than this one would bore you rigid at this point rambling on about Burroughs’ conception of “word as virus”, a theme that Balch really goes to town on in The Cut Ups. More disorientating visuals and constant repetition of the words “Yes” and “Hello” make sleeping sickness the viral experience to which this one is most akin, and after several attempts I’ve still not managed to watch it all the way through. Many viewers will feel that these shorts, while having a certain literary / novelty value, aren’t nearly short enough…

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One Night At MacColl’s… CATRIONA MACCOLL Interviewed In 1995

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Despite that punning title (and its allusion to a Liv Tyler film you’ve probably already forgotten), the following interview with the delightful Catriona MacColl actually began at The Convent, David Warbeck’s listed Hampstead pile on the evening of 07/10/95, and was concluded by phone a couple of days later, with a Joe D’Amato interview sandwiched in between for good measure! By God, those were the days… The event was Eurofest ’95 at the Hampstead Everyman and I believe it was here that Catriona’s eyes were opened to the devoted following she had built up among Horror fans. She has subsequently graced countless conventions, festivals and fan events.

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Catriona, my readers will be wondering what you’ve been up to since starring in The House By The Cemetery…

I live in Paris now, and I haven’t done so many movies in the last few years, unlike David Warbeck I haven’t been working quite so much in Italy. Just recently I’ve been working on French TV. Last week I finished the first episode of an American TV series that is going to be called Troubles, I believe, with Nigel Havers.. a completely different genre but quite dramatic, nevertheless.

I believe you started off in showbiz as a hoofer?

I did indeed, I went to the Royal Ballet School for eight very pleasant but very arduous, exacting years.

And how are your feet, these days?

Mine aren’t too bad, because I only did two years professionally. That’s what took me to France, I went to dance in Marseilles with a fairly infamous character – I’ve worked with a lot of them – called Roland Petit, he’s a fairly decadent character, married to Zizi Jenmaire. Then I suffered an ankle injury … classic story for a dancer because we push our bodies so hard … it was nothing that was going to bother me in everyday life, but it really took away all the pleasure I was getting out of dancing. So there I was, wondering what to do with myself next. I didn’t really want to go back to England, because living in the South of France is pretty glamorous when you’re 18 or 19. To cut a long story short, I ended up joining a repertory company in Nice, dancing a bit and playing small parts. After two years with them I was playing Ophelia in French, and I realised that I was getting a bigger kick out of acting than dancing. I had found my niche. So I was having a great time, flirting around with all these extraordinary people… Nureyev followed Roland around quite a lot, he’d come to watch us dance and we’d go to glamorous parties at his house … Roland introduced me to a French agent and I started working on French TV, two years after that I got Lady Oscar with Jacques Demy, who was a prestigious French New Wave director … one of his biggest claims to fame was discovering Catherine Deneuve. So I was getting established in France. I tried to work in England, you’ll can probably see from my C.V. that this coincided with my marriage to the English actor Jon Finch … another infamous character (laughs), though he’s settled down a bit these days. The marriage lasted six year and I did do several things in England, but I wasn’t terribly well understood – they saw me as the woman from France, the continental actress, and I’d say: “No, I’m as British as you” but they wouldn’t have it.

A bit like Jane Birkin, who was stuck with this odd, trans-Channel sort 0f identity …

I guess I must have that, too. I’m not aware of it, but people tell me I have this kind of Continental touch and over here directors would either be swooning over me because I’d worked with people like Jacques Demy and the other French directors they’d studied at Film School, or they’d look at me and say “Who? What? You’re English, what are you doing working in France?” So when my marriage to Jon ended I tried to pick up the thread of my career In France and the industry over here was in recession anyway… and I’ve just always seemed to go down better in Europe, must be something to do with the way I am.

A certain “je ne sais quois” …

I’ve pondered this over the years, and although I say it myself and it might sound a little immodest, they tend to like more sophisticated women on the Continent. In Britain they like the more “street-wise” type of actresses and there are many wonderful ones that I greatly admire, but they’re slightly scared of sophistication, they don’t know what to do with it. As a result, various actresses of my ilk have had to leave and normally they’ve had to go to America. It hasn’t always worked out for them, but they’ve given it a go. It did work very well for Jayne Seymour… though I’m not so sure she’s as sophisticated as all that, actually,

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I think it’s safe to say that Demy’s Lady Oscar (1979) was a unique project… I’m quoting from a contemporary review, here: ” … an English adaptation of a popular Japanese comic-strip about 18th Century France, shot with mostly unknown actors in France by a Franco-British crew on Japanese money.”

Yes! (Laughs)

You play a girl who was raised as a boy and becomes the bodyguard Marie Antoinette, before getting politicised and throwing her lot in with the masses …

Yes, the screenplay was taken from 20 volumes of a Japanese strip cartoon (“Versailles No Bara” – Ed), written by a woman (Ikeda Riyoko – Ed.) They originally approached George Cukor to direct it. He declined and recommended Jacques Demy for the job. So they rushed over to France, commissioned Jacques to write the screenplay with an American writer… so already that was a strange mix … then they set about trying to cast it. They were looking for American actresses, they saw five hundred of them for that part, then George Cukor said to Jacques you should get English actors for this, because it’s a historical movie and that’s what they do well. Jacques agreed and went to England but they still couldn’t find a girl they agreed on because there was a big cosmetic contract tied up with this movie…

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… most of the money was coming from a big Japanese cosmetics company that is now a world leader, but in those days was still trying establish itself in the market place. All the top executives had to agree on this girl, but they couldn’t. Jane Birkin was up for it, and also Dominique Sanda, the actress who appears in a lot of Bertolucci’s films, but the Japanese decided that they didn’t want anybody with any sort of “a past” attached to them, which counted Jane out…

She’s certainly got quite a saucy past…

… definitely, so they decided to go for an unknown, and they still couldn’t find the girl. Jacques was in despair. Finally, very late in the day, he just happened to ring up a childhood friend of his, a TV director in France who had been his assistant, and this guy Bernard said: “The girl you want is standing right next to me at this very moment!” I was doing a TV drama with him in Brittany at the time … so I was duly packed off the next day to meet Jacques Demy and his wife, the whole thing was a bit like a fairy story … Jacques had screened samples of my previous work the day before my first interview with them, and I came highly recommended by his closest friend. It went like a dream, so at the end of the interview he slammed his fist down on the table and insisted: “If Catriona’s not doing the movie, then I’m not doing it either!” and all the Japanese started going berserk, flashing Polaroids at me, phoning Tokyo and talking in Japanese … to cut a long story short, three days later I’d signed the contract. But there was a downside, because it took a year of my life, I had to learn how to fence…

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… how to ride and shoot for about 11 weeks … then I went to Spain with about four different Japanese camera crews to shoot stuff for the cosmetics campaign, we shot a New Year’s Eve special in Tokyo, I was there for several weeks to promote the movie, we went to various film festivals, and I literally became an overnight star in Japan. The sad thing was that this movie has never really been seen anywhere else, and it should have done a lot for me … even Louis Malle, who’d seen it at a private screening, came up to me at a party in Los Angeles and said “You’ll do fine now, you’re off”, you know? Unfortunately I suffered this big come-down because it didn’t happen, the film just disappeared. It took me a long time to find out why … apparently they made so much money off this movie in Japan that they weren’t too bothered about selling it anywhere else. People wanted it, they tried to buy it, but it’s like working with people from another planet, working with the Japanese. ..

… a nation of Fulci fanatics!

That doesn’t surprise me at all, actually. The Fulci movies came shortly after Lady Oscar … it was so disappointing for me because I really thought my career was going to take off on an international level, and it should have done because I was playing this wonderful part, a woman dressed a man, 18th Century costume, etc, etc. It really was the part of a lifetime, and it struck a definite chord with Japanese youth at the time. I hadn’t realised that I would be bombarded with all these questions about feminism and what it was like to be dressed as a man, we were already miles ahead of that on the feminist track in the West, but they were still battling their way through all that stuff …

They still are, I think …

Yeah. They thought this “liberated” me, having a sword and dressing like a man, it was quite difficult for me to talk to them about this without just saying: “For god’s sake, c’mon!”, you know … anyway, even though it didn’t do what it should have done for me, Lady Oscar was a tremendous experience, I loved it… really mind-boggling, it holds a special place in my heart. It was shown at the 1979 London Film …

Yeah, that’s where this review comes from, which I’m currently perusing … you’ll be delighted to hear that it says: “MacColl looks fabulous.”

That’s nice …

… and indeed you still do.

Well thank you, John! (Laughs)

Now: Lucio Fulci …

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(Rolls eyes) What do you wanna know?

Well, for starters, how you met him, your early impressions, etc … don’t worry, I’ve met him myself, so I know what a wacky guy he is …

Completely wacky and probably getting wackier as he gets older. This came about because the Italian agent I was with at the time…

Count Perroni?

Yes! He’s worth going to Italy for on his own, another of these infamous “characters” that I seem to attract. I really liked him, probably should have stayed with him, but I went with another agent who I thought would be better for me, though that’s not the way it turned out. So anyway, he had been over to England to do the rounds of various agencies, looking for blonde, blue-eyed, fragile heroine types. I got a call saying they wanted to fly me out to Rome within 24 hours to meet Lucio Fulci, and I thought it would be silly of me to say no. So off I went, and we had this rather formal meeting in these baroque, rather decadent, quite wonderful offices that Perroni had … still has … and it was like I’d arrived in a different world. Instead of going to some grotty little office in Soho, there I was in this mini-palace in the middle of the old part of Rome and of course it was absolutely wonderful. Then I found out that they had a problem with my name …

Which seems to be spelled differently in the credits of every movie …

Well, my given name is Catriona, a good Scottish name … in fact it’s the Gaelic version of “Katherine” … but when I went out to Italy to do the first movie with Lucio, our mutual agent over there just looked at me in horror and said: “Let’s call you Katherine, like the great ‘epburn … I’m afraid you’ll never make a career in Italy with the name ‘Catriona”’, and I indignantly asked: “Why not? It’s a beautiful Celtic name!”, so he told me: “It means something else in Italian… it means ‘big fat Katherine’!” I thought they should bill me as Catriona anyway, as a kind of a gimmick, because as soon as anyone saw me they would realise that I was anything but big and fat. Anyway, I had a formal meeting with Fulci, I was very dressed-up and obviously he liked that, we got on well and I can’t remember that we even discussed horror movies actually. But they gave me the script that night to read for the next day, I hadn’t ever read a horror movie script before so I didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for …

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This would be the City Of The Living Dead script?

Yeah… and I thought: “Well, this is a bit over the top, isn’t it? But what the hell!”, and I suppose it was probably Perroni who persuaded me to do it. I remember at the same time I had been asked to do a small part in an internationally-respected Swiss director’s film…

Was this Claude Goretta, the guy who made The Lacemaker with Isabelle Huppert?

Yes… whatever happened to him? I had the choice to do this small part in a wonderful European director’s movie or “sell out” (laughs) and star in a horror movie. Perroni persuaded me that the latter was the correct course, and certainly the money was much better and I dunno, the whole thing seemed rather decadent and baroque and I thought: “What the hell, let’s go for this.” I got on quite well with Lucio at our first meeting. I haven’t seen him for some years, I don’t know what he’s like now, I would guess that he’s like an exaggerated version of what he was like then. He did amuse me, I’ve never been frightened of these “characters”.. that kind of thing excites and stimulates me rather than frightening me off. I thought: “I’m going to get the better of you, and win you over.” It wasn’t a fight, but as with Jack Palance in Hawk The Slayer, when everybody was terrified of him, I thought the same thing: “l’m gonna win through this – I’m gonna like you and you’re going to respect me.”

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Was Fulci trying to draw something out of you by being such a hard-ass?

No, my strength came out in spite of him, naturally, because that’s what I’m like in real life. Now that I know myself much better than I did then, I would like to concentrate even more on the paradox. I could see, with hindsight, watching House By The Cemetery for the first time since we made it, why I got the part, and why I was right for it and I would like to explore these two sides of me a bit more, have other parts that are a bit more demanding .. I feel ready to explore the strength and the weakness, the fragile side at the same time.

The script you saw for City Of The Living Dead… was it pretty much the finished article, or as loose as we hear these things sometimes are?

No, I would have said it was pretty tight actually, right down to that graphic detail. I thought a lot of that might be watered down before shooting, but in fact those bits turned out to be substantially accurate. I don’t know quite how much care goes into the writing of these things, but it seemed to me that they stuck quite closely to the script they had.

How much of the conceptualisation for these things was down to Fulci, how much to writers Dardano Sacchetti and his partner, Elisa Livia Briganti?

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I’m not sure, I mean they were around for various points in the shoot and there was one in particular, which was probably Sacchetti, who seemed to have quite a close relationship with Lucio. You kind of felt that they were intellectually on a par … it might seem weird to say that in connection with a horror film …

But Fulci’s a very cultured guy …

Oh he is, definitely, and he doesn’t take kindly to fools and I think that’s what he respected in me, when he found that he didn’t have a neurotic, hysterical girly on his hands …

Another actor from City Of The Living Dead, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, told me that he never saw Fulci being nasty to anyone without good reason …

Exactly. As long as he respects your own intelligence, and feels that you’ve got something to offer, and that you have a certain strength… I wouldn’t say that he doesn’t enjoy humiliating people slightly, there is a certain perversion inside him… just look at the movies he makes, that’s gotta come from somewhere, but it’s almost a compliment, a bit of a back-handed one, you kind of feel that if he bothers to even play around with all of that slightly, he’s just seeing whether he can get back a bit of what he gives out and I think I can say, I hope that he’d agree, that he met his match with me. There was a real mutual respect between us.

Yeah, I know that he asked you to appear in a couple of his subsequent films … Demonia, for instance.

He did ask me to do one or two but I was on to other things by then.

There were even ones where he cast definite “Catriona MacColl lookalikes” (e.g. Martha Taylor in Manhattan Baby) …

Really? Well, that is a compliment, isn’t it? I was aware, on occasions, of various actresses who behaved, perhaps, a touch hysterically or non-professionally … that annoyed Fulci and then he would take pleasure in being a bit cruel to them, humiliating them. I didn’t necessarily like that, but perhaps in a certain sense they deserved it. Hard to say, because he is a very strange man.

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I’m told that Ania Pieroni was only cast in The House By The Cemetery because she was a good friend of the producer, Fabrizio De Angelis, and Fulci was very scathing about her …

Well there you are … as a matter of fact, I think she looks rather peculiar, personally.

It’s very odd, because she does look very beautiful in two Dario Argento films, Inferno and Tenebrae …

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Lucio took a special sadistic pleasure in making her look as dreadful as possible. I wouldn’t put that past him at all … if she was imposed upon him, then that could be how he would get his revenge and in a way that’s quite funny, depriving her of the accoutrements that she was used to having in order to make her look good … I mean, she has this rather heavy sort of face, heavy features, and I kind of got the impression that she didn’t really know what she was doing in that role, I mean maybe she was used to playing a particular type of part, a sexier Italian mistress type of thing …

One actress who always suffered very badly in his movies was Daniela Doria …

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Yes, now that’s interesting. “Why her?”, one wonders. “Why does she go on doing them”, for starters and “What is it that Lucio’s got against her?” Clearly something, in a way. I don’t really have to do anything too horrible things in these movies, as the heroine I’m mainly running around screaming and nothing too hideous happens to me, certainly I don’t get my eyes poked out or anything, thank God … so from my point of view it was really a kind of a challenge to play these parts, because I had to explore my own sense of fear. And I found it more interesting than I thought it was going to be.

Your most gruelling scenes are probably in City, I’m thinking of the maggot storm … and I believe you had some problems with the scene in which you’re buried alive …

I didn’t want to do the maggot one at all! The make-up men had applied this sort of face-mask to me, which was supposed to keep the maggots off my skin, but I wasn’t convinced, so my eyes and mouth were screwed tightly shut throughout it. They had to psyche me up to do it with a double brandy, after I’d stopped crying. I think I probably hated Fulci during that take, because I felt that was the only time when he enjoyed rather humiliating me. But he was very nice to me afterwards, put his arm around me and said: “See, it was alright really…”

Easy for him to say …

Yeah, that’s when I did feel his perverted side coming to the fore. As for the “buried alive” scene, that came at the beginning of the story and I hadn’t really given too much thought to how it was going to affect me, spending all that time in the coffin. You sign up for these things, you don’t think about it too much and suddenly there I was in this coffin in a cemetery in New York. That was OK, but when we came to shoot the interiors in Rome, Lucio suddenly announced that there was going to be an axe smashing repeatedly through this coffin and stopping just a couple of centimetres from my head. At this point I thought: “Right, I should phone my agent and see if I really have to do this … I might be about to end my career with an axe stuck through my head for real!” So the special effects man explained to me that the mechanism they were using was totally safe, but I wasn’t sure if I could believe him, and he ended up getting into the coffin himself to show me how safe it was. So then I thought “I’m really going to have to go for this.” The problem then was that I Couldn’t keep my eyes open every time this thing crashed down and nearly hit me in the face, because your natural reflex reaction is just to close your eyes when something is threatening to hit you right between them. Lucio was getting more and more tense as the time wore on, so we were treated to a bit of a tantrum that afternoon, and he ended up jumping into the coffin himself to show me how easy it was, but that was him, so in the end we had to cheat our way through that one, piecing it together from various shots … it really was a problem. I asked somebody at the Eurofest, if I close my eyes in the scene as it appears on video, and I’ve been told that I blink, very quickly.

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Are you surprised that people remember these things in such minute detail… and generally at the cult status which the films have achieved?

As far as I was concerned when I made them, it was just a job of paid work. I didn’t really think much about it, although I suppose I haven’t gone out of my way in the past to tell people – in this country in particular, where they’re a bit sniffy about this sort of thing – that I’ve done a load of horror movies. But now that they’re becoming this cult thing, it’s become almost fashionable to have been in them. I’ve suddenly realised that the whole thing has changed, I mean I just saw Ed Wood … have you seen it?

Yeah, wasn’t Martin Landau’s performance fantastic?

Absolutely incredible – but the whole thing made me laugh so much, because the whole thing was a celebration of the genre as well, and although it’s tragic on a certain level because of what’s happened to Wood, he has become this cult figure, even if it is as “the worst director in the world” … and there were endless scenes that reminded me of both of the Eurofest, in a way and also of all the movies I made, and I thought well, maybe everything is coming around full circle…

Were your Italian movies really quite that chaotic?

Well, they certainly had their moments! (laughs) Lucio isn’t the worst director in the world by any means, he’s very professional and they weren’t a chaotic as that, he knows what he’s doing and he makes it look real, he hasn’t got these cardboard cemeteries and everything. He’s a true pro …

I think Fulci’s limiting factor is the resources he’s given, whereas if you’d given Ed Wood a massive budget, in the words of one of his collaborators: “”he still would have made a tasteless piece of shit!”

Oh, absolutely. But that whole sort of genre, B-movie thing seems to be so fashionable these days and I’m thinking maybe I should make some more, if somebody asks me …

I wish you would … before you suddenly stopped making horror movies, you were on the verge of becoming a sort of ’80s answer to Barbara Steele. I don’t know if you remember her, she was a bit of a reluctant cult icon …

Yes I do, as a matter of fact I’ve spoken to her on the phone several times. She’s a friend of a friend of mine in Paris, she was supposed to come and live in Paris but she hasn’t made it over from L.A. yet.

The corollary to all this “cult status” business is the dim view that has been taken of these movies by the censors …

The “video nasties” thing, yeah? I think it depends who sees them, obviously I don’t think I’d like any young children of mine to get their hands on them. They are gory, that’s true, but so very gory, so way-over-the-top that it puts them in a rather surreal, unreal dimension. They are frightening, but I think he anticipation of something horrible is always more frightening than when you actually see it. To be absolutely honest with you, at the time I was doing these films it didn’t occur to me that they might be thought of as being somehow… questionable, I think I was as much amused as anything else to how they were going to achieve half of these effects, and while making them we laughed a lot anyway, which I think is the only way to get through things like ..

… being covered in maggots …

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Well, I didn’t laugh much during that, I must admit, but generally speaking we did because the whole thing seems so ridiculous when you’re standing there in front of it. You know…  you’ve just seen the guy in the monster suit sitting in the canteen drinking a cup of coffee, or whatever. When I watched The House By The Cemetery again at Eurofest, I was struck by all the frightening scenes that the little boy, Giovanni Frezza, was involved in, and people might think that it must have been very distressing for him, but it wasn’t like that at all – his mother was with him on set at all times, Fulci was always kidding round with him and making him laugh. So they’re not frightening when you’re actually making them, and with regards to other people’s opinions as to whether you should do them or not, I mean to me it was just a job, you know … I’m a working actress. I wouldn’t do a porn movie, but everything else has its place, and I do think there’s been an over-reaction to these film. Anyone who went out and did something violent after seeing them must have been psychologically disturbed in the first place …

(At this point there was a break in the conversation while Catriona was called away to answer the front door).

OK, I’m back.

Who was it?

A man came to read the gas meter.

I’m getting this surreal mental image that it was Joe the plumber turning up in his bandanna and bib-and-brace and everything and he was going down into your cellar to get his eye poked out…

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(Laughs) I was just thinking, I do want to make one thing clear, that on the whole I don’t agree with gratuitous violence or sex, in fact, in films but I’m obviously talking about the three I did with Fulci, because several people on Saturday mentioned some of his later movies, including one that was particularly repugnant and violent in terms of what the women in it were being put through … I can’t remember the title of it..

Sounds like The New York Ripper…

That’s it.

Well, it’s a pretty notorious movie …

Well I’m just talking about the three I did with Fulci, I don’t have any point of comparison, not having seem that many of his others. I think that mainstream psychological thrillers are possibly more disturbing. The less gore you see, the more frightening it can be, if you see what I mean … because you’re living it and identifying with the characters, on the edge of your seat waiting for the violence to happen, whereas in these movies, though they are frightening, the fact that you see the monsters and you see what they do actually makes it less frightening.

Fulci is undoubtedly best known for in-your-face graphic imagery, but he’s also good with suspenseful sequences … I mean there are ones like you being rescued from the coffin in City Of The Living Dead and also the kid in The House By The Cemetery nearly being decapitated with that axe …

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Yes, I think Lucio would probably do quite a good job of making a psychological thriller, if he turned his hand to that…

He made an excellent suspense film in the late ’70s, actually, Sette Note In Nero…

There you are then, I hadn’t seen that one .. but The House By The Cemetery is probably more of a psychological thriller than the other two.. whereby you really feel for this poor woman who’s stuck between the real world and this other world, not knowing whether it’s really there or just in her head … is she going crazy or not? These are the kind of psychological aspects that I mean. But they clearly have a place, these movies, in the history of cinema, that’s something which I realise quite clearly now, having attended this event on Saturday and met all of these fans. It would be interesting to find out why you see so few girls there … what do you think? Do men feel more powerful when they see women in danger?

There’s definitely a sadistic element in there, but also perhaps a chivalrous urge, with the hero saving the heroine, the damsel in distress … I mean, in the cinema this goes at least as far back as The Perils of Pauline.

Perhaps that’s why men like these things more than women, who would identify more with the sheer fear and horror being endured by the female character on the screen ..

People say Fulci’s a sadist, Fulci’s a misogynist…

… a pervert (laughs) and all the rest to of it. I’m sure he’s got all the answers ready for all of those accusations.

Yeah, he refutes them very well. He told me that he lived with a psychotherapist for several years …

I remember her, yes, he was living with her when we were making those films.

… and she left him because she saw New York Ripper and it convinced her that he was a sadist, a misogynist and all of this. He told her that if hadn’t spotted these supposed defects in the several years they’d been living together, it didn’t say much for psycho-therapy …

That’s interesting. All I can say is he clearly didn’t hate me but I do wonder what’s going on in his head, what his relationship with his mother was like (laughs), and so on. He respected me, maybe the fact that I was foreign played a part.. I don’t know what his view of Italian women is … it’s a strange society, Italy, because although it’s quite matriarchal, the “momma” thing, it creates all these macho men, so you’ve got this strange paradox.. although they have this tremendous respect for their mothers, I’m not quite sure what they think of women in general. Particularly as far as actresses are concerned, you’re either the mother or the whore, there might be a very fine line in between as far as they’re concerned. I remember Fulci had a wonderful script continuity girl …

Rita Agostini?

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Yes, she was absolutely wonderful, had a great sense of humour… she and I got on fantastically well and Lucio clearly respected her a great deal. Perhaps he respects strong women and it.. I’m sure his psychotherapist lady friend must have been quite strong as well … but perhaps if he feels a weakness in a female he has a desire to humiliate her in some way … probably goes back to his mother ((laughs), whom I’m sure is a very strong lady although I don’t think I ever met her … she’s probably not with us anymore but I think she was then because sometimes he talked about her. I wouldn’t be surprised because they do seem to have a strong hold over their sons, it’s particularly pronounced in Italian society.

I think the paradox of machismo is that these guys are strutting around, with this great idea of their own worth, but this idea is actually given to them by their mothers, so in a way they’re reliant on women to buttress their masculine self-image …

.. and confidence, yes. Certainly in the past – not that much these days, thank God – there was a kind of ambivalent attitude attached to actresses, you weren’t particularly respected, as if there were something slightly whorish about it. But I personally didn’t get any of that from Lucio, he respected me and was depending on me to do a professional job for him.

When I met you I was amazed at how elegant and petite you are, and yet in these movies you’re running around, screaming, all these terrible things happening to you … how did you ever stand it all?

There’s a lot of energy in there, isn’t there? I’m just one of those people who has hidden resources, I’m renowned for it. I think I just dug into that inner strength really. I was quite struck, actually, when re-watching House By The Cemetery, by how highly charged it was, emotionally, all the time … quite liberating actually, you do feel a lot better afterwards, because you got to let it all out.. it’s quite satisfying in a strange therapeutic sort of way. I hadn’t seen House By The Cemetery since just after we made it, so that’s twelve, fifteen years, whatever it was. I think you could say I was pleasantly surprised, if that’s an apt expression, by the quality of the piece … the print was half-way decent, which also surprised me … the camera-work and everything … I thought it was pretty qood!

That was probably your best role in this trilogy you did with Fulci, I mean the characters are never too well drawn in these things but your character had much more of a back story in The House By The Cemetery than the one in, say, City Of The Living Dead…

Right, and I think that’s why I like The House By The Cemetery, and The Beyond too, much more than I like City Of The Living Dead. I don’t really like that one at all…

What the hell happens at the end of that one? I’ve never been able to figure it out…

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Well, various people were asking me about that at Eurofest. I’m afraid I can’t really elucidate it that much … I can’t even remember it very well, it’s such a long time ago since I saw it. I suspect Lucio just thought it was a trendy kind of way to end it, “Let’s just burn the film stock up”, or something … I guess they were stuck for an ending. Clearly it didn’t work, because nobody seems to have understood it.

I think that film was a little thrown together, compared to the others. I mean, you have this urgent mission, to find this priest and kill him before All Saint’s Day …

That’s right.

… and yet you and the other main characters just seem to be wandering around, stopping off for a bite, etc …

Yeah, just hanging around in sewers. You’re right, that wasn’t very good. I really don’t like that movie very much at all, I find the other two much more interesting, both from an acting point of view and in every other respect. I’m glad we did that one and then progressed to the others, that was the right way round to do it.

Fulci talks about “the anti-fascist sub-text” of the head-drilling scene in City Of The Living Dead, about The Beyond being inspired by the writings of Antonin Artaud … did he ever let you actors in on any of these allegedly allegorical and metaphysical underpinnings, or do you think he’s just rationalising after the fact?

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No actually … I ‘d certainly be very interested to hear what he had to say about certain films, but he never let on to us, if he’d thought all of that out in advance. He is a highly intelligent man though, and he’s got to get his inspiration from somewhere … it would be quite hard to rant on about that if you hadn’t thought it out in advance. It’s difficult to work out where he’s coming from … what do you think?

The standard line is: “The doubts of a tortured Catholic.”

Yeah, that’s quite likely, but none of that was ever shared with us actors. One got the impression that he was just churning these things out, you know… “Another day, another dollar.”

Other actors have told me that Fulci, fairly typically for an Italian director, concentrated more on the technicalities and left them pretty much to their own devices …

Yeah, I would say that was pretty much the case, it was certainly true of Fulci. He didn’t like being asked questions. If I asked a question, he would always listen but I think that was because he had a certain amount of respect for me, more than anything else. I tried not to ask him too many because as you say. my characters weren’t particularly well developed and everything was pretty clear cut, and I knew he was depending on me to be a bit of a trouper …

How did you get on with the producer, Fabrizio De Angelis?

De Angelis was always perfectly pleasant to me, though I didn’t have much contact with him. He was a cool, removed kind of character, perhaps a little bit difficult to get to know.

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Catriona with Beyond stunt man Larry Ray…

How much did Fulci rely on the team of collaborators he had around him at that time? I mean, a couple of films later that team broke up …

Oh really? That’s interesting, that it broke up … do you happen to know why, as a matter of fact?

I think he fell out with De Angelis and went to work for other producers … it’s widely felt that his subsequent films were never as good as the ones he made with the collaborators he’d had since the mid-seventies …

That’s probably true.. I think he depended tremendously on Rita, for a start.. I’m trying to remember the name of the lighting cameraman …

That would be Sergio Salvati. ..

… he seemed to understand Lucio perfectly well. It’s hard working with Lucio, I think, if you don’t have some kind of inner communication with him. Again, I don’t think Lucio needed to say anything in particular to either of those two, they just knew what he wanted and got on with it. The make up artists as well, of course, he relied so heavily on them and they were just brilliant.

I was going to ask you about your memories of Giannetto De Rossi…

He was one of the best in Italy, and I’m sure he still is. Are there not two, the De Rossi brothers?

Giannetto and Gino, I think (apparently cousins – Bob F.)

I wish I could remember, it was so long ago…. it was mostly the assistant, Franco Rufini, who worked on me … he was absolutely wonderful. The Italians really are the top guys in that line, I think, and they’d all done lots of different films, it’s the same with everybody over there – the directors, actors, technicians – they all move in the same circle and one day they’re working with Federico Fellini, the next with Lucio Fulci and it doesn’t matter at all, there isn’t the same sort of taboo attitude as there is here, which is great.

I’ve always liked this cross-pollination between “worthy” and more populist pictures …. presumably De Rossi, Rufini and co need to have a sensitive “bedside manner” when they’re putting you through all these fiendish make jobs?

Yeah, they were fantastic, I mean always terribly caring. They have to have some psychological understanding of actors, because they’re the first people you see at 6.30 in the morning, when you’ve just crawled out of bed and the last thing you want is to have stuff put all over your face and be hit with maggots, so they really do treat you with kid gloves, they listen to your problems and try to build you up, psychologically, in that hour-and-a-half or whatever, so that you’re awake, full of energy and raring to go. I particularly remember Franco being wonderful, it was a great pleasure to work with him and I was also slightly in awe of those guys, because they had worked with so many great actors and directors, too …. Antonioni, Fellini, Sergio Leone …

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Something that looks really stunning is this vision of Hell that you and David run into at the end of The Beyond…

I think that was done on the very last day of shooting, it was just before Christmas and we were all keen to get it over with, though there was quite a nice atmosphere because everybody had the festive spirit. When you’ve been with a film crew for that long, six weeks in Rome and a few weeks in The States, you’ve got to know everybody quite well and there is a real camaraderie that builds up, which is very pleasant.

That’s the second time you’ve mentioned a scene towards the end of a Fulci film that was shot pretty much towards the end of the schedule … was that just the way that things worked out, or did Fulci – contrary to general practice – tend to shoot scenes in their scripted sequence?

Let me think … no, these things aren’t generally shot in sequence, though the more “in sequence” it is, the better for us actors. I can’t remember if it was the same sound stage we’d been working on or whether it was the one next door, perhaps we had to get rid of one set and put up another one and that’s  why they did it at the end. It was obviously more practical for them to create that sequence then … I’m sorry to be so vague about all this …

Well, it was so long ago … was it painful to wear those contact lenses?

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Terribly … terribly. In fact it was absolutely ghastly. We couldn’t see anything, we had to keep them in for as little time as possible, because they were so painful. Again, Franco did his best to make things as comfortable for us as possible, putting drops in our eyes, making sure the lenses were as clean as possible and everything, but I don’t think I could have worn them for very much longer than we did.

I don’t want to quiz you scene by scene by scene, because if I start that, I could go on for ever, but there s a scene in The Beyond which always makes people laugh, because the guy in it has been so badly dubbed …

Ah yeah …

You go into a book shop looking for this occult tome and there’s this weird little old guy cackling “It’s a very nice book … very, very interesting!”

I remember that one, yeah. They’re usually pretty well-dubbed, because the Italians are great specialists at dubbing, but sometimes it was very difficult, again because of the logisticsof movie-making – people do make these mistakes and it does affect the quality slightly, though perhaps it doesn’t matter too much in the horror genre. People get hired who aren’t actors, at the last minute they realise they need a book-seller or whatever, so they’ll drag somebody in off the streets, somebody who has something to do with the a film crew, or somebody local who fancies himself as an actor, or something ..

As we mentioned, sometimes the producer’s girlfriend ends up in the movie …

In Italy that often happens. It happens all over the world, of course, and if they’re good then nobody says anything about it, but if they’re lousy … (laughs) … then everybody seems to know why they were in it. It’s a shame in a way, about the dubbing, because there are some small roles which are totally ruined as a result.. there’s one in particular actually, in The House By The Cemetery, I seem to remember Dagmar Lassander at the estate agency with this guy who says …

“That Freudstein house … that Freudstein house!”

Yes, he’s dubbed a bit weirdly … I mean, arguably it gives the scene more of a weird, strange, ethereal quality, but I just remember him being awful … I don’t think he’d ever acted in his life before, and he was very excited about it all, but he was dreadful, absolutely dreadful, and of course when you come to dub them afterwards it can be quite difficult.

Any memories of your female co-stars in these movies? Dagmar Lassander, Janet Agren, Cinzia Monreale …

I remember Dagmar being a laugh-and-a-half, she and Janet were the kind of strong women that I think Lucio respects. Lucio really liked her, you could tell that he did, and it was the same with Janet… she’s Swedish isn’t she? Very professional, a good actress, too … delightful to work with, as was Cinzia.

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What about the guys? Christopher George, David Warbeck, Carlo De Mejo, Paolo Malco …

Christopher was terribly sweet. I did kind of feel that I could lean on him a bit because he was such an old pro and he didn’t seem phased by anything … I remember being very upset when I read about his death in Variety a couple of years later. He was a very nice family man who talked a lot about his wife and children …

She went on to direct didn’t she … Linda Day George?

Did she? She used to be an actress … good for her. Very attractive woman. David Warbeck is a case unto himself, as I’m sure you already know (laughs). He’s a delight to work with, always laughing, full of anecdotes, totally into what he’s doing, but still having a good time. Another thing I like about him is that he doesn’t bullshit about what he’s doing, he knows the quality of some of it and he’s not pretentious in any way, which is something I really admire. He just has a ball. I’m delighted that things are going so well for him and that he’s got so many fingers in so many different pies.

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Carlo was really delightful, quite a serious actor … he was Alida Valli’s son, so he had an awful lot to live up to. He was very into theatre at the time so we talked about that quite a lot. He was absolutely charming, and seeing him in these films was one of the things that changed my attitude towards them. Paolo Malco is absolutely divine, another serious actor … he got on particularly well with Lucio, which was nice because it meant that Lucio, myself and him could see each other socially outside of the film set and we did. We had various wonderful dinners at Paolo’s fantastic apartment … I think we actually filmed some stuff in his apartment, the early scene in House By The Cemetery where they’re looking at the photo of the house, for instance, though of course it was supposed to be in New York. Paolo had a very deep respect for Fulci, but I remember that he was absolutely amazed, as we all were, by the way Fulci was forever spilling his drinks over himself, and he very often looked as though he was wearing his meal on his clothes. It was quite extraordinary, I don’t now what it is, whether he’s genuinely in another world … from what you’ve told me, he clearly hasn’t changed one iota, and I’m glad he hasn’t. Lucio is one guy I certainly won’t forget in a hurry, that’s for sure, one of those people who left their mark, but in quite a sweet way … one of the world’s great eccentrics, definitely.

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CM & FANS 2

“Hey, is that Joe D’Amato over there? Behind the guy in the plaid shirt?”

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

La Villa Strangiato… Riccardo Freda’s TRAGIC CEREMONY Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. Dark Sky. Not rated.

The whole Pasta Paura ball began rolling in 1956 with Freda’s I Vampiri aka The Devil’s Commandment but even at the height of his powers, the capricious Freda would typically lose interest in a project after the first few days’ shooting and delegate its completion to an assistant. This predilection of his proved a felicitous one for the wider world of horror cinema as it gave Mario Bava, the greatest Italian auteur of them all, his directing break polishing off the likes of I Vampiri and Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1962.) Rather less fortuitously, as the increasingly uninterested Freda’s career petered out it resulted in such bombs as Murder Obsession aka The Wailing / Satan’s Altar (1980.)

History does not record which hack completed Tragic Ceremony At The Alexander Villa (to quote one of its alterative titles, another being Estratto Dagli Archivi Segreti Della Polizia Di Una Capitale Europea / Extracted From The Secret Police Archives Of A European Capital) in 1972, but anyone wishing to make an educated guess might usefully reflect that one of the film’s co-writers, Mario Bianchi, also directed trash epics in various genres (notably the oversexed Exorcist knock-off La Bimba Di Satana / Satan’s Baby Doll, 1982) before settling down to an exclusive output of porn… certainly Freda went out of his way to disown Tragic Ceremony before his death in the eve of the millennium. In all fairness, nobody involved in its making should feel too guilty, the film emerging as an enjoyably goony piece of schlock whose occasional longeurs are easily overcome with judicious use of the fast forward button. C’mon, admit it, you’ve sat square eyed for much worse than this…

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What might indulgently be termed “the plot” revolves around free spirit Jane (Camille Keaton) and her love’n’peacenik pals, sailing, driving around in dune buggies, smoking dope and making out, generally trying to get their hippy asses back to The Garden. Boy, are they in for a rude awakening! Where the fuck are they, anyway? There are allusions to Scotland in the dialogue and at one point, though clearly in the midst of rolling countryside, they seem to be seeking directions to Chelsea (!?!) A menacing gas station attendant (and remember, this is two years before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) warns them in no uncertain terms to stay away from the Alexander Villa but when their buggy breaks down in the middle of a storm, no prizes for guessing where they wash up, seeking shelter and maybe to scrounge a Scooby snack or two. Their timing is unfortunate, to say the least, as Lady A is about to host the biggest bash in the Satanist calendar… and she would have got away with it too, if it hadn’t have been for those meddling kids! There’s just time for Camille to feature in a gratuitous bath scene (unveiling an impressive rack, bearing favourable comparable to that of Traci Lords) before she and her pals blunder into the festivities, with discouraging results.

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For reasons that are not exactly clear, the orgiasts take this interruption as their cue to start slaughtering each other in gory fashion, courtesy of Carlo Rambaldi’s FX expertise.  Particularly memorable is the splitting asunder of one cultist’s cranium… no really, you’ve got no chance of forgetting this bit, as the ensuing “narrative” repeatedly and arbitrarily flashes back to it. Our hapless hippies make like bananas and split, a devil worshipping dude exiting one of the villa’s windows, in flames, as their dune buggy (now conveniently working again) pulls out of the grounds.  The kids congratulate themselves on having escaped intact from the scene of carnage but there’s plenty more weirdness to come (courtesy of a cursed item of jewellery worn by Jane and the crazed camera work of Francisco Faile, which runs through every visual cliche in the book to convey the dual ambience of spaced-out psychedelia and spooky Satanic shit), culminating in a weedy variation on Ambrose Bierce’s ever popular Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. If you can stay awake through all of this, it will probably occur to you that the picture’s rural settings are spookily similar to those in which Keaton would suffer all manner of ill treatment and emerge as a triumphant avenger during her most notorious credit, Meir Zarchi’s I Spit On Your Grave, six years later. There’s also a “clever trick of the ear” moment when Stelvio Cipriani’s score mutates into some music that a character is actually playing in the woods, which unexpectedly pre-empts a very similar device in Zarchi’s controversial rape’n’revenge opus.

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Such parallels are certainly not lost on Keaton herself, who makes explicit reference to them in the quarter hour bonus documentary Camille’s European adventures. Nice to see that Buster’s niece is in no way apologetic about her oft-criticised, much reviled career in exploitation movies and expresses herself keen to resume it, should the opportunity ever arise (which, let’s face it, probably ain’t gonna happen). Lest we had forgotten, this featurette reveals the full extent of Camille’s Italian CV… in the same year as Tragic Ceremony she played the title character in Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done To Solange? and also appeared in a couple of Pasolini knock offs, Giuliano Biagetti and Pier Giorgio Ferretti’s Decameroticus and Mino Guerrini’s Decameron 2. The following year Keaton braved further occult shenanigans in Angelo Pannaccio’s Il Sesso Della Strega / Sex Of The Witch (“I don’t know if anyone has figured out what that movie was about, even to this day”) and also graced Oscar Brazzo’s Il Gatto Di Brooklyn Aspirante Detective (a vehicle for the broad “comic” talents of Franco Franchi) with her presence. In 1974 she essayed the lead role in Roberto Mauri’s Madeleine, Anatomia Di Un Incubo / Madeleine, Study Of A Nightmare before relocating Stateside and taking on the project that effectively killed her career stone dead. Intriguingly, Keaton also reveals that she failed an audition for Zefferelli and turned down the opportunity to work with Tinto Brass. It would have been interesting to hear her recollections of working with Freda but the little she has to say on this subject reinforces the received wisdom that he wasn’t overly conscientious regarding the direction of this picture. Throughout, Keaton comes across as an agreeably down-to-earth Arkansas gal and, approaching 60 at the time this material was filmed, a dead ringer for Hilary Clinton (who of course married that state’s second most celebrated native.) The other extra on offer here is a well psychedelic trailer boasting an In-A—Gadda-Da-Vida soundalike acid rock accompaniment which does not actually feature in the film and tasteful attempts to connect its action with the Manson murder spree, to which there are actually allusions in Freda’s picture.

The main feature looks surprisingly good in anamorphic 1.85:1 and comes with a mono Italian soundtrack and English subs.

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Satanic dudes come horribly unstuck (above and below) in Riccardo Freda’s Tragic Ceremonytragicc_shot3l.jpg

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

Irrational Express… Umberto Lenzi’s EYEBALL Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Marketing-Film. Not rated.

In her rare moments of down time, when she’s not assisting The Doc with his sewing or dragging badly dubbed Italian kids through trans-dimensional tombstone portals, Mrs Freudstein likes to relax with a nice cup of coffee and a biscuit and a bit of daytime TV. Foremost among her guilty pleasures is the Channel 4 show Coach Trip, in which the genial and ever-so-slightly camp Brendan Sheerin whisks a rotating cohort of ill-matched tourists around various European destinations. Depending on how well (or not) they perform their allotted tasks and get on with their fellow travellers, the contestants are voted off the eponymous coach until Brendan arrives at a winner. Now, just imagine if the format were tweaked ever so slightly and instead of being voted off, the participants were bumped off and had their eyes gouged out for good measure. Not very conducive to a sight seeing holiday, eh? Let’s further suppose that even when the cops are called in, they’re so loath to spoil the holiday fun that they let the coach roll on as eyeless corpses pile up in its wake… “Preposterous”, I hear you cry. And yet this is precisely the plot of Umberto Lenzi’s 1975 giallo, Eyeball (perhaps the cops wanted to keep a lid on it… lid… geddit?)

The jolly holidaymakers rolling around Catalonia on this charnel house charabanc (they even make it to Sitges though for some reason Eyeball never picked up any awards there) are  precisely the kind of motley crew that tends to end up trapped in crypts and vaults in those wonderful EC adaptations that Amicus released in the ’70s… there’s a bickering married couple, the Alvarados (played by Daniele Vargas and Silvia Solar), a bickering lesbian couple – photographer Lisa (Mirta Miller) and her model Naiba (the stunning Ines Pellegrini), a quintessential “ugly American” (Hamilton, played by John Bartha) and his jailbait daughter Jenny (Veronica Miriel), plus George Rigaud’s Reverend Bronson (!) and sexy secretary Paulette Stone (Martine Brochure.) Yep, the ingredients for this soapy slasher-on-wheels couldn’t get much cornier (cornea… geddit?) and when you top that little lot off with a randy, practical joke-playing cunt of a tour guide, Martinez (Raf Baldassarre)… you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for a holiday from hell!

When the party disembarks in Barcelona, Hamilton expresses anxiety about his daughter’s potential amorous intrigues: “I’ll boot her  rump if I catch her spooning with a boy!” Jenny’s heavy petting antics turn out to be the least of their worries, though, when a local floozy is stabbed to death and has her eye gouged out (poor Pepita!) with several of the coach party in sufficient proximity to the dirty deed to fall under suspicion. Arousing even more suspicion is Mark Burton (John Richardson), who’s trailing the coach across Catalonia in pursuit of Paulette while his wife Alma (Marta May) resides in some loony bin (how very gallant of him) and always seems to be at the scene of each subsequent eyeball atrocity. Is he the unpleasant eyeball plucker or is he being stitched up like a kipper a la Jon Finch’s character in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972)?

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Lenzi and Felix Tusell (who debuted as a co-writer on this film and was never asked to pen another!) continue to shift suspicion clumsily and mechanically around their dramatis personae. It would, perhaps, be inappropriate to describe Lenzi’s direction of this coach-bound whodunnit as “pedestrian” (yuk, yuk) so let’s just settle for “shit.” As if taking his cue from the director, the mighty Bruno Nicolai phones in one of his feeblest scores ever.

Local police honcho Inspector Tudela (Andres Mejuto) is a few days away from retirement when the massacre mobile rolls into town. No, he’s not about to be tragically offed (as would invariably be the case in an American action flick), it’s just that he was looking forward  to emptying his desk and going fishing. At this point in his career, he really can’t be arsed … pretty much like Lenzi! As previously mentioned, he just lets the coach roll on and the pile of one-eyed corpses mount up. Maybe he thinks this is the only way to draw out the killer’s identity. Maybe he doesn’t really care much for the endangered holiday makers… when one of them has her throat cut but both of her eyes are left in situ, he announces that it “wasn’t a sadistic murder”(!)

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It’s as though Lenzi, who had contributed several significant early entries to the giallo cycle (usually starring Carroll Baker) and managed to make such worthy contributions as late as Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972) and the idiosyncratic Spasmo (1974) was cynically pissed off at being outstripped by Dario Argento, whom he often describes as his protege (an apt  pupil? Geddit?) Perhaps dressing his assassin in a red pacamac was a parody of the leather raincoated assassins in Argento’s pictures? Talk about a kagoulish liberty… or maybe Lenzi was trying for some kind of subliminal connection with Argento’s big hit of the same year, Deep Red? Or perhaps he was making an allusion to the killer in Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973)? Or maybe I’m just clutching at straws here trying to dignify a terrible movie with some kind of significance. Actually, I’m surprised that Lenzi has been uncharacteristically silent (or perhaps I missed an interview here or there) regarding two plot elements from Eyeball that get, er, recycled in Argento’s Tenebrae, seven years later… notably lesbian infidelity in a crappy night club as a prelude to home invasion and murder, plus an elusive, aggrieved wife who keeps jetting around and popping up where she’s not supposed to be. Eyeball could also reasonably be cited as an influence on Bigas Luna’s Anguish (1987)… and don’t even start me on Lucio Fulci!

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After a hilarious sequence in which a farm girl falls victim to the eyeball-extracting wacko and her pigs add insult to eye injury by eating her corpse, then a flamenco performance that is clearly intended to puff up the film’s running time towards an hour-and-a-half, the denouement comes clunking in, with the dim light bulb over Burton’s head finally flickering into life (catatonia in Catalonia) as he belatedly makes sense of the ludicrous sequence of events that previously unfolded back in his home town of Burlington, Vermont. Namely, the small matter of his wife being found unconscious next to their swimming pool with a bloody knife in her right hand and the eyeball of his murdered girlfriend lying next to her. Presumably he’s had much time and much cause to ponder these events but only now do the pennies drop that a) Alma is left handed and b) he once discovered a collection of eyeballs in another character’s drawer but dismissed them as “good luck charms” (duh!) If you didn’t see the final revelation coming, don’t be too hard on yourself… nor could half of the hacked-up holidaymakers! Mark and Alma are reconciled in a puke-inducing happy ending, Inspector Tudela gets to go fishing and the rest of us are left to reflect on 90 minutes of our life that we’ll never get back.

Richardson was in many, way better films than this… the Hammer brace She (1965) and One Million Years B.C. (1966), Mario Bava’s pasta paura milestone Black Sunday (1960), Michele Soavi’s The Church (1989 )and, in a more pointed comparison with this travesty, Sergio Martino’s superior giallo Torso (1973.)

wm3uvsgd.jpgJoesph Brenner Associates, who had reduced Sergio Martino’s The Corpses Show Traces Of Carnal Violence (1973) to a terser “Torso” for its U.S. grind house run, did a similar tidy up on this one and incredibly, their “Eyeball” better encapsulates the plot of Lenzi’s picture than its original title, Gatti Rossi In Un Labirinto Di Vetro (“Red Cats In A Glass Labyrinth”) chiefly because the film features precisely no red cats and exactly bugger all Glass Labyrinths!

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The edition under review here is the German DVD identified as Labyrinth Des Schreckens (“Labyrinth Of Terror”) on its sleeve, “The Secret Killer” according to its credits. The transfer is washy looking and presented in distinctly non-anamorphic wide-screen. You could experience Eyeball in 5.1 Surround if you chose this disc’s German language option but I imagine the comic impact of such classic lines of dialogue as: “I was like you… before this friend of mine ripped out my eye, playing doctor with me… leaving an empty socket!” might be ssomewhat diluted in translation.

No sign of an imminent UK release but all manner of appalling rubbish is coming out these days so keep your eyes, er, peeled…

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Lenzi discusses the intricacies of Eyeball’s plot with our Bob Freudstein, yesterday.

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

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